Me, Sher, and Ad

Me, Sher, and Ad
Bro Adam and sis Sher, my rocks!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Accidental Terrorist ... I Mean Tourist: Part II

In the summer of 2000, John and I were hiking for two weeks across various parts of Washington state. We had hiked the Northern Cascades and Olympic Peninsula and now were headed for Vancouver Island for the next week. We decided to take an auto ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, British Columbia. It takes about 1 ½ hours. We settled back into relaxing aboard in the lounge as we churned across Puget Sound.

Hiking for two weeks leave you pretty grimy and smelly. We both had with full beards, dressing in a combination of camping, hunting, and camouflage gear making us look like Rambo Boy Scouts. I had become immune to the smell of myself. People though, seemed to part like the Red Sea while I walked through the lounge.

John and I decided to wash up in the ferry’s restrooms and try and remove the apparent hiker/camp fire stench that covered us and everything we were wearing. I was done first and told John I would meet him in the lounge.  After about 5 minutes, John and still not appeared. I figured he had got “lost” in the bathroom and I would wait for him in the central hallway of the ferry.

The bathrooms were on one side and curiously enough the door to the engine room stairs were right across from the bathrooms. I paced the hallway for a couple minutes. Someone in an official ferry sailor uniform stopped, looked at me, and asked if I needed help. I said in a chipper voice, “Oh no, I’m fine! Just waiting for someone!”

Another 5 minutes passed and John still wasn’t out. He was obviously busy in there so I just hung out in the hallway looking at stuff on the walls, peering around corners, looking into darkened windows down staircases in apparently areas which are off limits to Rambo Boy Scouts!

The same ferry guy, passed me again and said, “Sir, are you sure there isn’t anything I can help you with?”
I responded, “No, I am FINE. I am just waiting for a friend.”
“Well most people WAIT IN THE LOUNGE!”
I must have seemed nervous because he started looking at me up and down as if trying to “get a description.”

Finally John came out and we went back to the lounge and settled in for the rest of the boat ride. We eventually docked in Victoria, BC, and went down to the car to drive off the ferry. As with any foreign country, we had to go through customs for entry.

At customs, we pulled up and stated to the agents our purpose for entering the country: pleasure of course! The agents were taking a longer time than usual going through our information. Something was wrong! We were asked to step out of the car. They were going to have to search the entire vehicle! After 2 weeks of hiking and camping, we had about 2 backpacks and 5 other bags filled with miscellaneous camping gear. We were searched physically and asked to step away from the vehicle.

Things really got interesting when they discovered a bag of Native American tobacoo that John and I had picked up to smoke fireside. John stated he was a cop and it wasn’t illegal. They confiscated it anyway and ordered us to stay put while they searched the vehicle from bumper to bumper. They also confiscated all of our fresh fruit and veggies.

John and I could not figure out for the life of us why we were pulled aside to be searched. It wasn’t even a random type search. It was premeditated and thorough. Even John mentioning to the customs agents that he was law enforcement didn’t help. We wracked our brains trying to think of why this was happening to us? Just then a very dull, dim night light bulb of an idea went off in my mind!

I said to John real meekly, “Uh … I think it was me.”
“What?” he asked.
“I … I think it was me …” I trailed off.
“WHY? What did you do Marc???”

“Well …,” The flood gates opened and told him how I was nervously hanging out between the bathrooms and the engine room waiting for him and they must have thought I was suspicious and looked like some back-country terrorist and it didn’t help that I had words with the ferry man!

“Marc!” He exclaimed, “Why is it that something always has to happen when you are around!!” He just stood there and shook his head.

After an hour of questioning and searching, the customs agents finally let us enter Canada. We laugh about it now. So remember this story, Marc the International Man of Mystery … or rather, Marc the American Master of Disaster, almost set off an international border incident!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Accidental Terrorist ... I Mean Tourist: Part I

On two separate incidents, I was considered to be a ‘suspect’ during traveling. It may cause you to think twice if you are planning on traveling with me in the near future. At least make sure you are three or four people back from me in line so we aren’t associated together. This is more for your benefit than mine. You see, I tend to get frazzled under certain circumstances. Flying is one of them. Worrying is another issue. Worrying and frazzled, for me, go hand in hand.

