Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yes, Monterey, there is a Santa Claus

Mervyn's Department Store, Monterey, California... 1990. My dad had taken my brothers and I to the mall to pick up some gifts for our mom for Christmas. We'd stopped by customer service, for either gift wrap or package pick-up, and while my dad spoke to the clerk at the counter my brothers and I were instructed to sit quietly on the chairs in the small waiting area.

Now, there was a major flaw in the plan. My brothers and I never sat quietly anywhere. Somehow we would get into an argument and start a fight... sometimes fairly innocent and sometimes pretty fisticuffs.

Having happened some 19 years ago, I can't remember exactly what our argument was about. But I'm sure to an adolescent mind it was terribly important. Maybe we were pre-fighting whether I got to watch Saved by the Bell on Saturday morning or they would get to watch X-Men. Whatever it is, it was very verbal. But we knew better than to get our father's attention so even as it escalated, we kept it at a strong whisper.

A large man, looking like he'd just finished off four or five corn dogs with a side of Auntie Anne's hot pretzels sat down beside us and we instantly hushed. This man was large, a stomach that rolled out over his lap, a heavy white beard that clung to his portly face and a thin pair of gold glasses that just barely sat on top of an upturned nose.

"You boys know better than to pull that here," he said.

Being the oldest I often assumed leadership (for better or for worse). But here I was frozen. Something inside said just listen.

"Now I know you're father would not be happy with you three putting on such a show," the old man continued. "In fact, I can think of two men who would not be fond of such a conflagration." What's a conflagration? I thought, not yet having started my P-SAT vocabulary training. "I think that three boys like yourselves would be on their best behavior at a time of year like this. Not that I think you should misbehave at another time mind you. It just seems that if you Bobby" he said, acknowledging my youngest brother, "want those Ninja Turtles and you Mike want those Power Rangers, than I think you'd best be behaving, don't you?"

How'd does he know our names? I was stunned. First, this stranger was talking to us and I was sure that it wasn't a good idea. But for some reason I wasn't afraid of him. Second, this stranger knew our names and I was certain that our father had not spoken to him before we sat down. He didn't have time. He was busy carting three boys around and making sure we didn't cause trouble.

"And you Tom, you should be showing these two what it means to be a man, watching them while your dad is busy. And you're just egging it on," he dropped his head as though ashamed of my actions. "I just don't know what I would do if I were Santa."

Santa? But... can't be! I had been told years before that Santa was not real. Well, technically my mom had told me that Santa was the spirit of Christmas and he was alive in every parent, bringing gifts to those who deserved them as a token of his love in the Christmas season. But a REAL GUY?

Still, I sat stunned... quiet.

"Now, I have to get moving," said the chubby old man. I looked him over. He didn't wear a Santa suite so I was sure he wasn't the mall Santa on a break. He was dressed in khaki shorts, a flowery short-sleeve shirt and then (of all things) socks and sandals. But the beard and belly were right, and the glasses were as I'd imagined them. He looked so much like the Santa on the old Coca-Cola tin tray that our mom always displayed... it was uncanny. "But I hope you boys will do right and behave. Your mother would be very upset to learn you'd acted up. Wouldn't she?"

My brothers nodded at him. They too seemed stunned, just bobbing their heads slowly as they stared at the Kringle-like man.

"Then I have nothing to worry about," he said and stood up. "Have a very Merry Christmas you three." And with that he gave us a wink (A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread... it fit so well) and headed off into the store.

Once he'd disappeared my brothers turned to me, "Did you see that?" Bobby asked as though a unicorn had walked right up to him.

I couldn't answer. Yeah, I saw it. But what was it or rather, who?

Our father finished up his business and collected us, heading out of the store and into the parking lot. We climbed into the van, none of us speaking. The van started up and we pulled out of the parking space and into the mall road, looping around the entrance to Mervyn's department store. Right then a long white Cadillac convertible pulled out of another parking row. Horns (or antlers?) were mounted to the front and the old fat man was seated behind the wheel. Even through the glare of our windows he spotted us. Another wink. And he pulled ahead of us. Can't be, I thought. It really can't be! But there it was, the "Santa-lac" pulling ahead of us with California tags that read "H0-H0-H0" and suddenly it was gone. The car hadn't pulled away, hadn't turned out of sight, hadn't flown into the air... just gone.

I'm still absolutely convinced that the man, or the spirit that is Santa Claus, was really at Mervyn's that day. And I'm still 100% sure that he really is watching for good boys and girls, checking his list twice, finding out just who has been naughty and nice.

Translating the Translation

Twenty years ago or so, my family was traveling through California as part of our move across country. My mom decided we should take as many scenic roads as possible and forgo the interstate. She wanted us to see as much of the country as we could, none of which was visible from the interstate (unless you count rest stops and 7,000 McDonald's).

We left Monterey, California and after a day or so ended up in a little town called Tehachapi. We grabbed lunch in a local diner and enjoyed the stretch (a Ford Aerostar was not necessarily the lap of luxury when packed with four people, two cats, a dog and most of your personal belongings).

