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What are Tales from Tibby?

During my 41-year career doing morning show radio, what I found most rewarding was taking the slices of life I observed and making them into fun, funny or satirical stories that, hopefully, the audience would enjoy.

That usually involved altering, embellishing or flat-out lying about an actual incident, but I got pretty good at it.

When the time came to back away from the microphone, I realized that I still tend to see life as a morning show host. My brain still processes everything as a possible story to tell on the air.

So this blog is a written extension of my radio show, a series of true or semi-true stories could just as easily be called, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO ALLEN.

Born and raised and still living in Georgia, my stories often have a Southern slant. I offer no apologies for that. I know how to properly prepare grits and cannot imagine life without them. I can also fry up a rabbit.

While I cannot avoid a little commentary now and then, the aim is to entertain, and I hope you enjoy reading these Tales From Tibby.

Tales from Tibby by Allen Tibbetts

The Great Kitchen Catastrophe

It’s a very special smehell. I made that word up. It's a cross between 'smell' and 'hell.' 

We need a new word describing what it’s like walking into your house after your refrigerator/freezer has died and been left alone. Putrid, nauseous, toxic, oh my god, and liquid death don't get it done.

Who knows how long it had been dead. It had been two weeks since we had been around.

Neighbors discovered the problem. Ours is a close-knit community; everyone knows where everyone else keeps a spare key. If you don’t have something you need but your neighbor does, go get it. That’s how this started.

I received a text that someone or something was dead in our house. “It’s not bad,” she wrote. “It’s really, really bad.”

She could have – I think I probably would have – just walked out and left it for the homeowner to figure out what was wrong. Instead, she and her husband decided to do a little investigating.

“Sniff the shower drain,” I suggested, thinking the septic tank might have a problem. By the way, you want to be pretty good friends with folks you suggest to go into your shower and sniff your drain. Profanities could follow.

Looking for any obvious problems led them to eventually opening the refrigerator door. And immediately slamming it shut. It was a morgue in there.

Actually, no. There was life.

You know how your fridge has little vents? When motors aren't running and coolants aren't cooling, those vents become doorways for small creatures, hungry for a meal of spoiled, rotting food.

There were bugs.

Among the damage, a sealed pack of chicken that had swollen up and burst through the packaging. Same for the venison. Packs of ground deer meat had all breached the seals of their vacuum-packed plastic, warming to room temperature, oozing blood.

Yogurt had burst the seals of their individual cups and grown hair. Whomp buscuits – those you whomp against the counter to open - had broken through without being whomped and were molding.

And the bugs. It may have smelled like death, but certain unidentified insects were loving life: crawling, flying and feasting.

Clearly, the refrigerator had not just conked out yesterday. Alien life forms of this magnitude take time to manifest.

Public service announcement: Frozen okra will thaw into a gooey mess but will not explode through freezer bags. I’m not sure why you need that information, but now you have it.

Hazmat was called but refused to respond. So, friends stepped in to do what friends must occasionally do. Once in a while, you gotta step up to the plate.

First, all windows were opened. They found of couple of fans in our house, then brought a couple more of their own to prop up in those windows.

This cancelled the plans of our immediate next-door neighbors to eat lunch out on their deck that day. While they are a good 30 yards away, the stench from our kitchen was uncontainable. Those folks had other options of where they could be, so they packed up and left.

Like I said, it’s a real special odor.

Neighbors from both sides of the house came with garbage bags, willing to help clean out the fridge. While tossing out our food, one of them tossed his own cookies. Fortunately, he managed to make it outside, hanging his head out over the deck railing before that happened.

Ten full garbage bags and $5 later, the offending mess was deposited in the local dump.

The same friend who had lost his lunch cleaning out the refrigerator was around when we finally arrived two days later, offering to help me move the refrigerator out of the house. To fortify ourselves, we both took a shot of tequila. (We do a fair amount of fortifying around here.)

During the process of rolling it out on a hand truck, one of the fridge doors popped open. His tequila shot left his body as quickly as it had entered.

We refortified.

Eventually, we were able to wheel the refrigerator into my neighbor’s yard. The same neighbors that had left. Their yard. I used their hose, their water, to wash out meat juice and mold. Can’t wait for them to return. Precious memories aren’t the only things that linger.

