Gypsy Alert in Tuscaloosa

My one encounter with authentic gypsies (Romani) was in a convenience store in Tuscaloosa, back when Melanie Jane and I were both students at UA. Whenever I finished teaching a writing class, and was walking back to our apartment on Reid Street, I would stop by this hole in the wall store named Charles and Company, and would stop and buy us a treat–a bag of M&Ms. The checkout guy got so used to me buying the same thing everyday that he would have it rung up on the register before I even got there.

This particular day was challenging. By the time I got to the M&Ms department, the tiny store was full of women–Gypsy women. I guessed there were about twenty of them, and the leader of the group was a strikingly attractive young Romani woman, who was all up in the cashier’s face, waving dollar bills in the air and yelling “Marlboro! Marlboro! Marlboro!” That was enough to distract any young man. By the time the guy was finally able to find the sufficient packs of Marlboros to satisfy her, the other ladies had walked off with a decent percentage of the inventory. When I got to the checkout, I thought the dude was going to cry.

As per usual for a Graduate student, I had just enough cash to pay for the M&Ms. I was still wondering how to relay this info to MJ, when I got to our third floor apartment. Our radio was tuned to a local station that was appropriately crappy for a college town, and as soon as I walked in the door, the DJ said, and I am not making this up, “Emergency warning–a Gypsy alert has been issued for the City of Tuscaloosa. Repeat–a Gypsy alert has been issued for Tuscaloosa. Be on the look out for packs of Gypsies.”

Packs? Wolves, maybe? All I could do was laugh, and share my pack of M&Ms. I barely resisted calling the cops, and telling them that all I had seen were packs of Marlboros.

Favorite Woodworking Planes, Part Ten and 31/64–Gage Self-Setting Planes

The GOAT of Production Planes?

I have been off of WordPress for a month, as I have been setting up a new MacMini, a task somewhere in between cleaning the Augean Stables and finding the last digit of Pi. I am back with all new passwords, and projects delayed for too long. For example, look at that slab of Eastern Red Cedar the Gage plane sits upon. 6′ 7″ long, 14″ wide, and 2″ thick. It has new workbench written all over it.

Now back to that Gage G35 plane. It took over thirty years to corral all the parts. The last part was the combo cap iron and chip breaker, bought from the top tool seller in the country (he had several of them). I think my total investment in this plane was $29. A mint version of the same plane sold for $1700 plus.

Why so much Jack for a production plane? It is essentially an absolute masterpiece of late nineteenth century industrial design. Let me list a a few of the innovations.

The Parts

To start, the plane blade/frog Combo is rock solid. The iron slides into the frog via a slot in the built in frog. The depth adjustment is far more accurate than a comparable Stanley one, and the slot means no floppy lateral adjustment. And that is not even the best part.

The trick shot is the union of the cap iron with the chip breaker. The chip breaker is essential another plane iron, turned around bevel up–thereby creating a double iron, twice as stiff as a Stanley plane. The cap iron is also adjustable up and down, and is tightened without the need of any tools, such as a screwdriver.

The final result of this is to create a “self setting” plane. Loosen the cap iron combo, take out the iron and sharpen it, and then re-assemble. No fiddling about with the chip breaker when the iron is put back in the plane. It is almost exactly the same depth every time.

Why didn’t this company crush the competition? Stanley bought them out, and after two decades of ownership, closed down the company. Just another example of rotten American business practices. Thankfully these champs are still in circulation on auction sites, though the prices vary wildly. Timing is everything–my retirement looms, and Melanie Jane bought me a G36 Jack plane for $49. Soon I will be officially “retard,” for all of you Borat fans. Sacha Baron Cohen introduced that term in Mt. Brook, Alabama, a place he loves to jape. The scene from Bruno in Mt Brook is even better than that.

The Best Food Joke of all Time

If you want to start an argument, ask who is the comic GOAT (greatest of all time). Evidence submitted: Richard Pryor. As comedy fans know, Pryor once set himself on fire while free-basing cocaine. His response was to turn it it into a comedy routine involving milk and cookies.

Let me tell you what really happened… Every night before I go to bed, I have milk and cookies. One night I mixed some low-fat milk and some pasteurized, then I dipped my cookie in and the shit blew up.

Richard Pryor

He had a zinger to finish this bit:

I’m not addicted to coke, i just love the way it smells

Richard Pryor

Pure genius.

Kitchen Invasion, Part Six: Eastern Red Cedar Rolling Cart

Rolling Invasion

Because everyone needs a piece of kitchen furniture in their living room, our new rolling cart currently lives in there. Its original home was the bathroom, an even stranger place for kitchen furniture. It didn’t stay there long before it was put to use.

