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Dad’s ‘Stairway to Summer’

3 Feb

by Roger White

 

Now that we’re in the dead of winter, and those despicable, horrid, scorching temperatures of mid-July are long gone, I truly miss those despicable, horrid, scorching temperatures of mid-July. This always happens, and I always know it’s going Zepto happen. I am now officially sick of winter. I dreamed of grilling out in the backyard recently. This wondrous dream was even set to music—à la Led Zeppelin. I call this wondrous nocturnal fantasy “Stairway to Summer.”

 

Note: If you can’t play “Stairway” in your head as you read this, this will make no sense to you whatsoever and you will become convinced that my mind has been eaten by worms. The latter may be true, of course, but read on if you will:

 

“Stairway to Summer”

There’s a daddy who’s sure all that sizzles is gold,

And he’s grilling five pounds of heaven.

 

When he gets there he knows if the propane is low,

With a card he can get more at Walgreen’s.

 da grill

Oooh, oooo-oooh, and he’s grilling five pounds of heaven.

 

On his grill there’s some mush, but with his handy wire brush

He scrapes and, oops, he just lost one patty.

 

In a tree by the grill, there’s a songbird who sings,

And, uh oh, the bird just soiled another patty.

 

Oooh, oooo-ooh, and dad’s grilling three pounds of heaven.

 

There’s a feeling he gets when meat falls through the slats,

And his spirit is crying and bereaving.

 

In his thoughts he has seen the grill smoke through the trees,

And the voices of those who stand drooling.

 

Oooh, oooo-ooh, and dad’s grilling two pounds of heaven.

 

And it’s whispered that soon, if you use a big spoon,

You can salvage those patties in the fire.

 

And a new day will dawn for those on the lawn,

And the backyard will echo with laughter.

 

Did anyone remember ketchup?

 

Oooh, oooo-ooh, and he’s grilling a half-pound of heaven.

 

(picking up the tempo now)

 

If there’s some gristle in your ground chuck,

Don’t be a dumb schmuck,

It’s just a sprinkling of tendon.

 

Yes, there are two paths you can go by,

But to use care,

Well done’s safer than rare.

 dead patties

Oooooh, but it makes him wonder.

 

His head is humming on his fifth beer,

But have no fear,

The wifey’s calling him to slow down.

 

Dear Daddy can you smell the gas now?

You’ve burned a whole cow,

Your burgers are lost on the whispering wind.

 

(kicking it in!)

 

And as we settle down to eat,

Everything’s ready but the meat,

 

There sweats dear Daddy in the heat,

Who shines bright red in drunk defeat.

 

Did all that sizzle turn to ash

grill oopsIn a propane-fueled flash?

The answer comes to him, behold!

There’s fried chicken on the stove,

So let’s have that last Michelooooob!

 

Ooooh, and dad’s scraping the burnt remnants of heaven.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

Writer’s Block? No, It’s COS–Creative Obstruction Syndrome

11 Jun

by Roger White

 

When I was a kid, living in what was then a tiny suburban town with a flashing yellow light on the highway and a few close-knit neighborhoods in which summer curfew was the precise moment the street lights came on, I was good friends with the son of the town doctor. Despite the fact that he was the smartest d_burleson[1]kid in town and half the time I couldn’t understand what the devil he was talking about, he was a fun kid. For several preteen summers, we hung around together just about every day. We’d take turns having sleepovers at each other’s houses. David’s house was the nicest in town, and I always had a blast exploring the attic crawlspaces with him. We had a secret room in one of the crawlspaces we called Project Asparagus. The tiny storage space we decorated with shag rugs and posters and a black light. It was our cool, clandestine hideout. We didn’t discover until years later that his mom knew all about Project Asparagus and could hear us every time we crawled around in there. She said we sounded like two overgrown rats.

 

Anyway, David’s dad, Dr. Brown, was a community icon. Back then, you pretty much figured that doctors knew everything. You trusted their judgment. Their diagnoses, their viewpoint on things, carried much weight. Doctors fixed you. There wasn’t anything that doctors didn’t know.

 

I’m not sure if it’s a product of cynical wisdom that comes with maturity or the overwhelming influx of white noise and myriad “expert opinions” of this information age (have a symptom—Google it!), but as the years have gone by my unshakeable faith in the medical profession has eroded somewhat. In fact, if you were to graph my advancing age alongside my trust in MDs, QUAAACKyou’d have two lines angling in opposite directions. A lot of it could be due to the fact that today doctors have an official (and expensive-sounding) medical term for every human condition. And if they don’t actually know what it is that ails you, then they label it some nebulous multi-syllabic syndrome.

