Mixed Nuts, Swingers and Acapulco Facelifts

We hadn’t been in our Atlanta neighborhood long when we heard rumor of a couple who liked to swing- and not on the community playground swing set.

Now, coming from LA we didn’t pass judgement. After all, LA is the land of mixed nuts… but not in a bad way, you know, like the Premium ones with everything from peanuts to pistachios and pecans?

Well out there in the land of mixed nuts, we had lived across the street from a lady who used to be an “entertainer” at a place called The Classic Cat. This was early burlesque-type stuff, which I assume was pretty risqué back in the day.

She would invite us to parties with all her old Classic Cat friends: a little man from Acapulco who used to dance with her, who’s stage-name was “Mr. Perpetual Motion”; a bunch of people who looked alike since they’d all gotten facelifts from the same Acapulco doctor (probably a cousin of Mr. Perpetual Motion’s); and a lady who married her dog- you heard me, she married her dog- and she had pictures from the ceremony to prove it.

So the Atlanta swingers were not that big of a deal to us, but boy did they get a lot of airtime in the casual conversations of our new suburban Atlanta neighborhood. It always seemed to start with “have you heard…” or “have you met…” Well, we hadn’t met, but that was about to change: they were hosting a neighborhood party.

It was probably the best turnout for a neighborhood party ever. I think people were expecting to discover some kind of sex dungeon or something, but it was pretty much like any other house on the street with nice and neat conservative décor. Though, I would surmise that the folks at this party had never had a stage-name (and if they did, it was definitely not as provocative as Mr. Perpetual Motion), if they’d been to Acapulco, it wasn’t for facelifts, and many were on their second or third marriages… to other humans, albeit with age differences that could have been in dog years.

My wife Alex has a knack for getting people to open up, so I wasn’t surprised when she told me later about sitting down with the lady of the house (no pun intended). It was getting late and the lady and Alex were discussing how to politely shut down your own party. The lady said she wasn’t any good at it, and would normally just let it go until it met its own end, but she’d had an experience that she didn’t want to relive.

She quietly pointed to the drunkest man in the room, “see that man there? One night we had a small group over and after we thought everyone had left, my husband went to sleep. I stayed up to clean a little and I found that man in the whirlpool in his underwear. Of course, I had to take him home, but we couldn’t find his clothes. So I got him into my brand new car and brought him home.” “What did his wife say?” “Well, she’s not here at this party, so I can imagine it didn’t go over well.”

After Alex told me the story about the man she now referred to as “soggy underpants”, I felt bad for the lady. I mean, maybe they were just an innocent couple who liked to throw parties, and one guy in his soggy underpants later, they were labeled swingers.

Well, they could always move to LA where they would be just another normal peanut among the various mixed nuts.

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The Life of a Pro Sports Rep ~ Chapter 2

I almost didn’t take the job. I had recently gone through boot camp for a pharmaceutical sales position. I say boot camp because that’s what it was—an intense one-month long session, away from home. I had never worked so hard to get a job. There were pass or fail tests. There was on-camera sales role-play where you reviewed yourself and made adjustments and went at it over and over. We studied like med students. We had to know more about our drugs and what they did to the human body than the doctors we were selling to. Being outside sales reps with company cars, we even had driving lessons (for our safety, and of course the company’s bottom line) where we got to push the cars to their limits and brake fast and see how it felt to be almost out of control. They weren’t just trying to sell a drug to the public, they were trying to sell us on them: and I had drunk the cool-aide.

So I already had a job that I liked in sunny Southern California back in 2008, when Easton came knocking with an even better offer…with one big caveat. When I broke the news that the job was not in LA, my wife Alex said “where is it then, Orange County?” “Atlanta!” I tried to say as cheerfully as possible. “Well, that’ll be a long commute” she retorted. And it was. I spent the first two years going out to the southeast every other week or so, visiting teams from the Washington Capitals to the Florida Panthers, and flying home a week later.

After those two road-weary years, it was time to start thinking about really moving to Atlanta, but we had been in LA for fifteen, and we were very comfortable there. We had recently finished renovating our house after a lot of blood, sweat and tears. We had made it through the initial rough waters that most experience when moving to the expensive and expansive metropolis of LA. It’s a city of extremes: A lot to love, and just as much to hate. But like seasoned surfers, we had found our balance and we were riding a good wave.

