I can add another credit to the resume:
I am available for children's parties.
I love the euphemisms that come with hurricane season, especially those that attach themselves when storms like Ernesto start to peter out and the talking heads try to make it sound like there's still significant news about to take place.
Just saw this one on the Bay News 9 site:
What kind of event would that be? A concert or something? Rainapalooza? Precipitationstock? Or are we talking something closer to a bar mitzvah?
So we're supposed to be enduring the wrath of wannabe hurricane Ernesto in the next day or so. The first feeder band rolled through about an hour ago and moistened the lawn.
Side Salad's Doppler 12,000 Weather Team team has obtained exclusive photos of Ernesto:
Know what I mean, Vern?
Salad Wife noticed this sombrero-themed ad in the paper this morning.
Insisted on bringing Yoko into the studio.
Couldn't get along with Donovan McNabb.
Wasn't a wartime consigliere.
Was replaced by Dick Sargent.
Paramount disliked its erratic behavior during the past year.
Sgt. Foley wanted Pluto's D.O.R. ->
(Pluto "had nowhere else to go.")
Head-butted an Italian during the World Cup finals.
Decided to run as an independent in Connecticut.
Eddie and Alex wanted Sammy Hagar instead.
Finally admitted to Oprah that its autobiography was fictitious.
Made Uranus look big. (Hat tip to Rommie)
It's been a little slow on the hurricane front this year. (:::crossing fingers, knocking on wood:::)
That means Willie Drye, author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, has a little time to contemplate the random events in the news. Sometimes that involves hush puppies. Sometimes he waxes poetic about Civil War historians. Then again, you never know when a fake urinating penis will grab his attention.
Got a letter today from Willie in Side Salad's North Carolina Doppler 12,000 Weather Bureau. Seems like he's got drinking on his mind:
In case you wonder about these kinds of things, Tampa is tied with New Orleans for the distinction of being America's 24th most drunken city, according to MSNBC (I can't help but wonder whether this stat was compiled before or after Katrina, but I guess we'll never know.)
To answer obvious questions about where Tampa stands in the wonderful world of boozing: Milwaukee is numero uno (that fits, Laverne and Shirley did work in a beer factory and the baseball team is called the Brewers). Minneapolis-St. Paul is #2 (a surprise, something I wouldn't have gathered from watching the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Oh, wait, Mr. Grant. I forgot him.). Columbus, Ohio is number 3 (go Buckeyes). Boston is 4th (Cheers to Sam, Carla, Norm, Cliff and the gang), and Austin (Hook-'em-Horns) Texas is 5th.
Tampa is tops among Florida cities, and I guess that should be the local headline for you all. Orlando is #31, and Miami is #33. For more perspective, New York is in between at #32.
The only North Carolina city listed is Charlotte at #34, and I guarantee there are a lot more people in this state besides me who would argue that Charlotte belongs to South Carolina, not us.
The ratings are based on the following criteria: state laws, drinkers, heavy drinkers, binge drinkers, and alcoholism. Beyond that, I don't know how they compiled the rankings because I didn't want to actually read the story and risk clouding up my opinions with facts. You can see it all at this Web page.
So here's to America's 24th-most boozy city. Jane and I will raise a glass to you tomorrow when we have Friday sundowners on the front porch.
Lord knows I see my fair share of weirdness and stupidity and odd sights as I traverse the traffic in this great land of ours. Especially as I'm going to work.
But my buddy Drew, who's serving in Iraq, has me beat. He snapped this shot the first day he arrived in the country:
I hear they get 100 miles to the gallon. Of water.
There's a hilarious interview on the Onion A.V. Club section with Conan O'Brien.
Included is a chat about where he'll do the Tonight Show when he takes over in 2009:
AVC: How did you find out about the Tonight Show gig?
COB:Ed McMahon came to my door. It was shocking. He had a large check. And he seemed confused. I don't think he's well. He had two medical attendants with him saying "No, Mr. McMahon, no. Finish your pudding." I got the call that NBC was curious if I was interested, so I said "You betcha!"
AVC: Will you be doing The Tonight Show from New York, or L.A.?
COB: No one said specifically. The Tonight Show has been in Los Angeles since 1972. So someone please do the math. Upward of 30-something-odd years. It's such a strong franchise that I can see them maybe feeling like the mountain doesn't go to Mohammed. I should get my ass out there to L.A. I can see it going that way, but no one said specifically. Which is why I keep pushing for Tampa.
PREVIOUS: A brush with Conan.
