#140 – King of the Castle

I ended up sleeping on the couch last night. Not because I’m in hot water with the wife again; nor due to insomnia. Nuh uh. I retreated to the narrow strip of cushions because there wasn’t enough room for me in our bed — our King-sized bed!

You see, our puppy didn’t feel well. He’d thrown up his dinner and, for the first time since we’d gotten him, seemed lethargic. Wanting to “keep a close eye on him” lest he lapse into a coma overnight, Sophia insisted he join us in bed, crate and all. I ordinarily would’ve quashed such absurdity, but I felt as nervous as she did and deemed the loss of minimal mattress territory a necessary sacrifice.

When I climbed into bed at 10:00, I discovered that Sophia hadn’t exaggerated her stated intent to keep a close eye on the dog. She’d placed his crate between our pillows in a position that separated us from head to stomach. Though dubious I could get forty winks under those conditions, I felt determined to try, for Prometheus’ sake.

The problem is I’m a thrasher. When unconscious I toss and turn, flailing limbs wildly in the process. We bought a King sized bed mainly to ensure I wouldn’t accidentally maul Sophia in the wee hours of the evening.

I dozed off three times before midnight, and jolted awake three times before midnight as my elbow slammed into the crate. On the last of those occasions, I nailed my funny bone hard enough to see stars. But I didn’t abandon Prometheus, yet.  I did, however, retrieve a set of elbow pads from my old hockey bag in the basement and don them before climbing back into bed.

I didn’t desert Prometheus until the fourth rude interruption of my REM cycle. Suddenly awakening from an erotic dream in which a mysterious beauty licked maple syrup off my tender parts, I found my face pressed against the crate’s metal links … and the dog’s tongue busily probing my nostrils.

That’s when I realized we’d all be better off if I slept on the couch. As I figured, if my dream had lasted a few seconds longer, I wouldn’t have had to look up “bestiality” in the dictionary to know all three of us would need a therapist.

Better the couch than lifelong therapy.

#141 – A Pest Controlled

I agreed to pay someone else’s exterminating bill today. Under the circumstances, it was the least I could do.

The customer in question is a former client of mine. A few months ago, he hired me to review terms and conditions of use for a proposed website to market photos and videos. He didn’t provide details about his contemplated business, however; and I never saw the actual website.

During one of our conversations, the guy mentioned an ant infestation at his home. I volunteered that my exterminator does an excellent job and undoubtedly could resolve the problem. After I provided contact information, he hired my pest control provider to remedy his ant situation and also to perform quarterly preventative treatment. Wendell – the technician who services our house – got credit for the company’s new customer. He also was assigned to service the man’s account.

Wendell thanked me for the referral.  At least, initially he did. When he phoned this morning, he didn’t sound nearly as appreciative.

As he explained, today was the first quarterly service at my former client’s residence. The customer, whom Wendell described as “a man of few words who wouldn’t look me in the eye,” strangely directed his new exterminator to forego any pest control behind two closed doors upstairs. He tersely instructed Wendell not to enter either of those two rooms for any reason.

Wendell had completed his services upstairs and begun walking down to the first floor when he heard an enormous crash. Moments later, as he rounded a bend in the staircase, he came face to face with the business end of a pistol … held by a Georgia Bureau of Investigations’ agent. Wendell happened to be wearing a belt containing the tools of his trade, one of which superficially resembled a sidearm. The GBI agent spotted the “gun” and immediately shouted at the suspect to put his hands behind his head and drop to his knees. Before Wendell could say a word, the agent roughly subdued, cuffed and “disarmed” him.

The next thing Wendell knew, he’d been dragged to the living room for an interrogation that commenced with the angry question: “What do you know about kiddy porn?!!”

