Monday, June 14, 2010

Fun Time

If you tell the truth too often, nobody will believe it.

G.K. Chesterton


Welcome back. In the first installment, I asked you to venture your guesses as to which, if any, of the following statements about me were true:

1) I painted my toaster-oven yesterday.

2) I put El Yucateco habanero sauce on just about everything.

3) My usual breakfast is a ham-and-cheese sandwich.

4) I keep a printed menu for my family, as well as a chalkboard with daily specials. I often prepare four different meals for four people. As each is finished, I ring a bell and shout "Order up!"

5) In 1988, Chuck Berry got me roaring drunk.

6) I enjoy reading the dictionary. I keep one bedside.

7) I once drove the Five Satins from Bridgeport, CT to Lancaster PA in my 1980 Chevy Caprice. They rehearsed in the car almost all the way. That is how Doo-Wop should be heard.

8) I sing my sons evil nursery rhymes, similar to the Gashlycrumb Tinies. These usually end in the grim death of the protagonist. They seem to enjoy them.

9) I was once pulled over while walking.

10) I have never ridden a horse, but I have ridden both a camel and an elephant.

Several of you made interesting guesses. I will now clear things up. All of those statements are true. Every one. Some brief explanations....

Meet Harriet, my toaster. All right, that's not true. I don't really name my appliances. I did, however, paint my toaster on June 9th, 2010 : "yesterday," in the original post. The story is this: she will be eleven years old this July. It was time for her biannual cleaning. Having survived eleven years of daily use, plus once being set on fire by my lovely wife, she was looking a little the worse for wear.

Now my depression-era Nana firmly ingrained in me her rule for living:

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.

Naturally, replacing a working toaster would never do. It seemed some renovations were in order. A quick buff with 0000 steel wool and two coats of Rust-Oleum bright white semi-gloss later, here we are. Good as new. Ain't she a beauty?

Cracking toast, Gromit!

As evidence of 2, 3, and 4, I offer the following:

Dad's Diner

Behold: the menu, specials board, dinner bell, El Yucateco XXXtra Hot, and one ham-and-cheese sandwich, made with the cracking toast pictured earlier. If the flash had cooperated, you'd see that the menu reads : Dad's Diner 'n' More. Honestly, sometimes I wish I'd never started down that road. Here's what happened.

As cook of the house, I started long ago making lists of the meals I had ingredients for. This helped me remember what I needed to use, what I needed to buy, and what I had lying around come suppertime. As I used things up, I'd cross off the list the meals that had been made. Reasonable enough, I think.

At some point, I started handing the list to my lovely wife: Here's what I have. What do you want for dinner? Simple, easy, things were still under control. Then she told a friend.
What? He gives you a MENU?!?
No. It's just a list of the food that's available.

I thought this funny and decided to print up a proper menu. The problems began when I started using the menu. First it was funny. Then it became routine. Now I'm stuck with it.

Similarly with the bell: one day I was feeling a bit put out by the Sunday breakfast rush. I started shouting "Order up!" as I finished each plate. I said all I needed was a bell to ring. My wife purchased a bell. First it was funny. Then it became routine. Now I'm stuck with it.

But did I learn my lesson? Noooo. Daily specials? Why not? Here we go. So far I have managed to avoid installing booths. Give it time. I cut my four year-old's sandwiches into letter shapes. Don't ask. Another joke gone bad. No good deed goes unpunished. Welcome to Dad's. Now what can I get for you?

As far as the hot sauce goes, either you understand that or you don't. Eat enough hot pepper and food starts tasting a bit bland without it. El Yucateco XXXtra hot is a good everyday habanero sauce. Tasty heat, around 12,000 Scovilles. A nice kick that won't take your head off. Inexpensive, too. Recommended. I use it constantly, by itself or mixed into other things, such as the mayo on that ham-and-cheese.

Strictly speaking, my usual breakfast is not a ham-and-cheese sandwich. My usual breakfast is whatever was left over from last night's dinner, eaten cold. Or, if the kids leave over a lot of their breakfasts, I'll have that. Only if these two options fail do I bother to prepare breakfast for myself. In that case, however, 95% of the time, it will be a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Quick, easy, tasty. It was good enough for my father. It works for me too. Technically, the sandwich in the photo is Spam-and-cheese, but that's another story.

As for number 6, what can I say? I love words. I find them fascinating. I love reading about them: their meanings, their connotations, their etymologies. Sure, my wife thinks I'm a complete geek for that but, when she wants to know what an autodidact is or the like, I get my respect.

Numbers 5 and 7 I'll deal with together, though perhaps they may someday stand alone. For years I worked in the music business in various capacities. I still do, though I no longer attempt to make a living at it. Making a living in music is equal parts luck, talent, work, and schmooze, any one of which can make the difference between working or not. Through a bit of both luck and schmooze, I met a concert promoter who worked mainly with acts from the 50s. This led to a lot of work for me and over the years I met lots of the artists who are still active. A couple of road stories:

I was working a large outdoor show featuring, in my opinion, the true King of Rock and Roll, Chuck Berry. I was just a roadie, hauling sound gear: nothing fancy, pure, sweaty grunt-work. It's long hours, but if things go well, most of them are free. You show up early, work like a maniac, then hang around until the last note is played and everyone goes home. Then you work like a maniac again. There's a reason most people in the business smoke heavily. It gives you something to do in between.

