Friday, April 29, 2011

My Life:Foster Kids

It seems that my brother Shotgun Bob and his wife, The Girl have decided to become foster parents.  The reasoning behind this escapes me, but suffice to say that it amuses Shotgun Bob to contribute to society in this fashion, and, ever the avid hunter, the addition of a foster child stifles the incessant whining of The Girl for yet another new thing in the house, thus bagging two birds with a single shot.

Make what you want of my somewhat uncharitable comment about The Girl, but as I write this Casa Shotgun holds three overweight cats and three large dogs, one of which is overweight and the other borderline.  Overweight, that is.  The castle also has a foster child, also overweight.  I live in a house of fat people.

Since I use aliases for everyone when I write, I'm very tempted to snatch up a few for the foster kid.  Hillbilly Helen, Hog Trough Hannah, Trailer Park Trixie, or maybe just plain Fat Girl.  All have a certain appeal to them.  I'll refrain from bestowing a name just now... cut to the scene in Animal House where Bluto is naming the pledges.
Kent Dorfman: Uh, what's my Delta Tau Chi name?
Bluto: Dorfman, I've given this a lot of thought. From now on, your name is Flounder.
Kent Dorfman: [Pause] Flounder?
Flounder.  Flounder's mother is drying out right now, and so far as I know she'll be in the State funded dry cleaning system for a while.  Flounder's father decided he couldn't raise her - she 'got all up in his face', according to the social worker.  So the stupid hillbilly called the welfare people to come and get her.  None of the relatives will take her in.  The paternal grandparents who live within five miles of Casa Shotgun refuse to give out their phone numbers.  Just think about that one for a minute.  We have their address, but they refuse to give their granddaughter their phone number.

Flounder is 12 years old, will be 13 in a month or so and hasn't been raised.  She has no table manners beyond shoveling in bio-degradable items she likes (sugar, caffeine and colors not found in nature) and refusing anything the resembles real food.  "I don't like that." is common.  She is selfish and finds it very difficult not to be the center of attention.  The other day when Yours Truly, Shotgun Bob, The Girl and Flounder all had dinner over at their neighbor's house, Flounder's abhorrent behavior surfaced.  I thought Shotgun Bob was going to blow a fuse, but evidently some kind soul had thoughtfully removed his fuses and substituted pennies and .45 casings, so the temper held.  Happily the neighbors, Trucker Tom and his wife Betty are very experienced parents and - get this - they know Flounder's family, either directly or by reputation.  They handled the situation beautifully.

Then Shotgun Bob made two more interesting discoveries.  It seems that Flounder's grades at public school (Jack hits the spittoon with a vengeance) are Bs and Cs, with one D (math).  Old Shotgun expected much worse and so did I.  The second discovery is that Flounder has been out of paper for about two months.  Paper, you know... like notebook paper.  Flounder's solution was to cadge a sheet here and there, listen to the lectures and memorize everything on the board.  That's right, memorize.  How many of you mental giants reading this drivel could pull that one off?  Because I couldn't.  Not on the best day I ever had.  Flounder admitted this as casually as anyone else would talk about shopping for groceries or what they had for breakfast this morning.  What else would she do?  In the same conversation, Flounder admitted that her math teacher, Mister Fairy, called her a retard.  I'd like five minutes alone with Mister Fairy, but I'd settle for three.

And so it goes.  No one has taught the child table manners, how to react to teasing or compliments, how to share or be helpful.  Shotgun Bob and The Girl finally had a business meeting about the state of Flounder and made a few decisions.  No more Facebook, for instance.  Flounder's older cousin (16, which is prime marrying age in Tennessee) likes to pose in her underwear on Facebook.  Many of Flounders Facebook friends are older males, 15 and up.  Shotgun Bob put his foot down.

For my part I waited until Flounder needed a little cheering up at the dinner table, then asked if she could read.  When Flounder timidly affirmed that she could, I stated that her reading skill would indicate that she could write.  So, when the school year is up in 21 days, she could write about her racially prejudice math teacher.

Flounder lit up like the fourth of July at the White House.

We shall see, but I'm betting that the kid writes something.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Restaurant Review: Kings Palace Cafe

Kings Palace Cafe
162 Beale Street
Memphis, TN 38103
901-521-1851 phone

I'm in Memphis, Tenneesee right now and have been for about a week. I was overdue for a night on Beal Street, so last Saturday I decided to brave the tourist crowd and get some good food, liquor and a double helping of down and dirty blues music. As usual, Beal Street satisfied almost every craving.

