Wednesday
Sep282011

The Night Visitor.

 The following is a excerpt from one of the chapters in a book I'm writing about my life events. This one takes place in Costa Rica and involves an uninvited guest. 


After checking in and downing our welcome cocktail, we were escorted to a beautiful room high on a cliff overlooking an endless ocean. It was stunning. The rooms are all separate and connected by a wooden walkway. I immediately put my survival package of M&M’s in the safe. I had a fear that chocolate may not be readily available and decided at the last minute to purchase my fix from the airport in advance. After acclimating us to our room and the resort, Jaffit, our bellman or as I like to call him, my Sherpa, made certain we knew one of the resort’s most important rules-don’t leave the lights on at night for very long. “You see, bugs are attracted to the light and because of their natural curiosity may find their way into your room.” With that he bid us a farewell and we were on our own. 
We enjoyed our first afternoon in paradise by relaxing on the balcony. I began a great book while Anthony started work on his watercolor.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. Before leaving the room, I wanted to create a little mood lighting for when we returned. This is something I always do, I think it’s nice to come home to a warm, welcoming place, especially in the middle of the jungle. There was a dim light about three feet above the bed that was angled toward the ceiling. It was perfect, just enough glow so we could see when we come back, and not too much to attract bugs. Satisfied by my lighting design, we made the journey to the dining room.
 The walk to dinner was romantic. The sun was just starting to set and with the ocean on one side and the rain forest noises on the other, I was really starting to love it here. The dining room was a large, open air cabana that had just enough seating for all the guests. The best part was that they let us sit by ourselves. Another concern conquered. I hate when I’m forced to eat with people I don’t know. The food was much better than I expected, the drinks were strong and the wait staff was very friendly. This was going to be a great week.
When we finished our after-dinner drink, we began the stroll back to the room. “Boy, I’m glad I left that light on”, I said “it sure did get dark”. I mean darker than dark. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Part of our pre-trip planning was to bring these “headlights”. They sort of looked like those lights that minors strap on their forehead so you can have the advantage of both seeing in the dark and the use of both hands.  Perfect for mining or in my case fighting off dangerous animals. 
We were both exhausted from the long day of traveling, the shaman incident, and our cocktails. The bed sounded so inviting. As we were both getting ready for bed I don’t know what possessed me to look up, but I’m sure glad I did. The fact I didn’t faint is beyond me, because the “bug” I saw attracted to my mood light was a spider the size of my hand-and that was just his body! His eight furry legs were about four inches long and I could literally see him catching little gnats and devouring them RIGHT ABOVE MY BED! “Ahhh, ahhh, ahhh, I, ahhh, think we have a problem” was all I could muster. With a shaky point of my finger I guided Anthony’s eyes up to this hideous monster. I admit, from time to time, I can over-react, but not this time. Anthony just said “oh no, that is not acceptable”.  We quickly put our headlights back on and walked briskly down the path that now didn’t seem nearly as romantic. The charming sounds of the rain forest from earlier now sounded like background music from The Omen and the ocean now resembled nothing but a black hole ready to swallow us up. When we finally arrived back at the Dining Room, we paused. This was our first night, we did leave a light on after being warned not to, and we were in the middle of the rain forest. “Let’s not make ourselves look too sissy-ish”, Anthony said, “let’s gather our senses and be calm”.
The only two people left were my Sherpa, Jaffat and another guy. “Hi, Jaffat, you know, we really should have taken your advice about that whole ‘don’t leave a light on thing’, but we thought what could one little light hurt”. He immediately knew what was going on and said, “you have a visitor?” “More like an evil, uninvited guest” I replied. With that, he could tell by our drenched foreheads and quivering voices that he needed to come to our room and check things out. He grabbed a broom, which I knew wouldn’t be sufficient. “You may need something bigger than that” I said, “like a gun”. He dismissed my attempt at Sherpa humor with a laugh and shrug of his shoulders.
Arriving back at the room with our savior, I had this horrible thought, “what if the spider wasn’t there”. It would be like in the movies when the bad guy gets killed and when the hero returns, his body is missing. You know he’s still alive and he’s going to make a surprise attack.
As Jaffat opened our door and bravely entered first, I whispered “up there”. I don’t know why I whispered, it’s not like the spider from Hell can understand English. Our hero slowly walked toward the thing that I swear had gotten even bigger from our first encounter. He examined it for what seemed an eternity until Anthony finally said “Well?” Jaffat’s only determination was “not good, not bad” Whatever that meant, I told him he wasn’t leaving until this “not good not bad” creature with multiple eyes and legs was destroyed. The Super Sherpa took one fall swoop with his weapon and knocked this animal to the ground. He then said “good night”. WHAT? This thing was somewhere on the ground behind my headboard. I wanted evidence that it was dead because if it wasn’t, it was now really mad and I knew it would demand revenge. Jaffat took his broom and swept the carcass out from under the bed and across the floor. “Oh, look”, he said, “the unts are doing their job”. “Unts?” I questioned, as I turned to see what he meant. These unts were actually ants that apparently were hiding in the walls, watching and waiting for the American tourists have their Sherpa kill the grotesque, man eating insect, so they could have their meal.
As soon as Jaffat left, I somehow leaped into bed without touching the floor, grabbed the once charming mosquito net and wrapped it around my body so tight, I was slowly mummifying myself.
When the sun finally came up in what seemed like a decade, we both looked over at where we last saw the spider. It was gone. It seems the unts did indeed do their job.

