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You don't understand. I'm a mysterious loner, not lonely.











A bowl of corn, motherfuckers.









Is that an erection I smell?



I'm loaded with tumors darling, and I don't even know it.





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  Willard "Bill" Hershberger


   The State of My Fat Ass                                      August 2006

August 31, 2006

-- Last week I called my boss to cancel a vacation day I had scheduled. He passed me to his assistant, and she told me I'd need to call "corporate" because the paperwork had already been faxed over to them. Grrr.... I'm not a fan of walking into the hall of mirrors that is corporate; I might not ever find my way out.

But I called, so I wouldn't be charged for a day I didn't take. And guess what? There were two or three more hoops I was required to jump through. Fax this, sign that, make a follow-up call over there. Dammit! I should've just taken the day off. It's like dealing with the U.S. government.

After I had my bulleted list of tasks required of me, I asked the woman, just for shits and giggles, if she could tell me how many vacation days she shows I have left for the year. And after a lot of keyboard clicking and dead air, she said, "OK Jeff, we have you down for 49.8."


It turns out that in 2001 they started rolling unused days into the next year -- and nobody told me about it. I'm in a crazy situation, because I work in Pennsylvania for a company based in Southern California. I'm in a building with 1500 or so employees who work for X, and I'm right in the middle of them working for Y. Therefore, I'm thousands of miles away from the kind of office gossip and bitchfests that might actually help me.

When I moved to PA, and jumped from one division of The Company to another, vacation days were use 'em or lose 'em. Then they changed the rules somewhere along the line, and the news never made it to me. Under normal circumstances I would've received a memo, or heard about it from the fat woman who likes to talk about her medical procedures. But I'm out here all alone, and the local fat woman is of little use to me.

Now I find out that I have ten weeks of vacation stacked up(!). Ten weeks that I won't be allowed to take anytime soon, because fourth-quarter is almost upon us... And the pisser? The maximum is fifty, so they've been trying to give me even more paid days off, but the reservoir is always full.

I know I should be happy about this surprise windfall, but for some reason it irritates me.

-- I'm reading another book by Bentley Little. Have you ever heard of this guy? I hadn't, until Stephen King raved about him in his Entertainment Weekly (aka The Shitter's Companion) column a few months ago. King described him as a twisted horror writer with a bizarre sense of humor, who writes about ordinary people plunged into the middle of insane situations.

Man, that sounded right up my alley, so I ordered one of his books.

I chose The Store, about a Wal-Mart-like chain store that opens in a small town in Arizona, and may or may not be owned and managed by one of Satan's disciples. All manner of hilarious fucked-upness transpires, and I loved every minute of it.

Now I'm reading The Association, about a couple who move into a gated community in Utah, with a homeowners' association that may or may not be run by, yes, one of Satan's disciples. Heh.

You probably get the idea. These things are completely over-the-top, without apology, and lotsa fun. I'm now in the process of obtaining more of Little's books, and have a brand new obsession to fill the void.

Thank you Stephen King, and thanks, as always, to the good folks at The Companion.

-- Here's a classic that I never get tired of watching. That soppy sack of garbage at the end makes me laugh every time.

-- Last night Toney and I were talking about how there are common adult names which you can't imagine a newborn baby having. Like Roger. I just can't envision a tiny baby sitting in a high chair with the name of Roger. Ya know? But there are plenty of grown-ups walking around with that name, and you don't even think about it. What are some of the others?

Here's an interesting site that verifies my suspicions. And it also tells me that I was born at the absolute pinnacle of the first big Jeff spike. I think it's high time for another.

-- And this has been one hell of a scattered morning.... I can't begin to tell you. I'll leave you now with the question of the day, not from Clive, but from me. 

A few days ago I once again saw a guy in the break room at work eating corn on the cob. He had two ears that he'd already stripped clean, and was working on a third. I think I talked about this guy once before. 

Anyway, I was wondering, what are the most unusual foods you've seen co-workers eat for lunch? Can you top the dude with the baker's dozen cobs?

And I'll see ya tomorrow, maybe. This shit is flying off the tracks...

Have a great day, folks. 

August 30, 2006

-- August is almost over (somehow), and there's already a hint of fall in the air up here. I love it. As I drove back from West Virginia on Sunday it just kept getting cooler and cooler the farther north I traveled -- the temperature gauge on the dash went down down down, as I drove up up up. I started out in ice water country (still hotter than the piss of an owl down there), and by the time I reached our driveway I was sensing the unmistakable pull of bourbon season.

It's a bizarre feeling to drive from one season to another, it really is.

And the great thing? Except for the horror movie of a camping trip we took in July, summer didn't have its way with us like it normally does. That big honkin' Soviet humbox that we bought from Sam's, and installed in one of the living room windows, has changed everything. I now laugh in the face of summer: Ha Ha Ha! We have defeated you with our superior technology! So move along, little bitch.

-- I've been neglecting my Netflix queue. It feels like my life has been chaos recently, and I don't have the energy to try to remember why. But I've been letting the chips fall where they may with Netflix, as a result of the craziness, and weeds are starting to pop up through the cracks, and shit is getting shaggy.

A few days ago I received a one-hour documentary about Stuart Sutcliffe in the mail from them, and that simply wouldn't have happened if I'd been on top of my game. I mean, seriously. That's one of those things that you might want to watch someday, way off in an abstract future. But actually getting it? It's nuts.

I really need to dedicate some time to it and restore order in the queue, but I currently lack the enthusiasm for such a thing. I feel like there's an old washing machine in the front yard of my Netflix house, and a Camaro with a coat hanger antennae and one green door, but I'm paralyzed by lack of interest and half-assery against doing anything about it.

I have become a full-blown Flixbilly.

-- This is the contraption my parents have hanging in one of their showers. Apparently my mother received a $5-off coupon in the mail for it, and decided to try it out. I don't know anything about the ridiculous device, and thought it might be controlled by a timer. I was terrified that it would suddenly kick-on while I was in there, and spray me full in the crotch with a jet of harsh chemicals.

But my Dad told me you have to push the button, it gives you ten seconds to get out of the way, then it goes to town. That made me feel a little better, until I accidentally bumped it while rinsing shampoo from my hair. I was convinced that I'd started the countdown, and almost ripped the shower door off its hinges trying to get away from it.

That thing needs to go straight to the garbage can.

-- This is a little hard to believe, I know, but it's true: I was carded last night while buying beer. I stopped on my way home from work for a case of the golden elixir, and the guy wanted to see my ID. I said, "You've GOTTA be shitting me?" while handing him my driver's license. He told me that college is back in session, and they need to be extra-careful. Wow. Talk about Old School! Man, I'd still be legal if I'd been born on the day I became legal. Or whatever. Hello?

-- When I was driving back on Sunday I stopped at a convenience store somewhere on I-79, way out where your cell phone says NO SERVICE, for a coffee refill on my Krispy Kreme travel mug. After I stirred in the Half & Half, and was making my way to the cash register, I noticed a display of Hostess products out of the corner of my eye. Yum. I picked up a package of chocolate cupcakes, paid the It's Pat cashier for my purchases, and headed out the door.

But wait! What about the car? There was no way I was going to attempt to eat those cakes in my pristine new vehicle, no chance in hell. So I stood on the sidewalk and had them, a safe distance from the upholstery. Damn good. Those babies have a shelf-life, I believe, of roughly 99 years, but the ones I bought on Sunday were no older than five or six years, I'd guess. Fresh.

And I'd saved myself from the slipper slope of crumbs in crevices, and all that stuff. I was snacking smart!

Then I jumped back behind the wheel, and started driving toward the interstate entrance. And just as I was merging into traffic I was hit with a powerful sneezing jag. There were four or five in rapid-fire succession, just as I was attempting to slide between two 18-wheelers. No chance to adequately cover-up and take preventative measures.

And, sure enough, during the last sneeze a chocolaty glob of spit and snot rocketed from my mouth and stuck to the steering wheel. I think I literally shrieked like a schoolgirl! It was shaped like Cuba and I thought some it might be working its way down into the horn mechanism. I was in a state of terror.

But I was lucky. It was a fairly sturdy glob, and I was able to wipe it away with ease. There was no seepage whatsoever. I think the Hostess preservatives saved me from disaster.


-- Speaking of being distracted in traffic, check out this pic that Surf Reporter Garrett snapped over the weekend, in Dripping Springs, Texas. Is that not excellent? I submit that it is.

And I think that'll do it for today, boys and girls. I'll leave you now with an item from the Stealing Clive Bull's Topics desk: 

What vegetable do you think Justin Timberlake looks like?

Have at it, and I'll see ya tomorrow. 

August 29, 2006

-- So, the funeral was only a few hours away, and I had no pants. I'd tried Wal-Mart, in a fit of desperation, but all of their "dress clothes" looked like something a door-to-door Bible salesman might wear. So what was I to do? I was supposed to be a pall bearer, and needed to be at the church at 10:45 in the morning. All the stores were closed and the clock was ticking.

I called Toney, and once she stopped laughing she told me she thought she saw a JCPenney ad that said their Scranton store opened on Saturday at 8 am. They were having some sort of sale, and it would probably be the same for the WV stores. I checked the newspaper at my parent's house, and it was true! A doorbuster sale, with extra savings between eight and ten in the morning. Damn straight.

