Friday, September 19, 2014

Yesterday I went to Philadelphia with my sister, who's visiting from L.A. She's never been there, so we did the usual tourist stuff. We had cheesesteak sandwiches, we saw the Liberty Bell, and we went to Independence Hall, where -- oh, I don't know -- I guess somebody signed something.

Why do I have this gap in my knowledge? I went to school in California, where "history" involves vanishing orange groves, racist Disney movies, and 1967 Chevy Impalas. I got tickets for a tour at Independence Hall hoping to fill in some of these gaps, like how we broke away from England, how the colonies united into a single country, and how Washington became our first president. Unfortunately, the tour guide was a volunteer, and he was worth every penny they paid him. I wish I'd transcribed his fascinating rantings, but instead I'll offer you what must be his recipe for chicken tacos.

Chicken Tacos

So, in the end we have chicken tacos on a plate, and we're putting hot sauce on them. How did these chicken tacos get on the plate? Flashback fifteen minutes: you're chopping lettuce. You're frying tortillas. How many types of tortillas are there? That's right, two.

Jump ahead six-and-a-half minutes. You're chopping onions. You're grating cheese. How many types of cheese are there? That's right, sixty-three. You're grating cheese, and you're probably thinking, "Wait, I haven't started the chicken yet." You look over at the stove and what do you see? That's right. There's no chicken on it. So let's start the chicken now.

Flash back six months. There's a big white egg. Maybe a chicken is sitting on it, maybe not. What is the farmer saying? "I'm not waiting around for this thing to hatch; I'll going to sell it now."

There's a whole intricate series of steps here which I don't have time to explain, so let's just say somehow your egg gets to the store. It's in a carton with eleven others, each separate eggs from different chicken parents. How many types of chickens are there? That's right, fourteen. They have nothing in common except they're all in the same cardboard carton. If you had to put one of these eggs in charge, which would you choose? The biggest? The whitest? That's the puzzle our Founding Fathers faced. They had the eggs, they had the Hollandaise, and they had the last bitter scraps of a tyrannical English muffin.

They put them together on a plate. And that's it. Isn't it glorious? Eggs Bened-- Chicken Tacos. Thank you for coming!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I don't mind getting older. I don't give a damn about gray hair or wrinkles. I don't like the crazy new attitudes, though, that seem to accompany them. I'm barely in middle age and suddenly my younger friends act like I'm going to need them to help me cross the street.

When you're young and you stagger, your friends laugh. You collapse drunkenly into the street and after dancing around you they roll up your coat and jam it behind your head so you won't get gutter water in your ear. Now that everything's cool and you're comfortable, they hop in a cab to head to another club.

When you're old and you stagger, though, they take your arm and talk like you'd talk to your grandpa. "There, there," they say, "don't overexert yourself. We'll just go to the end of the block today, and maybe tomorrow we'll try to get all the way to the store."

When you're young and you do something slightly odd everybody takes it in stride. They think of excuses for you that don't include a stroke or Alzheimer's. When you're young, there's a whole world of excuses for weird stuff.

Somebody comes over while you're cleaning and they notice you're using oven cleaner on the bathroom floor. No problem. Maybe you don't have bathroom cleaner. Maybe you can't afford forty specialized cleaning products. Or maybe your bathroom floor is so fucking dirty it takes toxic chemicals to clean it.

Once you hit thirty, though, that grace period is over. All of a sudden every possible explanation is medical. Instead of wracking their brains, they're searching WebMD. "Maybe he's had a stroke," somebody says. "Does half of his face look like Grumpy Cat?"

You go on and on to your friends about how much you love Jenny Lewis. Such a talent, you say. Absolutely unbelievable, you say. I'm even starting to get a little crush. In fact, sometimes when I touch myself, I think about --

And then you notice everybody is staring at you weird.

What's their fuckin' problem? you wonder. Oh, wait -- I said Jenny Lewis, right? I didn't say Jerry Lewis?

If I'd done this a few years ago, everybody would have laughed and talked about brain farts and alcohol. But now everybody's screaming just in case I suddenly caught deafness to go with the Alzheimer's. They leap right back to basics. "WHAT'S YOUR NAME?" they yell at me. "HOW MANY FINGERS AM I HOLDING UP?"

