Tuesday, March 29, 2005
My Pet Peeves:
When you run away in the middle of a perfectly good leg humping.
Any trick that involves balancing food on my nose...stop it.
Blaming your farts on me...not funny...not funny at all.
Yelling at me for barking... I'M A FRIGGIN' DOG YOU IDIOT!!
How you naively believe that the stupid cat isn't all over everything while you're gone. (Have you noticed that your toothbrush tastes a little like cat butt?)
Taking me for a walk, then not letting me check stuff out. Exactly who's walk is this anyway?
Yelling at me for rubbing my ass on your carpet. Why'd you buy carpet?
Getting upset when I sniff the crotches of your guests. Sorry but I haven't quite mastered that handshake thing yet...idiot.
How you act disgusted when I lick myself. Look, we both know the truth, you're just jealous.
Dog sweaters. Have you noticed the fur? Imbecile.
Any haircut that involves bows or ribbons. Now you know why we chew your stuff up when you're not home.
When you pick up the crap piles in the yard. Do you realize how far behind schedule that puts me?
Taking me to the vet for "the big snip", then acting surprised when I freak out every time we go back.
The sleight of hand, fake fetch throw. You fooled a dog! What a proud moment for the top of the food chain, you nitwit.
Invisible fences. Why do you insist on screwing with us? To my knowledge, dogdom hasn't yet solved the visible fence problem!!
The water is warm as it rolls down my face. I clench my eyes closed as I rinse the last of the soap off. I take an extra minute or so just to bask in the warmth and feel the water on my chest and face.
I dab two fingers across the bar of soap from each hand and rub it across my cheeks and under my chin and across my throat. Rinsing the soap off of my fingers for a few seconds, I can open my eyes enough now to see my razor on the little plastic shelf that the bride bought last year and put in the shower. It also has her shampoo and some kind of special soap in a covered dish that I’m not allowed to use. I’ve never even peeked inside to see what it looks like.
My razor is one of those dark gray or black jobs that you can push the little button and it ejects the razor part from the handle, hopefully into a trash can and then you push it into the slot on a replacement one that comes in a little clear plastic tray-like thing with several others in it. I usually do that ever couple of weeks when it feels like I’m pulling the hairs off of my throat instead of cutting them. I don't know what brand it is which sometimes causes a problem when I go to buy replacements. I normally look at the pictures and pick the one that looks most like mine when I'm at the store.
I swipe the head of the razor across the bar of soap and start to draw it up my throat, starting under my right ear and working my way steadily across until I finish under my left ear. Then, I rinse the razor under the running shower water, give it another wipe across the bar of soap and start up the right cheek, taking short strokes until I feel the resistance give way all the way up to my sideburns. I take a few short strokes across the cheek and as I approach my beard and mustache, I take three fingers from my left hand and reach across taking the right edge of my mustache and beard and pulling them over a little to the left. I use these fingers to guide the razor in cutting just along this line, leaving a neatly trimmed goatee.
Another rinse and I switch hands with the razor, repeating the process on the other side, but this time I start with the fingers holding the whiskers and shave over from the beard to my ear. I take my right index finger and run it up and down the cheeks, across the bottom of my chin and turn it over using the back of the finger to feel along my throat on both sides. If I feel a little stubble anywhere, I give it a touchup with the razor.
Repeat the check until completely smooth, you know like a baby’s bottom and replace the razor on the shelf. Then I put my face back into the shower spray and feel the warmth for another minute or so while I bask in the glory of it and rinse all the soap off of my face again.
It may take an extra minute or two to shave without a mirror, but it's so much more comfortable to do in in the shower. I never get razor burn that way. Besides, I've gotten good enough at it over the years that I'm pretty fast.
Stay tuned, next week: shampoo
Thursday, March 24, 2005
I was looking through some old backstage passes tonight and ran across this.