 

For example, lately our oldest daughter has been having stomach problems. She often feels queasy and lightheaded after she eats, and she’s even passed out a couple of times. It’s been unsettling, to say the least, so we took her in to a gastroenterologist. He took a quick gander at her, asked her a couple of questions, and pronounced that she was suffering from IBS—Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Cut back on the dairy and sugar and see me in a few weeks if it doesn’t get better, he said. Will that be cash or credit? What? That’s it? Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Geez, my bowels get irritable, too—every time I overdo the Tex-Mex and beer. Does that mean I have IBS? In fact, I would imagine everybody has IBS on occasion.

 

Don’t quote me on this, but I seriously think the word “syndrome” is either Greek or Latin for “best guess.” Just as “disorder” is code for “we really don’t know.” Instead of admitting they simply have no idea what the heck is wrong with you, docs assign you a syndrome. If you can’t sleep, you have Restless Leg Syndrome; if you’re tired a lot, you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; if you and your coworkers feel bad at the same time, you have Sick Building Syndrome. If you get mad, you have Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. And, of course, let’s not forget perhaps the most significant medical discovery of the new age: ADD. When I was a kid, if you ran ADDaround a lot, couldn’t pay attention for long stretches, and hollered like a banshee, they called you normal and made you play outside until you were worn out. Nowadays, youngsters who exhibit the very same behavior are proclaimed to be suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and promptly pumped full of prescription drugs strong enough to tranquilize a racehorse.

 

Ouch. I had a lot more to say about this, but my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is flaring up. Meds! Where are my meds?!

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

In the Beginning Was the Couch. And the Couch Was Good.

31 May

by Roger White

Ah, my dyspeptic disciples, sometimes you get a sign from the Guy in the Big Comfy Chair in the Sky. Ya know what I mean? Here’s a for instance: I’ve been recently wrestling with the idea of introducing to you, my ferromagnetic followers, the tenets of the nonsectarian sect I’ve founded to provide guidance and succor in this chaotic, troubling day and age. We all could do with a hefty dose of succor, don’t you think? (It’s a noun, not a verb—get yer minds out of the gutter, people.) I worried whether the time was right, however. It can be a bit of a touchy subject, forming a new religion, so I’ve been waiting for a sign—an epistle from the ether, as it were. And, lo, I received it just last weekend.

My lawnmower died.

Understand that mowing and edging and weedeating and trimming and all that lawn-related labor is one of my top-five most feared and loathed things I must do on a Suburban Sisyphusquasi-regular basis. I hate my yard, and my yard hates me. It’s mangy, weedy, and irregular, and a great swath of it is at such an angle that I feel like Sisyphus with a side-bag Snapper. That’s right. Suburban Sisyphus. Good name for a garage band, eh? Anyway, I swear I can hear the dandelions cursing quietly at me whenever I go to the mailbox. So when my trusty 4.5-horsepower bit the dust, sputtering to its smoky demise that cloud-covered Saturday, I realized it was a sign. A sign from Yawn-weh to now spread the word.

You read it right. He is Yawn-weh, second cousin on his mother’s side to the mighty Yahweh. I was shown the light and way of Yawn-weh one weekend afternoon as I napped on my couch long ago. Yawn-weh, the Great and Relaxed One, revealed unto me the one true path: Sedentarianism. It is only through this slow, steady course of life that we are able to throw off the onerous burdens of today’s world. Brother, are you weary of hurrying through your day, of tweet-text-iPodding every nanosecond, of rushing from chore to chore, of manically attending spin classes at Planet Fitness? Then I offer you the sanctuary of Sedentarianism.

Yes, my apoplectic adherents, the supreme Recumbent One can bestow upon you the peace of mind you once had—like that summer when you were 11 and you had just eaten three bowls of Trix and you had a whole Saturday morning full of cartoons waiting for you and you had nothing else to do that day but make water balloons. You can have that feeling now, if you join me. Sedentarianism has but one true tenet, and it is this: Doth it really need to be accomplisheth? If it can be done tomorrow, then tomorrow it shall be. And, my brethren (and sistren), since tomorrow never kinda like thisreally comes, then whatever does it really matter? Why not forget it and taketh a nap? I liken this unto Occam’s Razor. It is the mysterious principle known as Yawn-weh’s Barber.

The way is not for everyone, my friends. But if the path of Sedentarianism appeals to you, I can send you a pamphlet. For now, just let me leave you with this. As I fell from my couch, roused from my vision that special day, I spied what appeared to be a stone tablet on the coffee table near my head. It was round; I realized it was one of my drink coasters. Something had been inscribed on it, and it read thusly:

The Six Suggestions of Sedentarianism

  1. Thou shalt not spill thine beer.
  2. Thou shalt not hasten.
  3. Remember the Weekend, to keep it slowly.
  4. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s remote.
  5. Thou shalt honor thy sofa and thy pillow.
  6. Thou shalt not bear false tweetness.

