Friday, November 30, 2007

102 Years Old Today

I originally published this piece two years ago, on the occasion of my Grandma's 100th birthday. Then, I re-published it last year, on her 101st birthday. Tomorrow, December 1st, she will be 102.


As I said last year, there isn't much to add to what I originally wrote. It mostly concerns the past, and the past hasn't changed. However, I still think one of the things I mentioned last year bears repeating.

I think it's about time we change the lyrics to The Christmas Song. You know the one - chestnuts roasting on an open fire, etc.

The final verse contains the lines:

And so I'm offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it's been said, many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you

My Grandma is now going to be 102. This means that anyone who sings that song is implying that my Grandma is 10 years too old to wish a Merry Christmas. Well, my Grandma likes Christmas just as much as anyone, so I propose changing the ninety-two to one-oh-two. It will still fit the meter, but it is more inclusive.

(We'll revisit this proposal when she turns 103.)

I just thought of something else. I'm 50. If I have her genes, that means I haven't lived even HALF of my life yet. You can look forward to at least another 5 decades of this blog. Yikes!

Well, that's about it for the prologue. Anywhere you see the figure "100" below, substitute "102".


Today my Grandmother is 100 years old. That's her, with the cat.

Think of that - she has lived an entire century. 100 years. What an amazing thing. The world was a completely different place when Maybelle Barcelo was born.

When my Grandma was born, there were only 45 states. Alaska, Hawaii, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma were just territories. Not until she was 54 years old did it become the 50 states that we now know.

When she was born, Roosevelt was President. Franklin? No, Theodore. There had never been any such thing as a "World War". The first one didn't begin until she was 9. The United States didn't become involved until she was 12. It ended when she became a teenager.

When my Grandma was born, television wasn't even an idea, let alone a reality. Hell, radio as an entertainment was unheard of when she was born. The telephone was a relatively new device and only 8% of US homes had one. When you needed to send news, you may have relied on the telegraph.

There were no such things as commercial airplanes in the air overhead. The Wright Brothers had flown at Kitty Hawk only two years previously. So, you drove everywhere, right? Yeah, if you had a horse. There were approximately 8,000 cars in the US, and only 144 miles of paved roads.

In the year of my Grandma's birth, 1905, the second World Series was played. The Red Sox, with Cy Young pitching, had won the first one, two years earlier. By the time my Grandma was 13 years old, in 1918, the Red Sox had won 5 of the 14 World Series that had been contested. The Sox had won more than 1/3 of the World Series ever played. They were the winningest team in baseball history. When she turned 99, last year, they had managed to win another one. The Celtics? The Bruins? The Patriots? No, no, no. Let's take it further. The NFL? The NBA? The NHL? Non-existent.

Movies were not a mass entertainment at all. The first movie theatre in the country - that is, a building specifically made for showing motion pictures - opened in Pittsburgh the year she was born. What motion pictures there were, were silent. Sound would not come to the movies for another 22 years.

CDs, cassette tapes, records? Fuggedaboudit. You wanted to hear music, you pretty much had to go find a band playing somewhere. There were some cylinder recordings and a few of the newer flat records, but the Gramophone (or Victrola) wouldn't be introduced until 1906, so most folks didn't have the ability to play them. It was some 30 years before the invention of the electric guitar.

The outhouse was not a total anomaly. There were quite a few houses in the United States without indoor plumbing. Only 14% of US homes had a bathtub. Considering a slightly more delicate matter, there was no commercial production of feminine hygiene products. Kotex, the first major brand marketed, did not make its appearance on shelves until after World War One. And, birth control? What the heck is that?

Coca-Cola still contained Cocaine. Heroin, Morphine and Marijuana were available at any of your larger drugstores, over the counter. There were NOT cities full of addicts making it a daunting task for good folks to walk the streets without fear of being mugged for drug money. Now, they're illegal and... well, you know. On the other hand, many thousands of people died from the flu each year, as well as tuberculosis. Penicillin was just bread mold. The third leading cause of death in the United States was diarrhea - no joke.

Women didn't have the right to vote until my Grandma was 17.