Beal Street on Saturday Night
This is typical of Beal Street on a Saturday night. The crowd tends to keep moving, mainly because there aren't any naked women stopping traffic in the name of drunken fun and beads - like on Bourbon Street. Beal is what Bourbon Street used to be: live music inside and out, great food and an ample supply of atmosphere. Although I hadn't really planned to, I stopped at The King's Palace for dinner and music.

King's Palace
How to best rate The Palace? The ambiance succeeds at what the proprietors are trying to achieve. They have two dining areas and a live band. The music is not over amplified, which is a huge relief to everyone, and the house band is better than most. The place is busy, and while you are welcome to stay as long as you like the rest of Beal Street is waiting outside, so a steady stream of people are always arriving and departing. It isn't quiet and refined, but it's clean. On Beal Street, I give The Palace a 7 out of 10. You can get better ambiance, but it'll be rare.

I ordered the shrimp and crawfish etouffee and a Sam Adams, which is on tap. Now you would think that a beer from the tap should arrive right away. Mine didn't. Let me tell you up front that your service experience is guaranteed to be better than mine, because the service I got sucked pond scum. I give the service a solid 2 out of 10, and if I hadn't seen other people being waited on promptly I'd cross The Palace off my list of places to go on Beal, no matter how much I liked the food. The food does sort of make up for the service, though. The etouffee is some of the best you'll have on Beal Street. It's spicy but not too overbearing. Keep in mind that I enjoy spicy food, and food that Main Lady thinks is too hot is mild by my standards. So if you burn easily, take my word for it and order something a little tamer.

This isn't the first time I've eaten here, and it isn't the first etoufee I've enjoyed at The Palace. I give the food eight out of ten stars, and I'd rate it a little higher if the place would add more shrimp and crayfish to the etoufee.

House Band with a Guest
Halfway through dinner the guitar player announced that they had an audience member who wanted to sit in with the band. Every professional musician has come across this phenomena, and it's why karaoke was invented and subsequently banned in 30 out of the 50 States as being an immoral act against nature. I'm told that in some parts of Texas you can get jail time for even asking if there is a karaoke club around town. But a drunk is a drunk, and money is money, and we all know how this goes. Usually this is a hack that, in his own home and stone cold sober, is able to play back up to a few jazz and blues standards without too many glaring errors.

But this is Memphis, Tennessee and we're on Beal Street.

The guy was introduced as Denny from Moscow, and he blew the room away. The man played so well and so clean that the drummer had and ear to ear smile and the bass player was helping adjust the sound on the piano - turning it up a little. Denny's playing was so clean that I think it's likely he is actually a formally trained concert pianist who likes solid jazz and plays it as a hobby. Denny played a jazz standard (the title escapes me as I write) and he played it up tempo, in an almost rag-time style with very clean notes. Best of all, he was so tight with the other two musicians that you couldn't tell he'd never sat in with them before.

Denny from Moscow
The band asked Denny to play an encore, which he rendered with the same clean, vigorous up-tempo performance. This is the kind of thing that happens on Beal Street, and used to happen on Bourbon in New Orleans. Bourbon Street is gone, and more's the pity, but Beal Street is alive and well.

Alley Club
The nice thing about Beal Street is that if you don't care for the music in one spot all you need to do is walk 20 feet or so to another spot. Street musicians work in shifts so as not to interfere too much with each other. One of my favorite stops is this place. This is an alley that got turned into a club, complete with a bar that is just out of sight on the right and a band stand in back. The band was entirely pick up, meaning that anyone who knew someone could get up and play a while. Next to the sidewalk in front a chess board is set up - you can play a game if you have the skill, but Lord help you if you lose badly; the winner will trash talk you. I declined an offer to play an older black fellow there, who said he just knew I could beat him.

And that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Life: The Zoo

Big Blue, Pork Chop and NoBuddyDown
You see before you three dogs. Left to right they are: Big Blue, a two year old Great Dane raised by Shotgun Bob and (to a very small extent) by The Girl; Rudy, AKA Rudolfo, AKA Pork Chop, an American Bulldog who was brought into the house by The Girl when he was a tiny little Bulldog with sharp little puppy teeth and who was raised by Big Blue and Shotgun Bob; and Buddy, AKA Nobuddydown, AKA Nobuddysit, the Golden Retriever who is about four years old and a cancer survivor. They are all best friends and will share food, play time and toys.