While I was jetting back and forth between LA and Atlanta for Easton, Alex was doing some surfing of her own of the Internet kind. “Where is Alpharetta?” She asked one night while I was back in LA. “Look at these houses… Three acres, and a pond!? You can’t get a crappy condo in LA for these prices.” I’m not sure if it was the nesting instinct in her, the bargain hunter or what, but our LA home was on the market the next week.

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Biking’s Destination

The smell of virgin blacktop baking in the sun emanates from below. Knobby rubber tires roll smoothly over the surface. Tall grasses and trees on either side blow in the summer wind. A low black construction fence borders the edges of the street and creates a racing feel as I descend the curvy path.

There’s a certain allure to a newly paved subdivision sitting empty as it awaits the bustle of the next building boom. Back when I was a kid, we would search these places out for skateboarding, or cul-de-sac parties. Now I use them for suburban biking.

Granted, biking the PVC farms of the north Atlanta suburbs is not quite the same as biking Mount Tam north of San Francisco for example. At Mount Tam, where mountain biking arguably began, you can climb a wide fire-trail miles up the backside of the mountain and appear at the top with a 360-degree view of ocean, mountains, and city beyond. You can then descend through narrow zigzags, watching the Pacific break out of the corner of your eye. At the bottom, just down the road, there’s an idyllic English-country-looking pub for beers: The Pelican Inn.

http://www.pelicaninn.com

No, the PVC farms don’t have all that, but you can find some peace while breaking a sweat, and you can still finish your ride with a beer at a great old-style pub near here: The Olde Blind Dog, which was oddly enough voted Best Irish Pub in the World recently by a Dublin-based group.

http://www.latimes.com/travel/la-trb-atlanta-irish-pub-award-20150305-story.html

They say the journey is the reward, but sometimes I’d say it’s the destination!

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Give Me All Your Chicken!

My wife knows, when I get hungry the mood of our shopping excursions can plummet faster than a diabetic’s blood sugar level. She’s gotten pretty good at reading the cues, even packing a snack in her purse to magically appear when she senses a mood shift.

This particular day the snacks weren’t doing the trick, so she had me pull the car over to get our bearings and search Yelp for a nearby restaurant. We were in an upscale suburban Atlanta area and everything was either too nice or too McDonalds.

I was about ready to just take us home to eat, when a pearly white Mercedes SUV pulls up, and out pops two calves and a cow. No, I wasn’t hallucinating from hunger pains. This was Free Chicken Sandwich Day at Chik-fil-A! Dress like a cow, get a free chicken sandwich.

I turned to Alex to ask how we might pull this one off, and she was already on it. She was rifling through the glove box, pulling out pens and scissors and napkins. Before you knew it, she’d put together a real basic “cow.”

Now Alex is an artist, so she was embarrassed by the finished product, but I give her credit for the details. She had cut eye holes in a brown napkin. Drawn a cow face on it with cow nose and cow nostrils. She used a white napkin tucked into our shirts for a tuft-of-fur look under our necks, and she even used pieces of brown napkin around our hands for “hooves.”

Alex looked us over. “Give me your face,” she said. I obliged, and she wrote “Moo” on it. “There,” she laughed, “perfect.” I looked in the rearview mirror. “They’re gonna’ think we’re robbing the joint,” I said, “give me all your chicken!”

We pulled up to the drive-thru, so as not to get arrested. It was so busy, a kid with a handheld device was taking pre-orders. He looked into our car and we both said “moo!” The kid cracked up and called his co-worker over to have a look. “What do you think?” he asked the guy who must have been his superior. “Two free sandwiches and an A for effort,” the guy said.

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That Time I Almost Got Ryan Seacrest Fired

New Year’s Eve would be a different experience without him. Kelly would not have a Ryan to chat with every day for the foreseeable future. And that famous pregnant pause between “this” and “is American Idol” would probably not exist.

