Saturday, May 18, 2013

Good Intentions and all That

I'm gonna be away from the keyboard for the next week--just too pressed for time and too many things going on. 

But I'm taking a little trip over Memorial Day weekend, and I'll have an epic post when I get back.

This sucks, I know.

I wish I had time to write every day, but The Man is keeping me down.  Fingers crossed though.  I got my Powerball ticket.  If I win the $600 million, well, I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about.  And probably a bit more free time on my hands, I'm guessing.

Catch ya in about ten days.

Mikey out.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Poker, Pizza, and Live Reptiles

Hey everyone--I hope y'all have been having a good week.  Mine has been busy, and of course I'm fed up with the job--damn near blew a gasket in there yesterday, but it was at the end of the day and today I was off, so I don't have to put up with that hell-hole again until tomorrow. 

After pulling the ripcord yesterday, I drove down south to my buddy Gaines' house.  He's trying to get a friendly Wednesday night poker tournament going on a semi-regular basis, and I haven't played much (except for that little side trip to Vegas) in the past couple of years, so I figured it would be an inexpensive way to work on my game.

He's got tournament software and all the things one needs to host a good poker night, so it was an enjoyable evening.  I think we had eight people there, and since the blind levels were only 20 minutes each, I volunteered to do all of the dealing, just to speed up the game.

We had a good mix of players, with only one complete novice, but certainly a couple of guys who could hold their own.  I think we kicked off around 7 pm or so, and aside from a brief break when the pizzas got delivered, we played straight through until around 10:15. 

I didn't take any bad beats, and my big hands--AA, KK, and 88 all held up. The only dent in my chip stack came when I flopped four to a straight flush and never got any help. 

The bottom line, was that yeah, I was one of the three in the money--only three places paid, and at the end it was just down to Gaines and I going head-to-head, and although he had a bigger stack than me, I had just beat him two in a row and was about to get the hat trick when he offered to chop.  It was getting late for most people, and I was agreeable since most of his guests were leaving anyways, so we just split first and second place money.  Had it been anyone else I would've played it out, but I too wanted to get home (he lives about 50-something miles away from me, so I had a long drive ahead of me), and well, it was still a friendly game.  Not like a cut-thought tournament in a casino with a bunch of annoying assholes.

But at some point in the tournament, as you can see from the photo above, a reptile got loose on the table and went exploring in the middle of the game.  I can honestly say I've never dealt a game with live critters motoring around on the felt, but Slurp is pretty mellow, and certainly the most curious lizard I've ever seen--he wasn't too much of a distraction.

Luckily it's almost all freeway between his house and mine, and that late at night, I didn't have any traffic to contend with.  Since I didn't have to get up early this morning, I stayed up till around 1:00 this morning clearing some sitcoms off of my DVR.

I didn't wake up until 8:30 this morning, which was absolutely awesome.  Lately I've been waking up much too early on my days off, and it's been messing with my system, making me tired when I go back to work the next day. But today, while I planned on being motivated, it just didn't happen.  I got the pot of coffee going, but the keyboard time just wasn't happening, although now that I've been at it for a bit, I'll probably get some more writing done.  It's been a beautiful day, and I thought about going on a hike, but the biggest obstacle is that I don't want to drive anywhere to go hiking.  I swear I spend half my life in the car, and the closest 'trail' is still about six miles away (the greenway down in White House).  Walking around here is out of the question--it's narrow country roads with ditches on each side, and no place to bail when farmers and dump trucks inevitably come motoring by (yeah, I've already had a couple of close calls before, so no, I don't really walk around my neighborhood too much). 

So my motivation needle is hanging out below 'E' today, and I'm ok with that.  It's nice to have a day every once in awhile where nothing gets accomplished.

The only other thing I've done today is make a big batch of my almost-famous pineapple-cashew chicken salad.  I decided a few weeks ago to stop buying bread and eating sandwiches, and now I just use the smallest flour tortillas I can find.  They're a perfect substitute for bread, and they don't fill me up nearly as much.  Besides, I've been taking them hiking and using them for lunch, and a tortilla with sliced pepperoni, a piece of cheese, and a packet of Gulden's brown mustard I swiped from Panera Bread is a favorite meal both on the trail and at the office.

I already eaten two of them since I made it this morning, and it's oh-so-good, so I'm guessing I'll probably have it for dinner, too.  (The recipe: canned chicken [although I used my last leftover grilled chicken breast I had in the fridge to supplement it], Miracle Whip, horseradish, chopped cashews, pineapple tidbits, white pepper, black pepper, and a touch of brown mustard).  It's easily my favorite chicken salad recipe out there, and I've tried all the variations--apples, walnuts, grapes, celery, etc.