My Mom and I were there when they opened the store, and there wasn't exactly an unruly crowd waiting outside to "bust" through the doors like their ad had wished for. It was just the two of us, a man who was practicing his golf swings with a phantom club in the parking lot, and a woman who may or may not be afflicted with dwarfism.

I think my mother and I were arguing before we even made it to the men's department.

Of the clothes I'd brought, she only approved of the tie and shoes. Oh, and I think the belt was OK too. She said everything else was for winter, and I was getting paranoid about it. I couldn't shell out a bunch of money for an hour's worth of funeraling, but she clearly thought I needed a complete overhaul. I certainly didn't want to look ridiculous and inappropriate, but what am I, Ted Turner here? Shit.

Plus, she accused me of being difficult and picky. There was lots of "how about this jacket?" to which I'd usually answer, "No, I'd look like I work at H&R Block," or something along those lines. Through gritted teeth she finally said, "I don't know where you're getting all these cute little phrases, but they need to stop." It was like I was fourteen again.

I ended up buying a pair of pants, a shirt, and a jacket. They rang up for more than three hundred bucks(!), but after the cashier finished whacking away with the discounts and coupons, I owed them $126. My receipt said I'd saved $196, but I wasn't focusing on that number. I was thinking about the $126. Sweet Maria, I'd gone there for pants. Toney would surely kill me.

But I'd have to burn that bridge when I got to it. We were playing beat the clock now, and I tore ass back to my parent's house. There would be barely enough time to iron my new purchases, get dressed, and drive to Dunbar before the service began. Too crazy.

I made it, with only minutes to spare. I flopped down in the very last row of pews, beside my friend Tim, and was sweating like a market hog. I looked around and just knew that everybody else had simply gone to their closets that morning, and casually chosen their clothes. I was the only doucheketeer that had been racing up and down the interstate, frantic and near tears.

Someday I'd like to know what it feels like to be an adult, just so I can have the experience.

I performed my pall bearer duties without getting wedged beneath the casket. And when we got to the cemetery I noticed that one of the funeral home guys had apparently eaten a glazed donut along the way, and a little of it was still stuck to the corner of his mouth. I didn't laugh, but it took considerable effort. I spent some time with Steve, and talked to his mother and sisters. It was sad and emotional, like most funerals are, and by one o'clock it was all over.

Whew! I pointed my car back in the direction of my parent's house, where some big ol' t-shirts and shorts were calling my name. I couldn't wait to get out of that horrible love handle-strangling gear; I felt like I was bound, head to toe, in plastic wrap. A few times I had to will away an actual panic attack.

Once I was back in the standard Jeff Kay uniform, I ate some lunch and went back to Dunbar. I stopped at Tim's house to drop off a loaner copy of the first season of the British version of The Office on DVD, something I'm certain is right up his alley. Then I went to Bill's place, and had a few beers in his basement "saloon," while watching Slingblade on one of his many televisions. I was back in the real world.

Before returning to my parent's house I drove around the old hometown, just to check things out. Apparently, somewhere along the line, about 75% of the homeowners there decided to just say fuck it, and stopped maintaining their residences. It feels like everything is exactly the way it was when I left almost twenty years ago, just sitting there and slowly crumbling into the Earth. 

There are plenty of exceptions, of course, but that's the general feeling I got, and it made me sad. Dunbar was a great place to grow up, our own personal Mayberry, and I hate seeing it in its current state. But, of course, as I'm reminded quite regularly, I'm part of the problem, for moving away; I've got blood on my hands.

The next morning I got up early, jumped into my parent's nerve-wracking shower, determined to be back home at a decent hour. The shower? Oh, they have one of those contraptions in there that supposedly cleans everything automatically. It hangs off the shower nozzle, and has a big reservoir on top that contains God-knows-what. I was afraid it was set on a timer and might kick-on while I was in there, and douse my junk with some sort of flesh-eating chemical. But I made it home with everything still intact.

The drive back was a pain in the balls. I sat in traffic for at least forty-five minutes on 81, because a big moving van had crashed and some poor bastard's belongings were strewn all over creation. They literally had a bulldozer out there scooping up wet and muddy clothing and crap, and dropping it into the back of a dump truck. I saw a pair of white Fruit of the Looms hanging off the teeth of that dozer at one point, and I felt sorry for the people who undoubtedly had no idea what was going on with their stuff. Here's a pic I snapped with my terrible cell phone camera, just to give you an idea.

I also stopped at a Wendy's in Maryland where I was apparently the only white person within twenty miles. I also got the feeling that I was about twice as old as everyone else, and was experiencing a phenomenon known as cultural discomfort. Then I hit about thirty miles of fog, and the whole thing just sucked....

But now you're up to date on the whole affair. And I'll leave you today with a video that confirms many of the things I've long suspected. I have nothing to do with any of it, and it still pisses me off. Grrrr... Be sure to check it out.

See ya tomorrow. 

August 28, 2006

-- On Thursday Steve called me at work and told me his father had passed away the previous night. He'd been in failing health for some time, but it was still a shock. It seems like people I know are beginning to lose their parents on a routine basis now, and I hate that. I know it's the cycle of life, and all that Lion King crapola, but I'm still not a fan of it.

I've known Steve forever, more or less, and his parents for almost as long. When I was growing up in Dunbar they lived only a few yards from us, and I was at their house constantly. Steve's Dad was a genuine war hero, having flown dozens of bombing missions over Europe during WWII. He also knew a lot about old-time baseball, and I enjoyed talking to him about it. He always seemed to be in a good mood, and I liked him; he was a kind man.

I had to get down there for the funeral. I sent an email to my boss in California, asking if he had a problem with me playing hooky on Friday. No problem, came the reply. So I'd drive the following day, attend the funeral on Saturday, and drive again on Sunday. Not exactly a fun way to spend a weekend, but the right way in this case.

I had no intentions of leaving at the crack of dawn on Friday, but I'd wanted to get on the road earlier than I did. And so it goes. Once I finally shoved off I stopped to fill up my tank, and my cell phone rang. It was Toney, telling me I'd just missed the mailman -- and he'd brought the CD I'd been waiting for. It was a British import two-disc Beautiful South anthology, which would be perfect for a nine-hour car trip alone. "I'm coming back!" I hollered like General Patton, holding my chin high in defiance.

The trip to WV was uneventful, except for the fact that I got 35 big honkin' miles per gallon in my new car. I filled up the eighteen gallon tank not far from our house, and never had to fill it again until I reached my parent's house, 530 miles away. In the old Blazer days I would've used exactly twice that much fuel. It was almost shocking,

Oh, and I stopped at a Cracker Barrel somewhere along the way, and felt a tad ill at ease. I don't generally have a problem eating in a restaurant alone, but this time I felt like there was a neon light flashing above my head that said "child molester" or "sex pervert," or something along those lines. The place was crowded with families, and I started messing around with my cell phone, pretending to be in the middle of something important. I sent my friend Tim a text message and told him my situation, and he wrote back, "Remember, you're a mysterious loner, not lonely." Heh.

Do you have a problem eating in restaurants by yourself? I hope I'm not back-sliding here.... In the past I never even thought about it; it was no big deal. But on Friday I felt like I was onstage, beneath a spotlight.

Steve called me at some point while I was driving and asked if I'd be willing to be a pall bearer. I told him it was no problem, but immediately began stressing about it. I'd only done that duty twice before, and almost fell down both times. The first time the guy in front of me tripped over something, and comedy ensued. And the second time it was rainy, and I was wearing slick-ass dress shoes.... You can connect the dots on that one. It's only a matter of time before I get my entire body wedged beneath a casket, in front of a crowd of gasping mourners. I just know it.

My mother made hot bologna for dinner, a hillbilly delicacy and one of my favorites, and I went to town on that. Good ol' West Virginia round steak.... Later in the evening I began checking my dress clothes, to see what needed ironing, and all that stuff.

And I had no pants!

I'd just grabbed the zipper bag with the jacket and tie and everything inside, assuming the pants were there too. They were not. And here I was, only hours away from a funeral at which Steve's family was relying on me to be a pall bearer -- and I had no pants!

Sweet sainted mother of Adena Watson.

Once my parents stopped laughing, we started weighing our options. It was 9:30 at night, and all the stores were closed by now. And the funeral was at 11:00 am, not leaving me enough time to do anything in the morning. Holy shitballs! My Dad couldn't stop wheezing with laughter, so he wasn't much help. But my Mom suggested Wal-Mart. They're open 24 hours a day, she reminded me.

That was it! Surely I could find something there that would serve the purpose. I only needed them for an hour or so, no doubt they had some passable Malaysian knock-off on their shelves that would solve the crisis for me. My mother grabbed her purse, and shouted, "Let's go!” And I could hear my Dad still laughing as we left the house.

Wotta shithole. We were at Wal-Mart for at least an hour, and I couldn’t find a thing. It was all petroleum-based dress slacks, and cheap-as-fuck 1970s used car salesmen clothes. My Mom and I started arguing, because she thought I was being difficult. But dammit, I ain’t wearing a pair of $9 polyester pants. I mean, seriously.

