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Mistakes

Mistakes2

1. When I was a lad, flush with the vigor and impenetrability of the young,  I gave the heyyyyy gurrrrlll head nod to a pair of attractive CSU co-eds outside a liquor store in Fort Collins. I encountered a difficulty. It arose from a conflict between my ambulatory state and the built environment, by which I mean to say that I walked face-first into a stop sign and fell on my back in the gutter. I lay there while the two walked by laughing and pointing. I waited to get up until they were gone. I had game, y’all.

2. In high school I dropped two hits of powerful LSD before first period. What fun! thought I, blissfully ignorant of the concept of “fun.” I white-knuckled that desk in 6th period so fucking hard it still bears my fingerprints. I fell down a flight of stairs. My auditory hallucinations were such that, at one point, I whipped around and asked a girl I knew what she was saying about me three times in the span of about 30 seconds, except, yeah, she hadn’t been talking. Scroobly boobly.

3. I “took a semester off” in college. When people say that they are going to do that, they might be correct in the literal sense, but what they really mean is that they are going to effectively drop out, move away from the comforting mountain hamlet in which they abide, go to Denver to work at their brother-in-law’s landscaping company, fail, become a waiter/line cook/freelance writer and turn a 4-year Liberal Arts education into a gruesome, decade-long slog through the System. They say they are going to do that, but man, you can’t trust the System.

4. I woke up in the morning once and took a leak and nothing but blood came out. I thought, huh, that’s weird, and went to work. You can take this as a small but hard-earned life lesson: if you wake up pissing blood, don’t go to fucking work unless you have a job in a Urologist’s office.

5. Deep in the throes of teenage lust, making out on the futon in my basement room with a girl who shall remain nameless*, I tried my hand at come-hither pillow talk. “I like you because you aren’t too skinny,” I breathed, “you have a little meat on your bones.”

6. I voted for fucking Ralph Nader. Jesus.

7. As a pre-teen I’d come home and help Dad, who was a prisoner in his own body but still wrote editorials for the Chicago Sun-TImes. I’d turn the pages of the papers and magazines, take him to the bathroom, mix him cocktails, light his cigarettes. He’d smoke even though he couldn’t lift his arms, so one of the daytime home-care people rigged up a bent coathanger, tucked under the handle of his wheelchair, that could prop a smoke. I’d tuck a cig in it, hold the lighter. He’d lean forward and inhale. Periodically I’d tap the ashes for him. When it was done, remove butt, repeat in a few minutes.

One time I lit his smoke and went to my downstairs room. I was hanging out with friends and didn’t hear him yelling. When I finally did, I found him upstairs in tears**, his cigarette a long tube of ash ready to drop the cherry on his poly-blend shorts. As guilty as I felt, and feel still, it’s probably good I heard him so he didn’t catch fire and burn to death.

8. That Ralph Nader thing was really pretty stupid.

9. I bought that one–you know, the only one–Spin Doctors album with my own money. WHYYYYYYYYY

*…I know this is where the “but her real name is ___” joke goes, but I can’t bear to do that to ol’ Jessica.

**I never one time saw Dad cry, ever, until he got sick. It always seemed to me a particular, noticeable cruelty amid so many larger ones.

My mom’s dad was a fellow named Robert Cords. This is what we know about him:

Robert Cords came from a family of German immigrants that settled in what is now the decidedly non-German immigrant region of Fruitvale, California.*

He filled out a census report near the turn of the century wherein he described himself as a “Capitalist,” full stop. At some point he worked for Union Pacific–whether as an employee or roving “Capitalist,” we don’t know–and as part of his commission bought the land that would become the Los Angeles Train Station. He managed a pair of businesses in San Francisco called the Western Tallow Company and the Imperial Glue Company. A story in the San Francisco Chronicle for June 27, 1918 refers to him as a “man of considerable wealth.”

That story was about his wife’s attempt to murder him. She shot him four times with a Colt .38, three in the chest and once in the arm, in their apartment at San Francisco’s famous (and still extant) Fairmont Hotel.** He survived.

She had wanted a divorce. She was angry at him because he’d installed his fling as his secretary at Western Tallow. He walked down to the front desk smoking a cigar and was quoted as telling the desk manager, “I am shot pretty badly. I think you better get me quick to a hospital.” The police found his wife on the floor of their room saying “I shot to kill!” over and over.

