Monthly Archives: September 2002

Cities-Indianapolis: Shave and a Haircut

Shaving is a task that many men perform on a daily basis.  Electric or razor, Remington or Mach III, the object is to remove the hairs on the face and trim up the bits where you deliberately want fuzzies. 

A straight razor is a throwback to the ancient ages.  A whip like ribbon of steel honed and stropped sharp that hasn’t changed much since Roman times.  A straight razor shave is not always something you’re taught to do by Dad when you’re a young lad.  But barbers of the old school know how to do a proper straight razor shave.

I keep my hair short, a Number 2 guard, all over the brain case.  This kind of cut I can get anywhere.  Even people with hooks for hands, just kicked out of hair cutting school can do a Number 2 all over, so getting that cut is easy in a strange town.  Look for a First Choice, or SuperClips and you can get it done.  I needed a cut, so over lunch yesterday in Indianapolis I spied a Barber Shop and rolled in for a cut.

Two barbers, both about nine hundred years old, one working and the other nursing a coffee, were watching TV and chopping locks respectively.  Ron, the unbusy one offered to cut my hair.  We gabbed for a bit while he buzzed away with the clippers.  Then, as he finished up the basic chop-it-off, he used a razor to trim around the ears and back of the neck.  Not an electric razor, but a straight razor and hot foam soap.

I remarked it was unusual to see anyone who still had a straight razor, let alone knew how to use it.  He said he always did a neck trim this way, as that was how we has trained to do it years ago in barber school.  Note the differentiation:  Not Hair Cutting College, or Stylist Studies or Colour College, but Barber School.  He had to learn how to shave a man, how to cut his hair, how to shine shoes and the hardest courses, Hygiene and Business.

Ron had been a barber all his life.  It was his trade, profession or avocation.  I asked when he had last done a real shave.  He said a few weeks.  “Men just don’t ask for a shave anymore.  They don’t know what a proper shave is.” he said, quietly. 

I stepped up.  “How about a proper shave then Ron?”  “Certainly Mister Smith.”  He put the headrest into the barber chair and a length of tissue in the headrest.  He leaned me back flat and asked if I was comfortable. 

Ron started with a soap and water mixture, rubbing it into my face along the beard.  Then a tap-water-hot towel, wrapping it around my face, covering my whole pie-hole, upper lip and all, pressing it into the skin.  Hot, but not uncomfortably so.  Then another towel, hotter still, letting it sit on the skin until just barely cooled.  A third, hotter still, as I breathed through the hot, moist air.  I started to relax, enjoying the moment.  The towel came off and I heard the sound of a razor stropping across leather.

A light touch with his hand as he rubbed hot shaving soap into the beard, asking if I was ready.  “Certainly.” I replied.  The razor came close and started dragging my beard away with gentle, deft strokes of the razor.  Holding the tip of my nose to one side, gliding away the stubble over the upper lip.  Tilting the head back so he could concentrate on the neck, adding a little more soap and foam to get the best angle and comfort for me.

At the conclusion of the actual shave, Ron washed off the last of the soap with another hot towel, letting it set to cool the skin.  Whisking the towel away, he massaged a mixture on my face.  I asked what it was he was putting on me.  “Just a bit of aftershave for you…”  Smelled like a mix of Old Spice and Aqua Velva, a Man Smell.  Stung a bit, but then again, it was supposed to, to close the pores of the skin.

Ron sat me back up, turning the chair to face the three way mirrors.  A perfect hair cut.  A perfect shave, as smooth as my face has ever been since the hair fairy brought me a beard.  I stood up.  He brushed off the stray hairs that might have penetrated the barber cloth and whisked away any dust or imaginary creases from my shirt, adjusting my collar to its correct position.  “There you are Mister Smith.  Just right.”

I paid, willingly, 25 dollars for a shave and a haircut.  A haircut done by a craftsman and a shave with a whip of stainless steel, done by a craftsman who instantly became an Artist.