The design is very loosely based on a piece that is being sold by an Amish furniture shop. I made it more complicated than necessary, as it ended up with about twenty different parts. However, all those parts make it incredibly sturdy. The wheels roll so well I’m thinking about entering it in the next Talladega 500.

The first time we used it it worked a a portable table that was covered in pizza makings. Next week it turns into a corporate cart, as Melaine has to organize a whole series of conference calls, and needs the extra workspace. It should be able to take the abuse–the finish is a no VOC water based polyurethane, hard enough to be used on gym floors. Over that is an equally hard floor polish. Corporate America is on notice.

A Floating Dairy in the Netherlands

Thomas Jefferson, during his travels through Europe, found the Dutch to be the most prosperous people there, unlike France, and the kingdoms of Germany, where the hated aristocracy hogged up all the cash. They have proved it once again, by having the world’s first floating dairy farm in Rotterdam. They are so clever, as are the journalists of Agence France-Presse, who reported this story.

Talk about vertical integration, and this barge has it. Three stories, with the dairy cows on the top. The middle floor is for cheese, yogurt, and butter making. The bottom floor is to age the cheese. The whole thing goes up and down with the tide, though the owners say that the cows don’t get sea sick.

It only gets better. The cows eat surplus food, such as leftover grapes, grass clippings, and barley from a brewery. No commercial feed needed. The cow stuff becomes pelletized fertilizer, and the cow pee is recycled, astronaut style, into drinking water. The inputs are miniscule.

The Dutch government thought the farmers who came up with this idea were crazy. What they were was crazy smart.

Creole Grillades and Fresh Peas

Before the Swallowtails Eat All the Parsley

This is a close copy of the Grillade recipe in The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook. As I cannot follow any instructions, I added one ingredient.


One cube Steak, cut into small pieces

Bacon Fat

1/2 Onion, Diced

1 clove Garlic

1 tablespoon Flour

2 medium Tomatoes, milled

Chicken Stock

Salt and Pepper

Chopped Parsley

To start, cook the onions in the bacon fat. Add the garlic, and cook for a few seconds. The addition of the flour makes the roux–brown it properly. Add the steak, and cook for about a minute. Finally add the tomatoes and chicken stock for something of a creole sauce. The parsley is garnish.

We use LA rice to go with this, and we just bought a basket of perfectly fresh pink eye purple hull peas. What we didn’t eat went into the frizzer for the winter. We are the ants in the Ant and Grasshopper fable, as we also buy twenty pounds of rice at a time. We just about need a bigger frizzer.

Young Love, Cafeteria Food, and a Tornado

I originally met my future wife Melanie Jane in an awful school cafeteria, when she was in the third grade. Many years later we had our first date on April first, at our High School prom. She wore the sexiest dress I have ever seen, and we were two April fools in love in no time.

I needed to update and totally completely fictionalize the whole thing. Much much older students, basketball, pizza, crap cafeteria food (the only real part), mortal sins, and a tornado complete this fairly short short story fairy tale. Maybe a little beyond PG-13, so read at your own peril. This is dedicated to the two days of constant tornados we have just had.

The Tornado

Sally “Moon Pie” McGowan was one more beautiful young woman. Even in high school, I was a scholar, a gentleman, and an athlete, but I still couldn’t keep myself from staring at her during lunch. She ate like no one I had ever seen, and still managed to laugh and smile at the same time, even while she ate the pig slop they served at our cafeteria. When she was finished eating, she would turn in her tray, and come by the athlete’s table, say hello to me, and pat me on the back. All the rest of the football team were insanely jealous of me. They never bothered me about it, as I already had the rep of being a badass.

It served them right, as almost all of them were pigs, of every variety. One of them later went to jail, for spouse abuse, after we all graduated, and one idiot even managed to get convicted of statutory rape—of a twelve year old girl. And this was all in western Georgia, where those kinds of things happen often.

The bad news for them was that she was an excellent athlete as well, and could have whipped most of them by herself. On top of the that, her parents were both ass-kickers, and would have de-balled any of them who laid a finger on her, and then kicked their asses all the way to twentieth street in Atlanta. Her mother was my English teacher, and the President of the county’s Teacher’s Union, and her father was a an Irish born college Math instructor at a nearby Community College. He was the union’s Vice President. It was obviously a genetic thing.