Later, the detectives brought his wife to his hospital room–don’t recall seeing that in the procedural shows–and he told her “don’t say a word, Jo. Don’t admit anything.” Snitches, etc. Her name was Alice. We don’t know why he called her Jo.

Robert and Alice/Jo stayed together.  At least for a few years. We assume they divorced at some point. But then, we really have no idea. Grandma said the two were still married when she met him.

Of course, when that happened, so was she–to Dick Nores, an out-of-work actor/newspaper columnist, which is so perfect I can’t even try and joke about it. Nores was a drunk; not terribly surprising, given his vocation(s). In 1932, Nores, Grandma, her Aunt Rose and Aunt Rose’s boyfriend Otto went to Tahiti on Otto’s yacht, The Katedna.

In Tahiti, Mr. Nores finally stopped arguing with his demons and “went Native,” according to family legend.*** Meanwhile, Robert Cords, also vacationing in Tahiti, with or maybe without Alice/Jo, met my grandma and liked what he saw.

If he was still married, her unavailability didn’t faze him (and given what we know of his predilections, why would it?), so on the trip back to mainland America–aboard a cruise ship this time; Nores was too out of hand to be allowed back on the Katedna–he approached her husband with something less than a business proposition.

Here’s the deal. Your wife is moving into my cabin in 1st Class. In return, I’ll foot your bar bill for the remainder of the trip. But she’s staying with me. Thanks!

Robert Cords and grandma were married two years later. They had two daughters, Jane (my mom) and Mary.

On New Year’s Eve 1940, Robert Cords shot himself in his room at the Barclay Hotel in downtown L.A., where he’d been living for several years.**** Mom was six. Grandma said that it was a car accident. Mom discovered the truth years later in a news clipping hidden in the pages of an old book. There are no photos of Robert Cords.

He was buried in a pauper’s grave in Valhalla cemetery in Los Angeles,***** his money–the Chronicle had him worth more than a million dollars in 1918, and I’m not great at math, but–evidently gone. No one knew what happened to it, or, really, to him. Not my mom, not my grandma, not his cousin who called my mom in the early ’60s demanding answers.

It was just gone. Mysteriously gone. A legend without substance, a shadow on the cave wall. Like Robert Cords himself. Don’t say a word, Jo. Don’t admit to anything.

*OK, so: I was convinced that this was actually Lake Merritt, but mom insists that I’m wrong, and, well, she’d know (she did literally all of the research for this, by the way, I’m just a compiler). I was loathe to lose the Lake Merritt angle because of the Digital Underground connection, but we’re not writing a novel, here. That said, one last time: Crazy guts, crazy guts.

**That story led the front page of the day’s Chronicle in two-inch type. The editors rightly thought it more newsworthy than the other major news of the day, a piece about a big American victory at some place called Belleau Wood.

***I like to think he spent his days painting nudes on the beach like Gaugain, but I have a feeling the truth is somewhat more prosaic.

****I can only assume the guy preferred living in hotels.

*****A few years back, my mom and Mary bought him a headstone.

Information Services

I'll just sit over here 'til you're finished.

The computer goes down.

Makes call. Hey, the computer went down.

Time passes. Ring.

“Is it plugged in?

“No, really. Make sure it’s plugged in.

“Please just check the plug. I know you can see your screen.

“The plug. Check it, please.

“Hmm…OK, so it isn’t that. We’ll call you back.”

Time, she passes. Couples fall in love. Baby birds leave the nest. The cold hand of authority strangles legitimate dissent.

Ring.

“OK, tell us if you see lights flickering on the back of your computer tower.

“So there are lights. Really?

“Really?

“Hmmmm….Ok, that’s weird. We’re escalating this.”

Time shows up, takes a shot of cheap white tequila and a handful of Xanax. Deep below the earth monstrous creatures burrow tunnels through the living rock for their own obscure purpose. A dude in a Green Bay Packers sweatshirt gets thrown out of a bar in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The Hostess company creates filling for Ho-Hos.

“Hello!,” says person unexpectedly behind me. “Let’s look at the plug.”