His succinct answer – “It’s bad” – failed to assuage the agent’s suspicions. Consequently, when GBI officers arrested the homeowner and confiscated all the equipment for his child pornography business, they arrested Wendell as well. He subsequently used his single phone call to ring me. Only, I don’t practice criminal law, so I had to locate an attorney capable of obtaining his release from custody. It took me most of the afternoon, but I found someone. Wendell should get out of jail shortly. In the meantime, realizing it may be years before his customer is in any position to pay today’s pest control bill, I called Wendell’s employer and agreed to pay the invoice myself.  As I said, it’s the least I can do.

At a glance, it might be mistaken for a holster.

#142 – Skating to Success

Last night, a teacher I know was bemoaning the sad state of our educational system. He complained about students who outright cheat or take massive shortcuts aimed at acing tests without actually learning anything. Though I didn’t disagree, I told him teachers and the system itself are to blame, since they permit the practice. And as I can personally attest, it’s an age-old problem, existing at all levels. I practically perfected the art of the half-assed work ethic during my school years, and I got away with it! Just to emphasize the point, I shared a typical example from my college career.

During spring semester freshman year, I took an introductory level European history course. I attended exactly two lectures: the first, in order to hear what the professor planned for the term; and the last, to catch his announcement regarding the final exam. At that last lecture, he explained that the final exam scores would dictate our overall course grades. He also distributed six essay questions he’d choose from for the test. Specifically, four of the six would appear on the exam, and each student would have to cover two of his or her choice.

I hadn’t done any of the required reading for the course, and I didn’t intend to cure the omission at such a late date. Anyway, I wanted to study smart, not hard. So I played the odds instead. Clearly, it made no sense to learn answers to more than four questions. Even if both of those I ignored showed up on the exam, the other two would be ones I’d prepared. But boning up on four still seemed like a lot of work. I figured I could get by reviewing three of them. That way, I’d have a problem only in the unlikely event each of the other three appeared.

Wouldn’t you know it, three out of four! To my credit, after a single internal oh shit!, I didn’t panic. It seemed a no-brainer to first tackle the single area I’d actually covered, an inquiry regarding Henry the VIII’s founding of the Anglican Church. In my reckoning, if I really nailed that one, maybe the professor would cut me some slack on the other. I threw in the kitchen sink, cramming in every detail I recalled about Henry’s emancipation from the church in Rome.  By the time I placed the last period, less than half the time remained to write the second essay.

I can only imagine my glaze of incomprehension as I stared at each of the three remaining questions, trying to pick one I could say something about. I decided to go with a query concerning the factors leading to Napoleon’s downfall. Truth be told, I knew more about his psoriasis than the fall of his empire. But I did know a lot about the battle of Waterloo. As a teenager, I’d often played an in-depth strategy game covering that conflict. I realized the professor hadn’t actually mentioned Waterloo, but what choice did I have? Bereft of any better option, I gave him five fact-filled pages detailing why Napoleon lost.  Almost as an afterthought, I tacked on half a page of pure drivel, weakly linking the defeat to blathering generalities about the fall of every empire.

I scored an A, of course.  As I told my teacher friend last night: “Chalk it up as another triumph in the long tradition of educational mediocrity.”

I can tell you all about Napoleon’s psoriasis.

#143 – Unfiltered Observations

Yesterday, my wife and I attended a get together in our subdivision. Much to my subsequent regret, two people caught me making fun of my in-laws’ suspected mafia ties (suspected by me, that is). The first was my wife, who happened to be standing nearby, but out of sight, when I told my friend Ron the joke I’d recently made up: “How many Gambinos does it take to screw in a light bulb? Zero. Nobody screws with a Gambino and gets away with it, not even a light bulb!”

Naturally, Sophia seemed less than amused: “Richard, for the millionth time, my family has nothing to do with the mafia!”  

I’m pretty sure Ron knew I was joking, but Sophia decided to clarify the situation for him: “Just because we’re Italians and there’s a crime family with the same last name, Richard always accuses my father of being part of the mob. But we’re not, of course, and Richard knows it. He also knows not every Italian’s involved in organized crime.”

