The Conversationalist

I struggled through the aisle, tossed my backpack into the overhead bin, sat down and buckled my seatbelt.

“Wonder if my Viper could beat this plane,” he said, looking out the window as we taxied down the runway toward takeoff.

Okay, I thought. I’ll play along.

“Oh, you have a Viper?” I asked, vaguely aware that it was some sort of fast car.

“Yup. She can do 180. I’ve only taken her to 125 or so, but I was drunk at the time, so that’s not really a good idea.”

“No, I wouldn’t imagine.”

He was bald, tan, probably in his early 60’s. Over the course of my 3+ hour flight to Albuquerque, I would never learn his name, but I would discover so much more.

He was retired, but not really. He liked to keep busy, so in the summer he was a gardener. A master gardener, in fact. And in the winter, he was an aerobics instructor slash personal trainer.

“I teach a class on Michigan Avenue sometimes. The women come into class with their necklaces and dangly earrings and never take them off the entire time.”

“Huh. That’s crazy.”

“Yeah. And then we all go out for drinks afterward. It’s great.”

He told me several times that he was a ‘gearhead’ and talked about Milwaukee and Harley Davidsons. I can’t recall how he worked this into the conversation, but at one point, told me about a woman he met who was into Harleys.

“She would get all decked out. Wore a leather bustier. But she was totally flat chested,” he said, glancing down at me quickly. I put in my headphones, but it didn’t matter. He kept on.

He was a single dad, had a daughter who was either 32 or 33, he wasn’t quite sure. She broke up with some guy and moved back home. He also had a son. I discovered this bit of information when he told me he had a ‘crotch rocket’ but didn’t like riding it so he gave it to his son. But then he worried his son was going to kill himself on it, so he made him get rid of it.

“Are you just visiting Albuquerque?” he asked.

“Yes. No, actually I’m staying in Santa Fe.”

“Santa Fe? I usually only go there to buy Indian stuff. Lots of good deals. You gotta bargain with ‘em. It’s part of the fun. You going with friends?”

“Yes, I’m meeting a group of friends down there. We rented a big house.”

Why did I say that? When are they coming with the drink cart?

“Oh, man. So a whole bunch of you are staying down there? Guys or girls?”


“Oh, man. Bunch of girls drinking margaritas. I’d love to see that.”


“I go to Albuquerque every couple years. Got some friends down there. We’re going to this place called Sophie’s. Sophia’s? It was on this show called Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Gotta check it out.”

He told me I would like New Mexico. He told me they have a hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, and all sorts of antique stores. He liked antiquing. He collected antique brass sprinklers and had one that looked like a frog that cost him $1,000.

“Once, I went to an antique store in Albuquerque and asked if they had any sprinklers. The guy looks at me and goes, ‘Do you know where you are?’ I just about died. Boy did I feel dumb.”

“Oh… right. The desert.”

I would see roadrunners all over, he promised. He told me he had chased roadrunners before.

“They’re fast,” he said, “but they don’t go far. Usually just hide behind a bush.”

And coyotes, too. I would see coyotes and roadrunners, but no sprinklers.

He told me about his girlfriend who owned a restaurant in Marco Island. He was a silent partner in the business.

“I have an interest in the restaurant. Well… I have an interest in her. Heh. She’s young. Very young. She’s 30 or 31.”

He wasn’t quite sure, but he didn’t mind the age difference.

“I like physical labor. You know, working outside? I helped a buddy of mine build an adobe house down in New Mexico once. It’s pretty neat. You just throw the mud and straw and water and shit all into a pile, and we mixed it up with a back hoe. Cut it into blocks, let it dry, brought it to the site, put the damn thing together.”

He warned me about the sun. It’s a lot more intense there, he told me. His dermatologist told him he had some pre-cancerous spots on his head that he has to get taken care of every year. This time, he remembered to wait until after Easter to get them removed. The family photos, he said.

His best friend’s name was Jen, and she weighed about 400 pounds.

“Amazing cook. Amazing. She taught me a thing or two. Her margaritas will blow your mind. I don’t know what she puts in them, but I have one and a half and I’m done for the night.”

His newest specialty was an appetizer that you could make a meal out of. Red potatoes, hollowed out and stuffed with chorizo. Then he would put some sliced chili peppers on top and bake them.