So I was doing just that, sitting on some cases behind the main stage when a big, black Town Car pulled up. The window rolled down, and there he was, Chuck himself. He asked if I knew where a liquor store was. Degenerate that I was, I did, since I had been there early that morning to stock up for later. I started to tell him how to get there.
No, no. Get in.
What would you do? I hopped in the car. He turned around and we motorvated out of there. I told him how much I enjoyed his music. I was politely acknowledged with a quick smile. He seemed preoccupied and not in the mood for much conversation. We drove quickly, in silence except for an occasional direction. The store was close, maybe ten minutes. We arrived and he peeled off a twenty from a fair-sized roll. He handed it to me.
I went in and bought a bottle. We left. When we arrived back at the venue, he parked the car behind the stage, opened the bottle, and took a healthy swig. He looked me up and down, then offered it to me. How could I say no? We passed it back and forth for a bit. Though I felt the booze pretty quickly, it seemed to have no effect on him. After a while, he thanked me and excused himself. He headed off behind the stage. I went to look for a chaser.

As is usual for me in those situations, I had no pen, no paper, no camera: just my eyes and ears. As an interesting coda, years later, I heard that Chuck denies ever using drugs or alcohol. The man I met clearly wanted a drink and was no thimble-belly. I do sometimes wonder, though. Did someone just put me on because I thought he was Chuck, or was it really him? All I can say is it sure looked like him and, though I may never know 100%, I believe it was.

The Five Satins story played out differently. I had been given directions to pick up Bill Baker, the lead singer at the time, at his home in Connecticut, and bring him to a show in Pennsylvania where the group would be joining a package tour. Fair enough. I headed out and arrived at his modest ranch house. I rang the bell and he answered the door and asked me if I'd help him carry some gear. So far, so good.

When we got to my car, he looked a bit dismayed. I asked if something was wrong. As often happens in these situations, there had been a miscommunication, possibly intentional. He was under the impression that I was bringing the whole group down. This changed things a bit. Several phone calls later, we decided that we'd have to manage, though we were now going to be crammed in and behind schedule. We drove around picking up the others and got on the road.

Some of the guys in the group were not much older than me. We talked amongst ourselves for a while. When the conversations flagged, Bill suggested they rehearse. He asked if I minded. Mind? Hell, no. For almost the next four hours, they sang some of the most amazing harmonies I've ever heard. That is what doo-wop is all about: five guys with a song to sing. I will never hear In The Still Of The Night the same way ever again.

And speaking of singing, I do sing evil nursery rhymes to my sons. Well, they're boys, after all. Sometimes these are traditional, like the Hearse Song. Other times, they're variations on traditional themes:
Mary had a little lamb... with mashed potato and corn.
And down will come baby... SPLAT! That's all.
Still others are improvised on the spot:
A boy who won't behave, is stepping in his grave,
the cold, cold, lonely graaaave!
Perhaps Dr. Spock would disagree. I think it's squarely in the folk tradition. And they seem to like them well enough. As Basil Fawlty would say: "Just enjoying myself, dear."

Which brings us to number 9, number 9, number 9.... Yes, I was in fact pulled over while walking, but not for drunkenness. I was walking a dirt road that led to some wonderful out-of-the-way beaches. This road also happens to pass through piping plover nesting grounds. One day, as I was walking home, I heard behind me, of all things, a siren. I turned around and realized I was being called over to a truck with the markings of the Department of Environmental Protection or, as we called them, the "bird police."

He asked if I could wait a few minutes so that some plover chicks could cross the road. They had crossed the road to feed. They were attempting to return to their nest when I walked by. Apparently, instead of just waiting for me to go away, they were walking along, waiting for me to go away, and would have followed me a mile down the road until I turned. That shows exactly what a half-teaspoon of brains will get you.

I stopped and waited. Four sandy puffballs crossed the road. I went on my way. I heard later they had been eaten by feral cats. That, once more, shows exactly what a half-teaspoon of brains will get you. Well, I did my part.

Last, and perhaps least, I have never ridden a horse but have ridden a camel and an elephant. I'm a city boy. No opportunities to ride horses. The fair did come to town though. And once, when I had sampled everything the midway had to offer, I stumbled across camel and elephant rides. I couldn't resist, if only to say one day that I had done that. Evidently, that day has come. I wish I had been on safari, but that's not it at all. I can say for certain, though, that elephants are big.

I believe all people are insane, once you truly get to know them. I offer these stories as a peek at my own loose screws. You may be no better off for having read them, but at least we've increased our level of intimacy, haven't we? Special praise to Ananda Girl for her astute guess, and thanks to Suldog for the initial inspiration. Now, wasn't it the truth I told ye?

Respectfully Yours,



Ananda girl said...

Ha! I knew it! It entirely matched the image I have of you in my head, Cricket. I sure enjoyed the explanations too.

As for the scary rhymes... hee hee. The bear once told me a bedtime story. "I had a bird, Paulie and his head fell off!" Children love creepy!

I think it was Chuck Berry!

It does make me wonder if the bird police had not stopped you... if the little fluffies might not have gone a different way and avoided the feral cats! Its hard to tell what is or isnt meddling with nature.

Friko said...

well, I wasn't so far out.
You truly are nuts.

Hilary said...

You have a lot of interesting stories inside that head of yours. I'm so glad you started a blog.

Slamdunk said...

Fun list. #6 is true for me--include an Atlas and I am good to go for a few hours.

Suldog said...

A Wallace & Grommit reference! That's enough to jiggle MY jolly bits!

Great post, as usual. Somewhere, in the dim and distant past, our ancestors must have shared some bodily fluids.

Eddie Bluelights said...

Hi Cricket

I just wondered if you would be interested to appear on The Sunday Roast show. I would be honoured if you agreed. Please write to me at

Best wishes

lime said...

i love it. there was a teaspoon of my brain that suspected either all of them were true or none of them were. i split the difference and speared that teaspoon on toast. maybe a new menu item....

great fun.

word veri:hootiody.....reading this was a hootiody. may not be in your bedisde dictionary but ought to be