Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tales from meatspace

First, let me direct you to that gustatorial wonder The House of Meat.

Mr. Elisson's fine testimonial to the art of proteinaceous eating brings to mind a few of my own true stories at the real-life places where carnivores dine.

This was going to be a simple reminiscence but even now I can see it's getting into crusty detail-laden ancient history so you better pack a lunch before you go much further. I usually tell these stories over drinks -- big drinks, in the double and the multiple -- so that should give you a hint right there. My apologies in advance to those of you who thought you only signed up for the short stroll through My Garden Of Memories who now find yourself on the Bataan Death March. It's a rambling path with lotsa forks in the road, which seems appropriate somehow.

Anyway, a long time ago in a place now far away I used to get to eat a fancy dinner once a year with a table full of musicians and other nefarious types. We would congregate every year at a convention of brass players held at New York's Roosevelt Hotel. This was before the current spiffy state of the Roosevelt -- today it's very fancy and expensive -- back in the day it was still kinda sorta elegant but not quite so upmarket. It was a grand old girl still giving it all she had but like a dowager duchess, she was just a little bit worn at the corners. But you could see the beautiful bones, the fine carriage, how it Used To Be and Maybe Still Was if you squinted just a little. It was the Margaret Dumont of hotels.

I loved that place and hated to see it get renovated. It's gorgeous but all the soul is gone. Like, oh, Times Square. But I digress.

So during the Saturday afternoon break before the big testimonial tribute and concert (being honored at the Brass Conference was essentially proof that your career was more or less over but you weren't dead quite yet), we would put on fancy clothes -- an opera cloak was not out of place, all the men wore tuxedos and sometimes so did I -- and we'd meet at a place around the corner on 45th Street called The Cattleman.

The Cattleman was a figment of an overactive imagination crafted by a P. T. Barnum kind of real estate guy, Larry Ellman. Smack dab in the middle of Manhattan in the Fred F. French Building, 551 5th Avenue -- how that rolls off the tongue, even the address sounds classy, doesn't it? It's a great Art Deco Building, you should go look at it, it's on the National Register of Historic Places, Google it, check it out, go visit.

And on the ground floor it housed The Cattleman, this Wild West Emporium of beefsteak ridiculousness. I vaguely remember the red flocked wallpaper -- it was decorated in Basic Bordello -- and how all the waitresses were in upswept hairdos and bustiers and tight black skirts. I think all the waiters had handlebar mustaches and garters. Oh, and they had a chantoosie -- this woman with a feather boa around her neck and a gown slit to her cervix would slither out and sing old torch songs in front of a piano while you ate your steak. All this was nearly in the dark, with occasional glints of lights as waiters prepared orders of Bananas Foster tableside.

I also remember they would make you a Caesar salad like nobody's business -- I think that was the job of one guy, that's all he did, he would come out with a cart and make it up for you at the table with great pomp and circumstance.

At the end of the meal a woman would come out and offer you coffee and cigars. I don't smoke as a general rule but I always said yes and yes, it seemed like the thing to do.

When we visited it was basically on its uppers too, much like the Roosevelt; in its heyday they used to offer "stagecoach rides" for the kids and other silliness. By the time we sat down to eat it was likewise shabby but every night they lowered the lights and the Cattleman Girl (she had some other more officious title but I forget what it was) would come out and sit on the piano and sing "I Don't Care" and man, you knew she really didn't if you know what I mean. I used to contemplate asking her if she knew "Ten Cents a Dance" but figured that was hitting too close to home. And we would eat steak and drink martinis and gossip about everyone who wasn't at the table and swell around and then run back to the Roosevelt, grab reinforcement from the bar downstairs, and climb up to the mezzanine and the Grand Ballroom for the evening's tribute.

Ask me sometime about the night I went upstairs to see a great famous trombone player get venerated and found myself sitting in the middle of a crowd of old big band guys, alumni from one of the famous bands, guys who really knew Mr. Great Famous Trombone Player, I mean knew him better than his current wife, better than his ex-wives, better than his girlfriends, better than his boss, even (who could have been but was probably not Woody Herman, let me put it that way) . . . and every time someone on stage would say something I'd get commentary/annotation/cries of "bullshit! I wuz there and here's what REALLY went down" from the peanut gallery.

Do remind me, though I should probably wait until more of those people die off before I repeat any of those stories, especially the ones about Mr. Great Famous Trombone Player. But I digress.

So it's another Brass Conference Saturday night and we go to the Cattleman. Which is not the Cattleman any more.

