Rapid Eye Reality -- Home of Brad Willis' writing on family life, travel adventures, and life inside the poker world

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don't call me a Boy Scout

I don't believe the weather-guessers. I don't really believe that I will face winter apocalypse in the morning. I don't really believe that I'm going to have to spend any time without power or internet service. I don't believe I'm going to have to move my young son and old dog into a hotel room or beg friends with electricity to sleep in their guest rooms. I don't believe I'm going to have to roll around in sleepless fits while giant sweetgum limbs fall on my house and explode into a dozen pieces. I don't believe I'm going to have to spend eight days in a suburban Starbucks just so that I can get my work done. I don't beieve I need a week's worth of fresh water and canned food. I don't believe I need fire logs, batteries, and propane.

Of course, I didn't believe any of these things in December of 2005. And, well, yeah, all of the above turned out to be an issue.

So, today we bought everything we needed and prepared ourselves to deal with the first winter storm of the season. [Note to weather people: The phrase 'wintery mix' sounds like something I would snack on at a Christmas party. Why don't you call it what it really is? Otis-Screwing Hell Storm Carolina.] By preparing, I'm sure this will make sure the weather turns out to be a little damp and unfrozen.

Which would be just the fuck fine with me.

If I can still use this power outlet and internet connection at thiss time tomorrow night, I'll be one happy Otis. And if you don't see me here by Friday, you know that I've given up and moved to some mudslide or hurricane-prone area.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Victory in unexpected places

It began with a discussion about where we'd put our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. The wife wanted to break from tradition and move the tree to a different corner of our living room. This plan involved the moving of furniture and several other unpleasant duties that may or may not have involved me sliding down our chimney in a pair of ladies underwear. When the discussion was complete, the tree was in a new place, a sofa table had been moved to a different part of the house, and I was getting in touch with my feminine side.

The move also involved the realtively easy movement of a small cubish table from underneath one of our front windows, which I accomplished despite my new light in the loafers leanings.

"MOLD!" the wife screamed and ran to our neighbor's house, carrying the kid in a bubble.

I gave her a ring on the cell and informed her that the stain on the carpet wasn't mold. It was obviously a stain leeched from the cheap-ass cube storage table. Of course, I knew it was mold, but I wasn't about to let her know that. My guess was the kid had spilled his water under the table at some point. No reason to worry. I coaxed the wife back into the house with an assortment of chocolates, a sex toy, and the DVD box set of Extreme Home Makeover.

So, we went to the Bahamas and the moldy conditions at the five-star Atlantis Resort and Casino somehow allayed my wife's concerns about our house. It was clear, if the opulent Atlantis had mold problems, our five-inch-square stain wasn't a really big issue.

Upon our return home, I made the mistake of packing my bags and once again leaving the house. This time, I left the wife behind to care for the kid and home. It was an annual boys' trip and, frankly, the lady was handling it very well. In fact, my cell phone only rang twice while I was on a four-day binge of sleepless poker playing and silliness. One time, the wife was calling me to tell me the boy was wearing big boy underwear for the first time. It was a sweet moment and one for which I was happy to take a break from my endeavors.

The second call began, in part, like this:


In fact, no more mold had developed. But my wife, as is her wont, had discovered a whole new calamity.

"The floor is wet. I mean SOAKED."

Some very heavy and persistent rains were hitting Mt. Otis and, apparently, there was a leak. The floor was wet and the prospect of more mold was, apprently, more than immediate. In fact, around the same time my wife called, Atlantis announced a new ad campaign that began, "Atlantis: Now with less mold than Mt. Otis!"

Of course, as a good husband, I offered to catch the next flight home and stick my finger in the dike. My wife said she would endeavor to persevere. She, the kid, and the dog took turns making sure the mold didn't spread to the neighbors' home.

Though the crisis was averted with the passing of the rain, the entire problem of the wet floor remained. While, upon my return home I could find no evidence of the dampness, my wife insisted it existed.

A brief aside: My wife, whom I love with every fiber of your being (and mine), believes everything is broken, especially if it isn't working for her. Just this afternoon, her computer told her it was about to shut down.

"What's happening? Something is wrong!" she exclaimed in her best 'this is broken' voice. A little investigation showed the laptop had not been plugged in for a couple of hours.

Okay, so though I could find no evidence of wetness (and likely won't for some time after this post), I agreed we should call Pike's.

Pike's, you ask?

Indeed. This is the company we employed to spend an inordinate amount of time at our house last year so that we may spend an inordinate amount of money to make sure the outside of our house looked inordinately better than our neighbors'.

So, for the past six days, I've been expecting the worst. The worst, you say?

Yeah. I expected the guy's from Pike's to show up, sniff my house, and tell me I needed to tear it down and start over. It only got worse last night when the wife was watching Extreme Home Makeover and the entire premise was that a guy fucking died from the mold in his house and the rest of the family had to run off to parts unknown until hotboy Ty showed up to MOVE THAT BUS.

I didn't make it to bed until around 5am Monday morning. Work went later than I expected. When I crawled under the sheets, the wife said, "Man, 10am is going to come pretty early."

The implication was clear. She expected me to be up to negotiate the demolition of our house at 10am. I thought quick, told her the kid was sick, that she was feeling sick, and that none of us should leave the house. The ruse worked (or the wife was feeling exceptionally sympathetic and only woke me up once this morning, before giving up and letting me sleep as long as I wanted).

The denouement of all of this went as follows: The wife walks in at about 10:20am and says, "You want to hear the good news?"

Still half-asleep, I tried in vain to figure out if she was slow-playing the bad news. Before I could process much more, she informed me that one piece of siding near the offending window was askew. That was likely the cause of the leak. What's more, any fears of a mold outbreak were apparently unfounded.

I woke up an hour later in a good mood. Somehow, before my day had even started, I had scored two victories. First, the guy from Pike's had not done what EVERY OTHER service person has done when I've ordered them to my home. He had not found something wrong that would cost me a minimum of $500. Not only that, he apparently didn't charge us at all to pop the siding back in place.