Starch And Balls

We’re going to be frank here.  Not because we’re sensationalists, but because we have no fear and no shame.  We’re going to talk about Balls: Testicles, Nuts, ‘Nads, Ballsack Bouncers, Bollocks, Chin Slappers, etc…

Men are taught from the Days of Boys, that protecting those two little lumps of gristle and flesh is critical.  One swift kick in the crotch at the age of four, or an accident with a bicycle crossbar teaches a lad that he can experience pain of a depth and duration that is indescribable to 51% of the population.  Mom can’t understand it and Dad just laughs as his little son is now becoming a Man.

Men’s underwear has a few functions in common with women’s underwear.  One is to keep sweat from soiling your outer clothes.  Another is to smooth out the hang of your duds.  And, of course, to muffle farts.  These are understandable performance issues that can communicate across genders.

There are differences, of course, but these are simple mechanical alternations, like the Y-front for stand-up urination or the little satin bow on the waistband that tells women where the hell the front is.  Men don’t have a need for the little bow: If you put your underwear on backwards, your balls will tell you quickly.

Now, I’m a briefs guy. Other men are boxer boys.  It depends on how you were brought up or what you like.  I like support, holding the balls just right.  Not too loose and not up in my throat.  Let me know they’re there, but keep them happy and content.  I suppose the female equivalent would be an underwire bra, versus a sports bra:  Keep ’em from causing uproar but don’t tie them down like a boat in a hurricane.

Therefore, laundering your underwear, as it is so close to sensitive members of the body of man, is important.  When I travel, I always take about two weeks worth of underwear with me.  There is nothing more dispiriting than dipping into the hotel drawer and finding plenty of socks, shirts, ties but nothing to keep the boys happy.

I send my laundry out to the hotel on the road, asking for heavy starch in the dress shirts and laundry for the rest.  They don’t get this in Austin.  I now have survived two weeks with heavy starch in my shirts AND my underwear. 

Imagine strapping cedar roof shingles to your breasts, ladies.  Zero comfort.  Itchy.  Scratchy.  And having it climb up the crack of your ass like a hungry weasel with a bag of carrots.  That is how the past two weeks have been.  Constant adjustment, furtive scratching and the occasional pause to de-floss the butt crack.

But this morning, I did laundry in the hotel guest laundry, sort of like a two machine laundromat. After it was all done, I pulled on a pair of warm-from-the-dryer, soft, cottony, elastic ball comforters. 

The boys are now happy.  And so am I. 


If you’ve ever watched a space launch on the tube you know that after the rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral, “Houston” drives the rest of the way: The Johnson Space Center.  Named after Lyndon Baines Johnson, the ex-President from, oddly enough, Texas. 

Originally a mosquito laden marsh in the urban terrarium called Houston, the Johnson Space Center has been the wheels of the space program since Gemini IX.

Taking the tour is a little like being hit over the head with Corporate America.  The tram is sponsored by Chevron, Mazda is the Corporate Partner (new car displays everywhere in the place) and Pepsi is the Corporate Drink.  A bunch of other shills sponsor everything from door knobs to displays of space suits. 

I didn’t check out the washrooms, but I would not be surprised to see “This square of toilet tissue brought to you by Frito-Lay – When you wipe your ass, think of Fritos!”  This corporate pimping we can overlook, as NASA’s budget for preserving history is about the same as my budget for opera tickets.  NASA puts the cash where it makes the biggest impact:  Safety, Research and Flights.

Of the tour, the highlight is really the Mission Control Center, now called the Historical MCC. Mission Control Center is smaller than a high school auditorium, a raked floor and those grey-green government consoles for technology arrayed in ranks towards the wall of big displays that were FutureForward in 1966.

It was the room where you saw Neil Armstrong step onto the Moon, where you heard “Houston, we’ve got a problem” and where you saw faces agape when the Challenger exploded.  This is The Room.  You can see the ghosts of Chris Craft, Gene Kranz, Deke Slayton and Werner Von Braun.

On Rocket Row they have displays of some of the early technology, a Redstone (Mercury program) a test rig Little Joe (a post WWII rocket, testing the escape tower for Apollo) and a full Saturn V on its side.  The whole site has been baked in the Texas sun for too many years and is showing its age, with peeling paint and warping metal, but the artefacts are there:  It’s the real deal from the days of Gordo and Neil and Mike and Gus and Ed and Wally and Al.