My wife’s comments unfortunately riled up the other person who’d overheard me joking with Ron. His wife’s 90-year-old grandmother, Betsy, had been sitting with us at the kitchen table but hadn’t said a word until Sophia spoke. At the mention of Italians, Betsy interrupted our discussion using her patented catchphrase: “Wops? Fuck ’em!”

Ron felt compelled to explain Betsy’s animosity, lest my wife take offense at the slur: “Sorry Sophia. Betsy’s brother got killed fighting in Italy during World War II, and she’s hated everything Italian ever since. She won’t even eat any food ending in a vowel. When Tracy makes her spaghetti in marinara sauce, we have to call it ‘noodles with gravy’ or Betsy won’t touch it.”

Ron must’ve assumed Betsy’s observations on Italians had concluded. Frankly, I’d assumed the same, since the old lady’s catchphrase usually marked the endpoint of her commentary. But this time, Betsy hadn’t quite finished. As soon as Ron stopped talking, she volunteered one more opinion for our consumption: “Can’t stand those Guineas; they’re almost as bad as them N*%%ers!”

This time, Ron didn’t attempt an explanation. Like Sophia and I, he merely looked around to confirm that all the African-American guests were out of earshot.

One of these Italian gentlemen was not involved in organized crime.

#144 – Woman Power

My wife awoke this morning still frothing at the mouth over her observation last night. I can’t remember ever seeing her so worked up about something she normally takes so little interest in – namely, football!

Sophia thinks we haven’t been spending enough quality time together, so she grudgingly agreed to camp out in the media room doing paperwork yesterday, while I watched the pregame shows and multiple games. The usual commercials aired for the NFL’s “official” beer and soft drink, and she apparently noticed. Amazingly, she questioned me about them too: “Richard, are there ‘official’ football products for everything?”

I guess my answer – “Probably; Maybe; How should I know?” – didn’t satisfy her. Last night, she told me she’d spent part of the afternoon searching the internet for other official NFL products and had found a glaring omission.

“Richard; I couldn’t find any official NFL feminine products. The league markets primarily to men, even though there must be a lot of women who love the game too. It’s an outrage!”

I’m sure my patented what are you blathering on about now? look accompanied my response: “True, but you’re not one of those females, so what do you care?”

As Sophia stated last night, and again this morning, her personal interest (or lack thereof) isn’t at issue; rather, nothing less than women’s equality is at stake. And she’s hell bent on rectifying the situation. That’s why she asked me to draft an e-mail to the Tampax company urging it to seek official NFL status for its tampons. God knows why, but I humored her. I drafted an over-the-top request and sent it to her for consideration. Here it is:

Every Sunday, fanatic pro football fans treat themselves to a plethora of “official” NFL products. They fly to their team’s away games on the “official” NFL airline, drink the NFL’s “official” beverages, and consume the NFL’s “official” snack foods. Each weekend, all those rabid admirers figuratively bleed the colors of their favorite teams. But one Sunday per month, some of those fans literally bleed for their teams as well, and the only items standing between them and soiled couches are tampons!


Is there presently an official NFL tampon? No!!! Should there be? Absolutely!!! When “Aunt Flo” calls and female football fanatics everywhere reach for Tampax® products, why shouldn’t they enjoy the NFL’s “official” tampons? Food for thought, yes?



Sophia Stern

Surprisingly, the Mrs. liked my e-mail. Astonishingly, she told me she sent it to Tampax, and with only one minor revision: she added my name to it!

I wasn’t pleased: “If word gets out I want NFL approval for tampons, I’ll become a viral laughingstock!”

She wasn’t impressed: “Relax, Richard. I doubt the e-mail will go viral. Anyway, look on the bright side. You like free stuff, don’t you? Well, we’ll probably get free tampons from the company, at the least. And if we’re really lucky, they’ll have the NFL logo on the wrappers.”