Back in the day, when I was working as a stagehand, Def Leppard came to town. That night, during the show, I found this on the floor where Connie had been standing earlier. I thought it was pretty funny since it used the same font as the Def Leppard logo, and I asked the stage manager about it.
"Don't kiss anyone wearing one of those!" he said with a wide grin. He went on to explain that it meant what it said, and that was the only way to get one.
Well, that or finding one on the floor...
I never got that lucky and my story’s not nearly so exciting. Shit, my family didn’t know anything about farming, and though we lived in a semi-rural environment, we never grew anything or tried to as far as I know.
Naw, I got to be friends with a boy named Ronnie Welter when I was away at
They lived on a large farm and our main recreation as fourteen year old boys was to go tearing off over hill and dale on the old mostly gray Ford tractor which would belch smoke and sputter and die fairly regularly. When that happened we had to take the distributor cap off and sand the points with an emery board that we kept wedged near the engine.
Really, that’s about as exotic as it got for us.
It did give me the confidence to nod yes when my boss asked me if I knew how to drive a manual shift truck.
I was fifteen and working in a very exclusive Little Rock restaurant as a dishwasher. They had re-stocked the bar that day and there was a mountain of empty boxes outside the back door. Being the fancy place it was, the dumpster was relegated about a hundred yards in back on the other end of the parking lot.
He handed me his keys and said, “just toss ‘em into the back of my truck and drive them back there.”
The boss had an old farm truck. A three quarter ton 1949 Chevrolet pick up, with a behemoth brush guard welded to the front bumper. I twisted the door handle down, opened the door and climbed in.
I stuck the key in the ignition, turned it and nothing happened. Of course the dome light had burned out at least fifteen years earlier, so I dug my Zippo out of my jeans pocket and lit it to take a peek. Then I remembered that some of the old cars had a starter button. Yep, there it is.
I Pressed the clutch to the floor, and mashed the starter button and she roared to life. I shifted the column lever into reverse, gave it a little gas, turned to look over my right shoulder and slowly, ever so slowly started to let the clutch out. I move a few feet in reverse and then the lumbering truck shuddered violently and died.
I let her roll back into the parking space, repeated the starting process and ground it into reverse again and started to back up. Again, the violent shudder and sudden death.
This happened 3 or 4 times before I muttered “fuck it” and pulled the parking break, stuck the key in my pocket and humped the boxes out to the dumpster as fast as I could. I returned the key to the boss man and nodded yes when he asked if everything was alright.
The next night when I showed up for work, the boss called me aside.
“Last night when you used my truck, did you hit anybody?”
I assured him that I did not. I didn’t admit that I didn’t even get out of the parking space, much less have an opportunity to hit anybody. “Come here and let me show you something,” he said and we went out into the parking lot.
There, he pointed out that the brush guard on his truck had one of the bars bent at a forty five degree angle and pointing straight out in front. I told him that I couldn’t have done that.
Then he took me over and showed me one of the waitresses’ cars. It had been horribly vandalized with multiple and repeated gouges and scrapes down the driver’s side and even a couple of large holes punched in the door for good measure. As he began to point out that the damage to the car was at about the same height as the bent brush guard on his truck, a light went off.
I started to feel sick to my stomach as the sudden, repeated and multiple lurches of the truck, the violent shuddering and dying began to replay in my mind. I turned pale and looked him in the eyes and said, “you know, I honestly didn’t think I did this, but now it all is starting to make sense. I must have done it.”
Everyone was pretty cool about it, I think they could tell I was being truthful. I really didn’t know I had hit her car, what with all the engine noise, nervousness and all. They let me settle the matter by paying her deductible on her insurance and she reported it as a hit and run.
It wasn’t until much later, when I got a job as a delivery driver, that I actually learned to drive a manual shift vehicle.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
I dig Spud and his site so I stepped up for a set of questions. His questions follow as they were received, along with my responses.
If you would like the bitterman to surf your archives and formulate a 5 question interview, please leave a comment or shoot me an email. Per the stated rules, I will take the first five to respond."