I tried on a couple of things that didn’t look too bad, and they had some sort of weird adjustable strap on the inside of the waistband, like those old-man trousers they sell on the back of Parade magazine. When I looked at myself in the mirror, it appeared that I had both pockets full of apples. It was all puffed out at the top and distorted. What the hell, man?!

Finally I told my mother that it wasn’t going to happen. No way I was wearing any of that Ted Baxter gear; we’d just have to figure something else out. “But what?” she shouted, “It’s after ten o’clock!”

And I’ll tell you the rest of the story next time....

In the meantime, here’s an extra-cool Smoking Fish sighting. And the final numbers for Deadwood. Clemente made it to 3000, but those guys didn’t. They fell just a single Trixie diatribe short of the magic number. Too bad. 

Man, I’m gonna miss that show, I really am.

See ya tomorrow. 

August 25, 2006

-- I'm leaving in a few minutes for, as Phil Hendrie's "Pastor William Rennick" would put it, a whirlwind trip to West Virginia. I'll be driving today (just me and my Clash CDs), attending a funeral on Saturday for the parent of a close friend, and driving back on Sunday. Someday I might tell you about it, and then again... I might not.

In any case, I have no time for an update this morning. But I will leave you with a fresh new comments link to plunder into submission. 

Hey, since I can't do it, why don't you guys write today's Surf Report? It's easy. Just start a paragraph with "A couple of days ago I was at Eckerd Drugs..." (or whatever), and take it from there. And when I get to my parent's house this evening I'll read your update, instead of the other way around. Pretty cool! 

Take care, my friends, and I'll see ya next time.

August 24, 2006

-- Following a two-year (or so) Toney-imposed moratorium, we returned to the Old Country Buffet this week.

Needless to say, I have some experience with the so-called family buffet style of dining. A person from my demographic (we like to call ourselves the weighted) naturally gravitate to any place of business where the words all-you-can-eat and gravy bar are used in the same descriptive sentence. And over the years I've been to all the biggies, as well as quite a few independents, and it's my opinion that Old Country is just about the best of them all.

Indeed, it wasn't the quality of the food that Toney objected to, it was the clientele. It seemed that whenever we visited the local restaurant it would be teeming with the retarded, horribly disfigured, and the absolute trashiest of white trash. It was an apparent magnet for people traveling by bus, and groups of folks on an outing from "the home."

It felt like we'd no sooner return from our first trip to the salad bar when a whole gang of energized young men and women would come busting into the place, and cause us all to make a mental note to rent Slingblade again. Some would be wearing football helmets, a few would be making sounds like a smoke detector low on batteries, and someone would almost always lick the macaroni and cheese ladle before returning it to the vat.

Plus, for some reason we had a streak going where we'd find ourselves dining near, or in the middle of, what appeared to be a botched skin graft support group. On those days the employees of the restaurant would be running around and Windexing the sneeze guards on the buffet lines, like there was no tomorrow. I think some shit was flaking-off.

And the loud lip-smacking, fat-ass, 5-for-$10 Redneck Riviera souvenir t-shirt-wearing, buzzcut children-having, homemade tattoo-sporting hillbillies was more than Toney could take. She finally put her foot down, and we weren't allowed to eat there anymore. She even turned the Secrets against it, so I didn't have a prayer.

Goodbye heavy gravy. <sniff>

But earlier this week Toney called me at work and said she didn't feel like cooking that night. She'd been painting all day and wanted to know if I was interested in going out for dinner. Always! And so we began the long drawn-out discussion of where to go....

We'd just had a mountain of manicotti on Sunday, so Italian mom 'n' pop was out of the question. It was kids-eat-free at Bennigan's, but we've pretty much written that place off. When they first opened here it was really good, especially their burgers. But it's gone downhill fast. They removed all the good stuff from their menu, and their burgers now taste like Grade C beef prepared on a seldom-washed George Foreman grill.

The last time I was there I ordered some sort of dinner salad with "country chicken" on top. And that chicken was so stale and hard the breading threatened to rip gashes in my gums; it was like a handful of driveway gravel. And don't even get me started on the "magician." He's always there on kids night, milling around in his novelty suit, and I'm constantly whispering to the Secrets: Don't make eye contact! Don't do it!!

Anyway, we had a lengthy discussion on the subject, and couldn't agree on anything. Toney seemed to be lobbying for pizza, but that didn't flip my switch. I wanted mashed potatoes and meat loaf, and that sort of thing. I floated the idea of a little diner near here, but that was shot down. What about Cracker Barrel? I said. Drive all the way to Wilkes-Barre?! she answered. It wasn't going very well.

"Well.... of course there's always Old Country Buffet." After I said it I flinched like someone was about to shoot a rubber band in my direction. But to my surprise, she didn't object too vigorously. And before I knew it, we had a plan to meet there at 6:30. I was almost giddy!

And at 6:35 I was whisper-hollering to Toney: Ten dollars and fifty cents a head?! Holy shit! Was it always this expensive?? Hell, I didn't know we were going to require a bank loan. But whatever. I fell back to allow Toney to pick a table, but she insisted I take the lead. "This is your idea," she said, with a hint of menace in her voice.

But it was good. I ate myself right up to the cusp of a blackout, ingesting great amounts of vegetables, salad, ham, and something called lemon pepper chicken. I drank an ocean of sweet tea, and topped it all off with cake and ice cream. Damn straight.

The rest of the family didn't do too badly either. I believe the oldest Secret ate an entire watermelon for dessert, and Toney was even forced to admit that it "wasn't too bad."

Plus, there was no ladle-licking or banjo-plucking, or any of that stuff. Most of the other people there seemed pretty normal. I noticed an abundance of what was obviously people in town on business, having a little dinner before returning to the hotel. Sure, the chick at the ham station seemed a little surly, probably capable of sinking that carving knife in your gut if you crossed her. But overall, it was a pleasant surprise.

Of course, there's always next time.... Toney still seems far from convinced.

At this point we're pretty much soured on chain restaurants, in general. It seems that more often than not we walk away unsatisfied. When we lived in Atlanta we never ate at those kinds of places -- there were so many great local joints it would've been almost criminal. But now that we live in Scranton, and have kids.... it's a little hard to avoid.

What are the ones that are surprisingly good? Are there any left? Help me out, people. I beg of you.

See ya tomorrow. 

August 23, 2006

-- On Sunday we met Steve and Myra for dinner at a little Italian place near here, ingested large amounts of manicotti and a couple of pitchers of Blue Moon Belgian White, then Steve, Myra and I went to the big Steely Dan concert at Montage Mountain. Toney stayed home with the Secrets, and she had no problem with that whatsoever. Standing outside until midnight listening to amplified music with a crowd of drunken strangers is not high on her list of favorite things to do. I don't understand it either, but it seems to be a fact.

I'm a longtime Dan fan. In fact, Steve probably got me hooked on them in grade school or some such thing (he has older sisters). The Surf Report sound library features every song they ever recorded, including such rarities as "FM" and "Here At The Western World", and every solo album -- even the really bad ones (*cough* Walter Becker).

I like them because they not only write songs that sound great blasting out of a stereo, car or home, but because there's more going on than meets the eye. Or ear, or whatever. Like another of my favorite bands, the Beautiful South, their music is accessible and fun, and it's easy to enjoy on that level. But then you start listening to the lyrics and it doesn't take long before you're muttering to yourself, "Are they singing about what I think they're singing about.....?"

Steely Dan (and the Beautiful South) are masters of rolling great big Trojan Horses of fucked-upness into the homes of unsuspecting people the world 'round. And you've simply gotta admire them for it. They're subversive mad musical geniuses.... Oh, this ain't Supertramp, goddammit.

So I rode with Steve and Myra up to the Montage ski resort, where the big fancy-pants ampitheater is located, free of DUI worries and ready for an evening of music and beer beneath the stars. We had to park roughly three miles from the stage, and began hoofing it in the direction the signs pointed us.

And immediately I noticed that our fellow patrons were a tad long in the tooth. I might've been fooling myself, but I think the three of us, at ages 42 and 43, were about the youngest people there. As we walked I looked around and started panicking. It was all gray hair, pressed slacks, and tucked-in polo shirts. There were no rebel yells, nobody taking slugs off pints of Early Times, and not a single person puking into foliage. And many of the women looked like Skippy Hicks. It was a sad state of affairs.

"I bet you're not having to card too many people tonight, are ya?" I said to the woman at the Beers of the World stand, still a little shaken. This triggered much laughter inside the tent of commerce, and she handed me a twelve-ounce Blue Moon in a plastic cup and said, "Seven fifty." Holy fucknuggets!! I made a mental note to return to the tried and true golden elixir, straight away.

We found our seats, and they weren't too bad. Except, of course, for the big-ass pole. It was a pillar that supported the tent-like roof over the expensive seats, and it was located at roughly two o'clock as I looked straight ahead. But our seats were off to the right of the stage, so maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal? Right? Grrrrr....

I finished my New York City-priced beer, and Steve and I decided to go in search of the Yuengling tent. We found it, procured a couple of the big 'uns, then stood off to the side and watched the crowd. I called Bill in WV on my cell phone, because he's always there in spirit at every such concert I attend. And while Steve was talking to him I spotted, off in the distance -- Poppa Half-Shirt!

