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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Hollywood Ice

The Tampa Bay Lightning were a team in transition when I called on them. They had a new coach and a new owner. The coach was John Tortorella who rarely smiled and lived up to his tough persona. He wasn’t just tough on his players: he was tough on just about anyone that had anything to do with his team- me included.

The team usually practiced in their game rink which made it a little less conducive to one-on-one time with players anyway, but Tortorella had me stuck in a hallway with my only access to players when they walked past on the way to the ice, or back, as they made their way off. It was like, “Hey Steven Stamkos, I know you just got off the ice and are sweating profusely and you’re being paid handsomely to use a Bauer stick, but have you tried the new Easton?”

So my boss told me he had an idea, and he was coming to Tampa himself to help me out. He was friends with the new owner— Oren Koules, who produced “Two and a Half Men” among other things, and was bringing a bit of Hollywood to Tampa. My boss figured it wouldn’t hurt to introduce us.

I got in the elevator at the Marriott Waterside, just across from the game rink, and a beautiful young woman smiled at me as I entered. I made a joke and she laughed. Exiting the elevator, I saw my boss who introduced me to his friend Oren. I was about to tell them how, for a married guy who wasn’t getting any younger I still had it, when up walks said woman from the elevator. “This is my wife,” Oren announced, as I realized how badly my little story could have gone over.

Oren seemed like a good guy who wanted to create some excitement in the somewhat sleepy downtown of Tampa at the time. We stood on the outer deck of the game rink and he pointed to all the empty lots he had grand designs for. We watched the game from the owner’s box and we talked about his and my junior hockey pasts, and his son’s junior hockey future, and how our paths probably crossed in the LA men’s leagues. His wife, the pretty young woman from the elevator, talked about the LA food and art scene and made me miss my old home town.

The next morning before practice, I found myself in the actual locker room. Coach Tortorella walked in and almost berated me, until he saw I was with the new owner. “Torts, these are my old hockey buddies,” Oren nodded towards me and my boss.

From that day on, I was treated well in Tampa. No more lurking around in hallways. And I think Coach Tortorella even gave me a smile once or twice.

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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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Our Little Island

In our first house back in LA, we had a small kitchen with limited counter space. Alex, in her design wisdom, found the perfect butcher-block to put in the center of the kitchen. It had drawers and towel racks on either side and was on wheels so it could be moved, just in case you wanted to dance a salsa while eating your chips and salsa I guess.

With all the cooking Alex does, we really couldn’t of functioned in that little kitchen without our Coconut Island. That’s what the tag said when we bought it, and what we’ve called it ever since. Our Coconut Island saw many a margarita mixed, and bountiful bowls of guacamole guaced. It helped us prepare turkeys for turkey days, and cookies for Christmases.

Eventually we found a pot rack to hang right above the island, so you could grab just about anything you needed in that kitchen without taking more than a step or two.

We’ve upgraded since then and our new setup is ideal, but I sometimes miss the closeness we were forced to endure around our Coconut Island. We kept the piece and I took a picture of it for perspective against our new built-in kitchen island. The Coconut Island now fits inside our pantry as a kind of pantry work-space. Our new pantry is not much smaller than that old kitchen.

We haven’t named our new island. Maybe because it’s not cute and quirky, but simply a nice working space. Perhaps we could call it the Big Island, like Hawaii calls Hawaii. Mai Tai’s anyone?

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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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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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Going Grinch

In LA, we lived one neighborhood over from a place seasonally dubbed “Candy Cane Lane.” Come December, it’s a Christmas wonderland. Cars line up for miles to drive through. I couldn’t imagine buying a house there say in July with no clue, then December 1’st you open your front door to find yourself in Whoville.

Any other time of year, it looked like any other Valley neighborhood with ranch homes, two-story Spanish redos, and garage conversions… which is what always got me: Without garages (or basements for that matter- LA doesn’t do basements) where did they store all the Christmas stuff? There were thirty-foot Santa’s, autonomatronic elf shops, working trains, and lots of smoke and mirrors. And the amazing thing was that these people did the work mostly themselves. Granted, many of them either worked in the entertainment industry, or knew people who did, so getting all the smoke and mirrors was not that difficult.

Now that we are out here in the Atlanta suburbs, it looks beautiful this time of year. There are classy white bulbs following impossible-to-reach roof peaks, giant snowflakes lit up in giant maple trees, and icicle-lights dripping down many a house. But this stuff is done by professional lighting companies, not homeowners.

Our first year here, Alex said she wanted lights out front, so I put a horizontal strand above our front porch. “Can’t you get them to follow the shape of the house?” she asked after not being too impressed with my first offering. “Well, yeah, if I had a thirty-foot ladder, a helmet, and some climbing gear,” I only half-joked while looking up at our high-peaked roof. So, I did what I thought was the next best thing and wrapped our front trees with lights as high as I could (fortunately they were still young and relatively short trees). A few hours later I proudly showed off my work. “Nice,” Alex said, but I got a whiff of patronization. “Hey, we can’t all afford a lighting crew,” I said.

We used to make fun of Candy Cane Lane. It was tacky, but I kind of miss that “do-it-yourself” spirit. In fact, after realizing I’d never be able to keep up with the Jones’ out here, I asked Alex if we could go the opposite direction and steal a page from the Candy Cane Lane playbook. There was a family there who was either really fed up, or possibly Jewish and didn’t celebrate the holiday, who simply put a Grinch in their front window and lit it up with a spotlight so it was the only thing you saw at that house, sitting amongst all the crazy colored lights and moving giant objects of a Candy Cane Lane Christmas.

