The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Archive for September 2008

Gas shortage threatening my way of life

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Here in the Atlanta area, there is no gas.

No, this is not an image recycled from the 70's.

No, this is not an image recycled from the 70's.

Okay, that’s not really true. There is gas if you’re lucky enough to come across one of the few stations that have working pumps and have the fortitude to wait in lines up to a mile/two hours long, literally. Even then, it’s still 50/50 that they won’t run out before you get there. This is ridiculous. Isn’t this exactly why the Bush administration invades not-so unsuspecting Middle Eastern countries? So we could enjoy easy access to fossil fuels?

People have started stalking tanker trucks as they make their way through town. Unfortunately, some of these are filled with milk, artificial raspberry flavoring or other liquids that won’t agree very well with the modern combustion engine. Some are actually headed for a gas station and if you can hit one during the three-ish hours before their pumps run dry, you’re one happy driver.

Now you’d think that might make a hermit happy. After all, it’s all the more reason to stay at home. But I’m a very spoiled hermit. If I want wasabi-covered almonds, I like to be able to hop in my car and buy some. If I want to stop on my way home from work for a beer, sandwich, flowers for my wife (if I’m in trouble, otherwise admittedly, that’s a stretch) or dog treats (much more likely), I don’t want to worry that it’s too far out of the way. I’m now terrified of burning gas for anything unnecessary. (If I’m in enough trouble though, those flowers would definitely be a necessity so I’d walk if that’s what it came to.)

The times that I’ve been lucky enough to get gas have been perfect examples of why I prefer the hermit lifestyle and are, to a certain degree, undermining my faith in the human condition. People are yelling, screaming, threatening and cutting into perfectly orderly lines because they obviously believe themselves to be more important than those who understand the basic concept of how lines work. (Lines start from the back, people. Not from the middle or any other point closer to the front.)

The way things are, I may be forced to re-enter the penultimate of general public interaction (gasp): public transportation. I’ve been a car commuter for so long I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it. It’s just so comforting being the absolute master of your transportation destiny. I’ve heard rumor that in some of the shadier parts of town, there is plenty of gas so the next time my needle flirts with the ‘E’ then I’m heading for the ghetto. In a previous life, I probably would have tried to score some weed too. You know, multitask. But that’s a story for another post.

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Written by the bee dub

September 30, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Daily Happenings

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NFL Week 4 Menu: Beer & BBQ Chicken

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Last week I went over to my friend Moe’s place for a homemade Italian feast and NFL Sunday ticket in hi-def. It was great but so is going back to the warm embrace of my usual Sunday ritual at home. I was psyched to make some BBQ chicken. I’m now hooked on this recipe. It starts with a marinade Moe’s wife gave me that comes from some restaurant up in North Carolina, though I don’t know the name of it. I put the following in a container that seals so I can shake it vigorously.

Start with 1 beaten egg. Add 1 cup of cider vinegar, 2 cups of vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons salt, 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Shake for a few minutes. Pour the mixture into a container or bag and then marinate the chicken overnight. I bought one package of three breasts, one with five legs/drumsticks and one with six thighs. Packed it all into a Ziploc freezer bag that looked like it would have burst if an ant farted on it. Though I’ve done the same thing twice now and the bag has held firm both times.

You couldn't fit a wafer-thin mint into this bag.

A wafer-thin mint wouldn't fit into this bag.

Then I use a technique I found here on the internet, that slow cooks the chicken which is key for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve burned chicken on the outside and had it raw on the inside when cooking it on a grill. So I really recommend this technique which basically boils down to preheating your grill to 230-250 degrees and then placing the chicken away from the heat for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. You don’t have to do anything but wait. The skin is crispy and the meat falls off the bone for the most part.

This (along with some potato salad and asparagus) is going to taste even better because my fantasy team seems to be off to a good start after the early games. Another highly enjoyable Sunday at home for me, though my dog, as always, remains unimpressed by it all.

Written by the bee dub

September 28, 2008 at 9:14 pm

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RIP Paul Newman

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Here’s to one of the coolest actors ever to grace this planet. Paul Newman (interestingly, also the coolest person ever to matriculate through the tiny college I attended) was one of my favorite actors because he was one of the most recognizable people in the world but he almost always disappeared into character.

