Excuses Excuses Excuses

No one, including me, likes to hear an excuse.  I’m fairly sure that reading them isn’t much more enjoyable.  Yet, here I sit, poised to write a post which is absolutely littered with them.

After a string of several weeks putting up 4 or 5 posts, I’ve fallen off the radar.

In truth, it’s not for lack of effort.  I’ve actually got a few things in the works, but none of them are quite ready yet.  The last thing anyone out there needs is an under-cooked blog.  They don’t digest well and will leave you readers with a funny taste in your mouths – bad funny, like getting hit in the privates, not good funny, like someone else getting hit in the privates.

Here are a few of the excuses I’ve been kicking around, followed by the reasons they suck:

Excuse  #1 – I’ve been really busy with work.

This excuse sucks because: Everyone gets busy at work, or worse yet, some readers may be among the scores of unemployed or under-employed and resent the hell out of me for having a job (actually, I have 3 jobs, but bringing that up won’t likely endear me to the unemployed)

Would it help if I mentioned that one of my jobs is working at a soup kitchen handing out croutons and extra napkins? (Image from untoldentertainment.com)

Excuse #2 – I’ve been saddled with family obligations.

This excuse sucks because: Everyone gets saddled with family obligations.  Feeling put-upon by the responsibilities of family life is one of the main reasons many of us write in the first place!  Writers in dry spells will envy my having family issues and obligations.  To be honest, my big family obligation was driving my daughter to Pittsburgh to help her move from one college dwelling to another. That’s not exactly like having a painful, dramatic intervention to get Aunt Tilly off the booze and pills.  Sorry Aunt Tilly, but making light of your addictions was for your own good (and it filled a void in my post)

Excuse #3 – I had to drive to Pittsburgh and back.

This excuse sucks because: Pittsburgh is a happening city filled with a delicious mix of culture and kitsch.  Driving there and back actually got me out of New Jersey for 3 days.  By the way, if you ever want to kill your liver and gain 10 pounds all in one weekend, let me know, I have some Pittsburgh attractions you won’t want to miss.

Excuse #4 – I was busy begging people to vote for me to win the “Gluttony” chapter of k8edid’s 7 Deadly Sins Challenge

This excuse sucks because: Even though I was busy begging, and I actually succeeded at winning, I now have 6 more deadly sins to write about and I have to make a good showing or I’ll look like a one-post wonder.  (By the way – Thanks for voting everybody, I’ll try not to let you down)

Excuse #5 – I was busy watching the NCAA men’s lacrosse playoffs.

This excuse sucks because: It’s not entirely true.  While Pittsburgh has no shortage of trendy bars and restaurants, I couldn’t find any bartenders who wanted to change the channel from tractor pulls or the replay of the Penguins most recent Stanley Cup Championship.  Though its popularity is growing by leaps and bounds across all demographics, many people still consider lacrosse the bastion of affluent, snotty rich kids.  With that in mind, maybe you’d enjoy watching the guy who will eventually receive a 7 figure bonus for moving your job to Sri Lanka get cross checked into the turf.

When the dude in the red shorts reorganizes your company and you end up on the soupline, you can look back fondly on this humiliating hit. (Image copyright – Hung Tran Photography)

Excuse #6 – I was expending all my creative efforts writing my rant for the people in my Survivor pool at work.

This excuse sucks because: Writing this blog is the excuse I gave to my work friends for doing such a lackluster job on the Survivor rant!  Let’s be honest, this season pretty much went down the toilet once Colton had to quit with menstrual cramps.

Excuse #7 – The sun was in my eyes.

This excuse sucks because: Everyone knows I do the bulk of  my blogging under cover of darkness.

Excuse #8 – I’m a perfectionist – you just can’t rush true art.

This excuse sucks because: Have you read my blogs?  Perfectionist?  Seriously?!

Shmuck of the Irish

It’s March, people!  We all know what that means:

Corned beef and cabbage, dying things green which should never be green, and most importantly, conspicuous over-drinking by hordes of amateur alcoholics.

