"I would not like nights so bright you could not see the stars." -- Akira Kurosawa

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Atlanta
I grew up in a family of Southern storytellers. Back in 2004, I started Whole Bean to continue the tradition in a new medium. Over the years, I've written about families and friends, peculiar situations, extended road trips, recalcitrant home appliances, and many things for which I'm truly grateful. I hope you enjoy your time here.
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One Night in Istanbul


It seems that sometimes, you have ordinary evenings out, and then you have special evenings out. Last Friday night was one for the record books, my friends!

Our friends Neharika and Mayank were headed to India for a few weeks, and we wanted to give them a nice sendoff. Meenakshi suggested Cafe Istanbul in Decatur, and when I checked out the web site, I was instantly on board with the place -- something exotic and different, it definitely sounded like fun. Hearing no other suggestions, eight of us opted for this one-night trip to Turkey.


What a splendid idea this was! Cafe Istanbul is a cozy, dark, popular little cafe which is (I can only suppose) the closest we can get to being in Turkey while still paying Atlanta taxes. One side of the restaurant has table seating, the other is dedicated to traditional floor seating. We opted for the table side.

Karen and I were the first to arrive, and we could not believe how many people were packed into the place! We had reservations for 10 for 8:30, and we were finally seated around 9:00. Soon, our party had arrived, and within minutes, our waiter appeared. I initially had some trouble distinguishing red from white wines, even though they were clearly labeled as such on the menu! Shortly after we ordered, an animated belly sashayed to the table and collected handsome tips (for the first of several times) from us all. Swaying to the Eurasian music and clicking her finger cymbals in time, she set the tone for the feast ahead. Our friend Swan, seated at the table with us, recognized the dancer from her own belly dancing lessons. So already, we were part of the family at this place.


The food was superb, the wine was nice, and afterwards, Meenakshi and Neharika took to the floor dancing to Panjabi MC's pop bhangra hit "Mundian to Bach Ke" (click here to hear an excerpt). By this time, the party was in full swing. As the evening progressed, we all enjoyed some delightful berry-flavored hookah and shared stories and laughter until almost midnight, when we all simultaneously began to drift into a pleasant sort of haze. Sensing that it was indeed time to go home, we reluctantly left Cafe Istanbul, vowing that there would most definitely be a return trip.

Like I said, some evenings are just special. Bon voyage, Neha and Mayank! We will miss you, but we'll see you soon!

Welcome to the Bollyhood!


We coined a new name for our little district of Macy's the other day: The Bollyhood.

The whole Bollywood thing started back in April with an earlier post (see "Bollywood Fever") and has continued like a train running full steam down the track. What a great ride it is! Along with some very helpful tips from our Indian friends, we have begun to fully explore this highly entertaining genre of movies, and for that matter, the whole of modern Indian culture.

On Diwali, November 9, a group of our friends all dressed in the more traditional style (see picture above). Later that evening, a crew of about 17 of us went out to dinner at Phoenix Noodle Cafe and then to the Galaxy Peachtree Funplex 8 to see Saawariya, the first Hollywood-produced "Bollywood" movie. Although the consensus among many of us was that the movie was somewhat slow, we enjoyed each other's company immensely and decided to follow up with a more animated movie in short order.

Now, we have movie posters in the office, Bollywood music emanating from first one cube then another, tasty snacks appearing from time to time, music and videos being shared, and a general sense of the world having become much smaller. This led to a spontaneous suggestion last week that our area should be labeled with a sign reading "Welcome to the Bollyhood!" So be it!

Happy Diwali!


Last night, I attended my first ever Diwali festival, and it was such a fine time! Diwali is a holiday celebrated by many members of the Indian community worldwide. It is commonly termed the "Festival of Lights" -- celebrations are marked by lights and lamps which celebrate the victory of good over evil.

This year, the suburban community of Duluth, Georgia (popularized recently as home of the "runaway bride" Jennifer Wilbanks) sponsored its first Diwali outdoor festival in its town center. There were hundreds of people in attendance, and we were treated to wonderful finger foods, classical and modern dances, and vendor booths full of fascinating gifts, clothing, and decorative articles for the home.

I was particularly captivated by a booth chock-full of Indian movies, videos, and CD's, many of which I've recently become more familiar with as a result of my Bollywood fascination. I purchased copies of Lagaan, Devdas, and a video performance by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistani master of qawwali singing.

