Pizza, beer and retail success

Trendy retailers nationwide have discovered that sweetening their sales pitch with a little pizza and beer – or a lot of pizza and beer – is a surefire way to lure male shoppers into their establishments.

According to a recent Associated Press report, many higher-end shops – including exclusive jewelers and clothiers – have begun offering these otherwise mundane foodstuffs as an added incentive to male customers who, under normal circumstances, scrupulously avoid shopping.

I’d like to get all excited about this revelation, but it’s really just an old twist on a time-honored tradition which, I believe, may have started in the nation’s venerated thirst emporiums way back in the 19th century.

(That was, like, the one before the 20th century…)

Old-time saloonkeepers used to draw potential customers of the male persuasion to their establishments by offering free hors d’oeuvres with libations. Of course, in the good old days, these on-the-house treats might include such savories as pickled eggs, day-old sardine filets on month-old crackers and heroic slices of head cheese.

Pickled pigs’ feet and grayish sausages floating in jars of opaque goo also were quite popular with 19th-century tipplers attempting to temper their alcohol consumption with a protein chaser.

The practice was wildly successful for many years before it mysteriously faded away from the fabric of American life.

(Musta been the head cheese.)

Old-fashioned saloon society’s loss, though, is sure to be the salvation of modern-day boutique society as formerly stand-offish male shoppers follow their noses and answer the siren song of salami and suds.

No longer will the “free lunch” of bygone days be confined to dimly lit taverns run by surly saloonkeepers named Red, Spike or One-Eyed Thaddeus. No sirree – once this practice catches on, everybody from Victoria’s Secret to Nordstrom’s will be decorously jumping onto the bandwagon.

Let’s face it, nothing says “Welcome!” like pizza and beer, especially when it’s free pizza and beer served to you by some snooty guy in a tuxedo who’s casually dangling a platinum Rolex watch under your nose.

Perhaps best of all, beer and pizza – whether cheesy bite-sized nibbles or steaming slabs of provolone and pepperoni – contain virtually all the recognized food groups needed for a balanced diet.

I know pizza and beer changed my life for the better. When I started college, I was a 150-pound fencer who positively loved sprinting aimlessly about the countryside for no apparent reason. When I left college, I had grown into a 210-pound pizza-and-beer-fueled force to be reckoned with.

Thanks to this proven marketing tool, guys everywhere will now have an opportunity to enjoy a similar transformation – free!

Financial institutions, florists and flooring stores are sure to join in the free-pizza-and-beer retail revolution. And once the ball gets rolling, it’ll only be a matter of time until law firms, septic tank services and funeral homes weigh in.

It’ll be a brave new world, amigos…

Originally published January 29, 2006

Trouble in Paradise

“Teenage Vampires from Paradise.”

Sounds like a great title for a B-grade movie, doesn’t it?

But they’re real.  I seen ’em.

Paradise is a little town in the mountains of Butte County where my ex-wife and ex-kids make their home.  Sometimes, when the madcap life of Solano County grows too frantic, I migrate there and they let me sleep in the dumpster out front.

Nothing much seems to happen in Paradise.

In fact, the most exciting thing that happens in town occurs when somebody manages to spill the salsa at La Comida, a Mexican restaurant of no little repute.  Actually, of no repute at all. (“Look, Zeb, Hank put his godarned elbow in the salsa and spilled it all over the floor.  Somebody better get the sheriff…and the po-lice, too, We don’t know what kinda situation we got developin’ here…”)

At least that’s how it was before the vampires.

I was sitting on the back porch of my ex-wife’s modest home (all homes in Paradise are “modest”) when the vampires arrived, drifting across the back lawn while my ex and I quaffed a pair of Lone Star beers in the 104 degree heat.

One vampire had purple hair, the other a Mohawk.  Both were dressed in black with flowing, red-lined capes and metal-shod boots, each carried a single blood red carnation.

(The carnations, I later learned, had been liberated from a nearby cemetery).

“Hey, uh, whaa…” I asked intelligently.