See, says the person, what I’m doing is plugging this (holds up cord) into the wall. See that? And now–watch what I do, here–I’m plugging this other end into the computer. See? Now, I have my laptop here, and look!

Looks at screen full of code.

“Now give it a try.”

Tries. Fails.

“Hmmmmm…..well, so it isn’t that.”

Time. Pyramids. Ziggurats. Movements of the tribes. The shadow of clouds on the green earth. Stone melts grain by grain. George Burns plays Free Bird on a mandolin in an exotic, excruciating, time signature.

More people arrive, from differing factions. They circle each other warily. They push buttons. They argue. First person gathers up laptop, leaves in a huff, curses upon us all. Those who remain sigh knowingly.

“We’re going to have to take your machine.”

Goodbye, Machine.

Stupid Writer’s Block

I’ve never been very good at making myself write. It honestly scares me. The thought of starting a piece, even a small one, even a blog entry, fills me with tingly dread and urine.

So rather than write I’ll do nearly anything else, like sweep the floor or wash the dishes or stare hard at my fingertips and wish they were swordpoints or get a job with the City where I swivel in my chair and listen to the tiny burbling noises my brain makes as it dies. The floor, at least, eventually gets clean.

In school I had to, they made me. The life of the mind required, at least occasionally, that I knuckle down and grind out some practice news story or some ersatz editorial in which I would hopefully prove my ability to bloviate in acceptably quotidian fashion.

Later, at Go-Go and the Rocky, writing was the whole job, or a big enough part of it, that jumping in and hacking away at the keyboard just seemed like making the doughnuts, grabbing the shovel. It’s easier that way, when someone resolves the “art vs. craft” conflict for you and expects 20 inches of copy by 3 p.m.

But now there’s no whip hand. There’s no impulse from above, no immediate threat to my person in the form of lost employment or starvation. I’m left to find motivation within, from this supposed internal creative maelstrom that Serious Writers wrangle daily. The message, as I get it, is that I should care enough about my craft (my art?) to do it no matter what, no matter where.

There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story about Cormac McCarthy and how he lived without running water or heat at the start of his career because he just cared so fucking much about making great art. That’s impressive and discouraging as hell. I hear about truly diligent professionals that keep to set schedules, dutifully engaging with the Unknowable from 9-5 with enough energy after for a signing and dinner out with their agent. I can’t jot down a haiku without first spending 45 minutes wondering who will care about reading it.

See, my family has this crazy story. It’s got everything you’d want in a novel about 20th century America and Americans: circus fat ladies, attempted murder, suicide, war, electroshock therapy, redemption, chimpanzees in Japan. It’s a huge messy dreamboat of a subject, and it’s mine–I own it, or at least share ownership of it.

But I can’t tell it. I can’t even start. Fuck, I just wasted most of an hour deciding whether or not to write a haiku.

Germany

A few months ago, my Stepdad Rich asked me and The Wife if we’d be willing to travel to Germany on his behalf, to escort his grandchildren back to the states for their American summer vacation. We thought, hey, not like we’ve got anything else planned.

So, this is what happened:

Flight on Lufthansa to Frankfurt, direct from Denver. Flight attendants speak German. WHAT THE HELL, MAN. Listen to White Light/White Heat on the way, until the Xanax dropped me partway through “Sister Ray.” Try that and see if you don’t dream that Lou Reed and Goldie Hawn are trying to fit you for a Beatle wig.

Connect in Frankfurt to Munich, encounter bespectacled young German next to U-Bahn ticket terminal who wants us to pay him to ride along on his group ticket. We stare, suspicious. He explains the process–no, really, it’s a legitimate ticket, they’ll charge you each 10 Euro, you only pay me 5, it’s a win-win!–and we still stare, suspicious. Puzzled, he shows us his German passport, proving without a doubt that he is actually German and thus empowered with legitimate knowledge of German rail prices. We continue to stare, suspicious. “But no, it’s a win-win!” Stare, suspicious. “Oh, you’re Americans, I understand.” Alright, now we can do business.

Train takes a while and on the trip German guy tells us about the best cities in the world. All without us even asking. Turns out that our eventual destination Erlangen isn’t among them; in fact, to hear him tell it, place doesn’t even have any cows to tip, much less a good Saturday barn dance. But New Delhi! Now, that’s a city. Also Buenos Aires. And somewhere else, maybe Pittsburgh. We check the railmap for a connector to New Delhi or Argentina or Pennslyvania but come up with bupkis.

