Friday, March 19, 2010


I was on my seventh or eighth cup of coffee, sitting at the counter and enjoying the flow of night life that walked by and sometimes entered the small but inviting diner. It was almost 2:00 AM and I suspected it was going to be another all-nighter. Some of the bar crowd was already finding their way in.

The smell of frying onions and hamburger was a welcome change from the liver and onions that had been cooking earlier. Big Mac, the night shift cook, was anticipating the usual rush of orders that always came in at that time.

It was called a “Simple” and it was hamburger at its basic best. The bun was warmed on the griddle. A splotch of ketchup on the bottom half, fried onions, a very greasy hamburger patty, a small dollop of chili-pepper-spiked Miracle Whip®, topped at the customers request with shredded pepper jack cheese (and most requested it), and the top half of the bun. Simple, but very tasty. On a typical Friday and Saturday night, Big Mac would cook hundreds between 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM.

“Gimme five Simples with jack,” Jeannie hollered to Big Mac, and I immediately wondered why so many waitresses are named Jeannie. “And a bucket of fries,” she added.

“Three more Simples, two with jack, one naked,” Jeannie called out. A naked Simple is bun, ketchup and burger. A naked Simple “no red” means without ketchup.

Anyway, it went on like that for the next couple of hours. Order after order. Scores of Simples chowed down at the counter with scores more going home in brown paper bags. Jeannie loved working the bar rush because she made more in tips during the six hours of those two days than she did the rest of the week.

About 4:10 in the morning, one of the regulars came in. Buddy liked to say he was “houseless but not homeless.” He lived alone in his van, which according to Buddy meant he had a home. Well, he wasn’t quite alone. He had a mongrel of a dog he rescued from the animal shelter. He called him Muddy. Buddy and Muddy.

“I’ll have two Simples with jack,” Buddy told Jeannie. “And a Muddy bag to go.”

A Muddy bag was two naked Simples, no red, that he’d bring “home” for his dog.

Anyway, sometimes Buddy would yell out something as he left the diner. Not always, but sometimes. This morning was one of those sometimes.

“Hey everybody,” Buddy yelled. “Be sure to watch the sunset tonight. It’ll be a beaut.”

“Alright Buddy,” Jeannie said. “We will. Take care now and say hi to Muddy for us.”

I got home around 5:30 that morning, did a little writing and eventually crawled into bed.

Woke up at the crack of noon, did some yard work with my wife through the afternoon and about a half hour before sunset, I remembered Buddy’s advice.

We stood outside and watched. And Buddy was right. The sunset was absolutely magnificent.

It was three weeks later that I ran into Buddy. I asked him how he knew the sunset was going to be so beautiful that night. He looked at me quizzically.

That night?” he asked. “What night? They’re all beautiful. Every night. It means me and Muddy have lived through another day. It means the problems of the day are done and I can rest. They’re all beautiful, man. They’re all beautiful.”

And you know, he’s right.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I could see the accident coming seconds before it happened.

Mr. I-Can’t-Believe-How-Cool-I-Am swaggered down the sidewalk, barely aware of everyone else on the sidewalk. His Armani suit marred only by the you-can-tell-I-have-an-iPod®-because-I’m-tethered-to-it-by-these-white-cords that hung unceremoniously over the lapels. His faux-hawk mullet looked grotesquely out of place on an otherwise well-dressed young man. His head was bent down as his thumbs worked furiously while texting.

Mr. You-Can-Tell-I’m-Blind-Because-Of-My-White-Cane was heading straight toward him. Everyone else respectfully yielded the sidewalk as he approached them. Everyone except Mr. ICBHCIA.

Suddenly, bam. Their shoulders collide, knocking each one off balance. Mr. ICBHCIA almost dropped his iPod®, and in the split second it took him to catch it, he became enraged.

“What’s wrong with you a**hole,” he screamed. “Are you blind?”

Everyone around them froze. And for a few moments, on a busy sidewalk in downtown Chicago, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. A young boy picked up the blind man’s cane and handed it to him.

