I’m walking down the Venice Beach boardwalk on a lovely day in June, when I’m stopped by the barker outside the medical marijuana dispensary.
“Hey, man, you need a medical marijuana card?” he asks.
Actually, it’s not a dispensary. It’s a doctor’s office where you can get the certificate you need to buy medical marijuana at a dispensary.
I tell the dude he’s out of luck cause I’m visiting from Chicago and, as such, ineligible to buy medical marijuana in California.
Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, he tells me. Turns out that just about anyone can buy medical marijuana in California–even busters from Chicago.
Apparently, California truly is the land of milk and honey, marijuanily speaking.
“How much?” I ask.
“Forty,” he says.
I’m thinking–as a journalist I’m compelled to see where this takes me. So…
I follow the guy into the storefront and wind up in a reception area reading over various disclaimers. Like…
“In the event of any conflict with law enforcement,” I give my consent to have my named turned over to the feds.
After a few minutes, I’m ushered into an examination room, where the doctor awaits. He’s a tiny, hunched-over man, who looks to be 80. At least.
He asks why I need marijuana.
On one hand I don’t really like the stuff–haven’t smoked it in over 30 years.
On other other hand, I love Cheech and Chong.
I’m not sure how much of this, if any, is relevant.
So I say the first thing that comes to my mind.
“Let me check your breathing.”
He comes out from behind his desk, and places a stethoscope against my heart. Then my back.
“Breathe,” he says.
“You’re good,” he says. “You’re approved for medical marijuana.”
He directs me to a side room where I sit with several other patients, most of whom look utterly miserable.
Obviously, there’s a reason sick people turn to marijuana.
One more time–legalize it!
Eventually, they send me to a room where the cashier tells me: “That will be $80.”
“$80,” I say. “The dude on the boardwalk said 40.”
“That covers the exam,” she says. Apparently, there are processing costs or something.
“That’s okay,” I say. “I’ll just pay the $40 for the exam and leave.”
“Okay,” she says. “Make it $60.”
I’m struck by two things…
One, we’re haggling. And, two, she’s got an East European accent.
I have half a mind to pay my $40 and head out. Then I think–this operation may be run by the Russian mob. Don’t want to end up in a dumpster.
So I pay $60 and walk away with a piece of paper–with a gold sticker in the upper left hand corner–that says I’ve been approved to buy medical marijuana for one month.
Like I said–just legalize it already.
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I’m at my desk in my room preparing to write a post about the misery that was 2016, when the doorbell rings.
Who could that be?
The voices come up the stairs–my wife talking to Willie, the plumber.
What’s he doing here? He was just here. He fixed the leak under the kitchen sink. I talked to him about the Blackhawks.
“Just go upstairs,” my wife says.
I didn’t know he was coming. My wife doesn’t tell me when she calls repairmen. Probably cause it would take her too much time and energy to explain what needs to be done.
I hear him thumping up the stairs and entering the second-floor bathroom. I think about coming downstairs to say hello. He’s a gregarious, baby-faced guy. Figure I might as well wish him Happy New Years.
But, no, I have a blog to write about…
I hear him drop his tools on the floor. It sounds like heavy metal crashing.
I try to concentrate on the great events of the year–Bowie, Prince, Ali…The plumbers…
Crash! Bam! Boom! It sounds like Willie’s jumping up and down. Then…
“Goddamn, motherfuckin’ cheap ass…”
“Piece of shit, cocksucking…”
Oh, my goodness–this is a side of Willie I’ve never seen. Or heard.
“Fuckin’, motherfuckin’, son of a bitch…”
I mean, he’s really going to town.
It sounds like he’s fighting with someone.
“Shit. Fuck. Shit…”
Then silence. Is he okay?
I sneak downstairs, past the bathroom. The door’s shut. I head into the kitchen where my wife’s at the sink.
“Willie’s here,” I say.
“What’s he doing?”
“Rodding out the drain.”
“Why?” she asks.
I walk back up the stairs. The bathroom door’s open. Willie’s loading his tools into his work bag. Thank goodness, he’s okay.
A few minutes later my wife comes into my room looking for the checkbook.
“Willie’s a great guy,” she says.
Should I tell her?
Nah. Like anyone else, plumbers should have their secrets.
I’m on the rocking chair in my living room in the dark late at night, watching Candyman — that scary flick from the 1990s….
You know the one — about the monster named Candyman who comes out of the walls to kill people by ripping them up with the rusty hook he has instead of a hand….
