What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Have you considered the Marchioness?

It was Friday afternoon and I was getting ready to quit work and meet a friend for drinks. It had been another tough week at General Mills and was fed up with the wheat dust. I wanted out.

Just as I was pulling my punch card from my pocket and preparing to bid adieu to responsibility for the weekend, the office phone rang. The caller ID said it was Diane, an office supply agent who came by regularly to restock paper and ink and gossip with the secretaries. Since I was the only one in the office, it was up to me to answer the phone. I picked up the hand piece with a memorized "Good afternoon. General Mills. How may I help you?"

"Hey is this C?"

"Yes it is, Diane, what can I do for you?" I hoped she didn't have any emergency that would take hours to resolve, like the time she wanted me to hand-siphon ink out of a broken print cartridge. That project had ruined both my evening and my brand new shoes.

"Can I ask you a personal question?" Uh oh...

"Sure, fire away."

"Okay, I mean you don't have to answer if it's too personal or whatever. I just-"

"Diane, ask me your question. It's Friday afternoon, I'm in a good mood."

"That's what I was hoping...C, are you single? I mean, are you seeing anyone?" For context, note that Diane is a lovely woman in her mid-forties. We joke around when she comes to the office, but we are not good friends. This question came out of left field.

"Blissfully so, Diane. I'm as single as they come. Why?" I never shy away from a question.

"Well the reason I'm asking is my daughter is single. You know Fiona -- she's dropped off office shipments before for me -- she's beautiful and has a great personality. Anyway, tonight I was thinking about her and thought of you. You are such a nice guy and I know you would treat her right. Fiona's been through some rough stuff -- bad relationships -- nothing terrible mind you, just it would be good to see her with a nice guy. Anyway, do you think you'd want to give her a call?"

Diane was trying to set me up with her daughter! This was not my first experience with mothers setting me up with their daughters. If I had half as much luck with girls my own age as I had with their mothers, I would be set. Apparently being a nice guy is a great bonus with mom, but is a negative with girls who like adventure and excitement. To moms, nice = secure. To girls, nice = boring. Girls want a fixer upper. Moms want a mansion. Diane had used the term "nice" twice in the previous paragraph. I felt like she'd called me a heart of gold.

Pitching Fiona's previous rough relationships was not Diane's best play. She needed me to be thinking about how beautiful and smart her daughter was, not that she'd made stupid guy mistakes in the past or had some heavy relationship baggage to carry into any interaction with me. My mental image of a battered girl who's spirit had been broken like a wild stallion's was not going to make me push the ten numbers to have us connected. I gave Diane an "A" for gumption, but a "C" for execution.

For all of Diane's effort, I did not want to go out with her daughter. I'd met Fiona before and there was no spark between us. She was a pretty girl -- a California 7 -- but she wore her baggage on her face. Diane, too, was not the most enticing salesperson. A chain-smoking, overweight double divorcee, Diane's life served as more warning than enticement. Plus, the last few weeks had not availed very good dating experiences. I needed a break. But the fact that we worked together meant I had to turn this down tactfully -- if only to maintain detente.

"Look, Diane, I'm flattered you would call and offer your daughter like this, but there's some complications on my side. I'm getting ready to leave the state -- to move across the country for school -- in a couple months. It wouldn't be right for me to get involved with anyone -- much less your daughter -- knowing that I would soon be leaving." I dropped the clear hint.

"You're moving to New York, right? That's excellent. C, when I dated Fiona's dad, he had to move shortly after we started going out and I followed him to San Francisco. Even though we later divorced, we had a great marriage. I would marry him again today if given the chance. And Fiona was borne of that union. If you guys hit it off, there's nothing to say that Fiona wouldn't go with you to New York."

Diane had failed to make a great impression before, but her current efforts were permanently foreclosing Fiona's chances. I had never seen anyone move so quickly from "give her a call" to "move with you to New York." It was speed that would make Dez Bryant jealous. It made me want to get off the phone.

"Look, Diane, that's super sweet. Why don't you give me her number and I'll think about giving her a call?" It was the best I could do. Diane gave me Fiona's number and I punched out to enjoy my weekend. Just another Friday afternoon at General Mills.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


A few weeks ago, on a farm not too far away, Bessie started her day like any other weekday morning. She walked lazily to the milking machine before the sun rose and sat still as an underpaid dairy hand plugged her in with no regard for her personal privacy or feelings. The teatcups tickled more than normal and Bessie let out a discontented “moo.” The dairy hand slapped Bessie on the rump and moved on about his chores. If Bessie weren't so distracted by the soft suction of the machine, she might have felt put out by the worker's callousness.