Know how you never realize something is being widely discussed or dropped into pop culture until you're exposed to it. Then you see it everywhere.
Same goes for sombreros.
They're being used as props for "American Idol" auditions in, of all places, Birmingham, Ala.:
Those auditioning for American Idol have usually worn wacky costumes with hopes of making it past producers, but save for an auditioner in a band costume and one sporting a sombrero trimmed with red feathers, the show's hopefuls were noticeably conservative in dress.
"They don't need to dress crazy in Birmingham, Lynn said. "Birmingham brings us talent."
They're showing up in baseball columns:
Paul Tessar wants to know the derivation of the expression "The Golden Sombrero?" "If I understand its meaning correctly," he said, "it is a mock award for striking out three times in a game."
The Golden Sombrero, actually, is for an even bigger achievement than Paul thought. It is given to the player who strikes out four times in a game. The Dickinson Baseball Dictionary refers to an early usage of the term by one-time Rockies manager Don Baylor, who in 1989 said, "I struck out four of the next five at- bats, my first-ever 'golden sombrero.'" Needless to say, a Golden Sombrero is an upgrade of a simple hat trick, which is three strikeouts
And they're helping make a fashion statement during the National Air Guitar Championships:
Craig Billmeier, whose stage name is "Hot Lixx Hulahan," was referring to the moment he felt the transcendent power of air guitar. In May, the 32-year-old musician entered a regional competition at the Independent nightclub on Divisadero as a fun way to blow a Wednesday night. Four months and two victories later, Billmeier will represent the United States in the 11th annual Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland, on Sept. 8. He'll compete against a dozen national champs.
"There are performers that are much more talented than me," Billmeier said of his American brethren. "I now owe it to them to take it seriously."
At the San Francisco show, Billmeier, who has long brown hair and a classically thin guitar-god physique, took a peek through the curtains and saw a packed house. He had played real guitar in the local outfit Love Songs as well as in a Guns N' Roses tribute band, the Rocket Queens. He'd toured the country from dive bars in northern Minnesota to strip malls in Livermore, but he'd never been the main attraction before so many people. At an air guitar competition, contestants play for 60 seconds while judges score on technical ability, stage presence and "airness" -- that ineffable quality of rocking from within.
Billmeier said he began his routine slow, a flamenco riff that suddenly burst into Metallica's "The Shortest Straw." He got wild applause and moved through the first round with high scores. His all-black ensemble, complete with sombrero, sunglasses and long mustache, gave him a distinctly Mexicali Goth look.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about my buddy Drew taking his Army 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry into the Middle East.
I got this e-mail from him on Saturday:
I am sorry for the mass e-mailing, but I have little time and lots to do.
It is hard to believe that 2-weeks have gone by. The weather is beyond hot and we got climatized in temperatures that typically reached 128 degrees by mid-day. Training in Kuwait went well and the unit is pushing forward as we speak to our operating base.
I left my unit a week ago to head to Baghdad for some training and I will be linking back up with them in the next day or so. Personally, I am doing fine and managing all the stuff that typically goes on well.
We have been Nomads for the past few weeks and our ability to communicate with home will get drastically better over the next few weeks. I am looking forward to having more than my Rucksack with me and being back with my soldiers.
Susan and the boys are doing well too! We all miss each other but know the time will pass quickly. Susan is doing a great job with our family readiness group. After I get on the ground at my FOB, I will be sending you all out a letter requesting support for my soldiers while deployed. Anything and everything from prayers and letters to Adopting a Unit is available and we have a lot of sponsors already.
Sorry again for the mass mailing, I look forward to hearing from you all.
Susan forwarded these photos of the ceremony where they uncased the colors for the battalion:
And then when the brigade uncased its colors:
As I've written before, Drew's been in forward positions plenty of times. Seen plenty of combat. But there's something about seeing photos from it instead of painting it in my mind's eye that makes it all the more vivid and immediate.
We live in amazing, surreal times.
When more is known about what support the group needs from the homefront, I'll pass it along.
If you'd like to write Drew or his battalion, here is the address:
APO AE 09338
In a related entry to the Sofa King post, my friend Rich at work sends me this e-mail:
Sent: Thursday, August 17, 2006 5:30 PM
To: Houck, Jeff B.
Subject: Today's Award for Stupid Advertising.
Rent King has a MySpace page.
That’s it. I’m going home.
JD has a theory about the Jon Benet arrest.
Had a story in today's Tribune about TV chef Michael Chiarello.
My favorite quote from him:
"Rule No. 1: Don't cook for someone you don't like," he says. "And don't ever cook something for the first time for someone you're not sleeping with."