If you’re into rebellion, and who isn’t in their younger days, then how can you not appreciate Cool Hand Luke? This is probably my favorite of his movies and just makes you want to go ‘kick the Man in the shins’ as my friend Dan used to say. The eating of all the hard boiled eggs is something I can watch over and over. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is another one that’s right near the top. Watching Newman’s Butch Cassidy laugh his ass off when Sundance (Robert Redford) admits he doesn’t know how to swim is a classic movie moment. Though his role is small, he pretty much makes Road to Perdition. Without him, that movie would have been mediocre at best in my opinion. And who can forget Reggie Dunlop, the broken down player/manager from Slapshot, heckling an opponent, “Hammerhan, your wife eats pussy!”

Of course, he made a lot of movies and there’s no point in listing a bunch just to list them so I’ll leave it at that, with one more exception. The Verdict was a movie that I ignored for well over a decade. It always sat on my list of things to see but I never seemed able to motivate. When I finally did I was blown away.

Basically, he’s the kind of actor no hermit can live without. Watching one of his movies at home was always time well spent.

Written by the bee dub

September 27, 2008 at 7:15 pm

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Hermit Cinema: The Wire

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Unfortunately, I do not have HBO. But if you have hermit-like tendencies then it’s much better to engage things like this on DVD. If you get sucked in, you can just keep pumping another DVD into your player and become more and more obsessed as you watch each hour-ish episode. You don’t miss any details and are much more attuned to subtle twists of plot and character. Plus you have a great excuse to veg out at home.

In my opinion The Wire is, hands down, the best drama series ever created. It ran for five seasons and was one of the most ambitious things to ever grace a TV screen. A big part of its genius is that each season focuses on a different theme. Season One was the street drug trade. Season Two was all about dock workers. Season Three took on politics. Season Four was the public school system. Season Five, the finale, focused on modern journalism. Each season blends seamlessly into each other and still interweaves the drug trade and the police’s attempts to stop it into each season.

The series has a totally authentic, realistic feel throughout. The casting is superb. Some of the actors are recognizable from other things but they all disappear into character. There are little, or none, of the usual clichés that you expect from a dramatic series. There are people you could label good guys and bad guys, but beyond that, little is what you would expect. In fact, I found it as close to unpredictable as is possible.

The closest thing I would have to a complaint wouldn’t really be a criticism. As in, it’s so realistic it can be sort of depressing. There are no easy answers for any of society’s problems. You could argue that the series’ position is that there are no answers at all.

A few people I worked with told me over and over how great The Wire was, to the point that I started tuning them out. When I finally started watching it, it wasn’t like I immediately would have said that this was the most amazing thing I ever saw. But the more you watch, the more you want to know what happens next.

Here’s a rundown on some, but not all, of my favorite characters.

McNulty and 'Bunk' Moreland

McNulty and 'Bunk' Moreland

McNulty – The closest thing the series has to a main character, McNulty is a cop who wants to get the bad guys but not necessarily for the right reasons. He’s self-desctructive in every way. He’ll screw any one and any one over to get what he wants, yet you root for him all the same.

Bunk – At times, he’s McNulty’s partner and is a good counterweight to his partner’s moral ambiguity. His best line of the series: “The bigger the lie, the more they believe.”

Omar

Omar

Omar – A gay stickup man who only robs drug dealers and those who, “Play the game,” as he would put it. Somehow, he is the series’ most memorable character and you can’t help but have a visceral reaction when you see what fate has in store for Omar. He’s so feared around the neighborhood he can rob without even trying.

Carcetti – A politician whose ambition knows no bounds, he doesn’t make an appearance until a few seasons in. He might be the most cliché of all characters as he seems to have good intentions initially, but by the end, would sell his mother to get ahead in a public opinion poll. Nonetheless, it’s all totally believable and engrossing.

‘Bunny’ Colvin – A police major who comes up with a plan so unconventional, that it costs him more than he ever expected. Never mind that his plan actually works. Again, he doesn’t enter the picture for a couple of seasons but man, does he have some presence.