Someday soon, you might see this on a tampon.

#145 – Hollow een

I normally would’ve mentored Ernie today. Only, the tyke was out sick. Apparently, after his valiant but failed effort to give me the flu, he caught it himself. Odds are he’ll be out the rest of the week, so no mentoring tale this afternoon. That’s okay, since I’ve got plenty to say about Halloween instead.

The costume and candy holiday has come and gone once more, but not before saddling our poor dog with the latest affront to his manhood. 

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve known Sophia planned to dress Prometheus up for the holiday.  When she ventured off to purchase his costume, I’d given her strict instructions: “Make sure you buy something manly. It’s bad enough he had his balls removed; he doesn’t need to confuse his masculinity further with a French maid’s costume!”

Slyly, my wife waited until late afternoon yesterday to unveil the pooch’s outfit. She ambushed me shortly before the first trick-or-treaters arrived. After ogling the dog in costume, I nearly had a cow: “What the hell, Sophia?! You said you’d buy something manly!”

“I did! There’s nothing unmanly about a skeleton.”

“Really, Sophia? You don’t find anything the least bit feminine about a skeleton with fuchsia accents, not to mention a skeleton wearing a pink hairclip?”

“Quit your whining, Richard. Prometheus needs a clip to keep the hair out of his eyes, and pink is a perfectly fine color. Anyway, dogs are colorblind; so what’s it matter?”

“What’s it matter?!! Judging by the pelvic bones alone, that skeleton plainly belongs to a woman who’s given birth! And even worse, the skull looks suspiciously like a pair of boobs!”

Naturally, as with most of our arguments, I lost. I spent the evening seething inwardly as children and their parents oohed and aahed over a mutt dressed like an x-ray of Jennifer Lopez. Internally, I added an “I told you so” each time I heard someone comment: “She’s so cute!” Externally, I flashed Sophia an evil glare after every one of those announcements.

At one point, a little boy burst into tears and cowered behind his mother after seeing Prometheus. Sophia offered me her “who’s unmanly now?” look, before soothingly telling the child: “Don’t be afraid; that’s just our puppy, not a real skeleton; you won’t get hurt.”

An older trick-or-treater answered for the boy: “It’s not your dog he’s afraid of; it’s her pink hairclip. His sister wears the same one, and she’s really mean to him.”


#146 – Playing With Fire

When I spoke to my friend Jimmy this morning, he told me his boss just returned from a week in Vegas. The guy had flown first class, stayed in a suite at one of the fanciest hotels, and wined and dined at the best restaurants, all courtesy of the casino where he gambled. Of course, he’d dropped $30,000 at the tables in return for the five-star treatment. As I informed Jimmy, there was a time when a gambler could get comp’d without losing his shirt. I know, because my father managed it for years.

In the 60’s and early 70’s, the casinos didn’t monitor their high rollers as closely as they do in the modern era of 24/7 video surveillance. Dad saw a loophole in the system during the first trip he and mom took to Vegas. On day one, he obtained credit at the casino and withdrew $20,000 in chips. He stored most of those chips in the hotel room safe and played his game of choice, craps, with the $50 maximum he’d allotted per day. Critically, he gambled solely at night when the casino was packed with customers, and even then only at the cheapest tables. And last but not least, he introduced himself to the pit boss, greeting the man at the beginning of each evening and tipping him $10 at the end of each night. Consequently, the casino believed it’d found another gambling superstar. That opinion didn’t change at the end of my parents’ stay either, when dad cashed in over $19,500 worth of chips, tipped the pit boss a final $10, and headed home.

Every year after, my father received a call from the hotel offering him an all-expense paid trip to Vegas. He received the same VIP treatment as Jimmy’s boss, but never spent more than five hundred dollars for those luxuries. His reputation grew to the extent that, one year, he obtained the same first class accommodations for a friend, simply by recommending the man as “another high roller, like me.” Alas, that recommendation proved his downfall.

