Friday, August 29, 2008

tall one

O.K., I'm tall. Not freakishly tall, just on the tallish side. I don't know what ancestor it came from, but when it happened it seemed to happen overnight. It didn't come from my parents. My mom is only 5'2" and my dad is just a little over 6'. I do have a cousin that's 6'7", but everyone else in my family is pretty normal in the height category.
I'm 5'10". Or at least I always thought I was.
In the mid 90's I found myself recently divorced and terminally short on cash. To make ends meet I took a second job bartending and waiting tables at a neighborhood tavern called Moriarty's. The owner was a former St. Louis cop who would pay me cash under the table per shift and let me keep all of my tips. He would hire a band on Friday and Saturday nights and the place got pretty full. I would come home with what seemed like a fortune in tips. I'm sure it wasn't that much, but it was all in one dollar bills and looked massive.
But, I digress . . . .
I was waiting tables one busy Friday night when a guy tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Hey, how tall are you?" I was afraid he probably wanted to know if I'd fit in some bondage contraption he had in his basement, but he handed me a business card for something called the St. Louis Tip Toppers. "It's a club for tall people! You'd love it!", he exclaimed. Meetings were held at a hotel in the Westport area once a month and there happened to be a meeting the very next week. I said that I would think about it.
When next week came around I had that night off and thought, "What the hell - at least I'll meet some people." I didn't really know what to expect.
As I mentioned before, I am on the tallish side. I'm used to looking most people either in the eye or down at the tops of their heads. When I walked in that night I was absolutely the shortest person there. I was stunned - everybody seemed to be at least 6'5". It was like being in a room full of giraffes. They couldn't have been nicer, but my neck was starting to kill me from looking up into their friendly faces.
The meeting was called to order and I took a seat in the front row for fear that I couldn't see over any body's head. By the time they'd read the list of upcoming events and presented a slide show of overwhelmingly Caucasian people participating in healthy family-oriented outdoor activities, I was starting to get the idea that maybe this wasn't my crowd. "I'll sneak out," I thought, "They'll never see me unless they look down." Unfortunately the President of the club chose that moment to invite all prospective members up to the podium. I was the only new face, so everyone pointed and I stood up. "Take off your shoes," said the President. I said, "What?" "Take off your shoes," said the President, "We need to measure you." I climbed up on what looked like a doctor's scale and several giraffes clustered around. One of them said, "Hm . . . 5'9 3/4." "She's not eligible," said another. "Sorry," said the President, "You have to be at least 5'10". Thanks for coming." "No! Wait," I said, "I'm 5'10"! Really!"
They handed me my shoes and I slunk out of there.
In hindsight, I think I was more upset about being 1/4" shorter than I always thought I was than by not being able to join the Tip Toppers club. You see, I always believed in the (Groucho) Marxian rule.
Don't join any club that would have you as a member.

Friday, August 22, 2008

kitty crack

I have a 14-year-old cat named Charlie. I know it 's a cliche - women have cats, men have dogs. Don't get me wrong, I love dogs. It's just that living in small apartments and working long hours don't go well with dog ownership. You can leave food, water and a litter box and a cat will be just fine. Thankfully, David is also an animal person. I think Charlie looks forward to seeing him more than just about any person on earth.
When I got divorced, I ended up with 3 cats - 2 alpha females and Charlie. The girls were best friends and generally plotted together to made his life a living hell on earth.
They have both since passed, and Charlie is revelling in being the King of the Castle. First at the food dish! First at the litter box! Gets to sleep anywhere he wants! Undivided human attention! He doesn't miss the girls one bit.
I happened to be at Shop 'n Save one day and saw a new kind of cat food on sale for dirt cheap. It was supposed to look just like real tuna. The packaging even looked like those new tuna pouches (one of the greatest inventions of all time, in my opinion). Charlie was looking a little scrawny - they tend to lose weight as they get older (unfortunately, only cats do this) - so I thought "What the hell."
Turns out I opened Pandora's pouch.
The food was disgusting looking - sort of like white flakes in V8 juice jello - but easy to squeeze out of the handy-dandy pouch, so I started throwing some in his food bowl when I got up in the morning. It only took him a day or so to figure that out. The third day he was standing on my chest at 6:30 in the morning, meowing in my face. Not a gentle meow, either. This meow meant "Get up, lazy ass! I'm HUNGRY! I need my Whiskas fix NOW!"
I tried to make a game of it by turning him into Lassie.
Charlie: MEOW!
Me: What's that?
Charlie: MEOW!
Me: Timmy's in the barn?
Charlie: MEOW!
Me: And the barn's on fire?
Charlie: MEOW!
That eventually wore thin.
I honestly don't know what they put in that stuff. David said, "They put sugar in it." I said, "They put crack in it." We decided it must be sugar and crack. Or maybe sugared crack. Or crack with real sugar flavor.
David walked in this morning as Charlie was standing on my chest, meowing in my face. He said, "Oh, no." I said, "Yeah - he's got that ol' Whiskas monkey on his back."
Now he goes crazy whenever I walk into the kitchen any time of day or night. And he doesn't look any heavier.
I wonder if there's such a thing as cat rehab?