Sally had gorgeous long brown hair, which she wore in pigtails whenever she played basketball or volleyball. She had the classic snow-white complexion of an Irish girl. Then there were her eyes, which made me look away every time she looked at me. I literally couldn’t stand it. They were bright green, with yellow highlights in them, and after a moment, I would turn and look back, and she would be staring at me, with some intensity.

This back and forth continued until she noticed that I attended every game she played, when we were both in the Eleventh grade. Then she asked me to sit right behind the bench at every game, and would ask me for advice during time outs. I was her assistant coach now.

One night in December, they were having a tough basketball game against a great team from another county, and she turned around and asked, “What can I do?” I told her their three point defense was weak, and she should heave up some threes. All she did was hit about ten in a row. 

There was a serious celebration after they pulled off the upset of the year, and Sally finished with 38 points. Her coach had heard my advice, and gave me a high five after the game was over. “Freed,” she said, as that was what everyone called me, though my name was Friedrich. “Come to practice when you have the time. I could use an assistant like you. And don’t go anywhere, because Sally wants to talk to you about something. You’re going to like it.” Then she smiled at me, and the whole team ran into the locker room, whooping it up.

Sally came out in ten minutes, just out of the showers, with wet hair and no makeup, and she was still a beauty. She sat next to me, and put her hand on my knee. “Friedrich, let’s start stop staring at each other all the time, and go out. Tomorrow night is good for me. Pick me up at seven, and let’s get some pizza.” Then she kissed me on the cheek, and left, before I could even answer.

I was there to pick her up at 6:45. I was apprehensive, as my parents were Jewish, and her’s were strict Catholics, though neither of us two really cared that much about religion. Her parents greeted me like I was their long lost son. 

Her father was really funny, and told a few Irish stories while Sally was still getting dressed, and at the same time, gave me the third degree about my future plans. Then Sally came down the stairs, and when I saw her, I knew I was crazy in love. 

Cheeky as always, Sally kissed me, right in front of her parents, and said, imitating her father’s Irish accent, “What do you think of my fine lad, here?”  She hooked her arm around mine.

Her father could hang with her with ease. “He’s a good enough specimen, to court me daughter,” he said. “Looks good and Irish, fit, and smart as a whip. Wants to get a Ph D, and teach, for the betterment of mankind. He must be at least half Irish.”

“I’m of German Jewish descent, sir,” I said.

“Never mind, lad,” he said, “We welcome Jews to Ireland. It’s the Protestants we don’t want. They’re like fleas on a dog. Just try and get rid of them.”

Sally and her mother began laughing, as they had heard this tirade before. Sally said we had to go, kept laughing, kept her arm hooked in mine, and we walked out to my Toyota. It was Margherita pizza time.

Sally snarfed down pizza like nothing I had ever seen. I had taken two bites, and her first slice was gone. I shook my head, took two more bites, and her second piece was gone. I had to ask something, about two things. 

“Are we actually courting?” I asked.

“According to my father, “ she said. “He was obviously born in the nineteenth century.” She swallowed another bite of pizza.

“What do you think?”

“I like you better than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m on the borderline of falling in love with you. We just need to get to know each other better.”

“ Why do you eat so fast?”

“‘Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.’ But I eat this fast because of the potato famine.”

“The potato famine? And wasn’t that James Joyce you just quoted?”

“Right, smart guy. Many Irish people starved during the eighteen hundreds, mainly because of the filthy British, My father taught me to eat as fast as I can, in case the British came to steal our food.” Another piece of pizza was gone by then.

I had to process that one. “There are no British around here in Georgia.”

“This was a British colony. The English are everywhere.” By then, three-fourths of the pizza was gone. “We Scots-Irish need to keep our guard up.” Then she finished off her last piece of crust, and smiled at me, while she chewed.

I was far past the love borderline. I took the chance, which was the first time in my life, and said, “Sally, I love you. There is no one else in the world like you.” The entire pizza crowd looked at us.

She swallowed her drink of water—she never drank the flavored sugar water that most people had with pizza. She looked at me with those green eyes, and said, “That was quick. OK, I lied. I’m already in love with you, and have been for a couple of years. My parents gave me the wink of approval, instead of of the usual thumbs down, with you. You could end up as a trophy in-law.” Then she gave me a long pizza flavored kiss. There was applause from the other patrons, which included one of our teachers.

I was down with that, except for the in-law part. Me, married to that beauty? If she wanted it, sure. I thought the likely hood of that was small. I was an idiot, as usual.

She had us park in her driveway, after the pizza, and she literally mauled me. She kissed me into submission. and then decided to rub me all over my body. After about an hour, she said, “Curfew time. Just a preview of coming attractions.” She left, and winked at me. What was up with all the winking with this family?

