Phil Jacobsen

Popsicle Toes

I've got a new drug. One that won't make me sick. One that don't come in a pill. One that comes on a stick. Bernie and Bettina are to be blamed for this one. Bettina is my roommate and she orders the goods. Bernie is the driver and he delivers the contraband. The slang terms for my summertime medication are snow, ice or crystal, more commonly known on the street as: the Popsicle.

Last month Bettina stumbled across the ultimate food delivery service. She calls it Schwan's, but I refer to them as my dealer. If you're not familiar with Schwan's, imagine what Smith's or Albertson's would look like if you jacked up their grocery store, put it on wheels and then hired a driver with charisma cooler than the sum degree of liquid nitrogen and absolute zero to deliver the merchandise.

From chicken cordon bleu to red, white and blue rocket pops, if it can be frozen then Schwan's delivery man, Bernie, will bring it to your door. Now Bernie is one cool cat and he's not above telling you just that. The first week he made a delivery to our house, he prattled off a poem implying he was the man with the year-round tan delivering the groceries like nobody can. Then he stuck out his hand as he beamed a devilish smile glinting with gold teeth that seemed to say, "Now you're mine."

When Bernie brought Bettina's order into our home all I could think was "I hope there's still room in the ice box for ice cubes." Then I saw there was one more box Bernie was trying to fit into the freezer. The box said, "Rocket Pops." With a steady hand and extreme self-control I wrote out the check as every ounce of my inner-child energy was boiling inside my body screaming, "Rip open the gosh darn box." (My inner-child doesn't swear).

As soon as Bernie left, I popped open the freezer door, ripped the rocket pops from their frozen landing pad and began two fisting the patriotic Popsicles. In one hand I started from the base of the pop and started sucking down the iced blue raspberry flavor. The other rocket pop exploded in my mouth with bursts of cherry, and when I reached the center of each sicle my taste buds were bathed in the cool flavor of lime. God bless America.

By the time Bettina came home from work there were 12 stripped bare rocket pop sticks and I was screaming "Call Cape Canaveral, call Houston, call NASA, call anyone, just get me some more God damn rocket pops." Jacobsen, we have a problem. Bernie the Schwan's man only makes deliveries every other Wednesday. In two weeks there will be another rocket pop bender, until then you're on your own. Find another dealer.

This is how I became a junky Jonesing for the juices of a Popsicle. Searching every mom and pop grocery joint for lime, raspberry and cherry flavors. I learned quick that Popsicles that come with two sticks were trouble. Far inferior to the single-stick-rocket-pop-like Popsicle. Trying to suck down a double stick inevitably meant I'd be wearing the track marks of orange, purple, green or red down my white shirt as the Popsicle would break apart and roll down my body. My wardrobe became a confectionery nightmare.

In the dependence of this drug I noticed my obsession for strolling through the parks looking for a dealer. Walking around avoiding eye contact until I heard the bells of the ice cream man. And then, hearing the jingle, I'd out run or trample over every little runt who stood in the way of my ice cream man.

Sucking down nutty buddies, fudgesicles and ice cream sandwiches simply haven't satisfied the addiction of the cherry, lime and blue raspberry Popsicle cravings. I wanted my mouth stained from red dye #4, my lips needed to look like a rainbow. Not to mention all the cream bars really seemed to exacerbate my lactose intolerant tummy.

Certainly if I spaced out the eating of the rocket pops there wouldn't be this sweet little three-staged withdrawal. My roommate suggested eating just one rocket pop a day. Moderation is what she called it. I called her an idiot. A dozen rocket pops is obviously not a 12-Step program.

If there's any solace to this addiction it's that the Old Man Winter solstice is just 24 dozen Popsicle boxes away. And then, what am I going to do? Get addicted to something else, like hot coffee?

Buffet Philosophy 101

With Special Guest: Richard Dreyfuss

Phil Jacobsen

How you eat at an "all you can eat" buffet says a lot about your personality.