Candyman‘s a big dude who speaks really slow. Says scary shit like: “I am writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom! Without these things, I am nothing.”
“They will say I have shed innocent blood. What’s blood for, if not for shedding?”
Scares the shit out of me.
Plus, the eerie soundtrack really freaking me out.
I don’t usually watch scary movies on account of the fact that I’m a scaredy cat.
I’ve heard so much about Candyman. And it takes place in Chicago. Plus, I’ve got this great strategy for watching it.
Got the sound off and the subtitles on. So I know what’s going on, but I don’t hear the eerie soundtrack.
Now that’s how you watch a scary movie!
My wife shows up. Sits on the couch and says: “What you doing?”
“Can’t talk — too scared….”
“How can you watch a movie without sound?”
Too late! She’s turned the sound on.
I hear a scream — ahhhhh!!!
Then Candyman says: “I am a rumor. It is a blessed condition, believe me. To be whispered about at street corners. To live in other people’s dreams, but not have to be. Do you understand?”
My wife’s like: “Oh, this is good….”
Easy for her to say. Scary movie’s don’t scare her. When we saw Silence of the Lambs, she ate a big tub of buttered popcorn.
The serial killer had this girl trapped at the bottom of this deep dark well.
The girls was going — “Help, get me out of the well….”
And this sinister fuck saying twisted shit like: “I can smell your cunt.”
Then they cut back to Anthony Hopkins who’s telling Jodie Foster more weird shit like: “We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?”
And that’s when I get up and go into the next theater. Wind up watching the final minutes of this really bad Steve Seagal flick.
Meanwhile, my wife stays to the end of the Lambs.
She was seven months pregnant at the time. Speaking of which: What up, Ray Jay 3000!
Back to Candyman….
He’s got this blonde chick cornered in the bathroom. And he’s going: “So now I must shed innocent blood. Come with me!”
That’s it — I’ve had enough. I bolt from the rocking chair and flop on the couch — practically in my wife’s lap.
I invent this new way of watching Candyman. I close my eyes, cover my hears and hum. Like this — hmmmmm.
I stop humming long enough to hear him tell the blonde: “Our names will be written on a thousand walls. Our crimes told and reold by our faithful believers. We shall die together in front of their very eyes and give them something to be haunted by. Come with me and be immortal.”
She ends up killing a bunch of people. If they make a sequel, they can call it Candychick.
When it’s over, I’m too scared to move.
Except I have to walk the dog. What the hell — she’s got to crap. It’s not her fault I watched Candyman.
My wife comes with me. Usually, she doesn’t. But, get this — Candyman scared the shit out of her. Guess all those years with me has turned her into a scaredy cat….
The streets are filled with wackos and psych jobs. There’s a guy on his porch smoking cigarettes. Never says nothing. All you can see is his cigarette glowing in the dark — the glow moves in our direction, as he watches you pass.
There’s a guy with a gimpy leg and an Hungarian accent. Sounds like Bela Lugosi. “Nice dog,” he says.
Then he cackles.
The dog does her thing. I scoop it up in a plastic bag.
“Hold the leash,” I tell my wife.
“Where you going?”
“I gotta throw this out….”
“What? I’m supposed to stick the shit in my pocket?”
I walk up a dark side street and cut down an alley. I know — never, ever go into a dark alley. It’s like teenagers going to the cabin by the lake.
I open a dumpster and toss in the plastic bag. It lands with a thump. I let go of the dumpster top — it shuts with a crash. I turn around.
A man’s standing behind me, a bloody knife raised in the air.
“I hear you were looking for Candyman, bitch. Well, you found him!”
The knife plunges down….
Actually, didn’t really happen. Just sort of imagined it.
Instead, my wife and I scurry home, tugging the dog up the sidewalk by the leash. Dog’s like: “Hey, man — can’t a dog smell the flowers?”
The cigarette smoker’s got a friend on the porch. Some dude with a banjo. Probably keeps an ax in the case.
Remind me never to watch another
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My buddy, Ed, rolls into town last week — helps me turn the living room into fraternity row.
For a few days, it’s me and Ed, sprawled on lounge chairs, watching college basketball, reruns of The Untouchables and old movies, like Blacula.
Ah, the good life….
Blacula’s a great movie, by the way. Saw it years ago at the old Howard Theater in Rogers Park.
I saw many of the seminal movies of the `70s at the Howard – Shaft in Africa, Foxy Brown, The Sting and so on….
Though now that I think about it, I might have seen The Sting at the Valencia Theater in Evanston.