My former wife, as usual, had the situation well under control and calmly informed me that they were a pair of my daughter’s friends from school.

“They’re into vampires,” she stated casually.

Into vampires…uh-huh.

I remember when high school kids were into surf boards and day-glo posters and black lights and Beatles haircuts and, from earlier generations, Elvis Presley and Hula Hoops – but vampires?

I turned to the two children of the night and, trying to appear casual, asked “Isn’t ait a little bright out here for you, sunlight and all?”

Everybody knows vampires shrivel up and blow away in the presence of sunlight.

“Yeah,” one apprentice vampirette replied, flopping onto the porch.  “I’m dying.  You got a Coke or 7UP?”

Her companion giggled and I knew we were in for trouble.  Vampires who giggle are absolutely the worst kind.  Any vampire can manage an evil smile, a sinister sneer or a sardonic laugh, but the giggling ones are rare.

Things got a little more complicated when my ex-wife told me that one of the future neck biters was moving in with them for the summer.

Great, even I know the only way a vampire can enter one’s domicile is by invitation.  Good going, wife.  Have another Lone Star…

She’s going to have a great time when the Butte County Animal Control officers show up on her doorstep in response to a flurry of neighborhood complaints about bats.

Or when the police come by to ask if she knows anything about an 18th-century coach and four coal black horses rolling recklessly through Paradise’s streets after dark.

And how does she expect to handle the peasants with the torches and stakes and garlands of garlic storming the house just before sunset every night?

What if they run out of silver bullets at the hardware store, I asked her in exasperation.

“That’s for werewolves,” she informed me matter of factly.

The weekend passed without incident, nobody woke up with a sore throat and the peasants didn’t show.

In fact, things began looking up shortly before I left when I offered to fix the vampire-to-be a salami sandwich.

“Are you kidding? I’m a vegetarian,” she responded.

A vegetarian vampire?  There’s hope after all.

Originally published 1987-ish

A little on the heavy side? Learn how to spill and win!

Some of my less-than-tactful acquaintances (you know, the loud and witless kind) have accused me of being somewhat, er, clumsy at mealtime.

To be honest, if I sit down to a three-course meal, at least one of the courses will probably wind up on my shirt.

This doesn’t, however, necessarily mean I’m clumsy. Sometimes things just get carried away. Sometimes I bring a little too much boyish enthusiasm to the dinner table with me – such as when I’m demonstrating a Seattle Seahawks’ long bomb pass with a baked potato.

(Hey, cut me some slack here – I didn’t realize it was going to hit the gravy dish and my butter-fingered daughter should have been able to catch it, anyway …)

What the problem comes down to is the fact that I’m a little more rotund than I want to be and my “clumsiness” is actually the unconscious rejection of foodstuffs that might make me more rotund than I already am.

Really. A psychiatric technician-in-training once explained this to me during a Beer and Pepperoni Festival on the outskirts of Sebastopol after I’d inadvertently dumped a platter of marinated cocktail sausages onto a gap-toothed motorcycle enthusiast named, as I recall, Gnargh.

Boy, I lost a ton of weight that night …

I know it seems improbable, but this technique – conscious or unconscious – really works. I don’t weigh 350 pounds and part of the reason is that about a third of the food I cook winds up somewhere other than my mouth (tablecloths, carpeting, nearby walls or dinner guests are all eligible receivers).

Although it’s much easier to engage in this multidirectional dieting technique at home, it can be practiced at one’s favorite restaurants, too. How well I remember the night I was regaling dinner companions with the details of a zany liquor store holdup in Fairfield when our waiter stepped up behind me and discreetly shouted “I think some of your little friends are getting away …”

Sure enough, my animated narrative had unceremoniously jostled several small potatoes from my plate and onto the floor, where they were joyously rolling to freedom.

Needless to say, those potatoes never had a chance to expand my waistline.

Even though this unconscious dietary program has become a very personal part of my lifestyle, I’m sure that just about anyone can manage the tried-and-true weight loss technique with a little practice and determination.

