Thursday, March 29, 2012

Superfluousness in the Sky

My late, great friend Mark was once riding on an airplane when he spotted a product he wanted in the SkyMall catalog. The experience ended, as many experiences with SkyMall must end, in humiliation.

At the time, I think it was circa 1999, Mark picked up one of the seatback phones and dialed SkyMall's phone number to place an order. Those otherwise extraordinarily expensive phone calls were free, as long as you were calling SkyMall. Anyway, Mark tried to tell the customer service representative which item he wanted. The rep couldn't hear him and asked Mark to repeat the item by name, louder. Embarrassed, Mark did as she asked, but the rep still didn't understand him. Please say it again, she asked, and this time, even louder.

"I want to buy your nasal hair trimmers!" Mark finally was forced to blurt out, for all to hear.

I think of Mark every time I spot the SkyMall catalog beckoning from the seatback pocket, that bastion of bacteria and the occasional baby iguana. In those moments during takeoff and landing when my iPad must be put away, I can't resist opening up the catalog and, once again, being amazed at the superfluous and silly products being paraded before my disbelieving eyes.

On a flight yesterday, here are a few things I saw in the current SkyMall catalog. And all of these were in just the first few pages, mind you.

A $500 "luxury pet residence," aka, a cage for your pooch. It's made of "solid hardwood with integrated roller shades" and a "plush foam mattress." A Tempur-Pedic mattress for your terrier, in other words. And get this: Assembly is required. Seriously? I pay you $500 for a dog cage and I still have to build the thing?

Does this luxury residence come with a doorman?
A $40 cream, DermaTend Mole & Skin Tag Remover, promises to "remove your unwanted moles and skin tags at home" using "a natural herbal remedy." In just a few days, "you will be free of your ugly moles or skin tags for good!"

First of all, the marketing copy sounds a bit judge-y. How dare they assume all moles are ugly and unwanted? Haven't they ever heard of "beauty moles," like Anne Francis used to wear?

Anne Francis and her mole. Did she and Peggy Lee get them from the same supplier?
Second of all, those pictures they offer as proof--how in the heck can I be sure that's the same nose, before and after the mole? Is it me, or do I detect some slight deviation between the nostrils?

Most importantly, what exactly happens to your mole? Do you suddenly wake up one morning and it's lying on the pillow next to you? Or does it slowly shrink, like Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman?

Then there's Thundershirt, a "rugby" style shirt costing $40 to $45 that's designed to calm a dog's anxiety. I realize dogs, like people, get anxious. But honestly, that's what Xanax and cosmopolitans are for.

Anyhow, the Thundershirt's "gentle, constant pressure has a profound calming effect for most dogs when anxious, fearful, or over-excited. It is similar to swaddling an infant or to people with autism using pressure to relieve persistent anxiety." The shirt is supposed to calm dogs during thunder, fireworks, separation anxiety, general fearfulness, barking, jumping, and more. Oddly, there's no mention of coyotes or bears. I mean, if I were a dog and suddenly encountered a hungry coyote, I don't think a pressurized rugby shirt would relax me.

The "Thundershirt"
But about the thunder. As I was reading about this shirt on the plane, the captain announced we were facing thunderstorms ahead. "Fasten your seat belts," he advised. Suddenly, I wondered if the Thundershirt came in my size?


Have you ever bought something wacky from SkyMall? If so, did it do what it promised to do? Or did it leave you wondering where life went wrong? 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Worst Poem in History - Move Over, Waffle House

On Friday, the Huffington Post declared a poem about Waffle House, which the chain restaurant posted on its Facebook page, as the worst in history.

I took that as a challenge: to write verse that's even worse. But not about Waffle House, that's been done. No, my poem is an ode to Chick-Fil-A.

But before I inflict it upon you, here is the Waffle House poem:

Waffle House Waffle House
We are home grown
Where the Customer is king
And every booth is a throne

Waffle House Waffle House
Home away from home
Scattered Smothered Covered Diced
The All-Star zone

Waffle House Waffle House
New home of the Toddle House
Come one come all
Bring the whole family out

Waffle House Waffle House
We're here 24/7
Bert's Chili, Alice's Tea
Welcome to heaven

Okay, here goes my wretched Chick-Fil-A homage. You've been warned.

