The State Of My       Fat Ass
MARCH 2001   

March 28, 2001

A few things:

-- I almost had a bad wreck yesterday. I was driving home from work, on a heavily traveled stretch of road, when some old dried-up apple sculpture of a man pulled out in front of me. He was stopped at a stop sign on a side street that crosses the one I was on, and for no apparent reason suddenly started out across traffic, moving at roughly three miles an hour. Time stood still for a split second as my brain tried to process the impossible events taking place before me, then I stomped on the brakes. There was screeching and smoking and fishtailing, and all that good stuff, followed by a lot of goddamns and motherfuckers and waving of arms. By the looks of her, it’s possible the woman in the passenger seat of the old man’s car was already dead, but if she wasn’t she came very close to being delivered to her maker by a Toyota pickup truck. Man, you gotta play defense during every waking hour.

-- Have you seen that commercial for a Barbie that comes with a cat that pisses? I’m not joking. It has a little toy litter box and everything. I’m thinking they should go the extra mile and do a cross-promotion with Play-Doh, and get some cat turds going for the kiddies too. And maybe a little yapping dog to eat the turds out of the litter box. If they’re going to open up the world of pet waste, why not take it to its logical conclusion?

-- I heard a radio commercial today advertising Easter services at a church in Wilkes-Barre. First of all, since when do churches run radio ads? Isn’t that for car dealers and Mountain Dew and stuff? I thought it was a bit odd, but when I heard the pastor start talking I forgot all about it. The man had a major speech impediment, and I simply couldn’t believe my ears. He was asking people to join him for a “celebwation of the glowy of Chwist.” I shit you not, he repeatedly said “Chwist.” I’m going to try to get it on tape.

-- Toney talked to our old next door neighbor in California again yesterday and, as usual, got some juicy gossip. This time it’s about our old next door neighbors on the other side. Apparently their kid, who’s in sixth grade, made some threats to somebody about shooting up his elementary school. This got back to the authorities somehow, and they had the school in a complete lockdown. When they started checking the kid out, they found that he had a stockpile of guns and ammo in his bedroom! These people lived literally a few feet from us for the four years we were there. Holy shit! It was a strange situation though, and I can sorta understand how this kid and his brother could be screwed up. Their parents are in their early forties, I’d guess, and the mother had a recent mid-life crisis. She lost weight, got implants, and started sleeping around. Now the dad’s gone, and she has a continuous string of young boyfriends coming and going, and loud parties several nights a week. (Hey, this was a cul-de-sac, and everybody knew everybody else’s business. Don’t blame me, it was like communal living.) Anyway, this kid started getting heavily into the military a few months after his dad moved out, wearing fatigues and all that stuff. And now this. What a mess. You can’t blame parents for everything, but you sure can blame them for some things.

-- An interesting, but unrelated, factoid about the father of this kid: he's an employee of Adam Sandler's. At least he was when we lived there. Also, a man that lived a few doors down worked on King of the Hill, and several of our other neighbors worked on film lots building movie sets. You don’t run into that kind of thing much in Scranton.

-- Toney also talked to her friend “Nancy” a few days ago. She’s the radical feminist/ environmentalist/ ultra-liberal that I’ve mentioned a few times. She’s the one who showers while standing in large buckets, and then transfers the captured water into the washing machine to save Earth’s precious resources. Anyway, “Nancy” just had a second kid and she’s having a lot of trouble staying sane. Of course, she doesn’t use disposable diapers, bottles, or anything else that makes life a little easier on parents. And she has a big problem with television. In fact, she doesn’t own one. And she doesn’t allow anything made of plastic in her house, so the oldest kid doesn’t have many toys. We have several pictures of him playing with an (unplugged) electric power strip. It’s incredible. After a lot of negotiating, her “husband” finally talked her into allowing him to borrow a TV and VCR from his employer for the weekend. This apparently worked well in capturing the oldest kid’s attention, giving the parents a much-needed break. They showed him a video about road construction in Canada(!). But Toney, sensing a glimmer of normalcy, made the mistake of recommending Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to her, and this triggered a lengthy, angry sermon. She said that older movies are often filled with gender stereotypes, and she will not willingly expose her children to such garbage. Then she launched into a scathing rebuke of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, like she was just waiting for the opportunity. When she could finally get a word in Toney said she wasn’t making a political statement, she just thought the kid might enjoy seeing a flying car. How tiring it must be to be absolutely right, about absolutely everything. Chwist!

