WELCOME - Let's Look At Life and Rant About It!!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Today At The Library ...

Thank all the deities of every religion that public school starts up in a few weeks, because little bastard children have been tarnishing the greatest unsung gemstone in the crown of American culture ... the public library!

Libraries are an oasis in the desert of television, bad movie sequels, and monstrosities like rap music. Here in the hushed air and metal shelving ... the stacks ... lie the works of some of the world's greatest minds and thinkers. Don't get me wrong, the Internet is a wonder that can connect you almost instantly to knowledge and people across the planet, but to hold a work of fiction in your hand is to touch the imagination of another human being.

I grew up loving the library. "Corduroy," the adventure of a stuffed bear looking for the missing button from his overalls, was the first book to weave its spell of intrigue over me. And I was similarly mesmerized by the rhyming antics of all the Dr. Seuss books. And in fourth grade ... I remember it vividly ... I checked out a book called "A Wizard of Earthsea" by Ursula LeGuin. "This book is to advanced for you," the librarian had said, but I begged and pleaded and probably looked like I was about to cause a scene ... because I was! She acquiesced and I struggled though probably one of the most magical stories I've read in all my life.

And so it went. The library became a place for research, group study sessions, pleasure reading, and even volunteering as a "listener" for the Summer Reading Institutes my local branch sponsored for younger children each year. College was much the same ... the library represented a safe harbor from noisy roommates and classmates more interested in getting their "drink on" then passing another semester. And when I moved off campus to an apartment, the library was where I often came when I turned my heat down to 50 to save on utilities ... or where I stole toilet paper and paper towels to cheap on household items. It was a sanctuary on so many levels.

And now as an adult, my local library branch is an attractive, single-story brick-and-exposed-stone structure where I go to find "mind candy" in the form of historical essays, mystery fiction, sci-fi adventures, and more. Or when the walls of my apartment are closing in, the library is where my laptop and I can spread out and get some work done.

Unfortunately, it's also the place where parents of questionable skill have decided their children should hang out unsupervised during the summer months. Granted, a few are actually reading or pursuing quasi-educational topics on the Web, but the vast majority are loud, taking up space, and spending hours trying to find dirty words and pictures in the Reference section.

And library staffers shouldn't have to be babysitters. I have such respect for librarian science professionals and people dedicated to caring for and sharing the written word. Most are very knowledgeable about authors and current works, as well as helping you search for obscure materials. And friendliness and courteousness must be part of their screening process, because I've never met a rude library worker. But times are tough ... I know budgets have been cut meaning less acquisition dollars and even less hours for personnel ... so why saddle these friendly people with unruly children?

But all is not lost. Most libraries are still a quiet and beautiful repository for books, movies, CDs, and free (of very inexpensive) computer time and meeting spaces. Some are even maintaining extended evening and Sunday hours so people with busy schedules can still utilize their services. And many communities are organizing book drives to encourage citizens to donate good-condition books, references like college texts, CDs, DVS, graphic novels, and other materials in order to offset dwindling funding.

And of course, if you enjoy having a facility like a public library, then do your part when levies and other ballots come up for vote!!

POINT OF RANT: There really needs to be a licensing process for being parents ... come on!!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Today In The Bathroom ...

It was a whim ... a strange, bewildering action that I can't really explain. This morning I shaved my junk.

I was reading an old newspaper clipping last night about Nicolas Rapp, this art director who quit his job, bought a 1996 Toyota Land Rover, equipped it with a camper unit and toilet, and just finished the New York City-to-Argentina leg (in four months) of his "drive around the world." I was thinking that it really took guts to do something so crazy and bold. Next thing I know I was in the shower with razor in hand.

Who knows why I did it. But after exhaustive research ... I mean, I've been to so many Web sites I'm sure I'm now one a "watch list" or two ... I do know that I did it all wrong.

It's casually referred to as "manscaping," the grooming of male body hair by trimming and/or removal. It's much more than shaving or trimming your eyebrows to keep them "separate but equal." Manscaping broadly encompasses the face ... meaning beard, sideburns, brows, ears, etc., back and shoulders, chest, and everything south. Manscaping has become a normal part of millions of men's body care regimen, but the term and the actions are often linked to the term "metrosexuality," which is some psychobabble claiming that heterosexual men are now adopting styles stereotypically associated with gay guys ... everything from better haircuts and clothes to the way we paint our walls and choose our furniture and home accessories. Well, that just seems silly ... I know plenty of neat and sloppy people, and I've never considered their sexual orientation as a factor in why they're neat or sloppy. If I want to dress better, I'm naturally going to ape someone who dresses like I think I'd like to look ... end of story.

Anyway, like my little adventure, most gossip and scuttlebutt about manscaping tends to involve the "down south" portions of the anatomy ... namely the penis, scrotum, and anus. There ... I wrote it, you decide what to do with it.

According to one study conducted by Philips Norelco, a manufacturer of men's grooming products and equipment (some I wish I would have had) since the early 1940s, about half of all men between the ages of 29 and 40 groom their overall bodies. For this reason, the company actually provides manscaping tips via product literature on its body groomers and its Web site. And they're not alone ... Nair, a product often associated with women and their "short shorts," has a Nair for Men product. A recent popular Gillette TV ad features a man shaving his face with a precision trimmer and then continuing on to his chest. And the company's Web site features some pretty humorous how-to manscaping videos using PG-rated animated video clips with slogans like "if the grass is patchy, mow the lawn" and "less shag, less drag." And dozens of companies are offering hydrating shave gels and balms to meet the expanding manscaping market.

