"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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Sleepwatching


I have a confession to make. Wait...don't get excited...it's not going to be that kind of confession. The thing is, as much as my friends and family talk about what they watch on TV, I'm just not there. Periodically, I will sit down to attempt to watch a television program, but in all honesty, I can last only about forty minutes -- that seems to be the magic number. After that, I am out like a light. TV is, quite simply, the best sleep aid that I've found.

This forty-minute rule is a real problem for those watching TV with me, because invariably, I'll wake up at about two minutes before the hour (we're assuming a hour-long program here) and ask everyone what is happening. They, of course, having watched the entire program, will be anxiously waiting to see how the episode plays out and do not have time for needling questions from the peanut gallery. I can't say that I blame them, but until recently, I have not found a fix.

The obvious solution to this problem lies right in the aisles at Best Buy, those same aisles that are so clearly labeled "TV Shows" in yellow and blue letters the size of Rhode Island. But of course, that's not the only solution. Hulu, YouTube, and Netflix each offer full episodes for free viewing at any time. I've known about all these for a while, but as of late, I've become jealous of my friends who have seen everything on TV, so in order to engage in conversation, I've had to sample the series offerings, and now I'm hooked on a few.

So what's the issue with all this, you say? Well, the issue is that by catching up on all these programs (I'm now watching three series, I think), I am not keeping up with FarmVille on Facebook, which in turn is causing me anxiety, because land is lying fallow, crops are withering, and gifts from other FarmVille denizens are piling up to the sky. There are not enough hours in the day to live both a virtual and a real life. Something has to give.

Well, anyway, there it is. I would write more, but I have to go watch another episode of True Blood. See ya!

Something to Sink Your Teeth Into


What is it that so continually fascinates us about vampires? The latest series of Twilight movies has once again rekindled massive interest in this odd cultural phenomenon. I've noticed that many of my respectable adult female friends are hooked on the School of Cullen, and I must admit to more than a passing fancy for that femme fatale vampire slayer Buffy myself. I saw the original Twilight movie and understood the attraction. Something must be going on here.

Recently, our area has been the site for filming of the new CW TV series The Vampire Diaries. I haven't seen this program, but I must say that the promotional poster for it, which I saw months ago in L.A., is strangely alluring. You have these good looking people lying out in the middle of this deserted field with only a raven for company, and yet, they don't look at all miserable. The very fact that a brand-new TV series about vampirism can appear in the midst of the Twilight frenzy speaks volumes about our interest in this niche of the supernatural.

A few months ago, friends told me about the HBO series True Blood, so lately, I've been catching up on that as well. The premise of True Blood is that the Japanese have managed to create a synthetic form of blood called "True Blood", which is sold as a bottled beverage...you can even find it at convenience stores. Vampires consume True Blood instead of us, and therefore, they can live out in the open, at least at night. The main character is one Sookie Stackhouse, a petite blonde bundle of energy who, from all indications, appears to be destined for something better than her life as a waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana. As it turns out, there's not much to do in town, so when razor-toothed Bill Compton appears on the scene, with those brooding eyes and gentle heart, otherwise savvy Sookie is captivated. What a roller coaster ride she's on now, though. There's no such thing as a free lunch, because Bill's friends see Sookie herself as lunch...wait, make that dinner...they don't do lunch. Oy, veh.

I remember watching Dracula movies as far back as elementary school, which is quite a long time ago, and generations before ours were captivated by Nosferatu. The 1979 German movie Nosferatu the Vampyre was one of those films which was warmly received by the critics but not so by the public. If you want a few laughs, check it out. Nosferatu's overblown stick-like teeth and the film's awkward scene transitions (an outdoor dinner party cuts to a shot of the rear end of a horse) are worth the price of the video rental. Of course, for the most part, we don't seem to laugh at vampire depictions.

