Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meat Me in Baltimore

Today I had the best work-lunch I’ve ever had.  My boss and I and her other 3 direct reports went to a Brazilian steakhouse called Fogo de Chão.  (foe-goe dee shoun) At first I thought that a “Brazilian” steakhouse would mean that the meat has all the trimmings ripped off of it with wax, but I was assured otherwise.  Fogo (not to be confused with Fubu) is a steakhouse where throughout your meal, the “gauchos” keep bringing to your table, hunks of different meats on a skewer, which they will cut off onto your plate if you so desire.
Apparently, “Churrascaria” is Brazilian for “Meat-O-freakin’-Rama.”

Holy crap, I tell you, I ate until I couldn’t move. 

When you first come in, they try to misdirect you by telling you all about the salad bar.  I mostly ignored that part because it was pretty much full of vegetables.  Well, to be fair, they also had exotic cheeses and fruits, smoked salmon, salami, prosciutto, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, various olives and other Mediterranea. 
This is one of the ends.  All the veggie/fruity stuff are along the sides; this is the meat and cheese side.  You can see the giant bowl of bacon on the bottom right, which is considerably less heaping than it was when we walked in.

For someone like Cassie, the salad bar her could be a banquet in and of itself.  But as you might remember from this post, I am not a vegetable guy.  In fact, I think they’re evil.  Regardless, the last thing I want to do during an all-you-can-eat meat-a-thon is fill up the salad bar.  But they also had a giant bowl of bacon, so I had to at least give that a try, along with some cheese.  It was the meatiest bacon I’ve ever had… not greasy at all, just crispy and perfect.
Bacon and Swiss!

At the table, everyone has a little cardboard disc that’s red on one side and green on the other.  When you’re ready to bring on the meat, you flip the disc from red to green.  Once you do, you are treated to a steady stream of dudes bringing you giant slabs of meat on a skewer.  You can ask for any level of “done-ness” and they will carve off the appropriate piece to meet your taste.  They can even carve off whole pieces from the top part of the skewer, where you’d think you’d have to slide off whatever was on the bottom.  It was very slick.

When you’ve had enough, or just want to work on what you’ve got, you flip your disc back to red.  It was all I could do, though, to remember not to put my water glass on it, like a coaster.

But you guys… it was So. Freaking. Good.
That’s a rib, bacon rolled chicken, part of a sausage, and a slice of Filet Mignon.  You can see the green disk at the upper right.

Slice of sirloin, the same rib, bacon-wrapped chicken, and the same Filet. The little 'grabbers' there at the upper right are to help the gaucho put the meat on the plate after he slices it off. Also note that the disc has been turned to red, so that I could catch up.

Two slices of lamb, (the rib bone), sirloin, and part of a pork loin.

I know it doesn’t look like there’s much going on here, but every time you eat a piece, a gaucho brings another option.  You rarely had very much on your plate at one time.  Each kind of meat was so good; you just had to try everything.  Also, as we learned at the end of the meal, the guys that bring out the meat are the same guys that cook it!  I wish I would have known that earlier, so I could have complimented appropriately.  Same goes for my boss.  Not only did she want to take one of the slabs of meat home, she wanted the gaucho to come and carve it off for her too.

There were so many variations…
Picanha (prime sirloin),

Bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon,

Alcatra (top sirloin),

Lombo (parmesan cheese encrusted pork loin),

Frango (Bacon-wrapped chicken breast),

Cordeiro (lamb leg and chops),

and also Beef Ancho (ribeye), Fraldinha (bottom sirloin), pork ribs,  and Linguica (pork sausages).

It’s not just that they were a bunch of different cuts of meat; they were all seasoned differently.  And all of them were tender and juicy… just perfect.  My favorites were the Filet Mignon and the pork loin.  And the bacon chicken.  And their “house specialty,” which was one of the sirloin options that had an unbelievable seasoning.

They also have mashed potatoes, light, fluffy cheesy rolls, polenta and caramelized plantains for the table.

As my cube-mate at work once said, “I ate ‘til I got stupid.”  I definitely did not need dinner tonight.  But boy, did I ever need a nap this afternoon…

Fogo is not cheap, but you knew that coming in.  Lunch came to about $40 per person (after tip), and that was with everyone drinking water and no desserts.

We tried to float the option of going there last year, as a group activity for the department.  But because there wasn’t the budget to pay for the whole thing, people would have to pick up part of the tab themselves.  That got the idea voted down right quick.  But we, (those that wanted to go anyway), filed the idea away for another day.  To me, $40 for the best lunch ever was a no-brainer.  Can’t wait to go again… (Like in two or three months, when this lunch has finally digested.

I had a thought as I was there… could you imagine if a football team came in for dinner?  Holy cow, Fogo would go Broke-O that night.  How much beef do you think this guy can eat?
Casey Hampton, aka The Big Snack, nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now add in all the other monster linemen on the team.  I bet if the guy came over with a big skewer of meat, Big Snack would go, “Just leave it, man.

I then see him picking up the skewer and eating the meat off it like corn-on-the-cob.