Winks or not, this whole thing just got hotter and hotter, and after three months, Sally had done everything but rip my clothes off of me. She would stop just short of that, and declare, “I’m a good Catholic, and there are things I just can’t do.”

“I’m a non-observant Jew, and we don’t have rules like that.” Then I grabbed her, and started yanking her clothes off.

“Wait, wait,” she laughed, and said. “Compromise, You can take my top off.” Deal. I did, and she was even more beautiful than I had imagined. I could also imagine what the rest of her looked like. Then came that dark and stormy day.

A brief digression here. How did she get the nickname of Moon Pie? Because she could eat an entire Moon Pie in three bites, which is a particularly disgusting factory made Southern dessert, which comes wrapped in a plastic bag, and which I believe comes from just outside of Chattanooga. That was the usual dessert at our cafeteria, naturally. Our assistant football coach had a stopwatch, and he timed her eating one once. She was a good two seconds faster than the biggest fattening hog on our offensive line.

At any rate, back to that dark and stormy day. It was late March, and her parents were gone to the yearly state union meeting, which for some reason, was always held at a resort hotel on our Atlantic coast. The weather forecast was so ominous that Sally said we should stay at her house that day, which was a Saturday. As we had already driven, unknowingly, under a tornado once, I had no problem with that.

It was even stormier than anticipated. I got there early, as usual, and Sally opened the door, and literally jumped on me, and hugged me. She said, “Thank God you’re here. The new forecast is for a huge tornado outbreak. I would have died, if you had been hurt coming over.” Then she began crying.

There’s nothing I like less than seeing a woman cry, especially one I loved as much as this one. I picked her up, and carried her into the house, kissing her the whole time, naturally. That slowed down her crying fit some. I knew they had a basement built like a 1950’s fallout shelter, and I knew we would be safe there. After she stopped sobbing, I said, “Let’s go down to your basement. We’ll be the safest people in Georgia.” She nodded in agreement.

I practically had to carry her down there, but she weighed so little that that was a big nothing. I sat her down on the couch they had, and suddenly she perked up. She said, “I am going to take a shower, as I refuse to die while I’m dirty. Grab a couple of beers out of our beer fridge here. We might need them.”

“Can do. Don’t forget the clean undies. My mother says you should always have on clean undies, in case you die.”

“I’m not worried about the undies,” she said, and winked at me again. This time, the winking didn’t bother me at all.

I grabbed two beers, opened both, relaxed on the couch, and turned on the weather. It looked really bad, as a huge line of storms was almost where we were. After about ten minutes, Sally came out of the shower, wearing the sexiest silk robe I had ever seen. When I first saw her in it, I thought that there was nothing on, under it. I was right.

She sat down right next to me, and I handed her her beer. All I could say was, “That is one sexy robe. It’s just not as sexy as what’s inside of it. You’re going to have to go to confession, just for wearing that.”

All she said was, “Father, I have sinned. I’m looking forward to confession if I have the nerve do what I’m thinking about. My confession will turn our dirty old priest purple.” Then she kissed me again, and said, “I’m going to whisper in your ear what I have in mind.”

Naturally, as soon as she put her lips to my ear, the line of storms moved in, and announced itself with one tremendous clap of thunder. Then all the lights went out. The power was gone, and we were in complete darkness.

“I know there are some lamps down here,” I said.

“Forget those,” she said. “I like it like this.” The next thing I knew, she was on top of me, and singing in my ear. It was a poem by WB Yeats, set to music.

Down by the salley gardens

   my love and I did meet;

She passed the salley gardens

   with little snow-white feet.

She bid me take love easy,

   as the leaves grow on the tree;

But I, being young and foolish,

   with her would not agree.

In a field by the river

   my love and I did stand,

And on my leaning shoulder

   she laid her snow-white hand.

She bid me take life easy,

   as the grass grows on the weirs;

But I was young and foolish,

   and now am full of tears.

She was Irish, alright, and she had the singing voice of a prima donna. But she was a prima donna, anyway. All I could say, was “That was as beautiful as you are.”

“Oh yea? ‘Dear heart, how like you this?’” She threw her robe off, while quoting some Elizabethan poetry this time. So much for the good Catholic girl. But she could always get absolution, as long as her story didn’t give her priest a fatal heart attack.

She whispered in my ear again. “You know all of those assholes at school who say that I’m a virgin? Actually, I am, and never even thought about it until I met you. Be patient, but that is all about to end. I’m not going to die without having made love to you.” Then she stripped me down, and climbed back on top of me again.

