Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

lunch with the king

i suspect things on this 'blog have changed ... the original intent was to have reviews of the places we ate for lunch, but the king, for king reasons, quit coming to cupertino regularly ... and then he sort-of lost his mind ... and then i started frequenting bobbi's on tuesdays (which was feddy's apple day) ... and then i moved to las vegas.

but that doesn't mean that i don't see him and it doesn't we don't have lunch occasionally.

eating at bobbi's wouldn't be my first, or even second, choice for lunch ... however i'm treated very well by the staff here and there's a bunch of my old apple pals that frequent here in random order and tuesdays are split pea soup day ... the smart and the superstitious pay attention when the planets align, and that means i'm eating at bobbi's today.

but it does mean that maybe maybe reviews have gone away on here?  i'm not sure.

if king feddy is the french fries on the human societal lunch plate (and he almost certainly is), then here's the catch-up on what's happened.  not all of this was covered in today's lunch, but for those three of you who stalk either of us through here, this is the news worth covering.
  • he ran the dipsea last year, but had a leg injury, keeping him from his blessed t-shirt ... for another year.
  • he called me a "loser," on stage, in front of 2000 people.  scarring me for life, he's added apathy to injury by nearly immediately forgetting this event.  (he did, however, explain himself by saying that i should tell people how to drive.)
  • with or without steve jobs, apple stock price is WAY up ... and this after it remaining absolutely flat over 20 years (seven of which when i worked there -- thanks very much).  this makes everyone at apple happy, including the king.  they don't openly express this feeling, or talk about it, but it's there. 
  • there are subjects i'm not allowed to talk about on here.  i'm not even allowed to mention what or who these subjects are.  this isn't the only place i'm being voluntarily restricted in what i can say.

feddy did me a big service today.  car-less, he picked me up at kon's krashpad and we went through a robo carwash before dropping me a bobbi's.  it was during this ride that i learned about how great a driver he is.  i also got to see a woman cut him off at a gas pump, causing his blood pressure to rise a solid ten points.

feddy dropped me at bobbi's for a later rendezvous.  i was greeted like an old friend by the staff and learned about the finer points of horse respiratory habits while waiting for the typical lunch crew to shuffle in.

in fairly short order grumpy and thumpy wandered in, along with their two-man retinue.  everyone's doing well.  grumpy, in particular, looked great; claiming that his new stockton delta house and fishing were to blame.

feddy showed up late after his oh-so-grueling meeting (he actually has to go to one a week, believe it or not).  in good spirits, we talked bicycles, races, soccer, children and female hormones.

feddy had a tuna melt and fries.  i had a #3 breakfast, with a grapefruit sub for hash browns.

(as i had thought would happen) the worst thing about being in vegas is removal from my friends.  what surprises me is the second worse thing of not knowing what's going on deep in the belly of the valley ... surprising because i haven't worked in the inner guts of it since danger, and never thought it mattered that much.

i would've had the instigator along (i think he's back from HI), but the timing of today was completely uncertain.  my apologies to him.

great to see the king, nice to be back in 95014.

and just because you see this posting today doesn't mean things are gonna start up in earnest again.

(i read through the old postings and saw that i had switched over to writing monday reviews when the king was no longer with me for lunch ... hmm ... i could do that again, but it sort of brushes against a bigger idea i have.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

space invaders ice cube trays ...

... "fred" brand. when you accept only the *very* finest in video game

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

an appointment with the king

you might think i've been slack here, but that's only 1/128th right ...

the truth of the matter is that feddy is damn near impossible to talk to.  although we talk occasionally on the phone (feddy: "you're one of only a very few people who ever calls just to talk, but doesn't actually want something"), and i send him the rare TXT (sometimes running questions, sometimes weirdness i run across).

but i didn't say "impossible."

today the king showed up at bobbi's and we had a long, leisurely conversation.  mostly i was getting caught up on the life of feddy.

high points, for those of you who stalk him:

* he's worried about his job because management has been shooting bullets everywhere around the cubicle he doesn't actually ever sit in (and my guess, apple's profits would probably increase 10% if they didn't have to pay his whacked salary).

* he's getting along well with the queen.  this is not only news, but big and fairly good news.  it means the chances that the kingdom won't be split, say, this month, have gone down significantly.

* the heir and the spare are both doing well.

* dipsea training is ahead of schedule and looking very good.  the king is healthy in that well-kept-prison-camp-kind-of-way.

i had a grilled cheese with bacon and a cup of split pea soup.  it was yummy.

feddy had an omelet, and for the first time in his life tried smokey tabasco sauce, which he LOVED.

now what's interesting here is i'm getting ready to move from CA, and yet, i'll bet you that we have more "lunches" per period of time while i'm "gone" than we have while i'm here.

goddamn feddy.  if i didn't like him so much i'd bitch-slap the bejesus out of him.

Monday, August 31, 2009

wait i misspoke ...

feddy just informed me via TXT that he did *not* insist we sat outside
for tea ... there were no seats inside the coffee shop.

i have no idea why the hell this would matter, but i'm not always aware
of what goes on around me, so i'm posting it here.

(oh, and for the 3 people who actually read this damn thing: yes, he ran
the dipsea again ... but you may or may not ever get that report ... the
royal schedule is very busy ... send a letter to the castle ... now step
back behind the ropes please.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

he's not dead yet ... he only acts that way

so i went for "tea" with feddy a couple of days ago.  (yes, he's still snooty - "i don't want coffee.")  for someone who's rich and never actually goes to work he sure seems like he has a lot of angst built up ...

[now that i think about it, maybe that's the way of the rich, right?  i mean, poor people aren't ever the ones to commit suicide ... they do all they can to just try to stay in the game (although some of the poor people i've known try to do the absolute minimum to stay in the game).]

we sat not too far from the shadow of the merlion (after feddy insisted we sit outside and then decided it was "too bright" and sat in the only patch of shade within 500 yards -- leaving me, his albino pal, to scorch) talking about the meaning of life, and specifically, what it's like to have to do clean-up work behind space aliens (i swear to god i'm not making this part up ... and he brought up the topic).

it's always nice to see feddy -- even if he is a helpless prima donna with both a little too much money and a little too much smarts.

and the big take-away for me was that feddy's life isn't all bad news ... it seems to me that the queen doesn't necessarily want his head on a spike this week ... which means that not only does he get to live awhile longer, but the odds of having to give away half the kingdom to a sudden legal action are fairly low.

(in other news, i've created a new travel 'blog and have made some all-you-can-jet t-shirts ... i mention it here only to up my search rankings.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dipsea Summary

It went okay.

The Good:
I ran a bit faster than last year and moved up 20 spots (low 80s last year, low 60s this year). The Prince ran a lot faster than last year and moved up 200+ spots, from the high 300s last year to just inside the top 150 this year. (~1500 total runners)

[What were/are our goals? First off, to finish in the top 450 to retain our guaranteed entry into the invitational section next year. Check. Next, to finish in the top 100 to get our finishing place as our bib number. Check for me, the Prince missed by 90 seconds or so. Finish in the top 35 to win a coveted black shirt. No luck there - I need to move up 30 or so places, run about 3 minutes (5%) faster. Win the family trophy - add the finishing places of two family members, lowest score wins. I think we were fourth - getting closer.]

The Bad:
Neither of us ran up to our potential. We both went out too slow, in fact I ran the first 2/3 of the course slower than the other 2 times I’ve run the race. I wanted to break 40 minutes to the top of Cardiac (which I’ve done a number of times while training - see the map in a prior post below), but I was over 41. Race day was hot, and I was spooked a bit about blowing up (because I did last year), so I went out a bit conservative. Mistake. The Prince probably followed my bad advice as well, though he said the excessive dust this year made it tough for him to breathe in sections. I also wanted to have an actual running time of under an hour, but because of my too slow start, didn’t manage that either (and ran 61 something). The Prince thought he might be able to crack an hour for his clock time (actual time minus head start), but missed by 2 minutes. He did have a great run from the top of Cardiac to the finish (something he’s been terrible at in the past - so that was really good for him and a good sign for the future).

So I guess we both should be happy that we improved, but we were hoping for a bit more. We will be better prepared for next year. It was a mistake not to practice on the course this year - I wasn’t able to accurately judge my pace.

The Poison Oak:
I am pretty sensitive to poison oak, and have gotten it many times (I suspect more than 100). The Dipsea has a few sections where there are two options for the course - a sane, nice, but slower/longer way, and the insane, stupider but faster/shorter way which is usually straight down the side of a mountain through the bushes. Think overgrown bunny or deer trail. I always take the fast way and always know there is a good chance that my legs are being brushed or scraped by poison oak leaves. When I get to the finish at Stinson Beach (after training or racing), I head straight to the showers and wash my legs with Zanfel (for me it works better than anything else). If I follow this routine, I rarely get poison oak, or if I do, it is only a small spot or two on my legs which I ignore for a few days and then it is gone.