Some people pay their psychiatrists $75-100 an hour for personality actualization -- what a waste! Especially when an all you can eat buffet can cost as little as $6.95 for hours and hours of culinary and mental enjoyment.

So throw away your Prozac. Say good-bye to your Zoloft. Tell your psychiatrist you're finding your sanity in food. And let's take those voices in your head out to lunch.

Eating at a buffet is revealing of your personality, because at a buffet there aren't any rules. Desert can be your first entree and the salad your last. Or, since there is no one to regulate your food intake, you can peck at the food like a pigeon or you can treat the buffet like a personal Roman Barfatorium trough.

Oddly enough, the different ways of eating at a buffet and the personality types they reveal, can all be broken down into categories named after movies that have starred Richard Dreyfuss.

Category One: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (CETK)

At any given buffet the concept is the same. Use a clean plate every time you go back to the buffet line. You can go back as many times as you please, just grab a new plate.

However, the CETK buffet eater doesn't need to use a clean plate the next time they go through the buffet, because they can pile enough food on one plate the first time through, to last for the entire meal. The food is piled so high, it resembles the mountain that the aliens land on in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The pros of CETK: Conversation at the table is never interrupted with "Hold that thought. I need more food."

The cons of CETK: All your food is lumped together, tastes the same and ends up replacing Roswell as a landing site for aliens.

The personality of CETK: You want it all and you want it NOW! CETK's are afraid that if they don't take an opportunity (or egg roll) when it's in front of them, someone else will take their opportunity (or egg roll).

Category Two: Jaws

Clear the beaches! Protect the children! It's time to eat and nothing will stand in your way. Restaurants hate the Jaws eater. This is the type of patron that wishes they could pull a chair up to the buffet line, and eat directly out of the serving bins. Money is lost in this feeding frenzy.

The pros of Jaws: You get your money's worth, but it's at the expense of raising the prices for others.

The cons of Jaws: At the expense of raising the prices for others, only you get your money's worth.

Personality: Jerk! You have an "It's all about me" attitude. You own a cell phone and your car is the phone booth.

Category Three: Down and Out in Beverly Hills (DOBH)

When was the last time you ate? When was the last time you had a job? If you're unemployed and can't afford to eat at a restaurant, the best place to eat is a buffet. Especially if an employed friend is buying and you've lined your backpack with cellophane.

Pros of DOBH: A backpack full of food.

Cons of DOBH: Soon you won't have any friends. And your backpack smells like a rotten refrigerator.

Personality of DOBH: Isn't life great when you're unemployed? Free time is your most valuable asset. You can't hold down a job because you're lazy. Luckily, you don't realize this, because you refer to yourself as an artist.

Category Four: The Goodbye Girl (TGG)

Going to a buffet on a date can be a risky venture. Do you eat CETK style? Jaws or DOBH? The answer, of course, is none of the above. And that's why Richard Dreyfuss kindly gave us The Goodbye Girl. Here, two people come together under one restaurant roof for an off beat romantic buffet get away. You hope The Goodbye Girl dining experience will leave you feeling "wonderfully exuberant (the New York Times)."

Pros of TGG: Hey man! You're on a date.

Cons of TGG: Watch your manners. The goal is to say "hello" to the inside of the Goodbye Girl's apartment. This won't happen if you walk out of the restaurant saying, "Look at my gut! I have to undo my pants just so my belly can fit in my jeans."

Personality of TGG: You're at a buffet on a date? At least you're not at a Monster Truck Rally or a World Wide Wrestling Federation event. You're unconventional. Appearance means little, your mustache may need trimming, but overall life is good and your entire outfit only cost two dollars.

Certainly there are other Richard Dreyfuss movies that apply to the buffet, like the wacky What About Bob? That movie instructs us that "baby steps" are the best way to approach a buffet lay out. Or, have you had a Stakeout on the buffet line waiting for next batch of fresh pizza? If so, thank Mr. Dreyfuss.