There was a definite chill in the air, and my tasty dinner of hot chicken samosas, chicken 65, and hot tea made for a pleasant and memorable evening. Families, couples, young and old all joined together to create a true community experience -- it reminded me of fairs which I had attended as a child, only this time with a totally different and distinctly international flavor.

Coupled with seeing the new Hollywood/Bollywood movie Saawariya on Friday night with a group of friends from all over the world, I feel that I've made a virtual trip to India this past weekend. What fun! I'll be back at the Diwali Festival next year, and perhaps I'll see you there!

Che macello! (What a mess!)


My ears are still ringing, and I don't even hear that well.

Tonight, my daughter and I headed out to a popular Italian restaurant in our neighborhood. It's one of those places where you can always get a nice hand-tossed pizza or a tasty plate of piping hot ziti. It's a predictable little cafe, nothing fancy, just good food prepared well. And it's also popular with families. Sometimes, TOO popular.

A few minutes after we were seated this evening, I noticed that two or three children were playing around the video games in a back room of the restaurant, adjacent to the restrooms. Ordinarily, this would not have attracted my attention, but tonight, the natives seemed particularly restless. Within minutes, several of these munchkins were jockeying for position at the video games and attacking with ferocity a large candy dispenser, which was loaded with colorful, perfect-for-choking sized balls of gum. Mind you, the parents were sitting not twenty feet away, enjoying their beer and wine while the children ignored their food and ran around the restaurant. I'm guessing that they must have been on their second or third drinks by this time.

As the situation escalated, several of us in the immediate area became nervous when a group of the kids barricaded a couple of the others in the ladies' room. The trapped victims began to kick the bathroom door, and after a few minutes, a waiter walked over to the kids and asked them to stop. By this time, a sense of general pandemonium had ensued, except around another table, where a lady sat with her two boys, both of whom were extremely well-behaved in the midst of it all.

There were a few moments of relative quiet, and then it began in earnest. Two of the crazy kids (there were six in total) had come from a far table at the other end of the restaurant, but four were from the table next to ours. They all began to shove each other, and at one point, a girl of about seven years of age from the next table kicked a little boy, who had fallen to the ground, in the back. By this time, our fellow diners were visibly perturbed. Two of us said something to the waiter, who again approached the kids and reprimanded them.

Finally, after all this, the totally oblivious "mother" at the table next to ours, home of the four hellions, said to the waiter, and I quote, "Oh...are they causing trouble back there?" It was all we could do not to burst out laughing. These couples had been sitting there the entire time, while their ill-mannered children not only spoiled all our dinners, but in effect, put themselves in danger of being seriously injured. To see parents so unaware of the situation at hand was downright sad.

I can only imagine what the home dinner table must be like for these children: a veritable running track surrounding the table, bruises and other injuries sustained while trying to down a slice of cold pizza, and parents literally living outside it all. And I say I can only imagine, because our own children were always interested in the food when we went to a restaurant...they would never dream of disturbing the other diners, because they knew that such behavior would at the very least nix the next "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or "Barney" episode.

I know it's a novel concept, but children will behave given just the slightest bit of guidance.

And, as Forrest Gump was so fond of saying, "That's all I have to say about that."

Straight Flush


We recently embarked on a medium-scale bathroom remodeling project in our house, precipitated (good choice of words, as you'll see) by an air conditioning leak in our attic. It's a long story, but we'll just leave it at that. Anyway, we took this as an opportunity to update our powder room and upstairs bathroom, and I can honestly say...well, I hope I can say...that we are almost finished. We let the pros do the tile work, and we took on most all the plumbing tasks ourselves.


What has struck me in this endeavor is the seemingly endless array of new bathroom fixtures of all types. We opted for a granite countertop/undermount sink with travertine marble in the upstairs bath, and a vessel sink/waterfall faucet combination with travertine floor in the powder room. I never thought that technology could have made such inroads in what up until a few years ago was a truly functional area of the house, but it certainly has, and I believe it's for the better.


In the process, I have also learned a lot about plumbing. I now know and can spot at fifty yards a P-trap, a flexible supply line (steel is best), or even a compression fitting. Before, I was always scared of plumbing -- a mistake in a plumbing job can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, and electricity, by comparison, seems so simple. I mean, if you put in a two-way switch where a three-way switch is supposed to go, you'll know immediately that you've made a mistake, since the switch will sizzle like water in hot oil as soon as you turn it on. That's what I like about electricity -- the all-or-nothing factor. Never mind that you can shock yourself into the next century.