About ten years ago, I was meeting John out in Columbus, Ohio, where he was finishing up a collegiate lacrosse training camp. I had never been to Columbus and John needed help driving back. I figured, why not? A little trip to the Midwest might be nice for a long weekend. I would fly out and then drive back with him. Sounds simple right?

I was at the Philly International Airport for my one way flight out to Columbus. It was very soon after the 9/11 tragedy and airport security was on high alert. I was nervous because it was the first time I was flying since the tragedy and I just don’t like flying alone. I went through the main security without incident and settled into the bar for a couple drinks.

Finally my flight was called and I got in line to board. At that time, National Guard was stationed in the airports. I was called out of line by security. They said it was a random search and asked me to step aside to go through my belongings. I had no problem with this. Then the physical pat down began. That went fine until two National Guardsmen walked over observing with rifles drawn. Now I was really getting nervous.

“Anything wrong, sir?” the Transportation Authority agent asked.
“I’m ... I’m fine. I just want to get on the plane and get underway.”
“I am working as quickly as I can sir, but I need to continue the security procedures.”

After the pat down, the agent got out his security wand and started sweeping up and down my body. The wand started beeping loudly across my belt buckle.  Everyone looked over at me.

I said, “It’s just my belt buckle.” I was sweating.
"Fine sir, can you unbuckle your belt.”
“Unbuckle my what?” I asked, not sure if I heard correctly.
“Unbuckle your belt sir! Unbuckle your belt,” he commanded adamantly.

“OH! OK! Sorry!” I exclaimed, unbuckling my belt and dropping my jeans to my knees. My lily white legs blinded everyone within 20 feet.

I pulled up my jeans, lost balance, and stumbled forward red-faced. The two National Guardsmen started laughing hysterically as did the entire terminal of travelers. There I was, lily white turning to beet red with embarrassment.

“Ummm, OK sir, you can pull up your pants and get back in line. I don’t think you are a security threat.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Endorsement: Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Cookware!

1 QT. Round French Oven
(1 Quart French Oven)
I just love Le Creuset enameled cast iron cookware. Le Creuset is a French cookware company which was founded in 1925. It is well known through out the world for it's enameled cast iron pots and pans which come in a variety of different colors such as kiwi, caribbean, cherry, flame, dune, and others. I am partial to the bright orange, or flame as they call it. My first piece was flame and I have stuck with that color ever since.

These days, Le Creuset has ventured into stoneware, stock pots, tea kettles, stainless steel cookware, utensils, and accessories. Pieces are available in every color of the rainbow to match your kitchen. They aren't cheap, but they are of excellent quality and last forever.  Let me tell you how I have started my collection:  resale and consignment shops! I will sometimes come across pieces for sale at rock bottom prices and I grab 'em!  My first piece was a 5 1/2 quart French Oven, which normally retails for $240.00 online. I bought it at a resale shop for around $50.00!  My second piece was the Square Skillet Grill which retails for $130.00 online. I love grilling on it during the winter. My third, was cast iron roaster, which gets plenty of use during the holidays.  If I remember correctly, I bought each piece second hand for under $30.00, far below their retail value. I have no qualms picking up such high quality pieces at these low prices, used or not!

Square Skillet Grill
(Square Skillet Grill)
As I said before, I love Le Creuset cookware because they are of such great quality. They distribute heat evenly and then retain the heat longer than your normal pots and pans.  And you can go from stove top to oven and back again. As with most cast iron cookware, they are heavy. But according to their website, they are the lightest weight of any premium cast iron cookware. With such colorful options, I have no problem transferring the pot from the stove to my table.  Cleaning up is a breeze ... albeit a heavy breeze. I wait for the pan or pot to cool down first and wouldn't recommend dish washing as it could dull the vibrant colors.

