Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I, Turkey

I’m proud that I’m a turkey,
A bird with so few peers,
Did you know that we’ve been around,
For about ten million years?

I also bet you didn’t know,
We’re among the fastest birds alive.
We can run at 30 miles per hour,
And fly at fifty-five!

Benjamin Franklin called us a symbol, 
He thought we were quite regal.
And if old Ben had had his way,
You’d be feasting on bald eagle.

We often spend the night in trees,
We have carnuckles, a wattle and snood.
See, I’m rather smart and can name all my parts,
And I know what they are, do yood?

Not all of us gobble, only the boys.
Our females talk with clicks.
We have 3500 feathers,
Which makes us cute to chicks.

We have no ears, but we hear real well,
And we can nearly see behind us.
Which is why when you hunt us in the woods,
It’s really hard to find us.

We turkeys are such friendly birds,
We’re never mean or malicious.
The only bad thing about being one,
Is that we’re so delicious!

Salami and Cheese Pie

If it had a fancier name, well, we never know about it. We always called it “salami and cheese pie,” which not only identifies it but practically tells you all the ingredients as well. It was Mom’s specialty, or rather one of her many specialties.

In addition to the thick crust, the only ingredients were salami and cheese (of course) and some eggs. But despite the simplicity of the recipe it was still something of a time-consuming chore to make, especially in the sizes my mom usually created.

Here’s the recipe, in case you want to give it a go. You roll out the dough for the crust, place it in a pan and then stack alternating layers of salami (Italian) and cheese (Swiss) until you reach the top. Then you pour beaten eggs over the salami and cheese, cover with more dough and throw in the over.
Okay, you sticklers will notice a few things missing. How many eggs, how hot an over and, most importantly, how do you make the crust? Well, I suspect any hot temperature will cook the pie, eventually, and the number of eggs mostly depends on how big a pie you’re making, doesn’t it? And as for the ingredients and proportions needed to make the crust? I don’t know.

Mom always seemed to fret over the crust and getting it just right, and almost always complained that she must had made some kind of mistake.

“How does the crust seem to you?” she’d ask my brothers and me.
“Mmmmph-mmm-phhh-glllp,” we’d answer, our mouths too stuffed with salami and cheese pie to achieve anything even approximating proper enunciation.

The salami and cheese pie making was usually reserved for special occasions. Traditionally it is an Easter treat, but Mom sometimes made it when I was coming for a visit.

“Oh sure, you’re making salami and cheese pie because Lenny’s coming home,” my brothers would tease. And despite the huge amount of work in creating a salami and cheese pie, I remember the time my mother made two: one to eat with the family and one for me to take back to California. I’m hoping that I showed the proper appreciation for Mom’s beautiful gesture.

Sometime in my forties, I believe it was, I had the bright idea of taking my slice of salami and cheese pie and softening it up just a bit with a few seconds in the microwave. Mom never failed to look at me as if I had just stuck a cat in there. To her the salami and cheese pie was a long-lived Italian tradition, and her ancestors sure as hell didn’t put their slice into the microwave.

I’ve attempted, with varying degrees of success, to make my own salami and cheese pie, all of which were more than edible, and none of which would have earned Mom’s approval. Like Mom, and generations before her, I made my own crust, at least the first few times. But unlike my ancestors I decided that was too much work. And so then I got creative and made small, individual pies in a muffin pan, using Pillsbury biscuit dough to make the crust. 

And finally, not so very long ago, I made a salami and cheese pie using the prepared ball of pizza dough they sell at Safeway for a buck and a half. Was the final product tasty? Yes it was, very much so. Was it as good as the salami and cheese pies Mom used to make? Don’t be absurd. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Saddest Sound I Ever Heard

