Friday, May 30, 2008

A Day in the Life

The alarm goes off at eight. I’m not sure why since we never get out of bed until nine. I’m just a man so I don’t wonder, ask or complain. One of the many things I learned in my twelve year marriage. Wendy gets out of bed at nine after nine. She heads to the kitchen to get her morning caffeine, the first of many Diet Cokes. I slumber in bed until the door to the shower shuts.

I roll out of bed, put on sweat pants, a Superman T-shirt and some slipper moccasins I bought for six Euros. I amble down the hall to Wendy’s computer and turn it on, then turn on the intern’s computer. I amble back up the hall and strip the pillows off the bed, then make it. I am the bed fairy. The stealth bed maker. The walrus. Coo coo ca choo. Wendy always thinks I’m going to sleep in and then she gets out of the shower and the bed is made and I’m sitting at my desk.

I pour about three ounces of coffee into a cup and drink it cold. As always, I longingly think back to the time when I used to drink fifty ounces a day. Ever since my first massive soul-destroying panic attack I haven’t been able to tolerate caffeine like I used to. I need the three ounces to wake up, but even then I’ll get a little jittery in thirty minutes and regret drinking even that much. A pot of coffee lasts me a week or more. Every time I make a new pot, the old filter and coffee is moldy. (You can file that under “information you really didn’t want or need to know.”).

I do the dishes in the sink and then check to make sure Wendy’s computer has come up alright. Sometimes Outlook gives an error stating “Outlook failed to start correctly the last time you opened it. Would you like to start Outlook in safe mode?” It happens about once every five times. I’ve looked up the fix on the net but haven’t applied it yet. If it gives that message, the computer hangs until you click “no” and won’t finish loading programs in her startup.

I retire to my desk and read new email then check mmajunkie.com for new updates. I flame a few people in the forums for claiming Tim Silvia is boring but Lyoto Machida is an elusive artist that only “true” MMA fans can understand. Then I check out “Penny Arcade”, “PVP-Online”, “CTRL-ALT-DEL”, “PBF”, “xkcd”, Google news and “The Huffington Post.” All of which takes about ten minutes unless there’s something compelling on the news or the post.

At ten o’clock Wendy’s new intern Diana comes in. She doesn’t know me at all. So far all she’s seen is a guy sitting at a desk in sweats, unshowered, unshaved, hair a tousle sitting in a computer chair as Wendy showed her around the apartment. I let her in and ask her if she needs coffee in the morning. “Oh yes, I’m addicted to coffee.”

“Let me make you some fresh coffee then” and she follows me down the hall to the kitchen. Out of her backpack she pulls out both instant coffee and milk. I guess she is addicted. She came prepared. I show her how to use the microwave, where to put the milk and ask if she needs sugar. We make small talk for a bit and I learn about her home town in South America and how much she loved living in Washington D.C.. When she finishes making her coffee she heads back down the hall to the office space of the house where Wendy’s office is. I’m convinced I’ve made a good impression and settle back into my desk. A few minutes later the other intern, Sandra, comes in. She speaks English worse than I speak Spanish.

“Hola Jamie.”

“Hola Sandra. Como Estas?”

“Bien. Y tu?”

“Muy bien.

She makes tea and I want to ask her how her allergies are doing but can’t find the right words so early in the morning so I go back to work.

It’s a little intimidating. At one end of the apartment is three beautiful women, all perfectly made up, in stylish clothes, that have all been to grad school and speak three or more languages calling the most powerful companies in the world. At the other end is an unemployed writer who went to a state college, speaks one language and is wearing a Superman T-shirt.

Proof there is a God.

Most days at this point I’ll do flashcards and The Rosetta Stone until my brain is fried and I need a break but today I cannot get motivated so I read some MMA forums, some political forums, argue about Scott McClellan’s new book and berate myself for not working harder. I finally am able to force myself to do some Rosetta Stone and “Supermemo” a program that I have put all my flashcards into over the last week. (Thank you Bripalm for the link in my comments section. I hated the program at first but have come to love it.)

I do this until twelve-thirty and then the doorbell rings which Wendy answers. It is a tiny Spanish woman who wants to tell us that barbequing on the terrace is very dangerous and we can’t do it anymore. She states this with authority, as if she has some sort of power. Which she doesn’t. Wendy explains that the firemen had been here before and didn’t tell us it was a problem or illegal. The woman insists that it is. She and Wendy argue for a bit because, no, we are not giving up our barbeque until the police or fire department tell us to stop, which they won’t. The woman tries to tell us she lives in a three hundred year old house that will go up in flames if a spark hits it. Considering she lives about fifty yards away and a sparks lifetime is about two seconds, I’m not that worried.