March 27, 2001

Although I apparently don't know as much about movies as I thought, I did watch some of the Academy Awards Sunday night. As these things go, it wasn't a bad show. No long drawn-out dance numbers, or anything horrible like that. The parts I saw moved along fairly briskly. Here are some of my notes on Hollywood's big night:

-- I think it's finally official: Joan Rivers is completely batshit. She's not even coherent anymore. She rambles like a crass old drunken hag, and rarely makes sense. At one point I heard her screaming that everyone was farting, as they made their way down the red carpet. "Someone just cut one you wouldn't believe!" she screeched. The fuck? And do you notice how none of the big names stop to talk to her anymore? They avoid her like a mumbling, shit-smeared homeless person. And that daughter of hers is simply awful. She talks and talks and talks, but says nothing. Talentless is a term that jumps to mind. It's all so terrible you can't help but watch.

-- Steve Martin's opening monologue was great. He basically made fun of everyone in the room for about fifteen minutes. Good stuff. He kept ripping Russell Crowe (now I know who he is), and the pretty-boy was not amused. He just sat there stone-faced. Seems like a real fun-loving guy. I read yesterday that somebody thought he looked constipated, and that's a pretty good description. I was disappointed that he won an award later in the night. Somebody that humorless and self-satisfied shouldn't be rewarded with anything but a foot in the ass.

-- Karl Malden was in the audience. I told Toney that I was pretty sure he'd died a few years ago. She said, "Well, looks like he's back."

-- Randy Newman performed a song from Meet the Parents with Susannah Hoffs from The Bangles. That was cool. Randy's starting to look pretty old these days, but he'll never be anything but a genius in my book. He lost, of course.

-- Bjork came out wearing some kind of weird swan outfit, and did her song from Dancer in the Dark. Also very cool. People at work were talking about this yesterday more than anything else. (They called her Buh-Jork.) I think her eccentricities made a few people uncomfortable. After the performance, Steve Martin said he'd considered wearing his swan outfit too, but it's just so "last year."

-- Bob Dylan played his song from Wonder Boys (a great movie, by the way) via satellite from Sydney, Australia. Or so they said. He's a little batshit himself, and he was probably really backstage. He had a tiny pencil-thin moustache that made him look like a Mexican bellhop. He actually won, which was a pleasant surprise. And you could even understand what he said during his acceptance speech. Usually he just grunts and mumbles. Excellent.

-- Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes was there with his wife Kate Hudson. When I first moved to Atlanta this guy was just another loser-about-town trying to be hip. His band was called Mr. Crowe's Garden back then, and sounded more like R.E.M. than The Faces. Now he's married to Goldie Hawn's daughter and attending the Academy Awards. It would be easy to hate him, but I don't. He's proof that even the hideously ugly can live the American dream. He provides hope for us all. God bless him, and God bless the United States of America.

And that's that. I guess I was struck more by the music people, than the movie people. Maybe music people are more real. It's hard to get too passionate about Julia Roberts' giggly cute-girl routine, or anything about Tom Hanks. But anyway, I enjoyed the Oscars more this year than usual. Steve Martin was stellar, and I think that made the difference. And the producers wisely deep-sixed the horseshit that bogs down most awards shows. For once I didn't feel dirty the next morning, for having watched.

March 25, 2001

Wotta lazy weekend. Except for a walk this morning, I didn't even leave the house. This wasn't by design, it just happened. I did some work on the archives pages, read a few more chapters of Richard Russo's Empire Falls, watched a couple episodes of The Sopranos on DVD, got some sleep, helped with the cleaning, did some laundry, drank some coffee, drank some beer, downloaded a bunch of Payolas songs off Napster. It was nice, but it's starting to get to me. I may have to sneak off to the pub later. Nothing pacifies a restless soul like a shitty, dilapidated bar full of sour-smelling old men. It's almost spiritual.

I looked at myself in the mirror earlier this week and I had giant black circles under my eyes. For a second I thought I was looking at a poster of Frank Torre. Dear god, when did this happen to me? I may have to invest in some of that Victoria Principal eye cream. It's really sad, when you think about it.