‘Bout the time I was feeling all left out and jealous of Sandy, Bitterman comes through with a questionnaire for me. Now keep in mind this is my first meme, so cut me some slack. Not that anybody is really interested in all this, but…
[Bitterman] I wanna know the story behind the pen name/blog title. What is a ‘Circa Bellum’ and where do you get one? Is it bigger than a breadbox?
[CB] Truth be known, it’s the name of a business I started in the late ‘80s selling antique photography. It started out as a play on words since everything down here in the south is either ante bellum (before the war) or not. I figured since my specialty was photographs done in the years just before, during and after the Civil War that they were, well, circa bellum, or around the war. I used to publish and mail out a catalog until eBay came around and circa bellum became my selling name on eBay too (you have to put an underscore between the words to make it work, if you go lookin’) and it’s easy for me to remember. So there you have it.
[Bitterman] You posted about growing up Southern and learning how to drive via a Ford tractor. We all have those memories. It’s true! My grandfather taught me how to drive his Massey Ferguson 135 at about age 9 or 10 so he didn’t have to spend two whole weekends cutting hay every summer. I had to literally stand up and put all my weight on the clutch to disengage it; barely fit in the seat, and away I went with the hundreds of slashing teeth of a 6 foot long, side mounted sickle bar mower. I shudder to think about the possible consequences, and it got close a few times. Anyway, I am sure there is a gem of a tale behind learning to drive on the tractor. I know. I have a few myself. Comments?
[CB] I thought this was supposed to be about me! Now, here I am publishing a story about you learning to drive on a tractor. Well, I don’t know how good of a story I can come up with in regards to that, but I will promise to toss one out about it soon.
[Bitterman] You post about being sent away to Catholic Boarding School. Now some of the hardest partiers I have EVER met came from St. Stanislaus School for Boys in Bay St. Louis, MS. They swore up and down that the brothers taught them everything they knew. These guys were hella scary crazy freaky deeky and there was pretty much nothing they would back away from or not try.
a. What was the offense to get shipped off? It all starts somewhere.
b. Any truth to what the guys I knew from Stanislaus said? Ever purchase a dime bag from a friar?
[CB] It’s all true. We had miscreants from all over the world at Morris. We had all the usual suspects in boys and friars. We had car thieves, druggies, child molesters and crazies. And that was just the brothers. The kids were really fucked up. Fighting and getting high on anything and everything was the official pastime. We huffed lighter fluid, aerosol and smoked weed when we could get it. I don’t know about anybody else, but I didn’t learn what not to do, I just learned how to hide it better. Never got a dime bag from a friar, but had a few drinks and cigarettes from them.
I was shipped off because I had fallen in with the drug crowd and in 1969 I started getting into some pretty serious trouble. By 1970 my parents were at a total loss as to what to do with me. So, someone suggested that there was a boy’s school out in the boonies where you can’t get in trouble…
[Bitterman] You shot the car? Spill it.
[CB] You’re pretty thorough, but I don’t think you went quite far enough back on that one… I posted that story back a while ago in The Bullet Wears Red. If I misunderstood your question, let me know and I’ll re-address it.
[Bitterman] Sounds like you had no luck at camping in later life, mentioning that you ruined the bride on the concept. I can only project but something happened and your wife went screaming up the road, thumbing for ride back to town, right? Of course I am only assuming? I bet it involved fire. Always involves fire. You set your bride on fire…what’s the story?
[CB] actually I thought I was starting her off easy. When I camp, I just don’t see the sense in all the gewgaws and extras that make it seem like home. Hell, I can stay home if I don’t want to go camping. I don’t even use a tent.
The weather was beautiful, it was a wonderful December weekend and perfect for a fire and some nice boy/girl cuddling. Shit, I thought it was romantic. We went to a Corps of Engineers camping site on the Arkansas River. They had electricity, running water, firewood, bathrooms. It was a serious compromise on my part, let me tell you.