Year’s back, in Atlanta, a friend was producing a game show with this likable young local kid, Ryan, with a freakishly grown-up voice, as the host. We ended up taking him out to some Buckhead bars. We were of age, he was not. I can’t remember if we knew the doormen or if we just had Ryan speak in his deep radio voice, but we had no trouble getting him in.

A few years later, I had moved to LA and my producer friend invited me to lunch with a small group of starving-artist types, one of them being Ryan. It was appropriately Mongolian BBQ: The type of place where you take a bowl for one price and smash as many ingredients into it as you can. You then hand your stuffed bowl to a guy standing over what’s basically a big flat wok. The guy dumps out all your ingredients and grills up a giant heaping of hot food for you.

Ryan had moved out to LA about the same time as me, not long after that Atlanta game show. Judging from our overfilled bowls, I’d say we were both at the starving point. He did, however, have a gig at the local radio station. Not the best time-slot, but a start. He was talking about attending community college as some kind of backup, I guess.

When my girlfriend at the time heard that Ryan worked at the radio station, she had me call him up to see about recording a voice-over reel. You know, the kind of thing that gets you jobs reading copy for commercials and such? Well, Ryan, being the nice guy that he was, said “sure thing, come on over to the studio while I’m working and I’ll set you up.”

When we get to the radio station he has on his headphones, on-air. He’s going a mile-a-minute, talking, pushing buttons, flipping switches, multi-tasking. This guy is in his element. He sees us and smiles and waves us in. He holds up his finger like “just a sec,” pushes another button or two, puts down his headphones and greets us both warmly.

He has us follow him into an empty studio next to his and shows me how to run the recorder in there to do the demo reel. It’s actually easier than I thought. Ryan then bolts to get back to his next radio segment and leaves us in there all alone with the door closed.

About 15 minutes later we’re almost done with the demo-reel, and I see a face in the little window in the door to our room. The face has a scowl. I hear a knock and I open the door. “Who gave you permission to be in here?” the face asks angrily. “Uh, Ryan” I answer. “Ryan!” the guy turns and goes to confront Ryan. I rush to the board and push record. “Hurry up,” I say to my girlfriend, “let’s finish this last take before we’re kicked out of here.”

I think Ryan got scolded, but not fired, and we kind of lost touch. I hoped it wasn’t for the recording incident.

A few years later, I was in an LA restaurant bar with another friend who was not in the business of show whatsoever. Up comes this well-dressed kid with the brightest smile, and frosty tipped hair. It was Ryan. He asked how things were and I did the same, though I knew he’d been bumped up to the best time-slot in radio: the afternoon drive. I introduced my friend to Ryan who regaled us with some Hollywood chatter. Later, my friend said presciently, “that kid’s either going to make it big, or crash big.”

I haven’t seen Ryan since…. Well, except everywhere.

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Blue Sky

The Allman Brothers at the Fox Theater was my first small venue concert. My Uncle Jim was visiting Atlanta and asked if I wanted to go. I wasn’t a huge fan, I mean at 15, I wasn’t yet a Ramblin’ Man and the intensity of Whipping Post wasn’t fully appreciated, but hey who turns down a free concert.

We settled into our seats in the Moorish-themed theater with a ceiling that looked like a starry night sky. The stage was crowded with the gear of a band that claimed two drummers with full kits, and two lead guitarists. I can’t tell you what song they started or ended with, but I was surprised that I liked and knew almost every one.

Over the years, certain Allman Brothers songs have become deeper and richer to me: Jessica with its rolling bassy piano always makes me think of the beginnings of road trips, melancholy sweet Melissa reminds me of lost love, and the country roads feeling of Blue Sky takes me away from the crazy fast-paced world we live in.

Now as an uncle myself, I hope that I can share in a moment that will not only be remembered, but grow and take on a life of its own, like the one my uncle provided me.

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The Battle of Almost Wounded Knee

Last year they nested in a nearby tree, bumping into our windows drawn to the inside light at night. They looked like mini army helicopters and kind of sounded like them when they hovered around you while outside. They weren’t fat like bumblebees, but bulky like Humvees. These were the biggest and scariest looking flying things with a stinger that my wife and I had ever seen.

