Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Problem with Morrissey's Music is that He No Longer Plays with Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce, or Johnny Marr

"Why-hy-hy-hy-hy-hy-hy-hy-hy-hy-hy don't you like Morrissey's solo work?", music acquaintances have asked me. "Is it because he's Vegan?" "Is it because he's [probably] homosexual?" "Is it the insular brooding nature of his lyrics which can be off-putting considering the cynical and often sarcastic overtones mixed with witty British government and pop culture references?"

"No," is my reply. "It's because Andy Rourke, Mike Joyce and Johnny Marr no longer play in his band."

"Oh, so you like the Smiths then," music acquaintances imply.


For every Joe Strummer there was a Clash. For every Frank Black (Francis) there was a Pixies. For every Paul Weller, there was a Jam. For every Elvis Costello, there was an Attractions. As in gestalt, the whole of these bands is greater than their sum parts. And for me, the Smiths are no different.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Three is the Magic Number. Yes it is.

#1.) June 23 - Ed McMahon (1923 - 2009)

#2.) June 25 - Farrah Fawcett (1947 - 2009)

#3.) June 25 - Michael Jackson (1958 - 2009)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Smoking Double-Negative

Back beat the word is on the street and lookie at what mine eyes have seen. This sign is located on front doors to the Arbaugh Building lofts in downtown Lansing. So, does this read "No no smoking" to anyone else? As in encouraging one to smoke.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Florida Dispatches - 04

Abuela y Abuelo's home is part of a neighborhood adjacent to the West Palm Beach airport. What's more, Interstate-4 runs two streets to the west of their backyard. Tall tropical foliage blocks the interstate from view, not to mention dampens the sound, otherwise, these transportation routes are a constant reminder that progress is abound. People are on the move. Further evidence of this is the vacant area sitting a block to the south, where one hundred or so homes were leveled to make way for future expansions of the airport. In 2007 there were plans for development of university sports facilities on this site. Today, it remains as it did two years ago. Felix tells me a ground breaking ceremony took place earlier in the year. Funds have dried up. Wishful thinking remains. Abuelo's neighbor Albert speculates their neighborhood will suffer a similar fate some day.

For now, Abuela's house continues to be a respite from the "tourism-a-go-go" that is Orlando. This is real Florida. Homes in this neighborhood are pushing forty-years of age. Their exteriors are in one of four colors: pink, light blue, yellow and sometimes white. They are single-level with three bedrooms, one bath, kitchen, and car port (or garage). Bars on the windows are not an uncommon site, but typically more for hurricane protection than prowlers. Inside, the floors are ceramic tile throughout. This helps keep a comfortable room temperature during the summer heat. No basement. And, air conditioning runs like water here.

On the berm of these yards grow honest-to-god coconut trees. At one time an orange tree grew here in the front yard too. In the back yard are mangoes, avocado and at one time grapefruit amongst the palm and tropical trees. I say "at one time" as successive hurricanes have damaged and then finally killed these trees. Small anole lizards run about - sometimes called "chameleons" as their color can turn from bright green to brown. It's beautiful in the backyard. I've spent hours back there picking mangoes, taking photos, or simply to soak-in the abundance of life. Natalie and Jacob pick up mangoes (Jake calls them "balls", as he does for anything sharing that resemblance). We look for and then pet Abuelo's cat. Carmen hangs laundry on the line. One day while she and her mom were out for errands, I recruited Felix to assist the harvest of coconuts. With machete and ladder we felled a cluster, only to find they were undersized and flavorless. Until this trip, Florida had been experiencing near-drought conditions. Thankfully we brought mucho aqua with us. Albert came over later to inspect the coconuts and confirmed their condition. The next day he delivered a fresh green cluster from a friend's tree. He demonstrated how to open one with a machete. As if he was sharpening a pencil he made six angular cuts to remove the top portion of the coconut's outer husk, and a seventh to make the final opening. He drinks the clear coconut liquid and says, "Now that's a good coconut." He was right. Drink with a straw or straight from the fruit - it makes no difference. The husk-to-fruit ratio of a coconut favors the husk. But, you also get to wield a machete to open one. How many fruits can you say this about? We scoop out the snow white flesh and freeze it for later.