Don’t start swinging your shillelagh, I’m not slamming the Irish.  Nor am I mocking their holiday, even though it has morphed into some kind of national day of auditions for the next season of A&E’s “Intervention”.

Nothing says St. Patty's Day quite like sugary shots with whipped topping! (Extra credit if you can name the bar the coaster came from)

As a former bartender, I’ve earned the right to speak regarding this holiday.  People who aren’t in the hospitality industry often believe that snagging a shift on St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve or Cinco de Mayo would be some kind of coup for a bartender.  In truth, working any of these three days should be avoided at any cost.  St. Patrick’s Day will typically go something like this:

Your bread-and-butter regulars will stay home, not wishing to share their comfy watering hole with a bunch of yahoos who will all be gone by March 18th.  Instead, hordes of novice boozers pour into your establishment.  Essentially, these people have no business being in bars at all.  Not only are they inept at the actual consumption of alcohol, but they also don’t know how to order, tip, or generally behave in a drinking establishment.  They cram in there and start waving twenties or corporate credit cards while bellowing out orders.  Once you’ve supplied them with their giant order, which invariably includes some sort of lace-panty shots involving whipped cream and six kinds of sweet liqueurs, they add on another couple of drinks for their friends who didn’t order the first time.

The noise is insane.  The bar manager, with visions of dollar bills dancing in his empty head, has taken the normal music off and is cranking up some sort of hideous fiddle jigs in hopes of inspiring these chowderheads to drink even more.  If Michael Flatley came river-dancing in, one could only hope he’d slip in a puddle of green beer  You wish someone had reminded the manager that U2 and Van Morrison are both as Irish as Patty’s pig.  Sinead O’Connor would sound like a choir of  angels compared to what you’re hearing now.

You lean way across the bar to tell a customer with a bad toupee that the batch of drinks you just made for him is $27.50.  By leaning across the bar, you don’t have to scream at this dolt – it’s going to be a long night, and you don’t want to lose your voice too early.  He gestures for you to lean back over the bar to him, as he has some pressing news of his own.  You do so.  He brings his mouth within an inch of your ear, then screams out his request for a few more drinks, filling your ear with both the annoying sound of his voice and a fair amount of spit.  You recoil from him, wiping out the Wet Willy he gave you as you make the additional drinks.  His toupee resembles a flattened ground hog you saw on your drive to the bar, and there’s a snail-trail line where his skin meets the pelt – he’s not that good with the glue.  His total is now $35.  You deliver the second batch and he gives you two 20’s.  There’s no way in hell you would give this guy a 5 dollar bill back.  That’s a risk even when it’s not amateur night, so you put five ones down in front of him.

You turn to wait on the next person, but before you can, he wants your attention yet again.

“HEY!!” he screams.

You turn back to him hoping he’s not going to give you a third drink order.  He’s holding one of those singles in his hand and making earnest eye contact like he’s about to give you life advice.  Obviously he wants to make sure that you know that he’s the one leaving you this wildly generous single dollar.

“That’s yours, man!” he yells.  Luckily you’re far enough away this time to avoid the spit.

As a seasoned professional, you know better than to take it personally when someone gives you a lame tip.  You nod to Toupee Boy then turn and toss the buck into the tip can, which is entirely too empty for a bar as crowded as this.

You move onto the next money-waving stooge and hope for a more favorable outcome, but really, you know better.  This one is a woman who is out with three of “her girls” from the office.  Everyone knows they’re here, because despite the horrifically loud penny whistle and bagpipe soundtrack on the speakers, you can hear this lady and her cohorts screaming out “WHOOO!!  ST. PADDY’S!! WHOOO-OO!”  Her blouse is opened two more buttons than it was at the office just a few hours ago.  Apparently, displaying her chubby taters more brazenly, along with a crooked shamrock tiara, is the dress code to let the world know that she and the other girls from accounts receivable are out to par-tay.