Daniels – A detective with a past whose star seems to be constantly rising and falling. He might be the closest thing of all to a bonafide good guy.

‘Proposition’ Joe – A high-level dealer who I probably like so much simply because ‘Proposition’ Joe is just a great fucking name for a character.

Chris and ‘Snoop’ – Entering onto the scene in the third season, these two musclemen for the drug trade seem to embody menace without trying. Actually, ‘Snoop’ is a woman but it took me a while to be sure of that. Again, I’m slow but tell me if you picked up on that right away.

Gus – An editor at the Baltimore Sun, he only appears in the last season. Besides Daniel, he’s as clean and as well intentioned as anyone in the series.

Frank Sobotka – He only appears in the second season as the head of the stevedores’ union. He also comes very close to an actual good guy. He made a lasting impression on me, perhaps because if I had to pick, the second season just might be my favorite.

‘Bubbles’ – A drug user who ends up on a quest for redemption. Again, try and come up with a better name for a character.

Now I know it seemed like I listed a ton of characters but I actually wrote a few more down and realized that this was just far too many. I’d list them all if I could.

If you haven’t yet seen this series, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the few I can think of that maintained its high level of excellence from beginning to end. Which is something I wish I could say about Lost, but that’s a story for another time.

I’m now one of those people

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Right or wrong, those rare times when I’m out in a public place and I’d see someone staring or typing into their Blackberry or iPhone, I’d immediately form an unflattering opinion of that person. Then I’d go back to doing whatever I was doing.

The beauty of this situation passed me by, which isn’t all that surprising because I’m pretty slow to pick up on things. So let me describe the situation in a different way. Those few times I’m out in a public place and I’d see someone using their Blackberry or iPhone, I’d leave them alone and go about my own business. Never would I or anyone else bother one of these people with a question or try to initiate some pointless chit chat with them. So I’ve switched teams with extreme enthusiasm. I’m now a proud user of my iPhone in public places. It’s like it creates a force field that keeps strangers away. Yet it’s a force field that does magically allow in necessary personnel.

Allow me to explain. If I’m sitting in a bar, surfing the web with my iPhone will keep strangers away but seemingly has no effect on a waitress who wants to ask if I’m fully stocked on beer. They don’t seem to find it rude either, the same way they would if I was talking on the phone and they wanted to ask me the same question. Because that is the one function of my device that gets the least amount of use, without question. It’s social camouflage. Pull out your iPhone, check some e-mails and you’ve suddenly disappeared into your surroundings, just like the monster from the movie Predator.

Now there is one dangerous vulnerability to this method. One thing people will do is come up and ask, “Hey, is that an iPhone?” Which is about as awkward as, “Hey, you guys playing cards,” from Animal House, because clearly they already know the answer. But outside of that, if you see someone sitting quietly besides you somewhere, typing into his iPhone, trying not to be noticed, it could be me. I might even be putting up a new entry here, using the WordPress app. Then again, it could be some weirdo just dying to tell you about his hamster, overbearing stepmother and ongoing battle with bunions. So be careful out there people.

Written by the bee dub

September 24, 2008 at 3:18 pm

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Try getting me out of the house on an NFL Sunday

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A football game just makes any chopped pork sandwich taste better

A football game makes any chopped pork sandwich taste better

The NFL is something of a ritual for me. Every Sunday I like to try and get everything I need done finished by 11 or 11:30 am at the latest, not an easy task. Then I’ll hunker down on the couch, make some final adjustments to my fantasy football roster and soak in as much pre-game coverage as I can. Though I love the people on the Fox pregame show, I’m partial to ESPN Sunday Countdown. Plus, they start an hour earlier. If I can catch a NY Giants game getting a national broadcast, all the better.

This is something my wife tolerates and unknowingly encouraged when she confided that she liked that her husband was into sports as it fit nicely into her idea of manhood. I take that as a green light to watch as much football as I want.

