Stumbled on this little gem, brewing in the depths of my “drafts” folder, one of 119 forgotten or half-realized old posts. You deserve to read it. It deserves to be read
Watching Wonder Woman with my wife–stir fry & folding TV trays in the living room.
Her: (dismissively) I’m not fully buying Remus Lupin as “Ares, God of War”
Me: (distractedly, Gal Gadot is on the screen) Can’t wait until the Lupine bloom.
Her: David Thewlis. He’s too wistful to be a twisted Greek God of War.
Me: Oh. You knew it would be him, though? Famous actor with a phony limp, helping out our heroes for no reason? If he wasn’t the bad guy, it’s a throwaway role and they would have hired a cheaper actor. Besides, he rocks a cool look for a villain.
Her: (Incredulous look.)
Me: My grandfather rocked that look as long as I knew him. Mustache, a boar’s bristle brush, and a dab of pomade.
Her: What’s a boar’s bristle brush? Is that really a thing?
Me: Exactly, but that’s what the hipsters say I should have–along with something called beard oil–in my daily beard maintenance ritual.
Her: You don’t even have a daily washing ritual.
Me: Right. All that fussing is anathema to the purpose of facial hair. I’ve got a free range beard. My grandfather looked sharp, though. Business suits at work, cardigan sweaters at home. Knee-high dress socks, even with shorts. In the garden he looked just like Higgins from Magnum, P.I.–the real Magnum, P.I. with the moustache and Higgins isn’t some pleasant, pint-sized blonde.
Her: It sounds like he stuck in the 1940’s and just stayed there.
Me: Exactly. He nailed it early. Kept it nailed. Like Higgins–they both kicked Nazi ass in Africa.
Her: Except Higgins wasn’t real.
Me: He was based on a real person. Probably my grandfather.
Her: (shakes her head) Are we dull? Is this–we’re dull, aren’t we?
Me: Not a chance. We have inconspicuous depths is all.
If you live within a day’s drive of Bloomington or Indianapolis, go to The Tap and give this guy’s beer a whirl. While it is true that he is allegedly related to me, and while it also seems that he wears the same sweatshirt every day, he really knows his way around beer. And now I’m thirsty. Sigh. Luckily I have some of his stuff in my fridge. Check out his profile.
When I was a kid, Muhammad Ali was a ubiquitous media figure, whether he was fighting or being interviewed or selling cologne on the television. I missed the early years of his career, and only learned about the political aspects of his fame much later. (a link to a fantastic article on Ali follows my post). As I encountered him, he was just one of the pantheon, a star of stars. Race, religion, and politics never entered into the equation any more than they did when I thought of my other childhood heroes: Willie Stargell, Mean Joe Green, and Mr. Rogers. I never realized until later just how bright Ali shined, the star among stars. Like many of my generation, we looked back on Ali with new interest long after he’d faded from public view, after he returned to the world stage at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, his trembling arm raised to light the Olympic flame, a man refusing to be bowed by age or the horribly ironic Parkinson’s that clawed at his body. I’ll never forget sitting in a restaurant near Wilson, Wyoming, drinking beer and eating pizza with friends, watching The Greatest ascend to light the torch, my eyes moist with respect and admiration. I cannot think of a person more deserving of the title, American Hero. He surely was that–as flawed as the rest of us, but possessed of a drive and determination that not only made him literally the greatest fighter of all time, but which drove him to risk everything for his beliefs, even when that meant potentially losing his career as well as his freedom. It is rare for us to see men who even come close to Ali’s stature. More is the pity.
In 1941, legendary North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il was born. He would have been 75. I snapped this photo back in my days with the diplomatic corps, during a three-day bender with Jong-il and a trio of Belgian prostitutes we’d picked up after a failed, clandestine meeting in Antwerp. He wanted nothing to do with increased grain subsidies, he’d laughed, unless that grain arrived in the form of Jack Daniels bourbon, which was hard to come by in North Korea thanks to an American embargo on luxury goods.
Jong-il decided he wanted to swim, and one thing led to another. We crossed France without incident. Surely some palms were greased along the way, as there was no mistaking the sleek, vintage 1974 Lincoln I wouldn’t see again until his funeral parade. Man, was that car cool.
Just after dawn we found ourselves in an apartment two blocks off the Cotes de Basques, ostensibly maintained as an RBG safe house. There was so much beer, pot, and cocaine–Jong-il was crazy about snorting the coke from one of the hooker’s ass cracks, after which he would laugh for half an hour, just giggling like a school girl–I’ve never seen anything like it, even during the out of control years of the first Bush administration. We never even left the apartment, let alone saw the beach. Sure do miss that crazy little guy; he really knew how to party.
