Friday, February 27, 2009

Hunting for the homeless

Last night, via a connection through Brand Tampa, I volunteered to participate in the Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County's 2009 Homeless Point In Time Count. The Point In Time Count is a national effort, done every two years and is defined as "the number of people who are homeless at a single point in time, usually one day or one night". Hillsborough County was divided into four sections and teams of volunteers combed the areas between 4:00AM and 11:00PM. I had to work during the day (plus I thought it would be more interesting to do this at night) so I signed up for a late shift, 7:00PM until 11:00PM. Here's what happened.
  • We all met at Project Return's headquarters and got our briefing. The coordinator asked if we all had flashlights and everybody said yes. Except one guy who waited until after everyone else answered so he could say "I have my government issued flashlight." If someone was looking at me at that exact moment, no doubt they saw my shoulders sag and an expression of pain on my face. Every single time I do some kind of volunteer gig, I run into one person who didn't get enough attention as a child and sees this as their opportunity to perform for a captive audience. There's always just one of them. I wish I knew why that was.
  • Three of us were assigned to an area in north Tampa near interstate I-275, kind of close to the University of South Florida. It was me, a woman named Pam and a college student named Lee. I was put in charge.
  • For whatever reason, flashlight discussion continued after the briefing and as a result, we missed the distribution of meals by another volunteer organization behind a grocery store. We got there just as they were wrapping up. They said there had been about 150 people there. Although, they also said that most were not actually homeless, just needy. For the purpose of this particular survey, those people wouldn't count.
  • We did encounter a group of six men. We had brought along some toiletries and pairs of new socks as incentives to get people to participate and four of these guys passed these things up when they told us they had participated in the survey earlier that day. I don't know that I necessarily expected these guys to lie or connive, although, being honest, I guess I probably did. I'm pretty sure if I were in similar circumstances, I would have lied.
  • One guy said he receives a $935 pension from his service in the military, but that every dollar he earned counted against that pension. He said that with his poor health, the only jobs he was able to get were low end, menial labor jobs with no prospects for advancement. In which case, it made better financial sense to collect the $935 for doing nothing than to go get some dead-end, back-breaker of a job that resulted in basically the same amount of money in the pot at the end of the month.
  • We stopped at a convenience store for gas and Lee ate two gas station microwave burritos. There was a time when I could eat that kind of thing but I think those days are gone forever. Maybe it's because I'm still not 100% healthy but the smell of those bombers hit me in a bad way and stayed with me all night.
  • We headed to a wooded area behind a Perkins restaurant. We roamed around for a while and there were some thickets of brush and trees where I'm pretty sure there were people hiding but they didn't come out. We were instructed not to be aggressive so we left without talking to anyone. The guys we encountered at the first place had told us that if we went into the woods and nobody wanted to be found or talked to, they wouldn't be. And they were right.
  • We found four people living near the railroad tracks next to Skipper's Smokehouse. They said the same thing about not finding people who didn't want to be found. One guy got fairly aggressive in asking for money but we had found so few people that we were able to be a little more liberal in our distribution of the incentives and that bought us out of there without incident.
  • We drove up and down Fowler Avenue and went behind the long row of fast food joints on the south side of the street but didn't see anybody. There was a long line of cars at Taco Bell and Lee commented that he didn't know how anybody could eat there. I said, "I think you surrendered your gourmet critiquing credentials twice back at the RaceTrac".
  • We didn't find anybody else the rest of the night but saw a whole bunch of law enforcement out and about. One of the people we had talked to by the railroad tracks said the cops had been hassling them earlier in the day. I'd hate to think that the police were out trying to enforce a lower a profile from the homeless, with the knowledge that the count was taking place that day. I'd prefer tor think that was a coincidence but I guess you never know.
  • The youngest person we met was 41 and I was kind of glad. I'm not sure how I would have handled encountering homeless children.
  • Of the six people we did interview, five were men, two were war veterans (one Vietnam, one Gulf War), one had just been released from prison in November and two said they worked regular jobs.
  • We headed back, kind of discouraged, but our coordinator said not to worry about it. "There's no telling; you might have gotten five or you might have gotten 50". A friend who did an earlier shift downtown mentioned that she thought we'd find many more people at night then they did and she was amazed when I told her our results.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A short conversation about wishes

"As my dearest, closest friend, would you help me grant my last wish?"

"Of course I would."

"Okay, do you own scuba equipment and how many Asian girls can you round up in the next fifteen minutes?"

"Um, you aren't dying."

"Well, no. It's not my dying wish, it's just my last wish. Geez, morbid much?"

"So by 'last wish', you just mean this is the last thing that happened to pass though that brain of yours."

"Exactly. So chop-chop, let's get a move-on. In twenty minutes, the moment is liable to have passed and my last wish might be for a large pepperoni pizza."

