OMG!! Rain!! Drowsiness!! High Winds!! Constipation!!

As I write this my Pittsburgh Penguins have just been eliminated from the NHL Playoffs while their best player…ostensibly the best player in the world…Sidney Crosby watched from a luxury box after having been out since January…over 4 months…with a concussion. Now I am no doctor, but four months for a concussion seems extreme to say the least. Either there is something that Penguins’ brass are not telling us, or they are playing it very very very safe. The latter is more likely, which is the point of my irritation at the moment.

 

I had already been irritated by a couple of other things lately, neither related to hockey but tangentially connected to my point, which I will eventually get around to making. First, one of the local TV stations in my area has, over the course of the past year or two, made a habit out of interrupting whatever it is I am watching with what initially sounds like a dire weather emergency…batten down the hatches, Katy bar the door, head for the hills. But when one gets past all the fancy graphics and Doppler radar what the well-meaning meteorologist has done is cut in on General Hospital to tell me it is going to rain. Really?? I don’t mean to sound like the clichéd old fogey that talks about walking to school barefoot in 3 feet of snow uphill both ways, but when I was a child we would get some pretty rockin’ thunderstorms throughout the spring & summer and we never had much of a warning. Now I will admit that it is kind of cool that technology allows one to pinpoint exactly when & where a storm is going to occur and how long it will last, but I just don’t think it is necessary. And personally I find it far less important than finding out if Elizabeth is FINALLY going to tell Lucky that he, not Nikolas, is Aiden’s father.

 

The second thing that I have been more amused than annoyed by for a few years are drug commercials. You’ve seen them…Cialis, Boniva, Nexium, Cymbalta, Chantix. They promise to cure everything from erectile dysfunction to depression to high cholesterol. Now…again with the old fogeyness…when I was a kid drugs weren’t advertised on television, or atleast I don’t recall that they were. Medication was the domain of doctors. You didn’t feel good, you went to the doctor, he prescribed something, and you picked it up at the pharmacy. When did we start allowing meds to be hocked in commercials like they are a product we are intent on selling as much of as possible instead of as little as possible (which would be preferable)?? No wonder we have a drug problem in America. And truth be told the collective effects of all these various pills are far worse for us than marijuana, which of course remains illegal. But that’s a different diatribe for another day. What’s even more sad is that, for reasons that I am sure involve whole teams of high priced attorneys, these commercials must disclose possible side effects, and it is sometimes hilarious in a macabre sort of way. After spending about half of the commercial telling us what a particular drug can do for us, a fast talking voiceover tells us in a hushed tone all the bad things the drug can do to us…upset stomach, constipation, nausea, bloating, heartburn, painful swallowing, diarrhea, joint & muscle pain, dry mouth, indigestion, a sudden & unsafe drop in blood pressure, dizziness, shortness of breath, liver problems, death. Yes, I said death. Now maybe it’s just because I hate taking pills anyway, but I have to ask myself whether or not the positive aspects of a particular medication outweigh the possible side effects, and when the side effects include death the answer becomes obvious.

 

The truth, however, is that medications have always had side effects, just as the consequences of concussions have always been there and we’ve dealt with thunderstorms and other weather occurrences since the beginning of time. The difference is now technology allows us to have an overflow of information about every conceivable issue right at our fingertips with minimal effort. We have no excuse to be ignorant about a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g. The question becomes “Is that a good thing??”.

 

On the surface the answer would seem to be yes. Unlike the 19th Century it isn’t common in 2011 for 35 year olds to drop dead of diseases like scarlet fever or tuberculosis because advances in medicine have cured many things or atleast minimized the damage. And I am certainly not anti-technology. I love my television & computer, and of course how could we do much of anything without our automobiles. But I do think we can suffer from paralysis from analysis. We don’t simply go out and buy what we need anymore…we compare, look at reviews, research the product online, and listen to every “expert” on the subject we can find. Political opinions?? We let an endless array of pundits “spin” us instead of making up our own minds based on critical thinking or maybe even prayer & guidance from Above. Food?? Who the hell can eat anymore since we are told that nearly everything, including air & water, will kill us. Books?? We wait for the thumbs up from Oprah or atleast read how many stars people give it on Amazon. Movies?? Siskel & Ebert may not be around anymore (well, Ebert is still alive but his face is gone) but there are still a plethora of media types that tell us whether or not a film is good before we ever step into the theater. It is exhausting.

