Monday, March 30, 2009

March Badness

The NCAA basketball tournament season is here again, and like many of you out there I was involved in one of those fiendish gambling rings known as the office pool bracket. I admit to watching a bit of the hoops over the course of an average winter and when the time comes to fill out the sheet, I have had a great deal of success, usually finishing near the top. Better use could of been made of the paper this year, which should have been thrown into the fire or used by monkeys attempting to write Shakespeare. Our simian cousins were more likely to produce a timeless masterpiece using their feces as ink than I was to win this year's March Madness competition.
I entered with a strategy of course, one that unraveled more quickly than a poorly knitted sweater. First off, never pick based on mascots, unless the school is represented by a man in a banana slug costume (in that case they are sure to win it all). Next, pick a couple Cinderellas, not stunning 1 seed vs. 16 seed upsets, but reasonable underdogs like 11 or 12 seeds. My poor lasses never even got to the ball, all of them going down like whores right before the rent is due. The damn pumpkin was full of maggots and wreaked of death worse than my grandmother's breath after her traditional post-coital anchovy repast. The slippers proved to be borrowed from a 6"6 tranny, no chance they would fit.
I played it safe in the later rounds for the most part, but I wasn't about to go straight chalk (all one seeds in the Final Four). Only one time in the history of the tourney had all four number one seeds advanced to semifinal Saturday and although it was last year that it had happened, I didn't expect a repeat. I calculated that in all likelihood two of the top teams would advance to that hallowed ground while the two other universities would be lesser ranked schools. For once I got something right. As of yesterday, two of the top seeds had been penciled in to visit the lovely town of Detroit, where the finals will be held this year.
Check out the movie Robocop if you'd like to get in the mood with some scenic views of Detroit burning to the ground. On the other hand, residents would probably rather you viewed Grosse Point Blank, which depicts armed assassins running through the halls of a suburban Detroit high school. That one's a comedy. Although in truth not as funny as watching a Detroit Lions football game.
As you have probably already gathered, the two number one seeds I picked to advance happened to be the two number one seeds that lost. Without any Final Four teams left to garner me more points in the standings, I am left in last place gazing at all the immaculate brackets that hang above me, hopelessly out of reach and forever denied me. At least until next year, when I will pound on you fools like Mike Tyson before his brain leaked out of the side of his skull in the mid 80s.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

April Showers Us With Musical Joy

Usually they bring May flowers, but on this particular occasion April will rain upon us two excellent live acts. The exact destination: The Handlebar in Greenville.
The first of our musical visitors is the punk band Against Me. Not to be confused with Rise Against, who are very similar except for the fact that they suck, Against Me comes from the Gainesville, Florida area and have four full-length studio albums already under their belts.
I have had the pleasure of seeing Against Me one time previously, a four band show at the Orange Peel that they headlined. The mayhem and destruction in the mosh pit that night reminded me of the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, but without the deaths and decapitations. The guitars and drums roared like cannons as we all tried to charge the stage and take out the band's entrenched position. Everytime we got a member of the audience up to where they could attack they were gripped with fear and suddenly jumped back into the crowd. Towards the end of the show the band started jumping into the melee as well, realizing that they were outnumbered and should just submit to our overwhelming forces.
With numerous apologies for that crack-induced aside, I would also like to inform you the reader that Against Me puts on one hell of a show. Anyone who is interested in hearing some of their tunes before attending the concert, just drop me a line and I will gladly allow you to sample some of their finest compositions (the same is true for the following group). I would never serve you a steak without letting you taste my meat first.
The other half of our April attack is a band known as Enter the Haggis. As a direct descendent of a great Scotsman (whom I refer to as Dad), the moniker immediately struck a nerve deep in the center of my completely nerveless soul. Who were these fools who named themselves after a near-inedible Scottish delicacy. Turns out they are a group of rapscallions (onions who play Ice Cube tunes?) from the Toronto area. These fellas, who I have now seen perform twice at the Handlebar and are returning there April 30, play a magnificiently original combination of bluegrass, rock, and Celtic/Scottish folk music.
ETH will be showing off their new album, Gutter Anthems and playing tunes from their two previous efforts, Soapbox Heroes and Casualties of Retail. Pull your kilt out of the closet and come check out their massive pipes while I dance a jig or something vaguely resembling one. Even if you don't like the tunes watching a fat man endeavor unsuccessfully to kick out the jams should be entertainment enough. If not, I recommend drinking a lot of beer. Come to think of it, I recommend that either way.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bottom Chef

