Tuesday, February 19, 2013


It was Thursday afternoon. I was hungry and probably a touch delirious when I decided I was going to eat pizza all weekend long. I'll explain to you how I got there. Through some necessary changes in my schedule, I had to work eight doubles in eleven days. Those eleven days included nine shifts at the store, four life-guarding shifts at the Y, four nights guarding at North's pool, four plasma donations, and catering a lunch out of town for 18 people. On Thursday afternoon, I was a mere shift away from two days off. To add to the anticipation of the weekend (which in this case meant Friday and Saturday), the family was going to be out of town visiting Grandma for the long President's Day weekend. This meant I could spend all weekend in my boxers watching Bruce Willis movies if I so desired. It was this image that led me to the pizza idea. What else says 'day off' like action movies and take out pizza? I did have plans already for Friday. I would be taking Kovi down to Children's Hospital in Milwaukee for a routine appointment. He asked if we could follow that up with a trip to Toys-R-Us to look at Nerf guns and eat lunch at his newest 'happy place': California Pizza Kitchen. That was going to fit nicely into my plans.
Thursday's shift at the store ended fourteen hours after my alarm had gotten me up. All that remained was taking the dog for a nice long decompressing walk and some dinner. After our two miles at the beach, I swung by the store and picked up a frozen DiGiornos pizza for supper. That took me back in time. Being that we live a hop skip and a jump from a Little Caesar's where you can get a large pizza for $5, it has been a long time since I've bought a $8 frozen pizza. Back in my days of being young, single, and perpetually broke, when I would do my monthly stocking up on Ramen, hot dogs, and Jack's frozen pizzas, I would always get one DiGiornos which I would usually make as soon as I got home. I got settled on the couch and ended my week with a few episodes of Scrubs and a delicious hot-from-the-oven pizza. The weekend had begun.
Friday went as planned. Kovi's appointment went smooth and lunch at CPK was good. We played rock-paper-scissors while we waited for our food and had a relaxing lunch of pasta for him and pizza for me. Two-for-two. We didn't have time to head back west to Toys-R-Us, but mom had promised to take him when they were in Appleton over the weekend so he wasn't too hurt. We did stop at Laacke & Joys in Mequon on our way out of Milwaukee. They have phenomenal sales there which I try to take advantage of. Last time I was there, I got at $200 North Face down jacket for $50 and turned around and sold it on eBay for $130. I wanted to stop in and see if there was anything else there I could flip. I ended up leaving empty handed and we headed home. The family left about a half hour after our return and I settled in for the rest of my weekend. After eating an entire pizza at two in the afternoon, my dinner consisted of hummus and pita chip in front of the TV. The week was catching up to me and I crashed early.
Saturday began as most of my Saturdays do: the dog, the beach, and a mocha. It was on the walk heading back to the Jeep that my mind started acting up. What should I do with the rest of the day?
You see, I have a problem with days off like this. In most cases, in the rare event where I have time off and the fam is gone, I plan my free-time down to the second. Do I go mountain biking in Door County, Kettle Moraine or Meribel? Or do I day trip to Milwaukee and hit my favorite outdoor stores, coffee shops and lunch at Kopp's? In either case, by the time I have to go back to work, I don't feel very rested because I've once again spread myself too thin. When I got back to the Jeep I was still undecided. I had given some thought to some of the stuff I had seen in Milwaukee and considered going back to get a few items to try selling on eBay. I had planned on working on one of my bikes to get it ready for spring, but decided it would be too much of a hassle to essentially move my work space from the frigid garage into the dining room. Zooey and I got in the Jeep, and without a concrete plan, started driving. I turned onto the highway, deciding to go to Milwaukee, only to get off at the first exit. Milwaukee would have killed half my day and cost me a hundred dollars I didn't have. Instead, I ended up at a nearby strip mall where I picked up some storage bags and a bar of soap. Home I went. I was getting hungry and there was pizza in my future. I was sitting right here on my computer sorting though emails, checking my bank balances, browsing eBay, and working towards ordering a pizza on-line when I got an unexpected call from an old friend. We don't talk very often, and lately when we do it's been about fairly rough stuff. This time, however, it was easy-flowing, light, and freeing. Gone was the weight of the past. Everything about it reminded my of those long-ago conversations about everything and nothing. The kind of talks that went on forever but weren't about anything. For example, I remember spending hours on the beach with my best friend Jeff back in our youth, but I don't remember a single thing we ever talked about. This was like that. It was the company, not the content that mattered. Eventually I got back to ordering my pizza and my weekend started to wind down. I had to work in the morning. What had changed was how I'd write this entry. What had started as a thought on the subject of comfort food had now changed direction. Our friends are our souls' 'comfort food.'
By turning off the highway and staying close to home, I forced myself to spend a little more time with me. I lamented to Lori, in retrospect, that I have a lot of trouble enjoying my time off. I have so little of it, that I normally try to pack too much into it. If I don't do anything, I feel bad for not doing more. I have to learn to savour and balance all of my leisure time. Whether it's time with the family or time that I have to myself, I have to do what I feel suits me best. If I want to take the kids swimming, great. If my body's telling me to slow down, then I need to respect that too. And if my friends call, I need to listen.
In the end, my mom ended up throwing a spanner in the works of my weekend's diet by inviting me over for dinner after work on Sunday. We didn't have pizza. Oh well. Three pies in three days was probably enough to raise my cholesterol a few points, anyway.  I had nourished myself with foods that accentuate my free time: pizza, chips & hummus, Coke, and good coffee. I spent some 'me' time decompressing on the couch with mindless comedies, and I nourished my soul with good conversation. It was a good weekend.