“Three ingredients. Best damn thing I ever made.”

“That actually sounds pretty good.”

Did I just say that out loud?

“It is. You have that with an ice cold beer? Little piece of heaven.”

We were preparing to land in Albuquerque, so he left me with a final warning.

“Watch out for the altitude. One drink will hit you hard.”

“Guess I’d better just have the one margarita then.”

“One? Hell no. You girls just call a cab.”

TequilaCon 09: Southwestern Magic

TequilaCon recaps.

For some reason, they are some of the most difficult entries for me to write. And not because I don’t want to talk about them, but because there’s simply too much to tell. It’s like when you meet up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time, and you both start talking at each other, quickly trying to fill in every detail you’ve missed over the years, and then you walk away feeling just as distant as when you began, and exhausted.

So instead of trying to recount every detail of this past weekend, let me describe some of the moments that defined it for me. Even just the key moments make for an annoyingly long blog-entry. But if I had to sum up the trip in one word, it would be magic, for so many reasons.

Home Sweet Home
This year, instead of being split up among different hotels, we decided to rent a house for the TequilaCon Planning Committee. Dave, Brandon, Vahid, my friends Melinda and Reg (who typically make appearances on this blog as Natasha and Farnsworth), and I rented a house that made all of us squeal with excitement just about every 30-45 minutes. Well, I squealed. The men did whatever the masculine version of squealing is. Grunting? Chest-thumping?

Four bedrooms, five fireplaces, gourmet kitchen, gorgeous décor, back patio, fire pit, bottle of wine waiting for us… we couldn’t stop commenting on how beautiful it was. It was the embodiment of sheer joy. I was so excited about the house that I completely forgot to take any photos of it, so it will just have to live on in my memories, and in the link at But for the record, I’m pretty sure I’m never going to want to rent a hotel room again on a vacation. Ever.

Waking up and eating scrambled eggs and toast slathered in creamy Irish butter and sitting around a high wooden table with friends you get to see far too infrequently in a house too beautiful to describe with magpies flying across the yard as the sun streams in was almost too much for my heart. I was in a constant state of giddiness.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live with three incredibly funny, intelligent, beautiful men at once, let me illustrate:

Shhh. Don't scare them away.
[Clickety, clickety, click. Bloggity, blog, bloggity. Twitter, tweet, tweetify. Format, upload, resize. These boys are addicted, I say. ADDICTED! And I loved every minute of it. I want to live with them forever.]

Apples to Apples
On our first night there, we were still exploring the house and stumbled across the game cabinet. They had all sorts of puzzles and board games, including the greatest game ever invented – Apples to Apples. Trying to describe the game to people and make it sound fun is almost impossible – like trying to retell a joke whose punch line you don’t have quite right.

No wait… I think it goes, So, the Rabbi says, ‘You think that’s bad? You should see her sister!’

Nevertheless, let me attempt to explain the rules: there are green apple cards and red apple cards. Everyone gets a bunch of red cards with nouns on them. The judge lays down a green card with an adjective on it. All the players lay down the red noun card (facedown) they believe the judge will feel most accurately fits the adjective, and the judge gets to pick the winner. If the judge picks your noun, you get to keep the green card. First person to get seven green cards wins the game. Now, usually any board game that involves parts of speech is not exactly one people are lining up to play, but trust me when I say that it’s a blast.

The reason I’m going into this much detail about a board game is because Apples to Apples is responsible for a new hip expression that all the kids will be using soon enough. During one round, Dave was the judge and he laid down the adjective, Extreme. I don’t remember what all the noun cards were, but his decision came down to my card, which was Adolph Hitler, and Melinda’s card, which was Sharks. I’ve found in the past that if you want to win at Apples to Apples, you should always play the Holocaust card whenever possible, because it’s really hard for someone to not choose it as the winner without coming off as a total jerk.

So clearly, I knew I was going to win when I threw down Hitler. The man is responsible for murdering over 11 million people. Does it get more extreme than that? Apparently for Dave, it does, because he chose sharks. Sharks. I lost it.

“Are you kidding me?! Sharks are more extreme than Hitler?! ADOLPH F*CKING HITLER? What are you talking about?”

