Talk radio host to speak, and quick restaurant review

Progressive radio talk show host Leon Gray will be speaking at this month’s Downtown Neighborhood Association meeting, tomorrow night (Thursday, May 18) at the Blue Plate Cafe on Court Square. The meeting will have a social hour beginning at 7:00 and Leon will speak at 7:45. Leon’s radio show is on Progressive Talk 680 from 4 to 7 pm and provides a much-needed alternative to Mike Fleming’s reactionary/conservative views.

Unfortunately, I will have to miss Leon’s speech because I’ll be at BBQ Fest, although I have been lucky enough to meet him in person a few times (he’s a fellow Big Foot Lodge regular). Despite the fame talk radio has brought him, Leon is quite genuine and down to earth, and I know you will enjoy meeting him if you go.

One last reminder: I’m still accepting invitations to booths for BBQ Fest. You can send me your invitations via e-mail.

In trivia news, the Rapscallions suffered a devastating fourth loss in a row last night. The loss was partly my fault, as I was distracted making fun of team member Pam’s phone (her phone’s case looks like a condom, making me wonder what Pam does with that phone when no one is around). After trivia, some of the team had dinner at Meditrina, the new restaurant on Union in the old Cafe Samovar location. Having eaten a big meal earlier in the day, I just ordered the thyme ice cream, which was delicious. I did sample the gazpacho and the striped bass that the Nuh-Uh Girl ordered – got a pic of the striped bass but I’m away from my camera right now, so I’ll have to post it later. The server was really friendly and knew a lot about the dishes. Entrees were in the $14-24 range, although they also had a “smaller portions” menu for $7-12 which changes nightly.

During dinner, we were trying to get the Nuh-Uh Girl (who has discovered this blog, and thus her nickname) to go “Nuh UHHHHHH!!!!!!” but she wouldn’t do it.

I’m gonna have to resolve this mattress issue soon… my current mattress is just KILLING my back. However, buying a new mattress means having to be home all day Saturday waiting for the delivery people to show up, or finding someone with a truck who can help me pick it up. Stuff like that is almost impossible to schedule in a month like May, when there’s so much going on. Anyway… time to go to work. Nothing helps a sore back like sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours.

Time for a new phone

I just logged into my account on Verizon, and discovered that I’m close enough to the end of my 2-year contract that they’re willing to bribe me with $100 off to buy a new phone and start a new contract. So I’ve been looking at the cell phone/PDAs and checking out reviews on websites, and it looks like the Verizon Wireless XV6700 is the best one out there – slightly better than the Sony Treo 700, which is supposedly the hottest thing in cell phone/PDAs these days. The main reasons I like the XV6700 are

1) Web surfing with a graphical browser. That would allow me to get around the city schools’ stupid content filter when I’m at work. It would also present Web pages that look approximately like they do on a PC’s browser, as opposed to my current phone which can only display text.

2) Ability to post to my blogs from the phone. I ran a test post Sunday from a friend’s Treo, and if a Treo can do it, I’m sure the XV6700 can. The cover slides open to reveal a QWERTY keyboard, which looks a lot easier to use than the Treo’s.

For one thing, that would allow me to take my newspaper to Sleep Out’s on Sunday morning and post Deal of the Week from there, without having to lug my laptop around. That would save me some time and allow me to multitask.

It would also allow me to increase my posting frequency on this blog. Heh… as much time as I spend in bars, I have a feeling that would mean more drunk posts. Hmm… just over two weeks from now will be the beginning of Tube Top Month in this blog, and Tube Top Month is a theme that works well with drunk posts.

3) Ability to check e-mail from the phone. This one isn’t as huge a deal as the other two since I’m usually not far from a computer, but there are occasionally days when I’m out all day, and I don’t want to miss anything.

The XV6700 also has a 1.3 megapixel camera, and comes with 64MB of RAM, expandable with a mini-SD card. With a 416 mHz processor, it’s more powerful than the home computer I owned just six years ago. Pretty amazing. It can also surf the web at broadband speeds. It’s $100 cheaper than the Treo and seems like a better phone.

Anyone have experience with this phone? If you do, I’d like to hear your comments.

