Yikes, Part III

September 19th: We spend the night slightly south of Nashville, in a hotel chosen at random that turns out to be right down the street from a Coldplay concert and is hosting the accompanying fan convention. We repack the truck — much better this time — and spend this day making a tedious run to Tifton, Georgia. At the next occasion I am called upon to give a toast, it may well end with “And may you never pass a day in Tifton, Georgia.”

The high point comes in Chattanooga, when I am able, finally, to paraphrase God’s Own Drunk: “Well, I don’t know what happened. I just spent two years planning and organizing and staring out the window, and the next thing I knew, I was on I-75 headed for Florida!”

Sidebar: Somewhere in America, in a great arc, lies the line that, for me, truly marks departure from the Midwest. As one stops for food, one notices that, unbidden and without permission, one has begun to receive margarine rather than butter in restaurants. This, of course, effectively ruins bread, rolls, baked potatoes, etc. Thankfully, the increase in margarine is offset by an increase in quality barbecue.

Al’s Virtually Infallible Tips For Identifying Quality Barbecue On The Fly:

* A sign featuring a anthropomorphic pig smilingly urging you to come in and eat his dismembered brethren.

* A greasy black smokestack on the roof. Eat no barbecue where this is absent, unless it’s because the pit is outdoors, visible, and working.

* Something Fear Factorish on the menu: ears, snoot, tails, etc. You don’t have to eat them, but they are the barbecue version of Calvin Trillin’s rule about menudo at Mexican restaurants — the presence of the unusual on the menu indicates a seriousness of intent on the part of the kitchen.

* A neighborhood that sets you to thinking about The Bonfire of the Vanities. Triple Bonus Points if the cars in the parking lot obviously cost more than the restaurant structure itself.

* Any barbecue south of St. Louis with an “Established” sign hung before the moon landing.

* Gold standards: Hand-lettered signs, barbecue served in structures in apparent imminent danger of collapse, extremely brief menus — i.e., “Pig Sandwich, $5. Large Pig Sandwich, $7” — and anywhere where the Pitmaster is elderly to a point wherein your conscience troubles you throughout the meal for not insisting that he take your seat.

September 20th: We repack the truck. Best effort yet. We hop in the truck and resume rolling south.

Honey is wonderful company in the car — when she has something to talk about. When she’s bored, the overall effect is that of traveling with a cageful of parakeets in the passenger seat: A lot of bouncing around and chirpy twittering and pecking at mirrors and that sort of thing. For those times, I have sports talk radio. The “SCAN” button on the radio is a wondrous invention.

So that day, minutes after leaving Tifton, I punch “SCAN”, and we hear:

…vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzhhhhhhhhhh and in Deuteronomy, we find an analagous situation faced by vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzhhhhhhhhhh is selling for twenty dollars a ton on the open market in the month of vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzhhhhhhhhhh mandatory evacuation of the Florida Keys is under way vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzhhhhhhhhhh and a crawfish pie and file gumbo, for tonight i’m gonna see ma cher
amio vzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzhhhhhhhhhh and nearly drive off the road trying to find a “Back” button on the goddamn thing.

Well, fuck.

Let’s see how far we can get, I guess, and then punt.

Come 4pm, we are ten miles north of Tampa when one of the most spectacular rainstorms I’ve ever been in hits. The overall effect is one of driving eighty miles an hour through a ten-mile carwash. And this, I remind you, was but the outer fringes of Rita. It was great fun. It would’ve been even better had we not had fourteen boxes of irreplaceable paper in the truck bed. Fortunately, high speed creates a slipstream of sorts over an open pickup bed, so we were able to make it to the awning of a BP station without damage, where we waited for a break in the storm and and then bailed into a hotel during the break. In a successful effort to cheer up, we call Bern’s to file for an emergency dinner reservation.

September 21st: It continues to rain, on and off, and the radar map looks like an LCD screen that’s been stepped on. Being stiff from the car, we try to sneak in a little par-3 course called Ghetto Fabulous Public Links and get in five holes before the rain begins to come down harder and warmer than it does in a good-quality hotel shower. We drive back to the hotel in as little wet clothing as is legally possible, order a pizza, get a bottle, and hole up to dry.