Plumbing, on the other hand, is a bit more insidious. We all must at some point have experienced that "drip, drip, drip" in the night, lying awake and wondering which part of the house will collapse, leaving us like stranded rafters in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat. But I have learned that plumbing, like anything else for which exorbitant service fees are charged, is a process which takes patience and a certain level of courage. The courage part is very important here. My new friend Willie at Lowe's gave me some great advice at one point, and that helped get me over the hump. Willie told me, "It's gonna work...I promise!", and I believed him. Turns out he actually was right. But again, it took a little intestinal fortitude.


So verily I say unto you, if you are the adventurous type, fix your own toilet next time. Replace that drain. Upgrade those nasty old faucets. But just remember, should the situation run amok (and it very well may), a good plumber is just a phone call and several hundred dollars away. We did have to call a plumber for a couple of the early tasks, and both times, he zipped right in, joked with us the whole time, and made prompt repairs. You know, Robert was a really fun guy. Oh, and he also told us that his condo in San Diego is almost paid off. That pretty much says it all.


Ciao!

Once in Bollywood...


It has now been five months, and my fascination with Bollywood (India's version of Hollywood) continues unabated. Just this evening, I came across the video for one of my favorite songs, "Loot Jayenge", from the movie "Aksar". I double-dog dare you to sit still...



Sing Along with Buffy!


Those of you who have known me for a while may recall my years of obsession with the TV program "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Perhaps obsession is too mild a word. At the suggestion of my older daughter, I somewhat passively tuned in one night in early 1997 to catch the first season episode entitled "I, Robot... You, Jane". Life would never be the same! I was intrigued by the cast (of course), the witty dialogue, the bargain basement special effects, and of course, the soap opera that was to become the seven-season plot.

So I found it quite interesting the other day when, wondering what had ever become of our heroine Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), I came across a current picture of her, decked out in Chanel, on the InStyle magazine website. The very next day, in one of those rare coincidences, I received a call from my friend Tanya who told me about an upcoming event to be held the following evening, a Buffy Sing-Along. Voila! What could be a better way to spend a Saturday night in the ATL?

This past Saturday, my younger daughter, a friend of hers, and I headed out a special showing of "Once More, with Feeling: The Buffy Musical" at Atlanta's Plaza Theatre. "Once More" was a special episode aired during the sixth season of BtVS (for those of us hardcore show fans) in which a typical demon-comes-to-town story is set to rollicking show tunes -- our version was complete with a bouncing ball and subtitles. On the way into the theatre, we were handed kits of goodies, including soap bubbles, a finger puppet, fake vampire teeth, and crackers, all to be used in a sort of Rocky Horror audience participation adventure.


And participate we did! When Spike appeared, we yelled "Hotness!" Whenever Buffy's younger sister Dawn tried to get a word in edgewise, we would all say in unison, "Shut up, Dawn!" And when Tara levitated above her bed in a trance-like state of euphoria, we pulled the string on our crackers, filling the theatre air with the smell of exploded caps. It was divine.

Now, we're just waiting for the return. Next time, I'll take along more of my middle-aged friends and probably a few more youth. We all have one thing in common -- love for Her Royal Highness, the Buffness. And let it be known that this presentation is making its way across the U.S.A. -- before you know it, it'll be in your town as well. Click here for the website, with this season's complete schedule.

Grrr...arrgh! (Inside joke for you BtVS fans...)

Rico =:)



Light in August?


Many years ago on a warm summer night, famed Southern novelist William Faulkner was sitting on the porch with his wife Estelle when she commented on how light in the South during the month of August seemed to exhibit a most peculiar quality. Faulkner liked this idea and soon renamed the novel he was writing from its working title of Dark House to Light in August. Perhaps you have that book on your shelves now.

Certainly, here in the South we have had light in August this year. Light, and heat...extreme heat. I have lived in Atlanta for most of 25 years, and I have yet to see a summer with such protracted high temperatures. We were driving a car without air conditioning for a few days during the hottest of the weeks, and it was practically unbearable.