I was just reading a review of a book that tries to explain what in the human psychology causes us to make mistakes. One of the author's main points, and I have no idea how it relates to the whole theme because I only read a blurb, is that most of us think we are above average at most, if not all tasks we attempt. The author states the obvious point, that it is mathematically impossible for all of us to be above average. I have to say I heartily disagree. Everyone can be above average at certain tasks, as long as there is one person who is far enough below average to even things out. Enter exhibit A, my complete inability to cook.
As a semi-confirmed bachelor (send prospects my way this sad fact is not intentional) I have long prepared my own meals. In the early days after college I mainly dined upon sandwiches, Hot Pockets, and Mr. P's Pizza. I was best known for my Mr. P's towers, a dish created by putting one Mr. P's Pizza on top of the other (culinary homoeroticism?) and then tossing cheese as well as a generous dollop of ranch over the pizzas. Surely you are rushing to the store right now to try this amazing delicacy.
I was (and still am) a big fan of the ranch dressing, and most of these meals were designed as ranch delivery systems (RDSs for short). I would wash down my RDSs with a couple of sodas, usually Cheerwine or Moutain Dew. Surprisingly, I did not lose a lot of weight while maintaining this diet.
My cooking skills have improved a wee bit in the interim and I am now able to cook some amazing meals, such as pastas, burritos, and omelets (still in the experimental stage there). The other day I was preparing one of my new masterpieces and I learned a valuable lesson that I will gladly impart to you now.
The hamburger meat was browning in the skillet as I gathered my ingredients together. I was in the process of manufacturing one of my more exotic delights, an American favorite which I believe is known as "Hamburger Helper."
I pulled the milk from the refrigerator and carefully read the label for the first time. Kind of amazing since I recall staring at the milk aisle for several minutes trying to find the proper carton. I don't use much of the stuff so I wanted to grab a small amount and avoid the accumulation of a cottage cheese-like substance in the back of my fridge, an organic blob that would probably crawl out in the middle of the night and murder me, justifying my mother's warnings of what could happen if I failed to drink my milk.
As a result, after all my pondering/staring blankly into space, I chose to grab a small bottle of soy milk. I paused as long as I did mainly because I wondered whether the nature of the product (it didn't come from anything's tits, unless beans have been so rapidly evolving that they now have boobies) would cause the milk to be less effective in fulfilling its crucial role in the recipe. The Rock has always told me to know my role and although I did, I was unsure if soy milk had those team player characteristics I was looking for in order to make a truly great/barely edible Hamburger Helper.
Lost in this barrage of worries was my ability to read the entirety of the label, something I finally did as I hunched over the skillet, ready to add the final piece of my culinary puzzle. Right there on the bottle, next to the part that said soy milk, was the word "vanilla." When I saw that word, I have to admit that a lump caught in the back of my throat. I was already worried about the non-cow derivation of the stuff and this was another spanner in the works. The store was damn near a five minute drive away, so I said damn the torpedoes and threw that shit in the pan. Then I began to pray.
Fifteen minutes later, the food had finished cooking and I was ready to sample the results of my experiment for good or ill. Not surprisingly, the vanilla flavored Hamburger Helper was not terribly delicious. Even with a heavy infusion of ranch and my new tongue's new lover, Cholula, the meal pretty much tasted like a tossed salad and I don't mean the kind with tomatoes and lettuce.
I have to admit there is a lesson in this whole thing. I should probably get off my ass and go to the store rather than put really nasty things in my food on the off chance that they somehow disappear during the cooking process. I suppose I thought myself some sort of alchemist at the time, changing soy milk into gold. Unfortunately, I found out that this is an impossible task, at least for someone who should be up for the anti-award of the world cooking establishment: Bottom Chef.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Final Irish Photos

