Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dinning with the Upper Crust

Several years ago, my wife and I decided to take a trip to New York City. She carefully researched hotels, flights, and attractions to ensure that we got to see as much as possible while we were there and after saving for about a year it was time to take our trip. We caught a Broadway Show (Spamalot), got to attend a David Letterman taping, and went to the United Nations. It was a highly successful trip and one of the last stops on our list was to eat at a fancy New York restaurant.

We got the name of a place in Brooklyn that had been featured in several movies and promised to fulfill our desire to be shamelessly overcharged for an embarrassingly small portion of food. We decided to attend their world renowned Sunday brunch and I called a few days in advanced to reserve our coveted seat. The phone was quickly answered by a chipper young woman who informed me that a major credit card was necessary to ensure a table for us, and more importantly, if we failed to attend without adequate notice they would still charge me $100. I let this pass without comment (as if being charged $100 for not eating was customary) and gave her my Visa number so that we could lock in our chance to see how the “other half” lived.

The morning of our legendary brunch came and we caught a cab over the bridge into Brooklyn. After settling up with the driver, I discretely noted that I had about $40 cash left which should easily cover cab fare back to Manhattan. As the dining area was still being prepped, we killed 20 minutes or so exploring the grounds and taking pictures of each other in front of the elaborate fountain.

Finally the staff summoned us and we were led to a table whose linen covering far exceeded the thread count of any bed sheet I have been privileged enough to slumber upon. We were then provided menus, a spoon small enough to endanger a toddler’s windpipe, and an egg that was undoubtedly taken from the nest of a Blue jay. Ashley and I glanced at one another and I clandestinely peered about the room to get some sense of what was expected of us in regards to the egg.

The couple next to us consisted of a fit, silver-haired gentleman in his fifties, and a slender young blonde that seemed fashionably uninterested in whatever it was he was talking about. I took note at how offended he was when the staff had the audacity to offer him the house wine and decided on the spot that he would be my mentor for the remainder of the meal.

He ravenously began devouring the contents of his bird egg, which appeared to be an uneven mixture of corn flakes and melted frozen yogurt, so I cautiously took my first bite. It was not disgusting, but certainly not worth holding an indigenous bird hostage for either.

I ate enough of the filling to make a show of it and then went about selecting my “complimentary” appetizer. Since I did not recognize most of the names, I decided on the chilled gazpacho soup. Keep in mind that my culinary ignorance is boundless as I assumed that the dish was named after the infamously-ruthless German Secret Police, so I was not unsettled when the waiter brought me an oversized white bowl with a tiny, but expertly arranged pile of chilled crab meat in the bottom. I was mildly concerned by the complete absence of a liquid in my “soup,” but decided that I needed to maintain appearances so after the waiter departed, I briskly began to devour my crab meat.

Around the second spoonful, I became aware that someone was standing rather close to me, and he immediately began clearing his throat in an unmistakably disapproving tone. Choking down what was left of the crab in my mouth, I glanced up to see him holding an ornate ladle full of liquid. He then deposited the contents of the ladle into my bowl and stared at me as if I had removed my pants and placed my genitals on the table. I quickly stole a glance at my silver-haired wingman and discovered that while he too had ordered the gazpacho, he had not made the grievous error of consuming his crab meat before the rest of the soup arrived.

Summoning what was left of my pride, I decided that I would just put this all behind me and prepare myself for the main course. I had selected pancakes and sausage, both for my love of the delicate breakfast pastry, and the fact that I felt confident in my ability to correctly eat it in public. The expertly garnished plate arrived and I was dismayed to find that the pancake was only marginally larger than a drink coaster and the serving of sausage was stingy enough that I was fairly certain the pig that had provided it was still alive.

I politely requested some syrup (as none was provided) and in return I received an expression that would have remained just as appropriate if I had insulted his mother while drowning a puppy. Several minutes passed, as I am sure he had trouble locating some “simpleton’s nectar,” and eventually he returned with my syrup. By now, my goal was to finish the meal with some dignity and get back to Manhattan before the Hello Deli closed for the day.

My initial cut into my pancake released a dark, chunky filling that proceeded to ooze its way across the plate with such speed that immediate action became necessary in order to rescue my pork nubbin from the rising tide. Just as I was about to ask Ashley what she thought the substance was, a member of the waiter posse sidled up to me and began speaking with barely controlled glee, “Those are fresh huckleberries sir!”

