Archive for June, 2008

Jacked!

Over the last 12 years there have only been 51 permits to build new homes in Asbury Park, New Jersey. From 1996 until 2002, there were no, ZERO, permits to build new homes.

30% of Asbury Park’s residents have incomes below the “poverty level.” The average annual household income is only one-third that of the rest of New Jersey. Unemployment is twice the national average.

Violent crime is almost 4-times higher in Asbury Park than the national average. Robbery is almost 5-times higher.

Many of the 12,000 or so residents living in the one square mile of the city are poor and hopeless; some are desperate.

:::

One summer evening, I drove an employee who lived in Asbury Park home. I dropped him off in front of his apartment. He left his window open and his door unlocked (WARNING: Literary device “foreshadowing” in use). No matter, I figured I would take care of them when I stopped — this was a work van, no electric door locks and windows here.

At a red light, I reached over and slapped the lock down. At-that-very-instant, a person I didn’t see attempted to open the door. I quickly rolled the window up and just as quickly the unseen person (now seen) reached in the window and attempted to unlock the door. Now his arm is caught and we are looking at each other, eye-to-eye.

«Pause.»

I am not scared. It’s not that I’m a super manly-man. It’s just that this happened far too quickly for me to be scared. Besided I have the upper hand. He is stuck, elbow pinned in my window, with his arm reaching over his head. He’s probably on his tip-toes.

«Un-pause.»

He is scared. He spoke quickly. “It ain’t like that! It ain’t like that!” Quietly yelling. Pleading.

“It certainly seems like that,” I answered.

“No. No. No. You don’t understand,” he continued, panicking. He thinks I’m going to take off and drag him at 30, 40, 50 miles per hour. He’s stuck and trying to get out of it.

As he’s begging, all I can think is, “What the hell am I going to do with this mother-fucker?”

He looked at the side of the van. It read OMNI Homecare and underneath was the phone number. And then his tone changed from pleading-panic to hope, “Hey, man. Is this your company?”

“No.”

“Are they hiring? Do you have an application?”

The light turned green. I opened the window a crack. The pinned man was freed. “Call the number on the side of the van,” I said as I sped off. “Use me as a reference!”

:::

A friend of mine, Randy (aka The Big White Guy), asked me to tell that story. I first told him that as we drove through Asbury Park on a picture-taking safari six or seven years ago. I hope I did the story justice.

I’m Giving Him a 10

I’m not big on linking to videos here, but:

God’s Work

Not long ago, I assisted a nursing home nurse render care to one of her patients. Her patient was a 90-year-old woman in the later stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. I was helping the woman stand while she was being showered.

What I do, what the people I work with do, is God’s work. We are Angels. We take care of those who can no longer take care of themselves. We make decisions for those who can no longer make decisions for themselves. We offer comfort, safety, and meaning for those at the ends of their lives.

This is never lost on me.

There I stood holding this frail, old woman; thinking. Considering all those decisions and all those moments that got me to this humble, uniquely human, place. Being there is a bit of an honor, really.

The water continued to run.

I looked over at the nurse and said, “You know, all my life I dreamed of working with naked women …”

Writing Crap

I spent the better part of the last hour writing a post that you’ll never read. Boring. Insipid. Long.

And it didn’t go anywhere.

I wanted to tell a story about how I stood up to the neighborhood bully. The neighborhood being the golf course; the bully being Georgie, an ex-high school athlete.

Georgie insulted me once. He wasn’t joking. I didn’t take it well. I fumed and threatened and stood up to the bully.

Eventually, he apologized. Said that he was joking. I accepted his apology, but told him that I didn’t believe he was joking.

All was well with the world.

Several weeks later, on the back of the third tee, he was acting the bully again. He was telling stories about fights he’d been in or fights he wanted to be in or something like that. I forget.

I made an off-hand comment about loving to take him on one day.

Surprised, he squared off — not really threatening, and asked, “You think you can beat me up?”

I teed up my ball, smiled, and said, “Georgie. I can take you and not even hurt you.”

He knew I was serious. Georgie has been a gentleman to me ever since.

That was the crap I was trying to write.

Thanks Uncle Ed. Thanks George.

It’s personal. George Carlin is dead. What chance do I have?

When Uncle Eddie came home from being in the Navy he gave me his comedy records. Allan Sherman. Bill Cosby. George Carlin.

I listened to Carlin’s “Take-offs & Put-ons” so frequently that I can still quote it fully today.