I saw an incredible new (to me, anyway) episode of Spongebob Squarepants today. A group of fishing boats congregated above Bikini Bottom and dropped dozens of fish hooks into the water. Despite stern warnings from Mr. Crabs that they'd both end up in a gift shop or a tuna can, Spongebob and Patrick started playing on the hooks. They'd sit on them, give the line a tug and ride them up as the fishermen reeled them in. Then they'd jump off right before reaching the surface, and float peacefully back down to the ocean floor. Patrick thought the hooks were amusement park rides. A favorite moment: after Spongebob got himself hooked, Mr. Crabs busted into the room and shouted, "What the halibut's going on here!?" This show is better than 95% of "adult" programming, I'm not kidding.

On Friends Thursday night they were playing a game where they each had to write down all fifty states within six minutes. Ross had 49, and spent the rest of the episode losing his shit over not being able to come up with the last one. (Joey had 56.) Anyway, after it went off Toney and I tried it and we both had 48 -- the same 48. How weird is that? Ten years together and we're in such perfect sync that we've both blocked out the existence of Connecticut and Minnesota. Now that's love.

So, I think I heard something about the Academy Awards being on tonight. Since I'm such a hardcore movie buff, I've decided to share with you my first annual Oscar preview. I hope this will make you better prepared for the big night.

Best Picture

Chocolat I don't know anything about it. Sounds foreign and pretentious. Something you're supposed to like.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Martial arts? I have no idea. I'm pretty sure Jackie Chan's in it though.

Erin Brockovich I saw this one. Good flick. Enjoyed all the abuse heaped on the fat secretary.

Gladiator Didn't see it and never will. I have no interest in sissy empires that couldn't cut it.  Plus it seems kinda faggoty.

Traffic Never heard of it.


Javier Bardem, Before Night Falls Who?

Russell Crowe, Gladiator I've heard of him, but I couldn't pick him out of a lineup. I think he wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Also, he may or may not be married to the skinny chick from Heart. Possibly the fat one.

Tom Hanks, Cast Away Why would anyone willingly give up three hours of their life to see this terrible, terrible film? I know I wouldn't.

Ed Harris, Pollack I saw something about this on CNN. He was standing in front of giant canvasses flinging paint like a monkey flings shit. Mesmerizing.

Geoffrey Rush, Quills It seems this guy won an Oscar a few years ago by playing a retard. That's cheating, in my book. I've never heard of this new film, and don't know its retard quotient, but he should be disqualified for taking the easy way out earlier in his career.


Joan Allen, The Contender Who?

Julienne Binoche, Chocolat Who?

Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream Who?

Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me Who?

Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich Pretty good, if she could just learn to keep her political opinions to herself. I don't care what she thinks of George W. Bush.  Just perform for us and shut up. Dance around and make us happy, lady. Remember, you work for us.  We'll ask for your opinion when we want it.

My main-man Randy Newman is once again nominated for best song, along with Bob Dylan. Of course, neither will win. It's well-known that Hollywood doesn't like Jews.

That's all for this year. I hope my insights prove to be valuable.  I live for movies, and I know a lot of you do too.  Enjoy the show!  

March 22, 2001

A few more things:

-- I know our chain is probably being yanked, but there are finally some signs of spring here in the northeast. Almost the entire snow-pack has melted away, and the days are getting longer and warmer. It won't be long before I get to trade in the snow shovel for a lawn mower, and start bitching about something new. But we'll be getting a big bonus during this year's season of renewal that I'll never complain about: my mother in law is moving back to Reno! She leaves in the middle of April, abandoning her experimental east coast expansion of Project Bitterness and returning to her beloved hometown in the desert (aka The Worst Place on Earth). Yes, it might still snow a few more times this year, but every shovel full will bring me that much closer to that wonderful, glorious eighteenth day of April. I swear, if I were a pussy-boy I'd break down and weep.

-- I read that Spike Lee has written an article claiming that Babe Ruth was actually a black man. I'll withhold sarcastic comments until after I've had a chance to read the piece, but this oughta be good.

-- Yet another promise to myself that I recently broke is to never return to Boston Market. I went there for lunch earlier this week, and it was a fiasco. I ordered a meatloaf sandwich, mashed potatoes, and a drink -- seven bucks. Shit! And there was so much goddamn ketchup on the sandwich that I had it halfway to my elbows within seconds. I finally ended up eating it with a knife and fork, then going into the bathroom for a scrub down. And, after all that maintenance, I was still hungry on my drive back to work. I also discovered a nickel-sized ketchup stain on my jacket later that day. I can't imagine why they're having financial problems.

