Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Worst Halloween EVER !!!

I'm disgusted.

I told you yesterday I bought all kinds of candy to give to the kids, right? And we put up some decorations, so the kids would know there was candy to be had, right? Well, I'm here to tell you that was the worst Halloween ever. We didn't get a single kid last night!

MY WIFE and I dressed up and everything. I was The Wolfman and she was Frankenstein. She only stands about five-one, so she was the cutest little Frankenstein you ever saw! Then we stood outside of our front door waiting for the kids to show up in their costumes. We even had an endless tape loop of "Monster Mash", by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, and set up our stereo speakers to blast it out the window. And then...

NOTHING! We couldn't believe it! I mean, in other years we at least got 10 or 15 children, but not a single solitary kid came to the door last night. As a matter of fact, I didn't even see ONE child on the entire street for the entire night. Amazing. Has Halloween died so thoroughly?

You know, I expected that some of our neighbors might be disappointed, too, but they didn't seem to be. A few of them opened their doors to look outside - I guess they wanted to see if there were any kids coming - but, when their eyes met ours, they went back inside, shaking their heads. I guess they were just embarrassed to not have costumes as good as ours.

One Halloweenie (I guess that's a good name for someone who's the equivalent of a "Scrooge" at Christmas) yelled out, "Shut off that f#*$!%@ music, you morons!" not getting into the spirit of things at all. With people like that in the neighborhood, maybe the kids were just completely scared to come down our street.

Well, we weren't going to let one bad apple ruin Halloween for the whole neighborhood. We'd show him! We decided to really pick up the pace. I went inside and turned up the Monster Mash really loud. MY WIFE put her arms straight out in front of her like Frankenstein's monster does and she stiffly walked up and down the sidewalk going, "Aaargh! Fire BAD! Aaargh!" Then I came back outside, squatted down on my haunches and howled like the dickens at the moon. Aaaroooooooooooo! Aaaroooooooooooo!

Finally, around 9pm, when we realized that there wouldn't even be one trick-or-treater this year, we went inside, shut off the music, and got out of our costumes. I'm glad I bought candy I really liked because we ended up eating all of it ourselves.

Did any of you have as miserable a Halloween as we did? I sure hope not. What a major disappointment. Never have I had such a rotten October 30th in all... my...

Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November...


Monday, October 30, 2006

Current Events


I was going to start off by writing something about the race to become governor here in Massachusetts, but this is more important to me.

"Red" Auerbach was the greatest coach in the history of American sports. That's an opinion and everybody has his or her own. However, I'll back up my opinion with fact.

9 World Championships, 8 of them consecutive.

That's enough right there, from a statistical standpoint, but I'll embellish with some humanity.

Auerbach was a one-man civil rights movement. Under his leadership and guidance, The Boston Celtics became the first NBA team to draft an African-American player. He was the first coach in any major American sport to have his starting team be completely non-white. When he retired as coach, he named his own successor. That was Bill Russell, the first black man to ever coach a professional sports team in America.

Here's what made Auerbach a legendary figure, though. He didn't do any of those things because he felt sorry for black people, out of some sort of white liberal guilt. He did them because they were the right things to do, at those moments, for the success of the Boston Celtics basketball team. In my book, that makes him far greater than someone trying to address a past inequity or whose main purpose is to fill a quota. Auerbach looked for the right man to do the job he needed done and it didn't matter to him if that man turned out to be white, black, or orange with purple stripes. Auerbach lived the words of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. He judged men by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

In later years, as Auerbach brought his total of World Championship banners won by his beloved Celtics up to 16 in his capacity as General Manager and then Team President, some idiots who knew nothing of history accused Red of being a racist. They did so on the grounds that the Celtics fielded teams with a higher percentage of white players than any other organization in the NBA. Fools, every one of them. Auerbach hired whomever he thought was best to do the job, as always. Proof of his decisions not being racially motivated is borne out by the championships those teams won, just as his teams with a higher percentage of black players won championships years earlier.

Further proof? Bill Russell, at times a very outspoken critic of race relations in Boston and a man not easily forgiving of racism in any form, loved Auerbach. When a number was raised to the rafters in honor of Auerbach, Russell was there front and center. He wouldn't have made that appearance for anyone even remotely bigoted.

If you could put the ball through the hoop - or stop someone else from doing so - that's what mattered to Red Auerbach. Oh, and intelligence, also.

The one thing that many people overlook in the success of The Boston Celtics franchise is that the players were inordinately smart. Red Auerbach drafted, signed and traded for people who could think. The Celtics did not have big dumb brutes with magnificent bodies and pea-sized brains. Even if you didnĂ‚’t know the guy that they took as their number one pick in the draft - as was often the case, since they always drafted so low due to winning championships - the one thing that could always be counted upon, as a fan, was that the guy would be intelligent and would not embarrass the city.

Here's the ultimate testament to Auerbach's ability to recognize intelligence and to nurture talent as a coach, general manager, mentor and friend. A higher percentage of ex-Celtics have gone on to be successful NBA coaches, in their own right, than from any other team in the league. The list includes stellar winning coaches such as Bill Sharman, Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Don Nelson and Tommy Heinsohn. There were many others, including Dave Cowens, Satch Sanders, Chris Ford, M. L. Carr and Bob Cousy. Then there are the successful executives, such as Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. And college coaches, too, like John Thompson and Frank Ramsey. No dummies in the entire lot and all beholden to Red in some way or another for their successes.

Personally, I take courage in the fact that the man smoked huge cigars and ate Chinese food almost every day of his adult life and he still lived to be close to 90.

Rest In Peace, Red.

In other news...


In a stunning blow to the hopes of the Christy Mihos campaign for Governor of Massachusetts, Jim "Suldog" Sullivan has given him his official endorsement.

Sullivan is well known for his involvement in hopelessly quixotic campaigns, including his own lost cause in 1992. Due to Sullivan's endorsement, Mihos is expected to announce his withdrawal from the race at any moment.


The only way Deval Patrick won't be Governor of Massachusetts, come January, is if he keels over dead before the inauguration. Having said that, let me tell you why.

Yes, he's said all of the right things as a Democratic candidate in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. Yes, he's run a smart campaign. Yes, he's an intelligent person and he knows how to maximize his opportunities. Those things have made the race a lock, but those aren't the things that have won this race.

The simple facts are these: Kerry Healey is both a woman and a Republican. The voters of this oh-so-liberal state might elect a woman as governor. They most certainly have elected Republicans. However, they are not ready to elect a woman who also happens to be a Republican. It's that simple.

You may be saying, "But, Deval Patrick is black. What about that?" Simple. If Deval Patrick were also a Republican, he would lose to a Democratic Kerry Healey. As for the other candidates, Mihos, being an independent candidate and a white male, finishes third. Grace Ross, being a lesbian and a member of a "fringe" party, trails all of the others. If Mihos were the Democratic candidate, he would beat the Republican Healey. If Mihos were the Republican candidate, he would probably beat the Democrat, either Healey or Patrick, though it would be mighty close and a loss wouldn't be a shocker. Ross, in all scenarios, has one or two liabilities too many to win, even as a Democrat.

Massachusetts has a reputation across the country of being California East; liberal as the day is long and permissive in politics and policies. This is a gigantic misconception. What Massachusetts IS is genetically Democratic, with a cowardly legislature and a bold judiciary.

Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, though, right? No. The judiciary of Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. In most polls, it seems the citizenry would remove that right if given an option to vote upon it. And the legislature has consistently sidestepped the issue.

The Massachusetts electorate, by and large, is liberal, but not because they've thought about it much. They have been raised to be good Democrats and to adore the majority opinion, even if they choose not to wear the label "Democrat". They choose to think that they are rebellious, but the fact of the matter is that they know which side their bread is buttered on, even if only on an instinctual level. Democrats control the legislature and the unions and just about anything else of value within the state and are thus in a position to hand out the goodies. To vote for anything other than a Democrat shows an amazing amount of courage as well as a stunning lack of self-interest for those such as teachers, state workers, union members, police, and others beholden to the current system.

This is not to say that every Democratic vote is uninformed or ignorant. It's just that the Democratic Party has such a stranglehold on the hearts and minds of many of these people that the label usually matters more, in gaining votes, than the objective reality. That's why, in my opinion, if you switched the party labels of the candidates but left their positions on the issues intact, the outcome would change. Just as some people will never in their entire lives venture from voting for one of the two older and established parties, there are those who will never vote for any but ONE of those parties. And, in this state, those who will vote only for Democrats far outnumber those who will vote only for Republicans or Libertarians or Greens or Independents. In order for one of these others to win an election, there must be something radically wrong with the Democrat's campaign - or the Democrat must be of a sex or race which many Massachusetts voters will not consider voting for, despite their supposed liberality.

Well, my sociological opinions are just that - opinions. Your mileage may vary. However, whatever your beliefs or mine, Patrick wins handily. Bet your house, your firstborn, your life savings, or (if you are so equipped, you can find someone to take the bet and you get good odds) your dick. You won't lose. I'm voting for Mihos because his views most closely match my own. He has no chance whatsoever. Still the best political ad I've ever seen, though.