Uncle Eddie gave me something that day that only a bad heart could take away.

While I haven’t done an inventory, I’m pretty certain I own (or have owned) all of George Carlin’s comedy albums. I own and have read his books. I’ve seen all his HBO specials. My wife and I have seen him live twice (more proof that I married the right woman).

His HBO specials were sporting events in my life. My friends and I looked forward to them like they were the Super Bowl or a heavyweight prize fight. This tradition continued into my marriage (again, right woman). “We have to close up shop, Babe,” she would say. “Carlin’s new show is on at 11 tonight!”

Carlin has been a part of me since Uncle Eddie came home from the Navy. When was that? 1972? 1974? Now George Carlin is gone.

I left a note on Twitter when I woke up: “There’s a small chance that George Carlin is trying to make sense of things and barter his way into a better situation.”

And then I left a comment on Reid’s website:

I go to bed with the radio on. It stays on all night. I heard the news of George’s passing in my sleep.

I dreamed that I cried.

The last time I shed a tear over the passing of a celebrity was in 1990 when Jim Henson died.

I, too, have eclectic tastes.

Carlin’s humor, his love of words, his search for reason, and his crankiness in the face of all this bullshit are all part of me. Here is where I should give you some pithy quotes and examples of Carlin’s work that is particularly meaningful to me, but I can’t. It’s all meaningful to me. Go to youtube yourself. Search for George Carlin. There’s plenty there. Tell them I sent you.

After commenting on Reid’s site I wrote a list of 10 Famous People Who Have Influenced What Goes On Between My Ears. Here’s the list in no apparent order:

  1. Yeshua, the Teacher
  2. Emily Dickinson, the Poet
  3. Epictetus, the Stoic Philosopher
  4. Carl Jung, the Psychologist
  5. Robert Fulghum, the Storyteller
  6. Vincent van Gogh, the Painter
  7. Jim Henson, the Imaginer
  8. Neil Peart, the Lyricist
  9. Thomas Jefferson, the Polymath
  10. George Carlin, the Comic

Carlin’s gone.

Well. Fuck.

The Crud

The Crud, according to Nan, is any localized rash, blemish, or boil that spontaneously erupts on your skin. It’s the kind of thing that you’re sure is going to spread to the rest of your body and kill you within 48-hours. It’s also the kind of a thing that Nan knew was no big deal and would probably go away on its own. No one has ever died of the Crud, though anyone who has ever had it thinks he might.

Not long ago I woke up with two red, flakey blotches on either side of the bridge of my nose. “Honey, look at this,” I cried. “I think I have impetigo or scabies or …” I swallowed hard, “… the Crud.”

The wife-beast examined the horrid blotches and asked, “How do you wash your face, Jim?”

“Soap and water,” I answered.

“Regular soap?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you use a washcloth?”

“No way.”

“Well, that’s your problem. You use soap and no washcloth. You have dry skin and need to exfoliate.”

“Exfoliate!” I grabbed my face. “Didn’t they do that to the jungles in Viet Nam?”

Apparently not. She went on to teach me that most soaps, for all their cleansing prowess, dry your skin. And, if you don’t use a washcloth to rub off the dry skin, it’ll just stay there and flake. It might even get irritated or infected and get a little red.

“It’ll look like the Crud?” I asked.

“It’ll look like the Crud,” she answered.

She got me off the soap and put me on a strict water and washcloth regimen for my face. After washing my face, the wife-beast liberally applied some sort of Secret Sauce to it.

“Hand lotion?”

“It’s not hand lotion. Don’t worry about it.”

I worried about it, because it came in a very small bottle. I’ve learned that anything that a woman keeps in a very small bottle and keeps it out of the eyes of men is very expensive.

Within a few days, the Crud went away – as all Crud does. It may have been because of my new face routine or in spite of it. I have no idea.

This morning the Wife-beast produced two new very small bottles. “These are for you,” she said as she handed me bottle number one containing a white substance with blue flecks floating in it. “Wash your face with this one …”

“With a washcloth,” I pronounced proudly.

“No washcloth. Rub it in with your hands.”

“But, but … I thought washing my face with my hands was bad.”

She wisely ignored me and handed me bottle number two. “And rub this into your face afterward. It’ll add needed moisture to your skin. And drink lots of water.”

I read the instructions on the face washing goo. It did say to rub it in with your fingers but with a warning, “Keep product away from your eye area.”