The fridge made nice yard art, and we considered just leaving it there.

Back inside, my wife Beverly wiped down every counter and cabinet with all manner of cleaning solutions, going so far as to take down the curtains and wash them. Floors were mopped. Disinfectant was sprayed on the furniture. Plates, glasses, silverware, every pot and every pan got washed.

In tossing out all of the spoils of the refrigerator, the neighbors had left glass and canned items. Without much hesitation, we made the decision to toss everything that smehell had touched and start over.

Everything except the beer. It’s good beer, and the cans had not popped opened. I deemed them salvageable and safe.

Now, you could argue that beer which has been refrigerated, then brought back to room temperature, then refrigerated again will lose some flavor. You’d need to argue with someone else. My palate won’t notice, and I ain’t listening.

You could also argue, as my buddy did, beer cans that have been in such close proximity to the funk of rotting deer carcasses are contaminated and need to be replaced. But again, my ears don’t hear.

Those cans have taken a gentle bleach bath and are now chillin’ in a brand new refrigerator.

My friend has vowed not to accept my offer of a beer for the next year. Beverly has vowed that lips that touch those cans of beer will not touch hers for about the same period of time.

Don’t tell me I don’t know what it means to sacrifice.

I can barely bear seeing a bare bear

Our bartender was Romanian but spoke pretty good English. Since he was working for a cruise line that caters to a mostly English-speaking clientele, good English was a prerequisite of the job, I reckoned.

“Can you speak French?” he was asked.

As the boat that employs him cruises the rivers of France, that was a fair question.

“No,” he answered. “I speak Romanian, Russian and English. That’s enough!” Then he laughed. “Do you know how hard it is to speak English? You have over 300,000 words!”

Whether that’s true or not, I’ve always thought what makes English difficult, even for those of us that have spoken it all our lives, is the way words sound the same yet are spelled differently (see my title), or that the exact same word can have different meanings (see my title).

In fact, once you read the rest of this tale, you can tell everyone you’veread it.

But let’s move this conversation back to the barstool, because someone has just mentioned they had read that the most difficult word in the English language is…

RUN.

Eyebrows immediately furrowed in doubt.

Run? Really?

So, we decided to run it up the flagpole and see if we had indeed run into the toughest word in the English-speaking world.

Immediately, it was evident there are many ways to use ‘run’ that didn’t involve using your legs to move quickly from on point to another.

You run water either to run the washer or run a bath. If it’s the washer, then you gotta run the dryer.

The refrigerator runs. Let’s just hope we catch it before it gets too far away! (In today’s techno- world, you may have to explain what a prank call was to your kids or grandkids. I doubt they’ll immediately get the concept of dialing a random number and asking whomever answered if their refrigerator was running.)

We run the vacuum to clean the room, unless we’ve run out of time. Or run out of room.

We run our mouths. Too much.

We run for office. If we don’t run into our scandalous past, well, we’ve run a good campaign, I guess, so we can run for reelection.

Our watches run.

Our cars run so that we can run to the store. Just don’t let the parking meter run out while you’re inside or you run the risk of a ticket.

You’ve got a run in your pantyhose, by the way.

Had enough?

Me, too.

Perhaps ‘run’ is all the problem it’s purported to be. Regardless, I’ve run out of easy examples.

Besides, I need to run to the bathroom. For that, I will use my legs to move quickly from one point to another.

Hopefully, we have not run out of tissue.

The Right Reverend Tibby 

Boy, I didn’t see this one coming. 

 

Hanging up the phone after talking with our niece, my wife turned to me and said, “She wants to know if you’d officiate her wedding.” 

 

Do what? 

 

“She wants me to marry them?” I asked. 

 

Yup. That’s what she wanted. 

 

Heck, yeah, I’ll do that! Several reasons: 

 

#1) I’ve been a part of this child’s life since she showed her sweet face to this world, so I’d probably do just about anything for her. 

 

#2) She and her fiancé share a wonderfully quirky sense of humor. Anything that went wrong at the wedding would just be a funny memory for them. (That’s the way we should live our entire lives, I think.) 

 

#3) - and this is where it gets selfish - I always harbored this notion that when I retired from radio, I’d become a tent revival preacher. 

