Category: Uncategorized

A month of wheat…

These days I eat little wheat and drink almost no alcohol.  Both give my stomach issues.  Wheat is a big deal, because, well, doesn’t just about everything good have some wheat in it?  Alcohol has never played a major roll in my life, so its abolition was no biggie.  So imagine my surprise when I ate a few medialunas (half moons…sweet crescent rolls) in Buenos Aires, and felt fine.  Was it a fluke, or what?  My inquiring stomach had to know.  So I ate lots more the next day.  Still no problems.  Well!  As you can imagine I went buck-wild eating every wheat product that caught my eye.

The water is Buenos Aires tastes no worse than home, but restaurants refuse to serve tap water.  You have to order bottled water.  Funny thing though – water, beer, (house) wine, and soft drinks all cost about the same ($1-$2).  And for an extra $1 you can supersize that beer into a full liter!  Yikes!  Well you know where this is going.  I tried a beer.  And…again nothing, no stomach pain.  It was a month of wonderful eating.  And to top it off, Elise and I somehow lost a few pounds over the course of the month.  Perhaps all the walking?  Who knows…

I’ve been home for a week now.  Almost immediately wheat was as problematic as ever.  Dunno about alcohol…haven’t bothered to try any.

So, what’s the deal?  The fluoride in our water?  GMO’s gone wild?

Cambio, cambio, cambio…

Money is a problem in Argentina.  Credit cards, ATMs and banks are bound to use the official dollar/peso exchange rate.  To get a more honest exchange, one must use the black market.  Thus I entered the country with a wad of $100 bills.  Every week I hauled my three kids downtown in search of the least thuggy looking loiterer yelling “cambio, cambio, cambio”.  The gentleman would take us down a side street into a shady looking place of business to meet with his associates.  For my efforts I received an exchange rate around 50% better than the official rate.  I’d show a picture of the exchange, but I’d be writing this from a hospital had I taken one.

Despite the stress, our money trips downtown were fun.  Much of it looks straight out of Europe.

Oh, and they took graffiti to whole new level

Nice doggie, nice doggie, nice doggie…

What have we here?  It would appear to be an unleashed, pit-bullish mutt.  In the background, a man is reading, unconcerned for his safety.  As the cellphonetographer, I couldn’t have been more than a few feet from the beast.  Such is life in Buenos Aires, where docile dogs freely roam parks and walkways, pooping everywhere.

Ping pong on the dining room table

Here’s a picture I found on my cell phone. (Fig. 1)  Like most cell phone pictures, it’s pretty terrible.  What can I say…I’m a lazy American who has chosen convenience over quality.  No doubt I will continue to use a cell phone as my primary camera.  Quality or not, there are a few things going on in this shot.

  • A man is playing ping-pong with his son on our dining room table.  During the visit, I sort of promised this man I would hack a Wii and stuff it with bootleg games.  The parents of the boy are both remarkable artists and it would pain me to see their son’s brain dulled with endless Wii games.  This presents an ethical dilemma beyond the obvious legal variety.
  • In the foreground, next to the bananas and an apple sits an eggplant.  For a number of months, Aldi sold eggplants for $1 each.  During this stretch I cooked many many eggplants, perfecting the technique.  I started shopping at Aldi around the time the baby arrived.  Since eating out with a baby was such a pain, we quit eating out as well.  And since I am always busy with the baby, I no longer have time to work (and spend money) on the house.  Financially speaking, the baby has been a windfall.
  • The orange French doors lead to Mrs. Neill’s office.  With the doors closed, in theory Mrs. Neill can watch the kids while she works, without having to hear their chaos.  Replacing an open archway, the doors represent my first home *improvement* in Pittsburgh.  I bought the doors in Chicago just prior to the closing, before I realized that everything in Pittsburgh (except for food) costs 1/2 of what it does in Chicago.
  • On the left, 7 sheets of paper are taped to the wall.  The top paper reads: Neill’s Asia’s Art Hall of fame.  As curator of the collection, Asia choose to display only her own work.  In response, her disgruntled brother modified the wording of the top paper.  (Fig. 2)
  • Yes a disco ball hangs from our dining room ceiling.  It’s a prop for a movie I never got around to shooting.  The premise of the movie involves my kids confusing Chanukah and Chaka Khan, and includes Zach playing a disco sounding klezmer song on his violin/fiddle.
  • Perhaps this shot shows the most damning evidence of my bad sitting posture.  My back issues won’t be going away any time soon.
  • There is a general cluttered look to the room.  That issue won’t be going away any time soon either.  Today I washed some dishes while the baby further cluttered a pile of clutter.  My 15 minutes of cleaning yielded a negligible net gain of cleanliness.
  • The table (Fig. 3) is a genuine Peter Debelak original.  You might remember him as the character I flipped this house with.

