Saturday, October 31, 2015

A quick interview with Jeb Bush

This is the fourth in my series of interviews with candidates running for president. For my interview with Donald Trump, click here. For my interview with Hillary Clinton, click here. For my interview with Lincoln Chafee who, in case you missed his announcement, dropped out of the race this week, 
click here.

TD: Why are you running?

JB: To secure my mother’s place in history. Right now she shares the distinction of having been married to one president and the mother of another with Abigail Adams. She wants to go down as the only First Lady who was mother of two presidents.

TD: Speaking of your brother, many Americans regard him as one of the worst presidents in history. Do you honestly think anyone would willingly vote for another Bush?

JB: Yes.

TD: Who?

JB: My mother.

TD: Many of the other candidates at this week’s presidential debate, including Trump, Christie, Rubio, Huckabee, and Cruz, took the CNBC moderators to task for their obvious bias against Republicans. Instead of following their cues, you, when asked a question about fantasy football designed to make Republicans look stupid, took the bait and proudly revealed you are 7-0 in your picks. Why?

JB: To show voters I’m just an ordinary guy who, like them, counts on the proceeds from his fantasy football winnings to put food on my family’s table. So what do you think about those Red Sox?

TD: During the debate you called on Marco Rubio, a fellow Floridian who is also running for your party’s nomination, to resign his Senate seat, claiming he is missing too many votes. He responded that someone put you up to that, implying you weren’t smart enough to come up with that suggestion on your own. Who did?

JB: My mother.

TD: Thank you Governor.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bingo boy

My mother, who died six months ago today at the age of 102, used to say that what she hated most about being old was that people patronized her. “Most people assume I’m either helpless or an idiot,” she would say. Mom was most definitely neither.

Control shift.

I belong to a gym six miles south of my house. I often ride my bike there and back, sometimes stopping by my mother-in-law’s assisted living community, which is on the way, for a quick visit, as I did today.

I knew the residents play Bingo on Sunday mornings, but figured they would be finished by the time I arrived. They weren’t – the game was still in progress in the activity room. I was plopped in an easy chair in the elevator lobby outside the room when a thirty-something woman appeared, carrying a vase of flowers. I assumed she was going to see a grandparent – she was too young to have a mother or father in assisted living.

“You didn’t feel like playing Bingo?” she asked sweetly.

“No,” I replied, shaking my head, thinking it was easier to leave it at that.

“Well then,” she smiled. “Would you like me to help you into the game room so you can play with your friends?”

I know I have crows’ feet. I know my hair is silver. I don’t go around trying to pretend I’m younger than I am (I'll be 64 next month) but, as a long-lost fraternity brother used to express disgust so eloquently, fuck that shit. Are there any guys reading this who’ve tried that hair color for men they sell in drugstores?

If so, does it wash out in case you don’t like the results?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jane's wedding

I’ve been having weird dreams. Last night’s took the cake.

I was back in my tiny hometown of Auxvasse, Mo. for the wedding of my friend, Jane. We haven’t seen each other for 40 years but stay in touch on Facebook. She was a year ahead of me in school. 

In my dream, Jane was her current age. I was in my twenties.

Snow had fallen the night before but, lucky for Jane, her wedding day dawned bright and sunny.

I saw Jane in her white dress and veil, her sister, and her parents as they were driving to the wedding. The four of them had somehow squeezed into the seat of her father’s pick-up, and were stopped at the town’s one traffic light in front of Dryden’s General Store. (Auxvasse doesn’t have a red/yellow/green traffic light, just a flashing red one above the intersection of what used to be Highway 54 before the state pissed away millions of taxpayer dollars building a four-lane bypass around the town, and the “farm-to-market” blacktop that runs through the countryside to Montgomery City.)

The wedding and reception were to be held at the north edge of town. I rode there with my best friend Craig in his 1966 red GTO. Craig and I spent countless hours in his Goat (his nickname for it) on hot summer nights, driving up and down Highway 54 from one end of town to the other (from the Shell Station to the Dairy Bride drive-in, less than a mile) during our youth, listening to music on the 8-track tape player he had purchased with the proceeds from his job pumping gas at the Sinclair station in Kingdom City, six miles south of town.

