1. I’ve got a friend, let’s call him Joe to spare him any embarrassment, who made it pretty big out in Hollywood. Joe struggled for years before finally finding his niche. He worked as a script reader, tried his hand at acting and writing, before achieving success as a producer.
By way of explanation for you clueless, pathetic losers who aren’t privy to the inside Hollywood shit like I am, the title of “producer” is meaningless. Being a producer is like being a Kentucky Colonel. It’s as much a joke as it is a genuine honorific.
A person doesn’t have to produce anything to be a producer. The only criteria for being a producer is having the audacity to declare yourself one. There must be tens of thousands of people, probably more, calling themselves producers, but only a small fraction of those people have ever actually produced a movie or TV show.
My friend, Joe, is one of the lucky ones. He actually produces films. About 20 years ago, he ran across a good script, found two bankable actors willing to do it, and rounded up the financing for production.
When it came time to discuss his compensation, the money men offered Joe a flat fee or a piece of the action, whichever he preferred. Now, Joe is no country boy. He is a Chicagoan, born and bred. He understands that making movies is a crapshoot. He also understands that Hollywood bookkeeping is an art form, every bit as creative as writing, painting or musical composition.
Joe opted for a flat fee.
As luck would have it, the movie turned out to be a huge hit, making several hundred million dollars. Had Joe taken a piece of the action, his payday would have been 15 times larger.
The movie did so well that the money men decided to make a sequel. They figured it was a can’t-miss proposition. So did Joe. This time he took a piece of the action. Of course, the sequel turned out to be a huge flop, making about 20 bucks worldwide. Joe claims he didn’t even make expenses.
“The only good thing that came out of it,” Joe explained, “is that now I’m able to produce more movies. You see, making two movies and having one of them be a big hit is an astounding track record in the film business. Now all I have to do is figure out how to make some fucking money.”
2. I have a good friend, let’s call him Bruce Diksas to spare him any embarrassment, who was hanging out in the Pacific Northwest around 1980. He had followed a woman to Seattle in the hope of keeping a romance alive. The woman had enrolled in graduate school and spent most of her days in class or studying, so, Bruce found himself with a lot of time on his hands. And, like any ambitious, industrious, hard-working young man, Bruce decided to spend his free time in one of Seattle’s many legal poker rooms.
Now, Bruce is a pretty good poker player, but, like all of us who enjoy the game, he thinks he’s much better than he is. He’s probably lost more money than he’s won. Despite the ebb and flow of his poker luck, Bruce enjoyed his time at the Seattle tables. It was a pleasant way to pass the time.
One of the topics of conversation at the tables was a small business located in a storefront across the street from the card room. It seemed that the business was a source of local pride. It was growing rapidly and would soon be going public. A few of the players at the tables discussed the pros and cons of investing in the company, buying a few shares to help out the local boys.
Out of curiosity, Bruce stepped outside to check out the storefront. Maybe he’d invest a few bucks. As soon as he saw its name on the storefront window, however, Bruce, knew that the company had no chance of success. It was a stupid name. It made no sense. Shouldn’t a company’s name say what it does? Shouldn’t it at least be catchy, something that sticks in the mind? Why even have a company if you can’t give it a decent name? Any company with a name like that was doomed to failure. He’d be better off investing in lottery tickets.
The company’s name was “Microsoft.”
“I still say it’s a stupid name,” Bruce said to me years later.
“A lot of those internet companies have dumb names,” I replied. “Look at Yahoo or Google.”
Pouring himself another drink, Bruce said, “You’ll notice I didn’t buy any shares in those companies, either.”
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A few days before Easter, I began cleaning my weapons, sharpening the cutlery, shopping for mace and pepper spray, stocking up on first aid supplies, refilling fire extinguishers, and Googling the phone numbers of bail bondsmen and criminal lawyers in the Chicago area.
We were hosting the family dinner this year and I wanted to be prepared.
This is the first time we’ve celebrated Easter at our house in several years. We usually spend the holiday at my sister’s house in Northwest Indiana. I prefer going to my sister’s place because she and her husband are pretty well off and can afford to hire security guards.
I asked my wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, how she was preparing for the occasion. She said, “I’m going to roast a leg of lamb, prepare carrots, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy and a salad. We’ll have apple pie and ice cream for dessert.”
“Sounds great, babe. While you’re doing that, I’ll go down to Home Depot and get a chainsaw, a Taser, and some sandbags.”
I slept poorly the night before Easter. I kept having nightmares about previous holiday disasters.