Hey.  We leave for Buenos Aires in a few days, staying for a month.  Perhaps I’ll share some more lousy cell phone photos…

A search for talent

One day Asia and I were riding bikes and talking about our big plans.  She mentioned that she would like to shoot a movie.  A few months later Mrs and I bought Asia a video camera for her birthday.  The best presents are ones that you get to use too, right?  For six months Asia worked on her script, “Spy Girl”.  One day she announced that she had finished the script and would be sending out casting invites.  And then it hit her; she had no idea how to shoot and edit a movie.  For the remainder of the week she was a ball of stress.

That weekend I sat her down at the dining room table.  I set a timer for 20 minutes and ordered her to write a two person sketch.  Later that day we shot the sketch – my way of showing her how to make movie.  Not that I know anything about how to shoot and edit a movie.  I probably should fix the audio levels and a bunch of other things, but whatevers, I’ve had enough of the movie biz for now.  Here it is, an Asia Neill original:

As to why I’ve been hoarse…

Last month I became obsessed with hacking/modding my son’s Wii.  Among hundreds of other things, it is now a fully functional karaoke machine with a staggering library of songs.  But alas, in these days of round-the-clock parenting, who has the luxury of fooling with karaoke?  As it turns out, when Katt gets cranky, one surefire way of inducing a nap is to sit with her on one of those big-blue-middle-aged-women-workout-balls, and sing 20 minutes of karaoke to her.  She takes 2-3 naps a day, so yes I’ve been doing a lot of singing.  It’s all preparation for my triumphant return to public karaoke.  It’s been 5 years.

My first public karaoke experience went well.  It was in a rugby bar and I sang “The Battle of New Orleans”, which now that I’m a karaoke expert, I recognize to be an easy number.  The second time was in a bowling alley.  I thought I’d be a real wise-guy and sing Brittney Spears.  What I didn’t realize is that in karaoke, it is important to know how to sing ALL THE LYRICS, not just the punchy oops baby I did it again part.  Luckily I was wearing a luchador mask, so my shame and humiliation were hidden beneath a black and blue Mexican wrestling mask.  What really blows is that before Oops Baby started, I had commanded everyone’s full attention by grabbing the mic and shouting in a Mexican accent, “I did not come here for a party…<pause>…I CAME FOR A FIESTAAAAAAAAAA!”.

Big Willie, Little Willie

I live in a clean and picturesque city, many years removed from the filth and soot my dad experienced during his short stay here in the 1940’s.  Consider for a moment that my 1930’s house came with a BUILT-IN GARBAGE INCINERATOR.  I suppose clean air did not exist in Pittsburgh until fairly recently.

Once day month I tore down the incinerator, leaving me with a thousand or so bricks.  After Larry David finished feeding at the free brick troth, I was forced to re-list the remaining stash on Craigslist.  Big Willie answered the call.  BW’s wife had sent him to pick up the bricks.  BW was retired.  He talked a lot about his friends and how they weren’t happy with the way the country was going, and that they were gonna DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  “My friends are on the internet all day.  Man, the stuff they send me is incredible.  Every day they email a bunch of jokes and inspirational stories to me.  They must spend HOURS finding that stuff just to send to me.”  I didn’t have the heart to explain the whole viral email thing to him.