I love fried chicken
Nick expressing disapproval
And adore Chick-Fil-A
I could eat there all the time
Except, of course, on Sunday

I love waffle fries
And Chick-Fil-A's sure are tasty
They're even cooked in peanut oil
And they're 35 percent Vitamin C!

I'll be in N.C. soon
And Chick-Fil-A is all around
I'll eat there once or twice
And put on many a pound

It's true I must confess
I loves me my Chick-Fil-A
But why don't they don't love me too?
Silly me, it's because I'm gay


Are you feeling inspired to wax poetic about your favorite chain restaurant? If so, please share. Go ahead, knock the crown for putrid poetry right off my head!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Best Beaches to See Nude Volleyball & A Bride Swimming In Her Wedding Gown

Last time around, I told you about TripAdvisor's Top Beaches in the U.S. for 2012. Oddly enough, TripAdvisor didn't consult me when compiling their list. Given that I'm a big beach fan and I've been to quite a few, I thought I'd share my top three.

1. Folly Beach, S.C.

During the early 1980s, I lived in the historic district of Charleston. I rented an apartment for $175 a month from a curmudgeonly woman whose car I nearly crushed with an air conditioner. But that's another blog post.

On warm weekend afternoons, I'd drive out to Folly Beach, a 'Left Coast' enclave in conservative South Carolina. The Southern tip of the island is barren (but beautiful) and, at least back then, was mostly frequented by Charleston's small gay population. Nothing wicked, mind you. Just long, hot afternoons, hanging out with friends, reading, jumping in and out of the ocean (in August it felt like bath water), then driving home in my convertible Camaro, music full blast, climaxed by a visit to Wendy's drive-through window for a Frosty. We're talking good times here, people! I return to Folly Beach whenever I get the chance; I spent a couple of delightful hours there just last summer. And one day, I want some of my ashes spread at the very Southern tip of the island. That's how special this place is to me.

Nick going for a 'swim' at Folly Beach
2. Gray Whale Cove, California

This is a quiet, small, beautiful beach south of Pacifica on the spectacular coastal road Highway 1, about a 30 minute drive from San Francisco. Nick and I have spent many happy afternoons here, taking in the spectacular surroundings and the quirky inhabitants. It is, after all, a clothing-optional beach--a place where you might, say, stumble upon a nude game of volleyball.

For all its charms, Gray Whale Cove can be maddeningly elusive. As beaches go, it's like Brigadoon--the town in the Broadway musical and film of that name that only appears for one day every 100 years. I say this because on far too many occasions, we'll drive down from sunny San Francisco only to discover that Gray Whale Cove has disappeared in the fog. I'm not one to linger in fog, so it's back to the city we go, disappointed but determined to enjoy this beach again.

Now, I'm afraid we may never have that opportunity. As of last fall, the state of California was planning to close Gray Whale Cove and other state parks for budgetary reasons.

Gray Whale Cove
3. Monterosso Al Mare, Cinque Terre, Italy

I was torn between citing this beach town and Positano, also in Italy. Positano is the more interesting of the two places--a wildly vertiginous village that tumbles down steep cliffs to the sea. However, we're talking about beaches, and in this regard, Monterosso Al Mare gets my vote.

The beach at Monterosso
First of all, Monterosso Al Mare is on the Ligurian sea, one of the saltiest bodies of waters I've ever dipped a toe into. The salt makes you buoyant, and if you like to float on your back effortlessly in the ocean, you won't do better than this. The water is also very gentle here; no big waves. And incredibly clear.

When Nick and I were there in September 2011, the water was deliciously warm, but not too much. You can rent a beach chair, grab a cocktail and a sandwich, and watch with amusement the hot chaos of this Italian resort town. During our stay, for instance, a woman in full bridal regalia was being photographed all around the beach--and eventually, she jumped into the sea for yet more photographs. Nick thinks it was all a photo shoot, probably for a magazine. Someone else told me there's a new tradition of brides 'trashing' their gowns after the wedding in high style. I prefer to think that, like me, she was simply overtaken by the beauty of the coast, the romance, and, yes, a few Camparis.