To see some extra photos from his appearance in Tampa, click here to see a gallery of pics I shot.
Full disclosure: I own a set of NapaStyle knives that come with a completely convoluted set of warnings.
Salad Boy and I went out to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers train at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex on Sunday. It will probably be the last time we see the team there during training camp, since they're slated to begin having training camps at their new facility in Tampa next year.
It's a ritual for us each year, one we've been doing since Summer 2002, when we bumped into Brad Johnson, Mike Alstott and Warren Sapp. (You can see photos from 2003 and 2004 by clicking here and here.)
Salad Boy pegged a bunch of the players at the team hotel in Celebration as they boarded the transportation vans that took them to their afternoon practice. He brought along a Buccaneer souvenir football that we've been dragging to camp the past couple years. It even has some autographs on it from players like Keenan McCardell, whose not on the team any longer.
Players he met Sunday included:
Punter Josh Bidwell tried to make a run for it out a back door. Salad Boy went into high-gear stalking mode.
When Joey Galloway came out, the handful of autograph hounds who were waiting outside with us began screaming his name.
Whom did Galloway motion for?
(And yes, my 11-year-old boy is almost as tall as an NFL wide receiver.)
Even one of the collectors had to give him props.
"Nice," was all he said. But Salad Boy beamed.
At the training facility, one of our family favorites, safety Jermaine Phillips, took Brian's ball and started to sign it. Then he stopped.
"I already signed it," he said.
He was right. We got it his rookie year at training camp.
Nice to see Jermaine's eyes are still sharp.
He gladly signed a ticket for us instead.
Hey Johnny, street cred just called.
It will no longer be in need of your services.
This is cruel.
My Uncle Pete, (yes, the one who was in the paper posing with a potato he grew that was shaped like a moose), sent an e-mail the other day.
There was no description. No gloating. No excitement. Nothing.
The only thing included on the e-mail was this photo:
Which, you know, said more than enough: I'm here. You're there. I smell like fish guts and beer and the three other guys in the boat. You don't. I haven't shaved in six months. You have. Wouldn't you rather be me?
It was only one big fish. I only missed catching one fish.
One big fish.
PREVIOUS LETTERS FROM ALASKA:
There you go.
Took me a minute, too.
Best birthday wishes go out to the Salad Father-In-Law, whom I affectionately refer to as The Donald.
He's 76 this weekend and still going strong.
And, as you can see by the birthday tiara, he's still got his sense of humor firmly intact.
I don't want to say there was a lot of flamage on the cake, but in trying to represent 76 years, we generated enough heat that we had to measure the temperature on the Kelvin scale.
What The Donald lacked in youth, he was able to compensate for in windpower.
After a while, the tiara got so comfortable, he forgot he was wearing it. Until the roof of the car reminded him as he was leaving the party.
All I could think was that it would have been one helluva traffic stop if a cop had stopped him on the way home while he was wearing a birthday cupcake on his head.
Sad to see that TV talk show host Mike Douglas passed away Friday at age 81 at his home in North Palm Beach.
His 30,000-plus guests included Mother Teresa, Malcolm X and seven presidents. In 1962, he introduced a 20-year-old singer named Barbra Streisand. He once did a reunion with almost all of the actors who had played Tarzan up to that time. (photo above, with Totie Fields)
I got to spend some time interviewing him at his home in 1998, where he lived with his lifelong love, his wife Genevieve. I interviewed Rosie O'Donnell and Howie Mandel for the story about their affection for him and the ground he paved (they were both doing daytime talk shows at the time).
This was the lede of the story I did:
Genevieve Douglas walks to a corner of the walnut-paneled den in her North Palm Beach home and randomly pulls a gold-covered scrapbook from a shelf. There are dozens more stacked side-by-side, reaching to the ceiling, making the wall glimmer amid the dark woodwork.
"Which one is this, I wonder?" she says softly, almost to herself. She gently peels the binder open and the first page is filled by a black and white photo of her husband and his friend. She calls to him.
"Mike ... this one is of you and Marlon."
Marlon. Brando. With her husband, Mike. Douglas.
"Oh, yeah," he says. "Greatest actor there ever was, in my opinion."
This is the kind of scrapbook collection you accumulate when you host 6,000 episodes of a TV talk show over 23 years.
The scrapbooks were his wife's idea. Every celebrity who spent a week co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show got a copy of photos shot on the set. Didn't matter if you were Sammy Davis Jr., John Lennon or Wayne Rogers, everybody got one. And, since he was the host, Douglas got one, too.