Suddenly he stopped loading bricks.  “Oh man, I gotta piss”, he announced.  Ordinarily, letting a Craigslist Character walk through my house to use the facilities is something I frown upon.  But this guy seemed harmless enough.  Just as I was about to offer the use of the upstairs bathroom, BW whipped out LW and relieved himself then and there into a plastic milk jug, one he had brought specifically for that purpose.

So there’s that.

Larry David’s castle

If you want to meet a Craigslist Character, give something away for free.  It doesn’t matter what you are offering.  The more useless the item, the bigger the character you will net.

One day I offered some free bricks.  Not good ones.  Actually they had little possible use.  A single freeze/thaw cycle would have reduced them to pixie dust.  But like I said they were free.

Looking and sounding like a poor man’s Larry David, I knew instantly that I was in the presence of a Craigslist Character.  He was the youngest of 13 Jewish children.  Keep in mind that a true Craigslist Character will always tell you their life’s story.  Larry David had just turned 55, and had recently purchased his 1st house.  “It’s a castle, turret and all.  And I only paid $30,000 for it”, Larry beamed.  Such is the real estate market in Pittsburgh.  During the brick loading, he raved endlessly about the structure.  “You just HAVE to see the place”, he pleaded.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to see Larry’s so-called castle.  Operating under the assumption that Larry was a mass murderer, my plan was to stay between Larry and an exit door at all times.  But as Mike Tyson once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  In my case, the punch came in the form of an overwhelming stench of rotting flesh.  As my brain began to spin, Larry reassured me, “Oh, don’t mind the smell, when I bought the place out of foreclosure, there were 10 dead cats lying about.”

In the end I toured the whole place.  I even tempted fate by checking out the basement and the inside of the turret.  Your imagination won’t be too far off as to what wonders I saw in Larry David’s castle.

Perhaps tomorrow I will tell you about another Craigslist Character.  Here’s a Google street view of Larry David’s castle:

How I joined the CCC

So yeah, I bought a jogging stroller on Craigslist.  I do not jog, as my body is not set up for that kind of thing.  But as a minimalist, the stripped down nature of a jogging stroller speaks to my soul.  Alas I’m no fool, at least not the kind willing to part with $150-$500 for this type of gadgetry.

Thus I spent a week subscribing to various RSS feed parameters/filters tuned to the Craigslist jogging stroller market.  The going rate fell in the $45 – $75 range.  One night, hours before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, DING, the feed went off, alerting me to a fab $10 jogging stroller.  Such a deal!  I haven’t bought much stuff on Craigslist, but I sure have sold a lot of crap.  And let me tell you, it’s a 1st come/1st serve market.  My fear of losing out on the jogging stroller bargain of a lifetime motivated me to drive 90 minutes in a squall.  Also, I should mention that I paid for the stroller in change, further solidifying my membership in the Craigslist Characters Club.  Have you ever dealt with a CCC member?  Perhaps tomorrow I will tell you about some of the Craigslist characters I’ve met.  They’re all weirdos.

Interrupted musings on a perfect day.

Yesterday I took the Katt for a walk.  It was a perfect fall day, probably the last nice day of the year.  It made me think…how many idyllic days are left in my life?  1000? 100?  My body was pain-free, stress-free, and I was doing something I love, with someone I love.

Yeah, so while I was thinking about all that, Katt fell asleep.  No easy task, considering how jacked up the sidewalks are in my neighborhood.  Just then a young Yinzer woman stopped me and asked if I was pushing a real baby.  Uh-huh.  Because grown men everywhere are known to push dolls in strollers.

I bought that “jogging stroller” on Craigslist.  And in doing so, I inadvertently became a Craigslist character.  Perhaps I will tell you about that tomorrow.