Valium Vickie

Monday, December 30, 2013

Just Another Successful Heimlich Maneuver

I saw a guy get the Heimlich once. I was eating lunch at this Thai restaurant when, out of nowhere, this guy just started turning blue and flailing his arms around to let everybody know he choking. It was an absolutely terrifying thing to watch ... for the most part.

But I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a small part of me that was like, "Really? This guy's going to this pull this shit right now. I can't believe he's choking during my lunch! I've been waiting all week for this Pad Thai. (Side note: Pad Thai is essentially the General Tso's of Thai food: It's something even the most unadventurous person can order when he wants to try something foreign, and it's something waiters at Thai restaurants expect white people to order.) 

Let me be clear: Only a very small part of me felt this way. When this guy started choking, something like 85% of me was like "Oh my God! Somebody's gotta save this man. I wish I paid attention when they taught me to do the Heimlich in fourth grade." But 15% of me was very much annoyed and inconvenienced at the fact this man was ruining my lunch because he didn't know how to chew properly.

Photo courtesy of

The dude sitting across from the choking guy wound up doing the Heimlich, which is a good thing because none of workers even attempted to approach the table when the guy started choking. The waiters just kept aggressively filling up people's water glasses as if a customers with half-filled waters would be far worse than somebody dying during his meal.

The Heimlich guy's demeanor was downright remarkable throughout the entire life-saving incident. He calmly stood up, pushed his chair back, put his napkin down on the table (I have a picture of him daintily wiping his mouth before placing the napkin down, but I'm not sure that actually happened) and just went to work. I'm no expert, but it looked like textbook Heimlich to me. In fact, he was so calm throughout the entire ordeal that I'm convinced this wasn't the first time he actually had to do it to choking man.

The whole Heimlich thing couldn't have lasted more than a couple of minutes tops, but it's still a very unsettling thing to watch, mostly because it looks completely inefficient. If you didn't know what the Heimlich was, you'd think the person doing it was wrestling somebody who had tapped out already.

In this case, it worked. Somewhere between five and 20 thrusts, choking man spit out this huge chunk of what I'm guessing was Pad Thai. (Choking man was a very, very white dude in khakis with some type of corporate ID badge.)

I'm not sure what's supposed to happen after a successful Heimlich maneuver, but I'm pretty sure it's not what happened at this place. The two men at the center of the incident, choking man and Heimlich guy, went right back to their meal like nothing happened. No acknowledgement; no "Everything's OK. You guys can just go back to what you were doing." In fact, choking man dove right back into his dish with such veracity that he must've been thinking about finishing his meal the entire time the rest of us thought it would finish him.

Then, there was the chunk of food choking man spit out onto the floor. Nobody thought it was a good idea to dispose of the hunk of food that was left behind after the successful Heimlich. It just sat in plain view, an ominous reminder of what could happen to if we don't chew our food carefully enough.

I spent the rest of my lunch trying to figure out what should've happened. The way I saw it, there should of been some type of public acknowledgement by the choking man. I expected choking man to at least give us, the concerned/partially annoyed spectators, some type of an embarrassed wave or humorous explanation, so we knew the danger had passed and everything was A-OK. Had that happened, we'd all rise, one by one, to applaud Heimlich guy for his heroic efforts.

And then there was the staff. Not only did they completely ignore a customer while he was choking, they also didn't go over to talk to the man after the ordeal was over. They acted completely oblivious to the situation the ENTIRE time. I wouldn't be surprised if a choking fee was even added to the table's bill.

I don't think the owner, a gruff man somewhere between the ages of 60 and 103, even looked up once from his spot behind the cash register during the choking incident. It was as if he knew business would be fine regardless of what happened to choking man. Sure, had he choked to death right there, it would've made the local news, and business may have slowed down for a week or two, but that wouldn't last long. Eventually, the owner knew, the lunch crowd would be back, because he has the best Pad Thai around, and white office workers will always return to a place with good Pad Thai.

As for me, I was just pissed choking guy was able to go back to enjoying his meal despite the near-death experience, because I never was -- at least not the way I'd imagined. And I'd been looking forward to that lunch since Tuesday ... that selfish son of a bitch.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

What do you do when that dog you love too much dies too soon?

What do you do when that dog you love too much dies too soon? That question sounds ridiculously dramatic coming from anybody -- especially a guy who sends letters to fancy restaurants about fictional German swinger dudes who rub mashed potatoes all over their genitals. And, in the scheme things, it is. But ever since my Boston Terrier Luna died, I've been trying to figure out how I'm supposed to make myself feel better about the whole thing. And a big part of that has involved finding some type of answer to that dramatic question.

Time has definitely dulled everything a good deal. But if I think about it hard enough, I feel almost as shitty as I did on the day the vet called and told my girlfriend Liz and me we lost Luna -- and I don't think that will change any time soon.