Director’s DVD Commentary: Obviously, this is not a paid or requested restaurant review.  It’s just me talking about today’s lunch.  BUT, if the kind people at Fogo de Chão would care to put me on their payroll as a taster, that would be swell.

If you’re interested, there are other Fogo locations in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio TX, Beverly Hills CA, Chicago IL, Denver CO, Indianapolis IN, Kansas City MO, Miami FL, Minneapolis MN, Philadelphia PA, Scottsdale AZ and Washington DC.  Plus, you know… Brazil.

The stock pictures come from the Fogo website.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Still Dicking Around

When I wrote the previous post, my sole intention was to present this part to come.  As it so often happens with me, I start out needing only to put down a few paragraphs for context, to set up the meat of the post, but then I wrote until I didn’t have enough room for it all.

What I really wanted to do was to highlight a fistful of jokes that aren’t even mine.

In 1997, riding a crest of popularity for his ABC sitcom “The Drew Carey Show,” Drew Carey wrote a book called “Dirty Jokes and Beer.”

Among the personal stories and behind the scenes tidbits, Carey had a chapter called “101 Big Dick Jokes.”  I remember when I first saw it in a bookstore; I bought the book for that chapter alone.

In it, he described the genesis of the idea, based on the verbal jousting between he and his other comic friends.  They then took a long weekend to come up with their best collection. 

The thing that tickles me about stuff like this is the cumulative effect.  The more I would read, the more I’d giggle as they built on each other and before I’d know, I’d on the floor with the belly-laughs.  They’re kind of like Chuck Norris jokes, that way.

All I want to do here, like I did with the prior post, is list some of my favorites.  I guess I’d better keep the intro short this time.

Reminder: These jokes are not mine.  They all came from “Dirty Jokes and Beer,” Hyperion, 1997.  If you notice one day in the future that this post is gone, it’s because Hyperion was unimpressed with my disclaimer.  And now…

  • My dick is so big I have to call it Mr. Dick in front of company.

  • My dick has better credit than I do.

  • My dick is so big, I went to the Viper Room and my dick got right in.  I had to stand there and argue with the doorman.

  • My dick is so big, there’s still snow on it in the summertime.

  • My dick is so big, it has investors.

  • My dick is so big, it seats six.

  • My dick is so big, clowns climb out of it when I climax.

  • My dick is so big, it was once overthrown by a military coup.  It’s now known as the Democratic Republic of My Dick.

  • My dick is so big, there was a movie called Godzilla vs. My Dick.

  • My dick was almost drafted by the Cleveland Browns, but Art Modell didn’t want a bigger dick than he was on the team.  (Ha!)

  • My dick is the walrus.  Koo koo go joob.

  • My dick is so big, I could wear it as a tie if I wasn’t so afraid of getting a hard-on and killing myself.

  • My dick is so big, a homeless family lives underneath it.

  • My dick is so big, it has an opening act.

  • My dick is so big, it has an intermission, where everyone can sit back and talk about how good the first half was.

  • My dick is so big, I can fuck an elevator shaft.

  • If you cut my dick in two, you can tell how old I am.

  • My dick is so big, Trump owns it.

  • My dick is so big, it has its own dick.  And even my dick’s dick is bigger than your dick.

  • My dick is so big it has an elbow.

  • My dick is so big, it only tips in hundreds.

  • My dick is so big, that right now it’s in the other room fixing us drinks.

  • My dick is so big, there’s a sneaker named “Air My Dick.”

  • My dick is so big, Stephen Hawking has a theory about it.

  • My dick is so big, the Carnegie Deli named a sandwich after it.  (Addendum: Actually, two sandwiches.)

  • My dick is so big, it’s against the law to fuck me without protective headgear.

  • My dick is so big, when it’s Eastern Standard Time at the tip, it’s Central Mountain Time at my balls.

  • My dick is so big, movie theaters now serve popcorn in small, medium, large, and My Dick.

  • My dick is so big, it has an agent.  My dick’s people will call your people.  Let’s have lunch with my dick.
 That’s all folks.

Like Jessica says, I can’t imagine that women would ever sit around and make up jokes about their boob size.  I guess it’s just part of our manly charm.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Yep, that’s what this post is about.  And I don’t mean Dick Clark, Dick Cavett, Dick Nixon or racecar driver Dick Trickle.

And I know what you’re thinking… “Is there really a guy in the public eye named Richard Trickle who wants to be known as Dick?  He sounds like a walking advertisement for gonorrhea.

To that I say, “Remember, this is NASCAR we’re talking about.”

I still don’t get how “Dick” got to be short for “Richard” anyway… I suppose it was a progression, from Richard to Rich to Rick to Dick.  Still seems like a stretch, to me.

But if ever there were someone that should have insisted on being called Dick, you’d think it would have been Richard Roundtree.  "Dick Roundtree" sounds like a Native American porn star.  But I digress…

I know that this is going to seem like a real “guy” post, stay with me here, if you happen to be female.  You may catch some real insight here about a large, pulsating part of the male culture: the dick joke.