I’m still working on deciphering the meaning of VI, but the first V are the words I now live by. In fact, I’m planning a June 21 visit to the holy city of Toledo, Ohio, to mark the first true pilgrimage of Sedentarianism. June 21, as you know, is the first official day of summer. And Toledo, Ohio, is named after Toledo in Spain, I think, Devout Sedentarianwhich is where historians believe the first official use of the word siesta came into being around 1655. With summer being the holy season of Sedentarianism and siesta being the most revered of Sedentarianistic activities, what more glorious way to honor his Horizontal Holiness than to nap the afternoon away in a Toledo city park? Later we may get ice cream. Write me if you want to join the flock.

Oh, and my name is now Rog-reesh Metta Whittite. Roj for short. Peace. Love. Rem.

Roger White Rog-reesh Metta Whittite is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

So That’s Why They Call it the Poop Deck! OMG!!!

14 Feb

by Penelope Ashe

 

Editor’s note: While “This Old Spouse” columnist Roger White continues his recovery yowzaand convalescence from male breast-reduction surgery, guest columnist Penelope Ashe has agreed to offer her wacky, offbeat observations and unique comic stylings with her very own “From Penelope’s Pen.”

 

Hi, out there!!! Penelope Ashe here!!! First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Penelope Ashe, and I am an XX-year-old divorcee living in Bastrop, Texas, with my two adorable poodles and one snarky, mean old cat. You didn’t really think I was going to tell you how old I was, did you? Hahahahaha!!!

I have an online associate’s degree from Belford University, I was an actress and singer in Houston (actually, the suburb of Sealy!) for several years (Shakey’s Olde Time Dinner Theatre), and I have my own Pinterest following in the disciplines of scrapbooking and merkin weaving. My friends and family have always told me how funny and witty I am, so when I found out about this chance to write my very own funny column, I just couldn’t resist!!!

Well, anyway, enough about me, on to the humor!!! Are you ready???

Did you hear about that cruise ship that got stuck in the ocean without any power? OMG, it floated around in the Gulf of Mexico for days, while passengers had to wait in line for like ever for food—and they had to do their business in buckets!!! I guess that gives a new meaning to the word “poop deck,” huh? Hahaha!!!

And what’s up with that Charlie Sheen character? OMG x 2!!! What I don’t understand is that after all his misbehavior (do you really think he drank real tiger’s blood?), he gets another zillion-dollar contract to star in another TV show?!? Do you think if I acted up sheenlike that that I would get my very own TV show? Maybe something like “Here’s Penelope” or “A*S*H*E”—get it? (Like “M*A*S*H” except a little different.) By the way, did you know that they have a sitcom in the Philippines called “Ful Haus,” based on the all-time classic American show “Full House”? Isn’t there a law? Anyway, with Mr. Sheen being a total wackjob like he is, I don’t blame his brother, Emilio Estevez, for taking a stage name.

How about poor Lance Armstrong, huh? Everyone in this part of the world pretty much worshiped the ground he rode on until all the steroid accusations against him were proven to be true. We had a Lance Armstrong bike path, Lance Armstrong Avenue; everybody wore his little yellow wristbands, etc., etc. And now everybody in and around Austin rides their bikes wearing their aerodynamic helmets and faux Lancecompetition outfits, looking quite ridiculous if you ask me. I’m sure many of them would have given their left you-know-what to be Lance Armstrong—which is real funny if you know that Mr. Armstrong only has one you-know-what? Hahahahah!!! And now Lance has admitted that it’s all true—Lance was lanced with hypodermic needles more times than a drug addict. I guess you could say he was a drug pedaler. Get it???!!!

You know, for some reason, every time I try to actually say “hypodermic needles,” I end up saying “hypodeemic nerdles.” I always thought that would be a great name for a garage band. The Hypodeemic Nerdles!!! What do you think? Anyhoot,….

Can you believe the Pope is heading off to retirement? I didn’t know they could do that? Can you just picture him in a baggy bathing suit, long black socks and sandals, with his tall Pope hat on, scouring the beach with his metal detector. I guess now that he’s no longer on the job, they’ll call him Ex Benedict. Hee hee hee!!! Like the breakfast.

Apparently, we just missed being hit by a giant asteroid, only by a few hundred miles or look outso. Did you hear that? Whew!!! That would have been a really rocky end, huh? It would lend a new meaning to getting really stoned, huh? Talk about getting stuck between a rock and a hard place!!! Hoohooooo!!!!

Well, I guess that’s all for now, readers!!! If you want to join my Pinterest site for scrapbooking, just tweet #penelopespals@283, and I’ll be sure to reply. Air kisses and e-hugs!!!

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Penelope Ashe, author of “Naked Came the Stranger,” is a part-time cosmetologist at Sue’s Salon in Cement, Texas.

He Won’t Ask, So I Will: Can You Help Out Ol’ Bob?

14 Aug

by Roger White 

Sometimes, my frenetic fellows, there are things more important than humor. Not often, but sometimes.

In the 93 years and four days that I’ve been penning this potpourri of philosophic punditry, I’ve been serious with you only three times: (1) upon the enactment of Prohibition; (2) when Roger Staubach retired; and, of course, (3) when Irene Ryan passed away.