Race day it was the same thing - straight to the beach showers, wash thoroughly with Zanfel, done. The one thing I forgot was that on one of the short cuts, I was stuck behind a guy who was slower than me, but not by much. So it was tough for me to get by him. I would wait for the tiny path through the bushes to widen, then I’d try and zip by, but there was never enough room or time to make the pass. As the seconds ticked on and on and I couldn’t get past, I finally just plowed my way around him, scraping my left arm on who knows what. I rarely if ever get poison oak on my arms, only my legs, so it isn’t in my routine to wash anything above my thighs. As it turned out, I must have scraped my arm on poison oak, because Monday I could feel it coming, and by Wednesday my left arm had inflated from my biceps down to my hand and was oozing all sorts of nastiness (think arm of a 400 pound man on one who weighs 150). I wrapped my arm with gauze and proceeded with life. It was annoying, mostly because it was disgusting (it didn’t exactly itch, it was more like it buzzed - sort of like a low grade electrical current). A few times a day I’d go wash my arm with this black poison oak soap and re-wrap it up with new gauze. The black soap is good once I have poison oak at keeping the outbreak calm, making it go away sooner, and making the buzzing stop.

Wednesday night my wife saw my arm and ordered me to the doctor (she’s an exec at a hospital and a professor and knows most things medical). I was super busy on Thursday and didn’t call the doctor. Friday, my wife was still annoyed by my arm and once again suggested I got to the doctor. I told her if she called and could actually get me an appointment, I’d go. Turns out by 4pm on Friday my doctor is already gone for the weekend, but they said I should go to an urgent care clinic. I looked up where it was on google maps, realized it was next door to a Peets (I should disclose I’m a shareholder), and happily headed out. By then my arm had pretty much stopped oozing, so it wasn’t even really bugging me all that much, but it sure was bugging my wife. Got my coffee and went into the clinic. After lots of paperwork and what seemed like a lot of waiting (I was the only one in the waiting room), I was called in where a nurse asked me some questions that I’d already answered at least twice on the paperwork I’d just filled out. She went away, a minute or two later, the doctor came in. She asked why I was there and I told her my arm was making my wife cranky. The doctor looked at my arm and said - oooh, that is bad. Do I need to show you what poison oak looks like? I rolled my eyes and said no. “I was in the Dipsea race - when you’re running full speed down the side of mountain through the bushes, you don’t have time to look for it.” She told me she could give me some pills for it, but that it would take a couple days for them to take care of the arm which would mean my wife would still be cranky. So for her she’d give me a shot of steroids.

Doctor leaves, another nurse comes in. Says she’ll need my xxxxxxx (word I didn’t understand). I asked her, you need my what? “Your butt. This is too much to shoot in your arm, we need to shoot it into your butt. Just pull your pants down a little, I’ll lock the door.” I told her I wasn’t worried about a crowd of people trying to bust down the door to sneak a peek at my butt. I hate shots, but luckily for me this nurse was a pro and I barely felt a thing.

My arm deflated a couple days later and now looks 90+% normal.

Moral of the story - wash every bit of bare skin at the Stinson Beach showers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

HC Dumpling, Cupertino

- or -

The Funky Pimp vs. The 'Roid Ranger

Little Child Runnin' Wild

Today's lunch would be different than usual. Joining us, by his own request would be The Instigator.

To better describe The Instigator I have to take about half a step back and better describe what it's like to work in the heart of the Silicon Valley. The Valley is a place where, at the lower levels, exactly one thing counts: computing. The ruling class in this rung are the programmers. The marketeers think they call the shots, but really it all rides on the shoulders of the programmers, and everyone knows that.

(Once you hit it big, or move up a tier by starting your own company, then the rules change. Essentially then you see how much bigger you can get. It's all about ego and name. Some of the very top programmers -- like the King -- dabble in this world, but most aren't even interested in this end of things.)

Programmers have several traits in common that tend to run on a rough spectrum from pathetic to irritating. If you ever thought that positive reinforcement of children was a good idea, you should spend, say, 30 minutes in a conference room with a programmer to see what the end result of too many "Gifted and Talented" classes is like. On the whole, they have no broad concept of the world around them and a surprising number are remarkably under-educated.

Of course, this doesn't keep them from using the term "Engineer" to describe themselves. In fact, I would guess that well over half of the people out here that are programmers use that word to describe themselves on business cards. What these people don't realize, though, is using that term, in writing, in the state of California, to describe yourself is a crime. In CA, if you haven't passed the Professional Engineer exam (like the World's Best Mechanical Engineer has), technically you're not allowed to describe yourself in such a way. The vast majority of people wouldn't have a ghost of a chance. Physics and thermo just to be able to use a name? No way.

These programmers hold several traits in common, the relevant one for this story is the vast majority would much rather hear themselves talk than listen to someone else. Again, a side-effect of a little too much patting on the back as children (while be summarily laughed at on the playground) I'm sure.

It's good and easy for me because all I really have to do is sit back, ask a few probing questions, and then listen as the programmer in question drones on and on. To a person, programmers are smart, so if you sluice your way through all the crap they spew ad naseum, you can get the few nuggets that make the conversation all worthwhile -- either in the form of stories, ideas or stock tips. It's also the easiest and best way to stay right on top of what's happening in technology -- which moves very very fast.

No Thing on Me

The Instigator, however, is a rare exception. Of all the people I know in the industry out here (and I know a ton), there are only a couple who know more about me than I know about them ... and as you've already guess, The Instigator is one of them. I've sat through dozens of meals with him where's he's said nothing, or the closest thing to that, just taking it all in.

Aside from the projects he's worked on, how he met his wife, the movies and television shows he watches, I can tell you remarkably little about him. Around the time I rode my bicycle across the United States, he set out to ride his bike across Iowa (compared to the entire country, think "short, hot and flat" and you're on the right page) and hung it up due to something like a hang nail or a bad haircut. I don't remember now what his lame reason was, but he forever lost half-a-star in my mental gradebook for that stunt.

The Instigator is also a catalyst for human fury. He's got a fairly good memory (although he tends to forget exact details) and is remarkably adept at throwing in the sideways comment in a conversation that will get two people to go at each other like junkyard dogs. Put Fat Paulie, Cap'n Happy and The Instigator together in a room for 15 minutes and you damn well better have a CSI clean-up kit when you open the door again (and don't expect The Instigator to help you clean it up).

For years I held The Instigator at an arm's length. I simply didn't trust him and felt he was dangerous. In order for me to win any battle, I have to be on a higher ground -- and if The Instigator knows more about me, than I know about him, and he's got a sadistic streak? Well, that sounds like a bad combination to me.

(Oh, and he's a math sped. It's nearly impossible for him to do something like figure out how much tip you should put on a bill and then divide it by 7 in your head.)

Give Me Your Love

But something happened awhile back (for the life of me, I can't remember what it is now, which is strange) where I flipped over on him. I've had some surprisingly dark times in my life and it was at one of those that The Instigator stepped in and gave me the tiniest amount of love; the smallest piece of support. Like I said, it's something I can't remember -- he bought me dinner or something.

And this is a super-rarity.

Programmers are remarkably poor at personal contact and communication. There's no sense of empathy, or even an idea that that might be necessary.

When The Instigator came to my aid, I white-columned him, and I'm sure he'll stay there for the rest of my life.

Don't get me wrong, I still (completely justifyably) treat him like a piranha in a fish tank. But I keep the tank clean, change the water, and throw in an extra shrimp now and then.

Freddie's Dead

For only the second time since we started writing this damn thing, I wheel by in the continual car and pick up the King for lunch. As the King steps in, I notch up the Superfly Sountrack. Today, more than usual, the King needs soothing -- Curtis Mayfield has to be the right answer. Apple's put a bullet through his boss, for unknown reasons; but far worse, the King got a bad case of poison oak while running the Dipsea.

We don't say much as we swing over to get The Instigator. I don't think the average person would describe him this way, but deep inside Feddy's always wound a little tight -- today he seems a tad worse, although I can't tell why.

As The Instigator gets in, he makes a positive comment on the car color as he does the jungle gym gymnastics to get in the back seat. I've seen this kind of behavior from him before -- it may well be a target softening comment for later so I mostly ignore it.

Feddy doesn't remember, but last month we'd talked about going to a "dumpling" place over in China-land so that's where we're headed.

It's a short hop to the restaurant. Lots of talk of the Dipsea -- something The Instigator hasn't heard yet.