The dick jokes start with boys, who after mastering the art of the fart joke and the poop joke, inevitably move on to the dick joke.  As the dick is the primary way we measure ourselves against our peers (albeit subconsciously), the dick joke becomes the primary tool.  A boy quickly learns to use the dick joke to either cut a rival down to size, or build up his own legend.

Name-calling is the simplest way to start talking smack.  Simply refer to your rival as needle-dick, thumb-dick, or little mushroom cap.  Ask a guy, “Are you glad to see me, or is that a roll of dimes in your pocket?”  That way, you insult both his masculinity and his equipment. 

It’s even more effective than dissing one’s mother.  Not all the boys have mothers about whom they are sensitive, but they all have dicks.

I remember the first time I broke out the heavy artillery at school.  Some kid that was much bigger than me had been giving me a hard time.  One day during 7th grade Social Studies class, he said something stupid directed at me. 

I said, “Hey Jim, I heard you got busted for streaking, but they couldn’t arrest you… there was a lack of evidence.”  (Remember, this was the 70’s.)

It killed.  Even the teacher almost smiled.  I don’t think Jim got it though, because he wasn’t waiting to kick the crap out of me after class. 

Besides using “little dick” jokes to cut down a rival, it’s far more common to tell “big dick” jokes in general, and regarding yourself in particular.  Since guys rarely actually check for proof, we’re much more inclined to take a guy’s word for it.  So it pays to keep the idea circulating that you’re packing meat like Oscar Mayer. 

One of the first jokes guys learn is the “Two Guys Peeing in the River” story.  The setup varies, but the punch line is universal.  One guy, trying to impress his friend, says, “Boy, that water’s cold.” 

The other guy says, “Yeah, and it’s deep, too!

This will resurface any time two or more guys are peeing into water.  I most often hear it during fishing trips or in the men’s room at football games, when the venue has a “trough” instead of individual urinals.  One guy will go, “Damn, this water’s cold.”  And someone else, friend or not, will pipe up, “And deep, too.”  Sometimes so many guys answer, they practically harmonize.  Call it “The Brotherhood of the Schlong.”

And you can totally tell that a guy made up the word “schlong.”  Anyone else might have called it a “schlort.”

This theme really pops up in high school.  I know my buddies and I were always making jokes about our relative endowments.  I had one friend that had a T-shirt made up that said, “10 Inch,” and not because he was a fan of the Aerosmith song, “Big Ten Inch Record.”  He never wore it out in public though.  But I borrowed it to wear once or twice.  Gotta promote the brand.

Mind you, it’s not just me.  Back when Robin Williams was “Mork from Ork,” he named his second comedy album, “The Throbbing Python of Love.”  He opened his act by saying, “First I’d like to show you something that I’m really proud of… The first 3 rows better move back though…”

Even a wordsmith like the late Warren Zevon wasn’t above dropping a dick joke into his lyrics.  Here’s a verse from “Lord Byron’s Luggage,” a song that otherwise had nothing to do with the old trouser snake:

“I had a little friend named Mr. Johnson
Who always tried to be like me.
He rose to the heights of his profession.
He was hard on his friends and family.”

I never “named” mine, but it’s not uncommon.  One buddy of mine used to refer to his as “Big Thunder.”  But I usually just let my girlfriend call it whatever she pleased.  I was just happy it was getting her attention.

When I worked at the record store in Toledo, I used to make so many “big dick” jokes that for a present, my boss once got me a Cross pen with the monogram, “HC.”  (for Horse Cock.) 

So what I’m getting at is that guys like to tell ‘big dick’ jokes, even if they are not themselves the frame of reference.  Perhaps it’s because we seek to soak up the reflected ‘big dick’ vibes that result.

Here are a couple of good ones.


The night before his wedding, a guy made a tearful confession to his fiancé.

Honey,” he said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have to know this before we marry.  I’m hung like a baby.”

Oh, that’s OK, Sweetheart,” she said.  “I love you for you, not for your endowment.”

So they were married as planned.  Then on their wedding night, the new bride screamed as she beheld the sight of her husband’s tool for the first time.  It was bigger than any she’d ever seen!

She said, “I thought you said you were hung like a baby!

He said, “I am… 8 pounds, 6 ounces.”


A guy walked into a small, neighborhood bar and announced he was buying a round for the house.

What’s the occasion?” the bartender asked.

To celebrate the birth of my first son!” the guy answered.  “He’s a big Pittsburgh boy, 20 pounds, 7 ounces!  Just brought my little Steeler fan home today.”

The entire bar gasped.  The bartender said, “Just born and he’s over 20 pounds?  How can that be?

The guy said, “Everything’s bigger in Pittsburgh!  Haven’t you ever heard of Primanti’s, or seen our fish sandwiches?

With that, he showed everyone a cell phone picture of the biggest baby anyone had ever seen.  The baby was so big that his feet were hanging over the end of the bassinette.  The guy was telling the truth so throughout the night, people came by to offer congratulations and buy him a drink.  Before he left for the night, he promised he’d come back to give everyone a progress report.

A week later, he returned to the bar.  Excited, the bartender asked, “So, how much does your little Steeler fan weigh now?

The guy replied, “Fifteen pounds, three ounces.”