Here is the link to the last of my Ireland photos. I tried to save most of the funny ones for last. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wo-Ho Wo-Ho, Its Off To The Twilight Zone We Go

The Waffle House: everyone's favorite late night dining experience or, more accurately, the only place that is still open when you suddenly and oddly get the munchies at four in morning. Most of you have probably had an experience or two with the Awful Waffle and the assorted cast of devious characters that are bound to have accumulated within its doors once the clock strikes two.
My trip to Atlanta to see Flogging Molly on the 4th of March provided me the opportunity to enter the premises again and wallow in nostalgia amidst the kind of atmosphere that more closely resembles a Dali painting than it does real life. Or, perhaps these people are just a lot more real than my puny earthling brain, unpolluted with the requisite dosing of various illegal chemicals, is able to endure.
I may have already alluded to the fact that this visit was not my first ride on the waffle rodeo. My college years and the subsequent attempts in the decade afterward to relive them have resulted in a series of late night trips to Waffle House and other late-night diners of its ilk. I have faded away from that scene in recent years as I have begun to move in different circles (read: become boring and old), but I still retain memories of trips filled with random characters straight out of a work by Stephen King, or better yet William Burroughs or Charles Bukowski, whose novel's realistic vein make them all the more frightening.
On two occasions I have even been evicted from the confines of the restaurant for my own disgraceful acts. Once on my twenty-first birthday, one of my good friends bought me all I could drink in exchange for my promise to vomit for him before the evening was out. A strange Faustian bargain it is true, but one I failed to carry out, although I did in the end find some unknown way of being sent from the rungs of one of the lowest levels of the ladder of our society. Frankly, I really can't even remember from the hearsay of my friends, who were only moderately better witnesses at the time, the reason for my receiving the proverbial boot from the WoHo proprietors.
I do have a much better recall of the second incident, when I composed the fiendish plan with my boyfriend at the time, to walk barefoot from my apartment to the Waffle House located over two miles away in Traveler's Rest. Yes, I am aware of how brilliant this plan was. Only the intercession of a divine force prevented our arrest that evening, when our somewhat intoxicated bodies somehow carried us the entire distance to the establishment, only to result in our swift exit when the employees noticed the absence of any footwear. Who knew they had such strict standards?
The most recent occurrence (thankfully) was not the fault of myself and my untoward infatuation with the demon rum. Post-concert hunger pains and the previous closure of other surrounding establishments resulted in our arrival at a Waffle House half an hour north of Atlanta. I landed in this parallel dimension around one in the morning with a posse that included my brother Colin and his friends Kevin and Joe, to find a nearly deserted interior. We opened the door and suddenly our lives took sudden twist downward and into the rabbit hole.
The reason for the lack of business was soon to become apparent. No psychopathic customer, drugged out hippie, or overly intoxicated Alastair was going to be the doom of this scene. The role of lead lunatic would be taken instead by one of the employees of this particular WoHo, and we were quickly introduced to his breathtaking madness.
An older man in his late fifties or maybe early sixties shambled slowly towards our table to welcome us into his house of horrors. I will let Kevin take over with his dead-on description:
"In the area a bit to the north of his neck, he had what appeared to be either a very small chin or an egregious overbite. It almost reminded me of a ventriloquist dummy...but it also didn't move when he spoke. Perhaps the person controlling the levers was not currently at the wheel."
We had apparently entered a Jeff Dunham show that was taking place somehow without the presence of Jeff Dunham. Kevin had more to say though:
"His glasses were a thick, square-like shape, kind of like the Stacy Keach specs in 'American History X'. The alarming trait was the slight tint. For some reason, seeing someone with tinted glasses indoors or at night, regardless of whether or not they have been prescribed, makes me uncomfortable."