This thing just has all kinds of dimensions, and we could spend weeks discussing it, but the central question is: have you seen New Moon? Hmmm...I thought so. As for me, I'm going to continue catching up on True Blood and see what happens to poor Sookie. I'm worried about her.

A Little Something on the Side


The revered annual Turkey Day has once again passed, and the systemic remnants of tryptophan are rapidly dissipating but are soon to be replaced, once that next big holiday arrives. Speaking of, are you a fan of outdoor LED lights? Ah, that's fodder for another post. Let it be for now.

This year's Thanksgiving dinner planning for our family was cleverly orchestrated by my wife, a chef and baker par extraordinaire, and it included an email survey to our immediate family regarding the meat of choice to be served at the dinner. The main reason for this, as she stated, was that we needed something to go with the side dishes. You see, it's the side dishes that we actually crave, that tantalizing two to four (come on, be honest here) scoops of cornbread dressing, or "stuffing", if you're north of the Mason-Dixon Line, that sit there next to the turkey or ham.

Let us veer off the course into fashion for a moment. I know, I know...but bear with me on this. Consider that you've just purchased the LBD (that's Little Black Dress, gentlemen), a wardrobe staple, but the ensemble is incomplete until you find the perfect accessories. I mean, it would work on its own, but ideally, it needs just a bit of sizzle. Well, the traditional turkey dinner is something like that -- turkey, on its own, is not bad, and in fact, it's a culinary holiday staple of sorts, but without the right accompaniment, it falls just a tad short of its true potential as a feast headliner. You can put some gravy on it, but it is unfulfilled without green bean casserole, cheesy potatoes, and dressing, heaps of dressing. Oh, and cranberry something-or-other. Personally, I prefer my cranberry in martinis, but that's just me talking.

So, we did the Thanksgiving vote, and it appeared to work quite well. We ended up feasting on a turkey/ham combination with all these tasty side dishes and a number of incredible desserts that warrant their own blog posting. I will say that one of the "desserts", a vast array of maple flavored acorn-shaped muffins, has provided me breakfast all this weekend. The side dishes once again ruled at the dinner itself, lending credence to that belief that the best things in life don't always get top billing.

Like lots of males of the species, I confess that I'm already anticipating the next big meal, but I don't know if I can bargain for two cornbread dressing treats in a month. I'll certainly give it that old college try. (By the way, where I went to college, they didn't even have cornbread dressing -- it was "stuffing" -- whatever. Call it what you will, it was still the goods.) And all this kidding aside, I think that what I'll really be looking forward to at that next holiday is actually less about the food and more about just being together with family and friends, because that's what really accessorizes life. What better time to savor it than now?

The Trials and Tribulations of a Virtual Farmhand


Hello from a rainy morning at Cafe au Lait coffeehouse. It's nice to be inside on such a chilly November day, I must say.

So this FarmVille thing on Facebook is getting out of hand. I liked the original incarnation of this game, a scaled back SIM-type diversion that I could actually handle. Those of you who know me know that I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, so for me to even become involved in something like FV is a bit of a stretch, but I admit that at first, I found the game strangely fascinating.

But as with almost everything these days, the developers have not stopped with a good thing. Now we have gentrified chicken coops, random storage sheds, animals that are supposed to move but don't, and just plain too much work to do, unless you're sitting at home with nothing else on the agenda. The same thing happened with Microsoft Word back in 2007, when a perfectly good product was dolled up beyond recognition into something that requires an advanced degree to be utilized to its fullest.

Earlier this morning, I saw the most disturbing FarmVille-related thing that I've yet witnessed -- an online offer for a book called "Farm Domination", a step-by-step guide which promises to make you the undisputed FarmVille champion of your county, state, nation, and hemisphere. I don't know about you, but something about that title does not sound right to me.

So FV folks, I say let us have FarmVille Lite, the FarmVille for the rest of us. Oh, and while you're at it, is there a way we can pick our farm's location, maybe add some weather, and bring on a plague of locusts so we don't have to do so much work on the farm? But wait...those would all be enhancements. Forget I said that stuff.