I made a valiant effort to eat around the huckleberry surprise while savoring both ounces of my sausage link, and soon we were ready to go. Our waiter asked if we needed a desert menu and I quickly replied that we really need to get back to Manhattan as quickly as possible, as if my absence was delaying a Sunday morning board meeting at my investment firm. He provided us with the check and I soon realized that this little experience had costs us more that our July utility bill. As I retrieved my debit card, I thought about cracking a joke about leaving my black American Express card at my penthouse suite but decided against it.

Moments later, Ashley and I emerged from the restaurant a few hundred dollars poorer and fighting a dangerously low blood sugar level. We hastily made plans to stop at the first McDonalds we encountered and began walking up the private drive toward the main road. Once there, we were surprised by the blatant absence of cabs. Having spent the majority of our tip in Manhattan, we assumed that being surrounded by available transportation would be a given. It soon dawned on us (after standing there for 20 minutes) that we were not going to hail a cab in this part of Brooklyn.

Dejected, we made our way back toward the restaurant and I went inside to get the number for the cab company from the hostess. She coyly refused to provide the number and insisted that one of the “boys” out front would provide this service for me since I was a valued patron. I spoke to one of the young men in question, and after a succinct phone conversation he assured me that our transportation needs had been covered. Since I was fairly certain he would expect a tip for the exertion of dialing a phone (and I was equally certain I could not afford to provide it) Ashley and I began walking toward the road again so that we could intercept the cab before he saw it.

We had been chatting for several minutes when a sleek Lincoln Towncar passed by us on its way up the private drive. I believe I made some comment along the lines of “Must be nice to be too good for a cab,” but it was Ashley who suddenly froze and wondered if the car was for us. I assured her there was no way he had called a private car service for us as I had used the word cab at least five times when requesting transportation.

Then, as if in slow motion, we looked back to see the over-waxed luxury sedan creeping toward us and being flanked by none other than Mr. Telecommunications himself, “Mr. Phone Boy.” This kid was attached to the passenger door so tight I felt like I was watching Clint Eastwood protect the president, and just as we had feared, the car was indeed for us.

Mr. Phone Boy graciously held the door for Ashley and I as we entered the vehicle and just was he was preparing to receive his generous compensation, I grabbed the door from his hand, slammed it shut, and told the driver to get us back across the bridge. Although I felt somewhat remorseful for stiffing him, I was not altogether certain the $40 I had left would cover a private car service back the hotel so I could not afford to indulge my principles.

We barely had enough to pay the driver and we were so hungry that we immediately sought sustenance elsewhere. All in all the experience taught me what I had suspected all along: I am ill prepared for the upper-crust.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mike Duvall: Return of the Mack

Many of you are already aware of the sensation that is Republican California Assemblyman Mike Duvall. While participating in an assembly meeting on July 6, 2009, he began chatting with a fellow politician who had the misfortune of being seated next to him. The problem is that the conversation was not only recorded, it was televised as well. After all, there is no safer place to confide potentially career-ending carnal adventures than in front of a microphone at a televised meeting. In the now infamous conversation, he divulged his newly discovered penchant for administering a good spanking, his fondness of immodest undergarments, and indirectly, his blatant disregard for latex-based prophylactics. While these characteristics are not, in and of themselves, particularly noteworthy or even unethical, his choice of application was.

You see, Mike Duvall is a married father of two and a recent addition to the California Assembly Rules Committee which oversees member ethics. His previously unimpeachable credibility included a 100% rating by the California Republican Assembly and the Capital Resources Institute for his conservative voting record and his unwavering stance on the importance of family values. He even received the Ethics in America Award from Chapman University for his “demonstration of the highest standards of ethical integrity.”

This provided a deeply ironic backdrop when it was revealed that the posterior his hand was striking, belonged not to the mother of his children, but to another married woman. The identity of the “spankee” would have likely remained unknown had Mr. Duvall not felt it pertinent to emphasize the fact that his mistress was nearly two decades his junior by revealing her birthday. He then concluded his laughter-punctuated discourse by referring to his other secret lover, the existence of whom was seemingly unknown to both his spouse and mistress number one.