Oh my,” the bartender gasped.  “Is he OK?  Why did he lose so much weight?

The guy smiled and with a tear in his eye, said, “Just had him circumcised.”


This one’s my favorite:

A boy was at the circus with his mom and dad.  While Dad was getting popcorn, the boy asked his mom, “What’s that long thing on the elephant?”

“That’s his trunk.”

“No, on the other side.”

“That’s his tail.”

“No, underneath.”

Flustered and not wanting to talk about it, the mom said, “Oh that’s nothing.”

Later when Dad came back and Mom went to the rest room, the boy asked his dad, “What’s that long thing under the elephant”

“That’s his penis.”

“Well how come Mom said it was nothing?”

“Son,” he sighed, “I’ve spoiled that woman…”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Drunk Tales

My buddy John got married shortly after high school. It was kind of a “rush job,” if you know what I mean. But it was funny because the entire sequence of events was all out of whack. 

First they got married. Shortly after, we threw him a bachelor party out in The Barn. A couple weeks after that, they finally had the wedding reception.

The bachelor party wasn’t really a “bachelor party,” not like in the Tom Hanks movie, anyway. It was more like a Barn Party with a theme. All the usual suspects were there; me and my 4 best friends (John, Rik, Brill, and Billy G), plus the rest of the family, friends, and neighbors, including the grownups.

Director’s DVD Commentary: The picture of my mom flipping the bird, from a couple posts back, is from this party.

We made a few half-hearted attempts at traditional Bachelor Party fare. One of our friends offered up a grocery bag full of porno movies. (Remember, this was 1980. No one had VCRs yet). This was great in theory but in reality, the movies were these horrible little 8-mm vignettes, the kind where the guy never takes off his black socks. The projector we were using, however, was a Super-8, meaning that the film and the projector were not compatible.

This, I did not know for another couple of years, until I took a film-making class.  The holes in the sides of 8-mm film do not mesh correctly with the gear teeth of a Super-8 projector. As the professor was covering this material in class, I could only chuckle as I realized why our party movies didn’t work.  Thank goodness he didn’t call on me and go, “Mr. Dude, would you care to explain to the class what it is that you find so funny?”

So the movies would play for about 8 to 10 seconds before jumping off the sprockets. We made a few attempts at it before giving up. But it did lead to a memorable exchange.

During one of the 8-second clips, our neighbor Margaret stood up:

Margaret: You guys, come on, this is disgusting.

Billy G (from the back of the room): Sit down, Margaret, you’re blocking the view.

Later on during the party, she offered to do a strip tease for us. I put on some stripper music and she began dancing around. She made an elaborate show of taking off her gloves. 

Then she peeled off her coat and twirled it around. 

And then… she put them all back on and sat down. End of show.

It was all good clean fun, really. The rest of the party was just our usual drinking,dancing, and carrying on. No casualties other than brain cells. Even the grownups had a good time.

John’s wedding reception took place in Bowling Green, OH, where I had recently started college. It was at the Bowling Green Armory, right on Main Street in the middle of town. It was a big hall with about a dozen big concrete steps leading up to the front door.

Mom drove us all down in the family station wagon. Dad must have been out of town that weekend or else he’d have been there too. So there was Mom, me, my brother, sister, and a couple of neighbors, heading 40 minutes down the road in the big Family Roadster. The reception was basically a big barn party, only everyone was dressed up, there was a band and we got to pee indoors. I was wearing my extra special 3-piece suit, which I had only worn two other times: to my senior prom and to John’s wedding.

Not wanting to become a spectacle on such a formal occasion, I stuck to beer that night. John had a keg at the event, plus wine and all kinds of booze. I also avoided the hard stuff because I had an ulterior motive. It turned out that some of my friends from college were having an off-campus party that same night. As luck would have it, the house was about 5-6 blocks from the Armory. I figured when things slowed down at the reception, I’d mosey out for a while, make an appearance at the party, and impress all the lovelies with my snappy suit. 

My brother, on the other hand, drinking like a fish. He was only a sophomore in high school so he was excited to have such easy access to the booze. But not wanting to push it, he had other people go get him the drinks. For some reason, he was drinking Seven and Sevens. It wasn’t too long before he was completely smashed. I remember at one point, someone running over to the Burger King to bring him back some burgers to serve as a “beer sponge.” It didn’t work; he was a hurl factory. At least he learned that you can’t pound liquor the way you might pound beers.

So once all the high points of the reception had come and gone, I figured it was a good time to check out my friends’ party. I asked one of the guys at the reception, Big Dan, if he wanted to go with me. He was game, so we strolled out of the reception and into the neighborhood until we got to the party.

The parties there were always rocking. I’d go to a bunch more over my years at BG and they were always a blast. So, beer in hand, I made the rounds at the party until I bumped into Big Dave. (I had a lot of "Big" friends.)

He said, “Hey Bluz, try some “Hairy Buffalo.

He pointed over to a big insulated cooler full of brown liquid. I’d never heard that term before so I asked what was in it. He was cryptic.

Oh, a little of this, a little of that, and one very special ingredient...”

