Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ever Drink a Rattlesnake?

I wanted something different.

Wanted bourbon, though, and that's not so very different.  Hmm, what to do, what to do?

When I don't know the answer, I hit the books.  Tonight I hit The American Cocktail.  Just out last year from the geniuses behind Imbibe magazine.  It contains 50 drinks covering the Coasts and everything in between.

I opened the book at random and found myself on page 89.  Before I tell you about the rattler I discovered there, I gotta put down two funny lines from December.  I only have a few more hours of January left, and if I don't get the lines down now, well - February just seems too far gone.

The first line came from a card we received from our friends Annie and Danny.  They live on the other coast now, and we always look forward to their cards.  They're that couple who actually writes something inside - if it weren't so cool, it'd be irritating.  This year, they commented on the photo of their daughter and son.  Don't be fooled, we were warned, about how well the kids clean up.  They were pretty sure they'd just, that very day, uttered this phrase - while in conversation with Child #1:

We don't negotiate with terrorists.

And lord, yes.  We could relate.  We love our kids, of course - but c'mon?  Sometimes that's exactly how we feel.  Like an occupying army in a hostile country full of natives that would rather see us gone.

So that was the first funny thing.  The second funny?  When Kristina told us that, yes, Santa had visited Bayside - her school - but that it wasn't the real Santa.

Not the real Santa? Karen asked.  Why do you say that?

Welllll, Kristina said, hands on her hips.  He said he was glad to see me.  Really happy to see a little girl who'd been so good all year long.

Karen and I just looked at each other, then at Kristina.

The real Santa knows that's not true, she said.

Ah, yes.  Right.  Of course.  Silly us.  Silly Santa.

Ok, now that I got that out of the way.  Page 89 of The American Cocktail book.  There you find a Rattlesnake.  It's a riff on the original Rattlesnake from Harry Craddock's The Savoy Cocktail Book.

If you ever come across a copy of the Savoy - well, let me take a gander at that beauty from 1930 and I'll mix you anything you want.

Fast forward 80-odd years, though, and you'll not find Harry Craddock at the Savoy, but Evan Faber pouring behind a bar in Boulder.  Since he's in Colorado, he gets to sip Stranahan's, a gorgeous, smooth whiskey that I hadn't heard of until just a few weeks ago - the Daddy of one of Kristina's friends introduced me to it after dinner at his house.

If you're ever in Denver, buy some.

I said I wanted something different, right?  But I still wanted bourbon?  Well, the Rattlesnake's got bourbon, but it's also got an egg white to froth it up.  That's different.

So - here you go:




Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Fit Your Profile

I'm driving to work today.  It's about 60°, sunny, just a hint of wind.  Am I bragging?  Of course I'm bragging.  Earlier in the day, when I told Elizabeth to put on something warmer, she said, Why?  It's not like it's winter out there.  You call that winter? and she gave a disgusted nod to the window, to the outside, as she tugged her sundress straight.

Hard to argue with her.

So I'm driving to work, and I think I hear my phone beep.  I don't want to check text messages while I'm driving down Lincoln - that would be against the law.  So, law-abider that I am, I pull over to the curb on this splendid day in Alameda, throw the car into Park, and grab my phone.

False alarm.  No text message.  But since I'm parked there, I decide to throw caution to the wind and check my email, too.  Hell, I may even have jumped onto Facebook to see what my 400 closest friends were up to.

Time passed.  By the clock on my dash, I'd say about 12 minutes.  That's when I see the guy.  Tubby white guy, standing in the middle of the street.  A safe distance from my car - it's a 2000 Honda Accord, real gangsta.  If I were a tubby white guy in Alameda's East End (oh wait, I am!) I'd be approaching a car like mine ver-ry cautiously.  He winds his hand in the air, giving me the universal roll-your-window-down signal, except no one rolls their windows down anymore, right?  But I'm old enough to know what he means.

So the window goes down and the guy's got a big grin stuck to his face.  I don't know what it is with me and my Alameda neighbors, but clearly there's something in the air.  This grinning guy wants to know what's going on.  Real easy like.  No hassle, my brother, just what's going on?