The bride and groom in Monterosso's 'tunnel of love'

Bride and groom, on the rocks

The bride gets swept away

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Top U.S. Beaches - With Apologies to Connie Francis

Earlier this week, I read an article by USA Today about TripAdvisor's 2012 awards for favorite U.S. beaches. According to TripAdvisor's users, seven of the 10 best beaches are in the South, one is in California, and two are in Hawaii.

Strangely enough, my two favorites--a nude beach outside San Francisco and a former 'gay' beach near Charleston, S.C., didn't make the cut.

I'll tell you about them in my next post. Today, let's focus on America's top 10 beaches, according to TripAdvisor's army of reviewers. Here they are, in order and annotated with my ramblings:

The Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete
1. St. Pete Beach, Fla. Been there several times. I love the big pink Don CeSar hotel.

Who's sorry now, indeed. Connie Francis and two admirers.
2. Miami/Miami Beach, Fla. Nick and I once met Connie Francis there. She was signing copies of her autobiography, Who's Sorry Now? We had our photo taken with her (wouldn't you?) and used it as our Christmas card that year.

3. Myrtle Beach, S.C. As a kid, my family and I would spend a week at Ocean Isle, N.C. Inevitably, we'd pester our father to drive us to Myrtle Beach. I couldn't wait to shop at a trinket store called Gay Dolphin. I just Googled it. To my amazement, it's still there and it's still called  Gay Dolphin!

Don't f--- with me, fellas! I'm fixin' to give some diarrhea!
4. Virginia Beach, Va. Been there once or twice. Saw Mommie Dearest there for the first time. It gave me diarrhea.

Doris Duke's Shangri La
5. Honolulu, Hawaii. I love big cities. I love beaches. I love Hawaii. Naturally, Honolulu is heaven to me. If you ever go, Doris Duke's former home there is a must.

What? There are no lines in this here road!
6. Daytona Beach, Fla. Never been. Never intend to go. Though I'm slightly intrigued by a beach that also doubles as a highway.

Before There Was Toni Basil and "Mickey," There Was Connie
7. Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Been several times. Like it, don't love it. Reminds me of Connie Francis and Where the Boys Are, though, so it's not all bad.

Mrs. P strikes a pose in Hawaii
8. Lahaina, Hawaii. It's on the island of Maui. Nick, his mother (Mrs. P), and I went to Maui in 2000 but we stayed at a resort on Wailea Beach. Thinking of Maui actually makes me sad, because Mrs. P, a Southern version of Auntie Mame and one of my soul mates, passed away two months after our trip there. The last restaurant meal we ever had together was at the Four Seasons Resort on Maui.

Marilyn at the Hotel Del
9. San Diego. I was just there for a conference; this is where I should have given a homeless woman a sandwich I didn't want. I didn't have the chance to go to a beach this time. On previous visits, however, I've stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado, a grand Victorian on the beach that served as a backdrop for the 1959 movie Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe (plus Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag).

Larry Harvey
10. Key West, Fla. Nick and I vacationed here twice in the mid 1980s. I bought my first and last pale turquoise suit there. We toured the Ernest Hemingway home and were delighted by the endlessly entertaining tour guide Larry Harvey. Short and sassy in a Leslie Jordan Will & Grace sort of way, he told our tour group to "Pivot!" whenever we needed to make a turn. When it was time to go through a set of doors, he'd say, "Pretend you're Loretta Young and sweep through those doors!" Nick and I still fondly mimic his drawling pronunciation of Miami: "Mah-AH-mah."

I just Googled Larry Harvey. Apparently, he's still a guide at the Ernest Hemingway house! I'm elated to think that there are tourists in Key West who will soon be entranced by this witty, one-of-a-kind, deeply Southern character. If TripAdvisor ever compiles a list of the Top 10 Tour Guides in the U.S., allow me to be the first to nominate Larry Harvey.


