Monday, January 30, 2012

Searching For Barbeque In Reno

While spending last week in Reno and Sparks, which are basically the same place except Sparks has prettier street signs, I got a hankering for some good barbeque.  (For the uninitiated, "hankering" is a technical culinary term utilized by BBQ connoisseurs to indicate a "strong epicurean desire.")
My first mistake was employing a 21st century solution to a 19th century problem.
The proper protocol in attempting to locate a provider of this uniquely American delicacy is to ask a sizeable sampling of the local citizenry "where can I find some good barbeque?" 
It has to be this way, because "foodies" who run most of the recognized guides to restaurants and eating establishments are a snooty, uppity bunch.  They refuse to acknowledge that barbeque qualifies as one of the basic food groups, and accordingly fail to include in Michelin's and Zagats the tumbledown roadside greasepots that always provide the absolute best offerings of sauce-slathered pork, chicken and brisket.
I don't know a lot about Reno, other than it seems to be locked in an epic daily struggle to undo the handiwork of their larger southern counterpart.  Las Vegas is known as the place for speedy marriages performed by Elvis impersonators and elegant transvestites like Sister Love (who, incidentally, was the man/woman who administered the "I do's" when my wife and I tied the knot 12 years ago, and it seems to have stuck).  Reno is the home of quickie divorces.  According to recent uncoupling statistics, Vegas is still winning the race, but Reno seems to be catching up.
Because I don't know anyone in "America's Biggest Little City," I didn't have anyone to ask about the nearest barbeque joint.  So we did what more and more people are doing when they don't have a carbon-based human friend: we got online.
In this instance, we fired up the Garmin GPS my wife bought me last year.  Unfortunately, because the thing is barely more than 12 months old, it's about as accurate as an old telephone book that still lists phone numbers with letters, like "WEstmore 9-2745" (which was my family's phone number, 939-2745, when I was a kid.  Yes, I'm THAT old.)
After plugging "Barbeque" into its little electronic question and answer session, it identified a couple of barbeque joints that were within five miles.  The Garmin directed us to take the interstate, then an exit onto a major highway, then onto a smaller street, turning onto a dirt road or two, across three backyards, and finally arriving at a strip shopping center about 800 feet from where we started.  Of course, when we got there, the purported BBQ place was now a dress shop for out-of-work transvestite ministers.  Or maybe it was a Gap.  I often confuse the two.
Like voters who just can't be misled enough, we checked the Garmin again for the next place on the list.
Two interstates, a dry creekbed, and four private driveways later (or about another 800 feet from where we started), we arrived at a building that looked exactly like your quintessential barbeque stand.  It had a garish yellow paint job administered by someone with a surplus of Krylon, oversized exhaust apertures on the roof, and hand-lettered signage on the windows done in white shoe polish.
Unfortunately, instead of a barbeque joint, the eatery was called "JimBoy's Tacos."
Let that sink in.
Aside from the fact that we weren't going to get any barbeque, I was struck by the incongruity of the name.
JimBoy's Tacos.
"What's next?" I asked my wife.  "Billy Bob's Chinese Food?  Ricky Joe's Pizza?  Big Bertha's Kosher Deli?"
We ended up at a nearby Sizzler, which is about as close to barbeque as a fish taco is to imported seafood.
Apparently, the good people of RenoSparks aren't supporting their barbeque community, and the eateries are going out of business.
It's a shame, because there are some hungers that simply can't be satisfied by a McRib sandwich or a $60 salad from Wolfgang Puck's.
So my advice to travelers is this:  No matter where you're heading, seek out and support any food establishment that features this dying culinary art form.
Otherwise, we'll have nobody to blame but ourselves when the health food nuts finally manage to whittle our roadside options down to a string of Soylent Green drive-thrus.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Procrastination A Defense Against Fate

I am a procrastinator.  There's no denying it.
Those who don't suffer from Procrastination Syndrome often mistakenly believe it's a disorder caused by poor planning or a lack of organizational skills.
Nothing could be further from the truth. 
If you saw the staggering variety of to-do lists, agendas, checklists, goal lists, schedulers, and event pop-ups that fill my computer, iPad, and iPhone, you might think I'm a little over-organized.