Oh no. My whole face is my “eye area.” This is getting scary. I washed my face with it anyway, the whole time wishing for a bar of Ivory soap. Ivory soap will sting your eyes, but there’s no warning to keep it away from your “eye area.”

They want you to keep it away from your “eye area” because the stuff is made mostly of sand, very fine grit. The sand is mixed with something greasy and, most likely, exotic and expensive and filled with natural hormones. Probably wombat placenta or bovine sperm, who knows.

After I sanded off a layer or two of skin and rinsed, I reached for bottle number two. I figured this would be the soothing cream. I figured wrong.

I rubbed it in to my raw face.

And whimpered.

I whimpered, because it was the only way I could avoid screaming in pain. And I’m not going to scream just because I washed my face with foo-foo juice. I’m not giving anybody that satisfaction. Still, this crap hurt and I was beginning to feel setup.

“Gelatinized rubbing alcohol,” I thought. “I’m sure of it.” It burns and burns, and the longer I waited, the more it burned, burned and burned.

Son of a bitch.

The Wife-Beast said I should do this every day. No fucking way. I’d rather have The Crud.

Rush, Jimmy Buffett, and Me

The concert goers shuffled out single-file. They were quiet, beaten. Pale, gaunt, and expressionless, they dragged half-deflated plastic palm trees behind them.

“What do you think happened to them?”

“Must be the music.”

“Do you think that Jimmy Buffett has made a deal with the devil? Fame and wealth for Souls?”

“That would explain his popularity.”

Four hours before, my friend and I crossed the Delaware Expressway and looked down onto Philadelphia’s main concert and sports complexes. In the parking lots, schooled together like bait fish, were trailers and tents and … “Parrotheads,” said my buddy.

“Parrotheads?”

“Parrotheads. That’s what the Buffett fans call themselves. This is a traveling city of Parrotheads,” he answered. “They’re like Deadheads (people that follow the Grateful Dead around from concert to concert); only with less pot, more alcohol, and more money.”

The next day the wikipedia helped me out (the wikipedia knows all, all hail the wikipedia):

The common stereotype (of a parrothead) is of a person wearing a Hawaiian shirt, flip-flops and board shorts, or a grass skirt and a coconut bra while drinking a margarita. Many fans are members of Parrothead clubs. The general theme of being a Parrothead is one of relaxation, even while working. Some prefer the spelling “Parrotthead,” reflecting the double “t” in Buffett.

The more “professional” aspect is to wear high end tropical vacation clothing, such as Tommy Bahama, though this is likely seen by many as a departure from the “true tenets” of being a Parrothead as it references a more expensive lifestyle than is commonly associated with being a tropical beach bum.

All I know about Mr. Buffett, his music, and his parrotheads can be summed up in four words: CHEESEBURGER IN PARADISE, MARGARITAVILLE.

Next door to the Buffett concert, the hard-driving power-rock trio, Rush, was playing a concert. That’s where we were going.

We, and the other Rush fans, parked in the same lots as the Parrotheads. You could tell us apart instantly: On the one hand, there were people partying and drinking and tailgating with loud music, public urination, and general disregard for rules; on the other hand, there were Rush fans.

A Rush fan will wear the oldest concert t-shirt s/he can find. A twenty-year-old, ratty, threadbare shirt shows that the wearer is a true fan whose pedigree goes back decades. The older the shirt, the truer the fan (and, in most cases, the tighter the fit). Rush chicks wear snuggly fitting bras.

The aforementioned Parrothead will wear the requisite Halloween costume and adorn him or herself with props – plastic parrots, plastic palm trees, plastic margarita glasses, plastic plastics. Some of these people even dressed up their cars. For female parrotheads, bras are an unwelcome option.

Rush fans are hardcore about their music. Even the most novice Rush fan can recite a pretty accurate chronological discography. I’m sure that the average Parrothead knows about the same number of Buffett songs that I do. Some of them think that Jimmy Buffett is a pretty astute investor and wonders why no financial advice is given out at these concerts. It was a true clashing of cultures.

The concerts ended at the same time. Again, Rush and Buffett crossed in the parking lots.

Rush fans were excitedly reminiscing about the great concert, soaking up every detail: the song list, the drum solo, the extended bridges, Geddy’s vocals, Alex playing a mandolin? Did you hear that half-a-bar of Cygnus X-1?

Parrotheads? Well, they had their Souls sucked out. It’s a shame too. They seemed such nice people.

:::

My Rush credentials?

My 11-year-old asked before I left, “Dad, how many Rush concerts have you gone too?”