She orders, badly.  Her spit mingles with the spit from the last guy and you can’t help but wonder whether real petri dishes would be jealous of the science project which is undoubtedly growing in your ear by now.  The slim hope for avoiding infection is the high alcohol content in their saliva.  The only silver lining is that the gobs of spittle help to drown out the infernal fiddle music.  You together her drinks, making a mental check list for the bar-back to bring more whipped cream and energy drinks.  She doesn’t tip at all.  Apparently, she feels that blessing you with her presence and ass-like cleavage is payment enough.  Hopefully, her presence will eventually pay some dividends – not likely in terms of financial gain, but because she may eventually be a player in some sort of idiotic shenanigans.

Speaking of Shenanigans, you can thank your lucky stars you don’t work at that dump.  Since it has an Irish name – officially Shenanigans House of Ale and Fun-tastic Tavern (or SHAFT to its employees) – legions of rookie  drinkers consider it a mandatory stop during their night of revelry. They don’t serve a single Irish beer.  Rumor has it that management briefly considered Guinness Stout, but scratched that idea when they realized it looked ickier than usual with green food coloring in it.

You turn away from Cleavage Girl before she can add on more drinks for you to fetch.  Let that pervert Jimmy the Weasel or one of your other cohorts behind the bar deal with her.  There’s none of the teamwork that pooling tips usually brings – everyone is just trying to survive the night.  The best chance of income is some rube forgetting his money on the bar.  You see Toupee Boy out of the corner of your eye.  He’s snagged Jimmy to fetch his next round of drinks.  Jimmy rolls his eyes as he slides past you toward the back-up cans of whipped cream and the mini-marshmallows.  He has a clover-covered bar nap in his hand which he’s using to swab out his ear.

A chronically short man has joined Cleavage Girl and her entourage.  You christen him “Stumpy”.  Stumpy has odd splash stains down the back of his suit jacket from bumping into his fellow drinkers at hip height.  He’s drinking a glass of white wine, which couldn’t look worse for a guy in a bar scene, unless he’s wearing an ascot or is sitting with his mother.  The wine glasses here are over-the-top big, and look even bigger in his stubby little hands.  If the glass didn’t have a stem on it, he would likely have to use both hands to hold it.  Despite his obvious shortcomings, Stumpy has thus far proven to be a decent tipper, bless his heart.

Cleavage Girl has to keep bending over to hear what Stumpy has to say, increasing the already obvious boob show with each bow.  An adjacent table of foreigner men has abandoned their lively conversation – presumably about goat herding.  They’ve swiveled their seats to enjoy the spectacle.  These guys look to be from some distant land where alcohol is forbidden and women cover most of their faces in addition to all of their cleavage, hair and ankles.  It’s a sad reflection on what passes for entertainment these days, but you enjoy watching them jump back and glare at her every time she let’s out one of those “WHOO!! ST. PADDY’S !!” war cries.  The looks on their faces make you think that if she carried on like that back in the old country, they’d stone her to death, cleavage or not.

Stumpy has approached the bar to order Cleavage Girl and her cohorts a round of “Screaming Yellow Monkey Farts”.  This is another convoluted, stupid drink consisting of enough sugary liqueurs and Red Bull to keep you awake and put you into a diabetic coma at the same time.  Much like half of the micro-brews on the market, the best feature of this drink is its name.  It tastes more like some kind of licorice-tinged lemonade than alcohol.  As with most of the shots favored by teenagers and St. Pat’s patrons, the recipe is a major pain in the neck to make.   Sadly, the flavor is not easily duplicated just by pouring vodka and Galliano into curdled sour mix, so you have to actually mix them to order.  Stumpy looks like he has to resist the urge to rest his head on the bar, which is only an inch or two beneath his chin.  He’s ordered five shots, so one is for him.  Mixing your intake of different cocktails is a classic mistake of the amateur drinker.  While a beer and a shot of whiskey is perfectly acceptable among legitimate drinkers, it’s not the same as combining copious amounts of pinot grigio with Screaming Yellow Monkey Farts.  This cannot possibly end well.