A separate 2008 study suggests that 60 percent of men groom their pubic areas specifically, regardless of gender orientation or sexual preference. That means gay AND straight, people. Manscaping is simply becoming a cultural norm.

Survey data also supports a list of practical reasons why a "modern" man may choose to do some pruning about his body:

Stat One: Some dudes just don't like excessive body hair ... it can be itchy, scratchy, and just plain uncomfortable. And let's face it ... we guys don't give it a second thought when a woman does the same thing for the same reason.

Stat Two: Anecdotal evidence supports that women appreciate a man who keeps "the downstairs" tidied up, and both men and women have reported more enjoyable episodes of oral sex when manscaping is involved.

Stat Three: A man's shape and muscular are generally enhanced with the trimming or removal of excessive body hair. Ever heard that "trimming the hedges makes the house look bigger?" You get the idea.

Stat Four: Hair traps sweat, which increases the production of odor-causing bacteria.

Stat Five: Some athletic trainers and athletes (swimmers, wrestlers, divers, bodybuilders, etc.) feel that body hair maintenance or removal improves both appearance and performance.

Stat Six: Less pubic hair decreases chances of contracting pubic license, one of today's most prevalent STDs.

I'd like to say I attempted proper manscaping for these reasons, but to honest I was just bored, getting ready to take a shower anyway, and, since I'm not in a relationship, it just seemed like a naughty little "experiment."

Manscaping is typically accomplished in one of two ways: shaving or waxing. Like I mentioned, I chose shaving and did it all wrong. According to the "experts," you should trim the hair down to a shorter length to avoid pulling and breakage (skipped that step). Next, pull or stretch the skin as flat as possible (duh ... I was planning on keeping the cob and niblets intact) and then use short strokes with a new razor blade or specialized trimmer (again, skipped). Hot water and traditional shaving cream products may produce too close a shave which can lead to itchy patches and in-grown hairs (yes, yes, and can't wait). There are hydrating cremes that better prepare the skin and actually lift the hairs to produce better results.

Waxing methods vary and are quite a bit more difficult to do at home. There are establishments popping up all over, however, with trained clinicians catering to men's body grooming needs (waxing, facials, nail care, etc.). A typical waxing appointment starts off with a consultation so the technician knows about any allergies or skin conditions, and better understands what results the client is looking for. It also gives the client a chance to ask any questions and become more at ease. Then the client is asked to remove his clothes and enter a treatment room where the area to be worked on will be inspected for moles, sensitive areas, and hair length ... a minimum of 1/4 inch of hair is needed for waxing to be effective. The area will then be cleansed to remove any dangerous bacteria, and probably treated with a prep lotion. Next the actual waxing takes place.

Creme waxes are a common staple of the body hair waxing salon. A thin layer of the wax is applied with a spatula or roller and then a fabric or paper strip is applied to the waxed area. The strip is rubbed and then quickly pulled away against the direction of hair growth, thus removing the hair clear to the follicle. This procedure is repeated until the desired "look" is achieved.

Some establishments use Brazilian wax which is applied more thickly and solidifies much faster than creme waxes ... no paper or fabric is required for hair removal. And still other shops use high-tech hard waxes which are more pliable and actually contract around the hair shaft helping achieve cleaner and often less painful hair removal ... these waxes are often specifically used on men because male public hair is deep rooted and very strong.

Regardless of the type of wax, a clinician will need to pull a client's skin taut and sometimes reposition them to avoid bruising.

Finally, when Big Jim and the Twins are freshly coiffed, the technician will provide some basic post-care instructions and often times some soothing balm or lotion.

My research also "schooled" me in some of the terminology of a manscaping emporium. Some clients request a "Hollywood," which is a clean slate ... all pubic hair is removed. Like butter.

There is also the "Brazilian," which removes all the hair from the sides and top of the underwear area, penis (shaft and base), scrotum, and anus but leaves some hair directly above the penis ... and this choice offers some sporty options like The Wedge (which trims down the sides for a narrower look) or The Hitler (which just leaves a small strip of hair behind). For more reticent clients, there's the "Bikini" which removes hair from the top and sides of the underwear area while leaving most of the more "intimate" pubic regions intact. And if you want to walk into a shop and get they party started, just order a BSC ... the "Back, Sac, and Crack" procedure ... which utilizes a variety of waxes and techniques.

POINT OF RANT: I'm starting to itch.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Today In My Yard ...

I have a few friends that usually get together for most holidays, but this July 4th we were all scattered to the winds. So I decided to invite a few people over today after work for a post-July 4 celebration which included cold beer and banana splits ... what could be more American?!

I borrowed four deck chairs from my landlady (she lives right next door) and scooted them into a rough circle to the side of my duplex. Then I went to the store with my list of ingredients and a few requests from my friends. I arrived back home about 7:15, with 15 minutes to spare before they arrived.

Allyson was the first to arrive and she brought a full case of Coors Light. She was also the friend that made the easiest requests ... could I pick up some pecans because she wasn't a huge peanut fan? And could I try to get bananas that were still a little green? A girl after my own heart, that Allyson ... I was thinking the same thing about greener bananas being a bit bitter and tasting great with all the sweet condiments we'd be using.