Could America ever crank up that kind of show again?  Probably not.  The Environuts would decry loss of wetland habitat, scientists would debate the utility of the effort, while limousine liberals would do the math and cry that we could feed and educate millions of inner city kids with the money, while simultaneously cutting programs to the cities.

I wish we could do another space program.  Not because of the money, but because, it shows what humans can do when they’re given a challenge and the tools to make it happen.

Houston Is Football

The entire city is watching TV right now (9:09 pm Monday, Central Time)  Why?  Monday Night Football is on the tube.  Madden and Michaels. 

I just came from a workout in the exercise room at this hotel and on all three televisions was the game.  There were five of us there, getting sweaty, running on treadmills, lifting weights, doing the stair thingy.  Everyone else was glued to (I think…) Washington Foreskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles (?)  I probably have the teams wrong as I don’t follow stick and ball sports, but the other four were so intent on the broadcast that I was sure they were going to televise an execution later.

Texas is football mad.  High School, Pop Warner, College, Pro…don’t matter.  There may be more people who watch baseball, or soccer, or badminton, or Formula 1, or NASCAR, but here, near the Redneck Riviera and the Gulf of Mexico, Football is King, Queen, Jack and Ten.

It is probably the gladiatorial image of the sport.  The “effort”.  “Giving 110%”  “Accomplishment” “Sacrifice” “Team” and “Winning”  These are all manly clichés.  Many of which stem from warriors going back to the Romans.  Is it a metaphor for our warrior-within?  Who gives a shit? 

Football players are steroid crazed giantized freaks who delight in hitting each other.  If they were true warriors, they would dispense with the helmets and pads and guards and wear not much more than a cup and a pair of shorts.

So, football is a simulacrum metaphor for warrior-nation-state.  It is American and America.  We want to fight, but with protection.  We want the glory of battle, without the gore. 

Look at the historical battles of great import:  Culloden comes to mind.  A few thousand Celts, going toe to toe, with axes, spears, maces and swords.  Dead, decapitated, dissected humans laid four deep on the battlefield from the most grievous of wounds.  That is battle. 

Football is a game.


Footwear is important to me.  I stand all day in front of a class and have to look reasonably presentable.  Boots are something I like: You can slip them off and on and don’t have to mess with laces.  I have a pair of well used Boulet boots, grey and black, that fit like slippers on the feet.  They’re cowboy boots:  Pointy-toed fence climbers with a two and a half inch stacked Cuban heel and enough ornate stitching on the hafts to make a gigolo blush.

Boots in Texas are another matter.  In the boot store you are confronted by an amazing set of choices.  Heels tell you a lot about the boot.  A stacked heel is not a working heel, meaning, you don’t ride a horse with a stacked heel.  It will catch on the stirrups and drag your ass across the field.  Pointy toe?  Useful, but with a steel toe in there you don’t worry about dropping a forklift on your feet. Shanks?  Arch, haft or both? Steel or Composite? 

I was fortunate that I had a guide.  He looked like he fell from a Marlboro ad.  A Stetson, check shirt, dress boots and well-worn jeans that had creases pressed in them.  Tim, the gentleman who served me, had some questions that I will attempt to translate from Texan.

"Whakindabeutsy’allwan?"  I asked to see some different kinds because I wasn’t sure what I wanted. He loped me over to a rack of boots Themsstrichonstaxwitsteeaall Gotemnickelshoesntipsdressemupstishentoo."  Which, I think, meant, Ostrich leather on a stacked heel with a steel shank.  Nickel-plated shiny bits on the heel and around the boot toe with dressy stitching on the boot haft.  Not quite what I had in mind, as they were in tones of red and I prefer not to look like a Guadalajara Male Prostitute.

After a few more suggestions and counter suggestions, Tim understood that I was fairly conservative in my footwear.  The other major consideration was the leather.  There are some restrictions on what I can bring back.  For instance, Lizards are out, especially rare ones, snakeskin and ocelot eyelids stitched with endangered species entrails over a last of elephant with ivory and pearl inlay. Customs and Immigration tends to frown on this kind of footwear and likes to confiscate it.  Same with colours:  No green, no white, blue, grey, turquoise bits, orange, or yellow with tan and grey.