And another excerpt:
The Douglas' golf course house, with marble floors, grand piano near the entrance and azure pool out back, is impressively extravagant but homey nonetheless. It's a fraction of the size and price he paid in the '80s for a $2.3 million Beverly Hills mansion, but it's more than comfortable.
"You know, we looked at that place Donald Trump owns now, before he bought it ... beautiful place," Douglas offers. "We decided not to."
"Yep. Beautiful place."
Even at his age and with all this domestic bliss, you get the sense he could don the jacket, grab the microphone, belt out a tune and start all over again without missing stride. He could make it on recollections alone.
Point to any photo on the wall of his den or in a scrapbook, and invariably an entertaining yarn is attached. As he sits on the end of an expensive leather couch, he casually but proudly talks about the five Emmy awards or his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Dressed in gray slacks, black loafers and a light pink Oxford button-down with his initials stitched on the pocket, the memories spill forth.
"Ray Charles?" he says, as a smile sneaks into the corner of his mouth. "We got Ray Charles to ride a motorcycle. He wanted to do it. He had a blast."
Point to the photo of Barbra Streisand. "The purest voice I've ever heard. We had her on the show several times when she first started. She walked around backstage pointing at her throat and not talking. We started to panic until we realized she was just saving her voice for the show. She was magnificent."
Point to the photo of Mike and actor Wayne Rogers standing with... Mother Teresa?
"I had the feeling I was in the presence of somebody very, very special. I was so in awe of this woman. I had difficulty doing that interview. Wayne was co-host that week."
I used to watch his show on Channel 13 in Tampa when I would get home from school in the afternoon. The best part, to me, was that he would always invite the most disparate guests onto the show and see how they would mix - or not.
He didn't hide behind a desk; he was a guest just like the stars on the show. But he asked the questions everyone wanted to ask without being - as Cher called David Letterman - an asshole. He was gentle and polite, but he knew he was the medium through which the audience would hear the questions they wanted answers to.
And although he was a terrible singer and one of the biggest, um, squares on the planet, you always liked the guy. He was just a regular Joe.
I also remember I really liked that he did the show not in New York or L.A. but in Philadelphia. You got the sense that the stars on his show wanted to be there because they had to make an effort to get there.
If you never got to see the show, there are some great clips on YouTube, including:
John Lennon performing "Imagine."
Tiger Woods at age 2, with Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart.
Gene Simmons with Totie Fields and Robert Klein.
Frank Zappa with Jimmy Walker and Kenny Rogers.
Judy Garland singing "Over The Rainbow" as Peter Lawford and Johnny Mathis look on.
Jim Henson and Frank Oz from "The Muppet Show."
Johnny Cash, with Don Rickles.
John Lennon performing with Chuck Berry.
Aretha Franklin singing, "Baby I Love You."
Shaun Cassidy singing "Hey Deanie."
The inflatable Buccaneer is back out in the front yard. The beads are in the tree. The football crock pot is ready for action. The football mugs are frozen and ready for beer. The hula skirts have been freshly combed.
Mmmmmmm. It's football season again.
...to see if Tommy at Sticks of Fire will link to this barely local post.
Actually, it's an excuse to tell a story that was told to me about Gene Simmons of Kiss.
Back in March, Alan Snel of Bike Stories was still covering sports business for the Tampa Tribune.
Alan went over to St. Petersburg to cover a press conference at the Mahaffey Theatre for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The press conference was held to introduce Gene Simmons as the grand marshal.
Alan navigated his way through the myriad of walkways and pit areas to get to the door of the theatre. As he walks up, he goes to grab for the door at the same time a group is walking up. A man from the group insists on getting the door so everyone can walk through, including Al.
Then Al realizes who the doorman is. It's Gene.
Al says hello, tells Gene he's scheduled to interview him later. They exchange pleasantries.
Then Gene asks dryly, "Did you enjoy that?" referring to the scene at the door.
"Uh, yeah," Alan replies.
"Because that's the last time that will happen for you again," Simmons says.
I told that story to tell you that Gene has a show on A&E called, predictably, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels."
We caught the first show the other night. I have to say we enjoyed it immensely.
The show does all the predictable crap that reality shows do. They set up lame premises for shows. (See Gene's wife, Shannon Tweed, ambush him with a fake wedding during what he thinks is her surprise birthday party!)