Yet even with all of these tools, I still tend to wait until the last minute to do or plan certain things.  Also, even with my day meticulously planned down to the last half-minute, I still manage to show up late for almost anything that requires me to replace my slippers with the brown docksiders I wear in public.
A few days ago, while pondering such deep and heavy philosophical questions as the meaning of life and why green sugar free Jell-o doesn't taste at all like lime, I realized that my procrastination isn't just a character flaw.
It's my feeble little human defense against God.
To understand that, first you need to know about the Workman Curse.
It's a very real and longstanding vexation the family of my father's surname has experienced for at least two generations, and maybe even before that.
Basically it works like this:
Something wonderful will happen to me and/or my family. 
Within seven days, something terrible will befall me or the family member who sustained the temporary stroke of luck.
I could give you a long tale of woe complete with an itemized list of all the things that have gone wrong on the heels of something great happening to me or my clan over the last 20 years, but that would just sound like whining when in fact I've actually had a wonderful life (peace and blessings be upon the sacred name of Jimmy Stewart).
It would be easiest to explain the Workman Curse like this:  If I happened to win $100 at a local casino, I would hurry out to my car in the parking lot only to discover two flat tires that would require $105 to replace.
In other words, it's my destiny to never get ahead.
With the Workman Curse firmly in mind because of the litany of bad news my family has sustained in 2012 since receiving the wonderful news that my book is going to be published, I realized that my Procrastination Syndrome is actually a subconscious technique for trying to outmaneuver fate, kismet, or the Guy Upstairs With The 10% Cover Charge And The Warped Sense of Humor.
I realized it while making hotel reservations for an upcoming trip to Reno with my wife.
After wearing out the internet trying to find the best deal on a hotel room in America's biggest little city, I found myself fighting the requirement to hit the "confirm" button.
While psychoanalyzing myself about this muscle spasm, I came to the following conclusion about why I am a procrastinator:
I hate to make plans well in advance because I don't want "them" to have a chance to discover a plan of mine ("them" being the aforementioned triumvirate of fate, kismet, and God/Allah/Visnu/Santa).  If "they" find out about something I've scheduled well in advance, it allows "them" the time to interfere, to disrupt, to turn God's lips upwards in that laugh the Divine enjoys whenever he learns of our pissant little human plans.
If this sounds familiar, it's like the trick Victoria the vampire used to keep future-seeing Alice from knowing about Victoria's plan to wipe out the Cullen family in the "Eclipse" episode of the Twilight movie series.  Victoria didn't make an advance plan, instead letting things unfold away from her purview until her last-minute decision to attack.
In a twisted way, I've come to the conclusion that my procrastination is actually a means of ensuring that the task or event has a chance of coming to fruition.  By putting things off, which sounds like a recipe for causing something to NOT happen, it is actually the best way of guaranteeing the event has a chance for completion.  If "they" don't know about it, "they" can't stop it.
Of course, as long as God is still in control of traffic lights and the little magnetic strip on the back of credit cards, there are still opportunities to mess up a last-minute plan. 
In those cases, the best I can hope for is that He is busy helping some rapper go platinum with their latest tribute to ho's and beyotches, or that He is tied up helping Tim Tebow complete a pass.
But those instances aside, the best I can hope for is that by continuing to put things off as long as possible, I'll be able to keep the Powers That Be on their toes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Art And Sport Of Taking My Blood

I'm afraid of needles.
It's not an irrational fear, like agoraphobia (a fear of wide open spaces) or arachnophobia (a fear of spiders).  This is legitimate. 
I've never read a documented case of a wide open space inflicting pain or damage on a human being. 
And while there are instances where a spider bite has been lethal, I've rarely encountered a North American eight-legger that could withstand my size 10-and-a-halfs. 
That particular phobia loses a lot of points with me because it afflicts both of the women in my house.  I can't count the number of times I've heard an ear-piercing scream from some part of my home that could make a cadaver shiver.  After nearly pulling a hamstring trying to hurriedly clamber from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy and racing to that part of the building, I usually find a spider about the size of an eye booger cowering in the corner of the room, begging me to get these screaming female bipeds away from it.
Needles are different.
