Showing posts with label The Kitchen Sink. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Kitchen Sink. Show all posts

So You Want to Write For Television?

When it was time to bring my book of Marine Corps boot camp stories to market, I went into U.S. Marine mission-mode and sought out the best expert. I looked to publishing guru Jane Friedman. Of course I was star-struck talking to Jane, but she made me comfortable and confident about my book's future.

Once my book,The Pink Marine, was finished, Jane asked me to write a guest post on her blog that examined the differences between writing for televisions (my area of expertise) and writing a book (her area).

Once I stopped screaming in a high pitched squeal, I wrote this piece:

Social Media: Twitter Is A Hungry Bird

I got turned down for a job for not having enough Twitter followers.

When did invisible social media become the indivisible job deciderer? I thought a resume, experience and references made me an attractive candidate. I had no idea that my popularity in the ethosphere impacted how well I might perform for an employer in the real world.

#YouTube - My Cooking and Talk Show: Let's Make Eggs!

I open an email from a great friend, David Youse. He needs three million dollars to open a play on Broadway. I wish I had the money -- he's a proven producer.

As I drive along Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, I pass Johnny Carson's former compound.  I think, WWJD (What Would Johnny Do)?

He'd have David on his show. The exposure would send the money flowing in, very much like the ocean waves on my left. I drive on, chuckling. If only I had a talk show.

Recipe: Lone Star Poblano Burger (As Seen On TV)

I created the hamburger.

Ok, I created my Lone Star Poblano Burger for Chili's and competed with it on the television show On The Menu. Chili's Head Chef Stephen Bulgarelli puts the cool in culinary. He asked us to conceptualize a burger with spicy, smoky, Southwestern flavors. Mine delivers that, but it didn't win.

Best thing about coming in 2nd? I won the right to share my recipe with you.

The flavors of Tex-Mex run through my body with the strength and constancy of the Rio Grand. I was born in Lubbock, Texas—in fact, five generations of my ancestors were born in Texas. I live in LA; but Texas roots live on in my diet.

Greg On The Menu: Cooking on Television

I loved watching my grandmother cook. She influenced me. I still see her in my mind. After dinner, she watched me put on shows in her Lubbock backyard; but she never saw me cook. I imagine if she saw me cooking on television, she'd drop her jaw and her cocktail.

I get a call from a producer. It's a Hollywood movie moment. One of those life-changing events that swirl about all real and surreal.

"Greg, we want you on our show. The Chili's challenge. Create a new burger to go on the menu at Chili's'" she said.

A new, nationally broadcast cooking show, On The Menu. Produced by Mark Burnett, hosted by Ty Pennington, mentored by my dream-of-a-lifetime Chef Emeril Lagasse. This TNT show provides a unique opportunity. For me, self-promotion. For the winner, a $25,000 check. I need the money and a job.

I have a month to create and taste and test and taste and test and taste a burger for Chili's. I'm sixth generation Texan. Turn my cumin-and-lace grandmother sideways, and she was the Chili's flavor profile.

Raising the Steaks!

I love looking forward to upcoming events. I hate looking back and being disappointed, and then regret the looking forward. Obviously I'm talking about sex -- all that effing buildup.

In mid-1981, when most of you were searing in your tan lines, I was summering in glamorous Quantico, VA, in Marine Corps Officer Candidates School.

It's much like any other school training program in the U.S. -- you're assigned a footlocker, a bunk mate, and a semi-automatic rifle. Like any bunch of new students, we were assembled in a large gym, seated in uncomfortable bleachers and addressed by the head master.  He was also the Commanding Officer of the base. He let us know what was expected of us for the next six grueling weeks.

Here's To The Ladies Who Write

Sometimes I write wrongs, other times I type it out of the park -- but never without help. Vicki Abelson runs a salon supporting women's writes. It's with these forums that the novel waiting for you to buy (and relate to) will bubble to the surface.

I'm long aware that women do more, read more, sing more, take care of things way after most men who fall asleep with one hand on the remote and the other scratching a dangling... participle.  Vicki invited me to read a couple of my stories.

I came with these two in tow -- one about keeping lofty expectations in check, and the other about unpreventable loss.

If me acting them out in verbal dance isn't enough, you can click these links and read 'em and weep.

If you watched the video and wonder what happened to Lorenzo -- he came back to me. Well, he returned to Los Angeles. I haven't decided whether to call him; time heals all wounds, including bad haircuts. The tree of life is wisely stocked with gorgeous apples, but if you want your Prince to come, someday you'll have to head to the orchard and climb a ladder -- the tastiest mates are on far out branches but worth the effort.

Reach for the stars. I did , and my book The Pink Marine is in stores now!

Happily ever after is real. 

I Can't Afford Myself, Much Less Kids

Panic sets in and I mutter, "Thank god I don't have kids," as I dig around for my lost dry cleaning ticket. 

The days I watch friends ship their teens off to college, it really hits me that being gay isn't a choice for me; but a necessity.  Every time I open my credit card statement(s), I realize that I can't even afford myself, much less dependents. As I sink into debt and depression, it's 15.9-percent-APR-clear that I have no idea how much it costs even to be me. Let's not add another person.

My kid would have to go to a junior college, because my savings plan consists of me getting excited for the annual Fred Segal 50-percent-off sale. I wonder if I could use miles to upgrade them to an Ivy League school....

Since I regard carbs as abs-hiding fear food, my poor child would end up sitting all alone in the cafeteria eating a lettuce-wrap baloney sandwich, sticking out like last year's Gucci. I can't handle that guilt. 

I couldn't bear the eventuality of my kids moving away from my house; I can't even part with all my pleated pants. Like children, they might come back one day.

Sure, I'd love the chance to impart wisdom and hopefully influence a young mind to better our society. But I recently learned the hard way that I can't handle the pressure and responsibility of teaching: I tried to teach my parents how to text. "Do you know that all caps means you're yelling, Mom?" YES.

Now that I'm free to marry, I'm not about to shell out one dime for my kid's wedding. Get in line, honey. Do you have any idea how lavish a gay man's wedding gets after fantasizing about that blessed day since... forever?  I hope PETA won't get on me about hot-gluing roses to all those doves.

Look, I'd love to have lots of kids; I need help around the house like anyone else. And I demonstrate my capacity for love and sacrifice every time I do a closet purge. 

Then there's the whole nature-vs.-nurture argument. Being around me, they run the risk of ending up talking funny.  After all, I am from Texas.

Tai Babilonia: Skating On Chocolate!

If you watch the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, when the beautiful creature flutters off you might think you have seen the whole story.

But that butterfly still has a journey. I try to keep my eyes on one as it dances from bush to bush with the rapidity of a carny swapping out shells. Even when it’s gone, the privilege of seeing that butterfly stays with me.

Ice skating superstar Tai Babilonia never puts her skates in the closet. It's as if she’s keeping her wings ready for a new flight. She has floated across the ice with her partner Randy Gardner since 1968, won the 1979 World Championship and competed in two Olympics. Not one to rest on her laurels, she breezes through life honestly, accepting challenges and personal hardships with the same grace as she celebrates triumphs.

Her latest fun endeavors are sugar-coated -- a new confectionery line: Tai Treats and a coloring book.

So You Married an Ax Murderer from Knife Skills School

You never know what someone's thinking. Lock yourself in the most intimate, passionate embrace with your lover of thirty years, look them straight in the eye and ask, "What are you thinking darling, right this moment?"

They tenderly respond that they're remembering the night you got caught in the rain and how terrified (but still beautiful) you looked. As they swept the wet, matted hair away from your eyes they realized that they have never, ever, been in love with you more.