It's a regular thing I do whenever we're here. Part of the experience, one could say. I buy and smoke cigars. Also, it's a simple activity that I can share with Felix. Cigar factories are everywhere in Florida. The Cubans set up shop with Dominican leaves and roll away. And by "factory" I mean up to a half dozen cigar rollers seated at wooden desks. One may walk around, talk to the rollers and observe their craft. Storefront meets factory floor. Just this year one opened near abuela's house. Felix became aware of it one day when he saw the owner's Hummer H2, which is coated with an all-over skin featuring his logo. We drive around to find the store, unsure of it's exact location when we see the Hummer parked on the street. Proof in advertising. We check out their humidor and since it was a slow day, we were able to speak at length to the owner. He brings us each cafe (Cuban coffee). We watch the roller unpack a burlap crate of Dominican leaves into a tall wood barrel. He shows us the difference between the inner filler tobacco and the outer wrapper. Then, he asks what size I like and proceeds to roll a robusto for me.

West Palm Beach, for Carmen, means two things: guava pastries and Cuban bread. The pastries are decadent flaky squares filled with a glistening red guava and cheese filling. The bread is not unlike an Italian loaf, or perhaps a French baguette on steroids. What makes it unique is the soft middle and crusty exterior. Perfect for grilled Cuban sandwiches, or in Carmen's case to eat with butter. Every morning I rise to procure a half dozen pastries, two loaves of bread, a fresh squeezed orange juice and a cortadito. Cafe is a single serving of espresso with sugar served black. Cortadito is a cafe "cut" with cream. One may also order either as a colada, which is the entire brew of espresso, or usually two to three servings. In this fashion, the coffee is presented in a cup with several smaller thimble sized cups for sharing. The orange juice machine is almost a carnival attraction of sorts, and is contained behind clear plexiglass for viewing.

Before leaving for home, Carmen makes a trip to the mercado acquire pantry items for Cuban meals at home. She stocks up on naranja agrie, sour orange juice for marinades, mojo, a pre-made citrus and garlic marinade, cooking wines, seasonings and spices. Abuela gives us a large caldera, a cooking pot, that she no longer can use, which is especially nice as it saved us $30 on a new one.

Upon our departure, we had packed up all of the pantry items, Disney purchases, shoes, plus a dozen fresh coconuts, eighteen fresh mangoes, two pounds of Georgia pecans, and a truckload of memories.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Florida Dispatches - 03

Wednesday morning, May 20. Cooked breakfast at the resort and enjoyed a leisurely start to our day. Felix and I rise first and enjoy coffee over our laptops. He also watches Fox News throughout the day. Somedays the Today Show too. For me NPR.org, since I am without a radio here to deliver Morning Edition. Then, ESPN to take the edge off the harsh facts of our world. Suicide bombings through the middle east are dissolved by A-Rod's recent success at the plate. Imminent bankruptcy from Chrysler and GM quelled with the Lakers-Nuggets series. We also check the weather, for better or worse.

Our kitchenette and in-room laundry amenities are receiving much attention. We cook breakfast here mostly. Eggs, oatmeal, cold cereal, toast, and Georgia peaches. For lunch we made BLT's with the fresh tomatoes purchased at a pecan farm in Georgia. Carmen made fajitas one night for dinner with Vadalia onions (also from Georgia). There was leftover Pollo Tropical and Giordano's earlier in the week. Mostly, it's nice to be able to schedule and prepare meals as we would at home. Restaurants will eventually become tired. The laundry is running every day. In retrospect we could have packed less clothing, but we were not guaranteed a washer/dryer either. Still, it's a welcome luxury.

