Friday, February 29, 2008

Photo Friday

Can You Identify the Make of These Automobiles?
(The contest is over, We have a winner)

1) 1939 Packard
2) 1946 Soviet ZIS110
3) 1956 Packard
4) Soviet 1959 ZIL110

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Sacred Cow Bell

(Thanks Jeanette)
Forty percent of American families don't sit down to dinner together at least five nights a week. From my earliest years until I was about fifteen years old, my family always sat down for dinner together. What happened at fifteen is that the family became too large for us all to sit down at the same time, so I started eating in front of the television in the family room.

With eleven children, my parents had to find ways to keep tabs on us and to keep us from running amok. Our curfew was always "When the street lights come on, you come home". Obviously we liked that curfew in the summer, and cheated on it in the winter when the street lights came on at five P.M. It also explains why my older brother was always trying to knock the damn street lights out with a rock.

On any given day, my siblings and I would scatter to the four corners of our subdivision, and because of this my mom needed a way to gather us back in at dinner. Her solution was a cow bell, a large, loud, cow bell. This bell was so loud you could hear it a half a mile away, so there was no excuse to miss dinner. Every kid and parent in the neighborhood was aware of the 'cow bell'. When the bell would peel, our friends would just look at us and say "see'ya later" and like Pavlov's dogs we were off. Within seconds of the bell you would see kids of all ages closing in on our house on Ravinia Drive, like zombies from 'Night of the Living Dead".

The cow bell worked out well for my mother. On the other hand, for years after I moved out of my parents house, I couldn't pass a dairy farm without salivating and yearning for tuna casserole.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Florida it is said, only has two seasons. Sweltering hot, humid summer, and something called winter that incorporates an occasional few, sweltering hot, humid, days interspersed with some pleasantly cool days. I say there are far more seasons than that here in Florida. You might call them sub-seasons, like hurricane season, and the rainy season. We also have a dry season, which is dry only if you compare it to the Amazon rain forest.

My next door neighbor and I were talking the other day and he mentioned that he had put up a bird feeder in the tree between his house and mine. Then he told me that the birds weren't the only ones using it. When he looked out the window, he saw two rats feasting at his expense. Yes folks, it's rat season again here in South Florida. Sure, rats are here all year around, but for some reason, late winter in Florida makes them more active. Walt Disney made rodents cute and lovable, from Mickey Mouse to Chip 'n Dale, but there is nothing cute about the sound of rat feet scampering around in your attic. I have found that it doesn't matter how good you seal up the attic, they still manage to find a way in.

In past years I have let the problem get out of control, but this time I am being pro-active by putting the rat poison out before I hear them. The thing that creeps me out is that the trays of rat poison I put up last year are all empty. That means that I have had rat activity up in the attic already. I've also put kitty Carlotta on short rations, and she now has that hunger for rat in her eyes. She really does enjoy a good rat hunt. Nothing like a cat chasing a rat all around the house to spice things up. After all we need something to do until mosquito season starts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Mouth

I know there must be some kind of fable about the persistence of some little pest, like maybe a gnat, winning out over some beast, but I can't think of one. In my fable Mark would be the gnat and Detective Chris Dale, of the Broward County Sheriffs Police, would be the beast.

Ever since our home was invaded by Detective Dale and his thugs, Mark has been on the phone to different offices, and people, both in, and outside the sheriffs department. Personally, I have moved on. I just tell myself that I don't trust the sheriff's police, I don't like the sheriff's police, and when I see them having a tough time with some 'criminal', I will always wonder if maybe they didn't bring it on themselves. Not Mark, no not Mark the mouth. I have been listening to his phone calls for the last two weeks and all I can say is, it's nice to see he has a hobby. I know how irritating and grating his high pitched, whiny voice can be, like a drill bit boring a hole to the center of your brain. When the phone rings in some captains office or internal affairs office, and they hear that voice, I'm sure at least a portion of their day has been made less pleasant. The only way they can avoid Mark's daily barrage of phone calls is to not pick up the phone, and in a police environment, that's not possible. So they endure the constant onslaught of Mark's demands for an apology, some of them hanging up at the sound of his voice. That of course, only makes Mark more persistent.