I couldn't believe it. He had his entire family with him, wife and both teenage sons. Fueled by the adult beverages, I headed off in their direction, and caught up to the youngest boy first. I think he's twelve or thirteen and I asked if he was a big Steely Dan fan, kinda joking. He said, real stiff, "I'm here with my parents." Good answer.

Then I shook Half-Shirt's hand and started chit-chatting with him. (I swear I didn't feel drunk.) He was laughing nervously, like a speed freak, and told me they were there to see Michael McDonald. He and his wife, he said, are big fans. I breathed a sigh of relief. I don't think I could live in a world where the Half-Shirts and I are on the same page, musically.

I looked over at Momma Half-Shirt, who was keeping her distance, and she gave me a weak little wave and had an expression on her face like she'd just caught a whiff of fresh-cut turds. Heh. That woman hates me with every fiber of her body, and I hoisted my mega-beer in her direction and smiled real big like it was simply wonderful to see her again. That's the way I deal with her, you see, because it seems to drive her crazy.

We returned to our seats just as Michael McDonald took the stage. I'm not a fan. The man single-handedly sapped the fun out of the Doobie Bros. with his crooning and "soul music." Then it was pure Vegas schmaltz after that. So I was looking at this portion of the show as something to endure.

And that's exactly what it was. His voice was just a droning sound, like somebody was having a stump removed on the next block. If it weren't for the gyrating "colored girls" back-up singers, I don't think anyone would've even been able to tell what song he was singing. Plus, near the end, there was a horrible, drawn-out keyboard solo, with flashing lights and the whole nine yards, and I thought I was going to lose my mind. I hollered, "Just play a song, goddammit!" and Steve thought that was a riot.

Before he finished his set I decided to hit a porta-john before Steely Dan took the stage. And, you know, buy another giant lager. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only person who had that brilliant idea. There was a sea of humanity out there, and the lines at the bathrooms were huge. Dammit!

I knew it would be foolish to forego a toilet visit, what with all the fluids I was taking on, and I sighed real big and got in line. It took forever. The Wood Chipper finished his set, there was a standard-sized intermission, then Steely Dan came out. And I was still queued-up at the pissatorium.

Some brazen women were jumping in line with the men, because, they said, we're so much faster. And this bogged the whole thing down. They were being all flirty and over-friendly with my fellow urination engineers, and the idiots were all too happy to sell us out. The suckers. Had they never been to college?!

One such woman stood near me as she waited on her friend to finish up, and began waxing philosophical. "Men only pee at concerts," she said real loud. "It's nice, because women usually poop too. In your bathrooms there are no floaters or horrible smells or any of that stuff. I much prefer peeing with the men."

I didn't really know how to respond to that, and muttered, "Thanks." Wotta douche.

The main event was fun, a real crowd-pleaser. They played most of their biggest hits, with a few obscure surprises thrown in. Becker did a lot of the talking, and Fagen remained largely silent behind his keyboard with his Ray-Bans on, whipping his head around like a blind man. They played for a long time, sounded great, then did "FM' and "My Old School" as an encore. The audience was into it, despite their shockingly advanced age, and everyone seemed to go away happy.

Including me. I've seen Steely Dan three times now, and I'm looking forward to the fourth. The pole didn't even cause me any problems. I give it an A-minus.

See ya tomorrow. 

August 22, 2006

-- Yeah, I went with the Camry. Of the cars I drove last week I liked it the best, by far, and it only had twelve thousand skinny miles on the odometer. It's Toyota Certified with a bumper-to-bumper warranty through 2010, and coming off that Blazer, man, I especially liked the sound of that. They put four new tires on it the day I picked it up, did a complete oil change and alignment, detailed it and filled the tank.... and it's basically a new car. The previous owners even bought it there, and had it serviced there as well.

It just felt like the logical course of action for a man of my approximate age, weight, and disposition.

So I called the guy on Friday, even before I left for work, and we started the process that sometimes gets me into trouble. I'm not one of those people who view car-buying as sport, or war, or whatever. I don't believe there's any such thing as getting the upper hand in a car-buying deal, so why kill yourself over it? But, at the same time, I'm not especially fond of prison rape, and always go into it on defense and with my back to the wall.

But it wasn't too bad. The guy didn't play any of those retarded, insulting games, and we made it through without any sarcastic remarks or open-face hostility or threats of burning a motherfucker's house down. I just made him an offer, he countered in the middle somewhere, and I shrugged and said, "sounds good to me." I probably could've shaved a couple hundred dollars more off the price if I'd pressed the issue, but who gives a crap? I certainly don't.

I haven't driven a car in years, I've been in pick-up trucks and SUVs since we left Atlanta in 1996. So, it feels a little weird to me. I don't really view myself as a car kind of guy, as stupid as that sounds, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. One thing's for certain: that car is one comfortable and luxurious ride. And, most importantly, it has the sound system factory upgrade. Oh yeah.

So that's that. I'll snap a picture of it sometime and show it to you guys. I'd do it now, but I drove in the rain yesterday and it's no longer perfect. It'll have to be spruced up before making its world debut.

Pass the beer nuts.

-- I watched Sunday's episode of Deadwood on Monday this week, since I was rocking out with five thousand Skippy Hicks lookalikes (male and female) when the show originally aired, and here are the numbers. 

Only one more episode left, my friends, and they're 109 fucks away from 3000. Do you think they'll do it? Four times this year they've racked-up more than 100 fucks in an episode, so it's certainly within reach. Oh, it's gonna be exciting! Can't wait!

-- Speaking of Deadwood, this is kinda funny.

-- We have sad confirmation on the big trash and shit-eating dog that lived (notice the past tense?) down the street from us. His owners had to have him put to sleep, because of the tumor on his spine or brain or whatever. The poor thing was walking all crooked and had supposedly "turned aggressive." 

Too bad. He was one of the good guys, your quintessential big, dumb dog. A person would have to have a coal black heart not to like him, and he consequently got away with all manner of shenanigans. 

We still haven't broken the news to Andy. We keep telling him that his friend is on a cruise.

-- In this Phil Hendrieless world we find ourselves in, and with Clive Bull on vacation all week, a man goes in search of alternative avenues of workday escape. And I think I've stumbled across a good one.  

Check it out. Yesterday afternoon I listened to part of a 1949 World Series game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees at this site, and my nipples were erect with delight. The announcers didn't even call him Yogi yet, he was known as Larry Berra! And I'm getting goose bumps just thinking about it.

What did we do before the internet?

-- And finally, I need your help with something. This is a guy buying beer in China. As you can see, he ran down to the corner store and picked himself up a cold three-sack. I imagine that he's about to jump on his bicycle and pedal back to his 200 square foot apartment, hang his beer bags on doorknobs around the flat, and it's party time! 

But I could be wrong about the whole thing. What do you think will happen with this man, following his purchase? What kind of evening will he have? I need closure, people. Help me out.

See ya tomorrow. 

August 21, 2006

-- I'm dragging massive ass this morning. It was one heck of an eventful weekend; more has happened since Friday's update than sometimes happens in an entire month around here. And I'll have to give it to you in bits and pieces over the next few days, 'cause there's no way I'm going to be able to cover it all now. Not even the standard gallon of Eight O'Clock bean coffee is doing the trick this time.

Man, I'm getting old....

On Friday I bought a new car. I have no picture to share with you, I am fully unprepared to discuss the subject. But I'm happy about it. It's the nicest vehicle I've ever owned. And almost as exciting as the new ride sitting in our driveway: the Blazer is now somebody else's problem! Oh yeah. I'll give you the details as soon as I can get my heart started again.

On Saturday we (Toney) finished a long drawn-out bedroom reclamation project, then split up the Secrets. Each now has their own freshly-painted and disturbingly-neat bedroom, but it's not exactly going as planned. By Sunday night they were together again, playing the fart game and engaging in all their usual shenanigans, and we're having second-thoughts about the whole exercise. Good times.

And last night all four of us joined Steve and his wife Myra for dinner at a little Italian place near here, where I surrendered to a full-on manicotti and beer frenzy. Then afterwards Steve, Myra, and I attended a Steely Dan concert, on their Pressed Slacks Tour '06 -- where we felt like America's youth. Wow. Me to the woman at the Yuengling stand: "I bet you're not having to card too many people tonight, are ya?" Holy shitballs, Batman.

I didn't get to bed last night until about 1:30 am, a considerable amount of adult beverages were consumed, and this update is like trying to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste out of a depleted tube. (I've got a lot of nerve mocking the elderly....) I'll elaborate on the above subjects at a later date. I need to log some serious time inside the Castanza nap-desk first, I really do.

But I will tell you about our weekend encounter with the local fire department. Heh.

On Sunday Toney asked me to move something to the basement, and when I opened the door and started down the steps I was punched in the face by a powerful funk. It smelled exactly like lighter fluid, the kind you spray on charcoal while bitching about camping. And it was strong. WTS?!

I hollered for Toney, her head also whipped back like the Zapruder film as she came down the stairs, and we started looking around. Maybe we'd accidentally spilled something? We'd been moving toys and crap down there during the reclamation project, perhaps a can of paint thinner or something got knocked over?