We get to the dumpling place and there's a wait (a good sign). They write our queue number on a Post-it and hand it to us. A quick glance around and I can see we're the only white guys (another good sign).

"Your arm's looking better, Feddy."

"It does now! You should have seen it before! It was like a fuckin' pig leg! But I went to the doctor and they shot me fuckin' full of steroids!"

Okay, that explains it. He's on a 'roid rage. Thank God we're out of the car.

I can't let this lie, "You know, Feddy, we talked about the word 'fuck' awhile back. And you said you don't use it, and I say you do. And you just used it twice in two sentences." I must be getting contact high from The Instigator.

His eyes widen. "It's you! You bring this out of me!" To be very clear, I've spoken to him exactly twice in the last 15 minutes.

Feddy's wife is a nurse and he launches on the trials and tribulations of getting the shots for arm, and in the way that only the King can tell, it's a hilarious tale.

After about 20 minutes, we're given a seat way-back in the restaurant, by the bathrooms. I've been trying to figure out what the name of this place is ever since we saw it after "I Restaurant." On the outside what you can clearly make out is "Dumpling" but if you look closer it says "HC Dumpling."

But the menu says "Hu-Chiang Dumpling House." Okay, now I get it. It's one of these crazy Chinese things. (As if the "Jade Galore Jewelry Company" next door wasn't clue enough.)

The menu is big and mildly insane. You can get such delecacies as "bitter melon & pork intestine" and "colorful peppers beef." The way it works is you pick one of four lunch flights, with a main dish of your choice, and it comes with a "cold appetizer" that you don't choose and rice.

The Instigator orders a beef dish, Feddy goes for a pork equivalent, to round out the set I order my old stand-by, deep fried tofu.

Feddy's also fuming that they don't have any vegetable dumplings. They're out. "I already hate this fuckin' place. No vegetable dumplings. I'm so sure."

I'm channeling for The Instigator, "You're just mad because they seated you facing the wall."

He looks at the grey paint in front of his face. "It's not helpin'."


While we're waiting for our meal I pull out the treat of the day, SuperFly Energy Pills. They advertise as being something like "6 energy drinks in 6 tablets" (presenting a math problem that'd probably push The Instigator to the very edge).

"Who wants some?"

Feddy, in his always oh-so-clean speech says, "I'm not drinkin' those fuckin' things," and The Instigator demures as well.

I fire up a glassful. It has a cheery red color and tastes something like a watered down version of anti-freeze. I'm not sure it has any effect, but I slam it down and mentally pretend as though it does.

At least the King and I are on the same footing now (excepting the fact that I don't have a fuckin' pig arm).


The cold appetizer is carrots and bean sprouts in very light oil and vinegar with a fair amount of salt and pepper. It's served along with an egg-drop corn chowder and rice. The starter and soup are both really good. The rice is a little stickier than I like, but it's consistent with Chinese cooking (Japanese rice is usually a bit fluffier and what I prefer).

The best thing here is we're actually getting some food now so Feddy can focus on something besides my head to chew on.

The main courses come along with dumplings on the side and they're sort-of almost-y dim sum. In the dumpling world, the Instigator and I both have ordered crab, the King has pork.

The Instigator asks Feddy if he's sharing his food "family style" or eating by himself. He's famous for ordering Chinese dishes and then getting pissed when someone eats out of his. But Feddy's fine with it.

The crab dumplings are interesting. It takes them quite awhile to cool to edible and once they do, they're a little disappointing. They seem to have lost a lot of their flavor. A nice, rich, crab flavor hits as soon as you bite in, but almost immediately that goes away and the taste is just kind of pasty.

Feddy's pork ones are a bit better. The pork in them is ground, which gives a nice consistency. Except he's still full of 'roids and says, "Go ahead! Help yourself!"

"Hey man, you just said you were sharing. Push another needle in your arm or something."

Of the main dishes, the tofu is a little dry and the oil is just starting to go bad (I'm really sensitive to that taste for some reason), so they could be better. The garlic sauce served with them is superb. Just a hint of sweetness with a very mild garlic overtone.

The beef is mildly spicy-hot, but a little too grisly for my liking.

The pork has a mildly spiced gravy that's not quite as glutenous as the beef. Of all the main course things on the table, I think this is my favorite ... Although for the meal as a whole, I think the sprouts-and-carrots starter was the best.

It's a lot of food for ten bucks apiece and a really good deal. I'd definitely eat here again.

Junkie Chase

After the meal's over we wind around through conversations and through a series of convolutions I make the statement that I think there's a 98% chance that I would never have a kid.

Feddy says, "Why? Old guys can have kids anytime. I see it in Ross all the time." He pauses and adds, "And all I can think is, 'Oh man. Am I glad that I never have to change a diaper again.'"

The Instigator asks, "How do you come to that number?"


"Well, you know, you have to consider my age, and my relationships in general and the fact that that's not really what I'm looking for. So you say,'is it less than 50%?' Certainly. '1-in-10?' Less than that. '1-in-20?' That's starting to sound right, but probably not low enough. So 97.5% is probably about right. But if you have things to the half-percent it sounds like you have more accuracy than you really do. So do you round up or down? 3-in-100 or 1-in-50? 1-in-50's probably right."

He looks knowingly, but says nothing. At our Monday night dinners he can get away with this kind of stuff because everyone else is more interested in what they have to say than what he thinks. But the rules are different here right now.

"So what do you think, Instigator? I see you sitting there, thinking. I always see you sitting there, thinking. Gathering data. But what do you think?"

"About what?"

Eddie You Should Know Better

About what do you think, you bonehead. I'm about ready to force-feed him the remaining five Superfly fizzies. "About my theory layout just then. You know, anyone sounds insane if you have them describe the way they think life works."

He starts by saying that his wife often comments and accuses him of making something equivalent of sneering value judgements. Not that I could ever see why someone would think that and then goes on to essentially say that the kinds of things I'm trying to draw numbers on are unknowable.

I guess in this world you can't cast a probability of terrorists flyhing planes into buildings but on 9/11/01 the odds become 100% right about the time the nose of an aircraft hits the coffee cup on a secretary's desk.

It's an underlying concept I fully disagree with, but then again, I don't need a calculator when I'm figuring out what the tip on our bill is.

We're some of the last people to leave the restaurant. I drop The Instigator and he says, "thanks for letting me tag along."

"Don't thank me yet, pal. You haven't read what I'm going to write."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

note to king feddy

your Highness,

you have to tell the rubber-necking gallery how you did on the dipsea ... i'm getting a lot of questions about it.

i'll drop this once you've told the results.

your servant,

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cook's Seafood, Menlo Park

- or -

"Exploding Fish Meets the Thousandaires"

King Feddy stiffed me for lunch today, deciding it was more important to "know what my company is working on" and go to Apple's World Wide Developer Conference. An interesting choice considering, say, that he quit and then rejoined said company in a mere matter of days this year. (Not to mention his inherent prima donna disdain of management -- odd how he never works for anyone or anything that he truly likes and yet hits it big. Maybe that's my problem -- I've never become rich because I've always kind of liked my jobs? And more strangely, the ones I was least enamored with were the ones that paid off the most ... Hmm ...)

With the King out of the picture, I get the chance to eat my favorite food, namely fish; but I need to round-up a colleague. With the exception of breakfast, I consider eating to be a communal event -- you always should eat with someone, and it's pretty "wrong" if you don't.

I've been trying to get hold of Zz for a couple of weeks now and was both pleased and surprised to get him on the phone at 11:00. The good news is he can eat; the bad is I'll have to wait 'til 14:00.

No problem, I talk to various pals and drop back into a heavy stupor -- easy since I haven't yet left my bed for the day. My alarm waking me up to make the date.

When I pick up Z, he asks if Bo3b can come along. "Of course." I rarely consider Bo3b to be a possibility for lunch. Unless the event-of-the-moment is something he's already planned for personal reasons, it's always been difficult to get him to go beyond his normal stomping grounds -- and, as with nearly everything in everyone's life, as he gets older this trait is getting more pronounced.

The good thing about this lunch threesome is we've all known each other for more than 20 years. We think and act more like brothers than we do as friends, which means the conversation could run any gamut from the hilarious, to gut-wrenching insulting, to the dreadfully insightful.

The boys enter the continual car and we tussle possibilities. No one really has a preference, but Z suggests our old stand-by, the Fish Market. I'm fine with that, but would rather go to Cook's Seafood since Menlo Park is typically a bit of a haul for me, but within reasonable shot from the parking space here at Danger.