Today we got a letter from the sheriffs department, stating "No employee misconduct can be identified." and "The matter is closed.". No it's not, not for Mark. They just did the equivalent of refilling Mark's fuel tank with a letter like that. So I just sit here, listening to that sound in the other room, the sound of Mark berating some police official in that voice. That voice that Mark uses when he really wants to irritate someone. That voice that I had to listen to for hours on a plane from Italy. That voice that caused me to duck out of bar, and take a cab home just to get it out of my ears for a few moments. Yes, I am sitting here glad that Mark has found this new hobby, and that this time I am not the target of the 'voice'. I don't know when it will happen, but sooner or later someone at the Broward County Sheriffs Department will be begging Detective Chris Dale to apologize to Mark, just to get that sound out of their ears.

Monday, February 25, 2008

You Don't Know What You've Got 'Til it's Gone

(Joni Mitchell)
On our last trip to Europe, Mark and I stayed at a hotel in Venice, that was five hundred years old. We walked on streets in Rome that were laid twenty five hundred years ago. In past trips we have wandered the medieval streets of Prague, it's buildings virtually untouched for hundreds of years. Then we return home to Florida, where a building from the early twentieth century is considered ancient and it takes an act of god to save it. I live in what is considered an old house here in Florida. It was built in 1960.

As a part of the 'Baby Boom' generation, I grew up in one of those new subdivisions that sprang up like dandelions on a suburban lawn. Even though our house was brand new when we moved in, the town we were perched on the edge of was settled in the 1850's, and was full of old homes, buildings, and businesses. One of those was Vogt’s Department Store, across from the old train station and Saenger's beer hall and garden. Vogt’s was one of my many stops on the way home from school every day. It was the anti Wal-Mart, staffed with old ladies who kept an eye on you throughout your visit and were always nearby. I assume it was to keep kids with sticky fingers from stealing, but at that age I just thought they were being really nice. Vogt’s was really nothing more than an old fashioned general store like you see on ‘Little House on the Prairie’. The clothes weren’t fashionable, the snacks were a little stale, and it had a funky old smell that I found fascinating.

It seems that there is an eternal battle between the developers and the preservationists. While I don’t want to live in a museum, I do wish that we could preserve the old buildings and find a modern use for them, like they do in other countries. Unfortunately for Vogt’s store, that won’t happen. The expense of restoring the remains of the old building was too much for the restaurant chain that had purchased the property, and they tore most of it down.
Former Vogt's Department Store
‘Boston Blackies’ restaurants says it plans to try to use parts of the old first floor for it’s new location in Tinley Park. Too bad most of the interesting architectural details were on the second floor. The cutesy first floor details were added recently to make it look more historical. On the bright side, Tinley Park will get another great, chain restaurant dining experience. And while you're there, be sure to try the ‘Boston Blackened’ chicken nuggets.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Love the Smell of Wet Wool in the Morning

One of the minor pastimes we engage in here in Florida, is watching the weather back in the city we came from, and in the cities our friends have moved to. We are never happy to hear that it is seventy degrees in Chicago in February. It sort of negates the whole reason we are here, because lets face it, Florida sucks if not for the winter weather. So it is with glee that I see snow and cold is gripping my old home town, while I sit here in the sun and warm breezes of Fort Lauderdale. When I was a kid, cold winter weather didn't bother me so much as it does as an adult. Kids see winter as a playground. A time to take a death defying trip on a sled, down a hill studded with stout oak trees. No helmets for us, just head first on an old Flexible Flyer. Winter meant snowball fights, sometimes with unethical neighbor kids who weighted their snowballs with rocks buried in them. That of course required that you have a solidly built snow fort out at the edge of your domain, usually the end of our driveway.

I definitely loved a school snow day when I was a kid. It wasn't just a day off from school, but also an unbelievable amount of snow to go out and play in. The best of both worlds. On one morning that I remember, we waited and hoped for enough snow to close down the school, but it was not to be. So it meant I would have to do the long walk to St. George through the snow with my fourth grade friend, Jim. At every drift and icy puddle we would stop and have a snowball fight. If we couldn't find other kids to fight with, we would blast each other with cold, wet, slushy, snow balls.

