Archive for the ‘Drinking’ Category

Drinking where Hercules killed the lion

April 5th, 2017

Don’t expect Greek table wines to stand up to those from the likes of Italy and France. It is infamous for bland ones.

Many will seem watery. That’s historically reasonable too. Think of a symposium, which is Greek for drinking together. In ancient times, the likes of Socrates would resolve matters philosophical, governmental and more over wine. However, a big however, they watered their wine equally or more; they wanted to keep a clear head for the discussions.

Over my life, I’ve had decent Greek wines. Moreover my wife and I are fond of retsina. I’ve heard many compare the resin-tinged wine to the way kerosene smells. Then in disclosure note that I love malt whiskey, particularly those from Islay. My absolute favorite is the very peaty Lagavulin. Even some Scotch fans say it reminds them of iodine.

On our recent swing through Greece, we found a nice white from Corfu and a new favorite brand of retsina. We also tasted two whites and three reds at Domaine Skouras  in Nemea, near Corinth. Those included some real winners.

Dimitris at Skouras really knows his horticulture. Nearly as important he is a great showman. He made the tour and tasting funny and fun.
We did two dry whites — a 100% Moscofilero and the Armyra, 95% Chafrdonnay and 5% Malagousia. The former was flowery and the latter fruity. Either would would be a fine patio buddy. They were respectively just under 8 € and just under 10 €. Things are cheap in Greece, but these would be well worth more.
Of our 3 reds, two featured the classic Nemean Saint George (Agiorgitiko) grape. Saint George was 100% and Megas Oenos (snicker, big wine) 80% with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fleva was 100% Syrah. The 17.4 € Megas allegedly would cellar well for 15 years. The 14 € Fleva had complex nose and mouth. I liked the 8.8 € Saint George best, medium body with long finish.
Back in the bleachers, we discovered a new favorite retsina at several restaurants on Corfu and in Athens. Malamatina is full flavored and not too heavy on the resin. It is an excellent meal wine.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

Boo for Holiday Booze

December 24th, 2015

mymable“Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

My grandmother, Mable Michael, had particular, peculiar, nearly miracle hearing. Let’s go with selective. She didn’t respond to all that much and seemed to lose the lower tones as so many older women do. And yet…

I recall a specific Christmas holiday in my college days in her home in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Several of my friends from the area has joined me in her living room, filling the couch and chairs.

She had a clear relationship with alcohol, as in it was sinful, shameful and to be avoided. She was like a Jew who speaks of alcoholism as the shegetz disease, without the quirk of ignoring Jewish vintners or the dominance of Jews in the whiskey distilling trade.

Her hypocrisy was baser and plainer. Her husband (my beloved grandfather) might have two 3.2% beers (all that was legal in West Virginia) and he was on the road to hell. Yet, we all knew we had to bear our version of frankincense each Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas in form of Mogan Davis blackberry wine.

We never saw it. We never saw her or anyone drinking it. By the end of the vacation, somehow the bottles disappeared (and were concealed in bags or more in the trash). She arose about 5 every morning to spend time with The Upper Room devotional, her Bible, and likely a glass of the star of David.

I never saw my grandfather tipsy. Well, maybe once. He took my sister and me to the Burlington drive-in movie and tossed back a 3.2 or two. As we were leaving, he drove off with the speaker still attached to the front passenger window and the cord snapped. High or impatient? We’ll never know.

Anyway, he was no sot and no one ever likely got drunk on 3.2 beer. You’d pee yourself into fatigue first.

That particuar Christmas eve, we were in the living room. She as usual was laboring in the kitchen for her planned massive Christmas Day family feast. After all, her beloved only son would arrive with his brood of four, plus wife.

The ambient noise level was high. The TV was on, as they always were in the 1960s. Hell, they still are (why is that, writes the non-TV watcher?). Granddad came to me in the distant corner armchair. He bent down to my right ear (farthest from the kitchen and his vigilant wife) and whispered so I could barely make it out, “Would you and the boys like a little nog?”

In West Viginia terms of the time, that of course meant some store-bought sugary eggnog from a carton with a small splash of bourbon. I attended the University of Sourh Carolina, where bourbon was a sacrament and such splashes were better suited as aftershave than refreshment. Still it was a host-worthy query.