But the best part of the show is how the family interacts with each other. Gene desperately wants his sonm Nick to become a rock star. Sophie is the 14-year-old daughter he likely would have slept with on tour had she not been his daughter. Shannon is his "life partner" of 23 years and a former Playmate and girlfriend of Hugh Hefner. And Gene is, well, Gene the old Jew.
His son and daughter desperately love their parents. The parents love the kids. The son has real talent and loads of his father's charisma. The mom dotes on all of them. And all of them take turns puncturing the bloated ego Simmons pulls around like a blimp above their lives.
It's nice to see a reality show where the family gets along and has a great sense of humor. Yeah, they're loaded. Yeah, there's hardly any reality to their lives. But it's a fun half hour of TV that, for once, makes you want more.
For some laughs, check out the show's MySpace page. The video snippets are pretty damn funny.
From the site, "Office Signs From Around The Great World":
Words we could all live by, really.
Today's National S'mores Day.
Yes, it's a fake holiday, just like Arbor Day and Cinco de Mayo.
But I don't care. Even the Wikipedia entry for it makes me smile.
It's about chocolate and marshmallow and Graham crackers. You can even substitute Peeps for marshmallows and make them in an Easy Bake Oven, if you want. So if you're cynical about that, well, I don't have an answer for you.
We're in the midst of celebrating the holiday in big style.
I busted out the 3-in-1 Smores Maker I bought on sale at Linens & Things a while back. When word broke that I planned on celebrating the holiday, colleagues at work volunteered to bring in supplies. Patty brought in chocolate bars three days early. Rommie ponied up Crackers and marshmallows.
It also was the perfect reason to bust out the hot dog roller, as well.
You send out an e-mail blast announcing that free s'mores are available, people coming running.
I am a total whore for YouTube.
There. I said it.
Question: Why don't we have this guy drawing lottery balls? It'd be much more entertaining.
So, we've survived almost a week of sixth grade with no major problems. Salad Boy likes his school, the bus has been alarmingly reliable each morning, we've been on time for said bus and the sledgehammer of homework has yet to begin whacking upon our evenings.
To celebrate the first night of school, Salad Wife busted out a mighty fine menu of grub.
...a mixed salad. (It is the Salad household, after all.)The side dish?
A casserole of homemade Mac and Cheese.
And for the entree?
A meatloaf integer.
Can't wait to see what happens when the boy gets his Ph.D.
Gimme a second here.
Hey God. Jeff here.
I know we all go through trials and tribulations. We all have our moments of weakness and make sometimes monumental errors in what we say and do.
I know this. I've done this. I've been that guy.
During those moments of despair and doubt and at those times when we feel as if the world is collapsing upon us, it always helps to hear a kind word from a friend to support us and lift our spirits. When that friend then proclaims that support to the world, well, that only testifies to the strength of our affiliation and mutual admiration.
But God, I beseech you, if I ever were to say or do anything anti-semitic that would shame me and my family and put at risk my $900 million fortune made largely by exploiting my fabulous hair, the violent death of Jesus and bad Three Stooges impersonations, please, I beg in the name of all things holy and sacred, do not send Patrick Swayze to my rescue.
On a totally mildly related note, this made me laugh until milk shot out my nose. And I wasn't even drinking any!
If you're going to load up the wife and kids in the family truckster and take a driving vacation to a sunny place...
PREVIOUS ADVENTURES IN TRAFFIC:
Jonathan Livingston Redneck.
Buc off, pal.
Such a dirty mess.
How cheep can you be?
I'm super! Thanks for asking.
Would you like an apple pie with that?
Hearse so good.
Drive fast, take chances.
Riding with Fab the deejay.
Beware of the Death Explorer.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.
My other car is a rocket-propelled grenade.
Live long and prosper. In an Altima.
Just two good ol' boys.
Nicotine is my crash helmet.
Jazz hands moms.
Ugly lug nuts.
My honor student can kick your ass.
Horse and buddy.
Salad Wife is the only person I know who has worn out a treadmill.
These guys in the video for "Here It Goes Again" might be the next candidates:
It's while watching this amazing choreography that I'm reminded of how bad the guys in Van Halen danced in the "Hot For Teacher" video. For a guy who plays guitar and relies on rhythm for managment of his chord structure, Eddie Van Halen looked like he was on NyQuil.
Which, you know, probably wasn't far from the truth.
Story of the week, so far:
Dolphin freed from Speedo
Caught in a life-threatening Speedo, a Sarasota Bay dolphin swam in the suit for almost a month before researchers decided it was time for bottle-nosed Scrappy to strip.