I definitely saw The Godfather at the Valencia. I clearly remember that. My old high school pal, Stevie Cichowicz — aka Chicken Tit — snuck me in through the back.
The Tit ushered at the Valencia. They made him wear this little red jacket that made him look like the monkey sidekick to the organ grinder. A small price to pay for getting to see all the great movies.
But back to Blacula….
William Marshall plays the great African monarch — Prince Mamuwalde — who travels to Transylvania in 1780 to ask Prince Dracula to join the fight against slavery.
He brings along Princess Luva, his lovely wife. Vonetta McGee plays Luva. And let me take this moment to confess. Back in the day, I had a little crush on Vonetta McGee.
But back to my plot summary….
One thing leads to another and Dracula bites William Marshall, turning him into vampire. Hence, the name — Blacula. Get it?
About 150 years later, Blacula winds up in New York City. Don’t ask – it’s complicated.
The thing that always amazed me is that Blacula hopped out of his coffin and got around New York City like he’d been living in Harlem his whole life. Didn’t need a GPS thing or anything…..
They’ve got this one scene where Blacula’s running down the street and a cop starts chasing him.
I’m not sure why the cop’s chasing him. Blacula hadn’t done anything wrong. Well, except for killing a bunch of people. But the cop didn’t know that.
“He’s breaking the law,” says Ed. “Running while black.”
Good line, Ed. We just about die laughing over that one.
Right about this time Nicky, the dog, starts barking.
“Shut up,” I yell at the dog.
She keeps barking.
I walk to the window to see what she’s barking at. But the streets are empty.
“There’s nothing there,” I tell the dog. “You’re barking at nothing….”
Like she speaks English.
It occurs to me she might be scared. I can relate. I was scared the first time I saw Blacula — especially when he comes up behind that lady in the photo lab. That scene still scares me.
The dog finally stops barking. But I’ve missed so much dialogue I feel I need to watch the movie again. Well, really, I just want to watch it again.
This time my wife watches it with us. And she loves it! I’m telling you – Blacula’s a great movie.
Fast-forward a few hours….
The dog’s lying on the bed. Payback time – heh, heh, heh.
Before she can dart away, I start hugging her. Its called annoying the dog with love.
“Oh, Nicky,” I say. “You’re the best doggie….”
She shifts in irritation and looks at me as if to say: “Hey, man, I’m trying to sleep….”
Oh, isn’t that something? She has no problem barking when I’m trying to watch the movie. But when the shoe’s on the other foot – or paw – she doesn’t want her sleep interrupted.
Then I get this new idea. “I am Blacula, Nicky. I’ve come to suck your blood….”
She squirms out of my arms and scrambles under the bed.
I start doing my William Marshall impression: “Come to me, Princess Luva.”
The dog’s eying me from under the bed.
What can I tell you — I get some of my best ideas from the movies.
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On a lovely night in June, I set off on my bike, heading home along the lakefront from Millennium Park.
I’d been at an outdoor concert–Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra–that may have been the greatest outdoor concert I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a bunch.
The sounds of that orchestra are still resonating through my brain, giving me a little extra oomph, as I cross Lake Shore Drive and head north along the bike path.
I feel like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, racing my motorcycle over barbed wire fences. The breeze is lovely. It’s like I’ve sliced 30 years off of my age.
But as I approach Oak Street Beach, from behind me I hear a stern and commanding voice: “On your left!”
It’s what faster cyclists say to slower cyclists as they come up from behind them. As the rider approaches, I say: “Take it, big feller.”
And then what do I see?
A fat guy on a Divvy!
Are you kidding me! Passed on the left by a Divvy?
In my mind, I’m Steve McQueen…
In case you don’t know–Divvy’s are the rental bikes. They’re squat and heavy. They don’t move fast. Utilitarian is the word that comes to mind.
You can’t really pretend you’re Steve McQueen if you’re on a Divvy. Man, Steve McQueen wouldn’t be caught dead on a Divvy.
The guy whizzes by, like he’s the baddass. And I’m like–it’s on!
So I dig a little deeper and peddle a little harder. I can tell he feels me coming at him. Cause he digs harder.
In my mind, I’m still Steve McQueen. Only it’s a different movie–Les Mans–and I’m in a Porsche 917 whipping around a race course.
As we approach Fullerton, I draw closer.
“On your left,” I say.
And with that I fly right by him–like he’s standing still. As I disappear into the night, I raise my right arm to signal that I am the champion. Just like Steve McQueen!