-- A fellow zinester (I don't think my membership in that club has been revoked yet), Jeff Somers, has sold a novel called Lifers, and it's available now. Because I'm so secure in who I am, I'm not jealous in the least. Not one tiny little fucking bit.

-- I picked up a CD reissue of a great semi-obscure album that I used to play constantly when I was in high school: Iron City Houserockers Have A Good Time (But Get Out Alive). I hadn't heard it in years, but it sounds just as good as I remember it. Damn good. It's been in perma-repeat mode in the Toyota for a couple of weeks now. I may have had a laughable facial hair back then, but my taste in music was impeccable.

-- I also recently picked up a little booklet at a flea market called 2001 Southern Superstitions. Because I care about your well-being, I'd like to share a few of the entries with you here. You can thank me later, when you’re happy, healthy, and beautiful.

If your cornbread is rough, your husband's face will be rough.

If you cut your hair in March, you will lose a horse.

Go behind a door and eat a chicken foot to become beautiful.

If you get the front of your dress wet while washing your clothes, your husband will be a drunkard.

If you hold an apple in your armpit until it is warm and then eat it, your sweetheart will love you.

If a girl wears a wasp nest in her clothing, her lover will love her more deeply.

Eat a dozen onions before you go to bed, to become beautiful.

If a dog steps on your pulled tooth, you will have a dog tooth.

If you cut your toenails on Friday, you will never have a toothache.

If you cut a lock of a dog's hair and put it under your pillow, you will dream what the dog has dreamed.

If you drop a broom while sweeping, you will get new carpet.

If you are troubled by witches it is a good idea to sleep with a meal sifter over your face.

Now, go do the right thing, goddammit.

March 19, 2001

A few things:

-- I was coming back from lunch one day last week, walking in the parking lot at work, and felt the ground vibrating beneath me. As I continued on I could feel the bass-thump of somebody's car stereo threatening to interfere with the workings of my heart. I mean the thing was cranked. It kept getting louder and louder until I reached a huge Dodge pickup with some guy sitting behind the wheel, and I was finally able to make out what he was blasting inside the cab: "Shambala" by Three Dog Night. Some men just need to rock.

-- Speaking of trucks, I saw a Ford pickup the other day that had big letters stenciled on its tailgate that read, "Built with tools, not chopsticks." Not to be overly analytical, but that doesn't even make sense. I'm not an expert, but I'm not aware of vehicles being built anywhere in the world with eating utensils.

-- I also saw, on another of my lunch breaks last week (I take a lot of breaks), that somebody had a child's safety seat in their car that was completely covered in Dale Earnhardt logos and likenesses. I'm not sure I'd feel too safe with my kid strapped into a Dale Earnhardt car seat. Did they also get him the Matthew Perry sip cup?

-- I read in an obituary for Morton Downey Jr. that he wrote the '60s surf hit "Wipeout." Can that possibly be true? How bizarre is that? I'm imagining him shirtless and on a surfboard, with his facial warts tanned bronze, cig a-danglin'. And I don't really want to think these thoughts.

-- One of the stats I get on this website is the keywords people have typed into search engines that ultimately led them to Some of the more interesting from the last few weeks: "nude west virginia women", "sex with west virginia women", "west virginia sex", and "people blackmailed into sex". I have no idea how that last one led them here, but I have a feeling they were mighty disappointed once they arrived. And what the hell is West Virginia sex? People are fucking sick.

-- This is an actual bio written by a woman I went to high school with, for

widowed,has four children joseph,clarissa,trishcelle,and, jonathan i like to hear from my old classmates. i really haven't see much of anyone since i have served in the us army. i presently going to school to be registered nurse. please contact me.

And this is one of her fondest memories:

learning to be a real solider and to represent my country good usa well

No, she wasn't valedictorian, but that was a good one.

-- I read that people are urging Napster users to start naming their mp3 files using pig latin, and to do searches that way as well. They think it's a way around the court-ordered filters that the site is currently installing. This is just starting to get silly.

-- Saturday night Toney and I caught half of an episode of Jeopardy, and one of the categories was Hee Haw. She looked on in complete disgust as I ripped through the category, cranking off instantaneous correct answers left and right. I think she particularly enjoyed the part where I screamed, "Oh come on! Radio station KORN! KORN!! Are you fucking stupid?!"

-- Here's a few cool interactive sites I've come across the last few weeks, that I thought you might enjoy.

Find Your Spot takes you through a series of questions, then recommends your ideal hometown. Apparently I'm missing my true calling by not being in Richmond, VA right now.

