Friday, February 29, 2008

Benny Hill is Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Finally, a pep rally that doesn't suck...

Winter pep assembly. Maybe one-third of the usual crowd of students for this sort of thing. All of them exhausted. Demoralized. Imaginations and spirits crushed to dust because of a month of no sunshine, grueling projects and oppressive, mean-spirited teaching. God bless us, every one.

So instead of throwing stern looks at crowds of pubescents chanting asinine slogans ("Seniors rule!" "No, juniors rule!" "No, seniors rule!" "No, seniors rule!" "No, juniors...wait!" "Ah hah! Got you!") and carting kids to the dean's office for throwing toilet paper, silly string, hats, shirts, pants, and each other to the floor, I got to sit comfortably in the bleachers and make fun of everyone. Grand.

Then it was off to John and Sarah's place, to see their spawn. The kid was born in October, but, since we're such losers, we didn't get around to it until February. Whatever. The kid can't even walk yet; what's the fuss?

Being the idiots that we are, we forgot the camera. So here's a reasonable facsimile:

John, Sarah, if you're reading (and what else would you be doing while at home with a kid on a Saturday evening?), I'll replace it. Provided the kid is suitably adorable in the picture.

Monday, February 18, 2008

We were all Huskies that day.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Truth Table of Weeknight Taverns

Today I stopped in a bar on the way home to Have a Beer.

I know. I know. "When doesn't he?" the sage asks. Good question. Lest I should seem an urbane bastard, let me remind you: I live in the burbs. Starbucks are easy to find; comfortable bars, not so much. If your schtick is a crowded, neon-glared watering hole filled with balding has-beens shouting at whatever game is on (and it's got to be HDTV, no less for these bastards with their pushbroom mustaches and missing teeth), my neck of the woods is quite delectable; but if, like me, you long for the old days of pubs and a veritable drinking culture, you might as well be living in Salt Lake City.

Not so Joe's Place, which is a mere skip down the road from my humble home. We started hitting it mornings during my holiday break, and I have to admit, there's something to be said for guzzling Heineken while staring out the window at people headed for work. Every morning I pass the place, and I never fail to glance inside longingly: the morose bartender mopping up last night's mess; the overworked crew just getting off the night shift; the hard core alcoholics; and the hung over, nursing headaches over tomatoe juice and Budweiser. Roll of booze, hear my cry, I call to them. I am one of you! Now save my seat, or I'll kick your asses.

It was a crappy Monday today, one of those days where you leave wondering, had you been born in the 19th century, would you lumber home on a morning like this, head full of existential angst over your place in life, your career path, your overall health and karma...or would you be too busy trying to survive while doctors fed you opium and sawed off your limbs?

Ah yes, simpler times.

So, completely independent of my own conscious thought, I found myself wheeling into the parking lot of Joe's for a $1.75 Heineken. I'd decided to Have a Beer.

Having a Beer calls for a certain approach. I've not had much practice in Having a Beer. I've Gone Out for a Beer, true: there, the objective is to celebrate the end of a day or week by consuming as much as possible, without stepping over the line and screwing your short-term sobriety too badly. If Going Out for a Beer is a journey with a tangible end (drunkenness), Having a Beer is a meditative, introspective act, and it demands a certain sense of dignity, one I'm not likely to find in myself as I pound the bar furiously while calling Tso a buffoon for subscribing to Libertarianism.

Actually, I've only recently understood Having a Beer; if you're not out to get wasted, why not just have a Coke? But the beer itself is a reward, a garland for the exhausted Greek athlete, I suppose. The beer itself matters less than what it represents: Victory. Or, in my case, Survival.

If you don't want to Have a Beer, or Go Out for a Beer, you can always Get Drinks. "Let's Get some Drinks" used to be a danger sign in most places I worked, up to and including my current occupation. It was an open door policy: the more the merrier, true, but x amount of people fed into the equation equals a certain number of hours out, of money spent, of poison ingested. If, say, Tom Haldemann were to send out an e-mail tomorrow, "Out for drinks at 4," the danger would be minimal: It's a Tuesday, most people are going to work late or go home; Tom is not, shall we say, universally liked; e-mail invites are routinely ignored, etc.

But if John Pepper sends out such an e-mail, as in "We're going out for drinks at 4," the equation shifts: John has something political to get off his chest or he wouldnt' be offering; John will scare several others into going and I don't want to leave them hanging; he owes me two rounds and this is my chance to get paid back.