And now, on the lighter side...


As usual, I bought things that I like to eat. This is because, for whatever reasons, we never get near as many trick-or-treaters as we'd like. I always prepare for hundreds. We usually get 20 or 25, tops.

It's a shame. MY WIFE and I love to give out candy to kids in costume. We make sure to put on the porch light and we throw up a few cut-out decorations to show the kids that we're open for business. However, there just aren't that many kids on our street and those from other streets willing to venture beyond their familiar territory are few.

So, if you're in the area and you want a Kit Kat or a York Peppermint Patty or perhaps a roll of Necco Wafers or a handful of mini Tootsie Rolls, stop by. We have plenty and you'll probably save me from a few cavities or even adult onset diabetes if you take a few of them off of our hands. If you tell me you're voting for Mihos, I'll give you a double helping.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Halloween Story

(This is just a nice little story about one Halloween some 12 or 13 years ago. I'm rather tied up at the moment, and won't be posting anything new until Monday, so I figured some of you may not have seen this one before. Enjoy and see you Monday!)


This story was originally written 13 years ago. Therefore, it is not only a good tale, but also an historical document. Many of the references are now downright archaic, not unlike the author. I think you'll find it enjoyable, anyway.


I'm going to go out trick-or-treating with my nieces and nephews. Problem is, what do I dress up as? Or maybe I shouldn't dress up at all? It's very confusing.

MY WIFE is dressing up as Howard Stern. When she rats out her hair, she actually looks like him to a certain extent, except she's a foot-and-a-half shorter and has boobs, not to mention a more pleasant personality. She suggests that we go as sort of an odd couple and that I dress up as Rush Limbaugh. Trouble is, I don't look anything at all like Rush Limbaugh, so I'd have to do too much explaining about my costume.

If there's anything more annoying on Halloween, than explaining to people what you're supposed to be, then you'll have to tell me what it is because I sure can't think of it. You spend all day fixing up a costume - gathering the odds and ends necessary to make it convincing, and working on your character in front of a mirror, practicing an accent or a funny walk - and you steel yourself for the inevitable staring and fingerpointing from strangers. Then, when you arrive at the party (or whatever it is that you're going to) the first thing out of someone's mouth isn't "Hello!"; it's "What are you supposed to be?", and then you have to explain that you're Rush Limbaugh. This gets one of two responses. Either, "Oh, yeah! Right...", which is totally bogus because you know that this person will stare at you all night as though you were some kind of a nut, and will not so surreptitiously point you out to people as the idiot who thinks he looks like Rush Limbaugh, or "Oh, of course! How could I be so stupid!", which is far worse because now every time that this well-meaning person introduces you to someone else, he or she will feel a need to explain your costume to the person you're now meeting, like, "Bob, this is Jim. He's dressed up as Rush Limbaugh. Isn't it an excellent costume?", to which Bob says, "Oh, yeah! Right..."

The only thing more degrading is to be dressed up in an unrecognizable costume when you're with kids. As a rule, kids will not cut you any slack. They'll tell you right off the bat that you don't look like what you're supposed to be. Or, if you're dressed up as Rush Limbaugh, they probably won't even know what you're supposed to be in the first place. And, even after you tell them, they still won't have any idea what you're talking about. So then you're stuck explaining the concept of Rush Limbaugh - which is no easy task when talking to adults, let alone a six-year old.

Well, in any case, I'm still wrestling with the dilemma of whether to even wear a costume at all. I mean, we're just going to escort the kids around the neighborhood and I probably won't get any candy anyway, so why bother? However, MY WIFE has worked really hard on her Howard Stern outfit, so I can't just leave her in the lurch. She's even gone so far as to make a mocked-up cover of Stern's book, Private Parts, and pasted it onto a copy of the Book Of Mormon which we had lying around (don't ask - that's another story) so now, as a good husband, it's my duty to come up with something at least marginally convincing.

I start looking around the house for something I can convert into a costume. I know, and you know, that I could settle for going to the store and buying a mask, or one of those make-up kits they sell around this time of year that you put on and never quite look like the person on the packaging (you always look more like Eddie Munster on a three-day bender than Dracula) but I can't do that. Too easy. To satisfy my ego, I need something at least a bit more original than that. So, I start thinking. This invariably gets me into trouble, but I do it anyway.

Let's see. I have some old golf clubs in the basement, so I could wear a sweater and some loud pants and go as a golfer. Nah. Who wants to carry around a load of golf clubs all night? Besides, it's not original enough. For the same reason (non-originality) I dismiss dressing up as a clown, although I do have the wardrobe for it. I toy with the idea of going as The Ultimate Politically Incorrect White Guy. I'll wear blackface, fix up my eyes to look slanty, put on a feathered headdress, and sashay around and lisp. I nix that idea, however, because (somewhat ironically) it would present pretty much the same set of problems as if I chose to dress as Rush Limbaugh.

(The kids, of course, would love it. They'd think it was the funniest thing they'd seen since the last time one of their friends spit up milk through his nose. Kids don't care about politically correct, as long as it's funny. And, neither does my father-in-law. However, I digress.)

Now, I've been growing my hair long for the past year. I wear it in a ponytail in back. [Note from the future: I did say I wrote this 12 years ago, right?] So I start thinking about what sort of costume can be constructed around this already-existing prop? And it hits me! Who wore ponytails? The founding fathers of our country, of course. And who better to accompany Howard Stern than Thomas Jefferson? Free speech, and all that.

I find that it's relatively easy to put together a Thomas Jefferson costume. You just wear white knee socks outside of your pants so that they look like knickers. In strategic places, you attach a bit of lace to a white shirt. You throw on a pair of loafers and there you go. Instant Jefferson! I do up my ponytail in a ribbon, after plastering my hair down with about a gallon of hair spray, and we're on our way.

The first problem encountered by any adult who has dressed up for Halloween is this: "How do I get from the house to my car without the neighbors seeing me?" This doesn't bother MY WIFE at all, because she doesn't care what the neighbors think. It normally wouldn't bother me, either, except I'm not sure our neighbors would know the real Thomas Jefferson if he walked down our street, so I don't want them to think I've just suddenly gone fey, what with the knickers and ruffed shirt and the bow in my hair. So, I try to get to our car as quickly and with as little fanfare as possible. MY WIFE, of course, thinks this is ridiculous. With a little bit of the real Howard Stern creeping into her personality, she yells, "Look everybody! It's Jim Sullivan in a costume! Look! Look!" Thoroughly embarrassed (she loves to see me blush, which I do readily) I start the car and then we're finally on the road, where nobody can get a really good look at me, thank you.

Except: We need gas.

MY WIFE, reverting to her usual self (that is, thoughtful and nice) offers to go into the store and buy the gas herself (it's one of those pay-before-you-pump self-serve places), but she doesn't know how to operate the pump, so I'm going to have to do that myself. Swell. I decide that I can rearrange part of my costume to be not overly-conspicuous. I put on a hat and a jacket. That takes care of most of the top of me, but the bottom half is much tougher. I roll down the knee-socks, untuck my pants legs, and now I don't look too bad, except that with the kind of jacket I'm wearing and the white socks with black shoes, I now look like Cliff Claven. While pumping the gas, I try to decide which is more humiliating - looking like a postal nerd, or looking like I just came running full-tilt out of the closet. I decide that I've had more experience in my life looking like a nerd than a refugee from an Adam Ant album, so pumping the gas doesn't offer me any sort of humiliation that I haven't handled up until now, so it's OK.

The gas is pumped. I get in the car and re-arrange myself back into a reasonable facsimile of a 1700's plantation owner (which, I just realize, may be even more politically incorrect than a blackfaced, slanty-eyed, lisping Native American) and we're back on the road to Duxbury.


The rest of the trip down to my in-laws is uneventful.

As we're pulling into the driveway, we're immediately greeted by our nieces; a four-year old named Alyssa and a six-year old named Caitlyn. Being an aunt and uncle without children of our own, and therefore allowed to act like children ourselves (at least part of the time) we are, of course, beloved. They have been awaiting our arrival for some time now and they no sooner saw our car than they were running to meet it.

Their Aunt, MY WIFE, dressed as Howard Stern doesn't seem to faze them. I am another story, however. Alyssa just sort of stares at me, with her big smile frozen in place. She knows that this is a joke of some sort, and she's not quite sure what, but she's willing to wait for the punch line. Caitlyn, on the other hand, being much more worldly (she is six, after all) recognizes the joke immediately. She knows that Uncle Jimmy is dressed for Halloween. She doesn't know what he's dressed as, but it is funny, so she rolls her eyes (an expression she utilizes so often it has come to be known among the family as "Caitlyn eyes") and laughs.