We bought a Grinch and everything, but Alex said no, not going to happen. I’m keeping the Grinch just in case she changes her mind though. Better shop for a good spotlight too.

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Sounds of the City

The freeway hums 24/7 like a swarm of bees, dogs bark in staccato, and leaf blowers whine like mobs of Italian mopeds. Add an occasional helicopter chasing a criminal or circling a freeway accident, and this is the LA soundscape. Sure, you can drown it out with the ocean waves at the beach or maybe high up in the hills, but that’s just temporary for most.

When we moved from LA to Atlanta, we thought it would be more quiet, and it is in some ways- it’s not as 24/7 like LA- but Atlanta can have all those LA sounds and more; even in the outer suburbs where we are. We’ve got volleys of gunshots (probably deer hunters, but who really knows), dirt bikes and ATV’s roaming the woods, and the constant beep-beep-beep of construction crew vehicles creating new subdivisions and doing roadwork on seemingly every road in every direction.

Paris has its strange police sirens; Chicago has the noisy L-trains; and New York its Taxi horns (or did that go away with the advent of Uber?). If I were to pick one sound that stands out in Atlanta and its suburbs, it’s that beep-beep-beep. Even at the airport at 8am when you’re trying to calm down after fighting through traffic, parking shuttles, and TSA attitudes, you can’t escape the beep-beep-beep of airport carts.

Atlanta and LA have a lot in common: both are sprawling, car-centric places, with their own music, sports and entertainment scenes; both can be loud in their own ways. Hopefully, there’s just enough quiet to be found in either place for someone to remain sane. That, or I’ll just go deaf from the beep-beep-beeps—then my noise sensitivity won’t be an issue at all.

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Southern Fried

Living in LA we had some of the best and most diverse food anywhere, and we are foodies so we were in heaven. In fact, Alex is such a good cook and home-stylist, that at one time I wanted to pitch a TV show called “Move Over Martha” with Alex as a younger, hipper Martha Stewart.

Moving to Atlanta, I’m sure Alex had her reservations (no pun intended) but she was quick to realize that Atlanta takes its food as seriously as any major city. Just like LA, it has trendy spots with the latest crazes, like farm-to-table; different ethnic areas with signs and menus in other languages; giant world markets like Buford Highway and Decatur Farmer’s, where regular Joes and Janes, and Joses and Juanas, can shop alongside chefs in double-breasted jackets and Crocs who are picking up last minute items for their evening menus. And of course Atlanta has southern food.

In LA, there are a few places that claim to serve southern, but they tend to lean more toward the soul aspect, or the southwest rather than southeast. Tex-Mex is good, but it’s not southern.

In Atlanta, they have southern down: They’ve got shrimp and grits; variations on anything fried, like the green tomato, and of course chicken. In LA, the meat aisle of most local grocery chains is probably half chicken, half beef. In Atlanta it is chicken 60-40, maybe 70-30.

There is great fried chicken at most good restaurants in Atlanta, like Table and Main in Roswell, but the local Kroger grocers have some that competes with all of these. The first time we ate Kroger fried chicken we were in the middle of our move, so an unfair advantage I know—Pizza Hut can almost taste gourmet after you’ve moved a thousand boxes and haven’t eaten all day—but the second and third time at Kroger was unbiasedly just as good. We were so impressed, we started using a soft ‘g’ when saying the name of the place to make it sound more fancy. “Where are you eating tonight?” our friends from LA would ask. “Krozhay,” we would say in our best French accent.

Who knows, maybe “Move over LA” will be my next TV show pitch?

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Craig’s List for Dummies

I’m not saying Georgia is dumber than any other state, but if Craig’s List was a bellwether, I’d have to assume as much. In California (specifically LA) we sold couches, tables, TV’s… all kinds of things on Craig’s List, and 9 times out of 10 it was a quick and easy proposition.

My wife Alex does the posting, so I know the ads are thorough and well organized—put it this way, she has worn out more than one label-maker since I’ve known her—but out here people still ask the craziest things.

We had a table top for sale and the lady asks “how tall is the table?” “Well, it has no legs” I said “so…” But I was thinking, “didn’t you read the ad or even look at the pictures?”

People call and ask the price of something or how big it is, when Alex always puts the price and dimensions right there in the short ad next to the pictures. It’s like they expect us to know all the measurements off the top of our heads, or have a tape measure at our hip at all times. Or re-read them the ad.

Here in Georgia they will ask if we can bring them the item like we’re Amazon or something. “Let me just send out one of my drones,” I’m tempted to say next time.

And I can’t tell you how many people have made appointments and not shown up, or called an hour after their appointment and said they were running late, but can we wait for them. “Sure, another hour of our day is worth the $10 you may or may not pay for that ceramic pot you already talked us down on,” I almost said one time.

“What is it with these people?” Alex asked. “They are dumb, lazy and inconsiderate. Not a good combination.” “The Trifecta!” I answered. “You can make up for dumb with hard work, or lazy with smarts, or inconsiderate with either.” “No,” Alex said wisely, “there’s no making up for inconsiderate.” And she was right.

Just be considerate folks. And put on some pants!

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