Friday, June 30, 2006


I admit it. I love 1970’s-era kung-fu flicks. And I love 1970’s-era blaxploitation flicks.

But what do you get when you mix the two? You get...“Black Belt Jones!”

Here is the movie trailer for that immortal classic. When I watched this the first time, I literally melted into tears and five minutes of uncontrollable, convulsive laughter.

This, my friends, is what makes life worth living.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


Slim Whitman is alive and well...and fishing!

Our communal VTB received a response last night from the shadowy Commenter who so tantalized us last week. Here’s what he said:

At 2:07 AM, Anonymous said...
I sent the Slim Whitman comment. I was president of the Slim Whitman Appreciation Society of the United States for 23 years and yes I call Slim my friend. His 89th CD was just relelased. He has recorded 541 individual songs. He has wall to wall gold and platinum records in his music room. He is retired living south of Jacksonville, Florida on his 40 acre farm called "Wood Pecker Paradise." He also has a home in the Florida Keys. He might be recording an LP of classic Western Cowboy tunes, although I doubt he will ever get to it. He is in his mid 80's now.

Last time I talked to him he was doing well and enjoying fishing.
If you're interested I have many Slim Whitman items for sale from our club days. I can be reached at:

My name is Loren.

On behalf of myself, my VTB family and my Jr. High School classmates, I'd like to extend my most sincere thanks to you, Loren!

And my best regards to you, Slim!


Check it out here.

I don't know whether to laugh...or hurl.

Laugh! Definitely, laugh!!!

Friday, June 23, 2006


My scholarly dissertation on the plum-based Romanian moonshine called “Tuica” is now published in The Spirit World.

Check it out by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Remember my April 2006 post about Slim Whitman?

Well...some time last night while I slept, I received the following, titilating Comment from an anonymous source:

At 5:17 AM, Anonymous said...

Slim Whitman is a friend of mine and I'm very familiar with the TV commercial you mention. It never stated that He had sold more records than elvis and the Beatles. It stated that he had a number one record in the UK for a longer period of time. eleven consecutive weeks. I have viewed the commercial 100's of times.

Are your hearts beating as quickly as mine? Is it possible that there’s a mere one degree of separation between this VTB and the legend himself?

I wasted no time firing-off the following response:

Hello Anonymous:

You're probably right about the Beatles/Elvis reference. It's been 20+ years since I've seen this commercial, so I was going by memory.

But that's not important. What is important is your statement that Slim is a friend of yours. Can you give us any kind of update on what Slim has been up to, his state of health, etc.? If you do, then I'll write a post around it. We need to know.

Thanks for writing. I've always wondered if Slim realized the cult following he had amongst American Jr. High Schoolers in the 1980's.


And now, we wait...and hope...and pray.

Will this shadowy, anonymous Commenter provide the details on a 21st century Slim that we so hungrily seek? it possible that the unthinkable will happen, and the great man himself will make a triumphant appearance in the VTB chat lounge?

Please join me in the following chant: "WE'RE NOT WORTHY! WE'RE NOT WORTHY! WE'RE NOT WORTHY!"

Monday, June 19, 2006


The well-publicized writing funk in which I’ve been wallowing lately had finally reached the limit of my tolerance.

I therefore decided that strong medicine was needed, and there was only one doctor that could administer it: Dr. Salivator.

So I walked to my local butcher with a photocopied USDA pig diagram in hand, slapped it onto the counter, pointed at the pig’s upper shoulder and barked, “Me want pork butt!”

And that’s what I got. A six and a half pound hunka pork butt.

I woke up on Sunday morning at 6:15am to start my journey to BBQ heaven. say that I “woke up” might not be entirely accurate. I was indeed moving around the kitchen, but in a glazed, autopilot mode—much as if one of those zombies from “Night of the Living Dead” had gotten a part-time job at Burger King. I had obviously made a strategic error when deciding to pop “A Clockwork Orange” into the DVD player at 11.45pm the night before.

At 7am, I fired-up The Salivator while simultaneously removing the butt from its sugar/salt-water brine, slathering it with yellow mustard, and dusting it with a heavy layer of spice rub.

At 7:30am, I placed my brined, slathered and well-spiced butt onto The Salivator. And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And then, at 6:30pm (that’s right...eleven hours later), the bell on my digital probe meat thermometer went off. The butt had finally reached an internal temperature of 198ºF. Mission accomplished! And it was accomplished a full three hours earlier than I expected!

I wrapped the smoky, bark-encrusted butt in heavy-duty foil and placed it into an insulated cooler. An hour later I removed and unwrapped it. It was now time to [ahem, ahem]...pull some pork.

[Can’t you just hear Beavis and Butthead saying, “Huh huh...he said he’s pulling his pork...huh, huh.”]

I used two large forks to “pull” 6.5 pounds of smoked pork butt into shreds. I gave half the booty to my Q-deprived, Pittsburgh-born neighbors...and kept the rest for myself.

C’mon! You didn’t really expect me to eat 6.5 pounds of pig by myself, did you?