If you've ever had a conversation with me for more than five minutes, chances are you knew about my dog. Had she lived, Luna would've been the ring-bearer at my wedding in May. And when I proposed, I tied the ring to Luna's collar and let her do all the work. For most people, putting your dog in your wedding is an absurd idea. For my girlfriend and me, it was never even up for debate. Liz and I decided to get married so, naturally, Luna would have to play some major role in the wedding.

Tissues, tests and meds

I should've know Luna's days were numbered the moment we walked into Metropolitan Veterinary Associates and Emergency Services and saw that every seat in the expansive waiting room was accompanied by its own personal box of tissues. Even the waiting rooms in the human cancer wards I've visited didn't have a chair-to-tissue ratio of one to one.

We probably made at least a half dozen trips to Metropolitan before Luna died, and there was always at least one distraught pet owner who really benefited from the personal tissue supply. "At least we're not in that situation," I thought every time except for that last visit.

In just two months, my girlfriend and I experienced everything from joy that Luna's tests (blood, ultrasound and endoscopy) confirmed she didn't have cancer to fear that her meds weren't working to a short-lived cautious relief she actually was getting better to shock that she was never going to pull through.

Luna lived to be about a month short of six years old. Based on the breed descriptions I've read, the average life expectancy for Boston Terriers is around 13 to 15 years. So it's hard not feel like I was cheated out of some key years we were entitled to -- at least according to all those expert books.

Coming home has been the worst: Pulling into the driveway, walking up to house and still half expecting to see my dog going ape shit the minute I walk through that door. Whatever happened while I away, seeing that crazy little dog when I came home made me feel better. And not just better, Luna's unwavering excitement always made me feel like everything was going to be work itself out just fine -- even when I wasn't so sure.

Luna always greeted me the same way. She'd rush up to the door, start shaking her upper and lower half's in two completely different directions (like those Chinese dragon costumes that are manned by multiple people) all while making these adorable whimpering sounds. Then, before I could get to her, she'd run off and return with a plastic squeaky hot dog, or a dirty, old tennis ball or one of her other many toys. It's as if every day Luna's instinct would force her to rush forward empty-handed (technically empty-jawed) the moment I walked through the door but, right before greeting me she'd catch herself and think, "Oh shit, I can't let this guy see me like this. I don't even have anything to show him," and she'd rush off to remedy the situation by bringing me one of her many treasures.

Having a dog is a never-ending series of daily routines -- routines that can be annoying when you're time-pressed (or hung over), but become second-nature over time. So every night when that unthinking autopilot part of me sends out the alert that I have to let the dog out before I wrap it up, I'm reminded there's no dog to let out anymore. I'm not trying to be overly sentimental here. Neither me nor Luna were fond of the morning dump ritual in the pouring rain or sac-shriveling February cold. But we still did it. And because of those many routines, I'm constantly being reminded of what I've lost, which is a big part of what I think makes this process such a bitch.

Because Luna's health went south so quickly, we put her through a regimen that seems a little crazy now. In her last month, Luna's routine consisted of a series of pills and elixirs administered several times throughout the day and night. Each morning, she'd allow me to shoot two milligrams of Peptobismal down her gullet because she knew what came next: Anywhere from five to seven pills (diuretics, steroids, anti-nausea meds and more) hidden in tiny pieces of lunch meat or peanut butter or canned tuna. This was repeated again in the afternoon and on a smaller scale before bed. We even had one of those special pill boxes that looks a sad Advent calendar where little doors open up to reveal an array of pharmaceuticals instead of delicious pieces of candy. The pill box remained in its spot on the kitchen counter for weeks after Luna died, and every time I happen to glance at it, I couldn't help feeling like we -- me and the stupid pill box -- failed that dog.

Then there's the house. That place just feels so empty now. In every nook and cranny of our home, there are spots where I still expect to see a little Boston Terrier lounging around and farting generously. To her credit, Luna made use of every inch of the place. She had spots in the kitchen, the living room, both bedrooms and even the upstairs bathroom, where she'd wait patiently until my girlfriend or I finished showering.

Whenever I'd change rooms, Luna would follow just to remain close. But she always let me know she wasn't happy about the move. When I'd go from watching full-length Stone Temple Pilots DVDs in the living room to searching for obscure Stone Temple Pilots YouTube clips in the guest bedroom, it would only be a matter of time before I'd hear the familiar patter of paws and see Luna making her dramatic entrance. She'd hop up on the couch and look right at me. Then, she'd let out this giant sigh and flop herself down in the type of position you'd think she planned on remaining in for at least a week. The only thing she hated more than moving from room to room was being away from the action -- even if all that action consisted of was re-watching old Stone Temple Pilots' clips.