September 22nd: I give the fuck up waiting and we spend $150 on a watertight rented trailer. While U-Haul installs the connection for the trailer lights on the truck, Honey & I wander across the street for coffee. We wind up trying cafe con leche, which I like very much and which puts me in mind, in a good way, of the bambina bellissima‘s mother, who once described her cream and sugar preferences to me thusly: “I prefer my coffee to taste like birthday cake.”

We roll southward out of Tampa, and proceed uneventfully to Alligator Alley, the I-75 extension connecting the southern end of the west coast of Florida with the east coast. T-Shirt Magnate Miami Tom — whose venture is officially open for business and is officially really, really hoping to sell you a unique garment — and Kendra the Hydrogeologist meet us for dinner south of Fort Lauderdale. Tom has suggested we go to “the fantastic restaurant that has Cuban food, on 18th and Hallandale”. I would have preferred he tell me the name, but I suppose I can find it from the intersection.

At the intersection of Hallandale and 18th is a homey little restaurant with a big sign outside that reads

THE FANTASTIC RESTAURANT
Cuban Food

As if that weren’t enough for me to fall permanently in love with the place, when Kendra the Hydrogeologist asks for a cup of decaf, the waitress — who otherwise appears to speak no English — looks at her as though she’d asked for a blowjob and says “No decaf.”

Post-meal, we decline farewell hugs, as our clothes are now on their third round of Deodorant Laundering and give us the texture and aroma of the towel used to wipe down the deep-fryer at a fish & chips restaurant recently shuttered by the Board of Health.

We arrive on Summerland Key at 11pm.

September 23-present:

High points:

* On the first night we had dinner in Key West, home of the Half Shell Raw Bar, the A&B Lobster House, Camille’s, Blue Heaven, Louie’s Backyard, and many other nationally-recognized establishemnts, we ordered Pizza Hut delivered to the office. Hey, we were busy.

* In the next lot over from our temporary housing, the current tenant is an enormous green iguana.

* For financial reasons, we went to the Wendy’s we’d noticed on the way down for dinner on Day Two. Wendy’s, unbeknownst to us, is 45 miles up-island.

* Key West Naval Air Station results in a constant fighter jet air show.

* The UPS Store near the office does not hold packages, but they give you a preprinted card bearing the UPS corporate logo to their pickup location on Rockland Key. It instructs you to “Take the first left after Island Spice”. Island Spice’s full name is “Island Spice Adult Superstore”. When I went in for clarified directions, the girl behind the counter at Island Spice and I had this conversation:

Me: “Hi. Where is the UPS pickup warehouse?”

Her: “I don’t know. Lots of people ask me that though.”

Me: “That’s because UPS’s directions say ‘Turn left at the porn store’.”

Her: “WHAT?”

Me: “On the card they give out. Here.”

Her: “Holy shit. Hey, Tony, look at this! This is why so many people come in there for UPS!”

* I have typed all this from a chaise lounge on the porch that overlooks the Straits of Florida. Don’t hate.

Life With Luna

“Yikes, Part III” will come tomorrow. It is postponed on account of a conversation I had today at the Florida DMV with Honey, who, by the way, holds two advanced degrees in finance:

DMV Woman: (to Honey) “Here’s your new driver’s license.”

Honey: “I look blonde in this picture.”

Me: “You are blonde.”

Honey: “Oh yeah.”

Yikes, Part II

September 11th: We arise early, post-wedding, to remand our three beloved birds over to the custody of the local chapter of the Caged Bird Society because, since we are not excited about four days in the cab of a pickup, we are reasonably sure that three getting-long-in-the-beak tweeters will not enjoy it either. They and a donation are successfully conveyed to a very nice woman in Glen Ellyn, with only the slightest twinge of guilt. It is lovely, truly, to be able to truthfully associate the phrase “It really is the kindest thing” with a pet without the word “sleep”. They are in the kindest of hands for their retirement. That makes me happy.