For example, go to a fast food restaurant. Order a cheeseburger, fries and a milk shake. Drop the shake on the sidewalk. Or, if you’re taking a lunch break at work, toss that shake at the loudmouth bully on the forklift. Either way, you’re not gaining a single calorie or gram of fat from the milk shake (and you’ll get a lot of healthy exercise running away from the guy on the forklift …).

When you’re cooking at home, you might want to consider my late brother’s alternative to feeding your shirt, table or carpet – serve everything en flambe.

Pork roast? Whoooosh!

Fondue? Foooom!

Mince pie? Whoaaaa!

Plum pudding? Aieeeee!

You know the rule: No flame, you gain …

Originally published February 25, 2001

Activities: Don’t ya just love ’em?

Summertime fun just keeps on coming – whether you want it to or not.

Welcome to California 2000, the state where each and every incorporated municipality is required by law to celebrate roughly 70 festivals annually or be forcibly uprooted and dumped in Iowa.


For newcomers to California, the state’s official motto is “Wheeee!”

Whether it’s Suisun City gleefully celebrating the fact that it has water along its waterfront or Castroville paying festive homage to the action-packed artichoke, this is the any-excuse-for-a-festival state.

Unfortunately, California’s endless cavalcade of zany festivals can only do so much before they all begin to seem the same. Eventually, the thrill of face painting, deep-fried zucchini dogs and creaking Tilt-a-Whirls begins to wear thin.

After the 25th face painting, you and the kids are probably looking for some quality time in the nearest shower stall or automated car wash…

(“Daaaaaaad! It won’t come off! It wooooon’t! I’m gonna have Barrrrney on my forehead forrrrever!”)

Festival promoters used to try luring patrons with promises of “Face painting and much, much more!”

Of course, these clever festival fellows never said what “Much, much more!” actually meant and many of us interpreted that to mean “Much, much more face painting!” or, worse, “Much, much more zucchini!”

This year, resourceful promoters changed their tactics by avoiding a lot of detail and simply offering “Activities!” to potential funseekers.

An increasing number of festival promotions, including the painstakingly written press releases we receive here at the newspaper, are trumpeting “kids’ activities” or “fun activities” or good ol’ “family activities” without explaining exactly what any of them might be.

This has got to mean trouble.

“Activity” leaves a lot open to interpretation and, let’s face it, the average beer-fueled California festival fanatic will usually interpret things to the absolute max.

“Yabba-dabba-dooooo!” was not a term coined by Fred Flintstone. Experts (including the bartender at the old Leaky Tiki Tavern in Lake County) believe it was first uttered in the late 1950s by a funloving group of rural zanies who were trying to water ski across Clear Lake on barrel staves. That was their “activity” and they were damned proud of it. It is unknown if any of them survived past 1960.

In Santa Clara County, activity-oriented teens used to climb up on a steep bluff overlooking the sleepy little village of Saratoga and dispose of their least favorite record albums by randomly hurling the discs into the darkness at about 3 o’clock in the morning.

This quickly prompted other “activities” among the townsfolk: turning on lots of lights, cursing in several languages and removing the shattered remnants of “Bobby Rydell’s Greatest Hits” from their rooftops.

I have it on good authority that there’s also a select group of trapshooters near Bodega Bay who delight in an “activity” that involves launching overripe crabs high into the air and then trying to blast them with shotguns.

Yes, here in the Golden State, one man’s chaos may very well be another’s “activity.”

Heads up, amigos – shotgunned shellfish are nothing to trifle with, no matter how festive you’re feeling…

Originally published August 27, 2000


They don’t make ’em like they used to

I’ve spent more than 30 years in the newspaper business listening to endless diatribes from journalistic crustaceans complaining about how modern newsrooms are just too sissified.

Newsrooms have gotten soft and frilly and user-friendly and, er, clean. And so have their occupants, oldtimers have continually carped since shortly after the end of the Peloponnesian War.

“G’wan, willya lookit that, willya? Bwah!” they’ve groused year after year.