Ever since she died, I've been thinking a lot about Luna's first home, the apartment Liz and I shared in Drexel Hill for five years. We hadn't even been living together for six months when we decided to add Luna to the mix. Luna was a sign of how serious our relationship was because: We got the dog together, dogs live for a long time (relative to the length of most relationships involving 20-somethings), therefore, Liz and I were going to be together for a long time. A + B = C. Simple math, right?

Luna, Liz and I were a little family, and that Drexel Hill apartment was our family's first home. Looking back now, it feels like I found my own version of utopia right there in Delco (that's Delaware Country, PA, for all of my Filipino readers). Of course, even the most awful experiences can seem appealing when you're far enough removed from them. In reality, our mouse-ridden apartment needed a ton of work our landlord was in no rush to do, and our upstairs neighbor was a rough, Russian single mother who allowed her "baby" (the kid was at least eight!) to run wild at all hours of the day and night -- making it sound like an FBI raid was constantly taking place directly above us. Then, to top it all off, our lease included a No-Pets Clause. Luna was never even recognized as a legitimate tenant and had to be tucked away secretly in the back room every time our landlord made an appearance. Plus, we never seemed to have much money, and it felt like we were always working through some drastic family (normally not the Luna, Liz, Jared family) problem or another.

But I don't think of those things when I think about 709 Morgan Ave., Apt. A. All I can think of are the trips to Luna's favorite park where she'd exhaust herself swimming out to retrieve sticks I'd throw into the deep part of the creek over and over again, or the walks to my favorite Chinese take-out place where I'd apologize for eating her people but promise her a piece as compensation or the Ppring hikes at Ridley Creek State Park where Luna would sit down right in the middle of the giant hill that marked the end of hike, indicating she expected to be carried the rest of the way back to the car.

I keep wondering why Luna’s death has caused me to not only think about Drexel Hill and our old apartment more than I have in years – but also to miss the place in a way that just doesn’t make sense, not when you consider how nice it was to finally get out of that old apartment with its crumbling front wall, rotted-out deck and no-pets lease. It’s probably not the apartment or the town I miss. More likely, it’s the point in my life I was at when I lived there. We were just starting out, and there were so many possibilities for our little family. No matter what life threw at us, it seemed like it would always be Luna, Liz and me. Now, almost six years later, I’m trying to adjust to living in this dog-less house, and I’d give just about anything to go back to that old apartment where all those wonderful years with my little dog were still ahead of me.
But I can't. So now back to that initial question. What do you do when the dog you love too much dies too soon? If you're like me, you cry ... you cry a lot. Unless I'm watching an emotional movie (or an exceptional episode of a show created by Shonda Rhimes), I don't cry too often. But the entire week after Luna died, it was the first thing I did when I came home from work. I'd trudge through the front door, look around the house, half expecting to see my spastic Boston Terrier doing her Chinese dragon costume impression, and just lose it for a while. It probably didn't help that our entire dining room wall was covered with Luna pictures from the impromptu memorial/Shiva (story for another blog) we held. But I'm pretty sure the involuntary late afternoon crying sessions would've taken place with or without the visual reminders.

Work was a challenge, too. That entire first week I felt like I was Dick Vermeil, and work was this terrible 40-hour press conference where at any moment, without any logical context, the waterworks could start up. Unlike Dick, I didn't break down on the job. But I did start crying while I was getting a massage. Thankfully, it wasn't during a happy ending. It was two days after Luna died, and Liz had sprung for this fancy deep tissue massage as a birthday present to take my mind off the whole dead dog thing.

There I am, lying on my back with the "relaxation therapist" working the hell out of my thighs when, out of nowhere, I start thinking how I'll never be able to take Luna to the park again and just like that, I'm tearing up. I wasn't falling out or anything, but it was noticeable. So of course this lady thinks I'm unable to handle the unbearable pain of her deep tissue massage and says, "I'm so sorry. If the deep tissue is too hard, just let me know, OK?" And that just made me mad. I mean, did this woman really think she could make me -- a guy who was branded with a stove-heated coat hanger and didn't make a peep -- cry with her tiny little masseuse hands? I wanted to let her know I wasn't crying from the massage, I was crying because my dog just died. But she was a relaxation therapist not a mental health therapist, so I said I got something in my eye instead.

I actually had a mini-crying episode before Luna even died. I was sitting in my little work cubicle -- a cell that's more bearable because of the pictures of Luna I hung up -- when Boyz II Men's version of "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday" unexpectedly came through my headphones. I don't care what anybody says, that's one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs ever recorded. Even under the most controlled circumstances, it's tough for me to listen to that song without getting a little teary-eyed.

But that song happened to come on around the time we discovered that Luna was sick -- really, really sick -- and I just happened to be glancing at over at this one particular picture right when the harmonies had kicked into full gear, and that was all it took. There I was, just another grown man sitting in his cubicle crying to Boy II Men's beautiful music in the middle of a routine workday with my neighboring co-workers blissfully unaware they were sitting a few feet away from an emotional lunatic.