But we found nothing; everything was as it should be. What the hell, man?? The entire space below our house was filled with lighter fluid fumes, and there's a hot water tank down there as well -- complete with open flame. I had visions of a catastrophic explosion, and our body parts and scraps of lumber raining down on the city of Tunkhannock.

I called my Dad, and he had no ready explanations. But he told me I'd better be careful, which made me even more paranoid.

After searching the basement a second time, I decided to call the fire department. I only wanted to talk to them, and maybe get some advice, but it didn't work out that way. I called the "non-emergency" number, and they answered, "EMERGENCY 911!"

I stuttered for a few seconds, and finally got my story out. The guy was hell-bent on sending someone out, even though I tried to discourage it. He insisted that it could be dangerous, and I begged him to not send a fire truck or anything like that. I was sweating like a sow on election day just thinking about the spectacle I was about to create.

And as soon as we hung up I heard the city-wide siren go off, calling all available volunteer firemen to their battle stations. Holy shit!!

Then we heard the fire trucks, sirens blasting and horns honking. I felt like I was about to start crying. An SUV with flashing lights came tearing around the corner, went past our house and on down the street. Then the trucks came rumbling past as well. By this time the neighbors were on their porches, hyper-extending their necks.

I was about to crap my pants.

They'd overshot their destination and went all the way around the block, making even more racket and causing more neighborly interest. They stopped in front of our house the second time around, and four or five men came sprinting across our lawn in complete fire-fighting gear, one carrying an axe!

They had all manner of apparatus with them, each apparently designed to detect some strain of dangerous vapor and whatnot. One was holding what looked like a divining rod, another was clutching something that resembled those big plastic horns they sell at baseball games, and they converged on our basement, serious as all hell. I was walking from room to room by now, trying to hold back the tears.

Finally they came up and told me there was nothing poisonous or explosive in our basement. Their guess was that one of our neighbors had poured "something they're not supposed to" down the storm drains, and we were getting the fumes in our house. They offered to leave us a big fan for a day or two, to blow the funk out of there, but I was too mortified to think straight and declined their offer.

Today it's back to normal, and after I finish with this update I'm going to try to pretend like none of it ever happened. Sweet Jesus.

See ya tomorrow. 

August 18, 2006

-- Toney and I visited four or five car dealerships yesterday afternoon, and I drove three cars. Then we hemmed and hawed, kicked at the ground, and talked ourselves into a stupor. ....And I wasn't able to make a final decision.

I drove a really sharp Mazda 6, the best-looking vehicle of the bunch. When I saw it sitting there all glittering and sporty, my inner-midlife crisis man started hollering: "YES! YES! THAT'S THE ONE!!" But when I climbed inside I had to fold myself up like a lawn chair, and it felt like I was preparing for a gynecological exam or something.

Fuck dat. I'm not driving around all contorted and mashed-in for the next six or seven years. The Mazda 6 is nice to look at, but not built for the Hungry Man. Perhaps they're still using Japanese-sized test dummies at Mazda? I don't know. But it's off the list.

Next was a Nissan Altima. And I can't put my finger on anything specific, but I just didn't like it. You know that magical feeling you get when you're about to buy a new car? I didn't feel it. The dealership is in downtown Scranton, and we drove it around the city for a few minutes, but there was no magic for me. It felt like any nondescript rental car. I liked it much better from the outside looking in, than from the inside looking out.

Toney dug it though, and that complicated matters. She's usually a pretty good judge of these kinds of things, and it made me wonder if I was being too hasty. There was tons of room inside, and it certainly would be comfortable on a long road trip. And they're distinctive looking and all that good stuff....

But what about the magic? Can I really buy a car with no magic in it? It would be almost like marrying a woman with no sense of humor, and who drones on and on about global warming and Halliburton and stuff -- just because she's well-connected and has a good set.

The third car I drove was a Camry. It's an '04 with just 12,000 miles on it, a Certified Pre-Owned with tons of warranties and the whole nine yards. However.... Camrys are a dime-a-dozen, and I'd just be blending in with the crush of suburbanites. And I don't like that.

I went into the whole thing with a slight attitude. I know they're great cars, and that's what should matter at the end of the day, but there are other factors to consider as well.

But I'm telling ya.... I felt it. That thing was smooth as silk, the interior looked like a Mercedes with wood inlays in the dash and everything, and it seemed peppy and powerful. Toney turned on the radio and a Talking Heads song was playing, and we could hear nothing but the tune: almost no road noise. It was as if we were gliding along on a flying carpet. It felt luxurious.

So I was going back and forth between the Nissan and the Toyota all afternoon, not wanting to act on emotion alone, trying to weigh every factor. All that interior room in the Nissan was screwing with my head.... Toney finally got irritated with me, and said I should just go with the Camry if I liked it so much; I'd be the one driving it, after all. She was washing her hands of the situation.

And I think I'm going to take her advice. When I get to work today I'm going to call the guy at Toyota and pull the trigger on this thing.

Which, of course, is where the fun begins. I have a very low pain threshold when it comes to salesmen and their bullshit. If he starts in with that stuff, I'll walk. I've done it dozens of times before, and it ultimately comes down to attitude. If he doesn't act like a goddamn carny with a shell game, I'll probably be driving a new car by tomorrow morning. But if he goes in the other direction, I'll tell him to park it deep inside his colon, and we'll start the process all over again elsewhere.

Stay tuned.

And I know I promised to do better today, but I've got but one thing on my mind right now. Sorry about that. I'll try it again on Monday.

Have a great weekend, folks. 

August 17, 2006

-- I'm not going to go into all the details here, because I know better, but my Blazer has struck once again. Another $533 straight down the ol' open-mouth waste receptacle.... Whoever said in yesterday's comments that my Sprint-based bad karma has manifested itself in the vehicle I drive was right on the mark, I think. It had never occurred to me, but I believe it might be true. Sweet sainted mother of Youree Harris!

I'm very seriously thinking about sneaking out of work today after the one o'clock ball-buster, and going car shopping. And I do mean car. Toney and I talked about it all evening yesterday, over the traditional decision-making malt beverages, and I think we're ready to not only throw in the towel on the Chevy Tearmaker, but camping as well. All in one fell swoop. Or fell soup, or whatever that phrase is.

As I type this, and it'll probably change by the hour, I'm thinking about a Toyota Camry or a Nissan Altima. Not very good in the snow, I know, but comfortable, reliable, and easy on the gasoline. So that's the current plan, with the situation fluid. One thing's for certain, though: we've finally reached the tipping point on that rolling shitbox. Grrrr....

And don't even bother emailing me to ask what repairs I had done yesterday. I ain't telling you, because even if it were a new transmission a few of you'd say I got bent frontways over a couch. And my shredded nerves can't take it anymore. Serenity now!

-- I can tell that this is going to be one half-assed update.... I have several decent subjects scribbled in the notebook, but no passion to go into any of them right now. I just can't get my mind off cars.

For instance, does the Camry or Altima mean anything? When we lived in Atlanta I think I was pretty plugged-in to what certain cars meant, but now I'm not so sure. I worry that I'm losing my edge, and might unknowingly hang a sign around my neck proclaiming myself something I'm not. Oh, there goes Jeff Kay in his Nissan Altima.... You know what that means: Jew-hater. I can't have that.

Back in the day it was common knowledge that lesbians and outdoorsy wire-rim types drove Subarus, and gay men opted for certain kinds of Jeeps. BMW stood for Black Man's Wheels, liberals drove Volvos, and minivans and huge SUVs said all sorts of mockable things.

But I'm working off ten year old information here. Help me out, people. I need to be brought up to date on this shit, by day's end.

-- Screw it. I'm just gonna pass this half-assery off to Buck now, and get the day started.

I'll do better tomorrow, I promise. 

August 16, 2006

-- Yesterday I wrote about my pre-Toney financial shenanigans: floating checks, using maxed-out credit cards during the cha-chunk! "do you want your carbons?" days, and eating spaghetti with whatever canned soup was in the cabinet as a "sauce." I'd meant to mention an episode in Greensboro, involving Sprint long distance, but completely forgot.

So I'll do that now.

Shortly after I moved from West Virginia to North Carolina my roommate got homesick (horny), and abruptly married his girlfriend back home. So I was left afloat, in a town where I didn't know anyone. I rented a one-bedroom apartment in the same well-worn complex where Mr. Romantic and I had lived, and hoped for the best while fearing the worst.

Then my brother suggested he come down there too, and we share an apartment. That sounded good to me, and I made the arrangements to move once again, back to a two-bedroom. And thus began an era of ridiculousness.

Our place was literally furnished with couches and chairs that we'd found beside the road or whatever, and some of them didn't smell too good. A big yellow sofa in our living room was perpetually damp, for reasons unknown, and had a big-ass rip in one of the cushions. The kitchen would sometimes get so nasty we needed hazmat suits to clean it up. Indeed, we once had to throw away several nice Tupperware items that our mother had donated to the cause, because they became saturated with a funk that wouldn't leave.

It was like The Young Ones, with hillbilly accents.