 

 

Monday
Aug292011

Cheers!


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I am what you’d call Star Struck. Whenever Anthony and I are in an airport, restaurant or on a big city street, my eyes are always wondering around to see whom I can spot. It hasn’t failed me yet.  My knack for star spotting has given me the chance to see and even meet many celebrities. My star-stalking resume includes Susan Sarandon, Ed Begley Jr., Jude Law, Seinna Miller, Robert Downey Jr., Macaulay Culkin (I think he’s still a star), Michael Jordan (I collided with him in a hallway-ouch), Tim Allen, Faye Dunaway, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Leslie Ann Warren (this one was funny, it involved an accident report-look for the future blog) and actually shared drinks and dessert with Darryl Hannah (again, another blog).
My most recent star encounter happened in the salon.
It was 5:00 on a Wednesday night. I was getting ready to go home and the front desk asked if I could “cut this guy’s hair”. He was staying at The Townsend Hotel, which is right across the street and he wandered in for a haircut. We had just gotten back from Paris the day before and I was a little tired, so I blame jet lag for my behavior.
I’ve been told from time to time that I have “the gift of gab”. I don’t think of it so much as a gift, but more of a skill. I read in a book once that people love to talk about themselves. If I don’t have anything interesting to share, it’s best to simply ask them questions about their lives and let them do all the talking. Most of the time, my little skill is a great  conversation tool, but once in a while, when I’m tired, hungry or insecure it can get me into trouble.  
After consulting with my client I started to cut his hair. I also started to talk. A lot. “Where are you from” was my first inquiry. The familiar looking gentleman said he was visiting from southern California. “Oh, you are so lucky, I love it there” I babbled, “it’s one of my favorite places”. I continued with “I have a really good friend that lives there, although I doubt that you know her, her name is Dana, although maybe you do, wouldn’t that be weird? I just got back from Paris, blah, blah, blah”.
I haven’t the slightest idea why in this situation, I felt the need to try and impress this guy. For some reason I felt it necessary to let him see my “cool” side. 
Trying to put the focus back on him, the next question in my line of fire was “so, what brings you to Michigan?” He told me he is an actor and was in town shooting a commercial for a health drink. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t simply have told him a little bit about our city and offer restaurant suggestions. Instead I replied with “I’m an actor too, I also direct, sing and I write a blog” Inside I was telling myself to shut up, but I couldn’t, I just kept going and going and going.  I continued with “living in California, you must see a lot of stars. I’m really star struck, I’ve met so many stars, I don’t know why, but I always seem to see them, I even had drinks with Darryl Hannah once".  On and on I went. I finally took a breath by asking him what famous people he has seen.
This poor guy finally had a small window to say something. “Well, actually I know Darryl Hannah too”. At this point during our one sided conversation, I started to think not only did he look familiar, but he sounded familiar too.  If I only allowed him to talk, maybe I could have figured it out. Instead I went on by asking him if he thinks she’s prettier in person too.  He said, he thought she is pretty inside and out. I’m a hairdresser, that’s supposed to be my line, I thought. 
“Who else have you met?” I asked as I continued my nervous chatter. He paused and told me that two of his best friends were Kirstie Alley and Ted Danson. This was followed by a very looooonnnnng pause. The light bulb was starting to flicker. I was slowly beginning to recognize my customer and I was clueless what to say next.  So, out came “oh, they’re kind of funny”. “Kind of funny”, not “really funny” or “very funny”. I had to say “kind of funny.”
If I could have simply disappeared, I would have.
The reason he knows Sam and Rebecca from Cheers is because he starred right along side them. I couldn’t believe it. How did I not recognized this man? I was a huge Cheers fan. He was in my living room for 30 minutes every Thursday night at 9 p.m. And the reason his voice sounded so familiar is because on the plane the very day before, I watched Toy Story Three and he was the voice of the pig.  I was cutting John Ratzenberger's hair.
I had no idea how to get out of this. My tongue was so tied it couldn’t form a single word.
I had spent the past twenty minutes telling this successful actor all about me. I had a golden opportunity to be discovered and I blew it.
Needless to say, the next time I have the opportunity to meet someone famous, like Johnny Depp, I’ll be sure to tell him that I’m a hairdresser to the stars and offer him a haircut.

