TYOLD Day 12: What the Hell is Rummikub?

At about 8:30pm tonight, I realized that I hadn’t done my “new thing” for the day. I was at my friend Maureen’s house and she very graciously agreed to allow me to wandering around, looking at things until we finally settled up a game that I had never played called Rummikub. It’s a tile game that is sort of based off of the runs and card matching of gin rummy, only there is stealing and wild cards and all sorts other interesting twists. Maureen handed me my ass and that, I thought, was that – my new thing.

But as I sat down to start writing this post, I decided to do a little research and I found out some fascinating stuff about this game I had never heard of.

It was created by a man named Ephraim Hertzano, a Jewish man born in Romania. In 1940 he began developing Rummikub because cards were outlawed under the communist regime and although it has elements of gin rummy it uses tiles like dominoes or mahjong to play. After World War II, Hertzano immigrated to Israel where he started selling the game door-to-door and in small shops.

Eventually he founded Hertzano games company and Rummikub became Israel’s top game export. It arrived in this country in 1964 and in 1977 it was the bestselling game in the United States. It has won multiple international game awards and there’s a world championship tournament held every year.

Who knew?

photo (5)

TYOLD Day 11: The Great Wall of LA

I have lived in Los Angeles for nearly 30 years and I know nothing about the city’s history.

Or it least that’s the way it seems after a visit to the Great Wall of LA, a half-mile long mural that depicts the city’s past from prehistoric days through 1984.  I didn’t even know there was a Great Wall of LA depicting the city’s history – that’s how out of touch I am with the city’s history.

It was started in 1976 by a local art collective under the direction of the Army Corp of Engineers who wanted to beautify the Tujunga Wash flood control channel as they were building an adjacent park.  The fact that the history of LA is painted on the side of what is basically a glorified ditch is probably an example of irony worthy of an Alanis Morissette song, but we’ll leave that particular bit of discussion for another time.

It was created by artists, children, and their families from around Los Angeles and took nearly 10 years to complete.  It runs for a half a mile along the wall of the flood control channel next to Coldwater Canyon Avenue between Burbank and Oxnard and is billed as one of the longest murals in the world.

It starts with prehistoric days (think woolly mammoths and the La Brea Tar Pits); segues into Indian and Mexican settlements; an influx of Chinese immigrants; the red car line; migrant workers; Tomas Edison; prohibition; the Great Depression; both world wars; the Japanese internment camps; the birth of rock and roll; Ginsberg and the Beat poet scene of the 1960s; and so on, all the way through to the Olympics in 1984.

Several things depicted that I know nothing or only cursory bits about… The Long Beach Earthquake of 1933; the Dunbar Hotel; The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943; and the Chinese Massacre of 1871.  I intend to learn about all of them, but those will be saved for future TYOLD items.

Here are some pictures.

greatwall_01 greatwall_02 greatwall_03 greatwall_04 greatwall_05 greatwall_06 greatwall_07 greatwall_08 greatwall_09 greatwall_10 greatwall_11 greatwall_12 greatwall_13 greatwall_14 greatwall_15 greatwall_16

TYOLD Day 10: Mixing It Up

I was a bartender for a while back in the early 1990s.  It was at a little bar in The Valley called The Apache that was very popular at that time.  The main bar, up at the front of the club, was where the hot bartenders worked; you know, the ones that would go shirtless and flex their pecs and get the big tips (and I meant money, you perv, although… ).

I worked at the back bar.  Well… “bar” is probably being generous.  It was more of a counter by the bathroom that doubled as coat check whenever it got chilly and had an odd aroma emanating from somewhere in the walls whenever it got warm.  I did not take my shirt off but never admitted it was because I didn’t have the body to support it.  I said it was because I was unwilling to stoop to cheap theatrics to get customers.  I had my principles, you know.

I would’ve rather had the body and the big tips.  (money! perv!!)

Bartending was not really my thing. It required me to talk to people and be nice to them and that just doesn’t come easily for me.  I segued into the DJ booth (mainly because no one told me I couldn’t) and that was much better because I got to play music I wanted to hear and the only time I had to interact with customers is when they would come up and ask, “Do you have anything by Madonna?”