I'm perplexed - the penny hasn't dropped - so I say something confused like, Wa?

And he says, I noticed you've been parked here for a while (please see my note above for the approximate length of time I had been parked on Lincoln Avenue in Alameda.)  Me and my neighbors, he says, we just like to keep a watch out for each other.  So I was wondering, are you meeting someone here?

That's when the penny dropped.

I respond - suddenly a little aggressive and not confused because the penny just dropped - so I respond, Gosh, no.  I'm just legally parked here on Lincoln Avenue in Alameda, California.  I didn't know there was something wrong with that.  Is there something wrong with that? 

It's a good thing there's no traffic on Lincoln, because my Samaritan is just standing there in the middle of the street as he collects himself.

No, he says, nothing wrong with that.  It's just that there have been some robberies in the neighborhood and I noticed that you were parked here not doing anything.  And because of the robberies, well, we're all just a little conscious of who parks where and for how long.

Robberies? I say.

Yes sir, he says.  Robberies.

I have to hold my hand up to shade my eyes.  Did I mention how pretty a day it was in Alameda?  And he's standing right in front of the sun, and I can't get a real good look at him, so I hold my hand up and he notices that and steps, all courteously, off to his left to let me see him without being blinded by the light.

Just a tubby, middle-aged white guy, doing his Neighborhood-Watch duty.

Gosh, I say again.  (I'm fond of Gosh when I get mad.  It's keeps me focused on not saying what I'd really rather say.)  Robberies?  And to think, my kid goes to the school just up the street, right there.  And I live just back there.  And here I am, parked, and you come out after twelve minutes and accuse me of . . . what?  Scoping out these joints?  Right here, in broad daylight, on this street?  The street I travel every day of the week as I take my daughter to school?

Now I'm getting good and worked up.

A robber?  Is that it, I say.  I fit your profile?  What, is it because I didn't shave, and that brings out my swarthy features?  And the vehicle?  Wow.  A decade-old Accord.  Regular pimp-mobile.

Actually, he says, I didn't say a thing about profiles.  It's just that with the robberies going on, we're  concerned when we see someone that we don't recognize in our neighborhood.

I want to scream Boo at the guy, see if he'll jump.  But I don't.

See, I say instead, there you go again.  Accusing me of being a robber.  It's kind of funny, is all.  I haven't been accused of that in my own neighborhood before.  I know it's hard for you to believe, but we actually do share this neighborhood.

Ok, he says, so it'd be all right with you if I called the police and gave them your license number?  And we'll just let them handle it?

And he's hard to make out because he's moved back into the sun but I know he's grinning now like a real shit-eater.

Call the police?  Sure.  Wait a sec, though, I say as I reach for my wallet.  It's a sterling cigarette case.  A stupid affectation, I know, but I love it.  I'm sure to the tubby guy, though, it's just bling.

I hold up my wallet and say, Don't you want my Driver's License, too?  For when you call the cops?  I'm sure the Alameda PD have nothing better to do than to come out here to investigate why I'd be parked on your street for twelve minutes looking shifty.

I know this is stupid.  On some level, I realize that.  I mean, here I am.  I'm the guy who says, Hey - if you want to profile passengers as they board planes, please go ahead.  If I fit your profile, target me.  I'd feel safer if the TSA actually used their judgment and pulled me out of line instead of the granny on vacation from Topeka.  But when I'm actually profiled?  By a tubby white guy?  Clearly, a different story altogether.

Great, then we'll just let the police handle it, the guy says as he walks off.  So now I call him a jerk.  The last resort of a pissed-off Greek.  But he just walks off back to his house.  Stupid house with a stupid truck full of stupid bricks in the bed.

You have a nice day, now, he says.

Even though I call him a jerk a second time, I'm actually happy with myself for not getting out of the car.  Two tubby guys squaring off in the middle of Lincoln Avenue - that would have been adorable.  But I didn't.  Do that.

So I sit in the car for 30 more minutes.  I time it with the clock on the dash just to be sure.  I sit there for half-an-hour because at that point, I do indeed want to talk to the Alameda PD about my heinous actions.  Parking on a Sunday afternoon - for no good reason.  None at all.

