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Monday, 29 May
Bad Acts

You never really get over seeing a six-foot-tall naked albino smiling and waving at you.

Surveying over my years of acting work in the theater scene, I can honestly report that the huge majority of the time, I was surrounded by professionals; actors who were dedicated to their craft, and who approached every performance with concentration, focus and respect. Occasionally, I was even one of those people.

And then there were the times when . . . we were not. The times when even the most talented, dedicated people found themselves not in the moment, as we like to say, because, well . . . we wanted to fuck around instead. Is this professional? Not hardly. Do some actors consider this to be complete heresy? Oh, man, yes, often some of whom find themselves playing around anyway. Is it unfair to the audience? Incontestably! But it happens anyway, for a lot of reasons.

One might be that the show in question is horrifically bad (and yes, for the most parts, actors are perfectly aware of when their shows are unwatchable nightmares). Or it might be because the show is good, but one's sanity still requires diversion because of the show's inherently debased or mind-whipping nature. Or it may just be that the actors have gotten loose from the reins and have begun running amok for no good reason.

One show I did, which became quite popular, necessitated several run extensions, and in so becoming, also some cast replacements as people had to drop out. For reasons lost to me now, by the time new cast members were being introduced, the green room had become littered with horrible pornography (I think it was left over from some other show--anyway, it was high comedy for me to see a wonderful, soft-spoken fortyish actress casually thumbing through a copy of Big Black Asses, and exclaiming, "Oh my! Oh!"). At one point in the show, our new leading actress was required to set up a screen onstage, eventually from which she would emerge. Prior to her debut evening, one of us decided to give her a jolt by taping onto the inside of the screen (where it would be the first thing she saw when she unfolded it) a truly hideous fake ad from a Hustler magazine, where a closeup of a woman's labia was Photoshopped into the shape of a vodka bottle, with the caption, "Absolute Pussy." We watched gleefully from backstage as she got into place for the scene, and unfolded the screen. She didn't bat an eye.

Later, we shrieked at her, "Didn't you see that nasty pussy bottle?" (There's a sentence the world surely needed.)

"Oh, yeah." She replied. "I just thought it was always there."

On closing night of that show, we also tortured another actor, who had to use a prop with a cheap digital playback device on it. His character was a salesman, and the prop in question was a "talking camera," which would inanely chant "Say Cheese!" so that the photographer wouldn't have to. That fateful night, however, our stage manager rerecorded over the "Say Cheese!" message to simulate the sped-up squiggle of a recording gone horribly wrong (thus ruining his sales pitch). We all watched as he played the awful thing, with the happy result that the audience went crazy, and the two actors stuck onstage trying desperately not to break, and finally with him throwing the camera offstage, saying, "I don't know why you'd want this. It's a piece of shit."

Perhaps our lowest moment was slightly--maybe!--defensible. Years ago, I was in a production of the legendary pervert Jean Genet's The Balcony. For those of you unfamiliar with Genet, he was a genuinely debased individual who enjoyed things like having a bouquet of orchids stuck up his ass while diseased ermine gnawed on his nuts. The Balcony concerns a country embroiled in civil war, where, for reasons not worth going into here, the fantasies of some brothel johns start to overtake reality, and soon the brothel denizens have become genuine figureheads of power. For example, my character was a "general" who enjoyed having sex with his whore of choice, with her acting as the role of his warhorse. Now bear in mind that this sort of thing is really just Genet with his engine idling.

Genet is also incredibly wordy, and takes some severely torturous locutionary paths in his dialogue, which makes it challenging to say the least to work with an actor who is either unwilling to or incapable of memorizing his lines in any linear way. This led to the rest of the cast being moored onstage with someone who thought nothing of simply vamping for sections at a time, hamburgering his lines mercilessly, and we would wait impatiently to hear something, anything resembling a cue line so we could (by now) insensibly chime in with our lines. Or imagine a scene, smack in the middle of the script (which we cut like hell anyway), which droned on for what felt like a geological age, in which the madame and another whore discoursed about the nature of illusion versus reality and mirrors and reflections and this and that, and everyone else not in that scene, thank God, went and chain-smoked in the alley.

Well, something had to be done. And so we played Assassin.

Let me say again: this sort of thing is really indefensible and wrong. It goes against every single thing an actor should stand for. It was also, sadly, crucial for our collective sanity. I blame Genet, since it's a lot more convenient than blaming myself.

