Friday, October 23, 2009

How Did This Get to be My Fault?

A woman I know ran out of gas in our - I mean her - car today. I went to bail her out - I mean pick her up - and she said the car couldn't be out of gas because the low fuel light had just come on yesterday. I tried starting the car for her, and it made some of those discouraging out-of-gas noises and would not start. She said no, it had been doing the same thing for the past couple of weeks and she knows she told me - I mean told her husband - about it then.

Before she could call AAA, a police car pulled up behind us, and the nice officer tried to start the dead car. Yep, he said, out of gas for sure. He called AAA for us - I mean for her. While the cop was there, I asked if he was going to arrest the woman for blocking traffic. He said no, that wouldn't be necessary. I asked him to reconsider, but he refused. I told him I knew the woman must have done something wrong, but the cop continued to be nice to her.

I loaned the woman my car so she could take her mother out for a manicure, and I waited with her car under the insistent Florida sun until AAA arrived. It cost me $6 for the gallon or so of gas the guy put in.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Practicing My New Craft

Cards and letters have been pouring in complaining that I have not been posting new items often enough. Well, the truth is I have been busy writing good fiction instead of these fact-intensive essays. For the curious, I am enclosing the opening page or so from my new novel. I hope you like it.


Incident at a Motel

Police Sergeant Richard J. Pickles, feared throughout the community of criminals as “Big Dick Pickles,” was glad he had worn his Blackjack StormTrooper™ boots today. He had bought them for stomping protesters when he worked in Chicago, but now they complemented the Tampa uniform rather nicely and helped him feel better about washing out of MPS, Florida’s famed Motorcycle Patrol School. The boots made short work of the flimsy motel door. Inside, the room looked like someone had dropped a cherry bomb into a punchbowl full of cherry Jello™. Congealing red globs dripped lazily from every surface. But this was no Jello™ explosion, he sensed instantly from the familiar iron tang filling the air and the headless corpse still sitting on the bed.
He saw no perp in the room, but the bathroom door was closed, and he intuited that more trouble may lie within. Drawing his Smith & Wesson Thugstopper™ .45, he splashed quickly across the room and laid waste to another door. Even Big Dick was taken aback to find yet another headless corpse sitting in the tiny room filled with entirely too much blood. Clearly someone had declared open season on heads. Big Dick meant to find out who and, as was his sworn duty, put a stop to it.
He quickly checked both bodies for a pulse and determined that first aid would be messy and probably fruitless. From the more advanced stage of clotting, he could tell that the corpse on the bed was the first to become deceased. Holstering the old Thugstopper, Big Dick considered calling for backup but decided he could handle this one himself. He had recently passed the civil service Forensics III certification and, like a teenager with a new driver’s license, was anxious to test his skills. The carpet squished softly as he strode back across the room.
Heading for his Crown Vic™ Copolator™ squad car, he stepped gingerly around the broken door, which now dangled from a single hinge. The number on the door electrified him: 104! The radio report, he remembered now, had directed him to room 401. Damn. He had discovered the wrong crime.

To be continued ….

Friday, October 9, 2009

Good Food

My new friend Michael opened a little joint in downtown Largo. The sign says, “Gulf Coast Po' Boys - Good Food.” His food is good. Real good. You gotta respect honesty in advertising - or just in naming your business. GCPB Good Food sells (mostly) po’ boys, which – for food heathens like I used to be – is a Louisiana way of saying “hero sandwich” or “grinder” or “sub.” Except in Louisiana they load ‘em up with grilled or fried shrimp or andouille sausage or “dirty” roast beef or fried oysters. Well, hold off on the oysters, ‘cause GC Good Food doesn’t do oysters, at least not yet.

“So, Michael, when you gonna do oyster po’ boys?” I ask, early in our budding relationship.

“Soon as I’m sure my customers aren’t gonna leave ‘em in a hot car in the sun,” he says, “Maybe in the fall.” (This is Florida. “Hot car” means egg-fry hot. Ptomaine hot. Fall starts in December.) I can’t wait for fall. He needs to do gumbo and jambalaya. That’s coming, too, he says.

Gulf Coast Po' Boy Good Food (boy, that's a mouthful, but so are the sandwiches) is a bright and airy hole in the wall, with outside tables and umbrellas, a great place to watch people go by. The sort of place where the food is cooked in front of you and you bus your own dishes. Except Michael won’t let you bus. He runs in and out. I think he’s checking to make sure you’re loving his cooking. The first time Judy and I eat there, we leave a couple, three bucks as a tip and head out. (The good food is a bargain. Both of us can eat well on fifteen bucks. I gotta talk to Michael about a beer license….) So I’m fiddling with my car keys when Michael runs up waving my money. “No tips! We don’t do that here. We’d rather you spend your money on lunch the next time you come.” I just stand there like a goofus with my jaw hanging open.

GCPB Good Food means shrimp that's floured up and fried on the spot. It takes a few minutes for the po' boys 'cause Michael toasts the rolls on a slow grill and, besides, you can't grill the andouille too fast or you'll miss that sweet spot where the juices still run but the sugars have caramelized just right. I'm not sure what he calls that mayonnaise-y sauce, but it lands midway between a mild aioli and a raging rouille. It's going to be heaven itself on that oyster po' boy come fall.