I tell them that I'm Thomas Jefferson. This brings two puzzled expressions. I ask them if they know who Thomas Jefferson is. Caitlyn kind of nods her head, while Alyssa, bless her little heart, says that I look like a president. Thus fortified with confidence in my disguise, I proceed with MY WIFE and the girls to the house.

On the way, we're informed of the fact that Caitlyn is going to be a witch and Alyssa a devil. I ask them if they know who MY WIFE is supposed to be. "A Chinese lady?", asks Alyssa, since as part of her Howard Stern outfit, MY WIFE has chosen to wear a long, flowing robe with embroidery, a bit similar to the robe that Stern wears (somewhat) on the cover of his book. I find it gratifying to know that I look more like a president, to a four-year old, than MY WIFE looks like a geeky shock-jock. Actually, I find it not so much gratifying that I look like a president as I do that MY WIFE looks more like a woman than she does Howard Stern, no matter how much work she put into her costume.

As we enter the house, and exchange pleasantries with various relatives, I find out something curious concerning the American psyche. Each person I greet sees me as a different character from the revolution. I am variously mistaken for Benjamin Franklin, Nathan Hale, George Washington, and Samuel Adams. I guess everybody has his or her favorite. Mine just happens to be Jefferson.

When MY WIFE announces that she's Howard Stern, there's general acceptance all around, and everybody immediately gets the connection between the two of us (the free speech bit) and nobody (as of yet, anyway) says the dreaded, "Oh, yeah! Right...", which is why I like my in-laws so much. A little bit of lunacy will not make you an outcast in the Purin household. As a matter of fact, it may help to endear you to them.

Now we're awaiting the imminent arrival of MY WIFE's eldest sister, Luann; her husband, Charlie; and their two sons (our nephews) Michael and Joey. Michael is almost 11, and just starting to enter that phase in life where he must act cool, so sometimes he acts a bit snotty these days. He's generally a real nice kid, though, and if you find some common ground (Beavis & Butthead, baseball cards) he'll still treat you like an equal. This year, he's wearing a costume of his own devising which will give the illusion of carrying his own head in his hands. His Uncle John (MY WIFE's kid brother, and an inventive sort, himself) has helped him with this rig which, as it turns out, is really quite convincing. Joey, my Godson, is about two, and although he doesn't know it yet, he will be going as a ghost. This will be accomplished by draping a sheet of some sort over his head, while his mom and dad wheel him from house to house in a stroller - kind of like Casper on wheels.

We hear their car pull up, so MY WIFE and I decide to meet them at the door, seeing as we're the only ones in costume thus far (and the only adults who will be, for that matter.) Michael, being in the stage of life he is, just gives me the "Caitlyn eyes" as he walks by. Luann, ever-polite (but not so strong on her American history) says, "Oh, it's a... doorman?" When I inform her that I'm Thomas Jefferson, Charlie - who had been following close behind - says, "Jim, how long have you had these delusions?" Joey just smiles. When MY WIFE announces that she's Howard Stern, Michael says, "Oh, yeah! Right... NOT!!!", which is about what we expected from him.

After a nice dinner, and while the kids are getting into their costumes, talk about Thomas Jefferson, Howard Stern, and freedom of speech leads my father-in-law into a joke.

(You've got to understand - just about anything leads my father-in-law into a joke. He's got an ample supply and, notwithstanding the jeers and sour faces he sometimes receives from his immediate family, I think they're usually pretty good. Then again, I'm a relatively new relative. Maybe after hearing them for thirty or forty years, I'll have a different opinion.)

Anyway, it's a fairly new joke for him. He asks, "Why won't they be celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving in Arkansas this year?" When no one replies, he answers, "Because the witch left town and took the turkey with her!" This is fairly clever, so I get a chuckle. Most of the rest of the family (probably staunch democrats) just groan.

(Being the only Libertarian in the room - as is usually the case - I'm free to laugh at Democrats, Republicans, Prohibitionists, Anabaptists, and all manner of fringe lunatics, equally and indiscriminately. If it had been a joke about there not being any Channukah in Washington this year, since they sent the Bush back to Texas, I would have laughed at that, too - though not as hard, since it's nowhere near as good a joke. However, I digress, again.)

By this time, the kids are all in costume, and Michael's really is interesting to look at. He does look like someone with his head cut off carrying it in his own hands. When someone asks him how he'll collect candy, since he doesn't have the use of his arms to hold a bag, he explains that the top part of the costume is empty and he'll ask people to stuff candy down into his headless throat.

Caitlyn, ever the glamour-puss, is continually fussing with her witch's hat, trying to get it just so. Alyssa is waving her spear-shaped tail and shouting, "I'm the Queen of the Devils!" Only Joey isn't happy. For one thing, he hates having stuff on his head. If you try to put a hat on him, he'll throw it off in an instant. So he's not too thrilled with having a sheet over his head. It's also a cold and rainy sort of night, so the poor little guy has the shivers. It looks like it'll be a short night for Casper the rolling ghost.

I have a cup of coffee that I want to take with me, so I ask my father-in-law if I can borrow one of his beer steins. It just wouldn't be right for Thomas Jefferson to walk around with a Dunkin' Donuts mug. The best one he can come up with for me to stay in character is a plain clay mug, with something to the effect of "Munich - Octoberfest" on one side of it. He says that, as long as I keep that side turned towards me, it should work. John, fairly apolitical, says, "Beer Putsch; Revolution; it's all the same..."

As we make our rounds, I find out about the power of advertising. With the addition of the stein, everyone immediately takes me to be Samuel Adams. I correct the first person who thinks so, but then I decide that I might as well let it go. I mean, if what you're doing is a success, why argue that it's not?

Nobody (at least out loud) ventures a guess as to who or what MY WIFE might be. Everybody thinks that Michael's costume is inventive, but they're all a little nonplussed at having to stick their hands down his throat to give him his treats. Caitlyn's worst moment is when we all arrive at the house of a boy in her school who allegedly likes her. When this boy answers the door, Caitlyn kind of slinks into the background, but Michael being Michael says, "She likes you!" The resultant "Caitlyn eyes" can be seen even in the dark. Alyssa, the Queen of the Devils, is as she usually is - happy and oblivious. The addition of getting a bunch of free candy just makes her more so. Unfortunately, Joey/Casper is an early dropout, taken home by his father after only two or three stops.

I didn't get any candy. I did have a tube of toothpaste, which the town dentist had handed out along with his candy treats and which one of the kids had dropped, but that's hardly the same thing. When we got back to the house, though, Caitlyn gave me a Chunky, while the Queen of the Devils gave Howard Stern a Kit-Kat. Kids tend to guard their Halloween booty very jealously, so this was sweet of them. No doubt Michael would have given us something, too, but he couldn't reach up into his own neck to get anything for us (he couldn't take his costume off yet, as he still had another round of trick-or-treating to go, around his other grandmother's neighborhood.) Just seeing Joey so damned happy to get the sheet off of his head was treat enough from him.

Sometimes, as adults, we tend to forget how important Halloween is to kids. Sure, there are some of us, like MY WIFE and myself, who dress up in costume and join in, accompanying kids door-to-door, and there are others who attend parties and such, but none of us are celebrating the same thing that the kids are. Basically, it's an impossibility. They're celebrating being kids, although not consciously, of course. And consciously or unconsciously, we can't get there, really, although sometimes we can get close on a night like this.

Ah, well. You'll excuse me now, please. I'm going to kiss Howard Stern and I'd like some privacy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Suicide Note

I've spent most of my life reading the funny pages
By the light of my house burning down
And I don't expect to ever get out of this town
With my sanity
I'm a hustler who's hustled by fools and by sages
In a get-rich-quick state of desire
But I don't regret being all full of the fire
Of humanity

In the darkness of night popping pills to get knocked out
Counteracting the speed I just took
With a quick glance at the back pages of the good book
I'm anesthetized
And a couple of bucks earned with my conscience blocked out
Beats an honest job most any day
But it's not something you want to admit that you say
When you close your eyes

And the years keep on passing with gathering speed
While the fears keep on mounting, fulfilling a need
To be held; to be nurtured and not to succeed
It's a mystery

It was nice while it lasted, but now it's no fun
I'm too much of a coward to suck on a gun
But it's certainly over; all finished and done
I am history

So, how do I end it in a nice painless fashion
You know I don't want to leave a mess
Though I'm no longer a Catholic, I should confess
Just to hedge my bets
The time has come for me to take my chips and cash in
I was ahead, but now I'm a behind
I've got to go; I hope you understand and don't mind
I have no regrets

I've committed suicide now for thirty-five years
Via cigarette, Twinkie and meat
Some don't see it that way, but I know when I'm beat
And it's not so bad
So now I will continue and you should shed no tears
I'm enjoying my fat smoky life
No gas, guns or ropes, nor the edge of a knife
Dying's not so sad!

I'm not ready to check out, thanks for asking. I just came up with the first verse while driving to work today and decided to try and write a whole song when I got here. Not bad for thirty minutes. Horrible for anything longer than that.