 

It took me months just to dip my toes into a cement pond again after Granny was taken from us.

Alas, I come to you with a heavy stylus again, and your stylus, too, will droop when I share with you this woeful story of one family’s misfortune over this sullen summer season. I know this family well; they live in my neighborhood. The dad provides a modest living for his wife and two kids; however, he’s proud and would never ask for help. But let me tell you, friends, their situation is dire.

It all began in May, actually. The family patriarch—we’ll call him Bob—was trimming the front yard with his ancient but trusty weedeater. A sharp, brittle crack, like that of a rock breaking glass, sounded behind Bob. Upon investigation, Bob found that it was the sound of a rock, breaking glass—his car’s rear window, in fact, shattered to bits by a stone thrown from his trusty weedeater. Thus began Bob’s season of sorrow.

Just days later, Bob and his wife—we’ll call her Bobbie—decided that even though money was tight, it was high time to install rain gutters on their roof. Water had puddled in deep pools near their front door whenever it rained, and they worried about flooding and uneven settling of the house’s foundation. Less than a week after the gutters went up, during a sudden downpour, the family’s cat—we’ll call him Mr. Bobs—was seen eyeing the living room ceiling with peculiar intensity. Upon investigation, Bob found the ceiling leaking like a Watergate informant. Bob and Bobbie ran outside to witness all the rainwater from one roof funneled into one tiny spot on the roof below it. It was like Niagra! That’s what Bob said. When they came back inside, the shellshocked couple saw that a refrigerator-sized chunk of the ceiling had collapsed onto the living room floor, sending Mr. Bobs and the dog—we’ll call him Bobsy—scampering to safety. The living room was a quagmire of plaster, sheetrock, soaked insulation, raccoon droppings, and not-so-drywall chunks, all in a nice, fetid stew. The gutter guys blamed it on the house’s “bad flashing.” Bob began to develop an eyelid flutter.

It was about this time, during hostile negotiations with the gutter people, that Bobbie’s ancient but trusty vehicle began coughing and uttering noises not at all reassuring. Upon investigation, Bob’s mechanic diagnosed several near-terminal illnesses, maladies that could be cured only by a new timing belt, front-end alignment, major overhaul of the magna-gasket-crossover valves, complete johnson rod replacement, and other wallet-invasive procedures.

And, of course, all of this comes when the family’s oldest daughter—we’ll call her Bobette—has come of driving age and is steadily, maddeningly lobbying for a vehicle of her very own. Upon investigation, Bob and Bobbie have learned that insurance for young Bobette will come to a monthly sum that is approximately the equivalent of the family’s home mortgage.

Wait, that’s not all. Oh, no. As July melted into August for this ill-fated family, they noticed the ambient temperature in the house steadily creeping higher and higher, to the point where everyone began huddling near the freezer pretending to hunt for frozen burritos and ice cream. Upon investigation, Bob found the home’s A/C unit passed out in its little garage closet. No pulse, nothing. Dead from overexertion. Prescription: new units, inside and out—and, of course, new dinner menu: Ramen, beans, hamburger helper. As cousin Eddie says in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Don’t know why they call this stuff hamburger helper, it does fine just by itself.”

Indeed. And if that wasn’t enough—for this family, I mean—they’ll be paying off the full set of braces for the youngest—we’ll call her Bobina—until the year 2106.

These are good, decent folks. Bob would never ask, so I will. Won’t you help out a neighbor in need? Just contribute what you can—five bucks, a buck, a Whataburger coupon, whatever. Just send it to me, and I’ll be sure that Bob and Bobbie get it. God knows what autumn has in store for us—uh, them.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Here’s to the Olympic Motto: Swifter, Higher, Stronger, Sneakier

7 Aug

by Roger White 

 

Ah, my cantankerous cohort, if you’re like me, you’ve been basking in all the reflected, tape-delayed glory of the London Olympics, no? And if you’re like me, you’ve been inspired by the relentless spirit and determination of Olympians such as South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, who runs on specially made prosthetic springs. Yes? And if you’re like me, you’ve been absolutely flabbergasted by that water polo player from Belarus who was born with only a head. No? OK, wait a minute.

 

Seriously, in what has otherwise been a stultifying, sweltering summer, the XXXth Olympiad from jolly old England has supplied a refreshing sports fix. Maybe I shouldn’t use the word “fix.” Because, alas, as with just about every other one of these world block parties, there has been juicy controversy. For example, did you catch the bantamweight boxing match where the Japanese guy knocked down his opponent six times—and lost? I’m not one to yell collusion in a crowded auditorium, but you be the judge. The referee for the match, Turkmenistan’s Ishanguly Meretnyyazov, ruled that Azerbaijan’s Magomed Abdulhamidov defeated Satoshi Shimizu, even though Abdulhamidov could scarcely stand up for the decision. Shimuzi was running around doing backflips. Sanity eventually settled in and the decision was overturned—and referee Meretnyyazov was booted out of the Olympics.