It’s a gay bar in The Valley.  Of course, I have Madonna.  But I digress.

I did invent a cocktail, of sorts while I was slinging drinks.  Actually it was more of a drinking game than a cocktail, but it was called the $3 shot.  Behind the bar/counter/coat check window were three shelves of liquor, arranged in no particular order or strategy.  The drink involved taking three dollar bills and placing them on the bar face up and then putting a shot glass next to them.  The customer would read off the first number of the serial number of the first bill and then I would count over that many bottles on the first shelf.  So for instance if the first number on the bill was a four, I’d count over four bottles and then pour 1/3 of a shot.

Then we’d move to the second bill, second shelf, and another 1/3 of a shot and then the third bill, third shelf, and the final 1/3 of a shot.

So basically you’d wind up with three different kinds of alcohol, completely at random, mixed together into one shot glass.  You could wind up with something fairly inoffensive like, say, vodka, Midori, and triple sec or you could wind up with something like Johnny Walker Red, gin, and butterscotch schnapps.  “Shut up and drink it” was the popular refrain.

Rick Garman: proudly promoting alcohol poisoning since 1991.

Anywho, I decided I wanted a drink tonight but didn’t feel like going out to get one, so I broke out a mini-blender my parents bought me when it was unclear how soon I’d be able to go back to solid food after my surgery, and I whipped up a couple of new drink inventions.  I may not have actually come up with anything new here, but I didn’t look up recipes – I just started pouring – so I am claiming them.

The first, pictured below, involves lemonade, vodka, triple sec, and ice blended together – I’m calling it Frozen Spiked Lemonade.  It’s awfully darned yummy but I think the next time I try it I’m going to add a little something-something – Frozen Spiked Strawberry Lemonade!

Cocky from my success, I decided to push my luck and the boundaries of good taste.  I wanted something like a mint chocolate vodka martini/white Russian type of a thing, which sounded really good in my head, but the only way I could approximate the concept was to put vodka, milk, ice, and a handful of mint truffle Hershey’s kisses in the blender.

Let’s just say “no” and leave it at that.

But I’m telling you… Frozen Spiked Lemonade this summer for your next backyard barbecue.  You’re welcome.drink01

TYOLD Day 9: Say Cheese(cake)

As I have whined about in past posts and endlessly in my day-to-day life, food continues to be a challenge for me.  I often don’t feel like eating and when I do it often makes me feel lousy.  Nausea and other unpleasantness are frequent companions.

The good news is that I can eat pretty much whatever I want and I’m not gaining weight, mostly because I can’t eat very much of anything and what’s left of my stomach isn’t processing food the way it should be.

Today I was feeling pretty good and decided that my TYOLD item would be something new to eat.  I sort of randomly started Googling stuff in my neighborhood and stumbled upon the Pacific Cheesecake Company.

This is their mission statement: Our business if founded on the belief that using the best ingredients results in the best products.  Most of our ingredients are homemade including caramel, fudge, custard and more.

Okay, I’m in.

It’s a tiny little shop in a busy mini-mall next to the Jack in the Box in North Hollywood (4820 Laurel Canyon Blvd. for the record).   There are two bits of genius here.  First, while they do full-size cakes, they specialize in individual serving portions – sort of like a cupcake cheesecake.  Second, all they do is cheesecake but they do EVERY CHEESECAKE IN THE WORLD.  Seriously, this is just a sampling of their menu:  Banana, Banana Foster, Blueberry, Boston Cream, Butterfinger, Caramel Apple, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Chip Raspberry, Chocolate Covered Marshmallow, Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Espresso Chocolate Chip, Green Tea, Happy Birthday, Lemon Pie, Limoncello, Orangesicle Chocolate Chip, Run Raisin, S’mores, Snickers, Sweet Potato, White Chocolate Caramel Cappuccino, Neapolitan, White Chocolate Pecan Pie… the menu has about 100 different options and that’s not everything they offer (there were things in the case that weren’t on the menu) and all of that is before you make it to the seasonal (eggnog, pumpkin), the no sugar added, the gluten free, and the savory (everything from bleu cheese to white cheddar sweet balsamic reduction).  They usually have about 25-30 different kinds rotating through the store on any given day and if you give them notice, they’ll make sure they have what you want in stock.