She tries to tell Wendy that “As of today, it is forbidden.” Which makes me laugh.

I would like to tell her to go smoke a pole but my Spanish isn’t good enough to keep up and Wendy is doing a great job all by herself. I’m sure I’d misunderstand and make things worse so I let it play out. They keep talking for a good twenty minutes and I just keep thinking to myself “Who does this woman think she is? It’s not illegal to have a barbeque on a terrace in Madrid. End of discussion. Go away crazy lady.”

Wendy befriends her and they start talking about the woman’s dead husband, something about her kid and they part with the woman insisting that it’s forbidden now and Wendy promising that we will be very careful when we barbeque. When.

I jump in the shower and head to class.

Montse and I talk bullfights for ten minutes and then get down to the dangerous task of learning “complement directo” and “compliment indirecto” pronombres. This is one of the hardest things for me to learn, to listen to, to understand and use in speech at all, much less use it smoothly.

Pronouns in Spanish work quite differently than in English.

A quick example –

“Me has escrito una carta?”

“Have you written a letter to me?” (Even my example sentence is different than we would write it in English. Doing a strict translation of that sentence actually translates to “To me, have you written a letter?”

In English, you would respond with “Yes, I have written it to you.” “It” replacing “a letter.”

To respond using Spanish Pronouns, the pronouns go first in the sentence.

“Si, te la he esctrito.”

“Yes, to you it I have written.”

It’s like I have to learn Spanish and Ebonics at the same time.

We drill this and do worksheets for an hour and then it’s off to conversation class.

Have I told you how much I hate Italians?

Not all Italians, just the ones from Italy.

Of course, I’m kidding. Mostly. In point of fact, at International House Mario “Superman” Washington was from Italy and he basically saved me in that class. I still have a man crush on that guy. (File that under “more information you really didn’t need, or want, to know.”) But in general, having Italians in class has been awful for me. Spanish and Italian are so similar they can speak in a mix of Spanish and Italian and the teacher can understand what they are saying.

Since the two are so similar, and they rarely have to struggle with tense, vocabulary or even how to use pronouns correctly - they speak very fast, and I can’t get a handle on the accent. You know how sometimes you watch movies or TV from England and you can’t understand what they’re saying because their accent and slang is so different from American English? Italians speaking Spanish doesn’t even sound like Spanish to me. So in a class of conversation, when the teacher and the Italian are having a fast paced, spirited discussion about something and you lose the thread of what’s going on, you can’t contribute. You don’t know what’s been said, whose on what side or even if they’ve switched topics. So when the teacher turns to you and asks -

“Jamie, what do you think?” and I can only think -

“I think I’m a dumb shit. What do I think about what?” it sort of annoys me.

On top of that, Italians really like talking and will dominate a class of lesser talkers for a good percentage of the length of the class. So, when you do know what’s going on and want to contribute, it’s tough to get a word in edgewise.

This week I have a staggering three Italians (the most ever) in the class and it is Hell.

Today was entertaining. The topic of the day was fidelity. Raquel was teaching today and while I only understand a little more than half of what she says, it’s usually hilarious. Blunt. Rude. Not politically correct. Often insulting. She is a little younger than me, thin, pretty, long brown hair, hawk like nose and persistent hiccups. She has hiccups every day.

She had some great things to say in class today to keep the conversation going.

“Men are all the same and they’re all pigs.”

“Women cheat less than men because they’re more intelligent.”

“All men cheat, the ones who say they don’t are just better liars.”

After each one of these statements she would turn to me and smile because I know she’s kidding (I think…) and we wait for the conflagration together in silent solidarity. Or laughter if we can’t keep a straight face.

Spain’s not very politically correct yet. Raquel states that “The married office manager that is humping the secretary doesn’t love her. It’s just sex.” At this point, Francesco stands up and adds to the debate something about bending her over the copier and mimes humping someone while standing.

The class erupts, including Raquel. A few minutes later I realized that the class consists of seven men, Raquel and Ula, a small polish girl who rarely says anything in class. I wish I had looked over when everyone was laughing to see her reaction. She seemed perfectly comfortable in class but that moment would have been telling.

Tomas asks if I’m up for a glass of wine with him downstairs and I respond “Yeah, I need a bit of alcohol after that.”

Below and next door to the school is the “Paraiso del Jamon” a favorite place of mine. When I had classes in the morning I would go downstairs at the eleven a.m. break and order three eggs over easy. Which is a stereotypical American breakfast and not something you ever see Spaniards do. People would literally walk in off the street, pat me on the shoulder say “American?” I would chat with the bartenders in my broken Spanish and they would welcome me every morning with “Hola! Como estas Jamie?” I’d ask them about their weekend or how hard they were working and then I’d run out of words. Reese, Antonio and Mariacruz. Good people.