I remember one Easter when my sister pepper sprayed her husband, Bill, when she caught him putting ketchup on his lamb chops.
I also recalled the time we had to take my 82-year-old uncle, Marko, to the emergency room when he threw his back out doing the Limbo with a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon balanced on his head.
Then there was the 4th of July party where all of the men decided to have a big dick contest and each of us put 20 dollars into a pot as a prize for the winner.
My wife was disgusted. “I can’t believe you pulled out your dick in front of everybody.”
“Honey, I didn’t pull it out all the way. I just showed enough to win the contest.”
I was prepared for the worst when everyone arrived – daughters, niece, assorted boyfriends, sister and brother-in-law.
To my utter amazement, the evening went off without a hitch. There were no disagreements, arguments or fights. Except for my wife and sister overindulging on Bloody Marys and nearly ruining the gravy, everything went smoothly.
Oh, sure, there were a few tense moments. When my brother-in-law started telling a long, pointless and boring story about the many and varied pleasures of philately, my sister began eyeing her purse, where she keeps her blackjack.
And when I took off my shirt, got a Sharpie, and began playing connect-the-dots with the scars on my chest, which, I explained, had come from the many knife fights I had been involved in as a youngster, my wife gave me her ugly, sleep-on-the-couch stare. I quickly put my shirt back on.
I suppose most families have holiday traditions, rituals that have been passed down through the years. The traditions may involve serving certain foods, gift giving, religious observances, songs and dances, relating family histories, or seating arrangements at the dinner table.
Our family has a holiday tradition, too. We just hope to survive.
When the dinner was over and everyone was preparing to leave, my sister thanked me for hosting this year. “Great dinner,” she said, “but things were kind of tame for my taste.”
“To be honest, I thought it was boring as hell.”
“There wasn’t a fist fight, or even a decent argument all night. It was like a dinner party at Martha Stewart’s house.”
“I know. It makes me nostalgic for the good old days.”
“Thanksgiving is at my house this year. Maybe we should invite Uncle Marko, or your friend, Bruce, he’s a loose cannon, or a few of those wild Serbian boys from East Chicago. They know how to liven things up.”
“Sis, that’s an excellent idea.”
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As soon as my medical marijuana card arrived in the mail, I jumped in my car and rushed over to the weed dispensary to do some shopping.
The dispensary is located on Clark Street in the Andersonville neighborhood. I’ve passed it dozens of times but never gave it any thought. The name, Dispensary 33, meant nothing to me.
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in the door. I hoped to see Grateful Dead posters on the walls and hear Jimi Hendrix music blaring from speakers. It would also have been nice to see a group of happy stoners sitting on the floor and passing joints.
But it didn’t happen like I had hoped. Since it was a state-run facility (Illinois Dept. of Public Health), Dispensary 33 was as dry, sterile and characterless as any government building.
The reception area was a narrow corridor, the walls painted a stark white, with chairs along each wall, and a receptionist’s desk at the end of the hall. I figured the place would be crowded, but the only people in the waiting area were a thuggish looking guy, who I assumed was the security guard, and the receptionist.
After filling out some paperwork and agreeing to abide by a few legal stipulations, the receptionist admitted me to the holy of holies, the inner sanctum — the marijuana sales room.
Again, I was disappointed. The sales room was a sterile environment, just like the waiting room. I might as well have been at Walgreen’s, picking up some deodorant and Preparation H.
An earnest young clerk came up to me and asked if I had any experience with marijuana.
“A bit,” I replied.
He then showed me a display of the various strains of marijuana available, nicely arrayed in a glass case, and explained the effects and properties of each. One strain helped with pain. Another was for rest and relaxation. There was one that induced euphoria and one for anxiety.
I listened patiently to the clerk’s pitch, then ordered an eighth of an ounce each of Sativa Hybrid and Indica. The cost was $60 per eighth.
The clerk apologized because Dispensary 33 didn’t take plastic. It was a cash only enterprise.
“No problem,” I replied, reaching into my pocket. “I understand that marijuana has always been a cash only business.”
I had mixed feelings when I left Dispensary 33. I liked having access to hassle-free weed, but I didn’t enjoy the process of acquiring it.
Although it was the first time in 50 years I was able to purchase marijuana legally, I preferred the traditional, time-honored method of buying pot. I missed going to my neighborhood dealer’s place, hanging out for a while, sampling the product, listening to music, having a beer or two, and chatting with other customers. It was a more civilized way to do illicit business.
As Edmund O’Brien said in The Wild Bunch, “It ain’t like it used to be, but it’ll do.”