And now, my fabulous readers: What is your favorite U.S. beach? And what memories--goofy, strange, or poignant--does it conjure up for you?


P.S. My buddy Erfert wanted to see a photo of me in that pale turquoise suit. I dug one up. It's not a terribly good shot, and the suit--now that I see it again--actually looks pale green. But here it is: 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Crazy Obsession Flares Up Every Time I Check into a Hotel

Recently, I TiVo-ed an episode of My Crazy Obsession, which is essentially My Strange Addiction but with a more judgmental title.

The episode I watched featured a married couple obsessed with Cabbage Patch Dolls. The couple has spent over $1 million buying, maintaining, and housing their collection of 5,000 dolls. The Cabbage Patch-crazed couple has squandered, whoops I mean spent, over $2,000 for a backyard amusement park for their 'kids.' The park includes a hot-air balloon that sends Cabbage Patch dolls into the sky. (Oh, if only I could be there hiding in the bushes with a bow and arrow.)

Truthfully, I was appalled watching the show. Think of all this couple could have been accomplished with $1 million! Seriously, if you won $1 million in the state lottery, would you immediately jump onto eBay and do a keyword search for Cabbage Patch Kids?

But the show got me thinking. I suspect, if cross-examined by a district attorney, each of us would confess (perhaps in tears, for dramatic effect) to a crazy obsession. So here's my confession:

I'm obsessed with hotel toiletry mini bottles. Actually, let me be more precise: I'm obsessed with stealing hotel toiletry mini bottles.

I'm not entirely clear when this obsession began, or from which of my neuroses it stems. If I had to guess, I'd say the obsession combines my love of several things.

My Crazy Obsession with Hotels

I love, love, love to stay in hotels.

As a kid, I longed to travel but rarely got the opportunity, which may be the root cause of my hotel lust. On the few occasions when my family and I would actually stay in a hotel or motel, it was the Downtowner Motor Inn in Manassas, Virgina, near which my eldest sister and her family lived. During our Downtowner stays, I was crazed with delight. Perhaps in my fervor, I swiped a little bar of soap, thereby launching my life of crime. I can't be sure. I do recall my family was banned from staying at the motel after my sisters and I raced and screamed down the hallways like the kids fleeing the schoolhouse in The Birds.

Miniatures and Why I Love Them

I love miniatures of things. Why do I love miniatures? Maybe it goes back to my days as a kid, playing endlessly with Matchbox cars. Regardless of the origins of this obsession, it continues today. I have a miniature of my Mini Cooper on my desk, which I suppose means I own a Mini Mini.

The other day, when shopping for birthday cards in a gift shop, I came across a small box containing tiny martini glasses and a cocktail shaker. I wondered if the martini glasses would fit in my miniature Mini, so I could create a teensy "Drink and Drive" tableau? Years ago, during my Titanic craze, I purchased a miniature blow-up Titanic, which of course came with a small blow-up iceberg. I put the items to good use one Halloween by affixing them to a white hat and christening myself "Shipsinka."

A Kleptomaniacal Kid

As a kid, I loved pinching candy from the grocery store. But before you alert the authorities, please be assured my kleptomania is apart of my distant past--until I'm confronted with an unattended housekeeping cart in a hotel, that is.

In that moment, something comes over me. I scheme, my heart pounds. I case the hallway, trying to determine where there may be maids or hotel guests lurking. I calculate which cart is a) closest to my room and b) farthest from the main traffic areas (like the elevator). Briefly, I stand next to the cart, trying to differentiate between shampoo and conditioner. I don't really use conditioner often, so why steal something I don't need? I mean, one must be practical.

When the moment is ripe, I swoop in, grabbing as many miniature bottles of shampoo and body gel as possible. If the hotel also offers small bottles of mouthwash, I'm nearly catatonic with happiness. And if they're like Hyatt Place and have colorful pens, they too, are snatched. In volume.

I walk back to my room as casually as possible, pockets bulging, and deposit my bounty. In extreme circumstances, such as during a stay last year at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, I go back--and back, and back--for more.