Friday, August 15, 2008

casino royale

I actually had a job interview yesterday. I know. I'm shocked, too. I think it went pretty well considering that it took place in the lobby of the Harrah's Casino Hotel. When I mentioned that it was a pretty good people-watching scene, the woman that interviewed me said, "Yeah, it looks like a Kmart crowd, doesn't it?"
I hated to agree with her but I had noticed the same thing.
Now, I am not a gambler. The closest I ever get to gambling is buying a Powerball ticket when that jackpot gets enormous, exactly when the odds are worst. I like to get something for my money - music, a bottle of wine, a new pair of shoes. It always seemed silly to me to give money to someone based on the miniscule chance that you'll actually get it back. The only time I ever went to Vegas I ended up playing quarter slots all night because I realized that they would give you free cocktails as long as you kept playing. I probably spent more in quarters than the drinks were worth and didn't win anything, but what the hell.
I am a geekily punctual person, so I had a good 20 minutes to pee and wander around Harrah's. The place seemed extraordinarily busy for a Thursday afternoon and I had plenty of people to watch. That's when I started to notice a theme.
Everybody seemed to be retired, disabled, hoosiers* or some combination of 2 or 3 of these traits. Now, I'm sure there are other segments of the population that enjoy casino gambling. They were not at Harrah's yesterday afternoon as far as I could see. And that got me thinking.
Why would people who have the least amount of disposable income want to throw it away on the worst odds? I did a little research when I got home.
According to Wiki, casino games usually have mathematically-determined odds that ensure the house has at all times an advantage over the players called the house edge. In games such as poker where players play against each other, the house even takes an extra commission called the rake. Casinos have no clocks, no windows, nothing to give you the impression of the passing of time. Slot trays are engineered to be particularly loud so that every patron can hear a winning machine's shower of tokens for gambling rationalization. In most casinos the more money a player spends the more rewards (known as comps) the player gets. Plus they're chock full of restaurants and clubs with live entertainment to get you inside and keep you inside.
All of this adds up to make casino gambling in the U.S. a very profitable business - at least 35 billion in 2006 according to the American Gaming Association.
Which leads me to my original question - why would you waste what little extra money you have at a place determined to take it on a slot machine with the odds of 1 in 32,768?
Because you just might be that 1.
I would imagine that many lower income people feel (and probably rightly so) that the only way they're ever going to experience any kind of financial security is through a stroke of luck. To the elderly and disabled, a jackpot may seem like the only way out of Social Security that isn't keeping up with the cost of living and increasing health issues coupled with rising health care costs.
I know I sound like a snob, but it's not intentional. I would like nothing better than to see someone who really needs it take a large sum of money from Harrah's. I'd be the first to congratulate you.
Stop by and see me. Throw me a 10 spot. I'll be the one hanging out in the lobby admiring my new shoes.