But they could be thinking about a tuna sandwich.

Sure I can make souffles with my eyes closed, skate through life on my store-bought looks and inherited wealth of knowledge, but I also thought that whenever I cook -- I knew how to properly cut and chop the food. After a knife skills class at The Gourmandise School for Wayward Chefs, I discovered I didn't know jack about knives.

Some lovers grab a pole and put on naughty striptease shows for their partners. I put on cooking shows for Bob. He's 60% audience and 80% director -- adding ideas and concerns like he's adjusting the seasoning of the dish. When I cut, sliced and diced while cooking, from his vantage point it looked like I was an epileptic madman hacking away at a jagged rock, destined to cut my jugular vein at any moment.

I, too, feared I might cut myself -- though not from my lack of knife skills, but from the shock I get from his outbursts. Just as I place the knife in a tomato, Bob might spit out a blood-curdling "Stop!!!!" He's Jewish so this could mean he spotted a yard sale in Boca, or I'm doing something terribly, terribly dangerous.

I went to the three-hour knife skills class with the hope that the life I save might be my own.

That only four other students enrolled for this particular class meant more personal attention for me from our teacher, Christianne (Chris) Winthrop, an accomplished chef with altruistic purposes (Taste of the Nation) and an accredited writer (LA Times). Early on in class, she demonstrated improper knife holding by shower-stabbing Janet Leigh. She had me at Psycho. You have to respect the person giving you information.

When someone has knowledge I need and want, I listen hungrily. When that person has a knife, I listen humbly. Chris began the class discussing the mechanics of knives. She whipped some out. I was glad to learn that one needed only three -- a chef's knife, a paring knife and one with a serrated edge. I was loving the thought of more drawer space; however, what would I do with the dozens of other pricey blades I had purchased over the years? I dared not throw them away in case my rummaged garbage unleashed a mad dumpster diving murderer in Santa Monica. I can't have that on my conscience and I can't have a yard sale because I am too ashamed to show strangers what I once thought worthy of buying.

Oh no -- it was happening. My mind was leaving the scene of the crime because Chris began talking math: millimeters and knife lengths and what it cost per linear inch to have them sharpened by this crazy judgey guy on 4th Street. She droned on about the cost of knives and how the angle at which to cut was forty degrees or the height of two pennies and I heard something about measuring for baking which sounded like algebra and I totally glazed over because I have no math, and now possibly no knife, skills. 

I wandered off and into the steamy memories of my first Turkish bath in Istanbul. Just like I thought I could correctly chop food, I thought I could properly bathe. I'd been bathing for years, even had gang-banged the practice in the Marine Corps where I was able to compare techniques; however, when I was bathed by a swarthy Turk, in a mystical mist-filed room with clean white tiled walls that loudly echoed tales from the 15th century -- I learned that I heretofore had no idea how to bathe. 

I didn't know what the bath attendants were really thinking as they confidently grabbed and raised my arms that are honed to perfection like a fine knife blade, like they were inspecting a common chicken in the market. They used ancient rough brushes and possibly their own thick five o'clock shadows to scrub the Western infidel dirt off of my body. They silently and expertly guided me through an amazing, life-changing and affirming event. I went in with an idle tan and came out invigorated, and as white as if I'd seen my own soul. A Turkish bath experience might be why so many people there still smoke.

I didn't want to be bored during the knife class. "The first rule about knives," I heard Chris say, snapped me away from the trip to Walter Mitty-land. 

I love rules. When she asked who was guilty of putting knives in the dishwasher, she narrowed one eye and raised the other brow as if she also needed to also know if you were a monster who put your own baby in the dishwasher. Everyone raised their hands except me. I was relieved not to have done this heinous act, as I'm also relieved not to do dishes. (Turns out the blast of water and the knocking about dulls the blade.) 

Rule #2: Never catch a falling knife. I imagined a huge, razor sharp cleaver, slipping from my grip as I went to tweet a thought, falling in slo-mo to the floor, and I skillfully caught it like a carny juggler. But carnies are carnies for a reason, so the blade slices my hand completely off and both fall to the floor. Blood spurts out like a Tarantino victim, and, damn, I'm now unable to Instagram the moment. I'm cured forever of violating Rule #2. A falling knife is that waifery thin orphan in Les Mis -- on her own.

Channeling Lucy Liu in Kill Bill II, Chris slaps my cutting board with a spatula, barking that until my index finger is sore and calloused, my training is not complete. I have been holding a knife incorrectly my entire life. I'll fix that behavior. Chris adjusted my grip to include a bit of the blade for stability. In my head I heard Lucy Liu screech: And don't drag your knife through the food like a girl, man -- take hold of your damn knife and chop it! Chop! 

Chris slammed a bell pepper on the chopping block, and in one swift move, splayed and filleted it like a fish. She took the now seedless pepper's green flesh, stacked one slab on another. She laid out chopping basics: Planks, sticks, squares. We were to first create flat surfaces or planks, then slice those into sticks, then those into squares. Step by logical step, and the food results in perfectly squared, all-the-same-size pieces. Adjust where your knife falls and you accomplish fine, medium and rough chop just "as seen on TV."

Chris announced that she knew what we were all thinking. Everyone wants to cut an onion like a star, to dazzle their friends. I was, but I was also thinking about a burger. I'm a busy multi-tasking thinker and it was dinnertime. 

She taught me which end of the onion to leave intact (the hairy one), how to slice it into -- you got it: planks, then sticks, then squares. I laid the onion down on it's side and slid my knife in. It seemed dangerously awkward, but it worked.

It was kind of dazzling. I might lay off the Oompah Loompahs and just stay home and chop onions myself. Bob would worry that I was so quiet, and discover me in the kitchen, hidden by mounds of chopped onions. He'd see the shiny blade of my Wusthoff 8-inch chef's knife flying up and down, sending tiny squares of onions flying around like aromatic snowflakes -- except each dice would be perfect, therefore better than inferior snowflakes, with their inimitable uniqueness.

I came to cooking class to get more confidence. I learned grab my knife firmly, to freely move the food as necessary for my benefit and not pander to it. I now blanch tomatoes in scalding water for thirty seconds, so the peel slides off like a virgin's panties after vodka. Splay the meaty flesh open, unseed the champion and again, planks, sticks, squares.

By hour two I was bossily squishing garlic with the fat side of my knife, all cocky like a cowboy makes love. I chopped it so fine that if it weren't fragrant, it might be suspected of being cocaine.

Chris showed me how to leave the tip of celery intact to keep it together like a starlet's career, guiding it along my board and under my falling blade. Carrots were soon diced like micromanaged lawn clippings, and rosemary was my little bitch -- I chopped her into powder.

I'd been dragging my knife for years through the food. So wrong. Chris taught me to pull the blade up and down into the food, a true chop. With my new grip, it made so much sense. I've been so stupid and blindly cutting. She even set my non-knife-wielding hand correctly so that I could actually do this blindfolded --with my middle finger extended farthest, my other fingers safely tucked behind like little timid children. My knuckle hits the blade and acts as a guide. What was once so scary and intimidating now makes sense. 

Chris tells me to take my time and enjoy the cutting process. With practice I know that I eventually won't chop with the clumsiness of Frankenstein's first steps; but soon be slicing across the cutting board as gracefully as Nureyev jetéing across the stage in nothing but tights and eyeliner.