I didn’t recognize his voice at first, despite having spoken on the phone with William nearly every day for the past twenty years. He voice was thin, and completely devoid of its usual power and bravado. As when I listened to a few more words I realized he was crying.
     Between the softest of sobs William told me what had happened, how his toddler-aged daughter had gone into her mother’s purse and found a CD of Italian music. Attached to the CD was a hand-written note. It was in Italian, a language William could speak fluently. And read.
            The note, to use an old-fashioned term, was a love letter to William’s wife Kate, apparently sent by some unknown lothario in Italy. In it he talked of the day when Kate would move to Italy and they could be together. What he actually said was they “all” could be together, including William’s little daughter in his fantasy.
            And so I just listened quietly to this sad story, partly because I couldn’t think of any advice to offer, but mostly because it was the right thing to do. And although Kate never did run off to be with the Italian, she and William eventually divorced anyway. And for a long time I looked back on that afternoon telephone call and thought of it as the saddest sound I ever heard. And for a long time it was, but I had no idea what the future held in store.
            It must be one of my earliest memories, but it’s there, as faint as a distant star. There was a time, and I probably was not yet three years old, when I was confused by my infant brother’s name. It was Robert, but I dimly remember thinking it was Rabbit, and I was far too young to know that people, generally speaking, didn’t name their babies after rabbits. I learned my brother’s proper name quite quickly, I think, and its connection to the word “rabbit” didn’t reappear until that afternoon in my parents’ kitchen nearly fifty years later.
            As I sat in the gloomy kitchen with my mother and father, a cremation was taking place less than two blocks away. It was, of course, my brother, who had taken his own life less than a week earlier. We couldn’t be sure that the cremation was occurring at that very moment, but we had a general idea of the time it was scheduled, so it may well have been. And suddenly, as I held her hand, my mother emitted a wail that came from a place so deep inside her that it barely seemed human.
            “My little Rabbit!” she cried.
      And that was the day I heard the saddest sound I ever heard. It’s the saddest sound I ever will hear.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Caterpillar: Little Leonard Takes a Dive

It seems to be a common defense of certain behaviors. It was a different time, you’ll hear people say. And no doubt this time it was, the late 1950’s to be specific. And as for me, well, I too was different. For starters, I was only four years old.

There were five characters participating in this little drama. There was me, of course, and my mom, who would have been around thirty. And there was the woman next door and her son, their ages comparable to that of my mom and me. We were gathered by the side of the house on a warm summer day.

Oh, and the fifth participant in this scenario, and an unwilling one at that, was a caterpillar who happened to be crawling across the walkway from our house to the neighbors. If I remember correctly--and this was over five decades ago—it was one of those furry caterpillars, greenish yellow in color.

There’s no doubt that one of the multitude of things that can and will try a young mother’s patience is waiting for her kid to do something. Some mothers must surely have tricks that they employ to help spur along the process of eating breakfast or taking a bath or whatever. And on that day, in the sun-drenched space between their houses, two young mothers came up with a plan to get their young sons to put on their sneakers as quickly as possible.

“Hurry!” said one of them, and it doesn’t matter which. “Whoever puts on his shoes first can step on that caterpillar!”

And so the race was on. And whether I consciously formed the thought, or it was but a seed only just beginning to germinate in my young mind, I can’t say. On some level I knew I didn’t want to squash that caterpillar, and so the kid next door was the first one to get his sneakers on. He immediately claimed his promised reward.

I was remembering that caterpillar over fifty years later when I was sitting with my dad in his kitchen. Suddenly Dad, who was himself but weeks away from death, pointed at a spider that was climbing up the wall by the refrigerator. Dad quickly grabbed a paper towel and thrust it at me.

“Here,” he said. “Kill that spider.”

I took the paper towel and used it to gently capture the panicked arachnid. I walked to the front of the house, opened the door and shook the paper towel until I saw the spider half drop/half float to the ground, and then scurry to the relative safety of the front lawn.

“I don’t kill spiders,” I said to my dad in a simple, matter-of-fact way.
“Oh,” he said, in an equally matter-of-fact way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Them’s Shootin’ Words, Mister

If I had lived in the Old West I’d be dead now. And I don’t mean because I would have been born about 175 years ago. I would have been shot dead, and I probably would have deserved it.

This story happened a long time ago. Not Old West long ago, but perhaps thirty years back. Some friends had gathered for a poker game, although now that I think of it, few of the guys seated around the table were my friends. They were more either co-workers or friends of friends. And the fact that I didn’t know them particularly well makes my actions on that night even more unbelievable. In fact, I still cringe when I think about it, which I try not to do very often.