Tomas and I order a wine and I start bitching about the Italian accent and three American girls come in. They don’t speak a lick of Spanish and one of them points at the stack of bocadillos (Spanish sandwiches, essentially a dry sub style bread with jamon and nothing else. No garnish, no salt, no mayo, lettuce, nothing) and asks Mariacruz “Can we have three of those?”

Mariacruz grabs one down and I say “Tres” and the girl who asks repeats “tres.”

“Can we have cheese on those?”

Mariacruz looks at her blankly.

I go over to the girls and offer some help. Reese comes over to help Mariacruz.

They tell me what they want and I translate for Reese. I’ll probably spell this wrong but I said it right – “Quisiera tres bocadillos, todo con queso y uno con tomate, y tambien, tres Coca Colas porfa.”

Can I have three sandwiches, all with cheese and one with tomato and also three Coca Colas please. (Porfa is slang for por favor.)

I go back to my wine and watch to see if they need more help. In a minute they get their food and start looking for a place to sit. I go back over.

“Do you mind if I explain one more thing to you?”

“No, please.”

“In Spain there is a different price for food at a table, food at the bar and food outside at a table in the sun. If you order at the bar its customary to eat at the bar.”

“Is the bar the cheapest place to eat?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you again.”

“Welcome.”

No more problems arise and Reese hollers across the restaurant “Jamie! Gracias!”

“De nada!”

I decline Tomas’s offer of another wine, telling him I have a lot of writing to do and head home. I work on “Marilyn’s Story” until seven-thirty when Wendy finally quits for the day. About this time we’ll make something for dinner and watch a bullfight or a movie but she’s been cooped up all day in the office so I propose something else.

“Want to go out for a walk?”

“I’d love that. I need about ten minutes and I’ll be ready.”

We walk about twenty minutes up to the park we go running in and pull out a table at a quaint little shop with umbrellas over the tables as it might rain. From here we get a great view of everyone entering into the park since I inherited from my parents a great love of people watching. We sip a glass of wine and comment on the old folks walking hand and hand into the park, the vast multitudes of dogs and runners streaming in and out and young kids looking for a quiet bush to “make a baby in” which is our slang for people making out in public. You see a lot of this in Spain since most kids live with their parents until married. It’s normal to be thirty and still living at home.

I love dogs. We chat about the different kinds of dogs, what kinds are the best for kids, which are skittish or barky, the benefits of mutts over pure breeds, how Doug is doing, how impressed I am that she picked up all her stuff in New York shipped it here, set up a life, set up a company and now has contracts with some of the biggest companies in the world. We talk about American politics, my books and running with the bulls.

“Why do you want to run with the bulls this weekend?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure when you get to Heaven all your points are added up and I need the points.”

“Points?”

“Sure, like you get a point for each book you’ve read. You get twenty points for owning a house. You get a hundred points for being a good father and another hundred for being a faithful husband. I think you get like fifty points for running with the bulls.”

“How many points do you get for being paralyzed by doing something stupid and deprive your girlfriend of great sex for the rest of her life? I’m thinking like minus a thousand…”

“Um, another wine?”

“Sure.”

You can tell Spain is not a tip driven society. While a very nice guy, our Brazilian waiter has vanished, not checking on us once in the hour we’ve been here. I go inside and ask him for two more. He asks if I’d like olives with them as the tapa. I tell him that would be great and then I head downstairs to the bathroom. I come out to find him and Wendy in a spirited discussion about America, Spaniards, South American speaking and talking styles, everything. I can understand most of what he says so we talk for like twenty minutes and I’m actually able to contribute small bits of information.

Wendy and I sit and talk for another hour and then it’s too dark to see people and dogs well so we head down the street towards home and food. We find a nice restaurant half way home and, drawn by the morbid sight of sleek, white suckling pig in the window peek our head inside. We’ve had drinks on their terrace before but never eaten inside. I order us two glasses of wine and sit down at a table while Wendy finds a restroom. One of the guys behind the bar says something to me and I don’t hear him so I stand up and approach. He repeats it and I don’t understand. I ask him in Spanish to talk more slowly. He does and I’ll save you the translating part I indulge in earlier.

“Do you like Jamon?”

“Yes, very much. I have a Jamonera (Jamon holder and carving station) in my apartment. (This never fails to impress Madrilenos that an American would have and carve his own Jamon.)

“What kind of Jamon? Serrano?”