 

Monday
Aug152011

You Gotta Have Art.


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One Summer I was bored. It takes a lot for me to be bored because I'm always either involved in a theatre production or I am writing. It actually was a new experience for me. I’m usually really great at entertaining myself, but this particular summer it just wasn’t happening.
Anthony had taken a class at the local art school. He and a friend signed up for Drawing 101. I told him it was so he could see the nude models, but he insisted it was to fill his artistic need. Previously, we had both taken a private water color class taught by a retired art teacher. We used to go every Monday morning and paint. Mine always had a slight “naïve” edge to it as the teacher would put it.  Of course, I took this as a compliment. She thinks I see life innocently.
To cure my summer boredom, I convinced my friend Chrissey to enroll in a water-color class with me. Before moving to California, my best girlfriend and I used to dabble in all sorts of activities. We always wanted to better ourselves and we made this pack to do all the things we’ve always talked about doing. One time we decided that we had to learn another language. So, we took private Spanish lessons. We found this high school tutor and we met every week at a Starbucks. I think in ten classes, $400, and many Vente Cappuccinos  later all I could say was “the white cat is drinking milk”, a phrase that would totally come in handy if I was ever in Guadalajara and saw a feline named Snowball drinking milk and felt the need to report it to the local authorities. Another time, Chrissey or “my Ethel” as I liked to call her,  and I took a Ballroom dance class. It was during that period of my life that I realized I have absolutely no rhythm. “No, step, two, three Jeff” Ethel would scold, “not back, two!” When Chrissey started to lead, because I  didn't know how, I finally realized that my dream of becoming the next Fred Astaire was not going to happen. 
I was convinced this water-color class was going to be my calling. I was destined to be the Rembrandt of the 21st Century.
The teacher was again a former retired high school art teacher. Not the kind of art teacher that wears moo-moo’s, a headband and eats granola. This one was the unmarried, uptight, hair in a bun sort of teacher. I always thought art was subjective until this class. She made me understand it wasn’t and there is indeed good and bad art.
On the first day, we had to go around the room and introduce ourselves and share a little bit about us to the class. I’ve always despised this sort of ice-breaker. I’m always so nervous about what I’m going to say that I don’t even listen to the others. But seriously, no one cares that Susie over in the corner is a stay at home mom with two children and spends her days working on her annual Labor Day Luau, or if the guy that looks like the uni-bomber has six pit bulls-really! When it was my turn, I’m not quite sure what possessed my body, but something inside me blurted out “I’m Jeff, I’m a hairdresser, I write, I act, direct community theatre and I’ve had extensive training as an artist” Extensive training. I don’t think I’ve had extensive training in anything, let alone art. Needless to say, I set my own bar pretty high.
Our first lesson was to sketch something that made us happy. Easy, I thought, I’ll just draw a big bottle of scotch. Chrissey told me that maybe I should think of something a little deeper, so I settled on flowers. They don’t really make me happy, but I faked it. As the two of us sat side by side, the teacher would come over to observe our work. “Interesting” was her comment to me. “Very good composition” is what Chrissey got. Followed by “Jeff, look at your friend’s work, isn’t she good?”
The next week, we had to take our sketches and paint them. Patience has never been one of my virtues, so water-color isn’t the best medium for me. I’d be better suited creating my masterpiece with something that doesn’t have to take the time to dry, like crayons.