I’ve tried to reason with the old fellows. I’ve tried to ignore them. I’ve even tried to outtalk them (“G’wan, g’wan – shaddup, willya? Bwah!”). All to no avail.

Indoor plumbing is too damned fancy for most of these guys. So’s toothpaste…

Then, last week, something happened – I began to agree with them.

Trouble started with a simple question. While researching a story, I turned to my young newsroom cronies and politely asked the price of a pitcher of beer – nothing fancy, just average beer in an average pitcher at an average tavern.

Alas, I haven’t indulged in the foamy stuff myself ever since my liver threatened to get on the next bus for Reseda a few years back. Prices, I reasoned, must have changed over time.

I felt secure in the fact that I was in a newsroom, though, once recognized as a bastion of precision alcohol consumption. Surely my colleagues would know the cost of a pitcher of beer.

The faces were blank, the silence was deafening.

I might as well have asked for the price of a mail order bride in Ulaanbaatar.

“Uh, guys – Brewskis? Bud? Down the hatch? Pitcher? I’m sure we’re all familiar with the concept – mildly alcoholic beverage in a large container suitable as an offensive weapon under some circumstances?” I asked, my barely concealed sarcasm lost on the well-scrubbed young scribes.

Finally, one by one, they admitted that they either didn’t drink, only indulged in minuscule quantities of designer vodka or had decided to invest their beer money in no-load mutual funds.

“Beer? You mean that German stuff?” asked one goggle-eyed youngster. “My grandpa used to drink that.”

Marvelous. I’m sitting in the middle of a bona fide American newsroom in the greater San Francisco Bay Area – in the heart of S’lano County, fer gawd’s sakes – and nobody knows the price of beer.

Any one of these reporters probably could have told me the price of imported French brie, Italian mineral water or Swiss hair conditioner, but none of them had even a passing acquaintance with a simple pitcher of brew.

Not only was my story stalled, but I finally had to admit what my elders had been telling me for decades – they just don’t make newsrooms like they used to.

Eventually one red-eyed young fellow saved me by staggering through the newsroom and responding “Five or six bucks, depending on happy hour…” before slipping back into the night.

His knowledge and stalwart dedication to a fine old newspaper tradition are, of course, to be commended.

As for the rest of my alleged newspaper colleagues:

“G’wan, willya lookit that, willya? Bwah!”

Originally published May 21, 2000

Some things are just better not seen

The great summer grilling season is nearly upon us and every backyard pyromaniac from Cecilville to Cape Porpoise is beginning to amass a glittering collection of barbecue accessories.

Multi-grilled, propane-fired barbecues, electronic forks that sense the interior temperatures of meats and spatulas big enough to flip a Doberman pinscher are much sought after.

The newspaper was recently advised of yet another innovation in backyard barbecue gadgetry when The Sharper Image company announced the debut of their portable BBQ Grill Light.

For only $29.95 – less than six pitchers of beer – outdoor gourmets can not only grill foods but actually see what they’re cooking.

Whadda concept, eh, amigos?

“Our portable lamp projects a high-intensity beam onto your grill, allowing you to enjoy the evening and the food!” wrote The Sharper Image. “Light has an adjustable head and turns on automatically when its 16-inch arm is extended.”

Yes, this certainly sounds like the next great grilling accessory for avid outdoor chefs to acquire – anywhere but here.

Who knows what the folks at The Sharper Image were thinking when they sent news of this illuminating little gadget to the very heart of S’lano County, where men are men and the women grill chicken with welding torches?

Remember, barbecue chefs here are a little more primitive than the ones found in, say, Marina del Rey. Grilling accessories in S’lano County usually run to things like:

A. Fire.

B. Meat.

Admittedly, some guys have been known to get really dressed up for the occasion by slipping into one of those aprons that proclaim “I’m The Chef” and have a hidden squeaker strategically located just below waist level.

Regardless of attire, though, the last thing any self-respecting S’lano County chef actually wants to see is what’s smoldering on the grill. If our gourmet can discern enough of what he’s cooking to stick a bayonet into it and flip it over every half hour or so, that’s really all he wants or needs.

