Thursday, June 06, 2013

Working Retail With Cocktail In Hand

"Working Retail With Cocktail In Hand"
(by FLT3 with apologies to Noel Coward)

When ringing the clothes
Or hankies for the nose
Of the lady with the charge plate in hand,
I often reinforce myself
More specifically, re-course myself
Towards the oldest respite in the land...

A slug of gin
Will quite do in
Any of the workaday blues.
And a beer surreptitious
Is always delicious
While dealing with the afternoon to-do's.

From dustman to surgeon
They all must submerge in
The claret from time to time,
And be not perjorative
Re the powers restorative
Of a lightly chilled vodka and lime...

Working Retail With Cocktail In Hand
Is what maintains civility
To the best of ability
Throughout this sceptered land.
'Tis no jest or joke,
That a bourbon and coke
Keeps a smile on the face and a pistol out of hand.

When an elderly matron is shouting with anger
And you wish she were bludgeoned or banned...
Don't bother to ask,
Take a nip from your flask,
Working Retail With Cocktail In Hand...

Eggroll With That...?

Today I visited one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants for lunch. I would tell you the name of it, but quite honestly, I don't recall. I'm not entirely certain I've ever known it. (I have a tendency to refer to most Chinese places as "Happy Chinese.") Anyway, as I waited for my order, I began to think about the striking similarities among most such establishments...

First, there are rules of classification for Happy Chinese places. With very few exceptions, they can not be Chinese buffets. While the food provided at both is usually quite similar, buffets occupy a different sphere. Most buffets also have several extremely random offerings that have only the most tangential (if any) connection to standard Chinese fare. While I certainly enjoy vanilla pudding, pigs-in-blankets and spaghetti, it always seems a bit unsettling to contemplate how they might have wound up alongside the General Tso's chicken and sesame shrimp. Call me paranoid, but I often wonder if the cooks sometimes bring in things from home that were about to spoil. One buffet of my acquaintance didn't even bother to remove the pizza from the DiGiornio's box before nestling it snugly amongst the french fries, bacon-wrapped chicken livers, and (hand to God) Froot Loops. There was also a salad bar, which offered standard Westernized salad makings...and what must have been pickled squid. Or octopus. (All I know is that if it has tentacles and suckers, include me out.) I am sorry to say that this fine temple of gastronomic delights is no longer amongst the operating. I miss it.

Chinese buffets also distinguish themselves from Happy Chinese places (and I use "distinguish" loosely) in the realm of desserts. The soft-serve ice cream machine is de rigeur, as is the assortment of crappy cookies. Crappy does not mean inedible or even unpleasant, but that's the only way to describe them. There's usually the crumbly, dry teacake-like treat with the almond sliver pressed into the center. This may be meant to suggest almond flavor, but do not be fooled...this item has no almond flavor, or any flavor, for that matter. It's just a sawdusty disc that multiplies in your mouth as you chew, much in the manner of raw carrots. (A thimble-sized nibble will have the approximate dimensions and digestability of a bowling ball with a goiter when swallowed.) There's also the vaguely spice-flavored windmill cookie, which I must confess holds a sentimental spot in my heart. When I was a kid, I would have sworn that my grandparents were the only people in the world who had those cookies. We never had them at home, nor did anyone else I knew. (Come to think of it, my grandparents were the only people I knew ever to have those big marshmallow peanuts that tasted like Pepto-Bismol or the middling-grade caramels with the white used-to-be-creamy centers.) Perhaps there is a secret market where such things are sold...a market known only to the aged. I live in fear of the day when someone says "Come on,'s time you knew where this place is...oh, and please pick up some ice milk and Cream of Wheat while you're there..."

Anyway, I do digress. Also among the desserts can be found Jello in a wide variety of primary colors, but absolutely no variety in flavor. (Each could be described as "sweet and jello-y", and that's about it.) Of course, the raison d'etre of just about any buffet worth its salt (of which there is plenty, BTW) is The Biscuit Thing. The Biscuit Thing is, quite simply, a canned biscuit which has been pan-warmed and doused in granulated sugar. It's a blobby carb-wad, a mass of semi-cooked dough which carries enough sugar in a single bite to make an entire platoon of third-graders uncontrollably hyper until puberty. It has no real taste other than sugar, and that wears off after a second, yet I have seen reasonable, intelligent adults come to blows over the last Biscuit Thing. There may have even been a stabbing or two.