Don’t see something you like?  That’s cool… they’ll make it for you.  No, really… if you have a flavor that they don’t offer and it can be made into a cheesecake, they’ll do it just for you.

I got four and have had a bite of each to sample… the dark chocolate raspberry was the clear winner, a perfect combination of flavors; the maple bacon was like breakfast in cheesecake form and the bacon was surprisingly savory; the toasted marshmallow had mini marshmallows on top and a big marshmallow baked inside(!!) and was delicious; and the chocolate salted caramel was good, but not fantastic.  Granted it was the last one I tried so perhaps my taste buds have revolted.  When I go back to try again, I will start with that one and see what I come up with.

So yeah, suck it cupcakes… screw you cronut… mini cheesecakes are my new god!

For more information, visit pacificcheesecake.com or on Facebook where they list the flavors available each day.

Top left: Maple Bacon Top right: Chocolate Salted Caramel Bottom left: Dark Chocolate Raspberry Bottom right: Toasted Marshmallow
Top left: Maple Bacon
Top right: Chocolate Salted Caramel
Bottom left: Dark Chocolate Raspberry
Bottom right: Toasted Marshmallow

TYOLD Day 8: Tricky

In the more than 16 years I have been writing about Las Vegas, I have seen every single magic trick, ever.  The big ones, the small ones, the good ones, the bad ones, the brainy ones, the stupid ones… I’ve seen them all.  Or at least it feels like it.  I have seen dozens of magic acts in Sin City from Siegfried & Roy (pre-White Tiger “incident”) to the Showgirls of Magic (topless chicks sawing each other in half).

I usually dislike big, dramatic, spectacle magic.  It’s what I call the “Whirling Blades of Death” style illusions that expect us to believe that there really is a chance that the performer is going to get chopped or minced or julienned or whatever happens if you get caught in them.  It bores me.

But I love up-close magic, especially a really good card trick.  So today, I learned two of them.

The first involves getting someone to randomly pick four cards from the deck with the goal of selecting four kings or four queens.  That doesn’t work, of course, but then you suggest that maybe they came close and reveal the cards next to the ones they chose, which are the four kings and the four queens.  It looks like this at the end:

cards

 

The second trick sets up a complex bit of random card selection that allows the person doing the trick to predict a specific card in the deck.

Both are really easy and yet pretty cool.  I did them for some people at work and they were suitably impressed.

Now, if I can just figure out how to get that damned white tiger to disappear.

TYOLD Day 7: Luck Be a Lady, Tonight

I’m not sure what made me think of today’s TYOLD item. After all, I tried my luck at the ponies this past weekend and didn’t pick a single winner so why I would think that scratch off lottery tickets would be any better is beyond me, but that’s what popped into my head.

Now, I’ve bought scratch off lottery tickets before so the challenge was to figure out how to make it something I had never done before. So, in the category of win big or go home crying, I just walked into a 7-eleven and bought one of every single lottery ticket in their display case.

It looked like this in the case:

lotto01

And like this on my desk:

lotto2
For the record that is 23 tickets and it cost me $119. As I write this, they are all sitting on my desk at work and this is going to be my lunch hour. Okay, here we go… (these are not in any particular order; just how I picked them up).

Ticket #1: “Dazzling 7’s”
It’s a $2 ticket that has a top prize of $17,000. <sound of scratching> I won $3! Hey, I’m ahead a whole dollar!!

Ticket #2: “Lucky for Life”
$1 ticket that has a top prize of $500 per week for 25 years. <scratch, scratch, scratch> Insert the sad losing horn sound from “The Price is Right” here. I got nothing. I’m now even ($3 invested, $3 won).

Ticket #3: “7-11-21″
$2 ticket that has a top prize of $21,000. <scratchy, scratchy> We have our first push – I won a free ticket. I’m going to consider that the same as a $2 win so now I’m still even with $5 invested and $5 returned.

Ticket #4: “Lucky 13″
A Halloween themed $2 ticket (with bats and ghosts) that has a top prize of $13,000. <scritch, scritch, scritch> Sad horns. I’m down, with $7 in and $5 won.

