Sunday, February 24, 2008

Goodbye to a good friend

This post is long overdue but I needed to get a clear head before I put it down. Its a long one and a sad one. Just throwing that out there for the 1-2 people who read my blog...

It was the first Wednesday after the Super Bowl and I was sitting on my couch watching the Heat game with a buddy of mine when I got a call. It was one of my best friends in Miami and I hadnt spoken with him since my Super Bowl trip so I was excited to share the adventure with him. Only when I answered the phone, it wasnt him on the other end of the line. It was his cousin and I knew immediately that it couldnt be good news.

Instead of getting to rehash my Super Bowl stories with the one guy who is a big enough sports fan to understand it, I was listening to his cousin tell me that my friend was in a coma in the hospital. He had a pancreatitis and the doctors also found a large amount of drugs in his system. This shocked me. I knew my friend had a history of stomach problems, but I didnt know that he was using drugs like that. The doctors said his stomach condition plus excessive drinking had lead to the pancreatitis. I was shocked. I didnt even know what to do. It was 11pm and I needed to work the next day. I also loathe hospitals and I didnt want to see my friend hooked up to machines. It brought back flashbacks of the day my grandfather died, a day that still hurts to think about.

The next day I was distraught. I couldnt stop thinking about my friend. I prayed and prayed that he would be ok, but his cousin had told me that the doctors said "it doesnt look good" and to me that meant it was going to be hard for him to pull out of it. I prepared for bad news and struggled with the decision to go visit my friend in the hospital. I told my boss about it and he told me that I should go, at least to support his family. So, I sucked it up and headed to the hospital. The first person I saw was his girlfriend who began crying as soon as she saw me. I gave her a big hug and just held her there for a few minutes. At this point, his mom came down the hall and I soon found myself with both of them in my arms. His mom was such a nice woman and had always liked me from what my friend always told me. Funny thing was that on the previous Friday I had held a bbq for friends because my mom was in town and she told me afterwards that she could see why my friend and I were good buddies because he had the same sense of humor and was a really nice guy. After the initial hugs were over, we walked on down the hall to see my friend.

It was just the scene I had imagined. There he lay, sound asleep with tubes feeding him and keeping him stable while machines monitored his vitals. A nurse came in to check on him and of course we asked how he was doing. She said the same thing I had heard from his cousin a few times previously, "Not good." He was still alive but he was fighting what I concluded was a losing battle. One tube led to a canister that slowly filled up with thick amounts of blood. Then he began to have a little seizure which was followed later on by another little one. It was rough seeing one of my best buds in this sort of shape and not being able to do anything to help. I closed my eyes and tried to think of things to say but I couldnt really put together anything. The mood was really somber. Everyone had a shocked and distraught look on their face. I tried to cut the tension by saying, "Come on dude, you gotta wake up. The Heat finally traded Shaq today!" That got some people to smile and I think it helped lift everyone's mood if only for a second. Those of us that were there started to talk about him and try to figure out what happened and why but that was basically an exercise in futility. His cousin had found him alone in his apartment, so no one really knew what happened. I summed it up as a simple mistake because this was a good kid. I have lost 2 other friends to drugs and both of them were easy to see it coming. Not this kid. He was always a happy guy, always quick to make everyone laugh with a one-liner, always the type of guy who you could take to a party full of strangers knowing that he'd make friends with just about everyone.