Director’s DVD Commentary: ...which turned out to be pure grain alcohol.

Now I knew I shouldn’t mix beer and liquor, owing to a previous experience, but as a freshman, I wanted to prove myself worthy to a respected upperclassman, so I said I’d try it. He filled up a pint glass for me and off I went. The stuff tasted pretty good. I’d have to remember about this Hairy Buffalo.

That was one of the last things I remember about that night. I went from lightly buzzing to gibbering drunk in about 10 minutes… cow-kicked by a Hairy Buffalo.

I don’t remember anything else I did at the party. I vaguely remember leaving with Big Dan and walking back to the reception. Apparently, I talked his ears off about a girl at the party who had recently agreed to go out with me.

Director’s DVD Commentary: She never did, though. She was probably intimidated by my suit.

Dan was a good guy. He just let me talk it out. This was the 1980 precursor to “drunk-dialing.” You had either to be there in person, or go home and use your corded, rotary phone. You know, I think the rotary phone alone prevented years of drunk-dialing.  It takes so long to dial, a drunk will forget what he’s doing and lose interest before the full number can be dialed.
Cassie and Jessica, this is a rotary phone. You've probably only seen them in museums and Brady Bunch reruns.

By the time we ambled up to the Armory, the reception was ending. I saw John at the top of the steps, maneuvering a keg out the door. The plan was to bring the leftover beer back to The Barn and kill it over the next week.

Now if I had any sense left in my thick, drunken skull, I’d have let Big Dan help with the keg. Dude probably could have just put it up on his shoulder and walked it down to the car. But I was feeling no pain, but also a little guilty for leaving my buddy’s reception, so I wanted to help.

I helped John wiggle the keg right up to the first step, and then we both picked up one end. So far, so good. 

As soon as I took that first step down, I lost my balance and dropped my end. The keg rolled down the stairs and out into Main Street. [tink-tink-tink-tink…] 

Cars slammed on their brakes. Drivers laid on their horns.

I, as well, rolled ass-over-elbows down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. I went down with what appeared to be the well-trained grace of a professional stuntman but was, in fact, a complete lack of muscle control. I just somersaulted right down the stairs and landed flat on my back.

As I lay on the ground, I heard someone screaming from above, “Oh my God… the KEG!!! Get the keg!

You can see where my friends’ priorities were. They were probably pissed because now the beer was going to be all foamy tomorrow. Meanwhile, my mom swears that as all this was happening, the band was playing “Roll Out the Barrel.”

I got up and seemed to be none the worse for wear. I had a little scuff on the suit jacket and my watch crystal was cracked, but I was OK. I hit those stairs like I was Gumby. 

The drive home was not much fun for anyone. Well, it didn’t bother me so much because I don’t remember any of it. I was drunk and riding shotgun; my brother was (still) drunk and sitting behind the driver’s seat. We spent the trip simultaneously ralphing out our respective windows. I’m sure Mom must have been very proud of her sons. 

The kind of stripes we put on the sides of her car would not impress anyone while out cruising the Boulevard. Luckily, one of our friends cleaned off the car doors that night. I have no idea who it was, but he deserved hazard pay for that task.

There were a lot of lessons learned that night. John learned not to book a wedding reception in a college town. Mom learned not to trust her sons at an open bar. My brother learned not to drink the hard stuff. I learned not to drink Hairy Buffalo or anything else with a “special ingredient.” Our friends learned that they should probably get a ride from someone else next time.

And everyone learned that they should never let the drunk help carry the keg, no matter how good he looks in his suit.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

I reference my Grandpa on my mother’s side a lot.  He’s the one that was the Storyteller, although his siblings were no slouch at spinning a yarn either.  The fact that the whole family was nuts certainly proved to be fertile ground for good stories. 

Back in the early 1900s, it was common for Italian families to have some of the kids continue to live at home, even after they got married.  My mom’s uncles Ants and Meek were no exception.  (Ants was short for Antony and Meek was short for Amilcare.  The latter came from when his mother would call him in for dinner, “AMEEEEEEEEEEEK-A-REE!”  All his friends could hear was the MEEEEEEK part, so it stuck.)
L to R: Uncle Meek, my Grandpa, Uncle Ants, Guy I Don’t Know, and my Grandma, at my grandparents’ 35th anniversary party, circa 1966.  Yes, they wore ties even for parties held in the basement.  Grandpa wasn’t particularly tall but you can see how big the Uncles are.  It’s from them that I get my size. 

As the oldest, my Grandpa was generally more responsible, but the brothers were real rascals who liked to drink and tussle and carry on.  Meek was a Pittsburgh cop, one of the last to walk a beat in the city, without a gun.  Nobody messed with him or they were likely to see the business end of his nightstick.  In fact, no one messed with my little 5-foot nuthin’ mom, either, when she’d walk through town on the way to and from work, because they knew they would stay healthier that way.  Officer Meek didn’t play.