Our first Waffle House experience happened the next day. Everyone enjoyed their breakfast but I enjoyed the atmosphere more. For starters, each Waffle House looks the same. Same reddish-brown rectangle-shaped building. Same boxy yellow sign. Same booth and counter place settings. Same juke box parked in the center of the windows. Also, the wait staff is oddly similar looking between locations (at least this is true with Lake Buena Vista, FL and Eastridge, TN). We are seated on the side counter, which faces nothing in particular. The kitchen is to our left. The register to our right. A stainless steel Bunn coffee maker sits opposite me and the waitress never allows our coffee mugs to go three sips below the brim. The chocolate chip waffles are a hit with Carmen and Natalie. Nancy gets a strawberry one. Pecan for me. I also try the chicken biscuit and find it delicious with pickles and Tabasco. The juke box is authentically dated and features chunky stained buttons, chrome trim, and an awful laser beam patterning on its side panels. One play for 25-cents and Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" fills the dining area. Grits taste better over country music. I needed an artifact to take home from this experience and settled on a Waffle House coffee mug to be had for six dollars.

Following breakfast there is a break in the storm clouds and we decide to get the kids in the pool. Last chance. The kiddie pool saticfies and is complete with water noodles, beach ball and floatation devices. Jake gets fussy before too long and Carmen puts him down for a nap. Nat and I stay to wade around the pool before returning to the resort for her nap. Carmen delivers her parents to the train station to catch an afternoon train bound for West Palm Beach. For the comfort of everyone we will take the car with luggage therein and meet at Abuela e Abuelo's (grandma & grandpa) house. Everything takes longer. The packing. The gas station. The outlet mall to make a last exchange. The Sonic drive-in for a late lunch and fruit slushes. We miss the half-price "Happy Hour" on our drinks.

Florida's 91 Turnpike is a long and barren four-lanes beginning off 1-75 northwest of Orlando. It runs southeast to the Atlantic coast and then due south on to Miami. This landscape is the real Florida free of resorts, vacationing, and high priced real estate. We pass countless inland lakes, orange groves, and open terrain. The Sunshine State is a fierce wilderness of conifers and palm trees growing out of the sandy ground and swaying in the humid breeze. To be abandoned out here is to be in a serious situation. I recall an episode of "Man Versus Wild" where Bear Grylls is dropped in the Florida Everglades filled with alligators, sawgrass and a host of other dangers. This is our scenery for the next two hours. We pass Fort Pierce. Port St. Lucie. Jupiter. These cities are closer to the ocean and offer more to look at. Some have minor league baseball teams as evidence by the stadium lights where the Hammerheads (Jupiter) or Mets (Port St. Lucie) play. Jupiter is also our exit from 91 back onto I-4. We pay the toll and arrive arrive in West Palm Beach twenty minutes later.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Florida Dispatches - 02

Turn around. Don't drown.

West Lake Buena Vista has received three inches of rain. Daytona received six inches. Parts north of Daytona are nearing a foot. Flagler and Orange County experiencing severe flooding. Seminole County received a tornado. More rain in forecast heading into the weekend. Locals say this amount of rain is only seen during hurricanes (all that's missing is the wind). We leave for West Palm Beach on Thursday. Less rain expected there. Looking forward to over-cast yet dry skies for a change. Gray is OK.

To pass the time, we shop. Downtown Disney. Outlet malls. Grocery stores. So do the rest of vacationers determined to make the most of their stay. We found Natalie her Leo doll to complete the Little Einstein's team. Jake gets his first Mickey Mouse. Carmen gets clothes. Running shoes for me to replace aging Brooks (New Balance this time - made in USA!). And Felix gets a dozen El Presidente beers on sale. Glad to see Walt Disney putting out great looking apparel. Some of it "green" - made with conscious inks and organic cotton. "Pirates of the Caribbean" merchandise galore. Star Wars is represented well also. One can make their own Light Saber (or twin Saber a la Darth Maul) for $20. Been born thirty years too early, me thinks. There are also Star Wars Mickey Mouse, and Muppet cross-over toys. Here Kermit is Luke. Piggy is Leah. Beaker is C3PO. Fozzie is Chewbacca. Last - and best of all - is a toothbrush, which plays the Star Wars sounds when used. Later a British mother/daughter walk past the model replica of Cinderella's Castle. Daughter says, "Oh look mummy, a castle." Mummy says, "We've got plenty of those at home."