And since it's a beautiful sunny 80-degree day here, I don't really feel like cooking, so it's a perfect meal for a sunny day. 

I don't have anything else on the agenda for the afternoon, so I'll probably just do some reading, and maybe some 'homework' (yeah, working on the book, practicing the bass, and watching my Great Courses lectures). 

Back to the grind tomorrow.


Sunday, May 05, 2013

Yes, I Read the Comments

For my unknown commenter, here's the story about the Dalmatian.

A German Shepherd Would Never Do That


Boots on the Ground

So the past two days I left the house forgetting to put on a belt, and since jeans fresh out of the dryer are always pretty snug, I didn't notice until I got out of the car and realized that I needed to keep one hand on a belt loop or it was gonna be a pants-on-the-ground kind of day.  And it's a real pain in the ass to walk around all day pulling up your drawers.

Yesterday morning, I actually had to go into the office for a half-day, and I was fed up with my inability to remember to put a belt on.  So I told myself that I'd just hop over to Opry Mills mall after work, stop at Bass Pro Shop, and get a new leather belt. On days that I actually remember to wear one, I'm still sporting my black leather belt from my Vegas days that I keep punching holes in and reaches around me one-and-a-half times, but it's getting to be a pain in the ass to keep the end from touching the floor in public bathrooms whenever I stop to take a piss.  Yeah, it's that long.

But when I left my office park to go the 'back' way into the mall, traffic was backed up like I'd never seen.  Complete gridlock on a Saturday afternoon.  So I flipped a yooey and got onto the freeway instead.  And the line for the exit a mile and a half away was backed up to my on-ramp.  Seriously, WTF?  You'd think it was the day after Thanksgiving or something, but no, it was just everybody in Nashville heading to the IMAX to see Iron Man 3.  At least that's the only reason I could come up with.

So I was denied on the whole new-belt thing and squared myself with the realization that I'd just have to walk around with my hands in my pockets all afternoon.  I had a full day planned, too.  Reverend Dave was in town for the weekend, and we had plans to meet for lunch and then some sort of free-form buffoonery for the rest of the evening.

I met up with him and his friend Jennifer down at Judge Bean's BBQ down in Brentwood, and we got a table in the bar and ordered a round (beer for them, Diet Coke for me...) while we waited for Scottie to show up.  Judge Bean's has been a favorite of ours for a few years now.  Me, Reverend Dave, Scottie, and Tim used to meet there on Tuesdays for all-you-can-eat brisket tacos (which are Oh My God good!) back in the day, and this past Christmas, we had a 'Brothas At the Bean' gathering for all the guys in the family while all the women-folk were doing their ornament party at Amy's.

Of course, we don't even look at the menu anymore.  It's just brisket tacos every time.  We've tried everything else, but the tacos are the Old Reliable as far as we're concerned.  Oh yeah, we'll usually get a piece of Texas Sushi or Shrimp Diablo to start with to get our spicy fix, but the brisket is out-fricking-standing.

Speaking of the menu, if you look closely you'll see something called the Dr. Steven Ball Quintuple Bypass burger.  Dr. Steven Ball is a supremely talented cardiac surgeon at Vanderbilt Medical Center, and he's the guy who actually saved my bacon and kept me out of the grave on my worst day ever.  He's a big fan of the place, too!  Like all other famous people at NY deli's, he has a sandwich named after him.  Not because he was the first one to eat it, but because it keeps him in business...

Anyhow, lunch was awesome, as usual, and afterwards we headed over to the hippies' house to visit for a bit and play with the pugs.  But we couldn't stay long. Amy, Scottie, Cory and the rest of my usual cast of characters were heading out that evening to see Widespread Panic (bong hits and armpits!) at Fontanel Woods.  Since the only song of theirs that I'm remotely familiar with is their cover of Traffic's Low Spark of the High Heeled Boys, it wasn't on my concert calendar.

So we took off and headed back to Brentwood to pick up my car.  About a mile from the Bean is one of our favorite retail outlets, REI.  Dave's dividend was burning a hole in his pocket, and I really needed to have one of their shoe experts look at my boots and find out why my feet hurt so damn bad on that backpacking trip two weeks ago.  (I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I'm still a hunnert pounds too heavy...)

A couple months ago, when I attended that Backpacking 101 class they put on, their main footwear expert gave a short presentation and I tucked her name and face into my memory bank.  Luckily she was working that day, and saw me heading back to the shoe section carrying a pair of gently-used Oboz and aftermarket insoles.