Arguably, that's what's so good about him. Richard Dreyfuss can get an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl, star in a movie with Charlie Sheen, plus help us eat at a buffet. Is there anything Richard can't do? And, with Richard Dreyfuss's help, is there anything you can't do?

Valentine Flower Math

On Valentine's Day last year, I was the captain of the Love Boat. Setting a course for adventure, with my mind on a new romance. Yes, love. It was exiting and new. It was love. The Love Boat.

All aboard!

On Valentine's Day, I delivered flowers, balloons and candy to 37 of my lovers. For those keeping track, and don't take this as bragging or bravado, but these were all delivered in less than eight hours. And the kicker? I was paid $5 a pop.

That's right. Last Valentine's Day I was a flower delivery boy. Loading up my car with bouquets and balloons, I looked in the rearview mirror and decided that to be the "Best Flower Delivery Boy in the world" each stop would have to be meaningful. To do this, I treated everyone as though I was not just their "errand boy," but really their lover. I learned a lot about being a flower boy on Valentine's Day. Things like "flower math." For instance, if you shut the car door on a dozen red roses, you are left with nine red roses. Or, if you have six helium balloons in the back of your car, when the door opens and they all fly away, you are then left with zero helium balloons.

Luckily, flower math has really simple solutions. Like toothpicks inserted into a stem can repair two out of three broken flowers. With flower math, 11 roses are enough to get a signature of delivery. Besides, any girl that would count her flowers to make certain there were truly a dozen, that's a girlfriend in a relationship headed for the jagged rocks of doom.

As for the balloons that flew out of the car, that did cause a minor set back. The card was still attached to the non-floating flowers that remained in the back seat of my car. It said, "To Steve: You Take Me to New Heights. Love Vicky." Seeing these were meant for a guy, I stopped and purchased Steve six Valentine's Day balloons with my own money. Balloons that a guy would really want to receive. Balloons that said, "Go Yankees" or "#1 Lover" and I must admit, when I handed these balloons to Steve, I blushed seeing how happy he was with my Valentine's Day gift.

Unfortunately, when I got home my love life was not as easy to mend as broken flowers or lost balloons. After spending all day driving around town, I didn't even have a Valentine's card for my girlfriend.

Retreating to a remote phone in the apartment, and turning through the yellow pages, I whispered into the receiver, "Can you deliver those flowers tonight? Yes, I'll pay extra."

In 30 minutes or less the doorbell rang and her face was pure joy when she saw the bouquet I had thoughtfully purchased. Quickly I tipped the flower boy, before he got any bright ideas with my girlfriend.

Then, once inside the house, she said, "These are the prettiest roses, ever -- all 11 of them."

Reunited and Its Feels So Good

Dear Ann Landers:

It's been nearly 16 years since graduating from high school (class of 85 rulz!). And what a sweet 16 years it has been. The acne has cleared up and the facial scarring is barely noticeable. Forget Jonas Salk and the polio vaccine, and Sir Alexander Flemming and that thing called penicillin. Hell, with a few pieces of moldy bread even I could have invented penicillin. In my opinion, whoever invented tetracycline, Clearasil, Oxy pads, acutane, Retin-A or benzoil peroxide should have received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Plus, even though I didn't go to the prom, in the latter half of these 16 years I finally managed to lose the big "V." That's right, I no longer have my Volkswagen "Thing."

But I need your help, Ann. At this moment, as I write my letter, I'm eating alone and I seem to have lost my appetite. The food is okay, that's not the problem. It's Meredith (not her real name). She called yesterday.

Sixteen years ago Meredith was the popular girl in high school. Next week we're going to lunch.

It is probably difficult for you to gather in just a few simple sentences, but when I was attending Oyster River High School in Durham, NH, the class dork was me. Most likely, since it was 1985 with my Rick Springfield haircut, Cory Hart sunglasses and Chess King apparel, I was called a turkey, a geek or a pizza face. Admittedly, any adjective that could be construed as unflattering was my nom de plume.