I like my life. A lot. As a matter of fact, just yesterday morning I found out I won $50 in a free contest involving picking college football games against the spread. Of course, in the time I've spent entering such contests and making my picks and watching the games and checking the results, I could have had a real job that made me many thousands of dollars. But, see verse two.

I'm going to go smoke a cigarette and eat a Twinkie, which is certainly better than the other way around. Soon, with more better stuff.

(By the way, in searching for an illustration to go with this, I entered "suicide" in Google Images and came up with the following FUNNY website. Go there and be truly amused - unlike here.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mr. Suldog's Wild Ride

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the wild ride of Suldog here,
In the month of August, in Eighty-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers him being filled with fear.

(Little did Henry Wadsworth Longfellow imagine that someday a hack like me would screw with his stuff in order to have a cheap introduction. If he had, he probably would have skipped the whole thing.)

Yes, our tale takes place during the summer of 1985. Ronald Reagan was in his second term as president, his economics trickling down all over us, and I needed a job.

Until recently, I had been working doing deliveries for a fruit and vegetable company in Hyde Park, a suburb of Boston. The name of that concern was A & S Fruit. It was run by Arthur (the "A" - his wife was the "S") and I was the only non-family-member working there. I had gotten the job through a recommendation by Arthur's son, Artie, with whom I had just recently been in a band.

Artie played drums and I played bass. We were a good rhythm section, but the band didn't last too long. As a matter of fact, we never played a single gig. Artie was a real nice guy, though, and we got to be decent friends in the short time the group was together.

When the band broke up, I said something about having to find a real job. Artie told me about an opening for a driver at his dad's produce company. He knew that I had had numerous driving jobs in the past and that I held a Class 2 license in Massachusetts.

(The Class 2 license was needed for driving vehicles of, as I remember, over 12,000 but not exceeding 18,000 pounds, and did not include tractor/trailers. You needed a Class 1 license for those. The Class 2 covered such things as dump trucks and large delivery vehicles. I don't believe the Class 2 license exists any longer, but I could be wrong. In any case, I let mine lapse when it came time for renewal, a couple of years after the time of this story.

The thing that pissed me off is that the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Massachusetts charged more for Class 1 and Class 2 licenses than they did for a Class 3, which was your standard license. Why they did this, I have no idea. They didn't give you anything extra for the price. You had the same plastic-encased jailhouse-quality photo I.D. that you got for a Class 3 license. The only difference I could discern was that they printed a "2" on the license instead of a "3". For that service, the state charged you $35 instead of $25.

So far as I knew, I wouldn't be driving large vehicles again anytime in the near future. I figured I'd save ten bucks and just renew at the Class 3 level. I did, and I have had no cause to regret saving that money on every renewal since then. However, I digress, so back to the story at hand.)

I liked the idea of spending most of my day on the road listening to the radio, so I took the job. As it turned out, it was a lot more work than I had figured on. As a matter of fact, I got into the best shape of my life during that summer.

I spent most of my day loading and unloading 40 and 50 pound crates of fruits and vegetables, sweating my ass off hauling them into restaurant kitchens and stacking them in their walk-in freezers. Also, part of the deal was all of the free fruits and vegetables I could eat. All day long, between stops, I'd shovel fresh sweet strawberries, oranges, bananas, and other yummy fruits down my gullet. Each night, I'd pack up a sack from the warehouse and bring home sweet peppers, tomatoes, squashes, carrots, potatoes - whatever struck my fancy. I didn't pay for produce a single time while I was in Arthur's employ and that was an excellent benefit of the job.

And I've got to tell you: There are few joys in life that compare to having worked all day in 100 degree heat, hauling heavy boxes, pouring gallons of sweat from your body, and then arriving back at the warehouse, walking into the freezer, sitting down on a cool stack of crates, and slicing up a fresh cold pineapple to eat. Oh, man, that was heaven!

My favorite memory of the job with A & S, however, has to do with the telephone. Whenever someone would call the warehouse - to place an order, inquire about prices, complain about a delivery, or whatever - Artie would answer the phone by saying the name of the company. However, he never said it clearly. So, when he picked up the phone, it sounded like he said, "Anus Fruit". The person on the other end would invariably say, "What?!?", and then Artie would say, "A... AND... S... FRUIT. How can I help you?"

I was with Anus Fruit for about four months. I was in great shape, the pay was decent, I liked the folks there and they liked me. I worked hard and didn't complain. However, I still harbored notions about being a rock 'n roll star someday. Getting up at 3am every morning, working through until 4pm or so in the afternoon, and then falling into bed by 8 o'clock each night did not leave much opportunity to play the bass, let alone put in the time needed to rehearse with a group. So, when I received an offer to join another band, I gave Arthur my notice. We parted on very good terms. He told me that anytime I ever needed a job, I would be welcomed back.

Now, even though my job with A & S involved driving, it has nothing to do with my wild ride. That happened at my next job, which I will now tell you about.


I was in the band that offered me the position as bass player - the name of that band, by the way, was Squiddly Diddly, and that's about what happened there aside from a few sets at parties - and I needed to have a part-time paying gig to stay afloat. I wanted something that wouldn't be more than a couple of days a week so I'd be free for rehearsals and the playing dates that never materialized; not too strenuous - I had had enough exercise that summer, thanks - and at least a few bucks above minimum wage, so I'd have enough scratch to keep me in strings, smokes and pizza. I checked the want ads in the Boston Globe and found something that looked like it might fit the bill. It was a position as a cleaner in a parking garage, Sundays.

I've never been averse to pushing a broom. As a matter of fact, I rather enjoy it sometimes. I'm not Felix Unger, but cleaning isn't something I find utterly distasteful, either. So, I went to the garage to apply for the job. The garage was located on Clarendon Street in downtown Boston, and sat atop a tunnel of the Massachusetts Turnpike, Interstate 90.

Well, I've never had any trouble getting jobs like that. I'm a high skool grajooit. I don't appear to be insane. Through the grace of God, I've got no criminal record. I'm able-bodied and I can string together three or four coherent sentences in an interview. What's not to like? I was hired for the princely sum of $5.25 an hour.

However, during the interview I had learned that the job did not involve pushing a broom at all. Instead, the fellow doing the interview asked me if I had any driving experience. I told him about my Class 2 license and my past experiences as a cab driver and in fruit & produce delivery. That was enough to satisfy him. He took me for a short walk outside of his office and into the garage proper. Then he showed me my ride.

It was like a Zamboni machine that ran on dry ground, able to pivot somewhat tightly in corners and reaching a top speed of about ten miles per hour. There was a holding chamber for the debris and dirt that the brushes picked up. And in the rear it had a little yellow flashing light on a stick - you can see it, unlit, in the picture - that I suppose would keep idiots from crashing into me if they were so blind that they didn't see the whole damn machine.

This suited me just fine! I'd ride around the garage on Sunday afternoon and earn about $40; no heavy lifting and I could listen to a ballgame on the radio and smoke. Heck, I wouldn't even need an ashtray. I could just throw my finished smokes on the ground and the little truck would sweep them up.


I reported for work the next Sunday at 10am. A quick lesson on the operation of the little sweeper truck and I rode off up the ramp to the first floor and started cleaning.

It was kind of fun. As I rode, I could see the difference between where I had swept and where I hadn't. In front of me: dirt and dust with some paper trash and the occasional pigeon feather. Behind me: a swatch of clean concrete - or, at least, as clean as concrete gets. I started at one corner, went to the opposite corner, turned and rode parallel to where I had first cleaned until I reached the beginning wall again, and so on, back-and-forth, until I finished the first floor. I then rode up the ramp to the second floor, cleaning the ramp as I went.

On the second floor, I decided to see if it would be more efficient to clean in a spiral. That is, I started in one corner and when I got to the opposite corner, instead of turning around, I hung a right and hugged the wall. I kept taking rights, closing in on the center. I decided that it wasn't as good, since there were too many poles.

I continued cleaning and climbing. It took about an hour to clean each floor thoroughly, after which I'd clean the ramp up to the next floor. There were, as I remember, six floors. Of course, there were two ramps - one up and one down. I'd finish by cleaning the down ramp and then ride the machine back to the office.

I reached the top floor and started cleaning in the back-and-forth fashion I had determined to be most efficient. As I did so, across the garage from where I began sweeping that floor, I noticed an entrance to a ramp I hadn't noticed on any of the other floors. I continued my pattern of cleaning, and I resigned myself to the fact that I'd probably have to clean that ramp also. I finished the floor and entered the ramp. This ramp, unlike the other two ramps which were straight, was a spiral.

As I rode the sweeper down the ramp, I wondered if I had made the right decision to clean this ramp before the OTHER down ramp. If I had done the other one first, I could have possibly found out exactly where this one came out on the ground floor. At least, I assumed it came out on the ground floor. What if it led to a basement or a sub-basement? Would I have to clean those, too?