Happens every year…

Right around this time of year, I always decide I can’t wait until BBQ Fest and head to Leonard’s BBQ Buffet at Main and Adams (inside the Claridge House) for my own personal BBQ fest. It is SO nice to be working in Midtown and have an hour for lunch… ample time to drive to Leonard’s and eat (and stop at home to post about it). When I worked in Earle, Arkansas I had to take a sick day in order to get lunch at Leonard’s. (Note to self: this’ll be one of the posts to remove next time I’m job hunting)

I had four ribs, some smoked sausage, baked beans, spaghetti, and corn. Man was that good. In addition to the food, Leonard’s provides some of the most uninteresting people-watching in the world, as all the businessmen and women in the area file in. God… corporate people are such turds. First you have the suit-and-tie crowd, all looking waaaayyyy too serious, looking like they’ve been constipated for about a week. Perhaps Ex-Lax should put vending machines in downtown office buildings.

Then you have the business casual crowd, looking just as serious, with their neatly pressed shirt tucked into their neatly pressed black casual pants, their cell phone and company ID badge clipped to their belt. You know, I’m probably among the least qualified people around to be the fashion police, but it seems to me that wearing an office ID badge anywhere outside the office is just the height of dorkitude. Unclip the damn thing, stuff it in your pocket, clip it back on when you go back to work.

Actually, now that I think about it, given the proximity to the federal buildings, a lot of Leonard’s customers are not corporate people, but lawyers. And, oh, don’t get me started talking about lawyers, because…

…Um… wait. One of my BBQ Fest tent invitations came from a lawyer. Um… so… lawyers are GREAT! We LOVE lawyers! Yeah!!!

All right, rant over, back to work. In the news at work, one of the mainframe programmers in my department came in second out of over 1000 people in an online poker tournament, winning an all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas and entry into the World Series of Poker. Pretty cool.

I’ll be at the Saucer tonight, in an attempt to turn around the Rapscallions’ recent dismal record at team trivia. Happy afternoon everybody…

Interesting scenario: the second Civil War

I read a good novel this weekend which is available for free in PDF format: Red! Blue! by D.Quinn Mills. The story happens two years from now, during the Presidential election season of 2008 (although the author mistakenly has the election happening in ’07 and the inauguration in ’08). Sheila Brinton, a Democratic senator whose husband is an ex-president, runs against John Cox, a Republican governor whose brother is the current president and whose father is a former president. The election ends in a dispute over who won Nevada’s electoral votes, and both candidates refuse to back down and lay claim to the White House. As inauguration day nears, the country is on the brink of a second Civil War – not between the North and the South, but between the red states and the blue states.

Perhaps a little bit farfetched, but a good read nonetheless. The author’s blog is the official Red! Blue! site, but since I know many of you have Blogspot sites blocked at your work, I’ll also provide direct links to the PDF files that make up the book:

Red! Blue! Part I
Red! Blue! Part II
Red! Blue! Part III

The newest place to hear live music downtown

This afternoon I was at the Saucer drinking a beer, and the waitress was telling me about her other job working at PF Chang’s. She made me hungry for Chinese food. I wasn’t about to drive out to East Memphis for Chang’s, but I did decide to walk the next block over to Wang’s at the corner of Main and Gayoso.

It’s the first time I’ve been in Wang’s in a couple of months, and I noticed something new: the area behind the bar has been converted into a stage. A BIG stage with what looked to be a kick-ass sound system and musical equipment (although it was dark back there, so I couldn’t see everything clearly). I asked the bartender about it, and she said they are going to start having live music from 9 to 2 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. They’re not up and running yet because they have a few electrical issues to sort out, but those should be taken care of in a week or two and then they’ll begin.

I’m not sure what type of bands they plan on having, and I’ve never associated Chinese restaurants with live music, but I’ll definitely go check them out when they get it going. It looks like they dropped some serious money into this project and plan on doing it right. Thumbs up to Wang’s for thinking outside the box.

Elvis, bum geography, and more

– Last night I was walking down Monroe and I saw Sharp Dressed Bum riding toward me on his bike. So I decided to duck in LoLo’s Table for a drink, and I found some friends of mine sitting at the bar. They had been hit up by Sharp Dressed Bum already. One of them said, “He’ll tell you, ‘Oh yeah, Elvis gave me this bike.'”