I received a link to the official Playboy website recently, where it seemd Bunny Nation has uploaded its entire history, every last word, every last airbrushed nipple, every last cheeseball article on how to be a sophisticated man.
The answer is yes, I followed the link–right to a number of well written articles, including a rather predictable story about returning the Long Island Ice Tea to it’s 1970s mastery, as well as great short stories by David Foster Wallace and Chuck Palaniuk. There was some cheesecake, too, but I found it interesting–and indicative of our times–that Playboy is using literature and journalist to market it’s new all-access membership. And it’s tempting, too, but explaining why requires a story:
The first time I ever saw a non-maternal breast it was within the pages of Playboy Magazine, provided generously by a new kid in town, Mike LeBlanc, sometime around third grade. I thought to myself: hey, that’s not bad. If the opportunity presents itself, I would be open to the idea of inspecting similar subject matter again. Fate, it would seem, was on my side. New editions of Playboy magazine would appear at roughly one-month intervals, as if by magic, between the mattress and box spring of Mike’s parents’ bed. Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc–and thank you, also, to Former Miss Norway Ingeborg Sorensen. I owe you both an incalculable debt of gratitude for the richness you unknowingly contributed to my youth.
A few years later, Mike moved away, and my source for inappropriate “lite-core” mens’ entertainment went with him, along with my main source of camaraderie. We’d grown to be best friends, to the detriment of my other relationships, and the summer after sixth grade was brutally lonely.
Fortunately, I was twelve and the owner of a sweet Sears Free Spirit 12-speed bicycle–top of the line–for which I had saved and saved until I had the $89 necessary. For a department store bike, it was pretty nice–it’s 27″ size was perfect for my rapidly growing body–I would be 6’1 and 190 by the end of seventh grade. I rode that bike all over the county, sometimes 40 or 50 miles a day. My mother, to this day, has no idea that I roamed so far, but it was always the same: bored, I’d ride and ride and find myself in some town 15 or 20 miles from home, and say “Oh, shit.”
Aimless wandering around town was also a viable way to kill a day. It was on one of these adventures that I stopped at a yard sale, looking for “cool stuff” and maybe some comic books (I bought a copy of Fantastic Four #48–now worth about $400–for a nickel about the same time, and threw it away after reading it–doh!).
They had nothing good at this sale, except–a 10″x12″x24″ box of old Playboy magazines from the 1970s that was listed at $1. I had fifty cents in my pocket, but the lady cut me a deal: 45 cents for the box, since she didn’t want to take my last nickel.
Now, I have to ask: who sells 4 or 5 dozen playboys to a kid on a bicycle for what was then the price of soda?. Answer: Mrs. Anderson of Oakland Avenue. She wanted rid of those things. Badly. I was only too willing to lug that box home–it must have weighed 25 pounds–4 miles on my bicycle, and hide it away in my closet.
Years later, I spent a winter at my mother’s house taking care of her after an illness, and found the box in a closet full of my abandoned junk, and decided to steal a peek at my old childhood sweetheart, Monique St. Pierre. This was before the internet, let me remind you–1991. I opened the box, found Monique, smiled a little but shrugged too–you know, once you’ve got to the place in life where real naked women are readily available, perspective changes. At least it had for me.
I found myself, surprised though it made me, fascinated by the articles and interviews, none of which I’d ever looked at as a pimply pubescent–and I digested the box, top to bottom, glossing over the airbrushed glamor porn for the substantive journalism.
It was only later that I enjoyed a good laugh at myself–I’d devoted not hours but days to reading Playboy…for the articles. Afterward: when my mother recuperated enough to take care of herself, as prepared to depart, I hefted all those old magazines to a used book store and sold the entire box for $100 bucks–except for the carefully removed centerfold of ol’ Monique, which is still pressed neatly inside the cover of a large format picture book of renaissance artwork. Seemed fitting.
As for Monique, she became Playmate of the Year in whatever year that was–1979, I think, but I’m not going back to look. Not only that, she’s become one of the legendary models of Playboy history. They even made a statue.
I figured that it was time to start posting some cool “found” winter pictures, the way I do for summer. The thing is, it is not nearly as easy to find fun, photos of winter–it’s a more serious season, in many ways. Google “winter” and you get a lot of landscapes and snowy foliage, as opposed to the surfing and bikini babes a ‘”summer” search turns up. Nevertheless, I found a few.
The image above reminds me , however obliquely, of my own The elementary school days. My school was at the top of a hill–not a precipitous slope by any means, but in winter before the age of kneejerk school cancellations, and during the heyday of large, rear-wheel drive american cars, there was no shortage of tire-spinning mechanized behemoths churning halfway up the street before surrendering to gravity and backing their way back down the hill.