When my Grandma was born, the average life expectancy in the United States was forty-seven. She sure has beaten the heck out of that statistic.

Some folks would wonder just what my Grandma thinks of all the changes that have happened since she was born. I guarantee you that she doesn't spend much time thinking about it. That's one of the secrets to her longevity, I think. My Grandma is one of those folks who let little or nothing bother her. She is, without a doubt, the least aggravated person I have ever known.

I once mentioned this to my mother. I said, "You know, Mom, I don't ever remember Grandma being mad. Is it just me? Have you ever seen her really angry?" My Mom said that she really could not remember a time when my Grandma was steaming mad. In all the time I've known her, which is 48 years, I've only seen her either smile or, at most, have a look of indifference. I don't believe I've ever seen her cry, although I'm sure she has. I've probably said more swears during the course of my writing this piece than she has uttered in her entire life. I've never heard her curse, even once. My Mom doesn't curse, per se, but she uses substitute words, such as "fudge" or "shoot". My Grandma doesn't even use those.

Understand this, though - she has certainly had reason to use some pretty strong words. Some folks who had her life might have invented completely new swear words.

She lost her left eye just before her first birthday. A clock fell from a mantle and the corner of it punctured her eyeball. She's had a plastic eye ever since then. That hasn't stopped her from being one of the most marvelous artists I know. She has no depth perception, yet she paints and crochets and does mosaic work - beautifully. There is absolutely no indication in any of her work that she has vision in only one eye.

She has had a number of operations, any one of which might have made other folks bitter (or at least extremely sad) for years afterward. Not my Grandma. She had a mastectomy a few years back. She has false teeth. Her gall bladder long ago went the way of the dodo. She's had a couple of procedures involving her intestines. Add a hysterectomy, sometime in the 1940's. And the plastic eye, of course. On top of that, she's quite deaf. But none of it stops her. Or stops her from smiling.


The only thing that's slowed her in any significant way is the stroke she suffered 5 years ago, at the age of 95. Thankfully, it caused little physical damage. However, it took away her ability to sing. This was important because, until that time, she had been singing regularly.

There was this bar in Quincy called Mr. C's that she and my mother went to, along with my stepfather, Bill. There were quite a few folks of their age, or perhaps a bit younger, who came out once a week to gather around the piano and sing some standards. My grandmother was a regular. However, don't get the idea that she was some sort of senior barfly. Sure, she'd have a drink (a sombrero was her choice) but at other times during the week, they would take this show on the road to various nursing homes and retirement facilities, along with good friends and great musicians Rose Ryder and Bill Bemus. Yes, in her nineties my Grandma was going around and entertaining nursing home patients.

Except for her age, this was not an unusual activity for her. She had been volunteering at such residences for more than thirty years - since her mid-sixties, when my Grandfather died. She was, as a matter of fact, the Volunteer of the Year for the state of Massachusetts in 1978. Of course, she didn't get an award like that for just singing and dancing. She taught arts and crafts to the patients, as well as helping with transportation and other things. She did this, for many years, all day, every day. The award she received did not make her rest on her laurels. In 1995, she was nominated as "Elderpreneur of the Year" for her various volunteer activities. She was 90 at the time.

You might be thinking, "How nice that she started doing this type of stuff when her husband died. It must have helped to fill the void his absence left behind." Well, yes, perhaps. However, volunteering and doing community work was hardly something new for her. Many years previously, she had been instrumental in starting the first Girl Scout troop in her town of Weymouth. She worked in entertaining many servicemen, in hospitals and service clubs, following World War One. This was with her older brother, Louis, who did magic and ventriloquism, and her younger sister, Gerry, who also sang and danced. She also entertained service folk at her home throughout the years. There are quite a few veterans who would gladly tell you how much my Grandma and her family's hospitality meant to them during a tough time in their lives.

One of the more interesting stories about my Grandma was how she finagled dancing lessons for herself when she was a young woman. She couldn't afford to just take them and pay for them, so what did she do? She started her own dancing school. She signed up students and then she signed up for dancing lessons from a renowned Russian ballet teacher of the time named Russikoff. She would take a lesson from Russikoff. Then, before her next lesson, she would give lessons to her students. Then she would take another lesson, afterwards giving that lesson to her students, and so on. How brave and inventive was that?