We rush from the Bird Lady to the Naperville Hilton’s Sunday brunch buffet and belly up to the steam tables. Highlights: Tiny eclairs, a chocolate fondue fountain that would have been All-World had they not used Hershey’s, pretzel bread, which I love, and excellent apple crepes. During the meal, I receive a final assignment from the Best Man, that of returning seven tuxedoes. (It was either five minutes out of my way or two hours out of his, counting time to get lost.) After Hours really should allow you to pick up and drop off tuxedoes the way trains do mailbags in Yosemite Sam cartoons. That’d be cool.

We watch my beloved Bears throw down with Washington on Opening Sunday with my Dad. The game went better than I feared it would, but not as well as I hoped it might. We are 0-1 and staring down the barrel of Joey Harrington, whom a legal source of mine assures me is destined for Canton.

Home we go, dejected. I check my e-mail for the first time since Thursday night. There are three striking e-mails in my box: Two from friends at my former place of employment asking me if I know “What’s going on” — I do not — and one from a highly-placed suit-wearing Company Man asking me why I “destroyed company property” on my way out and basically threatening me with prosecution. I sort through his mail and figure out that he is talking about wiping my hard drives. I write a lengthy, coldly polite e-mail explaining that what I did should be a standard procedure when any employee with a dedicated desktop terminal leaves, and I was just being helpful. To avoid a pissing match with my former employer’s CYA-centric IT department, I graciously left out the part about how I was aware that they *don’t* do it, and I did it myself for precisely that reason.)

To my missive, I receive a response from Company Man informing me that my computer had “critical files and programs we need” on it. I explain to him that that was not so, as I had moved everything they might need to the webserver before I nuked the thing. I cheerfully offer to provide him any file or program they believe I destroyed, and ask him to provide me a list of the “critical files and programs” in question, that I might be sure I don’t miss anything.

I am, of course, still waiting for that list. I have followed up twice on my offer. No response, naturally. Coward.

It was nice of them to make sure I had no lingering doubts about the toxic atmosphere of the place, at least. Free at last, free at last….

September 12th: Packing shifts into high gear. Ginger drops by to adopt a dresser and does me the enormous favor of helping me break down an obscenely heavy piece of furniture for the dumpster. Beyond that, other writers might be able to make fourteen hours of playing “Take, Store, or Dumpster?” interesting, but not me.

September 13th: The parade to the Lock-Up — the self-storage joint near Kiddieland, which I cannot recommend highly enough — begins. They have a loaner truck, which we fill about half full with neatly packed and labelled boxes, a couple of bookshelves, two seats from soldier Field, Honey’s television — that’s the one with the VH-1 logo permanently burned into the lower right corner of the screen — and a plastic-wrapped eight-foot stuffed cow. Transport of the latter gives onlookers the impression that I have whacked the mighty Chewbacca.

We also, with the aid of the loaner truck and my ex-professional-mover older younger brother, deliver the Big TV to new owner Fatass Underground, who will, with the machine’s help, truly become One with his rec room couch. God be with you in your quest, old friend.

September 14th: It often happens, when moving, that the packing committee looks about and says something to the effect of “I have been at this for FOUR WEEKS! I am NINETY PERCENT DONE! HOW IS THERE STILL SO MUCH TO DO!?!?”

I have considered this mystery for two weeks now, and I have the answer:

A ten thousand item to-do list, ninety percent completed, is still a thousand items long.

Peace be with you on your next move, Grasshopper.

September 15th: We transport a large and amazingly diverse donation to Goodwill. Flood refugees, please enjoy the XXL men’s cold-weather business casual clothes, Nintendo 64 games, slightly broken lamp, bar glasses, Chicago Bears garbage can, 298 pink plastic clothers hangers, novelty golf umbrella, and boxes of twinkling christmas lights. Good luck to all of you with the rebuilding. I’m glad I could help.

We meet the Big Man at Bensenville, who regretfully informs us that the Queen of Mediocrity will be unable to complete our foursome. It seems her new workout routine includes concentration curls, and has has left her unable to lift her arms above waist level unaided. We are disappointed, but it is her good fortune not to witness my round. In four nine-hole outings at Bensenville, I have now shot 48-46-44-54. If October is not unseasonably mild, my redemption will have to wait until May. (By the way, Queen, Fatass, Existential Blues, other beginners, go get Gary McCord’s Golf for Dummies. Useful, humorous, and insightful all at once. Sample tip: “Try not to think too much about putting.”)