Ticket #5: “Merry Money”
A Christmas themed $2 ticket (presents and snowflakes) that has a top prize of $20,000. <Bob S-Cratchit, S-Cratchit> Bah humbug! $9 wagered, $5 won so I’m down $4.

Ticket #6: “Year of the Horse”
A $1 ticket that is correct in its premise – 2014 is, in fact, the year of the horse. Top prize is $800. <galloping scratches> And my bad luck with horses continues. $10 in, $5 won, down $5.

Ticket #7: “20x Crossword”
Now we’re getting into the big leagues here… this is a $10 ticket with a top prize of $750,000. This is a very confusing game that involves two crossword puzzle boards (you get 20 letters and if you get 3 or more words per puzzle you win), bonus multipliers, and “fast cash” spots. You know it’s bad when you have to read the instructions to figure out how to play a lottery ticket. But okay… <scrape, rub, rasp, and other thesaurus words for scratch> Okay, that would have been an exhausting amount of work even if I had won something, which I didn’t. $20 in, $5 won, down $15.

Ticket #8: “Diamond Millionaire”
Another $10 ticket with a chance to win up to $1 million. Much easier than the stupid crossword one. <Diamonds are a girl’s best scratch> Wow, I suck. $30 in, $5 won, down $25.

Ticket #9: “Big 6 Bingo”
This is a $5 ticket with a $75,000 top prize and… Oh for god’s sake… this has 30 numbers to scratch off and then match to 6 different bingo cards to try to get 5 in a row across, up, down, diagonally, four corners, or in an X-pattern. Sigh. <And scratch-o was his name-o> Bingo is only fun if it involve alcohol and drag queens. $35 in, $5 won, down $30.

Ticket #10: “California Gold”
A $10 ticket that offers a top prize of $1 million. <California here I scratch> This one was fool’s gold for me. $45 in, $5 won, down $40. I’m not liking where this is going.

Ticket #11: “Lucky for Life”
This is the same as ticket #2 only it’s a $10 ticket and you can win up to $5,000 per week for 25 years. <Luck be a scratchy tonight> What’s that old saying? “Lucky in scratchers, unlucky in life?” Whatever, I didn’t win anything. $55 in, $5 won, down $50.

Ticket #12: “Cash Up”
A $5 ticket with a top prize of $100,000. <Itchy and Scratchy> Okay, so it isn’t cash but I did win a free ticket on this one, so the tally as we are roughly halfway through is $60 in, $10 won, down $50.

Ticket #13: “20X the Money”
A $5 ticket with a top prize of $200,000. <Scratch a rising star> I won nothing and my fingers are turning silver. $65 in, $10 won, down $55.

Ticket #14: “Silver 7’s”
A $5 ticket with a chance to win up to $77,777. <Scratch Game with your host Gene Scratchburn> I couldn’t even match Charles Nelson Scratchly on this one. $70 in, $10 won, down $60.

Ticket #15: “Tripling Crossword”
Oh crap, another crossword puzzle game. It’s a $3 ticket with a $20,000 top prize. <7 letter word for “to rub at”> I’m wearing out the sad horn sound. $73 in, $10 won, down $63.

Ticket #16: $75,000 Poker”
This is a $5 card with a top prize of $75,000 (hence the name). This one has 8 poker hands that you are playing against the “dealer’s hand.” <Come on, four of a scratch!> You know it’s going to end poorly when the dealer’s hand is a straight flush. $78 in, $10 won, down $68.

Ticket #17: “Lucky for Life”
Just like tickets #2 and #11 only it’s a $5 ticket with a $2,500 per week for 25 years top prize. <Scratch Adams starring Robin Scratchlliams> It’s the horses all over again. $83 in, $10 won, down $73.

Ticket #18: “Mega Crossword”
It’s a $5 ticket that you can win up to $75,000 on. <I really dislike these crossword games. Scratch that – I hate them> I won a ticket on this game, so counting it as $88 in, $15 won, down $73.

Ticket #19: “Chocolate”
I’m liking the theme here. It’s a $2 ticket with a $20,000 top prize. <chocolate covered scratch> I have now opened a bag of M&Ms as consolation. $90 in, $15 won, down $75.