In all honesty, quickly was probably a bad adjective to use for this gentleman, for nothing he did was worthy of the term. His first act, after we had waited five minutes in a diner with no other customers, was to present us with silverware. The process was undergone in an almost ritualistic fashion, each piece placed before us one at at time, with a delicate reverence one would think was reserved for the presentation of Communion at church. Not a word was spoken during this ceremony, with the possible exception of an incoherent mumble (a welcoming one or something slightly more sinister?) on the part of the waiter. He then waddled off, without asking us about drinks.
Our man returned ten minutes later, a good five minutes after we had clearly decided on what we wanted for dinner. After another muffled utterance on his part, we determined that he was ready to take our order. Somehow we stumbled through the process, with Joe helping things along by agreeing to have anything on his hash browns that the man wanted to put there (probably in retrospect an unwise request).
Kevin then made the unfortunate mistake of asking for a bit of the waitering. I will let Kevin relate this incident in his own eloquent words:
"He got irritated when I asked him for cream with my coffee, and upon his return lamented on how he only has two hands for about five tasks...maybe I was rushing him. Then he tried to make what seemed to be an incoherent joke about the situation, to which we replied with blank stares and a few eventual shaky laughs."
Once we were through placing our order, another man appeared, apparently out of thin air, to do our cooking. I could have sworn someone said, "bring out the gimp" shortly before he was beamed into the kitchen. This weirdo was a short dude shaped like a Bartlett pear, with a wispy mustache and an ethnic background based on Bulworth's advice to fuck until we are all one color. He did a nice job cooking our vittles and then disappeared once more. We discovered him again when we went to pay - he was sitting in the corner and appeared to be viewing some child pornography on a small laptop. He was the less talkative of the two, as recall he never spoke a single word.
Back to frightening individual number one, AKA the waiter, whom we will call Steve from now on in order to make it easier to explain who the hell I am talking about. This is a literary technique known as pulling shit out of your ass. No real reason to name the guy Larry and a heartfelt apology goes out to all Steves around the world upset by this completely arbitrary decision on my part.
Using the word frightening for Steve may be too strong a term, as I never felt in any physical danger during the whole experience (although I may be alone on that front), but rather as if we had walked into some sort of alternate universe where people huff glue and meander around like zombies while at work. Steve's wanderings took him over to our table, where he presented us with the check. Within moments he returned and took the bill away from us, with nothing but one of his patented grunts in way of explanation. I am sure he had a good reason to do what he did, but this act was just a bit of icing on top of the cake of insanity we were being served.
Our starving group, in quite a hurry to return to the real world, or at least anywhere but where we were, wolfed down the hash browns and eggs in front of us and dashed towards the counter in order to ante up with Steve, who was also the cashier. Colin made the unfortunate mistake of being the first to pay, and compounded his error by asking to have his check separated from the rest of the bill. Colin then received a tongue-lashing from Steve for having not mentioned this need earlier. None of us had a clue what he said, besides repeating the joke "walk-all-ova-ya" when seeing my brother's credit card in a sudden bipolar swing towards humor.
After what seemed like an hour of work pounding out arithmetic with the use of an old pencil and a calculator, Steve finally managed to total up Colin's massive bill, which included a bacon and egg sandwich and a water (the agua was free).
The three of us who still had to provide monetary compensation for our dinner quickly huddled up and found the money necessary to cover the rest of the meal. We yelled our farewells to Steve and hurried outside to Kevin's waiting vehicle. It was only then that we spoke and laughed about what had just happened. No one had been willing to utter a sound above a whisper while inside the Waffle House. The kind of lunacy we had witnessed inside was most deserving of that level of respect.
So, if you are ever in the neighborhood and looking for an interesting experience.....go one exit down and visit the Taco Bell instead, believe me, its just not worth it.