Each time we finished chopping an individual vegetable, we threw the unwanted parts into a garbage bowl. I unloaded the bowl into a stock pot on top of hot olive oil. In went loose bay leaves, bundled thyme, a whole garlic with the head callously, but perfectly, lopped off, onion skins, has-been carrot tops, ugly celery, cilantro, funky mushrooms and no salt. She explained to never add salt to stock, so it may be used to the best effect in every sauce from demi-glace to velouté. I demi-glazed over as she started into cooking times for stock: four hours for chicken, twenty for beef, forty-five minutes for vegetable.

I stirred the pot for about five minutes, releasing some aromas and searing others in. Once it seemed a huge, steaming compost heap, I covered the mound with water and let it simmer. I resumed my knife lessons.

I chiffonaded basil and kale. I conquered a butternut squash without blood or pain to either of us. Like leading a horse to water, or teaching a man to fish, Chris stood back and folded her arms, and told us to look at all of our dishes of chopped ingredients. What I had before me was a recipe for success -- the ingredients for a minestrone and a butternut squash soup. Which we'd now prepare. 

I wasn't prepared to cook, too. I'd pictured knife school as me chopping endlessly, being yelled at by an Asian taskmaster as the teacher, You call that chopping?! I should chop off your hands -- you bring shame to this dojo! I'd figured us used as cheap labor, forced to cut up mounds of potatoes that the school would then turn into soup for schools or sell to prisons since their food budget is higher.

I raised my olive oil bottle and drizzled it in my soup pot with the flourish of an animated chef. I gently, and a little sadly, eased in the onion, celery and carrots that I had just chopped -- it was too soon to release them. But I was hungry. I'd been sneaking into the school's pantry and eating uncooked pasta. I sprinkled finely chopped rosemary over the top as if it were pixie dust. Soon, magic did happen, the aroma of the herbs and vegetables rose up and sent the same thrill through me that I had when I first wobbily rode a bike unassisted down the street.

Yes, I cook a lot, but this was professionally guided. This felt like the farmer feels when he pulls a radish from the ground that he himself had pushed down into the earth as a seed. The secret happy dance that he did in the field when no one was watching to make the radish grow was going on in my head right now as I stirred my soup's base.  

Normally I would have added stock by now. But Chris told me to relax; let the onions soften completely. They aren't Levis being washed over and over to help ease the stiffness; onions don't get softer from boiling in stock. It was hard to wait that seven or eight minutes. Had Chris not been watching, and holding a knife, I'd have prematurely ejaculated the stock in the pot.

When the time was right, she had me grab a strainer. I started to protest, but she held a finger to my quivering lips, ssshhhh. She eased it on the top of the stock pot, and pushed it down, allowing stock to fill the mesh void as it submerged. Et voila, we had perfectly strained, ready-to-add stock without lifting the heavy pot and soiling bowls or more pots.

Maybe this was learned in her chef's training, or necessity had borne the invention, because the dishwasher has called in sick that night at the school. I heard mumblings of we students getting a bonus "dishwashing experience at no extra charge." Not gonna be me; wearing their used apron was my limit.

I learned a lot from this class, and Chris. As my bounty of chopped ingredients neared the end of their journey to soup, I tasted it. I had asked Chris when to add salt, and she advised after each ingredient is added. A pinch, she taught me, is 1/16 of teaspoon, so you have sixteen pinches before even a teaspoon is reached. She stressed the importance of a flavorful soup base and told us that woodsy herbs like rosemary and thyme can be sauteed with the savory trilogy of onions, carrots and celery to enhance that.

My soup was beautiful. The kale stayed bright green the entire time. Although it needed salt, I held off. Parmesan cheese finished the dish, and Bob has taught me that the cheese adds salt. I sprinkled the cheese, a little basil, stirred, and sat there all alone with my thoughts and soup. Who knew what the others were thinking about their lesson, but I was content.

Knife skills 101 is under my belt. Advanced Skills Class is in my sight, where Chris says we get to de-bone a chicken and threaten old people. At least I think that's what she said; she started talking class dates and class sizes and the next thing I knew I was walking down the hall, rubbing my sore finger, digesting my night and my soup. I happed upon this mall Easter Bunny waiting for poseurs. He had a fan on him, trying not to melt from the heat. 

For once I can tell exactly what someone else was truly thinking. We both were imagining him naked.

Guest Who's Coming to Dinner?

Gypsy Rose Lee seductively bared her hostess side with the legendary Let me entertain you. I might not be a professional stripper; but I was a Boy Scout. I still live by the motto that they seductively beat into me with camp outs and merit badges: Be Prepared.

Being a host has one basic responsibility:  Show your guests a good time.

Everyone loves an event that goes smoothly. You plan and plan and plan; but sometimes surprises pop up like an erection in science class – unnecessary and potentially disastrous. Events occur that really test your entertaining mettle. Sometimes you either want to cry or go in the kitchen, hastily fashion an apron into a kimono and lower your body over a Ginsu knife hari kari style.

Entertaining is for those who have strong stomachs, good planning skills, a will as strong as your de rigueur cast-iron skillet -- and the ability to adapt.

If you intend to bake a pie where four-and-twenty blackbirds fly out on cue and your local bird purveyor is short a bird -- you have two choices: Stand in a park posing like a statue and hold seeds in the palm of your hand until one foolish, disease-ridden pigeon lands. Then you savagely kill, dress and delouse that bird. Or simply change your menu.

I had my dining table made sixty inches across, and round so I could see and talk to every guest. I have eight matching dining chairs so any seated dinner can be any combination up to eight. I recently planned a party for six. Note the word planned.

I mixed the guest list (again, party of six) like a cocktail. I plopped in a couple of ice-breaking old friends, stirred in some new hooch and shook it up with strategic seating. This party was all men, so Boy-Girl wasn't an option, and Top-Bottom is so 1990. I seated by personality type: Chatty-Quiet-Funny-Smart-Outrageous-Hung. (I always seat myself last and nearest to the kitchen.)

My plan includes a plan for setting the table, shopping and cooking. Each of these steps must be tweeted and instagrammed, so I need to stay on a schedule.

Space is limited in my apartment. To set the table, I have to roll a rug back and move a buffet table out a bit to access cabinets that hold more china options.

Once every dish for every course is identified and removed from their zippered cases, I close the cabinets up and roll the buffet and rug back. I climb a ladder and unhook the cabinet doors over the fridge to get the crystal down. Each glass is kept in it's own padded box.

(All cabinets are secured shut with hasps to keep the dishes from crashing onto the floor during an earthquake.)

The silver is unlocked and unrolled from its tarnish-preventing felt bodyguard packets. Vases are hidden in a deep cabinet like illegal immigrants in a San Diego storage facility, and I reach in the dark cupboard and feel around like I am Hillbilly Handfishin' until I find the right one.

Red and White roses from LA flower mart.
Whatever flowers are in season dictate the color of the tablecloths and linens.

The Los Angeles Flower Mart is usually my first errand for dinner prep. It’s downtown, so if there's time, I dip into dim sum in adjacent Chinatown.

For this dinner I wanted to spend more time with my guests so I made my fish en papillote. By 4PM, the six packets were all prepared and chillin' in the fridge. My individual roasted beet and goat cheese terrines were all plated, just waiting for that last second where I graciously bestow a blessing of lightly dressed micro-greens on top.

Pink table clots with green and white china dishesBy 6PM the table was set and I took a calm moment to admire it. I used the perfect pink tablecloth and was so relieved that exactly six perfect pink freshly pressed napkins were available -- the others had not returned from the laundry. I stood back and appreciated how nice six looked. An even half dozen. The perfect amount of space for the place settings that were perfectly in place for the guests arriving in thirty minutes. Six at six.