September 16th: I managed to get through college and the subsequent poverty period without succumbing to the siren song of credit cards. This left me, in March 2002, without the ability to get a credit card, becuase the credit card companies were angry at me for not having run up unmanageable debt at a young age and wished to punish me. As an adult with a job, but no credit history, I could get neither a credit card nor a car loan. If I’d had fifteen thousand dollars in revolving debt, I could have been driving a Lexus and saying “Just put it on the tab” nightly to the waitstaff at Tru. Yes, I’m still mad. To develop a credit history, I needed to find a company that did small-scale in-house financing and buy something. My choices were to either buy a Bad Credit No Credit No Problem Po Polsku Habla Espanol Sprechen Se Deutsch used car, or to buy a large piece of furniture. Because Honey loves to sleep, and because they approved us, we bought a ridiculously lavish bed from Peppers and spent a year making $158 monthly payments on something for which I could have paid cash, and finally got the title a year later. At that point, I was able to get a Visa with a limit of $600 through my credit union, which I slowly built into enough credit history to convince the people who were deeply suspicious of me while simultaneously sending free credit card offers to my mother’s late German pointer that I was worthy of their trust.

I thought of this story while I was breaking the bed down for storage, because I received the unwelcome surprise that draining and disassembling a waterbed for storage takes only slightly less time than does paying it off.

Our night was spent having a nice farewell dinner with my niece, her paternal grandmother, and her parents. We are proud to note that the bambina bellissima has learned that those pointy bits at the ends of her arms, manipulated correctly, allow her to draw all sorts of things nearer, for closer examination and tasting. She is overjoyed at this discovery, and we are impressed at both her speed and her strength, though we do wish she hadn’t perfected the technique at Rosebud. Sorry about the wineglasses, ma’am. And we’ll need two new forks, please. And a warm washcloth, if you don’t mind. Oh, please tell the chef the fusilli carbonara was delicious. Thanks.

September 17th: There is no easy or clever way to say this: On the final day of stuff-removal from the sixth-floor apartment we were vacating, the f—— elevator died. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the American Get The Sledgehammer Dents Out Of The Sixth-Floor Elevator Door Foundation, Oak Park, IL, 60301. I passed the time getting an unplanned $400 brake job and seething.

The elevator was ressurected at around 230pm, and we delivered my oversize recliner to the temporary custody of my older younger brother, who called us in the middle of the drive to his house and said — I am not making this up — “Would you stop on the way and buy me a duck?”. (The store was out.)

We moved everything to my mother’s house, our staging area for packing. The final tally: Fourteen banker’s boxes of client files, one large box marked “Office”, two large boxes of personal-care stuff, four pillows, four suitcases, a steamer trunk full of shoes, a framed photo, a plastic box of “Oh, crap, I forgot the’ items, a black box of first-thing-out-in-case-of-fire-type stuff, two bags of golf clubs, two fifteen-pound dumbbells, two fifties, two bikes in a bumper rack, a copier-paper box of unguents and ointments and facepaint, a canvas bag of laundry, three binder-style CD cases, a laptop bag, and an ornamental fountain.

September 18th: I have generously allotted a full hour to pack the truck, and we accomplish the task in barely three times that long. (Our Toyota Tundra version of Crap Tetris would improve to the point where we could pack the truck in thirty minutes by day three, and a picture of the final day’s truck bed will someday adorn my plaque at the Crap Tetris Hall Of Fame.) We hug my Mom, who puts on a brave face because she loves us, and roll just in time to hear the national anthem sung from Soldier Field.

Now, I was deeply worried about the Lions coming in, because Dr. Badass has regaled me with tales of Joey Harrington’s magnificence throughout the offseason, and I must say, he was absolutely right. Joey moved the Lions up and down the field at will. He threw the ball with confidence and poise, and controlled every aspect of the game with an iron fist. I was awed. He reminded me of no one so much as Johnny Unitas, and I concede that there is no quarterback in his class. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Such was my admiration that I had to work hard to resist the urge to phone the Doctor during the game and chant “JO-EY! JO-EY! JO-EY!” What a magnificent performance.