The only word that was never hurled to describe my high school years, was the one that I longed to hear. And that was "popular." Even to say that I was "unpopular" would have at least meant that I made a blip on the high school radar. Instead, I was the B-2 bomber of ORHS. I was stealth. Not sleek mind you, just unnoticed.

At the opposite end of the high school spectrum were the jocks and the cheerleaders. The social clique my fellow members in the band referred to as "the popular crowd." Girls like Meredith.

Ms. Landers, now that you are closer to death than you are to high school, you may not remember what it's like being the class dork, so let me refresh your memory. Ridicule, low self-esteem and lunch.

If Lucifer himself were to take my hand and guide me through the gates of Hell, nothing he could say or do would be worse than eating lunch in the high school cafeteria by myself. Eating alone in the 12th grade was tantamount to being the weak gazelle on the plains of the Serengeti. The lions (football players) would eat you (me) alive. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but you've got to admit, that words and wedgies can cause a rash.

However, even the worst parts of high school can be a blessing in disguise. For instance, instead of having friends, I studied. It's hard to say how smart I am, but as a gauge, when I watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire? I can sometimes get to $32,000 by only using one or two of the allotted lifelines. Once, I even got the $250,000 question correct (after it was narrowed down by the "50/50" lifeline). Shout out to Mrs. Baxter, my old school librarian.

Without a doubt, though, the best thing that came from being a social outcast in high school is that now I actually look forward to eating lunch by myself. Instead of worrying about conversation or which fork to use or whether or not the forefinger is or isn't a utensil, I just have to worry about eating. Like I said, that's what I'm doing now right now (sorry about the sauce on the paper).

And that Ann, brings me to the crux of this letter. When I left New Hampshire, 16 years ago, I never looked back. Packing up my trombone after graduation, this young man headed west. And in all those years I haven't heard from anyone. Not even the kids I played with in the orchestra. Who cares? Who needs them? Just a bunch of band nerds that don't return phone calls or letters.

Then came yesterday! Thanks to the Internet (I swear Ann it really isn't a fad) Meredith was able to track me down. She moved to Salt Lake City this summer and she wants to meet for lunch. Sixteen years too late, but finally, I've been invited to eat at the "popular" table.

This brings up all kinds of questions: Where should we eat? I'd like this to be the prom date that I never had. Should I rent a tuxedo? Does the cummerbund face up to catch the soup? Meredith never made fun of me, I'm not even certain we actually talked, but I know her friends were less than kind. Should I bring up this dirt or should I just be polite and reminisce about the good old days and the parties I never attended? Our school colors were fluorescent orange and green (don't forget it was the eighties), should I wear these when I first meet her? You know, school spirit.

Please help, Ann.

Signed, Not the Captain of the Football Team

Life as a Celeb-Ra-Phobe

Once, I thought, that phobias were nothing to be afraid of. And then:

"Don't you know who the f**k I am?" Adam Ant said to me. "I'm Adam Ant! Now bring me my f**kin' steak!" And that's how it happened. Instantly, I became a celeb-ra-phobe. Celebrities scare me. Even reading People magazine can cause my body to break out in hives. Why? Because a man, who named himself after an ant -- mind you, yelled vulgarities at me.

At the time I was in the 10th grade working for a catering company that fed the semi-known bands as they came to town. I saw Engleburt Humperdink with his shirt off. Played Donkey Kong with Donny Osmond (he won). The guys from the Clash were just "guys" named Joe Strummer and Mick Jones that happened to play in a band called "The Clash." And even Michael Hutchence, the dead one from INXS, choked up a guitar pick for my souvenir collection (before he died). Famous people were ordinary folk. And then came Adam Ant.

If you can remember what it was like to idolize your favorite rock star when you were in high school, then this was how I felt about Adam Ant. When I met him, he was my teenage rock and roll God. Now I don't recall much about religion, but I'm certain that nowhere in the Bible, the Torah or the Book of Mormon does God say "F**K Off!" But this is what Adam Ant said to me, and that's how I became a celeb-ra-phobe.

