Monday, December 19, 2016

Sprinkle Sprinkle Little Jar

I went to Dollar Tree last week. I purchase things like bar soap, body washes, and household cleaning stuff. Greeting cards are great buys, too. Everything's a buck! Sometimes, I take my mother because she always finds deals on things whether she needs them or not, and it's those little pleasures that make life more fun, even when she buys glittery pre-teen nail polish she ends up detesting.
This is a relatively new store in Longwood, FL. It's a little bigger than the one I usually go to, so it's better stocked. The manager described it as a showcase store. Usually, I saunter down each aisle, basket in hand, just to make sure I don't miss out on anything new. On one of those aisles, I found a couple of shelves stocked with spices. When it comes to dollar store spices, I pretty much treat them the same way I treat dollar store vitamins and supplements, like B-12 and fish oil. Quite simply, I don't buy them. Why not? Because I don't trust the source – and I don't know how fresh and pure any of it is.
While perusing those “exotic” spices, I stumbled upon a container of kosher salt. I don't know what prompted me to pick it up because I never put salt on anything. Nope, no sprinkling for me. Never. Perhaps, it was the large and impressive Star of David emblazened on the front label. Whatever the reason, I simply picked it up out of curiosity and probably because of one small detail that caught my eye, somewhere around the far left corner of my peripheral vision.
Upon careful examination of the container and label, I saw that it contained one simple ingredient: Salt. That's reassuring. It means the salt, of the common rock salt variety, is just what the label proclaims it to be. Sodium chloride. Halite. NaCl. I don't know if I have to write a short history of where salt comes from, but it's safe to say that salt mines (where most of it originates) are in abundance throughout the world, and many of the deposits are millions of years old. Maybe older.
That leads me to a very simple question. Please take a look at the image I provided because it's this one little detail that caught my eye. What you see is the exact container I picked up to examine. Note what its only ingredient is. Nothing more. Ancient salt extracted from an abundant source from beneath the ground. Pure and white. For something that's millions of years old, why is there an expiration date stamped on the bottle? Best by 03/10/20. Are you kidding me???

Friday, December 16, 2016


I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2005. There's no telling how long I had it prior to finding out. It could easily be eight years or so, one of my doctors once told me. During that time, I smoked and drank and ate whatever I wanted, with no knowledge of the damage it could easily have been doing to my organs, particularly the kidneys. That's because of the tiny blood vessels that feed them. Sugar makes the vessels very brittle. If they're brittle, they snap. Kidney disease is the one thing that frightens diabetics the most. With five stages of chronic kidney disease, one being normal and five being complete failure, I am holding steady at stage three. Age itself diminishes function, but diabetes is the silent killer if you're not careful.

Fortunately, I was sensible enough to quit smoking in 2007. Cold turkey. Just like that! After nearly forty years, I did it and never looked back. A few years later, I stopped drinking alcohol. I don't remember the year because I slowly weaned myself away from it until I simply lost the desire. I wouldn't say I'd never have another drink; I just don't have an appetite for it and it's been like this for many years.

When I reflect on all that's happened in my life since the diagnosis, I sometimes ponder how boring my life has become. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not boring and I’m never bored with myself, but it’s a far cry from my days of youth. After all...

It doesn't seem like so many years ago that, in my 20s, I could stay up partying until 4:00 AM, sleep a couple of hours and go to work like it was nothing. Heck, I could do this for the rest of my life, right? Well, not every night.

In my 30s, I could party with the best of them until 2:00 AM.

In my 40s, it was more like midnight.

In my 50s, I might be able to handle 11:00 PM on a good night, but...

In my 60s? Heck, I'm 64-years-old now, and I start thinking about going to bed soon after watching Jeopardy!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Another Beat on PULSE?

