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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

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.