Sometimes, Meek would have to referee the fights between his own parents.  He’d come home from a long day on patrol and they would both run to him, each shouting their own version of the day’s quarrel over top of the other, in Italian of course.  One night it got so bothersome that he took out his handcuffs and cuffed them together.  He told them he’d unlock them when they worked it out, then he went upstairs to have dinner with his wife and daughter.  They worked it out by the time dinner was over.  I suppose it was just a matter of motivation.  Moms says she thinks they secretly liked each other… I mean…  they had 13 kids after all.  But I’m not so sure.

Back when my Grandpa was a boy, shortly after they’d immigrated to the US, his mother yearned to return to Italy for a visit.  His dad, Guiseppe, agreed and paid for a ship to take his wife and my grandpa back to the Old Country.  But shortly after she got there, she changed her mind and wanted to come back home.  Through friends and relatives, she got her request back to her husband.  He send word that it would take a while before he could earn her return passage.  But that wasn’t exactly true.  He figured, she wanted to go to Italy, he sent her to Italy.  So she’d better stay there for a while, to make the trip worth the money.

Of course, his ulterior motive was that he got be a Man About Town, loaf with his friends at the firehouse and generally be free from family obligations for a while.  OK, it was more than “a while.”  He left her there for more than a year.

Meanwhile, my Great Grandmother, pissed off to beat the band, earned her own boat-fare back by various means, including stealing eggs.

Then one afternoon, Grandpa Guiseppe was having coffee on his neighbor’s porch when he spotted his wife striding up the sidewalk, with his son in tow.

Startled, he exclaimed (in Italian), “Ai!  The Devil has returned!

I bet not even a grown up Uncle Meek, nightstick and all, could have calmed the storm that night.

She got even with her husband in other ways.  He had a natural way with musical instruments and could play almost anything.  He’d go from banjo to flute to bass violin…  Then one day he hit on the kazoo.  Great Grandma did NOT like that one bit.

One evening Uncle Ants came home and found his mom busy stuffing little pieces of rag into his father’s kazoo holes. 

She said, “Come Ant-no-ee, help me before he get home.”

That night when his dad came home and picked up the kazoo, all he could produce was a big PFFFFFT PFFFFFFT POOOOT.  He snapped the kazoo over his knee and tossed it out the window.  Problem solved for both parties.

But anyway, this is the story I really wanted to tell.  (Those others just kind of jumped out.)

One night Ants came stumbling into the house after a long night at the bar.  He tripped over something coming in the door and knew it was his brother Meek, drunk and passed out on the floor.  Being a good brother, he decided to take him upstairs and put him to bed.  As he picked Meek up, he began talking to him…

Fer Chrissakes, what are you doing on the floor, Meek?  What, you can’t even make it up the stairs?  How much did you have to drink?” 

Grunting and sweating, he dragged him up the stairs.

Goddamn, you’re heavy.  You putting on weight?  What’s with the beard, Meek?  Didn’t you shave this morning?  You can’t go around looking like a bum… you gotta take a shave in the morning.”

As he wrestled his load to the top of the stairs, he saw someone standing in the hallway, laughing.  It was Meek.  Only then did he realize that he had not, in fact, been carrying his brother, but a rolled up carpet, just back from the cleaners.

Picture from aspenmeadows.blogspot.com

I’m just glad he didn’t try to shave it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Grammy Night - 1975

...Or, The Night I Caught the Funk

The Grammy awards were on last Sunday and I didn’t watch them.  I haven’t watched them in ages.  It’s not that I have anything against the Grammies themselves; it has more to do with the state of modern music.  I don’t like very much of it.

Yes, I know, it’s generational thing and everyone get off my lawn.  It’s the same battle every aging person has with the generations that follow.  “No one makes good music like they used to any more.”

It hurts me to say that because I dedicated a giant portion of my life to popular music.  I worked 13 years in the record business for the sole reason of staying involved with music.  (It sure wasn’t because of the pay or the hours.)  Before that, I hung out at record stores for hours, devouring every detail that the record covers and backs could show me.  I was always the kid in the neighborhood who knew who sang what song, even when the DJ didn’t mention it.  So I take my music cred pretty seriously.

I think it all started to get away from me in the late 80s.  Even when I was working in the business, my tastes separated from what was popular to those things for which I had cultivated a taste.  I may have been able to wheel and deal in Top 40, but I rarely listened to it.  Instead I followed the blues and remained on the lookout for good old no frills rock and roll, the louder the better.  But it had to have a hook.

I turn on the radio these days and it disgusts me.  All I hear are talentless auto-tuned star wannabees clamoring for their time on TV or YouTube, backed by programmed beats and atonal keyboards… I have issues with any album that says in the credits: “Drums programmed by…” Drums should be beaten, not programmed.  And in my day, if you couldn’t sing, you screamed.  (See Tyler, Steven.)  And if you couldn’t at least do that, then you didn’t make freakin’ records!

It doesn’t get any better when I listen to rock radio.  Seems to be all thrashing and wailing, but no hooks.  I hear a big indistinguishable wash of guitar noise, but no groove.

In my later years in the business, the Grammies only mattered when it came to our store promotions.  Whoever won a Grammy, or looked good performing, would be a big seller that week.  So we had to be on our toes.