As Allyson and I were putting things in bowls, my sturdy-as-a-rock buddy Calvin arrived with three cans of whipped cream ... one chocolate flavored, never seen that! ... and a quart of strawberries ... Calvin feels that strawberry topping never has enough chunks of fruit for his tastes. I didn't have the heart to tell him that a "real" banana split didn't have strawberry topping ... anything to keep Calvin happy.

Calvin had also been an easy-t0-pleaser ... could I pick up some Smucker's Magic Shell for him, that stuff that thickens up when it hits the cold surface of the ice cream? Like I've said, Calvin is an awesome friend, so I purchased both the fudge kind and a bottle of peanut butter-chocolate.

Gail from the office was the last to arrive ... with jars of pineapple and butterscotch toppings in her hands. That was strange ... not for our "project," because pineapple topping is a traditional ingredient in a banana split ... but because she had specificaly asked my to pick it up when I went to the store, thus saving her a trip. "Well," she giggled, "I'll just take these back home for later on." Yeah, I thought, then thanks for contributing absolutely nothing.

Now I'm a perfectionist when it comes to ice cream-related phenomena. A "traditional" banana split is served in a long "boat" with scoops of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream placed between a banana cut length wise. The vanilla ice cream gets topped with chocolate syrup or whatever ... a natural ying-yang of tastes. The chocolate ice cream gets doused with marshmellow creme ... I'm almost weeping as I think about the taste of marshmellow. Finally, the strawberry ice cream gets slathered with pineapple topping. Then it's whipped cream, nuts, and "maraschino" cherries, named for the Italian liquor that used to flavor these plump, sweet cherries with hints of almond and honey.

The creation of the first banana split is credited to an apprentice pharmacist named David Evans Strickler in 1904. It seems the 23-year-old enjoyed coming up with new desserts for the soda shop portion of the Pennsylvania pharmacy where he worked to try to attract students from a nearby college. Other pharmacy soda shops, particularly the Walgreens chain in Chicago, and restaurants in Boston and Ohio helped broaden the popularity of the new ice cream sensation.

So anyway, after opening jars, dirtying a million spoons, and inaugurating a cutting board for the bananas and strawberries, we four friends retired to the yard with beers and plastic ice cream "boats" in hand. We talked about our jobs, our families, and any topic that came up. Then Allyson asked the elephant-in-the-room question, "how much money do you think we wasted on these things when we could have went to the Dairy Shack four blocks over on Vermont?"

Golden vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate ice cream ... I hate the cheap "neopolitan" crap ... I found a 2 for $8 special so I figure $12 for the three. Jars of regular chocolate fudge, pineapple, marshmellow, butterscotch, caramel (my indulgence) and strawberry toppings ... roughly $16 at $2.69 each. Two things of Magic Shell ... close to $6. Crushed peanuts and pecan pieces ... about $4 for two little bags. Three cans of whipped cream ... just under $10. Maraschino cherries (with stems) ... $3 for a small jar. Bananas ... $2. Plastic boats and spoons (not a necessity, but part of the "spilt experience") ... $4.

So, there you have it ... $57 for the price of 4 banana splits that would run just under $14 at the Dairy Shack. But, as we all know, the value of good friends and simple times ... PRICELESS!!

POINT OF RANT: But Calvin and I had seconds, so now it doesn't seem so frivolous.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Today At The Dollar Store ...

Probably once a month, I make a run to the local "dollar store" chain. There are about a dozen household things where I find little difference in the name brand version and the "inexpensive" option.

So I'm in line behind about a hundred people ... ok, five ... and only one of four registers is manned ... accurate accounting. I'm looking for things to fill my time ... looking for trash in my wallet, checking what year my driver's license expires, etc. ... when I start pawing through the gum, candy, and miscellaneous crap along Aisle #1.

And then I strike gold ... a "fancy" pen with a mini Etch A Sketch on top. I loved my Etch A Sketch when I was a kid. It was the first real "art" toy I ever received aside from crayons and markers. It was both frustrating and fantastic because your "art" was limited by the simplicity of the toy, and if you did you had to be so careful because of bump or shake and your masterpiece was ruined!

For those of you not "in the loop," the Etch A Sketch is a toy marketed by The Ohio Art Company (the Buckeye State strikes again!) that almost every kid had, either a new one or a unit passed from kid to kid like in my family. It is a hand-held toy that is a simple screen filled with aluminum powder. Simple knob controls ... one for a vertical stylus and one for a horizontal stylus ... allow users to create simple lines by displacing the powder, this producing a "sketchy" dark line. Images were erased by simply shaking the toy, redistributing the powder inside. The toy was made of sturdy red plastic, but over the years Ohio Art has marketed different colored versions ... I even have an anniversary edition unit made of high-polished chrome. It looks like something from Star Trek.

Ohio Art is actually pretty lucky to have the Etch A Sketch in its family of success stories. The concept was originally created by a French inventor in the late 1950s. Called a l'ecran magique, or magic screen, the inventor met with execs from Ohio Art at a toy fair in Germany in 1959 to present his product. The company was intrigued but passed on the invention. For some reasons, a few Ohio Art higher-ups took a second look at the unique concept. They purchased the rights and rushed the toy into production to make the 1960 Christmas shopping season.