The second victory was a little sweeter. I was able to quietly nod and not say I told you so as I recognized that my wife's fears of our house being irrepairably broken were based on little more than a wet floor.

So tonight, as she sleeps off the second round of the Mt. Otis Malaise, I sit comfortably knowing I was able to sleep in this morning, beat back my wife's fears that our house is broken, and am not one penny poorer for it.

Of course, all of this means that when I wake up in the morning, the dishwasher will be leaking, the fridge won't be cold enough, and the kid will need braces.

But for now, I'm content.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Bottle Rockets and Otis Gibbs

Midway through the show, I decided I wanted to write a review of the Bottle Rockets' gig in Greenville, South Carolina. Otis Gibbs, the guy who opened, blew me away and I thought I owed them all a few words from the heart.

Alas, my wife, within five seconds of getting home, hit her blog and wrote...well, pretty much everything I was going to. Scooped again.

So, if you're a fan of the Bottle Rockets or are looking for a new guy to give a listen, check out the wife's post: Going Back In Time.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Friday's Mental Massage

Many of my friends, also readers of this stagnant pool of paeans, often chide me for references to my time in college. I recall a night not too long ago when one said, "Ah, yes, Rapid Eye Reality. Let's sum it up. 1931 Juniper Circle, mental crisis, my family is beautiful, and bookend with 1931 Juniper Circle."

Depending on the time spent drinking, I respond either with a "Yeah, I'm your clown," or simple acquiescence. In large part, these critics are right. I've drawn a lot of inspiration from time spent in that little duplex in Columbia, Missouri. Its beer-soaked carpets, worn-out bed springs, and well-used back porch were home to some very formative years.

Still, the criticism has forced me to evaluate why I spend so much time on the subject of things that ended ten full years ago. Certainly, though the time was fun, I've done a great deal more of importance in the decade since then. What's more, I don't even pine for those days any more. They were lazy, ill-informed times, void of aspiration and illustrative of a certain hedonism that is rarely appreciated in a 23-year-old--let alone a 33-year-old as I am now.

When I woke up this morning, I went through my usual routine. These days, usual means going downstairs, turning on my laptop, letting the dog out, going to the kitchen and grabbing a Diet Coke, letting the dog back in, giving her a treat, and then sitting down to drink my soda and run through the morning e-mails and news.

Some late-night work (actually done around 3am) meant the morning was still resting on a good Friday balance and allowed me to check in on the personal e-mails for the day. And that's pretty much where I decided I was ready to chuck the laptop in the fireplace for the weekend.

The first thing I really read this morning was news that a very good friend is going--back--to Iraq. I don't really feel comfortable going into all the details surrounding this news. Suffice it to say, this guy and his sense of duty and honor are models for men.

And that's pretty much where it ended for me. Before lunch time I was looking at myself in the mirror and wondering, "What in the hell are you doing?"

This is another side of me that is often targeted for the butt of jokes. Not undeservedly, though. My better friends often find themselves with me during times like this. Usually softened with hops and barley, I'll be heard to remark, "What are we doing with our lives?" Again, it's become a bit of a joke.

Frankly, I was prepared to spend the day lamenting or extolling the virtues of a host of other things. For instance, after a number of controlled experiments with Google Reader, Bloglines, and my Internet Explorer "feeds" option, I've determined that the new and improved Rapid Eye Reality's problems with Bloglines are Bloglines-specific. That is, my feed is coming through fine EVERYWHERE except my favorite reader. Actually, I can force Bloglines to pull up the feed. However, as for picking up that I have posted and marking RER as "new" in the Bloglines folder, that's a no-go. No amount of poking, prodding, or re-subscribing has done the trick. Frankly, I think this sucks. Regardless, for anyone using an RSS reader, I'd encourage you to resubscribe now.

What else? Well, apparently the NFL isn't going to let football fans tailgate at the SuperBowl. The Miami Dolphins were all for it. The NFL, however, has bigfooted the Fins' home turf. Nobody will be tailgating within a mile of the stadium. For the Colts fans, I don't see this being much of a problem. For the Bears, however, this may be the reason they'll end up losing.

What else? Still Stanley, that's what. There was a group of guys (apparently they actually still exist in some form) that my wife knew back in the day, who ended up making a run at L.A. several years ago. For a time, it looked like they might make it. They played regularly at the Whiskey and the Viper Room and had quite a good following. We've had one of their demos in the house for the past five or six years and I never get tired of listening to it. My wife put it on her i-Pod and it's playing now. I always thought these guys were too damned talented. Part of their problem with mainstream success, I suppose, was that their sound changed remarkably from song to song. Sometimes they sounded like the pop-punk bands of the 1990s. Other times they'd sound Sergeant Peppery. Other times, they were undefinable. I never had the pleasure of seeing them live. However, I did find a few of those demo tracks online at what was apparently their label for a while. I like each of these songs for a different reason.

I Fly Low
Been Gone Off

Word on the street is that Will Golden, one the band's talented members, is now playing with Joe Purdy, an artist that has recently become friendly enough with Hollywood that his songs are playing on Lost and Grey's Anatomy. Everybody else seems to have stuck together and started playing a bit back in the deep south.

Also on the music front, barring a kid-getting-sick disaster, I'll be out tonight seeing the Bottle Rockets at the Handlebar. I've been going to see these guys since, well...yeah, since I was in college.

Other than that, Friday is quiet. The dog is sleeping in the middle of the floor. The wife and I eat leftovers. The kid continues to wear his Chiefs hoodie, despite the fact he'll be three years old before we see the Chiefs on the gridiron again.

And thereya go.

Oh, and I know why I spend so much time writing about things that happened a decade ago. That was the last time I had complete freedom from responsibility. It was the last time nothing was expected of me. These days, I don't mind responsibility and even embrace it sometimes. Still, those days of answering to no one weren't all that bad.