Happy Chinese is also not the same as Mall Chinese. Manchu Wok is a taste unlike any other, always reminding me of baked ham. No matter what I order, it tastes like baked ham. The entree, the rice, the soft drink, the fortune cookie...they all taste like Christmas dinner meets school lunchroom food. The staff at Manchu Wok is seldom Chinese or even Asian. The one in Birmingham's Brookwood Village Mall, for example, frequently had a large afro-sporting black man working alongside a petite hispanic woman. While I applaud the cultural harmony this bespeaks, I would be lying if I said it gave me much confidence in the authenticity of the cuisine (as if the corporate homogeneity hadn't already taken care of that.) Mall Chinese is usually tasty, but not really even in the same world as regular Chinese food. It is sui generis. It has no relatives.

Nor is Happy Chinese the same as Nice Chinese. Nice Chinese usually involves tablecloths, matching cutlery, unchipped plates and chopsticks offered without waiting for them to be requested. Nice Chinese usually has some of the decorative trappings of Happy Chinese, but without the intensity and passion. Nice Chinese places are usually streamlined, hip, and perhaps even a bit glossy. There may be a gold dragon at the hostess' station, but most likely the rest of the decor will be vaguely IKEA-ish or extremely sleek and minimalist, as will most of the patrons.

Moving on, now that we have established what a Happy Chinese place is not, let us proceed to the discussion of what it is...

A Happy Chinese place is usually, but not exclusively, in a sketchy-to-downright- bad neighborhood. This is not snobbery, but simply fact. One doesn't have to be terribly haughty to realize that the badly-scrawled "No Loitering Or Begging" signs and quintuple-lock doors so often adorning such places are not to be found at Maxim's or Lutece. Neither is one likely to encounter a bold CASH ONLY written on a lined notecard and affixed with yellowing tape to the front door of The Savoy Grill. If you're wondering if a certain bistro is, indeed, of the Happy Chinese variety, look around the parking lot. Can you see an auto parts store, check-cashing/payday loan place, coin laundry and/or down-at-heel liquor store? Pardner, you're in Happy Chinese country.

Once inside, one will quickly discern whether this is a takeaway or sit-down Happy Chinese. If sit-down, expect a garish assortment of Chinese kitsch that looks as if it came from a touring production of THE KING AND I produced by Swedes or Australians who had only the most passing of familiarity with Chinese culture. (Yes, I know THE KING AND I took place in Siam. That's my point.) Twangy sitar music will fill the air, usually a notch or two louder than would be ideal. The booths will be well-worn, but for the most part, the whole dining area will be quite clean. The hostess will either be ridiculously sexy in a bored/out of it/stoned sort of way or she will be approximately 375 years old. Either way, she will mumble in an unintelligible accent, presumably asking a question or offering some pleasant comment. (I have found that a smile and a cheerful "a-ha!" will generally suffice as a response.)

At your table will be one of those molded metal contraptions which hold two small tureens, one containing a pinkish duck sauce, the other a flat yellow mustard which will open your sinuses and relieve you of your breath for a few moments. The same Chinese Zodiac placemat that we have all seen in countless other Happy Chinese places will await you, as will the obligatory chuckle/comment should someone in your party happen to have been born in the year of the cock. Do not be this person, please. The service will be friendly and efficient, and it will be obvious that there are several "regulars" at nearby tables. These regulars always include an overweight businessman in a shirt and tie that are a bit too snug, a couple of pretty women from the bank/office/department store down the street, a policeman or two and an elderly couple. The wait staff will make much more of a fuss over these people than they will over you. Don't take it personally.

The takeaway Happy Chinese will consist of a single room, the kitchen being sectioned off by a flimsy pressboard wall which was clearly slapped up without much attention to detail or true lines. Pictures which bear no real resemblance to the dishes they supposedly represent will line the wall. Judging by the film quality and overall look, there was a large Chinese meal cooked somewhere around 1975. It was photographed, the results were offered to lazy  restauranteurs for a pittance, and the same plate of shrimp in lobster sauce is seen adorning Happy Chinese Takeaways from Maine to Miami. The menu itself will be printed in microscopic font on a single sheet of paper, about the size of a placemat. Anticipate lots of choices, but please be advised that a vast majority of the patrons will only order the 5 or 6 most popular items, so don't take this as an opportunity to explore strange and exotic new tastes. Stick with Mongolian beef and chicken wings unless you want to befuddle the staff.

Value is given high priority at Happy Chinese takeaways. Today, for example, I paid about seven dollars for enough food for three meals. I ate until I was stuffed and made only a medium-sized dent in the pile of food crammed into my lidded styrofoam box. What makes it so surprising is that the food is almost of Nice Chinese quality. (Take out the bulletproof glass separating the counter clerk from the patrons and insist that the kitchen staff all wear shirts, and you would have a hard time telling them apart.)