Once my brother was having trouble getting ketchup out of a bottle, and decided to use centrifugal force to remedy the situation. He put the cap on, stepped out into the middle of the living room, and began windmilling his arm and the bottle round and round. He had that shit going, when the top suddenly popped off. And before he was able to react to my wild hollerings, he'd made two or three more full rotations at top speed. When he was finally able to get his ketchup-machine powered-down, there was a thick red stripe across the carpet, over the couch, up one wall and down another, and across the full length of the living room ceiling. Good times.

Since almost everyone we knew lived in West Virginia, we made lots of long distance phone calls. We were with Sprint, back in the days when it was a novelty to have a long distance carrier other than Ma Bell, and we paid them every once in a while. Everyone seemed happy with the arrangement.

Then the bills stopped arriving on a consistent basis, and the whole thing came off the tracks. I don't know why, but they began billing us every three months or so. And they'd be BIG bills, the kind that make you blink real fast and whisper holy fuck.

We didn't make a conscious decision to stop paying them, it just sorta happened. We'd put their packets of bad-feelings in the "to be dealt with at a later date" stack, and then try to pretend the stack didn't exist. Eventually the total owed was so large we just dropped the charade, and decided to ride it out until they cut us off. There was no point in throwing good money at that beast, it would never be paid.

But, surprisingly enough, they didn't turn off the service. It just kept going and going, and the bills continued compounding to the point where I was afraid we might eventually be thrown into jail. I don't think we paid them one red cent for over a year, and they never complained or said a word about it.

Finally, it all came crashing down. They pulled the plug and unleashed the no-neck debt collectors. They'd call and threaten us with all sorts of horrible things, and we'd hem and haw and do nothing.

Once, as a stalling technique, my brother asked for a detailed printout of all the calls in question. He acted like he was shocked, simply shocked, that the total owed was so high, and pretended to not believe it.

A few days later it arrived -- in a box. The thing was so large, an envelope couldn't contain it. It was one of those old dot matrix printouts on one big continuous sheet of paper, folded down to 8.5x11. I just about hyper-crapped when I saw it.

There was, of course, but one thing to do. We began unfolding the big stack, to see how many times it would stretch from one end of the apartment to the other. We started at the front living room wall (still faintly stained from the ketchup), ran it past the kitchen and dining room, down the hall, and into my brother's bedroom, all the way to the rear wall. Then we started back in the other direction.

I can't remember how many trips we made, but several. And once we were finished we popped open a couple of beers, and surveyed our work while laughing nervously.

Then something strange happened. The no-necks stopped calling, and we heard nothing for a couple of months. Our long distance was no more, but the harassing calls came to an abrupt end. Cool!

Finally, a man began contacting my brother every few days, always seemingly on the verge of tears. He begged him to pay the bill, and insinuated that his job depended on it. Supposedly he'd fucked-up big time, and the company was giving him one last chance to make it right. I wrote it off as nothing more than a creative approach to debt collection, and we took no action.

And that was that. The guy only called a few times, then we heard nothing more. It never appeared on our credit report, and it was as if none of it had ever happened. Bizarre.

What do you make of the crying bill collector? Do you think he was legit? Do I have some bad karma waiting in the wings because of this? And how could Sprint let things get so far out of hand in the first place? What's the deal with this deal? Hello?

See ya tomorrow. 

August 15, 2006

-- Today's payday. At my job we get paid twenty-four times per year: on the fifteenth and last day of every month. I'd never experienced such a schedule before accepting my current position, and it made me nervous at first.

For years it was a real sphincter-clencher to get from one paycheck to the next, and that's a mindset not easily shaken. I didn't much care for the idea of being paid two less times per year, even though my new employers were agreeing to pay me enough to make it less of an issue. A person can't just walk away from twenty years of hole-flexing.... I think John Adams originally said that.

My favorite way of being paid, back in the day, was weekly. I worked several piss-ant retail jobs where payday was every Monday. That's a perfect set-up for the undisciplined drunkard's apprentice. Even if you blew it all by day three, you were within check-floating distance of the next payday, or you could just hunker down and eat pasta with Campbell's Bean with Bacon soup as a topping for seventy-two hours or whatever. But when paydays are fourteen days apart, it requires a little more self-control. And that's why I preferred the weekly pay.

I've heard about people who get paid monthly, and that triggers a full-body shiver, even today. I can't imagine such a thing. A thirty-day chasm to gap? Holy fuck.

But, like I say, I'm so old it doesn't really matter anymore. Much of the magic has been sapped from my paydays at this point, and I kinda miss it. Oh, I sure as hell don't want to return to the days of constant struggle and worry, but I liked having a mini-holiday every couple of weeks. Because that's what it was: a holiday. And by the time I finished observing it.... Well, break out the bean spaghetti.

In the Greensboro and pre-Toney Atlanta years, I had check-floating down to a science. I knew how long it took for a check to clear at each local business; I had the information hardcoded in my brain. There were a couple of grocery stores where you could shoot all the way from the three-point line, and never get burned.

I was also aware of the places where they didn't have those fancy-pants machines for credit cards, and only used a catalog of some sort to check your number. By the time that thing was updated, and the world was alerted to the fact that your shit was maxed-out, a person could do some real damage.

And there was an ATM on Fulton Industrial Boulevard in Atlanta that would give you whatever amount you requested, regardless of your balance. I don't know what that was all about, perhaps a frayed wire, but I clung to it like a life preserver. Sure, I'd get slammed with a twelve-dollar fee the next month for being overdrawn, but it was a small price to pay in certain circumstances.

I remember having a weekend trip planned with a girlfriend once, but there was only, like, $2.17 in the bank. So I visited the magic ATM, took out $150, and we had ourselves a great time. Sometimes I felt like kissing that shorted-out machine.

But Toney put an end to all my shenanigans. As soon as we moved into our pre-marital "den of sin" (copyright 1990, my grandmother), she took control of the finances and got me straightened out. I still wasn't making any money, of course, but she introduced me to the concept of budgeting (whoa!), and tossing aside all the exhausting scamulations.

I remember riding through Atlanta one day and realizing that I didn't need to hide from the cops anymore, because all my car registrations and inspection stickers were up to date. And payday was right around the corner, and there weren't a half-dozen checks outstanding or any of that nonsense. I felt like I was in a parallel universe; the colors seemed brighter somehow, and the air sweeter.

If Toney hadn't come along, I'd probably be living in a cabbage box beneath an interstate exit ramp by now.

But I sometimes miss the old magic of payday: beautiful, beautiful payday. Perhaps I should launch into an extended rock 'n' booze frenzy, and spend the mortgage money on compact discs, draft beer, and y'allternative club shows? It might be fun to walk around the neighborhood of irresponsibility again, and see some of my old friends?

Yeah, I'd better run that past my wife first....

Do you get paid in some unorthodox manner? And were you ever a slacker like me? If so, how'd you bridge the wide chasm between paydays? Did you have your own personal shorted-out magic ATM, or anything like that? Use the comments link below to tell us about it.

And I'll see ya tomorrow. 

August 14, 2006

-- On Saturday I was ready to shut this site down, and call it a day. I'd just about fucking had it. But eventually, after rolling into a ball and sucking my thumb for a while, I calmed down. TheWVSR remains a source of high-irritation for me, though.

I'll have to tell you about some of it at a later date, but the situation with my RSS feed has helped nothing.

I tried offering a feed last year sometime, and nobody cared. There was very little activity, and I abandoned it after a couple of months. Then I started receiving emails from people asking if I had any plans to start it up again. What the hell, I thought, it takes very little effort on my part, so why not?

And, surprisingly enough, it went over well. I don't know why it stiffed the first time around, and took off the second, but that's the way it worked out. In just a few weeks RSS was providing substantial extra traffic to the site, and I tended to it faithfully.

All was right with the world, until the entire thing shit the bed.

I was using a free service to publish every day, and I believe they cater to people who don't know what they're doing. A perfect fit for me. I don't even fully understand the attraction of RSS. So you can check several websites at once for updates? What the hell, man? Are you folks that busy? Does the act of clicking on a freaking bookmark really put a crimp in your schedule? Heck, I remember when we had to go to actual libraries and stuff.

Whatever. It was being used, and the reasons are secondary. Then it suddenly stopped working. Remember a couple of weeks ago when the homepage was loading real slow, and I blamed National Lampoon? Turns out it wasn't their fault, it was my RSS service preparing to bite the big one.

And man, they did. They lost everything. Their homepage was down for days, then there was a note, written in broken English, explaining that they'd suffered a catastrophic computer crash, and all records were completely gone. Once they were up and running again, we'd all have to start over and register as if we were fresh off the street.

I didn't realize the implications of this right away, but figured it out over the weekend. My feed now has a new address, and the old one, which was semi-popular, is listed in dozens of directories around the internet and is deader than Kelsey's nuts. Simply excellent.

And there's other stuff going on as well, but I'll have to tell you about that on another day. ...Do you ever just feel like throwing wild haymakers at complete strangers?

-- The Steely Dan concert is next weekend, and that's something to look forward to. A person needs things to look forward to.... 

I have a feeling, and I could be wrong, that Steve and I will be the youngest people in attendance -- at forty-three. What do you think? Hopefully they won't give us a bunch of attitude for being Johnny-come-latelies, since we've only been listening to Steely Dan for thirty years. You know how those "real" before-they-were-famous fans can be.