I also don't want the tubby guy to have the satisfaction of having scared me off.  Ladies - this is really how men think sometimes.

But the coppers, they don't show.  I'm sure my neighbor is irritated.  He's pays his taxes just like the next guy, and what's it get him?  Nothing.

Me?  I'm going to make myself the perfect martini after work.  I'll be calm then.  I'll enjoy it then.  That'll be me, enjoying a peaceful end to this peaceful day.  You just watch.  Really.

Bjorn and his Big Blue Truck

Just before you hit the Busy Bee bakery - this is on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, in Inverness Park - you want to take a left onto Vallejo Avenue.  We were heading to the Blackthorne Inn, and if you go, request the Eagle's Nest as the place to lay your head.  Trust me.

You've been hiking in Pt. Reyes, right?  In the Spring?  When the lupine, poppies, and shooting stars create a crazy gorgeous tapestry?  Go.  Spring is around the corner.  So go, and make sure you turn left onto Vallejo.

That's just what we did the first time we went.

I'm thinking about that trip now because it was thirty years ago this month that the Big Rain hit.  If people hereabouts talk about The Storm, that's the one they mean.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  It's just before the little green bridge that you turn onto Sir Francis Drake.  The road sign is often missing, so keep your eyes open.  Like I said, at the corner with the Busy Bee, you turn onto Vallejo and head up the hill.  But just before the Blackthorne, there on the right, you'll notice a false note.  What's a blue tarp doing there, almost buried in leaves from the months-old winter drop?

It won't make sense to you, and it didn't make sense to us - surely someone would have gathered it up, thrown it away?

The reason we noticed is because an artificial patch of blue, even when mostly obscured by fallen leaves, sticks out if it's been discarded in the middle of all that nature.

I don't know why the image of the tarp stuck with me, don't know why I asked the Inn's handyman about it the next day.  But I did.  And this is what he told us:

Were you living in California in '82?  Don't suppose you remember the storm we had that January?  Worst storm to hit the North Coast in anyone's memory.  One meteorologist called it a punk storm because of the damage it did.  Dumped a half-year's worth of rain in about a day.

It closed the Golden Gate Bridge, derailed trains.  Ten people down in Santa Cruz, below Love Creek?  They got buried dead in a mudslide.  Then there was a hunt for a Bengal tiger that got loose.  Some pot-growers in La Honda had used the cat for a watch-dog until he escaped in all the wet.

Here, in Inverness?  It was bad.  We were cut off from help for days.  But people really pitched in.  Manka's served the storm's refugees on linen tablecloths.

And here?  Before this was officially the Blackthorne Inn?  Two couples owned it.  Will and Patricia were one of the couples.  They also owned an old pick-up truck and a dog.  The pick-up was blue, the dog was a Shepherd mix.  Bjorn loved his truck.  He slept in the bed every night, come rain or shine.  When Will would take off to run errands, Bjorn would hop in the back and hang his German-Shepherd face over one side of the bed, then run across and check things out on the other side, happy only as a dog in a truck can be.

Will and Patricia, though, they'd agreed to sell the truck.  Probably hadn't asked Bjorn what he thought, but....

A teenager had come and given the blue truck a test-drive.  Decided it was just what he was looking for.  They agreed on a price, and the boy was going to pick it up the next weekend.  Then the rain came.

Came down hard.  For hours.  Then for a day.  Can you imagine hard rain for an entire day, and then more?  The ground soaks up the water, but like a sponge, at some point there's just too much.

It rained past that point.  When a hillside gives way, the sound?  It's like a dozen locomotives, all of them angry.  Mud and rocks and trees, torn from the earth, rushing downhill - I hope I never hear that sound again.

When it was light enough to see, we went out to check the damage.  First thing Will saw was that the truck was gone.  Patricia started calling for Bjorn, but he was gone, too.

Will found the truck.  It'd been taken from outside his cabin, where it was parked uphill from the Blackthorne, and swept a ways down Vallejo.  Swept down and engulfed under a hundred tons of mud.