(Grandma, Aunt Jeanne, Uncle Rick, Mom (Connie) and Grandpa, Francis N. Drown)

She has kept a marvelous outlook despite some serious kicks in the face from life. As mentioned earlier, she has one eye, has had a mastectomy, a stroke, etc., and lost her husband of 43 years over one-third of her lifetime ago. She also is without one of her three children. My Aunt Jeanne, the eldest, succumbed to cancer at the age of 59. They say that one of the worst things that can ever happen to anybody is to lose a child. She had this happen when she was in her eighties. No doubt it hurt then and still does.

However, my Grandma does NOT dwell on the past. And that's probably the biggest secret to how long she has lived and how well she has lived. Whenever she brings up the past, it is NEVER to relive something bad. She remembers the good times, almost exclusively. What a wonderful way to live. What a gift to have the temperament to do so.

It helps to have helpful children, of course. My Mom, Connie, is 72. She lives just a block or so away from my Grandma, with her husband (my stepfather) Bill MacDonald. They visit regularly and help out in whatever ways they can. And my Uncle Rick, a former airline pilot (for some years now, a private investigator) lives with my Grandma. He is also a skilled carpenter and woodworker, very handy with just about any tool, so is invaluable in keeping the house and everything in it in good working order. She also has had the love of 15 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and even one great-great-grandchild.

Still, my Grandma is as self-sufficient a person as you could hope to find for her age. She wouldn't have it any other way. She still drove at age 95. She had to give that up when she suffered the stroke, but before then she'd still go shopping for her groceries and run other errands herself. If I know her, she probably expects to do so again someday.

(Grandma, with unidentified future writer, circa 1957)

My own memories of my Grandma are pretty pedestrian stuff, I suppose. I remember nice meals when I visited. For some reason, I remember almost always having lamb at their house. I remember her driving to meet my Grandpa at the train station after his workday (he was the senior claims attorney for the MBTA), me in the back seat, and then going back to her place. Sometimes when I visited, she'd take me to a bakery near her house and buy a half-dozen cupcakes. I remember the marvelous aromas of baked bread and the desserts at that bakery, and the way my Grandma would let me pick out my own cupcake (I always took one with chocolate frosting.) I remember the interesting mix of smells that Beechnut peppermint gum and Winston cigarettes would make. She chewed one and smoked the other - you can probably guess which.

Oh, yeah. She smoked until she was well into her seventies. It appears to have had little lasting effect. I sure as hell hope I've inherited those genes.

She has always loved cats and has pretty much always had one. When I was growing up, it was Mugsy, a big all-black tomcat that my Uncle Rick found abandoned as a kitten. Nowadays it's Dennis The Menace, another big black tomcat that I can't remember how he came to be there.

She always saved the Sunday funnies for me, from her local newspaper that we didn't get in Dorchester. It was a special treat when I went there to visit and got to read those full-color pages on a weekday.

She was a huge Bruins fan for a while. I don't know why. Of course, during that time period (the 70's) there were few people who weren't Bruins fans in New England. If there was a Bruins game on when you visited, she'd be watching it. I don't remember her ever being a sports fan before or since.

She used to do things with acrylics and with polished stones. She had this sort of motorized canister than tumbled stones until they became really smooth and beautiful, and she used to use these stones to create marvelous works of art, combining painting with the stones and with other bits and pieces to create seascapes. And with the acrylics, she'd make these lovely lamps, full of color and really eye-catching. And then there was her sewing and knitting. She made pillows and comforters and other usefully pretty objects. These things were, of course, on top of her painting and needlework and crocheting and singing and cooking and houseplants and volunteer work and...

And I get tired just thinking of it, never mind doing it. She was (and is) an amazingly talented and inspiring woman.

She is also one of the most moral people I know. She doesn't thump a bible in your face or anything like that. As a matter of fact, I don't know the last time she was in a church other than for a wedding or a funeral, although I suspect she says her prayers at night. She just lives right. She knows what's fair and what's unfair. She has never, and I mean never, shown anyone even the slightest prejudice because of skin color or religion or political leanings. When it comes to people, she is absolutely blind to anything other than their humanity. Just as I've never heard her swear, I've also never heard her use any sort of pejorative in her description of someone.