We were at the end of particularly exhilarating hand with a fairly large pot. I was already out, having folded as usual at the first sign of trouble. There were three players left, including one fellow named Jim, who I didn’t know very well at all. I think he was a cousin of a co-worker, and I had played cards with him on only one other occasion.

Jim had just tossed a healthy raise into the pot, which caused the two remaining players to fold, one immediately and one after about forty-five seconds of hemming and hawing. Jim laughed, slapped his cards on the table face down and cheerfully raked in the not unsubstantial pot.

“What did you have?” came the inevitable query from at least two of the players. Jim just laughed, ignoring the question as he began to stack his newly-acquired chips. It was after one more player asked Jim what he had that I committed my crime. I still have trouble believing I did it, nearly three decades later.

It was only because we were playing in San Francisco in 1985 and not in Deadwood in 1885 that I was able to avoid the undoubtedly uncomfortable feeling of a bullet penetrating my heart. Sure, I know now that it’s up to the player who bluffed the winning hand to show his cards or not. I also know that my turning over his cards was, in the game of poker, nothing short of a sin, and a mortal one at that.

Ah, but I was still young and wildly ignorant in the etiquette of poker, along with a myriad of other things as well. I thought Jim was just being silly. And Jim, for reasons I’ll never understand, just kept smiling as I committed my egregious transgression. Perhaps he was as ignorant as I in the manners of poker. Or maybe he was just an easy-going type who had just won a pile of money and so decided to let this unenlightened baboon slide, just this once.

And so I lucked out, both because the person I had wronged was a friendly sort, and because I hadn’t committed my transgression a hundred years earlier. I can’t imagine for a second that old Wild Bill and the boys sitting around the table would ever let me get away with a disrespectful move like that. No sir, they would not.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Saga of the Hand-Held Fan

            That latest interjection had been delivered by my brother Rob, and it was in response to a question that my mother had just asked him for the third time. And for the third time Rob had given the same one-word response, each time with a little more force and possibly a little more desperation.
            Perhaps a bit of the backstory is in order. Have you ever seen one of those battery-operated hand-held fans? I believe they still make them. They sort of look like what polite society used to call a “personal massager,” except with a propeller attached. Well, they had them fifty years ago too, and Rob had seen one advertised in a magazine. And ordered it.
            Now, I can’t presume to remember how much the gadget cost back then, but considering how long ago it was, plus the fact that my brother was about eight years old, I assume it was only a buck or two. Which, I should add, is not an amount to be scoffed at, especially when you consider that it is the rough equivalent of fifteen dollars today. That’s a lot of dough for a little kid.
            Here’s where the problem started: Even before Rob had filled out the order form and sealed the envelope, he had been telling our younger brother Eric that he was buying the fan for him. Where this act of childhood generosity came from I have no idea. I’ve always suspected that Rob, while attracted to the hand-held fan, also felt a little embarrassed about this, thinking that the fan was a little childish, or even silly. I could be wrong. Perhaps Rob’s act was simply what it appeared to be…a magnanimous gesture to his little brother.
            Over the next couple of weeks Rob waited in eager anticipation, constantly reminding Eric that any day now he would be the recipient of his older brother’s uncharacteristic largesse. Even I, who for once was little more than a curious observer in this particular family drama, felt a touch of the building excitement.
            And then the big day finally came and the small cardboard box arrived with it. It was, of course, addressed to Rob, and so he opened it. He removed the packing material from the box, saw the hand-held fan and he liked it. I mean, he really liked it.
            All through the ensuing hostilities Rob was consistent in the defense of his actions. He had, after all, ordered the fan. He had paid for it, and the box had arrived with his name on it. Clearly, People’s Exhibit A belonged to him.
            The prosecution, however (i.e. Mom and Dad) saw it differently. He had promised the fan to Eric from the very beginning, and that made Eric the rightful owner. And so Mom asked Rob the question for an unprecedented and patience-wearing fourth time:
            “Are you going to give him the fan?”
            “No!” responded my impressively stubborn middle brother, also for the fourth time.