“I’m not saying Hitler wasn’t extreme, but sharks have been around way longer than him. They’re still killing people today. They’re killing machines.”

“Sharks are fish! They’re not extreme! They’re not evil and calculating! They go off of instinct! They’re just hungry!”

“Look, the Discovery Channel devotes an entire week to sharks. That’s extreme. It’s really extreme. In fact, it’s shark extreme.”

shark ex·treme (shärk’ ik strēm), adj. exceedingly intense; the utmost or highest degree of extremeness: I’m a big fan of rollercoasters, but even I couldn’t handle the Blazing Phoenix at Six Flags over Molokai – that was shark extreme!

So there you have it. Sharks are apparently more extreme than Hitler.

On Friday, we loaded into our tricked out Toyota Sienna minivan and I drove us up to Taos for the day. The trip became a battle of navigators because we had Brandon with his vixen GPS and Dave with his iPhone and Reg with his map from the house. Taos is not on the 3G network, so Dave was helpless. Brandon’s possessive whore of a GPS kept trying to keep us from Taos. So, ultimately, it came down to Reg and his old school lines on paper that got us to our destination.

We visited the Taos Pueblo, where we bought blueberry and cherry pies made in adobe ovens and took pictures of skulls.

Church at Taos Pueblo


Then we drove to the Gorge Bridge which crosses the Rio Grande. I was terrified that the high winds would blow away my newly purchased cowboy hat, but found the courage to soldier on to try to get a few good photos. It was far more stunning than I was able to capture in these photographs.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

But really, the most memorable thing that happened to me in Taos was Lindsey. Melinda, Reg and I were wandering through some of the shops when I saw a sign that said, Horsefeathers. Pre-Loved Hats & Boots. Magic Tricks.

Horse Feathers

“Magic tricks?!” I yelled. “Ohmigod! We have to go in there!”

As we walked through the door, we were greeted by a smiling man with pale blue eyes, wearing a pink shirt and a cowboy hat.

“Like your lids, ladies,” he said.

When he saw the momentary look of confusion flash across our eyes, he touched the brim of his hat.

“Oh, thank you! We just bought them.”

We wandered toward the back of the store where all the pre-loved boots were located. Mel and I were jealous that all the boys had already found used boots the day before, so we were committed to finding our own.

The owner came back to check on us and asked us where we were from. He introduced himself as Lindsey, and we talked for a while about the time he visited Chicago many years ago with his son. He saw a Cubs game and ate at the Billy Goat Tavern.

“Cheeborger, cheeborger. I sure loved that old Saturday Night Live. And that Gilda Radner, boy she was funny.”

He was charming and polite and looked you directly in the eyes when he spoke to you. He was everything you hope for in a Southern gentleman. Lindsey told us to holler if we needed any help, and he walked back to the front of the store.

I gravitated toward two different pairs of boots – one was a very old, vintage beat up pair that had clearly seen their share of clearing brush. Paint splotched, the leather worn down on the toes, they were $88. The other was a much fancier and stylish pair, in far better condition. They were $295. I had one boot on each foot when I walked to the front of the store to check out the full-length mirror. Lindsey looked at me, looked down at my feet, then pointed to the $88 pair and said, “Those are your boots. They fit your style. They fit you. Those are yours.”

And he was right. He sold them to me for $60 even. I was giddy.

As I left the store, I remember thinking that I didn’t see any tricks anywhere, but I know without question that Lindsey was pure magic.

The Reminiscing
An hour or so before TequilaCon began, we all headed over to the venue, The Pink Adobe, to make sure everything was in place. After countless hours of research, Vahid had settled on the most perfect location for the event. We sat outside and sipped drinks in the breeze and admired our new boots while we waited for guests to arrive.


Brandon and I started talking about how this whole event began, with me asking two people I had never met to come visit me in Chicago, for no other reason than the fact that I loved their writing and wanted to hang out with them. Why did they agree? It’s so crazy.

We talked about how I was excited and nervous when they arrived, and how amazing and special it is that five years later, we are still dear friends and still meeting up to laugh and meet new people and eat and drink. I started to get choked up, and then my 12-oz Maker’s Mark arrived just in the nick of time.