Still, I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy. I don't want to sound like some cheery Suzanne Somers sap, but there always is a bright side. The good news is, now I just have a grab onto a random parking meter and somebody'll run to get me juice and cookies. I just have to shiver a little to have somebody fetch my favorite sweater. Now if I could just figure out a way to get somebody to sort through my boxes of old Reader's Digest magazines and find that article on computers I know my favorite nephew would enjoy while I take a little nap.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hipster Goldilocks

Once upon a time there was a hipster named Hunter, though his real name was Curtis Alan. He lived in an area called East Williamsburg by real estate agents despite the fact Spike Lee shot fourteen movies there. One morning, while he was walking home from his CrossFit class, he accidentally wandered into a neighborhood where hipsters don't often go. He was very frightened, but then he saw a friendly little brownstone in the distance.

The friendly little brownstone belonged to three Italians who'd lived in the neighborhood all their lives. One was a great big Papa Italian, one was a middle-sized Mama Italian, and one was a tiny little Baby Italian. That afternoon, the three Italians decided to go for a walk while their spaghetti was cooling. It was just too hot to eat!

Right as they left through the back door, Hunter came in through the front door. The first thing he saw was the spaghetti. “I sure am hungry,” Hunter said. “I’ll just have one bite.”

First, he tried a spoonful from Papa Italian's great big bowl. “Yeesh!” he yelled, “Somebody should be arrested for Attempted Murder by Oregano.”

Next, he tried a spoonful from Mama Italian's medium-sized bowl. “Horrible," he whined. "Overwhelming in its sheer tomatoey-ness. Would it kill them to squirt in a little sriracha?"

Finally, Hunter tried a spoonful from Baby Italian's tiny little bowl. “Oh, what the fuck,” he cried. “But wait'll the folks in my Artisanal Pasta class hear about this." Hunter ate the entire bowlful.

After doing squats in the gym all day, Hunter’s calves were sore. “I need to sit down for a little while,” he thought.

First, he sat in Papa Italian's great big armchair. “HOLY FUCK!” he screamed. "Did they outlaw lumbar support around here?"

Next he sat in Mama Italian's medium-sized chair. It was so soft that he sunk in! “That's why friends don't let friends shop at Ikea,” he complained.

Finally, he sat in Baby Italian's tiny little rocking chair. “I'm really enjoying the ironically-childish lines contrasting with the crudely-cut wood," he said, and he rocked until the chair broke.

With nowhere to sit, Hunter climbed up the stairs to find somewhere to sleep. He was still very tired.

First, he tried Papa Italian's great big bed. “Jesus Christ!” he shrieked. "I didn't think they made thread counts under twelve."

Then, he tried Mama Italian's medium-sized bed. “You're fuckin' kidding me!" he snapped. "It's like this memory foam has amnesia!"

Finally, he tried Baby Italian's tiny little bed. “Eh,” he said. "They couldn't get eight bucks for this shit on Airbnb." But Hunter fell asleep and soon was dreaming of duck confit tacos with kale ice cream.

A few hours later the three Italians returned home. While walking, they'd decided to visit Papa Italian's sister-in-law. Now their ears were ringing and they had Maalox stains on their clothes. They saw forks in their spaghetti and were very surprised. “Who’s been eating my spaghetti?” asked Papa Italian.

“Who’s been eating my spaghetti?” asked Mama Italian.

“Who’s been eating my spaghetti and eaten it all up?” cried Baby Italian.

Then the three Italians saw that their chairs had been used. “Who’s been sitting in my chair?” Papa Italian howled.

“Who’s been sitting in my chair?” wondered Mama Italian.

“Who’s been sitting in my chair and BROKEN it?” squeaked Baby Italian.

The three Italians ran upstairs to check their bedrooms. “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” Papa Bear roared.

“Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” growled Mama Italian.

“Who’s been sleeping in my bed and is STILL HERE?” Baby Italian screamed. She said it so loudly that she woke Hunter up.

Hunter was so frightened that he jumped out of bed, ran out the front door, and raced through the streets until he found a hipster coffee shop that looked like a Gold Rush saloon but was built by an ex-Google employee in 2013. "Thank God," he said with a sigh, dodging a miniature, laboratory-formulated Shih-Pug. He hung up his coat, hand-woven from organic cotton and sustainably-dried beef jerky, on a taxidermied meerkat and ordered a cold-dripped Japanese frappospresso from a barista with a tattoo of a cigarette-smoking ghost on his forehead and a handlebar mustache in the shape of Kelly Ripa's eyebrows. "I thought the whole world had gone nuts."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My sister Christine and I jointly own a condo that we inherited when our mother died. We rent it out, but that's gotten increasingly difficult. Our first tenant stayed two years. The second stayed one. The third wanted out after four months. Could we accept a month-to-month tenancy? he asked. We'd long since abandoned any hopes of self-respect. NO! we barked. Once he was in, he wasn't ... getting ... out.