Immediately from the kitchen — how the hell could she even have the faintest sense of the query — Mable immediately bellowed, “Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

To this day, I wonder whether she sussed the concept or exhibited some canine-level superpower. Though everyone in the living room was of legal drinking age, she’d have none of it.

Even then we laughed.



Glum Hour Persists in Boston

August 9th, 2015

One of New Jersey’s legal oddities is a ban on self-service gas pumps. They occasionally debate reversing that, but it’s been the law for 70 years. Only Oregon has the same restriction.

happymanyhoursLikewise, only highly starched Utah shares MA’s 31-year-long prohibition on happy hour…in any guise. The law here is carefully restrictive, as in no two-for-one drinks, no discounted drinks at all, no contests where the prizes are alcoholic drink, no women-drink-free events, no jumbo drink with more alcohol without raising the price proportionately, no this, that or the other.

A couple of other states put minor restrictions on happy hours, like cutting them off at 9 PM. Here the dolorous day grinds on. In fact, in Boston a HAPPY HOUR sign is invariably some food deal, like $1 oysters. Shellfish have not been shown to contain booze.

Our happy-hour ban came in the midst of national concern about drunken driving. The Greater Boston chapter of Mothers Against Drunken Driving lobbied stalwartly for such a ban. Ostensibly, the legislation came via George R. McCarthy, chairman of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. In reality though, it was from Gov. Michael Dukakis (right, and amusingly enough in a recent pic shot at Doyle’s bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood). He continues to pronounce that happy hours mean more death. He’s an academic as well and it’s hard to find any data to support that, but his wife, Kitty, is a recovering alcoholic and shares his aversion to free or discounted booze.

duke1I know and like them both. The Duke, as many call Michael, is razor sharp and has sponsored sheafs of solid legislation. I am still sure he would have been a far better President than the candidate he lost to in 1988, George Bush the Greater.

However, happy-hour bans were not among the Duke’s best crusades or ideas. Alas, doing so falls in that great pit of fallacy known as it’s only common sense. That means, “I have nothing. Don’t challenge me.”

Millions are inconvenienced and even lose out on small pleasures to satisfy the whims and emotions of others. The unproven and unprovable are no reasonable bases for legislation. I can hear Science Officer Spock, “That is illogical, Captain.”

Regardless, the rest of the nation and most of the world end their business day with a mini-celebration in the form of discounted drinks. We don’t.

There are current efforts here citing the pending casinos. Everywhere, they ply their marks customers with free booze. We’ve decided to go with casinos here. The likelihood is that this will loosen up the discounted-drinks rules. You can then be damned sure that restaurants and bars won’t be limited if gambling parlors can play at that.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

Big Box Bourbon

August 14th, 2013


Oh my, late to the game again. I discovered that Costo private brands a small-batch bourbon. Today I was in the Avon, MA, store, which has a company liquor department and vot!

Turns out that everyone, his brother, cousin and niece already bought and tasted it. A net search gets lots of hits. For both flip and savvy comments, I point to a few:

I’m not a bourbon snob, but I do like like it. I started drinking in the South, where the choice was bourbon or beer. Also a mixed drink meant with ice cubes or maybe if you really had to a splash of ginger ale.

Now living in Yankeeland — a decade in Manhattan and three in Boston — I’m delighted that bourbon has come into its own. There are fascinating bars, like the 5 Horses (Somerville and soon the South End), and Beacon Hill’s Tip Tap Room for example, that have a good selection and knowledgeable barkeeps. Liquor stores too have a wide selection at many price points and even the most ignorant bartender doesn’t think Jack Daniel’s is bourbon.

I figured I’d try it. Costco’s bourbon also fit another criterion my chums and I often use, is it a good value? We like to find superior wines for $9 that blow away $39 ones, for example.

Turns out that I paid $19.99 for a full liter of the 103-proof stuff. (There’s no state tax on booze here.) Some of the net comments carped that for only $3 or $4 or $6 more, they could buy Knob Creek or some other familiar bourbon, but they don’t think that that is a third less booze for the price, making the Kirkland bottle that much more of a bargain.

A few things I did learn from the mash heads and blowhards commenting (sometimes without tasting the distillate in question) was that this definitely comes from Jim Beam. Also it is aged for 7 years instead of Beam’s Knob Creek version, which is 9 years in barrel. It is also that 103 proof (51.5% alcohol) instead of the more common small-batch bourbon release of 90 or 100 proof, or Wild Turkey’s 101 variety.