Hotel in Munich is fancy. The girl at the front desk speaks better English than I do. It is also right across the street from a strip club called “Madam Bar” that features a helpful window display stocked with 8 x 10 cheesecake photos and a single high-heeled shoe, all nestled in that decorative fluff they sell by the ton (tonne?) at Michael’s. I try to promote cross-cultural understanding but am rebuffed by my closed-minded American counterpart. HMPH.

Munich itself: stunningly walkable and clean. Wide Italianate avenues (thanks to Mad King Ludwig’s deficit spending!) a million people walking a million little dogs and not a spare turd to be found. So many gelato shops that businesses have little “no ice cream” logos on their front doors. We kinda look like everyone. Wonder why that is. They sell schniztel sandwiches. Guess what I love? Yes, Ryne Sandberg. And mom. And the free exchange of ideas. Also, schnitzel sandwiches.*

What I don’t love:

That…thing is the Butcher’s Platter, courtesy of a local establishment that didn’t seem especially offal on the surface. Bloodwurst, pig’s trotter in aspic, pig’s trotter in aspic with blood, some sort of extra smushy liverwurst item. And ham. We buy it because the menu says “ham.” But then, it was the English version of the menu, and they probably leave stuff off just to fuck with us. I think I hear Tuetonic giggles from the kitchen.

Best fountain ever.

In Nuremberg, we climb cobbled streets and drink authentic red ale in the shadow of Albrecht Durer’s house. I also break the brain of the kid tending bar at our hotel by ordering a Maker’s Mark on the rocks. He finally figures it out–I have to say “it’s just ice” like three times, even though he spoke English–but while so doing cruelly neglects his drunken teenage girlfriend, the only other person in the room, who is reduced to yelling TEQUILA TEQUILA TEQUILA! between gigglesnorts. Woo Girls are Woo Girls the world over.

Erlangen, despite what our smirky scofflaw of a train companion thinks, is purely wonderful. Bikes everywhere, beer gardens, the kids from the university studying in the park. Our hosts Julia and Dieter could not be more kind, and Julia’s daughters–our ostensible reason for being in Germany to begin with–are a couple of bright, entertaining young ladies. We drink late with a family friend in a local bar run by an old Spaniard, where I am mercilessly quizzed about Dirk Nowitzy by a couple of young German scientists. We defy multiple last call orders. We see a really excellent Jerry Lee Lewis cover band (!) play a neighborhood beer festival where thousands of happily buzzed locals walk around drinking from glass mugs–imagine a similar scene stateside ending any way other than with mass arrests. We eat doner kebab.

(I’m flummoxed by the absence of doner kebab in Denver. It’s kinda like an gyro, but not, and cheap. This is my future, my scheme, my ticket to the good livin’ over on Easy Street. Look for Alex’s House of Doner Kebab sometime in early 2037.)

And everywhere, always, beer. People having it for breakfast, for afters, to celebrate weddings, waiting for the bus, to dull the inevitable agony of simple consciousness, because it is all so tasty.

Ahh.

The return trip to America is best not mentioned here, or anywhere else, ever again, save to say that our teen travel companions maintain their good humor and composure far, far better than the two adults supposedly shepherding them to America. Oh, and if you’re ever offered a free night’s stay and meals in a Frankfurt hotel courtesy of Lufthansa, sleep in the terminal and scrounge crackers from the garbage instead.

*Here’s the thing. We do touristy stuff on vacation. This is because we are tourists, touring. We’re gonna visit museums, see sights. We’re gonna climb to the top of St. Peter’s and take pictures. We’re gonna buy dirndls and go to the Hofbrauhaus (admittedly almost too much, even for me). We’re gonna purchase magnets, we’re gonna ask for the English menu. The scarf-wrapped poseurs pining for a Lost Generation of their own–without accompanying Somme, of course–may say things like oh, I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler or I choose to experience a place the way that locals do or Dad, your Mastercard didn’t go through tonight but you can wire me the cash, but here’s the deal: the locals don’t really like you. They like that you give them your cigarettes and buy them drinks. In some cases they are hoping to sleep with you, or maybe steal a kidney. And while Anthony Bourdain might sneer at our style, I say fuck him, because for every tree-grub he scarfs down, every pithy take of the destruction of “authenticity” by the polluting cross-current of 1st and 3d World, he drinks three infused foam caviar martinis off the backs off three high-priced Latvian escorts. I’ll keep my schnitzel sandwich.