Assassin is simplicity itself. You're trying to "kill" your fellow actors in the most inconvenient way possible for the intended victim. How it works is, you're onstage, and you catch your victim's eye, and then, in character, indicate--our preferred method was with a "blowdart" gesture--that you are killing them. Then, the poor bastard you just nailed, possibly right in the middle of your speech about the illusory nature or real power, has to also in character acknowledge that they have been "killed." Possibly with a little shudder, or with a well-placed hand to the heart, or maybe with a toss of your head and an upstage wince. You'd think it would be hard to find a good spot to fake a blowdart, or that audiences would buzz about some sudden horrible shudder that went through an actor for no good reason, but as near as I could tell, nobody ever noticed a fucking thing. The thing is, with timing and discretion, It's really pretty easy to play without anyone being the wiser. The opposite thing is, as should be obvious, it's antithetical to anything even remotely close to acting. After all, it's hard to give full weight to an emotional monologue when your mind is whirling with killing strategies, or when suddenly, none of the other actors are looking you in the eye for fear of seeing your masterfully crafted blowgun gesture disguised as a quick wipe of the lips.

One night, I was on a roll. I had "killed" the Chancellor, a photographer and . . . someone else I forget, and was starting to gear up for slaughtering the Bishop, if the fucker would just look over at me. He was going down. Then a stage door opened for the entrance of the madame, and I looked over to acknowledge the entrance. She came in.

And there, behind her in the doorway, invisible to the audience, stood C., our six-foot-tall naked albino (he played, in the whorehouse, the Slave, who was forever naked and covered with filth). His chalk-white hair shone like an unkempt halo, and his watery blue eyes shone as he grinned at me. His skinny ribs strained against his skin, and he had made sure to smear some brown makeup right on to his depressing penis.

His smile broadened as he brought his hand up to his lips and shot me dead. My character was a ticcy, neurotic, helpless thing, so it was child's play to manufacture a shudder for him, and a hand to my chest as acknowledgement of the kill. I was "dead," so I was done killing for the night. He gave me a triumphant, jaunty wave.

We got a particularly enthusiastic round of applause that night, our finest hour.

Wednesday, 24 May
Stand In The Place Where You Are

After a long hiatus from acting, I have been lured back in to do another show. I started rehearsals on Tuesday, where we gathered for some basic blocking and initial scene work. And as I returned to the old routine, I remembered some of the reasons why I'd taken a break. It is because theater people are completely fucking ridiculous.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love the cast. I've worked with almost all of them before, and that happens to include my wife. They are fine folks, artistically committed to their crafts, and with talent to burn. They are also, however--just like me--mostly incomprehensible, opaque and risible. Why did I come back to work with such people--including my wife, whom I love dearly, but really, why? I don't know. It's too early to tell, really, and I frankly don't want to jinx the fact that so far I'm having a good time.

Despite the aforementioned ridiculousness et cetera--or, to use pithier term, horseshittedness--that pervades pretty much every aspect of acting and theater.

Actors maunder about over every possible nuance they can find. Last night, I wondered out loud, "Do you want two beats, then break, then another beat? And then go back in to her? Is it too much?" C., our director, managed somehow to take this absurd sentence completely seriously. "I think you can do three beats, then break." I fretted. "I don't know," I said. "Just hit all your moments," she replied. "I'll tell you if it's too much."

Go ahead and try and think about what the phrase "Just hit all your moments" could possibly mean. I'll wait. In fact, while I'm waiting, I'll go ahead and have a little think myself over the fact that at the time, it made perfect sense to me.

Minutes later, in the same discussion, we discussed a line, which referenced a waiter in that particular scene. The line indicated that the actor playing the waiter interrupted us: "He chirped and fluttered about them." The actor wondered: "So . . . how much flutter?" C. said, "You're interrupting them, but I don't want that much flutter." No word on whether or not she wanted some wow to go with that flutter. "And no chirping." We all nodded sagely. J., the actor, made a note in his script. I wondered if it was DON'T ACTUALLY CHIRP.

Later, C. told me during a break, "I know that none of the characters have a name in the show." (Without getting too much into it, the piece is a cabaret-ish sort of thing that is all derived from the writing of Dorothy Parker. So it's not your standard-issue dramatic thingama.) She continued, "But I think you should all have a name. I mean, that you know what your name is. Even if you don't tell me." I decided right away that this was one of those things that some actors spend a lot of time wrestling with, and also that I was none of those particular actors. "My name is Skot," I replied. "You name is Skot," she said. "So that's easy. Good!" Yes, well done, Skot! You know your name! Hopefully, I won't learn that my wife has decided that for the purposes of the show, she'd rather be thought of as "Skeeze Beasley." But she could if she wanted. That's the thing. Actors are really encouraged to be as ridiculous as possible.

(As are directors. Here's two of my favorite directorial hits from the past. Once, in an ensemble avant-garde piece in college, the director instructed us thusly: "All right. I want you all to enter . . . like mist." Got it. Enter like mist. None of us knew what the fuck he was talking about, but okay, we entered like mist. This evidently, to all of us, meant moving in a stealthy crouch while hissing. SSSS! We're mist! "STOP!" he cried after only a few seconds. We stopped, and he ran his hand through his liberal arts hair. "No, no." Pause. "More like blue mist."