“We’re not in LA anymore,” I said to Alex. In LA flying bugs were more scarce than an older woman without Botox. In LA we would see a few bees around our lavender, some flies sometimes when we picnicked, a rare mosquito. These were all outside bugs mind you, not really trying to get in. Here in Georgia it’s like they’re banging at the door with a search warrant.

We made it through last summer without any giant Humvee-helicopter wasps making it into our home, or God forbid onto our skin. Then this summer, I noticed one going into the fascia above our front door. I went online and did some recon and found out that these things are European wasps. Great, I thought, whatever happened to NATO?

Like most things around the house, I usually try to do them myself before calling an expert. I waited until dusk and suited up the best I could. By the time I had my wrists and ankles rubber-banded and my hockey helmet on, I’d worked up a sweat. “Let’s hope these things aren’t attracted to sweat,” I said to Alex through the glass shield of my hockey helmet. “What?” she asked. “Wish me luck!” I yelled. Alex chuckled at me in my getup and just shook her head.

I’d set up a ladder under the entry point earlier. I stepped outside gingerly and climbed the ladder. I put my wasp spray up to the gap in the fascia and let her rip. Suds and white foam went everywhere as I quickly climbed back down the ladder. Unfortunately, I missed the bottom rung and started to run backwards while trying to keep my feet underneath me. Probably realizing I’d need both hands to break my fall, I flung the can of wasp spray out of my hand and it went flying into the front yard. I then crashed into one of our front porch columns. I sat there for a second kind of stunned. I looked through the now foggy hockey mask. Was that a platoon of wasps swarming toward me, or just my imagination? I got up quicker than I’d fallen and ran into the house.

“What the heck happened out there?” Alex asked. “I fell off the ladder.” “Are you okay?!” I checked that all my appendages were moving properly. “I think I’m okay.” “We’ll call an expert tomorrow then?” Alex suggested. “Not so fast.”

The next day I walked out and examined the battlefield. The ladder was still where I fell off of it, and my wasp spray had rolled about 20 yards away. There wasn’t a dead wasp in sight. Suddenly, I heard a Humvee-helicopter over my shoulder. I eyed the wasp spray, but it was too far away to do me any good. Instead, I ran into the house and decided I might want to call an expert…. Or maybe I could bait them? The battle continues.

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Reincarnated as a Horse

We took our French goddaughter, Ines, to horse country while she was here. Not Kentucky, which is no doubt horse country, but seems to be more about the business of horses than the pleasure. No, we took her north of Atlanta, where there are several horse-happy communities.

We passed a house… okay, mansion, with a “stable” built into the side of the place like it was just another wing. It even had a “horse porch” with outdoor ceiling fans… for the horses. We got out and took a picture of a stop sign that said whoa instead of stop. We passed rolling front yards kissed by the sun, the gentle Georgia breeze blowing horse tails and manes.

Our destination was a house in Milton. A friend of ours had heard that Ines was into horses and had offered to let her ride at her house. Ines was confused at first. “Where’s the riding ring?” she asked. “There is no ring,” our friend answered. “Just ride around the property.” Ines couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.

After the ride, we all sat on the front porch for a spell, as they do in horse country. “The horses around here sure seem to be treated well,” I said. “If you only knew,” our friend replied. “There are horse masseuses, horse hair stylists, horse therapists. They are more than pampered. If I die, I’d like to come back as a Milton horse.” Ines’ English was pretty good, but she couldn’t quite grasp that one. “Quoi?” she asked, looking at me for clarification. I translated in my decent but rusty French. She still looked confused. “I’ll explain later,” I told her.

I realize now, I never did explain later. I can just see her telling the story to her friends back in France about the crazy American woman who wants to come back to life as a horse.

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Thank You Debra Messing

Here in Atlanta now, my beautiful wife likes to remind me that we don’t get to the beach enough. Atlanta does not have a real beach, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. Back in the 80’s there was a bar called Buckhead Beach with a sandy outdoor area replete with palm trees and hammocks and volleyball nets. Bikini-clad waitresses walked through the crowds holding trays of colorful drinks.

I was too young to go to Buckhead Beach, but my older brother and his friends would talk about it, and in my imagination I saw a real beach, real palm trees, an ocean even. So my geography was a little lacking back then, but not my imagination.