I piled a mountain of pork shreds onto a sesame seed bun, doused it with a heavy dose of fire-breathing Carolina Red Sauce, and then...behaved as if I were the fruit of a coital relationship between Dom DeLuise and Pac-Mac.

And what was my verdict?

Well..let’s just say that for a couple hours during a Sunday night in June 2006, I had the best butt in all of Spain.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


[Note: This is an essay that was recently published in Expatica Spain].

The good part about being an expat is that you get to see the world. The bad part is that seeing the world requires travel.

Sitting in airports and flying on airplanes—an activity that once seemed so exciting—loses much of its luster on or around the tenth trip across the ocean. 

And so it was that I found myself sitting in Terminal 3 of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport last weekend with a warm computer on my lap and a promising idea in my head.  I resolved that I would—during my flight back to Madrid—write a blistering dissertation on the agonies of flying Economy Class internationally. And I had in my sights the perfect target: Iberia Airlines.

That’s right, Iberia. The airline with the prickly flight attendants who make me walk to the back to the airplane each time that I want to refresh my gin and tonic. Iberia and I were about to do battle for the next nine hours, and my talons were sharpened and ready to exact a pound of flesh. all fairness, I do have some good things to say about Iberia Air. Their pilots, for example, are excellent. Never have I flown on an airline that so consistently makes glass-smooth landings. So smooth, in fact, that passengers often break into applause after touching down.

And Iberia is the only airline that flies non-stop between Madrid and Chicago. They get bonus points for that.

But other in-flight annoyances—ranging from sardine-worthy seating, icky sporadically-aired videos—left me plenty of material with which to work during my long redeye flight back to Spain.

So, with venom pulsing through my veins, I was just about to tear into the keyboard when...I heard the voice God.

“Mr. Fat Sal, please report to the Iberia counter.”

My spine stiffened. I had been paged by the Iberia counter several times in the past, so I knew that it meant one of three things. Either: (a) airport security was about to punish me for deciding not to shave that morning; or (b) my accident-prone mother broke yet-another bone and needed me to rush back home to vacuum a carpet; or (c)...

...“We’re upgrading you to Business Class, Fat Sal.”

And as the magnitude of these words sank in, the heavens opened and rays of sunshine flooded the terminal! Milky-white doves flew skyward from behind the ticket counter! And a chorus of angels dressed in flowing white robes burst into song!

“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah...Hallelujah! Halle-e-e-lujah!”

Kissing the ticket agent’s ring and wishing eternal happiness to he and his family, I floated weightlessly—like a feather caught in an updraft—into the Airbus A-340.

Entering the Business Class section and stopping at seat 8C, I was immediately struck by three things. First, I had an *entire* overhead bin all to myself. Second, my electronically-controlled seat reclined to a fully horizontal position. And third, the seat next to mine was occupied by a beautiful young Spanish woman with a black iPod Nano.

Lamentably, I was unable to make full use of these luxuries. The overhead bin was overkill, since my only carry-on item was a small Dell laptop. And my beautiful, iPod-toting neighbor—although cordial—showed little inclination to make full use of our fully-reclining seats. Perhaps those types opportunities only present themselves to people in First Class.

The rest of the flight was like a dream. A dream that I didn’t want to end. Friendly, smiling flight attendants offered me English-language newspapers, Spanish-language newspapers, glasses of mineral water and orange juice [What?! No sherry?!]—and this all happened before the airplane left the gate.

Once we reached cruising altitude, things only got better.

My seat—my *beloved* seat 8C—had a personal video monitor that was chock full of movies, shorts (The Simpsons!), maps, music and video games.

A trolley full of Spanish Reserva wines and other aperitifs rolled down the aisle twice—TWICE!—before the meal.

The meal itself was a glorious event. First course was chicken consommé and a salad of mixed greens, parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar. Second course was filet mignon with a mustard and beer sauce, leeks and dried apricots. Desserts included cheeses, sorbets, ice creams and hazelnut cake.

And just when I thought that my inventory of good karma had been fully exhausted, the liquor trolley made a triumphant return—and this time, it was brimming with whiskies, cognacs and brandies. Forgetting about today’s hangover and devoting all my energies toward building a foundation for tomorrow’s, I opted for a glass of brandy that I would never in a million years buy with my own money.

My beautiful iPod-toting neighbor requested a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic. And it must’ve been a strong one, too...because after she had downed half the glass, she cranked-up the volume in her iPod, began rhythmically gyrating in her seat, looked over to me with a huge smile on her face and—as God is my witness—pressed the button on *my* seat that activated the vibrating back massager.

But alas, my beautiful neighbor and her gin-engorged libido would have to be satisfied with her black iPod Nano. Why? Because there was room in my heart for only one mistress—and that mistress was Iberia Airlines.

Friday, June 16, 2006


OK, it's not really Elvis. It's "Tortelvis" from the band Dread Zeppelin. But I still think you're gonna love it.

[Forgive me, Trac...for I have sinned.]

As an aside, I am well-aware that I've been a lazy, neglectful bastard on the writing front lately. I've been suffering a nasty spell of writer's fatigue, but am in the process of recharging the batteries.

Really, I am. I'll post some new stuff shortly.