This site tells you what was the number one song on the day you were born, in the US and Britain. Mine: "Big Girls Don't Cry" by The Four Seasons, and something I've never heard of in England.

The White Trash Name Generator changes your current name into something a little less high-brow. Like Big-Otis Joe Wingo, in my case.

-- I spotted this ad in a local entertainment newspaper. Looks like I'll be making a little trip to the Wilkes-Barre Best Western next month.

March 15, 2001

Centralia used to be just another small town in the middle of Pennsylvania. It had a town square, schools, businesses, a mayor, local eccentrics, and all the other things you’d expect. Unfortunately, it’s far from just another small town today. In fact, it’s barely a town at all. It doesn’t even appear on all the maps anymore.

In May of 1962, the city burned some trash in an open pit, like they had done many times before, and somehow ignited a fire in a mineshaft that runs underneath the town. In that part of the world there’s a lot of slow-burning anthracite coal in the ground and, amazingly enough, the fire’s still burning almost forty years later.

Attempts to extinguish it were unsuccessful, and very costly, so they eventually abandoned the idea. Until the 1980’s, folks didn’t think too much about it. It burned deep under the ground, and they saw little evidence of it. It was something they joked about, when they spoke of it at all. But then people started getting sick, and tests determined that, because of the fire, harmful gasses were coming out of the ground into people's houses. Also, the main road through town eventually collapsed into a huge sinkhole, as the fire moved closer to the surface. Smoke, and sometimes actual flames, rose from the ground in spots. The government came in and did a bunch of studies, and concluded that it would cost $663 million to put the fire out. So they came up with an alternate plan: they'd buy every home and business in the town, so everyone could move away from the problem. That would only cost $42 million.

And so, people started leaving in droves and the feds tore their houses down as soon as the moving trucks pulled away from the curb. Little by little, the once-bustling community withered away. Today there are only a handful of die-hards still living there, some in single homes that used to be part of a group of row houses -- tall and skinny and strange looking, with supports on the sides so the walls don't fall down. Predictably, some of the ones who've stayed (depending on what article you're reading, it's either 24 or 42 people now), consider the whole affair to be a giant government conspiracy. I don't know about that, but I do know it's a pretty cool place to visit.

Since Steve and I were in the neighborhood, touring the Yuengling brewery in Pottsville, we decided to check out Centralia on our way home. When we pulled into "town" I thought we'd made some kind of mistake. There's almost literally nothing left; it's just a huge open field, with an occasional house here and there. I had it pictured as sort of a ghost town, like on TV. I didn't know a lot of the story at that point, I did my research after the fact, and it hadn't occurred to me that they'd torn down all the buildings. The weird part is, even though the houses and businesses are gone, the streets remain. There's block after block of empty lots, with random sets of steps leading to nothing. We saw an old abandoned playground, and fire hydrants wrapped in plastic. The street signs are gone too, and it reminded me a little of a giant abandoned campground.

We drove around, but we never saw evidence of an old downtown or anything like that. Maybe it's gone too. (I want to do some more exploring next time I go, maybe as soon as this weekend.) But we did find a hillside, next to an old cemetery that was smoking like a bastard. Oh, we had to get a closer look at this. So we parked and walked up the road towards the big clouds. It was really bizarre. It looked like a war zone up there. Dead trees were laying everywhere, bleached white from the heat, and the ground was black and smoking. I read that at one point flames and smoke were coming up around the headstones in the cemetery. Oh man, I wish I could've seen that! What kind of karma is that, to be burned up in the grave?

Beer bottles were laying everywhere. People obviously came up there to socialize. We kept walking and the smoke kept getting thicker. It smelled like sulfur, and we tried not to breathe in much of it -- you know, since it's poisonous and all. And then we saw something I'll never forget. There was carpeting, and a goddmamn couch at the top of the hill. Steve later found out that the smoking hillside is a popular place to take a date! People probably had sex up there, with coal smoke coming up around them. And if that wasn't enough, there were giant clam shells laying everywhere. People were eating seafood. They'd held a fucking clambake! It was all so incredibly bizarre.

If you ever get the chance to visit this place, I strongly urge you to do so. I was more amazed by Centralia than I was the Yuengling plant, and that's saying something. In the meantime, however, you can take a look at some of the pictures I took while I was there, by clicking here. Like I mentioned, I may go back on Sunday to see the sunken road and do some more general exploring. I'll try to post more pics next week. What a trip!