Another distinguishing characteristic of takeaway Happy Chinese is to be found in what I will generously (damn near philanthropically) call "customer relations." Unlike the borderline-obsequiousness found at sit-down places, the service at takeaway Happy Chinese is usually of the shouted "WHAT YOU WANT???" variety. The language barrier will be most pronounced here, and if you even indicate that you might not understand what the person taking your order is trying to say, he or she will simply say it louder. And faster. And with a palpable sense of hatred. Again, don't be's part of the experience.

Across the board, the fortune cookies will be the same. Vaguely lemony, hard as rocks and impossible to resist. Bon appetit!


In Case Anyone Was Wondering...

A bottle of ketchup with a thin but definite layer at the bottom. A knife can touch it, but can't move laterally because of the shape of the bottle. Smacking the bottom dislodges nothing, and a tiny drip of ketchup juice only reminds you of what lies teasingly close.

Attempting to access a website via phone, running into multiple "this app doesn't support that activity" roadblocks, forgetting an old password and/or login name and then running out of battery just when you think you have it figured out. Then having a fairly good idea on how to fix it, but being too frustrated/bored/tired to start over.

When the game of Monopoly has gone on much too long, and you're beyond done, yet one person insists that the game be played to the bitter end. You're sitting on Ventnor Avenue (mortgaged), one Railroad, and Marvin Gardens, you have just enough money to not go bankrupt for at least thirty minutes, and you're having dinner/drinks after the game. You can hear the ice tinkling and smell the food.

Getting in line behind the older lady at the grocery store. You know the one I mean...110 if she's a day, smells like White Shoulders and vanilla, moves at about the pace of a drugged snail. And has coupons. And checks the receipt before she moves. And finds that she was overcharged three cents on Circus Peanuts or tinned pears. And requires the services of three managers and a priest before the three pennies can be refunded. And the countergirl is out of pennies. And there are five people behind you.

Trying to explain the internet to an older person.

Having a younger person explain the internet.

Any airport experience post 9-11.

Walking across a muddy field in rubber boots about half a size too large. One foot rests on an insubstantial pile of muck, sinking slowly into the mire, only to be pulled out with effort. The result is just sludge, and any forward momentum requires pushing through even more glop. After a while it all seems like too much trouble, but now you're too committed to the walk. So you shlorp and gurlunk and floosh your way through, stopping every foot or two to retrieve a lost boot.

Trying to get back to the hotel after New Year's Eve in a large city. Take one step, stand still for three minutes. Take two more steps, stand still for five. Sometimes inspiration strikes, yet to no avail. The taxi you saw turned out to be off-duty, the cozy bar where you thought you could rest for a minute just locked the door, and the subway station that has been a beacon for half an hour has been closed for repairs since yesterday. And you have to pee. Urgently.

Contemplating an event, holiday, or experience that's about six weeks away, knowing that you have to do something difficult and frustrating between now and then. Extra points if the unpleasant task will somehow facilitate the reward.

Trying to repair or replace something involving a spring, more than one latch, and a specific order of events that must be followed in order to make the object work. Without instructions or a diagram. Outside during the summer. With sweat getting in your eyes and something itchy on your back that you can't scratch until you finish.

...that's what writer's block feels like.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yet Another New Beginning...

"A shark bite a Howell? He wouldn't dare!"
-Thurston Howell III

Happy New Year to all of my readers! I do hope my recent lapse in posting has not cost me any of my admittedly few followers. As is often the case, I open this little missive with a renewed vow to blog daily. (After the less-than-stellar shelf life of last year's "Julie and Julia"-esqe effort, I will refrain from placing any real promises here...I'll just try to write more and more often.)

I am now in week three of my long-term sub job at McAdory High School. (Actually, as I write, my Advanced Theatre kids are here with me in the library researching their period duet scenes.) So far so good...some of my classes are more enthusiastic about theatre than others, but for the most part I have a very good group. I am particularly fond of my advanced much talent and such good attitudes! I will definitely miss them come April.

The holidays were delightful, capped off by a week in London with my very good friend, Goldstein. We saw a few shows, a few of the touristy spots (we had both been before, so we didn't feel the need to see all the first-time attractions) and the inside of enough pubs to keep everything always, just breathing the air of The Motherland was good for my soul. :-) God Save The Queen!