But in the meantime, you're in good hands with Tortelvis.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


What am I? INFJ, of course.

Confused? Well, then Google it.


[Note: This is an essay that was recently published in Expatica Spain].

Tonight for dinner, I’ll be having veal cutlets sautéed in butter and served with an apple, cream and Calvados sauce.

No, it’s not that I’ve suddenly become a French food fanatic. It’s just that...I can no longer afford to cook Spanish food. Olive oil—the building block of nearly every Spanish meal—has become prohibitively expensive for those of us without the letters “CEO” on our business cards.

I’ve watched with horror as the price of olive oil at my local supermarket has skyrocketed during the past year. But I assumed that it was due to price-gouging by the store manager. It is, after all, the only supermarket here in Sanchoville—and nothing tempts a store manager quite like a monopoly.

But then last week, Expatica published an article stating that olive oil—whose average price during the past year has risen from 3.14€ to 4.50€ per liter (i.e.,44%!)—has become a de facto luxury good in Spain.

Expatica further reported that, “[O]rganised criminal gangs...have mounted a series of raids on olive oil plants in Andalusia in recent months, stealing at least 500,000 litres”—although I suspect that the thieves were members of the Italian mafia and the oil was not resold on the black market; but rather, it was funneled directly to their wives’ kitchens. Tony Soprano may be a lot of things, but tolerant of French food surely isn’t one of them.

In any event, olive oil has certainly become a luxury good in my home. And for the first time since I completed grad school in 1995, it has ceased to be the sole cooking oil in my kitchen pantry. I do keep a small bottle locked in a strongbox—you know...just in case an unexpected guest should demand a salad. But otherwise, Chef Sal now cooks with butter (at 2€ for a nice, big block) or sunflower oil (at a refreshingly merciful 0.60€ per liter!).

But here’s the thing that I don’t understand. Shouldn’t the economic laws of supply and demand have prevented this price increase from happening in the first place? Sure, there’s a high demand for olive oil in Spain. But then again...we’re the world’s largest producer, dammit!

By way of analogy, let’s look at Saudi Arabia. It’s the world’s largest producer of petroleum oil. But Saudi drivers surely aren’t paying 1€ for a liter of gasoline like we are!

Or are they? I decided to find out.

So I contacted my Middle East-based work colleague and asked him the following question: “How much does a liter of gasoline cost in Saudi Arabia?”

His answer: “For $1 USD, you can buy 6.25 liters of petrol.”

In other words, 0.13€ per liter.

So by this standard., shouldn’t we residents of Spain (i.e., “The Saudi Arabia of Olive Oil”) be paying 0.59€ per liter of olive oil?

Then I had a frightening thought. Maybe the price of olive oil in Spain *is* comparable to the price of gasoline in Saudi Arabia. If we Spanish residents are paying 4.50€ for a liter of olive oil, then—extrapolating (again) from the Saudi example—shoppers in Ireland must be paying nearly 35€ per liter!

Or are they? I decided to find out.

So I contacted my Dublin-based work colleague, Kathleen, and asked her the following question: “How much does a liter of olive oil cost in Ireland?”

Her answer: “Oh...around 4.50€ per liter.”


So what does all this mean? I’ve reached a few conclusions.

First, olive oil tastes better than butter. Butter tastes better than sunflower oil. But it all tastes the same once you’ve added a big spoonful of curry powder. So let’s all save a few Euros and sit-down to a nice Paella Vindaloo.

Second, current price levels show that a liter of olive oil is four and a half times more valuable than a liter of gasoline. Spain is the world’s largest producer of olive oil. Boy-oh-boy...I sure hope that nobody in Washington DC decides that Spain needs a “regime change.”

Third, if my Irish friend Kathleen should ever drop by my house and demand a salad, then she’d better bring her own damn bottle of olive oil.

Friday, June 02, 2006


Our good friend Euro-Trac recently introduced me to YouTube. I might’ve been the last person on earth to learn about it.

YouTube is a huge collection of video files submitted by users. The videos can then be accessed by anyone with a broadband connection and a sufficiently pitiful social life.

Best of all, most video files are accompanied by a hunk of source code that can be embedded into a blog.

Now...the main focus of this Virtual Tapas Bar is supposed to be writing. But hey...this YouTube video thing is just too seductive to resist. So I am pleased to announce a new, non-regular feature of this VTB: Friday Night Videos.

Every Friday or so, I’ll embed whichever YouTube video has been keeping me awake at night.

And I am pleased to announce that our first installment features my all-time favorite electric guitarist—Johnny Winter.

Johnny stepped onto stage at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Celebration concert in 1993 and punched a hole in the stratosphere with an absolutely blistering performance of “Highway 61 Revisited.” I feel so, so sorry for the poor bastard that had to follow him on stage that night.

Watch this video and I’m sure you’ll agree that Johnny is the greatest 110 pound, cross-eyed, heavily-tattooed, albino, blues guitarist ever.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


During my trip to downtown Chicago last Wednesday, my department and I took a Chicago architecture boat tour.

One of the buildings we floated past had a billboard advertising a health club.

The billboard is pictured above. I think it's brilliant!

But my question is...for whom? My cats?!