 

Maybe having all this information at our disposal isn’t all that swell. Maybe it just causes us more stress. I think I would rather get my medication prescribed by a doctor and not have it sold to me. If it rains I think I am smart enough to seek shelter or take any other necessary precautions. And darn it, I think that a professional athlete needs to either play or retire, not sit on the sidelines for six months because he got an owie and a bunch of suits are scared of what might happen. All of this is connected to The Nanny State and The Wussification of America, things that I have touched on more than once. We may live longer now than we ever did, but do we live better?? Is it better to live life with gusto, have fun, take chances, and throw caution to the wind for 50 years or to crawl into the corner and be scared of our own shadow for 99 years?? The answer, as usual, is probably somewhere in the middle. It is fantastic that we have medications that can legitimately make us feel better and improve our quality of life, that we can make intelligent decisions rather than playing Indian poker with our hard earned money, and that we know that we probably should wear a light jacket or bring along our umbrella. But at the same time we cannot allow our lives to be taken over by microscopic examination of every detail. The 80’s classic Risky Business gave the masses some great advice: ““Every now and then say, ‘What the heck.’ ‘What the heck’ gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.” If there is going to be a storm I’ll deal with it, but in the meantime I just really want to find out if Michael or Abby shot that scumbag Brandon or if it was in fact crazy mob boss Anthony Zacchara who we all know wants to take over the Corinthos Organization.

The Rocco Chronicles…..Chapter 1

I honestly don’t know what took so long for this idea to form in my brain, but today I am introducing a new area here at The Manofesto dedicated to my roommate, my best little buddy, and the closest thing I have and may ever get to having a child…my dog Rocco. He’s a couple months shy of turning 3, while The Manoverse was formed in my image just over 2 years ago, so I am surprised that I didn’t feel compelled to do this right from the start. Maybe it’s just that deeper, more thought-provoking subjects are beginning to lose their luster.

At any rate, it all began on a warm and stormy July evening. I had made my way to a local Independence Day celebration featuring a symphony orchestra and fireworks. It was July 3, because the symphony never plays in our town on the actual holiday. After all, we have to import them from elsewhere because Lord knows my little hometown isn’t culturally literate enough to have its own orchestra. So on this particular night…a Thursday if memory serves me correctly…I headed to the local park for some music and explosives. As I was sitting in my usual spot I noticed that people kept going up to this couple with a rather large cardboard in their vicinity. Upon further review I noticed that all these folks were holding puppies. More specifically, pugs.

I waited until the small crowd had dissipated before checking out the scene myself. Sure enough the box contained two pugs, both about 7 weeks old. I talked to the couple, who it turned out were breeders from a nearby city. I am not one to jump into things blindly, so after holding one of the pups for a few minutes I decided that I’d ponder the issue and then atleast get the couple’s phone number at intermission. Unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas.

Just minutes before the show was set to start it began to rain. And this was no light sprinkle…this was a deluge. I look forward to this show every year, and I really didn’t want to leave, but the vast majority of the crowd had already headed toward their vehicles so I followed suit. By the time I made it back to Big Red (my red Buick Skylark) I was soaked. I couldn’t possibly have been any wetter if I’d dove into a swimming pool. I sat in the car for a few minutes, but most folks were leaving and the storm wasn’t letting up, so I headed home, about 10-15 minutes from the park. Wouldn’t you know it, just about the time I pulled into the parking lot of my building the rain began to taper off. I went upstairs to The Bachelor Palace and turned on the TV, only to immediately see a crawl across the bottom of the screen on the local station saying that the symphony and fireworks were still on despite the weather and that the show would start in about 10 minutes. I was not a happy camper. I knew that by the time I changed out of my dripping clothes and got back to the park that not only would I have an issue with parking but I’d certainly be missing a good chunk of the show. Deciding that it was my own stupid fault for not being patient (if only I’d sat in my car back at the venue for another 10 minutes), I just chose to stay home. I had a feeling it may rain again soon anyway (I was wrong).