We were at least twenty minutes late for school that day, and we knew the wrath of Sister Jude would be unleashed upon us. When we arrived, Sister Jude was waiting. In her flowing black robes, black hood, and cowl, she looked more menacing than Dracula to us. She meted out punishment quickly, five raps on our knuckles with her heavy ruler, and a promise of a call to our moms. As a final insult to us, we were ordered to go to the back of the room and sit on the hot steam radiator, until our soaking wet pants were dry. As the odor of two nine year old boys steaming wet woolen pants, wafted through the classroom, I'm sure she had second thoughts. But Sister Jude never gave in, even with the protests of the girls who found the smell disgusting, we had to sit there until our pants were dry. Those nuns sure were tough.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bon Appétit

My doctor got my blood work back and I went to see him today. My Cholesterol is 265 and my triglycerides are 350. I am apparently a walking heart attack. One interesting note is that he went back through my history and noted that my cholesterol first started going up in 1999, one and a half years after Mark started cooking for me. So for the next three months, and for eternity if it works, I am supposed to be on the 'South Beach' diet, low fat, low carbs. Is there anything left to eat if you take that stuff out of my food?

This means no more of Marks prime rib, no crab legs drenched in butter, no meats smothered with those rich cream sauces. No more of my favorite, mashed potatoes, made with sour cream and butter. In fact no more butter in or on anything. No more French bread to sop up Mark's home made gravy. Whole grain bread is it from now on, and there will be no sopping up of anything. No fettuccini alfredo. No candy, no Krispy Kreme donuts, no sugar at all. No whole milk anymore, just that thin crap that looks and tastes like water with white food coloring in it.

Thinking of the things I can't have to eat is depressing, but I knew when I was eating all of those things, there would be consequences. The hard part will be re-training Mark. I showed him the list of approved and disapproved foods that the doctor gave me, and Mark shook his head and said "Okay, we'll start eating right". He then proceeded to cook me a dinner of fried chicken breasts, coated with eggs and bread crumbs with a side of potatoes (not mashed, but still on the 'no no' list), and what I guess he considered the healthy part, sautéed green beans. He still doesn't get it.

It's not just the diet that will be a challenge, I am also supposed to exercise more. Exercise takes a lot of motivation, and when I used to go to the gym three times a week, my motivation was that I would allow myself an ice cream cone afterwards. Ice cream of course is on the 'no no' list. I don't know if I can do this, because Mark doesn't know how to cook any other way than with all the fats and butter and cream. I may have to buy a second refrigerator just for me, and put a lock on the one with all the bad stuff in it that skinny Mark eats. The part that really pisses me off is listening to Mark complain because he can never find pants that fit because they're too loose, while he stuffs whatever the hell he wants into his face.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

That be Mob Heata, Nilla

I was listening to an old 'Steely Dan' album (a popular group from before most people were born), and wondering how the hell can it be thirty years since I first heard this album, and why didn‘t it win any Grammy’s in 1978? This year Amy Winehouse won a lot of Grammy's, and she really sucks. An alley cat in heat could sing as well as Amy Winehouse. If the cat could go into rehab, they would probably give it a Grammy. The Grammy’s are having a hard time lately finding anything worthy of an award because, lets face it, most of today’s music is crap. For fear of sounding too much like my father, let me point out that I do buy new artists like John Legend, Alicia Keys, John Mayer, and Queen Latifah. I even have an Amy Winehouse CD, purchased on some bad advise.