Stumpy has got to play this just right.  There are only a few days a year when looking like an elf or a leprechaun has any perks.  If he grew a beard and wore shoes with big buckles on them, drunks in the parking lot would be shaking him down for his pot o’ gold. Actually, even without the leprechaun costume he might be in for a little trouble – that massive wine glass is like a beacon for the wrong kind of attention.  He and the girls all whoop and laugh as they throw back the shots.  Ironically, the concoction lives up to its moniker, as each person drinking them makes a face afterwards which looks like they’ve just caught a whiff of the drink’s namesake.

The night drags on.  The screeching fiddle and bagpipe music does not grow on you, and it’s disturbing to note that as the loop plays over and over, you’re actually able to recognize a few of these hideous ditties.  Toupee Boy eventually gets into trouble when, after being rejected by one of Cleavage Girl’s posse, he becomes despondent.  He chooses to show just how pissed he is at the world by doing just that in an artificial palm tree in the lobby.  The management and most of America take a dim view of public urination.  It’s no great loss in management’s opinion, as he was already cut off from drinking and therefore was done parting with much more of his money.

The foreign contingent has departed without anyone noticing.  It’s difficult to believe that their view of American culture (or of Irish culture for that matter) has improved much over the course of the evening.

Stumpy appears to be diligently wearing Cleavage Girl down.  Her girlfriends have drifted away from her.  You have to admit that you’re pulling for the little guy.   The last shots he bought aren’t being tossed back just yet.  Cleavage Girl has her shot of S.Y.M.F. in her hand on Stumpy’s shoulder.  She leans down, teetering in her work heels to listen to whatever the hell he’s yelling over the screeching bagpipe solo.  Unfortunately, the shot is not a high priority for her by this point in the evening and much of it is snaking its way down the back of Stumpy’s now irreparable suit jacket on its way to the floor, leaving little clumps of whipped cream along its trail.

Stumpy looks to be positioning himself to close the deal.  His face looms closer and closer to her cleavage.  It appears that Stumpy is a little less than discrete in his ogling of the goods – though at his height, it’s hard for him to miss the view.  Then suddenly in what can best be described as Sam Pekinpah slow motion, the time bomb of white wine, shots of sugary booze and dairy topping reaches its unfortunate, inevitable conclusion.  Stumpy spectacularly looses his lunch and a sizable financial investment in alcohol, right between the aforementioned boobies.  The screech which issues from Cleavage Girl makes her earlier whoops seem tame by comparison.

She recoils violently, as you’d expect.  This awkward movement, combined with her inebriated state and the puddle of spilled Monkey Farts is more than she can maintain.  Her arms pinwheel and she executes a magnificently awkward fall.  Stumpy has not quite finished and is letting go with a final spew onto the floor, which she lands directly in the path of.

Jimmy the Weasel has scrambled to your side behind the bar and it looks like he might have a moment of bladder incontinence as you both watch the show.  Cleavage Girl’s last remaining colleague has come to her aid, baby-stepping to keep her balance, like the trainer at an ice hockey game trying to get to a fallen player.  By the time they repair to the women’s room, her shirt is just about off, but unless you’re as depraved as The Weasel, there’s not much of a visual thrill when a shirtless woman is covered in this brand of glaze.

Stumpy takes advantage of the break in the action to leave as discretely as he can, stumbling into a cab out front.  Cleavage Girl, looking pale and dressed in her friend’s coat, skulks out soon after.  Amazingly, her green tiara is still on her head, albeit a little more crooked than before. It’s a safe bet that cabbies aren’t big fans of St. Patty’s day either.

Tomorrow, the regulars will be here, the music back to normal, and civilized drinking by seasoned professionals will commence once again.

As for tonight, you just enjoyed payment in full for a night spent tolerating the amateurs. We’ll see you guys and gals on Cinco de Mayo!  You hope to hell you can get that night off…

My Anti-Social Networking

I’ll admit it.  It took me a while to get around to joining Facebook.  By the time I got on there, I was inundated with friend requests from long lost “friends”.  True enough, some really were long lost friends, but I have to be honest, some were just long lost people who happened to sit a few seats away from me in 7th grade math.  Back then, they had braces, acne and limited insight of what living with male pattern baldness would be like.