Buddy really and truly likes everything and everyone. Buddy greets strangers like the source for food and attention that they are - imagine a Marco's pizza delivery man arriving with a stack of pizzas at an afternoon pool party full of hungry teenagers. Big Blue can be a bit standoffish, and will bark with authority at strangers until they have been proven friendly, after which time he's happy to be petted and played with. Due to his size (XXXL) he has a tendency to knock people over, but that just makes them easier to reach with the old tongue. Pork Chop always follows Big Blue's lead, having been raised by Big Blue you see. So, if Big Blue barks, Pork Chop will sound off as well. Like, for instance, at 2:30 in the morning when some stupid critter walks around the pool area causing Big Blue to offer a standard "Halt! Who goes there?" and Pork Chop to sound the call to general quarters, thus setting of a chain reaction involving Buddy and culminating in Shotgun Bob trying to get Big Blue and Pork Chop to stand down without leaving the confines of his bed. The Girl slept through the whole thing. I did not.

Shotgun Bob and The Girl have decided that they want to be foster parents. I don't know why they want to do this, but it's a laudable thing to do and Lord knows that there are more children than good homes. Hell, there are more children than mediocre homes. After filling out countless forms and passing extensive background checks, they are cleared for take off. Then I showed up. Since I'm living in the guest suite of Chez Shotgun I must pass a background check as well. The Welfare Lady will arrive this evening with the paperwork for said check and Shotgun Bob cautions me not to make jokes about drug use, DUI violations and halfway houses. I assure him I will refrain. Shotgun Bob informs me that this is the Welfare Lady's second visit to their happy home and the first visit did not go as smoothly as everyone would have liked.


Shotgun Bob's house is an open air design. The master bedroom suite is on the West side and a second master suite is on the East, along with three other bedrooms. The center of the house is a living room, informal dining room and a very informal auxiliary area. The auxiliary area is large, and is separated from the living area by an ornate three foot fence and gate which prevents dog intrusion into the living room and dining area. Both master bedroom suites have a door connecting them to the auxiliary area, as well as a second door to connect them to the rest of the house. So far, this arrangement has worked well, mainly because Big Blue can't jump over barriers. He can climb, but he can't jump. I imagine that Pork Chop hasn't learned how to jump the fence and Buddy doesn't because his master doesn't want him to.

It is a little known fact (it's a skeleton that's been walled up in the closet if you want the truth) that Big Blue is a somewhat sensitive creature, and for one reason or another Big Blue does not like or trust people of color. Okay... bluntly? Big Blue hates black people. That's it. Period. And if Big Blue were an eight pound pocket rat, this would be cute. He isn't. He's well over 150 pounds and seven feet tall standing on his hind feet.

Shotgun Bob wasn't home when the Welfare Lady showed up for an inspection tour last week, but Big Blue and the boys were. That left The Girl to manage the entire tour by herself. The Girl is pretty good with people and only fair with animals. Like dogs, for instance. So The Girl confined the three dogs to the auxiliary area before the Welfare Lady came in the front door, which is really what saved the bacon.

Cutting right to the chase, the Welfare Lady is black and is afraid of dogs. I may have mentioned that Big Blue does not react well to black people. That day was no exception. Big Blue saw the Welfare Lady as an intruder and a danger to hearth, home and family and he was not going to take this kind of thing lying down. Big Blue went off and started trying to climb over the fence, barking threats and (for all I know) insults in dog language. Since Big Blue identified this as a threat, Pork Chop decided to assert himself as well. He was an eighty pound Bulldog and he meant business. Buddy saw the Welfare Lady as a friend he wasn't close enough to, and so he started trying to climb the fence too, barking a welcome message. The Welfare Lady bravely stood her ground.

Now Big Blue is big, but he is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. So he continued to bark and try his best to get over the wall, but Pork Chop had other ideas. Pork Chop had deduced that the door to the West master bedroom suite led to another door which led to the house - and to the Welfare Lady. Pork Chop applied his nose to the door and got it open, and in a trice was on the good side of the fence where he could fulfill his honor bound doggy duty of protecting the house and The Girl. The Girl snatched him up by his collar in the nick of time.

I gather that the Welfare Lady didn't stay much longer, but she did return for her second appointment. She was late, but she showed. The dogs were confined to the back yard.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My Life: Memphis

I am now gainfully employed.

This means I can stop dumpster diving, cadging drinks off the irregulars when I'm down at the bar and sponging off my relatives.  Truly a happy day for us all!