Then again, Kris Kristofferson had a lot to say about freedom. And he's probably right.

1931 Juniper Circle.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

South Carolina UFOs

My wife made her tasty southwestern cheesy meatloaf and mashed potatoes tonight for dinner. She was cranky while she worked, cursing the spuds and lamenting her cheese purchase. She snapped at me while she peeled her potatoes, eschewing the peeler and working with a paring knife. Worried, I kept my distance and made sure the kid didn't mention anything about food prep or the wife's spiritual mise en place.

During dinner, I noticed something a little odd. As my wife forked her food and tried to maintain casual conversation, her mashed potatoes were taking on a vertical slant. I tried not to read too much into the fact that her plate was taking on the look of the Devil's Tower National Monument.

Two nights ago, our walls rattled. Candlesticks on the mantle shook at 6:30pm and 8:30pm. At first, I assumed the sound was a news or sheriff's office helicopter. After the second time, I changed my mind. The rotor noise was too loud to be a simple news chopper. What I heard was military grade noise.

Last night, the familiar whopping of the choppers was back, again at 6:30pm, and again at 8:30pm. On the first pass, I went outside and looked up. Though it was dark, I made out the shadow of a military helicopter. Obviously, one of the nearby air bases was in the middle of some sort of training rotation.

When the local FOX affiliate started its broadcast with BREAKING NEWS, I looked up from my computer. The news readers made it clear, something strange was in the air. Many viewers had called in to report seeing strange lights in the sky. I didn't think much of it. First, I'd actually seen the helicopters and they were not otherworldly. Second, this particular news station doesn't shy away from making a big deal out of a few lights in the sky.

By 11pm, though, every station, including my old employer, was talking about the lights. The local office of the National Weather Service reported no weather phenomenon that would cause such streaky blue lights.

By morning, we had a full scale UFO incident on our hands. TV stations and newspapers as far away as Charlotte were reporting the strange lights in the sky. Even the Drudge Report was reporting the lights. What you see on the left is a lightened version of a picture taken by a guy smoking a cigarette on his porch in Charlotte.

There's been a lot of this kind of thing recently. Airline employees in Chicago were largely rebuffed for their reporting of a UFO sighting. Then an a retired airman in Arkansas reported seeing lights over his state. That, apparently, ended up being flares used during a semi-secret military mission.

Now, the lights have moved to the Carolinas. If I had to bet, I'd wager we're looking at a version of the Arkansas Lights here. When military choppers are patrolling the area and people see odd lights, drawing a connection isn't too hard. Of course, some people may say I'm being a little naive...maybe I'm dealing with a chicken and egg situation here. I mean, who is to say the choppers weren't here looking for the lights, eh?

I'll still put my money on some military monkey business. That said, my wife is still acting a little bit funny. And, if for some reason my kid disappears tonight, I may start to fret a bit.

Last damned thing I need right now is my wife running off with Richard Dreyfus.

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The final appeal

Here's to hoping the site feed is working. Otherwise, I think I'll give up.

Edit: I give up. Every setting in Blogger is fine. Every setting on Feedburner is fine. The rss.xml and atom.xml files on my FTP server are fine. Nonetheless, Bloglines is refusing to pick up this feed. This all leads me to believe I've wasted too much time on this and should return to the days of the 1998 Deep South Update (who remembers that one?) and just e-mail my posts every day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Blogger and the human response

Update: If you're reading this via RSS, that's because it appears Bloglines' engineers burned about two weekks of midnight oil and figured out their problem. I've received several e-mails and IMs to tell me the RER RSS feed is back up and running. And for that, I am quite happy.

So, I spent the day switching over to the new Blogger. It was either that or temperature test my testicles in the red beans and rice I made for dinner last night.

Let me start by saying I've been a loyal whipping boy for Blogger since 2001. I've typed my highest and lowest moments into this interface. I'd venture to say Blogger knows almost about me as much as my wife does. I use Blogger for personal and professional work. Back in the days before the Google revolution, working with Blogger was like working with a buddy--a buddy who drinks on the job, but a buddy nonetheless.

Further, I recognize, Blogger is free. Although I've paid in sweat and frutration over the years, I haven't paid a cent for this service. In fact, not only is it free, but I've made a tidy sum of money using the service.

See, I was with blogger back in the day before the boys had even tried to monetize it. I was grandfathered in and was never required to host ads or even have that ugly little navbar at the top. And when Blogger in Beta came out, I wasn't even sure I wanted to switch over. While I envied everbody's labels and tags and widgets, I didn't mind my clunky old html system.

But, this morning, work was light, the family was gone, and I fancied the idea of making my blog a little user friendly. And I wanted to use labels. So, I finally heeded all the pleas to make the switch over to the New Blogger. Suddenly, the taste of New Coke filled my mouth.

My precious little template was defile. The navbar popped up, the tables went all funky, and my archives disappeared. I was peeved.

Three hours later, I was deeply mired in a search for a new content publishing provider. I registered www.rapideyereality.com and got to work. I was keen to take a run at WordPress, primarily based on the recommendation of some trusted friends. I was about two seconds from pulling the trigger when I came to the realization that--because I'd switched over to the New Blogger--I had screwed my chances to use one-button importation of my Blogger content to WordPress. And that was a deal-breaker. While nothing I've written here will ever win me am award, I'm proud of this blog and what I've written here.

And so I went back to the New Blogger and tried to figure it out. After about an hour, I figured out how to restore my archives. Then I fixed the template. And then I started publishing to www.rapideyereality.com.

That's where I've stopped. I'm left with my old respect for Blogger, but a short list of concerns:

--The blog is now publishing to both www.rapideyereality.com and rapideyereality.blogspot.com. This gives me some Google concerns.

--Although I've changed all the settings to the new RSS feed, it appears my RSS feed isn't actually feeding.