The lovely Mrs. Milo, in her unending quest to save a few bucks, has once again changed cell phone companies. By switching from the El Diablo Telephone Corporation to the Caveat Emptor Communications Group, my wife has managed to save about 75 cents a month. Needless to say, she is very pleased with herself.
Now, I don’t mind saving money. It means there’s more cash available for red wine and reefer. But when my wife switched carriers, she had to buy new phones. She spent close to a thousand dollars on the latest IPhones for herself and my daughters. The piece of shit cell phone she bought me, manufactured by a company I had never heard of, cost a little less than 15 dollars.
I was happy with my old cell phone. It was a flip phone, about ten years old, and it suited my needs perfectly. It provided the only two services I wanted from a communications device — making calls and accepting calls. Of course, I knew the phone had more capabilities, like sending text messages and taking photos, among other things, but I’ve never sent a text message or taken a snapshot with it. I doubt I’ll be sending texts or snapping pictures with the new phone, either.
I got the new phone this past Saturday morning. That afternoon, my daughters and I decided to drive to Munster, Indiana to visit my mother at her nursing home. Although my daughters are both in their 20s, as soon as they got in the car they reverted to being 10-year-olds and began pestering each other.
“You stop it!”
“You started it!”
“No, you started it!”
Thinking the girls needed something to do before they drove each other, and me, crazy, I handed my youngest daughter my new and old phones and asked her to transfer my contact list.
A few moments later, she said, “Dad, you’ve only got, like, eight contacts.”
“That’s kind of lame. Most people have a lot more. Some have hundreds.”
“I try to lead an uncomplicated life.”
“Dad, who is Nickel Bag Bernie?”
“He’s, ah, an old friend, from college.”
“Who’s Madam LaFarge?”
“Heh, heh, she’s another old and dear friend.”
“Dad, how come you’ve got the Triple A Bail Bond Company as a contact?”
“Will you stop asking so many damn questions? I’m trying to concentrate on my driving.”
I came late to the cell phone party. I never needed or wanted one. I didn’t like the idea of people being able to contact me while I was walking down the street, driving in my car, playing cards or sitting on a bar stool. When people asked me why I didn’t have a cell phone, I’d act like those pompous bastards who brag about not owning a TV, and say something like, “Owning a cell phone is beneath my dignity.”
Of course, I came to regret not owning a cell phone, especially as my daughters grew older. I wanted to stay in closer touch with them, but it was impossible without a cell phone. But I had painted myself into a corner. I had taken a stand against the gadgets. I was the guy who refused to own a cell phone. I figured I’d look like an idiot if I suddenly started carrying one of the damned things around.
Fortunately, my wife and children solved that knotty problem. They gave me a cell phone for Christmas. Not only did I finally have a cell phone, I also had a good excuse for owning one.
“Hey, Milo, what are you doing with that cell phone? I thought you hated them.”
“I loathe the damn things, but my wife and kids made me get one.”
Later, in a quiet moment, I thanked my wife for getting me the phone. “I feel a lot better now that I can keep in closer contact with you and the kids.”
The lovely Mrs. Milo laughed. “We didn’t get the phone so you could keep in contact with us. We got it so we could keep track of you.”
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I was sitting in Swillagain’s Saloon, enjoying a few cocktails, when an old friend, who I’ll call Leonard, to spare him undue embarrassment, walked in the door. I was surprised by Leonard’s ragged and disheveled appearance. He is usually a very dapper man, always well-dressed and well-groomed, but when he walked into Swillagains, he looked like a bum, unshaven, unkempt, and in obvious need of a bath.
When I asked him how things were going, Leonard smiled ruefully and said, “Not too good. I’ve been living in my car the last couple of weeks.”
“Jesus! What the hell happened?”
“My wife caught me fucking around with another woman and threw me out.”
“Darn, I hate to hear that. Why don’t you just get a room somewhere?”
“I miss my wife. I’m hoping that if she hears I’m living in my car, she’ll feel sorry for me and take me back.”
“Do you, by any chance, have a Plan B?”
According to a recent study by the prestigious Gary, Indiana Institute for Prestigious Studies, more than 100,000 American husbands are caught cheating on their wives – every single day! Sadly, many of these incidents end badly for the straying husbands. Thousands of unfaithful men are shot, stabbed, poisoned, run over by cars, and beaten to death with cast iron skillets by irate, vengeful wives.
That’s why I had difficulty working up any sympathy for Leonard. I figured he got off easy. It could have been a lot worse. He was fortunate to have escaped with his life.