Just before I left the hospital, he had a really bad seizure and we were all forced to leave the room. This is when I decided that I needed to prepare for him to leave this world. Im not a pessimist nor an optimist. I am a realist and all the signs and info Id received pointed to him checking out. I went home and tried to sleep but I just couldnt. The next few days were more of the same. Id go out and drink a few bourbons just to try to take my mind off of the situation and hopefully sleep and that helped a bit but it wasnt doing me any good really. My friend was going to die and I knew it. I could just tell. That Saturday I decided that I was going to spend all day cleaning out my closet, a project that Id been blowing off for 2+ years. As I cleaned, I thought about my buddy. I was pissed at him for putting himself in this situation and for sitting in a state like a coin flipping thru the air that leaves you waiting and wondering which side it's going to land on. I wanted closure and was prepared for the worst while praying for the best and I was pissed that I had to wait for an answer. However, the more I cleaned the more I thought about my friend and all the good times we had together. I found all of my old Heat tickets that he and I shared season tickets to and that brought back a lot of good memories. I also found a picture of me, him, and "the dude" that sat next to us all fired up during the Heat's championship playoff run. I kept on cleaning, thinking about my buddy more and more and all of the times we'd hung out watching sports, grabbing a beer, or rehashing the craziness of the job where he and I had met and worked at for 4 years. I never really realized how long we'd been friends until that point. I started thinking about all the times we'd helped each other at work and all the times we argued. That's when I realized what a good friend this guy was. He was always the type to argue his position but in a way that made you see his side without acting like it was his way or the highway. If you did argue with him, he'd say his piece, distance himself for a few, and then he'd be right back to being a friend by sunrise. That's one thing I learned from him. I was always the type to get pissed and hold a grudge but he never did and Im a better person for having learned that. He was also the only other friend I had that was active in the blog community ("the server" was his alias) and we always were discussing issues in the Grove as reported by the Grapevine or overall Miami issues that we'd read and commented about on Stuck on the Palmetto. He was a friend and like a younger brother to me. By the time I was finished on that Saturday, I had been cleaning for 9 hours. I had a kickass clean closet that now helped rid all the clutter of other rooms and I also had all the great memories of my good friend who I was prepared to say goodbye to.

From that moment on, I refused to mope, sulk, or be sad in anyway because I knew that's not what he would want. He'd want me to turn the corner and go back to being his buddy again. I couldnt blame myself for not being there because there was nothing I couldve done. He was a grown ass man who made one bad little decision and unfortunately he didnt get a second chance from the powers that be. Just like he and I used to always say, I couldnt call up Doc and Marty McFly and hop in the Delorian to go back to the future and save him even though I wish I could have. All I could do was pray for a miracle and keep calling his cousin for updates on his condition even if every day was worse news.

The following Saturday, I was in Boston with my family and it was a great break. We were bowling on Landsdowne, right across from Fenway where I had always told my buddy he had needed to make a trip to see what being a Boston fan was all about. He was the only one who could tolerate my love of Boston sports and I even got him on the Sox and Pats bandwagons haha. Right as I prepared for my next roll, I got a text message from his cousin that said my friend had passed away 30 minutes ago. There it was, the closure I was looking for. It didnt make me feel any better at the time but I knew it was the first 1/4 mile on the road to getting over his passing. I was frustrated because I had rolled five 9's in a row to start my game so I was gonna throw this 16lb ball for my buddy so hard that there was no effing way another 9 would come up. Well, whattya know, a strike. Thanks buddy.

I will always remember my friend for all of the good times we shared, the laughs, the arguments, the good times, and for being a kickass friend and person. He taught me a lot even though he was a few years younger that I was and Im forever grateful for that. He was a standup guy, loved his family and loved his girlfriend, and always stuck up for a friend when they were being dragged thru the mud unfairly. I'll never forget how good of a friend he was to me when I needed one and I can only hope to come across another buddy like that someday. For now though, I just miss my friend.

God Bless you man.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Clemens case proves our government system is broken

I have to say that I watched and listened to the Roger Clemens deposition yesterday and that pretty much proved to me that our government system is broken. I am not a Dem or a Rep, but I must say that the performance by the Republicans yesterday was absolutely pathetic. First off, I think they were all still starstruck from Clemens giving autographs and shaking hands the day before. How that was even allowed to take place is an enigma to me and totally absurd. Lets move on to the hearing though... The guy who, to me, really brought up the most relevant case against Clemens was D-Tierney from Massachusetts. He pointed out inaccuracies in Clemens' testimony from before and his answers yesterday. However, this is where our crappy system came into play. Right as Clemens was on the ropes, BANG! The 5 minutes was up and it was time for some douchebag Republican to start asking silly questions that were the equivalent to a pitcher just lobbing pitches right down the pipe to a batter to hit out of the park. My favorite was the douche from Indiana who called Clemens a "TITAN!!" and then lambasted McNamee for lying in the beginning and basically wasted 5 minutes of everyone's life by pointing out the obvious that McNamee was a scumbag and a liar.