"Howambowaroperanaplanetoe?"  Translates as "How about a roper with a plain toe?"  A roper is a working boot with a low heel and very little stitching on the toe.  The fancy stitching is up high on the haft, where the cow shit can’t get into the stitches.  The toe is just nicely rounded and the boot is built to stand around in for hours and hours on end.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

We settled on kangaroo as the leather. Soft as a virgin’s thigh.  In a colour of black, deep as a lawyer’s heart.  A plain rounded toe.  Some nice stitching up high with nylon reinforcements to not set off the security alarms at the airports. I slip them on. They clasp my toes like an infant holding a parent’s hand.  Walking about, the feets are making happy noises. 

"Yallgawhavahahawtwithat"  OK, show me some hats! After a few, a nice Resistol felt, a real Stetson and a black Loren with a rainbow feather crest, I decided that a hat would not work on this old head.  Perhaps a wise choice.

The boots are still comfortable and now that I’ve scuffed the soles and can actually get traction, they’re wearing in perfectly.  In another year, they’ll feel like slippers.

Eating and ‘Cue–The Non-Definitive Primer

Cooking meat on a gas grill is not barbecue: That is grilling and is a perfectly acceptable way to prepare food.  Ask Ooog and Ughh our Cro-Magnon forefathers if raw brontosaurus tasted better than cooked brontosaurus. Unless they were Japanese.

Meat is good. Pork, beef, chicken, ham, sausage, turkey, game, ribs, brisket, steak, breasts, loins, wings, don’t matter.

Slow and low.  Slow means more than 20 minutes, more like a couple of seven to twelve hours.  There should be a ring of blue smoke in the meat.  Smoke it over the burning embers of some kind of wood. Mesquite, Oak, Apple wood, Pecan, Hickory, don’t matter as long as it isn’t painted or treated with deck stain. 

Sauce.  Goes on last, or is optional.  Taste is everything.  If you want to eat raw fire, the suicide level, just leave the meat out and gnaw on raw habanero peppers with a Premium Unleaded chaser.

In Texas and Georgia the sauce is tomato based.  North Carolina and South Carolina is more vinegar based with mustard sometimes.  Okra is a South Eastern thing.  Beans are South West.  Coleslaw is all of the above. Onions and Pickles are the condiment of choice is Texas.  I don’t know why, but they work just fine with brisket to clear the palate.

Beer is the beverage of choice, but since I don’t drink on the road, iced tea is the ticket, or Dr. Pepper.  “Sweet” or “Unsweet” is not a personality question.  They mean do you want sweet tea, meaning it has sugar in it, or unsweetened tea.  In either case, the tea is cold, icy cold.  Lemon is the common accompaniment.

Napkins or Serviettes?  Nope.  Paper towels on a roll at each table.  Tear off what you need.  Removing your hat, tie and blazer is perfectly acceptable, along with jamming a length of paper towel in the collar of your shirt to protect the front of your garments, especially when ribs are involved.

Football?  Hell Ya!  Especially high school football in the smaller Texas and Carolina towns.  Here, high school football is an addiction bordering on spiking crank.  Grown men and women start tailgate parties on Wednesday for Friday high school football games, then start dissecting the action Saturday morning.  I’ve overheard too many hearty discussions about the Friday game over Saturday breakfast to be amazed with grownups jawing about 14 year old kids like they were NFL prospects that just haven’t been scouted yet.

Soccer?  Faggots, Girls and Foreigners play that.

Biscuits.  These are the reason for life.  In The Bible, God, in Romans II said, “Woman, get me some biscuits!”  Sausage gravy is the equivalent of eating drywall compound with meaty bits.  Grits, are simply hideous.  Eat a handful of sand, make sure its hot and add some heavy cream to it.  Same taste, same texture.