I shared the shining performance of Joey “The Human Highlight Film” Harrington with my father, with whom I have been watching Bear games since my eyes could focus. He phoned me at kickoff. For safety while driving, I set my cellphone — free night and weekend minutes! — to “speaker” mode, and put it on the dashboard, so Dad could hear me, and I him. We planned to talk for maybe the first series or two.

We wound up keeping the line open slightly longer than that.

Hey, free night and weekend minutes, right?

Tomorrow: September 19-25

Yikes, Part I

Well.

That was a busy three weeks.

Let’s review.

Labor Day weekend was lovely. A Saturday barbecue at the new home of Dr. D and she for whom I am trying to avoid buying a Murph jhodpuri, followed by back-to-back Buffett concerts at Wrigley Field. Thanks to a ticket connection possessed by the former author of the now-defunct Fatass Underground, Honey has caught a fly ball in center field at the Friendly Confines. Then began The Stretch:

September 6th: Third to last day at work. I am given the task of “training” my successor. I teach him everything he needs to know in maybe twenty minutes, spend fifteen more minutes telling him about numerous manager-whacked features and practices that, if resumed, would instantly restore the position he’s taking to that of Useful, Necessary Full-Time Job, devote forty minutes to warning him about various coworkers and managers that will trash him behind his back in an effort to have him placed under their authority and supervision, wish him all the best, and send him, weeping, on his way.

September 7th: Pleased, I accept an invitation to lunch from one of my favorite coworkers, a nice account executive. Within maybe half an hour, I begin receiving phone calls from other AEs, who express their disappointment that they will not be able to make it to my “farewell luncheon”, and wish me well. Confused, I call my original lunch date and engage in a conversation wherein I glean that her interpretation of the “we” in the phrase “We should have lunch” is somewhat different from mine. I have lunch with a dozen salespeople, all of whom I like very much. I am proud and touched. I am always startled when people like me.

After lunch, I pass the mantle of Office Football Pool Commissioner. My final act in office is to declare myself Commisioner Emeritus, which esteemed title carries a lifetime exemption to play in the pool.

September 8th: I pack my few remaining personal items, clean my desk, burn a couple of programs to CD for the next guy, and wipe the hard drives of the two computers I have used for the last five years. Not that I’ve done anything outside The Rules or anything, you understand — I mean, would I do that? — but because you should leave the next guy a clean, error- and spyware-free machine on which he may start fresh, and because there is peace of mind in it for the outgoing employee, who may have done things on his desktop like reserve flights to Miami with a credit card. Security makes everybody happy.

Then I go out for drinks with the afternoon shift, with whom I arrived in 1997 as an intern. We do it because I like them, because closing circles makes me happy, and because closing the circle properly required we all hit the truth juice a little. We do. The circle closes. The Era of Al is officially over, eighteen months after it ended.

September 9th: I celebrate my retirement in the most appropriate way I can think of: For only the second time ever anywhere, Team Surname — my father, myself, my older younger brother, and my younger younger brother — assembles to play golf. Unlike our first outing this past Father’s Day, we do not break par playing best-ball. Like our first effort, the hideous Competetive gene Al Senior irresponsibly passed along to his boys was alert and expressive. A fabulous time was had by all.

I go home, shower, and head for the Naperville Hilton, which is serving as the staging area for Dave & Becky’s wedding. In a nifty bit of timing, the Best Man, co-Groomsman Fatass Underground, and I all arrive in two minutes of one another. This was, accurately, regarded a positive omen. We change swiftly and then do inestimable damage to a minivan by cramming nine hundred pounds of wedding party into the front half of it and driving to St. Charles. We pick up tuxedoes via drive-thru, more or less, and arrive at the church within the margin of error implicit in a civilized definition of “on time”.

We run through a rehearsal at the direction of the Reverend Shecky Greene, who, among other things, recommended to the Best Man and Maid of Honor that they make sure their hands were free to “fluff”. I didn’t know fluffers used their hands, padre. Oh, wait, you know that term. What kind of holy man are you, again, exactly? Really. Can I see your license? Hahaha. No, seriously, lemme see it.

The rehearsal dinner saw a heroic amount of bread consumed in my immediate vicinity, a lot of longing looks at babies, and the possible birth of a new nickname for the sporting gent formerly known as “Fuck-Toy”.