Wendy snorts at the suggestion, having just returned from the bathroom. “Iberico de Bellota, of course!”

Because, why would you have a Jamonera for Serrano? That’s like boiled ham you put on sandwiches. Just buy a package in the supermarket! Clearly he thinks we are gringos.

“Would you like a racionito of Jamon then?”

A racion of Jamon is a plateful thinly sliced, just enough to cover the plate. The -ito on the end means a small plate. We haven’t gotten our tapa yet so I’m assuming that he’s offing us a sampler. I have my own Jamon at home why would I buy a full racion of the stuff in a restaurant? The stuff is the same price as lobster!

He starts to talk us up. Showing us the hams hanging above the bar and telling us the Jamon is a private family business and very good. He gets us menus, chats a bit with us, gives us cards if we want to buy our next Jamon from them. I’m a little leery of this guy. While perfectly nice, he also has that oily used car salesman vibe about him. He finishes his little spiel and then says “I won’t bother you anymore.”

A few minutes later he brings us a full plate of Jamon. This is starting to get suspicious. Are we actually being “upsold” for the first time ever in Spain?

He then brings our tapa, a mix of cold potatoes, onions, olives and a light sauce. Then he brings over Chorizo from Hell, which is just Chorizo sausage in a spicy sauce. He says (which I didn’t understand at the time) “Here is the Chorizo you ordered.” Since I didn’t listen to what he said, Wendy has no way of knowing that I didn’t order Chorizo when she was in the bathroom. When it comes, I just thought it was the typical Spanish custom of “people we like get free shit.” (Hell, we’ve sat and talked with our friend Elvio for five hours and he’s brought us a banquet of food, never let our wine glasses go empty and presented us a bill of seven Euros at the end of the night. )

Luckily, the Jamon is amazing. Easily some of the top Jamon we have ever had. I am sure my next Jamon is going to come from this place. We talk some more, sip wine and chow down for an hour, then, sated, we ask for the bill.

Not only were we upsold, they’re now trying to screw us.

The bill reads –

Racion of Jamon - $28.00
Bread $1.00
Chorizo from Hell $7.00
Wine $4.00

Notice it doesn’t say “racionito.” Did I mention we got bread? No, that’s because we didn’t. And notice the Chorizo that we didn’t order. We did eat some of the Chorizo so not a huge deal. And the Jamon was excellent. Not angry after such a great day, but clearly we have been upsold. And by upsold I mean “screwed.” I head to the bathroom and Wendy explains about the bread and Chorizo to the waiter. He removes the bread off the bill and leaves the Chorizo.

I emerge to find Wendy smiling and talking with an old woman who is clearly one of the owners. Now, in many parts of Europe, especially Spain and France, it is a huge deal to admit you are wrong. It almost never happens, even at the cost of business. I’ll go into the amusing stories this has caused in another post, but just trust me.

Wendy tells the woman what happened, just as information that one of her waiters is trying to screw people, and the woman does the typical Spanish, very not American thing which is to deny everything. It’s not important to keep business, it’s important to make sure that the other person knows “it’s not my fault. You are wrong.”

“Oh, I’m sure there must be a mistake. It must have been an order for another table that got confused with yours.” (There were two other tables, both deuces.) “But you ate the Chroizo.” (Yeah because in Spain free shit comes all time when the waiter has just spent ten minutes talking to you and you can tell he likes you.) “We’ve been here thirty-five years and I’ve raised five kids in this business.” (Well, having said that how can we ever think your waiter (probably your son) would upsell us and inflate our bill by twenty plus Euros. Because he wouldn’t be doing it for more of a tip since tips are 1-3% of the bill here.

But, whatever. We’re never coming back and you just lost the sale of a leg of pig down the road.
We are in good spirits and laugh about the incident.

Somehow, it is two-thirty in the morning when we get home. We get to sleep around three, rise at nine a.m. and work a full day. I try to take a nap in the middle of day and fail. I do Spanish class, two and half hours working on Marilyn’s story and write seven pages of this story.

Thank God it’s the weekend now.

Have a good one.

(Not to be a whore, well, actually, totally to be a whore… if you liked the story click some Google Ads for me. Thanks.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's that day again - Celebrate your life.


Above is the tribute card that Wizards of the Coast made for Marilyn. A wonderful gesture that touched me to my core. Such an amazing honor for an amazing woman. You can read the write-up I did explaining the card here.

Marilyn didn't want me to be sad when she passed on. "What good would it do for me to look down from heaven and see you crying? And know I couldn't do anything to help?"

I know she feels that way for everyone. So, today, do something you love in tribute to her. Read the things she loved in the text below and honor her by doing one of them. Play a MMORPG, work in your garden, watch the birds, watch some UFC or one of her favorite movies.