Needless to say, we just crouched and hissed a little more, but bluely. Anyway, I always vacillate between that anecdote and this one for "favorite" status: he was also the guy who gave this stunningly evocative and stunningly unhelpful bit of impossible directorial criticism: "You're giving me October, and I'm looking for November." What can I say? I'm looking California and feeling Minnesota. I'll try and bring in a hint of picnic table and lose some of the calamine lotion. Purple monkey dishwasher! Pass it on.)

Later on in the rehearsal, C. instructed me, re: another scene, "Okay, here I want you to try touching her. Well, don't try. Touch her. But don't hold her! Maybe you could brush her hair out of her face." I deadpanned, "Oh, is she vomiting?" This is where even dumb humor fails theater people. C. said, with some concern, "Why do you think she's vomiting?" "I was kidding," I said. C. stared at me for a moment.

Probably for at least two beats. Maybe three. Tell me if that's too much.

Look, be honest. Am I giving you too much October?

Monday, 22 May
I Yodel The Body Electric

As I get older (37 in a month! Uh . . . say, holy fuck!), I cannot help but notice certain changes going on with my body. Nothing big, really, just . . . well, the inevitable little breakdowns that come with the territory.

My left knee, for instance. I noticed some discomfort this weekend; a slight niggling ache that wouldn't quite go away or quiet down. I've done nothing to my knowledge to maltreat the knee. It just sort of hurts in this naggy way that makes me shift my legs around a lot, irritably.

Which doesn't help the bladder thing. I mean, not to get gross or anything, but after a few hours of this restless diddling around with my legs, all of a sudden, BANG! And I've really, really gotta go! So then I have to run--well, hobble, really--to the bathroom to empty my suddenly wheezing bladder, and that's just a real drag, especially when I don't make it. It's not just the pants, okay? I've ruined more socks, and the uric acid or ammonia or whatever is seriously corroding the shit out of my shoes.

But you know, it's all part of the aging process. I try not to get to worked up. It happens to everyone, I suppose, so I try and remain sanguine about, say, the incredible patches of wiry hairs erupting from my back, and nose, and, in one memorable instance, my earlobe ("Hello, ear hair! Whatcha knowin'? I see you're white and ya need some mowin'!"). It was five inches long or so and made me feel like God's neglected marionette. At least I retain my scalp hair, and it shows no signs of leaving me. Unlike the hair on my scrotum, which has all mysteriously fallen out--it's not pretty. I know now why evolution gave us scrotum hair: it's so we don't have to see our scrotums. Mine now looks like an old calfskin change purse with two weary riverstones inside. Weirdly, the "upstairs" pubic hair remains! I don't understand it, but it is worrying and weird. I try to cope by drawing a Gabe Kaplan face on my scrote and then doing Mr. Kotter impressions in the mirror. It's pretty cool, except that Mr. Kotter has a dick coming out of his forehead, which . . . I guess it's not that cool.

Look, I don't want to make a big deal out of all this. Even as a kid, I had some health issues, so it's not like I'm not used to taking care of myself. Childhood allergies I learned to treat with a simple oral nicotine delivery regimen, and that still works today. And I take that same can-do attitude with me with today's challenges. The knee, for example? Again, a simple treatment program consisting of regular ethanol ingestion seems to clear the pain right up. One just has to be careful to have the stuff on hand whenever you need it, so I have supplies at home, at work, and inside a special bus side panel that I pried open one morning on my commute. Hey, riders of #7, third seat down on the left! Don't snag my meds!

So really, I'm doing all right. Sure, some of my meds give me side effects. The ethanol is a good example. It's a lifesaver for the knee pain, but it also regularly causes dozophilia and tripsomania--the latter of which is a form of motor neuralgia that often can result in brainobonkia and unintended hilarity. As it turns out, actually, my brainobonkia has--this is hilarious, sort of--I've done a fair amount of damage to a portion of my brain called Wernicke's area that occasionally results in a phenomenon known as aphasia, which is really just a fancy word for the ape rice dialectic. I told the wife about this, and we had a laugh, and I told her, "I know! Here comes the ass circus, with the towels! You ate my lute." Then she poured us some more ethanol, saying, "This will help us both." I don't know what I'd do without her.

Look, I think I'm really pretty lucky. I'm not crippled like those sad fuckers who can't chew or stuff. I'm not playing for the Florida Marlins. I'm just a guy with weird hair issues who falls down a lot. Yeah, sometimes my knee hurts, and sometimes I get this stuff on my back that's like floss, and sometimes I just fall down on my Wernicke's area and I hate that because of the soup attacks, and the White Shadow.