 

Meretnyyazov later admitted to being in cahoots with Abdulhamidov, apparently due to Turkmenistan’s longstanding desire to build a Wal-Mart on land owned by Abdulhamidov’s uncle, Spraodovlugyzatsonivyplakolov Urryupanpayemov.

 

But that wasn’t even the major hullabaloo. Four, count ’em, four women’s doubles teams were disqualified from the badminton competition for intentionally losing matches to gain a more favorable draw in the next round. Heavens to Murgatroyd! The BWF was shocked, shocked, I say. (That’s the Badminton World Federation to you and me—and yes, there is such a thing.) Let’s back up a minute here. I can see both sides. This is the Olympics, and fans paid plenty of precious pounds to see their favorite shuttlecock swatters play their very best. But. And it’s a big but. In many other sports, easing up on the gas and resting yourself when you’ve been assured a spot in the next round is done all the time. Look at the NFL (if you can). When a team has clinched a playoff spot, the coach often decides to rest his starters—and the team often loses a meaningless next game.

 

Both sides have a point, but there is a much bigger picture to consider. And that much bigger picture is this: Badminton? Seriously? Don’t get me wrong; I’m a staunch believer in anything that gets one off the couch and moving about. Yes, I am an athletic supporter. I’m just not so sure about awarding Olympic medals to folks who compete in what is essentially a backyard pastime while waiting for the burgers. I mean, criminy, we might as well have Olympic horseshoes or Olympic barbecueing. Hmmm. Come to think of it, Olympic barbecueing might be fun—until controversy rears its ugly head again. “U.S. Olympic Barebecueist Lee Roy Heinz was disqualified today when his charcoal tested positive for lighter fluid.”

 

Well, get this. Olympic barbecueing sounds positively mainstream compared to some other events that actually saw the light of day in Olympic games past. For example, solo synchronized swimming was a real Olympic event from 1984 to 1992. Think about that for a minute: Solo. Synchronized. Swimming. Other former events include tug of war, rope-climbing, and, of course, the plunge for distance. What was the plunge for distance, you ask? In this spine-tingling event, competitors dived into a pool and were required to remain motionless underwater for one minute or until their heads broke the surface. The plunger who recorded the longest distance won.

 

“Grandpa, how did you win your Olympic medal again?”

 

“I was a world-class plunger.”

 

This event, of course, gave rise to the short-lived Olympic Marco Polo competition.

 

Here’s another one: the one-handed weight lift. I’m serious. Each competitor had to perform lifts with each hand, with the winner determined from the combined score. Although this event was discontinued after only three Olympic games, it did lead to the one-handed pole vault, one-armed rowing competition, and one-legged mile run. The one-legged mile was held only once, however. Competitors had yet to finish two weeks after the closing ceremonies. Ah, well. See you in Rio.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

Ketchup on Your Dog? NOT in Chicago. It’s the Law. I Think.

17 Jul

by Roger White

 

Salutations, my carefree cadre of cosmic cadets. Oh, mi amigos, sometimes the fates simply will not let you escape what you’re trying to escape from because there’s just no escape from the thing you wish to escape. From. Dig? I’ll give you an e.g. Take the heat. Spouseman had a quasi-business trip to Chicago recently, so I folded the family into the Samsonites and jaunted off in earnest hopes of glorious non-triple-digit climes. Hah. The Big Guy doth chuckle. We stepped out of the cab from Midway Airport onto the baking intersection of Grand and Michigan and promptly melted into the pavement. Seems I packed the heat wave in with the family and the underwear. Thus I believe we lent a new meaning to the term “packing heat.”

As we admired the downtown skyline, 29 cars, buses, and taxis immediately honked at us to get our Texas butts out of the road. Welcome to the City of Big Shoulders! There would be ample honking and sirens as the days progressed.

Actually, as the week went on the temps smoothed out a bit, and the constant Lake Michigan breeze felt downright nice. But Chi-town its own self was quite the learning experience.

Much of the Chicago scene involves eating. It’s good eating, too, but there are rules. Statutes and laws even. For example, under no circumstances may anyone in the greater metropolitan city limits put ketchup or any squashed-tomato-like product on a hot dog. It is strictly verboten. Vendors display large signs to this effect. Onions, relish, mustard, pickles, peppers, paprika, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme are all fine for your frankfurter, but no ketchup.

To wit, our stroll through Millennium Park near the hotel on our first day was jolted by the sight of two of Chicago’s finest cuffing a man lying face-first in the grass. Uh oh, we thought. We’d been warned to be wary of big-city crime.

“What happened, officer?” I asked a backup policeman standing nearby.

“K.O.D.,” the officer replied grimly.

“K.O.D.?”

“K.O.D. Ketchup On Dog. Stand back, please.”