"Perfect. I'll see you in twenty minutes."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Watching this commercial made me realize something:

There's a level of fame that exists for certain celebrities for whom we have no respect. Not just the ones we dismiss outright, and heap scorn and ridicule upon like Joe Piscopo. I mean the ones we get to participate in their own scorn and ridicule heaping by letting them think they're good sports who are in on the joke....even though they aren't. The same sort of symbiotic relationship you had when you were younger with that one kid who you'd let hang around because he allowed you to do the cruelest things to him and he'd just take it. In this scenario, we're the cool kids sitting at the cool table and they're the desperate, love-starved dweebs who are willing to do anything for a mere scrap of our attention. And money. People like:
  • WILLIAM SHATNER - The Alpha. DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - Yes, but it was a loooong time ago. Before Star Trek became a cultural phenomenon, before George Takei devoted his life to hating him, before the hairpieces and before "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".
  • DAVID HASSELHOFF - The Next Shatner. DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - When he was the star of the original (aka "good") "Knight Rider", he seemed pretty cool. Following that with the ridiculous "Baywatch", the even more ridiculous "Baywatch Nights" and the downright outlandish "Singing Career", all of which he seemed to take seriously, and he burned through whatever good will credit he had established in no time.
  • SNOOP DOGG - America's Pet Pothead. DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - Are you kidding? We were scared shitless of him! When he first appeared, he was a sinister, menacing figure who may or may not have killed someone. He was rolling with Dr. Dre, the leader of one of hip hop's most notorious crews, NWA, who had more songs about killing cops than Alanis Morrisette does about bad relationships. Now, even little old grannies dig Snoop: "Oh my, that Snoop is such a scamp! He sure does enjoy his marijuana."
  • CHUCK NORRIS - Toughest Man In The World. DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - Sure. He had some martial arts credibility and a pretty sweet gig appearing in a string of action flicks that were in some sort of strange middle ground between major studio releases and b-movies. Then some smartasses started a list of "facts" about him that he seemed to endorse as, well, facts.
  • FABIO - Romance Novel Cover Boy. DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - Hmm, I don't know. When somebody makes a living by being cartoonishly good looking and then gets hit in the face by a goose, respect really doesn't factor into it...
  • MR. T - Action Figure. DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - The first glimpse most of us got of Mr. T was during the opening montage of "Rocky 3", featuring him working out in an abandoned building or savagely thrashing people in a boxing ring, all while grunting and scowling like a vicious animal. He followed that movie up with "DC Cab", "The A-Team" and an affiliation with pro wrestler Hulk Hogan. Still, he might have been able to survive all of that if we didn't discover that when he laughs, he giggles like a little girl.
  • ED McMAHON - HiYo! DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - Well, as Johnny Carson's sidekick on the Tonight Show, he played a part in establishing what is still the gold standard in late night television talk shows., probably not.
  • MC HAMMER - Hammer. DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - At a time when the nation was wringing it's collective hands over the rise of hip hop music and the violence that seemed to be such a big part of it, Hammer was selling a ton of records with consistently uplifting, positive messages, but he never received critical acclaim. He then blew all the money he made, in large part because out of loyalty to his roots, he went back to his old neighborhood and employed a bunch of people who sucked him dry. What a chump.
  • GARY COLEMAN - Watchu Talkin' 'Bout, Willis? DID WE EVER RESPECT HIM? - It doesn't matter; Gary Coleman hates us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You know what's funny? Other people's problems

These delightfully uplifting stories and hundreds, maybe thousands more (many of which are not safe for work) are available at Thanks to The 23-Year-Old for finding this!

"Today, I saw a elderly man fall in a crosswalk, so I jumped off my bike to help. As I helped him across, the light turned green. At that point I noticed my phone had fallen out of my pocket in the street and was run over by several cars. I then watched across a 6 lane street as someone stole my bike. FML"

"Today, in class my friend played a joke on me by pulling my seat from under me while i was about to sit. I fell and everybody laughed at me. During the next class i did the same thing to him, he broke his arm. He was the star of the basketball team, nobody laughed. FML"

"Today, I went to Macy's to go shopping, I was wearing a shirt and tie and dressed nicely. Customers came to for questions, but I just ignored them. Minutes later, thinking I was an employee, the manager came and yelled at me, and threatened to fire me. FML"

"Today, a child sitting next to me on the bus pointed at me and asked: "Mommy, when it's not a man and it's not a woman, what is it then?" FML"

"Today, my professor, who was born without arms, asked somebody "need a hand?" There are over 300 students in that class and I was the only one laughing. FML"

"Today, I let my friend cut my hair and after a few minutes, she looked at what she had done and then she ran out of the room, crying. FML"

"Today, my grandmother called. She greeted me by my mother's name. When I told her it was not my mother, she apologized and corrected herself, but this time she addressed me as my sister. When I told her it was not my sister either, she said "Sorry, wrong number" and hung up. FML"

Monday, February 23, 2009

The road to recovery

Last night, I got out of the house for the first time since being sick because as I explained to me beloved Auntie Scoldie, cabin fever is as potentially lethal as regular ol' fever fever. So I went to the Lightning game with The 23-Year-Old and the up-and-coming author who shall be known here as The Up-And-Coming Author.