Over the years, Ohio Art has attempted to update the Etch A Sketch to include color (six colors and the ability to produce hard copies of your creations) and even rudimentary animation (Etch A Sketch Animator and Etch A Sketch Animator 2000). But like many great icons of the baby boomer generation, the toy's original concept is much more popular than any technological add-ons and is what still makes it a great seller today. The Etch A Sketch is considered one of the 100 most memorable and creative toys of the 20th century by the International Toy Industry Association. And ironically, this week marks the 50th anniversary of some of the first Sketch units to go from factory to the hands of U.S. consumers.

I bought 14 of those damn pens because I thought they would make great gifts. I also purchased them because the Etch A Sketch has a very special place in my heart. When I got my first job out of graduate school at a newspaper, I pitched an idea for a feature on up-and-coming toy trends. My editor loved the idea and wanted ideas for collateral pieces. Well, I just happened to know a guy ... a good friend, actually ... who worked for Ohio Art. He got me access to two company vice presidents, a great tour of the facilities (before they relocated to Asia), and even hooked me up with an artist who created literal artistic masterpieces on this basic toy and then used an injected sealant process to freeze the images. You should have seen this dude's house ... Etch A Sketch "paintings" everywhere ... it was so cool!!

That little adventure got me two major features in the newspaper ... with bylines. And when I made the trip to The Ohio Art Company in Bryan, Ohio, I made a side trip to the Spangler Candy Company and met another new love of my life ... the Dum-Dum sucker.

POINT OF RANT: Sometimes ... only sometimes ... Ohio rules!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Today In The Kitchen ...

I need to get my hands dirty. And since I don't garden and I know crap about cars ... my extent is where the gas goes in, where to check the oil, where to fill the wiper fluid, and how to check tire pressure and add air if needed ... I'm gonna do the next best thing. I'm making a meatloaf.

Meatloaf was the first thing I remember helping my grandmother make. My mother was ill a great deal, so I stayed at my grandparents house often. I got bored easily, so helping with the cooking was something to occupy some of my time ... and a way to help out.

My grandmother made outstanding meatloaf. She was raised without a lot, but she splurged on ground sirloin when making meatloaf She would chop onions, celery, and a red pepper (a must) while I cracked an egg in a bowl and whipped it slightly. I also got to help with the ultra-secret ingredient ... crushed Cheez-Its in place or saltines or breadcrumbs. She also insisted on ground mustard ... never the prepared stuff from a jar or bottle ... Worcestershire sauce, a can of cream of celery soup, a bit of fresh garlic (the press never worked right in my little hands), a dash of horseradish, sage, and some little "squared" of slab bacon she usually purchased at a slaughterhouse where she swore everything was "better and fresher."

Once the numerous elements were combined, I got the honor of mixing everything together in a big stoneware bowl. It was cold and gunky and disgusting looking ... and I loved it. It always reminded me (still does) of those neighborhood Halloween haunted houses where we made kids wear a blindfold and put their hands in cold cooked spaghetti, graped coated with cooking oil, and "chopped up" Jello.

As a kid, I was never strong enough ... or focused enough ... to get it mixed thoroughly, so Grandma had to finish it up. Then it went in the loaf pan where she decorated it with one long strip of bacon on the top ... she said the bacon was her "visual timer."

If there ever was "comfort food," my grandmother's meatloaf leads the pack. Beats mac and cheese by a mile. Leaves PB&J sandwiches in the dust. Even edges out a pot of rich, creamy potato soup that's been simmering for hours. If I need to impress a guest or make something for an under-the-weather friend, "Grandma Loaf" is the go-to dish.
Over the years, I've tried adjustments ... no bacon, no garlic, cream of mushroom instead of cream of chicken, wheat crackers ... but when I follow the recipe exactly, it's a steaming slice of the past waiting to fill my stomach.

POINT OF RANT: Somethings just can't be improved ... don't fight it!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Today In My Car ...

I'm really steamed and I'm taking it out on anyone who gets in my way. It's stupid, but last night's Design Star episode really pissed me off. Dan Faires, my favorite down-to-earth contestant, was "eliminated" ... sounds like little Vern Yip had him assassinated or flushed down the toilet.

Anyway, Dan was easygoing, consistent, and, among a bunch of prima donnas such as the other current contestants (not Emily or Casey really), completely likable. His critique last night was harsh ... he got dinged for being subtle and a team player. Maybe he should have been killed, Genevieve Gorder! I guess good design means bashed-over-the-head color and so much squiggly, glitzy "stuff" that your eyes don't know where to go first ... or second ... or third ... you get the point. And I though you, dear, appreciated subtlety.

And God forbid, you share your strengths and talents with others on a team project. I realize it's a competition, but don't team skills sort of demonstrate your ability to work with others? ... like clients? 10 lashes on your way out the door, peasant! ... I'm sure Candice has one, I'm sure.

Dan ... you got knobbed, dude!

POINT OF RANT: Television IS a powerful medium ... I wanna smack someone!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Today At The Punch Bowl ...

Yeah, like I mentioned in an earlier post I'm finally in a new place. It's small but very manageable and with only a 20 minute work commute on "good" traffic days. I don't miss worrying about mowing my lawn or shoveling snow anymore, but now I do have to contend with new stimuli like a fairly noisy neighborhood and keeping my music turned down so as not to piss off the tenant downstairs.

