Monday, June 29, 2009

Not So Good

I spend a lot of time here standing atop my soapbox pontificating and otherwise pretending I am wise to the point of being damn near knowledgeable. Alas I must confess that although I do have some mad game, there are certain areas in which I take craptacularity to stratospheric levels never heretofore attained. With that brief introduction, here is a list of things that I completely suck at to the extent where I should be considered among the worst in the world - an accomplishment in itself I suppose.

10. Relationships - I am single and have been for a few years now so that should say about all that needs to be said there. No need to get too in depth on that subject as I am already contemplating various methods of suicide that wouldn't hurt too badly. If this list had eleven spots, enduring pain would be the thing I am eleventh worst at doing.

9. Darts - Honestly, I do have some skills as far as the game of darts goes. I can hit the board pretty near what I am aiming at on most occasions and keep myself in games against most people that aren't experts. Once we get to the bulls-eye I am pretty much screwed. If the target were the size of the Grand Canyon's vagina I would still somehow miss the thing. Don't try to watch me and my brother play a game, as this shortcoming is genetic and you may not live to see the end of the contest. I swear the one pictured above is not my fault.

8. Golf - Sports have always been an area in which I excel or at the very least one where I am competitive. Not so much with the great sport of golf. If the idea was to knock the ball into the water, the woods, or the sand I would be among the all time greats. Unfortunately, the goal is some little round hole and no matter how hard I try I can't hit it within the unfairly small amount of strokes I am allotted by the fiendish bastards who designed the game.

7. Science - I was always a fairly decent student even if I never met Mom's requirement of getting a 105 on every test I ever took. I was a B+ student for most of my academic career until my social coming out party (the last couple years of college) when I forgot to attend lectures for awhile, which apparently has some connection to academic success. My performance in science classes, however, was consistently below par regardless of the exact focus of the class. I was consistent if nothing else. Here are my results as I remember them. HS Biology: C, HS Chemistry: C, HS Physics: C, College Biology: C, College Astronomy: C. You probably get the picture by now.

6. Fixing Things - Handyman I am not, if anything needs repairing in my household I either pray my roommate's brother Rhea visits or I call a professional. Removing and replacing a light bulb is on the very edge of my fix-it skill set. One of my proudest accomplishments was successfully changing a flat tire in only thirty minutes earlier this year. I am the man.

5. Cooking - I have already written a bit on my weaknesses in the culinary arts so I will just direct you to one of my older posts if you would like to delve further into my massive cooking skillz yo.

4. Singing - I think I have a pretty good voice and I take every opportunity I can to show off my awesome pipes. Sadly, the human race has been unable to appreciate this rare talent of my and in reality most folks are unable to endure being in the same building with my warped warbling. Please skip the one where you ask me who sings a song I am singing and then I answer _____ and then you tell me I should leave that song for them to sing. I have, in fact, heard that joke before. A lot.

3. Being quiet - I was actually a pretty good kid growing up, kind of a nerd (I know you are shocked) and rarely in any serious trouble. The one thing that got me in trouble (beside my attempt to read the entire Stephen King anthology during classes in 9th grade) was my loud voice. I was born with a sad condition known as unabletowhisperitis. Anytime I got involved in a conversation with another classmate the teacher's annoyed rasp would soon be heard in response, letting me know that it was time for me to either shut up or leave her class. I was officially banned by the government from joining the army, not because I am gay (hell its one of the best places to meet like-minded guys) but because my deep rumble of a whisper would have inevitably lead to the death of my entire platoon.

2. Training employees - During my illustrious career in the restaurant business I have had the unfortunate luck to occasionally rise so far in my job that I am asked to teach the ropes to those lower on the ladder than myself (yes that is pretty low). Since I only devote on average 2% of my brain to thinking about work while I am at my job it is hard to use my personal experiences to assist others. Usually I forget to tell the trainee about 96% of the pertinent information necessary to make them a great employee. As a side note, did you know that 47.4% of statistics are made up on the spot? Thanks to Stephen Wright for doing the research on that one.