We showed up at the Will Call window to get the tickets and I questioned aloud whether somebody (me) who just recently almost died should need to stand in line like everybody else. "Excuse me, folks. Coming through. Almost died, just last week. So kind of a big deal. Pardon me. Life is precious to someone like me, so I'm just gonna kind of scoot up here to the front and...okay, you're not moving. That's not know, you wouldn' there a Make-A-Wish line here?"
After we eventually got our tickets, we went inside and I inquired about snacks. "Excuse me, do you have any particularly life-affirming concession items for someone who stood on the brink of death's icy embrace?". The guy said, "well, Miller Lite is pretty good. But how exactly do you stand on the brink of an embrace?" I didn't get anything.
During the game, they took time out to recognize wounded war veterans in attendance and I observed, "I guess there are lots of us who are fortunate to be here tonight. Like myself, for example. I almost died last week. But here I am tonight, sitting among you. Pretty brave. Kind of a miracle. Just because I'm not being shown on the scoreboard doesn't mean it isn't amazing because it is. But I didn't come here tonight and expect anybody to make a big ol' fuss over me. I just want to enjoy the game and if anybody wanted to take a second to recognize how incredible it is that I'm here, well, that's on them." The Up-And-Coming Author said, "you really need to pipe down." I pointed out that nobody told John Travolta as "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" to 'pipe down' and The 23-Year-Old said "I wish you were in a plastic bubble. I'd push you down the stairs and you'd roll all the way out into the street". That wasn't very nice.
Later, after I'd forgiven them for being mean, I told them all about the book I was going to write about my experience:

The Up-And-Coming Author said "Is it going to be a short story?" and I said "It's going to be $22.50." I didn't even bother to tell her about my plan to take the profits from that bestseller to finance my next book, a self-help guide:
The Lightning won the game 4-3 when my favorite player, Vaclav Prospal scored the tie-breaking goal on the power play with 1:33 left. It was just like when Babe Ruth hit the home run for that kid in the hospital! At least there was someone there who appreciated the amazingly brave little fella in section 217.

Friday, February 20, 2009

If you can't sputum, join 'em

Frankly, I'm happy to be alive. How was your week?

Here's a rundown of the events of the past few days, between Monday and now. I'm afraid I can't be very specific because most of it is a big, sweaty, ice cold blur and even the parts that I do remember, I'm not sure I'm remembering very accurately, including the order in which these things did or didn't happen.
  • I met The 23-Year-Old at The Bunker for coffee. I started feeling bad, with a persistent hacking cough. I remember thinking how unfair it was that I would be getting a cold/flu less than two weeks after having it. I also remember being alarmed at how quickly things seemed to be deteriorating. I could literally feel myself getting worse by the minute. I went home and immediately went to bed.
  • I went to work the next day, feeling absolutely miserable. I felt like I could hardly breathe, I had a cough so violent and painful that it actually made me weak in the knees, and worst of all, I was so dizzy and light-headed that I probably should not have driven. I wasn't there very long before I was sent home.
  • I went home and tried to sleep. My body, faced with the choice between being boiling hot or freezing cold, couldn't decide, so it picked both. I tried telling myself, "hey, this ain't dim sum, m*therf*cker, make up my mind!". Eventually, my sheets were soaking wet with sweat, and since wet sheets are never not disgusting, I got up.
  • Or rather, I tried to get up. That's when I realized how much pain I was in. I felt like I'd been punched in the face, only all over my whole body. My damn eyelashes hurt. With great effort and much moaning and groaning, I stood up and almost immediately felt like passing out. So i sat on the side of the bed to get myself together. I honestly don't know how long that was. If I had to guess, I'd say it was about 45 minutes. Figuring if I passed out, nobody would know for days, during which the cats would eat me, I decided to go to the hospital.
  • I don't remember much about the hospital at all. I don't know how long it took to get admitted, I don't know how many forms I signed, I couldn't tell you what my doctor looked like. I remember hearing "pneumonia", "fluid in the lungs" and "fever". I remember being in a hospital bed with tubes in my nose and IVs in my arm. There was a tv in the room, on the National Geographic channel. I think they were talking about Niagara Falls. The bed had a steel rod right down the middle and I tried shifting a few inches either way from time to time to try to spread the agony around my whole back. I also remember hospital staff people laughing. That might be one of those things that didn't really happen.
  • The next morning, I felt somewhat better, meaning I felt as lousy as I had before I got to the hospital but not as bad as I had felt during the night. A doctor, or a nurse or somebody (honestly, I don't know the difference) said the fluid in the lungs was under control and that I'd be on some powerful antibiotics. However, they were reluctant to release me because the fever wasn't going down as quickly as they wanted it to. At that point, (I think) I remember trying to get in touch with anybody I could to take care of the cats, because they don't want to hear excuses when it comes to missing meal time. If the doctor had called them on the phone to explain my situation, they would have said something like, "Oh no, that's terrible when do we eat? How bad is when do we eat? Do you think he's going to be when do we eat?". I know I contacted at least two people but have no idea what I said or what they said back. But a couple of hours later, they saw some progress and sent me home.
  • I spent all the time between then and now either in bed, the bathroom or the kitchen drinking water and orange juice and popping pills. I had crazy, crazy dreams, most of which I'm glad were not true...although, it was pretty fun to have an invisible flying Japanese dog. I was visited by lots of people, most of which either haven't been alive for a long time, were never real in the first place or had strange characteristics (you know, like orange skin, an impossibly high voice and/or spider legs) that I'd never noticed before.
  • Today, I'm still sore, thick-headed, alternating between sweats and chills and still...somehow...coughing up stuff. But at least I'm coherent and people I went to high school with aren't hovering outside my bedroom window taunting me. Plus, I have the new side effect of being really, really hungry while not wanting to eat anything. I'm not complaining though because it could definitely be worse. When I made the big move from the bed to the couch earlier today, I turned on the tv and the first thing that came on was a re-run of the old Bernie Mac show. So there's that.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Party out of bounds