The tarp you saw?  The blue tarp?  That's the top of the cab.  Of the truck.  The rest is underneath, buried.  They figured Bjorn just hunkered there in the bed of the truck and went down with it.

That was enough for Will and Patricia.  They were through.  So the Blackthorne - or what was left - only had one couple owning it.  It was going to take a lot of digging out and rebuilding, so that's when it became an Inn.  The money for all that work had to come from somewhere.

But Will and Patricia?  They come back early every Spring.  They set out a blanket on the side of the road and turn up the music.  While Will repaints the top of the truck's cab with a new coat of blue, Patricia plants flowers over where the bed of the truck would be.  So we get flowers in the Spring to remind us of Bjorn.  Flowers and a fresh coat of blue paint.  That way, we don't forget.

And now that I've told you, well - you have to promise not to forget, either.  Promise?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Perfect Martini

Yes, I know who you are.  You say the perfect martini is the one where you pour the gin into the shaker before you reach for the vermouth.  You dust off that bottle - then tilt it to allow a close reading of its label.  This always makes you smile.

You stand there for a moment, the cool bottle in your hand, acknowledging again that, yes, you chose correctly - chose this bottle of vermouth over all the others in the store, all the others lined up like good soldiers.  Lined up and hoping the Commanding Officer - you - noticed their shine, understood the spit and polish required to make them gleam.

Then you hold the never-opened bottle ever-so-gently next to the shaker of iced gin - before you put the vermouth back on its dark shelf, strain the gin from the shaker into your martini glass, and then presume you're sipping a little bit of heaven.

But I'm not addressing you tonight.  I'm also not talking to you - yes you - the Mad Man at the end of the bar.  You who say that shaking the alcohol bruises the gin and therefore the perfect martini should always, but always, be stirred, not shaken.

I'm not talking to any of you guys tonight.  Tonight I'm talking to the brown-eyed-girl at the jukebox.  She has her back to me, but her hips are swaying to the music, waving hello.  She just dropped four quarters into the juke, punched four buttons, and now we all get to listen to--

When marimba rhythms start to play
Dance with me, make me sway
Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore
Hold me close, sway me more

I can tell Brown Eyes has an open mind.  That she prefers her drinks straight up.  It's the seams of her stockings.  Her not-quite stilettos.  The clutch that she slipped her compact into as she sauntered over to the music.  Brown Eyes knows that just thinking something is true doesn't make it so.

When I ask her what she'll have, after she returns from the jukebox--

Like a flower bending in the breeze
Bend with me, sway with ease
When we dance you have a way with me
Stay with me, sway with me

--she smiles.  Drums her stoplight-red fingernails on the bar.  When she glances over my shoulder, I know she's checking herself out in the mirror behind me.  She looks good and knows it.  So she smiles again and asks for the perfect martini.

I tell her I only know how to make it one way.  That it doesn't have chocolate liqueur, peppermint schnapps, or a floating kiwi.

Good, she says.

Other dancers may be on the floor
Dear, but my eyes will see only you
Only you have the magic technique
When we sway I go weak

She doesn't want to know my story.  Doesn't care that Dan at Du Vin Fine Wines turned me on to the best vermouth I've ever tasted - and that I needed it quick because I had a date earlier, at 6:21 PST.  Had a date but no vermouth.  That is all immaterial to Brown Eyes.  So?  So then I do the only thing I can do.  The only thing I'm good at.  I make her--




I can hear the sounds of violins
Long before it begins
Make me thrill as only you know how
Sway me smooth, sway me now

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Problem with Memories of Elvis

Memory is complicated.  Its complexity takes root at the moment it's conceived - which of course is immediately after any memory's precipitating event.

You're no longer reading that last sentence - all you have is the memory of having read it, unless you read it again to see if what you remember jibes with what was written.

Because we all react differently to similar experiences - we sip the same drink and suddenly I'm eating pizza in New York while you're shaking your head at the memory of one-too-many in Bakersfield; or we hear Elvis sing That's All Right, and you've never heard it before whereas - for me?  It's Modesto, again.  It's 1977, again.  I'm headed, again, across the street to break the news to Kevin - the King is dead.