Instead of your normal pots and pans, think color, think quality, and think Le Creuset.  Whether bought used or new, they are an investment to be sure, but they last forever. I have had mine for years and they are still as colorful as the day I bought them.  And don't forget the added bonus of getting into shape while lifting them!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Party Tips!

Here are some party tips that I have learned or figured out over the years through trial and error!

Follow these tips and you will be sure to be invited to my next gathering!* is a great way to send out your invitations and keep track of who is coming. You can easily personalize the invite as well as send out reminders for those fun people that fail to RSVP like they should! Hint hint hint people!

• Most of the time you can’t invite everyone, but make sure you try and have a good mix of family and friends. Or just have one party for family and one party for friends! Maybe that exconvict friend should not be invited to the party with the mother-in-law. Also, keep the alcoholics away from the Amish. Dangerous mix!

• Have good lighting outside if your party is in the evening. No one needs to make a wrong turn into the prickly holly bush by the front door. The neighborhood cat that Uncle Harry bends down to pet may be that rabid raccoon on the loose. Gee, that would be a holiday bummer.

• If there is snow, shovel your walk or provide those Eskimo snow shoes which have been hanging on the family room wall for the last decade.

• Expect guests to almost never come on time. You may though, have someone always show up early. I recommend putting a cocktail in their hand and lead them into the living room while you finish preparing. If they insist on helping, give them some easy fun task like chopping up onions or taking out the garbage.

• On that note, don’t forget to take out that garbage! Guests don’t need to be smelling the leftover Tandoori Chicken at the bottom of the can!

• Move your cars to a neighbor’s driveway to make room for your guest's cars. Just make sure to invite that neighbor!

• Put pets away so Fido or Fluffy doesn’t get underfoot, outside, or attack Aunt Clara’s ankle thinking it is a chew-toy.

• Be a good host and take coats, hats, scarves, and purses (if the ladies will give them up). If you must create a ‘coat mountain’ on the bed in the guest room, try and at least make it neat and manageable. The last thing you want to do is accidentally give your Aunt Mary’s fur to the kleptomaniac neighbor you were guilted into inviting.

• Keep a running list of host gifts and who gave them to you as guests arrive. It only takes seconds to scribble down “Horrible fruit cake, Aunt Clara”. You will thank yourself later as you write those thank you notes!

• Host gifts are a nice surprise, especially the alcoholic variety, but don’t expect it. Do not make guests feel guilty when they arrive empty handed … “What, you couldn’t even afford a 1/5 of Jack Daniels?”

• Serve an easy signature cocktail or two, favorite wine, or beer. For my Christmas Eve cocktail party, I served pomegranate cosmopolitans, bourbon cider, Sam Adams Winter Ale, and Anchor Steam Christmas Ale. For a summer BBQ, you might try sweet tea vodka and lemonade or a sangria. For a Halloween party, how about a caramel apple martini?

• Have a good selection of non alcoholic beverages such as juices, flavored seltzers, bottled waters, sodas, tea, and coffee. Redbull energy drink is not an acceptable beverage for your neighbor’s 4 year old kid or for that matter, your 98 year old grandfather!

• For the holidays, I prefer to pick up a flavored coffees such as gingerbread, pumpkin spice, or candy cane mint. If you have more time, try mixing up some virgin mocktails. And yes, 'virgin' means ‘no alcohol’!

• Try an easy new hors d'oeuvre out of a favorite food magazine or website. Some only have 2 or 3 ingredients. Have staples of crackers and cheese or crudite' and dip, but then be adventurous and try something new! Just make sure you try it before hand so you’re not stuck fumbling about with a new recipe an hour before guests arrive.

• Don’t make too large of a menu or you will overwhelm yourself. Instead, have backups that can be put out at a moments notice if you find yourself running short. I keep frozen meatballs, various cheese and hard salamis, chips and dip, bruschetta and mini-toasts all on hand, just in case I need them when unexpected guests drop by. Canned cat food does not make for a good spread.