Were this a Disney movie, this is exactly the point where a dog would chase a cat and the cat would screech across the table sending everything flying high into the air. As the dishes fell, I'd catch each breakable heirloom in my hand, on my foot, even on my nose. As my great-great grandmother’s priceless gravy boat was just about to hit the floor, my tongue darts out and saves it.

But not today bitches -- the phone rang and shook me back to present day Los Angeles.

In LaLaLand, people tend to cancel even the most locked-in plans if traffic is bad, they can't find parking, their nanny was deported, or their dog chased their cat across a table. So far no one had canceled, so when the phone rang at 6:15 and it was one of the guests, I feared I was about to hear a doozy.

"I'm standing here with my dear friend who I would love you to meet. Or is it whom?” he said.

I adore meeting new friends – just not now, I thought.

"Can I bring her tonight?' he asked.

As in: I'm bringing my friend to your house in fifteen minutes. 

I'd like to thank the Academy for the performance I gave on that call for Best Performance by a Host in a Horror Film.

"Of course -- bring her," I said. 
He wasn't being insensitive -- he couldn't know about my almost perfectly completed plan. We'd dined at each other's houses dozens of times where we just stood over the stove and picked lamb stew out of a pot with a common fork.

I flew into a strategic action plan. I climbed the ladder and unpacked another goblet. I panicked and tried to remember if I'd bought six or eight or twelve or one hundred place settings of the china I was using. As I pulled the rug and buffet back to look, I silently gave up a prayer of It’s a good thing to the patron saint of perpetual hosting, Martha Stewart.

My faith was restored and rewarded -- I had another place setting. I re- hasped the doors, shoved the buffet back in place and smoothed out the rug. I was getting sloppy in my haste and almost forgot the napkins. I frantically dug through the napkin drawer with the frenzy of Bristol Palin looking for a condom, but came up empty.

There wasn't time to switch out the tablecloth. Sure, I wanted to grab the edge of the cloth, yank and magically pull it out, leaving every dish intact. But how could I get another one underneath the dishes?

I grabbed a stack of blue napkins I never use. Stand-ins can be prettier than the original lead. Take All About Eve -- Bette Davis had reason to dread foxy Anne Baxter. As I placed the new blue beauties around the table I made up a little story in my head to tell the guests later: I read in Vanity Fair how all the best people in Paris are using blue napkins with pink cloths – isn’t it fun!

I sent Bob dashing to the fish store while I cut another parchment heart for the seventh entree packet. I opened the already closed packets and stole a few sauteed leeks and wild mushrooms from each one, with the sneakiness of a teen siphoning off a bit of his parent's booze when they were out I hoped no one noticed. I lopped off the top of a few of the beet terrines, and Frankensteined a new one. There was plenty of food.

Never let 'em see you sweat. The unexpected guest arrived. I can't place my finger on exactly what; but something about the way she just walked in and immediately complimented my art and my hair as she inhaled the air and picked up on my subtle use of thyme made me like her a lot -- right on the spot.

My concern of how a round girl would fit in the table of square peg men melted away with her smart tales of her Stanford life with Condoleezza Rice. She adored my blue napkins, remarking that she would love a scarf of that fabric. I heard women use trickery and she certainly Delilah-d us with her charm and grace.

The night went late. I love getting swept away and spending time with my guests, unconcerned about time. Dinner over and dishes cleared, we leaned in and put our elbows on the table to luxuriate down into deeper conversation. We were bolstered by interesting topics and trips into the kitchen for more wine and cake. This was one of those nights where a group’s collective conscience solves a social problem or plans a trip to Greece.

No one knew of my last minute rush and truthfully to me, it seemed long ago. If I'd once viewed the added guest as a nuisance or unpleasant interruption of service, it's now forgotten. When her thank you note arrived the next day, it was the first, it was the loveliest written. And I was not surprised.

Einstein said the measure of intelligence is the ability to change.  I think he was a Boy Scout.

I Am The New Normal - Barren But Blessed

It takes a bold move to convince masses of humanity to accept a different way of life. We can always ask ourselves, WWJD?
Love and acceptance are ancient ideas, expressed by heroes through brave acts, in poems, art and song. Although John Lennon wasn’t killed for what he believed in, he left us with a permanent wish, Let It Be. If only that song were around to play (or prevent) during the ultimate sacrifice for one’s beliefs, the crucifixion of Jesus. 

Last week athlete Chris Kluwe came out strongly in support of gay marriage. Sure he had some stones thrown at him by the masses, but some of his fans are gay. They quietly and proudly waved a little rainbow flag in the privacy of their own homes. Both gays and straights were shocked to hear such a vehement defense of this lifestyle. His move sent Middle America agooglin’ lustful cockmonster.

Perhaps Kluwe can clue people in that everyone has the right to love whoever they want.

Most men have thought about sex with another man. Like right now. But everyone doesn’t act on it, thankfully. That would take the special right out of it. I love Prada; but I don’t want the whole world to wear it.  Eww.

Television stations in Utah banned the new show The New Normal before it even aired. The show centers around a gay couple’s surrogated-guide to parenthood. America’s bigotry is played by Ellen Barkin, who slurs “Just let me know if you’re pregnant, I’d like to send a congratulations card to Satan.”  She's telling us what to hate. And at the same time, she's telling you it’s okay to love me.

I always thought that I'd be a father. When I was in my breeding prime, the doors that I needed to walk through were closed. As I grew up, I met plenty of shameful “late in life ” or “mistake” babies.  As the rules of society soften, I now watch my gay friends create amazing families with their children, whether biological or adopted. To purposefully bring a life in this world is, thankfully, the new normal.

This societal shift that now allows same sex parenting, brought on by bold moves, has moved in an ironically obtuse line to my own life. The man I am is not dependent on reproducing children. I went a different direction and am not less of a man because I don’t have children. My biological clock ticked quietly inside, and I found happiness from loving five amazing nieces. Sure, when they were sticky I just handed them back to their parents. But at one’s wedding last month, her mother whispered to me, “It took all of us, didn’t it?”  That one moment was amazing recognition that my time as “merely an uncle” has more than satisfied my paternal instincts. And I don’t have to pay for anyone’s college.

I'm grateful for the heroes of Stonewall, and know that their public act of defiance allows my freedom. I walk tall everywhere I go and free and confident to go anywhere. If I find myself in a bad neighborhood, I'd try to blend in a bit, look less obviously rob-able --  out of my desire to not get killed. That’s not a sacrifice, that’s survival. I don’t need to jump on a cross, that’s very B.C. behavior in a P.C world.

I'm gay, but I'm also left-handed, a good cook, and a former U.S. Marine. I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to. I had a terrific experience. I didn’t tell, but no one asked. Unless it was for a date.

Am I more of a man because I was a Marine? Well, I am not less I can assure you that.

Oscar Wilde said "Youth is wasted on the young". Beware of mass generalizations, he didn’t say all the young. There are plenty of heroes and always room for more. I can’t wait to see what’ s next.

I Can Throw A Fit & A Football

The report that good service is dead is greatly exaggerated.

There are days when no one loves their job. I saw a rare human interest story on the news about a guy that makes tiny prosthetic feet for ducks who have no feet. I'm not sure if they were born that way or lost them in a fight; but I know the duck feet guy is their hero. I bet even he sometimes bitches about the tiny shoe laces and wonders if he is doing any real good.

I figure that if you have to work somewhere -- work hard and be happy. And have some fucking fun. When I got a job as a waiter in college, my wise Aunt Jewell told me to “bend over backwards until they give you their last dollar.”

Some people working in restaurants or stores while pursuing their true passions on the side, often lack dedication to their “day job".  But I recently encountered several people that buck this trend.