Bessie wondered briefly whether producing less milk would make the dairy workers respect her more. None of them appreciated the sacrifice required by a cow of her age to pump out quality milk with such regularity. They ignored her entreaties, verbal and not, choosing instead to joke among themselves or pay attention to Coco, a Holstein with udders so productive, they could support the entire cream division of Bayview Farms.

Coco. That was a heifer. With perfect coloring and minimal muscle, she was a milk machine and the envy of trough nineteen. Worse, she knew it. Coco would prance around the field when she should have been grazing and graze when she should have been sleeping. But she produced. And because she produced the dairy hands let her get away with it.

The worker returned to disconnect Bessie. With a relieved “moo,” she trotted into the cool morning air to graze. Grazing was the best part of Bessie's day. She loved a patch of crabgrass near the south fence and worked with Dairy Queen and Mama Moo to secure it from the others. Together they would partake of the greenery and forget about all their troubles.

By noon, Bessie was chewing her cud. She neither despised nor enjoyed the practice. It was just something she did. She left the south fence area to be alone. She liked to chew her cud in private. Even Coco would go off by herself for this digestive exercise.

That afternoon it was back to grazing. Tonto and Nutless, a couple of steers from next farm over, had jumped the fence and were eating the crabgrass. Everybody regarded the steers as strange and they were ostracized whenever they ventured out. Bessie had had a bad experience with T-Bone a few weeks ago and didn't want to deal with any more steers, so she joined the others eating in a large plot of sown Bermuda. Bermuda grass was the fast food of the milk cow's world, but Bessie would still eat it occasionally.

Darkness came quickly and Bessie joined Mama Moo and the rest of the cows in the trot back to the milking machine. The worker was nicer than the man on the early shift had been and Bessie was happy with her treatment. She thought her day would end with a contented cud chewing session and sleep, when Dairy Queen approached her with an idea.

No. It wasn't right. She couldn't do that. She would get in trouble. When Dairy Queen told her that Coco had done it, Bessie mooed her assent. She was game.

Mr. Cranky Pants was a handsome stud who lived in a well-kept pasture a few miles away. He had been at Bessie's dairy once before and had caught her eye immediately. She had always thought about going to see him. Mama Moo explained that the steers had knocked the fence down when they left that afternoon. This was their chance.

Bessie was surprised at how easy it was to climb the fence. A couple of other cows had caught wind of the mischief and decided to tag along. Bessie was not sure how many cows were in their group, but it was sizable. She was excited about the adventure.

At first Bessie was concerned when the group moved into the middle of the road. It seemed to her that cows should be on grass or dirt, not pavement. But Dairy Queen started making funny trotting noises on the hard surface and Bessie was so caught up in the hilarity of the situation that she surrendered her fears.

They continued this way for a few hundred meters, occasionally making comments about the houses they passed or the other cows they saw sleeping in their pastures. Freedom felt so good until it hurt.

Bessie never saw the car that hit her. It struck her from behind, pushing her forward several feet. She suffered an involuntary and very unladylike reaction to the car's force. Bessie was embarrassed by that and happy that her friends scattered quickly and probably hadn't noticed. The car's owner looked upset and disheveled, but was okay. That made Bessie feel better. She had never wanted to hurt anyone.

Emergency vehicles arrived quickly. A police officer started asking questions and taking measurements, but never thought to ask Bessie how she was doing. Remarkably well, thank you, given the circumstances.

The car was towed away and the driver taken to the hospital for minor injuries, leaving Bessie all alone on the side of the road. With a grunt, she got up and trudged back the way she came, cautious to stay out of the road and clear of traffic. She hopped the fence again and curled up to sleep near the crabgrass. She hadn't met Mr. Cranky Pants, but she couldn't wait to tell her amazing story to the other cows, especially Coco.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Boredom is the Mother of Creativity

It was another typical, dreary day in my Organic Chem class. If Organic Chem was a type of weather, it would be one of those days in November when it's not quite winter or fall, but dark and blustery... and awful.

Fortunately for me, my best friend is in the same class. She alleviates the intense boredom caused by my professor's droning voice. Not only is she pretty and witty, she is also a closet poet.

And today she wrote a poem in class. I laughed out loud at the result of her creative energy. My professor now thinks his jokes are funny. My classmates now think I'm a lunatic. They may be right, but whatever. See for yourself.

I happened upon a man one day
(His palor markedly white)
An unabashed grin being all he wore
(It gave me quite a fright)
"Good God, dear sir, what happened to you?
Your skin's so markedly pale
You shouldn't leave such things for the world to see
Considering you're irrevocably male."
He responded "A long time ago much before your day
I was not but a wee lad of two
Minding my own in a bath when the nurse
Had an aneurysm and out with the water she threw
My humble self to the street."
"For shame!" I cried, "And let a curse hang upon her head,
But dear sir, you have failed to mention yet
Why you are still so... naked."
"My color I shan't account for
'Twas given me at birth
And I will always bless whom gave it me,
My only mother, Earth.
As for my persistent state
My theory is simple, you see:
It was naked my mother saw me last,
And I have remained so, lest she shouldn't recognize me."