So because we all react differently to the same stimulus, there's no such thing as collective memory.  When we ask, Where Were You When The Towers Fell? we think we're tapping into common ground - when the only thing we share is whether or not we were both conscious at a particular period of time.  Everything else is a cat fight - yowls and claws and fur-tufts flying.

A good friend of mine from high-school - we remember at least two things differently.  First, we'd pledged, when he was 18 and I was 17, that if we ever had children, we'd be the one to tell the truth.  If the kid looked like a monkey, we wouldn't be one of those conforming friends who oohed and ahhed over the ugly thing.  We'd be the one to set the other straight.

I have no idea why teenage boys would make such an agreement.  All I can tell you is, we did.

Actually, I can tell you more.  I can tell you that when he had his first-born, a son, and called to tell me the news, I can say that when I asked, So, our oath still holds, right? my question was met with silence.

I don't know what you're talking about, he finally said.

The monkey-thing, I said.  I get to tell you the truth, remember?

He didn't.

Nor did he remember our agreement - when I called to say that I just got the phone number for an outfit that did cheap Tandem Jumps.  See, we'd promised that when we could afford it, we'd jump out of a plane.  So then, still in our twenties, still kind of unaffordable - I found a company that did it for less than fifty bucks.

Don't ask why I thought skydiving-on-the-cheap was a good idea.  It didn't matter anyway, because my vivid remembrance of our pinky-promise didn't conform to any of my friend's recollections.

Both of these, of course, can be explained away by, in the first case, pride, and just good sense in the second.  But Elvis?  Elvis was something else to Kevin.

There was no bigger fan.  Me?  I liked the King, but Kevin?  Kevin adored the hip-swinger from Tupelo.  So when that August day in 1977 came around, and I heard the news - I ran out of my house on Sherwood Avenue, crossed over to Birchwood, and knocked on Kevin's door.  He answered, crying.

Of all my memories of Kevin, that's the strongest.  How old were you, Kevin?  10?

Kevin and I lost touch - school, jobs, family - years passed, but then that Facebook thing happened, and one day I received a message from Kevin.  Kevin?  The first thing that came to mind was Elvis.  And then the neighbor who'd converted one of his bedrooms into an aviary.  Then me babysitting Kevin and little Joey.  What were his parent's thinking?  Memory memory memory.

When I responded to Kevin's message, I signed off with - Do you still listen to the King?

Kevin replied that he'd forgotten how much he liked Elvis Presley.  That when friends - just a few months previously - were going to take the three-hour trip from his place in Arkansas and visit Graceland, he had no interest.

No interest.

Memory is complicated.  And the truths we hold to be self-evident - if they rely on recall, on remembrance - well, the truth may be out there, it just may not be what you think.

One of the reasons I'm endeavoring to get the words down is to pin my thoughts down, too.  My judgments, sometimes, as close to the incident as possible.  Because as soon as memory takes hold - what's True can change.  What's Real may begin a metamorphosis - and suddenly you're not an Elvis fan anymore, and a detour to Graceland doesn't even occur to you, because, well - why would it?

Anyway.  That's what happens when it's the King's birthday and you're reminded of your good friend Kevin.  Thanks for the memories, Kevin, and happy birthday, Elvis. Happy birthday.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Does Jeff Bezos Have a Soul?


A crowded street, shoppers looking through windows at book displays.


Camera rushes into store, past shoppers, and continues through STAFF door.
Staff Room is messy and cramped like Staff Rooms everywhere.  Five booksellers argue around a table.  Behind them, a White Board is visible with the phrases BE NICE, THE ANSWER IS NEVER “NO” and HAVE FUN.

BOOK GUY points to the letters on his T-shirt – IAGBTB

It Always Goes Back To Bezos


BOOK GUY gives BOOKSELLER #1 a sharp look

Bezos! And he doesn’t create Amazon.com without being a genius. A game-changer.  If a genius changes the rules of the game, you don’t whine, you play it his way.

With this app of yours?

Yes!  Santa Claus Ultimate Marketing.