Our waitress was a pleasant but quiet woman. She was foreign, but her specific nationality wasn't clear. A thick accent was the only clue to her origins but even still we weren't sure. Of course it didn't matter... we were just curious.

My mother, deciding to engage our waitress in conversation, asked about the town's name, "Tehachapi, that's an interesting name. What does it mean?"

Our waitress paused, suddenly deep in thought, her pencil pressed on her ordering pad, looked up as though the answer was in the rafters... "Oh, it is ancient Indian word," the world wasn't quite PC yet.

"Oh?" My mother urged her on. Suddenly we needed this answer. The suspense was killing us. I looked at my brothers who, normally would be busy with crayons and "fun time" placemats, but here they were intrigued. We were learning about "Indians"!

"Yes," our waitress smiled, as though the answer had fallen into her head, "Tehachapi is ancient Indian word for, uh, um... Tehachapi."

Learning fail.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


My First TurkeySweet lord... I am FULL! I spent last night preparing the turkey and cranberry chutney. The turkey spent all night in a brine and then jumped in the oven this morning at around 10am. Chutney came out a little gingery buts its good.

While the turkey cooked I prepped the green bean casserole, artichoke dip, stuffing and sweet potatoes. A whole lot of food ended up on our plates but it was a fairly successful Thanksgiving. Now if we just wait a few hours until digestion has settled we can eat a whole new round of goodies. The recipes are linked below if you're ever interested along with a few pics of the end results. Thanks Food Network and!

Green Bean Casserole.


Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Marshmallows.

The finished product!

Good Eats Roast Turkey
Parmesan Artichoke Casserole - All Recipes
Cranberry, Apple and Ginger Chutney
Spicy Candied Sweet Potatoes Durkee's Green Bean Casserole (recipe on label)
Store bought pumpkin pie (too tired to make that)
Grand's biscuits (couldn't find Sister Shubert's Yeast Rolls anywhere)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner Countdown

Standby over the new few days for the status of my first attempt at preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. 

This will either be:
A) delicious
B) a disaster
C) all of the above (somehow)

More news to come...

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Fiasco Remembered or Playing Chicken

Years ago, I was in a production in which we had hired a chicken. This chicken, as I understood it, was making more money each week than the Equity actors in the show. Why? How many chickens do you know who can learn blocking?

I was playing a naval lieutenant who appeared in the last 3 minutes of the play. I seriously appeared on the last page of the script as the "white knight" come to save the poor damsel. But this white knight was in a vintage white (stark white, snow white, bleached white... seriously white) naval uniform from the early 1900s. This fact was made very clear to me by our wardrobe mistress who insisted that I not even sit down for fear of harming the fabric. She had the scene shop built me a "leaning plank" which was left in the green room for me to prop myself against if I got tired. Tired? Me? Being told to dress for the show at curtain and then stay upright for two and a half hours? Never.

Back to the chicken. This chicken was kept in a pen backstage until she was needed for her scene. At some point in the show one of the actors came off to collect her and then run across the stage while she "acted" frightened, squawked, etc.

As you can imagine, I was horribly bored during this show. I had good friends in it, but they were all busy on stage for the first 2+ hours and I was left alone with my "leaning plank". One night, I wandered on stage, behind the scenery, completely hidden from the audience and my cast mates. I saw our chicken actress, readying herself for her moment in the limelight and thought, she's probably bored too. Moving toward her pen I quietly said hello (not expecting her to respond of course) but, as she was a trained chicken, she moved toward me, bowed her head for a quit petting and I thought, "I see no reason not to pick her up. She's very docile."

Now, when you are in your late teens/early 20s, a thought like this isn't cause for alarm. Nowadays I'd think, "Are you kidding me?" But no, I picked up our little actress who then, thinking this was her cue, began to cluck loudly and shook so violently that she managed to pull out of my arms and onto the floor. After an internal scream I calmed down and made sure she was OK. She was. She was so fine, in fact, that she was now running toward the set... which was built roughly a foot and a half up off the stage floor... just enough room for her to wander off into the darkness.

I had about five minutes before my cast mate would come backstage to pick her up... and here was this "professional" chicken running under the set, some 15 feet ahead of me in a one and a half foot tall crawlspace. And I was in my vintage white (white) naval uniform.

Panicked, I darted back to the dressing room and switched into my street clothes. No shoes... no time. I hurried back onto the stage, still hidden from view, and dropped to my stomach. Like a recruit in basic training, I was maneuvering this obstacle course of 2x4s, arms first, slither, arms, slither, desperately trying to be silent while five performers clomped around above my head. Is this set still new enough to not yet have spiders living in it? I wasn't sure. I couldn't think about it. Probably.

There she was. She has nested at the very edge of the stage... the lip of the apron. She clucked, but quietly, as though she new. I slid forward, arms extending. "Shh, come here girl" I begged, in less than a whisper. She "ba-kawked." They'll assume it's "atmosphere", I thought, thinking of the audience. Finally, I slithered just close enough to catch her and while she clearly did not want to be held, she stayed relatively quiet while I slithered backward out of the floorboards.