Here's the bottom line. The guy is as guilty as sin. Im not saying this because Im a bitter Red Sox fan because up until this point Ive considered Clemens as the best pitcher of all time. My point is that ever since the OJ murder trial, these athletes and celebrities have learned that as long as you deny, deny, deny, there is hope that eventually the prosecution will get frustrated and slip up, handing you the victory. Unfortunately for Clemens, I dont see this having a rainbow ending. Andy Petitte, his good friend, identified him as saying he took HGH. When the government asks Petitte if McNamee gave him HGH shots, he will say yes because he already has admitted that and its the truth. The same holds true for Chuck Knoblauch. Another person who will say that they were injected by McNamee is Clemens' wife, who was given a shot in Clemens' home, supposedly without him knowing. I find this EXTREMELY hard to believe. You mean to tell me that you are going to allow a man to be in your bedroom with your wife ALONE and that she will openly allow him to give her a HGH shot without you being consulted or even knowing about it?? I dont think so bub. Now there are grumblings about Petitte admitting that he not only did HGH in 2002 but 2004 as well. He said his dad got some from a trainer at his gym. Guess who else works out there? Clemens' son Koby, who is making a push for the big leagues. Hmmm... Makes you wonder if Clemens would allow his screwup and lie to implicate his very own son, doesnt it? Id hate for that to happen. This is why I feel our system needs to change. There should have been an unlimited amount of time for a senator to ask a question and get an answer. One main question each. Then we might be able to figure out the truth which I believe will one day lead to the Rocket being behind bars for perjury.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Restaurant Review: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink

On Sunday, I headed down to South Beach to meet up with some friends and soak in the sun on the beach. On my drive over the causeway to the beach I noticed it was actually kind of chilly and that was when my friends called and said that the wind and lack of sun had killed our beach day. So, after drinking a few bottles of wine on their deck overlooking the bay and city of Miami, we decided to head over to Michael's Genuine Food & Drink for a bite to eat.

I had heard rave reviews about Michael's from various posters on Chowhound, to the point where it was almost overkill. I mean, a simple mention of this place sparked a message board humpfest about the various dishes there. So, I have to admit, I had high expectations walking in and that is usually not a good sign. The three of us arrived and were seated outside on the patio immediately. I think we were lucky that we went early (around 630p) because I had heard it was tough to get a table and had tried to get reservations last minute on a previous occasion and couldnt get anything before 930p. The decor of the place was dark but it had a cool vibe to it and I really liked the outdoor area because the buildings blocked out the wind and the chairs were really comfy. I also liked that the tables werent too close to eachother.

Our waiter came over and took a drink order while we began reviewing the menu. I was excited to see Left Hand Brewery's Milk Stout on the menu and went for that. Foodwise, I didnt know where to begin, so I asked him for recommendations, letting him know that we would likely do a couple of small & medium plates for each of us. It was kinda funny when he recommended almost everything on the menu! We settled on some food to share and off he went.

For my first item, I went with the Woodgrilled Prawn and it was very good. The prawn was a nice large one (which reminded me of the lobster-like prawns I had seen at Casablanca Fish Market days earlier) that was seasoned with a little bit of spice and garnished with a slice of lime. I actually enjoyed this so much that I even ate the guts and the head of the prawn! One of my friends went with the Chicken Wings that came with a killer cucumber sauce and my other friend went with the Roasted Onion Stuffed with Lamb which was awesome. Im not an onion fan at all but thanks to a visit to Whisk Gourmet in the Gables, Ive learned to at least give onions a try and since this one was a sweet onion it made the leap a lot easier to make. This onion was great, but I really liked the lamb stuffing the best. I think the onion was the hit of round one with my prawn a close second.