Ticket #20: “Winter Crossword”
Grrrrrrr…. $3 ticket with a $20,000 top prize. <I have run out of scratch related puns> And I have almost run out of tickets that might give me a shot at redemption. $93 in, $15 won, down $78.

Ticket #21: “Tripling Crossword”
Aiiigghhh!!! $3 ticket with a $20,000 top prize. <grumble scratch grumble scratch> Okay, the crosswords aren’t as despised now… a $4 win. $96 in, $19 won, down $77.

Ticket #22: “Bingo Boxes”
Another bingo game, this time on a $3 ticket and a $20,000 top prize. <tired scratching hand> A little late in the game to start winning but a $5 bump on the penultimate ticket takes me to $99 in, $24 won, and $75 lost.

Drumroll please…

Ticket #23: “$5 Million Jackpot”
I saved the big one until the end. It’s a $20 ticket with a $5 million top prize. <Last Scratch, Last Chance for Love…> And I’m going home alone, as usual.

The final total: $119 wagered, $24 in cash and tickets won, and a total of $95 lost.

Lest you think I am always this unlucky, here’s something that happened in Las Vegas last week:

slot

TYOLD Day 6: West Winging It

I think the biggest challenge of The Year of Living Dangerously is going to be finding stuff that I can do during the work week.  Although I would certainly like to take several hours off and go explore some museum I’ve never been to or learn Mandarin, I have a feeling the company I work for would frown on that.

So during my lunch break I was trolling around on the Internet, looking for inspiration, and stumbled upon a video of a 5-year-old kid who could name all the Presidents of the United States.  In order.  I knew Washington, Adams, and Jefferson; understood that Lincoln, Truman, and a couple of Roosevelts were in there somewhere; and then was pretty solid from Kennedy to now.  Yes, I was having my basic American history ass handed to me by a 5-year-old.

No more, pal.  As of now, I officially know all of the US Presidents, in order (44 presidencies with 43 presidents because Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms and is, therefore the 22nd and 24th).  I thought of recording a video of me reading their names aloud to prove that I had done it but I knew that would wind up on YouTube along with really snarky comments, so instead you’re just going to have to trust that I am about to type all of their names without cheating…. ready?

George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
James Polk
Zachary Taylor
Millard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S. Grant
Rutherford B. Hayes
James A. Garfield
Chester A. Arthur
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
Grover Cleveland (again)
William McKinley
Theodore Roosevelt
William H. Taft
Woodrow Wilson
Warren G. Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Herbert Hoover
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
George HW Bush
Bill Clinton
George W Bush
Barack Obama

I have a witness at work who will verify that I could list them all verbally earlier today.  Feel free to quiz me the next time you see me, although I will most likely forget half of this by tomorrow.  And once again a 5-year-old will be smarter than me.  Oh well.

Wait... I missed one...
Wait… I missed one…

TYOLD Day 5: A Horse is a Horse of Course, Of Course

I have gambled. A lot. On just about every game imaginable. If it’s in a Las Vegas casino or you can wager on it from a Las Vegas casino, I have probably played it and probably lost money on it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have won money as well. This last week when I was in Las Vegas was particularly profitable. But usually I come out of the casino at least a little less money than I went in with.

But the one thing I have never gambled on is horses There are no horse racing tracks in Las Vegas and while you can wager on horse races in other places from a Las Vegas casino, it’s just not something I have ever done before.

Well, thanks to the lovely, talented, and creative Maureen Bergmueller, now I have.

photo 4

Maureen invited me to join her at Santa Anita Park today and we spent the day in a box, watching the horses, drinking, eating, laughing, being slightly horrified by the people sitting in front of us (there was excessive plastic surgery and borderline child abuse going on, but that’s all a story for another time), and yes, wagering on the ponies.

Santa Anita Park, for the record, is beautiful; fantastic art deco with a sense of glam old Hollywood that practically oozes history. I looked it up and found some interesting tidbits: it opened on Christmas Day in 1934 and was designed by the same architect who was working on the Hoover Dam at the time; it was the place where Seabiscuit raced his last race in 1940 (he won!); over the years it counted people like Bing Crosby and Al Jolson as shareholders; during World War II, it was closed and was used as both a military staging ground and as an internment camp for Japanese Americans with more than 17,000 people living in the stables.