Yet I recall as a child in Memphis that we did not have A/C everywhere. In fact, our schools were not air conditioned. We had these tall chrome-plated fans that pushed the hot air around our high-ceilinged classrooms, while dark green shades would be pulled down during the day to reduce the sun's glare and heat. At the same time, school officials deemed it distasteful to allow young men to wear shorts at school (girls could, but they had to be "culottes"). Still, I don't recall being particularly hot during the day, which says something about how we've acclimated to climate control over the years.

Air conditioning is often credited with spurring at least part of the growth in the Sun Belt in recent years. Indeed, if you have to work over a weekend in a modern office building without A/C, you will soon see how these buildings could never have been built in this part of the country without it...the air becomes stale in short order. Of course, we could open windows in the "old days", and that helped to some degree. Nowadays, if you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, it is hard to imagine living without "air" during the summer months.

But the temperatures appear to be abating -- today's forecast calls for a high of only 98, and that's not bad. One day last week when I headed home from work, the car thermometer registered 111. Yes, it's definitely cooling off.

Dil Se - Chaiyya Chaiyya


What can I say? Total entertainment! I am still very much on my Bollywood kick, and at this point, it shows no signs of slowing down, much less stopping. Many of my friends are now either providing me names of movies to watch or the DVD's themselves. I'm loving this!

The other day, I came across one particular video which caught my eye. My apologies to my Indian friends, because I know that this is somewhat dated, but here in the US, we just don't see that many videos filmed on top of moving trains! Enjoy!

Wired in the ATL


I heard a story on National Public Radio today about how Atlanta now ranks as the top city in the nation for frequency of email checking. I believe this. One of the factors cited was the increased use of Blackberries and other mobile devices, and another was the long commutes that many of us experience every work day -- drives so long that we somehow feel we have to stay in touch or get a jump on the day ahead.

I own a Windows Mobile smartphone. It's a lot like a Blackberry, only smaller, and with a Windows interface. I know that I must check email at least twenty times a day, and that doesn't count text messages and real honest-to-goodness-people-on-the-other-end cell phone calls. I receive email from four different sources, each with its own separate email address. Oh, yes...I am definitely one of the guilty ones.

Here's an example of how geeked-out things can get: At an after-work P-Council libations session the other night, we took a cell phone picture of our friend Sonya, who had procured some pink Wellington boots to match her pink De La Hoya-Mayweather boxing match baseball cap. Ensuring that the picture met with Sonya's approval, we then Bluetooth-beamed the picture around to each of our phones. We did this in a public place. High nerd mode at its finest. Of course, in the picture, Sonya is talking on her own cell phone. It never stops.

So when I hear that we are way wired down here and that we're always checking email (even in church, according to the radio story), I have to laugh and plead insanity. But I've gotta say...it is kinda cool. Spin my propeller... =:)

Monsoon Season


It may be common in India, but in Atlanta, it is odd. We get our summer rains, of course, but not quite like the ones we've experienced for the last two weeks. My work compadres and I sit on the third floor of a modern office building, directly beneath the roof. It started raining off and on about two weeks ago, and it shows no signs of stopping. Every afternoon, a torrential rain comes along and washes the place clean.


Several days ago, while taking the stairs to get a little microcardio workout, I noticed that the building roof sits only a foot or two above our floor. Maybe this explains why storms have such an impact. Whenever it rains, we hear a gentle roar from the roof above, but in more severe thunderstorms, it sometimes sounds like the place is going to come apart.


I don't see evidence of any roof leaks at this point, but rest assured that I'm ready to bring in a poncho if necessary.


Stop Picking on Giada!


Oh, for heaven's sake! Today, I saw an article in TV Guide entitled "Giada De Laurentiis: Is the Sexy Chef Too Hot for TV?" I'm over it! Someone is always complaining that Giada has "a big head" or "too many teeth" or some other nonsense. Will everyone just leave this poor (OK, not literally poor) woman alone?

If you don't know the background, some reader apparently sent TV Guide a letter a few weeks ago complaining about the outfits that Giada wears on her Food Network cooking show Everyday Italian. The magazine was instantly flooded with responses both positive and negative. All the while, most people are probably unaware that if you actually try cooking some of Giada's recipes, they're outstanding. Anything she makes with cranberries, for example, is definitely worth a try.

Sure, I have my three DVD set of Everyday Italian. I think it's a nice show, and yes, I like the hostess -- she is cute, polished, and energetic and she usually appears to be having a good time. She is undoubtedly my favorite TV female. The only thing I would suggest is that Food Network find the male equivalent of Giada for the ladies in the viewing audience. Let's face it -- Mario Batali can whip up a great Orecchiette with Italian Sausage, but he's not quite as easy on the eye as GDL. And Emeril, well, he's Emeril. BAM! Where is the ruggedly handsome guy who throws some stuff on the grill and makes it turn into magic? I'll bet the ladies would like that.