None of that is likely in the second week of February, especially while we're in the midst of all this damned snow. I'd worked late, not really wanting to stay but hating the thought of rattling around an empty house in the mid-afternoon with anything school-related on the brain. So when I Had My Beer, it tasted more like water down a Welsh warrior's throat, the cries of the dying surrounding him as his king stares at him inscrutably. Only I had no king to adulate, the battle was far from over, and I can't shoot a longbow to save my life.

The bar was relatively empty, but what it lacked in population it made up for in volume: the Juke Box O Matic was blaring something by the Scorpions, and two guys on my side were bellowing at each other about their wives. No fooling. I make claims like that sometimes, they're total crap, but this was true: "I just said that to fuck with you!" the first guy called.

"Yeah, better fucking with me than with your wife!" the other catcalled.

"Better than fucking her in the ass, you mean!"

And on and on, and I knew I could never reproduce the conversation believably. It would look too cliched. And isn't it pathetic that was what I was worrying about, sitting in a bar all by my lonesome, guzzling cheap Heineken while the two guys on the other side of me watched a high school volleyball game on TV with, shall we say, more than usual interest. That I wouldnt' be able to tell about it and make people buy it.

I could have sat there all night. Cars were passing out the window. My mind, weighed by the minutae of daily teaching while at school, found itself strangely untroubled in that dump. I started glaring at everyone around me: "What're you so happy about, asshole? Bet you don't have to redo curriculum. Bet if they ever gave you a study hall, you'd run screaming. What's that you do, lay bricks? Come over here and lay on my asshole."

It's a bad idea to be eyeballing so many of this sort. They're not bad people, but they're not used to taking crap from anyone (one reason, I suppose, they're not co-workers of mine, watching fifteen-year-olds roll their eyes and shoot water bottles across the room), and they're certainly not going to take it from yours truly. When the volleyball watchers started glaring at me and the wife-fuckers on the other side started scaling back their conversation in favor of curious glances in my direction, I realized I'd been muttering to myself. Bad habit. Thought I lost it years ago. Wasn't even drunk. So either get drunk now, Teacher Man, cover your tracks and dive into the bottle, or get out. Go home, put on Jane Austen from last night, maybe have a glass of wine. Show those Philistines.

So that's sort of what it likes to Have a Beer on a Monday night. I'd like to try Getting Some Drinks tomorrow night, but I think it's much more likely I'll Down a Brew when I get home, and maybe Go Out to Imbibe Wednesday or Thursday night. Or maybe I'll just wait until Friday and Get Plastered. There ought to be a flowchart for the options you're supposed to exercise. Me, I'm reduced to a self-created blog.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Groundhog Day

The following is a somewhat fictitious account of my trip to Woodstock. Somewhat. I promised people tales of a hellacious trip, but truth is, the truth is more pleasant. Also more boring.
Traveling to Woodstock is a lot like traveling back in time: to 1992, when they filmed that damned movie. The town sentinels of touristic attractiveness have made sure that everything that can possibly remain the same has remained the same, and laminated pieces of cardboard mark all the truly historic markers: Where Bill Murray stepped in the puddle; Where Bill Murray leapt to his spurious demise; Where Bill Murray took a drink.

The last time we'd been there, we'd only seen the groundhog chomp on the mayor's arm. I was all for a repeat of that particular event. I'm not a sadistic voyeur, but I can play that role, and at 6 a.m. I was nudging Kim awake. "He's going to maybe take out a vein this year, I can feel it!" I whined. "And we're going to miss it!"

Kim muttered something in sleeptalk. I translated it to Fuck off. So I picked up my copy of Dostoyevsky, consoling myself with ruminating over the few pages where Raskolnikov murders the pawnbroker with an axe. A groundhog attack it ain't, but it got me through the morning.

Truth be told, I was a little woozy myself. We'd hit the banquet hall the night before, where $15 bought you a buffet dinner and dancing package. The dinner was fine--I settled mostly on spaghetti with meatballs, bringing me once again back to my college days--but the band was playing mostly ephemereal covers of Jimmy Buffet, CCR and the like. A dancer I ain't, and this kind of music wasn't giving me a good chance to fake it, either. I turned to my date with my most winning smile on my face. "I think I'm going to be sick," I said gravely. "Must be the low-grade pasta."

"Oh, sure." She looked like she'd just tasted rancid milk. "It's okay. You don't have to dance."

Well, that was a relief.

"I mean, with this kind of music, it takes skill. Poise. Grace. And endurance."

She carefully enunciated the word endurance, leaving all kinds of double entendres, none of which made me out to be the Dirk Diggler of the Midwestern Suburbs.