When the tape was unleashed upon the media in early September, it did not take long for a handful of arithmetic-savvy journalists to uncover the identity of Duvall’s paramour; Heidi DeJong Barsuglia, a 36 year old energy lobbyist employed by California-based utilities giant Sempra Energy. It is at this point the coincidences began piling up:

· Duvall received $1,500 in campaigned contributions from Sempra Energy.

· In February of 2009, Duvall became vice-chairman of the Utilities and Commerce committee.

· In April 2009, Barsuglia was hired by Sempra as a top lobbyist .

· In May 2009, Duvall began officially opposing a bill that would require Sempra and other energy companies to acquire a certain percentage of their electricity from environmentally friendly sources .

· In July 2009, Duvall reveals that he and Barsuglia are involved in an ongoing sexual relationship.

Immediately after the story broke, Duvall resigned his post on the California Assembly while insisting that if he was guilty of anything, it was “inappropriate storytelling.” He continues to maintain that the affair and two female participants therein, were figments of his rather vivid imagination.

While Duvall’s hasty resignation prevented any digging by the Assembly ethics committee, several investigations were launched by the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office, California Attorney General, and the Fair Political Practices Commission. Earlier this month, all four concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove that any laws had been broken and closed the investigation.

For her part, Mrs. Barsuglia continues to deny the affair or any wrongdoing and is still employed by Sempra Energy. She has indicated on several occasions that she might seek legal action against Duvall for defamation of character, but as of this writing has not done so.

I find several aspects of this story troubling, not the least of which is that it apparently takes the combined effort of two federal and two state agencies to reach the conclusion that nothing illegal occurred. I am not sure which one was a greater misallocation of tax funding; Duvall’s salary or the quad-pronged inquisition concerning his actions while being paid that salary.

Admittedly, the circumstances are not exactly ripe for criminal prosecution, but I cannot believe that “inappropriate storytelling” is all the public gets in the way of an apology. It sounds like a late night Cinemax series or something that occurs when your uncle gets inebriated at a family get together. This guy drew over $110,000 a year (plus over $120 for daily expenses) in taxpayer money and likely used much of that salary to carry on not one, but two simultaneous affairs with female lobbyists.

As upset as I am about this incident, I do believe that there are several lessons to be learned:

· Never, ever, piss off the audio / video geeks. Why do you suppose that something recorded in July suddenly surfaced in September? Duvall probably snubbed one of the A/V guys at an Olive Garden one day and the stage was set…

· If you decide to discuss your illicit affairs in front of known working sound equipment, try not to mention identifiable information about the other party such as birthday, name, social security number, birthmarks, or blood type. After all, that is just common courtesy.

· If, by some unfortunate coincidence you find yourself in the same position as Mr. Duvall, it is imperative that you hint at a history of substance abuse during your resignation speech. This allows you to enter rehab, thereby redirecting responsibility for your infidelity / embezzlement / DUI / anti-Semitism to your penchant for model glue and scotch.

· There are several creative ways to lower your energy bills. While the rest of America is installing compact fluorescent bulbs and unplugging their cell phone chargers, Mr. Duvall realized that it would be far more efficient to engage in a romantic relationship with an energy lobbyist and “spank” his utility costs into submission.

Only time will tell where Mr. Duvall’s career path will lead, but if he is fortunate, it will be far away from a microphone.

The original video and transcript can be found here:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2012: Kiss Your Metaphorical Butt Goodbye

Probably my two favorite cable television channels are The History Channel and The Discovery Channel because they consistently provide intellectually-stimulating programming and still give me an excuse to watch Dirty Jobs and Gangland. Lately however, both channels have been hopelessly saturated with asinine specials concerning the Mayans, Nostradamus, and their chilling consensus concerning the year 2012. Namely, that the Earth with experience a mind-numbingly horrific series of catastrophes up to, and perhaps including, an extinction level event (not to be confused with the groundbreaking 1998 Busta Rhymes album of the same name.)

An entire host of books and movies are being produced on the assumption that the ancient Mayan culture created a calendar designating the end of the current age as December 21, 2012. The inference is that this date was given as a warning to humanity by the Mayan people and we would be foolish not to heed its message.