I don't want to meet you, if you're famous. For instance, I don't want to meet Madonna.

There are two side effects to being a celeb-ra-phobe. The first: inevitably you run into celebrities. And the second: inevitably you make an ass out of yourself.

Case and point: this weekend.

Walking into a nondescript "no frills" diner everyone seemed to look like they were someone famous. Steve Lawerence and Edie Gormet appeared to be sitting by the window. Britney Spears was nearly washed up in the bathroom. Paul, Ringo and George were sitting at a four top. At any moment I felt like a non-existent celebrity was going to tell me to "F**k off!" My phobia could feel it.

When the Sarah Jessica Parker looking server came to my table, and said, "Are you ready to order?" I said, "No, and you're too good for Matthew Broderick."

She didn't hear what I mumbled and couldn't have known what I meant, so I tried to refocus my attention on a very not famous looking guy in the center of the restaurant to regain my composure. The person I saw had a look that was a cross between good, polite and nice. He resembled Scott O'Grady, the pilot that was shot down over Bosnia in June 1995. Now there is a hero.

When O'Grady's F-16 was shot down over Bosnia, he survived for six days eating ants and grass and sucking the moisture from his sweaty socks. As the type of person who will return a water glass at a restaurant if I see lipstick smudges on the rim, drinking an athletic sock, while running from people who want to kill you, qualifies on my list of celeb-ra-phobias as a person I don't want to meet. A hero. A celebrity. Unfortunately, he really was in this diner and at some point, I knew I would have to talk to Scott O'Grady. My palms began to sweat. Nervous laughter and snorting emanated from my nose. The panic attack was in full bloom.

As Sarah Jessica Parker put my food on the table, I thought my appetite was gone. How could I eat avocado eggs benedict, when the guy across the aisle once ate ants to survive? The hollandaise sauce, although delicious, couldn't hide the fact that my body was betraying the fighter pilot hero in this cafe.

Without realizing what I was doing, I put down my fork, toast and coffee and walked over to O'Grady's table. Forgetting his name I said, unceremoniously, "Weren't you the guy who was shot down over Bosnia?" (Note: at this point I turned both hands into guns shooting down imaginary aircraft in a restaurant.)

"Yes," he said, in the middle of eating his scrambled eggs and cheese.

"Oh, okay," I said. "It's nice to meet you." I stood, staring for a few uncomfortable seconds to see what he was eating. Then I returned to my table.

Complimenting a guy for getting his multi-million dollar plane shot out of the sky and recreating it in the middle of the restaurant, using my index finger as a machine gun, isn't the best idea. But at least Scott didn't yell profanities at me. Now, that's a true hero. A guy like Scott O'Grady dwarfs pop icons like Adam Ant. In fact, I bet O'Grady could eat Adam Ant alive. Who knows? Perhaps he did.

Coming out of the Culinary Closet

What if the words you were about to read came with a consumer warning? Like the rating assigned to a movie. These letters: G, PG, PG-13, X and NC-17 are extremely helpful.

For instance, take the movie Free Willy. If walking into this show you see on the marquee the movie is rated "G" your mind might think "Hey! Let's free that big black and white whale of a thing." However, if this same movie is labeled as "X," you may think the same thought, but you know the movie on the screen will take on a completely different meaning than its "G" rated counterpart.

With that in mind the words you are about to read are rated "V." Not "V" as in violence or "V" as in venereal. It's worse, this column is rated "V" for vegetarian.

Vegetarianism, as you may know, is in vogue. Perhaps it all started when Ellen DeGeneres came out as a vegetarian. Or maybe vegetarianism has been around since the days of Oscar Wilde. But, what's well known is vegetarians are everywhere. They are on such hit TV shows as Will and Grace, Normal Ohio, Spin City and even Erica Kane's daughter on All My Children recently came out as a vegetarian. Television executives would have you think that having a token vegetable eater on their show will equal success.