Friday, April 09, 2010

The Masters...on CBS

A few months ago my faculty advisor asked if I enjoyed living with ambivalent purpose and suffering through the consequences of my wayward life decisions. When I answered with an affirmative informalism, he recommended I pursue graduate school. “The party continues,” he said with a gleam in his eye, “loans toll repayment and you don't have to get a job.” I was convinced and ran off write the graduate entrance exams. Fast-forward through an arduous process of alternately playing the vendor (“Look what I have to offer your school”) and the buyer (“But what are you offering that xyz school isn't, specifically can you offer me some money?”), I now have to make a choice between a handful of universities that, I am promised, will not disappoint the derelict.

To help make an informed decision, I have to actually visit the campuses of the schools in question. To that end, I am sitting on a scantily-cushioned waiting chair at Terminal C11/9 of Detroit Metro airport, an important regional hub in Michigan. My final destination is upstate New York. For this airport's size and puissance in the plane-flying world, it has surprisingly spartan food and entertainment offerings.

Before sitting down to pen this post, I finished a trek through the entire C Terminal looking for some caloric relief. Although planes and hungry people were flying all around, the closest I could get to credible sustenance was a twenty-person line at Fuddruckers, a restaurant name that would make a less mature writer want to giggle. I settled for an overpriced diet coke, a major disappointment given that Minneapolis, from whence I flew, had a full service California Pizza Kitchen.

Fortunately for the Faithful Few, my walk through Terminal C did produce something more noteworthy than a rude giggle and a bottle of colored fizzy water. As I exited one of over a dozen moving walkways – “please watch your step...please watch your step” – I noticed a crowd gathered at the Martini Cove. Ever notice how airport restaurants name themselves after popular food or drink items? It's not The Watering Hole, it's Jose Cuervo's Watering Hole. It's not a Food Den, it's Coney Island Food Den. I think I had lunch in Minneapolis at the Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich Shop, a glorified Subway.

The folks in the crowd were not waiting in line for overpriced and ostentatiously titled airport fare or even being remotely social. They were watching The Masters, a professional golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, which, in the immortal voice of Jim Nantz, is on CBS. Every year the world's best golfers compete to win a claim to a hideous green jacket by trying to out-golf each other. An explanation of the “sport” of golf is both beyond the scope of this blog and utterly boring, but it suffices to say that the game more slowly than a salted slug on frozen molasses.

The disgraced Tiger Woods was getting ready to putt. He took a couple of practice swings, shook his head as if trying to banish the mental image of mistress number eight and hit the ball. It didn't go in. Woods gave his best “I'm disappointed” mime as he fell to his knees clutching his metal stick in angst. Then he got up and finished the hole with an easy stroke for par. Golf clap. The crowd dissipated quickly as soon as Tiger's infamous image left the screen. The parting mass was clear evidence for the view that the “sport” of golf is very much benefited by Tiger's scandals. My anecdotal experience here in Michigan suggests that Masters viewership will be through the roof. The number of people who tune in this week or watch the final this weekend if Tiger is playing might even rival the Super Bowl. Sure, Bill Simmons probably said it before me, but you heard it here first.

I wonder if golf would be more popular it were broadcast by Scott Hamilton, the ice skating legend. Instead of talking about dimpled girls twirling in toilet-paper dresses, he'd be commenting on dimpled golf balls being hit into holes in the grass. Using his signature grunting, Hamilton would describe the golfer's movements with an encouraging “It miiiiight go iiiiiin....Oh it did!” He could partner with the sarcastic commentator from that NBC reality show where contestants run through obstacle courses (please volunteer his name in the comment section, I'm too lazy to hunt it down) saying things like “that must have hurt” or “he'll feel that in the morning.” Now that's TV that I would watch.

Interested in locating airport goers -- any in the terminal -- who were not entranced by Tiger's performance, I spied a woman reading Cosmopolitan Magazine (Playboy for women). Her devoted attention to the text's glossy pages was not deterred by replays of the unfaithful golfer. An elderly gentleman with a legal pad was busy scribbling something important-looking. He did not look up either. Then Tiger reappeared to challenge another hole. The old man set aside his notes and the woman put down her girl porn. Woods had center stage and I looked around the terminal to see everyone sitting in rapt attention. I could have hijacked a plane right off the tarmac and no one would have noticed until Tiger left the frame.