I built a raging fire with the split oak wood the park provided, cooked her an extravagant meal of steak, steamed broccoli and baked potato with sour cream, butter and chives. I mean, come on, waddafuck you want????
We did the cuddle, we stoked the fire, we drank a little wine and I zipped two sleeping bags together and we retired. Man I was one happy guy. I only figured she was too.
About four in the morning, I woke up because I suddenly felt cold. I realized that it was because she had gotten out of the sleeping bag. She was standing by the fire tossing wood on it and dancing back and forth from leg to leg. In the bright firelight I could see there was frost all over the sleeping bag.
I got up and sat by the fire and she wouldn’t talk to me. She just clammed up. Then she took off down the road and disappeared into the bathroom. I wasn’t until later that she shared with me the fact that she spent two hours in there turning the hand dryer on to warm up in the hot air it put out.
It only got down to about 34 degrees that night. I don’t know how she would act if we really went camping. I guess I never will know, either. ‘Cuz she swore she’d never go camping with me again after that.
[Bitterman] You seem smart. What’s your education?
[CB] I’m a doctor of Brainiatrics!
Okay, so if that's not good enough, ask me to elaborate on any thing...and if you want me to delve into your blog and ax you some questions...just holler.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
When I worked as a stage hand, there were a lot of firefighters in the union because their off days afforded them a lot of opportunity to work shows and pick up some extra cash. Of course they loved to regale the uninitiated with stories of blood and mayhem and always the dead fat lady who had been in a bathtub for a week before she was found. The standard crispy critter stories and occasionally the, “that cop asked me how I knew he was dead, ‘you’re not a doctor, are you??’ and I told him, ‘buddy, I ain’t no doctor, but I do know when the mofo’s head ain’t attached to his body no more he is dead!”
For several years I worked for a company across the street from Station No. 1, which was the biggest, nicest fire house in the city. It had a brass pole and they didn’t dance naked around it either.
Once, I was coming out to my car and I could see one of those dumpster trucks barrelling down Seventh Street at a clip and he had flames boiling out of the back. He had obviously emptied a dumpster that was on fire into his truck. I could tell he was headed for the fire station so I ran across the street and into the back door.
Ray, who was Captain at that station, knew me from the stage crew. They all knew I like to joke around and found it hard to take me seriously. When I burst into their break room to tell them that a truck was on fire, Ray gave me that look that says, “okay, what’s the punchline?” One lieutenant got up, ambled over to the door and peeked out. He came running back in yelling, “shit, they’s a truck on fire out there!” The fire truck rolled out the front door, turned the corner and stopped at the burning dumpster truck and they proceeded to hose it down.
When son1 was about 3 years old, the daycare called me and asked me to pick him up. He had a fever and they wanted to send him home. It was late in the afternoon, so I took him back to work with me and figured we’d leave shortly and go home for the day. He was standing next to me at my desk as I caught up a few last minute agenda items.
I noticed that he seemed kind of out of it and asked him if he was okay. He didn’t answer. I reached out for him and he went limp in my hands. He wasn’t breathing!
I grabbed him like a sack of potatoes over my shoulder and ran out the front door, stopping traffic on Seventh and dashed through the open front bay doors. There was one lone firefighter getting a coke from the machine.
I shouted at him that I needed help and laid my son on the cold concrete floor. I don’t know where they came from, but firefighters and emt’s came out of the wood work and swarmed my boy. I was choked with emotion as I watched them work on him. There were so many that I couldn’t even get close, but they would talk to me and tell me what was going on. I never felt like I was left out of the process.
The ambulance came and they told me they were taking him to Children’s Hospital. I followed in my car and called the little bride on my cell phone to let her know where I was going. Her friend from work brought her and they arrived nearly as soon as I did.