I didn't know how far I had ridden down on this ramp, as it was closed in on the sides fairly completely and had no exits to the other floors I had already cleaned. I assumed I had gone about three stories down, but it could have been more. Then the thought occurred to me that I should probably go back up the ramp, clean down the other ramp - the one that I knew where it led - and then ask back at the office about this other ramp I was now on; find out where it led, if I actually did have to clean it, if there were other floors, like a basement. I braked the sweeper and stopped.

That's when I figured out some bad news. It was impossible to turn around on the ramp.

Well, what could I do now? If I couldn't turn around - and I sure couldn't - there was nothing to do but continue down the ramp. The sweeper didn't have a reverse gear. So I continued down. However, as I got lower and lower, toward wherever the end of the ramp was, I thought I heard a low rumbling sound. I braked again. Maybe there WAS a basement that this led to and the noise was the sound of heating or air conditioning equipment. I listened more closely. The sounds seemed to be shifting position; kind of a "swooshing". That was odd.

I rode down the ramp another half turn. The sounds still seemed to be shifting, but now in the opposite direction. And the sounds weren't consistent. Sometimes there were more sounds than other times. I was a bit familiar with sound technology, having spent time in bands. It was almost like a phase shifter, or maybe a Doppler effect. WTF? There was no other way to find out but to keep going.

I figured I might as well get to the answer as quickly as possible, so I laid pedal to the metal. I jacked the little Zamboni-like truck to its top speed of 10 miles per hour. My little yellow light-on-a-stick was flashing. The sounds got stronger and stronger and then I found out what the sounds were, because then I reached the end of the ramp.

I was riding my little sweeper truck in a tunnel on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Holy Crap! The ramp emptied into the breakdown lane of the tunnel upon which the garage had been built. As I realized where I was, my heart started beating a mile a minute. Cars were flying by me at 60 and 70 miles an hour. Meanwhile, what with the shock of finding myself where I was, I hadn't taken my foot off of the gas pedal and I was trundling down the Interstate at a mighty 10 miles per hour with my little yellow light flashing off the sides of the tunnel walls.

I took a quick look around, realized I was in the breakdown lane, and stopped. I kept checking over my shoulder to be sure no cars were coming at me, even as other cars whizzed by in the traveling lanes. Thank GOD for that silly little yellow light. What the hell am I going to do now? My boss is going to kill me, if I don't get killed in this tunnel first. I can't just leave the sweeper on the highway, for God's sakes. If I do, I may as well never show my face at the garage again. Maybe I'll be liable for it if it's hit and wrecked. Fuck! I might be hit and wrecked! Shit! Shit! Shit!

I finally determined that I had to turn the sweeper around and ride back up the ramp.

I was about 100 feet away from the ramp now. With a machine whose top speed was 10 miles an hour, how fast could I turn around? I needed to leave my relatively safe breakdown lane in order to do so. Even with the tight turning radius of the machine, the breakdown lane was not much wider than the ramp and I hadn't been able to turn around there. I'd have to be in an actual place where a car might ram into me and croak me, for at least a few seconds, and someone coming at 70 miles an hour might not have time to see me, little yellow warning-light-on-a-stick notwithstanding.

I had probably about a 1/5 of a mile of visibility back up the tunnel. I waited until I saw absolutely nothing there and then hit the gas. I turned, S-L-O-W-L-Y, now facing INTO the traffic I hoped wouldn't come into sight anytime soon.

I finished the turn and was safely back into the breakdown lane. I was trying to press the gas pedal through the floor, in my anxiety to get off of the expressway. I made it back to the ramp and started up as a couple of more cars flew by.

I stopped on the ramp after a couple of seconds and let out my breath. I was sweating hard and not just because it was a hot August Sunday. I pulled out a smoke and lit it.

I relaxed a bit, but not for long. I quickly realized that there was a very real possibility of my still dying. There could be a car coming DOWN the ramp. I tossed my smoke and hit the gas again. I had to get back up to the top floor as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, while the top speed of the machine was about 10 miles per hour going down the ramp, it was about 5 going up, if that. And the machine was not enjoying going up seven stories all in one fell swoop. It was actually slowing down. I wondered if I'd have to get out and push the damned thing before I reached the top. Meanwhile, I had visions of a Cadillac coming down the ramp, plowing into me and splattering my guts all over the walls in a spiral pattern.

Well, I'm writing this so you know I made it back up the ramp without dying. As soon as I made the top floor, I pulled the sweeper over to the side, parked it and got out. I sat down on the floor of the garage and lit up another smoke. As I sat there smoking, the garage's elevator door opened and out walked my supervisor. He didn't look happy as he walked over to me.

My first thought was that he had somehow found out about my ride on the turnpike. However, it wasn't that. He told me that he had checked my job. He said that I had left some spots in the corners and around poles unswept and he wasn't happy with my work at all. I felt like telling him that not only had I cleaned the entire garage, but I had cleaned a whole other ramp that I probably wasn't expected to do - as well as about 100 feet of two lanes on Interstate 90.

I didn't tell him that, though. It wasn't worth it. I had decided that I was through being a garage cleaner. If the work I had done wasn't good enough for him, then screw it. I was going to be a rock 'n roll star, after all. I could always find another shit job to make ends meet. Anyway, I seriously thought I had done a good job. I missed a couple of spots? I didn't think I had. Even if I did, his attitude and demeanor just pissed me off to no end after having taken a ride that scared the bejeezus out of me. I stared at him as though he were a madman and told him, calmly, that if he thought my work was that bad, then I was quitting and he could mail my check.


And that's the story of my wild ride. I never did find out why that ramp was built to empty directly onto the Mass Pike. I assume it was an emergency exit of some sort.

Interestingly, MY WIFE and I have had, for a few years now, season tickets to a theater company near that garage. The theater validates parking in that garage, so I end up parking there six or seven times each year. Every time I go in there, I see that little Zamboni-like sweeper and I shudder just a bit.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Fear And Loathing (Of Bridges) In Northern New England, Part Three

I've gone on at great length about my phobias for the past two days, interspersing a few weak anecdotes here and there in hopes of keeping you interested enough to carry on. If you were lucky enough to miss it on the first go round, you can read all about it here and here, if you're not smart enough to stay away from it now. And even if you were fortunate enough to avoid it the first time, I'm going to keep at it for another day at least and I probably won't stop until I've made you utterly phobic of my phobias, so you may as well resign yourself to it, read this helping of tripe, and get it over with.

(That's what's known in the radio biz as a "teaser". Makes you want to read more, doesn't it? Why, writing like this must make you fairly salivate at the thought of reading what lies ahead. Or, in this instance, replace "salivate" with "hurl" and "what" with "the" and it'll likely be more correct. However, I digress.)

We checked out of the motel in Portsmouth and hit the road for Thornton. I wanted to avoid the nasty bridges again, of course, so we headed south on Route One. Thornton was north of us, but I was willing to backtrack ten miles, take four different smaller roads instead of the one major one that a sane person would have driven, and cost us an extra hour or so of traveling time. I told MY WIFE it was an interesting adventure to see the sights we wouldn't see on a big road like I-93, rather than admitting it was sheer terror and utter avoidance sending us onto more picturesque roads like Route 101.

You may think I'm exaggerating what I was feeling. I wish that were the case. I spent far too much time on this vacation worrying about the next place I had to drive. As a matter of fact, I'm spending far too much time telling you about it, too. So I'll skip the actual drive to Thornton and pick up the tale when we arrived at the former Sullivan Lane.

(Now, you probably weren't aware that there even was a Sullivan Lane, or that it isn't called that any longer, but there was and it isn't. Does any of this matter to you, or to this tale, such as it is? No. But I've got a cute little story and I'm going to jam it in here one way or the other, so here goes.

My father's house in New Hampshire - the place now owned by my Cousin Joan and where we were headed in Thornton at this point - is at the end of a dirt road off of Route 3. The dirt road had no name when my father bought the place. Whenever he had to tell someone where he lived, he had to say "Behind Smitty's". Smitty's was (and is) an auto repair shop on Route 3, and my father's house was down that dirt road about a quarter-mile behind Smitty's.

My father got sick and tired of having to tell people that he lived "Behind Smitty's", so he petitioned the town for the right to name the dirt road. The town granted him permission and he named it Sullivan Lane. He went and had an actual street sign made and he was pretty damned proud of it.

The upshot is that from then on, whenever anyone asked him where he lived, he proudly said, "Sullivan Lane." When they then invariably asked him where that was, he had to say, "Behind Smitty's".)

(After I sold the place, the town renamed it. Why? I don't know. Maybe they were just waiting for me to pay the back taxes and were afraid I'd stiff them if they renamed it before I sold it. Who knows?)

We drove down behind Smitty's and saw the house for the first time in about two years.

I suppose I should once again recount how the house came to be owned by my Cousin Joan, in case you missed it in some of my other writings. I'll give the short version: My father died. I inherited the house. Tried to sell it for a decent price, thought we had done so, but the deal fell through. Rented it out for a while, first to strangers and then to my Auntie Ba. My Auntie Ba died. Joan (Auntie Ba's daughter) asked about buying it. We made a deal for a fair amount less than what it might have drawn if we went through a realtor, but with a proviso that MY WIFE and I have access to it once in a while when Joan and her family weren't using it.