I have to give a shout out to my friend, chef, and mentor: Britt Unkefer. The photo above is from his wood-fired pizza restaurant, The Wild Tomato up in the Door peninsula of Wisconsin. I figured if I threw on a picture of the lame and/or uninteresting pizzas I was eating all weekend, you'd lose interest and not bother reading on.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Darwin Rules

I'm looking for a lawyer. A really good lawyer. Well.... maybe not a good lawyer, but one who goes by pure law. No ethics. No morals. No common sense. Just a lawyer that possesses the fine art of persuasion in spades. The kind of lawyer who not only thinks its a good idea to sue McDonald's for serving hot coffee, but knows he can win it. The reason I need this kind of lawyer is because I want to be able to kill people. Now, I know what you're thinking, but you need to relax and bare with me. I don't want to kill just anyone. Just the stupid ones. According to Darwin's Theory of Evolution, the strongest and smartest will flourish and evolve and dominate over the weak and not so smart. Now if you look at what's becoming of our society, you'll become sadly aware how behind evolution is. We're rapidly becoming a fat, dumb, and lazy society. Need proof? My favorite show, Arrested Development won every industry award there was to win but only lasted two-and-a-half seasons. Why? One critic/writer cited that the show was in fact 'too smart for the average TV viewer.' Still not convinced? The Kardashian's have been on the air for five years running and show no sign of going anywhere! Several years ago, while I was still working as a chef, I worked for a European chef who had just finished a cookbook. In the cookbook, he attributes Europeans' rich diet and long healthy lifestyles to their ability to balance their lives. Sure they eat rich decedent foods, and eat them often; but afterwards, they go for a walk or take a bike ride. It seems to me that Americans would rather microwave a Lean Cuisine meal, wash it down with a diet soda, and strap in for an extra hour of reality TV. Only Americans could become too lazy to evolve. Land of the free, indeed. Back to my feeling the need to take evolution into my own hands... I live on a busy street down the block from a junior high school. Every day at 3:00, thirteen year old idiots in Aberocombie t-shirts and basketball short come bolting out into the road mid-block amidst parked cars with no regard for traffic because they have the 'right-of-way.' I guess they haven't considered that their 150 pounds may not be a worthy match for a half ton of steel SUV. Why? Because they're idiots. If I were to hit one of these idiots, I'd simply be culling the herd of the dumb ones. Let's face it, if they're too dumb to remember a simple rule that they should have learned when they were six: look both ways before crossing the road; then they are likely to be a burden on society later in life. By getting rid of them, I'd be saving society a fortune in welfare and disability further down the road. Don't for a second saddle me with unbridled road rage. I have studied this segment of our society. In fact most kids carrying a musical instrument cross at the corner (most notably, string instruments). Other kids crossing safely are those actually wearing coats when its 10 degrees outside. I really think the right lawyer can invoke enough reason (or lack thereof) to convince a judge that the theory of evolution is a good defence. If nothing else, it'll likely get people looking closer at how they live their lives and the example they set for their brood. I watched a kid spit on a passing car the other day. Where the hell did he pick up the reasoning that that's an acceptable practice? I should have ran him over. Think that punishment doesn't fit the crime? Well then tell me what punishment would deter that behavior. There are plenty of crimes out there at are being 'punished' and the individual gets out and does it again....and again, and again. Hey, in the theory of evolution reasoning, if the individual survives the hit, he may grow up stronger and a little wiser from the half ton of education. See? It work both ways. If your counter-argument to all of this nonsense is that it would never fly simply on the grounds that it's completely absurd and unreasonable, let's take a look at another debate that's going on out there right now. The NRA, who loves to wave the 'right to bare arms' flag, wants to put more guns into schools to prevent more gun deaths. That makes sense, right? How much more fun can grade school get with the added potential to turn any recess into high-noon at the OK Corral! They do love that Constitution of ours. The 200 year old rulebook that says we can have guns. Of course the guns of the 18th century were muskets. One single shot that took minutes to load and when fired, was accurate to 150 yards. I doubt that the founding fathers had put a lot of thought into what we'd come up with for the expressed purpose of slaying each other. The NRA: another prime example of why common sense is not going to win any arguments.
It's been nearly three weeks since I wrote the preceding column. I have yet to receive the epiphany that neatly ties it all together for me. I guess what it comes down to at a personal level is that I'm disappointed at where we are heading as a society. Who honestly believes that the answer to gun violence is more guns? Who really believes that it's acceptable to sue a restaurant for giving you exactly what you ordered? Who thinks 'right-of-way' should trump common sense? When Thomas Jefferson dreamed up the Declaration of Independence, he imagined it would be re-written every 20 or 30 years to adapt to the ever changing American society. Yet we've never managed to do more than make an adjustment here and there. You know -- like outlawing alcohol and then repealing that law -- the real important stuff. It's a sad state of affairs when what celebrities wear is on the news daily and yet another senseless tragedy barely makes page two. But what do I know? I can barely string two thoughts into a paragraph. But at least I know to look both ways before crossing the street. After all, Mitch Albom may be looking to flatten me.