Marilyn's Obituary.

Marilyn Jane Wakefield passed away from ovarian Cancer on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at 6:00 p.m. She passed away at home, in a bed looking out French doors at her birds, and dogs playing in the yard. She was surrounded by family and friends and had been for days.

Marilyn was born in Brattleboro, Vermont on November 18, 1963. She graduated from Middlebury Union High School in 1981 and went to Champlain College for a year. Afterward she worked at The Marbleworks Partnership as an Administrative Assistant. After a number of years working in the office, she rose to the position of Manager, handling all the renting, leasing and various duties that go with it. She worked there for 15 years until her passing.

Marilyn loved to read, work in her six flower gardens and watch birds feeding at her multiple feeders. She dabbled in agility training one of her dogs, Morganna, for a few years and set up an agility course in the back yard.

She also loved to stride the Obsidian Plains killing Tuskers, find matching blue armor for her Avatar, and assault Albion Castles in the early morning hours with her husband Bouldar Granite the Troll.

Marilyn was introduced to Massive Online Role Playing Games by her husband in the late 1990’s. This became their favorite pastime. When not working, walking their dogs, napping, or getting food, they could be found exploring countless worlds and having amazing adventures. They adventured together for thousands of hours over the years. Marilyn loved it all. She loved Diamond Runs in Darkness Falls. She loved gathering with up to a hundred people to plunder the depths of Tuscaren Glacier and fighting the 20 foot tall giants inside. She loved Aerlinthe, sparkly blue armor, and bow and arrows.

Marilyn’s gift for charming people was extraordinary, from the nurses who constantly praised her attitude and courage to our friends we played online games with. She was followed from game to game by almost everyone who adventured with her. She was sought out by friends and family for her wisdom and decision making, offering marital advice, life lessons, and general counsel on all subjects. Her reputation for this was legendary. She was sought out over and over by people who had found her advice sound and trusted her to help them again.

She was loved by all who met her. In intensive care after surgery, the nurses called her “our little princess” and informed her husband that patients like Marilyn inspired them to go into nursing, to take care of people as nice as her. As a frequent visitor to McClure 6 in Fletcher Allen Hospital, many of the nurses referred to her as their favorite patient. They all went far above and beyond care that was needed to make her comfortable and happy. She charmed everyone she met with her courage and spirit.

Her favorite movies were Love Potion Number 9, Pretty Woman, Beauty and the Beast, True Lies, Terminator II, Dirty Dancing, The Matrix, Shallow Hal, Serenity, Michael and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Her Favorite TV shows were Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Will and Grace, American Idol and The Ultimate Fighter.

She is survived by her husband Jamie Wakefield and their four dogs; Merlin, Morganna, Thor, and Nikki.

She is survived by her parents Raymond and Betty Whitaker and her brothers Edward and Bruce.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Iron Man Vs The X-Men

So we saw Iron man last week.

And like the rest of the world, we liked it. It has some great lines, some great acting and I never get sick of looking at Gwyneth Paltro. There were a number of times when we belly laughed. Hard. It was good stuff, but really, am I telling you something you don’t know?

Two days ago we watched X-Men then last night we watched X-Men II. These remain for me the best Superhero movies in my humble opinion. The reasons may surprise you.

1. I’m very old. Which means that I actually lived and read the classic Claremont X-Men that the movies are “mostly” based on.
2. No Origins. Bang, right to the action.
3. Lots of action.
4. Almost perfect casting.

Let’s review the movies that rock for Superhero films. Spiderman – Origin story. Batman Begins – Origin story. Ironman – Origin story. Hulk – Origin story. Ha ha, of course I’m kidding, Hulk wasn’t a movie that rocked, that movie blew pink chunks! Which brings us to our movies that sucked ass – Hulk – Origin story. Electra – Origin Story. Daredevil – Origin story.

Notice a trend?

I can see why a lot of people will look to Spiderman or Batman Begins or Iron Man as better movies. Because they are. Better scripted, better acted, bigger stars. A well thought out plot, a perfect introduction to the character for the general audience that doesn’t know anything about them, etc.

But I’m a comic fan and Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men was phenomenal. When I saw X-Men for the first time, I was blown away. Hugh Jackman looked EXACTLY like Logan. EXACTLY! (Okay, they messed up the forced perspective a number of times and forgot he’s supposed to be 5’8, but other than that.) Scott looked and acted just as I always imagined. His mannerisms and command attitude. Jean looked flawless. Xavier? Jean-Luc was made for that role. Storm, well, mostly right. Halle Berry is fun to look at at least.