As if that weren't enough excitement for one day, we stopped by the hospital where Steve's wife Myra works, before I hit the road for home. Myra's a doctor, specifically a doctor of pathology. On our way in Steve showed me a sign on a door that said something like, "Attention Funeral Directors: All Remains Must Be Signed Out By Hospital Personnel Before They Can Be Removed From the Premises." What the hell?! Once inside, Steve kept urging Myra to show me something disgusting. She finally sighed, like she'd been through this many times before, and signaled for us to follow her.

We went into a small lab and she showed us a stack of plastic containers full of yellowish, cloudy liquid and clumps of some kind of vile grossness. Steve asked her what they were, and she bent down to read the labels, and replied casually, "Colon...colon...colon...placenta...colon." The colons were cancerous, and had recently been removed from patients. I asked her about some big globs of yellow crap in one of the containers, and she told me it was an especially fatty colon. That did it for me. I was done. See ya next time, sports fans! But Steve started trying to talk her into letting us go in the morgue. I was a little apprehensive about that but, of course, I would've gone. Unfortunately(?) though she couldn't get the key, so we missed out on that particular experience.

But, what a day. Giant vats of the best beer in the world, smoking hillsides, and fatty colons encased in Tupperware. These are the things dreams are made of. If the planets ever align and I win the lottery, I can assure you I'm not going to continue to work. I probably won't even go in and take down my Harry Potter calendar. This world is full of amazing stuff, and I want to see as much of it as I can. There's a Disneyland around every corner, if you just have the time to find it.

March 12, 2001

I'm sure you've seen those nitwits on television who've just won 25 or 50 million dollars in a state lottery, smiling like jack o' lanterns and proudly proclaiming they're going to continue working -- pressing other people's pants in a suffocating gray laundromat, or some such hell -- because that's "who they are". I was thinking about that on my drive home Friday, from a great day away from work, and my long-held contention that those people are obviously crazy as fuck or incredibly stupid was further cemented in my mind. There's so much to see and do, how could you choose to sit on the sidelines?

My friend Steve and I have been talking about touring the Yuengling plant for a few months, and we finally just circled a date on the calendar and did it. We decided to go on a weekday, because the brewery doesn't really operate on weekends and we wanted to witness it in its full glory. In case you're not familiar with Yuengling, it's a regional, family-owned brewery that's operated continuously since 1829 (they made ice cream and non-alcoholic brews during prohibition), and they produce one of the best beers in the world, Yuengling Lager -- as well as several other quality adult beverages. My liver's had its hands full filtering these products since I moved to Pennsylvania a little over a year ago, and I've wanted to visit their birthplace since day one.

I drove to Steve's house in Danville, and we had an early lunch at a cool little bar/restaurant in the downtown area, then hit the road for Pottsville to make the 1:30 tour. It’s only about forty miles from Steve’s house, and it wasn’t long before we saw the giant black letters that spell Yuengling on the side of a hill overlooking the crumbling town. I felt like a kid on the way to an amusement park, catching the first glimpse of the roller coaster peaking up above the trees. I think my redneck roots even resurfaced for a second and caused me to involuntarily blurt out, “Hell yeah!”

My first impression, after we parked and started walking around, is that the building is extremely old. I mean really old. Like Independence Hall old. There are ancient brick sidewalks around the towering brewery and some of the windows (the ones not facing the town) are busted, and appear to have been that way since Strom Thurmond was in a playpen. The foundation has gaping holes in it in places, and the glass is wavy. It’s like something out of Dickens.

We were a few minutes early, so we went into the gift shop to wait. Imagine any item big enough to emblazon with a company logo, and chances are they had it there. I saw fingernail clippers, aprons, yardsticks, playing cards, and a thousand other little things. And they had big things as well, like patio umbrellas, neon signs, afghans(?!), and a giant inner tube designed for sledding. It was far too much to take in before the guide stuck her head in the room and told everyone to please follow her. We'd just have to come back after the tour.

She took us down the hall to a small bar, originally built in the 1930's for employees. They used to be allowed to knock back beers on their breaks and lunches there! Not anymore; now it's just used for tours and the company Christmas party. Some douche bag undoubtedly ruined it for everyone by getting drunk and falling into one of the brewing vats, or getting an arm hung up in a bottle capper or something. Assholes are always ruining it for the rest of us. I should've asked her about that, but there were too many people. I felt a little disappointed that it wasn't a more intimate group, being a weekday and all, but what are you going to do?