In fairness to me, the picture was a huge part of the problem. It's this great shot of Luna and the backside of this other giant woolly dog. It looks as if both Luna and the woolly creature were galloping off to some unknown adventure when, at the last moment, Luna decided to turn her head and take one final look at what she was leaving behind. At least that's what it looked like to an emotional dog owner who was trying to cope with the fact that things may not work out. And one very clear thought came into my head while looking at that picture: I'm not ready to lose to lose this dog. That thought during that time may have been enough to bring on the waterworks. But when you add the soulful sounds of Nate, Waya, that anorexic dude, that dude who looked 15 years older than everyone else in the group and talked during the middle of songs and that other guy to the equation, I have no control over the situation.

Besides the all that crying, I've done all the standard things: Looked at old pictures, obsessively retraced the moments leading up to Luna's death to see what I could've done differently and just just sat around feeling really sorry for myself. And Liz and I even got matching tattoos of a cartoon Boston Terrier with Luna's name underneath. It's a decision I'm sure I'll never regret -- unless I wind up doing a stretch in prison.

But mostly I've been writing. Almost every day since Luna died, I sat down to write about it. Sometimes it was only for a sentence or two, other times I was typing away for well over an hour. As a result, I've written a single blog post in the time it takes some people to complete an entire screenplay.

I do feel a lot better doing it. It's been a nice little ritual for me, and I feel like I can go on writing this Luna post forever. But I know I'm coming to the end, and I keep looking for ways to stretch this thing out. I know once I'm done describing what that little dog meant to me and what it feels like not have her around anymore, I'll have given myself a form of that thing mentally evolved people call closure. I mean I do have to end this thing at some point. After all, there are plenty of prank emails and cable-company service transcripts to get back to.

Every dog has a unique personality, a series of subtle traits and peculiar little idiosyncrasies that make each one impossible to replace. And I'm going to finally end this thing by writing out as many of Luna's as I can remember, so I don't forget what an exceptional, ridiculous and irreplaceable creature she was -and how lucky I was to have her in my life for the time that I did:

The way Luna would wedge herself between my neck and and the car seat while I was driving like she was some type of a living airplane pillow.

The way, on her own, Luna would step off the edge of Liz's mom's pool, onto her favorite raft and float around like she was on vacation.

In the car, the way she'd prop one front paw on the open car window, let her other dangle against the door (like some a guy named Rick driving a Camero) and force as much of her body as she could into the open air to take in all of the smells. (The person in the passenger seat would always have to hold onto one of her haunches or her leash so she wouldn't fly out the window).

How Luna would "climb" the wishbone shaped tree at Rolling Green Memorial Park by running full-speed up the trunk until she was firmly perched atop the first level of the tree.

The way she would never come out of the creek -- even when she seemed like she'd drown -- until she saved the stick that was thrown in

And, even though I've heard this was a common trait among Bostons, I refuse to believe any of them did it with as much vigor as Luna: On an almost daily basis, she'd snap to attention, look around briefly and spend the next two to three minutes engaged in what can only be described as an epic battle with an imaginary foe or her own personal demons. Luna would dart around the living room at dizzying speeds, barking erratically and spinning herself in multiple sets of circles -- Dizzy bat relay race style. Then, just like that, it would all be over. The fit would pass, and Luna would plop herself down in one of her regular spots, where she'd remain until I left room. Then, she'd reluctantly pull herself up, shake herself out and follow, probably wondering why the hell I couldn't just stay put.

I wish I had more footage of these battles, but at least I did capture this one:

Monday, October 14, 2013

UPDATE: My Life According to Stone Temple Pilots Albums

People love to say, "Music was so much better when I was growing up." I don't agree with this statement at all, but I can definitely see why so many people feel that way. As much as I enjoy "discovering" a great new band, these new additions to my iPod never seem to rival the bands I first heard in grade school or high school. And it doesn't have much to do with the actual music. For me, it's all about the memories and emotions that the music stirs up. Music is like time travel sometimes. There are a bunch of songs that can actually bring me back to a specific moment in my past. There are times when "Scar Tissue" comes on the radio, and the next thing I know, I'm back in my scrawny, 17-year-old body driving my old Jeep Wrangler with the top down. Just another white-beater clad asshole headed down to Ocean City, NJ, for Senior Week. Unfortunately, all of the songs that have power to achieve this were recorded between 1992 and 2002.

More than any other band, the Stone Temple Pilots have served as the musical soundtrack to my life. For every STP song -- from "Wicked Garden" to "Coma" -- there's some memory stowed away in whatever part of the brain it is that keeps important info safe for later use. And the different phases of my life can be neatly divided according to a corresponding Pilots record. So here's my life according to STP albums (phrase trademarked by Greg Dougherty):

Core: I actually picked this up on cassette back in fifth or sixth grade -- right before a field trip to Harrisburg. On the trip up to the state capital, my teacher at the time, Mrs. Heinly, picked up the cassette jacket, looked over the tracking listing, and handed it back to me while simultaneously shaking her head and muttering something about "Sex Type Thing" and "inappropriate." I bought the STP album simply because I didn't want to copy off of Dave Tassoni and Shawn Moore, both of whom had recently discovered Pearl Jam and Nirvana. What started as a complete accident became a lifelong obsession, and I've been in love with this band ever since.