Water with meals?  Servers seem to insist on it.  Your glass is kept in a perpetual state of full by a person dedicated to keeping your water glass topped up.  Doesn’t matter if its a tin roof juke joint, or a white tablecloth place, you’re getting water.  However, with the drought in this neck of the woods, some of the chains are asking if you want ice water first.  Frankly, in some towns, I’d rather drink anything but the water.  La Grange, Houston and Dallas for instance has water that tastes like bleach and sand.

More later

911 A Year Later

I know I haven’t written much about September 11, 2001.  The reason is straightforward.  I haven’t come to grips with what I feel about it, until about now.  The facts are obvious and have been stated thousands of times:  Four planes, three buildings, around 2,100 souls. And the most grievous mortality: Our innocence.

Until that day, bad things happened in distant lands or randomly as part of the wheel of life.  On that Tuesday bad things happened to all of us.  Most of us sat there with open mouths not believing what we were seeing.  The not knowing and not understanding, then the sudden realization that ‘they’ wanted to hurt us.  As bad as the monster under the bed, or the anonymous ‘them’ out there, ‘they’ terrified us and then scarred us forever.

Now, the senseless, violent, randomly brutal, gory and visceral fear that so many other humans live under every hour of their lives, is here, at home, inside of all of us.  We wait for the next shoe to drop.

That fear is, at its heart, the aim of a terrorist.  To make everyone fearful of their next step.  It is why the IRA or Hezbollah uses car bombs, or armies use land mines, or a mugger has their hand thrust in their pocket.  It is the potential of violence made real to us.

I’ve thought about this for a lengthy while.  My conclusion is actually simple.  I refuse to be afraid.  This is how we defeat ‘them’ or ‘it’ or whatever name you care to call it.  If they can’t make us afraid, then they’ve lost and we’ve won.

To that end, I also choose to cherish every day and every minute, without being afraid of anything or anyone. 

I can’t think of any other way to honour the innocents who perished, except by going about my business, unafraid.  We win.  They lose.  Now, let’s go and find the perpetrators.  Then kill them.  Simple as that.

Big Rain

While the rest of North America sits in a drought, Texas sits in water.  Tropical Depression Fay, who just has self-esteem issues, rather than depression, is puking her watery innards all over Texas from Houston to Austin. 

Austin is humid enough in the summer time, but with a tropical thang, it is now the equivalent of swimming in your clothes while driving your car.  The air is positively thick with water. 

Every few hours the local TV stations broadcast a flash flood warning for the area.  The clouds roll in, dump and inch or two of water in about ten minutes and roll away.  Lightning zips and zaps everywhere, thunder booms across the city, then just as quickly, gives way to high overcast. 

Kelly Wins American Idol

Ok, so Kelly won.  American Idle (spelled correctly to my thinking) Can we all go back to work now?  There are naughty folks out there who want to kill us just for the sheer hell of it and because Mohammed’s buddy Stan, said so.  Cripes Kate and Mel, have we nothing better to do with our time?

The Billy Goat

I’ve been to The Billy Goat Tavern before.  It’s under Michigan Ave., deep in the guts of underground Chicago.  It is always dark down there and perhaps just as well.  The Original Billy Goat Tavern was right across the street from the Chicago Sun-Times, not far from the loading dock where newspapers were tossed to the trucks before the presses finished rumbling for the night.

The walls of the Billy Goat are adorned with clippings and photos going back to shortly after the invention of moveable type.  Walter Winchell is there.  Mike Royko, Larry King, Mayor Daley, on and on, they’re all there, immortalized on the smoke stained walls.  Sitting at a table, you almost wait for someone to feed a dime into a payphone and yell “Get me rewrite! And hold the Front Page!” 

To this day, they sell mickeys of gin, vodka, rum and scotch over the counter, purportedly for those hard-drinking reporters who now punch the speed dial on the cell phone and then press 1 for rewrite and press 33 for composition. 

The Cheesborgers?  Superb.  The Double is the Cheesborger of choice.  Cheeps?  Ya.  Barbecue or Regular?  No Pepsi, Coke.  Served on a slab of waxed paper.  Or you could order a Polish, which is a bunch of slices of kielbasa on a bun.

Is the ghost of John Belushi here?  Sort of.  Are the Ghosts of Old Newspaper Men here?  Oh most emphatically.