“I’m sorry, sir,” the blind man said quietly. “But yes, I am.”

In an instant, Mr. I-Can’t-Believe-How-Cool-I-Am suddenly became Mr. I-Can’t-Believe-What-An-A**hole-I-Am.

Sometimes, life’s ironies are too perfect.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


He bent over, exposing about three inches of butt crack and what looked like a ponytail that should not have been in that place. And as visually offensive as that was, it didn’t compare to the whoosh of acrid, tepid air that pushed itself over the top of his pants. It hung in the air like a silent, heavy morning fog, singeing the eyebrows and nose-hairs until they turned brittle and ashen. My mustache hairs began flailing about, as if looking for an escape route that didn’t exist, but needing to escape nonetheless. The blood in my face quickly raced to my feet, hoping to escape the horrific odor, leaving me looking more dead than alive.

Pungent was just the beginning of what could only be described as the longest ten minutes in flatulence fiesta survival.

Forget the gag reflex that was stuck in the throat like a dry-heave version of the hiccups. Forget the eyes that watered as if someone were poking them with sewer-dipped pins. Forget even the fingernails that felt like they wanted to curl back on themselves in some failing attempt to get away from the virulent attack. This was serious stuff. Had it happened on an airplane, this perpetrator would likely have been arrested for domestic terrorism and immediately shipped away to some remote part of the Arctic, far, far away from anything that wanted to breathe or live. This was the stuff that urban legends were made of. The stuff that horror writers waited for in some shadowy alley and gave a working title of – “The Night the Living Dead Died. Agonizingly Died. Cruelly and Unusually Died. The Night that Death Died and Couldn’t Die Soon Enough”.

I managed to gasp the single word, “Dude!”

“Yeah,” he half laughed. “That one seems a bit ripe.”

I stumbled through the now-palpable haze that seemed to be filling the kitchen to open a window. And for a much too long of a moment, it seemed as if not even the fresh air wanted to come in. Reluctantly, it began to trickle in as the felonious fart, sensing new worlds to conquer, flew out the window. Well, slowly flew out the window.

As the color began returning to my face and the fresh air reached the tipping point in the room, Smiley, the plumber working underneath the sink, slowly backed out from the cabinet and stood up.

“All done,” he said.

“Are you referring to the work you did, or the ozone layer you almost single-handedly destroyed?”

“Yeah,” he again half laughed. “That one seemed a bit ripe.”

“A bit ripe?” I said in obvious disbelief. “You owe me at least a 10 percent discount for that one.”

Surprisingly, he gave me the discount.

So I’m thinking two things.

If you’re visiting someone’s home, take care of that business long before you enter. One of the last things your customers, family or friends need to be wondering is whether to take you to the Emergency Room, because obviously something crawled up their and died a few months ago. And that half-laugh so many of you like to offer after the fact, it’s not an air freshener, it’s an insult added to injury.

And the other thing is, hey, sometimes to get a discount, all you have to do is ask.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

From the movie, The Mask, with Jim Carrey

“Is it true what Fezzik said, Mr. E.?”

“What’s that Lizzy?”

“Well, Fezzik says that you can’t trust people in masks. Is it true?”

“And who’s Fezzik?”

“He’s that big man in The Princess Bride and he says you can’t trust people in masks. Is it true?”

“Why do you ask, Lizzy?”

“Because my best friend Noel is sick and she has to wear a flu mask and she’s my best friend but if I can’t trust her because she’s wearing a mask how can she still be my best friend. I like her a lot.”

“Well, Liz,” I began to answer before she interrupted.

“And on Halloween,” she continued, “I wear a mask so does that mean my mommy and daddy can’t trust me? They can trust me, right? Because they’re my mommy and daddy and they have to, right? Especially since they got the mask for me and helped me put it on right.”

“Well, Liz,” I began, before she interrupted again.

“And sometimes when we’re playing dress-up we sometimes wear sort-of masks but its not like a real mask but nobody sees us so does it still count?”