Over the years, I’ve perfected what I’d like to think of as in-game, at-home tailgating. Sometime late in the day’s first game or early in the second, I’ll usually get some dinner going. My usual suspects during the fall include (but aren’t limited to) Italian Sunday Gravy, Thirty Dollar Chili, Meatball Subs, Turkey Meatloaf, Ranchero Beef Stew, Sweet & Sour Brisket, and my newest favorite dish, BBQ Boston Butt that I then use for chopped pork sandwiches. The only rub with the BBQ is it takes all day, up to 9 or 10 hours on the grill at low heat. It’s a serious time investment but well worth it. Recently, I tried out a new chicken marinade from my friend Moe’s wife – more on Moe and his wife Beth, later – and it was probably the best grilled chicken I’ve ever had so that’s bound to make it into the rotation.

Then I’ll kick back and let the aromas of dinner waft around me while I swill several cold beers, usually Newcastle. Sometime before dinner’s ready, I’ll try to get some sort of vegetable prepared so as to create a false sense of nutritional balance about my food intake.

By the time everything’s ready, I’ve usually got a real nice buzz going and a nice, hot dinner which is a good antidote to any annoyance my wife may be feeling about my slightly polluted bloodstream. It’s a nice system, perfected over many football seasons and years of happy marriage.

There are exceptions to this ritual. Week one occurred on my mom’s birthday, for which I had committed to traveling for well before I realized it would coincide with the season’s kickoff. And tomorrow, for week three’s games, I’ll be heading over to my friend Moe’s place. This usually happens a couple times during the season. For one thing, he’s got Direct TV Sunday Ticket. (Recently he upgraded to a big, honkin’ HD flatscreen.) For another, his wife usually cooks up a feast of some sort.

What’s unusual about this is that she’s vegan, but she loves cooking food people enjoy so she’ll cook stuff for us that she, herself, would never eat. And she’s great at it. (Let me tell you that the chicken marinade recipe she game me is amazing. So good that when I used it I snuck down in the middle of the night for a cold drumstick, which was even better than I hoped.) The last time I went over there for games, she made us homemade chicken fingers tossed in homemade, from-scratch buffalo sauce. Tomorrow she’s making brasciole, for which she’s starting the sauce today and letting that cook overnight, before adding the brasciole to simmer all day tomorrow.

Now, I’m as committed to the hermit lifestyle as anyone I know. But it takes a stronger man than me to resist homemade brasciole with coverage of every single NFL game in High Definition. So tomorrow will be the rare day during the NFL season where I won’t be found on my couch. But in case anyone misses me, don’t worry, you can catch me there for week 4.

Written by the bee dub

September 20, 2008 at 3:31 pm

The Familiarity Hump

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If you’re like me – and let’s face it, you’re probably far more well adjusted, happy and better looking – then you probably tend to frequent a few favorite businesses quite often. As a result, there can develop a level of recognition and then beyond that, familiarity. This is always an awkward transition for me.

We’ve started getting takeout salads and sandwiches from this new place in our neighborhood, a lot of them. We go there two times a week, sometimes more. One girl who works there and I recently began our journey over the familiarity hump. You know, that moment where someone you see regularly, usually through the prism of a low-level business transaction, lets you know that you have lost your anonymity.

But back to sandwich girl. She’s obviously a people person. She knows I am obviously not. First, when I’d try to call in an order, she would tell me they don’t do takeout anymore. Other times when I’d arrive, she’d recite my order and would obviously pretend like she got the order completely wrong. I think she enjoyed that I was never quite sure how to react.

But I came to learn that messing with me was just her way of adding some entertainment to her day. I have to give her kudos, because we’ve now reached an ideal level of ‘regular customer’ interaction. She still tries to mess with me but balances this by getting me in and out of there in the most streamlined fashion. I can immediately tell whether she’s just messing around or actually letting me know that they are in fact, out of tomato-basil bisque that day. She knows our regular orders so I lot of times she just asks me if I want anything different. I’ve come to think of her as part of our neighborhood experience.

Sometimes, getting over the familiarity hump goes horribly wrong. In fact, I have a feeling most of the experiences recounted in this blog will be more along those lines. I am, after all, one bitter, unfriendly bastard. This was one of those rare occasions where it worked out fine. Which is key, because if it didn’t I’d have to avoid the place and it would be hard to live without their chicken, avocado and roasted tomato vinagrette sandwiches.

Written by the bee dub

September 18, 2008 at 3:43 pm

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