(left: Maybelle and her younger sister, Gerry)

Some of this may be due to her own ethnicity. She is, as a Barcelo, of Hispanic background (I am also, of course, though you certainly can't see anything but the Irish in my pasty skin.) She tells the story of her mother having been left by her mother with someone (possibly a relative, but nobody is quite sure) and then never seeing her again. This person treated her as a servant and she lived for a while in slave quarters in the south. No doubt this would tend to have an effect on a person's way of treating others and this was probably passed on to my Grandma and her siblings.

Then again, it just may be that she's a nice person without any mitigation. It happens.

I suppose it goes without saying that I love my Grandma. Beyond that, though, in so many ways, my Grandma is my hero. She has done more, with what she's been given, than anyone else I know. I treasure the time I spend with her now and the times I have spent with her in the past. I couldn't have asked for a Grandmother, made to my specifications, who could possibly have been more perfect than the one that I have.

Happy 100th Birthday, Grandma. God willing, many more.


And, of course, change that to Happy 102nd Birthday, Grandma. I love you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pointy The Poinsettia

Once upon a time, there was a poinsettia named Pointy.

(His given name was Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody called him Pointy for short.)

Pointy liked living in the large greenhouse with his poinsettia family and other plant friends. The world was a wonderful place full of bright sunshine, all the water he wanted to drink, and dark, rich soil for his roots. He thought that he couldn’t possibly be happier.

Then, one day in November, some of Pointy’s friends weren’t around anymore. Pointy wondered where they had gone. He also wondered how they got wherever they went. They were plants, after all, and thus only able to walk extremely short distances.

Pointy asked his uncle, Pedro Poinsettia, where his friends had gone.

“Oh, it’s a joyous time of year, Pointy!” said Uncle Pedro.

“What do you mean?” asked Pointy.

Uncle Pedro leaned close to Pointy and whispered in his ear (or, at least, what passed for an ear on Pointy.) He said:

“In November, all the poinsettias who have grown big red leaves are taken from the greenhouse and sent all over the world to give joy to the people who celebrate Christmas. The people are very happy to have a poinsettia in their home or school or office. They smile and say things like, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’”

Pointy was very excited to hear this news. He had never before considered the possibility of travel, but now he hoped that he might be able to go far away, to see many interesting people and things. He enjoyed the thought of bringing great joy to people celebrating Christmas. He packed his bags and waited to be shipped.

(Well, OK, he didn’t actually have any bags. As a matter of fact, even if he did have bags, he wouldn’t have known what to pack in them. But, you get the idea. He was excited and ready to go.)

Finally, the day came when Pointy was planted into a big pot, all trimmed with pretty gold foil. He felt extra-special now! He was then loaded into a truck, along with about thirty other plants. As the truck was driving away, he waved good-bye to his Uncle Pedro.

(No, he didn’t, really. No hands, you know? He did what he could, though. Uncle Pedro understood.)

As they were bumping down the road, Pointy looked around. He appeared to be the only poinsettia plant in the truck. He struck up a conversation with the flower next to him, a girl. He knew she was a girl because... well, he just did, that’s all.

“Hi, I’m Poindexter Poinsettia, but everybody calls me Pointy. What’s your name?”


"You're really pretty, Rose."

"Thank you. You have nice big red leaves.”

Pointy blushed.

(To be truthful, he didn’t actually blush; his leaves were already red. But he WAS a bit embarrassed. Rose really was very pretty, and it was nice to get a compliment from her.)

Pointy asked, “Do you know where we’re going, Rose?”

“Yes, I think so, Pointy. My aunt Petunia said we’re all going to office buildings in Newton.”

“Newton? Where’s that?”

“I’m not entirely sure, but I believe it’s east of Worcester.”

“Oh! Is that a good thing?”

“It’s better than being in Worcester,” said Rose.