She accompanied me to the back corner of the store and listened to my tale of woe.  I'd never gotten cramps across the TOP of my foot before, but it happened on that trip a couple of weeks ago.  Not to mention that huge blister that felt like I'd squished a grape inside my shoe about three miles into the second day's hike.

So she looked at my feet, my boots, and my insoles, and then had me just stand on the ground on top of the insoles just to make sure they were right for me.  The first thing she told me to do was to bake them at 200 degrees for ten minutes, then put them into my boots, and stand on 'em for about ten minutes after I got home. 

Ok, not exactly the advice I was expecting, but hey, she's the expert. 

Then she put them back into my boots and I put the boots on.  She then sat down in front of me and retied one boot differently, eliminating the criss-cross on the highest part of my foot.  Talk about an amazing difference.  It was like night and day.  So she fixed the second one and I pretended to climb on the 'rockpile' in the corner, stretching my feet and ankles. 

I was cured!  Instead of changing back into my regular shoes, I just wore the boots the rest of the day and into the evening. I thought I was gonna have to cough up at least a hundred bucks for upgraded footwear, but I got out without spending a dime.  Reverend Dave, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky.  He found a Mountain Hardware puffy jacket on the clearance rack for just a hundred bucks, and wanted a flask like my new one.  But he had his dividend credit to offset most of the cost, so the damage was minimal.

After our shopping excursion to REI, we headed back over to the hotel for a couple of hours.  Jennifer went upstairs to take a nap, while Reverend Dave and I hung out in the lobby watching the Cardinals game on the TV. 

We made plans to go bar-hopping that night down on Broadway, and our friend Lisa decided to join us.  So we piled into the car that evening, drove back out to the west side to pick her up, then headed back downtown.

It was pouring down rain, and parking in downtown Nashville can be almost as frustrating at parking in downtown San Francisco, but luckily the valet guys at Merchant's Restaurant know my car and love to keep it parked right in front, so even though they say that they're full, they always make room for my sweet ride. 

Merchant's is probably my favorite restaurant in Nashville, and my go-to place before every show at the Ryman.  We didn't have reservations, but managed to get seats at the bar in between a couple of bachelorette parties.

One of my favorite things on the menu is the duck fat tater tots, although I can only eat about five of them.  But they are damn tasty.  I think Lisa was the one who actually turned me on to them about a year ago, and I"m pretty sure a pile of them lands on the table every time we go.  On the other hand, the Alabama contingent didn't like them at all.  Dave said he had a bad experience with duck in the past, and after a few bites, he felt like he was getting sick.  Jennifer said she wasn't a fan, either, which was hard to understand--I though everybody would love 'em.  I guess not...

For dinner I attempted to eat a bacon cheeseburger with smoked Gouda, while Lisa ate a wedge salad.  Jennifer had the dry-rub wings and Dave had a French dip.  What I could eat, I thought was excellent, but the reviews from our neighbors to the south were mixed.  Oh well, they're heathens from Alabama, so unless it's fried or run over, they don't usually eat it... They did, however, like the cocktail selection, and a few offbeat ones made it to the counter in front of us (I stuck with a glass of Oregon Pinot, however)

After we settled the dinner bill, it was time to start the pub crawl.  We went around the corner to a bar on Second Avenue to see a cover band that we'd heard so much about.  They were pretty damn good at first--they had a great set list and when they went on break, the drummer seriously did a 20 minute solo.  The place went nuts!

We were diggin' it, but then they started playing Smashing Pumpkins and other 90s shit, so we left.  Lisa bailed around that point, a better offer came across her cell phone, so it was just the three of us after that.  We dashed into doorways up and down Broadway, trying to avoid the rain, and ended up in some touristy gift shop, browsing at trinkets and t-shirts for awhile.  I almost bought a mint-chocolate Moon Pie, because I needed to break a twenty for the valet, but I held off. 

After that, we found ourselves in one of the dozens of cowboy-boot shops down there in the tourist Mecca because Jennifer thought about getting some new hillbilly shoes.  Of course, this place jacks the prices way up and says everything is buy-one-pair, get-two-free, so a pair of boots is like $389.  But they were doing a surprisingly brisk business that night, considering the prices and the bad weather.  Dave even tried on a pair and actually thought about getting them, but between the two of them, they couldn't find three pairs of boots that they wanted, and I certainly wasn't going to cough up a hundred and change to get a pair of shit-kickers.  So we left empty-handed, save for a few iPhone pics. 