Now, Sharp Dressed Bum is about the same age as I am, I would estimate. And I was a little kid when Elvis died. So my friend asked him, “What year did Elvis die?”

Sharp Dressed Bum: “I dunno. But he gave me this bike!”

The bike has whitewall tires (no I’m not kidding; he’ll brag about those tires too) and handles that stick up in the air, if that will help you know who to avoid.

– My friends at LoLo’s also told me about another bum who hangs out in front of Huey’s. Now, most bums will eventually recognize downtowners and leave them alone, but this one had bad short-term memory.

So the bum approached my friend one day and commented, “You look like you’re from Australia.” The bum thought he was an out-of-town tourist and wanted to do the “tour guide” thing. In reality, my friend was from a few blocks down the road.

A few days later, he approached my friend again, having totally forgotten that they had already spoken. “You look like you’re from Italy.”

A few days later, he approached my friend again. “You look like you’re from Ireland.”

A few days after that, he again saw my friend. This time, “Hey man, you look like you’re from Germania, or one of them countries.”

Germania?

– Speaking of bums: My least favorite bum of all time, Crazy Insane Bitch, is back on the street. Long curly blond hair, 4’11”-5’0″, plump, about 40, looks like she hasn’t bathed or showered in a month. If you see this woman coming I suggest you cross the street immediately to get away from her. Trouble is, she’ll see you and cross the street too.

– Inside Joke Dept:

From Philip’s blog: “Oh yeah, I saw my friend Alisha there. She was with a bday party for ‘the most annoying man on the earth.'” Hey PC, if you’re reading this: What do you think about fixing him up with The Most Annoying Woman On The Planet from my blog? They sound PERFECT for each other.

Philip writes that “the most annoying man on the earth” is the king of cockblocks, and can even cockblock himself. So can she… if the two of them go out, she’ll probably call him and tell him she’ll be late, because she has to stop by a (male) friend’s house. Then she’ll bring the friend along on the date, explaining that he’s a “DW” (drink watcher), “to make sure I don’t drink too much, because I don’t trust my own decisions.”

Let me know if he’s interested… I can send you a link to her MySpace account, where she has pics of herself.

– That’s all for now… didn’t do much last night, just hung out at Nate’s upstairs bar at Earnestine & Hazel’s for a while. Didn’t see the E&H ghost that was reported on the news a day or two before.

Back later with more posts, and don’t forget to check the Commercial Appeal’s site for my Deal of the Week blog tomorrow.

The "What am I doing with my life" rant, Part I

This is Part I of the “What Am I Doing With My Life?” rant, in which I’ll discuss my attempts to find a balance between being happy and dealing with society’s career-related expectations.

It was June 1988, and I was in Little Rock, home from my freshman year at college. With tuition plus related expenses at Rhodes running close to 20 grand a year, it was decided I should get a summer job to “help out.”

Since I already had an aptitude for computers, I went to a temporary agency and applied for work doing data entry and other computer-related office stuff. I was assigned to work for a week at a chiropractor’s office near where I lived – his staff had gotten behind and he needed some help catching up. It was the first time I had ever held a real office job. They offered me an hourly rate of $4.50, which at the time was $1.15 above minimum wage and was not bad for an 18-year-old with no work experience.

So I showed up at the chiropractor’s and did the work I was asked. I entered data in the the computer. I organized files. But more than anything, I watched the clock and waited for it to be 5:00 and thought about how much I hated being there.

I really, really, really hated it. I hated having to get up at 6:30 in order to be at work on time at 8. I hated the fact that by the time I got home at 5:05, I was too tired to enjoy what was left of my day. I hated the clothes that I had to wear. I hated the fact that I couldn’t drive over to Reservoir Park and hang out with my friends until 1, 2 in the morning because I had to get a good night’s sleep to be ready for work the next day. To me it just didn’t seem worth the $36 a day I was making, before taxes.