Cook's can be pressingly busy on the lunch hour, but by 14:00, the business pace is a saunter. Bo3b gets obsessed with the closed-dwon Arby's next door ("Why does it say 'Cook's' in front of it?" "I don't know." "Look! It says 'Cook's!'" "I know. Jesus." [Hint: It's being turned into, that's right, another Cook's restaurant.]), we shake him loose from the concept and go in.

I order local halibut and chips. Z and 3 both get cod and chips.

The conversation turns and wheels quickly, as it always does between us, but the vast majority of what we're talking about is money. Money in the form of rising gas prices, money in the form of Apple announcing a new iPhone, money in the form of Microsoft buying Danger.

What Bo3b is to the physical world, Z is to the intellect. It's extremely tough, if not impossible, to get him to converse over-and-above anything he hasn't been thinking about recently or has a true interest in ... what with Microsoft's buy-out (including the lucrative knock-on offers) and the Apple announcements, the agenda for lunch discussion is all but pre-set.

There are momentary meanderings. My favorite of the day was a person (I won't say whom) claiming the primary value of women was a form of entertainment. This is a chumming statement at a table filled not only with middle-aged bachelors, but a collective group of people who all have some particular misgivings with the opposite sex. (That's not to say we haven't been swine ourselves -- we have -- but that's not the point of the conversation right this second, is it?) We all agreed with the statement with gusto, then moved along to other topics of pressing importance -- movies or something.

On the way back from the restaurant, Z says (as he does nearly every fricken time we talk) that he and I should get together sometime.

But here's the problem. I call him, he doesn't answer. I suggest things, he doesn't respond. If you're not well within his sphere of influence (and as near as I can tell, that sphere is about arm's length) you're out. I've called him on it before, several times, in fact, and he always looks at me with a bland form of incredulity -- like I've just listened to some Yes song that he's never heard. It's not that I'm mad or bitter about it, because I'm not. I'm just not a fan of acting like things are diamonds when they're spades.

Oh, yeah, and the meal ...

The fish was flaky and tasty. Just the mildest amount of saltiness. Nice thick portions.

The chips here can be highly variable (usually erring in the form of being over-cooked), but this time they're really (to use a British expression) "nice." A good, soft, tooth without being mushy. Dully illuminating on the pallet. Yum.

Zz bit into a piece of his and it shot boiling liquid of some type (I think it was water, but I prefer to use the term "fish juice") side-to-side and up his nose. That, right there, is worth my US$11 admission. But hey, with good food and good company, how can anything be wrong?

(Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a picture when the food first came out -- this is from about three quarters of the way through ... and much to Bo3b's dismay I'm sure, shot way too close.)

Friday, June 6, 2008


The Prince and I are running in the Dipsea for the 3rd time on Sunday. The course is difficult.

Really difficult.

We are mentally psyched and (we think) physically ready.

Send all spare mental and physical strength to the Prince and I, Sunday June 8th starting at about 8:45am (and continue sending for the next hour or so....)

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rosemary's Restaurant; Las Vegas, NV

- or -

"No Mr. Bear, I Expect You to Fry."

I had a brief conversation with King Feddy from my ultra huge (and free) suite at Bally's in Vegas and asked him to pick from three choices for lunch:

* Rosemary's Restaurant
A place that I consider to be the best food in Vegas (which says a lot, since it may well be the second best food city in America, next to New Orleans).

* M & M Soul Food Cafe
A place I've never tried, but how can it be bad?

= or =

* Piero's
Truly old skool Vegas Italian. Complete with mobsters, paintings of unclear origin and meaning. And seating staff that would be equally as equally adept at suggesting a bottle of wine as they would planting you in the desert.

For reasons I can't remember, Feddy chose Rosemary's.

My dining pal would be Karpov. Long time college associate with a great palette and ultra-kind demeanor. Unfortunately, he also has a penchant for dry and stupid humor. Think of a shaved Fozzie Bear, both from a sound and personality point of view, and you're definitely in the right camp.

Rosemary's is expensive. You can run a US$75 lunch bill, no problem. But they often have a coupon online (which they had this time), so we were good at $23 apiece for three courses.

Tucked away in a godforsaken strip mall and situated in a part of Vegas that's definitely "not sexy," it's easy to think you're making a mistake. But you're wrong.

The off-strip location keeps the prices down, their profits up, but most important of all, it acts as repellent for those goddamn super-snobs that expect everything comped just because they spill a few thousand on a craps table.

The decor inside is warming and nice without being typically-Vegas glitzy. The vibe's good enough to drive off any mental echo from the dollar stores that lie just outside.

We had a young, blonde, white and bespectacled waitress. Sharp and on-the-mark. Attentive without being snooty. Our busser was a Hispanic, good-humored gentleman but definitely not a guy you'd want to meet on the wrong side of town at exactly the right time.

Attention to detail is everything here. My white napkin is removed from the table and replaced by a black one to match my pants. As every course is served to the table, they are served simultaneously to both Karpov and myself. If it's the little things that make a place great, then this place is great by default.

In order to maximize flavor and variety, I'm not going to overlap any of my food with Karpov. He goes for the carpaccio (one point for daring -- it's a dish he's never had), so that let's me walk into my favorite Rosemary's starter, barbecued shrimp.

As is always the case when I have these, the barbecue flavor is subtle and smokey. It's a taste that hits you midway and lingers like a long goodbye from an old friend. My only complaint about this dish is every time I've had it the shrimp seem a bit dry -- I'm not sure if this is from them being a tad old, or if they spend a touch too much time on the grill.

The next course are beef kabobs. Very well marinated and cooked to absolute perfect "medium" (for some reason, chefs almost never can make "medium" on their meat prep -- I have no idea why this is). This is a dish I've never had before, and these without question, are the best kabobs I've ever had. Moist with just a hint of sourness and charcoal.

I have my eyes on two different possible desserts: an all-chocolate cake and a lemon cake/cream combo, but detour when I hear their (homemade) ice cream flavors. I opt for almond ice cream, a white peach sorbet and a boysenberry sorbet. The white peach is a disappointment -- it tastes too much like apricot to me (which they also had on the menu -- did I get served the wrong thing?). The boysenberry is nice and strong. But the winner, easily, is the almond ice cream. So much on the mark that you can practically taste those little flecks of paper that surround the meat of the nut between bites.

A spectacular meal. Rosemary's has never disappointed and this was no exception. With tip and drinks we plunk down US$65 (and worth it).

Unfortunately the vast majority of the conversation over the meal includes phrases like "they cut a flap in your eye and bend it over." Karpov is instructing the people at the table next to us what it's like to experience Lasik eye surgery (a routine the woman at the table next to us is getting ready to experience).

In typical Karpovian fashion, he begins the conversation with, "This probably isn't the kind of thing you talk about in a restaurant ..." and then continues to give long, excruciating details in that Muppet voice of his. Bad enough in and of itself? Not quite. Remember this is Karpov telling the story, which also means that:

* it's impossible for him to tell his tales anything close to "succinctly"

= &, if that weren't bad enough =

* he leaves out major pieces of information (such as "would you ever do this again?")

Which is to say that even though we had a discount at Rosemary's, it was hardly what you'd call "psychologically cheap."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Armadillo Willy's, Santa Clara

- or -

"There Are Times When You Need to Type AND Eat Barbecue"

The word of the day is to get caught up here. So I head over to Willy's, with their free Wi-fi connection, to get some barbecue and some signal. (The closest one to my place is Homestead and Kiely). They're running a 25th anniversary promotion right now, which means that I'll get a free drink when I get there. (And yeah, yeah, this one doesn't have Dew, they have Pepsi, I know. I just don't feel like driving to hell and back.)

I order a smoked brisket plate (I don't feel like eating a sandwich and it's easier to type and eat with a fork) with two corn muffins and a piece of Texas toast. US$12.

It's exactly what you'd expect. The meat is flavorful, smooth and smokey. The muffins have just the smallest hint of grit. Oh yeah, and the Pepsi's unlimited.

I spend a few hours straightening things up here as the PA plays 80's music (right this second it's Frida's "I know there's something going on," and now Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives." Dig that two times, Feddy).

Which means I'm all caught up. And full.

But the culinary wonderment of today isn't finished ...

This evening Cap'n Happy is serving:
* Barcelona bread
* Ferran inspired scallops
* Pasta with veggies
* Chicken Parmesan

With an extra-large serving of how hard he's looking for girlfriends, but failing, I'm sure.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

3 solo and other ramblings

Hello sir,

I’ve been lax in writing, partly because we haven’t had lunch together in 3 weeks, and also because I’ve been busy with track (practices and meets - now over), and French (final exam a couple nights ago).