No one, not even Fred Couples (Fred who?), demands the undivided attention garnered by Tiger Woods. The entertainment provided by his return to golf is enough, even, to make a visit to Detroit Metro interesting. Bravo Tiger!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Claudia – Part II

The last couple weeks, members of the faithful FCN few have been clamoring to hear the epilogue to my brief encounter. If my reference to classic British film was too tangential, let me briefly recap what happened on my first few Ashley Madison-esque dates with Claudia:

I got her number and asked her out. That part was epic. Then I found out she's married. That revelation took the shine off the “epic” and made it more “weird, scary and unfortunate,” at least that's how Bill described it. Bill, my workout buddy, was instrumental in my securing a first date with Claudia, so I'm blaming the debacle on him, at least until he is spotting me at the bench press and is responsible for the well-being of my trachea. Then I might cut him some slack.

While the comments on the Claudia post had given me wide latitude in my options, their general theme advised moving on. But I didn't want to rush into terminating things. I had to know if she was telling the whole truth about Marco. How separated were Claudia and Marco? Was he a dangerous person – a man prone to fits of violent passion against perceived competitors for his wife's affection -- or a calm, affectionate soul? I'd never met Marco and therefore couldn't be sure he even existed. Was he a myth invented by Claudia to test my interest? To test my integrity? His name – the first part of a common kid's pool game – was suspicious enough. Who names their children Marco? Mongolians? Kublai Khan's descendants?

We met for lunch at a mid-sized restaurant near downtown. I knew the owners and liked the food. If things hit the fan with Claudia, at least I would be left eating in a good establishment. As the mid-week traffic filled the restaurant to about half capacity, we took out seats. We didn't say a word to each other until the waiter, a man who's thin frame could hold precious little muscle even if it wanted to, left with our drink orders.

Claudia: So?
C: So...the French dip here is fantastic.
Claudia: Haha. [Nervous pause]. I dropped a bomb on our last date. You were weird afterward – understandably weird. What are you going to do?

The words of such distinguished commenters as DTH Rocket, Jonathan and Anonymous (1) echoed in my head. DTH's reference about the necessity of a certificate of divorce was especially puissant. I decided to explore it a little.

C: Look, you're married to the guy. Marriage is a sacred institution. It's a commitment of monogamy, fidelity and trust. A dissolved marriage is sad – a tragedy really.
Claudia: C--
C: Let me finish.

I didn't know what to say next, so I paused. An interminably earnest expression covered Claudia's attractive features. Cute lips that were so often smiling were now pursed in an expression of concern. I charged on.

C: I don't care about your past. People change; our stories change. There is nothing you could have revealed on our first date that would have kept me from asking you out again. Part of that is due the fact that you're super hot and that I have terrible luck in the dating world, but another part is that you are a really interesting person and we have chemistry. I can't ignore our chemistry.
Claudia: Aw, you're sweet. But you're right, C, don't ignore our chemistry.

I'd thrown my bone to Anonymous (2) and (3). Now it was time to say something determinative.

C: I think we need to put those feelings aside. Let's put ourselves in Marco's shoes for a minute. He's out there somewhere – probably at the batting cages, gun range or lifting weights – thinking about the ten he let get away and how he can reconcile after his mistake. The fact that there's no progress on your divorce after a year tells me something. Claudia, there's a man there who messed up royally but still loves you and wants you back. I will not be the fool that stands between a man and his beautiful wife.
Claudia: But Marco cheated...
C: I know, Claudia. And that sucks. You have to make a decision whether you are going to reconcile with Marco or divorce him. But until that decision is made, we can't date. And you shouldn't date.

It had to be said. Claudia was hurt, but I think she got it. It felt good to speak my mind.

Claudia: I'm sorry you feel that way, but I understand.
C: Hey, for what it's worth, if I were married to a woman and she were out gallivanting with a guy as hot as me, I would be upset.

I had done my job. I had cut things off in the most respectable and decent way possible. The ball was in her court.

My self-satisfied reverie was interrupted by a commotion near the door. The thin-framed waiter was trying to hold back a large muscle-bound man in his early twenties. Trying and failing. I'm not sure how tall the intruder was, but I estimate over 6'4”. He barged past the server and stormed toward where Claudia and I were seated.

“Marco,” Claudia whispered.

Remembering Papa G's advice, I sprung into action. I hopped up out of my seat, flipping it over into the aisle to block Marco's path, and fled. I knew there was a service entrance behind the kitchen, so I booked toward the restrooms and through a swinging door labeled “Associates Only.” Marco never saw where I went. I was safe.

I spotted the owner sitting at a desk doing paperwork. I paid him for our meal plus a generous tip, hoping it make amends for the commotion Marco had caused. When I explained the situation, he smiled a broad, comforting grin.

“Did you learn anything?”

I chuckled and smiled. I haven't heard from Claudia since that afternoon and it's just as well. I wish her and her man the best.