After she gave us a brief history of the brewery, she took us to the brew house. Really cool. In addition to the expected stainless steel vats, there's a stained glass ceiling and giant colorful murals on the walls. Workers were transferring the contents of one of the vats into another, and the smell was almost overpowering. It was like they had a huge beer-filled humidifier going.

From there she took us outside to show us the aging facilities. When the brewery was built in the early 1800's they dug a u-shaped cave deep into the mountain behind it for this purpose, but they stopped using it about thirty years ago. Now they just have a big building beside the brew house. The cave is still there, she said, but they don't allow the tours to enter it anymore because the floors are too slippery. Again, some asshole undoubtedly ruined it by hurtling to the ground, completely baffled by surfaces that aren't absolutely dry.

Following a quick pass through the bottling/canning facility, we all piled back into the bar for the ceremonial tasting of the product. I was disappointed that they only allowed you two cups each, but it was better than nothing. I selected the Premium Light (because it was the only one I'd never had) and the Lord Chesterfield Ale. Both were very tasty, indeed. As everyone sat around sipping their golden elixirs, people started asking the guide some questions. I should say one woman started asking the guide some questions. She wanted to know, among other things, where they get the water they use, why they don't increase the use of returnable bottles to cut down on waste, and (in a rather accusatory tone) why none of the Yuengling women have ever ran the brewery. Pain--In--The--Ass.

After we were pleasantly buzzed, they set us free in the gift shop again. I don't think there's anything coincidental about that. I spent $25 on stuff, and Steve plunked down considerably more. The tab would've probably been a lot less without the beakers of beer they served us. But what the hell, now I have a cool black Yuengling license plate for the front of my truck, and a couple of new shirts.

When we were walking back to the car we noticed we smelled like the vats of thick churning beer sludge in the brew house, and it clung to us for hours. When I opened a bottle of lager on Saturday night, the smell made me a little queasy for a second. But I quickly got over it. Very quickly, in fact.

I'll write about the rest of the day next time. Steve and I visited the mysterious town of Centralia, and a hospital pathology lab after we left the brewery, for one of the more surreal afternoons of my life.

March 7, 2001

Of course the Storm of the Century didn't quite materialize. We did get eleven or twelve inches of snow over a couple of days, which isn't insignificant, but it's a long way from the thirty inches they were holding over our heads this weekend. By the time I left work yesterday, the roads were completely clear and the world was back to normal. I bet there's a lot of people thinking, "Damn, what am I going to do with all this milk and bread?" I read yesterday that some guy from The Weather Channel was doing a report from NYC, and a bunch of people turned on him and were yelling "Liar!!", and pelting him with snowballs. I think people are getting a little tired of all the false alarms.

But enough about the weather. I feel like a senior citizen. Next I'll start telling you what I had for lunch.

I like to play an old Phoebe Snow CD while I write these updates. I know that sounds weird, even creepy, but the thing is really good and conducive to the task at hand. Complete silence doesn't work, but neither does the raucous stuff I normally listen to. I need something in between, and this fits the bill perfectly. Kinda bluesy, kinda jazzy. It reminds me of Van Morrison a little. I got the disc free at a place where I used to work in Atlanta. It's a promo copy, and I think it's a reissue of her first album. I don't know much about Phoebe Snow (is she still recording? is she still alive?), but I know she made at least one really good record back in the early '70's. And I'm not sure I could write about the weather without it.

Toney talked to our old next-door neighbor from California yesterday. She's the one who told her about the field of toddler shit I wrote about a few weeks ago. Anyway, she was going on and on about how many improvements the new owners of our old house have made. For some reason this irritates me. I feel like it's a judgment of us. Hell, we did a lot while we were there too. We put on a new roof, put up gutters, a new garage door, had it painted, re-did the ceilings, painted the interior walls, had the flooring replaced in the kitchen, etc. But in suburbia I guess you're only as good as your last home improvement. Plus it's worth pointing out that the new owner is an airline pilot. I have a feeling he doesn't have to roll coins a few days before payday, like I had to do a few times when I lived in that SoCal "paradise."

Sometimes when I blow my nose snot comes out of my left tear duct. Always the left one. What would cause snot to come out of a person's eye? Am I dying? Or should I just adjust the pressure a little?