Purple: This was the first Rock CD I ever purchased (Bobby Brown was the first actual CD). I bought it at the Circuit City up in King of Prussia, PA. I remember playing it start to finish on my Sony Boom-box -- the one with speakers you could slide off of the main player. I listened to songs like "Meatplow" and "Still Remains" while studying the linear notes and pictures, and thought Weiland looked a lot like a woman. My love of STP was at a fever pitch at this point in my life.

Tiny Music Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop: I don't actually remember where I was when I bought this album. (I've purchased several replacement copies over the years.) I have a ton of Tiny-Music inspired memories from this time but, for whatever reason, these two stick out the most:
  1. Watching this rockumentary with Ryan Doc in my Kendrick Lane basement. It was one of those perfect spring days where you could smell the raw sewage from the plant down the street wherever you were in my neighborhood. I remember the special ended with Weiland confidently stating that his problems with drugs were in the past and "Lady Picture Show" playing out the closing credits, and
  2. Seeing the band live for the first time at the Spectrum with Greg and Ryan Doc -- and a bunch of other people that I don't remember at all. Arguably, this was when the band was at its best live. In response to the constant bashing and Pearl Jam comparisons they'd endured from critics during the first two albums, STP dropped their most creative and ground-breaking album to date. Not only did they have a lot to prove, but Weiland was still in the honeymoon phase of his heroin addiction at this point. This show included the infamous acoustic set that was lowered from the ceiling, complete with the old couches, a rocking chair, lava lamps and David Bowie cover of "Andy Warhol." During "Big Bang Baby," a deluge of multicolored balloons came down from the ceiling and landed on people in the good seats, which we'd somehow managed to sneak into during the concert.

No. 4: This album came out during my senior year of high school. First time I heard the album in its entirety was on a Y-100 preview show/in-studio interview with the band. The tape deck on the Sony broke (even though the Boom-box itself had another two years left), so I commandeered my sister's stereo -- and her room -- to tape the event. I stayed up listening the first new STP I'd heard since grade school! In between songs like "Sour Girl" and "Church on Tuesday," Weiland and the DeLeos attempted to explain the inspiration but, like most musicians, they communicate far better through music than conversation.
Between Oct. '99 and Oct. '00, I managed to see STP live three times: 1.) In the pit at the Tweeter center when the band formerly known as Shirley Temple's Pussy headlined the Y-100 Feztival 2.) At the PNC Arts Center when they were co-headlining with the Red Hot Chili Peppers (A drunk lady "accidentally put her cigarette out on my bare back during this show), and 3.) At the Wachovia Center in Oct. 2000 -- I skipped several classes to make the trip down from State College for this one.

Shangri-La Dee Da: Bought this one at Disc-Go-Round, on the small wall at the front of the store that sold new releases for a buck or two less than stores like Circuit City or Best Buy -- and five dollars less than the outrageous Sam Goody.
I remember listening to this album with The Fist in my old green Jeep Wrangler. We were in one of those neighborhoods next to the State Hospital. This was back when Jon was the master of creating aluminum foil bowls -- and always carried a wad of foil on his person. "Black Again" was playing when Jon passed me the foil. I've always had trouble doing two things at once, so I stopped the car in the middle of the street and took a nice slow hit of the Fist weed. I remember Jon cracking up and saying, "Bilski, you're fucking ridiculous. I love it."

Only saw the band once in support of this album: After I finished the first night of my red belt test -- still the most grueling physical thing I've ever done -- I picked up Greg and Shawn, and we drove out to Latrobe, PA, for the Rolling Rock Town Fair. When we finished the four-hour trek sometime well after midnight, we had nowhere to stay. Greg and Shawn slept in my car (the gold Saturn). I spent half of the night on the pavement outside of a motel room, and the other half on the floor inside the hotel room of a group of ravers. We managed to get extremely close to the stage by the time the Pilots went on. But, because it was one of the hottest days of the summer, the concert was mostly an endurance test. STP ended up playing one of the best shows of their career and even included a bunch of footage of it on the DVD that accompanied their greatest hits collection. Here's a clip.
On the way home, Shawn and I were both hallucinating from lack of sleep, and I ended up getting pulled over for speeding -- by a cop that had his lights off. As the cop was telling me what I did wrong, Shawn leaned across my seated and yelled, "Hey! You're not allowed to pull us over. You need to have your lights on, man. It's the law." It was not the law; I got a ticket.

