Friday, November 13, 2009

Uh-oh - Political

I don't do political here. I don't do much political anywhere. But I have a son in the Army, serving honorably in Kuwait. Sometimes, political fits.

And I quote:

Civilian attorney John Galligan said Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan told him that he had no feeling in his legs and extreme pain in his hands. Hasan, who was shot four times by civilian police officers, said doctors told him the condition may never improve.

End of quote.

I cannot think of a stronger argument against the death penalty. Life served while immobile and in pain. Sounds good to me.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Will Write for Beer

Some months ago, I wrote lovingly about The Cajun Cafe on the Bayou (see Best Eatery Ever, July 2009). After one of my recent weekly visits, I emailed the Cafe to comment on its new website design ( and mentioned that I had slobbered over the restaurant and watering hole in an old blog item. By God, didn't Paul and Rebecca Unwin - the owners with the New Orleans roots, at least on Rebecca's side - didn't they comp me tickets to last weekend's beerfest at the Cafe. Yesss! If I had known that was going to happen, I would have plugged them even more shamelessly.

Anyway, Judy and I beerfested for a couple of hours on Saturday night to a pretty good Cajun brass quartet - tuba, trombone, cornet-looking horn and keyboard. The beer selection was outstanding, as near as I could tell. I am not entirely sure about the breadth of the selections because the headline beer of the fest was a keg of Dogfish Head 120 Minute Ale. This wonderful beer is so malty and hoppy you could eat it with a spoon. And oh, what hops! Not only did the 120 come equipped with outrageous hops in the first place, but towards the end of the keg the kegmeisters began pumping the product through an outrigger hopback, a container jammed with fresh hops designed to supercharge the beer with hop aroma. I am a hop whore, make no mistake, and this was the pinnacle of hop whoredom.

Not incidentally, the 120 is also alcoholic enough that you need to imbibe on your knees if you're at all afraid of falling down. I kept bringing my little 3-ounce cup back to the well, passing by the other 100 or so selections, some of which would have been the stars of any show that the 120 did not attend. It was like serving lobster at a shrimp fest. I was powerless to resist. That's why my sweet, beer-averse spouse attended - to squeegee me back into the car at the end of the night.

But wait! There's more! The Cafe served sample portions of its fabulous jambalaya, red beans & rice, sausage and gator bites. The always-friendly and knowledgeable staff outdid themselves serving a never-ending line of moderately inebriated Cajun foodies. Designated drivers, thankfully, attended for a nominal fee, and there were lots of them in the room, recognizable by their bewildered look, for the most part, as their designated drivees reveled in beer heaven. But don't feel too bad for Judy - I was charged with bringing back something succulent every time I went for something hoppy. Far better than anything my mama - or Judy's mama - used to cook.

I have given short shrift to all the great non-120 beers in attendance, and the truth is that I did taste a bunch of them. Widmer brought an excellent IPA, hoppier than I expected from a house that makes such a wonderful trademark hefeweizen. Sierra Nevada had its spectacular Harvest Ale, among a dozen or so other choices to which I could not begin to do justice. (Sierra Nevada has recently gone into collaboration with the Dogfish Head folks to make a huge 10-percent dark beer they call Life & Limb. O frabjous joy! Unfortunately, not yet available here.) Unibroue brought a big selection of its ass-kicking modern Belgian ales, but I opted for a nice Corsendonk Brown Ale triple from the booth next door to the Belgian powerhouse.

Also notable was Mike's Homebrew. Mike is a friend - and apparently a very devoted and slightly demented friend - of the Unwins who brought along a half-dozen Corny kegs of his prodigious array of homebrews. I drank his Kolsch - close as I could get to a pale ale - and it was right on the mark for this beer, light, hoppy and refreshing - as best I could tell after the 120 ransacked my so-called palate. I have brewed for 20 years and have never considered giving away 30 or 40 gallons of my best. Paul and Rebecca, take good care of this guy!