Back in LA, we were probably 10 miles from the beach, and yet we were not there every day either, or even every weekend for that matter. In fact, one of our favorite escapes was like the opposite of the beach: It was a Mexican restaurant in the Valley called Casa Vega.

You’d walk in on a bright hot Valley day with your sunglasses still on and be blinded by the darkness: dark wood paneling, dark booths, dark carpet, and really low light. Eventually your eyes adjusted, but never completely. Especially after a margarita or two.

It’s a bit pricey these days, but back then you could get a couple margaritas, a burrito, and a celebrity sighting pretty cheap. It was dark enough in there that celebrities seemed to blend in. We’d see Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, when they were still together, dressed way down so you’d barely recognize them in the dimly lit place. Rockers in black leather and spiked hair would wander around like extras from Spinal Tap. Big name directors getting booth readings. Hollywood agents in suits. Hollywood wives discussing the latest treatments. And wannabes counting change for a beer at the bar next to neighborhood regulars who’d been coming there for years. It was a real motley crew.

My wife used to get (and still does) that she looks “just like that woman from Will and Grace… What’s her name… You know?” And we’d smile and nod when they’d say “I bet you get that all the time?” If we had a dollar for every time that happened in LA, we’d be rich. But the only thing we ever got out of it was a good seat at Casa Vega one night.

The place was packed. Probably an hour and a half wait for a table. I guess word had gotten out that the food and drink was affordable and the customers interesting, to put it mildly. We had a group of 6 people from out of town. No reservation. Alex and I approached the hostess and were about to put our name in for a table, when one of the waiters pops out of nowhere, all smiles and compliments. “Good to see you again!” He says to Alex. “How have you been?” “Good,” Alex answers. The waiter shakes my hand and says hello like he knows me too. “We have a table for you and your guests right back here, if you’ll just follow me,” the man says to Alex. On our way through the crowded restaurant Alex looks at me with her red hair and high-cheekbones and shrugs. We got the best table and the best service that night. Our out of town guests thought we were celebrities. And so did the waiter apparently. Thank you Debra Messing.

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Making Deals with Mother Nature

When we bought our new home in Atlanta our realtor was surprised that it came with screens on the windows. We were surprised that she was surprised. Coming from Los Angeles, we were used to keeping windows open to let the nearby ocean breeze blow through our house. The breeze was probably saturated with smog, but at least it was blowing. Screens were common in LA, as were window bars in some neighborhoods.

In our area of Atlanta, we didn’t need the window bars, nor, we found out later, did we really need the screens. Our first few months in the home the windows stayed shut anyway, as we were experiencing an unusually cold winter. I had sold Atlanta on Alex by telling her how mild the climate was, but Mother Nature must not have bought what I was selling because it was sub 30 degrees for about 2 months straight.

Alex didn’t own a winter coat, besides a parka, so we had to venture out into the Atlanta arctic to shop: “Where did you move me?” she said through chattering teeth as we walked quickly across the Macy’s parking lot. One soft hooded winter coat later, and at least her teeth stopped chattering.

Coming into spring, I made the bold announcement that springs are the best in Atlanta. I’d lived here as a kid so I was pretty confident. What I forgot was that spring here comes with a yellow dust that pretty much covers everything. It’s like if the smog in LA covered your car and stuck to it like the sugar on a sugar doughnut. Only this sugar in Atlanta makes you cough and sneeze and sometimes makes you feel like you’ve got a cold: So, kinda’ like smog.

Well, that first spring, we opened our windows and reveled at the screens we had been lucky enough to get for free with our new home. The cool Georgia breeze blew through the house, tickling our cheeks and making us feel one with good old Mother Nature again. But the next morning, our white cat jumped down from lounging in an open window sill looking a little less white. “Why’s the cat look yellow?” Alex asked. I ran a hand across a nearby table and looked at my palm which was now the yellowish color of the cat.

The windows remained shut through spring, and the rest of the hot summer. “Just wait ‘til fall,” I assured my wife, “you’ll love it.” Then I quietly asked Mother Nature to make it a good one.

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