The food at Mozza is great. I don't know if Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali are making out in the kitchen, but they're popping out dishes of love. It’s crazy crowded and I am happy to eat at the bars at either Pizzeria or Osteria, because the bartenders impress me. Their interest and passion about the food is as high their wine knowledge. I praised my bartender there last week, and said he loves the food and works on tips, so why not? Duh. (Tip: Eat at the bar, your server not only has booze but also is captive.)

Sometimes you need time to solve world problems, like the recent dinner I had with my friend Mary Ann at Magic Cheese, where we formulated a plan to end the terrorism problem. The waiter interrupted us and we lost it.

At Fishbar in Manhattan Beach recently, Susan Swerdloff and I ordered all of our dishes at once; yet asked the waitress to pace it with the kitchen so that they didn’t arrive at the same time. We thought we made it clear that we weren't in a rush.

Susan and I trusted that Fishbar waitress. I wanted give her the short Life isn't about the destination, but the journey speech and explain to her that it applies to dinner, careers and sex; but she rushed off 

Smash cut to:  

Me and Susan, mid-conversation and salad.  A smiling busboy appears, carrying a platter of yummy lobster tacos.

                                        Hey, that's our entree and we're still on salad!

                                        Oh, snap. I'll bring these back when you are ready.

                                        The same ones? They'll be all old and gross. 
                                        You might as well bring back Ed McMahon.

                                         No, I'll push these on some foreigners. We'll split
                                         up another couple of lobsters that mate for life and make you fresh
                                         tacos when your highnesses are ready.

                                         See that you do.

                                         Are you a waiter?

                                         No, I'm a busboy. (pointing at the lines above) Can't you read this script?

                                        Well, you oughta be a waiter, 'cause our waitress totally messed
                                        us over and now some rubes have to eat tacos that weren't 
                                        intended for them originally and that I kinda poked.

                                         Lower you voice, sir.

                                        Sorry. (whispering) I didn't actually poke them.

                                        No, speak deeper dude, you sound like you breathed helium.

Busboy exits, smiling.

I pulled the manager over, wanting to ask her why she was wearing a tailored skirt in a fish shack. Instead I told her how our busboy cared deeply about our experience. He solved a problem in a manner smoother than their lobster mac n' cheese. I whipped off my glasses and demanded that the busboy be promoted to waiter. I imagined a little ceremony in the dining room where I'd give a moving speech and Instagram the moment.

Susan, or maybe me, told the manager that the busboy had "actor good looks", which is important.

Instead of being excited, the manager responded that she was now sad that her well-trained waitress was not up to par -- as if the waitress were an old circus monkey who stopped doing its one good trick. Her lack of enthusiasm meant either that she saw no promise in the eager and good looking busboy or that our waitress was her lover. Perhaps she despised the busboy and later made him rinse out her pantyhose in the mop sink while she smoked.

I made a note to write a letter, or at least a comment on Trip Advisor, to see if Fishbar's owner might care but I never did. I wish I had more of these positive examples to write about; but in fact I get more incidents of negative service. I practically have American Airlines on email "speed send" if my seat snaps off and sails back a few rows mid-flight. But rarely do I get to write a note of praise.

I finally did last week. After above-and-beyond service, it took five minutes to find the emails for the General and HR Managers of Bloomingdale's Century City. I fired this note off as fast as if it had been a long winter and I was a slutty single mother sending my kids off to summer camp:

"To Whom It May Concern:

Last night about 7:30PM, I came to your store in Century City. My niece turns five tomorrow and she asked me for a tea set - I went to Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma near my home in Santa Monica, neither had one. I wasn't excited to drive into CC, but was with my brother who insisted you'd have something that I needed.

You did. Her name is Lauren and she works in housewares. I stepped off the escalator and headed back to casual china and dishes. A salesman said you had none, but I could walk to the other end of the store and check in fine china. You have a large store. I searched the entire china department, unaided or approached by the two staffers on duty. I went to luggage and asked a salesman there, who suggested I return to housewares and ask them.

Again, I discovered you have a large store; however I was eager to make my nieces wish come true. The night was almost over, so I walked all the way back to the other side. I passed the Nespresso counter for the second time and was impressed that it took three employees to staff a counter.  I asked if they could help me but they said they work for Nespresso. Who is using so much Nespresso?!

I finally found a young girl behind the counter in Housewares, Lauren. I told her what my need was and she smiled, said she remembered being five, and led me to the back of the dishware section. She showed me every single teapot you carry. Patiently, but with the intent to sell. I didn't like any of them for my niece. At this point, every other employee I encountered last evening would have, if they had even helped me, ended our transaction, my hunt and their interaction with me, right then. More importantly, they would have cost you the $80 bucks I spent with Lauren.

Lauren, of her own volition, immediately asked if I could wait a few minutes while she searched the back of the stock room to see if she could find any teapots that were not on the floor. Soon, I saw Lauren emerge from the back. Your store is so large, she was so far away, but I could see she was struggling to carry many items in her sweet hands. I could make out the shape of a teapot, and it looked fun and whimsical. As she neared, she was beaming - so excited by what she found.

The teapot and cups were fun. They had a Disney-esqe swirl design all over them. We looked at them and were all in agreement that this was the perfect tea set for a five year-old. I asked if she thought there might be saucers, and she laid down what she had and went back to look. The three Nespresso tram members continued getting caught up on their texting.

Lauren returned with four tinier cups, four matching saucers, four tea plates, a cream pitcher and sugar bowl, and again, more excitement. I bought it all - and the shocker was
not that it was on sale (which got it out of your dusty stockroom) but the 25 minutes that Lauren lovingly took (including two trips to god knows where to get boxes) to carefully wrap each piece in tissue and box them. I felt Lauren was boxing them to give to someone precious to her.

I love the time I had with Lauren and feel that she is an above exemplary employee to
Bloomingdale's. She doesn't know me; but I'm a better person for knowing her. As we left, my brother said to me that he had a renewed faith in retail salespeople, totally provided by Lauren.

Hold Lauren up high for her co-workers to see. You have lots of display pedestals in that huge store, put her up on one. Remind her co-workers why they are there. Give her a raise. Make her employee of the year. Send her to your national conferences and bring her up on stage and have the president say, "Do what Lauren does." I hope Lauren is with you for as long as it is best for her. Whatever her future, she'll be an asset to any company.

Oh, and tell Nespresso they can easily cut their staffing costs down by two thirds.

Lauren made a sale last night - and a customer of me for life. And I cannot wait to watch my niece delightfully open her tea set tomorrow night. I'll tell her about the care Lauren took in finding it. My niece will listen and remember that someone she doesn't even know made a big fuss for her birthday. Lauren made more than a little girl's 5th birthday wish come true. Maybe I'll bring my niece to Bloomingdale's one day and introduce her to Lauren -- and tell her that whenever she needs something in a store, to always look for a "Lauren".

And if you see Lauren, please tell her to be patient with her bothersome younger brother she told us about -- he might turn out just like her."

The General Manager called me, telling me that they knew of St. Lauren's promise. She said that when they gave her the letter she replied "I was just doing my job." They do plan on recognizing her in some way. I had a sweet email from Lauren. And the GM invited me to lunch. I've had emails from other Bloomie's corporate execs and a Nespresso rep wrote me that they need to have a loooong internal meeting. I do hope the attention doesn't cause Lauren to be a victim of any Bloomie's Bullying and get beaten in the alley by thugs from Cosmetics. Those women are tough.