My vote goes to Giada. You go, girl. You're only young once, and you might as well make the most of it. Ciao!

The Hot Food Eating Contest


A couple of weeks ago, my friends Tarun, Meenakshi and Vicki dropped over to my desk to ask whether I liked "spicy food". I answered a rousing "yes", having long been a fan of endorphin-elevating hot food, but not knowing that they were in fact pitting me in a contest against "Andrew"...they didn't say anything about the fact that Andrew was not American, but Indian-Malaysian. Ha!

So today we held the "contest" at Rasa Sayang in Roswell, but Andrew and I (and most everyone else at the table) thought the food was not truly hot, in our sense of the word. Nevertheless, I did eat one hot red pepper whole, which garnered me an increased level of respect from my Indian, Malaysian and (even) American friends. I now eat on a different level, I think.

Planning is underway for another Hot Food Eating Contest, this time to be held on July 13 at Thai Star in Norcross. There are some rice dishes there which can put a person in the hospital, regardless of his/her national origin. I'm ready. Stay tuned!

P-Council


These days, it goes without saying (if you know me, that is) that I'm all about diversity. I find great delight in having friends from all over the world who relate stories of their own cultures and customs, whether they're from Japan, Jamaica, or Jacksonville. Put me in town with people from all over the place, sitting outside on a veranda on an Atlanta evening, and I'm as happy as a clam.

But a few months ago, a friend of mine from Colombia suggested that with all this wonderful diversity going on, we might need to address perversity as well, and what better way to do this than with a standard weekly meeting (after work, of course)? Oh, come on...you know it's funny. Anyway, I snapped some pictures over the last few weeks that just beg to be included here. One look at these and you'll see why P-Council (for Perversity Council) has become a regular thing!





Mary Mac's Tea Room


This is a picture of my long-time friend Jean sampling the offerings at Mary Mac's Tea Room on a recent dinner visit. It had been a hard day at work. Mary Mac's is a downtown Atlanta institution which you must try if you're in the city looking for "real" Southern food. My friend Marc was also in attendance, and since I had my camera phone at the ready, we thought the time just seemed right. We posted this picture in the office, and Jean's celebrity was immediately apparent!


Bollywood Fever!


I just returned from my morning walk at Atlanta's Piedmont Park. On the way back home, I stopped at my favorite city coffee shop, San Francisco Coffee, to pick up an iced espresso with vanilla -- gotta have fuel in this town. Coffee in hand, I popped the top down on the car and pumped up the volume on a mix CD I put together a few weeks ago called "Asian Chic". And there they were -- the glorious new tunes of Bollywood.

Last night, we watched the 2005 movie Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena, featuring Fardeen Khan and Koena Mitra. There is something about Bollywood (India's Hollywood, for those of you who have not heard the term) that is infectious, not the least of which being the seemingly random interspersing of music and dance routines throughout the movies. Indian filmmakers appear to have recaptured a spirit that we here in America left somewhere down the road -- old-fashioned escapism mixed with an off-beat sense of humor. Sure, there are some serious moments in these movies, but they don't get under your skin or keep you awake at night, and the comic relief surfaces when you least expect it.

It's going to be an interesting summer, because I intend to rent more Bollywood movies. Who knows -- I may even host a festival.

Forget the Zip Code. What's Your Cube Code?


This all started quite innocently. We were notified a few days ago that an office move was imminent; actually, we'd been expecting it for some time. Moves are not all bad, because they often give you a chance to experience your company from a slightly different perspective while (hopefully) allowing you to maintain your workflow and overall stream of consciousness without too much disruption. But this move would be different.

Our business unit is very creative. Perhaps that is an understatement. So, when we were presented with the move details and a map of the new building, we immediately began accounting for everyone's new location. (You always want to know where your peeps are.) Soon, it became apparent that a designation like 3701-D was just not sufficient to fully describe one's cube. A more descriptive system was needed.

Almost without thinking, the nomenclature evolved -- a basic cube would be a "3C", whereas a slightly smaller cube would be a "2C". (The actual theory behind the "3C" and "2C" logic is confidential company information which I am not permitted to disclose at this time, but suffice to say that it is hilarious.) It was duly noted that no cube, however small, could be designated less than a "2C".