And I can live with that.

Wednesday, 17 May
The DaVinci Team

[A baseball field. The midday sun glints gorgeously off of all the stuff. RON HOWARD, the coach, calls to his loyal fantasy baseball team, which weirdly, all happen to be Skot's players.]

Howard: Guys! Gather round! Come on over here and take a knee!

Mark Teixeira: Oh boy! Time for sandwiches!

Howard: No sandwiches for you, Tex! .288? Please.

Teixeira: Aw. (Teixeira angrily clubs Geoff Jenkins to death with his bat.) SANDWICHES! FOR ME!

Andruw Jones: Gross, man. Who's that guy that Big Tex just killed?

Nick Swisher: Some guy. He played for the Brewers.

(Everyone loses interest.)

Howard: Settle down, everyone. Listen up. So we've got our work cut out for us today. Now, I know. I've never had any kind of genuine success in this league, subjectively or objectively. In fact, it's fair to say that everything I've ever come into contact with--coached, or directed, if you will--has been a complete disaster.

(GARRET ANDERSON begins to moan softly and caresses his back. Presently, he falls back into an attitude of agony, not unlike an American Pieta. RAFAEL FURCAL flits about like a hummingbird, annoying JOSH BECKETT, who swats at Furcal violently.)

Beckett: Get away from me, you Christless little choad.

Howard: Listen up! I'm not finished. Look, we've got a real challenge today. Which is why I've brought in our new hitting coach. You guys all know Dan Brown.

(Cut to DAN BROWN. He is fucking three cyborg whores on a giant pile of money and wearing a t-shirt that reads CROTCH ENTHUSIAST.)

Brown: Whooooopeeeeeee! Ungh! Ungh!

(Cut back to Howard.)

Howard: But he couldn't be here today. I'd also like to introduce our new pitching coach, the Vitruvian Man.

Vitruvian Man: Hey, guys.

All: Hey, Vitruvian Man.

Vitruvian Man: Listen up, guys. The key to success tonight is this: I need you starters and closers to grow a new set of arms. You're not going to get it done with just two arms. I'm telling you.

MARIANO RIVERA: I get new arms every year from Mr. Steinbrenner. He grows them in vats!

Howard: That's swell.

Beckett: I'm not growing any new fucking arms. You guys can all eat a barrel of dicks.

CHRIS REITSMA: (Miserably) I had to eat two barrels last weekend. That was a lot of dick gristle. (He begins crying softly.)

Teixeira: So, we . . . I guess we don't get sandwiches.

Monday, 15 May
My Beautiful Laundrette

After an uneventful weekend, I was stuck today thinking, What the fuck am I going to write about today? I mean, seriously, nothing was going on. We watched a couple movies--one was Mirrormask, the Neil Gaiman-scripted and Dave McKean-directed piece that teaches us to believe in ourselves and to distrust screen-faced cats (don't ask); and another was Wolf Creek, an Australian bit of nasty mummery that does for the Outback what Deliverance did for Georgia.

And then the wife decided to do some laundry. Laundry.

Look, I'm not an "extreme" kind of guy. I don't give a shit about the X-Games. Frankly, I like to push bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk down and then laugh at their injuries. That's about as "extreme" as I get, unless you count rollerskating, specifically Snowball dances, at which I rock. I'm just not an extreme guy.

Except for laundry. I am a laundry ninja. Not doing it. Fuck that. What I do? I fold. I fold like your fucking momma. (No offense to actual mommas. Happy Momma's Day! Sorry about your lousy-ass kids' folding skills.)

The wife told me earlier that she was doing some laundry, and so I leapt up from my chair and punched the wall a few times, screaming, "YES MUTHAFUCKA! YES! I'S GONNA FOLD!" Because when laundry is being done, and folding is in the offing? You know I have to revert to vaguely racist speech patterns. It's just the way I roll. Ripped up my knuckles pretty bad, too, so thanks for nothing concrete walls. It's not an easy life for us fuckin' folders.

Sure enough, when the laundry came out of the dryer, I was ready. I stood, silent as a silent person, and just took a look at that hot-ass laundry. I'm so gonna fold the shit out of you, I thought. I don't think so, bitch, replied that fitted sheet. It was pretty steamed. Not really steamed, you see, but, like, mad. Though it would be pretty awesome to steam our sheets.

I launched myself at the fitted sheet. It basically had no defense--pathetic. I hacked at it with the edge of my hand, and I heard it scream. No! it wailed, I have soft, un-alignable edges! Eat it, fitted sheets. I wrestled it into a managable bunch. "That looks like coral," observed the wife. I muttered in reply, "Don't fuck with me right now. I'm in the zone."

