Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You’re living in a WHAT!?

The voice of one of my lawyer friends comes through the telephone: “So now that you’ve relocated to Florida, where are you living? Did you buy a condo? A house?”

Me: “We bought a doublewide.”

Voice: “-------.”

Voice continues: “--------.”

Me: “You don’t know what that is, do you?”

Voice: “Not exactly.”

So I explain in measured, simple-to-absorb terms, that I live in a mobile home park in the Tampa Bay area with a bunch of other 55-plus-year-olds.

Voice: “A mobile … uh, a TRAILER??!!”

Me: “Yes, exactly, although the more delicately constituted of us refer to it as a manufactured residence.”

Voice: “-------.”

This is cognitive dissonance in its purest, most joyous-to-behold form. I spent my legal career – “legal” is not the only career I’ve had – hauling in what many would call big bucks, although I had friends at the rainmaking end of the rainbow who would have starved on my pay. I loved the law – still do – but had grown weary of the more practical aspects of the law business – schmoozing clients, drumming up business, worrying about generating cash flow – in short, all the perfectly honorable stuff that pays the bills. I admire those who are driven by the law because they are so deeply satisfied and because they make the very best lawyers. But I was never driven and did not want to continue plowing that field until I was 65 or 66 or, as some have done, until I dropped in the traces.

With my kids securely launched, my Connecticut home almost paid for, and a modest nest egg – shockingly modest, some would say – tucked away, my choices were retire in Connecticut at 66 with my then-current lifestyle or sell everything and retire to Florida at 60 to a life of genteel poverty. Or at least I hoped it would be genteel. The nuns who instilled in me my lifelong fear of religion and penguins preached to us 13-year-old boys, “If you think it, you have done it.” So, having thought it, I did it: off to the sunny south for me and Judy.

We live in a home made of metal and particle board. My lawyer friends do not live in metal homes or have substantial chunks of their homes fashioned of ersatz wood. They are – though most would never say so – appalled. I have waited all my life to appall people with impunity. In the past, fear of punity has always had its way with me.

Me: “Yes, it’s a trailer park, the kind that draws tornadoes and makes a mess on the front page of the Hartford Courant every hurricane season. Ours is a high-class trailer park, though, insofar as management does not allow junk cars to pile up in what passes for the front yard or chickens to peck around the back dooryard. But it is a trailer park. My house is put together with paneling and staples and bathtub caulk. I love it here.” In truth, I do not like the bathtub caulk, which sticks everything in the place to everything else, but that’s a quibble, and I am learning to cope.

Voice: “------.”

I have opted out. Neither an old hippie nor otherwise disaffected, I nonetheless live a simple existence that satisfies me and Judy. There is money to pay for whatever medical issues may arise in my dotage and for a few luxuries to boot. I write, read, volunteer, and sit on my ass to my heart’s content. I fly or drive north to see my grandchildren when I want, and I bring them here when they want. If I were to sink a suitcase full of money into a house, thereby freeing my lawyer friends from their rising state of appallment, then I couldn’t do those things that have quickly become so important to me. Instead I would stay home in my stucco hacienda, worry about mill rates, and tend what passes in Florida for a lawn

My tacky little doublewide is full of the stuff I have loved since Judy agreed to marry me 41 years ago. (This much-loved stuff does not include the two cats, but they make Judy happy.) Everything that was not much-loved when I left Connecticut, I gave to my kids or sold to my neighbors. Now, when I visit Connecticut, everything looks vaguely familiar. Oh, and I kept my 7-year-old sports car, which is where I store my masculinity. I still love that. The car, I mean. And the masculinity too, I suppose.

A curious coda is developing. Lawyers whom I had expected to one day drop in their traces have called to inquire, oh-so-casually, how I have done this – whatever “this” means to them. I tell them that there is life after law. I am living with that greatest of all treasures – impunity. In a trailer park.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

On a Boat

I don't believe in coincidence. The following happened for a reason. I just don't know what the reason is.

On Thursday, a friend sent me to an on-line video called "I'm On a Boat." I'll give you the link in a minute, but stay with the story line here. The friend is a big-shot lawyer at what used to be a white-shoe law firm in Hartford, back when lawyers wore white shoes with their summer seersuckers. Now the same lawyers wear combat boots scuffed up with ass prints. Anyway, the law firm is a place where you don't say "shit" or, if you do, you close the door first. I have a special place in my seersucker heart for this firm. So when I tracked down the link, I was somewhat jolted to find that the video is a full-on, in-ya-face rap tune whose lyrics consist almost entirely of "I'm on a BOAT, muthaf**ka, on a BOAT." That's right, he sent me to the bleeped out version.