The TC09 Posse

The Event
The TequilaCon gods blessed us once again by leading us to a private room upstairs. Bloggers started filing in, greeting each other with hugs and laughs and I knew it would be a good year. I got the chance to talk to people I met in Philadelphia last year, to finally meet bloggers I’ve known for years in the virtual world, and to get to know brand new bloggers.

The smaller crowd seemed to make for more mingling than in TequilaCons prior, and I was so happy to see everyone having a good time. Everyone loved the customized tequila bottles and lanyards and buttons that Dave designed, and Vahid was busy at work applying temporary tattoos.

Official Tequila of the 2009 TequilaCon

Then, at one point in the evening, I walked out of the bathroom and straight into a familiar and wholly unexpected face – Dustin. He was the only member of the planning committee from Philadelphia who wasn’t going to be able to make it to Santa Fe, but unbeknown to all of us, Dave had arranged just days earlier to fly him down for the event as a surprise.

Upon seeing Dustin’s angelic face, I, of course, immediately shoved past him and punched Vahid on the arm, because that is how Sicilians show their love. When I realized that Vahid had been as duped as I was, I turned to Dave and then became a weepy pile of goo, which is also how Sicilians show their love.

From our magical house to my magical boots to my magical friends and all the magical people who made their way to Santa Fe, I couldn’t have imagined a better weekend. I can’t thank everyone enough for coming to this event and bringing their stories and humor and kindness and making it the wonderful celebration that it was. I can’t even imagine what next year has in store for all of us.

The gang's all here!
[My heart, she explodes.]

[For more photos, go here]

So many things. So many things to tell you.

If I had the energy, and it weren’t 1:15am on a school night, and I hadn’t already drunk five glasses of box wine while talking to fellow bloggers, I would tell you so many things.

I would tell you about the long journey I took to upgrading my site to WordPress.

I would tell you about my friend kris, who not only designed my new beautiful masthead, but also endured hour upon hour of my total blog ignorance, with questions like, “Wait… I have an FTP client? What’s that?”

I would tell you about the wunderkind, Nikki, who migrated my site and designed my new template so that I didn’t have to attempt to do it myself.

I would tell you that most of you probably will never see this entry, because I haven’t yet figured out how to forward my RSS feeds to the new platform.

But most of all, I would tell you about how UNBELIEVABLY excited I am to finally be packing my bags for Santa Fe, to celebrate the 5th anniversary of TequilaCon with bloggers old and new!

Once again, innumerable thanks to my dear friends and fellow TequilaCon Board Members, Dave, Vahid and Brandon for their tireless efforts at planning this event. They don’t know it yet, but I plan on slipping some peyote into their margaritas and marrying them all in a moonlit pagan ceremony. Our only witnesses will be a cactus and a prairie dog, just as the gods intended.

I am the very definition of giddy with anticipation right now!


Safe travels to everyone who will be making the trip to the Southwest this Saturday. I can’t wait to hang out with all of you!

And my apologies to everyone else for all the template bugs I am undoubtedly leaving behind. Thanks for your patience while I fumble my way through WordPress…

Best. Passover. Ever.

A few months ago, I was harassing my friend Natasha about how I’ve known her for over 15 years and I’ve never been invited to her family’s house for Passover Seder.

“That’s not true! I’ve definitely invited you over!”

“Oh really? When?”

“Dozens of times!”




“That’s terrible! How is that possible? Well, you’ll have to come to our house for Passover this year.”


Side note: I’m pretty sure she has invited me before, but sometimes it’s important to lie to get your point across.

Last night on the train ride to her parents’ house, I spent the entire time researching Passover on the most reliable source I could find: Wikipedia.

“Will your dad be wearing a white robe?”

“Robe? Like a bathrobe? What are you talking about?”

“No, it says here that the leader of Seder wears a white robe.”

“Hmm. I’ve never heard of that. I think that’s wrong.”

“But it’s on Wikipedia!”

“No, he will not be wearing a robe.”

“Will there be a lamb shank?”


“Will we talk about the plague of boils?”


“Will we eat bitter herbs?”


“Will we eat parsley?”


“Will we dip it twice?”


“Will your dad hide some matza for me to find and then give me a prize?”

“The afikoman? Yes. Well, the children are supposed to look for the afikoman.”

“But sometimes do the new guests get to do that, too?”