-- Remember the big white dog I told you about in our neighborhood? The one that goes around digging through people's trash and stringing garbage everywhere, yet nobody can be mad at him because of his goofy and lovable personality? Yeah, we think he's dead. His owners let him run free (obviously), and nobody's seen him in weeks. The poor guy a had tumor on his spine, and was starting to walk crooked. We suspect that he was put-down, as they say.

I'm trying to convince Toney to get out there and dig up some dirt, but she won't do it. She thinks it might be a touchy subject, and not fit for gossip. But, dammit, I need information.

I hope that I'll look down there one day and see him lying on their lawn with his head buried in a saturated sack of garbage again, but I don't think it's going to happen. Sadly, I believe he's gone to the place that dogs go when they die -- where it's always the first trash day after Thanksgiving.

Shit. I sure hope Andy's not reading this....

-- Yesterday Toney asked me, "Remember that woman you used to call High Neck?"

Pardon? I had no idea what she was talking about.

"You know, the woman who walks by our house all the time, and had a steel neck brace for several months, which you called scaffolding?"

I busted out laughing. Sometimes I can't even keep track of it all; I require a schematic of insensitivity.

-- Finally, here are last night's Deadwood numbers. A great episode, by the way, and I'm not even talking about the substantial volume of fucks. 

And since we're on the subject, here's a Deadwood highlight reel that Australian Surf Reporter Ashley put together. Check it out. She says it's almost poetry, and I think I'd remove the "almost."

I'll try to be funny tomorrow. See ya then. 

August 11, 2006

-- I'm already soured on Dr. Z. I know he's supposed to be a quirky and lovable real-guy commercial spokesman, like Dave at Wendy's, but he just doesn't do it for me. Despite his novelty moustache, he has no pizzazz; there's simply no oomph to his personality. 

Obviously Chrysler is casting its lot with this soulless German (or whatever), based on the number of commercials we see every day, and I wonder how it all came about? Is he warm and funny in conference rooms, then goes all stiff and creepy and SS officer in front of the camera? Is that what happens? I just don't know, but I'm now soured on Dr. Z.

-- A few nights ago Toney told me I was on my own for dinner, so I stopped at a bar/restaurant after work. The place has kick-ass fried fish sandwiches, and I figured I could wash one down with two or three pints of the golden elixir. But as I hoisted my heft onto the barstool, I noticed that they also had Blue Moon on tap. I remembered that you guys had suggested it to me, because of its reported hoppy finish, and decided to give it a try.

The guy brought it to me in a pint glass with a big ol' slice of orange hanging off the lip, and I'm not really a fan of the trendy produce-based beverage accessory. But I tried to have an open mind about it, and slurped a little up. And it was good. It did indeed have the bitter aftertaste of hops that I so enjoy. Not as strong as a good Pacific Northwest microbrew, mind you, but enough to be mighty tasty with a fish samlich on a school night. In fact, I ordered a second pint after the first one disappeared.

And this stuff is made by Coors? Incredible. Thanks for helping me expand my horizons, and to put aside my deep, deep prejudices.

-- Speaking of the golden elixir.... Surf Reporter Greg sends along this photo. I'm not sure what's supposed to be in those bottles, but it sure ain't Yuengling Lager. It looks more like what happens afterwards, than before. Ya know?

-- We're canceling camping trips left and right up here. We were supposed to go to Hershey for several days in early August, and pulled the plug on it. We were also scheduled to do a weekender at a state park, but backed out (so to speak) on that as well. The horrible blast furnace trip we took last month is haunting us still, and may very well turn out to be a stake through the heart of all our camping dreams.

None of us have any passion whatsoever to get back into that rolling box o' beds. In fact, we're all pretty much hostile to the idea. We should probably force ourselves to do one more trip before summer ends, because if we don't.... there very likely won't be anymore camping for us, ever.

We're standing at the crossroads, my friends, holding a Coleman lantern and a damp beer coozie. And our fate is uncertain.

-- Brad sent me this last night, and it gave me chuckle.

-- Jason alerted me to this one, and I just can't stop watching it. Good, good stuff.

-- A few days ago I received the freakin' holy grail, via UPS. It's a DVD box set of the entire original TV broadcast of the 1975 World Series  -- every pitch of all seven games. Needless to say, it features the Cincinnati Reds, my beloved Big Red Machine during the magical Bench, Rose, Morgan, and Perez days. Oh, and the Boston Red Sox too....

Game Six is often referred to as the Greatest Game Ever Played, when Carlton Fisk hit that iconic "please don't go foul" body-English homer in extra-innings. I can't wait!

But I'm not even breaking the shrinkwrap on it until bourbon season gets here. It simply won't do to watch this thing in the summer, it's gotta be crisp outside, with the leaves falling. Hopefully, if I play my cards right, I'll be starting an annual and cherished fall tradition this year, here at the Compound.

It's gonna be great!

-- Finally, here's something pointless and fun to do.... Plug the day and month you were born into Wikipedia, and check out all the famous folks you share a birthday with. I was born on November 30, and so were Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Dick Clark, Billy Idol, and a whole bunch of other hot-shots.

What about you? Can you trump friggin' Mark Twain? I seriously doubt it, but give it a shot.

And I'll see ya on Monday. Have yourselves a great little weekend, y'hear? 

August 7, 2006

-- The weekend was about as uneventful as they come. The weather was a little more tolerable than usual, but we didn't take advantage of it. Feel free to sue me in a court of law if you'd like.

I took the youngest Secret out to lunch on Saturday. Toney and I have this on-again off-again plan to take one kid each to lunch on weekends, on an alternating basis, so they can have a little alone-time with us without distractions. We think it's a valuable exercise, but aren't real consistent with it.

He said he wanted to go to Damon's so that's where we went. I ordered some sort of bizarre sandwich called a Steamboat. The menu picture made it look appealing, but in reality it was like a house shoe full of pork and cheese. People are always raving about that place, but I find myself walking away feeling a tad let-down more often than not.

After lunch I took him to buy a lava lamp for his new bedroom. He and his brother share a room now, but we're splitting 'em up before the new school year begins -- because the time has come. 

There are only two things he's requesting for his new space: a red lava lamp, and a poster of A Nightmare Before Christmas. We already took care of the latter, and now the former is handled as well. Once Toney gets finished priming, spackling, and painting the rooms, and moving all the furniture, we'll be good to go.

When we returned home the oldest Secret met us at the door waving a Blockbuster DVD box in our faces. Wanna watch The Benchwarmers?! he shouted. Um OK. It turned out to be ninety minutes of farting, vomiting, bag-tagging, and cartoonish faggotry. In short: great fun for the entire family!

On Sunday I mowed the lawn again. When exactly are they going to come out with that special grass that only grows to a certain length, then stops, like pubes? I saw a news piece on it at least a year ago.... Yet I'm out there at least once every five weeks, mowing again. It's ridiculous.

Then it was cocktail hour again, and before I knew it Deadwood was on, and you're completely up to date on the weekend. Scintillating, ain't it?

-- Our old house in California reportedly sold last week for $495,000. We sold it to the sellers in early 2000 for something like $185,000. Yet another of those things I try not to think about....

Toney's network of spies tells us that the neighbors on the cul-de-sac were monitoring closely the people who were looking at our old place, and taking appropriate action. If they didn't like the looks of someone they'd raise a ruckus, and try to discourage them from pursuing it.

One is apparently in a rock band, and if he'd see someone roll in with, say, a bunch of potentially-screeching kids, he'd lift his garage door, crank up his amplifiers, and start blasting Van Halen riffs off the front of his house. Another of our ex-neighbors is into vintage cars, and would go out and rev an ancient lead-fueled engine at calculated times, for the same reasons.

Supposedly their strategy paid dividends, and they're completely happy with the new buyers. Heh.

Toney also found out that one of the super-moms that lived near us has gone the route of the full-blown drunkaholic. She supposedly starts hitting the hard stuff around noon, and is down like a sack of taters by the time her sexually ambiguous son arrives home from middle school at 3:30. I guess the pressures of keeping up with the Joneses has finally taken its toll?

No word on the two kids that lived next door to us, who were banned for life from Los Angeles County schools for plotting their own private Columbine. Maybe the shock treatments worked?

Yeah, and it all looks so Norman Rockwell when you drive through there.... David Lynch! Paging Mr. David Lynch!!

-- And speaking of Van Halen, how come there are no bands like that anymore? Sure, I was there cheering, like everybody else, when Kurt Cobain dropped a big fat atom bomb on the arena rockers. But now I kinda miss it. I know it might be melodramatic to say, but it sometimes feels like there is no rock music anymore.

I've tried to warm to the so-called garage rockers, like the Hives and the Strokes, but they just don't do it for me. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I seem to prefer a few actual good songs to go along with the pose.... And anyway, I'm not talking about that sort of thing. I'm talking about big, ridiculous party bands whose lyrics don't venture far from boy meets girl, boy inserts penis.

Yes, I'm forty-three. What of it?

-- But, at least there's one thing to look forward to. Or back at. Or something. Hello?

-- Last week I noticed a referral to TheWVSR from this page. I have no idea who set up the project, but it's pretty cool. I spent some time exploring the site a few nights ago, picked up a little juicy zine-geek gossip, and learned a few real things as well. I hope folks contribute to it, and it thrives. Me? I'm a very busy man....