And lots of superhero stuff. I like superhero stuff. Lots of fights with people using powers, Scott blowing the roof off of Grand Central, Wolverine getting hurled off the Statue of Liberty in an epic battle with Sabertooth, Storm blasting Toad with lightning. I loved it all. And the second just built on that even more. How can you not gaze in wonder at Gandalf-Magneto gaining access to about a pound of iron in his plastic prison and decimating it and the guards with three whirling balls of death? Or Wolverine slicing his way through soldiers as they invade the mansion? Or Jean getting more and more powerful, hinting at the Dark Pheonix to come?

For me, X-Men I and II were the embodiment of what I had devoured and loved about the comics in the 80’s. And the actors they chose for the most important parts looked like God had breathed the gift of life into the ink on the pages and made them rise up.

To sum up – Yes, Iron Man, Batman Begins and Spiderman were better movies. But my favorites are still X-Men I and II.

Really looking forward to Hancock

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Totally Random Stuff

Wendy is buried in business. I am buried in writing and Spanish.
Three hundred and fifty flashcards, two hundred tossed out a couple weeks ago because I had memorized them. Rosetta Stone lessons done every morning. Private lessons with friend and professor Montse, (a bullfighting aficionado like myself) and conversation class for an hour and forty minutes a day.

I write almost every day. Last week I transcribed forty voice notes, then we went to Cordoba for a weekend and I made forty more. This blog needs more updates and I’m working on it. I have three long entries started that I hope to have up soon. In the afternoons after conversation class I no longer have homework so I’ve had time to work again on “Marilyn’s Story.” I’ve really come to believe in this piece and am anxious to get it in final published form, have it for sale here, and then approach a publisher about adding it to their line. It requires a lot of work, all of which I hope to (will) have finished before we head to Vermont in late July.

In other news, I should tell you how to make the best scrambled eggs in the world. Because anyone who has eaten my eggs will tell you, I make the best. Wendy wanted to know my secret so she watched me one day.
Turn your burner to a medium high heat. My burner goes from zero to twelve and I cook the eggs on eight. Then moisten the pan with either olive oil or butter. If you use butter, you will have to experiment with how much is the right amount. What a lot of people don’t understand is why even simple food in some restaurants taste so much better than their home cooking. I found the answer in Anthony Bourdain’s fabulous book, “Kitchen Confidential.” A lot of the reason is sugar and butter. Lots of both. A lot more than you use at home because you’re trying to eat healthy.

I use a lot of butter in my scrambled eggs. The second thing I did that baffled Wendy was breaking the eggs directly into the oiled pan.

“Oh, I thought we were making scrambled eggs?”
“We are.”

You let the eggs cook for between thirty seconds to a minute as if you were frying eggs, then you break them all up and mix them together. What this does is make small white egg flakes, surrounded by soft yolk. Let them sit about ten seconds, mix them again, let them sit, mix them again, and remove them from the flame the second they are about to lose the last bit of moisture. Wendy and I both like our eggs fairly “wet.” You will have to experiment with how wet you like your eggs, but it should always be some ways away than “totally dried out.” The eggs lose their flavor if they are cooked completely through.

NEVER add milk to eggs. I don’t know how this practice ever got started but if you’ve ever had eggs without milk in them, you know how much better they are than the traditional version.

Wendy and I have made them a bit more complex for our diet by adding onion, red peppers and mushrooms to the mix.

First, oil the pan with olive oil. (Butter tastes a little strange with this mix for some reason.) Then throw in a handful of chopped onion. The onions require more cooking time than the other ingredients so let them cook three or four minutes, then throw in a handful of finely chopped red peppers and chopped mushrooms. Break the eggs over the top of them and repeat the steps above for making perfect scrambled eggs.

And the last little ramble that I have to get off my chest and don’t have anywhere else to put it – Why are our dreams so weird? When we sleep, aren’t we supposed be giving the brain time to process events, write long term memory and relax?

Last night I dreamed a creature or tornado or something was destroying the eastern section of my home town and rapidly bearing down on my house. I couldn’t see what it was, but trees and houses were flying into the air and being destroyed at a frantic pace. I knew I had only seconds to run inside, grab Wendy and immediately either jump in my RAV4 and drive, fast, or hide in the basement. If I hesitated we would be lost. I ran inside and everything was peaceful. I forgot why I was there. In fact, in my dream, I remember “waking up.” What a terrible dream I thought. Then I went outside and down the street from me was a huge building project. I went down to look at the cranes and bulldozers and lawns torn up, with builders working at a furious pace. And yet, people sleeping on top of the construction. In beds.