Stone Temple Pilots: Bought this one at Target on my lunch break, which marked the fourth phase of my life in which an STP record came out -- grade school, high school, college and work. Because it came out right before the Memorial Day weekend, it's already become the soundtrack to a weekend that included stories that will be grossly exaggerated for years to come. On Sat. night, JUSTIN WILSON announced that he wanted to sit on the porch, drink a few beers and listen to the new STP record. By the end of the night, I had watched a perfect game in the home of the Gallagher's, a very, very, very old couple, been arrested (and bailed out of jail) for a warrant that had been outstanding since 2003, watched a very inebriated JUSTIN WILSON lose his balance and fall ass-first into a group bushes while the cops who were arresting me at the time exchanged a Can-we-really-let-this-shit-go look, and got repeatedly yelled at by Greg Doc for not grasping the finer points of "Apples to Apples."

Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington

File:Stone Temple Pilots High Rise EP.jpg

High Rise: I went back and forth about including this one. I mean, if I'm adding Stone Temple Pilots with Chester Bennington to the list, then why not include Talk Show as well? And if I include Talk Show, then don't I have to do the same for Velvet Revolver? And what about Army of Anyone or Scott Weiland's solo albums? On top of that, I wasn't even going to buy this album; I wanted nothing to do with the Stone Temple Pilots without Scott Weiland. But like every musical endeavor that includes either Scott Weiland, Dean Deleo, Robert Deleo, Eric Kretz or any combination of the four, I paid my hard-earned money to give it a listen. For the past three days, I've been telling jokes at Magooby's Joke House, an A-level comedy club with a F-level name. I picked up this little EP at a Best Buy located a few minutes down the road from my shithole hotel (when I checked in, there was a man in a wife-beater on the second level -- outdoor -- balcony, who was gripping the railing and howling at the Baltimore night). I'm actually writing this post at the same Cockeysville, Md., Starbucks where I penned a letter to the accepting Christian folks of the God Hates Fags organization.

A lot has happened since the last Stone Temple Pilots' album back in 2010, both for me and the band. Since that eponymous, Deleo-brother-produced STP record, I've entered in my third decade on this planet, lost my dad and my dog, and gotten engaged to a girl I started dating while the band was broken up. For their part, Stone Temple Pilots fired and sued a former singer, hired a new one and completed a short tour where they took the stage at the scheduled time for each performance. Their former singer released a memoir and album of cover songs, counter-sued his former band, married for the third time, went on his own tour and allegedly recorded a new album of solo music. Because there's only five songs on it, I've already listened to this effort more than half a dozen times already as a crisscrossed the greater Baltimore area looking for ways to kill time before talking to strangers. 

Is there something undeniably strange about listening to an STP record without Weiland's signature voice and brilliant melodies? Absolutely. Will High Rise ever compare to the other STP albums (including the 2010 self-titled one) in my eyes? Probably not. But you know what, High Rise isn't half bad, and I'd much rather have new music from this incarnation of STP than wait for Weiland, the Deleos and Kretz to figure out a way to release a new album. So, like many things that have happened since I first discovered this band, STP's new situation isn't exactly ideal for me. But not only do I accept it, I may also learn to love this line-up at some point -- especially if they keep showing up for concerts on time and putting out new music regularly.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The 3 Most Annoying Signs at The Philadelphia Rock And Roll Half-Marathon

Last weekend, I ran the Philadelphia Rock And Roll Half-Marathon, a 13.1 mile trek through parts of downtown Philadelphia and the bulk of Kelly Drive that finishes up right at the foot of the Art Museum. For people who enjoy running, it's a nice way to spend a Sunday morning, but for people who enjoy using city streets to get from place to place, I'm sure it's a huge pain in the ass.

This year, around 20,000 people ran it. It's pretty amazing that so many people would pay a decent amount of money -- between $75-$120 depending on when you signed up -- to do something you can do for free whenever and wherever you want. But it's even more amazing that so many would spend an entire morning standing around watching people do it.

Two guys who didn't run with their hearts.

The majority of the 13-mile course was crammed with cheering spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of a friend or family member, so they could offer words of encouragement. Many of these spectators were holding signs, too. I didn't mind the standard messages of encouragement like, "Way To Go Diabetic Karen! We're Soooooo Proud Of You !!!!" But some of the signs people came up with really annoyed the hell out me. Here are the three worst I saw this year:

3. Worst Parade Ever! I've done a bunch of these silly road races over the past decade or so, and there's always at least one asshole proudly holding up the 'Worst Parade Ever!' sign with a big shit-eating on his face -- like he just woke up that morning and came up with such a clever sign idea. But the bad parade sign is to road races what the "Call your doctor for an erection lasting longer than four hours" joke is to stand-up comedy. It's hackey, overdone and a little bit sad. I'd have much more respect for the bad-parade sign-holders if they were honest, and held up something that came straight from the heart like "Please Notice Me!" or "My Father Never Loved Me."