My father’s friend, Stan Silverstein, wasn’t a heavy gambler either. To the contrary, his gaming predilections made my father look like an addict in comparison. But dad told Stan how to impersonate a high roller, and Stan promised to follow all instructions to a tee. Only, something got lost in translation, and Stan disobeyed the most critical step in the foolproof process.

Dad didn’t discover Stan’s gaff until late in the week. One morning, while venturing through the near-empty casino for a walk along the Strip, dad spotted his pal … sitting alone playing blackjack at a $2 table, in plain sight of the pit boss! When my dismayed father asked him what the hell he was doing, Stan admitted that he’d played blackjack every morning at the same table. When dad expressed concern over the unacceptable breach of the gameplan, Stan confidently exclaimed: “Don’t worry about it. I’ve already lost thirty bucks this week!”

Needless to say, that was the last time a Vegas casino would comp my father. He received the bad news when he and Stan checked out of the hotel. Poetically, his old buddy the pit boss personally delivered the notice, along with the strong suggestion that dad not show his face in the casino again.

Back in the day, a guy could get comp’d there without losing his shirt … if he was careful.

#147 – Batteries Not Included

Today I feel compelled to discuss the importance of flashlights.

When Prometheus ran into the woods last night, again, I sped to the foyer for the flashlight I’d purchased against just that eventuality. But I couldn’t find it. Luckily, the puppy returned at my call this time, before any accident could occur.

This morning, my wife informed me that she’d “borrowed” the flashlight and “might’ve” left it in the garage.  Boy was I steamed. I said her carelessness had endangered our lives.

Unsurprisingly, she downplayed her negligence: “Don’t be such a drama queen, Richard. One night without a flashlight isn’t the end of the world!”

“Really, Sophia? Why don’t you tell that to Frank!”

“What’s Frank got to do with this?”

“I never told you about the night my brother found himself without a working flashlight? Well listen up, ’cause there’s a lesson to be learned.”

As I explained, one cloudy fall evening when I was eight and Frank was eighteen, I’d adjourned to the back porch for another of my vain attempts to raise a caterpillar from the dead. In the midst of my experiment, Frank and our German shepherd, Sheba, returned from their nightly walk. I couldn’t help but notice my brother’s sorry condition, which the porch light clearly illuminated. His jeans were ripped and bloodied at the knees; and his face and hands look liked bears had clawed them.

When I asked him what the heck happened, he said his flashlight hadn’t worked. He always carried it on their nightly constitutionals, to aid in traversing a mile-long unlit stretch. That evening, he’d reached the halfway point of the unlit swath when full darkness fell. He’d attempted to switch on the device, only to find that its batteries had been removed! Without street lamps or even moonlight to guide him, Frank had no choice but to trust his dog’s shepherding instincts to steer them safely back to civilization.

Unfortunately, Sheba’s shepherding instincts were on the fritz. Rather than maintain a straight path for them on the road, she suddenly veered off to investigate unidentified rustling in the nearby woods. She tore the leash from Frank’s grasp, but not before yanking him over the curb – which he promptly tripped over, tearing his jeans and bloodying his knees in the process.

The balance of his damage occurred when Sheba failed to return on command, and he blindly followed her into the woods. He found her, thankfully, but only after mauling his face and hands on a sticker bush she’d run through.

I felt bad for my brother, but not as bad as I did for myself … after Frank belatedly noted my Dr. Frankenstein experiment and exclaimed: “Wait a minute; are those my batteries?!!!!!”

The D Battery – the power source for flashlights as well as certain attempts to raise the dead.

#148 – Answering the Bell

I feel for my friend, Ned. Last night, he sadly informed me that his mother has to move to an assisted living facility. Though approaching eighty, she’d retained her independence and functioned well until fairly recently. But she’s begun to suffer dementia, and the accidents she’s suffered in the past two months suggest it’s no longer safe for her to live alone. Not only has she locked herself out of the house on three occasions, but she also forgot to turn a stovetop burner off one evening and nearly burned down the place!