Why does my brain have to do this? I don’t get it. How come I can’t go to sleep every night and dream of being a Superhero saving a city from Dr Doom? How come I can’t dream about being undefeated in the UFC? How come to relax, my brain doesn’t dream about hot triplets?

What exactly is my subconscious doing when it would rather “play” by dreaming about smoke monsters and construction?

Friday, May 9, 2008

The King, Corruption, and Bullfighting.

From Wikipedia – “¿Por qué no te callas? (English: "Why don't you shut up?") is a phrase that was uttered by King Juan Carlos I of Spain to Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, at the 2007 Ibero-American Summit in Santiago, Chile when he was interrupting Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's speech. The phrase became an overnight sensation, gaining cult status as a mobile-phone ringtone, spawning a domain name, a contest, T-shirt sales and YouTube videos.”

This will be the third entry that I have started this week and then decided to talk about something else. So, I have two unfinished entries prepped for next week, one already four single spaced pages long. Like you care about my excuses, right? Give me content Wakefield and shut up!

Wendy and I looked over the bullfighting schedule this year and marked down twelve bullfights we wanted to go see in the next six weeks. Now comes about the matter of gaining tickets. Not a simple matter.

The first year that Wendy was here, gaining tickets was easy. She arrived on the day you are allowed to buy tickets for the “Feria de San Isidro”, usually, the time of the greatest bullfights of the year. There was a small line and the police were taking peoples’ names and giving them a number. When your number was called, you could buy tickets. Based on how slowly the numbers were being called, she used her enormous brain to calculate when her turn would come up and returned home. She came back to the Plaza de Toros early and checked progress. All was going as planned and she shortly bought her tickets.

Last year, we went down at about the same time in the morning expecting to see Police handing out numbers. What we saw instead was six hundred Spaniards standing in line, waiting for their turn. Wendy waited in line for a bit while I went home for comfortable shoes, a snack, a piss, an umbrella, a book and my cell phone. When I returned, it was raining, and Wendy was drenched and shivering. I took over the spot in line and proceeded to stand in one of the strongest rains I have ever experienced in Madrid for the next seven hours. One of the reasons it took so long is the rampant corruption of the Bullring. Line cutters and scalpers are common and the police take a blind eye. The windows probably serviced four thousand people in the time it took a line of 700 people to advance to me.

And it has always been this way. In his 1967 book “Iberia” on page 771 James Michener states that “I once had a full day in which to contemplate the sordidness of the bullring, for at eight one morning I reported to the box office in Seville to purchase a set of tickets for the feria. I was fourth in line. When the window opened, I was fourteenth, men connected with the racket having edged in ahead of me with the connivance of the police. At one o’clock when the window had been open for five hours, I was twelfth in line because all morning drifters had sidled up to the windows with bribes to the ticket sellers.”

The story continues and at four in the afternoon “A policeman finally came up and said “they prefer it if foreigners buy their tickets on the black market. You’re expected to.”

At eight o’clock when the window closed, Michener was fourth in line. He did end up getting tickets though because the policeman went to the window and explained they should sell him tickets because he was taking notes all day and might be a journalist.

This year was similar but in a an entirely sneakier and snarky way. Determined not to stand in the rain for seven hours again, I awoke at six a.m. and was at the Plaza de Toros at six-thirty where there were four police, fourteen men in line, and a TV crew getting footage. Oddly enough, the line started to move forward. Ah! They must be giving out numbers again this year! How great! In short order, I was at the head of the line and received the number six hundred and thirty four.

Excuse me?

Yes, that is correct. When Wendy arrived a half an hour later to ask why, they explained that “Oh, the line was getting long and dangerous yesterday so we opened up and started giving out numbers early instead of today.”

Bull.

Shit.

Translation – “The number system worked too well. Not nearly enough corruption and our friends in the mafia and black market scalpers couldn’t get enough tickets. So, this year, we did the number system again, but made sure all our friends on the take would get them a day ahead of everyone else.”

Nothing on the website, nothing advertising the early day, nothing on the news, nothing in the paper, etc. I hate corruption and Wendy and I were both furious.

We get our numbers and go home. I return four hours after the window opens and ask what was the last number called. Two hundred and thirty. I call Wendy and her enormous brain and she calculates that our number should com up tomorrow at around 2:00 in the afternoon. I resolve to return the next morning at ten thirty a.m. to check what number they are on, and I do.

“Nine Hundred and eight” I am told.

“No no, not what is your number, what was the last number called?”

“Nine Hundred and Eight.”

Damnit!

I make my way through the line ("Perdona. Perdona. Perdona.") to speak to a policeman and I tell him my number. He looks at me like I have three eyes. “You are too late. You missed your chance. You can get another number from that guy over there.”