I said, “It was no dream: I lay broad waking.” I could hang with her during a poetry slam.

She just smiled, and kissed me again. “This is my first time, and I read that it is going to hurt, and I had no idea how big that thing you have was going to be,” she said. “So lie still, and let me do this myself.” I had no problem with that. It was my first time also.

She apparently knew what she was doing, as it hurt her for about two seconds, and then she was all on it. After about fifteen seconds, I had to say, “I hope you’re not going to give me a heart attack.”

“You’re about to have an attack, but it’s not going to be of the heart variety,“ she said, and really went to work on it. I lasted about thirty seconds more, and then it was done.

She took all the satisfaction that she could get out of it, and then bent over, kissed me, and said “Don’t go anywhere. I’m coming back in a minute for seconds. It was that good.” Then she kissed me again.

God, she was going to wear me out, but it was the absolute best way of being worn out. Then I had the ultimate terror stroke—was she trying to get pregnant? She was Catholic.

That thought passed in a second. She was far too intelligent for that. I was still going to ask about it, anyway.

She came back, grabbed me, and said, “Hello, cowboy. I feel that the resurrection of the flesh is holding up fine. You have to ride me this time.” 

I had to say, “You aren’t afraid of getting pregnant, are you?”

“Hardly. Abortion is way worse than sex for Catholics, and my parents put me on birth control as soon as I became a teenager. They thought that with my looks, I might get raped by one of the local rednecks, but mainly those we go to school with, and impregnated. Technically, both abortion and sex are mortal sins, but even our pervert Priest thinks that carnal desires and acts are on a completely different level from abortion. I think he’s had plenty of carnal thoughts, especially when he sees me. Now, I didn’t tell my parents about my ball kicking skills, and I don’t mean footballs, either, so I really was not in that much danger. Now shut up and kiss me, and do your duty.”

I did that with pleasure, and I went slow, and lasted more than a minute this time. My reward was that she came back with a blanket, and said we needed a nap. She asked me when I had to go home. I said, “My parents are very liberal. As long as I call, I can stay out all night. Is that fine with you?”

“Under one circumstance—you have to cook with me naked. Supper and breakfast. Naturally, I’ll be naked, too. Just be careful with the knives. I don’t want to see you damage an important part.” I laughed my butt off at that. She was as clever and witty, as she was beautiful.

Before I dozed off, I could swear that I heard her say, “This is just what it will be like when we’re married in a few years. What a life we are going to have together, Professor.” I forgot to say that my nickname was Professor.

While we were snoozing, a tornado hit, and destroyed the house next door. Sally’s family lost five really old hardwood trees. And we slept right through the whole thing, with our bodies curled tight up against each other. Love will do that to you.

Six years later, when we were both in grad school, we went to the courthouse in Fulton county, and got married. Sally said, in her fake Irish accent, that “There was no way in fookin Hell” that she was going through with a Catholic wedding. That was ten years ago. Strangely enough, she never cooks naked anymore. It could have something to do with our kids. We just sleep that way.

Something of a shout out here to our greatest Southern Woman novelist, Kate Chopin, who was half Irish herself. She also wrote the scandalous short story “The Storm,” of which this is something of a riff. Read that one, when you get a chance. It makes this one seem tame.

Country Winter in the South

Snowed Under–Not

Today is my birthday, and its (irony alert) a frigid seventy degrees F here. So some landscape shots for you, from our little Appalachian river valley. That’s Garden City Mountain, on the other side of the river.

A River Runs Through It

Our little river can be seen upon close examination. According to popular myth, fishing becomes spectacular when the dogwoods bloom. Go trees!

Auburn, Alabama, Bans Drinking While Standing

No Wonder My Stella Box is Empty

Don’t take my word for it. This quote is straight from the city council.

All ABC [Alabama Beverage Control] licensed alcohol establishments in the City of Auburn shall suspend walk up bar services at indoor bars and only allow alcoholic beverages to be served to seated customers. Further, the serving of alcoholic beverages to any person who is not seated at a table / counter / bar is hereby prohibited.

Auburn City Council

Don’t worry, they still plan on having football games attended by several thousand drunk people.

Warsaw Zoo Feeds Marijuana to Elephants to Reduce Stress

“Dude, I’m an Elephant. Chill out, Dude. Would I stomp on you?”

It is truthfully “medical marijuana,” aka CBD oil, the oliphants are getting. Apparently dogs and horses have been getting it for years, which could explain how our dogs act. Now it is on to literally bigger things.

The Polish, they are so clever. I hope they do the next movie about Dumbo, the stoned elephant. That sucker can fly.

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