Anyone who has dealt with any of the above, I'd appreciate your insight. Everybody can re-bookmark this site under www.rapideyereality.com. The blog will continue to be published there. As for the RSS feed, I'm still hoping it will feed under:


Any other advice is appreciated. Now, my testes have a date with some red beans.

Special to RSS readers

I've been made to understand that what I am about to do will force anyone who reads through Bloglines, etc. to re-subscribe. So, if you're interested in keeping up with this silliness, please make it a point to check back here and re-subscribe on Thursday.

Update: Apparently I've messed up more than my RSS feed. I'm now exploring ways to...well, fix all of this, or change it completely. Any advice is appreciated.

Update #2: Alright, problem #1 and #2 have been fixed, I think. The lingering issue now is that the switch to the new blogger seems to have mucked up my archive display on the bottom left. Anyone who has dealt with this and knows how to fix it, shoot me a comment or e-mail. I'll owe you a muffin or something.

Childproofing for the adult set

Childproofing your home to protect your kid from the dangers of normal life is a lot like buying insurance. You spend a lot of money and a lot of worry to protect yourself against something that stands a pretty small chance of causing problems. In the first two years of my kid's life, we covered up all the electrical outlets, covered the sharp corners of tables with ugly foam product, blocked entryways with high-dollar baby gates, and attached hard-to-manage plastic contraptions to every cabinet. This was all before my kid could move more than two feet without benefit of an adult.

These days, now a full 30 months into his life, the babyproofing is actually now a little more useful. The kid likes to explore. The babyproofing does a little bit of good, because he's pretty smart and can get into about whatever he wants unless we've locked it. That noted, we had not yet babyproofed the fridge. And the kid loves him some cold stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a babyproofing device for the fridge. It's a smart little device that is easy to attach to any fridge. Earlier tonight, I heard the kid grunting as he struggled to get what he wanted. Mission accomplished.

The byproduct of this mission is probably going to make me a much healthier person. As many of you might, I keep my cold ones in a cold place. Tonight, after a couple, I went back for a third and found myself struggling to open the door. It was only after ten seconds that I realized I had to undo the alcohol-proofing device.

Mission accomplished, apparently.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Karma, she is a bitch

You know why you don't kick a man when he is down? Because he's a lot closer to your balls than if he were standing up.

Indeed, I gloated about my ability to find cheaper airfare than my friends. I even worried that a little gloating could screw me.

I haven't been so screwed since that night in college when...oh, nevermind. Here's the rundown of how my hour and fifteen minute trip to Memphis turned into more than half a day.

10:50am--Pick up Toenails at his house and eye his oversized "carry-on" bag with a little worry. I'm not overly concerned, though, because, in most cases, we're going to gate-check the bag with a little tag and avoid official checking.

11:15am--Arrive at airport and start making plans for what happens if the airline officials start asking questions about the spelling of Toenails' name.

11:17am--Sigh with relief when I realize I can check Toenails in by myself and he doesn't have to swipe a credit card to get his boarding pass.

11:17am +30 seconds--Curse out loud in front of an old lady when I realize our perfect flight has been canceled due to weather. Our new flight isn't scheduled to fly out until after 5pm.

11:18pm--Listen to Toenails' suggestion that we try to get re-booked on a different airline. Further listen to his suggestion that we lie and tell the desk agent we're invested $10,000 deep into an event that starts at 5pm.

11:35am--It works and we're re-booked to fly out on a delayed flight to Atlanta and connect on a 2:43pm flight to Memphis. Well, it works except for the fact that a bitchy Delta agent makes Toenails check his bag. I bet Toenails $10 he won't see his bag in Memphis when we get there.

1:00pm--After the inbound flight from Atlanta is delayed, we finally get on our flight.

1:50pm--I realize we should be on the ground in Atlantia already and futher realize that we are flying in circles.

2:42pm--Our flight to Memphis is scheduled to depart Atlanta. We land and I call the airline to discover our outbound flight is delayed until 3:20pm and we will have time to make it to the gate.

3:00pm--We make it to the gate in time to discover the flight is now delayed until 5:12pm.

3:01pm--Toenails and I find the nearest bar and start playing gin. We each go back to the gate every fifteen minutes to make sure everything is fine.

4:15pm--On my trip back to the gate, I notice our flight is no longer listed. I determine quickly that our flight has been canceled. I run back to the bar, grab Toenails and our bags and run for the re-booking desk.

4:20pm--I get on the phone while Toenails stands in line. The lady on the phone says I can get on standby for a 5:00pm flight, but it's not worth it because the standby line is already 20 deep. She says we're booked on a 9:43pm flight and we can get on standby for a 8:58pm flight.

4:35pm--Toenails has once again lied to a gate agent and told her we are $10,000 invested into a poker tournament. As he grabs me, he tells me the agent has done "some illegal shit" to get us on the 5pm flight. We proceed to run to another concourse.

5:00pm--It is determined that the only "illegal shit" the agent has done is move us up to #15 on the standby list. I decide I feel like shit and want to go back home.

7:00pm--We arrive in another concourse to sit on standby for the 8:58 flight, which an old lady tells me I look good to get on. We resume playing gin. I'm losing.

8:00pm--The 8:58 flight is now delayed until 9:30 (15 minutes before our confirmed flight is scheduled to take off). The old lady now tells me I don't look as good to get on her flight.

9:00pm--I decide we might as well just go get on our 9:43pm flight and we walk to another concourse and go to a bar.

9:30pm--Our 9:43pm flight is delayed until 10:10pm. The only good news is that our gate is moved to the one across the way form the bar.

10:10pm--Our plane actually arrives.

11:00pm--We actually make it into the air.

11:29pm (central time)--We land in Memphis.

11:59pm--After rushing to the car rental place, getting my car, and getting back to the airport, I discover Toenails' bag has actually arrived on our plane. Combined with my gin losses, I'm now down $20 and 12 hours.