I did manage to connect with a few actual friends, and it was truly nice to hear how they were doing and generally catch up.  An hour later, that part was pretty much over.

I soldiered on, hoping to uncover more true long lost friends, to capture that reconnection I had so enjoyed initially.  While waiting for old chums to materialize, I started getting invitations to play Mafia Wars.  I live in the land of the Sopranos and Atlantic City; do I really need to go online to play Mafia Wars?  That seems like trying to get kids in Afghanistan to play Medal of Honor.  I was also inundated with congratulations for people who had found lost baby llamas on their virtual farms in a magical place called “Farmville”.  By this point in my life, I know an online time-vampire when I see one, so I stayed away from the games, and didn’t join anyone in trying to find virtual livestock.  I can’t quite wrap my head around why anyone would want to spend hours and hours tending to a farm with no real crops or critters.  I’m happy enough that there are people out there who spend their lives doing that stuff on actual farms!

There are plenty of things people can do and read online.  Many of the topics will only appeal to a small demographic.  The nice thing about computers is that if you do want to look at an article on the how people wear donkey masks for certain ceremonial sex acts in parts of New Guinea, you can do so in relative privacy (Insert your rants about how “they know what you’re doing…every keystroke!….don’t be fooled, mannn!“).  Facebook, on the other hand, overtly lets every one of your friends know exactly what you’re doing.

One person tending to his virtual herds appeared to be my brother Mike.  He was one of the long lost friends to whom I’d referred earlier.  Some families stay close knit, but others unravel like a poorly made sweater in the company of kittens.  Anyway, every time I went on Facebook, he had posted some inane request to help him find his lost Rhode Island Red hen or he was bragging uncharacteristically about his record-breaking virtual alfalfa harvest.  I admit that Mike and I had drifted apart.  We’ve been busy living our complicated adult lives; raising kids, changing jobs, getting divorced (him, not me), etc.  Still, I didn’t think my oldest brother would give a crap about imaginary agriculture.  Weeks turned into months, and Mike kept on posting his Farmville stuff.  I would’ve thought that he would have a big enough spread by then to stop virtual farming and just exist on virtual government subsidies NOT to grow any more virtual corn, yet he was still there, harvesting and fertilizing with the occasional request for midwifery help delivering a make-believe calf.

Despite our shared childhoods, Facebook hadn’t really helped to bring us together.  I shunned Mike, in fear that if I reached out, he would have put a make-believe pitchfork in my hands and put me to work.  Before long I’d have virtual calluses on my hands and let’s not even consider my allergies.  I’d be so tired from all the chores that I’d collapse onto my virtual bunk at the end of the day and we’d never get the chance to reconnect.  He’d drive me hard, tilling the land and milking the cows.  I’d end up resenting him for it.  Bitter and confused, I’d pack my few possessions in my trusty bug-out bag and steal away in the middle of the night, heading for the digital big city and the promise of a glamorous life, leaving the smell of virtual manure and the risk of crop failure behind.

I wondered how he could have become this person.  Was it the divorce?  The remarriage?  He’d left the discomfort and insanity of the East Coast decades back, and was now living in the Midwest.  Perhaps our geographic differences over the years had changed him into someone I wouldn’t recognize were it not for our shared last name.  As I continued to enrich myself intellectually and spiritually, my thoughts increasingly returned to him.   It got to the point where I couldn’t even focus on my articles on donkey masks without my mind drifting back to Mike.  We were nearly strangers now, but dammit it all, he was still my brother and if he needed an intervention, then I would try to help him!