Again, the teacher made her way around the room critiquing our work. I’d hear, “very good work Teri”, “nice eye for detail Bob”, “Oh Chrissey, your choices of color are marvelous”. I got “Hmmm, well…., hey, did you get a haircut?.” Of course followed with “Look at Chrissey’s, she is just so talented”.
By week three I was starting to develop an attitude toward this teacher. Chrissey would laugh it off by trying to convince me that I was good and the teacher really didn’t mean anything by her comments. Easy for her to say.
One week she told me I would be a good children’s book illustrator. I couldn't believe it. She had finally thrown me a bone. My praise was short lived though, because she followed it up with “because you draw so, well now,  how should I say it, well, because you draw so big and without all those details”. I thought “listen you old maid, your bun is ugly and I hate you”. I replied with “why, thank you, it is something I’ve always thought about doing, especially  because I just adore sticky little children”. I concluded by telling  her I’d work on my tendency to draw big and next week I’ll make it my goal to to draw smaller and with more detail. “Good Idea” she said before moving on. This was war.
I know I draw big. I think big and I live big, so it only makes sense, but I decided that the next week I would make an effort to grow my skills by taking her criticism and making it constructive.  As we all sat at our drawing table, with our brushes and paints, our darling teacher announced that this week we would be illustrating a sunflower and she wanted us all to do it larger than life. Meaning big. The bitch knew I was going to work on my details and make an effort to slim it down. Chrissey finally admitted that maybe this lady did have it in for me after-all.
Again, I did my usual “big” piece of work and again, she said for the twentieth time “look at Chrissey’s, isn’t she good?” This little mantra of her's was really working my last nerve. Every single class, I had to look at Chrissey’s rendition and hear a commentary about how her style is so graceful, and how her pieces each tell a story. All the while I got things like “well, Jeff, you sure look like you have fun when you paint”.
I missed the second to the last class and I was really happy too. She made them all paint a self-portrait. I’m sure mine would have been over-sized and resemble The Jolly Green Giant- without any details.
On the final day of class, Chrissey couldn’t attend. So it was just going to be me. Well at least she can’t get in one last “look at Chrissey’s” I thought. As everyone in the class started their final day of painting, Satan once again began creeping around. When she got to me I really wondered what she was going to say. She didn’t have Chrissey to compare me to this week, so I couldn't wait to hear what other evilness was she going to evoke on me. “Well, look at your’s Jeff” She followed this with “you know, you really should have been here last week and saw Chrissey’s.” That was it! My blood started to boil.  I had taken ten weeks of this and today was going to be my last chance to tell her a thing or two. It didn’t go as planned. Do you ever wish you knew in advance that you were going to have the perfect opportunity to say something just right? I can think of a million things I would have loved to say to this troll, but I couldn't think of any.  So I decided to insult Chrissey's self portrait instead. I screamed in a somewhat shaky voice  “I SAW CHRISSEY’S UGLY PAINTING AND SHE MADE HERSELF LOOK LIKE HILLARY CLINTON! IT WAS NOT GOOD (dramatic pause) AT ALL!!!!! So, instead of seizing the opportunity to put this fiend in her place, I made myself look like a spoiled, jealous, and slightly angry starving artist.
As I left class for that last time, I decided it was time to take a breather from my water-color period.
Two weeks later, I found myself sitting in a pottery class-without Chrissey.
You be the judge.
  

My most recent attempt at art, I call it a portrait of Anthony (while on my fourth scotch)

 

 

 

Sunday
Jul242011

Tip of the Day.