Unfortunately, right now I am listening to rap “music”. I am listening to loud obnoxious rap “music” and I have no choice but to listen to it. No one on my property is playing this, nor has anyone who lives here requested it. There is a man next door, sitting in his car, who believes that this entire neighborhood would be a much better place to live in if we all could appreciate his taste in music. So he has turned his car stereo up loud enough for us all to hear. "Thumpa, thumpa, thumpa, niggah this, niggah that, you be my ‘ho’ bitch, thumpa, thumpa."
The music sounds like it’s coming from speakers mounted in tin cans somewhere in his car, and the vocals are all but undecipherable except of course for the dirty parts. I’m sure that if I were sitting in his car, it could not possibly sound any better. When he plays this “music” my windows rattle and everything vibrates just like when the dinosaurs were coming in ’Jurassic Park’. I have asked him to turn it down a few times in the past, to no avail. Yes, I have called the police on him previously, but after my recent experiences with the police, I don’t really want to deal with them for awhile. I have also asked the owner of the property if he could get him to stop, the answer was “I don’t think he’ll listen to me”. The last time I said anything, I was chatting with Nonny, the lady across the street, and I realized we couldn’t even hear each other talk, so I walked towards him and screamed at him to “TURN THAT DAMN THING DOWN!”. He actually did turn the damn thing down, that time.

I’m not sure what to do at this point, but I have been digging out all of my Dwight Yokum CD’s and have found a hundred foot spool of speaker wire, and speakers. I also have some Hank Williams he might like to hear, it sounds real good turned up loud.

Monday, February 18, 2008

It Won't Hurt a Bit

After my uncle's heart attack and my visits to the bathroom taking longer because of an ever thinning pee stream, I decided that it was time for a complete physical. My visit to the doctor didn't come without some prodding from him, and when I finally did go, it resulted in much prodding, and probing from him. First there were the preliminaries, blood pressure, pulse, knee reflexes, etc. It was when he got further into it that I became ill at ease. "Please pull down your pants, and lay on your side". I could hear the sound of rubber gloves and the gloop of lubricant coming out of a tube behind me, at which point my sphincter clenched up tighter than a gnats ass. "Please relax, you'll feel a little pressure." With a muffled scream from me, and an extra push from the doctor, my prostate was examined. The next thing on the agenda was the turn your head and cough routine. While most men like it when that part of their body is touched, for some reason it just isn't the same when it's a man in a white smock with rubber gloves doing it, unless of course you're real kinky.

Further on into the physical, came the EKG, which the doctor said was perfect, and then the nurse took my blood. After going through chemo-therapy, you'd think I would be used to needles, but no, I hate them. The nurse took at least a quart of blood while I looked all around, and everywhere, except at that syringe full of blood, for I am sure if I had looked, I would have swooned and passed out. I can look at other peoples blood just fine, it's only when it's my own do I get queasy.

It was a year ago that I got my first and last colonoscopy. When my doctor asked if I had ever had one, I replied "Yes, a year ago, and I still haven't fully recovered." For some reason my doctor found this funny. It was the first time I had ever seen him smile in the last seventeen years. "Ah ha!", I thought, so he really did enjoy that prostate exam.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine Day

Here in Florida, there are a group of people who feel extremely threatened by the thought of a man marrying a man, or a woman marrying a woman. So threatened, that they have gathered enough signatures to have it put on the November ballot, to ban such an outrageous idea.

Paul and Me

Even though I have had the most fun in my life when I was single, for some reason I've always felt compelled to form a more permanent relationship with another man. Back in the 1970's we called each other 'lovers' when we set up house together. Then sometime in the last ten or twenty years, that became passé, and I started hearing people referring to their lovers as 'partners'. That's fine with me, because I don't know what the alternative would be. Husband or wife, or maybe wusband or hife? My dad used to refer to them as “Alan’s special friend”.

Me and Chuck

Because I am a reasonable man, the times I have broken up with my wusbands went pretty smoothly. We simply divided our property and went our ways without hysterics or court intervention. I'm sure some of my heterosexual friends wish it was that simple for them. I often wonder what would have happened if I was legally married? I think the outcome would have been exactly the same, the mutual property would have been divided equally but the lawyers would have taken my money.

Me and Garet

I often hear the anti-gay-marriage people, or AGM's saying marriage is for procreation. If this is true, then it should also be banned for any man and woman who are not capable of having a baby, including any couple past child bearing years. The truth is that marriage goes back thousands of years to a time when man was tribal and women were considered property. Marriage was a way of securing that property from the other men in your tribe who were out on the prowl, kind of like men in a singles bar nowadays. What the AGM's don't understand is that nobody is saying that they want churches to be forced to perform 'gay marriages'. We only want the same benefits that the government sanctions for heterosexual marriage .