Personally, it's difficult for me to weigh in on the whole plant versus meat thing, because I am and always have been a meat eater. Admittedly, there may have been that one time in college I spent the entire day eating celery sticks, avocados and chips and salsa. But please. It was Superbowl Sunday and we were glued to the TV. This was really just a potluck-pigskin supper gone horribly wrong. But that one day doesn't make me a vegan or a vegetarian, does it? It was an experiment and I didn't even get any enjoyment from that occasion. Ever since, I swear, I've eaten meat and/or fried food every single day.

The type of restaurant where I'm comfortable dining, has a large sign outside the building that says, "57 million cows killed today ... Just for you!" Other restaurants I frequent, feature brochures that state, "Eat your meat ... Not your vegetables." The inside of these pamphlets have pictures of farmers, with menacing looks, ripping ears of corn off the stalk. Potatoes, with sad eyes, awaiting their turn to get mashed. And rows and rows of severed heads of lettuce. Salad or murder? You decide.

So how did I end up eating at a vegetarian/vegan restaurant? Simple, it was on the way home. (Hey man! Newton discovered gravity because an apple fell out of a tree and bonked him on his noggin. Great ideas don't have to be complicated.)

As a meat eater it was difficult to figure out a simple menu that only consists of garden variety vegetables. My vegetable knowledge is simple: French fries go with ketchup and then I want a Big Mac. Luckily when I pulled into this "Grass is Greener on the other side of the fence" restaurant, I had a friend with me, Penny, a Pisces and a vegetarian. She was able to create her own sandwich picking and choosing vegetables, condiments and faux meat products with an authority I reserve only for those times I choose a lobster from the tanks at a seafood restaurant.

When the food arrived I figured there must have been a vegetable murder melee in the kitchen as the chef prepared the tamale I ordered, because tomatoes, onions, corn and avocados were slaughtered, sliced and diced to prepare this entree. Even worse, I imagined, was the carnage in the kitchen when, in order to make Penny's sandwich, they killed a fake turkey.

Even though the site of slain vegetables and soy turkey turned my stomach, I took a bite and discovered that vegetables could actually be the main entree and not just a side dish to meat, I was surprised. But now I'm confused. Am I now bi-culinary curious? Do I need a "Hug Trees ... Not Your Child" bumper sticker? Is the pot of gold at the end of every rainbow sticker really just a garden? Quick, someone get me the back episodes of Will and Grace, it's time to ketchup.

(Ed. Note: Vegetables were killed so you could read this story)