I'm as rap-a-phobic as most pale males of my age, but this video is an irresistible masterpiece of overstatement with a catchy beat. Well, actually, it's pretty much the same beat as every other rap song, but this one's gut-thumping insistence is somehow - well - nearly tolerable. The song follows the story of two nerdy white boys who win a ride "on a BOAT, muthaf**ka, on a BOAT." Transformed into tuxedoed masters of cool, the no-longer-nerdy rappers rap on the front deck of a speeding 80-foot white yacht, impliedly, and probably actually, owned by an overdressed black rap star named T-Pain, who sings rather demurely in the background. It's fun to watch and is probably laced with lots of socially and racially significant metaphors and the like, all of which were wasted on me.

But I came to write about sushi.

Thursdays are Bingo night here in Sugar Creek. Judy takes her mom to sit amidst a sea of white-haired ladies waiting for their number to be called. Bingo takes place in the building next to the shuffleboard courts. People take being over 55 seriously here in Florida, and they are good at it. Me, being mired deep in denial, I still tear up the AARP solicitations that come daily in the mail. But enough on the philosophy of aging. On Thursdays, I'm on my own. When I'm not spending my Thursday evenings in church or in the Badda Bing Club down the street, I generally take myself out for food that Judy won't eat. I like sushi.

My local sushi favorite has followed the economy to hell recently, so I punched up the next sushi place listed on my GPS - sort of a culinary roulette wheel - and landed at Sushi Fune, about 2 miles away. Nice spot. The hostess and waitresses wear spectacular kimonos and the sushi is fresh and nicely prepared.

But actually, I came to write about sushi on a boat.

I sit at the U-shaped sushi bar, a 40-foot-long affair surrounding the chef and his usual counters laden with iced sushi ingredients, soy sauce and those clever wooden serving trays. Sushi Fune, however, also sports a moat. The moat is maybe a foot wide. It emerges at counter level through a curtain from the kitchen, circles the arena clockwise just in front of me and my sushi bar-mates, and wanders back behind the curtain and into the kitchen. I stick my finger in the moat water, and it's cold. This means it is refrigerated, since tap water in Florida is not cold. In fact, faucets here are labeled "Hot" and "Tepid." Drifting along with the flow of the moat, bow to stern, gunwales to the rail, gyring and gimbling in the wabe, are 30 or so ceramic boats. On the promenade deck of each boat is a little dish of something good to eat: edamame, iced octopus salad, California rolls, cold Soba noodles. It's Japanese fare, standard but well prepared and curiously presented.

Wait for it...

Your dinner at Sushi Fune is served on a BOAT, on a muthaf**king BOAT. You take what you like, or at least what you can identify, off the boat as it floats past, sampling whatever looks good - and it all looks good, except to Judy. Remember her? She's playing Bingo. As plundered boats return to the kitchen, the kitchen gnomes restock them with more foods that you don't recognize, but which you eat anyway, and they, too, are good. At the end of your meal, the waitress counts up the empty dishes, performs some calculations that lie beyond the ken of the western mind, and you pay the BILL, the muthaf**king BILL. I never said it was cheap.

This is where I should close with some profound statement about the role in our lives played by juxtaposition and the feng shui of serendipity. But you'll settle for the address for "I'm On a Boat," the unbleeped version. (You'll have to cut and paste, since I haven't found the "link" widget on this machine.) Crank up the speakers, but make sure there aren't any kids or adults around.

If you are so inclined, check out the tag line at the end of the page for Sushi Fune:

I'm not making this stuff up.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ghandi and the Bullshot

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

Christians Praying for Money at Wall Street Bull

-Wonkette 8/22/09

I suppose I have just lost half my audience, but I guess we might as well understand each other up front.

Damn! I swore I wasn't going to do politics, but this was too good to ignore.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Hyphenated Cat

For reasons I don’t understand, we own two cats. Their names are Shut Up and Dickhead. I can’t tell them apart, but I’ve never really had to because I always speak to both of them at the same time. As a result, I think of them as one hyphenated cat. Shut Up-Dickhead lives on the lanai, which is Florida-speak for a front porch with delusions of upward mobility.

We have had Shut Up-Dickhead for some 14 years, which is easily 13 years too long. They don’t catch mice and I can’t get them to eat palmetto bugs. Our lanai is screened in, but it is egg-fry hot down here in August, and Judy does not believe that cats can stand the heat. So our lanai has been shrink-wrapped and I put in an air conditioner. Judy scoops poop once a day and the town poop truck comes twice a week to collect the scoopings.