Upon return, I worked for a week and then missed a week due to Vertigo/Inner Ear trouble. I had never suffered from such before and hope never to again. Imagine spending a week on a Tilt-A-Whirl, or of being extremely drunk without any of the fun associated with that particular endeavour. Yeah, it's bad...

At any rate, Yours Faithfully is back at the helm and feeling much better, if not 100%.

On the theatre front, I am looking forward to getting started on IT'S A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING, which I am directing in April. I think I am also going to perform, which will be fun. As an audience member, I am seeing both JEWTOPIA and BUDDY HOLLY:THE MUSICAL this weekend, so much entertainment awaits me...I am helping out with SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK at MHS, while Melissa directs (no joke) THE PRINCESS AND THE PEE at Hueytown. We are doing our best to spread a love of the arts to the younger generation, which is a good thing. I am going to let my advanced kids watch CenterStage's THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE next week for a critique, which should be fun. I told them that they would get extra credit for praising my performance. Just kidding. Maybe. ;-)

That should bring my readership up to speed. Perhaps 2010 will be my most prolific year to date...we shall see...

In today's News From The Motherland...fewer eels in the Thames...


Saturday, November 14, 2009

DAMES In Dock...

Day 53: "Nobody can pull the wool over my eyes! Cashmere, maybe, but wool? Never!"
-Thurston Howell III

The last two nights have brought successful performances of DAMES AT SEA, and tonight concludes our all-to-brief run. I love doing shows at Hoover Library, but three performances just aren't always enough. C'est la vie...we still have one left tonight.

This afternoon I return to A CHRISTMAS STORY, with a 2pm rehearsal. Paul has done a tremendous amount of work during my time at sea, and I am excited about seeing all the progress that has been made. Who knows...maybe Ralphie will actually get that Red Ryder 200 shot carbine action range model air rifle...but the sunzabitchin Bumpuses will still let their mangy hounds run wild and that no good ding blang fuzzlewhizzin furnace will keep producing clinkers...

I love that show. :-)

In today's News From The issue with the BBC website. Will post two links next time...


Thursday, November 12, 2009

DAMES Sets Sail...

Day 52: "Of course, we'll be rescued! You don't expect Thurston Howell III to spend the rest of his life on an island without a stock ticker, do you? Not to mention a fox hunting season!"
-Thurston Howell III

Once again, I am attempting, dear readers, to resume daily blogging. Oh, to have a dollar for every time I have sworn to be more diligent with these scribblings...

Last night was final dress rehearsal for DAMES AT SEA, with a small invited audience of about 35 or 40 people. I am happy to report that all went very well, with the exception of two costume changes (both mine) that have to take place with lightning speed. Although I made it onstage, to call me anything but bedraggled and rumpled would be obscenely generous. I do believe the problem(s) have been solved, however, so tonight's opening should be quite successful.

SANTA IN SPACE is going well. The kids should love it, and there is enough cheeky humor in the script to keep the adults from falling asleep.

I have been very philosophical lately...the concept of sadness has been on my mind as I have been fighting off a bit of a funk. There are those among us (good and learned people, all) who view sadness as a chance for growth, inner knowledge, a greater texture of being, etc. I respect this outlook intellectually, but it is not for me.

My view on sadness is that it is a cancer on the soul and must be wiped out. Our lives are so waste a moment of the truly precious time we have been given is a sin, and sadness absolutely destroys the quality of the time we have on Earth. With apologies for the shallow philosophy, I have to quote the great philosopher Sally Bowles..."start by admitting from cradle to tomb isn't that long a stay..."

If sadness means growth, I'll stay ungrown. Take me to the island, strike up the orchestra, and bring on the dancing girls, falling coconuts, and spiffily-dressed upper-crust Englishmen (and women) singing about the Ascot Opening Race or histrionic Ohioan parents wondering what's the matter with kids today...I'm here to be happy.

And there it is. Feel free to disagree, but that's my viewpoint.

In today's News From The Motherland... a push to legalize...


Friday, November 06, 2009

Dance With Me...Or Not...

Day 51: "Cesar Romero would attend the opening of a napkin."
-Jim Backus

Well, once again, I have missed a day or two of blogging. C'est la vie, I suppose, but I do need to resume my daily scribblings. Now that my readership is in the low double-digits, I suppose I have an obligation to The Thinking Public. ;-)

Lots of fun things going on..."Dames At Sea" opens one week from yesterday, and last night we did a full run through without stopping, which is great. We now have time to polish and refine. If anyone is interested in seeing it (no pressure, just FYI) tickets are almost completely sold out for the (admittedly short) 3-performance run.