This past June, the 30th to be precise, my mother had an appointment to see an eye specialist located next to ORMC, the Orlando Regional Medical Center. It's right up the street from the LGBT-themed Pulse nightclub, scene of the nation's deadliest mass shooting of innocent civilians by a single person. 49 people died and 53 were injured before the killer was neutralized by law enforcement. I took my trusty camera along for the ride. It was 18 days after the murderous spree on 12 June, 2016.
Rumors rapidly spread that the shooter, Omar Mateen, was a disgruntled, closeted gay man. People who frequented the club said they had seen him there before. Others who came forward claimed he used gay dating sites and apps. There was a problem with the allegations, though. Like witnesses at the scene of a car accident, no one could give the same story. After careful examination of the facts, the FBI found no evidence on his cell phone or elsewhere that any of it was true. No real evidence existed.
During one of his 911 calls, Mateen swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State. He said the shooting was triggered by the US killing of Abu Waheeb and that we must stop bombing ISIL. The CIA conducted an investigation and found no link between him and Islamic State. As a matter of fact, the shooting was classified as an act of domestic terrorism, although IS did release a meaningless statement. Mateen's pledge of allegiance to ISIL was interesting because he had once claimed to be a member of Hezbollah, a Shi'ite militia based in Lebanon. The Islamic State is affiliated with the Sunni sect, and are at war with the Shi'ites. They hate each other. That made Mateen a thoroughly confused individual.
I wonder if there's a third possibility; something that could be added to the other two – something that might paint a more complete picture. Many years ago, I knew an Egyptian family that fled their homeland because of religious persecution. (They were Christians.) The Masoods were genuinely lovely people; very caring, giving, hardworking, and everything you'd hope for in people coming from a foreign land to live the American dream. They would give you the shirt off their backs. When I met them, their children were in elementary school. I watched them grow up and after their son graduated high school, he enrolled at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The first time he returned home on break, he was a bit disgruntled and resentful about something. Now, mind you, he was merely complaining, not angry. He was a good guy and not at all violent or vindictive. He said that, because his skin-tone was a bit darker, he passed as Latino and many of the students addressed him in Spanish. “¿Cómo está Ud?”
“Dave,” he said, “I don't speak a word of Spanish!”
Is it at all possible that Omar Mateen had a hatred for Latin Americans because he was always confused as one? Proud of his Pashtun heritage, it served to enrage him? And wasn't that fateful Saturday night/Sunday morning “Latin Night” at Pulse?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Nadie es profeta en su propia tierra

For eleven years, I worked as an artist for an ad agency in Orlando. I moved to the area in April of 1981 and was hired that August. There were three (and sometimes four) artists in one room, each of us having our own artboards and niche styles reflected in our work. We were old style artists compared to today's. Alicia was our premier fashion artist. Extremely talented, she was a Cuban who left the island nation soon after Fidel Castro took control.

Before Castro, Alicia's family was successful. They were rather upper-middle class. Poof! It was gone. Their loss, our gain. To work with her was a real delight and I deeply appreciated her insight, especially when we discussed her homeland. It was her pure passion that resonated inside my heart. This wasn't hearsay, it was a first-hand account of what took place in her beloved country; what happened to her and her loved ones.

After the 1959 overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista, Castro set up shop and proceeded to expropriate land, bank accounts, and personal possessions; everything the new government deemed to be an asset. Many people, including her family, fled the country. Everything of theirs - everything of value and every personal possession they accrued over the years - was taken away. Businesses were nationalized and socialism took hold. Communism immediately followed. All of her father's hard work went down the drain, where a thirsty regime hungrily lapped it all up. They came here with nothing but the strong desire to rebuild in the land of opportunity.

Alicia was married when she left Cuba with her family. Her husband soon followed. She brought one suitcase filled with clothes. That was it. Even her perfumes were confiscated. While going through a security checkpoint at the airport's departure gate, a guard stopped her.

"Give me your ring," he demanded. 

"But this is my wedding band."

"Give it to me or we will take it from you and you will go to prison." Reluctantly, she turned it over. 

Today, millions of Cuban Americans in the US are celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. I haven't seen Alicia in 26 years, but I can certainly understand why she would feel no remorse at all. How many of her compadres lost their lives or rotted in prisons?

Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

C stands for Confusion

I know about AEIOU and sometimes Y. In the English language, that's our vowels. Y isn't always a vowel, though, and it's why there's that little "sometimes" clause. Take the word YES. It's a consonant. In the word GYM, it's a vowel. That's how it works.
Only a year or so ago, I was comfortable with LGBT because it was used almost exclusely for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual community (or is it communities?) I kinda got used to it and accepted it. I'm open-minded. Suddenly out of nowhere, the Q popped up. Huh? What the..? Oh, I see, the Q stands for Questioning or Queer. But it's not always used. Is it LGBT and sometimes Q? I don't know what's right and I don't want to offend anyone. Some use the Q and some don't. OK, fine, but I'm not interested in looking up the differences between Q, L, and G.
Now, there's the LGBTQIA community, which includes Intersex and Asexual people. According to the Urban Dictionary Website, "LGBTQIA is a more inclusive term than LGBT for people with non-mainstream sexual orientation or gender identity." Oops! They didn't include the Q. Is that considered politically incorrect?
As an H male, how am I supposed to keep up with these designations that change out of the blue, at a moment's notice? There's still Pansexual, Omnisexual, and Nonmonosexual to go, and I guess we can run the gamut from Ambisexual to Zensexual and everything in between, but with only 26 letters in the English language... what happens when the alphabet runs dry?
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make myself a BLT, light on the M.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Working Days and Sleeping Nights