Shut Up-Dickhead is a pain in the ass when we want to go somewhere for more than a few days. They expect to eat and drink regularly and become testy when they do not. When they are hungry or when they think they should be hungry, they make a considerable racket, which is how they got their respective names. Neighbor Dave next door hates noise of any sort, so extended cat howling while we are traveling would only lead to social unrest. Moreover, if you don’t scoop at reasonable intervals, your lanai fills with poop. We are waiting – or at least I am waiting – for Shut Up-Dickhead to die so we can do some extended touring, during which time the lanai will not fill with poop. I know that sounds heartless, but – well – never mind – maybe it is.

I have some uncategorized collectibles that share living arrangements on the lanai with Shut Up-Dickhead, things like Joan Baez records and my old fraternity paddle, things for which I have no further use but with which I cannot bring myself to part. (I put great stock in not ending sentences with prepositions, but sometimes that obsession leads to abominations like that last sentence. Find another blog if off is what that puts you.) To keep the cat fur off my treasures, we have been looking for one of those plushly carpeted Kitty Condos. We have been holding off because I am too damn cheap to spend a three-figure sum on accommodations for a hyphenated cat. Then, just last week, we came upon a recovering derelict on a street corner holding a cardboard sign reading “Kitty Condos – Cheap!” Beside him on the grass was a row of pouffy condos. We stopped. For $99 in carefully counted cash, we jammed a multi-level cat castle into the back seat and sped home. Our lanai now qualifies as multi-unit housing. Although it took a while for Shut Up-Dickhead to part with Joan Baez, they now sit proudly on the condo roof looking out on the world like Yertle the Turtle surveying his domain. Therein lies the problem.

Shut Up-Dickhead used to be boys, but we reorganized them when they were babies. For nearly 14 years they have been content to be sexless, sort of like Gumby with fur. Lately however, one of them – let’s assume it’s Dickhead – has had flashbacks, probably brought on by profligate behavior when he was in college. Anyway – cut to the chase – Dickhead has been mounting his brother. A lot. Personally, I have no issues with whatever two or more consenting adults do in the privacy of their lanai, but this lanai is not private. Mounted on the roof of the condo, they look like the hood ornament on Larry Flint’s Lincoln. They are scandalizing the neighborhood. Most of our neighbors have not been on the roof of the condo since the 1970’s and are unlikely to be amused by Shut Up-Dickhead’s in flagrante antics.

We have reluctantly started lacing Dickhead’s chow with kitty saltpeter. But you have to admire his pluck.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Return to Amarillo

With SSGT Erik on his circuitous way to sunny, sandy Kuwait, I thought you might enjoy the following video created in Iraq by Brits, whose government has since had the good sense to bring them home. This is not as entertaining as Erik in his pink feather boa, but it will have to do. Crank up the speakers.


Gut Check - Oh, Never Mind

The windstorm formerly known as Tropical Storm - and Hurricane wannabe - Ana has broken up and dissipated. Weather people call this "breaking wind." That is my last fart joke of the week. I am going back to Lowe's to return my duct tape. I expect to stand in line since we Floridians are quite frugal and cannot afford to stockpile duct tape for no good reason.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Gut Check

It no doubt started, as all hurricanes do, with the breeze from some butterfly flapping its little wings over the west coast of Africa. I knew damn well when I came to Florida that the state is a hurricane sink hole. In fact, Hurricane Ike was idling in the Gulf even as I was unloading the U-Haul last September. Of course, by that time, Ike had already glided harmlessly past Tampa en route to Galveston. Nonetheless, the state-run homeowners’ insurance monolith refused to sell me insurance while Ike was on the loose. I was not nonplussed in the least. In fact, I have rarely been so plussed. No hurricane has scored a direct hit on Tampa Bay since 1921. Even Hurricane Fay, which bounced around Florida last year like a fart in a bucket, never laid a finger on Tampa. So why, 11 months later, is the first tropical storm of the Atlantic season scrambling my eggs? Could I have been ill-advised in my plussage?

The seat of my discomfort may be all those hurricane supplies I saw stacked up at Lowe’s this morning. Lanterns and duct tape and rope and plywood and, right there in the aisle near the registers, a gravity-flouting Tower of Batteries. I came home after buying spackle - the kind that goes on pink but dries white - and counted my spare batteries (4 D’s, no C’s, 8 AA’s, 3 AAA’s and a 9-volt with terminals rimmed by an ominous excrescence of old battery). I don’t even know what most of these batteries go to, except that the six remote controls in my living room all take AA’s. When the big one hits, my survival plan has been to pillage the remotes. Since my spackle outing, however, I have had a few hours to contemplate the significance of Lowe's's none-too-subtle marketing strategy, and I am developing a potent craving to go back and buy too many of everything in the stack.