September 10th: Dave marries the radiant Patient Zero. Lovely wedding, lovely reception. High point: The co-Best Man brought his A game to the pictures wherein he was assigned to kiss the flower girl, and my, oh, my are they going to hate those pictures in ten or fifteen years. I hope. If they don’t, Vacation Wife, don’t come crying to me when you’re a grandma at 37. Yes, I gave her her first martini, but a girl member of the wedding party sat on my lap and kissed me. It takes a while to alter plans on the fly. Had I known IN ADVANCE that the one I drew would be four, I wouldn’t have reflexively poured a drink into her. Anyway, if rabbitlike fertility and two-shot slutting ride the Y chromosome, “Mom”, it’s on you to watch her, not me. You made your own mess, yo.

By the way, the food was delicious, Happy Couple. Note to the engaged: Meat on sticks.

Tomorrow: September 11-18

Huddled Masses

We and all of our worldly possessions are holed up in a Baymont Suites in Tampa, waiting for the go-ahead from the weather radar to press on to new quarters in the Florida Keys. We went to Bern’s last night. Today we’re going to Ybor City, then maybe we’ll hit Busch Gardens, maybe we’ll play nine. Depends how we feel. Haven’t decided about dinner yet, but i’m thinking hard about hotel porn and a pizza. Ooo! Might see if the Devil Rays are in town.

I don’t know what all the bitching is about. Being a refugee rules.

Celebrity Cameo

Though it is a correction, this is the coolest comment I have ever received, and possibly one of the high points of my life:

New comment on your post #315 “ZZZZZZZZzhwhemmmmnn?”

Author : Mad Dog (IP: 64.235.142.230 , cab-64-235-142-230.sirus.com)
E-mail : md@maddogproductions.com
URI : http://www.maddogproductions.com
Comment:

As Earl the Dead Cat’s father, I have to make a correction. I was never
on David Letterman. Earl, however, appeared on The Tonight Show with
Johnny Carson twice.

http://www.earlthedeadcat.com

You can see all comments on this post here: http://www.blood-and-thunder.com/index.php/2005/07/26/zzzzzzzzzhwhemmmmnn/#comments

Sheer Immensity

Here is how big Hurricane Katrina has been: Virtually everyone in America has been able to adapt the disaster to boost their favorite cause. Think about what an extraordinary thing that is. Katrina gives everyone a way to “prove” what they already thought! Isn’t she generous?

Among the examples:

  • The welfare state is an immense failure.
  • George Bush is personally responsible for, well, everything, really. Unless it’s good.
  • Bureaucracy, literally, kills.
  • Looting is a reasonable response to a three-day absence of groceries.
  • Ray Nagin is a god among men.
  • Ray Nagin is an criminally incompetent boob.
  • Katrina was sent by God to punish homosexuals.
  • Katrina was sent by Allah to punish Americans.
  • Hurricanes have been getting steadily worse since the invention of the car.
  • No they haven’t.
  • The media is vile and racist and biased. Unlike everybody else. And CNN.
  • Building New Orleans was a bad idea in the first place.
  • Republican authoritarianism saves lives.
  • No one cares about Southerners/black people/the elderly/etc.
  • Corporate America is responsible for all ills.
  • This is what happens when man fails to respect nature.
  • Hundreds of people are dead. Maybe billions. It’s someone’s fault, anyway.
  • This is proof we need more space exploration.
  • Mankind should be extinct shortly, and it’s well past time.

    Good God, you people. Shit happens. It’s sad. Life is thus. See a thing for what it is, not through your own choice of prism.

  • deedeedeedeedeedeedeedee

    I have tickets for the ‘Salty Piece of Land’ Tour concerts at Wrigley Field this weekend.

    The last time I had tickets to see Jimmy Buffett was for the show that wasn’t held at Tinley Park on September 13, 2001.

    (Hit the ‘Twilight Zone’ music again, please.)

    deedeedeedeedeedeedeedee

    Thanks.

    I am presently determining the exact price I can charge insurance companies and humanitarian organizations for a written guarantee that I will never again attempt to see a Buffett show.