Well, there were a lot more beers, but they disappeared into the alcoholic haze that characterized the end of the evening, and I can't say much about them. I met the nice folks from the Dunedin Homebrew Club, who claim that it is indeed possible to brew in this heat, and I may attend a meeting soon to see if they tell the truth.

Paul and Rebecca, thanks for the free ride. I would have said all these nice things even if I had to pay to get in.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Something to Confound Rush

I sat in the waiting room, waiting. For the bill. Parts had again fallen off my old car, and when the dealer went to replace them, he found oil squirting out of places it ought not squirt. So I read Women's Day or some such while a clerk added up columns of numbers for me.

Not normally an eavesdropper, I couldn't tune out the two men waiting across from me, one a pale, 60-ish snowbird newly arrived, perhaps from Michigan, the other a 50-ish Latino, maybe Cuban, maybe South American: an alien, presumably legal, although that hardly seems the presumption these days.

The two men talked thoughtfully about cars, weather, generic politics. The Latino punctuated his opinions repeatedly with the phrase, "That's what I love about this country...," and rattled off some commonly overlooked virtue - cars with a history, northern winters, retribution that eventually visits crooked politicians. He seemed to love everything about this country. I was proud.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Being a Main Dish

Now that I am a Writer, I suddenly need many things I never knew existed. Not just a computer and a bookshelf full of thesauri and synonymicons, but organic things, support groups and lobbying organizations, maybe a ticket to the odd book fair or writers’ conference. I look differently now at the First Amendment, even though I try to write things besides dirty books. I joined the Tampa Writers Alliance and PINAWOR, which stands for something literary that I cannot at the moment recall. I might join the Florida Writers Association so I will have Florida writers to associate with. (Perhaps they can teach me not to end a sentence with a preposition.) I retired to Florida to write and avoid meetings. Now I go to writing meetings. Life is one big irony contest.

Let’s face it, writers as a group are no more socially stable than engineers or lawyers or people who do bra fittings for Macy’s. In groups of two or more, they flail away at small talk, then retreat into shop talk when they discover that all they have in common is a passion for – or against – dangling participles. “Did you hear that Juan got an expression of interest from an agent at the conference last week? Lucky bastard. I didn’t think his stuff was all that good, quite honestly.” Don’t try to tell me that the people in your profession don’t do the same thing – I’m a Writer now; I understand the Human Condition.

Writers have evolved a social construct that does not appear elsewhere – the Critique Group. Every writers’ organization has one or two of these tucked away in its sub-basement. CG members’ sole purpose is to gather in a room and tell each other what’s wrong with the last thing they wrote. CGs range from ineffectual grammar police (“You split two infinitives in that opening paragraph”) to plot Nazis (“Come now, there were no such things as 'Letters of Transit'" or "Edsels were never manufactured in hot pink.”) Attending one of these sessions can be like going to a cowboy barbecue and volunteering to be a main dish. You can be flayed and filleted before your manuscript hits the table.

In principle – a greatly overvalued commodity, by the way – CGs are dedicated to improving the product of their members, whatever that product may be. In one recent CG, a member was writing nonfiction about the reasoning powers of marmosets, while another had written a space opera set in the nineteenth dimension, where everyone spoke a dialect that scanned a lot like Sarah Palin on a bender. I looked in a while back – oh so briefly – on a CG whose members were all writing bodice-rippers and Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.

Recently, I have been invited to join a CG that exists as a shadowy splinter group schismed off its parent mainstream CG. I take this as a signal that either I have Arrived as a Writer or that the group was down a quart on live bait. This CG within a CG is like a secret society, likely peopled by misfits and pseudonyms wrapped in enigmas, Dan Brown stuff. I haven’t gone to a meeting yet but am hoping they cast spells and runes. They meet over dinner. I’m bringing a nice grouper ceviche. Fava beans and a nice Chianti may be more fitting. We’ll see.