Tropical storm Ana is nosing around the Leeward Islands as I type this. One unheralded benefit of living in Florida is that its residents all know exactly where the Leewards are. No one in Connecticut has ever heard of them except one old salt at the Essex Yacht Club and the snotty weather guy on Channel 30. Well, surprise – the Leeward Islands is just an uppity way of describing the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Kitts and sundry other paradisical places we all want to visit outside hurricane season. So named because they are downwind of the Windward Islands, of course. Sorry - I got carried away.

Ana is generating a measly 40 mph breeze right now. A zephyr, a sprightly freshet, a gentle flutter, a bit of a draft. But the Hurricane Experts have now sketched in the dreaded cone of probability, and – whoa! - guess where it targets ground zero. No, no - not Tampa. Key West. From Key West, however, Tampa is nothing but an eight-iron and a bad slice. Suddenly, 1921 doesn’t seem like all that long ago. I’m going out to buy duct tape.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Mad-Dashing for Bagels

Pinellas County is that thumb that sticks out of Florida’s west coast, without which there would be no Tampa Bay. People live and breed here in mind-fogging profusion, and most of them spend every waking hour – and some non-waking hours – on the road. Vehicular progress of any sort in Pinellas takes place – if at all – on parallel north-south and east-west arteries that crisscross the thumb at two-mile intervals. Between arteries lies a no man’s land of mobile home parks, strip malls and other cul-de-sac-y places that ultimately lead nowhere except to someone else’s mobile home or the local bagel shop. Want to take the back road to get somewhere? Can’t do it. The sole option – so it’s not really an option at all, then, is it? - is to drive from your own cul-de-sac-y maze to an artery, then to another artery – et cetera – then into the cul-de-sac containing your bagel shop. You might think this a simple process, but you would be wrong,

Pinellas’s crisscrossing arteries are, in fact, full-dress highways carrying eternal, torrential traffic. They are cloven by grassy – or what passes here for grassy – medians designed to keep southbound torrents from intersecting randomly with northbound torrents, eastbound from westbound. Our quasi-grassy medians are punctuated at terrifyingly frequent intervals by opportunities, for those willing to risk life and orthopedic integrity, to turn left across the onrushing torrent to get to that cul-de sac-y place that seemed important when they first set out. No traffic lights to help. No guts, no bagel shop.

Median lanes are hair-raisingly short and narrow, and this is where hair-raising turns to tire-screeching lunacy. The traffic torrent in each direction rips along at 55 to 70 miles per hour. That’s 5 to 20 mph above the speed recommended by the Pinellas County Sheriff. To turn left off an artery, the bagel shopper must dismount while moving at ambient speed and stick a landing at zero speed in that tiny chink in the median. This maneuver tests not only brake pads and guts, but coffee-cup holders and seatbelt anchors as well. Did I mention that some Bozo in the oncoming lane always wants to occupy that same little chink of median lane you’re aiming at so he can turn left into HIS favorite bagel shop? Now the available median lane is halved and your initial closing speed with Bozo can be a sphincter-cinching 140 mph. Cream cheese with that bagel, sir?

One more point, then you can get back to your Facebook-ing. The only way to get from the bagel shop back whence you came is to mad-dash your way back to the median chink, this time in perpendicular fashion. If geometry escaped you all those years ago, this means sticking your 17-foot-long Escalade into a 12-foot-wide lane. Chronic under- and overshooters are eventually – and regularly – scooped off the pavement and reassembled at the Global Mortuary (see my diatribe of August 13 if you’re fuzzy on what this means.) However heart-clanging this maneuver may be to the mad-dasher, it is worse for the poor Bozo approaching in the leftbound torrent at his usual 70-mph cruising speed. The highest heart rate ever recorded in Florida belonged to just such a Bozo caught in mid-cellphone conversation just as a mad-dasher began his mad dash.

You gotta love this state.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Detachment - Florida Style

An essential truth for those of us living in the Sunshine State is that we are called "God's waiting room" for good reason. (Somehow "Sunshine State" seems a bit Charles Addams-ish when you ponder the imminent fate of our most senior residents and those of us who wander into traffic with any regularity.) Anyway, when God calls, many of us respond with such urgency that there is precious little time for carefully selecting a departure terminal. Here is where Global Mortuary steps up to offer the one-stop shopping experience of a lifetime - and beyond. Here in Largo, you can nip into AJ's Sports Bar for a quick pop, check out the grim labor market, get your nails spruced up for the trip, and pick out a nice Glock or S&W next door. As a final convenience, the funeral home/departure lounge is the next door on your left. You don't even need to move your Buick .