Dave and Jennifer were trying to impress their friends back home at Delta House (that's what they call his apartment building) with their mad pub crawling mojo, so we ducked into damn near every bar and restaurant we passed, tagging ourselves on Facebook, documenting an awesome night of drinking, worthy of a beer commercial at the very least.  The truth is, some places we only stopped in to take a piss.

We ended the night at Broadway Brewhouse, sipping on Bushwhackers and poking at a plate of potato skins.  I think we ran out of gas around 11:15, said our goodbyes, and I was home in bed by midnight. 

Sunday morning came much too early, and I was grouchy as hell to see that I woke up at 6:40.  I tried to stay in bed, but two attention-starved house cats made sure that I wasn't going to.  So I got up and made a pot of coffee instead.

It's still pretty cold and rainy out, and the Cardinals game is on at 1:00, so I have no plans except to do some reading and watching the game.  I may do a little writing and/or editing, but I'm just not feeling it today.


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Enjoying the Day Off

Happy Thursday everybody.  While y'all are stuck at work, goofing off at the computer, I'm at home doing the same thing.  But it's a really nice spring day outside, so I'm going to take advantage of it as soon as I motivate myself off of this chair and away from the keyboard.

But there's no hurry.  The Cardinals game isn't until tonight, and right now I'm enjoying three of my favorite inventions--coffee, bacon, and Pandora radio.  Seems like lately I've been on an Allman Brothers kick, and I blame that on my hippie siblings.

Speaking of which, it's been a pretty damn good week, and they were a big part of it.  Most of you know I had a milestone birthday this week.  Well, 46 ain't much of a milestone to most people, but after all the shiat I've had to deal with since I got to Tennessee, every year on the top side of the grass is a milestone. 

But hey, right now, I'm probably healthier than I've ever been--certainly better than anytime in the past twenty-odd years.

Anyhow, our celebrations kicked off this past weekend when a bunch of the family came to town, not really for my birthday, but some of the more masochistic relatives were running in the Music City Marathon on Saturday.  But that night we all got together for dinner at Jonathan's in Green Hills, and about 22 of us took over the restaurant.  Good times!

Of course, being the guest of honor, I got a few nice gifts, mostly Amazon gift cards and bottles of red wine, which are also a couple of my other favorite inventions.  Hey, I'm easy to shop for...  I had a great time visiting with everyone, especially some of my nieces who I don't get to see much.  But one of the highlights of the night came when I fetched the Challenger from the valet and damn near ran over Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN College Gameday fan.  I felt bad, because if I were to run over somebody from ESPN, I'd prefer Stephen A Smith or Skip Bayless.  Or even Lou Holtz.  Herbie doesn't bother me at all--he's the most tolerable Ohio State fan out there, and I believe the reason he moved his family to Nashville in the first place was because all the locals were harassing him and his wife for not being enough of a 'homer' on tv.  Anyhow, we both survived the encounter and a bunch of us headed over to the hippies' house to hang out for the rest of the evening.

I was hoping to chill out and do absolutely nothing on Sunday, but when I woke up, I got a text message from Cyndi telling me to come down to Alli's house and spend the day. I really didn't want to at first, since it's 54 miles one-way.  But I eventually got it together and got back in the car for the hour-long drive.

I'm glad I did, because we had a great day.  About half the family was there, and we spent the day goofing off with the kids and catching up.  Of course, the first thing Alli's kids did when they saw me was to bust out the magic markers and 'tattoo' my head.  I don't know where they would've come up with the idea to Sharpie up somebody, but I think they'd fit in pretty well with my Vegas gang...

I gotta say, the mutton chops were a cool touch, and they go especially well with the board-game look I've got going on top, too. 

I also got to meet the newest members of the tribe, Jameson and Knox, who I'd never met before, and they were surprisingly well-behaved and quiet. 

Me and Baby Knox.  He's the good-looking one!

After the Sharpie shenanigans were over, I introduced Jackson and Brynn to the Bubble Breaker game on my computer, and they spent the rest of the afternoon kicking my ass.  Brynn actually tripled my highest score, so I was humbled by a seven-year old...

We spent the rest of the day laughing it up like we always do when we get together, ordered pizza for dinner, and just had a relaxing day. 

Diana, Alli, and Jackson.  Can you guess which one ran the marathon the day before?

Before it got too late, I had to say my goodbyes and make that long drive back home.  It was a great weekend, and of course my family is pretty hilarious, so my face was sore from laughing (and scrubbing off the artwork...)

Monday morning came much too early, and my day at the office was even less enjoyable than usual.  But I was looking forward to getting out of there, and the afternoon couldn't pass by fast enough. 