On my last three trips to Cupertino, I’ve had lunch solo. The first two I opted for quick and picked up a tuna salad bagel sandwich from Noah’s which I took to my office. I’ve had plenty over the years, always on a sesame bagel, toasted with everything. They’re pretty good - tasty. The first week, I was down there on a Wednesday (which is why we didn’t hook up that week). The sesame bagels didn’t look great (minimal sesame seeds), so I went for a whole wheat sesame bagel (which also has sunflower seeds on it). When I got back to my office and took a bite, it was not good. It wasn’t bad, but it was far from what I was used to. I believe the problem was that the bagel wasn’t toasted, which is key to it being good. [There is also the possibility that the bagel had been toasted, but I ended up standing around the parking lot talking to Alex for too long (who I ran into sitting outside Pizza my heart next door), and the bagel got soggy. I don’t think this is the case however, as I’ll explain shortly. The other possibility is that whole wheat sesame rather than sesame changed the dynamic, but I don’t think so.]

The next Monday I stopped in for the same thing again (but went for a regular sesame bagel). Made sure I said “toasted, with everything”. Despite saying “with everything”, they always ask you item by item, whether you really want everything or not. Noah’s employees must be trained to do this because I’ve said “toasted with everything” at every Noah’s I’ve ever been to, and always get the “lettuce?, tomatoes? onions? ....” routine. This time the sandwich/bagel was as expected (tasty), and also came wrapped in a little sort of foil wrapper. [The one the previous week didn’t come wrapped in foil which is why I’m more convinced they didn’t toast it - though I don’t remember ever getting one wrapped in foil, but that may be because I don’t usually get them to go - they are better more freshly toasted.]

Finally, the most recent Monday, as I pulled into Cupertino I felt like eating a burrito and had this vague memory of a chain burrito place near Hobees. Chain burrito places are usually disappointing, but I had no idea where else to go and was once again in a hurry. Sure enough there is an Una Mas there. Like most chain burrito places, they had stupid names for each and every burrito, so you have to read them all to find what you want. I prefer authentic taquerias that have straight forward menus. You start with a rice and bean burrito, perhaps cheese comes on the base model. If you want guacamole or sour cream pay extra. Pick the kind of meat you want on it, done. It took me awhile, but eventually I found the rice and bean model. It took longer because it wasn’t listed first or last (like at most chain places), but about 3/4 of the way down the nonsense burrito list. I think it was called the fresca (why call it the “fresh” burrito? are the others not fresh? the whole cutesy name thing for burritos is dumb.) I asked them to put cheese and guacamole on it too. My competent server asked if I wanted sour cream - no thanks. Turns out this mean “the works” which is listed on the menu, but with no explanation of what it is - dumb. The burrito was okay. Not bad, not that good either. They have a salsa bar there which is a great idea because I like lots of salsa, and can get it myself, I don’t have to keep going back up to the counter to beg for more. Unfortunately the salsa wasn’t all that great either. I tried two, the spicy red and the (un-labeled) tomatillo? The red was the better of the two, but a little bit odd, I’m not sure how to describe it. The tomatillo had way too much garlic in it (at least I think that was the problem). I love garlic, but this just wasn’t good. All in all, every thing was okay - it was the burrito equivalent of Starbucks (almost).

Other bits of random info. On the Wednesday I was in Cupertino, I stopped by and ate at Tommaso’s in SF on the way home. This was a treat - they’re not open on Monday, so I don’t get in there much. I didn’t have to wait long for a table, maybe 10 minutes. There were two guys standing behind me waiting for a table as well, I didn’t get a look at them on the way in but as they walked past me to be seated, my brain noted “hey, that’s John Waters”, and just to drive the point home, as he was standing right in front of me, a woman that was joining them for dinner arrived and he put his hand out to shake hers and said “Hi, I’m John Waters.” I had the special pizza of the month, corn, tomato, cilantro, (which I’ve had before and also make myself). It was good all around. It is a good combo, and the particular pizza I had was good by Tommaso’s standards, which means great compared to the rest of the world. The one thing I think I figured out is that they make the pizza slightly different than I do. I mix the corn, tomatoes and cilantro together and let it sit in a bowl. The flavors sort of mix together and I bake everything on the pie. I think Tommaso’s bakes the corn and tomato on the pie (but keep them separate before baking) and then add on the cilantro at the end. I like my way better.

I do from time to time listen to KFJC online. When I was in high school in the late 70s, I listened to the station a lot (they had a few punk/new wave shows), and then in the 80s, Alex was the art director for the station (and I had a pile of station t-shirts). I remember we were excited when one of the early Police? (someone else?) albums (singles?) came out and there was a KFJC button on the cover. I just googled it to see if I could find it, but no luck. Anyway, radiodavidbyrne is good this month. Usually he has a theme, but none listed this month. I think it is a random sampling of recent (diverse) pop hits. Most are really good, the only bad one is a BSpears number. I’m not picking on it because it is BSpears, it just happens to be really bad independent of who was responsible. The show is only ever two or three hours long, and he only changes them once a month, so I do have to move around to other stations (his recent Nino Rota show was great.) I often pick WNYU or WFMU because they’re right above his show in iTunes if you sort by bitrate. They’re typical college stations - a variety of shows, some good some bad. If the show is bad, I just click on another station. I also listen to piratecatradio, or KPOO if I can actually get them online (their biggest problem is that they broadcast via Windows Media Player which last time I checked was a POS on the Mac, and when I try via iTunes, it usually says the server cannot accept any more connections - stop the presses, they have a new live feed which works via a web site, not perfect - it drops out too often, even with buffering set to max. Way better than nothing though.) When I lived/worked in SF, KPOO was what I listened to most (via a real radio). It is a super station, and if you’re a Coltrane fan, they have a weekly 4 hour show which is in some way connected to his church. KPOO also has great blues, reggae, and soul shows. The Saturday Latin show is also great. I’ll say it again - KPOO is a SUPER station. Used to listen to wefunk a bunch when they let you download shows (very good - I’d listen to them riding). Two hour shows, live DJs (as in turntables). There are many good choices.

The Queen bought the new Gnarls Barkley CD a few weeks ago - I’ve taken it off her hands and it is excellent. I also popped Mingus Plays Piano in the other day and I think it may be my favorite album of all time. At least right now it is. Spectacular. I think I bought it for you a couple years ago. Pop it in and play it.

The Dipsea is less than 20 days away and it is on my mind way too much. My right achilles it not quite right which is less than ideal. I’ll ramble about that (the Dipsea) later. Enough for now....

Monday, May 19, 2008

Islet View Restaurant; Castle Bruce, Dominica

- or -

"There Are Lizards in Paradise's Restaurant"

The streets here are harrowingly steep and unnervingly narrow. Steep at a level that's hard to imagine. So steep that you can reach your hand out (and UP) the passenger window on the left (they drive British here) and touch the road surface you're switch-backing for.

My person-who-insists-he-she-it-should-never-be-mentioned-in-my-writing and I had just dropped off our hitchhiker and were trying to find the Islet View Restaurant. I'd made a mistake, and instead of following the main route, had ended up climbing a 25% grade road. But hey, in a $35/day direct-Japanese import Suzuki Escudo, set to 4-wheel high, there's no way we're backing down.

We reconnect with the main road and BANG there's the Islet View.

The semi-Carib manager is happy to see us (at 11:00, we're the first customers of the day) and we're invited to sit anywhere we like on the balcony picnic tables. Tarps hold back the rain supported by bamboo bigger 'round than your thigh. We take the prime spot and, as is the case almost everywhere here, the menu is read aloud to us:

"Chicken or fish?"

"We'll have one of each. Oh, and what's the fish?"


This place, in particular, is well known for insane rum punches but my associate has already nixed any alcohol. Instead I'll have to get drunk from the view.

And the view is, spectacular. Bananas are being grown below us, further down are those classic red and white houses that you tend to see in the Carribbean.

Lizards play on the balcony railing.

Nothing happens quickly in Dominica, and you definitely don't want it to. After the requisite amount of time, the food comes -- it is absolutely classic Dominican fare. And huge amounts of it.

I have buss that's been deep fried the same way you'd do a chicken. Fresh bananas, dasheen, rice, beans, cole slaw, tomatoes, thinly shredded papaya and raw bread fruit. Washing it all down with fresh lime juice.

After getting used to the breading, the fish is quite good. It's also a switch from the normal fare on the island. Mahi mahi what's typically served this time of year. (It is still called by its proper name here, dolphin fish, which thrills me because the politically correct, yet hermetically stupid, think they're eating a mammal.)

The bananas are fresh and smooth. Both the dasheen and bread fruit seem very thick and starchy -- I've never acquired a taste for either (and find it unbelievebaly difficult to believe that there'd be a mutiny over breadfruit). The rice and beans are good and solid.