I do wish that I had more chances to write these types of letters. They're more fun. Takes more muscles to frown than smile. We all want validation for our life choices. It feels good when someone thinks you have on a nice shirt. That same pride can be contagious in the workplace.

I will for sure go back to Mozza, Fishbar and Bloomie's, just to check on my little stars. And for my free lunch.

We're all in customer service, whether you are a housewife or Warren Buffet, In our workplaces we need to always do our best to turn lemons into lemonade.

And like lemonade, good service is refreshing and sweet.

Grateful 5 Year Old aka Future Customer

In The Name of The Mane

Once upon a time I had no hair worries because Lorenzo was in my life.

Lorenzo cut hair like a wizard. He looked exactly like his name sounds when said slowly-- long flowing mane of dark hair. Cheekbones high and taut as his perfect butt. He could have jumped off the cover of a romance novel, 50 Shades of Grey No More. He'd take me by the hand and help me personally fulfill my hair fantasies. Lorenzo wore black leather pants so tight they looked like part of his legs and he kept his silk shirts open to the navel. I had a compulsion to slip his tip in his waistband along with my number.

But he had my number.

I felt him walk up behind me as I sat in the chair. I gasped a bit as he gently but firmly touched the back of my head. He took his time running his fingers through my hair, as if he were reading my love letter to him, written on my scalp in Braille. He could do anything he wanted. I felt safe in his hands.

His confidence was contagious; he made everyone look and feel good. I’d see him socially, and would melt a bit when, at a party, without a word, he'd reach up in casual conversation and gently brushed my hair off my forehead with his trained hand.

His own long, black hair was a marvel. People did anything to touch it, usually under the guise of asking conditioning tips. It was like boobies in a strip club; you just want to touch ‘em, even though you might not understand why and it’s not at all cool with the owner.

Lorenzo grabbed my head, guiding it closer to his chest. He cut slowly at first and then his clipping built with rhythmic passion. Hot music pounded in the salon and I swear he timed my cut to end as a song reached its crescendo. When he finished, his hands flew up in the air. He was spent. I was breathless and it took a moment for my eyes to gain back focus. An assistant swooped in from nowhere and mopped his brow.

I hated that the haircut ended. When I left the salon I needed to pause and reach in my pants to dress right from left so I could comfortably walk to my car.

Ordinary stars rise in the Los Angeles sky every night; but a fiery meteor like Lorenzo gets noticed.

My Lorenzo met Elton John at a party. Elton made a smart move and left LA to stay sober. He learned to come back to Hollywood to stuff his pockets with cash to benefit his AIDS foundation. Elton planted his seeds of philanthropy at the same time he implanted his famous hair plugs -- and Sir Elton didn't want to personally tend his new garden. I imagine Lorenzo walking into the party, his hair blowing in the breeze. A little fluff of sex fell off his shoulders, leaving a happy trail that Elton sniffed out and followed.

He courted Lorenzo. At first it was so innocent, like when Elton flew into L.A. and shut down Versace on Rodeo and let Lorenzo point at shirts he wanted. As any normal business relationship progresses, soon Lorenzo had meetings with Elton's decorator to outfit an apartment in Atlanta.

I wasn't really worried. I saw Lorenzo once a month or so, and his “affair” with Elton seemed just that.

My hair never looked more taken care of. Lorenzo was flourishing and I benefited. One day he was snipping away and let it slip that he’d flown over to London to stay with Elton. What? Up to now I was happy for me -- my hairdresser also did Elton John's hair! When someone complimented mine, I whipped it in their general direction, slung my drink, and loudly letting them know that it was manhandled by the same hands as the fabled tresses of a legendary pop singer.

Yet here I was sitting in his chair, stunned. It was one of those days in LA that's so stunningly beautiful I get suspicious and figure something bad has to happen to balance it all out. I know I really should just stay home where it’s safe.

He finished my cut and instead of the usual ceremonial whipping off of my cape, he placed his hands on my shoulders and took a deep breath.

He spoke slowly. "We need to talk," he said.

Those are the four most hated words in any language. In sign language it's a simple flip of the bird. In Africa, you hear them clicked by a tribe and know that heads are landing on a stick.

Lorenzo was moving to London, leaving his salon, his home, his family, and me.

I was angry with him for falling for the glitz, begging to know why I wasn't enough. I screamed and cried, pulling on my hair, hard, to show him what the real thing was. I needed to tell him how foolish he was for leaving the stability of a solid head of hair for temporary plugs.

Elton pulled the ultimate trump card and introduced Lorenzo to Princess Diana. My world was crumbling; but I wished him well. I used my fake smile, the one ironically honed as a reaction to sad news in this town.

Rejection is a total erection killer; I walked out of the salon in the same state I was in when I leave the dentist -- limp, confused, shaken and in pain.

My presumptive belief that my hair would always be perfect lulled me into a false sense of security.  I guess karma is a bitch with a British accent and six Grammys.

I felt abandoned and lost. Life doesn't come with a hair manual -- but life grows out.

I tried to go back to Sassoon; but it felt weird, like it does when you go visit your elementary school and the desks look tiny. I crashed, along with my own self-worth. I walked into The Hair Cuttery; they don’t even require an appointment. I had it done by someone wearing a hand-written nametag; she was probably just released from prison. I once let a guy in Paris cut it --just because he was swarthy. I didn't even speak French to him; I no longer deserved open and honest communication about my hair.

I'm better. I've talked about it, take a few deep breaths and resist the urge to go down the disastrous road of self-cutting. I rarely have it cut now. I’ve faced the cold hard realization that it’ll probably fall out anyway.

Hair will leave you just like Lorenzo did.

Honey, I'm Home(less)!

Online guides such as The Zagat Guide or Trip Advisor are often useful to diners but detrimental to restaurateurs. One bad review can close you down before they close their browser. Cyber-sent diners flee from your eatery before they even taste for themselves whether or not your “ambiance is as bland as the soup” or “Their Chicken Piccata made me want to yank my tongue out”.  Some people are just mean – like the guy in California who ran around suing and subsequently closing restaurants if their handicapped facilities weren’t up to his non-handicapped satisfaction. 

I do read reviews; but take them with a grain of salt (if the salt is needed). I often suggest to the waiter, chef or manager ways to improve their food, service or décor. I love how they nod, smile and thank me. I also know that as soon as the screen door hits me where the good lord split me, they look at my credit card receipt and curse the name on it and then go right back to using cream cheese in their tart even though we all just agreed that goat cheese would be better.

The Zagat Guide once included in their review of swanky eatery The Ivy at The Shore in Santa Monica that it had a nice view of the homeless. Decency herself personally marched into their office and waved her lily white arm That errant phrase vanished. Zagat was right. Many Hollywood hangers-on had difficulty swallowing their $48 hangers steaks while bums blatantly looking all pitiful and hungry hung about outside the window. Mediocre starlets actually got acting jobs based on their ability to act like they didn’t notice the destitute throngs blocking their view of the Santa Monica Pier. We all saw them; we just didn’t care. We cared, deep down, but just not right then.

Back in the old days if someone lost their home, someone else in the community took them in. Sure their reputation was forever tarnished and they'd be spoken of in hushed tones; but they’d be provided for. Then the depression hit and there were just too many of them. Entire shanty towns popped up like zits on a teenager and legions of train-hopping hobos rode the rails without tickets or steamer trunks. By the 1970's when the bloody Viet Nam war was broadcast into our shag-carpeted living rooms during dinner, we were desensitized.  Toughen up and cut that steak, America, Walter Cronkite said.

"Keep eating, dear; it's not us," our mothers assured.