            I don’t recall how it was all eventually settled, but I’m almost certain that Rob spent a period of time confined to his room and Eric ended up with possession of that hand-held fan. He even used it once or twice before completely losing interest and tossing it into the clutter of a kitchen drawer. Apparently Rob by this time had no interest in retrieving it, and so the hand-held fan was bounced around the bottom of that drawer until the propeller snapped off and the battery corroded. Then somebody, I don’t remember who, threw it into the trash. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Facing the Naked Truth

I received my new issue of Playboy in the mail today. Last year, after over a decade of not even glancing at a single issue, I decided to once again become a subscriber. And I soon found myself enjoying every issue, perhaps even more than I thought I would.
            I’m one of those guys who insists that he chiefly reads the magazine for its articles. And within that I’d include the cartoons, fiction and the two interviews, although not so much the Party Jokes. They were terribly unfunny and horribly outdated decades ago, and I’m sad to report that this particular situation hasn’t much improved over the years.
            And yes, of course I look at the naked pictures, and even go so far as to make the effort to unfold each month’s centerfold. They are, after all, beautiful young women, so why wouldn’t I?  Way back in the olden days I used to check the date of birth of each folded woman, just to see if she was older or younger than I was. Gradually, inevitably, they all became younger than I, and then much younger, until finally reaching the present day’s sad reality, where the centerfold is usually born just about the time I turned forty, and is now of an age where she could statistically be my granddaughter.
            Ah, but she isn’t, and so I take another quick gander. And then, I swear, I go back to the articles. But it seems that in a few months I will no longer have that option to gander, as Playboy has announced that they are discontinuing their 60-plus year tradition of presenting naked women in their pages.  Apparently, however, there’s no need for me, and men like me, to worry. Happily, Playboy will continue to feature the excellent articles, interviews and cartoons that I claim to so look forward to each and every month.
            You know, as I sit here typing this I can see a Playboy envelope sitting right on top of a stack of bills. In it is the order form asking me to renew my subscription. To be honest, it’s been sitting there for quite a while. I’ve even picked it up several times this week, staring at it as I mentally debated whether to write that check for twenty-four bucks.
            You see, that envelope contains more than a mere subscription renewal form. It’s actually sort of a challenge, a test for me to pass or fail. For years I’ve boasted, and perhaps even believed, that I  read Playboy simply for the articles, and would have done so whether the magazine included an endless parade of magnificently naked women or not. And now, at long last, the time has come to prove that either everything I’ve always claimed is the absolute truth, or if I am, as more than a few people have suggested, completely and absolutely full of shit.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What a Dip!

I can’t say how many years ago it started, exactly, but I do know that I’ve been doing it for several decades. I’d go to one of these street fairs, shake a few (or not so few) pretzel sticks from the plastic tub and proceed to snack on the array of different flavored dips that were offered as free samples. Yum.
            You’ve tried them yourself, haven’t you? Of course you have, because I’ve spent too much valuable time standing behind you, waiting patiently while you slurped down each flavor available, from the Garlic to the Jalapeno to the Dill…yep, every one of them.
            And you always strike the same pose as, I suppose, do I. You put the goop-covered pretzel into your mouth and then blankly gaze up to the heavens with  half-closed eyes, as if concentrating, really concentrating, on the taste of that particular dip. You act as if you’re judging wine at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, when really we all know you’re doing nothing more than glomming free snacks.
            I know this, because for years I’ve done the same thing. I myself have even developed my own technique, where I use not one but two pretzels to capture the dip. This way, you see, it’s less like using a toothpick and more like, well, a shovel.  I would be hard put to even estimate how many free tastes of dip (or pretzel sticks!) I’ve gobbled over the years, but what I can tell you with more accuracy is how many packages of these tasty dip mixes I’ve actually purchased. That would be exactly none. (Until recently, that is.)
            And yet almost every time, as I walked away smacking my lips after a sample of the Crab or perhaps the Parmasean, I would turn to Spike and vow, Someday, after I win the lottery, I’m going to buy about a hundred packages of those dips and finally give back for all the free samples I’ve scarfed down over the years. And won’t the guy selling them be surprised!
            Well, needless to say, I’ve never won the lottery. (Or else why would I be spending my valuable time writing this crap?) But a few weeks ago I did, for the first time, actually purchase one of the packages of dip mix. No, not a hundred or them, or even a dozen. Just the one. (Artichoke flavored, I think it was.)
            And boy, was I proud to be doing it! Immediately the man behind the counter began to treat me with respect, and not like the pudgy moocher that I had been, lo these many decades. And sure, I was a bit disheartened to find that the cost was no longer a nearly-sensible four dollars per package, but had skyrocketed to an outrageous five. But I reminded myself of all the free samples I’d gorged on over the years, no doubt a quantity of dip easily valued in the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, and then I didn’t feel so bad about squeezing out that fiver.
            How did the dip taste? Fine. I mean, really, there aren’t that many substances on Earth that, when mixed with a pint of sour cream and scooped up with potato chips, don’t taste pretty damn good, right?
            And so today, for the first time since I made my historic dip purchase, I went to a street fair and approached the dip booth. The first thing I noticed was a sign I had never seen before.  It said, Please use only one pretzel per dip. Now, it’s probably absurd to assume that the introduction of this new rule was a direct result of me using my double pretzel shovel technique over the years, but who can say for sure?
            And no, I didn’t buy another package of the dip mix. Haven’t you been paying attention? They owe me. After all, I bought one last time, which, to my way of thinking, gives me license to once again enjoy these tasty free dip samples, and the pretzels, today and for many years to come.

