Joe's Oasis and Grille

Have a seat at the bar, enjoy a tall cool one and listen to Joe the Bartender kibitz with our cast of regulars. Joe discusses everything from behind the bar, from favorite drink recipes, new gadgets, raising rugrats (or is that rugrat raising?), home-improvement, sports, and, of course, politics. So, welcome! The bar's open!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Keep Your Head In the Game Till the Whistle Blows

It was going to be a busy night. The bar was full, not a barstool available at Joe's Oasis and Grille. On busy nights like this, I don't usually have much time to kibitz with the regulars, but when I slid a draft Dos XX in front of Harv O'Connor, I couldn't help but notice that he had that expression on his face like his favorite pet had just croaked. And since his favorite pet is not a frog, I figured it must be something serious.

"What's on your mind, Harv?" I asked.

He took a healthy gulp of Dos and licked the amber-tinged foam from his frowning lips. "Lost that Wheeler deal," he said.

Harv is in sales. Quite a lucky guy, if you ask me. He seems to do fairly well in his phone sales gig, and he gets to work from his home. Two kids, gorgeous, sweatheart of a wife. I know it can be tough on him at times; straight commission, so the guy eats his kill. His wife is a stay-at-home mom. I remember one time he threatened to knock Booney Davis's teeth out when he said, in his Rumple-slurred cockney way, "Oi, Harv. I'd be a bugger if I'd let my wife stay at home all day with 'er rump on the couch." Knocking Booney's teeth out presents a challenge, since Booney has no teeth. Harv tells everyone here that his wife has the hardest job in the world, staying home with the kids all day.

I tend to agree with him, because kids are basically brain damaged.

"Gee, sorry to hear that, Harv. I know you've been working hard on that for the last, what, three months?"

"Four. Gi'me another, will ya, Joe?"

I drew Harv another beer, this one on the house. It wasn't for charity. Harv bounces back pretty quick. But I know losing deals like this can put a strain on him, his business being the sole source of income for his family. But I know he'd have it no other way, his wife staying home with the kids. Princess time is a non-negotiable item.

"So, what are you gonna do, Harv?" I asked, sliding the fresh draft in front of him.

"I don't know, Joe. Start over, I guess. You know I was brokering this deal with one of my largest clients. Man, what if I just lost all credibility with them?"

"Sounds to me like this is actually more of an opportunity to show your client the value of your tenacity in bouncing back."

"Yeah, but the market has gotten so much more competitive over the last couple years. Wheeler-type opportunities get snatched away like so darn fast now-a-days, we can't keep up."

"My point exactly. Your client wants to be on the winning side, the one doin' the snatching way, this is your opportunity to show your client that you're the guy with the tenacity to make it happen for them."

"I just feel like I just dump-corded all my credibility with them, that's all."

"Oh, you think your client has never tasted defeat once in a while? What makes them so unique? I think they'll understand tenacity."

I saw Booney Davis's decrepit, wiry frame slither through the crowd and approach the bar. He nudged his way to a seat that had just become empty next to Harv.

"Oi, g'day, Joe. Oi, Harv. How 'bout them Steelers, aye? Oi, Joe, dram of Guinness and a snort a Rumple, there's a good lad, aye."

I left to get Booney his drinks, and when I returned I saw Booney had taken Harv's mind off his sales deal. They were engrossed in the big flat panel behind the bar, watching ESPN highlights of the NFL championship games.

"Oi, those Steelers are goin'a be tough to stop, aye?" Booney was saying. His toothless mouth nearly inhaled the shot glass as he dumped the shot of Rumple down, then nuresed his dram of Guinness.

"I don't know Booney. You know I'm a big Steeler fan, but anything can happen in a football game. I mean, I thought the Steelers had it wrapped up in that Colts game, but look what happened in the last seconds. All Bettis had to do was take a couple steps into the endzone, and the ball gets popped out from under his arm. Then Nick Harper picks it up, and, man, he was gone. TD, and the Colts would have won. I gotta admire Roethlisberger, back-peddling the way he did, catching Harper by the ankle and stopping him at the last second. That's the way you do it ... play it out ... play keep your head in the game till you hear the whistle blow."

"Steelers 'll still be tough. Tag 'm SuperBowl champs."

"I hope so, Boon," Harv said, looking back up at the TV. "But remember, every game starts off at zero-zero. Anything can happen."