The first homeless I encountered were on my block in NYC. I learned that New York governor (in a brilliant budget-cutting move) released mental patients onto the NYC streets. Being homeless in NYC made no sense to me –- it was so cold. LA seemed a better choice. I figured that these street people were drunk or lost and would eventually just go back home. But for the insane ones -- how could a crazy person find time to get first, last and a security deposit together when they were so busy arguing with the voices in their head?

I came to know this one homeless guy on my NYC street. Not by name or through conversation, just observation. He was a middle-aged tall, black guy that wore cutoff jeans so short that his huge penis permanently poked out of the frayed leg. I figured maybe he would get extra donations off people getting a peek at his dangly goodies. Sex sells.

I used the curb outside my apartment as a Goodwill to drop off clothes I didn't need or remember buying.  Later I'd see my John Holmes buddy roaming our block wearing my sweaters. And he rocked them. He breathed life into the boring Ralph Lauren white tennis sweater I'd once worn on a family photo shoot. It looked so much sexier with his bare midriff.

Everyday he asked me for a cigarette and I gave him one like I was granting him a wish. Once, just for fun I said "no. He immediately asked for my autograph -- clearly what he was after all this time. I granted that request, lowered my head and sped up, like I'd seen Mary Tyler Moore do on Columbus Avenue when she'd obviously strayed too far from her building.

When I moved to Santa Monica, I saw the same, very old homeless woman for fifteen years. She was tiny and had grey Phyllis Diller fright wig hair. She managed to maneuver a marvelous string of a dozen small wheeled carts as if she were handling polo ponies. Instead of leather reins, she tied the carts together with plastic bags. I watched pause to refresh the slash of bright orange lipstick that lit up her otherwise grey face. I always figured she'd be picked up one day and provided a home; but she disappeared. Presto --- it only took fifteen years. I'm sad to say I think she died.

I always face a conundrum -- do I give a homeless person a dollar to ease their struggle, or does that make them successful as beggars and keep them oppressed?

I loved Callahan’s Restaurant in Santa Monica on Wilshire Boulevard. Opened by an Irish family in 1948, bought in the eighties by a Mexican family. I hate that it closed in 2015. The papi cooked, his daughters were the waitresses, and the non-English speaking abuela gave you coffee whether you wanted it or not. Breakfast is good; but the people watching is delicious.

I once pitched in and answered the phone. The caller wanted Cream of Wheat – to go. I thought the order silly. Who couldn’t boil water and throw in some dehydrated gruel? But the Callahan’s crew was glad to make it and box it up.

Later, when I was enjoying heuvos rancheros, a homeless woman I'd seen around town came in. I asked the waitress to give her whatever she wanted and discretely add it to my bill. When her food arrived and the waitress told her it was on the house, the woman looked puzzled. She stuffed her rumpled money back in her pocket – the same money you and I use – and took her Styrofoam box and left to eat on the street. I hoped she'd eat inside and take a break from the mean streets, sitting in the comfort of the green vinyl booths. I suspected the waitress had kicked her out and refused her the right to sit down. Before I could channel Martin Sheen and protest, they explained that the woman always declined to sit inside because she didn’t want to bother the cleaner diners.

I had a yard sale so long ago that I ran an ad in the local  now defunct) paper. My friend Jessica came up with a slogan, Queen Clears the Castle. She read Martha Stewart's tips on yard sales that included washing everything, having lots of dollar bills and playing music. Our ad phrase was so hot that even before the sale started, as David Youse and I were hauling stuff out, we saw throngs of people actually running down the street towards my tables. Twice I went back inside my house and grabbed more stuff. A homeless woman came up and pulled out a huge wad of cash to pay for some sneakers. I gladly gave them to her in a grand gesture which makes me now able to add philanthropist to my resume/credits.

I was working in development of a television show that had a one-time role for homeless character. We picked up one of those guys in Hollywood who stood on a corner with a cardboard sign. It said he was willing to do anything for money, so we shamelessly picked his brain. We asked how he got homeless, how long he'd been out, where and if he bathed, etc. The most surprising news: He made over $200 a day from begging. When we released him, he threw a fit when we offered him a $100 bill. We'd taken up his whole day and prevented him from working. We peeled off another hunny to hush him up.

If LA is the better place than NYC to be when homeless, then Carmel, CA is nirvana. The weather is cool yet sunny, and each charming cottage in Carmel has a name, like Bluebird of Happiness or Punkin Patch. If one wants to write a letter to the occupants, simply address it to the name of the cottage and an attractive postman delivers it, with a smile and possibly some humming. 

I was recently in Carmel and got hungry from wandering the streets. I found an authentic and inventive sandwich shop and ordered a bellissimo Italian meat sandwich. I sat in a tiny park to eat. It was such a beautiful day that my lunch actually tasted better. I sat there chewing prosciutto, wondering if it counted as a processed meat. I did what I always do when I am in a beautiful resort town - try to figure out how I could live there, not work, and be as happy as this magical place seemed. All of my problems would wash away with a better zip code. Famed Carmel resident Doris Day and I would become fast friends and walk our Golden Retrievers on the beach, arm in arm, laughing as she confided in me and only me why she really left Hollywood.

As I sat in the tiny park I resisted the urge to feed the black bird with the bright yellow eyes that was hopping around, looking so longingly at my sandwich – I didn’t want to make him successful as a beggar by just handing him food. A woman in a Martha Stewart-ish knit poncho walked past me, talking softly to what I figured was a cell phone caller from her Bluetooth.  Suddenly another woman rushed up to her, calling, “Suzanne?” The poncho-draped woman turned, and was told that some lunch was on it’s way for her. She invited “Suzanne” to have a seat on one of the park's benches.

I wanted to be Suzanne. A great fuss was being made over her and her needs for lunch and it was being hand delivered to her in a lovely park. Suzanne sat on the bench for a moment. I realized she wasn’t on a cell phone call, wore no shoes, had a noticeable twitch and this park was as close to a home as she knew.

I was impressed that Carmel not only called their cottages by name, but also their vagrants. I watched Suzanne as she sat on the bench mumbling to herself. I wondered how she became homeless, theorizing it was drugs or alcohol, the high cost of seaside living, or sheer delusion, thinking at least she was lucky to be here and not released in freezing NYC by a reckless governor.

The other woman returned to hand Suzanne a paper to-go carton, as if she were handing a wooden block to a five year old for the first time.

"Suzanne, this is your Salade Nicoise," the woman said before hurrying back to her seat at her table in the chic restaurant across the street.

Suzanne ambled off with her box, resuming her frantic solitary conversation and picking out the parts she didn't like and dropping them for the little black bird. A friend from India once told me a tale of a friend of his in Mumbai who was "between residences" and lived in a park for a few months. Broke as he was, he still had a boy that fetched his tea and folded his blankets. In India, I learned, no matter how lowly you are, there's always someone lower.

I was in San Francisco the day before. I got lost in a bad area. I was a little panicked and tried to find a cab or a genie to help me escape. I had to step over a woman asleep on the sidewalk. It was 11AM and she looked so peaceful as she slept on the sidewalk. I saw her stocking feet and figured that she'd been a victim of a recent shoe theft. Her dark tan brought out her still-attractive features. I thought for a second that if this were the South of France or my pool, she'd be actually improving her appearance by getting a little sun. Here she was literally burned up and out -- unprotected. Sunblock was low on the list, beat out by vodka and survival.

She is someone's daughter or sister or wife. At one time she laughed and watched old movies and maybe cooked breakfast for her children. She earned that spot on the street, on her own, by falling on times as hard as the sidewalk. It might not look like it, but she is still someone special.