You. Quit that. Right away.

It’s a sandwich. Not a sammie. Not a sammich. Do not use those words, ever, because they are not words.* They are infantilized nonsense sounds favored by people who sing along loudly at Jimmy Buffett concerts.

Speaking of: Jimmy Buffett. Stop what you are doing and do something else. Your cheeseburger is full of sawdust and sand fleas. Your concerts are charnal houses for the alive-in-name-only. You are going bald, you have looked at 40 and a real pirate would cut your nose off and burn your house down.

Hipster neighbor. Your pants. Stop them from cutting off the circulation to your waist. Your beard is mighty, your tattoos cutting-edge, your friends identical. It is 98 degrees outside. You can put on shorts. Make them tight if you like. Your fixie bike feels badly for what it is doing to your grundle in this weather.

Internet snarktard. You are playing a character. That character is a dickhead. You would not use that sentence in public. You would not act this way in a grocery store. You would not tell that lady that thing because that lady would beat you. Beat you down.

Television show with the fat guy who has a gorgeous wife. This needs to end. The fat guy masturbates gloomily to a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in his empty efficiency. The gorgeous wife lives with a hedge fund manager and owns 56 pairs of yoga pants. Replace your laugh track with the sound of orphan children weeping.

Website telling me about the college degree I should have gotten. Website. Your servers are built from the bones of innocents. Your code is written in tears.

Reruns of Sex and the City. OH GOD JUST END IT NOW PLEASE I BEG YOU JIMMY CHOO SHOES MR. BIG IT BURNNSSSSS.

Coastal elite. Disingenous politician. Person with American flag screen-printed on tee shirt. Gwyneth Paltrow. Guy who blows through stop sign and meek-waves. Purveyor of jargon. Editor-in-Chief of local newspaper. Individual who eats corn cobs and motor oil and poops next to my back fence.

Just stop it. Stop it now.

*Westword got me started on this. Thanks, Westword.

Photo from jonathanpaulmusic.com

As this is ostensibly a blog about eating and drinking and gallivanting and the like, figure I best get back to brass tacks. So, with only a tiny little bit of further ado, some photos of the culinary badassery that my mom, stepdad Rich and I experienced at Bittersweet last Friday…

I ordered the duck. It was, I say with not a trace of hyperbole, the single best thing anyone anywhere has ever eaten, ever, with the exception of foods made by The Wife. Gorgeous, buttery, the kind of thing that Diamond Jim Brady probably had shipped in by the ounce from Turkey in the days before refrigeration and suffrage.

The scallops, my mom’s order. Her own mother–a tiny, daffy woman whose outsize appetites and gigantic personal history nevertheless loom over my family’s recent past like a colossus–made a point of ordering scallops in every single restaurant she ever visited, menus be damned. I like to think of ma’s choice as a sort of homage.

My stepdad Rich chose the wild boar. If my own hadn’t been so stellar, the clutchings of food envy might have been too much for me to bear. I’m a sucker for those perfect little potato croquettes. (I should mention, as well, that our server was beyond awesome.)

So. That was Friday. The Wife returned from her business trip Saturday evening, and Sunday I welcomed her back to the bosom of home by smoking a rack of baby backs treated with my buddy Jason’s signature rub and some other techniques I cobbled together with the help of my friends over at The Internet. (Hey guys!)

Here’s what I came up with:

After letting the rack sit in its spice rub for 24 hours, I proceeded to whip it gently with a camel’s hair shaving brush, douse it in Hellman’s Mayonnaise and recite, in my best Paul Lynde impression, every single section of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. When it began the inevitable back-sassin’–you all know what I mean, I’m sure–I ate 14 packets of red hot pepper flakes and made sure to carefully monitor its socio-economic worldview through the end of the cooking period. I also drank about 14 cans of Rolling Rock.*

Following that:

*Try it yourself at home!

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