I’m feeling pretty good until just south of Belmont I hear: “On the left!”
It’s a younger woman on–yes–a Divvy.
As she races past me, I think about giving chase. But fuck it. That’s as much racing action as this old man can take for the night.
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The other day my wife uncovered the secret to a mystery that’s been haunting people of the Baby Boomer persuasion for decades…
The meaning of Whiter Shade of Pale, the Procol Harum hit from 1967.
If this were a scholarly journal, I’d have a footnote alluding to a reference to this matter from The Commitments, the great Alan Parker movie.
But this is not a scholarly journal.
Plus, I still haven’t figured out how to make a footnote, even after all these years of blogging.
So I’ll just tell you that there’s a scene in the movie where one character, when asked what the song means, says: “I’m fucked if I know.”
That about sums it up.
Lately, the song’s been on my mind, as my wife’s been playing it on her guitar.
In case you forgot, here’s the opening lyrics…
“We skipped the light fandango
Turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
But the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
As the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
The waiter brought a tray…”
While we’re at it–here’s the rest…
“And so it was that later
As the miller told his tale
That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale
She said, ‘There is no reason
And the truth is plain to see.’
But I wandered through my playing cards
And would not let her be
One of sixteen vestal virgins
Who were leaving for the coast
And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well’ve been closed…”
Okay, some of this I understand.
The singer’s in a pub. He’s so drunk he’s about to pass out.
But who’s the miller? And what’s a vestal virgin? And what coast are they leaving for?
Sometimes I think the writer–Gary Brooker–was just fucking with us. Stringing together phrases that sound really deep, but don’t have any unifying meaning.
Bob Dylan made a fortune doing this.
One time years ago, I actually figured out the meaning. It came to me as in a dream.
But I forgot what I’d figured out. And since I never wrote it down, it’s lost.
The only thing worse than not achieving enlightenment is achieving it only to forget what you achieved.
Anyway, as I was saying, my wife recently announced she had figured it out.
“There’s this guy in a pub and he’s trying to pick up this girl. Only she’s so drunk, she passes out before he can pick her up…”
“Wow,” I say. “You’re a genius.”
She gets this cocky look as if to say–what can I say?
“But who are the vestal virgins?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says.
Alas–and so the mystery continues.
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As part of my other existence as a humble political reporter, I find myself rising early one Saturday morning and heading to the south side to rant and rail to a group of businessmen and activists about Mayor Rahm.
Well, that’s not specifically what they invited me to do. But that’s what I wound up doing.
Anyway, after the discussion, I was talking about this and that with Craig–the event’s organizer–when we were approached by a guy wearing cowboy boots. So I’ll call him Tex.
“I’m against that tax on financial transactions that you we’re talking about,” Tex said.
“Okay,” I said. “We’ll have to agree to disagree.”
“I think we should cut pensions for public employees,” he continued.
“Gonna have to disagree about that, too…”
“Those pensions are killing us…”
“You sound like a Republican…”
“I’m not a Republican–I’m independent.”
That gets me started on one of my favorite topics–Republicans who are ashamed to admit they’re Republicans.
So they call themselves independents–or libertarians.
Apparently, they’re too embarrassed to have anything to do with the yahoos in their party–other than vote for them.
“I’m telling you I’m an independent,” says Tex. “I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans.”
That reminds me of the story about Charles Barkley, the great basketball player.
He was telling his grandmother-about his plans to vote Republican in an upcoming presidential election. And she said…
“But, Charles, Republicans are for rich people.”
“But, mama,” said Charles, “I am rich.”
Funny thing about Barkley–he’s the opposite of Republicans who call themselves independents.
For all his talk about being Republican, Barkley’s confessed to having voted for Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama.
So I guess he’s Republican, except when it comes to voting.
At some point in our discussion, I looked at Tex’s boots and said: “You must be a Republican.”
“Why?” he said.
“Cause only Republicans wear cowboy boots.”
“That’s not true,” he said. “I know plenty of Democrats who wear cowboy boots.”
“Are those boots comfortable?” I ask.
“Very,” he said.
“Well, they can’t be more comfortable than my shoes.”
At that moment, Craig, having looked at my shoes, felt compelled to pipe in.
“Your shoes better be comfortable, looking the way they do.”
Even I had to laugh at that one.
Craig happens to be a liberal Democrat.
Guess everyone’s bipartisan when it comes to cracking jokes about my funny-looking shoes.
Thanks for the invite, Craig!
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