• Have a good mix of appetizers, entrees, and desserts like two or three selections. And don’t forget to include a vegetarian alternative! You should always do at the very least, a crudite’ platter or something like hummus and pita. Yard clippings are frowned upon by vegetarians.

• Light candles for scent and ambiance! Soy candles are good for your guests who have allergies … or just a bowl of Benedryl in the bathroom.

• Clean your bathroom! (As your mother says, this should be done anyway!)

• Have mints available in the bathroom. Also Dixie cups for water and hand towels. You don’t need your guests routing through the linen closet.

• Expect guests to go routing through your medicine cabinets. Put away or rather, lock away, all pills and medicines which could be taken and sold on the streets!

• Clean your fridge. No one wants to go in for some butter and find your mold experiment that has been in that Tupperware for 3 months!

• Sweep your floors. I would rather not have a dust bunny the size of an elephant attach itself to my shoes.

• Clean high traffic areas. Everywhere else, take advantage of low lighting to create a mood… or as well call it in the restaurant/bar business … hiding the spots and dirty areas.

• Have soft music playing in every room; it doesn’t have to be loud. Just some classics, jazz, or standards to fill the awkward pauses in conversation.

• Have music playing in the bathroom. It has to be loud enough to cover awful bathroom sounds! On the same note, put out air freshener or matches for those bathroom disasters.

• Make sure that you thank people personally for what they brought, whether it be a thank you note, phone call, or email. I have softened my views on this in recent months when I originally advocated writing a thank you note. The bottom line is, if someone brought something, thank them after the event. It will make those people feel special and you will get that warm fuzzy feeling inside without having to take your nightly medication!

With these little hints and ideas, you are on your way to having an affair to remember! Or just drink heavily and it will all be a blur.

*Statements made by this writer may or may not be true depending on state of mind while writing this blog

Friday, February 10, 2012

Funerals Make for Bittersweet Reunions

Last night I went to a viewing in Pottstown, PA, for a former coworker’s husband. She lost him to a particularly aggressive cancer. He was diagnosed in October and passed away February 6th, 2012. He was only 43 years old. Just too young to be taken by such a vicious disease.

I came down to pay my respects at the viewing. I am always momentarily taken aback by an open casket viewing as I have not been to too many. The person who has passed away may look ‘good’,  at least as far as how well the funeral home helps him to look ‘good’. My friend’s husband looked ‘good’ considering what he apparently went through. I have been to others where the person who passed on was completely unrecognizable.

Most people know that I am of the Jewish faith. In traditional Judaism, there is no viewing of the body and no open casket.  I remember seeing my Nana’s coffin was back in the late 70's: a beautiful simple polished maple coffin with the Star of David on it. In Judaism, caskets are normally simple and without adornment. The body is wrapped in a white prayer shawl and buried that way. Of course, this is the traditional burial custom and many have softened their views on this in the last several decades depending on how religious they are. My mother was cremated which technically is forbidden in Jewish law. But this is what she wanted and we honored that. I don’t feel any less of a Jew for it nor do I consider her any less of a Jew.

Several people at my former employer's have passed away in the last couple years. It is enough to notice. As a result, I have these bittersweet reunions with my former coworkers, not unlike the same type of reunions which happen amongst family members when a beloved grandparent, aunt, or uncle passes away. People come out of the woodwork to pay their respects and have reunions which were years in the making.

It was great seeing my coworkers though. They are a small group of women that I have grown particularly fond of. We meet usually before or after the events, have a bite to each, a drink to take off the stress of attending such a somber occasion, another drink to toast our friend that has passed on. For such a sad reason to get together, at least I can say I had a real nice time seeing them. We do always joke about the reason we are getting together. Last night, my friend Alicia commented “We need to really stop meeting under these types of circumstances.”  We all laughed nervously and then caught up on each other’s lives.