Monday, July 27, 2015

If It Sounds Too Delicious to Be True…

Given the choice, I’d rather have hors d’oeuvres for dinner than, well, dinner. I’ve always been that way. Do you know that judgmental look from a server at a party or wedding as you lighten his tray for the third time in as many minutes? I do.

And so when I heard the television commercials for “unlimited apps” from that chain restaurant, I knew that one day I would have to try it. And today was that day. Still, when you’ve been around for a while, you tend look askance at everything. At a certain point the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” becomes your personal mantra. And so, reverting back to the, “Be Prepared” motto of my Boy Scout days, I made sure to do my due diligence before making the long drive to the restaurant that had promised to make all of my gluttonous dreams come true.

In truth, I only went online to see if the “unlimited apps” promo was still going on. I was even going to go so far as to get the phone number of the closest restaurant and give them a call. “If I drive all the way there will I be able to eat appetizers until I explode like that guy in the old Monty Python sketch?” I would have asked them. Unfortunately, my research didn’t even get that far.

Once on the restaurant’s website I read the fine print about this so-called “unlimited” appetizer scheme. And here’s what I found out: Each appetizer costs ten dollars, and once purchased you can have as many of that particular appetizer that you can stomach. In other words, if you order the fried mozzarella sticks, you can have as many of them as you want. Hell, you can eat them all night long, assuming you have no major qualms about never pooping again. But if you want to try something different, that, my friend, will cost you another ten bucks.

So once I got the low-down I discussed it with Spike, and we decided that even if we each ordered a different appetizer, that would not give us the variety that we had dreamed of. No, the cost of that variety would put us up into the thirty, forty or even fifty dollar category. So we chucked the whole idea.

Further research told me that earlier this year the restaurant chain, to their credit, attacked this appetizer monotony problem by introducing the “Endless Choice” promotion. Here at last (for only two dollars more per) you could have your endless appetizers and choose any that the restaurant offered. Unfortunately, I saw no evidence that this promotion was still going on.

And besides, let’s face it: The appetizers featured are not the same quality you’d find at that upscale party or wedding. For the most part they are fried and/or breaded, and I suspect the “unlimited” aspect of your meal will find its stomach-cramping limit a lot sooner than you might expect.

And so I decided to scrap the whole thing, and get a cheeseburger from McDonald’s. Apparently today was a day I decided I needed to eat crap, so why not go to the pros? And as for appetizers, I suppose I’ll just have to wait until I’m invited to a party or a wedding and then scarf appetizers the way God intended, judgmental looks from the waiter be damned. 

And yes, I accept that my next appetizer-eating opportunity may be a while from now. I’ve noticed that at my age my contemporaries are no longer throwing many weddings or upscale parties. Now, if only they'd start serving appetizers at funerals. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trump Your Cat!

