Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Drop The Tiny Corn And Step Away From The Salad Bar, Al (and I assume your last name is Kada)!

In the past several years, there have been many things that I've encountered that have sent me scurrying for the comfort of a comically-large rum and coke and my DVDs of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos." In 2008 I sought that solace as my employer vortexed away (yes, I just made vortex into a verb - stick around - who knows what I'll do next) and unemployment loomed. The death of my dad, my own wretched mystery illnesses and the days just over a year ago when my [Maris] was in the ICU (although then, it was a comically-small rum and coke, in case some horrible call came from the hospital), as well as any time I stumble upon footage of Sarah Palin (or, to be fair, Nancy Pelosi) speaking -- all of these trigger my "Cosmos" need.

Most recently, it was the "news," on our local "news" radio station, that Al Qaeda is plotting to poison America with ricin and arsenic. One salad bar at a time. It wasn't even this scary and probably true revelation that spooked me. Listening to this alarmist "news" for the past 9 1/2 years has desensitized me to the threats themselves. I'm sure terrorists are dreaming up all kinds of incredibly inventive ways to terrorize and kill us. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before they succeed, blah blah blah. No, what really froze me in my tracks like a kid playing "red light, green light" was what the reporter and news anchors recommended we All Do. Everyone needs to be extra vigilant, they said, and REPORT anyone seen lingering around the salad bar, returning items from their plates back onto the salad bar etc.. Report it? To whom? The sneeze guard doesn't seem interested.

Waitress: How is everything over here? Did you save room for dessert?

Vigilant Citizen: No, ma'am, but I need to report a suspicious subject at the salad bar.

Waitress: A... A suspicious what at the what?

VigCit: A possible terrorist, ma'am.

Waitress: (giggle) A terrorist? At the salad bar? Here?

VigCit: (very, very serious) This is very, very serious, ma'am. Could you please get your manager? Quickly!

Manager: Good evening, sir. I'm the manager on duty tonight. I understand there's a problem with the salad bar?

VigCit: I need to report-- Holy crap - you look even younger than the little girl who's been waiting on us. How old are you, son?

Mgr: Seven--squeak-- Seventeen, sir. Is there something I can do for you?

Waitress: He said he saw a terrorist by the salad bar. You think it's a suicide bomber?

VigCit: I didn't say suicide bomber!

Waitress: You said terrorist!

Mgr: Thank you, Kaytlinne. I'll take it from here. You go on and check on your other tables. Now, sir - you want to report a terrorist at the salad bar?

VigCit: Yes. I think you should do something. He's still here. I can't believe no one else is alarmed. He's got a Turban, for Christ's sake!

Mgr: Um... What did he do at the salad bar?

VigCit: He put something back.

Mgr: Put something back?

VigCit: Yes. It was on his plate. He looked around suspiciously, then he carefully put it back onto the salad bar. It's an olive.

Mgr: Oh my goodness! Now why would anyone put an olive back on the salad bar? That is suspicious. Was it a black olive or a green one?

VigCit: It's a black one, and I can see it from here. He carefully put it in the ice next to the olive bowl.

Mgr: Oh my! Do you think it's a bomb? What should I do?

VigCit: Well, for starters, you might want to keep customers away from the salad bar. And you should probably call the police, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. I can keep an eye on the guy while you do that. Then, I'd be more than happy to help you escort him out, if you like.

Mgr: Where is he?

VigCit: It's the Al-Qaeda-lookin' guy alone at that table by the front window. He's the only one in the restaurant wearing a turban.

Mgr: (gasp) Oh, I see him, sir! He does look awfully suspicious. But...

VigCit: But what?

Mgr: But aren't turbans worn by Sikhs and not Muslims?

VigCit: Boy, you gonna stand around quibbling about what part of Al-Qaeda that guy's from, or are you gonna do something before people start dropping dead from anthrax?

Mgr: Well, I'm going to get to the bottom of this. Nobody puts anthrax in the olives when I'm the manager on duty. (He marches over to the man in the turban. The two begin to converse. There are gestures toward the salad bar, gestures toward Vigilant Citizen, discussion, smiles and then laughter. Vigilant Citizen approaches the terrorist's table.)

VigCit: Excuse me, but is there something funny about this situation?

Mgr: Yes, well, it actually is kind of amusing, sir...

Turban Guy: And quite embarrassing.

VigCit: Son, there's nothing amusing about terrorism! And you - suppose you show me some identification and don't make any sudden moves.



VigCit: Well?

TG: No offense, sir - but who are you to demand another man's identification?

VigCit: I'm a Goddamn American citizen, that's who!

Mgr: Okay, fellas...

TG: Oh. In that case, I demand to see your identification, as I am also a Goddamn American citizen.

Mgr: See, I think I can explain what happened...

VigCit: You ain't no American. We don't wear that Arab stuff here.

TG: This is a turban. Arabs do not wear turbans. Many Americans do, however. Including me. I am a Sikh. And I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My parents were both born in the United States. I'm pretty Goddamn American, and you're starting to piss me off.