Pointy looked out the window of the truck. Having never been out of the greenhouse before, he was amazed at how many plants there were everywhere. He saw great huge trees, and big green hedges, and large bunches of scary weeds, and gigantic expanses of grass, and even a few pretty flowers, like his new friend, Rose. However, he didn’t see a single poinsettia anywhere. This worried him a bit.

He asked Rose, “Am I going to be the only poinsettia in Newton?”

Rose shrugged her shoulders.

(Nah, not really. She didn’t have shoulders. She did indicate that she didn’t know the answer to Pointy’s question, but shoulders never entered into it.)

The truck turned off of the road and into a parking lot. After it stopped, the back door of the truck opened and a man reached in and grabbed Rose.

Pointy said, “Good luck, Rose! I hope you bring much joy to the people in this building!”

Rose blew a kiss to Pointy, and then she was gone. The man carried her inside of the building where they had stopped.

The man had left the door of the truck open. Pointy was able to see, through a window in the building, Rose being carried by the man. The man stopped and handed Rose to a woman who was sitting behind a desk. The woman immediately became very happy, a big smile appearing on her face. As the man who delivered Rose was leaving the building, Pointy saw the happy woman carrying Rose all around her office, showing Rose to all of her friends. Everybody smiled as soon as they saw Rose, and Rose was very happy in her new home. Pointy was also very happy, for now he was extra excited about how happy he was going to make the people in the building where he was going.

The man closed the door to the truck. Soon, the truck was moving again. Pointy imagined being carried into an office where all the people would smile and say, “What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!”

While Pointy was imagining this, the truck stopped in front of another building. The back door to the truck was opened, and suddenly Pointy was in the man’s hands, being carried outside.

“This is it,” thought Pointy, “I’m about to make many people happy! I can’t wait to see their smiles, and hear them say ‘Merry Christmas!’”

The man brought Pointy up some stairs and then through a glass door. There was a woman at a desk just inside the door. Pointy tried to make his big, red leaves stand up as straight and proud as possible. As he did so, he heard the woman say:

“What the hell is that?”

The man said, “Gift from your landlord. It’s a poinsettia.”

“Well, shit, I know it’s a poinsettia. What are we supposed to do with it?”

“I don’t know, lady. I just deliver ‘em. Merry Christmas.”

Pointy didn’t understand. The woman didn’t seem happy at all. Had he done something wrong?

The woman yelled to someone, “Hey, come see what we got.”

A man came out of an office, saw Pointy, and rolled his eyes. He said, “Christ, another poinsettia? Every year we get a damned poinsettia, and every year we have no place to put it. What in the hell are we going to do with it?”

“Don’t look at me,” said the woman at the desk, “I don’t have any room here for it.”

Other people came out of their offices to see what the noise was about. As each one saw Pointy, they laughed and made faces and said mean things.

Pointy wanted very much to be back in his friendly greenhouse. This wasn’t at all as he had imagined it, or as Uncle Pedro had told him it would be. He wanted to just shrivel up and make himself as small as possible.

Finally, the woman at the desk took him and placed him on a table, near some stacks of old yellowed paper and bent paperclips and dried up pens that nobody ever used. Every so often, someone who hadn’t seen him before would walk by. At first, Pointy tried standing up proud and showing off his pretty red leaves. However, it was always the same story. Either the person just walked by without noticing him, or laughed and said something mean about him.

After a while, Pointy just gave up. He stopped caring what the people said. He started losing the big, pretty, red leaves he had been so proud of. As he did so, the people in the office started saying even worse things about him. They kicked at his fallen leaves, and when they picked them up, they threw them in the garbage, cursing. He could feel his roots drying out. Nobody gave him any water. Nobody cared about him. There was no sun; just a cold bit of light from some fluorescent tubes. As much as a poinsettia had a heart, Pointy’s was broken.

Pointy lost many more of his leaves. He was dying. He wanted to die. Life was a miserable thing. Christmas? It was just a cruel joke. He had imagined much love, and had received none.

Then, one day about a week after he had been delivered, a new person came into the office. Pointy hadn’t seen this person before, but he expected that he would hear more of the same insults and derisive laughter. He didn’t care. What could this person say that would hurt more than what he had already heard, already lived through?