"Does anybody know you're here? This house of ill-repute..." - Prince, 'Rockhard in a Funky Place'

Last week, I went to a Lightning game and had parked in Ybor at The Super-Secret Totally Free Parking Lot Where There Are Dozens Of Meters But Nobody Ever Checks Them (tested and proven true, and I'm not telling where it is) and hopped on the streetcar. That's where I struck up a conversation with a nice husband and wife couple who told me they had moved to Tampa to own and operate a business. They had been in town since August, but had been working so hard that this was their first opportunity to get out and explore the area. I shared some local trivia with them and just before I disembarked at the Forum, they invited me to a Valentine's Day party at their new business. I didn't have plans, so I said "sure, where is it?"

The wife assured me more than once that there would be "lots of nice, single girls to meet". And even though I doubted the veracity of every single word in that statement (with the possible exception of 'of'), I had already decided I was in. I don't currently have a so-called "bucket list" but I think that if I ever start one and 'Attend a Valentine's day party at a porno palace' is on there, I'll look back and feel pretty stupid for turning down this opportunity so I said, yes, absolutely, I will be there. Here are my observations:
  • First things first, at no point did I witness (or participate in) any illegal or even socially inappropriate behavior (with one slight, notable exception, listed below).
  • I walked in and the couple recognized me immediately. The wife yelled out, "Hockey guy!" If you're going to walk into an adult book store and be greeted like Norm on 'Cheers', that's not so bad. At least it wasn't "Diaper guy!" or "Barnyard guy!" or "Guy who comes in once a month and buys the stuff we're not allowed to display guy". Or "Reverend!" or "Mom!" for that matter.
  • The place has a billiard room and that's where the party was held. It really was quite nice, with four full size pool tables and cushy leather couches around the outside. Oh yeah, and two big-screen televisions showing porn. And something else...what was it...oh yes, a swingset, the likes of which you (probably) wouldn't find in any playground or suburban backyard.
  • People weren't huddled around and watching the porn. It was just on in the background, like music. The concept of ambient porn was not something for which I was prepared.
  • One of the pool tables was covered with a vinyl tarp and was holding several dishes of food. I might have been expecting "Eyes Wide Shut" but it was more like "Mouths Wide Open". It really was quite a spread buffet. I shouldn't have eaten dinner first.
  • Only one person played pool while I was there and I believe he was the world's lousiest pool player. He just spent the whole time pushing his balls around the table with a stick and I'm sincerely sorry that I just typed that.
  • I firmly believe that every experience is an opportunity to learn something about yourself. For instance, I learned that I am utterly incapable of ingesting banana pudding while in the presence of big-screen porn. So there's that.
  • As I predicted, when I got there the ratio of men to women was about 12/1, and she was some guy's wife. I talked to her for a little while and found out that she and her husband are regular customers. They go there a couple of times a week. I was sort of curious about how places like that stay open. With the abundance of free pornography available on the internet, who pays for it? I was going to ask her that when she took her shirt off. Before I could say "Oh! And there you are. Hello, ma'am. Are you and your sister enjoying the opera this evening?", she threw on a silky red top and announced that they were off to visit the theatres.
  • Later another husband and wife showed up, the wife wearing what could best be described as a costume. They too were regular customers and eager to visit the theatres. These two interactions answered my unasked question.
  • I think the most notable thing about the whole evening was, believe it or not, the normalcy of the people there. I mean the appearance and demeanor. Aside from some attire (or lack thereof), there was nobody that would have been out of place waiting in line at the post office or in the stands at a Little League game. Certainly nobody you would look at and immediately avoid as some sort of deviant. I'm not sure whether that in itself is comforting or disturbing.
  • Actually, there was music playing as well. Really loud techno pop and, for some reason, the soundtrack from "Saturday Night Fever". I mean, it was Saturday night, I guess that makes it all right and that's two Prince references in one post so I'll stop now. I was just glad the music wasn't synched to what was on the televisions because I'm not sure I'd have been able to carry on a conversation during 'More Than A Woman', let alone eat banana pudding. As it was, I left after the third time 'Staying Alive' played. I figured that was as good a time as any for Hockey Guy to make his exit.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lorna Live