So here we were. And I've got to say, honestly, that Joan and her husband, Eddie, have done a wonderful job with the place. It is immaculately kept up and they've added all sorts of wonderful homey touches. Eddie is a tremendously handy guy and he's put in a lovely flagstone walkway, built a nice new shed and garage that exactly matches the house, and done other repairs that I couldn't have done without a government grant and the Army Corp of Engineers to help. They get so much more enjoyment out of the place than we ever could have, that I'm spectacularly happy we made the deal we did. We went inside and made ourselves at home, which was easy to do since Joan has done equally nice things with the inside of the house.

On the mantel by the chimney, they had a couple of pictures that intrigued us. One was of a couple of deer walking by the railroad tracks that run behind the house. Another was of a family of black bears in the yard by the deck. Now, I wasn't too worried about the deer, but the idea that some bears might be wandering around some night while I was out on the deck having a smoke made for some interesting thoughts - and quick smokes.

While the other places we had been thus far were nice and fairly relaxing, Thornton is downright bucolic. And I love it. There is nothing quite like being able to go outside at night, look up at the sky, and actually see every star sharply and clearly. You can't get that in the city, ever. It's awe-inspiring, really. One night I stood out on the deck - bears be damned - and just stared at the sky for about twenty minutes. It was absolutely breathtaking and it also put things into perspective. You can start to think you're pretty hot stuff when all you do is hang around in your own little office or whatever in the city, but when you stand in the fresh cool air of the country, with no city lights to obscure your view of the universe, you realize that you're small potatoes, indeed.

Now, if this story had any real point to it, this would be where I have an epiphany that allows me to get rid of my anxieties about driving over bridges. However, this story has no point and I had no such epiphany. The next day, we drove up to Polly's Pancake Parlor, in Sugar Hill, for breakfast. Rather than take I-93, I chose to drive us over three or four mountains on various side roads.

Polly's is a great place for breakfast. As you might imagine from the name, they serve pancakes; great pancakes; pancakes that give wet dreams to maple syrup, whatever the hell that means. Suffice to say that it's a great breakfast and leave it at that before I try to come up with a more hideous simile, metaphor, analogy, or whatever the heck is the right word here.

While we were enjoying our pancakes, a man and woman at the next table were trying to win a scavenger hunt. I'm serious. They had a list and had shown it to the cashier and she was running all over the restaurant trying to get things for them to check off of the list. She had already given them a picture of the state bird and the lyrics to the state song. Those are the kind of folks that run Polly's. Nice people and excellent food.

(The best laugh of the morning came when the cashier asked the folks where they were from and they pointed out to the parking lot, just outside the window by their table, at what I assume must have been the license plate on their car. The cashier said, "Oh! What part of Montana are you from?" and the man answered, "South Dakota".)

Being naturally curious (read: nosy as hell) we asked if we could see the list. Unfortunately there was nothing on it that we could give them. One of the items, I remember, was a California telephone directory. Where they might have found that in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire, I have no idea. Heck, you'd be lucky to find a New Hampshire directory in Sugar Hill, probably. It seems like the sort of town where you probably pick up the phone and ask Sarah to connect you.

On the way back, I took the Interstate, having not been overly fond of the mountains we rode over on the way there. Fortunately, there are all kinds of interesting things to see on the way from Sugar Hill back south to Thornton, so my irrational thoughts concerning the road weren't given much time to intrude. We stopped at The Basin and The Flume, but not The Old Man, since he isn't there any more.

Well, not a whole lot of exciting stuff to tell concerning the remainder of our time in Thornton. It was just a nice, relaxing, sleepy few days in the mountains; just what we expected, and wanted.

Friday afternoon, we packed up and headed back towards Boston. I was still having my (by now interminable to you, no doubt, but imagine how I was feeling about it) anxieties concerning driving, so we drove Route 3 all the way back down to Manchester. At Manchester, I had to decide whether to continue on Route 3, which would bring us into Massachusetts far west of where we would have liked, or to get onto I-93. I got onto I-93. I was just tired of driving and wanted to get home, and I was OK on the road, but I sure felt sorry for MY WIFE. By this time, my anxiousness was far too obvious for me to totally hide, so I was telling her about it openly.

I love MY WIFE because she listened patiently, said all the right things, told me to take everything at my own pace and said that we could even stop for an overnight someplace if I didn't feel up to continuing. I told her that if I reached that point, we'd better call a mobile headshrinker.

It is so extremely humbling to write about this. I've always considered my driving ability one of my strong points. As I've pointed out to you numerous times now, I've held many driving jobs, some of them involving very large vehicles. And cars and driving are so intimately associated with masculinity in our culture, that it's somewhat emasculating to admit any weakness in this area. But it has me so absolutely stumped that I needed to write about it, to see if I could get at the root of it in some way by verbalizing it. It hasn't helped me to understand why it happened, but it has helped me to regain some control of it. And I thank you for being my unpaid analyst.

Anyway, as we rode into Massachusetts and got closer to home, MY WIFE did a very smart thing. I had put some Who into the CD player, hoping to get into the music a bit and take my mind off of the road somewhat. As the music played, MY WIFE started asking me questions about The Who and about music in general. Very smart. Once I started pontificating on a subject I considered myself knowledgeable about, the driving took care of itself. I went on automatic pilot while I filled the car with hot air. Even after The Who CD played out, and I put in some Grand Funk, she continued the conversation about music. And she couldn't possibly have been that interested in Grand Funk. Nobody is. It got us both home without any further paranoia. Thank you again, love.

And that's it for our vacation. I'll be back on Friday. The story that won the vote (What vote? This vote!) was Mr. Suldog's Wild Ride. I promise you that it has absolutely nothing to do with bridges. Really. Honestly.

See you then with (easily) more better stuff.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fear And Loathing (Of Bridges) In Northern New England, Part Two

After the lovely wedding, which came after the hot tub, which came after the ride over the least terrifying bridge in the world, we...

Wait a minute. Do you have any idea what in the hell I'm talking about? If not, go here and get an education.


OK. We awoke in Kennebunkport on Sunday morning, packed our bags and checked out of The Rhumb Line. We then went in search of breakfast on Route One.

There's a place with a great reputation called The Maine Diner. We drove into their parking lot, parked (duh), and went inside. We found out that there would be a 45-minute wait. That's what happens when a place has a great reputation. I figured that we could find breakfast in less than 45 minutes at someplace without so great a reputation. We got back into the car and drove down the road.

After 44 minutes of stops and starts and u-turns and red lights and side trips down side roads that led only to farmhouses, we went to a Chinese restaurant.

Yes, a Chinese restaurant. It was called, and I'm not making this up, The Asian Grill Meets The Captains Table. I've never before come upon a more double-jointed name for a restaurant and I'’m willing to bet you haven't, either. Anyway, the sign out front said they served breakfast from 8am until Noon. It being after 11am, and I being hungry, we decided to try it.

I wish I had a really funny story to tell you about breakfast at a Chinese restaurant, but I don't. I had a swell scrambled eggs, toast, bacon and coffee breakfast that didn't include noodles, chopsticks, egg rolls, or anything else that would have seemed unbreakfastlike to my American palate. MY WIFE had French Toast, for goodness' sakes.

Well, OK, there was one thing on the menu that puzzled me. It was something called "Raisin Oat Milk". I assume it was a misprint - probably raisin oatmeal - but we didn't order it and I didn't want to court disfavor by asking the nice waitress if it was indeed a misprint, thus implying that she and her countrymen were somehow idiots for having it on the menu that way. I wonder if anybody ever orders it? If we go back there someday, I'm going to ask for it, just to see what I get.


After the lovely breakfast, we continued south on Route One. MY WIFE wanted to stop at a couple of outlet stores we had passed on the way up, to look for some shoes. I had no problem with that. What I did have a problem with, increasingly, was driving.

I mentioned in part one that I've always been a very good driver; that I've held many driving jobs, some involving very large vehicles. I have a problem with bridges, but I've never had any other problems associated with the road. Now, however, on this trip, I was becoming increasingly uneasy behind the wheel. As we traveled down Route One, I could feel myself entering the first stages of some sort of panic attack.

I truly have no idea whatsoever why I was feeling nervous. It was a road I had already traveled on, albeit in the other direction, and I knew there were no bridges between Kennebunkport and Portsmouth, so no problem there. For some reason, I just felt a great sense of foreboding. I came close to pulling over to the shoulder and stopping, a couple of times, but didn't. And I didn't let on to MY WIFE that I was feeling anything less than my usual self. I didn't want to worry her in any way, as she doesn't greatly enjoy being in a car to begin with. The last thing I wanted was for her to feel more nervous than she already might have felt.