Anyway, a few friends and co-workers convinced me to have a housewarming party. I hate having gatherings in tight spaces, but I agreed if a) we kept the guest list small and b) no gifts ... I didn't need anything since I'd lived on my own for quite some time.

It was about 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday ... Party Condition A went out the door when my buddy Trevor decided to attend with three of his drinking buddies, and my one brother decided to crash with a date, and my six "official" workplace invitees turned into 11 co-workers and three spouses-slash-significant others. Add that to the four other non-work friends I asked over and there were 24 people in my new place. Luckily I had some folding chairs in storage and the weather outside was nice ... four guests were smokers and that's something I wasn't keeping indoors. No way ... no how.

My brother and his date ran out for ice and extra beer, and luckily three of my office buddies were true to their word and brought booze and lots of dips and finger foods. I had ordered a fancy cake and had also purchased a cheesecake and two dozen brownies. No one was going to starve.

I was milling around, making small talk and checking on chips and pretzel bowl levels when there was a pounding at the door. I quickly went over and opened it, relieved to see that it was another friend, Mike, and not the fire marshall or my landlady who lives right next door.

"Hey, buddy," Mike said with a quick guy hug. "I brought Absolut (vodka) and that Tetteri stuff you like (ouzo), but I about busted my ass on those boxes on the landing ... someone's gonna break their goddamn neck!"

Boxes? What boxes? I was about to go on a fact-finding mission in my stairwell when a few people half-heartedly yelled "surprise." With a slightly sick feeling in my gut, Party Condition Two went up in a puff of smoke.

Basically, I'm picky ... that's why I really stressed that no housewarming gifts were expected ... or needed. Nobody listens these days. Two ladies from work went together and got me a set of blue and green checkered kitchen towels ... for my gray and black kitchen. R.J., sort of a distant member in my "extended family," also ignored the no-gifts theme and bought me a crockpot-style candle warmer that I'll never use and regift as soon as I possibly can. My good friend Allyson got me a fake orchid that looked, well, fake. Stacy, who'd I'd known for about six years and who definitely knew better than to bring a gift, took a black-and-white photo of my neighborhood and had it matted and framed ... there is nothing attractive about my neighborhood. Steve, a dud ... I mean dude, I mean dud ... from work and two other guys went together and got me an aquarium-themed shower curtain and matching bath mat from Bed Bath and Beyond, and they kept the receipt, thank God. Gail, my best friend at work, didn't bring a gift but as she passed me heading to refill her wineglass, she whispered that she had something "coming soon" to christen my new digs. And my friend Calvin ... wise, all-knowing Calvin ... just stood in a corner and smiled, frowned, shrugged, and winked at the appropriate moments.

The two final gifts were from a couple I pal around with ... Beth and Richie ... and my good bud Trevor. The "marrieds" got me an intricate wooden Buddha to bring me good luck (he would fit beautifully in the "lucky" coat closet ... and Trevor, to the snickering of his cronies, handed me an unwrapped porn DVD. "Many happy returns," he choked out before busting up and heading outside with his posse.

Everyone was gone by midnight ... all the gifts were shoved in the afore-mentioned closet by 12:05.

POINT OF RANT: Every known occasion should come with a registry so that people know the proper items NOT to buy you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Family Guy - Lois Mom Mum Mommy

I just love the little son of a bitch!! He's bent on world domination, but still likable ... how do you pull off that combination?!

POINT OF RANT: I wanna be Stewie!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Today At The Department Store ...

I recently re-watched "Brokeback Mountain" and it got me thinking ... sleeping on the ground sucks! (Had you wondering where I was going with that, didn't I?!)

I've only been camping a few times and I've always been luck enough to have a pretty descent sleeping bag. It's very heavily padded ... nice and roomy ... and is rated to -40 degrees, so I'm ready for the Mt. Everest climb whenever I'm asked.

Anyway, where I live there is a decent department store chain that always has a major mattress and bedding sale around memorial day. I'm bummed because I wasn't really ready ... both mentally and financially ... to think about it this year, but more and more I'm realizing my inability to get a good night sleep is because I have a crappy mattress.

I've also been through some "relocations" recently, and I know I have a least one busted support in my box spring. I've had the mattress set for about six years and it's served me well. But I'm noticing that it has a very "lived on" appearance and it just isn't comfortable and supportive like in its younger years. It also has a small tear in it ... I'd like to say it was from some freaky hook-up, but I think it's from the "animal toe" I have on my left foot.

So now it's decision time, but before I set foot in a store, I'm going to do some digital detective work. Because of my age, occupation, and "station" in life ... I'm ruling out bunk beds (no support), water beds (I get seasick), futons (I'm a college graduate, so no), a race car bed (I think I could make it work but I'd get tired of always explaining it to others), a Craft-Matic Adjustable Bed (I'm under the age of 80), and just adding those layers of blue "egg-crate" foam to bolster up my current mattress (cheap, but would just need replaced constantly). I don't know if you can still buy feather beds, but my one grandmother had one and, although super fluffy, it offered no support whatsoever.

So I'm probably looking at either a traditional mattress-and-box-springs set-up or a memory foam alternative.

Most mattresses contain a core made of an assemblage of springs and an upholstered outer layer. Depending of type of support desired, manufacturer specs, and price point, the types of springs and the combinations of quilted fabrics and foams used to create a mattress can vary greatly.