 

I’d buy a big tent, hire a couple of corn-fed gals with high hair and the voices of angels, and I’d hit the road with my own traveling salvation show. 

 

Look out! The Right Reverend Tibby is coming to your town! 

 

I’d pitch my big tent right next to the local Wal-Mart, set up the folding chairs, and set out my hand-painted plywood sign that says “Gospel Sing & Healing Tonight. 7 p.m.” 

 

The heavenly voices of my gospel girls would rain down on the ears of believers, getting them in the mood to hear some good words from Reverend Tibby, who would take to the stage and whip the flock into a frenzy with a bunch of ‘amen’s and a whole lot of ‘hallelujah’s. Then we’d top off the night by beseeching the sick and afflicted to come forward for a-healing, hoisting them from the quagmire of holy dilapidation. 

 

In my younger years, I’d watched the Rev. Ernest Angley do such work on TV. Cripples would rise up from their wheelchairs. The blind could see. And the deaf would hear. 

 

The Daylight Diet

I know it works. It said so in Reader’s Digest. (Gimme a break. I was at the home of some older relatives, and it was the only thing available for bathroom reading.)

The premise is pretty straight-forward: the body metabolizes food differently during daylight hours. To that end, if you eat all of your meals while there’s light in the sky, your tummy will evaporate and your love handles will fall off.

That’s not really the end conclusion, but it’s what I was going for.

There is some research that supports this notion.

One of the subjects of the RD article was a woman that had gained a lot of weight during pregnancy. Following the birth of her child, she had either a new job or new working hours. Regardless, because of that schedule change, she needed to eat supper by 5 each day. Then, it was off to work, arriving back home around 11 p.m.

The big change for her was that the 5 o’clock meal was not just her last meal of the day, it was her last food of the day. Upon returning home in the evening, she showered and went to bed.

The way I remember the story, she lost over seventy pounds of baby fat with just that one change. No change in her diet, only in the times she ate.

A lightbulb went off over my head, however dimly. Could this program help me lose some baby fat? In my case, baby back ribs fat.

February was about to begin. That seemed like a good starting point. New month, new plan. My wife was onboard; she thinks we eat too late, anyway.

Initially, the hardest part was that it was, in fact, the beginning of February. It gets dark early!

In order to have supper consumed by dark, it needed to be completely ready to eat by 5 o’clock. As the month wore on and the days grew longer, having the meal prepared by 6 or even 6:15 still had us finishing before dark.

There were a couple of exceptions, as there are bound to be, but I was faithful to the plan.

Thinking back to when I announced the new diet on social media, the very first question that came up was, “Does that go for liquid consumption after dark, as well???” It came from this girl I used to work with who is now a fitness queen and is trying to eat all healthy and probably assumes that I enjoy a toddy or two in the evening. Knowing her, she wanted me to fail.

I did. It didn’t work.

Oh, I lost two pounds, but I was hoping for twenty.

Now for my analysis of what might have gone wrong: liquid consumption after dark, probably. I admit, I am a man of many empty calories.

Supper may be over, and I may have finished eating before dark, but that wine bottle is still half-full. Or half-empty, depending on your point of view. From my angle, there is still some work to be done, and that article didn’t say anything about wine.

To be fair to me, I do try to limit my wine intake to two glasses.

But then there’s the splash or two of a good bourbon over ice that soothes the soul and helps one sleep at night.

You don’t want me to not sleep well, do you?

I do want to point out one HUGE positive to this particular eating arrangement. If you have decreed that all meals must be taken during daylight hours, you have effectively made late-night snacking against the law.

That’s a really big deal for those of us that are prone to getting the munchies because that steak and potato and beans and salad and rolls and wine you had two hours ago suddenly is not enough, and you must go thrust your spoon into that jar of peanut butter… twice, maybe three times, or you will die - quite literally, die - of starvation!

(A very small half-pound sliver of cheddar cheese will also do the trick.)

This plan sets the rule: when dinner’s over, eating is done for the day. I liked that, and I stuck to it.

So, I’m going to hang with it for a while. If nothing else, I quit gaining weight. Best case, I’ll hit my target weight in 8 -10 years.

My wife has had more success than I have, but then, she has taken a month-long sabbatical from all alcohol. She suggests I do the same.