I go to GCPB Good Food as much to hear Michael talk as for the po’ boys. He purrs out the softest Louisiana drawl you can imagine. No noticeable hint of Cajun or Creole patois, but just that smoky liquid smoothness that so comforts the ear. “Where you from?” I ask recently, even though the food and the drawl already provide the answer.

New York,” he says. “City.”

Not wanting to be politically incorrect or anything, I slip back into my patented jaw-dropping, goofus pose.

“I lived in New Orleans till I was 15,” he continued, so I was able to close my mouth. It turns out he’s been cooking at some hot shot Louisiana kitchens in NYC for a bunch of years. He named a place on Lexington and another down near the Village, which only made me feel a little parochial. New Orleans has apparently come to New York in a big way since I last ate in the city, and that sounds like reason enough to go back. Except Michael has brought the simplest, happiest stuff to Largo.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Rate This Blog

Please read this blog carefully because you will have an opportunity at the end to heap praise on its author by answering a few simple questions.

My phone jangled at 8:30 this morning, flashing the message that my doctor was calling. "Swell," I thought, "they must be recalling my pacemaker."

It was Marci - or somebody with a name like Marci - at Dr. Shah's office, with just a few questions.

"Did the staff work efficiently in helping you set up your appointment?" I guess.

"Were you greeted cheerfully upon arrival?" Not exactly; everyone was in a meeting.

"Was the fish tank in the lobby bright and sparkly?" Actually, one of the clownfish looked a little peaked.

"Did the doctor apply enough K-Y Jelly before starting your examination?" Whoops! Not quite.

Have you noticed that everyone who sells you a service is now asking for immediate feedback on your satisfaction? The service manager at the Acura dealership sat with me after charging me $1400 to fix the power seat in my 12-year-old car. "I have something important to discuss with you, Mr. Newton." Uh-oh.

"You know that you will receive a follow up call in a few days to make sure you are happy with our service." No doubt.

"Well, the Acura people value your patronage" - I think he meant my willingness to be patronized, but no matter - "and they consider any service that was less than 'Excellent' to be tantamount to 'barbaric.'" Well sure, I whined, but you just soaked me $1400 for a freaking seat motor!

"We're talking service, here, Mr. Newton. You did notice that the intake manager" - intake manager? Really? - "smiled suggestively when you arrived and offered you your choice of sexual favors?" Now that he mentioned it, the young lady did seem unusually friendly.

The expected call came in a day later, and I responded enthusiastically that everything was "excellent, especially the sexual favors." The pollster never hesitated; she was obviously familiar with the sex part. "And would you recommend our service to your friends?" I explained that I am new to the area and have no friends. "But if you did have friends, sir, you would recommend us, wouldn't you?" Uh, yeah, of course.

You expect this sort of thing from car dealers, but the medical office follow-up is a little weird. Besides seeing Dr. Shah, we frequent an outfit called, not very creatively, the "Diagnostic Clinic," where Judy sees four or five doctors and I see three. We like them all, despite the feeling, eerie but probably accurate, that we are being passed around like a joint at a high school beach party. Between doctors and blood tests and a weekly shot that Judy gets, we visit the Diagnostic Clinic anywhere from 2 to 5 times a week, sometimes more. (Yikes! And we are not even sick. No wonder there is a crisis in health care costs.) The DC has a "concierge" (I swear - it's true!) who greets us, sometimes by name, when we enter the building and who, I suspect, alerts accounting that they can expect to make budget again this week.

Anyway, the DC has a computer that phones before each appointment to remind us to be on time and to bring money. You would almost think that a computer, being all about data manipulation and such, would clump these calls together to remind us that we have appointments on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, but, no, it makes separate calls for each appointment. Then this same computer - or maybe the DC runs parallel processors - calls us back after each appointment and expresses heartfelt thanks for our patronage (yes - patronized by computer - you gotta love it) and hopes with silicon sincerity that we were satisfied with the service on each visit. If we didn't like it, the computer rattles off a phone number we can call to lump it.

Altogether, the DC's computer phones us 10 or more times a week. Add in a couple of car dealers and the odd plumber, and the number of friendly "Hope you were satisfied" calls I get easily exceeds all the calls I get each week from family and friends. If I had friends, that is.

Now, if you wouldn't mind, I have a few simple questions to help improve the quality and attitude of this blog:

Were you satisfied with the title of this blog entry?
___ Yes ___No ___ Title? What Title?

Did you find the opening lines to be an effective "hook"?
____Yes ____No ____Didn't read that far

Were you offended at least once by something that was treated too cavalierly in the blog?
____Yes ____No ____ Constantly (counts double)

Did you achieve any of the following reactions to what you read (choose as many as apply)
____LOL ___Guffaws out loud _____Pity for author's lack of skill
____Embarrassment at having been caught reading this crap
____Intellectual orgasm ____ Any other physically satisfying response

Would you recommend this blog to the following:
Friends (if you have any) ___Yes ____No
Clergyperson ___Yes ___No ___ You must be joking again
Worst enemy ___Yes ___No ___ Gladly
___ I spammed everyone I know with a link