The Drake, which is part of the Hilton chain, now offers Peter Thomas Roth toiletries that are unique to the Hilton chain. You can't even buy this stuff if you wanted! And so, by the time I'd sated my obsession, the housekeeping cart was nothing more than a pile of embers. I had amassed a cache of toiletries so large that even our friend Tim, who earned the nickname "Scofflaw," gasped when he saw it. I considered putting my loot in a box and asking the hotel concierge to ship it to me. I thought this might be pushing my luck, however. So I took the box to a nearby UPS store and shipped them home myself.

Have I used these toiletries? A little. But the vast majority sit nicely organized into plastic shoe drawers from the Container Store, a store with which I'm kind of obsessed.

As I write this, I realize I've revealed more than one crazy obsession. In fact, I think there are enough here to keep a SWAT team of psychotherapists busy. But obsessions are what make people interesting, right? Obsessions are the fertile soil in which eccentricity blooms, and my goal is to one day grow into a genuine Southern/San Franciscan eccentric.

Now enough about me. Let's pretend you're under cross-examination by a district attorney. What are your crazy obsessions and why? And where were you on the night of January 16th?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Is Y'all a Word? Find Out What the Dictionary Says

Y'all is one of the best words in the English language. And the dictionary will back me up.

Sure, a lot of people see y'all as hopelessly hillbilly. In the purist's mind, if a word could wear gingham, spit tobacco, marry its cousin at age 14, or have a few teeth missing, that word would be y'all. In recent years, y'all has also been usurped by the gangsta culture. Do a Twitter search on y'all and you'll see what I mean.

I love y'all because it's inclusive as well as precise. Let's look at an example from everyday life. When you're talking to more than one person at a time, would you ask, "Would you like some crinkle-cut french fries?" You might pose this pivotal question in such a way if you were trying to be proper. But then you'd have to make eye contact with everyone, to make sure each person understood that crinkle-cut fries were in their future. (Everyone should have crinkle-cut fries in their future.) If you said, "Would y'all like some crinkle-cut french fries?," then everyone would know they're included and you wouldn't have to make all that eye contact.

I'm not alone in my defense of y'all. The word  actually fills a linguistic void created when thou and ye fell out of favor. Here's what The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Fourth Edition (page 1997 of the hardcover edition) says about you-all, of which y'all is a contraction:

"You and you-all preserve the singular/plural distinction that English used to have in thou and ye, the subject forms of singular and plural you, respectively (thee and you were the singular and plural object forms). The distinction between singular thou/thee and plural ye/you began to blur as early as the 13th century, when the plural form was often used for the singular in formal contexts or to indicate politeness, much as the French use tu for singular and familiar "you," and vous for both plural and plite singular 'you.'"

The dictionary goes on to say that "the distinction between singular and plural you is just as useful as that between other singular and plural pronoun forms, such as I and we."

Let me recap: Though its usage is "chiefly Southern U.S.," as the dictionary states, you-all and y'all serve important functions in our language. So now y'all bitches can stop hatin' on the word y'all.

Sorry about that; I just had a gangsta moment.

Of course, some people take y'all to the extreme. Years ago, when Nick and I lived in Atlanta, he invited a friend from work over for dinner. The friend, who I believe was from Alabama, asked, "What time should I come over to y'all's house?" In that instance, I'm pretty sure your house would have been sufficiently inclusive. Then there are those who have forgotten the purpose y'all serves, and who, as a result, say things like "I love all y'all so much!" (Usually a sentence like this is spoken after too much bourbon and branch water.)

And there you have it. You should say y'all with pride. It's inclusive, it's precise (well, sort of), it's charming, and it's one of the few things left in our increasingly homogenized culture that is "chiefly Southern U.S." At a minimum, don't you think y'all sounds much nicer than you-uns or youse guys? And while we're on the subject, is there some interesting regional slang you use or hear frequently? I want to hear from all y'all!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bless Their Hearts: Five Favorite Famous Southern Women

Why didn't someone freeze former Texas governor Ann Richards' brain before it was too late?