I eased up to Harv and leaned over the bar and whispered in his ear, "Not bad advice, aye, Harv? Tomorrow, when you go back and start digging back in for your client, the game re-starts at zero-zero. Anything can happen."

Harv got a smile on his face and that gleam of tenacity in his eye again. "Keep my head in the game -- and play it out till the whistle blows."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Miller Time -- Technology Time Warp Means Any Time!

I set a frosty draft of Dos XX in front of one of my regulars, Harv O'Connor, and noticed he was dialing a number on his cell phone, retrieving the number from an old, tattered American Express Travelers Cheques envelope. I noticed that the number was written in crayon.

When he finished his call, I had to ask, "Harv, what's going on? You need a loan for some new stationary and decent writing instruments?"

Harv looked up quizzically from the paperwork he had scattered across the bar. He works from a home office and pretty much daily brings a load of work with him into the bar. He calls Joe's Oasis and Grille his North Office. Strange, because Harv lives east of here. He's kinda directionally-challenged.

"Huh? Oh, you mean the American Express envelope."

"No, I'm actually more concerned about the crayon."

"The crayon was the only thing I could find to write with at forty-five miles per hour."

"I see." The dude needed another drink. Or a straight jacket.

He said, "I was driving my daughter to school this morning and I got a call I'd been waiting for. Had to take it, and the guy wanted me to call him back this afternoon."

"From the bar?"

"Oh, gosh no. He didn't know I was calling him from the bar. I got it set up so anybody calling my business line finds me on my cell phone. They think I'm sitting in my office, no matter where they catch me."

"Except when Boonie Davis shouts 'look at the jugs on that babe!' after his fourth shot of Hurradura."

"That's why I've got a noise canceling mic on my cell. Anyway, I left the house without a pen and paper, and the only thing handy was a purple crayon sitting in the console and an old Cheques envelope from our trip to DisneyLand. Wow, looks like I used this envelope before. See the notes on this side? From the conference call I had while we were driving across ... somewhere outside of Indio, California. West bound I-10."

"You took a conference call while driving your family across California to DisneyLand? On your vacation?"

Harv shrugged. "Kids were content in the back watching the DVD; wife had her headset on, listening to her MP3s. Afterward, we stopped at the Dinosaur restaurant and had a blast."

"MP-what? Sounds like a new rap group."

"MP3. You never heard of it?"

"I'm still trying to figure out how your phone calls to your office know how to go to your cell."

"Uh, call forwarding? Anyway, MP3 is a file format ... so you can download music, video, all kinds of stuff onto your Ipod or portable player."

"Your wife must be a pretty big woman to carry around a complete Hi-fi system."

"Hi-fi! What era do you live in? Don't tell me you've got shag carpet and still listen to 8 tracts!" He said. "No. The Ipod is about as big as a credit card, and they're getting nearly as thin."

"Hey, I'm up with the times. I got Tivo for Christmas last year. Got rid of my portable 8 tract player when I sold my Pinto last month. I wanted to keep it, but it was lodged pretty good under the driver's seat, so I left it. Besides, that Led Zeppelin tape is pretty much stuck permanent. I hope the new owner likes 'Stairway to Heaven', cuz that's pretty much the only song you can play in that car." I drew Harv another beer and saw he was clicking away at some tiny keyboard on his phone. He was pushing way too many numbers to be dialing another phone number. So I had to ask. "What, you calling Mars?"

"Huh? Oh, I'm responding to e-mail. Got a client in Korea. It's nine in the morning tomorrow there."

"E-mail! Here, in the bar?"

"This is a Treo. I get e-mails, Internet access ..."

"That's enough, Harv. Enough already. Let me just ask you this. When is it Miller Time? Remember the old commercial? 'When it's time to relax, we've got the beer'.

"Miller Time? Anytime I want. I'm on no schedule."

I left Harv there to his gadgetry, thinking about that last statement. The dude's in a time warp of some sort it seems. His office is portable ... so he's not tied to a desk 9 to 5. Call forwarding takes care of calls he may miss in the office. E-mails are answered anywhere. With customers calling him from tomorrow, the client thing is a 24 hour thing. That's gotta have something to do with some phenomenon I heard about called the 'Global economy". Even his entertainment. Wait for your favorite song to come the radio? Nope. Just download a song list from the Internet, control what you listen to when you want it. DVDs are a take-along thing, play them in the back of the SUV while you take the kids to soccer practice.