Photo courtesy of

2. Hurry Up! The Eagles Play At 1! OK, the sign itself isn't all that bad -- especially compared to the parade one. But if you go through the trouble to make a homemade sign and stand there holding it for a few hours, you should at least know your audience. Serious runners, the kind who run half-marathons regularly, are generally a very strange group. Just look at the way they dress. Most of the men wear shorter shorts than Miley Cyrus. Sure, out of the 20,000 runners, there were probably a few people who cared about the Eagles game and getting done in time for it. But that percentage was probably comparable to the number of black people at a Kenny Chesney concert (around the same as the percentage of the mentally stable people at a Kenny Chesney concert). Now, a sign that said something along the lines of "Hurry Up! Your Favorite Organic Farm-To-Table Brunch Spot Closes at 2:30!" would probably appeal more to the people in this select group.

1. If Your Legs Get Too Tired, Run With Your Heart! Not only is this one beyond overdramatic, it's also a bit insensitive. Just think of all the competitors without legs who must've seen that sign and thought, "What about us? We're not allowed to run with our hearts?!" The main problem I have with events like this -- and the Broad Street Run and the Philadelphia Distance Run -- is the people. Road races are filled with the kind of people who just take themselves and all their many causes and endeavours way too seriously. Run with your heart, really? No one in the Rock And Rock Half-Marathon is running because he's the only way news of our nation's great victory over the Persians will get to the people. We all chose to do this ... for fun.

But that's just me. Maybe the Run With Your Heart sign did have a major impact on somebody. I like to think of a ruthless, middle-aged CEO who's about to give in to exhaustion when he happens to glance out at the crowd and get the inspirational boost he so desperately needed. "Yes, yes, goddammit, I'll run with my heart," this morally bankrupt individual thinks. Rather than give up, he turns up the jets determined to shatter his previous personal best time. Problem is, congenital heart disease is a bitch, and this businessman pushes himself a little too hard. Right before the mile 13 marker, the man suffers a massive coronary, falls flat on his face and dies at the feet of a man holding a "Worst Parade Ever" sign. The spectator then put down his sign because, after all, a man just died in front of him, so this is no longer the Worst Parade Ever.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dear Signature Room

I didn't mind turning 30 as much as I thought I would. But when my girlfriend/fiance/soon-to-be-wife hit that milestone, it was a different story altogether. All of a sudden, it just hit me: I was never going to have sex with anyone in her twenties again. Unless I make some very poor life decisions and decide I want to give half of my shit away, I'll be banging mature adults from here on out -- and that's a terrifying realization. (For the record, when I turned 20, I never thought, "Oh shit, Jared, you're never going to have sex with another teenager again!)

Anyway, even though I didn't want to celebrate her body's natural aging process, I still took my girlfriend/fiance/soon-to-be-legal-responsibility out for a nice dinner. To mark the occasion, we went to The Signature Room, a restaurant located on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building in Chicago. While the dinner was nice, it's the correspondence I had with the Director of Operations following my innocuous responses to a survey that will last a lifetime. 

For your reading pleasure, here is that very conversation:

The Message That Started It All

Dear sir or madam,

I tried very hard to fill out your survey on my dining experience on 6/16, but unfortunately, I kept receiving this message: ERROR: Please fill out the required information in red -- even though I did fill out the required information in red.

It's a little frustrating considering I wanted to tell you what a great overall job you did. Also, I've put a considerable amount of time into the "Is there anything we could've improved about your visit ..." question, and I'd greatly appreciate some type of response. Here is my response to said question:

Overall, our dining experience at The Signature was superb. The food was delicious (I had the Pancetta Seared Scallops while my better half opted for the Filet of Beef), the view was breathtaking and the ambiance was enchanting. There was, however, one thing that put a damper on our evening. That thing was a peculiar German couple.