Me and Mark

My wusband Mark and I have been together eleven years this coming April, longer than any other relationship I've had before. I don't know that it is more successful than my time with Garet, Chuck, or, Paul, I think maybe I am just a bit more patient. If I was able to marry Mark, I don't know that I would. After all, why fix what isn’t broken. But then again, there are the wedding presents.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Band of Bullies

First of all let me acknowledge the need for a police force in this country of maniacs with guns. But at what point do the police become as much of a problem as the criminals? This is the story of how I met Detective Chris Dale, of the Broward County Sheriffs Department, and two of his friends.

This morning I went to the hospital to pick up Mark and bring him home. He still has pneumonia, but the doctor said it would be okay if he went home. We weren't home for more than ten minutes when somebody was knocking at the front door. Through the bedroom window, where I was, I asked "who's there?". "THE POLICE! OPEN UP!". "What can I do for you? Who are you looking for?", I asked. "JUST OPEN THE DOOR, NOW!!" a voice bellowed back. I looked out the window and saw three young men, in bullet proof vests, with guns, badges, and all matter of accouterment attached to them. Once again I asked who they were looking for, and the fat one (Detective Chris Dale), once again bellowed "OPEN THE DOOR, BEFORE I BREAK IT DOWN!!".

I don't know how it is where you live, but here in South Florida, it is common to see, on the evening news, home invasions perpetrated by people claiming to be police officers. So I was hesitant to just open up the door. I went around to the front door, opened it a crack and asked what was going on. "Do you know John Doe (I'm using John Doe to protect the guilty)"? I answered yes, and they started pushing past me into the house. I told them they couldn't come in without a search warrant, and the fat one yelled at me, "WE DON'T NEED ONE, GET OUT OF THE WAY". Before I knew it they were in the house searching for John Doe. When they saw skinny, sick, Mark sitting at the dining room table, the fat assed cop said "JOHN DOE ISN'T HERE? THEN WHO IS THAT?", and he held up a picture of a black man next to Marks face. "HE LOOKS JUST LIKE HIM TO ME."


John Doe

It so happens that I do know 'John Doe', he is a friend of Marks and I did let him stay in the front apartment for a few weeks between other tenants, a year ago. He paid me rent for the time he stayed, and he moved out promptly when I got a long term tenant. He doesn't look anything like Mark other than the fact they both have African heritage. He is a lighter skin color than Mark and has a more rugged face. The cop only saw a black man in my house, and assumed that must be who he's looking for. When we started protesting this assumption, the fat cop threatened to throw us both on the ground. I continued to point out that the face on his arrest warrant looked nothing like Mark, and he yelled back, "IT DOES TO ME!".

Not once in the entire time these thugs were here did they speak in a civil tone to me or to Mark. The fat one, who looked to be pumped up on steroids and donuts, started to belittle Mark and threaten him with physical violence. After showing them our drivers licenses and proving who we were, they started to leave. There was no apology, just continued threats that they could still arrest us as they walked out and down the porch.

The one thing I do regret is that I didn't call 911 and ask for the Wilton Manors Police to come over before I opened the door, because these guys really could have been home invaders. Since this morning we have called numerous agencies, including the internal affairs division. That was a joke, because it became apparent from the start, that they would back up their storm troopers to the end.

If you want to know what happened to the bullies who picked on smaller kids, and kids with disabilities when you were in grade school, and punched you in the head when you were in high school, they became cops. The worst bullies of all became Broward County, Florida, Sheriff's Police. All cops are bullies, once in a great while you run into a nice one, but rarely. It is a sad time in this country when a man feels more threatened by the people who are paid to protect him, than by those we are paying them to protect us from.

Tampa cops dump paralyzed man out of wheel chair.

You can stop it after the first minute. Nothing else happens.