“I swear, I thought it was the mustard,” the guy pleaded, his mouth and hands smeared a ghastly, guilty red. “It was a mistake!”

“Take him away.”

Chicagoans take their dogs seriously. There’s even a Wikipedia entry:

“A Chicago-style hot dog, or Chicago Dog, is a steamed or water-simmered all-beef frankfurter on a poppyseed bun. The dog is topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled peppers, and a dash of celery salt. The complete assembly of a Chicago hot dog is said to be ‘dragged through the garden’ due to the many toppings. Some variants exist, adding ingredients such as cucumber slices, but the canonical recipe does not include ketchup, and there is a widely shared, strong opinion among many Chicagoans and aficionados that ketchup is unacceptable. A number of Chicago hot dog vendors do not even offer ketchup as a condiment, while those who do often use it as a litmus test.”

Or as part of a police sting, as the case may be.

There are plenty of culinary delights besides the eponymous dog, including some of the best Italian food west of New Jersey, but, again, there are attendant rules and regulations. Please pay attention, because although the folks we met in Chicago were friendly and affable, when it comes to food they mean business.

Near the famous Lincoln Park Zoo, for another e.g., there’s a terrific pub/eatery called R.J. Grunt’s. And at R.J. Grunt’s, where the proprietors claim to have invented the modern-day salad bar, you can pile everything from aardvark shavings to zinnia petals on your scrumptious salad, but if you’re caught sharing with a non-salad-bar patron—even your mom—you will be hauled off on an S.S.B.

We’d been in town for a few days by the time we hit Grunt’s, so we were practically Chicagoans ourselves by this time. As they took away one particular crouton criminal, a wide-eyed tourist sidled up to me.

“What happened?” he asked.

“S.S.B.”

“S.S.B.?”

“Sharing Salad Bar. Stand back, please.”

But far and away our most exciting brush with Chicago’s culinary commandments was at the one and only Billy Goat Tavern tucked under the bridge on Michigan Avenue. Yep, this is the place that inspired the classic Saturday Night Live “cheezeborger, cheezeborger, cheezeborger” skit.

It’s all true. Except it’s “no Pepsi, Coke” instead of the “no Coke, Pepsi” John Belushi recited in the SNL skit. Apparently, Belushi figured “no Coke, Pepsi” sounded funnier, and who can argue his comedic brilliance? All the rest you remember from the skit is right on, however. The waitress bullied us into not only “cheezeborgers” but double “cheezeborgers” at that—and they were worth it. I’m doing a Pavlovian salivation thing right now just typing about them.

And yes, there are no fries. No fries, cheeps. There’s a great big sign warning you, so you’ve only yourself to blame if you get hauled away on an F.F.T.

“F.F.T.?”

“French Fry Try. Stand back, please.”

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Of Parades and Fireworks and Your Second Cousin’s Missing Pinkie

2 Jul

by Roger White

 

As the blast-furnace breezes of July waft in, caressing our faces with all the warmth and subtlety of nuclear warhead testing, many of us harken back to the salad days of our youth and those old-time Independence Day celebrations—small-town parades, concerts in the bandstand, dazzling fireworks displays, and your second cousin showing off his missing pinkie finger as he regales you with his annual “cherry bomb accident” story. Why are the days of our youth called “salad days,” anyway? I never came near a salad when I was a kid. They should call them “Milk Dud days” or “Captain Crunch days” or something.

 

Nevertheless, as fond as I am of recreational explosives and intentionally putting oneself in harm’s way for a juicy whizz-bang, I must say that my earliest memory of Fourth of July festivities is not particularly joyous. In fact, it’s downright terrifying. I don’t recall exactly how itty bitty I was, but let’s just say the family mutt and I pretty much met face to face. And this was not a big dog. The family was in the back yard, my older sisters running around waving sparklers in the air. I was perfectly content to spectate; those white-hot sparklers scared the bejeezus out of me. Sure enough, my sister (which one shall remain nameless) placed in my itty bitty hand a sizzling, hissing sparkler, which I assumed would immediately set my entire arm ablaze—after which, knowing my sister, I would be waved aloft, an itty bitty human sparkler.

 

As fate would have it, my dad was bending down near me at that moment, lighting a smoke bomb or something on the ground. In blind terror, I dropped the sparkler—directly onto my dad’s back. Dad, clad in t-shirt and shorts, instantly began yelling and gyrating, doing every move from a Native American war dance to the electric slide. Dad’s t-shirt was a goner; Dad ended up with a permanent little line burned into his upper back, and I a permanent little scar burned into my psyche. To this day, I’ll light any firecracker, bottle rocket, roman candle or any other type of festive munition—but I cannot stand sparklers. Stupid sparklers.