Time warp. No more 9 to 5.

I wondered if it was such a bad thing, though. I mean, Harv came in just last week in hysterics about having just watched his son and daughter play tea-time. She had the princesses lined up in a row for tea, while the boy pulled a commando raid on the shin-dig with a rappelling GI Joe. He would have missed it had he not been working from home. Or the time he'd negotiated a $100,000 deal on phone, watching his daughter mimic him with her toy princess phone.

Oh, well. Maybe the time warp technology only affects the techno-savvy few in this world. It'll never affect the common folk like me. I mean, beer's gotta be served in real-time; you can't mix a Manhattan in tomorrow land for a guy in Asia; about the closest I get to time-warp technology in my business is the fact that some people claim my Margaritas don't hit them till they get home. But hang-overs are real time.

Yep, glad the techno time warp doesn't affect me. Miller Time is Miller time ... oh, shoot. I just realize, I'm closing tonight. Shoot. I'm going to miss the Day 5 premier of 24!

Oh, wait, I'm Tivoing it .... whew!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Brillo Pads and Warm Beer -- Learning the Dining Options of a New Dad

Recently, my wife and I decided to take our three-month old daughter, Princess-Pea, to one of the fancier dining establishments near our home. I seriously thought this could be done!

But then again, I also thought that there was an actual definition of what ‘is’ is and that they actually did know how to count in Florida.

You can always recognize an establishment that does not wish to welcome families with babies by the kind of coffee cups they use. For those of you without kids, you probably thought that the reason posh restaurants use tiny coffee cups was to accommodate the dainty fingers of the elite and well bred, or to add class to fancy drinks such as Irish Coffee, Mocha Mists, and Hot-Butter-Rum-Yoohoo. But the real reason is to prevent them from being used for the heating of baby bottles.

You see, parents learn to become very innovative. This is a survival instinct. At some time during any meal (usually at the precise moment Mom poises her dining utensils over her entrée), baby politely announces that she's hungry. This polite announcement usually reverberates quite soundly throughout the dining establishment, and mom will need to act swiftly. Since babies tend to be particular about the precise temperature of their formula, it usually saves the parents from the wrath of fellow diners if the bottle has been pre-heated in well-thought-out pre-eruption preparation. Some genius set of parents many years ago (possibly after a few pingings of flying butter knifes during their infant’s tirade) came up with the bright idea to have a cup of hot water handy to set the bottle in for quick heating. Ordering the hot water is now just standard procedure:

"Yes, a Heineken for me. Class of chardonnay for my wife...and a cup of hot water, please."

A baby bottle sticking out of a coffee cup is perfectly acceptable at Denny's. But not at places like Chez Oui, Oui.

Anyway, back to my story. I have young nieces and nephews. Seven in total...all of various sizes, shapes, sexes, and political affiliations. For ten years before our little bundle of joy came into our lives, I had the opportunity of watching my sisters and their families adhere to the strict legal restrictions that disallowed any family with children under the age of 22 into any dining establishment bearing food critic ratings of greater than negative 1 star.

Which basically leaves a wide choice of McDonalds, Denny's, Chuck-E-Cheese, and our family picnics featuring my grandmother's green bean casserole. (For those who have grandmothers that can wouldn't understand...for those who have ever dined on vegetables marinated in kerosene, you know what I'm talking about).

One day as I swirled my fingers through the gristle-laden grease and began probing around for a French fry that I knew had to be somewhere down at the bottom of the cardboard container marked “Super Size”, I watched my youngest nephew Benny finally squirm free from his mother's grasp and rush off to aid on the assault of a poor, hapless father who had naively ventured into Playland alone to retrieve his son. I think the kid was the ring leader or something, because he sure had a loyal following -- and they weren't going to let him leave without a fight. The way he crawled right up to the Plexiglas tube overhead, I gathered that Benny's mission was to be a full aerial assault. I didn’t want to speculate what he was going to use for ammunition, but I did notice that several packets of ketchup were mysteriously missing from the sack.

"Oh, man. I didn't know we were required to do our own dishes here," I said.

"What?" my sister Lynne replied.

"Look, right here in my sack -- they gave me a Brill-O pad."

"That's not a Brill-O Pad. That's your Quarter Pounder with cheese."

That was it! No way. Uh, uh. I had been told that once you had kids your life changes drastically. But not this drastic. Not for me, boy! That day I decided, once I have kids – I’m gonna buck the system!