Some went though serious research, badgering Costco employees for all our benefit. The best finding was that this is not an open item. That suggests that for whatever reason, Jim Beam did a one-off for Costco, who like Job Lots or Building 19, bought something the distiller didn’t want to sell itself. Likely when this batch is sold out, it’s gone. Following this evening’s tasting, I’ll likely go back to Avon and buy a couple more bottles.

costcotasteHere, three of us tried it two ways. I set out six bourbon low ball glasses (actually made for Woodford Reserve, a fine sipping bourbon), three nude and neat, with three holding a single ice cube. Each glass got a half ounce or so. Who knows what the demons did to me in pouring?

Uxorial Unit, Son #2 (great to have children of drinking age), and I went at it. We certainly did not keep pace with the florid, hyperbolic, pretentious posts pointed to above. Yet, we tried to judge.

The punchline is that this is good stuff, worth more in market terms than competitors. There are other bourbons I like more, but this is a fair entry.

If you extrapolate the local price for Knob Creek ($26.99 for 750ml) and weigh it against Costco’s very own bargain bourbon ($19.99 for 1000ml), the differential is 1.8. That is Kirkland small-batch bourbon is 1.8 times cheaper per liter. So you ask, is KC worth almost two times more? Of course, in the larger scheme, Knob Creek at effectively $35.99 per liter is a relative small differential over Kirkland. As we learned many years ago, a $200 retail bottle of Chablis is not 20 times better than a $10 bottle. It’s a judgment call.

So, this evening, without hyperbole or poetry, we found the neat glass pleasant, powerful, a little too alcohol nosed. That was no surprise for over half alcohol. Certainly there was the predictable vanilla scent, but we didn’t the myriad herbs, spices and fruits the other online commenters strained to ID. We liked the look, smell and taste of the neat bourbon.

I like to sit with a snifter of great Scotch or bourbon neat and dwell on it. None of us thought this was worthy of that. However, with a single ice cube, it was a fine, fine drink. My wife thought it would be good with ginger ale, but to me that means heading to a lower grade of bourbon, like the serviceable JB Black or Evan Williams. Yet, we all liked it cut with a single ice cube, which I suppose would mean two for a full shot or three for a pony.

I already confess to being late to this party. We found Costco’s bourbon to be good but not great stuff. I’ll lay in a couple more bottles.


Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.

Phat and Fat, Part 1

April 20th, 2012

Striding the aisles of the new Hyde Park Stop & Shop, I was aware how loose my trousers were. That’s smirk making.

Consider yourself warned. Self-absorption follows in this and related posts. Already, chum John experienced that in our recent four-day trip to Manhattan. I had started a low-carb regimen and talked about it. I tried not to harp, but it was everywhere. We’re drinking buddies, usually concentrating on ale. Beer is very expensive in carbs, ale less so, wine even less so and bourbon is free. So I’m sure he got bored suggesting brews and hearing me dither or pull out the carb counter and see if I could afford it.

So what brought me to my own modified Atkins world, you may ask?

The answer relates to that self-absorption we bloggers seem to epitomize but also transcends it. The more salient response is the incompetence and ignorance of health professionals. Therein lies the justification for this series.

I’m tired of being trim for a little bit and chubby for quite awhile. I’m also well beyond the teens and 20s when I could cast aside poundage and excess fat in a few weeks with modest changes in exercise or food choices. Way back in those days, I recall a woman with whom I kept company. She is about 10 years older and even then, in her 30s, has trouble paring a single pound off when I could drop 5 or 10 in a week or two.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Well, we either age or die. Aging isn’t terrible, considering the only alternative. With that process comes a slower metabolism for nearly all of us. We as a nation then end up late or soon consumed with consumption of food and drink.

We care, we whine, we compare, we plot, we despair.

Of course, there are the tiny subset of exceptions. There are ectomorphic somatotypes. Those skinny men and women with neither visible fat nor apparent muscle mass, women with no breasts or hips to hold and men with no shoulders and wee, wee thighs. These freakish folk tend to have permanently high metabolic rates, as most of us did in puberty. They also tend to disdain the struggles of the 90-some percent of us who discover tighter pants when we have changed nothing about our activity, food or drink.