I attacked her panties next. Inside-out? Outside-in? Panties are confusing, but I'm a professional. "Crotch up! Then fold over the other things, or whatever!" My mental discipline is unparalleled when it comes to panties. Occasionally, I would have trouble figuring out where exactly the crotch was, in which case I simply put them on my head, in order to get more into the panty-mind. You can stare right out of the leg-holes if you do it right, providing maximum panty-to-brain physical contact. I am a big advocate of putting panties on your head, because how else are you going to fold them? You're not. And it really helps me think. For instance, the last time I had panties on my head, I really got Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

Even worse, of course, are bras. Stupid broads. Do I wear weird, fetishistic apparatuses to keep my nuts from sagging? No. Like every guy, I am reconciled to the fact that every now and then, you're going to step on your dreary, floor-dragging balls. But chicks insist on shoving their tits up into their necks. Great. I have no patience for these irritating things, so I beat them with a hammer until they were shapeless wiry things. "Here's your ridiculous boob elevators," I sneered, and threw the ruined garments at the wife. "Thanks," she shot back, and then stepped on my stupefying, dragging balls.

I don't know if it's all worth it, really. I mean, I'm not appreciated here. I put my all into our laundry, really--just the other day, I folded some shoes--do you fold your shoes? Well, I do. And you know what I got from the wife? "Why did you ruin your Kenneth Coles?" I don't need this from a fucking Philistine. Then she stepped on my balls again.

I don't know what to do, really. I want to be happy. I want my wife to be happy. I want her to stop crushing my balls. I want to see the future.

I want to put panties on my head. I want answers.

Wednesday, 10 May
Simply Red

The morning after our initial introduction to Yakima, we got to experience what must be the most pleasing feature of that fine city: driving out of it. We were on our merry way-ish to a region known as Rattlesnake Hills, home to approximately a choadillion wineries. Rattlesnake Hills also has the distinction of being near the Washington town of Zillah, perhaps the only US city named for a Gashlycrumb Tiny, so how awesome is that?

After a brief freeway drive, we were there! Lost! On a road lined with yards populated by mangy dogs! Where the fuck are the wineries! Oh my God! Are those banjos I hear? We turned around, and a mere twenty minutes, we were there! This time, at a winery--Hyatt. We walked in to find an utterly empty tasting room, which boded well, since, you know, fuck other people. The gal behind the counter greeted us: "On your way to Walla Walla?" Ominous. Not a question you want to hear as any conversational opener--it made me jittery. "FUCK ONIONS!" I yelped. She stared at me for a moment and then explained that there was some big fucking wine hoedown going on that weekend in Walla Walla.

Good news! Less people = Skot happier. We dug into the offered wines. While we swilled, we were joined by another couple, who, in the time we had moved from wine #2 to wine #4, managed to rack up a $534 order. This, of course, made me feel like shit. By the time we had completed the tasting, they had whisked out of there with a couple cases of grape along with some fancy stuffed olives. This all made me feel, of course, like a tool. We meekly bought a measly three bottles of wine and some of the damn olives, because HEY WE CAN BUY ANCILLARY CRAP TOO. (As it turns out, they're olives stuffed with hot peppers, and boy are they good.)

We made our way from Hyatt to Two Mountain, which featured a lazing dog in front of a tin building. This was great. Lazy dog raised its head at us briefly when we cooed at it, and then rested back again, totally unimpressed. Two Mountain featured an extremely loquacious gal given to telling us stories about how "this is a pizza wine!" and getting drunk in Seattle and spending the night at someone's house and doing the "walk of shame" back to her car--but without the sex! Well, she was a nice gal, but her stories could have used more sex. She also told us the story of the lazy dog, named Gus, who, heartbreakingly, and legbreakingly, had a broken leg from being hit by a car, but was on the mend. This was again sort of puzzling, since Gus was very clearly a female dog, unless he had grown six tiny mutant penises on his belly, but we left the whole thing unchallenged, because, oh for God's sake, let's buy a couple bottles of wine.

Next! Probably our favorite: Paradisos del Sol. Upon leaving our car and walking to the tasting room (which was a kitchen in a ranchhouse), we were assaulted by a silent tiny white dog trailing a couple of weird, apparently flightless grey birds. The dog sniffed at our ankles and the birds gabbled around aimlessly, pecking at shit on the ground. We also heard the unmistakable cries of roosters from a barn somewhere. "I see you've met Snudley!" Or whatever the dog's name was--I couldn't hear her, the woman who called to us from the veranda. "Yeah!" I said. "Now you have to tell us what these birds are!" "They're baby turkeys," she replied, "future Thanksgiving dinners." she continued flatly. Then without another word, she disappeared into a door marked EMPLOYEES ONLY. Good to meet you, misanthropic bird-killin' lady.