From there it took off like a model rocket in a open field. A standard cube in the middle of an aisle became known as a "3CMA", for standard-sized cube, middle of aisle. An end cube that was slightly smaller was designated a "2CEA", indicating that it sat at the end of an aisle, etc. By the time the naming standards were fully developed (two days in this case), codes such as the following had been devised and agreed upon:
  • 3CMA - Standard cube, middle of aisle
  • 3CPMA - Standard cube with pillar outside, middle of aisle
  • 4CTVEA - Large cube with view of testing room, end of aisle
  • 2CLBVEA - Small cube with limited bathroom view, end of aisle
  • 3CLBVAG - Standard cube with limited bathroom view, adjacent to Gonzalo (our resident Colombian godfather)
By the end of the first week of this madness, people at all levels were literally lined up to receive their cube codes. Indeed, the flexible nomenclature has been so well-received by staff members that a proposal has been made to base office property values on the cube designation, in much the same way that municipalities assess property taxes based on location and millage rate.
So far, the system is working well. I'm sure that there will be some bugs to iron out, but hey, that's what we do for a living, and we are darned good at it. As for me, next Monday morning, I'll be in a nice, tastefully decorated 3CPMA, complete with a sconce uplight on the outside pillar. I'm ready.

The Refrigerator from Hell


Verily I say unto you, you are peering into the mouth of Hell. Yes, I know it looks more like the interior of a typical consumer refrigerator, but heed my warning -- this is no ordinary home appliance. Read on, my friends.

On a crisp evening in December of 1993, we ventured to Circuit City on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte, North Carolina, to purchase a side-by-side Whirlpool refrigerator for our newly built home, which was scheduled for completion within the week. We had our two small children in tow, and by the time we had selected the Model ED25DQXAW00 refrigerator, they were both tired and cranky. And frankly, so were we. The store did nothing to help, since they botched the VISA sales transaction in such a way that for all I know, I may still be paying for the thing. That should have been our first hint that something was wrong.

The unit performed well for the first several years. We moved from Charlotte to Atlanta in the summer of 1995, and from all indications, it was happy to move along with the rest of the family. We would host parties, and it cheerfully lit up the kitchen with its 250 internal bulbs, perfectly formed ice was ejected from the icemaker to liven up our margarita mixes, and it dispensed ice-cold water from its front door with grace and obedience. Little did we know what sinister inclinations its CFC-containing brain harbored.

But soon things took a turn. Somewhere around 1997, well after its warranty had expired, the shelves on the door of the refrigerator side started falling off at random when the door itself was opened. This was particularly troublesome when a party was being hosted, and a shelf full of jams and jellies would crash to the floor, missing our guests' feet by only fractions of an inch. They would laugh, but deep down, you could see the fear in their faces.

Shortly thereafter, we noticed that a couple of pins which supported the main inside shelves on both the refrigerator and freezer sides broke off, leaving the shelves sitting lopsided, causing the food items to either fall down or out the door. We contacted a local service company to see if the pins could be replaced, and indeed they could. We had several of them replaced and obtained from Whirpool a small stock of more replacement pins to use in future repairs.

Then one day, we noticed that the icemaker apparatus appeared to be struggling. Another service call revealed that the pipe which drops water into the ice cube trays had become frozen shut. The fix? Remove the pipe, hold it in your hand to warm it up, then stick it back into the freezer. Simple enough.

Soon, the shelves were breaking their support pins with increasing frequency, making it necessary to reposition the shelves on the remaining pins, which were becoming few and far between, given that we had of course lost those Whirlpool replacement pins. Did you buy a big bottle of wine? Well, there may not be enough room on the door. Want to put that milk somewhere else, please? Oh, by the way, that jar of strawberry jam looks way too heavy for the door -- maybe we'll have to throw it away.

A couple of years ago, the motor gave out, but when we had it replaced, the service person, in a very serious tone, stated that "these units are certainly more reliable than the new ones." I could only laugh hysterically to myself.

And finally, in the last several years, the icemaker has totally given up the ghost and surrendered to "old age," which in Whirlpool terminology must be somewhere around five years. Now, the thingie which twirls the ice cube maker tray around perpetually ticks and cranks, since the control lever which turns it on and off simply broke loose a few months ago.