I don't like tomatoes, so I just flat-out pass on those.

The star of the plate is the papaya. Very brightly flavored. A perfect cross of sweet and sour.

The winner at the table, though, is my associate's chicken. It's been mildly smoked and/or sauted. You can see the flesh darker toward the outside than it is toward the bone. It's moist and full of the most complete chicken flavor you can imagine. You know how canned tuna hints at what tuna sashimi tastes like? That's the way this chicken compares to all other chicken.

All the while crazy, and very old, American country music is blaring from the back. Think "Sons of the Pioneers" and you're on the right track.

Like every single glass of juice I've had in this country (and I've had about two dozen), my lime juice is great. My only complaint is it could stand to be just a hint more sour.

We didn't order dessert, but that doesn't stop them from bringing sliced pineapple and mangoes. They've also included a slice of spice bread with guava punch drizzled over the top.

The mango is slap-you-in-the-face fresh. The pineapple very well may be some of the best I've ever had: it has mild overtones of both cocoanut and cinnamon, with the very very very last taste (maybe 90 seconds later) being a hint of bitter.

The cake is sweet, the guava punch sweet-sour and interesting without being boozey.

And for the first time in dominica, we're actually brought a bill on a platter (in this case, a hollowed-out gourd).

The total for two? US$22.

You've just gotta love it. You gotta.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Original Pancake House; Boulder, CO

- or -

"Good Meets Evil Over Pancakes"

My last few times back in Colorado, I've sent out a notice to my immediate pals that breakfast at the Original Pancake House (OPH) in Boulder may happen the next day if i get a taker. The list of invitees is always the same: the Birdhead, Dr. Bob, the Beatle, Timmy, my other brother Joe and the Punkin.

The cast of characters usually gets something between 12 and 24 hours' notice, and the list being what it is, they understand that it's a take-it-or-leave-it-no-offense proposition. Everyone's fine and happy with it.

{Weirdly, I lost my friendship with the Troll over a similar thing. I'd give him a ring whenever I was in town and started getting this whole "Do you really expect me to say 'yes' on such short notice?" And it's not like he was Johnny Time Commitment. No kids. Something akin to a crappy USGS job. I mean, come on, it's not unusual for me to have no idea where I'll be the next week. I finally just quit calling because of his verbal abuse, and lo' and behold, we've fallen out of touch. And he's a Troll, for chrissakes.}

This breakfast was very tentative, because I'd only given about 12 hours notice with no immediate possibilities. The Birdhead was all over it, though, and sent a boomerang positive response the night before.

On my drive to Boulder I got an email from the Punkin. I'd always invited him, but never heard a response in the past ... for some reason this one caught his attention. A quick exchange and I knew he'd be in.

Now this is an interesting meeting. The Birdhead, a hardline, but not out-of-line Christian; and the Punkin, about as rough-and-tumble as you can get while still actually holding down a legitimate day job. I know the Dr. and the Beatle won't make it -- I'm guessing Timmy won't either. So it'll be a good three-some.

And it's all going down in one of my very favorite chains in America. OPH serves very high quality food, made to order, with the freshest of ingredients. And damn near everything is bigger than your head. Imagine Denny's if it had been reincarnated as a decent place and you're starting down the right path.

I get to the OPH early and the Birdhead's Toyota Tonka is already parked outside. I fetch him in from the World's Greatest Hardware Store (Bo3b was able to get a fuse for a Marantz amp here when he couldn't find it anywhere in the valley). We get a chirpy, mildly granola crunching, white waitress and order our food.

I go with that favorite fall back, a Dutch Baby and an ice tea.

The Birdhead and I exchange pleasantries. I explain how I have (yet again) left his Xmas present at home. Then I give the Birdhead a pre-introduction to the Punkin. Even though I haven't seen him since the kidney punch, I know what's up. "He'll be wearing wire frame glasses. His hair will be short, with a hat -- probably a beret. He'll have a new tattoo of some kind, maybe Britney Spears or something. Oh, and he'll be wearing a rock t-shirt. Maybe Debbie Gibson."

On cue, the Punkin steps through the door. He's wearing a low-slung cap, wire frame glasses and a black rock t-shirt {"What band is that?" "What? Oh. Some Internet band, I think."}. He truly hasn't changed since college and the Birdhead almost blows a biscuit when the Punkin says he's 50.

I encourage the Punkin to order a Dutch Baby and tell the waitress, "This here is the Punkin. He's a legend in Boulder. Make sure the cooks put extra love in his Dutch Baby." She understands immediately. I don't have to repeat it.

The food comes and our collective conversation wanders. The vast majority of it is me grilling the Punkin, which normally would be a social faux pas, but the Birdhead and I are in continual communication (much more than say, my brother and I are). The Punkin is impressed with the fact that I've taken the last 18 months off with my minor score.

"Well, what would you do if you hit it big Punkin? Say, if someone dropped a million dollars in your lap. I mean, you'd buy a house and a car. Then what?"

He responded in the way he responds to all conversation, which is to say he chuckles. "I'd get some more ink," and he pulls up his sleeve.

"And then what?"

"That's good enough, I guess."


My Dutch Baby was spectacular. The Punkin's had extra love. The Birdhead spent half the meal wishing he'd ordered a Dutch Baby instead -- but what's he going to do with extra love? He's already married to the Fairy Princess (who made a cameo appearance) and has an elfin child. He has enough love.

The high part of the conversation was seeing the Birdhead nearly hoark an ice cube when the Punkin said, "I've only done heroin three times in my life. And of those, only one had that big punch that you're looking for."


Sunday, May 11, 2008

note to king feddy

(who the hell knows how this is going to turn out. i’m typing this at DEN on my laptop, but have failed to connect to their free wireless here ... so this is a cut/paste job into blogger at some “later date” which almost certainly means i’ll pull up in the continual car in front of some god forsaken place early tomorrow to do the deed. all that and the format probably won’t be right. when it comes to technology, the future always isn’t as great as you’d hoped.)

your Highness,

in order to properly give you the restaurant review for today, i have to tell a back story.

now, i’m the first to admit that it’s only sort-of related, but my pal (and your acquaintance) CD, once said that he felt i should put together my ten best stories and sell them as a book.

my response was, “oh, that sounds great, except who’s going to read it?” (honestly, isn’t that always the rub?)

just for the record, you should title this: “the strangest day of my life.” now you know me well enough to know that’s pretty strong wording -- even from an extremist such as myself. but hopefully by the end you’ll admit it’s not that far removed from the truth.

of course, as you’ve probably already guessed, this story takes place in las vegas -- as all “strangest” stories always do.

it was three or four years ago during the memorial day weekend. i was in vegas for reasons i don’t remember (i never go there “just” to gamble -- it’s always traveling with someone else, or going for a specific event or some such) and i noticed that it was the perfect storm of 80’s super-stars over the weekend -- meaning both prince and madonna were appearing.

this was early-on in prince’s big comeback tour (the same one that you and i saw kick off at the filmore), and at $125 a ticket in the mandalay bay arena, the show was already solidly sold out.

madonna was a slightly different story. tickets were $65-$400 and still available in the super-cavernous MGM arena -- the same place i’d seen britney spears the year before. (and yes, she was awesome. don’t you ever bad mouth britney to me.)

{i’m having trouble writing here. there’s a great looking brunette standing nearby -- she reminds me very much of what your wife looked like before she started hating you. it’s throwing my writing mojo off a tad.}

to my mind, anything over $25 for a concert ticket is unreasonable. and over $50 is intolerable. i always compare the “concert experience” to how much physical music that same amount of hard currency would buy me. or in other words, $65 would get you madonna’s greatest hits and three of her dancey/trancey cd’s. (that’s if you’re paying face value new, of course, which i don’t). a concert that she’s capable of putting out won’t hit that level of compensation -- unless, of course, i was allowed to feel her flesh/torpedo bra. and we both know that’s not gonna happen.

of the two, i’d rather see prince, but those tickets are going to be harder to come by and will be expensive. true, he’s playing with maceo in tow, but the venue cancels out any inherent coolness he has in his band. i’m pretty sure i could go kutrate (buy tickets under face value from people who have extras -- typically scalpers who have tried to speculate and missed) madonna, so that seems reasonable. and at this very second is probably the best point of action.

but i might be able to sidestep everything. craigslist is often a solid standby for situations such as these. as we say in the KKK (kutrate koncert klub), i’m not looking for an arena full of tickets, just one (that, along with “never pay face value”). there might be an odd ticket waiting out there. in a place like vegas you’re just as likely to find an extra free ticket as you are something marked up 10x over face value.

as with everything in life, patience counts.