Pity, they misspelled "Bizarre." Here's what it looks like from ground zero. AJ's Sports Bar is at the far left.

I couldn't make this stuff up.


Billboard Rant # 1, part 2

You didn't believe last month's rant about vasectomy billboards, did you? Ha! Both of these signs are still flying a couple of miles apart in Largo. Note the subtle - I can't believe I am using the word "subtle" in this context - anyway, note the subtle changes in text and phone numbers between the new version above and the old version below, obviously designed to appeal to persons of varying tastes and persuasions. The one abiding constant, besides the obvious, is the needle and scalpel thing, and that's OK with me. What I like best is that Dr. Doug did 5,000 more nut jobs - that's 10,000 little tubes, folks - while waiting for the second billboard to go up. So he's cheap, he's fast, he has Elvis's hair (at least during the day), and he doesn't use instruments. Very cool!

See? I was right again.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Billboard Rant # 2

A clutch of billboards that I suspect you will find nowhere else in this country has has been laid along several Tampa Bay highways. They advocate, of all things, abolishing the traditional separation between church and state, a modern twist on antidisestablishmentarianism, of sorts.

I especially love one version of the billboard that quotes Thomas Jefferson saying that the American form of government owes much to the belief in God. This is hardly a revolutionary thought, either by Jefferson by those who now quote him. But quoting Jefferson in this context is like the Flat-Earth Society quoting Columbus. Good old TJ, or Thom, as he liked to be called, was no antidisestablishmentarian. Here's a quote that better captures Thom's essential belief on the subject:

Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

Not convinced? Here's another:

The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg . . . . Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error.

Of course, Tampa Bay has more churches per mile of road than almost everything except garish strip joints, so one might argue that there is in place already a certain establishmentarianism.

Those of you who suspect I may have posted this rant simply so I could fairly use "antidisestablishmentarianism" in modern discourse may be onto something. You could be wrong, but I don't think so.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Army of One

Light-hearted blogging gets harder to do when your number-one son is putting on his fatigues and flying to some God-forsaken desert region, peopled by heathens who think we are heathens and who abjure drinking beer. And that's just Oklahoma, where Erik is going for pre-Kuwait training next Tuesday. The "Army Way" - which routinely calls for training in Alaska prior to desert deployment - is on the fritz again this month. He ships out a couple months later.

While he is in Kuwait, Erik and his helicopter unit are going to - Christ, I hope this isn't classified - they're going to chauffeur important folks from place to place so they can see in the first person what evil is befalling the oppressed people of the region. They also will look to see what's befalling the Iraqis. By this I mean no criticism of the war itself or the Iraqis, although the war is imminently deserving of the criticism it gets from every other blog on the planet, except perhaps Dick Cheney's, and the Iraqis can get under your skin, as well. I do realize that important people need to be chauffeured. I would prefer my son not be doing the chauffeuring.

But that is what Erik does. Well, actually, he makes good helicopters out of bad helicopters so other soldiers can do the hands-on chauffeuring. It's what he signed up to do 16 or so years ago, he's good at it (or so he tells us), and I am intensely proud of him. Of course, I would be just as intensely proud of him if he were home out of harm's way.

Apart from oil - and I'm not getting into that - Kuwait's greatest natural resources are royalty, money, and sand. You could check Wikipedia. Erik is unlikely to run into much royalty, who prefer their own chauffeurs, and God knows sergeants do not see much money (Erik has already earmarked his war-zone pay for the mother of all cars). The soldiers do however get intimate with the sand. Kuwait has too much sand. In fact, in 2008 alone, the Army shipped 6,700 tons of sand from Kuwait to Idaho, which apparently is running low on sand. The good news is that the sand was a gift from Kuwaiti royalty. The bad news - at least for Idahoans - is that the sand is lightly laced with depleted uranium from a prior war. What's left over in Kuwait is exceedingly fine, it contaminates everything it touches, and it touches everything. My grandson Kellan is like that as well. But I am wandering here.

War has been described as endless days of soul-destroying boredom, interspersed with moments of sheer terror. As a parent, I don't care much about the boredom part; it's that other part that makes me breathe erratically. Hopefully, the greatest terror that Erik will see is that which flows from being in a state where beer is so hard to come by. Oklahoma, I mean.

Erik, keep the sand out of your socks, your shorts and your lungs. Do what you need to do and come back safely.