I call Wendy. We agree to give up.

The next morning I awake and Wendy check’s the Plaza de Toros website and finds out that some of the days that we want are not sold out. For the third day in a row I am going to try and buy tickets.

I emerge from the subway and am very pleased to see no line, and ticket windows open. I check the sign that tells which days are sold out and cross off another day not listed on their website.

Nosebleed seats here we come.

In a pleasant surprise to a very unhappy story, I actually was able to obtain tickets for four days of bullfighting, in almost the same seats we would have asked for anyway.

Four days > Zero days.

Far greater.

There is still one day that I am unable to attain tickets for that we really wanted to see, so that night we talk to a waiter in our favorite bar who has black market connections. We are loath to support such a scam but he’s a very nice guy and it’s only one day. He calls someone and tells us he can get us nosebleed seats that normally cost ten Euros, but on the black market, will cost us a staggering seventy five.

No thank you.

(Not to toot my own horn but Wendy thought the following story should be told, hence, this entire post.)

First Bullfight of the year this past Friday. Fighting this day was Uceda Leal, El Cid and Sebastian Castella.

Leal - Whatever.

El Cid – The favorite Bullfighter of my teacher Montse. I like his determination and despite an inability to kill well, he always tries to make exciting passes and gets thrown into air often enough to make it interesting. Wendy thinks he’s okay but not one of her favorites.

Sebastian Castella – Young. Masterful. Brave as a man can be. Smooth. Excellent. Does cape passes behind his back! We love watching him work. It's true, I have a small man crush on him. (Note - Man crush doesn't mean gay, it means I like him a lot and am a little in awe of him. Again - Not gay.)

A very respectable selection of matadors, now if only the bulls are good. Because, you can’t have
a good bullfight without good bulls. Sadly, the bulls this day are timid, tame and pathetic. The rancher should never be allowed to have cows like this in Madrid again. (Yes, more corruption since you can pay a little known rancher a lot less money for his bad bulls than a premium rate for the finest fighting bulls in Spain.)

The whole fight is a disaster with two bulls jumping the fence to try and get out of the ring, two bulls replaced for being lame, and no one cutting an ear, much less two. Nothing the matadors could do with such pathetic specimens. However, on the sixth bull, Castella is doing everything he can with the bull he is given. He is making this the best fight of the day and doing everything humanly possible to make it a valiant fight.

And as usual, this fat idiot in section seven, is screaming “Muy Mal! Fuera! Malo! Malo!” Which is “Very Bad! Get Out! Awful! Awful!”

He is the only one screaming and you can tell it’s annoying everyone. This is the best we’ve seen all day and we’re trying to enjoy some fine work. This is Castella! Trying his best with crap to entertain you! And you know he can’t do anything with the bull. If he was to kill straight away he would complain he didn’t try. When he does try, you scream he should kill it and get out. It is always this way in section seven where all the critics gather to share their love of bitching about anything and everything. We know this is true because we’ve sat there (once was enough, never again) and had them explain why they were complaining. “He’s too far. He’s too close. He’s too slow. He’s too fast. His suit is an ugly color. The bull is lame. One horn is shorter than the other. The bull's giant penis makes me feel small and afraid and yet tingley all at the same time.” It didn’t matter. Every bull that came out they complained, every matador’s work they chastised, every bullfight, all season long.

He stops to take a breath and I bellow across the ring “¿Por qué no te callas?”

“Why don’t you shut up?”

Silence in the plaza for a split second, then roaring laughter and applause. I get a pat on the back from the guy behind me, and three guys sitting close enough reach out hands for me to shake. Women start throwing me panties. (Okay that last part was obviously fiction.)

I'm actually baffled by the reaction, but hey, always glad to entertain. Soon the bullfight is over and Wendy and I are waiting for a break in the crowd. The steps are steep and narrow and since it only takes a couple minutes for the Plaza to empty, we always wait for the crowd to thin so we can walk out slowly and safely. As the people stream past us, men continue to offer their hands and pat me on the back. It was pretty amusing.

(In truth, I didn’t expect a reaction from anyone, I was just pissed. What really would have made it hilarious would be if the King was there to hear me shout his famous phrase. He usually attends on this Friday since it’s a holiday in Madrid and the matadors wear special outfits for the day, but sadly, he had a more important commitment that day.)
Have a good weekend.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Second Annual Marilyn Wakefield Memorial Tournament

The tournament is this Sat May 3rd (see www.heroeskingdom.com for details)

(Sorry this got up late, I thought I had more time to post this and rereading mail today I found out it is today.)