I have found that staring at her blankly, like she’s a martian (which of your 7 eyes should I be looking at?), is an effective response.

 

Sorry about Valentine’s Day

I am friends with the anti-Christ of Valentine’s Day. Every year, he plasters his office door with cute little signs proclaiming, “St. Valentine Was Beheaded” and “Valentine’s Day is a creation of the floral industry.”

When he was a single guy, I thought it was a brilliant move. Hey, ladies, you can have this guy, but you’d best know, upfront, he ain’t spending a dime come February 14th. You’ve been warned.

There’s a politically correct version of Valentine’s Day now. Some use the date to celebrate S*A*D.

Single Awareness Day.

That’s right, celebrate your singleness. Who needs a soulmate when you have six feline friends and a house that smells like cat pee?

If you don’t live alone, though, Valentine’s Day might come with some guilt.

“What? You say you love your wife, yet you won’t spring for a few flowers or a handful of chocolates?”

On the other hand, couldn’t you – shouldn’t you - use that day as the one day out of the year you actually brought her some flowers?

There’s some conflict there.

I don’t feel an obligation, but this year I bought flowers. In fairness, it was only because we were out of ketchup. (We need ketchup, and the grocery store also sells flowers, so while I’m here…)

I also bought beer, but the beer/wine aisle is right beside the floral department. That may not be just coincidence.

I used to think buying Valentine’s Day flowers from the grocery store instead of the local florist was a complete cop-out, a version of running down to the drug store at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve to do your Christmas shopping because it was the only place left open.

And what woman wouldn’t appreciate a bag of red and green candy corn and some toenail clippers?

Anymore, though, the grocery store is the local florist. In my neighborhood, it’s the only place left to buy flowers.

Some yellow roses caught my eye, and my wife, herself a yellow rose of Texas, prefers them to red roses, so I was in business.

In my defense, I could point out that Valentine’s Day is not the only day of the year I buy flowers, and that would be true. But it’s also true that I was buying them on that day because it was in fact Valentine’s Day, and the flowers would be the extent of any sort of recognition of the occasion.

What’s happened? What brought us to this? Used to be that Valentine’s Day was a day a guy might ‘get lucky,’ so any effort was worth it.

Nowadays, getting lucky is finding a quarter in the parking lot.

It’s not that time just wears us down, nor that we don’t love our mates. Those are not problems in our house, anyway. Sure, we both suffer from a lack of creative ideas, but mostly, it’s that we don’t need anything.

The whole digital shopping thing hasn’t helped. It’s hard to compete with a computer and a credit card. Anything that pops into my brain as necessary or amusing, I buy it. A couple of months ago, I got the bright idea that we needed a new knife sharpener. Hello, Amazon!

You needn’t think I’ve used it. I don’t even know where it is.

It’s good that my wife thinks the same way. I’d have never thought to buy her a lovely jar of deep tissue moisturizing cream designed especially for the neck no more than she would have thought to buy me some cacao nibs for making a steak rub.

So, there I was, waiting in the checkout line with this odd assortment of items that probably would have attracted some attention, anyway. But being Valentine’s Day, I could just feel other people gawking at my basket and thinking, ‘At least I’m not that guy.’

Or perhaps, ‘At least I’m not married to that guy.’

I have considered that Valentine’s Day occurs too close to Christmas. In our house, we really don’t do much for Christmas anymore, either. Other than eat like starving baby pigs.

Maybe I was buying the flowers out of guilt. Guilt that manifests itself as a loud booming voice screaming at me to DO SOMETHING! JUST TRY, FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!

So, I formulated a Valentine’s Day poem.

Roses are red,So are your lips.Didn’t get you no chocolate,It’d go straight to your hips.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it. Hard to beat roses, ketchup and beer.

Beg Your Pardon

Dear panhandlers:

I’m done. It’s over. Don’t ask.

Yeah, yeah, I know. No big loss for you. I don’t usually give you money, anyway.

I want you to know that it’s not that I don’t want to help. If I could know for certain you genuinely needed help, I’d buy you a burger, take you shopping, even make your house payment.

But I don’t know for certain, and frankly, I don’t believe your stories.