Being a pretty pure mesomorph with arms and legs like oak-tree limbs, but a tendency to tuck extra fat on the torso, I figured the medical world might give me some advice in my personal struggle. That was naive.

I’m no newcomer to diet/exercise/weight and fat control. Yet, not getting results, I went to the pros. I has used a damned good program, CrossTrainer, to track my intake and exercise. Also, being a pretty type-A tech writer, I backed that up with Lose It! Fastidiously, I plugged in each bit and every step. I counted grapes, measured yogurt, weighed cheese, and used the report of the elliptical machines as well as putting in the distance and duration of each bike ride.

Both programs had me losing lots of weight. I put in serious exercise time, yielding rated 1,000 to 1,600 calories burned six and sometimes seven days a week. Moreover, I wasn’t cheating in the slightest. Every morsel and motion went in accurately. That is my wont. The programs reported I should be losing half a pound to .8 pounds per day.

Yet on the weekly weigh in and body-fat machine measures, I was chubbing up. My doctor’s scale showed that meager confirmation as well.

While I had read a lot about nutrition and weight control, I needed help. I turned to doctors and got a referral to a nutritionist.

DIY Health


Docs, nurses, even nutritionists are ignoramuses about food and weight. With the flood of information and the myriad patients in their examining rooms, they remain ignorant, if not stupid. It reminds me of the many ministers I know who decry how little they learn of church management in divinity school, often a single course. Then when they get a parish, they are excepted suddenly to be or oversee the CEO, COO and CFO roles.

Unlike clerics, who look to board members, staff and others for help, medical professionals tend to feign competence and exhibit confidence. I have found they they deal instead in platitudes and formulaic responses.

The worst for my issue is calories-in/calories-out. “All you need to know is consume fewer calories than you burn up and you’ll lose weight,” they invariably say.  Elephant feathers!

Even telling my primary doc and nutritionist, even producing two years of weigh ins, with body-fat readings, and as much exercise and calorie intake printouts as they wanted to see, I got the same jive. It always came with the self-satisfied look of the ignorant. Calories-in/calories-out.

I can believe for some ectomorphs, that works. I can believe that those basal metabolic rate estimates and exercise expenditure estimates are reasonably accurate for a small percentage of people. Yet, I know far too many, including myself, for whom those don’t work, don’t work by a big factor.

In fact, I turned to my doc and a nutritionist precisely because I was assiduous in recording all, but did not get the expected result. My wife is fond of noting that I am an outlier. I am my mother’s son, the one who is precise, detailed, and honest. I do the scientific method.

So, provided with my proofs that the estimates of intake and expenditures did not work for me, what do you suppose the pros did? Of course, they doubled down. Calories-in/calories out.

The doctor was dumb enough to say things like, “Oh, I guess the calories are coming from the air.” The nutritionist had next to no quibble with my three-days of detailed consumption/exercise I printed out. She suggested adding more calories, specifically more fat in the form of olive oil, but had no answer for why I was not losing as the two programs reported I should be.

Medical Deafness

I thought of nutrition overlord/author Michael Prager. He has different issues leading to being fat, a self-defined food addiction. Yet, as a newspaper reporter for years, he had his own methodology. He tracked down a nutritionist west of Philly who didn’t do formula, who didn’t pull platitudes, and who did listen to his story to produce a custom plan.

Instead, my doc and nutritionist shoved the same hand of food cards across their desk to me, not hearing what didn’t work. In fact, at a party I ended up with three other people, all of whom had been to docs and nutritionists. One wanted to gain weight and muscle and we other three to lose. We all got identical diet advice. That’s craziness.

So I read. I went to libraries. I clicked around the internet to pop and academic sites. I went way back to William Banting’s 1864 booklet on who he dropped lots of flab. I did current research. I went so far as to find out that everything of value I wanted had been in Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories all along. I could have started and ended there, but given my anal-retentive nature, it’s better I found it after a lot of research so it had all the more credibility.

Part 2 of this series will go into what’s been working for me.