Going to the coffee shop, car wash or even the gas station has been presenting a dilemma lately. I love my coffee, I am what you could call anal about my car and I love Ho-Ho’s, a delicacy one can only purchase at the local Amaco.
One of my first jobs was counter boy at Dunkin’ Donuts. I applied to be a “donut finisher”, even though I didn’t know what that meant, but they offered me a position as the morning counter boy instead. This meant getting up at 5 a.m. to arrive at Michigan’s only Kosher Dunkin’ Donuts by 6. Mind you, I’m not Jewish, but I felt if I had to work at a place that couldn’t even add the ‘g’ to the end of their trademark name, at least I could work at an establishment that had some claim to fame.
This was my introduction to public service. It was my first job where being nice and giving good service was reflected in the form of a gratuity. It’s also where I learned to appreciate and show the wait staff how grateful I am for good service-even if it is to a fault. You see, I seem to have a problem of over-tipping:  If the waitperson smiles at me, I give an immediate 25%, if they offer to take my coat, it’s 30% and if they tell me the specials and promise to “hold one for me because there’s only one left”, they become the beneficiary to my life insurance policy. Maybe it’s because my expectations of good customer service has dwindled over the past few year, but I find myself wanting to hug the waitress when she announces the soup du jour without my asking. I’m ready to purpose to the waiter who tells me his name.
Unfortunately one of the side effects of my over-tipping disorder is the dread I feel when I’m not 100 percent sure the waitperson knows I tipped them. The mere thought of them watching me leave the restaurant with thoughts of “look, there goes the cheapest guy on earth” makes me break out in hives. The only remedy to my phobia is to watch them receive the tip and wait for a reply or reaction. Most of the time it’s a subtle “do you need change” or “thank you, have a good night” and an occasional smile a wink. Whatever it is, I crave it. If I don’t get this simple satisfaction, I simply can’t leave the building until I know they are aware it was me who contributed to their retirement fund and helped with their mortgage.

This entire issue didn’t affect my daily life until recently. There was a time when tipping was just expected in restaurants and hair salons. Today it seems anyone who has a pulse and is able to put your muffin into a bag requires an extra 20%. I’m not sure who invented this policy that tortures me, but I think they should be hanged. I now can’t even go into the men’s room without helping the guy who sprays me with a cologne I don’t even like, put his youngest child through college. It seems everywhere I turn, there is a clear container that says “Tips” with a smile face on it, like that makes it less intrusive. I’m well aware I could just leave my loose change, but I know they will notice and shoot me. If the tip in the jar doesn’t have a president’s face on it and is made of paper, I’m convinced I will be shunned from the establishment for the rest of my life.

This phobia all came to a head one day. I was at a bakery getting lunch. As I looked at the pastries, I opted for a bowl of soup and a roll. The smiling young man rang up my order and gave me my change. I looked down and saw the familiar jar with the slogan “we rely on our tips” looking at me with a vengeance. I have a reputation now, if my bill is 4.99 and I give them a ten, they inevitably have no more 5’s. “All I have is five singles if that’s o.k.” he says. “No problem” I reply, knowing full well that he knows I won’t leave a five, but will “happily” drop a single into his new car fund. 
As he hands me my change-five singles and one shiny penny- I take one of the dollars and drop it into the friendly jar. The problem was, he turned away at the same moment to get my soup. HE HAD NO IDEA! At this point I had two choices, either wait until he turned back so he could see me drop another dollar in, or go with plan B, the option I probably should not have taken. As his back was turned, I quickly stuck my hand in the jar and pulled my dollar back out. In my head it was going to be easy-just retrieve the buck, wait until he is looking at me and drop it back in and leave-simple. The wrinkle in my plan occurred when he realized he forgot to ask me if it was for here or to go. As he turned in what seemed like the speed of light, his friendly smile turned to one of accusing horror. He just busted me stealing his tips. I was speechless.  I had no clue what to say or how to get out of this. Not only had one of my biggest fears come true-I was now going to go to jail for robbery.
I looked around to see if the store had any security cameras. I knew if this went to trial, I was going to need proof of my initial generosity if my story was going to stick. “I know this looks weird”, I mustered to say with a nervous laugh, “I gave you a tip and I’m not sure you were aware of it, so blah, blah, blah, blah blah”.  The more I talked, the more guilt I felt. I’m sure he could see it in my face. My tomato red face admitting guilt I didn’t even have.  My story made absolutely no sense. I mean, what kind of person is so obsessed with the fear of not being acknowledged that they would risk going to prison?
I finally said “it’s to go”. He looked at me like I was a side dish he didn’t order. “My soup…it’s to go” I said with total humility. He reluctantly turned and ladled my soup into the to-go hot cup and with an attitude handed it to me and said “have a nice day”. I’m pretty sure he meant “you are a cruel, cheap non-tipper”.  It was a nightmare and I could only see one way out. I pulled out the other four dollars, counted them in front of him, and deposited the 100 percent tip into his little jar of happiness. Once I got back to work, I threw my soup away, certain that he secretly spit into it and had to go somewhere else for lunch-forever!