1. Making lists - See what I mean? I couldn't even think of ten things.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

100th Post

We here at Thoughts Askew are all about customer service. As a way to commemorate my 100th post (I know it seems like 987 to me as well) I will be writing about whatever you the dedicated reader would like to hear about. Tired of hearing about politics, food, drink, or who would win a fight between Danzig and a group of dead black men? Make the puppet on the keyboard entertain you with a story about a water-skiing squirrel (that would be cool as I already have a picture). Please send in your requests over the next few days and I will count the votes and start pounding out your story on Monday. Thanks to all of you out there who care enough to visit and especially those of you who comment, you make it worth the time and effort I put in here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Health Tips(y)

As Congress prepares to debate the merits of changing our health care system, I have built my own special bunker to insulate me from the shitstorm of lies that is on its way to a 24-hour news network near you. 75% of Americans currently favor the public option, a system under which you can choose to either keep your current health insurance or pick a government created plan. The companies that have been ripping us off - you know the ones who have continually increased premiums until they are utterly unreasonable and discontinued the coverage of people who have expensive illnesses - won't allow their little scam to come to an end easily. These fellows have profit margins to look after. How would their stockholders feel if the system saved lives but lost money?
Hey ass hole, you might say (if you've met me before) health care reform is hugely expensive and our government is running huge deficits. How can we as a country afford to take on such a burden? I would ask, how can we not? The system we are now saddled with financially cripples individuals as well as businesses who are forced to split the costs. Recent media reports have suggested that 46 million Americans have no insurance at all and that number is rising among our country's youth.
In the long run public health insurance plans make fiscal sense. Nations that provide their citizens with cheap medical care see a rise in preventative measures, resulting in a decrease in catastrophic illnesses. You know, the kinds that cost so much green you could build a golf course with it. A national system can also free capital for businesses, who currently devote a huge chunk of their resources towards employee health care. These millions of dollars can be invested and put to use rebuilding our stumbling economy.
If the public option works as planned the average American will be able to spend less on health care. With premiums having doubled in just the last nine years that is no small chunk of change. Government competition will skew free market forces, causing the insurance companies to adapt or die.
Many people will complain that the government has an unfair advantage and there is no way the companies will be able to compete with their resources. I contend in this instance that is perfectly okay. The capitalist business model has consistently failed when applied to two aspects of our society - education and health care. In these venues the goal is not survival of the fittest, but determining the best way to help as many people as possible. In fact you can see a bit of an analogy for the public option when you look at the interplay in higher education between the public and private sectors in the United States. There are public (state run) colleges as well as private colleges both competing for students and each have been able to find their own niche and thrive. As long as the private colleges provide something that people need they will survive. The same is true of privately run insurance companies.
All of what I have said thus far is important, but there is a perhaps less logical, but certainly more humane point to be made here. Sure health care reform is great if it helps our economy and contributes to smaller deficits, but the bottom line is saving and improving lives.
Although I don't agree with all the points that Michael Moore makes in his move "Sicko," the main theme throughout was that we are all human beings and we owe it to one another to do all we can to protect others who are sick or injured, regardless of whether there is a financial benefit involved. The job of a doctor is not to save only the lives of those that can pay. Good, quality health care is a human right, something that should be guaranteed by the Constitution to all Americans.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Man vs. Hot Weiners and Pig Racing: A Trip Through the Halls of Raleigh