She was back in her pen and I darted back to the dressing room to suit up. Just as I cleared the stage door on my way to change I saw my cast mate come off stage and collect the little actress. I thought I might pass out, but I had no time. I needed to change into my vintage white uniform and, from then on, there would be no lying down on the job.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th... strikes!

And so it happened. I hadn't thought much about today being Friday the 13th... except for Spike TV showing at least one of the movies this afternoon. But it was bound to go awry. But this Friday the 13th crept up on me later in the day.

At around 4pm I took Joxer out for a quick potty break before heading downtown to meet Ren.

Stepping into the street I heard a neighbor shout, "Wait!" Just as I stepped back on the curb a white sedan zoomed past, backing up down our one-way street. Seriously? I couldn't even shout it out I was so shocked. Immediately I bent down to pick up Joxer to make sure he was OK. He looked at me as though I were crazy... he hadn't stepped into the street at all. People say animals have a sixth sense about that. I suppose they are right.

So, after safely crossing the street and having his afternoon movement we started back home. After looking both ways we stepped into the street. Halfway across we noticed a little economy box-on-wheels aiming straight for us. The driver had spun around the corner without slowing and was careening toward us at 35 mph. I grabbed Joxer and ran across just as she screeched to a stop. I'm certain she only stopped so that she could flip us her finger. Seriously?! again. You nearly hit me and Joxer you psycho. Again, I didn't say a word. I just looked at her, with the same expression of what the hell Joxer had given me less than 10 minutes before.

Inside, safe. All is good. I drop Joxer off, say goodbye to the cats, grab my bag and head to the train... which left right as I walked down the stairs to the platform. Brilliant! But luck turned as another train came within four minutes and carted me away to NoHo.

But it was all a ploy. Friday the 13th was waiting for me as I exited the train. "Sorry, the tickets for your show tonight didn't come through," was the email that I received on my phone. Gah, you're kidding me, right? I headed into Ren's store where he was closing up his shift. "No show," I mimed (don't ask how, but I managed) while he was on the phone. Friday the 13th had struck again.

So be it Friday the 13th. You've won this battle. But I'll be ready next time. Anyone have any sage I can smudge with? Sigh.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Day I Got Accosted on the A Train

It was bound to happen eventually. I got accosted on the subway today by this big, lumbering guy who was not 100% with his senses. Meth, crack, or some other unfortunate issue plagued him and somehow made him into the world's friendliest weirdo.

With iPhone playing, headphones on and a wicked game of Scrabble going I was happy in my own little world. And then he climbed on board at 59th Street. Somehow I sensed his presence. I looked up to see this person, who, except for his lack of age, could have been the third Fratelli from Goonies.

He started pestering some guy down the car, pushing the man's newspaper with one huge finger so he could see his face and asking him, "How you doin' man?" This perturbed man looked up to acknowledge this annoyance and then went back to his paper. The lumbering giant pressed on, "How you doin' man? Huh? How you doin'?" Shut up and sit down, was all I could think. That and please don't come down here to me. Please, oh please, oh... oh crap!

I was dreading it. I could tell he was coming my way... but I kept my head down (like a good New Yorker) and prayed that he'd miss me. I imagined he was a T-Rex and I used what I learned from Jurassic Park to try and save myself. Stay still... if you don't move he can't see you.

Jurassic Park worked! He skipped me and found the quirky art student seated catty-cornered to me. I was twelve kinds of grateful and continued listening to my podcast, playing Scrabble by myself, when suddenly... there was a tap tap tapping at my chamber door (or in this case my shoulder)

I tried to ignore him. I thought, Be polite and pretend you don't notice. It's better than being outright rude! But the tapping persisted. After the tapping became thumping I turned, headphones still on, and glared. Not an evil glare... just a "What?" glare. He gave me a big dumb smile and asked "How you doin' man?" The smile meant he meant no harm... or that's what my Southern upbringing told me. But still, I've been in NYC long enough to question any stranger's intentions. I nodded (the Southern "hello" you give to strangers as you pass by one another) and he continued. I then waved him away... very official-like. But he kept it up. And when I started ignoring him he actually grabbed my arm and pulled at me asking, "I said 'How you doin'?" I glared again - this is after all the international sign of Leave Me the Hell Alone. For a moment I was Teen Wolf demanding "a keg of beer"... eye blazing, guttural growl and all.

The giant backed off... finally. The whole car seemed to be aware that he was now done. At 125th Street he departed, fumbling his way out off the train and into the dreary, green-tinted station.

Once he was gone I wondered was I too harsh? Could I have been nicer? Could I have said, "I'm fine and you?" But that prompts further conversation and my pesky social anxiety was not going to have that. So, goodbye to you giant. Please do not touch me on the train next time. A simple nod of acknowledgment will do in the future.