Isn’t Facebook amazing? It used to take hundreds of conversations and dozens of years to find out what idiots your friends and family are. Now this can usually be accomplished is the short space of a few hours. Yes, thanks to today’s electronic wizardry, over the course of a single evening you can learn that your Aunt Hilda is a racist, your cousin Joe is a homophobe and that friend that you’ve known for over twenty years actually believes that there are angels walking all around us.

As for humor, banality rules the day. People apparently are laughing out loud and rolling on the floor laughing their ass off at the most inane things. Just today I saw three separate posts showing the new photos of the dwarf planet Pluto, each with a picture of the Disney dog Pluto superimposed on it. Really, how high does this measure on the clever meter? Barely a blip, you betcha. And did anybody who posted these hilarious images even bother to read the articles about what the New Horizons spacecraft actually discovered? Not bloody likely.

There are, however, some rather amusing things that pass through the pages of Facebook. (And I don’t just mean the photos that show that your ex has gained about two hundred pounds.)  And that’s how you can tell whether something posted on Facebook is totally trite or outrageously funny. You see, if I think it’s funny, it is. If I don’t, well then it’s stupid. See how simple it is?

So my point is, and you knew I had to get to one eventually, that today I saw something on Facebook that made me laugh. Yes, out loud. People all over the country are “Trumping” their cats. That is, they are taking little clumps of their cat’s brushed hair, putting it on top of the cat’s head and taking a photo. And just like that, an army of little Trump cats.

And in the interest of full disclosure here, let me admit that I honestly don’t know if Donald Trump’s hair is real, a wig or some unholy combination of the two. I mean, if The Donald’s bizarre hairstyle is truly a wig, couldn’t he afford one that looks much better than thing sitting on his head? Why, with all his cash he could be sporting a flowing mane like Fabio!

Well, you know I just had to get in on this, and so I got the cat brush and a plastic baggie and headed out to the yard to look for my unwilling partner, Celine. Now Celine has had to visit the vet three times in the past three weeks, so naturally she’s a little skittish when she sees me approaching, especially when I’m armed with what are obvious instruments of destruction. What fresh hell is this? she seems to be asking.

But no, it was an easy matter to brush her long, orange hair and place a fair-sized specimen of it into the plastic baggie. Then I let Celine retreat to her favorite resting spot, behind the four foot tall catnip bush that makes her the most popular feline in the neighborhood. As you can imagine, she makes a lot of cat friends because of that bush, much like the kid who has the built-in pool in his backyard.

Two hours later Celine made the mistake of emerging from her catnip sanctuary, and I was ready for her. I took the tiny toupee that I had constructed from her hair and placed it on her head. It immediately fell off, despite my having applied a circle of Scotch tape to it. I returned to the house and found a roll of packaging tape. That should do the trick!

And it did, although it wasn’t a whole lot stickier than the Scotch tape. Miraculously, Celine didn’t shake her head, or attempt in any other way to remove her new extensions. I used this opportunity to grab my camera, stick it in her face and fire off two pictures. I thought the second one might have worked, so I checked it and it did. And again I found myself laughing out loud. And so back inside to post this already classic picture onto Facebook.

I downloaded the photo onto my computer, and when I saw it in the larger size I began to get a tad critical. Oh, it was a good shot, no doubt, but the wig could have used a bit more hair. And it could have been positioned a little more forward on her head. And wouldn’t it have great if Celine had been looking directly at the camera? I debated going back out, tracking down Celine, attaching the wig and getting a few more shots.

Are you out of your mind? said one of the many voices inside my head.  This isn’t going to hang in a museum. It’s a picture of a cat with a clump of hair on its head, and it will pass through the short Facebook cycle in about twelve hours, never to be referred to again. The voice, I realized, was right, and so I posted the picture that had first made me laugh out loud, and got a lot of nice feedback. 

In the end I’m glad I didn’t try for perfection. Already people constantly accuse me of having too much time on my hands. I didn’t need to spend half a day attempting to take the perfect picture of an annoyed cat with a clump of hair taped on its head and prove them right.
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