Oh, but wait. I wasn’t really making $36 a day. You see, the college financial aid rules stated that for every dollar a college student made during the summer, his financial aid would be reduced by 70 cents. So, even though I was earning $4.50 an hour, I only had a real net gain of $1.35 an hour. And taxes came out of that $1.35. It struck me as a completely idiotic government rule, a disincentive for college students to work.

So, I was miserable and felt like I had sold my soul. But to the adults in my life, I was “respectable.” I was a “working man.” I was doing what was expected of me. I was doing something that made me unhappy for 40 hours a week, which apparently made the adults around me happy that I was turning into such a good citizen.

Finally, the week ended, and the temp agency didn’t have an assignment for the following week, so I got to enjoy a taste of freedom. I could hang out with my friends, sleep until 10, play video games, once again feel a zest for life. But I knew the agency would soon be calling, and all that would be taken away, and I didn’t see a way out.

Fate intervened, although not in a way that I would have ever wanted. That week, my grandmother (who lived with us) fell in the kitchen and broke her hip. She would have to spend two weeks in the hospital, and then for the rest of the summer she would need me to stay home with her and be her caretaker. I was done with the rat race for the year.

The adults in my life once again expressed their approval – I was dutifully giving up a summer’s income to stay home and take care of my grandmother. And besides, they pointed out, she’d be in the hospital for two weeks, and maybe the temp agency could give me an assignment for part of that time and at least I could make some money.

A few days later the dreaded phone call came, at 6:30 in the morning. In a half-asleep daze, I listened as the woman at the agency explained the situation: They had an emergency assignment. One of their other temps couldn’t make the job, and they knew I couldn’t stay long term because of my grandmother, but if I could just work for a few days – until she got out of the hospital – it would help them out a great deal. They offered me the same pay rate as before, $4.50 an hour.

I thought it over for a moment… then refused the assignment despite the agency woman’s pleas. Then I went back to bed. I just couldn’t stand the thought of selling my happiness and well-being for an effective rate of $1.35 an hour, just to gain the approval of the adults around me. Not even for a few days.

So I took care of my grandmother and August came and I went back to Rhodes for my sophomore year. But I still had a dilemma to face – what would I do the following summer? My grandmother’s hip would be healed by then, and I’d be expected to go back to work. (I hate the word “expected.”) And what would I do after graduation? It was apparently a normal thing for adults to go sit in an office and be miserable 40 or more hours a week, 50 or 51 weeks a year from the time they get out of college until they’re old and gray.

Well, sometime during the school year, I came up with a brilliant solution which allowed me to hold on to my freedom during the summer of 1989: I decided to become a math tutor. By then I was a computer science and math major at Rhodes and had the experience and math skills to allow me to do tutoring. I put a classified ad in the Arkansas Gazette advertising my services. The self-employed tutoring job offered a number of advantages over traditional bullshit office work:

1) Most importantly, I had control over my own schedule. I wasn’t a morning person, so I simply wouldn’t schedule sessions earlier than 10 AM. On the other hand, if students wanted evening sessions I’d gladly do them if I was available. If there was a particular day I wanted to spend with friends, I wouldn’t schedule any sessions for that day. My schedule was now controlled by me, and not by some societally-accepted belief that people are “supposed” to work from 8 to 5, every day, Monday-Friday, day in and day out.

2) As an independent contractor, I could charge a significantly higher rate than the $4.50 an hour the temp agency had paid me. I started at $7 per hour, and as I gained experience eventually bumped the rate to $10 and then $15.

3) Because I was getting paid in cash, the federal financial aid people didn’t know about the money I was making, and didn’t reduce my grants for the following year. So instead of making $4.50 and getting to keep $1.35 minus taxes, I made $7 and got to keep $7.

4) Since I was self-employed, there was no one to tell me how I should dress when I went out on tutoring jobs. And really, no one had much of a dress expectation for a college student doing private tutoring in people’s homes. I wore a T-shirt and shorts to most of my jobs, which was exactly what I preferred.

5) Because I was still doing something to go out in the world and earn money during the summer, I continued to receive the approval of the adults in my life.

So the summer of 1989 was a good one. “VICTORY!!!” I thought. I had taken the system on and beaten it. I had found a way to keep The Man and people’s expectations of what I “should” do from robbing me of my happiness and freedom.