Ahoy, Landlubbers

When I lived in Chicago, on summer days, I would often walk out to the end of Navy Pier and watch the boats go by. From that vantage point you could see people sailing past, having a grand time, free of the constraints of land. They were always out on a pleasant excursion, smiles on their faces, drinks in hand, away from the traffic and din of the city. Sometimes I would see a boat coming in from a trip across Lake Michigan and imagine that they had come all the way down from Canada. I totally romanticized sailing and longed for the day that I could be out there with those of like mind.
So it was one day I suggested to my brother Gary, that we go to a boat show in Michigan City, Indiana. I believe I had already decided that on that day, at that show, I would buy a boat. Buying a boat was something my brother hadn‘t planned on doing. With just a little deceit, and mild cajoling, I managed to talk my brother into buying a cute little twenty five foot sailboat with me. What I knew about sailing you could fit on the head of a pin. I had sailed a little Sun Fish sailboat around a small lake once, and read a book about sailing. I considered that to be quite enough experience to qualify me as a sailor.
When you ask friends to go sailing with you they get quite excited at first. What they don't know is that they are only along as deck hands or 'boat whores'. Our first outing on the new boat we had named, ‘Madonna Lila’, lasted only a few hundred feet past the harbor entrance. I had convinced my friend Dennis to come along as my 'boat whore', and everything seemed to be going well until I gave the order to hoist the sails. The light breeze and gentle swells that we had been dealing with inside the harbor suddenly turned into a gale with huge waves crashing over the bow as we exited the protection of the harbor. Every few seconds the boom would swing madly by in front of me and over to the side, affording me a quick glimpse of Dennis clinging for dear life to the bow of the boat. Really, all I remember was a lot of screaming and the rocks along the shore getting closer and closer. Most of the screaming was coming from me, as I was not a pillar of confidence in my sailing skills. We eventually got turned around, and beat it back behind the breakwater to safety, with Dennis still clinging to the bow like one of those figureheads on an old whaling ship.
I never did get the hang of sailing in a decent wind. Anything over five knots (six MPH) made me nervous, and the more the boat leaned over the worse I got. Most sailors like a stiff breeze, and will be quite comfortable with the boat speeding along and leaning over at a forty five degree angle. I just never could get over the feeling that sooner or later the boat would tip all the way over, and I would suffer the embarrassment of the Coast Guard rescuing me. Picking me out of the water while television helicopters hovered overhead, broadcasting my poor sailing skills to the world.
The ‘Madonna Lila’ now sits safely in my brothers back yard, and I understand he does take it out sometimes in the summer. Meanwhile I sit here in a city called the ‘Venice of America’, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with a smile on my face and a drink in my hand, firmly ensconced on dry land.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Nurse Alan

I can just picture ten year old Mark, home from school sick, and his poor mother being run ragged trying to take care of the little drama queen.

Mark is sick again, and it's not funny. It's not funny for him, nor is it funny for me, but for different reasons. As I have mentioned before, Mark has bad lungs and he won't quit smoking. Friday I went through the house and found all the cigarette packs I could and threw them in the garbage. This was after almost a week of being kept awake by the constant rattle of a smokers hack and cough. His coughing, of course didn't keep him from spending more than one night of partying in smoky bars, so that the effect of smoking was doubled.

When I am sick, I just want to be left alone. Mark on the other hand thinks of it as an excuse to do scenes from a soap opera. He needs constant attention, and care, neither of which I am capable of giving. Those qualities were doled out to my sisters who apparently got such a large dose, that they became nurses just to use up the excess. When Mark finally runs himself down to the point he can't get out of bed, he starts up with the demands. "Make me tea", "Make me soup", and of course the inevitable, "Stay here so that I can keep complaining to you".

I always know when it is going to get bad, because he starts huffing and puffing and complaining that he can't breath. Usually he reaches his worst condition on a weekend when he knows that the doctor is out, and I will have to take him to the emergency room. This time however, he has held off because I just keep asking him, "Is is time to call 911 yet?".

I don't know how this one will turn out, but I am going to try to hold on until Monday when he can go to his regular doctor. If I can get him to take enough Tylenol PM, I just might make it.