Give Me a Dollar

Give me a "D." Give me an "O." Give me an "L-L-A-R." Give me a dollar.Money is being made. But not by me. The Dow Jones rises. The NASDAQ does too. Soccer moms have stock portfolios. Hockey moms have high yield bonds. Kids no longer get allowances, they receive stock options. And I get nothing.When the stock market was rising, I thought it was bull. As it kept rising, I couldn't bear to watch. I keep my money safe by spending every penny I earn. Jesus Saves. I don't.Complaining only gets me another day older and deeper in debt. I'm tired of being poor. Yesterday, I felt like I was one step away from standing on a highway exit ramp with a sign that said, "My Dad is a Veteran. Give Me Money." And that's when I came up with "The Plan."The Plan: I shouldn't stand on a Highway Exit ramp and ask for a dollar. It's all about location. I need to stand smack dab in the middle of the Information Highway and ask for a dollar.So, give me a dollar. And email this story to all your spam loving friends.Not persuaded? Wait there's more.First off, you need to realize it's all about me. And you also need to realize, it's all about you. When you give a dollar to someone on the street that looks like they could use the money, what do YOU get out of that. Sure you get that tingle down your neck of a general sense of humanitarian good Samaritan nonsense. But how long does that last? One step? Two steps? Ever think if the person you just gave a dollar to was in a Twelve Step program, they wouldn't need your money?Well, I'm in a Twelve Step program. Step 1. You send me a dollar. Step 2-12. I spend your money. But, here's the big difference, somewhere around step 7, 8 or 9, I will tell you how your money was spent. And the best part is, Sally Struthers has nothing to do with it.Like a good Ginsu Knife commercial, Wait! There is still more.Not if, but WHEN you send me a dollar the good times will start rolling in for you. Since it's about me, I, of course, get the money. And that's good. Since it's also about you, I hope you're asking "What do I get?" Good question. And it's not rhetorical.This is what you get. Your single dollar will be pooled with the other money that is sent to me. With the dollar you give, if you also include your email address I will write YOU a letter that A) Gives monthly dollar totals of money sent in (This offer void if you work for the I.R.S.) B) I will tell you how I spent your money (Did the guy with cardboard sign ever tell you how he spent your money? You just had to assume alcohol, now you'll know for certain what specific brand of alcohol.) C) There is no C. D). No D either. E) Joy and Bliss. F) No F.It Slices. It Dices. It cuts through cans.A dollar is all I ask. And Madonna is pregnant with her second child, oh Lourdes. Is she still the Material Girl? This is still a Material World. What if you can give more than a dollar? Then do. And your generosity will be rewarded in kind. Honest Abe. If you give me five dollars, I will send you a very short email, thanking you personally for your contribution. The Ten Dollar donator will receive a sticker, in the mail, that says "I Gave Phil a Dollar." If you send more than ten dollars, allow me a few seconds to gain my composure from laughing at your stupidity, I mean generosity, and then tell me what you want. I would never sell out, but I can be rented. In every monthly email, the person who sends in the most money, will be highlighted, lambasted, and taunted until they cry.Did you know when you donate your money to a "charitable" organization, only one penny from every dollar actually goes to your bleeding heart cause? With the "Give Phil a Dollar" plan, I get 100 percent of your money. That's great -- for me.The weather in a rain forest is always dreary. Hungry children get tired of eating rice. Isn't it time you quit greasing the pockets of Bill Gates and this Alan Greenspan economy? Isn't it time you gave a dollar to Phil?Send your dollar to Phil Jacobsen P.O. Box 521231, Salt Lake City, UT 84152-1231. You may not get rich. But you'll know someone that did. One dollar at a time.