Waitress: There he is, officers. That's the salad bar bomber!

Mgr: Now wait a minute...

VigCit: Officers, I saw this man looking around suspiciously and putting food back onto the salad bar. We're supposed to report that kind of thing, right?

TG: Oh you've got to be kidding me.

Officer: Um...

VigCit: It could be poison! Or a bomb!

TG: It's an olive!

Officer: An olive? Black or green?

VigCit: Black! It's still there! Do something!

Mgr: There's a logical explanation, officers. Let me explain...

VigCit: What's the matter with you people? Isn't it obvious? The turban! And look at that shirt, with that Arabic "death to America" stuff on it!

TG: That's not Arab you imbecile! It's Punjabi, and it says "peace!" I told you - I'm a natural-born American Sikh, not Arab, not Muslim and very much not amused!

VigCit: I saw you put that olive there. Explain that!

Mgr: Sir, this is my restaurant while I'm on duty, and I'm going to have to ask you to stop harassing my customers.

VigCit: What?

Mgr: I told you there's an explanation. Yes, you did see him put that olive there. It fell off his plate onto the floor. He didn't see a trash receptacle, and he didn't want to put it back on his plate, but he also didn't want to put it back in the olive bowl. He looked around for a staff member to ask for help and, finding none at the moment, decided to put it into the ice next to the bowl. He's very embarrassed, and he told me all about it as soon as I approached his table, before I'd even said anything. See? It's not terrorism at all. Just a silly mishap.


TG: I am terribly sorry for instilling such fear and trepidation into the hearts of all these good people who hadn't so much as looked at me until you came over to my table.


Mgr: Your dinner is on the house tonight, sir. I apologize for the way you've been treated.

Officers: See ya guys.

TG: (whispering in Vigilant Citizen's ear) Death to America.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fleen Visits Crackbarry At Gloaming University - Easier Said Than Done

Hey gang! I think it's time to foist some Crackbarry and Fleen upon your unsuspecting noggins. I have been trying to come up with a nice succinct introduction to this madness, but I can't, so I've decided instead that it will be much more fun (and just as coherent, really) to simply foist away with a random excerpt. I like saying foist. It rhymes with. . . stuff. Anyway, I will say that the characters have a co-creator, and until I confirm whether or not he is actually still living, this sample may be all I will be able to share with you, and that makes it all the more special, non?

News from Crackbarry's dorm room:

Fleen stared at the telly with murder in his eyes. "We're going to make that 2-bit lounge donkey wish he'd never been spawned of the wretchedness of his foul mother and the seed of the murderous dentist. Crackbarry my man, I'm going to need your help. But first, I must tell you what happened to me on the way here from my Auntie Ashlee's summer home in Middle Pussexton."

Crackbarry wiped the Armadillo dribble from his face and listened with rapt attention as Fleen related the story of his short but intriguing journey of that morning. The Ashlee vacation house was no more than five minutes behind him when Fleen had been run off the M5 by a pair of lime green Mini Coopers with fake police insignias on their doors. The entire contents of his newly-opened bottle of Absolut Peach found its way onto the floor mat of his modified, heavily armoured Hummer (which he lovingly called Betsy-Wetsmee and to this day, no one knows why) as it left the road and went briefly airborne, landing in the cornfield of one Roberto "Flaxseed" McManus. In the course of the wreck, Fleen's ever-present spice pipe (today he was smoking a mixture of cumin, sage and oregano, but the oregano was way too dry this time,
which was a bit of a buzzkill) fell to the floor and immediately ignited the vodka-soaked carpeting.

The flames of the polycarbon carpet fibers, spices and booze had created a sweet-smelling but powerfully hallucinogenic smoke which quickly filled the interior of the Hummer, and Fleen was overcome within a few breaths. He tripped all over the landscape of his cerebral cortex. He saw himself torn to bloody shreds by the girls of Miss Pinklebaum's kindergarten class, the pieces carried off by Australian parakeets, all to a soundtrack of "White Light, White Heat." The
expression on his face in this image confused him, as it was a pre-adolescent smile of sheer glee. There was a scene from "Too Close for Comfort," only the Ted Knight role was played by Fleen's first romantic conquest, Kiera Pukingintheskya, and her Russo-Yapese broken English was here more menacing than funny.

When Fleen had emerged from his peachy fog, he had found himself sitting on the living room sofa in the frighteningly country home of Mr. McManus. "Hey Flaxseed. Sorry about your fence. Where might I find my pants and an Atari 5200 with a pair of joysticks that fuckin' WORK?" The farmer's wife, a giant mannish thing named Bobbi, stopped Flaxseed's cross-living room lunge with one of her hairy arms, clotheslining the man and sending him to a gurgling unconscious spell on the floor. She seized Fleen by his elbow and led him to the barn, where her three strapping sons had already returned the Hummer Betsy-Wetsmee to a close approximation of road-worthiness. Fleen had lost several hours of his life and some good vodka and admittedly sub-par spice, but still managed to make his way to Crackbarry's dormitory by mid-afternoon.