I have a food site I started in concept before my effort to lose some fat. It will have mostly food-enjoyment articles, recipes, videos and such. I remain a serious foodie. Yet, most of us adults are conflicted about food. I’ll address it all. Look here for the nutrition angle. I’ll announce the food site when I open it to the net.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie

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Cold, Lonely New England Nights

April 8th, 2012

The old cliché of chilly Northern nights was of a Mainer or Vermonter bored in the long, cold winters, making friends with a bottle of booze. Sure enough, like another cold clime, Russia, up here folk, particularly menfolk, are prone to alcoholism.

I got a new one tonight as I shopped the dowdy, plaid-favoring Vermont Country Store. We’d been there. My late mother-in-law, herself an Indiana hick, really enjoyed it and fell into nostalgic paroxysms there. Among the old timey treasures we bought and used regularly was its seemingly unique over-the-headboard lamp. We consider that the best in-bed reading choice and have been dismayed that after many years, its plastic shade lining is shedding chunks of off-white.

Well, they still have them and I ordered a replacement.

While I was at it, I checked the sale items (yawn). Then I looked at their left menu and top tabs. Nothing much there, but I checked Health & Beauty to see if there are country cures of amusement. On that pull-down is — What?! — Sexual Wellness.

Well, topple my stone fence. That’s a page of dildos.

Actually, it’s a page of almost entirely powered vibrators. There’s a yeast-infection soap and quite literally a douche bag. The page features 10 highly colorful sex toys for women.

Here’s one example. This is a WordPress blog. I hesitated for a moment before clicking on the Upload choice to Insert Into Post. Insert, indeed.

The various aids include the tiny and brown BonBon Massager (“Better than chocolate…Petite and Discreet…”), the one shown promising “Pinpoint Accuracy,” another “Serves Two Pleasure Points at Once,” and another anatomically realistic except for the lavender color “Feels Lifelike for Greater Pleasure.”

This clearly is my problem. Sudden images of villages of country women thrashing in pastel joy doesn’t jibe with butter churns and flannel nightgowns.

Of course, there’s no reason the Vermont Country Store shouldn’t include sex aids along with its home furnishings and horehound drops. I had just never run across this page. I had a pretty staid image of the store’s inventory.

Have at it. Nights are long, dark and cold up there.

Drinking with the Animals

December 18th, 2011

Eagles, Owls, Lions, Moose and such were oases in the West Virginia desert. When I came of drinking age (18 for beer and wine at the time), WV sold only that soda pop called 3 point 2 beer. That is, the alleged beer could be no more than 3.2% alcohol by volume and was generally even lower, below what even British pubs serve.


Moreover, the town where I spent my summers and holidays was in a dry county. That was, a dry county of no liquor stores, no booze, beer or wine in restaurants, and no bars, except for fraternal organizations.

Surrounding counties had beer joints, generally called taverns. All they offered was pickled eggs on the counter, maybe burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches, and bottled lagers. My grandfather favored National Bohemian (Bo). My sister and I would have dueling orange sodas — Pal v. TruAde.

If you wanted a real beer, you could head North the PA or MD or East to VA. That was too far if you wanted one or two beers on a hot day or cool night.

Instead, men went to visit the animals. All the birds and mammals were really bars, as were the American Legion, VFW and such. To this day, I think of those opaque glass blocks that formed the exterior walls and where the windows would be as VFW brick. Of course, they were where transparent windows normally would be, except they hid the disgrace of non-productive time for men doing something still seen as sinful by much of the populace.

For us late teen types, there was that other problem. None of us was a war vet; we didn’t belong to those. Nor were we family sorts who were part of the Moose, Elks or other animals.

The Order of the Owls flew to our rescue. Just outside of town on the highway was an Owl’s Nest. This was not the Independent Order of Owls related to the Freemasons. As I recall, this was the Loyal Order of Owls. Membership required showing a driver’s license and buying a membership card for (ta da) $2.

For that, you were an Owl for a year. There was burger-level food, but guys were there for a local beer. Hampshire County regulated this as a fraternal organization. After all, you were a dues paying member.

There wasn’t much memorable about this roadhouse, except for a particularly dexterous waitress. She was middle-aged, our mother’s era, but she could pour. From the first visit, we were impressed. Five of us sat at a round table. She brought five bottles and five glasses pressed together into a glass castle. In one motion, she set them all on the table, with the glasses facing us. She quickly pulled back, taking the five bottles toward her and in the same motion, arced them to the glasses’ rims. She quickly and neatly poured all five simultaneously and slowly enough that no foam frothed over. Next, she set the bottles down and in a final motion, spread the five glasses, three with one hand and the others with her second, so each of us had a full glass in front of us.