I told her she could still trust her best friend, and not to worry because her mommy and daddy still trusted her, and playing dress-up with sort-of masks was okay.

For a brief moment, I thought of trying to explain to her motive and context relative to mask-wearing, but then I remembered … she’s just a kid. Was I really going to dive into some esoteric discussion with her, bring up Kierkegaard’s thoughts on the masks that people wear, or wax philosophic on villains, masks and movies? With a 7-year-old? Really?

No, I wasn’t. Nor will I with you. At least not today.

However, I will leave you with this thought: Can you be trusted when you wear a “mask”?

Monday, March 15, 2010


She was a skinny girl. Not frail and weak looking, or emaciated, but definitely on the skinny side of the scale. She looked familiar but in the dimly lit off-campus coffeehouse and grill, I couldn’t quite place her. The fact that she was sitting in a more dimly lit corner booth made it even harder, but obviously she wanted to be undisturbed.

She ordered the Buff’n’Brat Special – a quarter-pound buffalo burger with the works, a Johnsonville® Bratwurst and, of course, the chili-cheese fries. And they didn’t go light on the chili or the cheese. In fact, some argued that there was more chili and cheese than there was fries. It was by far the house favorite, outselling even their pizza specialties, and if you were any sort of respectable meat eater, this was the stuff of legends.

I ordered my usual large coffee and a slice of key lime pie, opened my laptop and got to work on a new writing project. Every now and again I would look up and notice the skinny Minnie chomping away at her meal. And I have to say, I haven’t seen as many people seem to enjoy their food as much as she seemed to enjoy hers. I wondered how she managed to be so skinny since she obviously liked a hearty meal. Or maybe this was her one big meal of the week. Or maybe she was into that scarf-and-barf thing. I don’t know. But she was no slacker when it came to downing all that food.

When the waitress bussed her table and walked past me with the empty dishes, I swear there wasn’t a shred of food left on those plates. Not a bit of brat. Not a fragment of a fry.

Not a chunk of chili nor a crumble of cheese. And that quarter-pound buffalo burger? There wasn’t even a hint of a hoof print left on that plate.

That girl got her money’s worth.

As she got up to leave, she pulled the collar up on her jacket and let her hair down, covering most of her face. She walked past my table, head down. As I looked up I suddenly recognized who she was.

OMG! She’s the local veganatic (as in vegan fanatic). She’s the one who organizes those anti-meat, “meat is murder” protests and passionately pounds the pulpit for a produce-oriented lifestyle. She hates meat-eaters, or so she screeds.

OMG! She just polished off plates of meat. Pork, buffalo and beef. Plus cheese!

Wa-a-a-a-ait a minute. What’s a vegan doing eating meat and dairy? And no, it’s not the same as a carnivore eating veggies.

No wonder she ate alone, in a dimly-lit booth and seemed to hide herself as she left. She didn’t want to be discovered. Or maybe she just fell off the wagon. Or maybe she falls off the wagon numerous times a week.

So what I am to do with this knowledge?

I decide – nothing. Well, maybe blog about it.

Her sin, if there is one, is her sin. I do not need to become entangled in it.

Her hypocrisy, if there is any (and it seems rather self-evident that there is), again, is hers. And I do not want to become entangled in that.

Instead I choose to do relatively nothing about it.

Except learn.

One. If you’re going to violate your own principles, either change your principles or mollify your rhetoric. Instead of “meat is murder,” try something like “meat is third degree assault.” Or maybe “meat is a misdemeanor.” Or perhaps simply, “meat is meat.”

Two. If you won’t change your principles or mollify your rhetoric, at least get a better disguise. Try wearing those Groucho glasses. Or maybe wear a Catwoman costume. Or perhaps simply STOP VIOLATING YOUR PRINCIPLES so you don’t need a disguise.

Three. A burger in the hand is better than two in the bush. Look, you should live your life with honor and integrity. Stop skulking around in the shadows and live openly and honestly. Besides, if you hide your burgers in the bush, they can get dirty, insect-riddled or eaten by somebody or something else.