The Goat was a great-looking car, every teenage boy’s wet dream, but had a major problem: The right front wheel kept falling off, usually when Craig was driving at high speeds. Once, when we were barreling down Interstate 70 en route home from Columbia, he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. At 80 mph the wheel detached and flew into a nearby cornfield. Craig didn’t freak at all, he and his passengers were used to it. He knew how to keep the car under control until he could steer it into the breakdown lane onto which the front end would gently fall, causing sparks to fly when the bumper hit the pavement, as he held the steering wheel tight and brought the car to a stop. The hitchhiker, who had begun shrieking the moment the wheel fell off, jumped out and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him while Craig and I went into the cornfield to find the wheel.

We parked outside the Chalet Café, a log cabin torn down decades ago, that served the best cheeseburgers known to man. As we were crossing the road to the wedding, I glanced to my right and saw Bill and Hillary Clinton. He was wearing a tuxedo, she was in a long blue satin gown. Hillary looked happy. She was carrying in her left hand a large box with a silver bow and with the right was holding up the hem of her dress so it wouldn’t get wet from the melting snow. I snuck a peek and it's true. She has cankles.

There’s senior housing on the actual spot to which the Clintons, Craig and I were headed but in my dream we arrived at an enormous Italian-style wedding venue, one of those places familiar to any New Yorker, a multi-story building with ornate Roman statues built into the façade, that can accommodate four or five wedding receptions simultaneously. There were no people of Italian ancestry when I was growing up in Auxvasse. There were no people of any ancestry other than Scotch-Irish, German and African. Heck, there was was only one Catholic family and they pretty much kept to themselves. Why this gaudy Italianate structure had been built in Auxvasse was mystifying.

When we arrived U-2 was playing and the dance floor was packed. Bono announced he had a special guest who wanted to sing. Olivia Newton-John got up on the stage, said she was so happy for her dear friend, and breathlessly sang “I Honestly Love You” as Jane and her groom danced under a spotlight. Olivia looked old.

Wedding cake was served. I love wedding cake, but only if it has real buttercream frosting. The frosting on Jane’s cake was that fluffy stuff that tastes like Cool Whip. Gross. I took one bite, and decided to work out.

Magically, I was outside in my workout clothes, in a large park with swaying palm trees where, under a canopy, there was an elliptical machine. I jumped on that until I started sweating heavily. (I’ve never used an elliptical machine.) It was so hot I removed my shirt and hung it over the railing. I then got off and was doing push-ups (I haven’t done those since I was in my twenties) when I realized someone was standing behind me, waiting to use the facility. It was the actor who plays a murdered cop on Hand of God, an Amazon series my wife and I are watching.

I grabbed my backpack and left. When I got back to my car (Craig and the GTO had disappeared) I realized I had left behind my gray t-shirt with a hole where the label used to be. I’ve had that shirt since the 1980s, it won’t shrink, the fabric is paper thin and the ribbing around the neck is frayed, but I’m as attached to it as a toddler is to his or her bankie. I was trying to decide if I should return to the park for it when I woke up.  

Our 14-year-old dachshund, Bonnie, was licking my face. Her tail was thumping, excited for her day to begin.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A quick interview with Lincoln Chafee

This is the third in my series of interviews with candidates running for president. For my interview with Donald Trump, click here. For my interview with Hillary Clinton, click here.

TD: You attended Providence Country Day School and Phillips Andover Academy, majored in Classics at Brown, inherited your father’s Senate seat and your financial statement reveals a net worth of nearly $70 million. Do you really think middle class Democratic voters will identify with you?

LC: Yes, once they find out my beach cottage has only five bathrooms.

TD: During the Democratic debate you were asked about your Senate vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall Banking Act which, some say, was a root cause of the 2008 financial crisis. You said that was your first vote, you just had taken over your father’s seat and were still grieving, and you weren’t sure what you were voting for. Anything else you’d like to tell my readers about that?

LC: I’ll admit I could have done a better job explaining that, the question caught me by surprise. The fact is, I thought I was voting against glass seagulls, which I consider gauche.

TD: You were a Republican senator, an Independent governor of Rhode Island, and now you are running for president as a Democrat. Pundits have said you wet your finger and stick it in the air to see which way the political wind is blowing? Is that true?

LC: No, my driver does that for me. I need to keep my fingers dry to shake hands in case anyone shows up at one of my town hall meetings.

TD:  Your campaign raised $392,000 during the first half of the year but $364,000 of that was a loan from you and your wife. To date you’ve received only two endorsements – one from your cousin Chauncey and one from the Deputy Mayor of Lower Duncaster, Vermont. Do you honestly think you can win the nomination much less the general election with that kind of support?