We went into another door, which led into the kitchen-tastery-whateveroom, where a tiny bespectacled woman lurked. "CHALLO!" she screamed. "I am Bulgarian. Will you have twenty minutes? I tell you everything, I teach you." Good Lord. Don't argue with the Eastern Europeans, or they'll pluck out your tongue. We let Greta, or whatever, give us the full business about all things wine. She brooked no demurrals at all--hers was the only tasting where there was food accompaniment, to better demonstrate how wine works with a full palate. At one point, she brought out some crab-artichoke dip and all but pried open my jaws to make me eat it. Later, out came something she called "Glop"--a blue cheese and garlic dip. EAT!

She was really fucking great, actually. Halfway through, another young couple showed up. She tore into her spiel with them, of course, and the guy tried to beg off the whites: "I don't really like sweet wines." Greta tartly shot back, "You try them all. You do not like, you spit." She fixed him with a withering Bela Karolyi stare, and the guy slumped like overcooked asparagus. I silently guffawed and ate more Glop. "ZO!" She returned to us. "You see the color of the wine? How do you say?" We nervously held our glasses up to the sunlight. "Amber?" I ventured. "You see!" she beamed. "It is yes." I felt like Kerri Strug.

I loved Paradisos del Sol, and so I was that more grateful for not running over little Snudley when we left the parking lot, which I nearly did, since the little fucker was sniffing at our tires at the time. That would have sucked. The baby turkeys, not so much, I guess, since I could have just marched up to the chilling porch-woman with the carcass and declared, "Thanksgiving comes in May this year!"

Next up was Horizon's Edge, manned by a very, very enigmatic fellow named . . . well, I cannot recall if we ever caught his name. He poured indiscriminately, often not telling us what we were drinking, and then gently mocking our confusion. "Is this the merlot?" I would ask. "What--did you think it was the rose?" "I--I think I'm getting palate fatigue," I said lamely. He stared at me like a carny stares at a mark. "Of course you are." Moments later, he abruptly asked, "So, which of you is wearing perfume?" The wife shot me a look, like, I hope it's me. "I'm embarrassed to say I'm wearing White Diamonds," said the wife. That was news to me. "It was a gift," she concluded lamely. "Well, as long as you can't smell it," the guy said mildly. "I can't smell it," I offered in weak defense. He broadened his grin. "Even better." We stood there awkwardly for a moment. "That's a professional's nose for you," I said witlessly. He continued to lazily smile, and then poured us some more wine. What a freak, I thought. That's probably why we punished him so harshly by buying three bottles of wine.

Portteus Vineyards was another tin-building affair, with an extraordinarily affable fellow who told us stories about how he met his wife of twenty-plus years at his old college chess-and-pot-smoking club, which, really, that's kind of awesome. We also had a lengthy discussion about prostate cancer clinical trials, which was fairly weird, but he seemed to take a shine to us at the same time, and cheerfully opened up a bottle of Malbec for us that wasn't on the regular tasting menu, but hey! If you can't share some nice oddball-variant grape with your new cancer-and-pot chums, where are you anyway? There was no way, of course, that we could not buy a bottle of the Malbec after he opened one up for us, which we did happily, since it was great, and then we bought a couple of other bottles as well. The case box in our car was pretty much full up.

So it was back to Yakima. Back to the Lotus Room. Our waitress from the previous night came over just to say hi. We ordered some more ridiculously alcoholic drinks. I've written some sucky things about Yakima. But it's suckier to be back home.

Monday, 08 May
Once Upon A Time In The East

As has been alluded to before, this last week, the wife and I took an anniversary trip into Eastern Washington's wine country. Specifically: Yakima!

YAKIMA! Does not that name sing?

After extensive (read: desultory) research into lodging in (sing it!) YAAAA-KIIII-MAAAAA!--we rejected many B&Bs, mainly on the grounds that 1. they were pretty expensive and 2. I don't really feel like making forced conversation with bright-eyed strangers over runny-egg breakfasts--we elected to stay with the fine professionals at Best Western.

BEST WESTERN! Does not that name sing? BEEEEEEEEEST WEEEEEEEES-TEEEEEEEERN! (SFX: crack of a whip!) YEEEE-HAAAAW!

Best Western's website promised nice things, such as an "adjacent facility providing a lounge and a 24-hour restaurant." Which was true! If you elasticize the definition of "adjacent" to mean "an unwalkable distance away from you." It also promised that it was "near the freeway," which was also true! It was in fact nearly under the freeway, which we discovered as I maneuvered the car down the offramp, and the wife immediately screamed, "THERE IT IS!" provoking a spectacular, tire-smoking hard right, and we jounced merrily into the Best Western parking lot. Upon coming to a rest, we found ourselves staring at the nearby "adjacent" facilities such as a Harley dealership and an Exxon station. They were both closed. The gas station nearest the offramp was closed at 4 PM. I . . . whatever.