Some months ago my brother told me his company was looking for a few good men and since they hadn't found any, he thought I should throw my hat into the ring. I did so, and promptly forgot all about it. Three weeks ago the company called and wanted an updated copy of my resume along with a telephone interview. The resume was easy - I just changed the date. The interview was easy as well - I just neglected to mention a few of my... ah, habits features, such as my morning snort, my August years and my somewhat odd sense of humor.

The thing about this job is that the company, The Big Corporation, just bought out their largest competitor and so needs to expand their IT staff, but since The Big Corporation uses a fairly arcane database engine and language employees are in short supply. Add to this the size of the data tables, some of which are over one petabyte, and they don't dare hire anyone right out of college. Hence The Big Corporation snatched me up with the understanding I'd learn the language as I go along. Truly an unusual opportunity.

For the uninitiated, 1024 Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte; 1024 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte; 1024 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte; 1024 Terabytes = 1 Petabyte; 1024 Petabytes = 1 Exabyte.  Really, really huge. See? The first mainframe I ever worked on had 3 to 4 Gigabytes of storage - it was an IBM 3090 connected to an entire building of burnt out dumb terminals. End of digression.

The Big Corporation is in Memphis, Tennessee. On Wednesday I packed up my gear and headed South, stopping in Columbus Ohio to see my brother Big Mike. This may have been a mistake in some ways. While Mike offers excellent hospitality, I don't think he's entirely human - he can't be and drink the way he does. I showed up at Big Mike's around 6:00 PM, threw my gear in his spare bedroom and accepted his offer of a drink. One large Manhattan later Mike took me out to dinner at a four and a half star restaurant where we had a fantastic meal and a bottle of red wine. When we got back to Mike's house I was offered a little Scotch as an after dinner drink. I declined, being far too deep in my cups from the wine.

I had intended to get up early the next morning and get a good start. I woke up early, but I was so hung over and tired out that an early start was difficult. I got on the road at 9:30 with a ten hour drive in front of me. Naturally my satellite navigation device went belly up, so I had to rely on a map. This was fine until I hit Kentucky.

The very best thing the State of Kentucky ever contributed to civilization as we know it is Bourbon. I have no doubt that the men who laid out the highway system in Kentucky were sampling the various brands of bourbon every single day they were at work. You see, the highways in Kentucky have no numbers; they have names. Great long names that will not fit easily on highway signage or official maps. Worse, not everyone has accepted Kentucky's system as absolute gospel, so while the sign may read "The Tom Moore Wild Turkey and Kerry Krumplecan Scenic Highway" the map may proclaim 34W. This causes some confusion for the traveler (that would be me), who has no navigator and has to drive the car, read the road signs and look at the map, all at 70 mph in traffic. This causes stress.

I got completely lost once and stopped to ask directions which were provided by another traveler who knew the way to the highway I was looking for. I'm thankful for that, as I'd never have found it otherwise.

Six hours into my arduous trip hunger forced me to stop for some road food. This was yet another opportunity to shoot myself in the foot.  It turns out that any food that is cooked South of the infamous Mason Dixon line requires extra grease be added to it. This fatback additive plays merry hell with the digestive tract of each and every stressed out Yankee who is desperate enough to eat it. I am no exception.

I arrived at Shotgun Bob and The Girl's house in Memphis, Tennessee around 9:00 PM, local time. Shotgun Bob's neighbor Barbecue John and Barbecue John's wife Tammy-Rae were in attendance and we all had a drink together before dinner. I turned in early, being more than a little fatigued from the road. I vaguely remember something Shotgun Bob told me just before I hit the sack. "I get up at 6:00, so be forewarned. I'm building fence tomorrow and I need to get an early start." So naturally I was up at six and hard at work by 7:30.

I lasted until 1:30 in the afternoon. Shotgun Bob is erecting 560 feet of board fence which will contain his dog pack. He's got a great dane, a golden retriever and an American bulldog. All are nice dogs but they need a large space to run around in. There are also three cats, all of whom live indoors. It's something of a zoo.

Shotgun Bob rented a two man post hole auger and recruited some help from work. One guy showed up, which was good. We got all the holes dug and several posts set. The man in question, Little Mike, is a good friend and generally great company but he really is small. So when he partnered up with my mother's favorite son, I had to do most of the work. And let me tell you, that auger is a real gut buster.

Still and all we got all the holes dug and Shotgun Bob got half the fence posts set on Sunday. Good work.

My first day at the new job was Monday, April 04, 2011. I'll write more later on.