 

While I’m on the memory train, however, I do have tucked away on the seldom-used tracks of my mind a much fonder pyrotechnic piece of the past. In this particular vinaigrette (OK, whatever), I’m about 12, hanging at Lake Benbrook with my middle sister’s boyfriend. He was probably 17 or 18, and he was a mad genius when it came to finding creative ways to blow things up. Bottle rockets were Brian’s medium of choice, and model cars and ships were his canvas. We spent much of that afternoon obliterating a great many unfortunate old hot rods of plastic and faux chrome.

 

Then came the piece de resistance. Or as the French say, the piece of resistance. Just as the sun was starting to set on the other side of the lake, Brian took from his car’s trunk five or six model ships. These were World War II vintage: battleships, aircraft carriers, and the like. Each model ship had a length of string tied to it, with a lead sinker attached to the other end. Brian had given this a lot of thought. He gave some of the ships to me, and we waded out into the lake. By 15 to 20 yards out, we were treading water. One by one, we gently released each ship’s line, and soon we had an armada of model ships anchored just off shore.

 

That’s when the fun began. With two coke bottles as cannons, we spent the good part of an hour firing bottle rockets at those brave battleships. As thrilling as it was to score a hit and watch our targets list and sink, the most exciting part to me was watching a smoking rocket dive just under the water and explode beneath the surface. This was like being on the set of The Longest Day. Of all the professional fireworks displays I’ve seen since, none match the “ooh” and “aah” factor of that special, simple day in my mind.

 

And then there was the time I nearly burned the kitchen down trying to make Rice Krispie Treats in a skillet. Wait, that’s a Christmas story. Oh, well, be safe out there, kids. Remember your second cousin.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

It’s Official Now: We’re Part of the Big, Bad City

25 Jun

by Roger White

 

Is anyone reading this? I can’t be at all certain, my free-ranging earth mates, that my dispatches of late are not being intercepted by the local gendarmes. So send up a flare, if you would, if I’m getting through.

 

As I pen these nuggets, you see, my house—in fact, the whole neighborhood—is under police lockdown. Nobody in, nobody out without proper identification. Road blocks, complete with all sorts of uniforms and squad cars and news trucks, clog all exits from our little subdivision.

 

I’ll begin at the beginning, which is always a good place to begin. It started out like any other normal suburban Sunday—I’m up at the crack of 10:30 a.m.; the wife’s sipping coffee and reading the paper; I’m searching for my pants and trying to remember if I wore pants the previous night. Then the wife takes our dog out to do his business. When she returns, Sue has that look on her face like the time my mom and stepdad showed up at the door unannounced, with luggage and pets.

 

“Ralph got the runs again?” I inquire.

 

“No. Cops. Everywhere. With German shepherds. And guns. Lots of guns.”

 

Our first notion was yet another kegger gone wild at the rent house down the block, but no, this was much more serious. Our youngest daughter then relayed a text message she got from her pal one street over: “Sta in yr hous. Kllers loos” or something to that effect. Sure enough, we found it on our local news web site: The police found a guy croaked in his car in our little neighborhood park right behind our house. Right behind our house! And it wasn’t natural causes, if you know what I mean. This was a homicide! A 10-12, or 687, or BLT, or whatever the cops call it. This is stuff that happens on the east side, in places that exist only on TV—not in our quiet, covenant-protected enclave! Holy Peyton Place!

 

For the rest of the day, we perched at our windows, eyeing helicopters circling low overhead, watching all types and sizes of uniformed men combing the greenbelt behind our house, walking the streets, carrying all types and sizes of Rambo-looking weaponry. I briefly entertained the notion of taking my Swiss pen knife in hand, but then I figured if the constabulary needed my help, they’d ask.

 

Rumors began flying, via Facebook, texts, and the neighborhood cell phone grapevine. It was the Mexican Mafia; it was crazed hippies from Arizona; it was the guy’s wife; it was the guy’s girlfriend; it was the guy’s girlfriend’s husband; it was the guy’s wife’s boyfriend; etc. Eventually, the best information we could get was that it appeared to be a carjacking that began outside the neighborhood but somehow ended up here.

 

As tragic and frightening as this event was, the aftereffects were almost as disturbing. As the manhunt went on, suspicions mounted. Everyone became a suspect.

 

“Who is that?”

 

“Where?”

 

“Right there! Walking down the street. I haven’t seen him before. He looks kinda dodgey. Where’s that police chopper when you need it?”

 

“He lives down the street, hon. He plays with our kids. He’s 12, for crying out loud.”

 

“Oh. Well, he could use a haircut.”

 

By afternoon, it got to the point where we were jumping at shadows. I was in the den, watching England try to hang on in quiet desperation against the Italians in the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, when something flicked rapidly across our back deck.

 

“Hon!” I screamed. “Get the Swiss pen knife!”

 

Then I heard the plaintive meow, signaling that Max our cat wanted to come in.

 

“Never mind!”

 

“You thought Max was the murderer?” Sue teased.

 

“Killers can be very small, you know.”