Outsourcing the Midlife Crisis


I stopped to think the other day that I am probably experiencing my third midlife crisis. Honestly, it crept up on me, this one.

There I was back in 2007, minding my own business and getting along from day to day eating chicken sandwiches and watching Giada de Laurentiis on Food Network, when I discovered Bollywood movies. If you're not yet familiar with Bollywood, the main thing to take away is that almost everyone in a Bollywood movie is extremely good-looking, and most are probably no older than 39. In my susceptible condition, I had to face the fact that, all else being equal, I was over 39.

It all started when I rented the Bollywood movie Ek Khiladi Ek Haseena, a movie reminiscent of The Italian Job, but with a Hindi flavor. Upon telling one of my friends (from Chennai) that I had seen this exquisite film, she immediately discounted it as a piece of tripe and brought me two other movies which she said were vastly superior. I noticed that in all the movies, everyone (well, almost everyone) was good-looking and less than or equal to 39. I was fascinated. Who was this Mallika Sherawat, and how in the world had I missed her?

At about the same time, a convergence of unrelated personal events occurred which, coupled with this nascent fascination, drew me to the other side of the world, to India -- a place where song and dance (and a vast railway network) reigned supreme. I absolutely love Indian food, and my friends were all too happy to encourage me to indulge this passion. What I found was that, if you combine the spice of Indian food with India's diverse culture and its wildly colorful movies, you come up with something both entertaining and addictive. Before I knew it, I had complete strangers approaching me in the elevator at work, asking if I'd seen the latest Bollywood release. I reached a pinnacle of achievement in this regard when I obtained a DVD of a new movie which one of my Indian friends had seen in the theater only one week before. Yes, I had arrived -- where, I wasn't quite sure, but I was somewhere.

However, there was a price to be paid. I found that I could no longer be satisfied with mere American fare -- a cheeseburger here and there might not be so bad, but it was tikka masala that I craved day and night. I no longer saw the attraction of Angelina Jolie, not when compared to Aishwarya Rai. My older daughter had become hooked on chai tea several years earlier, and I started thinking that maybe she was onto something. My friends brought me a kurta from India, and shortly thereafter, I danced for hours on end at a Holi festival, where my hair was dyed pink and teal from "Holi colour" powder, the essence of which is still suspect. I don't know what was in it, but the color lasted for almost six weeks. In effect, quite unbeknownst to me, I had outsourced my midlife crisis.

These days, I guess you would say that I have begun to put it all into perspective. I still enjoy the occasional Bollywood movie -- in fact, I have a respectable DVD library of Hindi and Tamil movies, but I'm also getting back into the American way of life. Last Friday night, I visited my friend Jim's house, where we did a guys' night thing, watching motorcycle movies, talking cars, and checking out the new pickup trucks that a couple of the guys had recently acquired. I could almost hear George Strait singing in the background.

One day, perhaps I shall unconditionally embrace the whole North American scene, but my head has always been a bit international anyway, and I think my recent time away has had a lasting effect on me. My favorite restaurant in Atlanta is a cafe down in Decatur called bhojanic (lower-case "b"), which specializes in Indian tapas. My favorite dish is tikka masala, a spicy Indian chicken preparation. One of my favorite movies is Dor, a story about two Indian women who become friends under the most unlikely of circumstances. But perhaps most important, some of my very best friends are from India, and they remind me daily what it was that drew me to the subcontinent. A part of me will probably always be there in spirit, and I thank them for that.

What this experience has taught me is that for some people, midlife may be confusing, but for me, it seems more like an ideal time to truly broaden the mind, to think outside the box, and maybe, just maybe, to see oneself and one's world from a whole new perspective.

Namaste, everyone.

Still Lives


Hello, blogging universe. It has been quite a long while since I've posted, and I offer my sincere apologies to those of you who have made loyal visits here expecting to see new "content". Let's just say it's been a long year.