There are five common types of springs used in mattresses, with the most common being bonnel coils adapted from the buggies of the 19th century, marshall coils ... individually wrapped for greater support, and continuous coils ... which employ a "hinging" effect for greater spinal and overall comfort. A mattress is usually paired with a "foundation" piece such as a box spring ... a wrapped sturdy wooden structure containing additional supporting coils, simple softwood slat foundation for enhanced stability, or a grid foundation that combines steel and wood for greater strength.

Foam mattresses are a newer type of innovation. These items utilize shape-conforming latex and/or viscoelastic "memory" foam to cradle the human foam and provide minimum transfer of motion. You've probably all seen the TV commercial where the cute blond jumps up and down on a bed with a glass of red wine balanced just a few feet away. Her jumping does not jiggle the wine ... although, thankfully, she still jiggles ... and not a drop is spilled. Thanks, memory foam!!

And I guess I forgot about all those adjustable air mattress beds where you can adjust the firmness of the mattress to individual tastes. Some models supposedly have really sophisticated baffles and air chambers so that the "number" you select for comfort really works for you.

But looking online for mattress details also uncovered price data ... andI went into sleepy-time sticker shock. Mattresses ... whatever type ... are pretty expensive. And some places still charge a hefty fee for local delivery. I guess my mattress isn't THAT bad ... maybe I'll wait for the 2011 models to roll out.

I wonder if Obama has considered a bedding bailout!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Today In The Mailbox ...

I have a nephew who will graduate high school next year. He's looking at several colleges and wants to make some visits this summer. Did you know that the average B+ or better high school student will receive approximately 1,300 to 1,500 pieces of college recruitment literature in the mail between the end of their sophomore year and graduation? And I though I got all the junk mail. I hear trees weeping.

Anyway, since I've been to three universities, I've been invited along for my "expert" opinion. Now, I don't want it to sound like I was a drop-out of a discipline problem. I attended one university for my undergraduate studies and a larger institution for grad school. I also spent a summer at an extended writing workshop at a third college.

I have lots of college stories ... most I would never tell my nephew or his parents ... or anyone without a weapon pointed to my head. But through my experiences, after juggling programming options and placement rates with campus facilities and scholarship opportunities, I know there is one important factor often overlooked in the college selection process ... the quality of local pizza!!

When I first started my freshman year with 16,000 other students, I was a fresh-faced pup raised on franchise pizza like Pizza Hut and Domino's. I'm not knocking them, but they don't always have the best or consistent product. And my hometown had two small pizzerias, but one didn't deliver and the other used the used motor oil from a nearby car dealership to grease there pizza pans ... so I heard. I was ripe for a new dough-and-sauce experience.

For a good-sized college town, there were at least 20 pizza shops that warily delivered to campus ... eight within easy hoofing distance. One of the high points in my deep-dish life was the day my three dorm mates and I walked into the door of Sons of Sicily Pizza Shoppe. The lighting was dark, almost like a moody live-music club. There was an area of tables-for-two as well as larger seating options and a much-coveted corner booth with torn red vinyl seats. That day, we grabbed the booth and dined on fresh garlic bread and am extra-large pan pepperoni/sausage pie. The sauce was thicker than any I've tasted, heavy with oregano, sage, and rosemary. And the owners insisted on a mozzarella/provolone blend. It was fabulous ... so much so that the four of us repeatedly made up financial fibs for our parents (the prices for laundry went up, I need another textbook, etc.) so we could have extra pizza money.

Oddly, Sons of Sicily was only four blocks from one edge of campus but they wouldn't deliver to the dorms. That kind of made it the place to hang out. And the night-time waits proved it!!

I really didn't think anything ... anywhere ... would top a pizza from Sicily's, but then, in the summer between my junior and senior years, I was invited to attend an eight-week summer writing clinic at a school in the southern most part of the state. I got to spend a whole 10 days at home before repacking some of my belongings and moving about two hours away for an intensive training regimen. Then, during week two, I discovered Mylo's and his "Spicy Pineapple Fungus Pie" ... not one, not two, but THREE kinds of mushrooms and the most garlic-ridden tomato sauce ever created. I reeked, but I just sat in my critique sessions with a dumb smile on my face and plans for more Mylo's.

After graduation, I really felt crippled. Sicily's was nearly two hours out of reach to the north, Mylo's was literally unreachable just over two hours southeast. And the local fare tasted like wet cardboard to my pampered palette.

Grad school made it worse. My coursework was difficult, people didn't want to make friends as much as get through classes and get the hell off of campus. I was living there just off campus ... three miles from the shores of murky Lake Erie ... feeling lonely, overwhelmed, and having dark thoughts, when life handed me a shooting star in the form of Luke's Harbor Inn and the owner's personal hobby ... a brick pizza oven. I sat at the bar on my first visit and asked my server, Leslie, what was good. "Do you like cheese?," she asked. I nodded and muttered "yeah," so she described the establishment's locally-famous four signature pizzas. There was a celebration of olives ... YUCK!, a meat lover's feast that came with a certificate for a free angioplasty if you could finish a large pie ... No, and white pizza with shrimp, chicken, and an alfredo-like sauce ... tempting, and ... get this ... a thick hand-made crust covered with sweet basil sauce and provolone with one half additionally topped with cheddar cheese and bacon crumbles, the other bubbling with Swiss cheese and spicy andouille sausage. They called it "Four Corners Pizza" ... I called it Heaven on a crust! Ding, ding, ding ... we have a winner!! My life was never the same.