The Hell in Health Department

"Phil, this is Bob from the Health Department," my answering machine dutifully played back for me. "Why don't you call me tomorrow regarding that issue we were discussing.""The Issue" at issue: I wanted to be a Health Inspector for one day. I wanted to go on restaurant raids shouting words to line cooks like "Health Inspection. Drop your ladles. And put your hands where I can see them." I wanted to look for pathogens at Parisian restaurants. I wanted to find mice in tiramisu. Roaches in ravioli. Or at the very least, I wanted to say, "There's a fly in my soup."But first things first. And the first thing I had to do was explain to my new roommate, Ruth, that I wasn't Typhoid Mary, STD Steve, or even Hepatitis Hank. The issue at issue: A phone call from the Health Department wanting to discuss "The Issue."Ruth thought the Health Department "Issue" was a euphemism for "Her Roomate's Disease."This isn't a commercial break, I just want to state that I love my answering machine service. It answers the phone when I'm on the phone, a technological godsend. The lady that says, "Please enter your security code," I consider my friend. I hear from her every day. I can check my messages when I'm not at home. And, apparently, so does my roommate.After getting the message from Bob, at the Health Department, I came home and my new apartment smelled like a new hospital. Ruth wasn't taking any chances. When she heard I had "issues" with the Health Department, she had issues with me and my bacteria. Empty bottles of Clorox, Windex, Lysol, Mop and Glow, and lemon scented Pledge littered the apartment.I hated to disappoint her, the apartment was so clean, but I explained my dream to be a Health Inspector for a day. I think she believed me.The next day I returned Bob's phone call. We had issues.Disclaimer: In all honesty, the next day I didn't call Bob. I called a person whose name wasn't Bob. But today, I'm calling the guy that called himself by another name "Bob." Because stick and stones may break your bones, but it's reality that really hurts. The Health Department put me through Hell to get this story. And in the end, I didn't get the story I wanted. Instead, I got the story about trying to get the story about me being a Health Inspector for a day. Therefore, names have been changed.Bob was pleasant when I first talked to him. And mayonnaise doesn't need to be refrigerated, until you open the jar. We set up a couple of tentative dates for me to shadow his short staffed Health Inspection team. We opened the mayonnaise jar.Those dates came and went. I thought he was going to call me. He thought I was going to put the mayonnaise back in the refrigerator.I made potato salad and left it in the sun. I promised my editor I'd have the story no later than "x." Who wants to eat crow? I have semi-fresh potato salad as a side dish. When those dates expired like a carton of milk in a lactose intolerant household, I called Bob back. He put me in touch with Emily.Emily was slightly sweeter than unsweetened chocolate. Emily is not her real name. She said we could meet on Thursday. On Wednesday it was changed to Friday. On Friday to Monday. On Monday to Friday. On Thursday, Friday was changed to Monday. Finally on Monday, we would inspect.On one of the Fridays, or perhaps it was Wednesday, I was given the names of two restaurants we were going to "surprise" with an inspection. However, the Health Department Public Information Officer didn't want these restaurants to think it was S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) to have a reporter in tow. I was told to call and ask permission from the restaurants to observe the inspection."Surprise," I said to the restaurant managers. "You're going to get a Health Inspection. And can I watch?" This was one can of beans they were happy to hear get spilled. I gave them the times and dates of the "surprise" and I was told I was welcome to the party.Then the eggs in Emily's cookie dough started to turn to salmonella. I'd call the restaurants back and say, "Did I say I'd see you on Thursday? I mean Friday." Then, "Did I say Friday? I meant Monday." Or, "Did I say the dinner rush? I meant Breakfast."I was no longer the welcomed guest at the surprise party. One of the restaurants let me know I could quit calling, the other was still willing to sample my tasty inside information, even if the "sell-by" date kept expiring.On Monday, when the inspections were really going to go down, I felt just like a SWAT Team member getting ready to raid a crack house. Granted, the tenants had been informed of the raid, but I could taste this long overdue, possibly stale, adventure that was cooking up.The outfit I chose for the raid was half khaki (Army Man pants). And half restaurant chic (A red and white checkered shirt that I've been told looks like a table cloth). I wondered what Emily would be wearing? I hoped my attire was appropriate.When Emily emerged from behind her cubicle walls, I saw that I was a walking fashion faux pas. Her inspection outfit was a capital "F" for Fun. Her sweatshirt top was a large print of the Tasmanian Devil, you know, from Bugs Bunny. And to catch those quick cockroaches, she had on sweatpants."What do you want?" She said to me."I'm here to help you inspect restaurant X and restaurant Y," I replied."Not dressed like this," she said. I knew I should have worn my Marvin the Martian outfit. "Sorry, but I forgot you were coming today," she continued. "Can we reschedule for Wednesday?"Once the blood rushed back to my head, I said, "Can I simply ask you a few questions?"The three of us, me, her, and Taz then went to a conference room and talked about her job. The mouse droppings, the butt scratching chefs, the proper way to cool food, and the fact that E Coli happens.I left the Health Department and felt like something was missing. So, when I got back to my apartment, I became the Health Inspector I had desperately wanted to become."Ruth," I yelled. "Drop the ladle. And put your hands where I can see them." Then I opened up our refrigerator and started ticking off supposed Health Code violations. "The milk has expired. You put the orange juice back in the fridge without using a proper cellophane wrap? How many jars of jam do you need to open at once? Is that a petri dish or leftover soup? This won't look good on the report."

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