Ever been to Morton's?

They got 'em all over the country -- they're not as ubiquitous as McDonalds but if they were I'm sure there would also be a cardiologist on every block as well so that's not such a bad thing.

There should have been a sign outside that said "The Cathedral of Steak." I did sort of naturally genuflect walking in but that's because I was a little weak in the knees at all the new grandeur, all glitter and dark corners and starched long white tablecloths.

It was all men in European cut dark suits and women in flowing dresses. In our tuxes and tail coats we felt out of place; all of us musicians, usually in joints like that you get directed to come in through the kitchen area double quick. And don't eat anything! The staff was momentarily confused as much as we were because we had no instruments with us. But they recovered quickly and moved us to a big table.

They get us all seated. No menus are offered.

They take our drink orders. Still no menus.

They bring us our drinks. I get a martini served in a glass that could have held a dozen long-stemmed roses with room left over for the three ginormous olives displacing the vodka.

Behind the waiter with the drinks comes this tiny woman ponderously pushing a cart heavily laden with unidentifiable objects. She hauls the cart to our table, bows, smiles, takes a big breath.

And commences to recite the entire freakin' menu.

"We have THIS." And she reaches out to the cart and hauls up a slab of plastic-covered porterhouse for our startled eyes to see. She cradled it like a baby as she described everything that had been done to it and what more could be done if that be our wish.

"And we have THIS." She dropped the hunk back on the cart (which rocked it a little) and displayed a polyethylene wrapped filet that could have fed a family of four. "Petit." It was petit like those 400 pound men that get nicknamed "Tiny."

"And we have THIS." And each and every THIS was the biggest damn whatever it was I had ever seen in my life. Scallops like hockey pucks. Jumbo jumbo shrimp. Portabello mushrooms run amok.

She rummaged around in the cart and found a lobster apparently trying to make the Great Escape. She caught it neatly as it attempted a dive off the top of the cart. Holding it at arms length triumphantly she proclaimed, "LIVE MAINE LOBSTER!" She flicked the tail for emphasis and it not only beat its tail ominously in the air but waved claws and tentacles madly, the Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and boy was it pissed.

She sprinted to the finish of the presentation as she hefted a baked potato only slightly smaller than Idaho matched with a bouquet of broccoli that must have been grown in the shadow of Three Mile Island.

"Now what would you like?"

"Um . . . I'd like to hear that again."

She was game. She did it all again, dinner and a show, this time with the extra added attraction of the dessert cart bobbing in her wake. It sailed past us with stately grace, a Titanic of Death By Chocolate and Strawberry Cheesecake.

We did get the food sorted out. The guy next to me said, "I want the lobster. THAT lobster, to be exact." We spent some time debating whether we should ransom him and set him free to terrorize the seas once more but ultimately when Roger was assured there was indeed more than enough butter in the kitchen to cover this behemoth his fate was sealed.

The food was as good as it was large. It was one of the most manly meals I've ever had in my life and it was spectacular. I concentrated mostly on the meat of the matter and didn't care about any of the sissy side dishes . . . though a Caesar salad might have been nice.

Coffee was served. A woman approached the table. For a moment I thought I glimpsed a feather boa . . . but she was dressed soberly in black and holding a tray of cigars. The Cohiba was a perfect ending to a wonderful meal. It seemed like the thing to do.

Our host got the check and to his credit he neither fell out in the floor nor ordered us all to start washing dishes. I'm surprised the bill didn't come plastic-wrapped on the cart. You can bet that when your supper is sung to you there's going to be some carrying charges. With a flourish of his opera cloak we were off into the night and on our way back to Brass Conference glories.

All this was a long time ago. The next year the Roosevelt was closed for renovations and the Brass Conference was uptown somewhere else.

We never went back to the Roosevelt.

That was our last dinner as an assortment of friends and colleagues, in fact; after that time, everything changed. People couldn't make it, people retired, people changed jobs, cities. People passed away.

They don't have Brass Conferences any more. I miss that most of all.

A big tip of the hat to the Great and Powerful Og, a man who knows his meat. But I digress.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The new Chevies are in!

Be sure to ask about the "Paulson Special Edition" with racing stripes and stimulus rally package!

A tip of the hat to Neil Harmon.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Rodent Aquacade

Today's Straight Dope Classic is truly a classic column on a terrifying urban problem: Can rats swim up through the (urk) toilet?

It's worth checking out for Slug Signorino's graphic alone, which is, as always, gruesome and wonderful in equal measure.