Sunday
Jul032011

Paper or Plastic?

There is something about grocery stores that make me nervous. Part of it is that I am totally clueless in the kitchen and have no idea what those items on the shelves do when mixed together. I love to eat, but my culinary duties are limited to "entertaining" the chef. This means putting on MSNBC and talking about the secret crush I have on Rachel Maddow.
From time to time however I am sent to the store. My specialty is picking up liquor and sundry items. I break out in a sweat when given the task of finding a ripe pepper but I can spot dental floss and scotch from a mile away.
It's the Fourth of July weekend and big surprise we are in Gay U.S.A. Saugatuck, Michigan. For those of you not familiar with this beautiful city, picture Provincetown, only with a much nicer beach. Anthony and I have a home here that we rent out during summer months. This weekend we are guests at our good friend's beautiful home. As much as I enjoy this haven, summer weekends, especially holiday weekends can be a bit overwhelming. Literally thousands of people flock to the beach, then the dance club, then to a house party, then back to the club again. I think there is some sleep in there, but I haven't quite figured out when.
The main grocery store in town is called DeMond's Super Val-U. Why they couldn't have just added the  E on the end is beyond me. Anyway, it's a typical small town grocers. Adequate produce, less than fresh meat but well stocked in my expertise-libations, ice and non-food items. It's also a great place to people watch, especially the employees. I've gotten to know them as we are out here pretty much two weekends every month from September to May. "Good Morning Jeff-I see you are out of scotch again" I expect to hear every time I go in.
One cashier in particular has this "charming" wit about her. No matter when I go, 8 in the morning or 8 at night, she's there. She always works the same register, number three and has this desire to entertain me. What I mean by this is that she picks up each of my items and creates a story about how they go together. For instance, "Oh, I see you have toothpaste and a Snickers today. You must have just had a bad dental checkup.  Seriously, what kind of witty retort am I supposed to come up with? "Yes, that's it, my hygienist has finally convinced me at the age of 46 to brush my teeth".
The first few times I've had the pleasure of being the plot in her weird stories, Anthony tried to convince me that she is just quirky and bored. "Leave her alone, she's just trying to be funny". I'm not known for my patience and for some reason this quirk of her's makes me want to slap her.  This isn't once in a while, IT'S EVERY SINGLE TIME! I've spied to see if she does it with other shoppers. No, they just get to pay for their groceries and go on their merry way. When it's my turn, I feel my heart start to race, I wonder what twisted play about me and my sundries she's going to write today.

One time I was with a friend of mine. At the time we both had long hair and looked kind of cool. "You two must be in a rock band", she chimes in as we were paying for our charcoal. I wanted to beat her at her own game this time. "Yes, and we are going to use the charcoal to set the stage on fire during the show" I blurt out. "You should come see us, we are playing at the What-Not Inn tonight". My friend, who hasn't had the pleasure to experience cashier number three, just looked at me like I was a psycho.
I won't even mention the time I ran out of sunscreen at the same time Anthony needed a cucumber.

I finally admitted that it's me. It's my issue that I can't handle her "cleverness". She is probably  a very nice person who just has an over-active imagination.  When I told Anthony I was trying to have a better attitude toward  cashier number three/witty playwrite, he simply said in the only way he can "well Jeff, she and you are sort of alike". My first reaction was to grab the nearest hand grenade and throw it at him, but instead I smiled and said, "maybe you're right". Maybe I am like this girl is some ways. I use my imagination a lot, I try to be witty to customers, I can put groceries in a shopping bag.
This experience has taught me two important lessons -
One-before making rash judgements about someone, look yourself in the mirror.
And two-always use the U-Scan.