Outlet malls in Florida resemble a steroid-sexy version of Michigan's. Where Michigan offers Fossil, Coldwater Creek, and Black & Decker, Florida ups the ante with Diesel, Ecko Unlimited, Puma and Hurley. Crocs may be had here for as low as $5 (we elect to pass). Michigan outlets do outshine Florida's with their all-weather-condition covered walkways. Whereas Florida's have sunny-day-only walkways. Should it rain (and it is) best to have poncho or umbrella handy.

We try a Sonic drive-in for fruit slushes, limeaides, and sundaes. We try Chevys for Mexican and witnessed their "El Machino" fresh tortilla making machine. The fish tacos here are tasty. Simple. But tasty. For $9 they can also make guacamole at your table. There are balloon animals for the kids. A yellow pony for Natalie. A red dog for Jake.

We passed on the Chick-Fil-A. We will pass on Cici's Pizza Buffet despite the abundance of locations. There's something here called a Brazilian Steakhouse. One is called Texas De Brazil. Another is called Crazy Grill. Have to find out more on these later. On SR 535 Macaroni Grill is across the street from Olive Garden. Black Angus steakhouse is next to Lone Star steakhouse, which are blocks away from a Sizzler steakhouse. But then again, for every McDonald's is a neighboring Burger King and for every Walgreen's is CVS. What is surprising, Giordano's Chicago Pizzeria within walking distance from our resort. And if we so choose a Pizzeria Uno is a mile away. There's a Havana restaurant for Cuban food up a block from here too (and also in every other city in Florida). None of these are related but they do share the Cuban sandwich, coffee, and flan desserts on their respective menus.

Sunny attitudes have become saturated. Ponchos are used more than swim suits. More fun in store with or without precipitation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Florida Dispatches - 01

Departure from Bath, MI at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, May 15. Sunrise near Milan, MI, beginning a cloudless travel morning. We passed Toledo, OH by 6:15. Dayton by 8:30. Cincinnati by 10. Waffle Houses begin at Dayton. Saw a group of Amish commuting in a pick-up. Surprised to know they smoke tobacco. Saw Bowling Green University's football stadium. We stopped at the Kentucky welcome center for a picnic lunch. We rested. Saw a real mammoth's tooth. Listened to regional Dobro music. Snickered at "Big Bone Lick" t-shirts (from the neighboring State Park, which get this a lot from visitors). Then we continued on towards Chattanooga, TN. On the way, found a terrific commercial-free radio station WUKY broadcasting out of Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Pass Knoxville and Colonel Sanders' Cafe. Chattanooga brought a hotel room complete with breakfast the next morning and a Cracker Barrel restaurant serving us what would be our only real meal of the day. There's something authentic about a Cracker Barrel in the south. It's the dialect greeting you, "Y'all come this a-way, your server will be rait with y'all.", or asking, "Can I get that bowl for ya, sweetheart?" It's the sweet tea - the only way iced tea is served here, unless you ask for it otherwise (and you must ask for it otherwise). While in line, a gentleman caught Jacob smiling at him. He found our son adorable and commented on the number of teeth he now has. Then he asked if we had ever seen the YouTube video "Charlie Bit Me." I had. It's two British children playing. The older holds his brother Charlie and finds it funny when Charlie bites his finger. When Charlie actually bites the older brother's finger hard, there is a face of sheer panic on the older brother. Then, the now famous phrase "Charlie bit me!", is screamed. It was hilarious to hear a thick Tennessee tongue speak the British phrase. Two dialects in one. Then we were seated. Found the new menu items to be better than expected. For Carmen, the chicken pineapple salad. The campfire pot roast for me. This was a complete meal wrapped in foil and then cooked - as you would make at a camp fire. What is it about using a restroom in a Tennessee Cracker Barrel with Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Roger Miller playing overhead? It's the south. For many it's home. The hotel is comforting. We bathe the children. Jacob receives a split lip after tumbling on the bathroom floor. He bled on my t-shirt a bit. First time I've seen this since his birth. Reminded me that he's human, and that I didn't look forward to seeing it again. Stared reading a book about fatherhood given to me by my sister-in-law. It's a collection of testimonials from various names. Read about the paternal influence on Kris Kristofferson, Billy Jean King and the maker of Clif Bars. We slept like rocks.