In the mid-70s, I worked for a peritoneal kidney dialysis company. It was a much needed break from the Weiner King (although I did return.) I traveled throughout Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey delivering care packages to patients. While away, I stayed in motels; just simple motels in any old honky-tonk town I descended upon. Late one afternoon, I wheeled into one in Maryland, location unknown, and got a bed for the night. When I parked and got out of my vehicle, I noticed a large man standing outside his room, door wide open. Big, black hair and matching mustache. I knew immediately who it was even though his name was painted on the van parked right in front of him. FREDDY FENDER! He was smoking a cigarette. I nodded. He nodded back. That was it, but it was a very good experience. No fancy hotel. No entourage. Just him. A regular guy taking a break from where life was sending him.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Wart Tree

In the late seventies, early eighties, I was in the Weiner King business in New Jersey. It was at the tail end of my restaurant career. At one of the locations, there was a large window along the side of the building, next to the front counter. (Actually, the restaurant was mostly glass around the sides and front.) When customers entered the place, the dining room was to the left and the ordering area was to the right. Very easy to navigate. This particular window and sill was all the way to the right, at the far end of the counter. The sill was just above waist-high and sitting on it was a very handsome ming aralia, about 18-inches tall, that looked like a small, leafy tree. No, it wasn't a bonsai.
The Weiner King had quite a loyal following, no matter which of the six stores you visited. At this one, one of the customers was a very nice lady who came in at least twice a week during the lunch and/or dinner rush. Quite the regular, it came as a surprise when she walked through the front door around 4:00, not her usual time. (You get to know your customers' schedules after a while.) Between 2:00 and 5:00, it's called 'slump time' and it could take forever to get through if you don't keep yourself busy. I must have been bored that day and let my mind wander -- which was nothing new. I was working with a girl named Lauri, who was a college student on summer break. The lunch crew was gone and the evening crew hadn't yet arrived. Just us. And one customer.
She walked over to the counter to order but, instead, kept going toward the plant with her arms extended. Her hands got within inches of it, as if to fluff up the leaves, when she said, "I've really admired your plant. Every time I come in, I stare at it. It's beautiful! What is it?"
"It's a wart tree." I have no idea why the idea popped into my head, but it did. I said it, it was too late, and, in a flash, she retracted those arms faster than a toad can stick its tongue back in its mouth.
"A WART TREE?" she exclaimed with an almost look of puzzled disgust on her face.
I had to think fast. "Yes, a wart tree. You've seen Lauri working here before? She's studying biochemistry at Rutgers University. You know how some warts have seeds?"
"Well, someone she knew had a wart. She removed the seeds in a lab and cultivated them into what you're looking at here."
"You're joking, right?"
"No," I insisted. "Ask her."
I hated to put Lauri on the spot but, despite her abundance of intellectual prowess, she was one heck of a good sport with a great sense of humor. After collaborating my story with some kind of details pertaining to the structure, functions, and interactions of macromolecules between animals and plants, the woman seemed to buy the story. 
"It was, after all, a plantar wart," I added, just to ice the cake. "You know, plantar... plant?"
"Oh. Huh. A wart tree. I'll be darned. I never knew that." She composed herself but was still perplexed. "Well, I'd better order dinner for my husband and me."  
I went back to man the grills and Lauri stayed up front working on the rest of the order while making small talk. The woman, meanwhile, stood far away from the little tree. After she left, the two of us laughed pretty hard. It was dumb, but it was done.
I'm convinced that when she got home, she told her husband all about it, and I'll bet you he told her how there is no such thing, while rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically. In the end, though, she was either afraid of the tree, warts and all, very embarrassed, or too angry, because I never saw her again.
Was I silly for doing it? Yes, but working 80 to 100 hours a week will do that to you. And my old boss, Jack, who worked at least 100 hours, used to do it all the time. Just not to customers.