i poke around a bit and find the flakes, scammers, scalpers and drifters who are all trying to shake a few bucks out of the situation with tickets that they may or may not have. nothing’s too interesting until i come across an ad something akin to:

wanna go see madonna?
SWF 40, has an extra ticket. let me know.

this has been posted only a couple of hours earlier on that friday with the show the next day. so i fire off an email saying that i’m a solid madonna fan, but tack on that i mostly only know the hits and the pepsi commercials. i add that i’m not a maniac and will at least be funny and a good conversationalist. as a point of authenticity, i stick my phone number. (and to be very clear, i did not say i was hung like a hebrew national or anything like that.)

the poster calls almost immediately. we have a long conversation and she says, “well, i’ve already promised the ticket to someone else, but we could have coffee together tomorrow if you’d like.”

why not? if you think of life as being nothing more than a pinball machine, and the only way you accumulate points is by vibrating between the bumpers, you’ll never get high score by saying “no,” right?

she sent me a somewhat-hard-to-make-out photo and said she’d be at the roulette wheel at new york, new york (NYNY). we’d meet something close to noon.

the next day i put on, as johnny cash says, “my cleanest dirty shirt;” along with a pair clean underwear (as your mom says, “in case you get in an accident”) and headed to the strip from CD’s place in henderson.

little did i know then, i would not return for 42 hours.

i quickly found my craigslist poster at the NYNY roulette table, and as promised, we head to the casino’s coffee shop. the immediately striking thing about my new-found acquaintance is that every casino employee we come across knows her by name. not some of them. all of them.

she gets a coffee, i ask if i can go one better and order breakfast. no problem.

i get an egg white omelet with sourdough toast and after adjusting the tines on my fork (because they looked like they’d been modeled after british dental care) we have a long talk-see. she’s stretching my brain just a bit because she’s the curator at a southern CA art museum, and before that worked at the met in new york city. as you already know, i’m a big fan of modern art, but really i only know the top tier popular artists -- if you get a little below the surface, i’m not as strong.

somewhat sardonically, one of the pit bosses here at NYNY used to work with her there and is a good friend of hers. in fact, it’s the biggest reason she plays here.

we’re nearing the natural ending part of the conversation and when i go to pay the bill she shakes it off. “the casino’s picking it up.”


i’d watched her play for awhile earlier. she’s a medium roller and from everything i can tell, fairly regular here. that explains why everyone knows her. it also explains why the meal is complimentary (“comped” in gambling parlance).

“great. thanks.”

i say my goodbye and head to the valet for my car. as the car is being pulled up, my phone rings. it’s the curator.


“hi. my date for the evening just backed out. you still wanna see madonna?”

“of course.” we’ve blown enough time this afternoon that it’s now only a couple of hours before showtime. i get a nasty glare from the valet when i send him back from whence he came and make a 180 back into the casino.

the curator and i go up to her room. she changes while i take in the surroundings -- this being my first time in NYNY. it’s nice (enough) and quasi art deco. a little vegas flashy-trashy which is not only what you expect, it’s what you want.

after a short wait (including a long shoe selection process on her part) the curator’s ready and we go to her (comped) seats. they’re way in the back of the MGM, but dead center. not good for seeing the performer up-close, but really good for the spectacle as a whole. the sound is as good as you could hope for a giant concrete cave.

the show itself is everything you would hope from madonna. a little in your face. a little posture-y. tacky in more ways than one. lotsa costume changes. multi-media out the wazoo and a whole lot of groove.

i like it.

we walk out and the curator is unimpressed: one, the show lacks cohesion as an artistic piece; and two, in case i hadn’t noticed, madonna sucks.

i’m just getting ready to explain how much the curator needs to lighten up when she says, “hungry?”


we go to NYNY’s chop house. i order clam chowder and king crab. she has a filet.

the food’s good. the service is very attentive.

we talk about gambling (she’s interested in the fact i’m a card counter) and modern art (she’s impressed with my knowledge of it, but i suspect she’s just being kind for me even trying to engage the conversation at her level) and madonna (bad bad bad vs. pretty damn good) and britney spears. she noticeably flinches when i bring the latter name up, so i make sure to spend extra time talking about that.

and no, it’s not that i hate the curator. i like her, in fact. she’s smart, interesting, hyper-educated and a fisherman. it’s damn hard to find a woman with all four of those traits. but that’s not going to throw off my conversation, right? britney spears needs to be “understood,” and i have precisely the level of mind to bring that comprehension to the masses, so i do.

we finish the meal. the tab, without booze or desert, is $125. the casino picks it up.

now this is a life i can get used to.

she asks, “you wanna play?”

“no. i have this thing about losing. i don’t like it and it puts me in a bad mood.”

“oh ... you wanna watch me play?”

“sure.” my brother is a big martin-galer (someone who doubles their bet every time they lose) on ultra-low-limit roulette so i’ve watched a fair amount of the wheel in my life. i understand the gambling hook involved. but for me it’s just fun to watch, i have no interest in playing.

i watch the curator for a few hours. she’s up and down, but as you’d expect, slowly trending downward. on those spins that she does hit, she’s what’s known as a “george” -- a heavy tipper. over the long run that’s gonna make beating a game like this even more impossible, but it does go a long way to explaining why she’s so famous.

the crowd on a saturday night is interesting. NYNY isn’t drawing in the well-heeled glammerati like other strip joints do -- it’s more of the 20-something’s trying to look cool. but the house clearly making money hand-over-fist. the curator’s table is jovial and fun.

the table’s crowded enough that i’m forced to stand behind the players’ barstools to make sure all the bettors have room to act. unfortunately this also puts me right at the edge of the (heavy) pedestrian flow immediately behind my back.

i endure the occasional jostle, until unngha, it feels like i’ve just been punched in the kidney. not hard, but absolutely deliberate. i ignore it.

then unngha, i’m hit again.

i turn around to see some little gourd-headed filipino guy grinning at me. my adrenaline starts to fire up.

why you little bastard. i’ll mash you through the pad in this carpet ... but wait. his look isn’t one of aggression. it’s one of familiarity. i dial quickly through the zillions of people i’ve ever known who might blind sucker punch me in vegas. and then it’s my mind takes the blow ...

good god, this is my dear friend the punkin. the punkin dropped out of the hell hole of a university that i went to and essentially became a full-time record store clerk. his musical knowledge is top notch and i’ve spent countless hours talking to him in the record store with solid goldstein. we’ve played on trivia teams together -- always winning, always brutally vicious to the losers.

i could tell you a million things about the punkin, but three will suffice for now. one is, aside from my wife, he’s the only person to wear her wedding dress (he looked remarkably good in it too: white’s a good color for him; lace, a nice pattern); another is i gave him a ride back from a blasters show in fort collins one time, and upon finding out i didn’t have a car stereo he (along with solid goldstein) proceeded to sing acapella versions of ABBA songs all the way back; but the capper is this guy was my original source of that copy of prince’s black album i got for you (way back before it was “legal”). so seriously, what’s not to like about the man?

i ask the obvious, “what the hell are you doing here?” because the punkin essentially lives on a low form of high minimum wage, and has for decades. going to vegas from CO is not something you’ll just do on a whim; unless, of course, you wanna get real, real good with that hitchhiking thumb.

but wait.

of course i know what he’s doing here. he’s here right this second for the same reason i am. he’s here to see madonna.

“i’m here to see madonna,” adding the punkin essential, “she was awesome.” there are few people in the world that can tell you every debbie gibson album, in order, and follow that info with every b-side the sex pistols ever released. but the punkin is one of them.

it’s good to see him. we talk for a couple of hours as the curator plays at the table.

not long after the punkin has wandered off, two 20-something males step up to the roulette table. they’re goateed, mildly fashion conscious and overly cool. they don’t have that smell of the genuine “stud” article, certainly not in the way you do. they probably have a ’72 firebird with a primered fender sitting just outside.

one of the them puts a c-note on 1-red (i don’t remember now, but this may well have been the table limit for a single number), while the other stands stupidly slack-jawed (yet cooly slack-jawed).

i’ve never seen anyone bet that much on a single roulette number, so i watch this spin with a closer eye than most.

the ball drops out of orbit. click, click, clunk. 1-red.

ah. too bad. it would have been cool if he’d hit it, but he bet on ... wait a minute ...

i look back at his bet. sure enough, he’s hit it.

i won’t go into a lot of detail, here, but as an aside let’s just say i’m a casino hater. i hate them because they offer games that mathematically cannot be beaten and on the very few that can will treat you like a criminal if you do so. which is to say i love a winner.

i shout and shake my fist in the air. “all right! alllll riiiiight!”