Of course, one can only assume (rightly in this case) that my return to blogging after such an extended hiatus would open with coverage of a radical issue, and one would not be wrong in that assumption. For the topic at hand is mannequins. Yes, you read that correctly...mannequins, the kind you see in stores and shop windows.

As an employee of a major national retailer and a self-affirmed male clothes horse, I will freely admit that I spend more than the average amount of time shopping, particularly for a guy. This can be a blessing, especially if you're one of my female friends and need to have me tag along while picking up something during the lunch hour, because I guarantee that I'll shop for just about anything, as long as you feel the need. On these forays and others, I've begun to notice an endless variety of mannequins, and before you start with the guffaws, just remember: a lot of your ideas about common things change as you get older. Anyway, here we go.

It all started back in the winter. As you may recall from an earlier post, I was given a small doll in the image of Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra for a Christmas present last year. It took several weeks for the doll to arrive, and it now occupies a place of honor at my office. Well, at least it did, until it was stolen for the second time yesterday, but I digress. The likeness of the doll to the real Priyanka was somewhat questionable, but it was the thought that mattered. It occurred to me that in effect, my Priyanka was a tiny mannequin of sorts, 11-1/2 inches, to be exact.

On Valentine's Day, as Karen and I were shopping at a local antiques store, I noticed a rather aloof, yet strangely attractive, blonde mannequin seated on a chair next to a stack of vintage suitcases. Although I must admit that at first, the figure seemed quite unapproachable, I determined upon closer examination that she was indeed rather pleasant in a quiet sort of way, but possessed of a modicum of social anxiety. Perhaps this was owing to the somewhat absent-minded nature of antiques shoppers who, intent upon finding the perfect side chair, can be quite remiss in doling out compliments regarding one's personal appearance. Essentially, this poor fake fashionista, who looked splendid, by the way, was a victim of sheer neglect.

On an April evening some weeks later, we spotted a scantily-clad mannequin hiding behind a table of tank tops at our local Old Navy store, presumably reaching up to the table to steal an article of clothing. This was quite unexpected. I know the store has security people somewhere on the premises; therefore, I was surprised to see this kind of thing transpiring in the open, not to mention the indecent exposure factor it introduced. As you well know, many impressionable young children shop at Old Navy, and I think this sets a bad precedent. It's one thing to shoplift, but quite another to do it au naturel.

Then in August, we were browsing through a major department store mall location which was closing, and I noticed that all the mannequins had been stripped and sequestered into one area of the store -- females on the left, males on the right, and much to their collective chagrin, they had been separated by a makeshift wall of discarded shelving. I found this rather puritanical, to say the least. Who are we as a society to put up barriers between the sexes? Are there not already enough such impediments? Does an action such as this not strike at the very heart of our personal freedoms (regardless of how much plastic we may contain)?

Perhaps the pinnacle of my mannequin fascination, yea even the mac daddy of all mannequin encounters, has to be my visit to the Hollywood Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, where I was able to sit at a cafe table with a likeness of Audrey Hepburn, who was delicately perched on the front of her chair, eating an artificial bakery product. I must admit that, even though I knew that she was crafted entirely of wax, I was a bit starstruck being in such close proximity to Holly Golightly.

But then to bring things back down to a more earthy level, here we are shopping the other day in a local women's clothing store in a very nice designer shopping mall, and upon entering the mens' room, I found to my great surprise that the rest room was full of half-naked female mannequins. Even though this might not have been appropriate, I just had to take a picture. Folks, this just isn't fair. This isn't the kind of thing you count on seeing in a major retail establishment. The shame of it all.

And so there you have it. Like it or not, we're surrounded by these artificial likenesses of what people think we should look like in new (or in some cases, no) clothing. It reminds me of a Twilight Zone episode that I saw years ago as a child. The episode title was "The After Hours", and it chronicled one night in the life of a shopper who saw mannequins come to life right before her eyes. I must say that at such an vulnerable age, that was scary. And so, perhaps, is this fascination of mine, but for now, I'm going to keep on snapping pictures whenever the occasion arises.