I have to believe that the same people who consider sitting in their car and having a bag of hot, salted lard shoved at them through a bulletproof window by a sullen teenager with her boyfriend's name tattooed on her neck to be 'dining out' are the same people who invest themselves so heavily in the 'entertainers' on "American Idol". Otherwise, it's hard for me to understand why people would choose to plant themselves in front of their tv three or four times a week while someone who actually writes their own music and plays an instrument is performing live right around the corner from them.

For instance, at this moment in Ybor City on a Friday night, I'm listening to the critically acclaimed Lorna Bracewell and there aren't 10 people here. Lorna isn't exactly an unknown. Often compared to Ani DeFranco, she is well-established in the Tampa Bay area but I'd never seen her play before. I got here early, thinking I'd be fighting for a seat in the rafters and instead, the place is practically empty. Oh well. I'm not complaining. After all, I'm not the one missing original material plus an extended acoustic medley of "All Along The Watchtower", "When Doves Cry", "SexyBack", "Kryptonite", "Last Dance With Mary Jane" among others performed by a talented singer/songwriter/musician who isn't sponsored by Pop Tarts.

A short conversation about the feminine ideal

"Look at this girl in Playboy!"

"The blonde? Yeah, she's very pretty."

"Pretty?!? That's her! My dream girl! My whole life, I have always wanted a girlfriend who looks exactly like that! And here she is, right in front of me, in Playboy magazine."

"I thought you told me you were attracted to brunettes."

"Yeah, but I mean with no clothes on."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Paradise By The Jumbotron Light

So I was at the Lightning game the other night (we lost, 3-1) and happened to find myself on the Kiss Cam (remember what I said about the people who work the cameras at sporting events?). If you've attended a sporting event, you've probably seen this. It's a little time waster they run during time-outs where they spot couples in the stands, throw their pictures up on the scoreboard, which is their cue to smooch. It's a crowd pleaser because it's cute and hilarity often ensues when some of the following scenarios occur:

  • A kiss. 75% of the time, this is what happens. Typical crowd reaction: Polite applause.

  • An elderly couple is spotted. Unlike 90% of today's generation of self-important jackasses, most older people are not conditioned to staring at a video screen whenever one is present just in case they should suddenly appear on it. So they are often caught unaware and need the prodding of 20,000 people to glance up and see themselves so they can get down on it. Typical crowd reaction: "Awwwww!"

  • The couple refuse to kiss. Maybe they're brother and sister. Maybe they don't even know each other. Regardless, they're not going to be coerced into making out for the entertainment of the gathered multitudes. Typical crowd reaction: "Boooooo!"

  • They show two guys (usually wearing the colors of the opposing team). The implication being that fans of the other team are gay. Get it? If the two guys are good sports, they laugh and accept the hoots and jeers in the spirit of fun. If they're exceptionally good sports, they may make a move to actually kiss each other, earning even louder hoots and jeers, but with admiration for going along with the gag. Typical crowd reaction: "Ha ha! Whatta coupla homos!" (while making a mental note to be very careful about what they wear if they ever attend a road game)

  • Schtick. Such as when one of the two people reacts in an extremely enthusiastic manner to the opportunity to kiss the other person, to the extent that they look to the heavens and mouth the words "Thank You, God!" before lunging out of their seat to smother the person sitting next to them, especially if that other person is not prepared to improvise an act of their own. Typical crowd reaction: "Woooo! Get that, boy!!"

I'll leave it up to you to figure out which category I fell into (a gentleman doesn't discuss the details of such matters) but I will say that while this probably ranks second only to game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals as far as greatest nights I've spent in that building, my dear friend T-Riffic may never attend another sporting event in her life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Party like a rock star! is the only headline I can come up with

You can totally see how he was able to pull this off. Take one look at that picture and you immediately peg him as the drummer in a rock band. Either that or maybe the guy who rents out buckets of balls down at the driving range.

(From Tampa Bay's 10 ) "Clearwater Police have charged Eric Hook, 48, with grand theft auto after detectives say Hook stole and crashed a 2002 Corvette (Monday) night, all while posing as the drummer for the rock band, 'Foreigner.'
According to the police report, Hook used the name, 'Cory James,' and the rock performer's persona, to befriend New Port Richey resident Norma Rutledge.
Rutledge, 47, allegedly met Hook at the Tampa Marriott and the two eventually ended up together at the Clearwater Beach Hilton.
Hook was then able to con the valet at the Hilton to provide him access to Rutledge's 2002 Chevy Corvette, without her knowledge or consent.
He ended up crashing the car in the area of Gulf to Bay Boulevard and McMullen Booth Road, and fled the crash scene on foot."