The new person said, “Hey, who gave us the poinsettia?”

The woman at the desk answered, “Oh, the landlord gave us the damn thing. It’s been shedding leaves ever since it got here.”

Pointy listened disinterestedly.

The new person said, “Well, hell, maybe he needs a little water. Has anybody given him a drink?”

Pointy’s ears perked up (or, at least, what passed for ears on Pointy.)

“Let’s give him a drink,” said the new person.

“Knock yourself out,” said the woman at the desk.

The new person went into the kitchen, and Pointy could hear water running. As much as he thought he was beyond caring, he felt himself thirsting for a drink. The new person came back out carrying a cup full of water. He poured it into Pointy’s dirt.

Pointy was shocked by how good it felt.

The new person said, “There you go, guy. How’s that?”

Pointy fairly yearned to jump out of his pot and give the person a hug.

The new person said, “Hey, do you mind if I take him into my office? Maybe I can bring him back to life.”

The woman at the desk said, “Give it your best shot, Jim, but I think it’s a lost cause.”

Jim! That was the friendly man’s name! Pointy tried to make what leaves he had left stand up a bit for Jim, but he was too weak to do very much. He noticed with gratitude that it didn’t seem to matter to Jim. He was picking him up and taking him into his office, anyway.

Every day, Pointy waited for Jim to arrive. Every day, Jim did something nice for Pointy. He gave Pointy a drink of water, or he put him where he could get a bit of sunshine. When one of Pointy’s leaves was withered and painful, Jim gently removed it, giving Pointy space to grow a new, stronger leaf.

Finally, it came to the day before Christmas. For all of the love Pointy was receiving from Jim, there was still the pain of knowing that what he had heard about Christmas was untrue. Nobody had seen him and said, ‘What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty it is, with its big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas!’

Pointy had grown back some big, green leaves. The few red ones he had left were strong and bright now. He wished that someone would get to see them for Christmas. He wished that he could bring someone some joy. Of course, Jim liked him, but he still wanted to believe in what his Uncle Pedro had told him during that time which seemed so long ago now. He wanted to be a plant that made someone smile at Christmas.

Pointy saw lights being turned off in the office, and he heard people saying cheery good-byes, and wishing each other happy holidays. Well, he had been lucky to find one new friend, he supposed. Maybe that would get him through the holiday. Jim would be back in a couple of days, and that wouldn’t be so bad. At least he made Jim happy.

He heard the door lock. It was dark and cold now. His leaves drooped a bit. Even though he knew what was going to happen, he had still hoped that Jim might...


Pointy heard the door to the office open and he noticed one light come on. Probably the cleaning people, thought Pointy. But then, there was Jim, bending down to pick him up, then carrying him out of the office, down the stairs, and out into the... SNOW! Jim put Pointy down into the cold white stuff.

Oh, no! Was Jim tired of him, too? Was he leaving him to die in the snow? What a cruel world it truly was!

Pointy only had a few seconds to entertain such morbid thoughts. Jim picked him up again, and put him into the front seat of his car. Jim put a seat belt around Pointy's container, and turned on the heat. Then Jim started driving. Jim was taking him home! For Christmas!

And so Jim DID bring Pointy home for Christmas, and Pointy saw Christmas lights and Christmas trees and he had sunshine and warmth and as much water as he wanted to drink. And love. Pointy had love. And Jim said to him, on Christmas morning...

“What a beautiful poinsettia! How pretty you are, with your big red and green leaves! Merry Christmas, Pointy!”

He even knew Pointy’s name!

And when spring came, Jim planted Pointy in the front yard. And Pointy told his story to the gooseberry bush, and the little pine tree, and to all of the dragon lilies. He grew big and bushy and bright green. And when the frosts of autumn came, and his leaves turned a little yellow, and he thought that maybe Jim had forgotten all about him, Jim dug him up and brought him back into the house. And he is there even now.