As if missing the symphony & fireworks wasn’t enough, it dawned on me…after I’d slipped into dry clothes…that I hadn’t gotten the number of the dog breeders. Crap!! Now I was doubly unhappy. However, occasionally a light bulb comes on in my noggin, and I had an idea. I decided to check on the website of my local paper to see if there might be an ad. Afterall, taking two (and there were 8 in the litter…2 boys & 6 girls) puppies to the park during a Fourth of July celebration couldn’t possibly be the only outlet they’d use, right?? Right I was. There was an ad!! I waited until Saturday so as not to infringe on anyone’s freedom festivities, and called to ask some questions. I had done some research online and felt like I knew the information I needed. I had known for quite some time that if I ever got a dog that pugs were high on the list. I wanted a small dog, but not a wussy dog like the ones women carry around in their purse. I had always thought that their smushed face was kind of adorable. And I liked the fact that even though they are small they are sturdy & strong…kind of manly. All of this had been a vague thought amassed somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, but I’d never really given it serious ponderation because for the first several years I’d lived in The Bachelor Palace dogs were not allowed. However, that restriction had been lifted about 2 years previous, and pets were now permitted as long as they did not exceed certain size limitations, which was fine by me given my preference for smaller dogs anyway. Pugs were easily within acceptable parameters, yet because of my penchant for not making snap decisions I still didn’t commit to anything after the initial phone conversation with the breeder. But I was at the point where I was very seriously considering becoming a dog owner.

At this point I should mention the issue of timing. The summer of 2008 was the perfect time for me to get a dog, and I knew it. I had been out of commission for 2 years with an ulcer on my tailbone. Hospitals, “skilled” nursing facilities, surgery…it was an ordeal, but by that summer I was recovered and back out & about, trying to get back to business-as-usual. However…and this is the key…I was not back to work yet, so for a very brief window of time I had ample time to spend on training & such. I realized that in the very near future I’d have a job and it might be very difficult to have a brand spanking new puppy to take care of as well. This was the moment. I had the time, the funds, and the opportunity to get the exact kind of dog that I wanted.

A couple days later, after some heavy research about pugs, I called the breeder back and made arrangements to visit their home and choose from amongst the litter. However, I knew I wanted a male, so I really only had to choose from among two. The day after that I received a call saying that one of the males had been claimed, so now there was only one remaining and he was mine. The lady I was dealing with made mention that their family was coming back my way on Friday and they’d be happy to bring my puppy along. We made arrangements to meet at a convenient location, which we did.

The rest, as they say, is history. I will delve into that history a bit more some other time, but this is a blog, not a novel, right??

 

An Ode to Salad Dressing, Cute Waitresses, & Cheesecake

I am a bachelor, so I eat out a lot…probably too much. And while I have given up fast food for Lent I am still allowing myself to partake of a decent sit down meal on occasion. I did just that a couple weeks ago, deciding to enjoy March Madness while also munching on some tasty wings. My initial plan was to head to one of the large chain places that I will not provide with free advertising, but I changed course and ended up at a local place that is fairly new and that I had not tried yet. In the process of eating and such I began to reflect on what I consider important when passing judgment on an eatery. Legendary actor Burt Lancaster once said “I judge a restaurant by the bread and by the coffee”. I am not really all that particular about those two things, but I do have my own metrics.

Obviously atmosphere is important. A place doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be clean. Just because hot dogs and sandwiches are the anchors of the menu does not give an establishment an excuse to be dirty or creepy in any way, although a fancy Italian restaurant will logically be viewed through a different prism than a pizza place.

I almost always drink iced tea at a sit down restaurant. As silly as it sounds iced tea can be done right or wrong. It is rare that I get tea bad enough to color my whole experience negatively, but it is possible. Also, refills are a key issue. Don’t fill my glass up if it is still 2/3 full, but do not leave me sitting there on empty for too long. I also like lots of ice. And does the wait staff have to take my glass back to the kitchen to fill it, or do they bring a pitcher to the table?? Not a dealbreaker at all, but it is something I notice.