They were invented for one purpose, and one purpose alone: to perforate human skin in the most torturous manner possible in order to remove something you need, or introduce something that doesn't belong in there.  I'll take a carload of eye booger spiders over a lone, pain-inducing needle.
Anyone who tells you that needles don't hurt is either a liar, a drunkard, or a compensated member of the health care profession.  I've met car salesmen who are more honest than a white-shoed smock-wearer with a penicillin "gift" behind his or her back. 
Even worse are the times when you arrive at the emergency room with some body part leaking red fluid like a busted radiator from a '62 Buick.  One of the first lies they'll tell you in the E.R. (after the "your Senior Dimensions insurance will cover all of this" fib) is that they're going to give you a shot for the pain.  Well, maybe it's not an outright lie, just some medical doublespeak.  The person with the new red floral print on their previously white Aerosmith t-shirt hears "this will help it stop hurting."  What the white-coat really means is "we're going to give you this shot to give you more pain, because that bone sticking out of your arm doesn't look uncomfortable enough."
I recently had my annual visit with my physician, Dr. Larry Cain.  For starters, you have to love a sawbones named "Larry."  No pretentious moniker like "Charles" or "Xavier" or "Lawrence."
One of the first things you'll notice about Dr. Cain is that he's tall.  How tall?  He's one of the few guys on whom Shaquille O'Neal could use the old "how's the weather up there?" bit.  I believe God made Dr. Cain about 7'6" tall because that's what it would take to store all that medical knowledge AND his kind heart.  (Never trust a short doctor, unless he's a podiatrist or a proctologist.)
Unfortunately, the medical school he attended apparently had a swinging watch with an extra long chain, because like all of his M.D. colleagues he has been hypnotized into believing that needles are our friends.
During my visit, he started filling out a pink and blue form that looked like a colorful crossword puzzle, complete with numbered boxes and long, unintelligible hints.
Turns out, it was a lab form.
For the uninitiated, "lab" is medical code for "the place where human extremities are forced to do pin cushion impressions." 
If you've ever visited a sports pub and wondered where all those inebriated semi-pro dart players work during the day, you need look no further than your nearest blood-sucking facility.  In fact, if you pay close attention the next time they strap you into the chair before turning your inner elbow into a trip-20 ring, you'll realize that the damp cotton pad they're rubbing on your skin is actually soaked with last night's leftover Patron.
Unfortunately, because malpractice insurers won't allow the phlebotomists to drink on the job, it can sometimes take two or three throws before they "close out the bulls" on your arm (shots they would never miss in the third round of a league tournament). 
On this day, the capable woman tasked with giving my arm a new non-decorative piercing discovered one of my embarrassing secrets.
You know how they say certain male body parts tend to shrink and shrivel when in the throes of terror?
My veins tend to do the same thing.
When in the same room with an unsheathed needle, the blood vessels in my arm will constrict to the thickness of six pound test fishing line, then start trying to play hide and seek behind the nearest tendon.
My left arm won round one.
Since I couldn't convince the needle bearer to do it my way, which would be to allow me to scratch the scab off my shin from a previous night's game of "Pin The Tail On The Toilet In The Middle Of The Night," she moved on to my right arm.  She was quick and stealthy, which allowed her to sneak up on my throwing limb before the vein could camouflage itself under the forest of arm hair.
Like an old time mountaineer with a pointy miniature divining rod, she was able to bring in a gusher with the first stab, filling what seemed to me like four or five quart-sized milk bottles with my blood.
In a few days we'll have the lab results, but I don't need a report to confirm that I am simply suffering from an allergy.
I am allergic to needles, and the white-coated stethoscope-wearing villains who wield them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Exciting News

Well, it's been six months since leaving the newspaper.  Since then, I've been pursuing my lifelong dream of becoming a published author.
I was raised in a traditional home where both mom and dad went off to work every day; mom as a nurse, dad as a police officer.
Both of them also worked a variety of part time second jobs.  Dad did auto body work, drove a tractor trailer, played music in a band, and even worked for a cement company to fill his days when he wasn't on patrol.  Mom did a stint as a waitress, drove a tractor trailer (hauling 8,000 gallons of gasoline, no less), and even drove a school bus in between college classes to earn her nursing degree.