The carboard sign that you ‘dream of a cheeseburger, or that you’re ‘homeless with 3 children,’ just doesn’t resonate as sincere. Adding “GOD BLESS” to the bottom of your sign doesn’t make your plea more plausible, either.

I have my reasons for doubting you. I’ve seen you guys and gals take each other’s place and pass off the same cardboard sign. I’ve seen you bum a couple of bucks and walk straight into a package store.

Hey, I’m all for you enjoying a cold one, just don’t ask me to pay for it.

It’s how you’ve decided to make a living. Got it. Just doesn’t seem like you’ll ever get promoted to something better at that job.

I’ve had quite a run with some of you recently.

Back in September, passing through Memphis, I encountered a middle-aged, rather small black man as my group walked down the street. 

Yes, that he was black and I am white comes into play in this particular episode.

As we walked toward the street he was ‘working,’ we could see his game. He would direct cars looking for a parking place to an open spot. That of course is something they could find on their own, but if he could run ahead of them and point it out, might there be a ‘tip’ for his help?

That appeared to be his pitch.

As we walked past him, he joined us. He was energetic and friendly, asking how we were, how we were enjoying Memphis and where we were from.

The jovial banter continued for several minutes until we were clearly getting out of his territory.

“Can you give me money for a sandwich?” he asked

My standard answer: “Sorry, man, I don’t carry money.”

That’s usually the truth. I almost never have dollar bills on me. I’m a plastic man. Credit cards. Whether it was true or not on this day made no difference. I wasn’t giving him money. I had seen him a block away and knew that if he came up to us, there would be a motive other than serving as the city’s official welcoming committee.

He responded to being turned down by immediately veering away from our group and saying, “That’s because white is always right and black is always wrong.”

I’m used to some sort of comeback when a beggar is turned down, but that one caught me off-guard. All of that friendly chit-chat suddenly became a racial divide when I didn’t give him money.

As we continued to walk away, he continued to yell, eventually hollering that if I came back to where he was, he would put me in the hospital. He said that twice.

I wondered what he was expecting by threatening me.

Seriously.

Did he think I’d stop, turn around, apologize for every historical wrong that had happened to the black man and give him a twenty? Did he think I’d suddenly sympathize with him and say, “Hey, dude, I’m not like you think. Please take my money.”

Next stop, West Coast.

Passing an older, worn out-looking gentleman on a pier in wharf district of San Francisco, I could feel it coming.

“Can you people help me get some food?”

I probably would have been better off just handing him a couple of bucks, but I gave him my standard line and kept walking. That set him off.

“Go on back to your rich-people hotel, ya f****t!”

I’m not going to lie to you. Having a homophobic slur hurled at me in the middle of San Francisco has some entertainment value. Even my gay friends have found that story amusing.

Finally, Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a city we love visiting. In fact, we have two more visits on the agenda this year.

My wife and I had taken my mother to a Christmas show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Vince Gill and Amy Grant. It was fabulous!

As we sat in the hotel lobby the next morning eating breakfast, a young woman approached, wanting to know if she could ask us a question.

My radar lit up.

More often than not, when someone is trying to put the touch on you, it starts with, ‘can I ask you something?’ or ‘hey, mind if I ask you a question?’

She started her pitch. She and her kids didn’t have enough money to pay their hotel bill. She said she needed $26. That’s pretty specific. People doing what she was doing will usually take anything you offer.

My wife, the softest touch on earth responded, “I’d love to help.” She grabbed her pocketbook and offered to accompany the young woman to the front desk to pay her bill.

Wait for it…wait for it…

“Well, we’re not staying at this hotel,” the woman said. “We’re at a hotel down the street.”

That’s when I jumped in and, as politely as I can speak, told her, “I’m sorry, we’re not going to be able to help you.”

She stared at us for a few seconds as though we might change our minds, then moved on.

My wife excused herself from the table and went back to the room. She was aggravated, mostly with me.

It’s not that she didn’t know the woman was begging, nor that she didn’t understand why I sent the woman away. She just wanted to help. She wants to help them all. I had interfered.

Mom got weepy.

Now, Mom lives in Atlanta. She’s very familiar with the hustlers. As we talked about the incident, she even allowed how most panhandlers involve their children in their stories. She was 100% on board that the woman was out bumming, but the story made Mom really sad.