And this year, not only does Pointy know that Christmas will be a happy time, Pointy IS the Christmas Tree - at least for now. And he is the happiest poinsettia in the whole entire world, even though he has no big red leaves at all.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

For This Retailer, Thanksgiving Came First

While I was on my Thanksgiving vacation, I did some thinking about how we could best get our "Thanksgiving Comes First" message to take hold and have an effect. One idea I had was that it would probably be better to encourage stores to hold off on advertising, rather than to threaten them. What I mean is, we could promise our buying dollars to those who make an honest effort to forego advertising, as opposed to withholding our dollars from those who do advertise.

With that in mind, let me show you something wonderful:

Nordstrom's decided to celebrate Thanksgiving First. They did this all on their lonesome, I believe - although it's a kick to think that maybe we had some effect.

Therefore, I'd like to ask you to support Nordstrom's with your buying dollars this Christmas season. If you drop by their website (NORDSTROM'S) you'll find a customer service contact form. It would be really cool if those of you who wrote "Thanksgiving Comes First" blogs sent them a line or two telling them that you appreciate their stance, and that you'll drop a few dollars into their coffers as the opportunity presents itself. It never hurts to say "Thank You" to those who are helping your cause.

And again, with that in mind, Thanks to you!

I'll be back tomorrow with the story I promised you yesterday, Pointy The Poinsettia. Contain your anticipation as you are able.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Was Great

                               (Top: The Bird)

(Bottom: Seven out of the eleven side dishes)
Thanksgiving was great.

After my near-endless “Thanksgiving Comes First” talk, wouldn’t it have been a kick in the pants if it turned out to be a miserable day? Well, it didn’t – thank God. As always, it was swell.

Of course, it took a bit of work to make it as wonderful as it was. As usual, I took the week off. I did that in order to clean the house, do some shopping, prep some food, and all of the other stuff that a good wife does.

(MY WIFE will read that and take a nutty. She says she is sick to death of people at work telling her she’s lucky to be married to me. When she tells them that I do all of the cooking, they say, “Huh? What do you do? Just set the table?”

They’re Neanderthals, of course. If the situations were reversed, nobody in MY office would bat an eye. This is because I’m a man. Well, I don’t consider it that big a deal. It’s my side of the family that comes over, I like to cook, and she works more hours a week than me to begin with, so it’s not only a labor of love for me, it makes sense, too.

However, I am a peach.)

                        (Dining Room Table, Before and After)

                       (Our fireplace, old screen/new screen)
Anyway, before the clean-up and the shopping and whatever else, we got my vacation off to a great start by having breakfast.

You may remember me mentioning a place called Donohue’s. It’s a sports bar and restaurant in our hometown of Watertown, Massachusetts. Last time I talked about it, I said that it was a great place to have a weekend breakfast. I also said that I was amazed at how empty the place was. Well, my opinion hasn’t changed, and neither has the population. It’s still a great place to have breakfast, and it was pretty much as empty as the last time we went there.

This disheartens me. It means one of three things:

1) Not enough people are reading me for my opinion to make a difference.

2) People are reading me, but they think I’m a liar.

3) People are reading me, but they’re thick as a brick and would rather spend more money at other places down the road, for less food, than come out to Donohue’s for the amazing Full Irish Breakfast of Sausage, Irish Bacon, Black Pudding, White Pudding, Eggs, Fried Tomatoes, Home Fries, Beans, and Toast, piled to the point of overflowing your plate, all for the amazing price of less than ten dollars.

Or, in my case, FREE.

J. D. Donohue, the owner, came over to talk to us while we were eating. Our waitress had recognized us from our previous visits, and she had informed him that the guy who wrote the excellent blog about his place was here again. We chatted for a while, and I expressed my wish that I could have put more asses into his seats via my writing. After he left, we resumed eating. When it came time for the waitress to give us the check, she informed us that J. D. said it was on the house.

How nice! I wish I had done something to truly deserve it, though, so if you’d like to make Mr. Donohue’s investment in me pay off, stop by for breakfast some Saturday or Sunday. If the Full Irish isn’t everything I’ve said it is, I’ll personally give you a refund.