We made it safely to the outlet stores. While we wandered through a couple of them, looking for her shoes, I tried to puzzle out just what was happening to make me feel so edgy. Couldn't for the life of me figure it out; still can't. It was vacation time, we were going places I enjoyed, I was with my favorite person in the entire world, the car was in good shape, the weather was swell, there was nothing I could think of that would add up to anything more than a pleasurable experience.

We ended up buying no shoes, but we each bought a new belt. We got back on the road to Portsmouth. I was OK, but not perfectly all right. I was still a bit nervous and now I knew we'd have to cross the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge again.

As we neared Kittery, across the river from Portsmouth, I knew we were on Route One and that the bridge I wanted to cross was on Route One, but I kept worrying that I'd somehow take a wrong turn and end up irrevocably headed towards the gigantic bridge on I-95.

So I slowed down and took a side road that headed nowhere near any way to cross over into New Hampshire, which meant I had to then reverse direction and try to get back onto Route One without taking a wrong turn that would send me to my DOOM on I-95. It was getting beyond silly into an area where MY WIFE finally began to lose some of her infinite patience, so much so that she finally told me, firmly, to go here, go there, bear left, etc., until I got back to the "friendly" bridge.

I have to tell you one more story about that bridge. The first time I had driven over it into Maine, we drove a little ways and then turned around. We were just entering the bridge to cross back over to New Hampshire, when the horn that alerts drivers to the drawbridge going up went off. I almost drove over the side into the river right then and there. I pictured us being in the middle of the bridge, rising higher and higher until we were some forty feet above the roadway, stuck there for ten minutes while some freighter made its way through. MY WIFE had more sense than me, as usual, and quickly assured me that the horn was sounding only to warn us of the impending raising of the bridge, not because they were going to DO IT RIGHT NOW AND KILL US GOOD GOD GET ME OFF OF THIS FUCKING THING!!!!! I calmed down a bit and we made it over a good five minutes before the bridge actually was raised.

Anyway, this time no horn sounded and I drove over the damned thing again with only about a gallon or so of sweat running down from my armpits. It was getting better with each trip.


Our home for this portion of the trip was The Port Inn, a very nice motel. When we went to check in, the man behind the desk told us it would be about ten minutes before the maid finished cleaning the room. We waited in the lobby, having complimentary cups of coffee and discussing how nice this furniture might look in our living room. I had a good conversation with one of the housekeepers concerning the Red Sox prospects for next year. The man who had been on duty when we got there was now going off duty and he said he'd check on the status of our room. He did, and said it would be another five minutes or so.

Finally, after a good 20-minute wait, the new desk person called us over and apologized, saying that our room was now ready. She handed us the keys and we drove over and parked in front of it. I put the key in the door, opened it, and... it was not the room we had ordered. We had made a reservation for two queen beds in a housekeeping unit, but this was a small non-housekeeping unit with one bed. We went back to the office.

"Um, excuse me, but we ordered two queen beds and that room has only one bed."

"Oh, my. Let me check your reservation."

She did.

"Oh, my. I'm so sorry. We don't have any more smoking units available."

"That's OK. I don't have to have a smoking unit. I can go outside to smoke."

"Oh, OK, in that case, I'll upgrade you to a suite, at no extra cost, but it IS non-smoking."

So we went to the "suite". It was the type of room we had originally reserved - two beds, housekeeping - except now it was a non-smoking room. Fine, I'd just have to step outside to have a smoke. The fresh air would do both of us good - the fresh air inside for MY WIFE and the fresh air outside for me.


What can I tell you of interest about our stay in Portsmouth? I guess the lovely public park and the Italian restaurant will do.

Prescott Park is probably the most beautiful green space within a city that I've ever visited. First, it sits right on the waterfront and affords beautiful views of the Piscataqua River and the Maine coast, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. You can just sit and watch the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge go up and down, if you wish. Though I find it scary to ride over, it is actually quite a sight to see it operate. Second, there are marvelous floral displays throughout the park. These are maintained by local students, as well as botanical and environmental organizations. We spent a good hour or so just walking around and looking at the beautiful flowers.

In the summer, Prescott Park has a stage for performances every night and also some afternoons. There is open air theater on most nights and we've seen some wonderful productions there. Occasionally, these productions feature interesting stars. For instance, we saw Jamie Farr in Damn Yankees one summer. We also saw Henny Youngman perform his stand-up routine, which was as expected - tremendously corny and therefore enjoyable to the extreme.

The other great thing about Portsmouth is the food. There are all sorts of good restaurants there. Our favorite is an Italian restaurant called The Rosa. Excellent food, friendly service, warm atmosphere, reasonably priced.

We were there on Columbus Day. While we were waiting for our orders, a young couple with a small child came in and were seated in the booth next to ours. When the waiter came to take their order, it became apparent that they were French Canadian. They knew more English than the waiter knew French, but it was still rough going in spots.

They said something about this being a holiday, and he replied that, yes, it was Columbus Day. They didn't know who Columbus was and the best the waiter came up with didn't enlighten them much. They then explained, or tried to explain, that it was a holiday for them, also, but not Columbus Day.

"It is... how you say... thee turkee en thee craneberry, no?"

The waiter, I believe, thought they were trying to order.

We both said, somewhat loudly, "Thanksgiving."

The waiter remained oblivious, helpfully saying, "1492!"

I could go on with a hideous dialect story, but I'll cut to the chase. The U.S. Columbus Day is also Thanksgiving Day in Canada. I don't know what our Thanksgiving Day may be to them. I hope, in the spirit of international brotherhood, they have a similar opportunity to confound Americans trying to order dinner in Quebec during November.

(We weren't at all sure that the family got what they actually wanted to eat, but we don't know enough French to have been of any real help, anyway, so we just shut up from then on and ate our own food.)


And that will do it for today. Picture us tucked into our beds in The Port Inn - or, perhaps, me outside in my PJs at 2am having a smoke while watching cars cross the scary bridge on I-95 - and we'll pick up the tale tomorrow, when we head off to Thornton, New Hampshire. See you then!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fear And Loathing (Of Bridges) In Northern New England

MY WIFE was not drunk. She was wearing slingback shoes.

Well, now that I've got that out of the way, I'll tell you all about our vacation. It was 10 lovely days, except for when I was driving. Also, 10 lovely nights, especially the one where I went in the hot tub in my underwear.

I think I should start at the beginning.


Our vacation began on Friday. We had a wedding to attend in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Saturday. From there, we would go south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for Sunday and Monday. Finally, our trip would take us north to Thornton, New Hampshire, for the remainder of our time away from home.

We set out for Kennebunkport at around noontime on Friday. Now, there are three ways to get to the road to Kennebunkport. All of them involve going over large bridges. I hate driving over large bridges. As a matter of fact, on this trip my phobia was destined to evolve into something totally beyond reason, even for something that was already an unreasonable fear.

I've always been scared of heights. To be more specific, open heights. For instance, I'm not really uncomfortable in an airplane. That's much higher up than any bridge, of course, but flying doesn't bother me a lot. Put me on a fire escape, though, and I become almost paralyzed. The same goes for especially long or high bridges.

Why? I don't know. I might actually begin looking into analysis of this now. On this trip, which started out with just my general fear of bridges, I morphed into a person uncomfortable with driving, period, and I've never been anything less than a very good and confident driver. I've had many jobs where the main activity was driving - cab driver, delivery driver for a fruit and vegetable company, package delivery - and I've held a class 2 license in Massachusetts, which is one allowing me to drive extremely large trucks; basically, anything other than a tractor-trailer. Now, I find myself becoming nervous on any road that I'm not familiar with and at any speed over about 45 miles per hour. As you might imagine, this could make travel on interstate highways a problem.

Anyway, there are three bridges from New Hampshire into Maine along the seacoast. The bridge on Interstate 95 is the highest and longest. Then there is a bridge on the Route One Bypass that is about as long, but not quite as high. Finally, there is the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge, which is shorter and lower than the other two. We planned our route to traverse that bridge, which is part of Route One.

MY WIFE is tremendously understanding concerning my paranoia. She has no choice, really, since she doesn't drive. She did, at one time, but she let her license lapse. I admire her greatly for that decision. She felt that she wasn't a safe driver, so she stopped driving. I wish the thousands of others who have been granted licenses by the state of Massachusetts but who have no real driving ability would do the same.

There are precious few who are willing to admit to an inability to drive well. It is an axiom of American life that, just as almost everybody believes that he can manage the local baseball team better than the man paid to do so, almost everybody thinks he can drive better than the guy in the next car. As of now, I know I can still outmanage, say, Don Zimmer, but I no longer have confidence in my ability to outdrive him.

I should explain something about the bridges in Portsmouth. I've driven over all three of them at one time or another. I was petrified while doing so. The only one that I feel any degree of comfort with is the one we planned on crossing, the Portsmouth Memorial Bridge on Route One. MY WIFE deserves a deal of credit for my ability to ever reach the state of Maine without becoming a total basket case. I'll tell you why.