I am, despite my overall good feelings about the show, terribly concerned that my dancing abilities (or lack thereof) will be the one tiny flaw in an otherwise excellent production. Jack and Kim (my director and choreographer, respectively) keep insisting that I am making great improvement, they can tell that I am working, etc. etc. etc.... but let's be honest, friends. I have the coordination and physical grace of a drunken moose. George Wallace was a better dancer than I am. If a role calls for singing and acting, I'm your man...if the words "dance break," "second act ballet," or "anything more than a box step or a grapevine" are applicable to a given part, it's most likely going to be above my skill set...

Oh well, maybe The Captain was wounded in the Boer War and has a shattered fetlock or something. Perhaps that can be part of my back-story...

I also learned a lesson in stage combat safety this week...basically, if you're six feet tall and someone five-foot-two is throwing a punch at you, leaning in to her as she does it is not a good idea. Yes, for most people with the sense God gave a turnip, this would be obvious, but yours faithfully has never claimed an excess of common sense...

In today's News From The does so hate to hear of head-butting at a wedding...


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Our First Milestone!

Day 50: "Ah, the bar-room! A place of good cheer and conviviality!"
-Jim Backus (as Mr. Magoo)

Well, dear readers, we have hit day 50 in our "year of daily blogging." Okay, so a few days have been missed...well, more than a few, but there you are...the spirit is true and the goal clearly stated, so if we stumble, so be it. Our marathon started on 19 August, which was...a few days longer ago than 50, but still we persevere... ;-)

So far this has been a fairly productive morning...things have been accomplished, goals achieved, deadlines met, and generally all done well. Let's hope that this trend continues...

This afternoon I must pay a visit to the local "Doc In A Box" to get a TB test, which will hopefully complete all my requirements for subbing in the Jefferson County system. I do believe one could get married, buy a home, and perhaps even bring home slightly rotten fruits and vegetables from Haiti with less paperwork. Quel dommage to be sure, but at least I am almost done...

I bought a new computer this weekend, and after tomorrow's visit from the Bright House Cable service rep, it will actually work! For months, my cable has been a bit fuzzy, but I don't watch much TV, so I never bothered to have it fixed...however, the same snowy reception seems to be preventing the whatsit in the cable wires to get through the thingmabob and make connection to the doohickey that makes the thingy work.

Am I being too technical for anyone?

On other fronts, it has recently come to light that in the recent unpleasantness regarding Larry Langford's unfortunate turn of fortune he was actually offered a plea deal that would have only presented him with a few years in prison. LaLa rejected the deal, and now faces up to 800 years. Probably not his wisest decision. Oh, Larry, Larry, Larry...

In today's News From The Motherland...banking changes at Lloyd's and RBS...


Monday, November 02, 2009

Stage Update and LaLa...

Day 49: ...and we're back!

Again, apologies for the missed days of blogging. I suppose my resolve to mirror "Julie and Julia" has been somewhat less than successful thus far, but the effort continues. Once we hit day 365, dear readers, we can have fun seeing how many actual days have passed... I am, as the saying goes, a flawed man, but my efforts will not cease...

The various shows with which I am involved are going swimmingly. Dames At Sea sets sail in two weeks, and it is coming together extremely well. We are under the direction of The Great (and I do not exaggerate) Jack Mann who can, as far as I am concerned, do no wrong. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was actually DIRECTED to play my 2nd act role as Jim Backus...oh what a treat, but when the eye-rolling commences, I hope anyone with that knowledge will explain that I was only following my director's George! The rest of the cast is doing a great job, and the show will be a success...even more so if I can somehow get through the dance numbers without utterly embarassing myself...which may or may not be possible...

A Christmas Story, as of last night, is completely blocked and now we can really start the fun work. (A special shout-out to my dear friend and Assistant Director, Paul McCracken, who has been as good as gold from running rehearsal when I have been at Dames, to helping organize everything from props to publicity, and generally helping the train run smoothly.) I won't bore the reader with a list of names (for there are many) of those who are making A Christmas Story a joy...let it suffice to say that everyone involved is adding immeasurably to the warmth and high quality of the experience. Sonsabitchen Bumpuses... ;-)

Santa In Space begins rehearsal next week at BCT. More as it develops, but I have read the script and it is charming, funny, and cute...perfect fare for the kids at Christmas time.

Larry remains free. Long may he wave. Although I still mourn the departure of quite possibly the most amusing political figure in Birmingham history (and that's saying quite a lot) I have launched my own Facebook "campaign" for I don't live in the city limits? Who cares? That never stopped Larry...

In today's News From The Motherland...Trouble at The Tower...