and i am, quite literally, the only person at the table excited or shocked in any way. the dealer doesn’t flinch or care. no one else at the table has even seemed to notice. and the guy who has just won, who is having $3500 pushed toward him at this very moment, who has just hit the only mathematical possibility of winning (a 1-in-38 shot) at all, has no response. none. i mean it’s the same kind of expression you would have if you were driving past an automated car wash in heavy traffic. he acts like this happens to him every day.

and there’s simply no possible way that’s true.

he hands $400 to his slack-jawed pal and tells the dealer he wants to see a pit boss.

his pal bets $100 on black while he bets another $100 on 1-red and the dealer spins. the wheel hits black, the slack-jawed pal doubles his money. the original bettor looks just the tiniest bit surprised, as though he can’t believe he hadn’t hit back-to-back numbers.

a pit boss wanders over and the kid says, “i just won $3500, i want a suite. not a free room, a suite.” this on the “sold-out” memorial day weekend.

in the meantime the slack-jaw has let the $200 ride on black and has hit twice. meaning he now has $800. he moves the $800 stack from black to red and hits, advancing to $1600. he hands $400 back to his cool pal at the same time the pit boss hands him a room key.

slack-jaw puts $200 on red, misses, and cashes out his $1000 in chips as his pal says to the pit boss, “make sure to throw in a bottle of your best champagne.”

before i can take in everything that’s just happened, the curator’s old friend from the met steps up. it’s 04:00 now, he’s just gotten off his shift, so we head back over to the coffee shop giving the curator and the pit boss can catch up.

he eyes me with suspicion, as well he should, but we get along good enough. he’s pleasant and well-spoken, which by default puts him in the top 2% of pit bosses without him having to actually do anything else.

after four hours of conversation, the sun is well up and we’ve run out of things to talk about. the boss excuses himself. the casino picks up the tab for the drinks. as i’m getting ready to leave, i make an off-handed comment to the curator about prince being in town and how it’d be nice to see him.

she lights up. “i’ll buy us tickets.”

i fire back, “no you won’t.”

“why not?”

“because, one, tickets are expensive. NYNY isn’t part of the mandalay bay chain {b1: they weren’t then, they are now} which means that your casino won’t comp them since they’d have to pull real money out of their pocket to buy them.

“and two, you don’t know me. we’ve met. we’ve seen madonna. but you know nothing about me, really. i won’t accept a gift of that size from you, when we really don’t know each other at all.”

she’s puzzled but accepting of my strange explanations. there’s an awkward pause, but really it’s only awkward for her. i’m dazed from being up 24 hours, having seen madonna’s pointy bust, being punched in the kidney by the punkin and seeing tiny nimrods win fairly big money.

“well,” she says, “you’re a card counter, right? you could just win the money for tickets.”

now this is an angle i hadn’t considered. i roll it around in my head a bit and then start up. “well, it’s a possibility, i guess. the important thing for you to understand is card counting isn’t like it is in the movies. the edge you have is incredibly thin. you can win, in fact you are a favorite to do so, but there’s a big chance you’ll bust.”

i roll it a bit more. “ideally we’d play for something big, like black {$100 chips}, but the risk of losing the bankroll is too large. we’d have to play for something less ... say, green {$25 chips}, and hope we just have a good quick lesson in expectation ... we win the money we need, maybe get lucky and win a bit more quickly than we should ...

“... but we have to start out with a pretty good size stake. say, $200 apiece, and agree that if we lose it, we lose it; but if we double it, we have enough to buy tickets.”

the curator quickly agrees but shows some puzzlement. “well, if we’re putting in $200 each, why not just buy the tickets straight out?”

“because this isn’t about us buying the tickets. it’s about a casino buying them for us ... oh, and we’d have to go downtown because the blackjack rules are better there.”

she just lights up, “downtown? where’s that?”

this is a question i’ve heard a zillionty times in my life, and aside from the “who’s buried in grant’s tomb?” aspect of the question (it’s both grant and his wife, by the way), the thing that surprises me is how unknown downtown is. it’s a purer, rawer, more original form of las vegas.

“you’ll find out. but we can’t play now. i need to be as sharp as possible, and that means i need sleep.”

“you could just crash in my room if you wanted.”


which is how i found myself in bed with a woman i’d never known a day earlier. and to be clear; no sex, just sleep.

we wake up at 14:00 and head down to the coffee shop for quick (and comped) breakfast. i start giving the curator card counting theory along with casino attitude toward play and the things i need her to do as to help disguise what’s actually going on as my sidekick. she’s loving it. “it’s like being a spy!”

well sorta. except there’s no glamour, no terrorists and if you get black booked you’ll probably never be able to walk into a casino again.

we go downtown with the intention of starting at the plaza and working our way down. it’s 15:00 when we walk through the door, prince is scheduled to start in three hours. in long proposition mathematical terms, with $25 base units, we should expect to win around $40 an hour. not enough money to make the target of $400, but if we start winning, i’ll press it a little.

we’ll see.

i’ve always been a very low stakes card counter only because i don’t like the idea of having the amount of money i gamble influence my play. it’s much easier to be cold and calculating when there’s a few bucks riding on the table than thinking, “you know, if i lose this bet, i won’t have a roof over my head any more.”

we sit down at a double-deck table by ourselves (that’s desirable -- such are the joys of playing downtown), breaking even after several shuffles. and then the deck starts warming up. we hit several hands in a strongly positive deck (more big cards than little cards are left -- that’s also desirable) and are starting to get enough casino heat that it seems like a good time to leave.

i have the curator cash out while i make my way to the horseshoe. immediately the deck at the table i’m playing goes positive and by the time she’s caught up to me, i take a break to add up the money we’ve won so far. in a mere 25 minutes we’ve won $490. we almost certainly have our tickets.

i tell the curator we’re all set and hand her $45.

“what’s this for?”

“that’s your half of the amount we made over target. you’re getting paid $45 to see prince.” she goes berserk. much in the same way housewives do when they’ve just guessed the correct cost of a vacuum cleaner on “the price is right.”

we now have the luxury of a couple of hours to burn so i show her the beauty of downtown, including playing 10cent chips on the roulette wheel at the el cortez and snarfing a 99cent shrimp cocktail at the golden gate.

about an hour and a half before the show we make our way back up to mandalay bay. i can seen several people with tickets for sale, but not a lot of buyers. this may be pretty easy.

i approach one guy, but he’s asking twice face and clearly isn’t interested in negotiatin, so i step up to another. every one of these guys is going to have the same problem, namely the hoity-toity vegas types will already have tickets. it’s not cool to take your girlie and buy tickets from some shark at the door.

and they’re going to have this problem in much less than an hour. this, of course, means we’ll get in.

i pull my latest target aside. “how much for two?”

“$150 each.”

we certainly have that much money budgeted here, but i’m not about ready to let this guy take a profit from me -- especially when he’ll be choking on those tickets in a mere 20 minutes. he knows that’s going to happen, but he doesn’t know that i know that’s going to happen.”

“i’ll give you $200 for a pair.”

he laughs, “dude, this show is sold out. they have a face value of $125. you think i’m going to sell them to you for less than face? you’re crazy ... in fact, it’s insulting.”

“well, i’ll tell you what ... when you get over being offended, if i haven’t already got tickets,” i point across the floor, “you’ll find me standing over in that corner. but be warned my price drops $5 every minute past 20:00, whether or not prince has come on by then.”

i don’t walk three steps before he grabs me by the shoulder. “okay, okay. you’re gettin’ a good deal here, you know that.”

oh, we both know what the deal is, pal.

i give him $200 and he gives me two inner-circle tickets.

the show is spectacular, but the crowd isn’t into it, which somewhat dampens the experience. the high point may well be maceo singing “wonderful world,” followed closely by prince doing “peach.”

when the show gets over, the curator is very pleased. prince was much closer to the mark she was hoping for than madonna. we head back to NYNY and grab (yet another) comped meal.

there’s a couple of hours still before her pit boss pal gets off work. she wants to play some more roulette, but my body clock needs a serious winding before it grinds to a standstill.

i bid the curator adieu.

while i’m waiting for my car, i add it all up. in the last day and three quarters i’ve:

* been kidney punched by a pal i haven’t seen in over a decade.

* seen the biggest roulette win of my life (and have been the only person even remotely excited about it).

* had four free meals totaling about US$100.

* seen both madonna and prince.

* had a free night (of sorts) at NYNY.

* $245 more in my pocket than when i started.

it may not read strange, but that’s certainly the way it felt. certainly stranger than the next trip to las vegas: where i find myself unconscious on the floor of the flamingo, and the curator’s pit boss returns me from the hospital at 04:00 in the morning.