Blown away

This could have major ramifications on the people who make Kleenex as well as the entire expulsion of the various forms of unwanted,bodily effluvia industrial complex.
And don't "ewww!" me. This is important stuff you need to know about!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mushrooms for the new age

I used to think that the first people to ingest mushrooms were really living on the edge. Consider, someone had to show up and say "Hey, check it out. I just found this fungal growth underneath a rock I found beneath a pile of manure. I'm seriously thinking about popping it into my mouth and eating it." To which someone in the crowd replied, "I wouldn't do that. I know a guy who did and he went insane for 20 minutes." To which another in the crowd said, "That's nothing. I know a woman who did that and just keeled over and died." And the first guy said, "I appreciate the concern, but I'm on a personal quest to find something that will taste amazing with singed animal flesh."

However, thanks to the American pharmaceutical industry, I now know those guys were pussies.
Consider the depression treatment aripiprazole, better known as "Abilify". Isn't that a great name? It means the ability to have abilities! Who wouldn't want that? Well, if you're a depressed daredevil and you're thinking about getting on board, know that you're putting yourself at risk for any and/or all of the following side effects:
  • Headaches -- in up to 30 percent of people
  • Anxiety -- up to 20 percent
  • Insomnia -- up to 19 percent
  • Nausea -- up to 16 percent
  • Constipation -- up to 13 percent
  • Vomiting -- up to 12 percent
  • Dizziness -- up to 11 percent.

Some other common side effects (occurring in 2 percent to 10 percent of people) include:

  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Drowsiness
  • Shakiness (tremors)
  • Weight gain
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Joint pain
  • Throat pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain
  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion
  • Increased salivation
  • Swelling or water retention in the arms, legs, or feet
  • Signs of diabetes, such as: high blood sugar, increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger
  • Large or rapid weight gain
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Dizziness or fainting when going from a sitting or lying-down position to standing
  • Feelings of internal restlessness or jitteriness
  • Any abnormal muscle movements (these movements can become permanent if Abilify is not stopped quickly)
  • A painful erection of the penis that does not go away (priapism)
  • Signs or symptoms of neuroleptic malignant syndrome, which can include: A high fever, stiff muscles, confusion, irregular pulse or blood pressure, an increased heart rate (tachycardia), sweating, irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • Signs of an allergic reaction, including: Unexplained rash, hives, itching, unexplained swelling, wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing

Side effects that occur in less than 2 percent of people taking Abilify include but are not limited to:


HOLY DAMN!! That's an entire smorgasbord of disorders, ranging all the way from the socially-unfortunate-therefor-highly-amusing to what-I-wouldn't-give-to-just-be-depressed-again. Three out of ten (a batting average that will get you into the starting line-up of the all-star game) people are going to get headaches and the word "pain" is mentioned separately four different times, including once all by itself (which makes me envision a research subject telling a doctor, "Pain, damn it! It hurts! That's all I can tell you! I'm in pain!! For the love of God, stop asking me questions now and help me!"). You can get pimples, weight gain, farts, anxiety, unwanted erections and suicidal thoughts (or as I like to call it, The Adolescence Highlight Reel). Now, far be it from me to deny people anything that helps them cope with life's difficulties, but are we sure we couldn't have kept this off the market for a couple more months in an effort to remove just a couple of these little glitches or is this the absolute best we can do? If so, I need a pill to help me deal with the fact that we're not allowed to have lawn darts, but this can be sold as a medicine.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sleep soundly, residents of Temple Terrace

In the alley, over by the curb, between a storage trailer and a dumpster and on the verge of being buried beneath dead leaves, the mighty Temple Terrace Police S.W.A.T. mobile unit stands ever vigilant...
This is the vehicle that will come to the rescue if
gigantic, crocodile-eating snakes invade the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club.
Dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-dah, dah-dah-DAH! indeed!!

Friday, February 06, 2009

You think you have it bad now?