Also, for the record, I apparently suck at picking horses. I guess basing my choices on their names and the colors their jockeys are wearing is probably not the best strategy, but I’m sure there have been worse ways of doing it. Out of nine races I picked exactly zero winners. Most of the time my horses came in last or close to it, thereby allowing me to embrace a phrase I recently heard Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) utter: either win or lose spectacularly.

Maureen picked one winner and walked away with $7 for her $2 bet. I was very jealous, but I’m sure I could kick her ass at a Las Vegas casino.

Thank you to Maureen for giving me today’s new thing.

photo 1 photo-5

 

TYOLD Day 4: Here’s the Story…

…of a lovely lady
Who was bringing up three very lovely girls.
All of them had hair of gold, like their mother,
The youngest one in curls.

Here’s the store, of a man named Brady,
Who was busy with three boys of his own,
They were four men, living all together,
Yet they were all alone.

Till the one day when the lady met this fellow
And they knew it was much more than a hunch,
That this group would somehow form a family.
That’s the way we all became the Brady Bunch.
The Brady Bunch, The Brady Bunch

That’s the way we became the Brady Bunch.
photo 2

Located just down the street from where I live but I had never been there…

TYOLD Day 3: Walking in LA

I have lived in Los Angeles for nearly 30 years – longer than I lived anywhere else – and so my Midwestern upbringing has ceded ground to Angeleno traits in a variety of different ways.   I work out with a personal trainer; I say soda instead of pop; and I drive everywhere I need to go.  When my office was a little under a mile from where I lived, I drove to work every day.  The CVS on the corner just down from my building where I get my prescriptions refilled?  I drive there.  Last week I went to three different businesses each located on three different corners of the same intersection and I drove to each of them.

There’s lots of history behind why Los Angeles became the epicenter of car culture that involves somewhat of a conspiracy between the automobile and oil industries, but that’s a story for another time.  What it resulted in is a city that is almost wholly dependent on automobiles to get from one point to another, regardless of how far apart those points are.  If you live in LA and you don’t have a car – one of those weirdos who uses our pathetic excuse for public transportation – you are viewed with suspicion and mistrust.  There must be something wrong with you.

These days I work in a big office park in Woodland Hills, the Capital of the Boxy Office Building.  In the park there is a small food court style building with four choices – Baja Fresh, Daphne’s Greek, Salad Farm, and The Stand (burgers and sandwiches) plus a Coffee Bean for caffeine boosts.  Everything else is outside the office park, at least a couple of blocks away – and these are not small blocks.

Most days I bring my lunch and on the days I don’t I’ll either walk over to the food court (which is right next to my building) or I’ll drive to something elsewhere.   I have never walked to get lunch anywhere outside of the office park in which I work in the nearly two years I have worked here.

The bulk of that is because I’m lazy – freely admitted.  But there’s also issues of how long it takes (I fret about being away from work for longer than I have to be), the weather (sometimes too hot, sometimes too chilly), the traffic (it’s a very busy, noisy, exhaust fume filled street), etc.  There’s also my ongoing food issues, which makes something as simple as lunch a challenge.  I’m nauseous a lot and the idea of eating often makes me want to hurl.  And when I do eat, I can wind up in pain or with some side effects best left out of this particular discussion.   So when I go out for lunch, I like having my car so if the place I was heading to suddenly makes me want to puke, I can pivot and head somewhere else.

But mostly it’s because I’m lazy and I’m an Angeleno and we don’t walk.

Work today is still a little slow post holiday.  The weather is a stunningly beautiful 75 degrees and sunny (sorry, snowbound New England but also kinda not).  There are less cars on the street than usual, again because of the holiday.  My stomach was feeling fairly calm.  And I needed something new to do today…

This is me walking up the sidewalk to get a sandwich at a place up the street.

walk

I know you want me to say that I felt great doing it, that I saw things I had never noticed before, and that I gained edifying insights not only about myself but the world around me… but really, it was just me walking a couple of blocks to grab a sandwich.

At least it didn’t make me want to hurl.  And it was different.