12:29am--We arrive in Tunica, MS. Toenails puts my $20 on black and wins.

Karma, she is a bitch.


Monday, January 15, 2007

My friend Toenails

The game began after two people had already lost. Though this pair of card players is willing to risk several hundred dollars on the turn of the card, the two ninnies weren't patient enough to wait for flight prices to level off. Rather than play the waiting game, they booked $270 flights out of a city more than an hour away. My friend Toenails and I knew we could do better.

A day or so after Christmas, while I was away visiting family, Toenails called, e-mailed, instant-messaged, and sent smoke signals. Our horse had come in. The flight was from our home airport, a direct trip that would be less than two hours door-to-door, and a mere $220. Within ten minutes, I'd booked both our flights and sent e-mails to the other players. Gloating, while not something I do often, is a lot of fun when you've cut several hours and a long drive out of a trip and done it for $50 a person cheaper.

After gloating for a few days, something poked at my noodle. Wait? How does Toenails spell his name again?

That's the thing about this guy. No one is sure how to say his surname. I've heard it pronounced everyway from Toenails to Thelonious. I'd spelled it semi-phoenetically when I booked the tickets. And, as it turns out, I was wrong. Instead of Toenails, his name was actually spelled something like Toennailss.

I don't worry about many things, but when it comes to making sure this gate-to-gate gloating goes off well, the last thing I want to worry over is some overzealous gate agent giving us the business about a couple misplaced letters.

So, I called Expedia and waited on hold for 20 minutes before giving up and calling Northwest Airlines directly. After going through a five-minute automated process that promised to get me to an agent, a recording came on and said, "Due to high call volume, we are not able to answer your call at this time. Please try again later. And up yours, sir."

While bothersome, it was not the end of the world. I figured I'd try e-mailing customer support. And so I did, to both Expedia.com and NWA. The return e-mails were not a lot of help (emphasis is mine).

Thank you for contacting Expedia.com about changing the name on your ticket.

Without exception, tickets, whether issued on paper or as e-tickets, are not
. This means that the name that appears on the ticket cannot be
changed nor can it be transferred to another traveler. For this reason, Expedia.
com urges customers to make sure the name matches the traveler's passport or
driver's licenses to avoid travel delays.

These rules emerge partly from increased security following world events over
the past few years, and also the fact that a complete name change would be seen
by airlines as a cancellation.


Thank you for contacting nwa.com Customer Service.

Brad, I apologize but we are unable to make a name change as this
reservation was booked on December 27, 2007. A name change may be able
to made within 72 hours of the initial booking.

You may contact Expedia for further assistance. The number is

I trust this information will assist you with your inquiry. Enjoy your

Thank you for choosing Northwest Airlines. We value your patronage and
consider it a privilege to serve your travel needs.


Obviously, I'd been unclear. I didn't want to make a complete name change. I just wanted to move a couple of letters around. While Toenails could talk his way off of death row, I didn't want to leave anything to chance.

So, back to the phone. This time, I waited on hold for 27 minutes before the Expedia.com agent answered. It soon became clear that there is a template response for queries like mine. It goes like this, "Let me check. Ah, yes, I see it right here, sir. Fuck your mother."

The longer version was a recitation of the e-mail. Once the ticket was booked, there was nothing Expedia could do. The dude made a show of calling the airline and then coming back to discuss the various ways he'd like to violate my mother and wife. Finally, he said there was one way he could help me. He could cancel my existing reservation and re-book us. I said, "That'd be great." He said, "Oh, but I get to fuck your mother first. And charge you another $200 or so."

Unacceptable. An extra $200 tacked on to the price would get us dangerously close to not being able to gloat over our friends who were going to be getting up earlier, driving out of state, and then flying to arrive at our ultimate destination even later than we were.

I explained to the bumbling Expedia rep that I wasn't at all interested, but that I'd been with his mom the night before and she could use a day at the spa. "Try the wax," I muttered.

So, on to Northwest Airlines, where I got the same screwjob as I has before: automated responses promising the end of the rainbow and then a premature disconnect. I thought for a moment, and then realized during the automated responses, I'd indicated I was interested in talking about an existing reservation as opposed to interest in a new reservation. I wondered...

Three minutes later, after unabashedly lying to the machine, I was directly connected with a woman who had obviously just finished her chicken fried steak and gravy. The tone in her voice was clear: You just fucked with the system, mister, and now I'm going to fuck you...and your mother.

I explained my problem and the lady, none too politely, said, "You booked this online. I can't touch this ticket."

And so here we were at an impasse. Expedia says Northwest won't let it touch the ticket unless I cancel and rebook for more. Northwest says it can't touch the ticket because I bought it from Expedia.

I called my mom and told her to lock herself in a room with a can of mace and a machete.

While I appreciate airline security to the point that it attempts to keep known terrorists from riding first class, I've recently become disenchanted with the system. What we were dealing with here was not airline security. It was a couple of misplaced letters in my buddy's Toenails' name. In the name of security, Expedia was attempting to extract another $200 from me. And the lady at Northwest had a chicken bone stuck in her throat and a lamp up her ass.

Obviously, my incredulity and refusal to back down forced the piece of fatback on the other end of the line to give in--to a degree. She still refused to correct the spelling, but she promised to put a notice in the remarks on the ticket account. That notice will likely amount to, "Make sure you fuck this guy's mother," but at least it is something.

Now, any fellow gamblers are welcome to set the over/under on the number of times we encounter an issue related to this problem.

Now, time to make sure my mom is doing okay. It's been a long week.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Otis and the Magic Door

I was odd to be alone in a place so big. The Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island in the Bahamas is a sprawling mini-city. It reeks of such opulence and excess that one often will find himself simultaneously wishing for riches and hoping that bastard billionaire's yacht will sink under the weight of his wife's fake breasts.