 

Oddly enough, as we became more accustomed to the siege mentality, we soon realized that this “house arrest” was actually not any different than any other summer day. I mean, who’s leaving the house when it’s 104 degrees outside? By the way, as of this writing, the suspect or suspects remain at large, so if you don’t hear from me again, find out the number for 911.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Where’ve I Been, You Ask? Don’t Ask

19 Jun

by Roger White

 

Ahoy, fellow earthbound mugwumps. Your friendly psychoneurospiritual travel agent is back. For those devoted few (OK, one) who follow Ye Olde Spouse week in and week out, please accept my hipdeep apologia for the extended absinthe. Absence. Whatever. For you occasional delvers into these parts, I’ve been gone, you see. Way. Far. Gone. And boy, are my arms tired (rimshot).

Spouseman took some time off, seeking clarity, hoping for a gander at the real me and maybe even some face time with That That Is. None of that happened, so I cleaned up the paraphernalia and hauled the family down to Galveston. Then we took one of those giant floating cities on a cruise down Meh-hee-co way. I am still processing the whole thing.

If you’ve never been on one of these behemoth boats, imagine cramming the whole population of, say, Alpine or Marble Falls into a 12-story, 900-foot-long gently swaying apartment building with bad plumbing. Also imagine that each resident occupies living quarters approximately the size of an extra-wide Kenmore refrigerator box.

But there is cable TV. And little mints on your pillows. And every night, you find on your bed all your bathroom towels magically morphed into bizarre sea creatures, cute animals, or whatever else your cabin steward feels like crafting on a whim. I think our guy got bored or perhaps a bit miffed that I kept mispronouncing his name after the first couple of days because by the third night, we found our towels formed into a bust of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Now, your first day on board you must practice your lifesaving drill. Your lifesaving drill involves finding your way past dozens of stairs, bars, and cocktails in coconut shells to your assigned muster station, where you stand like a sweating dork with several hundred other sweating dorks, apparently mustering. I kept trying in vain to listen to the Filipino man in the inflatable life vest while, standing right next to me, three heavy-tonnage drunks from Odessa sang “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” at the top of their lungs.

About all I was able to make out was the following: “…very important to remember that unless you … pour me somethin’ tall an’ strong! … must be inflated properly or … make it a hurricane before I go insane! … could mean death by drowning. Have a wonderful cruise.”

Although the pools aren’t very big, there are a lot of them. There’s a pool by the buffet, a pool by the giant-screen TV, a hot tub next to the casino, a pool on the Lido Deck, a water slide that ends in a pool on the Panorama Deck, etc. And next to each of these pools a heaving throng of scantily clad people jiggle endlessly to the Macarena. Yes, they’re still playing that song. And no, the words “scantily,” “clad,” and “jiggle” shouldn’t be misconstrued. The booties shaking here, wooh—let’s just say this is bounty best left buried. Under many layers of opaque clothing. (shudder of remembrance here)

Rather unfair of the cruise types, if you ask me, to have the buffet parked in such close proximity to the thundering, line-dancing herd. Renders the triple-cheese soup and skillet-seared steak and warm chocolate melting cake a bit unsavory.

Everything you hear about the food is true, though. Good and bad. There’s terrible fare, and there is some spectacular feasting to be had (chiefly at the sit-down dinners, mind you). And yes, you will get fat. Just count on it.

The ports of call in the Western Caribbean jaunt are pretty enough, but you have just enough time in port to be accosted by an army of souvenir hawkers (“because you my friend, only $45”), buy a genuine Cozumel shot glass made in China, eat a meal authentic enough to send the mighty Montezuma himself running, and then crowd back onto the ship like so many sun-scorched cattle. Moo.

It’s all about the money, you see. And your smiling cruise ship people want your hard-earned hash to be slung on board, not on land. So you get a few hours off ship, max. And speaking of the green stuff, unless you are astronomically lucky, are a professional poker player from Amarillo, or are some kind of Rain Man, set not one foot in the ship’s casino. Good God Almighty, you might as well just hand over a C note to the casino cashier and go to bed. I tried many games in there, and I’m here to tell you that cruise ship casino machines are tighter than Bruce Jenner’s face. You’ve been warned.

I hoped to meet some exotic people from far-away lands on our adventure. And I did. Our cabin steward, who fashioned a striking Ted Bundy towel bust our last night on board, was from Thailand, I think. Or maybe it was Seattle. But every single cotton-pickin’ passenger I met was from Texas. It was like being in a Fort Worth bar every night, except with a pervasive septic aroma. OK, then, it was like being in a Lubbock bar every night. Period.

Oh, one more thing. Forget all that jazz about getting your sea legs. The rocking of the ship is not that bad; you get used to it. What’s tough is getting your land legs back. I found myself at work the Monday after I got back, gently swaying and zig-zagging down the hall.

It took an hour and a half to convince my boss I wasn’t off the wagon again.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.