After a thorough examination the doctor told us that sometimes children have a fever spike up really fast and it puts them into a sort of seizure. He said they’re actually breathing enough to keep them alive, but you can’t always tell. Though not life threatening, per se, it can be a very scary experience for the parents. They released him to go home with us.
Later that night I received a phone call. It was one of the firefighters that was there when I brought my son in. He said that they all wanted to know if he was alright. My eyes still get a little blurry when I think about those men caring enough about my family to look us up and call.
Those men made a life or death difference in my family that day and I will never forget it.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
For all but the last couple of months he lived with me, he absolutely refused to drink alcohol. I was okay with that but a little puzzled, because I drank a lot of beer at the time.
Some of his habits needed adjustment, like keeping the mayonnaise in the pantry.
“Gerardo, you’re going to get sick if you eat that shit.” I would tell him. He’d take a family size package of chicken drumsticks, cook a couple of them and freeze the rest. Next day, I’d see the whole package in the sink thawing. He’d cook a couple more and freeze the rest. This would go on for a week or so. Same package of chicken. But he never got sick.
Once, for Cinco de Mayo, I decided to grill some flank steak and chicken and make fajitas. I didn’t have a grill, but had a little grate I used for camping. I started a fire using a large flat river rock for a base. Got all the meat arranged on the camping grate and went in to work on my frijoles refritos y arroz. Man, this was going to be good. I had marinated the meat all night in lime juice and cilantro and chile peppers.
BOOM! I ran to the window. The river rock had exploded from the heat and sprayed flank steak and chicken strips across three back yards.
We had McDonald’s for Cinco de Mayo that year.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Getting a little anxious to put this phase behind me, I thought a little prod was in order.
“Gerardo,” I announced one day, “If you’re going to stay here, you have to pay rent.”
I figured, hell, he’ll weigh the benefits of paying a little more to have a place of his own and he’ll be rearing to move out. Why pay me when he can have his own place. Right?
“How much,” he replied almost without hesitation.
“Well, half the rent, half the utilities and half the housework.” I said knowing full well that nobody did any housework around there.
“Okay,” he said with a grin and held out his hand.
We shook on it and Gerardo stayed with me for two years.
In the middle of the night. Literally.
Steve had one loyal employee who wanted to re-locate to Little Rock. Gerardo (pronounced hair-ar-doh) was a pleasant young Mexican emigrant who spoke English and had a desire to become an American citizen. They loaded the bob truck up in the wee hours of the morning and set out for Little Rock.
When they got to my shop about 7:30 that Friday morning, we were hard at it. I could tell by looking at Gerardo’s eyes that he was pretty well beat. Steve told me how he was following him in the car as Gerardo drove the bob truck along I-30 headed northeast. He said one minute he’d be in the right lane, the next in the left, and then in the median. Finally he signaled for him to pull into an exit for gas.
Steve bought a package of NoDoze, read the instructions that said something like one every two hours as needed and told Gerardo to eat about eight of them. Gerardo said that he wasn’t sleepy any more, but was a “bit sick to my stomach.”
I felt sorry for him and asked him if he wanted to go to my house and get some sleep. He seemed grateful, so I took him over to the hood, set him up in the spare bedroom with a sleeping bag and a pillow and went back to work.
No sound from him that night when I got home. Nothing all day or all night Saturday.
Finally, Sunday morning, he stirred and came out of the spare room about noon. I was just on my way out for urgent sunny Sunday business, but I asked him if he wanted a TV dinner. Being a bachelor, I always had a freezer full of those things. I showed him the picture on the El Patio Enchilada Dinner when he looked a little puzzled. He nodded yes, so I showed him how to set the stove to 425 degrees, take the dinner from the box and put it in. Watch the clock, thirty minutes and take it out.
When I returned, about six that evening, there were nine empty TV dinner trays in the trash can.
It was also when I learned to speak Spanish (sort of.)
The company I was working for had opened a branch in Dallas. Something of a fantasy of the owner to have a plant down there, so he tried it. Basically it was run by his nephew, Steve, some weird chick that later got fired for drug dealing, and a sales person named Margaret.