My children today fixate on the possibility of delayed schedules the moment word reaches them of even a single flake, but back in the day snow meant getting ready and going to school a half hour, maybe even forty minutes early, in order to join the daily round of “smear the queer” (yes, I know how that sounds, but I guarantee that not once of us ever gave pause to consider sexual orientation and, in fact, in this game “the queer” was generally the role of the bravest, boldest, and most athletic of the lot of us) which wasn’t as bad as it sounds: in short, one kid has the ball and he runs like hell while all the other kids try to get it from him. We played in snow over asphalt. There was often blood. It was wonderful–we all wanted to be the queer.
Even better, however, was when twenty or thirty of us would be busy beating the living tar out of each other and a car would start spinning tires on the slick hill, and we would run out into the street, en masse, and push it up the hill, laughing and shouting, erupting into a boisterous cheer.
Can you imagine that happening today. I’d be terrified of the liability issues if a horde of children surrounded my car on a slippery hill. Eventually, a driver called the school to complain and the principal herded a bunch of us into the school library and proceeded to shout and foam at the mouth along the way towards banning that tradition. He stopped “smear the queer,” too, just because he could.
Notice my spotty attendance here on my own blog, and in the “like” and “comment” sections of blogs I normally read? Well, I’ve missed you too–but not that much.
I haven’t missed you because I’ve spent three of the past four days in a warm kitchen with my strange 72-year old mom baking Christmas cookies and talking and driving each other a little crazy, in no small part due to the half pound of coffee beans we’ve exploited in the name of powering this annual venture. But hey, I’m baking cookies with my mom, the way she used to bake cookies with her mom. And I’m man enough to brag about it.
The caveat: this woman is frustrating in so many ways I can’t detail here lest I destroy her reputation, and none of those things really matter because she’s also quite possibly the nicest person I know. What maddens me is the reflection of my own faults that I see amplified in her–everything I would list on a New Year’s Resolution countdown is right there in her eyes, a syndrome I suspect is not unique to my family. On the other hand, it could be that she’s pretty much all I’ve got–my family tree has been whittled down by divorce, attrition and complacency to the point where the biggest venue we’d need for a reunion is the corner booth at Denny’s. (Do they still have those?) Aside from mom, with the exception of one cousin, sentiment for me in that branch of the family ranges from smug indifferent to open hostility.
That sounds like whining, but I’m a big boy, I tried my best, and it’s no small mystery that I tend to be an acquired taste–like drinking cheap vodka: there’s some painful burning at the beginning, a few laughs in the middle, but ultimately you wake up sick. At least I have a paradigm. Some guys can only dream….
But cookies. My mom can’t cook for shit. Sounds crude, but it’s the best way to say it. As I’ve written here recently, I was well into college before I realized that roast beef isn’t supposed to be ghostly grey, or that most recipes don’t start with the phrase “First brown a pound of ground beef…” or that vegetables don’t mostly come from aluminum cans. She learned everything she knows from her mother, but the both of them could sure as hell make some tasty cookies. These weren’t fancy cookies, mind you, but nor were they the sort of self-consciously “colonial” bland molasses and raisin-filled shit you’d expect from folks who so stubbornly clung to their damp, English Methodist culinary flagellation. No family in the history of the world has fetishized bad food like ours.
Except at the holidays, those few times of the year when they gave a damn; and that’s the key point: when they gave a damn. It is the fault of my mother, and her mother before her, that I am a Christmas zealot, in turn weepy-eyed and jubilant over the “most wonderful time of the year.”
We made at least 10 dozen of multiple recipes including tollhouse, sugar cookies (both sugared and frosted), thumbprint cookies stuffed with frosting or jelly, snickerdoodles, peanut butter blossoms, peanut butter cup tarts. So yeah, hundreds of cookies. At this point, we’ve consumed almost 20 pounds of flour, 12 pounds of butter, several pounds each of brown and granulated sugar, six ounces of vanilla, about 40 eggs. Still, it’s not really about what we produced.
We spent a lot of time waiting for the stove to catch up to our cooking, but I got to hear all her best stories and–surprise–some new content while we were throwing back java and listening to the blaring Christmas Music. It’s the thing we do–I mix, she cuts, shapes, or rolls, then I sugar or decorate. We talk.
I must admit that when I first started doing this, I was thinking she was an easy mark to exploit for labor–she’ll roll out and cut sugar cookie dough all day long, like a harvester racing an approaching rain. Over the years, it’s become more about the time together, but not because she’s doing anything different. At Christmas, I am patient enough, welcoming enough, to accept her, which is a good thing because, kharma-wise, I’m going to need ten times the patience from my children some day.