See, I figured I had a plan.

I figured I was smarter.

I figured I was craftier.

But as we drove to the restaurant with Princess-Pea peacefully sleeping in her car seat in the back, quickly I realized that I had fungus for brains for even trying this!

I became convinced that night that there is a conspiracy out there. Children actually do rule the World, and they have a very sophisticated communication network that is far beyond our understanding. That night, from some super secret communication device embedded in the fabric of her car seat, Princess-Pea got the message from Command Central:

"One-Adam 12, One-Adam 12 -- be on the lookout, parents having joyful evening, heading southbound in a white Intrepid. Try stink bomb. Please advise."

"Ah, Rampart, this is Princess-Pea Squad -51. Negative on that stink bomb. Freshly changed. Repeat, freshly changed. Ammunition in the Diaper Genie. "

"What's you're next move then, Princess-Pea 51?"

"How's this Rampart? W-a-a-a-a-a-a!"

This of course sets forth the immediate panic-stricken counter offensive by the hapless couple in the Intrepid. (I really shouldn't refer to my wife and I in the third person like this, but it's just less painful this way…and besides, they’re monitoring us at Command Central).

The first reaction, of course, is to dive into the weapons cache. In most cases this is the pink and yellow multi-pocketed case with the ducky on the front. This is generally called a diaper bag. Macho guys refer to it as the dooditator-terminaor utility pack.

The first weapon against a full screaming assault is the bottle. Now, the problem in this particular case is that while zipping down the road at 65 mph, how do you heat the bottle?

In ancient and primitive cultures (such as Florida), parents used to carry a thermos full of hot water in which to dip the bottle for heating. This procedure evolved from the hot-cup-of-coffee-at-the- restaurant tactic discussed earlier.

But now in modern times (which, of course, would exclude Florida), they have this handy device that plugs into your cigarette lighter (oops - is the term CIGARETTE lighter politically correct? Maybe I should use the term 12-volt-utility-port) into which you place the bottle for heating.

This tactic does not come without its complications. Aside from the fact that it takes about 28 days to adequately heat a bottle with one of these apparatuses, there is also the problem of getting to the 12-volt-utility-port in the first place! I mean, by the time you unplug the cell phone, the GPS unit, e-mail connection, internet connection, portable CD player, cable TV outlet, the Play-Station, and the microwave oven, your kid would have graduated college and would be off seeking deep psychological therapy to heal deep emotional scars caused by inadequate bottle feedings.

Ironically, in this particular battle, it wasn't the bottle that was ultimately going to do the trick. For the first time in my stellar history of finding choice parking places, I found myself seeking the furthest reaches of the restaurant parking lot…someplace in the outlying Netherlands…w-a-a-a-y out…where it was dark and secluded enough so that my wife could....well...breast feed.

Now, there's not much a guy can do at this point, so I suggested that I'd at least go into the restaurant and put our names in.

As I meandered my way through the mingling crowd toward the maitre d', I felt all eyes upon me...happy couples and batches of friends watching the pathetic, lonely guy slink by. What a loser. No friends and his mother dresses him funny.

With furled eyebrows, the maitre d' looked passed my shoulder at first with confusion when I said "three please", then gave me a sure-we'll-accommodate-you-and-your-imaginary-friends-as-long-as-you're-not-paying-with-imaginary-money look before taking my name down. I thought he was going to call in a S.W.A.T. team when I asked for my name to be put w-a-a-a-a-a-y down at the bottom of the list, and that we wouldn't be ready for him for about another hour.

Then I ambled on into the bar.

"What can I get ya?" The bartender asked.

"Heineken please," I replied. And as he turned I heard myself saying "and a cup of hot water."

And before he decided to call in the S.W.A.T. team I said: "It's for the bottle!"

And it was. To save myself further embarrassment, I dipped my Heineken in the hot water.

As I sipped the lukewarm Heineken, I pondered my options that night at the restaurant where my wife and I enjoyed many intimate evenings. While my daughter was being cared for out in the parking lot, I realized what my dining pleasures had come to: Brill-O pads and warm beer. Bon appétit.

Quite drastic changes for a guy. But as I thought of my new daughter, of being a Dad for the first time, I knew without a doubt that not even a S.W.A.T. team could never make me go back or change a single thing.

“Another Heineken here, please. And could I have a warm up on this water?”