You have cell phones. You have computers. You have hundreds of free cable channels. What you don't have are gigantic, crocodile-eating snakes.
You're welcome.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


It would appear that one of my all-time favorite Tampa hangouts is no more. The legendary Proud Lion Pub, which had been around for almost 40 years is closed. The guy who owned it for the last five months or so is probably sitting somewhere (most likely, another bar) shaking his head sadly and blaming the economy for this unfortunate circumstance. But if he really wants to see who's to blame, all he has to do is raise up his head and look in the mirror.
I don't know what it is about jackasses who think they know the bar & restaurant business but there sure does seem to be a surplus of them. A note to future jackass wannabe entrepreneurs: hanging around in bars and restaurants does not qualify you to own and manage one. The only way to be successful in that racket is to bust your ass around the clock, every day of the week. Don't believe me? Ask the owners of all the successful grazing areas that you enjoy and see if their stories don't sound almost identical. The only thing this particular jackass, whose name is Clark Briggs (yeah, I know. Seriously, how messed up is that?), put effort into was driving away good people, loyal customers and equally loyal employees. Food that had been excellent started tasting like stuff that Banquet wouldn't serve in their tv dinners. Waitstaff that had been friendly and skilled were replaced by people who were utterly and entirely incompetent in all areas. Live entertainment was eliminated in favor of a couple of new televisions (all jackass restaurateurs are of the belief that the inclusion of at least two televisions automatically makes any place a "sports bar", even if those televisions are frequently tuned to re-runs of "Law & Order"). A person I know did some work for the Proud Lion Pub, in large part because she liked the place so much (from the good will earned by the previous owners and staff), and she's now left holding the bag for expenses incurred, which is obviously money she'll never see.
Sure, shit happens and things are tough all over. But it's just a shame because this is yet another instance where it simply didn't have to happen. No business, and certainly no restaurant, sticks around that long if they aren't doing things the right way. And all it took to wipe that away was a few weeks of doing things the wrong way. To destroy an establishment that was so, less than half a year is pretty remarkable, in a way. Kind of the same way that pissing away a $5.6 trillion budget surplus in a year is remarkable.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Ducks Who Walk

I don't get ducks.
When it comes to getting from point A to point B, ducks are a triple threat. They can fly, swim and walk.. they're like the US Marine Corps of the animal kingdom, only without the fanatical commitment to a sense of duty. In the apartment complex where I live there are...I'm going to estimate conservatively here...about 17, 582 ducks hanging around at any given time, so I have plenty of opportunity to observe them. And what I don't understand is why, with the ability to swim and fly, they spend so much time walking. Of those three abilities, walking is what they appear worst at. When they fly, they soar majestically in the sky. When they swim, they're glide effortlessly through the water. When they walk, they look like drunks with their shoes on the wrong feet. Have you seen them walk? Ridiculous! There's a sign here in the complex that warns drivers to watch for ducks. It's not near one of the ponds. It's not on a 15' tall pole. It's at eye level near the street. Why? Why should I, the ground-bound stupid human pedestrian person ever have to watch out for one of nature's most amazing animals? What the hell, ducks?!?
They're blessed with the gift of flight!
Who doesn't wish they could fly? I know I do! If I could fly, I'd fly everywhere. To work, to the store, to the different rooms in my apartment. Instead of sitting in a dumb chair writing this, I'd be hovering a few inches off the ground, just because I could.
They swim like olympic champions!
Here's what I think the ducks must have said to Noah: "Listen, we really appreciate your kind offer to escape the catastrophic world-wide flood that's going to completely wipe out civilization and all living creatures left behind by inviting two of us to join you on your home-made boat. That's really very considerate on behalf of, well, a couple of us. And even though we possess a skill set that means floods, regardless of how big they may be, really don't pose much of a threat to us, we're happy to accept. While we, and by "we" I mean every single last one of us ducks, could easily bob alongside the ark, paddling when we feel like it or just effortlessly floating (and that's when we're not flying around to break up the monotony), which would free up space for a couple of other people or species or something, we really like what you've done to the decks and look forward to walking around on them."
But no, they'd rather walk.
Man, I just do not get ducks.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Halleleujah!! Can you hear me now?