That’s not exactly high stagecraft, but it was better entertainment than we were used to for the price of a beer. I bet she got good tips. She did from us.


That Nest and those days are gone. There’s a state liquor store on Main Street/Route 50 in Romney. You can get a mixed drink as well as milder stuff at restaurants throughout the county. The grimy glamour was more remarkable.

Love Through the Ears

October 15th, 2011

Unlike many bar stool warmers, even into a second drink or beyond, I don’t have a lot of brilliant advice.  There is one love-related tidbit from my early 20s that still seems relevant.

Last week, speaking with a female neighbor outside, that arose again. She was lamenting that she couldn’t click long-term with a great guy. She just breached 40 and knows there are fewer gems free in the muck of the mine. She discussed a recent effort to connect to a match from e-Harmony, allegedly compatible interests, bright enough, and nice looking. She said she sent him off to think again with the candid appraisal that his ego and vanity were too well developed.

Hence that personal historical moment.

In my early 20s, I was a single Manhattanite working at a huge trade-magazine publisher across 42nd Street from the Daily News building. We were in what passed for bar and party central in NYC. After the married commuted largely by rail to NJ or CT, we were left to patrols of the heart.

For many of my co-workers, those patrols were frustrating and sad. They’d chat objects of desire up and still return home solo.

Quite a few guys asked me, usually one on one, what was up. They’d note that I always had several women I, as we of Southern backgrounds are wont to say, kept company with. The implication was that I wasn’t rich or 7 feet tall or any of those clichés of evening  love. How was it that I connected and they didn’t, and moreover, how was it that I kept my women instead  of having a one to three-night relationship?

That one was easy…at least for me. My flash was wisdom was simply that I listened to a woman.

Invariably the guy would interrupt to state strongly that he too listened to women and that couldn’t be it. Yet, I’d seen him in attempted action and knew he didn’t. As with my neighbor, women found that he talked about himself and heard only responses that related to himself talking about himself. There’s a huge difference between acknowledging affirmative conversational reactions and listening.

I could ask the guy what he knew about this woman or that. He might know where she went to college or high school, but little else. Pow! He hadn’t asked. He hadn’t left openings for her to swap revelations. He did not value what she had experienced, what she felt, what was important to her, what pleased her, what made her angry. He didn’t know squat about her.

I suppose if I had been savvy or driven by greed instead of the joy of earning a living writing and photographing, I would have started a matchmaking business. I knew something they didn’t.

Cryptic Message From the Basement

October 6th, 2011


Folkies in the basement, oh my.

A request from a high school chum, whom I’ve not seen in decades although spoken with by phone, got me doing a real search. I tried the old Google/Yahoo/Dogpile routine, but ended up actually contacting live humans, primary sources as academicians like to put it.

He wanted to know the rest of the message that appeared on the back of the membership card for the folk music club in the basement of the Jewish deli in near North Plainfield, New Jersey, in the mid-1960s. How’s that for obscure.

He remembered that it started out, “Just for today…”

I learned two things. First is that another friend (his name is blanked for this post) is a packrat. He had his card — from 46 years ago, for the sub-restaurant where we spend a couple hundred weekend evenings.

Second is that I should have recognized the lingo. Searching today for the text, I found it bubbles right under us all. This is part of the much longer Just For Today resource for families and friends affected by alcoholics. It appears Al-Anon sites,  like this one, including the lines from the card that read:

Just for today I will be unafraid.  Especially I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful, and to believe that as I give to the world, so the world will give to me.


Stand-alone, those words certainly fit that place and moment, a transition from beatniks to hippies. No foul.

Yet clearly someone in the small cabal that created the card must have dealt with alcoholics and maybe been an Al-Anon member. It was not a factor in my family or those of my friends. For us, if we drank at all, it would be a small glass of wine or beer or maybe a shot of some liqueur snuck from a parent’s liquor cabinet and shared — a silly tipple for the drama and not effect.

Wisdom and beauty don’t need to come marching to the door, kick it in and yell.