I continued to tutor all the way through college and then graduate school, until finally I won a teaching assistantship in the fall of 1992. After I completed my graduate coursework, I went through a series of non-traditional jobs, and ended up spending only six months of the 1990s working in an 8-to-5 office culture – first I landed a gig writing medical software which I did from home; then I spent 5 years teaching college at the University of Memphis; then I traveled the country for a while as a corporate trainer. I was very, very lucky to avoid the office for as long as I did.

In Part II I’ll discuss the things I’ve been doing in recent years to make a living, the things that would really make me happy, and attempts to balance them… and I’ll ask my readers for advice. It will be a lot longer than Part I and a lot less organized. It will probably take me a week or two to type it up. Have a good weekend everybody…

Oh Nicole… sweet, sweet Nicole

So tonight I walked to the Saucer for Happy Hour… two of my favorite Beer Goddesses, Angie and Leah, who had worked the lunch shift and just got off, were sitting in the window and said, “Paul! Come have a beer with us!” Okay. So I went inside and they said, “Have you heard about the 93X Sexiest Server contest?” Apparently a local radio station was holding a contest among the Saucer employees to determine who was the sexiest. Sounded like an interesting contest, so I ordered a beer and grabbed a seat.

There were five contestants… Nicole, Christi (not actually a server but a bartender), Ashley, Alli (or Allie? she’s never waited on me, don’t know the spelling), and Amy. They each had to answer a question and walk around the patio area with a full tray of drinks. Audience applause determined the winner, and after the initial round it was narrowed down to Nicole and Alli (Allie?). After a second audience survey, Nicole was declared the winner. Congratulations Nicole!

I’m just now realizing I had my camera in my pocket the entire time and could have photo-blogged this event. How stupid am I?

Later I went with a friend to the Peabody rooftop, which sucked. It was cold and windy and people stayed away. We went back to the Saucer after about an hour. My friend went home, and I proceeded to lose a game of darts.

Downtowners who go to bars: Opinion question: Who’s hotter, Nicole from the Saucer or Nicole from Big Foot? That’s a tough call.

Thursday update: Greece, India, Italian food, ice cream, and produce

– A couple of cultural festivals are happening this weekend. I’ve already mentioned Our Big Fat Greek Festival, to be held Friday-Saturday, May 12-13 at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church at 573 N. Highland from 11 am to 8 pm. Admission is $2. Greek food (gyros!) and dancing. Here’s a link to the Greek Festival website for more info.

– Further out east will be Discover India, presented by the India Culture Center and Temple in Eads. Hours ar 10-5 Saturday the 13th and 11-5 Sunday the 14th. Sample foods from different parts of India, check out Indian crafts, jewelry, and Mehendi (hand painting), enjoy Indian food and dance. More info about Discover India here.

– The Memphis Farmers’ Market opens Saturday at the corner of Front and GE Patterson, and will be open every Saturday from 7 am to 1 pm through October 28. Here’s a link for more info. 7 am… I think it’s safe to say I won’t be there for the opening. Then again, I don’t cook at all beyond heating stuff up in a microwave, so I’m not sure what good a farmers’ market would do me at any hour.

– Word is that the Grisanti family is going to be taking over the back part of Glasshouse 383 (383 S. Main) to turn it into a restaurant. From what I’ve read on the Center City Commission’s site, it will feature pizzas and casserole dishes from a wood-burning oven. It will be open late night, and there may also be a wine bar. Hope this happens – would be a nice addition to downtown.

– Also according to the CCC, there’s now a Ben & Jerry’s location open at 175 S. Third. I don’t know exactly where that is, but it sounds like the place that used to be Sal’s Hot Dogs & Beef, in the hotel across the street from the Peabody Place Mall.

– There’s also a restaurant opening up downtown that features an all-Romanian waitstaff who prefer to receive tips in kisses rather than money… oops, sorry, I’m mixing fantasy with reality again. Only in my dreams does such a place exist. Too bad… I could really add to my reputation as a good tipper.

– Off to Happy Hour at the Saucer, then the rooftop party at the Peabody. Back tomorrow or next time I think of something to type…