*The term hoosier as used in the St. Louis area doesn't refer to someone from Indiana. It's generally used to describe a person thought of as a hillbilly and is usually an insult; i.e. - " Ya big hoos!"
I am allowed to use the term here because I am not a hoosier.
I am Illinois trailer trash.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I did something this week that I've always wanted to do.
I worked as an election judge during Tuesday's primary.
I'll have to admit my initial reason for signing up was somewhat monetary. Two of our friends had worked during previous elections and mentioned that not only did you get paid for serving, you got paid for training. My reasoning was that I could take a vacation day and get paid twice for the same amount of my time. Sweet!
Then I got laid off and getting paid even once became very important to me.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in the power of the vote. I think it's a privilege that shouldn't be taken lightly. I try to do some research before the election so I have some idea about who and what I'm voting for and not just picking out names that I like. Plus, I became fascinated with the whole political process during my time in the newspaper business.
For all of these reasons I would have done it for nothing. But the money sure was a bonus.
I got called at the last minute as a replacement for someone who'd dropped out and rushed into a 3-hour training session on Friday. There was a lot to remember and the instructor whipped through it a little faster than I would have liked. We were told to report to our assigned polling place at 5:00 a.m. That meant I had to set the alarm for . . . . oh, my god.
I was shocked at the amount of archaic paperwork involved. There have been some technological advancements in the voting process - St. Louis now has computer touch-screen voting (which everyone over the age of 30 seems to be afraid of using) and paper ballots that slide into a machine which optically scans them - but there are still paper lists with numbers on them that you have to cross out whenever you hand out a ballot, ink-jet printed pages of stickers that go in the voter's roll book and have to be initialed by 2 judges, paper ballots that you have to write the ward and precinct numbers on them before you hand them out, and various forms printed in different colors that have to be filled out when the voter isn't listed in the rolls or has moved.
My assignment was an old folks apartment complex just a few blocks away. We were supposed to have 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats handing out ballots in each precinct. One of our workers didn't show up so I became the token Democrat. My 2 co-judges didn't seem to like each other much. Nice ladies, but they were both talking to me and sort of ignoring each other. When one would leave the room, the other would lean over to me and say "Who does she think she is?"
Ms. Y (R) had worked at elections for 15 years and considered herself an expert. Ms. L (R) and I were brand new, so Ms. Y spent the rest of the day giving us contradictory and often hilarious orders in between discussing her various ailments. Our precinct was one of the smallest in the city (we didn't even break 100 voters) so she had plenty of time to tell us the right way to do things and second-guess herself. "Don't put that book here! Put that book there!" she would cry. Ms. L would lean over to me and whisper, "Why is she riding your ass?"
The very long day ended with me getting into an N.R.A. discussion with a Republican judge at the neighboring precinct's table. "If someone breaks into my home and threatens my family, don't you think I have the right to blow their head off?" he asked. "They''ll sure be armed." "Sheesh, couldn't you just get a burglar alarm? Does it have to turn into Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?" I replied. We finally agreed to disagree.
Frankly, I was afraid he'd shoot me.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Growing up in a small town the only pigeons I ever saw were on TV. Every show set in a big city had scenes of them getting fed in the park or flying off from a midtown plaza in a huge cloud.
Unbelievably, they are considered to be one of the most intelligent birds on the planet able to complete tasks previously thought to be the sole preserve of humans and primates. One of only 6 species and the only non-mammal that can pass the ‘mirror test’ - being able to recognize their reflection in a mirror - the pigeon can also recognize all 26 letters of the English language. In scientific tests pigeons have been found to be able to differentiate between photographs and even differentiate between two different human beings in a photograph when rewarded with food for doing so.
I never really spent much time around them until I started working downtown. They fascinated me - the iridescence of their feathers, their boldness around people, the way they would look you in the eye and look at your lunch as if to say, "You gonna eat that?" I considered them to be just noontime entertainment until we moved into our present apartment. Lovely place, reasonable rent, nice landlord and landlady but very popular with the pigeon population. There happened to be a small crawl space in between the ceiling and the roof that was a perfect pigeon loft. All day long you could hear little feet scrabbling across the ceiling, wings flapping, fights and apologies. The Alpha pigeon (I named him Mr. White - too much time spent with Reservoir Dogs, I fear) would peer into a window trying to figure out who we were and why we were living in their house.
The landlord tried to scare them off with a machine that emitted sound at a frequency that only they could hear and had an eerie red light on it to boot. I came home one day to find a pigeon resting his head on it, a peaceful expression on his face.
Things came to a head when the central air system seemed to be struggling to accomplish the bare minimum of cooling and we started finding little gray and white feathers in the filter. A lot of little gray and white feathers. The pigeon loft had to be sealed, repairmen had to be summoned, drywall and dust were involved. A pissed-off Mr. White kept staring in the windows at me as if to say, "Why are you doing this to my people?".
Things are much better now air conditioning-wise. I kind of miss the little bird footsteps over my head. I know it drove everyone else in the house crazy, but I found it soothing in a weird sort of way.
My only problem is hiding from Mr. White.
I know he recognizes my face.