I don't want to be insensitive (never!), but I can't stand to watch those Gateway commercials with Michael J. Fox. I feel like screaming "sit still!!" at the screen. It's almost as bad as when they used to prop up Grandma Walton after the stroke.

I'm thinking about creating a series of mystery novels starring Charlie Daniels as a crime solver. He travels the country in a tour bus with his fiddle and hat, and solves murder mysteries. What do you think? Heck, maybe I could even pitch it as a TV series. CBS would probably buy it. I'm going to trust you guys not to steal this golden idea from me.

I'm taking Friday off and my friend Steve and I are driving to Pottsville, PA to tour the Yuengling plant.  It's the oldest brewery in the US, built in 1829.  How cool will that be?  I can't wait.  This is my Jerusalem.  

March 5, 2001

No work today because of the snow. It started coming down yesterday around noon, and it's not supposed to stop until some time tomorrow, so they didn't open the office today. The pinheads on TV have been saying we could get as much as thirty inches before it's over. I find that hard to believe, but what do I know? It's certainly got everyone whipped into a frenzy, that much is for sure.

I went to the grocery store yesterday morning and it was like a visit to the Soviet Union. Long lines, people fighting over loaves of bread, white skin and red lips, the whole deal. It was pretty grim. I was getting coffee, but everybody else seemed to be stocking a bomb shelter. How long do these people think we'll be snowed in? Even if we get the thirty inches, everything will be back to normal by Thursday. I think it's more than just a little nutty to rush out and buy a month's worth of groceries, because of snow. My only concession to the hysteria: two cases of Yuengling instead of one. You don't gamble with the necessities.

I'm really glad they decided not to open the office today. I would've tried to go in even if the snow was up to the windows. It's a matter of pride. If one other person had made it and I didn't, the locals would've busted my ass and called me California Boy for a week. I can't have that. So I would've attempted to make it even if it meant tunneling my way in. There are some things worth dying for.

The mail made it through today. I've got to hand it to our hippie mailman; he loaded our box with all kinds of goodies, and it wasn't even late. I even received my copy of The Posies Amazing Disgrace CD that I bought off The man has won back my respect, but I still think he takes random days off -- probably in observance of the birthdays of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. We'll see how he does tomorrow, when the snow is up to his patchouli scented ass.

I'm starting to get cabin fever, and it's been less than twenty-four hours. I'm afraid the hallucinations are about to set in. If that guy hadn't shot up that high school in San Diego, and provided America with some drama, I'd probably be shooing an imaginary flock of vampire chickens out my den.

March 3, 2001

A few things:

-- My mother in law has now proclaimed to Toney that she will never go anywhere with us again, as long as I’m driving. She said she was completely mortified last Saturday, and was convinced I would flip the vehicle at several points. I find this to be highly entertaining, of course. But please note how she’s turned a simple half-day of shopping into a weeklong festival of bitterness. Yes, this is my life.

-- Yesterday at Wendy’s some guy dropped his fries, made a quick maneuver to try to scoop them off the floor, and blew the ass out his pants. Giant white vertical rip. I laughed for ten solid minutes.

-- I had planned to mention that it hasn’t snowed here for a couple of weeks, and how you can actually see grass for the first time since Thanksgiving. But I guess I jinxed it, because it was a friggin’ winter wonderland when we got up yesterday morning. Another five or six inches. I knew it had been a while because my ice scraper was buried beneath the mound of Krispy Kreme bags in my truck, instead of lying on top like usual.

-- I downloaded a newish Randy Newman song off Napster the other day. It’s from the Meet the Parents soundtrack. The first line: “Show me a man who’s gentle and kind/And I’ll show you a loser.” Of course it’s funny, but I don’t think it’s true. Is it true?

-- I bought an advance reader’s copy of a new novel by my favorite writer, Richard Russo, last week. The book is called Empire Falls, and won’t be released to bookstores until May. I went looking for it on the internet, and finally snagged it from a used bookstore in Iowa for less than thirty bucks - including shipping. Some dealers are selling it for as much as a hundred dollars, so I was pretty pleased. I’m about seventy pages into it, and it’s as good as I imagined it would be. It feels pretty cool to be one of the first people in the world to get to read it. I really wish I could write like Richard Russo. As the saying goes, I’d give my left nut. If you haven’t read any of his books, start with The Risk Pool. I promise you, you’ll want to tote your balls or ovaries down to the crossroads too.

-- Toney came across this little notice in our local paper the other day. We’re living in fucking Hooterville, I’m not kidding.

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