I think I gave up actually watching the show the year after the famous Jethro Tull debacle.  That was the first year they had a “Heavy Metal” category and the geniuses in the Academy voted for Jethro Tull as the winner, who were neither heavy, nor metal.  Tull beat out Metallica, AC/DC and other legitimate metal bands.  I can only imagine what the voters’ thought process was there…

Hey, remember that song “Bungle in the Jungle?”  I liked that; I’ll vote for Jethro Tull.”

It wasn’t always like that for me.  Back in my formative years in the early 70s, the Grammies were still relevant.  In fact, they were vital!  It was the one reliable way that you could see the popular groups perform.

Time check: No cable TV, no MTV, no SNL, no computers or YouTube.  There were very few avenues to see the top stars.  You had American Bandstand or Soul Train.  You had the Midnight Special (for which I was not allowed to stay up, until my teenage years.)  You had the afternoon talk shows like Dinah Shore or Mike Douglas.  You saw in the TV Guide that someone was performing on one of those shows, or you had to go to a concert.  (No one I knew ever went to concerts, again, until I was well into teenhood.)

So Grammy night was a big deal because not only were the top artists going to perform, but also present, which meant you got to see what they looked and talked like.  Remember, if there wasn’t a good picture on an album cover, you might not know anything about how an artist looked.  (Unless they were from the Tiger Beat/Girls fanzine crowd.)

I remember watching the American Music Awards one night (or some non-Grammy music award show) and Elton John hosted.  At that time, I was a huge EJ fan and was eating up his first Greatest Hits album.  But it wasn’t until I saw that show that I even knew he was English!  Seeing up standing up there being all clever and witty with his British accent just impressed the hell out of me and probably laid the groundwork for my future appreciation of Monty Python.

OK, back to the Grammies and the story I intended to tell with this post.  (Yes, I know I do take the long way ‘round sometimes.)

I will never forget the night I first saw Stevie Wonder play: Grammy night, 1975.  The prior summer Stevie Wonder release “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and the single “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” reached #1.  While it’s not his most recognized single now, it was my gateway to The Funk.  I loved that sound he had.  I had no idea if it was a guitar or a keyboard or what… (which I now know to be a synthesizer).

So Stevie took the stage and played “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and just rocked the place.  I was in awe.  Stevie was up there with his dark shades on, his shoulders rockin and beads in his hair swingin’.  The entire audience was on their feet, dancing in their seats.  I remember the camera panning over to show Gladys Knight and the Pips and the Pips looked like they were doing their act.  They were getting D.O.W.N.  I went out and used my meager allowance money that next week to go buy the single.

Eyes newly opened, I began paying attention to some of the other Stevie Wonder songs that the radio started playing again.  Both Higher Ground and Superstition were getting airplay, even though they came from his prior two albums.  Both had that same plucky synthesizer sound I loved.  I couldn’t find either one as a single though, so one afternoon when we were out shopping I whined and pleaded so unrelentingly to my mother, she gave me the money to buy the full album “Talking Book,” which contained “Superstition.”  That was my first record album.  Not AC/DC, not BTO, not Aerosmith… freakin’ Stevie Wonder.

After that, it seemed like every year, Stevie Wonder was on TV winning Grammies and playing his ass off.  “Songs in the Key of Life” came next, which produced two more #1 singles, “Sir Duke,” and the incredible “I Wish.” 

I Wish” was the Shit.  What a groove!  From the opening that layers synth line upon synth line to the down home slice of life lyrics, when it comes on, you can’t help but start to move your shoulders.

Not too many years ago I saw a show on the making of that album, which featured various other stars and musicians talking about the songs.  I remember the rap artist Coolio talking about being at junior high school dance, with the boys holding up one wall the girls holding up the other.  But he said when the DJ put on “I Wish,” the groove defeated the inherent awkwardness of the situation and everyone just had to get off the wall and dance.

In fact, I just found that clip… check it out if you’d like to see how the song was made and hear some people talking about it.

I know that there are still talented musicians working out there.  Sure would be nice to hear some funk that was more than a bass beat.  Or a rock song that didn’t sound like it was produced by factory machinery.

This is me, not holding my breath.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Didn't She Almost Have it All?

I was all set to write a nice, easy, breezy story about my adventures last night at Sitcom Kelly’s party.  No fuss, no controversy, just tales of drunken debauchery and child care.  Then the poster girl for Downward Spiral had to go and kick the bucket.

We were having a wonderful time at the party.  As you may remember from my post in October, Sitcom Kelly is providing foster care for a 3-year old dear of a girl.  It was initially supposed to last a month or so, but conditions change quickly.  I believe the next hearing for the birth parents comes up in March, so Kelly has had her all this time.

The little peanut is bright, playful and just plain adorable.  She enjoyed her time in the spotlight last night, getting all the grownups to play with her toys with her.

At one point, Kelly told her, “Go ask Mr. Bluz if he’ll play ‘Don’t Spill the Beans’ with you.”

She didn’t actually say anything, but she looked up at me and batted her pretty almond eyes and gave me a shy smile. 

I said, “That’s good enough for me, I’ll be right there.”