Those of you who remember your geography will know that Raleigh is the capital of our North Carolinian neighbor. Having been educated in South Carolina myself, I just learned that titillating factoid last week. But there is much more to the town than just a silly little golden dome and a herd of hyenas calling themselves state legislators. Part of the collegian triangle composed of North Carolina State, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina, Raleigh is home to some of the most cutting-edge science-related research in our great nation. Rumor has it that Doctors Doom and Frankenstein share laboratory facilities located in the nearby suburb of Cary.
The aforementioned schools also play a mean brand of basketball. Well, except for North Carolina State, which is better known for its excellent meteorology department. Duke is coached by the famed Mike Krzyzewski, which in Polish means Ratlike son of Lucifer and if correctly spelled in Scrabble will net you 3,724 points. UNC is the current national champ in the sport, and so much better than all those other loser schools that they can only hope to be allowed to sniff alumnus Michael Jordan's jock strap one day.
So now you know a little bit about the town of Raleigh, but surely not enough to want to visit, unless you like watching college basketball or nerds fiddling with chemistry sets.
The average traveler needs a place to eat and drink and otherwise be entertained. My own ignorance was equivalent to the empty expanses of the Russian steppes, so I contacted a couple friends of mine who just happened to be current residents in the hopes that they would fill the vast open spaces of my mind dedicated to such things with a cornucopia of Raleigh-related tidbits.
First we hooked up with Paul Absalom Hoover IV, a lifetime resident who is nowhere near as dignified as his name makes him sound. He promised to take us to some places that are quintessentially Raleigh. Since my man Paul is a famous chili-dogger in his own right, our first destination was the Roast Grill, and I confess to being hooked as soon as I saw the Hot Weiners sign outside the restaurant. To say the place is a dive would be to greatly overstate its size. You couldn't fall down inside the joint without smashing your noggin on a wall first, much less attempt to dive.
The Roast Grill was opened in 1940 by Mrs. Mary Charles and is still run by her daughter and grandson. The restaurant is known for their hot dogs and you better be a fan yourself or don't bother stepping inside the door. The menu involves a bevy of choices, including hot dogs, hot dogs, and also hot dogs for those who happen to like hot dogs.
Your condiment choice is also a bit limited. Customers are deterred from using ketchup by the $15 price tag on the RG's only bottle and the likelihood that the owner will bite off your head at the neck if you are foolish enough to ask for some, then laugh while your blood spurts like a crimson geyser. Loaded dogs come with chili, onion, and mustard. Cole slaw is also available if you want to be different, you know, like all the other different people.
The Travel Channel's Adam Richman, host of Man vs. Food, visited the restaurant recently for the show and managed to set a record by obliterating 17 of the tasty dogs without having a reversal (this is a polite term used in eating contest circles that means exactly what you think it does). Always without fear except when I am scared, I thought about challenging his feat, but chose against spending the rest of the day in the fetal position. Adam washed down his meal with a bottled beer, which along with Coke, makes up the vast amount of drinks available at the Roast Grill. I went the Miller High Life route myself.
After demolishing our hot dogs, Paul took us to the Player's Retreat, located just outside of the gates of the North Carolina State campus. The pub had an immense selection of beers on tap, but I was most impressed by the tremendously large beer collection that lined the top of their walls, seemingly stretching out into an eternity of hoppy goodness. Every brand in the world seemed to be represented, including many that are no longer produced. I could have spent the whole day drinking their draft beer and staring in jealous admiration at their bottle stockpile, but I had more exploring to do: the North Carolina State Fairgrounds awaited.
Having lived my entire life in the South there is an inner redneck always percolating inside me, fixin' to burst out at any moment. I reckon that redneck was one happy sumbitch on this day, as we walked through rows of ancient tractors, past the pig-racing area, the impressive tractor-pull arena, and the only known shotgun-firing booth in America towards the free food samples. Various purveyors were hawking their wares and we took the opportunity to try BBQ sauces, liver mush, fried pork, and generic cereals that are in no way cheaper rip offs of real brands (I recommend the Cocoa Poofs and Loopy Fruits). Despite all the tasty flavor sensations turning our mouths into Mr. Happy, we had come to the fair for a reason and at five o'clock the time had come - the pig races were ready to commence.
The fans gathered on bleachers in tense anticipation as the emcee, dressed in the required overalls and cowboy hat, announced the racers. Bets were made on the sly and the starting gun fired, the pigs shooting out of their gates like a house afire. I hadn't heard squealing like that since the time I rafted down a river with Burt Reynolds. Ducks, goats, and pot-bellied pigs were also brought out to entertain us with their dazzling speed. I would like to use this space to personally thank Dale Porkhardt, Jr. for winning me a wager in the pot-belly race.
Tired and beaten down by the sun, not to mention the otherworldly excitement of the pig races, we headed to meet another Raleigh friend, Robert Mera, a PHD candidate at NC State, soccer expert, and banana hider extraordinaire (that is not a sex joke believe it or not). His mother, the divine Patricia Velasquez de Mera, had promised to cook us dinner. Having enjoyed her victuals before, I was not about to turn down her hospitality.
The Mera family hails from Ecuador, which borders the Pacific Ocean, and we were treated to some fine Latin American seafood, including a tilapia dish with rice and green olives as well as a corn cake that melted in my mouth so fast I thought for a second it must be made of M&Ms. The piece de resistance however, was the shrimp ceviche (also spelled as cebiche or seviche) . Ceviche is a method of cooking that involves soaking the meat in lemon juice, whose acids actually cook the flesh while also making it tender and juicy at the same time.
Velasquez's version was tossed with tomato, onion, and garlic and was so delicious that everyone I tried to converse with during the meal told me to shut the hell up. Well that didn't actually happen, but it sure would have if anyone had bothered to remove their face from their bowls.
After departing the hacienda we finished our tour of Raleigh off by heading downtown for a free concert. Candlebox, performers of such classics as "Maybe" and "Far Behind" was rocking Moore park led by their singer in his bad-ass neon blue glasses. Although I don't profess to being a big fan of their work I couldn't argue with the price. Apparently a lot of people agreed with me, since there were more people there than the day back in 1997 when Candlebox were accidentally mistaken for a group of serious musicians.
Sipping on my blueberry beer that I had inadvertently purchased from a untrustworthy shyster manning the so-called beer booth, I sat back and enjoyed the show from an excellent vantage point as far away from the stage as possible. Raleigh had provided enough quality pork and alcohol to give even the great Anthony Bourdain a culinary boner. I wasn't too terribly displeased myself.

I want to use this spot to once again thank Paul and Sally Hoover, Robert and Sara Mera, and Senora Velazquez de Mera for their hospitality. I had a great weekend and hope to see you all again soon.