For short.

Santa Claus?  That was so last month.

The GIRLS need time to create it – so we’ll launch right before the 2012 Holidays.

Camera shows the GIRLS - ELIZABETH (7) and KRISTINA (4) - playing Barbies

And then your Barbie cries—

And then yours dries her tears—

Your kids can’t design an app.

They’re young, but advanced.  Montessori trained.

The hardest part will be the interface to the controls themselves.  After that - easy, peasy.

The letters on BOOK GUY'S T-Shirt now read WWBD?
So, what I did, see, all I did was ask, What Would Bezos Do?


BOOK GUY, angry
Stop that.  Look, the Internet starts and it’s like a tee-ny seedling—


—and those start-ups needed to be nurtured.  Taxes?  Taxes woulda wiped them out.  But now?  The Internet’s like, like, a weed—


A Redwood.


—a Redwood, growing tall, strong.  It doesn’t need nurturing—


—so California’s Legislature grows cajones—

Shows maturity.

—shows maturity, says Amazon has to pay taxes.  If corporations want to be people, then, by God, they’ll pay taxes like people.  Only then - Bezos pays five mill. to put an Initiative on the ballot to overturn the law.  Our law!

Not exactly.

But close.  Someone who’d orchestrate that?  Who, in these economic times, with firehouses closing, with orphans being turned into the street?  When that someone says no way, I’m not paying my fair share, not like every other California business?  That’s brilliant.

As brilliant at your logo idea?

Screen goes wavy.

BOOK GUY, wearing an Amazon T-shirt, crafts a new logo – writing BOOKS on the whiteboard, then drawing an arrow from the B to the S, à la the Amazon arrow.

But the point of the Amazon arrow is to show that they go from A to Z.  Quickly, with a smile.  You’re linking B to S.  Do you want to make a BS connection?

Wavy screen.

What’s your new idea?

S.C.U.M.?  It’s a bounty app.  It instructs consumers to go to Amazon first, decide what they want - then come into our store to make the purchase.  Bingo!  We give ’em five bucks.

That’ll just lose us money.

Amazon made all their money by losing money!  That’s the model!

It’s not very charitable.

I’m not running a charity!

It’s just, doing that during the holidays seems - miserly.

Scrooge Scrooge Scrooge

Every man for himself!  It’s the American way.

CAROLS can be heard coming from the store.   It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

But the holidays?  Part of Hanukkah is a remembrance of miracles—

One of the seven principles of Kwanzaa is cooperative economics – all of us, banding together, profiting together, collectively.

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory of good over evil.

The Saturnalia of ancient Rome signaled the suspension of grudges.


The most famous example?  The Christmas Truce of 1914.  World War I raged, the most horrific conflict in world history.


In the midst of the horror, the troops in the trenches declared a cease-fire.  It just – happened.  Soldiers who had been shooting at each other crept into no-man’s land.  On Christmas Eve.  To exchange gifts – cigarettes, brandy – to sing carols, play football. 

Are you ready for some football?!

These men, who’d visited horrors on each other hours before, who’d revisit those horrors so very soon, set aside their poison gas and bayonets.  And in the spirit of the season—


 —embraced.  And you want to violate that history with S.C.U.M.?

Intersperse cuts of TEAR on BOOK GUY’s face with TEAR on Indian’s face (from the Keep America Beautiful commercial), cut cut cut cut cut

Oh my god.  What I was thinking?  To create S.C.U.M., release it at the holidays – the horror!  You’d have to be a cheapskate, a misanthrope—

An ass.

BOOK GUY’s T-shirt shows Bezos’ face with a red slash

—an ass to do something like that.  You’d have to be a soulless, parsimonious—

You’d have to be a douche.

—you’d have to be a douche to do that during the holidays.  Forget it.  Let’s just go out there and have fun!

Camera pans down to ELIZABETH as she picks up the WSJ and starts reading.

Amazon celebrates its massive Holiday effort to pay customers to check prices in brick and mortar stores before leaving those stores to buy online.  Amazon paid $5—

And then your Barbie—

Fade to Black