Luckily, my nephew and I share some interesting qualities ... I'm sure he won't mind making one or two mandatory pizza stops part of his personal college search procedures.

POINT OF RANT: The "pizza rule" also applies to relocating and moving, as do great Chinese delivery, a good multi-screen theatre, a library branch, and, if possible Caribou Coffee.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Today At The Side of the Road ...

This year, I planned for the 4th. Every year, I want to take photos of the fireworks ... you know, the perfect pics that appear in newspapers and magazines. So I bought new batteries for my Canon digital camera, refreshed my memory by looking in the instruction manuals about the camera's "fireworks" setting, and even read a few online articles about capturing great images of the fiery little "critters."

So I packed a few sodas and pretzels and went on search of the perfect spot. In my suburb, the fireworks are launched from a soccer, softball, and rugby center ... the crowds are insane. So I found a country road about a mile behind the sports fields and parked alongside. I even brought a camp lantern to set on the hood of my car to avoid getting hit in the middle of nowhere. Didn't need it, though ... there were about 10 other cars right there sharing my "photo set." And most of them were better prepared with camp chairs and bug spray ... I could smell it. One couple even had a little propane grill going toasting marshmellows.

So at 10 p.m. sharp, the show began ... and my "fireworks" setting fizzled out like a wet match. Aperture this ... shutter speed that ... the camera had a horrible lag time, so I had to just click and pray. I took 110 frames and got about 13 "okay" pictures ... really abstract images of fireworks. But they're still pretty cool!

But the sad part of this national holiday was how it drove home the point of our flailing economy. For a small town, this area's fireworks display is usually top notch. It lasts about half and hour, but the explosions draw plenty of "oohs" and "aahs," and the finale ... usually about 2 full minutes of non-stop sky-splitting color ... is nothing short of spectacular. This year's show only lasted 22 minutes and I didn't even know there was a finale ... I only realized it was over when I saw traffic leaving the sports center and some of the cars near me started up to leave. Bummer!!

POINT OF RANT: Like the lyrics say, "money changes everything!"

Today At An Imaginary Lunch - Guest 3 ...

My final guest ... who would sit to my right so, if he would allow, I could pet him from time to time ... would be Lion-O from the ThunderCats animated television series. Lion-O was the teenage leader of a group of cat-like humanoids from the planet Thundera. Supposedly, they were their worlds only survivors and had fled to the world of Third Earth to begin a new life. But over the years, these agile and powerful heroes would continue to do battle against the evil mummy sorcerer Mumm-Ra, run across a few others from their homeworld, and hear rumors that their planet was not actually destroyed as they had thought.

I always loved ThunderCats. One of the reasons was that they were great heroes without overdoing it ... no flying or over-the-top abilities. They got along great and even doled out "kiddie wisdom" to viewers about healthy eating and the importance of literacy.

Now, over his plate of Friskies tacos, Lion-O could tell me more about the burden of protecting the Sword of Omens. He could confide in me if he and Cheetara had ever "shared catnip." With some prompting, he might share with me the secret of Snarf's Thunderian meatloaf recipe. And, most assuredly, he could tell me if he ever smacked those annoying twin Thundercats upside the head for being annoying ... constantly!!

POINT OF RANT: Don't knock the dreamer.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Today At An Imaginary Lunch - Guest 2 ...

Sterling Archer, an international spy and intelligence agent for ISIS, is the title character on Archer on F/X, and the second guest invited to me "Who I'd Most Like To Meet" lunch.

Archer is bold, brave, and thinks with his penis. He's what you'd get if James Bond (the Sean Connery years) and Pamela Anderson (pre-hepatitis) had a lovechild.

Oh, what a spirited lunch we would have. Sterling could go on and on about his sexual conquests ... and he would, without question. He would also unwittingly disclose classified military secrets over mozzarella sticks.

And I've got questions for him: Why haven't you "taken out" Figgis? Why did you ever let Lana go? Why does ISIS seem to employ so few operatives for a worldwide organization? Why don't you get a butler under the age of 100? Any why do they call you "Duchess?"

POINT OF RANT: If you've never seen Archer, you are ssssoooooooo missing out!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Today At An Imaginary Lunch - Guest 1 ...

You know that stupid question that gets asked at parties sometime about what three people would you most like to have lunch with - alive or dead? People always get all uppity and say Abraham Lincoln (because he freed the slaves), Gandhi (because he is the symbol for peace and enlightenment), the Pope (don't have a clue), Jesus Christ (because you could give him a list of people to screw with), and so on and so on.

Well since the whole "perfect lunch" scenario is imaginary, so would be my guests. This is a three-day post ... my first guest would be Stewie Griffin from Fox's Family Guy. Stewie's had a rough time. He wants to take over the world but is too small to even reach the top of a table. He has an incredibly dry sense of humor, but most people can't even understand him because he's a one-year-old. He appears to be questioning his sexual orientation and therefore engages in unorthodox activities. He has the handicapps of any kid with a football-shaped heads (finding a good hat would suck) and the wrinkly eyes of a 50-year-old cowboy. And his show ... a cornerstone of the Fox Network ... has been canceled, saved, canceled, saved, attacked, boycotted, and pretty much put through the blender by censors and critics alike. I LOVE IT!!