That night I had another meetup to attend, this one a 'Creative Non-Fiction and Personal Essay' group, which is pretty much what I write all the time.  There were 22 people scheduled to attend, and I was slated to read and share another chapter of my upcoming book. Of course, only nine people showed up, which kinda pissed me off, since I'd just coughed up all that money at Staples getting five pages worth of writing printed, collated, and stapled for everyone in attendance.

But it was a small annoyance--the group is a knowledgeable bunch of people, and the feedback, for the most part, was very helpful.  Although one person in there was bugging, trying to tell me that I needed to read The Hunger Games and develop my characters they way it was done in that book.  Of course, that was a novel, written for 13-year old girls, and my piece is non-fiction, written for adults, and the only character I mentioned in that chapter was a 'stock' character, earning three lines of description and never heard from again, not Katniss Flaming Arrow or whatever the hell her name was...

So yeah, there's a bit of chaff that needs to be sorted through, and some of the feedback needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, but there are a couple of people there much more talented than I, and I value their input.  It was time well spent, and I got some good ideas on ways to improve my work. I also met a gal who was a first-timer who does comedy writing, and I'm looking forward to hearing more of her stuff.  This month's meeting was a little heavy on grief and loss, so I love love love me some good comedy pieces.  One of my friends who actually writes comedy as a job, and produces a comedy show (who wasn't able to be there that night, unfortunately), does the same thing, and I'm looking forward to the three of us all being in the same room together sometime soon.

My absent friend also sent me an email that night while I was at the meeting, and she wants me to submit a few stories for her show that she does once a month.  She performs at a small club in midtown, usually five chicks and one token dude, and I have the opportunity to be the token dude later this summer.  I'm thinking about sharing the NBA stripper story, or the one about the Dalmation and the sex toy, but we'll see how it goes. 

Anyhow, since our meeting was out on the west side, and didn't end until almost 9:00 pm,  I had packed a bag and ended up staying with Amy and the pugs again on Monday night, going back to work from there the next morning.

Tuesday was my actual birthday, and my co-workers made a small deal about it, nothing too embarrassing.  Just a card and cupcakes, which was very thoughtful of them.  And then another gift card showed up in my email, this one from Sierra Trading Post, (my new favorite place to buy clothes), and I finally used it this morning to order a new Columbia Sportswear rain jacket. 

That night, I went back over to Amy's and she took me to dinner at 360 Wine Bar and Bistro over in Belle Meade.  Or is it West Meade.  I'm not sure, but it's a nicer neighborhood than I live in.  We even completed the illusion of high class by rolling up in Amy's convertible Benz and parking right in front for everyone to see.

But we had an awesome meal--and a fantastic bottle of Oregon Pinot that was quite the indulgence.  We started off with a charcuterie plate that included duck liver pate and all kinds of funky meat, served with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and flatbread.  So good!  I had some sort of roasted chicken stuffed with cheese and figs, with a side of purple fingerling potatoes and some broccoli that actually tasted like it was smoked (hell yeah--kids would eat that, it tasted, to me, like green bacon!).  Amy had a thick cut pork chop with creamed cauliflower, pancetta and peas, topped with roasted pears. 

I really enjoyed the meal, and for dessert we shared a glass of 10-year-old port and some sort of custard filled creme puffs that looked like a pastry version of deviled eggs. 

Yes, it was a damn good meal! 

After dinner, we headed off to RED! wine store and picked up a few more bottles of the good stuff (and I also got a bottle of that Evan Williams Honey Reserve whiskey that I discovered the weekend before out in the woods), then came back to the house and cracked open another bottle of Pinot.

Yeah, I slept pretty well that night, even when sharing space with two bed-hogging puglets...

I finally made it back to my own house again last night, and waiting for me on the porch was another package from the brown-suited Santa Claus.  Reverend Dave had hit my Amazon wishlist and hooked me up with a Nalgene flask and funnel, along with a copy of A Season on the Trail, and a huge box of dehydrated veggies from Harmony House (they are a great source for backcountry provisions). 

I don't know if I mentioned it or not, but Reverend Dave is going to accompany me on my long walk next year, so pretty much all gift-giving occasions are hiking and backpacking related.  And since I had a couple more Amazon gift cards to use, I did a little more online shopping this morning, getting another pair of wool socks (can never have too many!) and a couple of trail books that I've had my eye on.

So my shopping is done, y'all are caught up on the latest, I don't have many chores to do today, and it's nice out, so I may go for a walk in the woods this afternoon.  Oh, and I'll probably do some more writing, too.