Lord of the Flies


I often have thought that the life of a dog would not really be so bad, except for the fact that you are highly dependent on your caregiver for food, shelter, medical care, and release to the great outdoors when the need arises. However, a situation occurred last week which has forced me to rethink this position.

Our small dog Payday, a Boston Terrier-Dachshund mix, spotted two large flies in a downstairs room of our house. These were no ordinary flies -- owing partly to the hot, humid summer we've been having, these were veritable beasts, each about 3/4 inch in length. Each fly was in and of itself large enough to occupy a seat on a commuter train. It is rare that we have even one fly in the house, so the appearance of two soon garnered Payday's full attention.

Payday typically looks at you dead on; that is, he rarely looks up or down, but instead prefers to look straight ahead -- in fact, he exhibits remarkably good posture for a small dog and, had he been born human, most likely could have been accepted to flight school owing to his steady gaze. But in this case, the flies soon caused Payday to begin wandering from room to room, peering up at the ceiling for hours on end. Both flies were sent to the great Entomological Beyond in short order, but not before one of them temporarily disappeared into a small hole in the ceiling of our finished basement. This untoward event caused the dog to go insane. He began barking hysterically, running around the basement, and generally exhausting himself.

The next day, it was more of the same. Payday walked from room to room, staring obsessively at the ceiling to see if he could spot more flies. He would sit on the floor, and as you spoke to him, he would first look at you, and then uncontrollably, without a second thought, he would begin to scan the ceiling looking for more flies. This continued for three straight days, until finally, probably in need of a chiropractor or a behavioral therapist, his gaze once again returned to normal, just in time for us to adopt a new cat. You can only imagine what then ensued.

And here is where I believe it does not pay to be a dog. In this situation, Payday had no idea that he was exhibiting marked obsessive-compulsive behavioral symptoms, nor could he communicate this to anyone. He was in need of help but unable to express the severity of his condition. Then, to top it off, a new creature, not of his own choosing, was introduced into his environment, a stimulus which almost without exception upsets the apple cart of canine life.

Poor dog. At least he no longer cranes his neck incessantly upwards. But given his limited ascension of the phylogenetic scale, he is perhaps unable to differentiate the cat from a very large fly. It's fortunate that the cat stays on the ground...most of the time.

Teeny-Tiny Theater


For many years, I've enjoyed reading before going to sleep at night. I find reading to be both a great stress reliever and a wonderful, economical escape. I've read all the James Herriot books, every Harry Potter installment, and so many books about renovating houses in other countries that I've lost count. I actually look forward to that quiet time at night when my mind can completely change gears.

But lately, I've been having some problems with my vision. I know that it's time to get new glasses, but I'm too lazy to take care of that as I should, so I've resorted to a new medium: compact video, in the form of downloaded movies which I play on my iPhone at night. These movies are not typically anything which you would see in a modern theater, but rather they are generally B-movies, badly-colored 70's thrillers, and the like. Many of these movies feature beasts (or people) who have been transmogrified by an overdose of radiation or by the infusion of some strange chemicals.

The other night, my wife was glancing over at me, and having noticed this peculiar habit for several evenings in a row, she asked, "What is this? Teeny-Tiny Theater?" I loved it! That term perfectly describes this latest indulgence of mine. I now have the world of substandard cinema in the palm of my hand, and I've even found myself watching it when waiting for a haircut, at the car wash, or at the doctor's office. No more fretting for me about how long it will take for Dr. Terry to see me...no way. I have the solution right here, right now. So what if my throat hurts?

Of course, I know that many of you who are keenly aware of my fondness for Bollywood movies will ask, "Isn't that what you really have stored on your iPhone?" And I will tell you no, although I do admit to having a few carefully selected Bollywood videos featuring the likes of Bipasha Basu, Priyanka Chopra, and Aishwarya Rai on there...but hey, what's wrong with that?