But, oh, to pick the brain of Stewie Griffin. I could get Brian's cell number so we could compare notes on the life of a wannabe novelist. I could find out if he's ever had a run in with the Evil Monkey or the Fighting Chicken. I could perhaps discover the source of his passive-aggressive relationship with Lois and smooth things over for them. And, of course, I'd get the skinny on anything going on between him and Rupert.

POINT OF RANT: Nothing says stimulating lunch conversation like a domineering, mother-abhoring, technology-hording, enraged, sarcastic baby.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Today At The Bar ...

It's a sad day ... the High Life, my favorite dive bar in my corner of the world is closing. It's not so much closing as being absorbed like a cancer cluster killing a healthy cell.

I first visited the High Life when I was 17. I went with my buddy Randy, and we were both all sweaty and nervous ... but our fake IDs were top notch so we tried to put on an air of confidence. We also hadn't shaved in two weeks, so we looked like a normal man who hadn't shaved for a few hours ... we were set. So with as much bravado as two frightened teens could muster without winning a Tony award, we walked in, sat at the bar, and ordered a pitcher of whatever was on tap. No one batted an eye. We drank that beer with relish, like it was the nectar of the gods.

Later I found out that Vinnie, the owner and the guy who served us, was dating a girl in our high school class ... Lori ... behind her parents back so he wasn't looking to stir up any attention. He was also only about seven or eight years out of school himself, so, being a smaller community, he knew who we were. He just didn't care ... our money was just as green as the next drinker's.
Over the next few months, the team of "Randy and Me" hit the High Life three times a week. Vinnie started talking to us more and more like regular guys ... it was so awesome. There was a "bar wench" who even flirted with us from time to time, and we learned the names of six or seven other alcoholic "homesteaders" ... guys who would rather be at the bar 'stead of home.

The High Life was all charm ... scarred mahogany bar, vinyl-covered stools with plenty of tears and exposed padding, a huge mirror fronted by lots of liquor bottles with shiny pours, two ancient TVs mounted in the corners of the ceiling like a dingy hospital room, one nappy pool table that leans to the left, a Pac Man machine that came to know my caress by heart, and the scariest men's room in North America. It was here I learned to love whiskey and ouzo. This "classroom of men" showed me that peanuts and pretzels should come out of the can stale. The High Life taught me that gin was my good friend, but vodka was my most hated enemy.

The bar also had the most amazing baskets of french fries and onion rings ... even its grilled cheese sandwiches made up for the watery sludge they passed off as draft beer.

But what the High Life ... and Vinnie ... taught me most was about camaraderie. Vinnie treated us like adults, but he never let us buy cigarettes. And he forced us ... me and Randy ... to take condoms out of a bowl every night before we left "just to be safe." Our nerdiness kept us safe, but the gesture turned gawky late teen boys into walking-tall young men. Vinnie showed us a couple sweet drinks ... like a Tom Collins ... to order if we ever wanted to look mature but not swill on any really strong or expensive stuff. He talked about local politics which was a topic I never had any interest in until he would go off on city council for this or the county commissioner for that ... my parents were probably dumbfounded when I dropped "my take" on a new city ordinance into a Sunday dinner conversation. And once Vinnie called a cab for the "dynamic duo" and never once asked to be reimbursed.

When I went off to college, I partied with the best of them, but nothing could compare to the High Life. Every break and summer, I'd spend as much time there as I could ... Randy too. And when I moved into the city, I still got back to see Vinnie probably two or three times a month to be further schooled on sports, women, and life ... more recently since I'm a little closer.

And now the High Life is gonna become another place to park cars. There's a new industrial complex going up down the block and Vinnie sold out for good money. I hate progress sometimes, but good for him and Lori ... and their two kids.

But now I gotta find a new place ... one with at least a portion of the soul of the High Life. I think that people and bars develop a "comfort curve," a build-up of ease and familiarity that just makes the bar seem like the natural place to go to relax and unwind. And it doesn't happen overnight so, while I'm enjoying the last month of this place's existence, I better start looking for a new saloon where I can hang my beer goggles.

Here are a few criterion I think will help in my search:

1) No Chain Establishments ... "chains" are good for pulling a car out of a ditch or to spice up a crummy sex life, but chain joints are too cookie cutter ... and usually noisy, crowded, and just too damn cheerful.

2) Too Much is Too Much ... I like lived-in places. Nicks and scratches add character ... and a bunch of shiny chrome or sports memorabilia or signed celebrity photos everywhere is just distracting from the booze and conversation.

3) No Servers Under 35 ... it's just annoying. I like a bit of mileage and jadedness ... it makes for a great relationship. And extra points if the servers stop by the bar on their off nights just to say "hi."

4) Theme Nights Are Cool, If It's "Liquorcentric" ... Margarita Mondays ... See You Yagger Wednesdays ... classics. And the discounts never hurt a guy on a budget.

5) NO KARAOKE ... I love it, but there are times and places for it and it's NOT when I've had a horrible day.

6) Bartenders With Range and Humility ... I don't want Tom Cruise from Cocktail, but I appreciate someone who a) doesn't look at me funny if I want to try something a little wacky and b) makes a good Tom Collins, Long Island, gin martini, and is willing to look something up if he or she isn't sure.

POINT OF RANT: Are their services ... like wizened old yenta matchmakers ... who help bring together thirsty people with compatible establishments with up-to-date liquor licenses? Well, there ought to be!!