Besides, Leonard deserved what he got. Not because he cheated on his wife, but because he got caught. In my opinion, only incompetent fools and amateurs get caught cheating on their wives. If done properly, there’s almost no chance of discovery.
I should know. I’ve been cheating on my wife from the moment I married her. As of this writing, I have two mistresses, a steady girlfriend, and enjoy an intimate lunch with a prominent North Shore matron every other Thursday. And the lovely Mrs. Milo has no clue.
The reason I’ve been a successful philanderer for all these years is that I take precautions. I’m careful when I fool around.
For example, I never come home with hickeys, bite marks, or scratches on my back.
I also avoid lipstick stains at all costs.
I never use a credit card when buying expensive jewelry for my lady friends. I always pay cash.
I use a fake name when enjoying a one-night stand, usually calling myself Ben Joravsky or Adolfo Mondragon.
Whenever I take one of my paramours out for a night on the town, I avoid bars and restaurants on the North Side of Chicago, where I might run into someone I know. I confine my extra-marital carousing to shitholes like Cicero, Hegewisch, or Berwyn.
I always choose girlfriends who look like my wife. That way, on the extremely slim chance that the lovely Mrs. Milo catches me fooling around, she might be flattered by my thoughtfulness in choosing women who resemble her and refrain from putting rat poison in my Cheerios.
I always make sure I have a rock solid alibi when I stay out late at night, frolicking with one of my girlfriends. My dear friend, Bruce Diksas, will swear on a stack of bibles that he and I were out drinking and shooting pool until four in the morning. And, of course, I’m always prepared to return the favor.
Another thing I make sure to do is…
This is Mrs. Milo. I just noticed what my husband was writing and chased him away from the computer with the can of pepper spray I keep handy for occasions like this. That stuff he wrote about all of his mistresses and girlfriends is a load of crap. No woman in her right mind would have anything to do with him. Before the booze and drugs got to him, he was a respectable young man, and fairly good looking, too. Now, all he does is hang around the basement in his ratty old bathrobe, sip from the pints of Old Crow he hides around the house, and work on that stupid blog that he shares with those other creeps from The Third City. He hasn’t left the house in weeks. In fact, the only time he steps outside is when he sneaks out to the garage to smoke pot. God, he’s such a loser. If any woman out there is foolish enough to want him, they can have him and good riddance.
When I reached the tender age of 12, my mother bought me a violin and signed me up for lessons in a musty music studio in the Gary National Bank building on Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Every Saturday morning I had to walk seven or eight blocks, lugging a violin case, to the music studio and spend a couple of hours struggling to learn how to play a violin.
At the time, Fifth Avenue was one of Gary’s main drags, a thriving boulevard overrun by taverns, poolrooms, liquor stores, gambling dens, diners, bowling alleys, private social clubs and the occasional whore house. It was one of the most popular areas in town and most of my friends hung out on that noisy and crowded street. It’s where a lot of Gary’s young men learned the manly arts of smoking, drinking, gambling and whoring.
And that’s where I should have been on Saturday mornings. But no, I had to take fucking violin lessons. It was mortifying.
My friends never failed to give me a hard time when they saw me walking down the street with a violin case under my arm. They teased me mercilessly, calling me a sissy and a homo. They wanted to know if I was going to start taking ballet lessons next.
I tried to avoid Fifth Avenue. I took shortcuts and skulked through alleys. But it seemed that everywhere I went I ran into someone I knew and as soon as they saw the violin case they started laughing. My 12-year-old ego was shattered. I was a broken kid.
The situation became intolerable. I couldn’t handle the derision of my peers and gave up the violin after a few months. I realize now that it was a huge mistake. I probably would have met a lot more chicks in my life if I had stuck with the violin. I understand Jascha Heifetz did real well with the ladies.
About twelve or thirteen years later I was living in southern Florida and enjoying a fling with a lovely young woman from Alabama, named LaDonna Titwell. We got along wonderfully except for one tiny little thing – her dog.
I’m not certain it was actually a dog. It was more like an animated ball of fluff than any animal I was familiar with. It couldn’t have weighed more than two pounds and most of the weight was made up of tangled and matted fur that resembled canine dreadlocks. To make the little creature look even more ridiculous, the dog’s mistress tied ribbons in its raggedy coat.
Normally I wouldn’t have given a shit about the dog but every once in a while my lady friend would say something like, “Milo, sugah, would you mind taking Pookie for a walk. The poor thing hasn’t been out all day.”