She was also sad that my wife had been so willing to help only to find out it was an obvious ruse.

So, to everyone out on the street with your hands out, I hope you have a nice day. Mostly, I hope you find the motivation to make your life better.

But you made my mama cry. We’re done.

To Cuba with Love

Fidel Castro is dead. One down, one to go.

 

That is, one Castro down, one more to go.

 

That is the clear message I got from visiting Cuba four years ago.

 

I consider myself a lucky man. I went to Cuba before the United States offered an olive branch to that little island. So, I got to see ‘old’ Cuba. The Cuba in ruins. The Cuba in need.

 

But it was a Cuba with hope. Hope that one day America would show them some love, and hope that one day, they could participate in their governance. That would mean life without the Castros.

 

For clarity on my visit, it was part of a larger tour that was visiting for the purpose of seeing agriculture in that county.

 

It was weird from the get-go. First of all, flying to Cuba from Miami, we didn’t do normal customs. Best I recall, we went to a terminal where things were handled differently. Bags weren’t inspected, and aside from previously filled-out paperwork, questions weren’t asked.

 

What I didn’t know is that Cubans with relatives in the States can fly back and forth pretty easily, if they can afford to. And leaving the U.S., Cubans could take things, like TVs or toasters, back to Cuba on those flights.

 

In fact, knowing Cuba was the land of rum – and I am not a rum man – I packed two ‘handles’ of bourbon in my bag. That’s two 1.5 liter bottles.

 

Arriving in Cuba, there are occasional random inspections. Had I been picked out, it would be interesting to see if they cared that I carried basically a gallon of bourbon.

 

In the Havana airport, I immediately encountered what would become a bit of a Cuban signature: begging. At the entrance to the restroom in the airport were two lovely, young ladies, clearly waiting for a ‘tip.’

 

Not knowing how to handle the situation, I gave one of them a dollar. The other smiled, and said, “Nothing for me?”

 

I obliged.

 

And on that note, I want to introduce you to the people of Cuba that I encountered.

 

There is so much to say about how, 50 years ago, Cuba’s leadership ‘sided’ with Russia and adopted communism, and how Russia later left them hanging when Russia itself was undergoing massive changes.

 

But that’s a whole lot of history lessons I didn’t learn.

 

So, this is about the Cuban people I saw and met, filtered, of course, through my own lenses.

 

Cubans so badly want to be friends with you. You, Americans. They want a relationship with us. They want the life we have. They want to be happy. They’ve smuggled their families to our shores for the last 50 years to get away from the nothingness they’ve had under the Castros.

 

Most of them only know communism as a failed ideology. They hate it.

 

They want the dream.

 

Under communism, they are paid wages set by ‘the state,’ and they know there’s something better. They know that in America, there’s the possibility of being paid for what you know and how you perform.

 

They know that in America, food is not rationed. It is in Cuba. I didn’t know that.

 

Begging is rampant in Cuba. But I quickly learned that begging pays better. If an average Cuban can get one dollar from a visitor, that’s a better day’s wages than they would be paid by the state.

 

So why would you not beg?

 

Our guide was an attorney that hadn’t practiced law in six years, because tips from being a tour guide paid better. Doctors act as taxi drivers on their days off because of the money they could make on tips.

 

Why would you not beg?

 

Some Cubans try to be creative in their panhandling. They dress up in old plantation-style costumes and hope you’ll want a picture with them. A tip is expected.

 

In need of a restroom on day, I approached a group of young men and asked where I might find one. They eagerly showed me the way, then asked for money for helping me. One even when down on his knees, begging.

 

I recall a gentleman following our group for a few moments, singing songs and playing a guitar. He cursed us when we didn’t tip him. It’s not that we didn’t like him or his singing, but when there are so many palms out, you learn that you can’t grease them all.

 

Beggars were like flies around tour buses. Some looked very pitiful and were hard to ignore, but once you saw them there every day, you understood the routine.

 

Havana was romantic. You’re in Havana, Cuba, for heaven’s sake! The land of mobsters and Frank Sinatra. Redundant, I know.

 

Much of the city was in tatters. Scaffolding everywhere and not a lot of work was being done.