The dark-colored men's bathing suit, which Mote Marine Laboratory researchers noticed stuck on the dolphin 28 days before deciding to intervene, had cut half-inch wounds into his flippers. Eventual infection of the cuts could have killed the dolphin, nicknamed Scrappy in 1998, when the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program started tracking him.
With 30 people and five boats, Scrappy was captured Thursday to remove the tattered bathing suit, and a veterinarian treated his wounds. He was released and is expected to heal on his own.
"There's no way this material was rotting fast enough to have come off of him before it did major damage," said Randall Wells, manager of the research program.
Scrappy was underweight and Wells suspects the swimwear entanglement was hindering his ability to swim, catch fish and even evade predators on account of the shark bites also found on Scrappy's body.
"Hopefully with this off of him he'll be able to heal up just fine in his natural environment," Wells said.
Thank goodness he didn't get caught in this one-piece. The mind boggles at the potential irony, not to mention the enhanced UV exposure he'd have endured.
Remember to mark your calendar, kids. February 27 is Hug a Wet Dolphin Day.
On behalf of the Salad clan, many thanks to those who e-mailed condolences, tapped me on the shoulder at work or left comments in the Salad Bowl (two of which I dimwittedly deleted during comment box scouring).
The service in Columbia, S.C., for Grandma Chick was absolutely lovely. It was a pleasure to see relatives we haven't seen in a long time and meet new ones we'd only heard about.
The worst part of the trip? The flying. As usual.
For someone of my, um, stature, flying is not unlike human origami. My legs contort into angles Euclid never considered. My torso? Let's just say I know how the dough in a cookie press feels.
That said, Columbia Metropolitan Airport is a lovely facility.
I'm serious. Last time we were through there, roughly 10 years ago, the place resembled a utility shed. Everything was under construction. Yellow caution tape was omnipresent. You could have used the joint for bombing practice and not really sacrificed many comforts.
The atmosphere is bright and cheerful. White rocking chairs dot the terminal. The shops are modern and well-stocked. Getting through security is a breeze. It's as nice a place as you could find to spend possibly your last moments on terra firma.
It helps there were hardly any people traveling on Tuesday or Wednesday when we were there, but still...
Unfortunately, the comfort of the airport was not a harbinger of the flight to Dulles International Airport from Columbia.
I don't want to say I felt unsafe or that the plane was small, but as we walked out to the Tarmac, I announced, "Last call for passengers aboard flight 1577 on Lynyrd Skynyrd Air."
After I climbed the stairs, I poked my head through the door and asked the, um, plump and overly cosmetically adorned flight attendant, "Do you have any baby oil so I can get to my seat?"
The cabin was so small, I couldn't turn around when I stood up. That might be because I couldn't stand up. Neither could my nephew, who stands almost two inches taller than I.
I half-expected a recreation of the airline turbulence scene in "Almost Famous," when the band flies through a storm and everyone starts confessing their darkest sins, deepest hatreds and true sexual orientation.
Sound ludicrous? My eldest sister-in-law, Faith, had one diminuitive, greasy-haired, twig-like Canadian with a receding hairline in the seat next to her on the flight to Washington D.C. from Tampa announce, "I make beautiful babies." And that was without any significant jostling in the cabin to elicit such a proclamation.
I told her that I suspected he had the "making" part in mind, not the "babies" part.
But that was just supposition.
For me, head room was not an option.
I will say, however, that it was convenient to be able to push the button for the flight attendant with the tip of my nose. And having the air nozzles so close to my forehead kept my skin smooth and kissable.
As if all that wasn't enough Salad fodder, the flight home to Tampa from Washington held even more visual doubloon.
I sat in the front row facing the bulkhead. There was a little cutout that allowed the crew to see the passengers from their jump seats during take-off and landing. From my vantage point, it was like having a little flight-attendant channel on TV.
All of which would have been fine if our flight had been blessed with normal flight attendants.
We were not.
Instead, we got this gent, who could have passed for a paunchier, more flamboyant Martin Mull.
Then I noticed his name tag.
So I turned off the flash on my camera and slid it up the bulkhead so I could photograph it covertly.
The guy across the aisle from me, who looked like Ronde Barber (or Tiki Barber, for that matter), stifled a laugh and said, "You need to put that on the Internet."
I promised him that indeed I would.
What did the nametag say?
Even Grandma Chick would have laughed at that one.
My buddy Drew called yesterday from Hawaii. He was just a few hours from taking his soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry into deployment in the Middle East.