"Well, that explains the news reports and that weird peachy pizzeria scent coming off your smoky clothes." Crackbarry chuckled. "Now what do you need me to do to this Crustedseabass bloke?"

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Coping Mechanisms - Like Carl Sagan Making Whale Sounds - Or Creating Drinking Games

"Life is a shit storm, kid. And when it's raining shit, the best umbrella you can buy is art."

So quoth the Peter Falk character whose name I am too lazy to look up, from the underrated movie "Tune In Tomorrow." I'm one of approximately seven people to have seen this picture, and that includes the entire cast and crew and all the mothers thereof.

Anyone who knows me - or has had the incomparably down time to actually read this blog, specifically the "Double-barrel Unemployment" posts - can surely tell you that my past couple of years have been a bit of a shit storm. Okay, maybe not one of those early June end-of-the-world shit downpours, but a shit shower. A shit drizzle, at the very least. And yes, I definitely turned to art on more than one occasion to help get me through that creepy darkness in one piece - if you can call [Adult Swim] cartoons, "Sunny in Philly" and "Surf's Up" ART. I use those so frequently that their collective medicinal value has started to wane. "Wane???" Yeah, it's waning. Same goes for ATHF, Futurama, Archer, Tom & Jerry and Hoarders.

But you know what hasn't waned? The soothing, healing, rejuvenating power of Carl Sagan's PBS series "Cosmos." I can't exactly explain why this 30-year old series has such an effect on me, and some would say that pretty much defeats the purpose of this post. So, those people are hereby excused from reading any further. We'll wait. We'll wait a couple of minutes, apparently, as one of those people seems to think this is his personal chat room. Hang on. (sigh) Any time there, buddy. Don't worry about the half of the class that is staying, legitimately interested and anxious to hear about Joe's depression/anxiety and how "Cosmos" coats it in a cool, soothing, protective salve. Really? Gonna take that call here, are you? Okay. I guess we're all invited. Your girlfriend wants to see other people? Oh dude - that is tragic! Well, it would be tragic, if you hadn't taken that call here, in our room, in front of us, as we are all clearly waiting for you to leave. "Let's see other people?" You know what that means, don't you, bra? It means, "I'm already seeing other people and I've already decided you're not cutting it so goodbye." Ha! Yes, that's it. Move along. Scat. We have ancient TV miniseries to discuss. Buh-bye.

Okay. Where were we? Oh yeah - Cosmos. How can a nerdy science series, produced around 1980 by an admitted carbon and water, how-can-we-be-alone-in-such-a-vast-universe "chauvinist" possibly be the slightest comfort to an overwhelmed person in 2011? Dr. Sagan's presentation oscillates between too-elementary and too-M.I.T.-Grad-School, and his perception of the cosmos (everything that is, ever was or ever will be) and our place in it is at once heartening and bleak. Bits of it are empowering and comforting and can make a math-averse non-scientist feel like a peer of the best and brightest in earth's short history. Other parts, late-1970s-special-effects notwithstanding, can instill feelings of massive, overpowering insignificance and futility. The universe doesn't know or give the tiniest rat's butt about the earth or anything or anyone that has ever happened here. And so on.

And yet.

And yet, when my best job ever was going to hell and we all knew we would be on the street in the middle of the worst employment market since the Great Depression... when my soul mate was in the I.C.U. with an unidentified infection trying to kill her... when she and I were both unemployed simultaneously... and other times of indescribable stress and anxiety (like when they canceled "Wonderfalls")... I have resorted to dusting off the old "Cosmos" DVDs and falling asleep to them, night after night, until the storm clouds have passed and the sun returns - however briefly - to warm my cheeks and make life once again worth living - to gently coax me back in and off the ledge.

Maybe it's the material itself, telling me that I'm tiny and that's okay. Maybe it's Sagan's optimism, his irrepressible glee at the fact that our country at that time had begun to land exploratory robots on other planets. Maybe it's the effects, technically limited, but artistic. Maybe it's the music - an eclectic blend of classical and 1980's most ethereal electronic compositions by the likes of Tomita and Vangelis. Maybe, it's the reverence with with Sagan approaches the subject matter. Maybe. I know it's a combination of all of the above. I can watch the episodes wide awake or I can fall asleep before the opening credits end - it doesn't matter. Life makes more sense. I am closer to being at peace. I can cope with the stuff with which I need to cope, and I can let go of that which I can live without mastering. It's like a drug, only it's good for me.

Sure, the next morning, it all comes crashing down and the guy in the car next to mine - the guy who clearly has never seen "Cosmos" - is just as capable of ruining my fragile little day, but for an hour at a time, I cope. I deal. I survive.

I survive. Thanks, Dr. S. And thanks also for creating a show with several built-in drinking games. I'll share just one, the most obvious: Every time Sagan says "billion," drink. You won't make it through the first episode.