“I have no idea,” I answered. “I think the number is unknowable.”

I’ve been a Rush fan since 1981. They’ve had over a dozen world tours since that year. I live in central New Jersey near the Garden State Arts Center, where Rush frequently plays. I’m an hour away from New York City and Philadelphia, both cities Rush play. I’ve seen them play at the Tweeter Center in Trenton.

Every tour I catch a concert between one and seven times. In 1983, I saw them at least five times in one week. The average may be two concerts per tour. So maybe I’ve seen them 25 times. Maybe more. Who knows?

I couldn’t find my Signals t-shirt. Circa 1982.

Scared the Piss Out of Me

A dog is good to have, right? A nice thing to have to help protect your home or, in the case of smaller dogs, at least alert you to something unusual.

Several nights ago, 3AM, our security alarm went off. Downstairs motion detector.

The police came. Nothing. Maybe a spider or a fly landed on the detector.

Last night, after midnight, the Wife-Beast heard what she thought were footsteps in the attic. I was asleep. “Squirrels must be in the walls again,” she told her self.

Today, 9:30AM, our security company called me at work. Door alarm. No one home.

The police were dispatched. Two armed officers searched my house. Nothing. Perhaps the front door wasn’t closed all the way and the wind blew it open a little.

The Wife-Beast just called. She’s uncomfortable in our home, “Did the police check the attic?”

I assured her that they must have, but I will go home at lunch and check again.

“How’s the dog? What’s he doing?,” I asked.

“When the cops came in, he peed on the landing.”

Cover Me

My wife doesn’t like cover bands. She’d rather hear an original, badly written song than hear a re-tread.

Me? I like a good cover band. I like to hear a song I didn’t like in its original version covered well (think Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” covered by Alien Ant Farm). And I like to hear a very good original song covered in a style I normally wouldn’t listen to (think Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” covered by Steve & Edie).

Ever since the Wife-Beast and I happened upon a bad (she says “not-that-bad”) cover band last week I’ve been thinking about what songs I’d play if I were in a cover band. My thoughts have gotten no farther than the first song.

As far as I’m concerned that first song has to startle you, kick you in the teeth. These are the three songs I’ve come up with — and you have to do a kick-ass version, go loud or go home:

  1. Love Removal Machine” by The Cult. Too obscure? Try;
  2. You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC. Or almost anything by AC/DC;
  3. “LA Woman” by The Doors.

You should end with a ballad. Something you can slow dance to with that last chance chick.

NEVER, EVER end with Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” EVER. If you do, you and your band-mates are humps.

Around here, the Jersey Shore, you have to end with Springsteen’s version of Tom Waits’s “Jersey Girl.” It makes every drunk girl in New Jersey feel special. You can put your arm around her and sway to it — you don’t even have to dance! And if you can walk out the door with your arm around her, there’s a good chance that you’ll at least get to second base. Even if you’re married to her.

Yes, I called bands that close with “Closing Time” humps.

The Idiocy of Boyhood

Men are idiots. It starts young.

The Thursday before my wife and I went on vacation, we gave the 11-year-old Boy a note to give to the teacher. It said, in essence:

If you need us, don’t call us. We’ll be away. Call one of these people instead.

The next day my wife noticed that The Boy did not give the note to the teacher. This was predictable; she looked for it. Before he went to school she got down to eye level with him and looked him in the face, “This is important. If you only do one thing today do this: Give this note to your teacher.” She put the folded note in his hand.

Yesterday my wife found the note, laundered, in the dryer. Of course.

Last night we went to the beach. When we got home we washed the sand off our feet.

The Boy was the last to rinse his feet. He didn’t turn the hose off; it never occurred to him. For 11 hours water ran into our driveway and out the backyard.

A buddy at work, who has three boys, says that I shouldn’t expect any improvement. Yesterday he asked his 13-year-old son to get a water sample from the pool for testing.

“Make sure you close the gate on your way back,” he directed.

His son didn’t close the gate. My buddy sent his son back out to close the gate.

The kid returned 5-minutes later. My buddy looked out the window. The gate was still open. No one knows what the kid did between the time he went outside to close the gate and the time he returned, because the kid himself didn’t know.

“I didn’t get upset. Years ago I resigned to expecting no improvement from my sons. I’m never disappointed,” my buddy said stoically.

“Do you feel any better?” I asked.

“No.”

:::

Here’s a thought: It’s boys like mine and my buddy’s who grow up to head countries and rule the world. Maybe more Democrats should have voted for Hillary.