Awoke at 6:30 a.m. to dress, pack and enjoy breakfast. Grits and oatmeal for me. When in the south grits are as common as sweet tea. On the road by 8. Georgia and half of Florida await. Atlanta by 10 a.m. Picturesque foothills stop and flat lands begin. Stopped to buy peaches, pecans and boiled peanuts at a farm off I-75. Carmen gets mini pecan pies. Nancy gets pecan clusters and butter pecan ice cream - best we've ever had. The boiled peanuts are lost on everyone, save for me. The smell is like cooked sweet potatoes. The taste like salted mashed potatoes. 16 oz. are consumed between here and Orlando, FL. By this time our group is road-weary and anxious to meet our destination. We ignore opportunities for free orange juice at the Florida welcome center, our first Chick-Fil-A, and visits to "We Bare All" Establishments. We press on and make the Turnpike by 6 p.m. Carmen locates dinner on the Garmin. Pollo Tropical - her first priority once nearing Orlando. A family dinner of chicken, black beans with rice, mac & cheese, and plantanos maduros (fried plantains) is purchased. We find our way to the resort and check in. Blue Tree is a nice sprawling complex surrounding four swimming pools. Basketball, tennis, volleyball, and shuffleboard (found outside our window) are available. WiFi access is $10. Towel service is included along with jacuzzi bathtubs and kitchens. Recycling bins available upon request. English now a secondary language. Surprisingly, there is a Giordano's Pizzeria around the corner (our favorite when in Chicago).

Sunday morning, May 17. Natalie's birthday. We wake at 6:00 a.m. and prepare for a big day. A character breakfast with Tigger, Pooh bear, Piglet and Eyore is scheduled for 9. We arrive at the Crystal Palace inside Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom to a great spread. Carmen finds Pooh's puffed french toast. I find quinoa, egg white omelets and smoked salmon. Natalie is too excited to eat. She draws a picture to give each character. First Tigger, then Piglet, then Pooh and finally Eyore. Autographs signed and pictures taken. Natalie marches in a kid parade lead by Pooh. Full bellies and $60 later we head for the Dumbo ride. Natalie wants to ride twice. After which, we ride the carousel - both times. We ride It's a Small World, Pooh Bear, and after lunch the Mad Hatter's Tea Cups (twice). Purchase cotton candy, and three Little Einstein characters. Still need to find a Leo. Enter Toon Town. See Goofy's barn, Donald's tug boat, Minnie and Micky's houses. Next door we meet the Mouses themselves. Hugs are given. Autographs. Pictures. Smiles galore. Natalie knew just what to do. She wants to meet more characters. We catch a train ride halfway around the park to Frontier Land for a chance to meet Goofy and Donald. Storm clouds cut efforts short. Cowboy Goofy is seen, however. We ride the Magic Carpet ride (twice) and cool off in the Tiki Room for a show before dinner. Pizzas and mac & cheese. Thunderstorm begins. Carousel remains open, and we ride one last time. We shop Main Street to stay dry and work our way out of the park. So does everyone else. Goodies are purchased along with Mickey Ear hats for Natalie and Jacob. Natalie falls asleep while waiting for hats. Carmen buys photo prints of Natalie with Minnie and Mickey. We ride the Monorail out of the park to the shuttle in steady showers. Spectacular lightening. Find our truck - located in lot Pluto 11. Home by 9:30. Bedtime soon after.