I'm told the Bahamians view people like me (read: white, average-looking Americans) as all wealthy, and by extension, worthy of a disdain. Taking the non-scenic routes from the Nassau airport to the Paradise Island bridge will help most people understand. A great deal of Nassasu looks like a Third World shantytown. Wrecked cars sit in dirty lots next to Junkanoo floats left over from the last parade.

It's a messed up dynamic. The island survives on tourism dollars. The island's people resent the riches of the people who spend the tourism dollars. The people spending the tourism dollars resent the resentment.

The circle of resentment makes for tightlipped smiles as the waitresses serve your drinks and food that is never really served in a timely fashion. It also, like other island nations I've visited, makes one feel like they are being watched everywhere they go.

And when a large, dark, Bahamian man confronts you when you're alone, the first thing you do is swallow your balls out of your throat and remember you're actually in what at least reports itself as a five-star resort. Chances are you're not about to get rolled.


It was one of those nights that are all too common for the media on the poker circuit. The job, by it nature, requires you to witness all that happens and then report on it. Unlike those people who enjoy day's end when the day, in fact, ends, the poker media often spend another couple of hours in some hotel conference room, editing tape, trying to find a new way to write the same old story, or convincing their bosses that they are, in fact, doing all they can do. I'm not even part of the traditional poker media (which means, by and large, I'm viewed with suspicion and, sometimes, animosity). That said, my hours are the same and I often end up in the same bars with the bleary-eyed souls who spend their lives on the road.

You look around the booths and bar stools and you see the same faces you've seen in different parts of the world. There is the guy who always drinks too much, the guy who refues to drink at all, the guy who is showing off pictures of his wife and family, the guy who is cheating on his wife, and the whole assortment of people who have, either by choice or by circumstance, ended up in the traveling circus that is the professional poker circuit.

The people have been around. We've all been around. We've dodged the hookers, hustled the hustlers, listened to the lies, and told a few ourselves. We're the real outsiders here. We're not from the island, we're not rich tourists, and we're not the people fighting for the $1.5 million first prize.

I was on my way to the bar after another 15-hour workday. It was way past the witching hour and I only wanted to remember which of the hallways to take to make it to the casino bar. That's when an previously unseen door opeened and the huge Bahamian came out of nowhere.

"Taxi?" he asked.

I looked around. I was the only one there. And I was nowhere near the taxi stand.

"Not me," I said, assuming someone had called for a cab and this guy was here to pick them up. I kept my pace as I put him behind me.

"Partying?" I heard from behind me.

Now I knew what was up. This guy may have been a cabbie, but he was more. He was one of countless people in places like this who can get you want. A simple query of "partying?" is a quick and subtle way of asking if you need drugs--weed, coke, or whatever else you might want to put in your body.

"Nah," I muttered and gave the guy a goodbye wave. I've been offered drugs from Dead shows, to New Orleans, to Las Vegas. This was nothing new.

I'd made it just to the edge of earshot when I heard the guy's final appeal.

"Titty bar?"

I turned around, said nothing, and then walked away.

No way in hell, sir.


This is how people get themselves in trouble. In resort towns, especially those with casinos, people walk around with large amounts of cash in their pockets. I am rarely an exception. It gets to the point that you forget you're carrying more money in your pocket than most people you see will make that month. You lose a little bit of that street sense that has kept you from getting in trouble your entire life.

I remember one night in Las Vegas. I had about $3,000 in my pocket and was bored out of my mind. I'd been staying at the Rio for several weeks and was getting claustrophobic. I decided to take a walk. Before I realized it, I was walking toward the Las Vegas Strip, a walk that would force me to hump 3/4 of a mile through some very unlit areas. The lightbulb eventually lit up in my head with a simple "What in the hell are you doing?" I turned around and walked back to my hotel.

That said, the Atlantis is not a place where you feel unsafe. Despite offers of drug-addled taxi rides to the strip club across the bridge, the chances of getting jumped for your roll are are pretty slim. Even the Bahamian taxi guy didn't spook me. It's just a product of money and vice being in close proximity.


As I walked toward the casino bar, I tried to imagine who would have accepted the offer I'd just received. I'd later learn that my wife--already about six drinks ahead of me--had run into the same guy. He'd only offered her the taxi or drugs. Regardless, that meant the dude had been working the same door for the past couple of hours.

So, who then? And what would become of them? I figured the average person walking around this 937-strong poker players convention was walking around with $3000-$4000 in their pocket. If only one of them signed up for the ride, it would make the taxi guy's night. The taxi ride mimght seem cheap at first. And maybe even the drugs would be cheap. But once across the bridge and into the darker corners of downtown Nassau, the price would certainly go up. And by how much? I've never been to a strip club in a foreign country, but my assumption is that they are somewhat less safe than the clubs in America (which, frankly, is not saying much).

The only thing I knew for sure was that going anywhere with that guy--especially alone--would likely end up with me broke in a foreign country and walking back across the Paradise Island bridge...if I could walk at all.


My counterparts at the bar were way ahead of me and playing a game based on the American pronounciation of the world "herb." The Brits hate that we drop the "h" and were being none-too-quiet about the audacity of Americans.

I related my tale of the one quiet place in Atlantis where a man would offer you a taxi, drugs, and a titty bar in one short conversation. Suddenly, the Brits were quiet.

"Pray tell, where is this magic door?"

And then they laughed. Because even drunk Brits who pronounced shallot as "shallOUGHT" aren't dumb enough to go across the bridge.

Titty bar or not.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Aussie Boys

I'm just back from my Bahamian silliness. Maybe some stories forthcoming there. However, there are two guys much farther South who are currently doing exactly what bloggers should do.

Family first:

My cousin RJ is a former newspapers writer/editor who has moved into the software world. He's currently doing the Sydney and surrounding area on his blog while he;s on a work trip. RJ is one of the people who inspired me to write and is currently doing some great work from the land down under. You can find the whole of his tales at The Unrepentant Texan or check our the introductory post he wrote several days ago: Headed South. Way South.