Anyway, it's a great thing, and I plan to continue using Teeny-Tiny Theater for a while, maybe even after I get new glasses. Wait...do I really need new glasses in this economy? I think not.

Desktop Abduction


I recently received as a Christmas present a glamorous 11-1/2 inch tall fashion doll in the likeness of a very popular Bollywood actress who, for the purposes of this story, shall remain nameless. It was a nice gesture on the part of my friends, who ordered her from the UK and actually paid more for shipping than for the doll itself. Their theory was that I was so enamored of Bollywood that I needed an item, indeed an icon of sorts, which could grace my desk during the work day. All in all, this plastic princess was an admirable and appropriate choice.

But as things go, certain other individuals (my so-called friends) took it upon themselves to play a practical joke. Knowing that I had developed a certain casual attachment to the doll, they devised a plan to kidnap it. One Thursday several weeks ago, when I returned from lunch with a group of three other gentlemen, I found a ransom note on my desk, along with the severed leg of the doll, all stuffed into a crudely-labeled envelope. The ransom note demanded payment of 1,000,000 rupees, or about $20,400.11 in US currency. In addition to this, I began receiving anonymous text messages with explicit details of what was happening or was bound to happen if I did not cooperate. The text messages contained no valid cell phone number, and the return email address provided was fake, adding further mystery to the mix.

That same Thursday evening, having been so senselessly victimized, I accompanied a group of my friends to a local restaurant for our weekly P-Council (Perversity Council) meeting to ease the pain, and in truth, to attempt to foil the plot. But this plan backfired. I received terrible service from the restaurant and became somewhat diva-like, eventually resulting in a free Dogfish Head 60 Minute India Pale Ale for me, which wasn't all that bad. But in truth, I was suffering. Oh, and I even received another text message during the P-Council gathering.

Then, the next day, upon returning from a pleasant lunch for a dear friend, I received yet another note, this time with further demands and a severed hand. Upon closer examination, I could tell that the hand had not come from my doll but most likely from some poor unsuspecting Mall Barbie. More text messages followed in short order.

And so on it went throughout the weekend. My poor little princess was somewhere, suffering ill fate at the hands of her captors while I partied with our dinner club and spent quality time with my family, even going so far as to put away the Christmas decorations. For a moment, the incident almost escaped my mind. Then on Monday, my friend Keith asked me if I had heard any more news. I immediately received another text message, leapt from my desk, and caught him, the very same friend who had asked me for a status...red-handed...sending the next threatening message from his computer, using a custom program he had written. The gig was up.

Keith then spilled the details, which were quite elaborate. It turned out that Mike (who had been at lunch with me on Thursday) and Sonya had devised the entire plot, then enlisted the help of Keith to handle the technical details. Sonya had attempted to cut off Barbie's leg and arm, but she had botched the job so badly that Keith had to use a bolt cutter to finish the job. I can only assume that Keith also applied the fake "blood". In the time since, I have questioned other friends, and they have indicated that they, too, were either consulted or enlisted to help in the plot.

Needless to say, the doll was eventually returned to me unharmed, after it was retrieved from a manager's office, where it had been stowed away on top of a portable refrigerator under a desk. The manager in whose office the doll was hidden immediately disavowed any knowledge of the plot. A note written in the doll's "own words" was attached to her box, chastising me for not ensuring her safety in such an openly hostile environment. I detected a whining tone, but of course, I let it go.

I suppose that what all this means to me is that either: a) people must be over my Bollywood obsession, or b) they think enough of me and my reactions to devise this elaborate scheme to drive me insane and witness what they hope will be an entertaining meltdown. Either way, I think I've learned a valuable lesson: I need to keep a closer eye on my friends. They're not always who I think they are.

And with that, I say...namaste.