“What was that, darlin’?”
“I said I’d be glad to, sweetie.”
So, there I’d be, walking down the street in broad daylight, holding a leash which was attached to a tiny beast that looked and acted like a battery-powered carpet remnant. And, of course, it just so happened that there were a dozen other guys walking their dogs at the same time.
Unlike me, these good ol’ Florida boys were walking real dogs, macho animals. They had pit bulls, pinschers, shepherds, blood hounds, and ridgebacks. One guy looked like he had a wolverine at the end of his leash.
When they saw me walking Pookie, they shook their heads in disbelief. Some smiled condescendingly at me. A few sneered in disgust, but most simply ignored me. They had sized me up, spotted me for a wimpy, pathetic loser, a discredit to the male gender, and wanted nothing to do with me. In all honesty, I didn’t blame them.
One guy, however, did approach me. He was an older, well-dressed man, who looked like he had seen something of the world. He was walking a Rottweiler with a spiked collar. When he came up to me he smiled knowingly and said, “It’s your girlfriend’s dog, isn’t it?”
When I nodded, he said, “I’ve been there, my friend. I just hope your young lady is worth all the trouble.”
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Denmark recently joined five other European countries, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland and Iceland, in banning the Halal and Kosher methods of slaughtering animals for food. They say that cutting an animal’s throat while it is still conscious is inhumane. Naturally, Muslims and Jews, the people most affected by the bans on ritual slaughter, are upset.
Now, I’m a mild-mannered guy and I hate arguing with people. I especially hate arguing with Jews and Muslims. I find them to be extraordinarily hard-headed and stubborn.
In my opinion, a person who is willing to have a piece of his dick sliced off, in order to keep a bargain with God, is a person that’s unlikely to listen to reason.
That said, I have to disagree with my Jewish and Muslim friends. The Danes are right. Cutting an animal’s throat, while it is still conscious, is cruel and inhumane.
The proper way to slaughter a beast, the way it’s done in most civilized countries, is to stun the animal before cutting its throat. The theory behind stunning is that a groggy, semi-conscious animal is less likely to feel pain.
The most popular way to humanely stun an animal is to smash its head with a blunt object. This used to be done by a man wielding a sledge hammer, but now it’s done by a machine. This method is called “percussive stunning.”
Another humane method in wide use is called “electrical stunning,” which is basically nothing more than tasering an animal before slitting its throat.
Then there is the humane method called “controlled atmosphere killing,” used for smaller animals, like poultry. The animals are herded into an airtight space, gas is pumped into the room, either carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, and the animals suffocate. Tolerance for these gases vary among animals, so some creatures take longer to suffocate than others.
Despite the availability of humane ways to slaughter animals, many people, like Jews and Muslims, cling to traditional methods of preparing animals for the table.
Serbians, for example, traditionally strangle lambs before placing them on spits. The Chinese beat puppies to death with two-by-fours before tossing them into stew pots. In New Zealand, it is customary to have sexual intercourse with a sheep before reducing it to mutton. And in England, animals are bored to death prior to becoming bland, tasteless meals.
No matter how it’s done, slaughtering a large animal, like a steer, is a brutal, nasty piece of business. There is nothing humane about the process. After it’s been bludgeoned, electrocuted or had its throat slashed, the steer is hung upside down on a hook to drain it of blood.
Every part of the animal is used. Nothing is wasted. The animal’s skin is torn off to be tanned for leather. Its head, lower legs and feet are removed. Then the steer is gutted, its viscera removed and used for making sausage or sold as organ meat.
When the carcass is quartered, the men with long knives, axes and saws begin their awful work. They carve out the filets, tenderloins, strip steaks, t-bones and roasts. When the choicest cuts have been taken, they start on lesser cuts, like chuck, flank, round, brisket and shanks. Anything left over is ground into hamburger. Bones that aren’t sold for cooking purposes are ground into fertilizer.
At the end of the day, there is nothing left but a bloody, greasy spot where a 1,500 pound animal once stood.
Last Sunday, we had guests for dinner, a small crowd, just family and a few friends. The lovely Mrs. Milo prepared one of my favorite meals, roast beef with all the trimmings. The roast was cooked perfectly, tender and savory, its pink juices pooling on the serving platter.
I had enjoyed several glasses of wine before the meal and was feeling real good. As I was carving the meat, I said, “Hey! Does anyone want to hear the story of how this fine piece of meat ended up on our dinner table?”
“Dad!” my daughter replied. “Nobody wants to hear it.”
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