Now, for the friend:

As you all may well-know, I've developed quite a friendship with a guy named Pauly over the past few years. Pauly is that guy who lives a life you'd kill to live, but will likely end up dead yourself after trying to live it for a while. He's proven himself to be the perfect combination of hedonism and altruism. He's in the Melbourne area for work as well and is chronicling his trip on hiw two biggest blogs, Tao of Poker and Tao of Pauly.

One of the things I failed to mention during my period of Full Disclosure Exile last autumn was that I was about 92% to be in Australia right now myself. In the end, I decided not to go. While I don't necessarily regret the decision right now, there is a part of me that is a little sad about missing out on the opportunity.

So, I'm going to live vicariously through my cousin and buddy for the next few days. You should, too.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

How the Go-Gos were wrong

There's something to be said about being hung with a new rope, but I'm not sure it applies.

There is also something to be said about the weather being here and my wishing you were beautiful, but that would peg me as someone who knows Jimmy Buffet lyrics and I don't have time to fend off the attacks.

Let's leave it at this:

The wife is chronicling things over at here blog if you want to keep up with us. I'll be doing my job over here.

That is all.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Easing into 2007

Here's the thing about the Otis clan. We're easily bored. Some of us have short attention spans. The rest crave adrenaline and juice. It's the way we are. So, how are we celebrating the beginning of 2007?

1. Get home from a one-week family holiday trip. Pick up dog from kennel. Do a lot of shopping.

2. Next day: Host a New Year's Eve party (and going away party for Uncle Ted) for a couple dozen folks.

3. Next day: Unpack from Missouri trip, clean the house, and prepare for arrival of family (note: much of the cleaning happened while I was at a poker tournament--thanks, hon).

4. Arrival of family/baby and dog sitters. Pack for next trip.

5. Next day: Leave for 10-day Bahamas trip (it's a work trip, so don't get all bitchy on me).

6. Get home from Bahamas, unpack, and re-pack for another four-day-trip.

7. Figure out where January went.

That said, I have high hopes for this year. Looking back, my moods, karma, and luck tend to run in 400-day cycles, so I think I'm at the beginning of a year that could be a good one. I've certainly set myself up for it. Now it's just time for it to happen.

Regardless, New Year's Eve was great and well-spent with some fantastic people. Plus, sharing a kiss with my best of friends at midnight...well, there ain't much topping that one.

With thanks to T for the photo at the top.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Otis' 2007 Reading List and Mini Book Reviews

While you may not care so much what I'm reading in 2007, I do. My time to read has been cut back quite a bit in recent years, so I'm sticking with stuff that's either been recommended to me or I already know to be good. This list will be updated as the year goes along.

In the can

Kitchen Confidential
Anthony Bourdain

I'll admit, as a guy who spent more of his time at the Broadway Diner than the local five star joints, I found Bourdain by way of "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel. I quickly became an addict and often remarked to the wife how good the writing was. Go figure. Not only is Bourdain an accomplished chef and world traveler, he's also a novelist and writes one helluva good memoir. Even more, the guy writes the way I like to write--the way I want to write. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant, eaten in a restaurant, or walked by a restaurant should read this book. It's a culinary version of the best sex, drugs, and rock and roll party you remember. [With thanks to Absinthe for the recommendation.]

The Making of a Chef
Michael Ruhlman

After reading Anthony Bourdain, the switch to Ruhlman was a bit of a jar. That said, while Ruhlman lacks the grit and sexiness that Bourdain offers, he makes up for it with great prose and a keen writer's ear for detail. I'm a huge fan of participatory journalism and Ruhlman has a real talent for it. Where Bourdain's kitchen tales are a memoir, Rulhman simply reports the story from within. After I read Bourdain, I said, "I'll never own a restaurant." After reading Rulhman, I said, "I'll never go to cooking school." This isn't because either are bad choices. However, both writers showed me it takes more than a love of food to be a success in either endeavor.

The best thing about this book is that, while reporting on what could be a very dry subject, Ruhlman found a way to impart some serious life philosophy. There were four or five times in the book in which I stopped and thought, "Damn, that is what life is all about."

One particular sentence in the book pretty much sums up the whole thing: "To know a mountain, you don't take a helicopter to the top and look down at it; you start at the bottom and climb up..." That is not only what participatory journalism is all about. That is what most of life is about. [With thanks to Absinthe for the recommendation...and the book.]

Arthur Nersesian

I know a lot of people in New York. Only one of them has taken me on a tour of 12 bars in the Village and kept notes so we would remember where we'd been. This book was a Christmas gift from that man, Pauly. "Dogrun" is probably not a book I would've picked up for myself, but it's one I enjoyed regardless. Set in the East Village, it's told through the the eyes of a wanna-be writer/slacker woman named Mary Bellanova. The book is equally absurd, depressing, and hilarious. In short, it's based on the premise that Bellanova comes home to find her slacker boyfriend dead in front of the TV. What she ends up learning about him and herself is enough to make you wonder why you bother trusting people, and conversely, why you don't let people love you despite your inability to trust. Thanks for the read, Doc.

George Saunders

My copy of this book, a gift from Absinthe, is peppered with blurbs of praise. The reviewers used up every word for good in the thesaurus. I've been working to come up with a superlative of my own to adequately praise this book of stories. I can't do it. I can only say this: Imagine if someone recorded your every private thought, from the mundane to the fantastical and then printed it out for everyone to read. Saunders is so in touch with the human condition, it makes his stories really fucking funny, really fucking sad, and sometimes--because they hit close to home--really fucking hard to read (put that on a dust jacket, marketing guy). Saunders understands one thing better than most people--real life is boring, but that's where we all live. It's drama we understand. You may be entertained by other writers, but they will not be able to make you feel like Saunders can. Because, mostly, he's writing about you, me, and everybody else we know.