The funny thing is that I was concerned with not knowing how to play “Don’t Spill the Beans.”  I told everyone, “I’m Italian!  I never spill the beans!  Omerta!

It really didn’t matter, because when you’re 3, you don’t worry about trying to balance the beans on the lid of the swivel-pot.  You just put all the beans in the pot and then flip it over, with great gusto, while squealing.  The harder the flip, the further the beans get thrown around the room.

After “Don’t Spill the Beans,” we moved onto “Candyland,” which I DO remember how to play.  That didn’t matter either.  Three-year old rules say that you pick a character, push him along the entire path until the end.  Then you throw all the cards on the ground and look for the cards that have the treats on them.  Then you put your guy on the picture of the treat on the board, and squeal.  The squealing seemed to be an integral part of the game.

When the games were done, we grownups sat around yakking and it turned out I was a minor celebrity.  (Very minor… like “Oh, that’s you”)  Some of the party guests had heard about the Sitcom in Sitcom Kelly and were surprised to realize that I was the guy that was enabling her delusions writing the Sitcom Idea Document with her and blogging about her virtual adventures.  This turned into a discussion for the benefit of the newcomers in the room, who did not know about their host’s alter ego, or the Pits in the basement.  Judging from the reactions in the room, we would be on the right track if we somehow produced this show.  The ideas killed.

So the party was toodling along when one of the guests had her phone buzz and then exclaimed, “Oh my, Whitney Houston’s dead.”

I said, “You have an alert set up for Whitney Houston news?

Turns out she received a text message from a friend.

It was funny because I had just seen a piece on Whitney Houston on Friday, on one of those entertainment “news” shows.  They showed her looking like hell, with focus on these marks on her legs.  They said it looked like some kind of splatter but I thought they looked like needle marks.  Granted, I was at the computer and not paying full attention.  But I’m pretty sure they said something about her going to rehab.

Anyway, as you know by now, she died Saturday afternoon of a drug overdose and was found in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub.  To me, that sounds like the 21st Century version of Elvis.

I’ll put this out there… I was never a huge Whitney Houston fan.  It was nothing personal, owing more to my general distaste for pop music than anything she did.  I will certainly admit that she was drop-dead gorgeous and had talent out the wazoo.  And I’m keenly thankful for all the Whitney Houston records, tapes and CDs I got to sell over the years when I managed the record stores, which helped me make my sales projections whenever she had a new album out.

But boy, did she ever take a fall.  Someone with her talent should have been mining gold for the last 15 years. She could have been making records and touring and raking it in hand over fist, rather than stuffing drugs up her nose and slumming it with her ghetto trash husband.  In her more recent attempts at performing, her voice was shot.

Maybe she really is the Elvis of our time.

In the 90s, she was a hit machine, then once she got married, she seemed to lose relevance and along with that, her talent.  Her last genuine hit was “I’m Your Baby Tonight” from 1990. 

Her version of the National Anthem, sung lip-synced at the Super Bowl in 1991during the first Gulf War, was brilliant and set the bar for future renditions.  No one has come close.  I know I sold the single hand over fist.

She didn’t release another record until 1998 and only two more in the 14 years after that.  Her last album, from 2009 reached #1 on the Billboard charts, but only sold 2.5 million copies worldwide.  (Her albums sold in the tens of millions in the 80s.)  (I will also grant that sales of all albums are a shell of what they once were, due to the new music technologies.)

On her last two albums, (plus a Greatest Hits), she hasn’t had a single reach higher than #70 on the Hot 100 chart.  So a #1 album with a #70 single tells me that a lot of people with fond memories of the Whitney that Was, bought the album when it was released.  But the songs didn’t stand up.

We know she tried acting in the 90s but that didn’t really work out.  She was in the hit movies “Waiting to Exhale” and “The Bodyguard,” the latter of which made bank on the strength of her song, “I Will Always Love You.”  But did you ever see the movie?  She couldn’t act.  She had range of basically two faces… narrowing eyes and being pissed off, and narrowing eyes and pretending to be lusty.  Meh…

Next thing you know, the years have rolled by, drugs and booze have taken their toll on her instrument, and she’s doing a low-rent reality show featuring her dysfunctional family.  Shows like that succeed because people like to look at how messed up famous people are and then enjoy how much better off they are themselves.

It shouldn’t have had to come to this.  She had it all… looks, talent and limitless opportunity.  She had name recognition and status that would open any door she chose.
Whitney in her prime, 1988… Dazzling.

WTF?  Whitney after years of drug and alcohol abuse.

Yes, I know that age is a factor, but not the biggest one.  She had the assets to remain stunning well into her later years.  But drugs and alcohol take it right out of you.  It’s like Indiana Jones says, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”

Just goes to show that when all your friends and business partners tell you that someone is no good for you, perhaps you may want to listen. 

Otherwise, you may just be the next lump of wasted potential found in a hotel bathtub.

Rest in peace, Whitney.  I hope you find the peace that you never found while you were here.

Hey, maybe now’s a good time to sell my vintage Whitney Houston standee!
The “Ladies Corner” of a back bedroom from one of my old Cleveland apartments, circa 1990.