 

“They pretend to pay us, we pretend to work.” It’s an old, familiar joke Cubans like to tell. Except it’s not really a joke. They get paid the same wage for working on a job or standing around doing nothing. Best I could tell, they generally chose to do the latter.

 

What struck me was how easily they spoke of communism, of their government, of their distaste for the Castros, Fidel and Raul. But mostly, of how they looked forward to a Cuba without them.

 

The Cuba I saw was the old Cuba. The one that got stuck in time when Fidel Castro thumbed his nose at the U.S. He had climbed into bed the Russians, and it turns out they didn’t pay for sex.

 

The Cuba I saw was pretty much the same as it was 50 years ago. In our ‘nice’ hotel, bare wires dangled from sockets, and the bed linens were straight out of your great-grandmothers closet.

 

You see pictures of the old ‘50s and ‘60s cars in Cuba. That because there’s not much else. And they keep those cars in such pristine condition because you will pay cash to have them shuttle you around in them.

 

There’s a whole lot of bondo and rubber bands holding those things together. They have precious little access to parts.

 

Arriving back in the States, we actually did go through security.

 

“Do you have any tobacco?”

 

“No,” I answered.

 

“Any alcohol?”

 

“No.”

 

Of course, I had both. Almost everyone had Cuban cigars and rum.

 

Turns out, this particular ‘American’ border agent was a native Cuban. Rather than concern himself about cigars and rum, he used our time together to lecture me on how relations between our countries “must” normalize. “Cubans,” he said, “want to be included.”

 

I knew what he meant.

 

When President Obama opened the freezer door and started thawing out relations with Cuba, I watched with interest the reactions here at home. Many old-timers, including Cuban ex-patriots and others with direct ties to Cuba wanted us to have nothing to do with Cuba until the Castros are gone.

 

They are other voices, of course, that want normalized relations. I am among them.

 

I am among them, because I met a lot of Cuban people that had nothing to do with the politics of their country. They are our neighbors. They want to be our friends. I hope that happens one day.

 

Maybe with Fidel Castro’s passing, we got a little closer to that.

Say Cheese! 

Over breakfast, my wife accused me of being unable to eat scrambled eggs without cheese. Rather than starting a nasty spat, I played the bigger man and conceded this one.

For starters, cheese is the perfect food. That aside, however, I don’t do simply scrambled eggs add cheese, I do ‘cheggs.’ Cheese with some egg in it.

On the morning in question, however, there were more than just eggs with cheese. I was also serving grits with cheese and toast with cream cheese.

Cheese on everything?

Hardly. The bacon was naked.

There’s an art to cooking with cheese. If you simply throw cheddar on every dish, you are going to be considered an unsophisticated rube. Ignore the haters. While this is elementary ‘cooking with cheese,’ you’re on the right track and should be proud of yourself.

You can never go wrong with cheddar on about anything. In fact, my rule of thumb is, if that dish is going into the oven, it can handle some cheddar. Including, but not limited to, apple pie!

I want you to get to know your cheeses and experiment some, so let’s cover the basic categories:

-String Cheese. What you serve your kids to make them shut up. And to start them on their way to coronary disease later in life.

-Easy Cheesy. These are easy-eating, everyday cheeses: mozzarella, Monterey Jack, etc. (Fresh moz should have its own category: cheese with no flavor, but there’s not enough time here to cover everything.) Easy cheesy is cheese that don’t stink.

-Stanky Cheese. Cheese that do stink. This includes your blue – or bleu – cheese, gorgonzola, and others, like limburger, which you may never be exposed to. Stanky cheese is my favorite category.

Hard Cheese: Parmesan

Melty Cheese. Think fondue cheeses, like Gruyere, queso, Velveeta and chocolate.

Some will say because Velveeta is ‘cheese food,’ it’s not real cheese. Cheese is food, so hush up, and let’s move on.

I do recognize that chocolate is not technically cheese, but given that milk is the number one ingredient in both cheese and chocolate, and both make outstanding fondue, I thought it deserved inclusion.

Notice how cheddar is not in any category. That’s because, depending on the age of it, cheddar can fit into almost all categories. And that’s why everything’s bettah with cheddah.

Unless you use mild cheddar, in which case you’re just being a sissy.

Now, go cut some cheese.