His voice was ragged, and not because it was 5 a.m. in Hawaii. The past month has been an emotional bungee jump for his wife, Susan, and their boys and for the 800 soldiers and their families in his battalion.
After he became battalion commander (the photo of Drew on the left during the changeover-in-command ceremony is pictured above) Drew knew for two years he would be deploying somewhere for as long as 12 months, either to Iraq or Afghanistan. As the deployment date narrowed to summer 2006 and the destination was determined to be Iraq, he's had to prepare his troops mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
As the date kept being pushed back week by week, more adjustments were necessary. "We just want it to start," he said a month ago. "The sooner it starts, the sooner we can get back home." On Friday, six hours before flying to the staging area in Kuwait, he admitted, "Now, I'm just angry." He didn't specify the source of his anger. A man faced with a task of that weight, one with so much responsibility and for that length of time doesn't have to.
It's been a long path from Drew's days as a West Point cadet, a path that's taken him to Somolia, Afghanistan and Iraq. He worked at U.S. Central Command in Tampa at MacDill Air Force Base and was in the room during the teleconference when the president gave the orders for the Iraq invasion.
“They have all these TV monitors. Gen. [Tommy] Franks, the commander, is up on one of them. And all nine commanders, and the president asks each one of them, ‘Are you ready? Do you have what you need? Are you satisfied?’ And they all say, ‘Yes, sir.’ and ‘We're ready.’”
Yes, I said Somolia. As a member of the Ranger task force that was deployed to Mogadishu with the goal of capturing Mohammed Aidid and his top lieutenants in order to end Aidid's guerrilla war against the U.N.'s efforts to feed the Somali people, Drew was awarded a Silver Star for his and his rifle company's efforts to rescue other Rangers. The episode was documented in the book "Black Hawk Down" and dramatized in the movie of the same name. At one point, Drew survived a rocket-propelled grenade attack fired directly at him.
You can read about the rescue effort here.
An excerpt from the official report:
At 032300C OCT this ad hoc task force departed and moved east around the old port of Mogadishu and then north to National street. As the task force turned west on National street, the enemy once again initiated a deliberate ambush with extremely heavy rocket, mortar, and automatic weapons fire. The subordinate commanders, clearly understanding the gravity of the situation and the commander's intent, immediately returned fire and continued to forge ahead down a gauntlet of fire until they reached their respective release points. For three hours, Alpha company 2-14 Inf fought a pitched battle to finally link up with the encircled ranger detachment at the first crash site. Upon reaching the first downed aircraft site, LTC David was informed by CPT Drew Meyerowich that the remains of one of the aircraft pilots was trapped in the aircraft and that it would be very difficult to dislodge him. Still receiving intensive direct and indirect enemy fire, LTC David informed CPT Meyerowich that we would stay in the objective area until all personnel and remains were recovered. Charlie Company 2-14 Inf was then dispatched to the second crash site to determineif there was anyone or anything to recover. Immediately upon moving to thesecond crash site, Charlie company, under the command of CPT Michael Whetstone, came under extremely heavy rocket and small arms fire, yet continued to press forward to the second crash site. Upon reaching the second crash site, CPT Whetstone informed LTC David that there was nothing to be recovered. Realizing that CPT Whetstone was in close proximity to 2nd Platoon A Co 2-14 Inf, carried in Malaysian APC's, that had been separated from the main body at the outset of the battle, LTC David instructed CPT Whetstone to link up with the platoon to ensure that we did not leave anyone on the battlefield. Upon making radio contact with the separated platoon, CPT Whetsone was informed that two of the Malaysian armored vehicles had been destroyed by rocket fire and that there were numerous Malaysian and American dead and wounded. The Malaysian company commander was informed by his Battalion commander not to attempt to recover the dead and wounded for fear of sustaining additional casualties. LTC David reiterated to the company commanders, "stay the course, we will fight here as long as it takes. We will not leave any of our soldiers on the battlefield." The task force fought on for an additional four hours until all of the Rangers, the wounded, and the dead were recovered.
So the man knows something about being in harm's way. And so does his family.
Drew has had several chances to leave the Army. He's continued to serve, with the hope that he would eventually lead soldiers forward into the field.
He's part of a tradition that holds great history among his battalion.
The 27th Infantry Regiment (Wolfhounds) was organized on 2 February 1901 and saw its first combat action while serving as part of the American Force sent to quell the Philippine Insurrection on the Island of Mindanao.
During World War 1, the 27th Infantry served in the American Expeditionary Force sent to Siberia in 1918, This campaign has become an integral part of unit's history. The tenacious pursuit tactics of the regiment won the respect of the Bolsheviks, hence earning the name Wolfhounds. This emblem continues to serve as the symbol of the 27th Infantry Regiment.