Before the couple’s food arrived, they made several discreet overtures toward my fiancé and me, such as heavy petting followed by long uncomfortable stares and winks in our direction. When the couple’s second bottle of wine arrived (the 2008 Petite Sirah from Artezin, which my fiancé and I would’ve chosen had we gone with a red), the German gentleman looked our direction (we were sitting adjacent to the couple), repeatedly stroked a bottle of wine, moaned something in his native tongue and laughed maniacally. Things got even more bizarre when the couple’s food arrived. The two used the Signature Room’s cuisine, which I’ll admit was delectable, to escalate their courting routine. There are many, many examples of how the strange German couple used your succulent dishes to lure my fiancé and me back to their bedroom. But in the interest of time, I’ll focus on the two most appalling.
Appalling example number one: The German man stood up, looked directly at us and said, “Excuse me.” Then, the pervert scooped up a good-sized handful of whipped potatoes (a side item of what looked like a perfectly cooked “Manhattan” Strip Steak entrée), yelled out “Das Animal” and shoved potatoes down his pants. With his hand deep down in his pants, this sad deviant proceeded to massage his potato-covered genitals and make this awful moaning sound until the waiter approached and asked if the couple would like another bottle of wine. (I believe they opted to stick with the Petite Sirah, which, I must say, was probably the right decision.)
Appalling example number two: The women turned to us (again, we were sitting adjacent to these freaks) and said, “Young couple, I vant you to see something.” Then she turned back to the man, said, “I vant you to eat some of mine,” and casually placed her entire dish onto her lap and slid her chair forward until her lap and the entrée were hidden from view. With that, the man pushed his chair back, got down on his hands and knees and crawled toward her end of the table. As soon as he reached her lap, the woman lifted the tablecloth to reveal a middle-aged man on all fours using only his mouth to devour a plate of food placed directly on top of his dining companion’s genital region – and evidently loving every second of it. For her part, the women looked directly at us, closed her eyes and softly moaned, “Ve vant to play. Ve Vant to play vith you two.” During the incident, I distinctly remember thinking two things: 1.) These are the most disturbed people I’ve ever encountered; and 2.) It looks like she got the Scallops, too. What an excellent choice. (That’s how impressed I was by your food!)

So why am I telling you this and what do I expect from you? Obviously, I don’t expect you to bar German couples from eating at The Signature Room. That would just be ridiculous. However, I do think there are several precautionary measures your restaurant could – and should – take. After all, I can’t imagine this is the first time you’ve heard of something like this happening. Here’s what I suggest: When someone with a thick German accent calls to make a reservation, try seating his or her party as far away from the other restaurant patrons as possible. Or, even better, add a small section that’s exclusively for German swingers. It may seem a bit much, but we all know the statistics: Just 7% of German couples are monogamous; 43% are admitted sexual deviants (of the legal variety); and 73% are self-described “swingers.” Please let me know what you think about my comments and suggestions. My fiancé and I are entertaining the idea of being married in Chicago and, should this occur, we’d love nothing more than to hold our rehearsal dinner at your one-of-a-kind restaurant.
Jared Bilski

The happy couple moments before a fictional German couple ruined their evening.

From: Angela Roman Aspito <>
To: "" <>
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2013 2:34 PM
Subject: Recent Signature Room Email

Mr. Bilski,

This isn't funny. If you have legitimate feedback that you would like to share, please feel free to do so.

Otherwise, please stop wasting my time.

Angela Aspito
Director of Operations
The Signature Room at the 95th

Sent from my iPhone
From: jared bilski []
Sent: Friday, June 28, 2013 9:54 AM
To: Angela Roman Aspito
Subject: Re: Recent Signature Room Email

Ms. Aspito,

I never intended my response, which I think we both can agree was a bit disturbing, to be "funny." As for the legitimate feedback, I tried several times to fill out the survey form that you sent me with no success. Also, I believe that I did make it a point to say I rated your restaurant with "5s" in every category except for the timeliness of the food, which I gave a "3" (it did take a little longer than expected).

But none of this changes the unfortunate events that took place during my meal, which I felt obligated to pass along to The Signature Room. After rereading my message, I admit that my own neuroses (and possibly even personal prejudices) caused me to go a bit overboard in my response. My longtime therapist often tells me that I have a problem reacting without thinking about the consequences first, and I seem to have done so here. I realize now that asking you to section off an entire section of your restaurant for "German Swingers" is not only a bit unreasonable, but possibly even a form of discrimination, and I do apologize.

However, I was still very disturbed by the couple's behavior, and I was honestly trying to find out whether you've ever received similar complaints from other restaurant patrons. My fiance dined at The Signature Room years ago, and she told me she was involved in a similar, though not as extreme, incident with another aggressive couple. I've done some research and discovered that swingers tend to frequent a select group of restaurants on a regular basis. So, if The Signature Room is a hub for swingers, perhaps you should let other patrons know about it in advance, or designate a specific night for swingers. But again, I'm probably overstepping my bounds here.

Ms. Aspito, I'm a bundle of nerves over my experience, as well as how my comments on the experience were taken, and I hope this letter helps to clarify what I was trying (unsuccessfully) to convey with my initial -- and admittedly emotional -- email.

Jared Bilski

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Angela Roman Aspito <>
To: jared bilski <>
Sent: Saturday, June 29, 2013 5:51 PM
Subject: RE: Recent Signature Room Email

Mr. Bilski,

I took your initial email very seriously, and I watched our video footage from the night of your visit.  For the duration of your meal I was able to see your table and the table next to you and there is absolutely no evidence of the claims you are making.  Additionally, I spoke with your server and he informed me that nothing out of the ordinary occurred in his station that evening.  Since there is nothing to corroborate your story, I am taking it for just that, a story.  And I will not be responding to any further correspondence from you.


Angela Roman Aspito
Director of Operations
The Signature Room at the 95th®