LC: I have momentum. Look for a letter to the editor in tomorrow’s edition of the Palm Beach Weekly Shopper endorsing me.

TD: You were overwhelmingly defeated in your 2006 Senate re-election bid and were one of the most unpopular governors in Rhode Island history yet now you’re running for president. Why?

LC: My wife wanted me out of the house.

TD: Thank you, sir.

LC: Don’t you have any more questions? I have plenty of time – my calendar is wide open until November.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cooking class: Tommy's French Beef Stew

Most retired folks here in my neck of the woods spend their days golfing and playing tennis.

"So, what do you do all day?" a woman inquired recently at a cocktail party after I told her I did neither. Rather than telling the truth -- that I'm an uncoordinated klutz and a bit of an agoraphobic to boot  -- I replied that I am teaching myself to cook.

I’ve been called many things but nobody has ever called me a good cook. I try – I do – but most things I attempt in the kitchen turn out tasting like shit badly. My wife, an excellent cook, says it’s because I follow recipes too closely which makes about as much sense as saying I’m a bad driver because I stay in the correct lane and obey the speed limits.

I am, however, renowned for four dishes, the inclusion of any of which on its menu would earn a restaurant at least four Michelin stars: 

1.   Pasta Bolognese: For the recipe, click here.

2.   Lemon Chess Pie: I’ll write about this someday. It’s easy.

3.   Hatton Chili: Thousands of gallons of this stuff which bears little resemblance to any chili you may know – it’s basically beef, bean and tomato soup but the best beef, bean and tomato soup imaginable – has been ladled out over the decades to hungry farm families attending get-togethers at the Community Hall in tiny (population 15 tops) Hatton, Missouri, near where I grew up. I fantasized about this chili for 40 years until my sister found at a garage sale a 1980s cookbook compiled by the ladies of the Hatton community. She called excitedly to report it included the recipe for Hatton Chili that, it turns out, was submitted by a friend whose mother-in-law was my eighth grade teacher. (I grew up in a town so small there were only two teachers for the entire junior high. Not that we even had a junior high school; all twelve grades were housed in the same building.) Now, if the Hatton ladies would publish their recipe for the pimiento cheese sandwiches they always serve with their chili I could die happy.

4.  French Beef Stew: It's a dish that’s perfect for cool autumn days which, here in Florida, mean temperatures that rise only to the mid-80s. And that, boys and girls, is what we are going to make today.

I found the base recipe on the Internet. It caught my attention because it contains something spicy that doesn’t come to mind when you think about beef stew. Despite that secret ingredient, the base recipe sounded blah so – maybe my wife is right here – I improvised and improved upon it, adding ingredients to, as the judges on American Idol urge contestants, “make it your own."

Ready for the best beef stew this side of the Atlantique? Pull up a stool, pour yourself a glass of wine (pour me one while you’re at it) and let’s get cooking.

Step 1:

Go to the grocery store and buy all the ingredients listed at the end of this blog. While this may sound condescending it’s no more condescending than an article I read the other day about saving for retirement that informed readers to, “Determine when you plan to retire and decide how much monthly income you will need once you’re not receiving a regular paycheck.” So I’m leaving nothing to chance here.

Step 2:

Note the label that says, “Born, Raised and Harvested 
in the U.S.” I suppose "Harvested" sounds better than, “Herded 
into a truck with a taser, taken to a slaughterhouse where its 
throat was slashed, then butchered and cut into bite-size pieces.”

Pour three or four tablespoons of olive oil into an electric skillet and set the temperature at 300 or so. As the oil is heating, pour a half-cup of flour into a plastic bag and add roughly two pounds of cut-up beef stew meat. Shake the bag (be sure to close it first or you’ll wind up looking like one of those living statues that inhabit the shopping mall at the Venetian in Las Vegas) until all the beef cubes are coated with flour.

Step 3:

Remove meat from bag and add meat to hot oil in skillet. Throw leftover flour away.

Stir and turn the meat every couple of minutes so it browns on all sides. (See photo below in case you're unable to envision what browned meat looks like.)

Once meat is brown (but not cooked through), remove from the skillet and place on a plate, in a bowl, in the clothes dryer, wherever – just make sure it’s not in the skillet before you proceed to …

Step 4:

Plop another splash of olive oil into the skillet, then add one diced red onion.

What’s with these freakishly large onions and potatoes these days?
The smallest ones I could find at my local supermarket weighed
more than a pound. Thanks, Monsanto!