Anyway, after the bite to eat, we went down to the funeral home for the viewing. It was somber, as it should be. I shed tears for my friend’s husband, I shed tears for other friends who have passed, and I shed tears for my mother. These days, going to other’s funerals and viewings always brings up sad memories of my own losses. A reality of getting older I guess. It happens, but it’s still so sad each time. I am thankful though, for the comfort of friends and family to get through those difficult times. I started tearing up talking about Mom’s death and my friend Krista put her arm around my shoulder and gave me a reassuring squeeze of support. At that moment, that was just what I needed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Restaurant Tales

Back in the early 90's, I began my illustrious hotel/restaurant career as a young 23 year old waiter with a large restaurant chain. It was one of those restaurants where dusty antiques are hanging everywhere on the walls and ceilings, ready to fall into your booth if they weren't thankfully bolted down securely. I know, there were a couple items I tried to take for my apartment but couldn't seem to pry loose.

The money sucked, but my coworkers were my best friends. I am still close with many of them almost twenty years later. Lots of fun memories were made. We worked together, were roommates, and partied our asses off until sunrise. We would get up at 9:50 am, be at work by 10 am, and do it all over again!  It also helped that my apartment was 1/2 a block away. I literally rolled out of bed into my dirty green server's shirt and khaki pants and ran down the street.

Some of the funniest incidents were people misreading our menu or just not being able to speak. I would frequently have people order frimps with ketchup. What are frimps you may ask? Well, apparently they are related to the lowly shrimp.  Our diners would also rave about our "mapped" potatoes.  I didn't know about our diners, but I called them mashed potatoes. Just because you have created a pile of potatoes in the shape of a map of the United States doesn't change the name.  Isn't mashed potatoes 1st grade level food knowledge?  The restaurant served a sandwich called the Brentwood. I had so many people ask for the "Bent-wood", it made even a freak like me blush!

When I had parties of 6 or more, I could add a gratuity of 15%. There was no 18% back then.  If people refused to pay the gratuity, we couldn't enforce it. I would simply have to bid them farewell and collect my $1.25 tip on a $100.00 check. Ever the optimist, I would try and look on the bright side.  Hey, at least I made over 1% gratuity! That'll buy me a beer down at the local watering hole 'Oh! Shea's'.  Quite often, the diners would argue with me that no one ordered the 'gratuity' and I needed to take it off the check.  They would then ask the other table members loudly, "Did anyone order the gratuity?"  I would roll my eyes, sigh, and just walk away from the table imagining my tip getting smaller and smaller.

I would have people curse and scream at me that they couldn't taste the alcohol in the their virgin daiquiris or pina coladas, or as they sometimes called them, their penis coladas. "Uh ... excuse me Ma'am, ... there is no alcohol in your 'penis colada' because it is a virgin colada!!! There is not supposed to be alcohol in it!  That's what makes it a VIRGIN!"  I would then get yelled at because I didn't explain this to them before hand, apparently never having understood the concept of a virgin drink. 

The only thrill I would end up getting would be hearing the screams from the table when I was in the kitchen. I would run back to the table and see everyone covered in rancid ketchup. We had a habit of "marrying" ketchup bottles ... which later I found out was illegal. Ooops. The newer ketchup would be poured on top of the old ketchup time and time again until the pressure would build from the old ketchup and explode all over everyone and everything! It was great. The restaurant comped more meals from exploding geysers of ketchup.

Lastly, one exchange happened on a Saturday night. A couple came in for dinner. They were from, let's just say, the wrong side of the tracks.  I asked her if I could get her anything and she immediately yelled interrupting me, "You aren't my type!" and started guffawing loudly. Classy. Her biker boyfriend started laughing and 'high-fiving' her, "Good one Babe!"   Yeah, good one if it was 'idiot joke telling night.' Like I hadn't heard that one before. I did my customary eye roll and said flatly, "I'll give you a moment to compose yourself and look at our menu." I stayed away for 30 minutes.