As always, the truth is somewhat more complicated. The Mayans did indeed have a calendar (in fact they had several) and one of them was created to specifically address a rather simple problem. The Mayan people would often erect stone pillars, called stelae, on which they would carve depictions of important people or events in order to commemorate them (just like statues in a park.) Being the highly intelligent people that they were, it was not long before they realized the plaque under the statues needed a fixed date on it so they could remember when the particular event occurred. The only problem was that they did not have a long term time designation to carve on it. This would be the modern equivalent of a gravestone that gave someone’s lifespan as March 21st – April 3rd, because without a year designation, we do not know which March 21st they were born or on which April 3rd they died.

The Mayans solved this dilemma by utilizing a Long Count Calendar, which created an “era” of time that started and ended at a specific moment in history (think in terms of B.C. & A.D.) Most scholars believe that the Mayan “era” began in 3114 B.C. and will end somewhere around December of 2011 or 2012 A.D. The date of December 21, 2012 became attached because it is the both the winter solstice (an annual event) and the date of Galactic Alignment (an event that occurs once every 26,000 years and brings the sun into the exact center of the Milky Way Galaxy.) We know that the Mayans were brilliant astronomers, and we know that their Long Count Calendar was slated to terminate in December of 2011 or 2012, so we find it acceptable to assume their intention was to bring their era to a close on the Galactic Alignment.

It is important to remember that there is no historical evidence that the Mayans expected a catastrophe at the end of their long count calendar any more that we expect one when we go to a New Year’s Party. It would probably have been marked with a celebration (and perhaps an alcohol-fueled awkward moment or too) but they certainly did not seem to foresee humanity’s impending doom.

Nostradamus was an astrologer and physician born on December 14, 1503 in Saint-Rémy, France. In 1547, after several years of successfully practicing medicine, he began composing “prophecies” embedded inside quatrains. A sampling:

1. The great man will be struck down in the day by a thunderbolt,
An evil deed foretold by the bearer of a petition.
According to the prediction, another falls at night time.
Conflict at Reims, London and a pestilence in Tuscany.

2. In winter’s darkness betrayal finds a home,

Mourning will be heard throughout the great city,

From the four pieces must lessen one,

Strongholds to bring sickness from Corfrino .

3. Earthshaking fire from the center of the Earth
Will cause tremors around the New City.
Two great rocks will war for a long time,
Then Arethusa will redden a new river.

The first example is believed to be Nostradamus’s foretelling of the JFK assassination (struck down in the day by a thunderbolt) and Bobby Kennedy’s nighttime assassination five years later (falls at night time.)

The second example is believed to be a prediction of John Lennon’s December assassination (winter’s darkness) outside the Dakota in New York City. The “four” is often associated with the four bullets that hit Lennon or the four members of The Beatles.

The third example is presented as a vision of the September 11 attacks on New York (New City.) The two great rocks are the twin towers, and they did indeed cause tremors when they fell. The two “warring” great rocks could also represent America and the Middle East.

As you can see, what the French seer lacked in accuracy, he easily compensated for with ambiguity. The quatrains are vague, timeless, and generally speak to themes of human suffering and destruction; which allows the writings to be adapted to each new disaster as it occurs. Case in point; while the first and third quatrains are actual Nostradamus prophecies, the second one I wrote as an example in about ten minutes. As far as foreseeing Armageddon in 2012 is concerned, the Frenchman wrote prophecies about events that were to occur well into the 38th century so it seems unlikely that he was under the impression our world would end in 2012.

That is not to say that there will not be warning signs that the end is near. After careful research, I have compiled several:

· A member of the Kardashian family is elected to public office

· Arkansas completes all interstate road construction

· A prescription drug is produced whose side effects do not include nausea

· Andy Rooney purchases and utilizes an electric eyebrow trimmer

· Members of the United State Congress take voluntary salary reductions

· It is after 8:30 PM on a weekday and the McDonald’s ice cream machine is not “broken”

· Jessica Simpson wins an Oscar for her work in a Civil War-era musical directed by Michael Bay

· Switchblade combs stop being cool

· A year passes without someone inventing a new device to work your abs

· GM produces a sport utility vehicle uglier than the Pontiac Aztec

So do not fret my fellow homosapiens, because the only thing in danger of extinction in the year 2012 is our own common sense. …