We have spent a few nice mini-vacations in Portsmouth, as we did during the second leg of this trip. It is a very pretty town with good restaurants and a lovely park, Prescott Park, which I'll tell you more about later. Anyway, during one of these trips, MY WIFE decided to try and cure me of some of my bridge phobia. She took my hand and we walked across that bridge. It is the only one of the three I've mentioned that is also a pedestrian bridge.

The middle section of the bridge is a drawbridge. It raises straight up, via huge counterweights, to let ships pass on the Piscataqua River. The middle section of the bridge is somewhat like a fire escape. That is, a grid made of criss-crossing metal. When we got there, my knees went weak. I willed myself to just look in front of me and take a step at a time. I probably gripped MY WIFE's hand so hard that it hurt quite a bit, but she never complained and we made it to the other side. Then we had to cross back, of course. That was no more fun than the initial crossing, but at least I could say that I had done it. It made driving across it much more manageable, in general. I'm still not fond of going over that bridge, but I can do so with only a minimal amount of terror. The other two bridges remain the stuff of nightmares for me.

We crossed the bridge, MY WIFE lightly holding my right hand for support, and then we continued towards Kennebunkport. There was a problem, though, and that was that the directions we had been given included the words "After crossing the bridge..."

The bridge being referred to was one in Kennebunkport. Having never been in Kennebunkport before, I worked this unseen bridge into one of Golden Gate proportions. I tried to mostly keep my fears to myself, but I was spectacularly unsuccessful. I made a number of self-conscious self-deprecating jokes that didn't help either of us. I told myself that I'd be brave when we got to it, since whatever it was, we had to cross it to be able to attend the wedding. I know I didn't completely act brave, by any means. I was expecting this behemoth of a bridge to rear itself at any moment and I was fairly shaky.

It turned out to be about fifteen feet long and maybe ten feet high. The river, or whatever it traversed, was about the size of a large mud puddle. It was like worrying about a King Cobra and finding an inchworm. I felt like a total dumbass.


OK. We were in Kennebunkport and now I knew there were no more scary bridges. It was time to find our hotel.

In order to get to our hotel, a lovely little place called The Rhumb Line Inn, we had to drive by Walkers Point. You may not be familiar with the fact that this is the Maine residence of the Bushes. Well, now you are.

There were constantly vehicles stopped by the seawall near the house, which was about three hundred yards away on a stony outcropping in the bay. The driveway had a guardhouse, with well-posted stop signs and various warnings about not getting any ideas concerning disturbing the occupants. Still, for some damned reason, loads of people kept stopping and looking at the house, as though it were holy ground and they half expected to see a sacred apparition appear. Each time we drove by, I told MY WIFE to roll down the window and pretend she was pointing a gun. She wisely declined.

(I knew that the area was no doubt inundated with security cameras and the woods were full of secret service agents with no compunction whatsoever about shooting first and asking questions later. I also knew that MY WIFE's window didn't roll down - it is broken - so I knew my little joke would never evolve into a tragedy.)

(I suppose I should make it clear at this point that I have no more against the Bushes than I do against any other royal family. That is, I feel that they are parasites and a scourge on society. But I feel the same way about the Kennedys, for instance, so there's no partisanship involved. I just generally despise those who think elections are the same as coronations. However, I digress, as usual.)


After we checked in, we found out that The Rhumb Line had both indoor and outdoor heated pools and hot tubs. We dearly wanted to hop into one of the hot tubs. However, we hadn't bothered to pack bathing suits, assuming that the weather would be too cold for swimming.

MY WIFE had a pair of shorts and a sleeveless top that could pass muster. I had my underwear. They were a pair of black mid-thigh boxer briefs, which might pass as a tight fitting pair of swim trunks from a distance. We decided, as the hot tub was only a few steps from our room, to be daring and go in and hope nobody else came in the meantime.

We left our room with towels draped around our waists and made our way to the indoor hot tub, which was in the same room as the indoor heated pool. Nobody else was there. We dropped our towels by the side of the hot tub and climbed in. The water was wonderfully warm and relaxing. We laid back and felt great.

After a few minutes, I stood up - I forget why - and MY WIFE looked at how my underwear was now wet and conforming to my... shape... and she rightly suggested that I sit back down in the water. She then stood up and asked me if I could see her goodies. The answer was "Yes, a bit". Her shorts, without benefit of underwear beneath, had become somewhat see-through with the addition of water. Her top was also sheerer than she would have liked. So, there we were, in the hot tub, with both of us showing a bit more of our naughty bits than we would have preferred, but it was quite relaxing and somewhat late in the evening, so we stayed in, expecting that we were probably going to be the only ones there.

After a few more minutes, MY WIFE decided to take a short side trip into the swimming pool. She splashed around a bit. Just as she was getting out of the pool, two more couples came through the door into the pool area.

Well, MY WIFE had been smart enough to take her towel to the area of the pool where she had climbed in. As she climbed out, she put the towel around her waist and made her way over to the hot tub, which the other two couples were now approaching. She handed me my towel just as I rose up out of the water. I think I got it around me without the other folks seeing any more than they needed to see. We smiled at the four of them and made some sort of comment about how relaxing the water was as we made our way out the door and back to our room.

(The other folks, what with bikinis and speedos, were showing more than we were, even in our underwear. However, they didn't have "Fruit Of The Loom" written in large type on their waistbands, so...)


The wedding was lovely. As a matter of fact, outside of our own wedding, I think it was the best wedding I've ever attended.

Matt and Aymie are both really good folks and they make a lovely couple. The ceremony itself was held outside, in the garden of the Colony Hotel. The weather was perfect. The skies were clear blue and it was about 72 degrees. They couldn't have ordered a better day from a catalog.

Matt is Jewish and Aymie's family is, I have to assume from the ceremony, Christian. The ceremony was performed by a female minister of a protestant faith, but included such Jewish staples as the breaking of glasses and shouts of "Mazel Tov!" The music selected by the couple for the processional included Sinatra (Once In Love With Amy) and Armstrong. It was a short, sweet, and beautiful ceremony.

We sat next to Fred, my long-time softball buddy, and his lovely girlfriend, Gina. Also in attendance were other softball teammates from the Bombers - Scotty, Eric, Mike, and significant others, as well as Matt's dad, Stu, who was resplendent in his tuxedo. In 12 years of playing ball with him, I had never seen Stu in anything other than a sleeveless t-shirt and jogging pants. In his tux, he looked like - and I mean this in the nicest way - a successful mob boss.

Immediately following the ceremony, there was an open bar on the veranda. Waiters circulated with yummy treats such as scallops wrapped in bacon, huge shrimp, chicken fingers and other gustatory delights. We had a few drinks each before being called into the dinner.

Now, MY WIFE had a couple of white wines. She insists she was NOT drunk, at any time. Fred thought otherwise and I'm sure he still does. This is because when we were called to dinner, MY WIFE got up from our little table and immediately stumbled. MY WIFE insists that this was because she had taken a xanax earlier that day and she was wearing slingback shoes, which made it difficult for her to keep her balance once or twice. I personally don't care if she was drunk or not. Whatever she was, she was also having a great time and that's all that mattered to me.

Further evidence of her possible drunkenness might be had in the fact that we danced three or four dances. We never dance. We hadn't danced three or four dances in our entire married life before this wedding. However, MY non-drunk WIFE kept wanting to drag me onto the dance floor. OK. I didn't embarrass myself too badly, I suppose. One time, Gina asked MY WIFE if she wanted to dance, so they went up to the dance floor and cut a rug while I watched. They made a nice couple.

During the reception, Scotty found out that the Yankees had lost and were eliminated from the playoffs. He asked the DJ to announce this. When he did, a huge cheer erupted from the assembled guests, the great majority obviously Red Sox fans. The DJ then played Sweet Caroline, which everyone sang along with and during which MY WIFE and I joined the dancers again, thrusting our fists in the air at the appropriate moments.

(We both wondered, afterwards, what any guests from outside of New England might have thought of this whole thing. It has to be totally unfathomable to someone from, say, Wisconsin, as to why this whole room full of people would know all the lyrics to Sweet Caroline, and would have a choreographed dance to go along with it, and why it would be the song played in exultation following the announcement of a Yankees loss. It's fairly unfathomable to me, and I live here.)

(By the way, I have this strange little bit of trivia and no better place to relay it than right now, so here you go. When Corey Lidle's airplane crashed into the building on New York's upper east side, the engine of the plane ended up in a woman's bedroom. She was unhurt by it, as I understand, but here's the extremely weird thing. A little while back, this same woman was at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and, when one of the gigantic balloons deflated and knocked down a utility pole, she was the one hit by the pole. If I'm this woman, I'm getting out of New York as fast as I possibly can.)


Well, I'm back to work now and there's a lot of it to do. Being away from a small office for a week tends to make the work get backed up a bit. I'll leave you now, with us tucked into our beds in Kennebunkport, and resume the story of our vacation tomorrow.

(There should be some good little joke here, ending with "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it", but I can't quite get at it. Sorry.)