People like her don't come along every day. Richards was smart, spunky, deeply Southern and proud of it. Who could ever forget her "that dog won't hunt" keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention? Not me, that's for sure.
I was thinking of Richards recently, perhaps because I'd love to see a Southern woman with her fire and spirit out on the campaign trail this year, elbowing out some of these tired presidential candidates. And thoughts of Richards led me to ponder the famous Southern women, past and present, I've greatly admired.

Frankly my dears, Southern women are my favorite type of female--and not just because I grew up in a house full of them. Here are five of my favorite, well-known Southern women, with more to come in future blog posts.
Lillian Hellman, born in New Orleans, didn't really have a strong Southern sensibility, though she wrote beautifully of her Southern roots in her autobiographical works such as An Unfinished Woman and Pentimento. Her play The Little Foxes is a grand piece of Southern melodrama, and the Bette Davis movie version is superb. Hellman's 1934 play The Children's Hour was perhaps the first Broadway production to tackle the highly taboo topic (at the time) of lesbianism. She fought with lots of other writers (most notably Mary McCarthy), she had an off-and-on relationship with Dashiell Hammett for decades, she was accused of fabricating her memoirs. I guess she was pretty Southern after all.
Holly Hunter, Georgia-born, is one of my favorite Southern actors ever. She's excellent in every film or TV show in which she appears, most notably Broadcast News, The Firm, The Piano (she won an Oscar), Copycat, and Living Out Loud. She still has that thick Southern accent, she still talks out of one corner of her mouth, and we don't get to see her nearly as often as we should.

Pearl Bailey, from Virginia, had a hit cabaret act decades ago known for its playfully randy songs. Pearlie Mae, who called most people "honey," had style to spare. She exuded warmth, humor, and a slight air of mischief. And honey, girlfriend had pipes. Her rendition of Supper Time was one of the best I've ever heard. Pearl won a Tony for playing Dolly in an all African-American production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968 and injected some real emotion in that show's rousing show stopper, Before the Parade Passes By. At age 67, Pearl received a B.A. degree from Georgetown University, and she wrote several books. Note to Queen Latifah: Please play Pearl in a movie. I'll even write the screenplay, honey.

Dixie Carter, Tennessee born, was due to appear in a cabaret show in San Francisco shortly before she passed away in 2010. I'd love to have heard her sing, to have basked in her awesome Southern womanhood. Designing Women, for which she was most famous, wasn't a terribly good sitcom, in my humble opinion. But when someone crossed Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie's character), and I pity the fool who did, you sat back and watched Dixie have at 'em all. "And that's the night the lights went out in Georgia!" was the climax of one of Dixie's most memorable tirades. If you've never seen it, treat yourself to the clip below.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Southerner in San Francisco is on Twitter

I'm writing or contributing to a total of six blogs, four Facebook pages, several YouTube channels (I've lost count), one Tumblr blog, two Google+ profiles, one LinkedIn page, and three Twitter streams. I've started pinning goofy stuff on Pinterest, and I've also started a blog; or did I just dream that?

I'm beginning to feel like a contestant on one of those grocery shopping game shows. Let's see how many items I can put in my cart before the buzzer sounds!

Nonetheless, the other day I had a fabulous idea: Start a new Twitter account! Yes, that's what's been missing from my life.

And so, if by some tiny chance you haven't had enough of my ramblings and ruminations, A Southerner in San Francisco is now on Twitter. It's already on Facebook, too.

On Twitter, my goal is to share goofy, offbeat things I encounter in San Francisco, of which there is no shortage of material. Like the naked guys who hang out by the Creme Brulee cart, for starters. I'll also tweet about Southern food, culture, and quirky characters. Like the woman I saw on the treadmill at a gym in Greensboro, her hair fully coiffed and sprayed, her face completely (and overly) made up, her perfume wafting into my nostrils. She turned to me at one point and complained that the treadmill had no ashtray. I believe she was joking. I wasn't entirely sure.

That's the kind of Earth-moving insights to expect. I hope you'll join me--and share the goofy stuff you encounter, too.