For the next round, I had the Grouper Cheek while my friends had the Pork Cheek and Persimmon Salad. Now, first let me remark that one of the things I loved about all of the dishes at Michael's was that if they were supposed to be a hot dish, they came hot and most likely fresh off of the line. I loved that. When I slightly burned my tongue on the first bite of grouper cheek, I was actually happy haha. The grouper cheek was awesome - nice crispy outside with a warm, moist inside. But the part of the dish that stole the show for me was the meyer lemon accompaniment. It was comprised of (what I believe are) little beads of pasta in a meyer lemon sauce and boy did that shock the taste buds! The persimmon salad was a very different yet tasty salad that all of us really enjoyed. I thought the variety of items in the salad was nice without overshadowing the taste of each bite of persimmon. The winner for round two though was definitely the pork cheek. Much like the grouper cheek, the pork cheek was nice and crispy, warm, and tender. And much like the grouper cheek, the sauce - in this case an incredible bbq sauce - stole the show. This is probably the best bbq sauce I have ever had and my friend said the same. I think they couldve brought out charcoal with this bbq sauce on it and we'd have devoured it toot sweet.

Now, normally Im not a desert person, but in this case we were on a high and almost reordered another pork cheek but instead opted for some deserts. Desert at Michael's is a tad pricey but well worth it. We opted to share the Pot de Creme and the Banana Split. Both were awesome. The banana split came with a nice chunk of peanut brittle and some dulce de leche on top that was a tad too sweet for my liking but when it mixed up with the rest of the dish it was tamed and tasty. My favorite was the Pot de Creme though. One cup of creamy goodness with a piece of baklava and a slice of candied tangerine on the side. The tangerine tasted incredible, especially when mixed up in a fat spoonful of the creme. Mmmm...

Still on a high from dinner and dessert, one of my friends went with an orange dessert wine and I asked the waiter if he drank grappa, and if so, if he could recommend one from the list. Oddly enough, his grandfather makes his own grappa in Romania! He suggested the Grappa Jacobo and although it was the most expensive on the menu, it really hit the spot.

The waiter fetched our check while we finished off our drinks. The bill came to $150 and we left 20% for tip, bringing the total to $180 or $60 each. Not bad at all! Also, considering we had 2 $9 desserts and 2 dessert beverages that came to $23 total I knew I could easily get out of there for less money next time since Im not really a dessert person. Thats and extra $41 right there.

Overall, my experience at Michael's Genuine definitely lived up to the hype. I must say that at first I was a little concerned with the size of the plates, that they wouldnt be large enough to satisfy our appetites, but in the end we all left very content in terms of "fullness" and very satisfied with the quality and the adventure our taste buds had just went on. Im looking forward to my next visit!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Adventures at Super Bowl XLII

Well, today I returned from the Super Bowl and I have to say that although the game didnt turn out the way I had hoped, it was an awesome experience. I hopped a flight to Phoenix on Saturday. Turns out a kid who used to work with me at a prior job was on the flight and the guy next to me on the plane played golf at the club I eat lunch at 3-4 times a week when Im working here in Miami. Small fuckin world. I had used miles to get there and I was staying with my cousin, so travel and my stay were free. Bonus on this trip was that I was going to be able to see my cousin and his wife and little daughter, plus my aunt & uncle and my grandma.

