Monday, January 18, 2016

Naked Women in Waffle House And All That Fast Food Fun

Chain restaurants more than anything else, characterize the American experience for me. That sinking feeling of being hungry after a long road trip and pulling off the Interstate only to find the sole place open is some nasty Applebee's that smells of child vomit is a curiously American thing.

You quickly learn the chains that are safe and the ones that are no go zones. Panera Bread and Subway, for example, can be fine and even healthy. Chick Fil A is probably not so healthy but at least it doesn't feel like walking into a the set of Fort Apache, The Bronx.. Hardees in the bad side of town, most Burger Kings and many KFC's are the wrong side of ick. I would add Waffle House to this list, having scrupulously made sure to never venture into one for nine years. I finally relented last year but am placing Waffle House again on the no-go list.

This is partly due to the appearance of a naked woman in a Waffle House near Atlanta. You might think this would be a reason to lump waffle house in the Penera Bread category. If so you might not have seen the mugshot.

Jennifer Mary Nicholson, 37, of Marietta, is reported to have stripped off naked, thrown plates around and punched a woman in the face, breaking her nose, at the Waffle House. Her mugshot looks a bit more Jack Nicholson in The Shining than anything else.

This story emerged just days after another strange tale at a Waffle House. Two Waffle House employees in Arkansas had been using cooking utensils to style their hair - as one does - and even dipping hair in boiling water. One customer complained after consuming a particularly hairy waffle. All credit goes to the alert customer who noticed the difference in Arkansas.

In New Mexico, a male customer became so angry when his server told him the restaurant's pies were not available because they were frozen, he pulled a knife on her. Fast food rage is nothing new as anyone familiar with the infamous McNuggets freak out in Ohio by a woman who was denied McNuggets will realize. Here's a good reason not to feed your kids with McNuggets folks...this woman is marginally more nuts than anyone I have dated.

Clearly there is something in those cardboardy pieces of meat reclaimed from old chicken bones that causes freakery. In Florida, a woman dialled 911 three times when McDonalds ran out of chicken nuggets.

Meanwhile, back at Waffle House, management in North Carolina made themselves popular in the news by denying a waitress a $1,000 tip she was given. 

All of this makes for a good argument to re-familiarize ourselves with our stoves really...

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie and a Non Rock 'N Roll Death

I'm rather annoyed, not to mention saddened, that cancer has claimed the life of David Bowie. Cancer is an everyday killer but David Bowie was extraordinary. Losing David Bowie is bad enough but to cancer - really. He could at least have gone in  a befitting way, lie falling to earth from a space station, or dying in grand rock n' roll fashion.

As Bowie was breathing his last I was having a recurring convo with the significant other about how we are all going to die of cancer due to man's wanton destruction of the earth. I have tried to disagree but I'm starting to get depressed about it now.

Almost every week someone from my formative years passes away but I certainly wasn't ready for Bowie and, judging by the outpouring of grief on Facebook, nobody else was either.

During my somewhat angst-ridden teen years, Bowie was a constant, albeit ever-changing presence that reminded us we could be a hero just for one day and if we didn't like our personality we could change it up. Or at least do something really weird with our hair. And so it proved that day when the neighborhood bully - ominously called Smith - came round to smack up some of my friends. With the soundtrack of Bowie's Scary Monsters ringing in my ears, I stepped onto my neighbor's lawn and found a new strength that allowed me to catch him with a right hook to his jaw that led him to beat a rereat. Bowie saved me from the everyday grind, from the Smith and the Joneses - all rather ironic as he was born David Jones.

All of this reminds me of the obscure movie Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence in which Bowie is a soldier in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. He is haunted by his fatal failure to stand up to the bullying of his kid brother, with fatal consequences, and decides to make a stand against the Japanese guards. Bowie is left to die in a pit in the soaring sun. It's great family viewing for a Sunday afternoon.

As we get older, we change and so too did Bowie. The androgynous Ziggy Stardust character of the past - that reminds me a bit of scary aunts from my childhood - was cast aside and in the 1980s, Bowie because a slick stylish icon with blond hair, that was representative of the rampant consumerism of the decade. Later he became one of the first artists to embrace the Internet.

In his last incarnation as Lazarus, Bowie seems to be writing his own epitaph and singing and making a video of his demise. His life is as powerful a chronicle of the human condition in its own way as Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man. In an age of intolerance and ISIS, Bowie is a reminder that we can be who we want to be.

In the end Bowie remained an enigma, which is more than we can say about the ever growing scourge of cancer. We are not all doomed, but sometimes we can feel that way. A survey out last month, found cancer rates were under control in the western world but rising in the developing world as people afford more cars and cigarettes. The incidence of cancer is predicted to rise 57 percent in the next 20 years, although one reason for this is that more people will be living longer, long enough to contract cancer in their golden years, an era Bowie never made it to sadly.