This being a Facebook problem, I realized that the standard “friends and family in semi-circle telling him we loved him” strategy would not work.  I considered enlisting the help of my other two brothers.  Steve is a very successful lawyer who does not waste his time on things like Facebook.  He is involved with his church and advises the board of the school his children attend.  I couldn’t begin to imagine how I’d even start to describe Mike’s addiction to him.   The very thought of that conversation made me cringe in embarrassment for both Mike and myself.  My other brother Chris was on Facebook.  Just like in real life, Chris’ Facebook existence was several degrees cooler than mine would ever be.   As the youngest and hippest, he appeared to be using Facebook like my own children do.  A happening, up-to-date guy who has things like “relationship status” to worry about and cryptic, insider links to sites which someone like me would be lost in.  I doubted Chris had even heard of Farmville.  In all likelihood, he and his Facebook posse were running virtual Formula One racing teams and not wasting their hip-people time trying to find a suitable stud for their prized virtual sow.  It was clear that neither of my other siblings would be much help with Mike’s intervention.  My parents, retirees living the good life, were busy frittering away my inheritance on another cruise at the time and were incommunicado.  I knew what I had to do.  With my teeth gritted and a knot in my stomach, I logged onto Facebook yet again.

I saw that Mike was on.  He was probably filling the silo with feed corn or something.  I messaged him the following:

“Hey big guy!”

I waited and stared at my screen.   The seconds dragged on into minutes with no chime notifying me of a response.  While I waited for Mike’s reply, two old classmates from junior high and an ex-neighbor took the opportunity to invite me to play Mafia Wars.  A work colleague sent me a survey asking if I was a “folder or a buncher”.  I tried to ignored them all, but the thought of someone I worked alongside every day knowing how I prepared my pre-wipe Charmin disturbed me deeply – I struggled desperately to put it out of my mind, though in truth, I had begun to wonder how she prepped her toilet paper .  Still, no response from Mike.  Good God! This may have been worse than I thought!

I logged off as my mind raced.  I pictured Mike hunkered down in a dark room, the bluish light from his computer reflected his face in a vision of flickering horror.   A scraggly beard hanging down to the top of his tattered overalls.  Cob-web covered farm tools lined the walls, the tasteful, neutral pile carpet beneath his feet covered in hay.  His eyes like dark holes in his skull as he looked all over his virtual acres for the latest lost piglet.  Maybe I was too late.  Maybe he had had some grisly farm mishap and was tangled up in the blades of the combine in a field of make-believe wheat as the virtual blood seeped into his boots.  Maybe he had just totally abandoned his real life for the bucolic agrarian existence.

I took a new direction on addressing things.  Perhaps the answer lay within Facebook itself.  I logged back on and started looking for a Facebook Intervention app.*  Despite the obvious need, I couldn’t find it anywhere on the site or online.  My search was complicated by the intrusive mental image of my coworker, still sitting on the bowl, fastidiously folding her T.P. like some obsessed origami practitioner.  How was I going to face this woman on Monday?  Why did I ever accept her friend request?  Put it out of your mind, man!  This is about saving Mike!!

I was about to lose all hope when the little message icon blinked on my screen accompanied by a dainty chime.  It was Mike!  He was alive!  I sprung to the keyboard and opened the message box.

“Hey bro!” it said.

I wiped away the tears of joy as I read and re-read those beautiful words, overjoyed to know my brother was still here among us in the real world.

“Can I ask you a question?” I wrote, not wanting to lose the chance to take the issue on headfirst.

“Sure” he responded.

“OK” I wrote, “I was just wondering, do you think that maybe you might be over-doing this whole Farmville thing a little? I mean, every time I log onto this site you’re posting all kinds of stuff about it”

“Oh” he replied, “That’s not me, my wife is into that farm stuff.  She’s just logged onto my Facebook account.”

The relief flooded over me.  While my brother’s wife is technically part of the family, I have to admit that I just don’t have the same visceral response about mental illness and obsessive behavior among in-laws (Insert wise crack here – I like to think I’m a little classier than that).  I knew in my heart that Mike was alright, that there was a logical explanation.  I was so happy to know that my brother was still among the sane, among the real, that my mind didn’t process his next words at first:

“I’m more of a Mafia Wars guy”

*I write a blog, and not particularly well.  I’m certainly no app developer.  While I lack the technical savvy to write a Facebook Intervention App, it is my idea.  I can only hope that if some technically proficient reader takes this idea forward and makes buckets of cold hard cash, that they remember who told them about it.  I’m not asking for much, just a little land, maybe a few cows and some chickens.