After checking in with the helpful gals at the front desk, we decided to use our never-fail "ask the locals for advice" non-trick for finding the city's delights. "Where's a good place to get a decent dinner?" we asked. The girls looked at each other uncertainly, as if we had inquired about hidden uranium deposits. "There's an Outback Steakhouse down the street." I thought I'd rather eat at the Harley dealership, but remained silent. The wife tried another tack. "All right. So where's a place to get a good drink?"

At this question, the youngest-seeming of the girls positively leaped into action. She began furiously scribbling directions down on some scratch paper. "You need to go to the Lotus Room," she babbled. "They serve a good drink. They'll treat you right. It's a friendly place! You--you--it's very . . . well, these are good people--"

She was starting to decompensate to some unnameable mental pressure, but I was catching a vibe. "Will no one help the widow's son?" I asked her gently. She relaxed visibly and favored me with a relieved smile. "You're going to have a great time."

So we followed her crabbed directions to the Lotus Room. Located in the rear of some faded restaurant called the Golden Wheel, which looked like it had had its peak in 1972, its entrance was a featureless metal fire door set into a plain concrete wall. A white sign overhead read, in black letters, THE LOTUS ROOM. It was about as inviting as a needle exchange center. The mouth of a green plasticpail outside the door gaped, ready to receive gallons of cigarette butts. It looked like a perfect place for enthusiasts of receiving pool cues to the back of the neck. I started to wonder if the hotel gals hadn't set us up for a bad end. Oh God! I thought. They've sent us to our deaths and then they're going to break into our room and steal our nothing!

We made our way inside, and encountered a faux-opium den sort of place, with lots of Oriental dragony carvings and lots of no light relieved by a little red light. It was sort of like walking into someone's mouth. The jukebox near the door had a hand-lettered sign that read, "PLAY AT YOUR OWN RISK." Noted, I guess. Someone probably got chain-whipped for playing "I Want It That Way" some fateful night. We found a booth and sat down.

But for all of the ominous portents, the Lotus Room? Friendly as hell! Every person who came in was greeted by some other patrons with "NORM!"-like cries of welcome. A pleasant aging waitress came over and took our order; remembering the possibly-murderous hotel gal's promise of "good pours," I then eyed the bartender make my whiskey soda.

FSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHH! went the whiskey from the gun. FSH! went the soda. Our drinks returned to us, and we sipped them gingerly, and we felt icicles forming on our livers and kidneys. Our bladders glumly started rolling out the fire-suppression gel. The waitress eventually returned, and the wife asked for a couple of glasses of water. "These drinks are pretty strong," the waitress said amiably, "so it's nice to have some water." Which was a lot like a doctor saying, "Well, you've been bitten by four hundred cobras, so it's happy news that we have aspirin."

We ordered a second round. Someone braved the threatening jukebox and managed to coax it into playing "Tusk" without sustaining terrible injury. Red-limned dragons leered at nothing at all, and we sipped again at our impossibly alcoholic drinks, which I was starting to think of as some sort of interesting refinement of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: I was beginning to become unsure of both my position and my momentum, particularly when trying to descend the stairs to have a smoke.

We had entered Yakima County. And we hadn't even made it to a winery yet.

Wednesday, 03 May
Sit Through This

Tomorrow we leave for wine country, but that leaves me with one whole evening to bitch about work! Again!

It's not even work qua work that I'm gabbling about, really. Not the job itself. No, it's something else. Yesterday, I attended a required meeting . . . but it wasn't really a meeting! Not at all! It was a "benefits fair"! WHO DOESN'T ENJOY A FAIR? Well . . . everyone. At least when the "benefits fair" is really just a fair in the sense that "sit in this room and listen to insurance nerds for over an hour" is a fair. The worst fair in the history of man.

What the fuck, man? Benefits fair? Eat me, benefits fair. Though I sure do looking forward to future celebrations such as benefits rodeos, benefits orgies and benefits carnivale. I will throw beads at those insurance broads, and they'll show me their tits! Or, possibly, actuarial tables! Oh man!

What was most galling about the benefits bukkake blockbuster was its utter pointlessness for most of us. We were told up front, "If you are happy with your benefits package as it is right now, you don't have to do anything!" At which point I started to get ready to leave. "But we've got representatives from all of our service providers here to help you decide." I sat back down. FUCK!