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Eve - The Most Overrated Night of the Year

So let's breathe a big sigh of relief now that the most overrated night of the year, New Year's Eve, is over.

I can't remember when I first felt the pressure to have fun on New Year's Eve, but I think it was at an early age. We were at my gran's house in Scotland and there was an odd smell of whisky pervading the place not to mention laughter and party voices. This felt all wrong - my folks didn't do parties but if you are in Scotland there's a real pressure to party. We were shooed back into our rooms and from an early age, I recall the feeling of missing out on something.

The reason Scotland is the New Year's Eve capital of the world dates back more than 400 years. The Protestant Reformation from the end of the 17th Century cast Christmas as Popish and instead encouraged parties on New Year's Eve with its tradition of Pagan Hogmanay celebrations.

There were some traditions on New Year's Eve such as cleaning the house and sorting out your debts that - let's face it - don't sound lie a shovel load of fun, There's also a Scottish traditional called "first footing" in which the first foot in the door of your house in the New Year should be male and dark. This was a throwback to the days of the Vikings when blond strangers meant trouble - and more specifically raping family members and pillaging. As such, you were meant to bring black gifts such as coal, black bun and Donald Trump's heart, although whisky is more regularly brought these days.

A lot of dark, cold northern places have some interesting ceremonies such as rolling barrels of tar and throwing torches which sound rather more interesting to check out than what New Year's Eve has become for the rest of the world.

When  I was a teenager, the pressure to have fun on New Year's Eve grew exponentially. We would wander the bleak streets of suburban Gloucester looking for parties to be thrown out of. We were an odd group of comprehensive school misfits, but probably not much weirder and more acne ridden than most of the other teens who wandered the streets on New Year's Eve looking for action. On occasions, we would take the bus to the city center where the pubs were busting at their seams, and the streets were full of people fighting or urinating against walls. Brits don't need an excuse to get drunk, so when you give them one, the results can be truly frightening. New Year's Eve also conferred on adolescents the pressure to end up in a drunken embrace with members of the opposite sex.

This New Year's Eve a photograph taken in Manchester went viral when its pseudo-likeness to a classical painting was remarked on.

On one particularly bleak New Year's Eve, I found myself at a party in a draughty bowling alley. There was very little to do other than tonsil familiarization with a girl called Lynne for the best part of two hours. We later arranged a date that was a walk around her high school. Without the help of super strength lager, we were hapless. We said three words to each other and never saw each other again.

Perhaps I had one fun New Year's Eve, but I am not sure. The New Year's Eve in Edinburgh was something to boast about because it was Edinburgh but it involved freezing temperatures and beer being thrown on my head as well as waking up on someone's floor at 5 a.m.

There was another New Year's Eve stranded at a party in London with a former partner who went off the rails and was yelling at nonexistent taxi drivers. There was the Millennium at the Millennium Dome party in London which was something else to boast about, even if the champagne ran out too early and we were left stranded at a railway station waiting for trains that never came. Typically, New Years ends up resembling some refugee crisis not long after the countdown.

My experience of New Year's Eve in America has been something a bit less hardcore and dangerous than in England, but there is a real obsession with dropping things - be it glittery balls, giant crab pots or whatever. It's a rather inadequate way to end a year because these things aren't even dropped properly. If you knew a giant, steel ball was going to be dropped into a crowd, at least, it would engender some excitement. Instead, these objects are gently lowered by a crane. Perhaps being gently let down is a good metaphor for the year ahead.

Don't get me wrong - New Year's Eve last night in Virginia Beach wasn't the worst one I have had. It wasn't cold or wet, and the music and fireworks were fine. It was better than some of those New Years when I have just gone meekly to bed at 10, not even staying up to watch the lameness that is New Year's Eve TV.

And the worst New Year's I have had? I have racked my brains back through the catalogue of domestic disputes, nonexistent taxis, packed pubs and restaurants and boorish revellers and came up with the New Year's Eve when I was working on the cops beat of a newspaper in Hampton Roads. I had already checked out a couple of shooting scenes where overambitious revelers in the hood 'accidentally' shot neighbors.

Then I heard about a serious accident on the scanner. I went out to the side of the road and waited behind the incident tape and the mangled wreckage to watch a body being brought out and put down on the highway with a blanket over it. After what seemed like an age at the cold margins of the highway, the police press officer came over to me to give me an incident report. Suddenly fireworks went off and we heard the strains of Auld Lang Syne from a house across the six-lane wasteland of concrete, the shuttered up park and the mass of skeletal power lines. "Happy New Year," we said to each other weakly before I jotted down the details of the deceased.

Lost by the Sea

 A tiny tragedy in an ocean of sadness makes barely a ripple. Still, I was taken aback to receive an email from a former wife (the one I nev...