Eventually I wandered back. The biker babe yelled at me, "Where were you!" I lied and told her I was giving the Heimlich maneuver in the bar/lounge area. She said "Heim what?" I said, "Never mind."  She stated she had a couple questions on the menu and then finally ordered her entree.  "I'll have the chicken vagina." I did a double take, "Excuse me?"  There was the longest awkward pause. I quickly was thinking, Do chicken have vaginas? I don't even think chicken have vaginas. She repeated herself, "I said I'll have the chicken vagina! Are you deaf or sumpin'?"  I realized she was completely serious.  "Uh.... how about you just point it out to me on the menu just so I make sure I know what you want, OK?" She pointed to the chicken fajitas.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Lovingly Terrorizing My Mother Part II

I have often "lovingly terrorized" my mother.  I was a devious kid but I swear it was always in good fun. I continued doing this well into adulthood just to get her riled up. I loved it and eventually, when she calmed down, we would laugh about it.

Think of this blog post as a companion piece to my original post that I published back on January 19, 2011, titled the same:

Mom used to work for a government social service agency which helped connect people with transportation. In fact, her official title was Transportation Coordinator. I would be at work at the Ritz, kind of bored after completing my daily duties as purchaser and would wonder what Mom was up to. The nice child would call up their mom and say "Hey what's up?"  I, on the other hand, would crank call my Mom a couple times each month.  She fell for it every time! Nothing mean or evil, just enough to get her riled up.

I remember one particular time, I called Mom and pretended that I was this belligerent drunken client of hers.
Mom answered the phone, "Abby Deeds, how can I help..."
I immediately interrupted her and said in a drunken gruff voice, "I NEED A RIDE!"
Mom was caught off guard, but being used to dealing with difficult people, replied after a pause, "OK, let me just get a pen and piece of paper and get your information."
"WHO IS THIS??" I exclaimed.
"Uh, Sir, this is Abby Deeds, Transportation Coordinator. With whom am I speaking?"
Mom was still in her 'trying to be polite mode.'
I told her my name was some popular character in TV culture which everyone knew but her.
"THIS IS BART SIMPSON. WHO IS THIS?" I asked, again in a drunken voice.
"Sir, I said this is Abby D ..."
"MR. SIMPSON, YOU NEED TO STOP INTERRUPTING ME SO I CAN GET YOUR INFORMATION." Mom 's voice had risen. She was adamant but still polite and not over the edge.

I continued to push her.
"OK Sir, I got that, now where are you going??" She asked testily. I could tell she was getting aggravated.
"Sir, we don't drive our clients to the liquor store and you are obviously drunk!!! I think you need to ..."
That set Mom off.

I laughed and laughed and then called her back immediately.
"HELLO???" She practically screamed into the phone.
"Hi Mom, it's Marc, how ya doing?"
"Oh Marc, I..I'm sorry, I just had this drunken idiot on the phone getting nasty with me. But I showed him, I told him off and hung up on him!"
"Gee Mom, that really sucks ... like suck an egg?"
"What?" pause ..... "OH MARC! I"M GONNA GET YOU!"


Another time, I called my Mom on the phone and convinced her that my cat, Smokey, had taken John's hand gun and was dragging it around the house.
"Hi Mom."
"Hi honey, how are you doing?"
We chatted for a couple minutes and then I sprang it on her.
"Mom, oh my God, Smokey has one of John's hand guns and he is pointing it at me!"
"Oh my GOD!!! Is it loaded! How does he have the gun???"
"I don't know! I don't know! What should I do?"
"Well get out of the way if he shoots it at you!!! Oh my God, oh my God, how does that cat have the gun??? Get out of the house!"
I started laughing.
"Mom, Smokey is a cat, how could he get or even work the gun? He has paws and no opposable thumbs!"
"Oh my God, you are a rotten child! How could you do this to your Mother! You are going to give me a heart attack!" Mom was very good with the Jewish guilt trip.

Yes, I was rotten with my pranks on my Mom. And yes, she often said we kids were responsible for her gray hairs. Probably me more than Sheryl. I think Adam gave her his fair share as well. It was all out of love and laughter; and she was just so gullible. I miss that but still laugh and laugh over these memories.