On 1 March 1921, the 27th Infantry Regiment was assigned to the Hawaiian Division. It served proudly in the Hawaiian Division for over twenty years until it was relieved on 26 August 1941, and assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. After seeing extensive action in the Pacific theater during World War 11 and the ensuing occupation of Japan, the 27th Infantry Regiment earned the nickname "Gentle Wolfhounds" for their loving support of the Holy Family Orphanage.
Soldiers from 1st and 2nd Battalions return to Japan every Christmas, and two children from the orphanage have visited Schofield Barracks annually since 1957. The relationship was recognized by Hollywood in 1956 when members of the regiment were profiled in the movie, "Three Stripes In The Sun."
Today, Drew begins to reach his goal. We couldn't be more proud of him or more honored by his sense of service.
Our prayers for his safety and for his family go with him.
Today's a big day at Casa del Ensalada: Salad Boy starts middle school.
We do a traditional thing each year where we take a photo on the first day of school. This year is a big deal, not only because he's going to a new school, but because he'll ride the school bus every day for the first time.
So, this is the sixth grade photo, taken with his neighbor and buddy, Christian:
The head tilt denotes a significant ebb in tolerance.
"Sorry Christian," he said.
"S'okay," Christian said.
Gotta love the retro T-shirts they're wearing.
"Brian," his grandmother said, "No one is going to know who the Rolling Stones are at school."
Luckily, their friend Gabe showed up to walk to the bus stop down at the corner.
First days of anything are easier when you've got your buds with you.
That didn't stop the group at the bus stop from hazing them.
"Hey, look at the sixth graders," I heard one of them say.
Everyone's got to eat a little dirt when you're at the bottom of the hill.
I think the parents were more nervous than the kids.
Claudia next door craned her head to see her son, Alberto, get on the bus. My mom, who apparently color-coordinated by wearing "Anxiety Pink," did her best to get a peek without embarassing Salad Boy.
We looked behind us; another mom and dad were using the Saladmobile as cover so they could hide and watch their daughter go off to school.
Ten minutes later, the bus finally came. And Salad Boy disappeared into the bowels of the educational transportation system.
You'll have to excuse me if I get a little sentimental.
For almost every day of his life, I've made his lunch and driven him to school or day care in the morning. I'm the one who made him breakfast and made sure he brushed his teeth. Mornings with him are a big thing to me. We always have the best conversations then. Sometimes they'd veer toward the bizarre and twisted, but each one was a precious gem.
We used to have a ritual where he would wave to me on the sly after I dropped him off in car line. It was like our secret handshake. For a couple years, he'd get upset if I didn't wave because I was distracted by, you know, traffic and wandering children. Then those tailed off.
Now it's a hug and a kiss. I don't mind, though. At least I get that, still.
Wait. Where's the bus going?
Aw, hell. I thought the bus was going to drive past our house. I had big plans. Mooning. Screaming like a loon. Flashing some man-boobage. The whole ball of wax. It was going to be the talk of the school.
There's always tomorrow.
Sorry to say this, but the Salad has been a bit somber of late.
That won't change any time soon, unfortunately, due to the loss of Salad Wife's grandmother, Atherline Shealy, who left us at age 94 on Saturday.
Grandma Chick was the portrait of Southern strength and steely determination, even to her last days. I'm proud to say that Salad Boy had the blessing of spending large amounts of time with his great-grandmother in the past four years, a rare opportunity not many young people get to bond with such an elder member of their family.
What did I learn from her?
That brawn and girth are no match for mental toughness. That dignity is found in your marrow. That faith is nourished in a private chapel in your soul. That not every thought needs to find expression and that words are more precious when there is an economy of them. That pride can be quicksand and boastfulness a tarnish to a good name.
If there is a legacy I want my boy to take from her, it would be those qualities.
That and the fact that unconditional love is the ultimate prize.
This is Chick with her beloved husband, Oscar. To say they were in love and adored each other would be to understate the situation wildly.
It is a testament to their dedication to each other that when he left her side a decade ago, not even the love bestowed by a dozen family members and friends on a near-daily basis was enough to fill the gap of the six decades they spent as husband and wife.
We will miss her sass and her great sense of personal, understated style. We will mourn her passing not for the death it brings but for the loss of a friend and loved one. And we will celebrate her life this week in her native South Carolina as a woman who showed us that family is the only true treasure.