Of course, the curious thing about all of this is that through their trials and tribulations, the refrigerator and freezer have both continued to keep the food items at their proper temperatures. It is almost as if the device is taunting us, saying "Well, you could replace me, but it's probably more than you want to spend." Whatever.

I grew up in the days when Whirpool appliances were respected for their reliability. But it appears that those days are gone. Now I can only hope that the people in Benton Harbor, Michigan, population 11,182 as of the 2000 census and home to Whirlpool, have thought of something else to do other than making refrigerators, because if this is their lot in life, their future as a community is indeed in question. I read that Whirlpool had recently acquired Maytag Corporation, making it the world's largest manufacturer of home appliances. Too bad they don't work. I guess the old Maytag Man will no longer be sitting around doing nothing. As a cartoon character once quipped, "Up, boy! Rise and shine! Half a day's gone...there's work to be done!"

Have You Seen This Person?


It was so sudden. How could this have happened to us? What did we do? As it turns out, we did nothing.

Jocks and Jills, a popular Atlanta sports bar, has run into legal issues, and as a result, the chain has been forced into Chapter 11 and has closed its popular Alpharetta location. Ordinarily, the disappearance of a sports bar would not bring North Atlanta to a complete standstill, but this particular shutdown has created three major problems for us:

1. The $6.00 Men's Thursday Lunch (non-alcoholic beverage and tip included) is no longer available.

2. The Perversity Council (known colloquially as P-Council) has no place to meet on Thursday evenings.

3. As a result of the closure, our favorite waitress, a young Lithuanian lady named Vaida, has disappeared and must be located post haste.

Of these three concerns, the last is obviously the most significant and critical to us. If you have any news regarding the J&J crisis, please notify a P-Council member (or me) immediately. Further contact information may be found on the Lithuanian Embassy web site. As you can see, we are taking this very seriously.

Thanks for your support.

Lunch with Mr. Twain


He is without a doubt my favorite writer of all time. Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was a master at describing life in the heartland. Everyone of course knows of or has at least read excerpts from his classic novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I personally believe that, like no author before or since, Mark Twain excelled at translating the regional dialects, idioms and accents of his characters to the printed word. When you read his novels, you can hear the characters speaking.

But what very few may know is that Mark Twain had a cafeteria named after him....a questionable honor, you might say, but then again, this was no ordinary cafeteria. Inspired by Twain's novels of life on the Mississippi, the Mark Twain Cafeteria in Memphis churned out many a fine lunch and dinner in its heydays during the 1950's and 1960's. Although the establishment has been closed for years now, memories linger.

The spacious dining room was attractively furnished (for the time), tastefully lighted, and adorned with huge murals placed around the outside walls of the dining room. One mural depicted the whitewashing of the fence in Tom Sawyer, while another captured a serene afternoon, with either Tom or Huck (can't recall which) fishing on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. The pictures were painted by one Elmer F. Blalack. I have tried to find further information on the web about Mr. Blalack, but to no avail.

It seemed that everyone in our Highland Heights neighborhood dined at the Mark Twain: ladies in their hats after Sunday church, teenagers on dates, business people from the area stores, even little kids tasting their first roast beef au jus. There was a quiet energy about the place, and the food was classic Southern -- delicious.

Some years later, when I moved to Chicago, I was surprised to find that "cafeteria" there implied something totally different, generally involving worn, clanky stainless steel trays and food that was often below average. But I took solace in the fact that back home in Memphis, I could visit the Mark Twain on breaks and everything would somehow be right with the world -- the river would continue to flow, the bacon-steeped green beans would materialize on the plates, and Twain's words would linger in my mind, with every "y'all" and "ain't" intact. It was priceless.

Building the Perfect Beast


I subscribe to the Comcast digital cable service, which I often criticize for uneven signal reception and complex, secretive methods of customer billing. However, Comcast has hit upon something with a recent tweak to its On Demand service. A couple of years ago, On Demand added free movies to its existing pay-per-view service, and yesterday I watched "20 Million Miles to Earth", for absolutely no extra charge (at least I think...I won't know for sure until the bill comes at the end of February). A splendid film indeed! How does one begin to describe this cinematic milestone? One starts on Venus, of course.