Eventually reality smacked us in the face: our condo was horrifying. It was last decorated in 1972 when shag carpeting and earth tones were in vogue. We'd never even tried to find a cool tenant: no, we blanketed Craigslist in search of somebody who'd move in before they had a chance to think.

Since the condo is in L.A., where Christine lives, and I live in New York, I hoped she'd answer our tenant's complaints and upgrade the place. It's not exactly fair, but I'm hardly going to fly in to do a couple of odd jobs. Unfortunately, she wasn't up to the task. Whereas New Yorkers start off fast and ramp up to insanity, Los Angeleans have only one speed: crawl. Christine gets up at 8 a.m. so she can stretch, feed her feral rescue cats, cook a Tofurky breakfast sausage, and post a new petition on Facebook about climate change before driving her Prius to work around 4:45. It's very Joni Mitchell mellow, and it makes me want to shoot myself.

I prod and cajole and cheerlead and eventually she caves. She agrees to some miniature task. And without fail, every time, something goes horribly wrong. I don't get it: she's an adult. She holds down a full-time job. She must have some modicum of common sense, right?

But every other month there's one small step forward accompanied by fifteen steps back.

The tenant says the lock on the sliding glass door is broken. No problem, Christine says. And two months later she calls and says she bought a lock but it didn't fit. So there goes April, there goes our tenant's hopes, and there goes fifty bucks.

Our tenant decides he doesn't like the eight dead, oversized plants the last guy left on the balcony. I convince Christine to hire some random Hispanic dude in front of Home Depot to carry them to the condo dumpster. The first guy to approach her car, though, is seventy years old and has a limp, but she doesn't want to question his fitness and possibly damage his self-esteem. While she's driving him to the condo he admits he can't actually lift anything, so she buys him a sandwich, gives him two hours' pay, and drops him off back to the store.

There goes June, and there goes sixty bucks.

The refrigerator no longer gets cold, the tenant says. No problem, replies Christine. And two months later I hear that:

  1. She bought a Kenmore at Sears, because the place where your parents bought a tufted-vinyl wet bar is the place to go for quality appliances.
  2. While the rest of the kitchen is beige, the new Kenmore is arctic white.
  3. The Kenmore doesn't exactly fit, but you can still get into the kitchen without hurting yourself.
Before I give up once and for all, I try to subtly instruct her in the art of competence. She takes offense. What am I insinuating? Why, she's a strong, capable single woman! She can do as much as any man! She can work a full-time job and work towards preserving the environment and still put on make-up and keep her hair looking nice.

I consider arguing but I'm pretty sure you can't criticize somebody into self-confidence. Instead, I think of another odd job that would give her the chance to redeem herself. The bathroom lamp is a bizarrely ostentatious row of six giant globe bulbs on a chrome strip that looks like a makeup mirror in a Broadway dressing room. I don't care if she buys a flashlight or a kerosene lantern: it's be a major improvement if we could replace it with anything. We just need a handyman, I suggest, and then I back away even from that. We just need a dude, I say. Christine reluctantly agrees, like she'll need eight pounds of tofu and three Sting CDs to properly complete the task.

And the next time I talk to her, it's done. The new lamp isn't terrific -- the style is old and feminine, evoking a brothel during the gold rush -- but at least nobody's going to hang around the door waiting for Cher to come out. I pile her with accolades but she continues to drop odd little facts. Found the electrician through a local newspaper. We were desperate. It was probably a good idea. I bat them away until an errant pitch wallops me in the side.

"It was a little expensive," she admits. "Six hundred dollars."

I think she must be mistaken, but she doesn't correct herself. "Six hundred dollars?" I repeat. "To change a lamp?"

"The electrician quoted seventy-five an hour," she says, "and said it would take two hours."

I nod. That sounds reasonable to me.

"But I didn't know he'd have to bring a supervisor," she says. "And that guy didn't do ANYTHING."