On Sunday, I met up with a buddy (NYG Fan, but a great friend nonetheless) and his wife and we headed in early hoping to somehow find a way into the NFL Experience. Didnt happen. So, we went north of the stadium to an area called Westgate that my cousin had said was recently built and filled with bars and shops. That did the trick. It was slightly chilly but it really made the beers go down quick. This is important because it sets up the mindset for the day - drunken stupor. At Westgate, we ran into Eddie Ping and Bubba, guys we were buddies with at Umass who happened to be walking around looking for tix. Did I tell you its a small fuckin world or what? Beers were running out at the outdoor bars, so we switched to vodkas. Great idea. We headed into the stadium early and I pulled off a great move to sneak by security to get into the lower level where NYG Fan's seats were. He had sourced the tix for us, so he got first pick. After hanging there for a few and taking some shots of the field I went up to my seats which were in the opposite endzone up top, but row 5 so I had an awesome view of the field and halftime show. Oh, I almost forgot... Beers were TEN FUCKIN DOLLARS EACH inside the stadium. I didnt think Bud Light or Miller Lite could ever be more than $7, no matter where it was, but the Super Bowl blew my mind. Crazy part was that they were $5 outside! Either way, I was pounding them down with the guy in the seat next to me, who also had to be the only other Pats fan in the section.

The game was great, albeit a tad slow, but there was a lot of suspense because it was close the whole time. I couldnt understand Belichick going for it on 4th and 13 when he couldve gone for the field goal. I knew that would come back to haunt them. The other thing I didnt understand was how he could set up Hobbs on single coverage on Burress when everyone in the stadium knew the lob was going there. In the end, the Giants were the better team.

As soon as that score happened, I was out. I was drunk and shocked and I didnt want that to turn into drunk, stupid, and pissed off, so I knew I needed to get the fuck outta there. I staggered out of the stadium and called a few people who I knew didnt even like or follow football so I could talk about anything BUT the game while I drunkenly wandered around the parking lot. Just as I started to walk towards the highway (for some reason I was really into wandering while drunk, more on this later), my buddy from back home gives me a call and says he has tix to the Patriots afterparty in Scottsdale and to come meet him. This TOTALLY turned the night around!

The party got off to a slow start, obviously. We were some of the first to arrive and the early scene reminded me of a funeral. Everyone seemed kinda bummed. Good thing was that the alcohol and food were free, so mass consumption began. I hit up every station for food except pasta and also made the genius decision to switch from beer to Jack Daniels. You can imagine where this is going. Bob Kraft comes out and thanks the fans, talks about how everyone is disappointed, looks forward to next year, and then announces that Earth Wind & Fire and Alicia Keys are going to perform. Pretty fuckin cool. The other cool part was that a few of the Patriots players were there to hang with family and try to have a good time. Earth Wind & Fire actually gave a great performance and Alicia Keys was killer too.

The night ended and I needed to find a cab. My buddy had left earlier because he had to drive about 30-45 minutes. Im wandering around the room where the party went down completely smashed, trying to figure out what the hell Im gonna do and not remembering that Im at a hotel with a lobby where there are likely people who can call me a cab. So, what do I do instead? I walk outside, see a nice bus with its door open and walk inside and sit down. Where is the bus going? I have no fuckin clue. So why was I on it? Wasnt really thinking about that. Wasnt really thinking about anything for that matter. So, here I am on a bus to God Knows Where and thats when it hits me - Im a fuckin dumbass. I was such an idiot that I also managed to let my cell phone completely run out of battery. Not that this was a big deal or anything. It just had the address of my cousin's place on it and I was on a bus headed to nowhere, what did I need that for?

The bus stopped at some random hotel and I still have no recollection of what the name was nor where it was. One of the guys I had talked to on the bus helped me out by pointing me in the direction of the lobby so I could catch a cab. Only problem was that I still didnt have access to the address of my destination. I told the hotel desk guy that my cell was dead and asked if by any miracle he had a cell charger. All of a sudden, this guy whips out a whole drawer FILLED WITH CELL CHARGERS! It was unbelievable! I have a sort of old phone too, but the 4th one I tried worked. I got to the text msg with the address and scribbled it down a bunch of times on a piece of paper because each one was slightly illegible. I figured this would give someone a chance at deciphering it. The hotel guy called a cab for me and I haggled with him and got a ride home for $65. I gave him $80 because he put up with some verbal abuse in the beginning and at one point said, "Sir, I cant give you a ride if you are talking like this." Awesome.

My cousin let me in around 330-4am and I was thankful to be home safe. Out of all the dumb things Ive done in life, this definitely made the top 3.