The latest incident – the one which prompted an emphatic “recommendation” to Ned that his mother relocate to a facility where professionals could tend her – occurred the other day. In the midst of a relaxing after-dinner bath, Mrs. Stilzman heard her doorbell ring. She decided to answer it. Unfortunately, she forgot to throw on her bathrobe before opening the door. Her visitors got treated to the eye-opening display of her sagging flesh clad in nothing more than a shower cap.

The incident likely would’ve been written off as a harmless mistake, unworthy of further action, but for three critical factors: 1) the evening in question happened to be Halloween; 2) the visitors ringing Mrs. Stilzman’s doorbell were a group of pre-pubescent trick-or-treaters; and 3) Mrs. Stilzman had no candy to distribute.

Naturally, the children found the sight of Ned’s mom in the au natural highly amusing. One youthful wise-ass even put a name to her “costume,” referring to Mrs. Stilzman as “SpongeBob NoPants.”

As hilarious as they deemed the old lady’s eveningwear, some of the boys didn’t think the peepshow compensated for the absence of any sugar-filled treats. A dissatisfied youngster complained to his mother. In turn, she complained to the local police department. The responding officer was the one who talked to Ned and “recommended” Mrs. Stilzman’s relocation, after issuing her a summons for indecent exposure.

Remove the pants, and every other article of clothing, and you apparently have Mrs. Stilzman.

#149 – It’s all Greek to Me

Today, for the second time, I caught hell for something that happened last month. I considered the verbal assault especially unjust because I wasn’t to blame for the misunderstanding in the first place. Be that as it may, my sister-in-law was in no mood for excuses when she harangued me for using inappropriate language around her kids.

The genesis of the situation occurred at a local Greek festival in October. Though I didn’t object to attending with my wife, I had no desire to shepherd her nephew and niece for the afternoon. But Sophia volunteered to escort the tykes, which meant I also “volunteered.”

Blessedly, the event’s organizers provided entertainment for children. They’d set up a segregated play area and also made available a face painter. While I chatted with a couple of lawyers I know, Sophia took her five-year-old nephew and four-year-old niece to the play area. She also treated both of them to the face painter’s services.

My trouble occurred when she returned with two hungry children and told me to feed them. Holding a grubby paw in each hand, I let Franco and Maria drag me to the food pavilion. While waiting in line, I described each of the authentic Greek dishes available for purchase. The kids told me what they wanted, and I in turn pronounced the Greek names for them. I swear I didn’t fool around. As I recall, I slowly and clearly enunciated the name of each entrée: “Moussaka” and “Spanakopita.”

Sophia came looking for us as we finally reached the serving position. She arrived just in time to hear my instruction: “Okay kids; each of you tell the nice lady what you want.”

Naturally, Franco and Maria mangled the pronunciations of their respective dishes, and in equally unfortunate ways. Sophia, as well as the un-amused serving woman, assumed I’d egged on the children; and the fact that I doubled over laughing certainly didn’t help matters.

I’d always thought little kids’ memories were fleeting. Yet, this afternoon, when my sister-in-law’s lunch offering included stuffed grape leaves — just like those seen at the Greek festival — both tykes perfectly recalled the dishes they’d ordered during our outing. The children informed Gina that they’d rather have those entrées for lunch today. Alas, they mispronounced the names of the dishes in exactly the same manner as before. I wasn’t to blame then and I’m not responsible now, but that didn’t stop their mother from giving me much the same earful I received from Sophia and the serving lady last month, when Franco requested the “Moosecock” and his sister asked for a plate of “Spanacrapita.”

greekfood.about.com      greekfood.about.com                                                                                                                                                                          
Two delicious Greek entrées whose names should always be pronounced correctly.