While I got out of that neighborhood safely, I hoped she managed to get back on her feet. I know I can't help her; but I did keep thinking about her. Unlike the safety I usually feel when watching tragic news on television at a safe distance, she was very close to me. She could be someone I know. She could be me and I could be her.

I'm reminded to practice tolerance and reserve judgement. I may not drop a quarter in their cup; but I can smile and look in their eyes and wish them a better day. That doesn't make them successful as a beggar, but it keeps my humanity in check.

I try to live in gratitude, which needs no physical address.

It's Only Monkey

I'm sure rich moneybags leaving their dough to relatives in a trust fund do so in order to protect the inheritor from running out and spending their money foolishly. Or else they end up buying a monkey.

See, my cousin Sean came into the principal of his trust when he turned twenty one. Some cruel estates make heirs wait until they are twenty-five or thirty, or in the most horrible reach-from-the-grave I ever heard of --my friend Peter Porteous from Dallas wasn't given control until he was forty. Poor Peter could reach for his dreams but never a check.

Chili Earthquake

I was at lunch in Florida this weekend and someone asked me which was worse, the hurricanes of Florida or the earthquakes in California. While I don't care for either (I made sure to pronounce it 'eye-ther" since pontification was about to occur), I pointed out that with hurricanes one has days to prepare and with an earthquake one is lucky to grab some underwear, run into the hallway and duck under a lawyer.

My hurricane evacuation plan is to drive to the airport and board any jet bound for the opposite direction of the approaching storm.  In the event that the airports close and I have to stay,  I do keep several cans of Spaghettio's because they're so much fun. And they last a freakishly long time.

I Can't Believe Paula Deen Ruined Butter!

Cooking shows have become a staple of television.  Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet were television cooking pioneers, creating really complicated dishes before our very glued-to-the-tube eyes, or demystifying what we thought was difficult, when in fact was totally do-able - like sticking a chicken in the oven. They listed each step, never leaving one out in case someone at home was following along.  Was anyone actually doing it? Actually getting up off the couch and following the steps of the chef?  No. Couches are comfy for a reason.

Remember Jack LaLanne? Long before Jane Fonda's areobics-as-soft-core porn, pre-Richard Simmons sweated his bedazzled ass to the 80's, a young, buff Jack LaLanne appeared on the exercise scene and on black and white television.  He motivated millions by exercising on his daily television programs. He'd ask you to get up and join him - and he was really excited!  He would count with emphasis, expecting you to count back to the tv set as you did the exercise (sometimes he'd give you tips on form - "Back straighter!"). 

He imagined millions of housewives transfixed like zombies, unable to resist his prodding, jumping up and exercising.  Little did he know that we just sat there, mentally exercising. We would chastise ourselves, "I should get right up and do some of those push-ups. It would be cute." But we sat. "Yep, all I have to do is move like, 2 feet. If I just exerted almost no effort, I could be in awesome shape - I could be a virtual hard-body." We got a little comfier on the couch.

Suddenly, the shiny wrapper of a Hershey's bar catches our eye, and the next thing we know we can't get up. We just sit there, so wanting to get up and do some bends-n-thrusts for Jack, but we just can't -  not from lack of will but from the weight of actual food ingested during the program. (Tip: Networks shouldn't show appetizing food during commercials.)

So, to be brief - we did not exercise along to the program. We sat. So it should be no surprise that when we watch cooking shows, we don't cook along, we sit. I don't want to chop onions, I want to watch the Iron Chef cut a finger while he chops onions.  I need to focus in case on today's show this is the one time that Rachel Ray doesn't wash her hands after handling raw chicken. When the headline comes out, "RayRay Rushed to Hospital- Risky Chicken Business!" my Facebook status simply states, "I saw her. The bitch is crazy." You will all know to what I refer.

Ina Garten makes some tantalizing looking food, and gives fancy entertaining tips.  I am especially entertained when she asks her one gay friend to stop by. She always has him arrange the flowers or set the table. Just once, instead of pushing peonies around, or holding up a charger musing, "Look at the way it catches the reflection of the peonies," I'd like him to rip off his shirt in one violent, to-hell-with-J.Crew-tug, take as much of polenta-fed Ina as he can fit in his arms, and dip her, proclaiming in his surprisingly masculine voice, "Ina, I'm heating things up around here. Kiss me." Okay, I might watch that twice because the first time I was giggling.

Martha Stewart courteously schools her viewers on unfamiliar cooking tools possibly never seen before, and repeats French culinary words like she is spelling them into Helen Keller's hand: "Jew-lee-ann." She kindly explains a bain marie like she fucking invented it, right before curing the common cold, "And this ham." Remember that guy who shot his television up when Bristol Palin was advanced to the next level on Dancing with the Stars? I totally don't blame him.

Paula Deen. A hush falls over the page. Some of you cover your mouths to both hide your gasps and keep the waffle in. Bob used to call me Paul Deen because I liked to use a little butter in some dishes. In most dishes - ok, all the dishes, including those where butter messed them up.  We now keep butter in the freezer, where it comes out occasionally.  To request butter from the butter safe - I get all dressed up and am on good behavior, like Hillary Clinton in a Chanelish suit and just-cut bangs, asking China to cover our debt for another 25 years. And by 25 I mean forever.

At the moment of capitulation, Bob the Butterkeeper slowly creaks open the freezer door and extracts the butter from the special compartment - the one I am not allowed to dust or rotate. He looks at it to make sure it hasn't been tampered with and marks the current amount with a sharpie. "Are you fucking kidding me?!" (Comes out: Oh, wow, geez, you really don't have to do that. Like really, I'm all dressed up and on good behavior, man.)
Butter in Paris!
The sterilized knife comes out creeping out of the drawer, slowly, the blade menacingly catching the light as it glides into the air over the butter. Bob peels the aged wrapper off the butter, like it is a sacred papyrus that holds a soon-to-be-lost language. As the blade of the knife meets the cold butter, I can actually hear a Finnish child squeal. It squeaks across the yellow fatty flesh and carves off the tiniest, thinnest slice.  If I hold it up into the light, I can see the future. It's thin folks - like Sarah Jessica Parker on a postcard.

Paula Deen ruined butter for me. I used to present a decent argument about how it's not that bad - I'd throw Julia Child at him - everything in moderation. Now, I don't have a perfectly-developed leg to stand on. She unapologetically admitted that she has the kind of diabetes caused by a poor diet, and has had it for 3 years. Bitch! If I could reach through the tv I would snatch her weave so fast that half of her capped teeth would follow. I would take her by the thumb ring (Thumb ring, really, Paula?? You're like 78.) and shake her like a tilt-o-whirl.

Fancy-ass cruise ship butter
Why didn't she pull her head out of her waxed ass and transform her artery clogging recipes into more healthful alternatives? Use half yogurt in a sauce instead of sour cream. Use lemon juice and olive oil. Anything but continue to support her eating style and cook the way she always has.  She is a ruiner. Would it have killed her to substitute egg whites in hollandaise every other time?  Would it have even worked? I doubt it. She will more likely perish from my disapproval and refusal to buy any of her lead-based cookware.

I'd like to see me try now to get some butter off of that frozen chunk we have had since 2008. Hell, I might as well pay Bob $8 and visit it, try to sneak a picture of it with my iphone like any other museum I visit. I could actually develop a semi-rare medical condition that only old, frozen butter could cure, and I couldn't have any of my "medicine". But Paula Deen is apparently still rolling in it - like a pig, in - well, I'm not going to trash talk.

Now that butter's over, I will miss butter. And I will never, ever forget the day that Paula Deen ruined butter. And by butter I mean her career.