-- Here's a longish argument about the perceived assholistic attitudes of the people in our current home of northeastern Pennsylvania, by transplants like me. Personally, I haven't had too many problems with the people here, since I'm every bit as standoffish as they are. But over the years Toney has voiced many of the very same things the folks in this thread are saying. In fact, parts of it read like a transcript of our actual kitchen conversations.

-- And finally, I'll leave you with a classic blast from the past: the German forklift training film! If you haven't seen it, take the time. It's worth the investment, I promise.

See ya tomorrow. 

August 2, 2006

-- Last night Toney called as I was driving home from work and asked me to stop by the beer store for "something fancy." Not a problem, I said, I can occasionally help out the cause and buy some adult beverages.

So I walked around the no-frills Soviet-style "store" trying to seize the opportunity and latch onto something that I might enjoy. I used to be all about the microbrews, but have drifted a bit since moving to Pennsylvania. It's not because of lack of interest, mind you, it's because of the crack-ass liquor laws they have here. There's little to no competition, since everything's controlled by the state, so it's very expensive. Plus, you've gotta buy it by the case, which makes the concept of trying something new a mighty risky affair.

But Toney gave me a blank check last night, and this was my chance to get myself nipples-deep in good ol' Pacific Northwest hops. I walked up and down the aisles, past the massive mountains of Keystone Light and various other "bedshit" beers, until I found the section where they keep the microbrews.

And I had no idea what any of it meant. It was depressing, but most of the brands were completely foreign to me. I think one was called Magic Hat, which meant nothing. And there was something called Hop Devil. I liked the sound of that one, but what if it sucked? I think they offered financing on a case of the stuff.... The rest seemed to have novelty names like Bucktoothed Dog, and My Wife's Big Riffled Ass Yeast Beer. I was starting to feel a bit woozy.

I ended up just closing my eyes and plunking down a credit card, then carrying off twenty-four chilled bottles of Sierra Nevada. Because it's both excellent and known to me. But I felt like a bit of a puss for not taking the plunge with something new.

There's history though. Please allow me to explain....

When Toney and I first started dating, back in the early '90s, her sister lived in Oregon. We went out to visit her once, and, except for a quick business trip to San Francisco where I saw the inside of a Hilton for three days, I don't think I'd been further west than Tennessee. It was very exciting, and felt like we were in a different country. Every tiny thing was fascinating to me.

We stayed with Toney's sister, and there were dozens of interesting restaurants nearby, and great little bakeries that sold incredible coffee.... I loved it, and wondered if we could somehow manage to live there too. Not even the fact that the great pack of cats was playing havoc with my allergies, could take away from my enjoyment of the trip. It seemed like some sort of sophisticate's paradise.

Then we went to an establishment called a "brew pub," where I seriously felt like I had a religious experience. In 1991, or whatever, I'd never heard the term brew pub, and couldn't fathom the idea of them actually making their own beers right there inside the restaurant. I saw the big brass tanks and everything, but was suspicious nonetheless. How could it be possible??

Toney, an old pro, asked the waitress to bring us a sampler tray, and that's when I felt the hand of the Beer God touch my shoulder. I wasn't showboating, I sincerely and deeply loved every single selection. It was, as I later learned, highly-hopped, which provided an appealing aftertaste that I'd never experienced before. I couldn't believe my taste buds.... Surely they were misfiring or something?

It was the greatest thing ever. And when I saw a hippie woman come in with an empty orange juice jar, and they filled it for her with India Pale Ale -- a to-go order! -- I was ready to quit my job and move out to Oregon that very afternoon. Holy shitballs! Wonder if they fill buckets too??

While there we also bought various microbrews in bottles. Stuff like Full Sail, Red Hook, and Bridgeport Blue Heron Ale. All were incredible, and I didn't want to go home. We had nothing like this back in Georgia, and I was pretty certain that Rolling Rock wasn't going to cut it anymore.

Indeed, shortly after returning to Atlanta, I visited a fancy-pants beer emporium in Buckhead. Their radio ads claimed that they either stocked or could special order virtually any beer in the world. I went in with a list, smiling like a retard, expecting great things.

Alas, there were no great things. They stocked a lot of different beers, that was a fact, but most were bizarre imports from places like Czechoslovakia. I was interested, exclusively, in microbrews from the Pacific Northwest. They had none, and after typing every name on my list into a computer, told me they couldn't order them either. Some brands, they said, can only be sold west of the Mississippi.

Dejected, I started to leave. But the guy called me back and told me he'd keep looking. He took my number, and I figured that was the end of the line.

But, surprisingly enough, he called a couple of days later. He'd found a microbrew that he could order -- from Seattle, Washington(!!). I can't remember what it was called, but "Pike's" was in the title. He told me the price for a case, and it was crazy money. But I told him to order me one anyway. I needed to get right.

And that beer tasted exactly like a whisk broom. Or, to be more precise, what I imagine a whisk broom tastes like. There was no hoppy aftertaste, it was like liquefied straw and filth. Toney drank one, and refused to have another. It was horrible stuff, and had cost me more than forty bucks. They sat in the back of the fridge for months, until I finally choked down the last bottle. Blecch. I can still taste it.....

So you can probably understand my hesitancy in buying entire cases of obscure beers. I live in constant fear of the tell-tale whisk, whisk, whisk sound. It sometimes haunts me in my sleep.

More of this ridiculous shit tomorrow. 

August 1, 2006

-- Oh, I'm making plans. I'm a dedicated list-writer and plan-maker from way back, and I've got a few things mapped out for the near future. It's my way of coping.

For example, here are the proposed themes for each weekend in August:

8/5 & 8/6 Wallowing in self-pity
8/12 & 8/13 Political outrage/righteous anger
8/19 & 8/20 Steely Dan
8/26 & 8/27 Considering a transition to slacks

And these are just-added destinations to my ever-expanding list of dream vacation spots:

The John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour
The Andy Griffith Bed & Breakfast Inn
The Shady Dell Vintage Travel Trailer Park

There are other lists as well, plenty of others. What of it?

-- On Saturday, another hot and humid day from the same folks who brought you hell, we decided to hit the Chinese buffet (where the Secrets ingested a frightening amount of orange chicken), then make a beeline for a movie theater.

We checked out Monster House, and it was good fun. And only an hour and a half long: the perfect length for a movie!

As I've said before, if a story can't be told in, say, a hundred minutes, it's not a story worth telling. I like movies fine, but I'm not willing to contract phantom ass syndrome watching one. Ya know? I'd really like to know when the concept of editing went out of style? Sweet sainted mother of Encyclopedia Brown! 

But that's a subject for the second weekend in September....

In the lobby of the theater was a large stand-up cardboard deal advertising an upcoming Will Ferrell ridiculousness called Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. It featured Ferrell dressed as a race car driver, celebrating with another driver whose face was cut-out.

I handed Toney my cell phone and asked her to take a picture of me "hanging" with Ricky Bobby. It didn't turn out very well, but here it is. As you can see, I was trying to act excited (which sent the kids scrambling in embarrassment). But it looks more like somebody snuck up behind me with a vibrating butt plug. Oh well, I never claimed to be an actor....

-- Speaking of the Secrets, the oldest is taking tennis lessons at the Y. I have a feeling it's not going to take, but he wanted to give it a try. And yesterday, as he was getting ready to leave, I hollered, "I say, anyone for tennis?" a line from the old Monty Python Sam Pekinpah sketch, Salad Days.

After I got past the deep, deep shame of actually making a nerdly Python reference, following my recent long-winded rant about people who do exactly that, I decided I wanted to see the sketch again. I wondered if I could find it on the internet somewhere, and I believe it took me roughly five seconds.

Here it is, one of my favorites. I love the part where Cleese is in front of a black background, just bleeding to beat the band.

-- I'm blasting Izzy Stradlin as I type this morning. Just thought you'd want to know. Is there any doubt, at this late date, that he was/is the coolest and most talented Guns 'n' Roses member of them all? Yeah, I didn't think so. Pass the fucking beer nuts.

-- Here are the numbers for Sunday's under-performing Deadwood episode. C'mon guys, give me a challenge! Shit.

-- This is the first Tuesday of the month, and by the end of business today I will be a stockholder in Sirius Satellite Radio. 

I opened an account through Sharebuilder, and they extract a set (and very small) amount of money from my checking account on the first Tuesday of every month, then invest it anyway I tell them. Today will be my first investment, and it's all going toward Sirius. 

By November I'm hoping the value of my portfolio will surpass three-figures(!). And for Christmas I'm going to ask Santa for one of those Gomez Addams ticker tape machines, and a box of fat-ass cigars.

-- Finally, since Clive doesn't seem to do topics anymore, I'm forced to come up with a few on my own. So, let's try this one: At the age of ten (or so) what did you want to be when you grew up? And what are you doing now? 

For the record, I wanted to be an astronaut when I was ten. Unfortunately for me, NASA doesn't make a lunar module in a husky, so that's completely out the window. I'm now a desk jockey, pencil-pusher in the distribution biz (how's that for ambiguous?). What about you?

See ya tomorrow.