The next thing I look at are the menus. I used to work at a print shop and did a little graphic design, so I know cheap from decent. A menu need not be extravagantly produced, but it is a small thing that can have an effect on one’s impression. And there better not be misspellings. That is completely unacceptable and unprofessional.

Chances are at a nice restaurant salad will be served preceding the meal. I am not a fan of fancy salads with various kinds of greens, even though I know they are healthier than good old iceberg lettuce. Your mileage may vary. But regardless of what one’s preference may be, the more important issue is the dressing. There are a myriad of issues here. First, there had better be a good selection. High end places will usually have some sort of vinaigrette…maybe even a few variations. That’s fine. I don’t particularly care for that sort of thing though, and Italian, French, Ranch, and Bleu Cheese are the staples in most restaurants I frequent anyway. Bonus points if Thousand Island, Creamy Italian, or other less common choices are available. How is the dressing served?? Is it already on the salad when I get it, and if so is there enough of it?? Serving the dressing on the side in one of those round plastic containers with a lid is acceptable, especially if it is in a sports bar or any other low key restaurant that is on a level above fast food but can’t really be thought of as fancy. What I do not like…at all…is having my dressing given to me in a packet that I could have purchased myself at the grocery store. That is just cheap, even for a small Mom & Pop establishment. Also, please let me finish my salad before you bring my meal out. Obviously no one wants to wait an unreasonable amount of time for their food, but on the other hand don’t rush me.

It goes without saying that the quality of service and the yumminess of the food are the most important factors when assessing the value of a restaurant. Wendy’s owner Dave Thomas stated “It all comes back to the basics. Serve customers the best-tasting food at a good value in a clean, comfortable restaurant, and they’ll keep coming back.” However, both things are important. If the food is delicious but the service is horrible I will hesitate to return, and conversely if the service is excellent but the food is wretched my return is unlikely unless I hear some changes have been made in the kitchen. I like waiters/waitresses that are friendly without being obnoxiously chipper. And being a bachelor means that a lovely waitress who bats her eyes, smiles, and maybe flirts a bit will make my return…sooner rather than later…a reasonably safe bet.

Last but not least comes dessert. It always surprises me when I eat at a fairly nice restaurant, finish my meal, and am presented with the check without even being asked if I’d like dessert. I am not suggesting a hard upsell by the wait staff…don’t try to convince me to have dessert. But for pete’s sake atleast ask if I am interested. If/when I am asked there is a better than 50/50 chance I will partake because that’s just how I roll (and probably why I need to shed some poundage). Now the mark of a really upscale place is a dessert cart. I love those. But they seem to be rare. Most of the time the desserts will be on the menu, and the vast majority of the time…especially if it is my first time eating at a particular restaurant…I will test drive the cheesecake. I am a major chocoholic, but I can satisfy that craving with a candy bar out of the vending machine or with any one of a number of ice cream flavors. Cheesecake is special. It is the quintessential restaurant experience and can really tip the scales from mediocre/decent to “that was awesome”. I analyze cheesecake like a grocery shopper buys a melon. There is a level of firmness that I look for which tells me if the cheesecake was made from scratch or if it came out of a box. Trust me…if it’s a $5 Jello No Bake box special I can tell in a heartbeat. If one wants to buy that sort of thing to take to a picnic or a covered dish at church that’s fine, but if I am in a restaurant and probably paying around $5 for one piece I do not think it is unreasonable to expect something better. Plain or with topping?? Ehhh…it depends on my mood. But I like having the option. I’ll usually go for blueberry if it is available. A sports bar I used to eat at frequently would put chocolate sauce on cheesecake if requested, but strangely enough I did not really like it. Chocolate cheesecake…big thumbs up. Regular cheesecake with chocolate topping…not so much. Odd.

At the end of the day it really is about the food first, and then the service. But there are little things that make a difference. What those things are likely varies wildly from person to person, and can be molded & shaped depending on the type of restaurant one is eating at on a particular day. But once one finds a combination of factors that are pleasing then it is likely that establishment has found a lifelong patron, because as director Federico Fellini once said “It is easier to be faithful to a restaurant than it is to a woman”.