So as I sit in my bedroom office day after day, you can imagine the guilt that seeps in as I fail to live up to my surname.  Sometimes I feel like the punchline of an unfunny joke that begins "what's the difference between an unpublished writer and an unemployed bum?"  To be honest, I'm not always clear on the distinction between the two.  Both involve wearing slippers and unattractive oversized "comfy" garments that don't include a belt.  As for income, each role earns roughly the same as the guy who can't answer the first-round question "what color is blue ice cream?" on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."
Bums and writers both dream of the day when they'll "hit it big."  For bums, that day usually involves some sort of lotto ticket or pharmaceutical settlement.  For writers, it's the elusive "best seller."
For the record, I'm 0-for-20 in the lottery ticket department over the last few months.  As for a "best seller," I'd be ecstatic with a "one or two seller."
Here comes the exciting news I promised last week:
It looks like I'm one step closer to that "one or two seller."
I finished my novel "The Cabin" in September.  It's the horror story of an entity which brings death and destruction within the winter storms, damage mistakenly attributed to the snow and wind.
It also highlights a...well, I don't want to spoil it for you.
Once the novel was finished, I passed it along to a few friends and a kindhearted yet knowledgeable journalism teacher, who all agreed it doesn't suck too much.
After it passed muster with them, I sent it off to a dozen publishing companies.
Then I waited.  And waited.  And waited...
If my life were a movie, this would be the scene where a ghostly clock floats by, its hands spinning maniacally; or a calendar with page after page being torn off to show the passage of time.
I don't know a lot about the publishing business but I suspect they buy their timepieces from the same people who make clocks for the NFL, because I feel like an eternity has passed while I'd bet only two minutes have ticked off the wall clocks at the various publishing houses I've contacted. 
This is tough for a former newspaper man.  I'm accustomed to covering a scene, writing a story, editing it, and seeing it online the next day, followed by a print version a few days after that.
I cut my journalistic teeth on immediacy.
Now I'm splashing around in the other end of the pool, the place where bespectacled turtles dwell.  It's a place where the only person who seems to be in a hurry is me.
I've only received two actual rejection letters, the bane of all authors.  Even Stephen King racked up dozens of "no's" before "Carrie" caught on.
However, instead of being painful, those letters were quick and merciful.  For those two companies, the waiting was over.  It wasn't a yes, but at least I knew.
But for the rest of the submissions, time continues to tick away.  Slowly.
How slowly?
Think back to your elementary school days.  Do you remember the first time you sent "The Note" to the cute girl in the second row?  You know, the one that says "Do you like me?" followed by a pair of check boxes labeled "Yes" and "No" in pencil?  Can you remember how agonizingly long it took for the minutes and seconds to peel away before you got your scribbled response?
Now multiply that by 10,000.
In talking to a couple of other published writers, I've been told to be patient; that it can sometimes take up to six months to hear back from a publisher.
I've been on Amazon and visited Best Buy a half dozen times in search of "patience," but all the stores seem to be out of it.
Fortunately - and here comes the "exciting" part - I finally got an answer the day before Christmas Eve.  A publishing company in Pennsylvania advised they would like to offer me a publishing contract.
If the word wasn't already copyrighted, trademarked, and protected by a large battery of attorneys, at this point I would yell out "yahoo!"
Along with the acceptance, the publisher asked that I respond "ASAP."  I find that ironic, considering how long it took them to figure out where the "reply" button was on their iMac.
Being a bit of a snot, I of course made them wait.  I didn't send my confirmation until three whole hours later.  As part of that reply, I asked them to send the contract at their earliest convenience.  I was hoping to review it over the holidays so I could figure out exactly how many firstborn children they would require, and the mailing address where I should forward my soul.
Today is January 3.  I still haven't received the contract.
However, I'm still upbeat and optimistic.  In human terms, that's 11 days.  But in publisher and NFL time, it's barely second down and five, with two timeouts remaining.
The important thing is that someone has actually expressed an interest in publishing my book, something that doesn't always happen for first-time authors.
So that's the exciting news.
As soon as I know more, I'll share it with you.
That is, if the publisher replies before the Mayan calendar runs out.