Add a teaspoon or so of diced garlic. Stir and allow the onions and garlic to cook for a couple of minutes until the onions look shiny but don’t let them become brown and crispy.

Step 5:

Pour about a quarter bottle of wine – red or white, whatever you have open – into the skillet.

Using a spoon (as opposed to your fingers because you know better than to touch a hot skillet), scrape from the bottom any meat, onion and/or garlic bits that are sticking to it.

This step is essential because a huge percentage of what will become the stew’s flavor is concentrated in that gunk at the bottom that, if you don’t scrape it off, you’ll have to scrub away anyway, so just do it. Stir vigorously to distribute the gunk evenly throughout the onion mixture.

Step 6:

Place the meat back into the skillet and, stirring every so often, let everything cook until all the wine has burned off.

Step 7:

Add three 14.5 oz. cans of Italian diced tomatoes.

Step 8:

Pour in two cans of beef broth.

Step 9: 

If you can find any that weigh less than a Ford Explorer, add four diced small potatoes. Otherwise use two gigunda Monsanto-enhanced potatoes but don’t blame me if your grandchildren are born with two heads.

Step 10:

Add six diced carrots.

Step 11:

Add 1.5 teaspoons (or so) of dried thyme. (I forgot to photograph this step, which is worrisome because people are completely visually oriented these days and if you can’t see this step you are likely to think it’s not required but trust me, you need the thyme.)

Step 12:

Add a big-ass splash of Worcestershire sauce.

Step 13:

Add some pepper – freshly ground is nice. And salt, lots of salt. Good food requires salt, a maligned spice the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy will someday soon announce is good for you.  

Step 14:

Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat until the mixture is bubbling none-too-violently, cover it, and walk away for the next 1.5 hours. 

Step 15:

Remove cover. (Duh.)  If the mixture appears to be too soupy turn up the heat and allow it to boil (don’t replace the cover) until most of the liquid has evaporated and the stew is nice and thick, like the canned Dinty Moore stew your mother used to serve up on snow days because she, unlike you, was too lazy to make it from scratch.

Step 16 (Optional):

Five minutes before serving, stir in some frozen peas – half a bag or so.

Step 17:

Just before serving, stir in the secret ingredient that makes this stew a standout -- about three tablespoons of Dijon mustard. (If I had any class I’d recommend Grey Poupon but I don’t.)


This recipe serves 10, and leftovers freeze well.

Bon appetit.

Shopping list

Olive oil
2 lbs of beef stew meat harvested in the USA
1 red onion
Diced garlic
Bottle of wine (red or white)
3 14.5 oz cans Italian diced tomatoes
2 cans beef broth
4 small (or 2 big) potatoes
6 carrots
Dried thyme
Frozen peas
Dijon mustard

Monday, October 5, 2015

COMCAST MUST DIE (Installment # 4,215)

Me (speaking to a Comcast customer service agent): I just spent an hour on the phone with one of your agents who was trying to resolve an issue. She said she was sure she had gotten to the bottom of it, and only needed to speak to one other person, but then cut me off. Can you look up the name of the person I was talking to and connect me to her?

Agent: I’m sorry, but it’s Monday.

Me: So?

Agent: Well, Mondays are really busy and the moment that call ended another call was forwarded to her – that’s how the system works here. 

Me: That’s crazy.

Agent: I’m sure she’ll call you back when she has time.

Me: How can she when, every time she hangs up from one call, another call comes in? 

Agent: I can connect you to another agent.

Me: No, I just spent an hour on the phone with that agent. It’s complicated and I don’t want to have to explain it to someone else then have her cut me off.

Agent: Well, then, thank you for calling Comcast. Is there anything else I can do for you today?

For the record, I was calling this sewer of a company, which year after year is named the worst company in America for customer service, because I received a letter that said, “During a recent review of your account, we determined that your current service level does not meet the minimum service level required for the discounted package on your account.” 

In other words, "We are sorry we allowed you in December to sign up for our advertised $69 Triple Play” package (cable/phone/internet) that we promised would not go up in price for one year. Now that you’ve had the package for nine months we are going to jack your bill up by $20 or so every month, three months ahead of schedule. This is further proof we're lying scum with no integrity whatsoever whose managers laugh our asses off every time we get the opportunity to screw customers like you for whom Comcast is the only choice, because we know you can't do anything about it. And if you try to question anything we do we've instructed our employees to hang up on you."