Most barbecuers hereabouts familiarize themselves with foods by simply memorizing basic silhouettes of grillable objects – round means hamburger, cylindrical means hot dog or sausage, crescent indicates prawns, oblong signifies trout or salmon and square means your toddler has been dropping his alphabet blocks on the grill again (they’re not too bad if you baste them with a tangy honey-lemon marinade).

Even without knowing or remembering exactly what he’s tossed onto the grill during any given barbecue exercise, the average S’lano County chef can probably still see enough of his meal to move it around without having to resort to silly little grill lights.

That’s because the average S’lano County grillmaster enthusiastically utilizes any available flammable substances to fuel his barbecue – charcoal starter fluid, kerosene, gasoline, transmission fluid, perhaps a dash of white phosphorus – and applies them with giddy abandon.

The 3-foot flames shooting through the grill are usually more than sufficient to let the chef see what’s being incinerated if his cornea haven’t been permanently damaged.

Finally, whether you opt for that grill light or a half gallon of kerosene, remember the real secret to successful barbecuing in S’lano County: Stop, drop and roll…

Originally published May 7, 2000

The fault is not in our stars but in our, er, never mind …

As a child of the psychedelic ’60s, I grew up bombarded with the importance of following one’s stars, scanning horoscopes, examining one’s karma and realizing with trepidation that Richard Nixon and I shared a somewhat mediocre astrological sign.

Even though Capricorns never get any respect and the advice we receive from most astrologers is something like “Things could be worse,” I still find myself drawn to the daily newspaper horoscope to find out whether I’m likely to be hit by a runaway bus in the shower or attacked by a swarm of carnivorous bats on my way to work.

A horoscope listing for Capricorns last month was typical of the genre and has left me in a bit of a quandary if I actually decide to pay any attention to it:

“You may have made a hasty decision that you’ll live to regret. Try to backtrack if at all possible.”

Yeah, sure. Let’s analyze this bit of advice, amigos.

First, there’s the presumption that we’re talking “may” as in perhaps, and “a” as in only one, single occurrence of hasty decision-making on the part of any number of hair-trigger Capricorns worldwide.

Sorry, if it’s one thing Capricorns do well – other than fret and toss fitfully in their sleep – it’s make hasty decisions (see above, former president Richard Milhous Nixon. What a zany!).

And now my helpful syndicated astrologer is suggesting that I “may have made a hasty decision” and that I should “backtrack” to get my stars back in line.

Backtrack …

Let’s see, there was the time I couldn’t wait to test the action on a new semi-automatic hunting rifle I’d hastily acquired, so I hastily snapped the bolt and hastily pulled the trigger (firmly believing that the firearm was unloaded).

The rifle hastily fired a round through the ceiling of my living room, through the floor of an upstairs bedroom and into a house guest’s suitcase. The owner of the luggage, although unhurt, was significantly unamused.

How, may I ask, does one backtrack on that inspired bit of hasty decision-making?

Then there was the time that I hastily consumed something like 18 beers at the Gilroy Garlic Festival and – I’m told by fairly reliable witnesses – hastily proposed marriage to a belly dancer, a nun and a comely, 6-foot-tall photographer named Maria.

C’mon, I’ve studiously avoided setting foot in Gilroy ever since and now I’m supposed to backtrack? This doesn’t sound like the smartest move I could make even after 15 years and I’m certain that plenty of upstanding citizens in Gilroy would agree with me.

From time to time, I also have been accused of making hasty automotive decisions, usually by flipping a coin and then acquiring the first piece of Detroit iron that caught my eye.

Ever bought a supercharged Thunderbird? I have. Purchased quite hastily, I might add. Ford doesn’t make them anymore. There’s a reason for that …

At least the aforementioned horoscope says I’ll probably live to regret whatever hasty decision I’ve made. And for Capricorns, simply living to regret one’s actions is a hugely positive thing.

Originally published April 16, 2000