In this fine documentary film, a rocket ship returns from Venus with a "native" aboard. It is worthwhile to note that very few people in the United States were even aware that such a mission was underway, and George W. Bush wasn't even president at the time. Anyway, this tiny beast grows exponentially into a large lizard-like creature which ultimately attempts to lay waste to what is left of the ruins of ancient Rome. The acting is outstanding, the lines memorable.

All I can say is thank you, Comcast. Thank you for letting the On Demand signal last through an entire movie, especially one of this caliber. I am grateful, to say the least. =:)

Nothing Like Being a Chicken in Dixie


Against my better judgment, and primarily because if I don't watch, people will ask me why not, I tuned in to the last two hours of the Grammys last night. For the most part, I enjoyed the show, but there was just one little problem: the awards themselves. More specifically, the recipients.

Don't get me wrong -- I've been a Dixie Chicks fan for a long time, and being a native (almost) Southerner, I do appreciate three attractive young ladies from Texas who can play and sing with the best of them. However, awarding five Grammys to one group reminds me of the early 90's, a time during which the Academy decided to make good on the short shrift it had given to Bonnie Raitt in years past by systematically bestowing its coveted awards on her for almost everything she recorded.

Let's face it -- 2006 wasn't too bad a year for music. Gnarls Barkley took us all the way back to 70's funky soul with his catchy hit Crazy. The Red Hot Chili Peppers produced what is perhaps one of the most brilliant rock albums in years with Stadium Arcadium. Christina Aguilera polished her form and pruned her sound to the roots with her Back to Basics album. And who can't relate to James Blunt's You're Beautiful, the song you sing in your head to that someone that you know you can never have?

Chicks, I like you and all, but come on, Academy. Let's not do that again in 2007. Besides, any year in which The Police are planning a reunion tour will most definitely be something out of the ordinary. Yeah, dog.

The World's Most Complicated Jazz Song


"Lush Life".

It has been recorded by over 500 artists, and it probably remains one of the most complex, beautiful jazz songs ever written. Penned in the 1930's by Billy Strayhorn, it embodies what we think of as "classic" jazz while posing a major challenge to any vocalist, partly owing to its unusual progressions and key shifts. Even Frank Sinatra hard a hard time singing this song.

Unquestionably, my favorite versions of "Lush Life" are the fairly recent renditions by Natalie Cole and Queen Latifah. When I listen to either, I feel as if I should be sipping a martini in a quiet Hollywood bar on an afternoon in 1959. It's that kind of song.

Strayhorn, the composer of "Lush Life", was one of Duke Ellington's favorite songwriters. Yet, as his biographer David Hajdu writes, Strayhorn was a "minority three times over" -- he was African-American, gay, and open. Certainly, he must have faced his own challenges, but he left us with one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

If you've never heard "Lush Life", either find a copy or listen to a sample online. You'll instantly see what I mean about its appeal.

Thank you, Mr. Strayhorn. Shaken or stirred?

Sunday in the Office


It doesn't happen that often, but I'm in the office on Sunday for a major project rollout. They're feeding us handsomely. I had eggs, bacon, a biscuit, hash browns, and OJ for breakfast at 7:30, and now it's lunch -- turkey sandwich and chips from Jason's Deli. In addition, the control room (call center) is full of snack food. So even if something serious happens, we'll be well fed! The strange thing is that it seems like a regular workday around here.

More later...

Walk the Line


Wow...a whole month without blogging? What was I thinking? Oh, yes, I recall now...trying to get all that Christmas shopping done. It was a nice holiday, though. Couldn't have asked for more...good friends, good food, and family.
So this morning, January 1, 2007, I entered upon the third calendar year of exercise walking. I thought it might behoove me to check out downtown Alpharetta, since that is my official mailing address, and even though I've lived here twenty-odd years, I still don't know all of Alpharetta's nooks and crannies. I think I found many of them in just an hour or so, but I probably have more looking to do.
Since June of 2005, I've been walking regularly for exercise. I try to do two 5K (3.1 miles) walks per week. This may sound fairly easy, but when it's 98 degrees by 10:00 on an August morning, even walking can present its own challenges. You just have to remember to stretch, hydrate, and take it at your own pace, which may vary depending on the weather, your general health (or state of mind), and your personal schedule.
If you're looking for an easy way to exercise in the new year, walking is certainly a contender. You see your own neighborhood, and many new ones, from an entirely different point of view when you're "at street level", outside the confines of your automobile. I have found cafes, historic homes, discarded trinkets, freebies, and shortcuts. You can't beat walking -- and it's free!