“Will we drink four cups of wine?”

“Well, I’ll probably be having a gin and tonic, but yes, we’ll all drink wine.”

“Will we all get to read some scripture?”

“The Haggadah.

Yes. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a good part, like the one that talks about putting the hand on the asses.”

“That would be so great.”

When we all gathered around for dinner, I took my place near the head of the table so I would be close to the action. On the cover of my Haggadah, I saw the words, “Sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee, good to the last drop®,” and immediately knew this was going to be an evening to remember. I followed along as all the guests read, ate my bitter herbs at the appropriate time, and pantomimed washing my hands along with everyone else. Natasha elbowed me when it was my turn to read, but I was more than ready.

I got to read one of the parts where everyone holds up their wine glass, and it made me feel like the father of the bride or maybe a motivational speaker. They were hanging on my every word, and until I was finished, they couldn’t put down their glasses. I had them completely in my control, and the rush of power was invigorating. I never wanted it to end.

Side note: I’m pretty sure that’s not the intended emotional response to reading from the Haggadah, but I’m new at this.

Every time I thought we were done eating, another dish would be passed around. There was delicious lamb and turkey, short ribs and carrots, mashed potatoes, some things whose name I forgot but they were like round cornbread cakes made out of matza, asparagus, little dishes of nonpareils, sweet jelly fruit slices, cake with berries and cream… it was wonderful.

The one thing Nat forgot to tell me about was the gefilte fish. I’m pretty much game to try anything – I can’t think of any food I wouldn’t at least taste, unless it was still alive – but nothing quite prepared me for the sensory overload that is sweetened carp that has been puréed and reconstituted into little semi-gelatinous slabs. One of the other guests recommended I slather on the horseradish, but even at a 2:1 horseradish to fish ratio, I couldn’t finish it. Then I noticed that about half the guests – including Natasha – hadn’t even touched theirs. I had been punk’d, Seder-style.

Once we were through with dinner, the hunt for the afikoman was on. It was really a competition between another Seder newbie and me – we weren’t even going to give the children a chance. After I tore through the house looking through drawers and cupboards and behind furniture, Natasha’s sister, Baby G, informed me that her dad is “not much of a hider,” and seconds later, my rival found it lying on the kitchen table, hidden in plain sight. Punk’d again.

We ended the evening with the time-honored Jewish tradition of gathering around the television and watching the previously recorded episode of Lost, before heading back into the city.

Afikoman loss aside, my first Passover was a total success. If any of you have Jewish friends and you haven’t been invited to Seder, I highly encourage you to start pressuring them now. Because we goyim are just like vampires to the Jews – we have to be invited in, but once we pass through their doorway, it’s an eternal party.

The Buzz


What is that, you ask? Well, aside from being irrefutable evidence that my mother is the BEST gift-giver in the entire universe, it is also quite likely the tool that will one day save my life. Maybe even this weekend.

Late last year, my friends Natasha, Dee-Dee and I signed up for a beekeeping class. It seemed so far away at the time, but now, that weekend has finally arrived. This class has a different significance for each of us. Dee-Dee wants to support local farmers, Natasha wants to overcome her fear of bees, and I want to find financial freedom in the form of sweet, sweet bee honey. Goodbye corporate America, hello Aunt Jenny’s Old Tyme All-Natural Honeycombs and Bee-Related Products!

I’ll sell honey, honey combs, honey sticks, honey candy, honey cakes, honey butter, beeswax candles, beeswax lip balm, beeswax hair gel, honey hair gel, honey lip balm, bee pollen makeup, bee stickers, bee coloring books, and peanut butter and royal jelly sandwiches.

Through what can only be described as fate, my friend Dr. Greene dressed up as a sexy beekeeper for Halloween this year, and ever the perfectionist, he bought a real beekeeper suit for the costume. When he came to visit from DC last weekend, he handed me a bag containing the suit. Natasha claimed dibs on it, since she’s kind of scared of bees, but we’ll share it as we tend to the hives.

I hope to have all sorts of bee-related stories after this weekend, unless I discover that I’m allergic to bee stings, in which case, please tell everyone that I died doing something I loved and was passionate about all my life. Or at least ever since I read about the class a few months ago.

PS: That’s an antique bee-smoker.