So they had people there from our PPO plan, our HMO plan, our vision plan, our dental plan, our life plan, our flex spending plan, and a couple guys from our I Don't Fucking Know plan. One guy's last name was Rock. Another's was Funk. I started mentally rechristening the rest of these boring people. Talk to me, Glen Hip Hop! Give me the 411, Polly Polka!

It was all just wretched and dull, of course. "We have a very useful website," said Mr. Dental Plan. No shit? "Members are always able to log into our website," explained Ms. HMO. Mmmm. "You can find a physician on our website," added Mr. vision plan. OH MY GOD PLEASE STOP TALKING. As if you'd have any claim to credibility without a website in this day and age. Are you kidding me? I'd actually love it if someone copped to not having one. "Say, do you guys have a helpful website?" "Nah. Websites are for fairies."

So it was, as I've said, unbelievably dreary. What made it even worse was, when these hopeless presenters--all of whom were just awful at public speaking--asked, "Any questions?" My coworkers actually asked them. One gal wanted to know about how best to handle her child-care tax credits. Hanh? "I, uh, I'm not a tax attorney," the guy stammered. "So you don't know?" she followed up. Holy shit, shut up so we can leave! Other questioners in the airless room, thanks to lousy acoustics, sounded like Charlie Brown's parents. "Hi, thanks for coming. I'd like to know WAAANH WAAANH WANH WANH WANH." The horrible public speakers would then say, "All right, good question! If you didn't hear her, the question was, WAAANH WAAANH WANH WANH . . . "

The only interesting person to me was the woman who uncomfortably gave her spiel about our life insurance policy, mainly because she had to keep using the phrase "accidental death or dismemberment." There's really no way to use that phrase in a jaunty way, after all. "Hopefully nobody here will need to use it," she said at one point. Aw! That's sweet. Yes, I'd like not to be dismembered. It would also be swell to not die.

I also got to thinking, We should jazz up this policy. It's such a downer. She kept saying "accidental death and dismemberment," as if people routinely un-accidentally lose their arms. I think we can spice things up for this woman.

That's when I got the idea for a new kind of coverage: Awesome death or dismemberment. This would be a policy where, if you were spectacularly maimed or killed somehow, there would be a way to determine if the beneficiary should be awarded a bonus for the relative awesomeness of the event was.

"Mrs. Miller? This is Gumbo Snood with Monolithic Insurance. My deepest condolences on the loss of your husband."

(Broken sobbing.)

"Mrs. Miller, after reviewing this claim, we couldn't help but notice that your husband was--" (shuffle of papers) --"killed in a knife fight with . . . dwarves? Is that correct?"

"Y-yes. Those little demons came at him with such ferocity. Such tiny ferocity."

"Mrs. Miller, I can't take away your pain right now, but I think I have some good news. In addition to your normal insurance benefits that you will receive, Monolithic is also add in an extra five hundred thousand dollars to be paid to you."

"Wh--what? But why?"

"Mr. Miller was enrolled on our Awesome Death and Dismemberment plan. And after thorough review, we have concluded that your husband's grisly death by knife-wielding dwarves . . . well, it's hard to argue that that wasn't pretty awesome."

"I . . . I don't know what to say."

"There's nothing to say, Mrs. Miller. I just hope that this extra settlement benefit can bring you some peace over the death of your husband. Which, as I've said . . . was totally awesome."

Monday, 01 May
Sorry, Ladies, This Boy Is Taken

Do you remember, my love?
A few hours ago, I turned
To you and asked you about
Panty liners.

"What's the deal with
Panty liners?"
I said.

I had just watched a commercial
With a dancing lady.

And you explained to me about
Panty liners.
About variable flow and spotting
And that sort of thing. And it all made sense.

It was a pretty stupid question--
Really--
And I've never met a woman who buys
Panty liners
(not that it would come up in casual conversation)
(and I hear that they do not bunch up when
you are dancing! So that's nice)
And now I know a little more about
Panty liners.

In a few days, love, we will
Have our three year anniversary, and
(I languidly sit in my big ugly chair and reflect)
I still love you so, and learn from you
Every day
Every moment
A few moments ago it was about
Panty liners.

I am o'er the moon now for
Panty liners
And,
Duh,
You.

As we enter our
Third year of marriage stuff
And prepare for our trip to
Yakima
(O Yakima . . . O wine country . . . O Superman)

I will remember this night
Our night of
Panty liners
Gazes closely met

And think of things like
The Forty-Niners
And Shriners
And roadside diners

Things that rhyme with
Oh, you know, you must see it . . .
Panty liners.

And so I compose this verse for you.
On this third year of marriage to, uh, tu.
You taught me a little about
Panty liners.
And for me, every day, nothing could ever be anything but totally
Finers.

Coda

OMG LOL
U ROCK
BFF
canz plz

shantih shantih shantih










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