Jeremy Scahill

This book was a mid-list addition to the reading line-up for the year. Jeremy Scahill, a writer for the Nation, tells story of the rise of one of America's biggest security companies. And by "security companies," I mean mercenary firms and war profiteers. Blackwater was a small firm with big connections among the neoconservative movement. With the help of high-ranking members of the Republican establishment, Blackwater turned itself into a multi-national firm with the ability to secure huge no-bid contracts in Iraq and the surrounding area. Scahill hits on a subject about which we should all be very concerned--the formation of a huge civilian army inside America's borders...one that has actually deployed on American soil. While the book was interesting and informative, it suffers from the same problem as a lot of left-leaning books and documentaries. It spends too much time going after the easily-targeted Bush administration. This look at Blackwater could've been an easy indictment of all that's wrong with America right now. And for people who already hate the Bushies, it will be just that. However, with a blurb on the dust jacket from Michael Moore, Blackwater going to alienate the people who really need to know these stories. Someday the hard-left will realize that it needs to spend less time preaching to the choir and start figuring out ways to bring more people inside the tent. I walked in willingly and have chosen to stay. However, there are a lot of people (me included, actually) who see Michael Moore on the marquee and just sigh. Still, if you've spent the past four years thinking "private contractors in Iraq" are people building oil pipelines, you need to read this book or one like it. It is, in a word, scary.

Sick Puppy
Carl Hiaasen

Whenever I'm feeling like my reading has gotten a little heavy or I need a dose of the absurd, I turn to Carl Hiaasen. I actually discovered the misfit environmentalist later that everybody else in the reading world. So, I've been going backward over the years, starting with Skinny Dip and hopscotching backward. For some reason, I had avoided Sick Puppy (I think it had something to do with my dog being sick at the time I first thought about picking up the book). Regardless, this book is a must for any Hiaasen fan and includes many of the characters you'll see in later books. Next time you're headed for the airport or the beach, pick this one up for a couple laughs.

Bigger Deal
Anthony Holden

I've read just about every poker book ever written, or, at least, all the good ones and most of the bad ones. "Bigger Deal" is Anthony Holden's follow-up to his timeless poker narrative "Big Deal." That book made me want to write about poker for a living. Since I entered the poker world, I've been fortunate enough to meet Holden. After a back-room game, a couple of meals, and many a table-side conversation with him, I feel comfortable calling him Tony now. Although you won't find me in the book, I played an ever-so-small role in Holden's adventures as he compiled the stories for this book. Holden was part of the old poker world and knew when the Texas Hold'em revolution took place in 2003, it was due time for him to update his first book. The result was much better than he or I thought it would be. If you know anything about poker and want to see how the new poker world operates, you should given Holden's newest book a read.

Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

I figure Stephen King was the guy responsible for turning me into a reader. I wanted to be a writer before I started reading seriously. After I picked up "Carrie," I never stopped reading King. Although literary types never give King much credit for his work, there are few people who can tell such a good story and paint such great pictures without turning into high-minded literary types. I think there are maybe two or three King books I haven't read. Those came out in the past few years when my interests were elsewhere. Still, family members know that buying the latest King book for me will always be appreciated. I didn't even know King was releasing "Blaze." It was an old manuscript he'd written back during his Richard Bachman days. He pulled it out and toyed with it a little bit and then gave it to us. It's a really quick read about a couple of con men and a scheme to kidnap the baby of a rich family. I won't claim it was anywhere close to my favorite King or Bachman work, but it was entertaining. Don't make it the first book you pick up this summer, but if you have the time and like King, you will enjoy getting a look at King's writing mind before he became the master of horror he is today.

Nasty Bits
Anthony Bourdain

Damn, I love Tony Bourdain. Apart from the one-time heroin addiction (his, not mine) we share a list of interests that is long and sloppy. "Nasty Bits" is a collection of magazine pieces and such that Bourdain has collected since "Kitchen Confidential" and "No Reservations" made him famous. If there's any problem with Bourdain is that he used to be a renegade and now it's cool to call yourself a fan. So, I was late to the party, which is a damned shame, because Bourdain is one helluva writer. He eschews celebrity and would be much happier drinking in a dive bar than being on TV. It's not an act, near as I can tell. He seems to write honestly and appreciates his talent. I've said it before, an I'll say it again. If I could be Bourdain, I probably would be. As for "Nasty Bits," it was going to be hard for Bourdain to top "Kitchen Confidential." I don't think he or anybody else expected "Nasty Bits" to be the next "KC." Instead, it's just some short, honest, varied essays, with some sometimes absolutely brilliant writing. Don't start here if you've never read Bourdain, but if you're a fan, be sure to pick it up.

Looking For Jake
China Mieville

The last in a batch of holiday gifts from Absinthe, Looking for Jake is the type of book that makes you long for the days when the Cold War was a little chillier. That is, back in the days when the end didn't seem so close and the ugliness that surrounds it didn't seem so much like a real possibility. Mieville is one scary SOB when it comes to writing about the darker recesses of our imagination. Few writers can so well put you in a place that doesn't exist and make you believe it's real. While I hadn't read Perdido Street Station and some of the references were lost on me, this book of short tales is downright spooky in its storylines and beautiful in the construction. If someday I write half as well as Mieville, I'll be happy.

A Dirty Job: A Novel
Christopher Moore

Who makes death funny? Chistopher Moore, that's who. If you are among the six or seven people who hasn't started reading Moore yet, do yourself a favor and start today. Ready his entire library, then start over from the beginning. Even if you're like me and not a big fantasy nut, you'll appreciate how perfecly Moore weaves life's greater themes into his one-of-kind comedy. In this book, an antiques dealer up and finds he is the Grim Reaper. Or at least what he thinks at first. Trying to figure out exactly what his duties are is tough, even when you don't consider he is a new father with a very unique child. Set in San Francisco, this book quickly became one of my favorite Moore books. Sweet, sad, hilarious, and sometimes a little scary. If you want his best, check out Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal.

On Deck

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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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