Usually I simply take Uncle Cecil's word for it but this is a subject on which I can testify because, well, it happened to me.

For several years I had the pleasure of living in an older house in the Candler Park section of Atlanta. The house was built about five minutes after Sherman did his urban renewal thing and to the best of my knowledge had authentic old fashioned everything still in it when I moved in. Among the wonders was a gas refrigerator, which was not something you saw every day by the 1970s. (Was pretty neat, though, until it died and the resulting service call to Atlanta Gas Light was useless and weird as nobody believed me when I said I have a gas refrigerator, could you come fix it? They thought I was going to inquire next if they had Prince Albert in the can. Someone did ask at one point, "Is your refrigerator running?" Unfortunately I had to say no.)

Anyway, even then I had developed the habit of playing in bands and attending regular rehearsals and as is also often the case with rehearsals and gigs they end in going somewhere and drinking and talking and talking and drinking. And so it was on a night such as this that I came home from rehearsal and aftermath and of course the very first thing I wanted to do was recycle that beer so I ran into the house, dropped my horn, and continued on to the facilities. Which I could find in the dark even, I knew where I was going.

And midway down, before I even commence, I hear a splash, somewhat prematurely.

Which caused me to rise up and switch on the light.

Doing the backstroke in the porcelain was the biggest rat I have ever seen in my life.

It was this big gray mofo big enough to partner Esther Williams leisurely splashing around in my turn of the century toilet.

What would you do at that moment? I mean, what would YOU do?

I did what I figured anyone in their right mind would do -- I dropped the lid and ran the hell out of there and called my best friend Henry who had just been at the bar with the rest of us. I was sure Henry would know what to do.

Now you know you got a really good friend when you can call someone up in the middle of the night and proclaim "Help, there's a rat in my toilet!" And they say "Hold on, I'll be RIGHT THERE."

True to his word, within a couple of minutes there's a knock at the door and there he is, standing somewhat tipsily on the porch.

I should mention Henry was wearing a pith helmet and carrying an elephant gun.

That should tell you all you need know about Henry -- that he had both the lid and the blunderbuss handy and therefore hadn't lost any time looking for the proper fashion accessories before he got there.

"Lemme at 'em!" And he runs past me and into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

I hear him tentatively lifting the lid.


"Isn't that what I said?"

"Yeah, but I didn't believe it. I thought maybe you were having hallucinations or something."

And then I heard the merciful flush.

Henry came back out with a huge self-satisfied grin and said "Problem solved, m'lady."

By then I was in the back yard peeing because I was not going back to visit Mickey Rat that evening and I was still all skeeved out.

I was the very first and most entertaining phone call to Atlanta Water and Sewer that next morning. The first guy I talked to was sure I was going to ask him if he had Prince Albert in the can and kept saying dubiously, "Lady, I have never heard of this in my life." He put me on with an engineer who had been in the department a little longer and when he stopped laughing he said yeah, it was a combination of the bigger sewer drains in the older parts of the city, a drought that had dropped the water table, and old-fashioned plumbing fixtures.

"What do I do about this to keep it from happening again?"

"Look before you leap. So to speak."

A few years ago Atlanta made all those old toilets illegal. I'm betting the mayor got bit in the ass.

Monday, January 05, 2009

This little piggy stayed home

According to Reuters "Piggy banks fly off shelves in freshly frugal U.S."

Sales of the porcine depository are rising. This makes sense to me, as they're cheaper than mattresses and more stylish than coffee cans.

For once, just once, I am by god ahead of the curve. Behold!

I'm rich, I tell you, rich, rich!

All of a sudden I feel like Scrooge McDuck.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Just when you think you have totally mapped the playing field of perversity somebody moves the goalposts

Someone just shared a link with me.

For dinosaur porn.

You read correctly.



(There is nothing wrong with your monitor. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity.)

Is it still bestiality if the species is extinct?

(No, I'm not giving you the link, ya deve. )

The first thing that echoed inside my head after "OhmercifulGAWD" was, of course, "I love you, you love meeee. . ."

Might have been easier to take if it HAD been a purple dinosaur -- this one was green and appeared to have a French manicure. (Those metrosexuals are everydamnwhere.)

He was also, um, very well equipped, apparently the Dirk Diggler of Gojira, as it were.

You don't want to know about the rest.

In this crazy ol' world it could even signal a trend. Coming soon to the Hell Metroplex near you: "Brokeback Tokyo." "Love is a force of nature -- and it's pissed!"