"See, these guys dancing?" She pointed to the crowd. I won't go into the ladies, but the men were all, almost without exception, gray-haired, bespectacled, balding, wrinkled, and unwearying, as they twirled, tossed and dosie-doed their partners all over the thirty square feet of ballroom floor Bill Murray had Played Piano For in the 1992 Film Groundhog Day. (Another paper plaque reminded the crowd of this historic significance, lest we should forget and think we were merely in some community center eating Ragu-saturated spaghetti.)

"These guys could dance all night," she was saying, "and come back in the morning for more. I wouldn't expect that of you. I know better."

Confronted with such a crass diatribe against my own plethora of shortcomings, I took refuge the way all strong men of the new millenium do: I went to the bar.

In this case, the bar was more of a water fountain cum sideboard, with a bored-looking woman standing idly. "Give me a Grey Goose martini, straight," I growled hoarsely.

She only stared belligerently. "We got Coors, and we got Coors on draft," she said tonelessly.

"What else do you have on draft?"

In response, she plunked down a plastic cup of something that looked remotely like beer. "That's a buck fawty."

I managed to sink down three or four of them in rapid succession. Blech. It tasted like warm sweat sock.

Having insulated my sense of manhood against further injury, I returned to our table, where I expected to find Kim looking hangdog, suffering those fifteen minutes or so acutely aware of how miserable her existence would be without me. Instead, I found a local chatting her up. "This is Jim-Bob," she chirped happily as I took my seat. "He owns two franchises in this county alone!"

Jim-Bob looked at me suspiciously. "This the feller you were talking about?" he drawled. "Looks right like a gust of wind would blow him away."

Jim-Bob, on the other hand, was sporting an impressive beer gut for a mid-twenties youth. "I do cardio," I said, trying not to sound apologetic.

"Hey, a right smart of you people do that, don't you? Saw some on TV at that Rainbow Parade."

"I'm not gay."

"I...believe you." He turned his attention back to Kim. "You know how to do the two-step, beautiful?"

It turned out that she did. She cut a lovely figure on the floor, being the youngest, the most beautiful, and the one in most possession of her own teeth. Jim-Bob, on the other hand, plodded like a dinosaur with hemmhroids, interrupting his counting to leer and stare at her breasts.

Coors, it turns out, is better when guzzled. Alone.

So the next morning was turning out to be more grueling than I'd believed. Domestic beer has its own flavor of aftereffect. Your body is irritated at you not just because of the alcohol saturating your system, but more out of outrage that you didn't find something better than, after the Coors ran out, Pabst Blue Ribbon.

At ten to seven, Kim woke up. "Shit!" she gasped. "We're going to miss the groundhog!"

"Well, I--"

"Why didn't you wake me, numbnuts? You have to read that damned book now?"

I put Dostoyevsky down, smothering thoughts of the axe dutifully. "Maybe they're running late," I said sheepishly.

"Maybe you want to get your do-nothing ass in the car and warm it up." She started looking around for her shoes, which were actually still on her feet. "I could be with Joe-Bob, you know. He has a franchise. Makes a lot of money. And he's got endurance."

On the last, I certainly gave him credit. My irritation for him would endure just about anything now.

Twenty minutes later, we were standing in a foot of snow. The groundhog, looking fairly placid, was out, having already made his prediction: Six more weeks of winter, a plague falling among them, more bad publicity for Britney Spears, and a winning Lotto number of 23-14-7. People were milling about, getting their picture taken with the groundhog and his handler, a ponytailed young man who looked as enthusiastic as that morning's dose of lithium allowed him.

Kim snapped pictures of the groundhog. "Let's adopt him," she suggested. "He looks cute."

"The picture alone will last you a lifetime," I intoned.

The rest of the day was spent in the jailhouse bar, throwing back Blue Moons and watching Groundhog Day (which was filmed in Woodstock, by the way, in case you didn't know) and shooting the breeze with a vet colleague who lives in the area. On our way past city limits, we went by a sign hung askew on a rickety house wall: "Joe-Bob's Snow Shoveling Service." Nary a snow plough in sight. A rack of snow shovels was up on the wall. And in front of the driveway, shoveling like mad, red in the face with a battered Lucky cigarette hanging from his lip, Joe-Bob.

"No wonder he's got such endurance!" I gasped. "Quite the entrepreneur."

"Oh, shut up."

I would have tipped Joe-Bob a toot from the horn and an extended finger of choice. But the shovel looked made of metal, and I could tell he had quite the throwing arm.