Margaret was a real go getter. She went after the Sear’s and the Neimans of the world.
Apparently Neiman Marcus showed her a project that got her salivating. It was 42 pieces of paper inserted into a number eleven envelope, labeled and mailed bulk rate. One million times.
This information I have only second hand as I was in Little Rock at the time. She brought the sample back to the plant, showed it to Manuel who had worked for LEE, the mailhouse of record for Neiman, and asked him how much Ruthie had been charging to do that.
Well, that’s tantamount to asking the janitor how much you should charge to mail a magazine. Manuel said, “I theeenk maybe about sixtee dollors a thousand.”
Margaret went back and bid the job at $60 thinking LEE would surely go up a little since last year. Of course Neimans jumped on that, hands and feet.
Some weeks later, I was summoned to the carpeted office.
“We need you to go to Dallas and help Steve,” she said. “He’s got his hands full with the Neiman’s job.”
I drove down Saturday morning and got there about one o’clock. A quick tour of the plant revealed about 150 Mexicans (five of which could speak English) inserting “las mujeres” into the envelopes. All of the inserts had pictures of pretty ladies modeling the latest fashions.
Margaret came in about that time with her arms full of papers and file folders and announced we needed to meet in the conference room.
She spread out fantastic reams of yellow legal pad sheets with scribbling all over them and proceeded to tell us the plan. Margaret had been up until three that morning going over all the facts and figures and she had arrived at a plan: “if every person inserts 250 pieces per hour, we’ll make money.”
I looked at her for a moment, not sure if I had actually heard that or not. I carefully chose my words, “Margaret, we’ll be lucky if each person inserts 25 pieces per hour.”
Margaret’s eyes welled up, watery, as she stuttered out her reply, “you mean you’re not going to follow my plan?”
“You ain’t got no fucking plan,” blurted Steve, at which point Margaret burst into tears and ran from the room.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
When the little bride and I were first married we lived in a duplex over on the wrong side of the tracks.
Ruby, the landlord, owned all of the units on about 3 streets. The houses were cheaply built with floor joists on what looked like thirty six inch centers which made for a lot of vibration when anybody walked across the floor. Of course the neighbors got one of those Nintendo games that you have to run and jump and hop on a pad while you’re playing. We had a constant earthquake during that period from the hours of 7:00 p.m. to midnight most nights.
There were weird things about the plumbing, too. Like when it rained really hard, raw sewage would come up in the bathtub. The first time it happened, I called the city and they told me that the city didn’t own the sewers in that section of town, that they are privately owned and gave me a phone number.
You know, a sewer isn’t something I ever thought about owning, but I called the number and got some guy out of bed. He came over and did something in the manhole out front and the problem was solved, though I had a nasty mess to clean up.
Another time I got my water bill and it was over two hundred dollars. Normally it was twelve. I started poking around and found that there was water spraying out of a pipe under the house and called Ruby. She sent a plumber over and he fixed it in very short order. When I quizzed him about it, he told me that there was a section of rubber garden hose that connected the plumbing in the house to the service line and that the hose clamps loosened up from time to time and had to be tightened.
I told Ruby that I intended to deduct all but twelve dollars from my rent the next month and she was alright with that. Hmmm. Must not have been the first time that had happened.
Later,when son1 came along, the next door neighbors moved out and we talked Ruby into letting us move across the porch into the three bedroom unit.
About six months later I was up early one morning making a pot of coffee and I heard the quiet sssshhhh of water running. I checked the toilets and the faucets and finally went around outside and peeked under the house. Old Faithful was at it again. I called Ruby and let her know.
That afternoon I saw the new neighbors come home. I went over for a little friendly chat.
“Your next water bill is going to be a doozey,” I said. “If I was you, I’d tell Ruby you’re going to deduct all of it except about $12 from your rent next month.”