About a month ago, I was having some behavioral problems with my phone. It was turning itself off at inopportune times (ie: when I didn't want it to) and then not turning back on. I thought it might be a dying battery but was afraid it was much worse. I called my local AT & T store and they said bring it in for a check-up. "Well, the good news is it's not the battery", was the first thing the saleshole told me. "The bad news is, you see this red dot? It's supposed to be white." If you've never heard of this before, open the battery compartment of your cell phone. Somewhere in there, you should see a small white dot if it's been kept safe and dry. If it's red, it means it got wet at some point and will probably start to become unruly or explode if it isn't already. "But that's impossible," I said. "I've never gotten it wet." It's true. I've tried to think of instances where it might have been sitting close to the sink and gotten splashed or been hit by an errant raindrop or something and I honestly can't come up with anything. "I don't know what to tell you, Boss. The red dot don't lie." I was actually fine right up until this point. But I hate when someone I don't know, especially if they're younger than me, decides to give me a nickname. Chief, Buddy, Ace...and especially Boss. Unless you're digging a ditch while chained to 40 other guys and I'm standing over you wearing a pair of mirrored shades, holding a shotgun and denying you a drink of water, I don't want you calling me "Boss", okay?
"Great. So now what?", I asked. He told me that for being such a loyal customer, I was entitled to a "free upgrade", which meant I had the privilege of buying a new phone of equal or greater value and all I had to pay for was the phone itself. I wondered where the "free" part came in. "You don't have to pay the upgrade fee, Boss!". Great. That's like being pinned beneath the flaming wreckage of your car after a massive pile-up and the first thing the responding emergency personnel tell you is you don't have to pay for parking.
There was nothing in the store that wouldn't have set me back at least $65 and I had no intention of paying a penny more than $50, since that was the amount I would pay if I just reported it stolen and claimed it on my insurance (a fact I didn't mention aloud, so I could play that card later if necessary).
"Can I just hang on to this one and see if straightens itself out? I mean, it kinda works now..." Sure, you can...", he chuckled, half to himself and half for the benefit of the other guy working there who smirked in agreement, "but it's not like electronic devices like this are designed to perform better after getting wet, you know." "Yeah, you little prick, I know how electrical stuff works. Asshole." I wanted to say that, but didn't. Instead I said "Okay, I'll see how it goes and maybe I'll stop by again in a week or so." I was dismissed with a self-assured 'yeah, you'll be back' smile and an invitation to "have a good one, Boss".
Well, guess what? Apparently I do have a good, that is! Because the annoying off/on activity started to decrease over the next few days to the point where, a month later, it's performing as well as it ever did. I checked and the dot inside is still red. But other than that, it's as good as new. So I don't know if the whole red dot thing is bogus or if I have a phone with the tenacity of a pitbull. Either way, I wouldn't even think of getting an "upgrade", free or otherwise, now.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl wrap-up

Wow what a game! For two years in a row, the NFL Championship actually managed to live up to it's overwhelming hype, something that's happened about five times in 43 years (and twice in the four times the game has been played in Tampa). This, from a match-up between teams that if it had been a regular season Monday night game, would have inspired very few people outside of Pennsylvania and Arizona to stay up late.
Since I wrote exclusively about the madness going on around town leading up to The Big Day...and since I didn't leave the confines of my apartment yesterday (which I may not have been able to do anyway, since I live less than two miles from the stadium) I'm going to give my opinion on the presentation of the game itself as seen on my television.
  • When I found out that there would be at least one commercial in 3-D and I wouldn't be able to get glasses (see above), I briefly considered not watching the game.
  • Since I live directly due north of the stadium, it's always fun to watch the military flyovers right before the game starts. With the delay, at about the time you see the jets flying over the stadium on tv, they're actually flying over my house. Plus, it freaks the cats out, which is always good.
  • I think the era of the really clever and innovative Super Bowl ad might be over. Honestly, when was the last time we saw one that was really good? Bud-Weis-Er Frogs, anyone?This year, there were a few that were funny but not all that special. And I'm getting really tired of Danica Patrick ho'ing herself out for
  • Exactly how stupid does NBC think the audience is? Several times it was announced that the half time show...excuse me, the Bridgestone Half Time Show featuring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band! would be coming up at half time.
  • I think it's finally time for John Madden to at least consider retirement. Regarding the incredible 100 yard interception return by the Steelers James Harrison that concluded the half, Madden said, "James Harrison runs like James Brown!" What in the hell does that mean?!? Was he saying that Harrison's running evoked memories of the amazing dance moves by The Godfather of Soul? Or was he saying that Soul Brother Number One was renowned for his Olympic caliber sprint times? Neither one makes sense. Hey John, we know your whole schtick is being blustery and emphatic but the words you use to express yourself are still supposed to make some kind of sense, ok?!?
  • Speaking of that half time show, people seemed to either love it or hate it. Personally, I'm not the world's biggest Springsteen fan, but I thought it was pretty good. Definitely better than last year's show with Tom Petty, and I am a Petty fan. Plenty of energy and the band sounded good. What do you want from a football half time show? Let's say that the scale you use to measure the quality of the show starts with Up With People and works up to the FAMU Marching 100, it would look like this:

Then I would rank The Boss's performance about here: Of course, it should be noted that the REAL scale still looks like this (just sayin'):
  • But as a friend pointed out, why do so many artists think a big production always needs a gospel choir? And is there some kind of law that requires any group of five or more African Americans who want to get together and sing to don choir robes? Unnecessary and cheesy.
  • I tend to root for underdogs in any contest where one of my teams isn't playing, so I was kind of disappointed that the Cardinals lost. As a Rays, Lightning and Bucs fan (three teams that were considered to have no chance of ever winning anything, but did), I know exactly how Arizona fans have felt during this stretch, so I would have liked to have seen them win. Plus, quite frankly, a lot of the Steeler fans I encountered last week were obnoxious. Not Eagle fan obnoxious, but still pretty bad.
  • Nice to see that Joe Namath didn't perform any of his patented wacky, drunken sideline hijinks during the trophy presentation. Nice to see that NBC didn't let him speak.
  • As I'm writing this, the game and 2008-09 season have been over for about twenty four hours. That means ESPN will start comprehensive 2009 draft coverage about this time tomorrow.