(If J. D. is reading this, I’m NOT lobbying for another freebie. As a matter of fact, I’ll refuse it, if offered. My journalistic integrity… nah, that’s a crock. I don’t have any journalistic integrity. I’d just be embarrassed, is all, and if I thought I’d be getting comped every time I went there, I’d start ordering less expensive dishes. I like the Full Irish way too much to do that, so I want to pay.)

Now that the commercial is out of the way, I’ll get to why I came here. Here are some more photos I took of Thanksgiving.

                        (Desserts, as prepared by bears)

Actually, my Mom made all the desserts. She made four different pies, plus a concoction that MY WIFE has never understood the point of, but which the rest of us know is integral to the enjoyment of the pumpkin pie - hard sauce. It is butter, confectioner’s sugar, and a few drops of vanilla flavoring, mushed together - basically, a soft uncooked candy. You take a wee bit of it onto your fork along with your mouthful of pumpkin pie. Or, after Thanksgiving is over and the pumpkin pie is gone and everybody has gone home, you eat a spoonful of it by itself every now and again until there’s no more, knowing full well that it’s quite possibly the most unhealthy thing you could place in your mouth this side of arsenic, but not caring, since it brings you enough pleasure to make the two years you’re slicing off of your life worth it, as long as you don’t mind losing the teeth, too.

                 (L to R: MY WIFE [who is in the witness protection
program and wishes to remain as anonymous as possible];
Cousin Scott; Scott’s wife, Andrea; and my Mom)

                 (L to R: My stepfather, Bill MacDonald; Tom Starr;
Uncle Rick; Grandma Maybelle)

Maybelle, who is my Mom’s mother, will be 102 on December 1st. I’ve written about her before, on the occasion of her 100th birthday. What with her birthday coming up on Saturday, I’ll be re-printing that piece on Friday. If you didn’t catch it when I put it out here before, it’s worth a read. She’s my hero.

This is the room I put everything into. I have no idea where I'm going to put stuff come next Thanksgiving.

And now, it’s back to work. Thanksgiving is over, and I have to earn enough dough to get through the Christmas season.

(Tomorrow: The story of Pointy The Poinsettia. I can tell you can hardly contain your anticipation.)

Friday, November 16, 2007


Please GO HERE for 2008.

Yes, I know I'm shouting. It's just that I’ve had such a very enjoyable time reading all of your blogs. I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for showing me that I’m far from alone in my feelings.

We’ve hit on something that a lot of people have strong feelings about. To be honest, I think we needed to start a bit earlier to have a larger impact. As it is, I think we’ve started something that can bear fruit in the future.

In almost no particular order, here are your friends in the Thanksgiving Comes First movement.

(Can we call this a movement? Sure. Why not? We can call it whatever we damn well please. It’s OURS.)

The lovely Melinda - who deserves lots of readers, because she always writes interesting stuff - gets first mention because she was the first to post. Some sort of other honor should be bestowed, since she is Canadian and her Thanksgiving happens in October. Her blog is From One London To Another. Did I mention that she writes interesting stuff and deserves more readers? I did? Good.

Fenix, over at Bostonscapes Daily Photo, not only wrote a post, but also cobbled together the wonderful graphic up above. GREAT job, Fenix. If this thing takes off, that should definitely be our logo.

Visual St. Paul, from (I assume) St. Paul.

The lovely Kuanyin, from Maui, Hawaii, in her blog, Who's Yo Mama?

wRitErsbLock, from Pereiraville

(Well, actually, she's from Central Florida. But her BLOG is called Pereiraville, you see? Ah, skip it.)

Miss Kelly, from, um... Miss Kelly!

Lisa, at Diaryland (whose motto, by the way, is: Luring Disco Dollies To A Life Of Vice Since 1999.)

Of course, my cousin, David Sullivan, at Sullsblog, wrote something. It brought back many interesting memories for me.

(An aside: Are they called "Bazaars" elsewhere in the country, or in other countries?)



Paul Day (a.k.a. Billy Bob Neck) from Hbee Inc.

Mari-Nanci at Smilnsigh

Sam from Sam's Musings

Chris, at Nashville Daily Photo

The always tasty Anali, from Anali's First Amendment.

Julie, the Celtic Woman from North Dakota.

And now, a trio who wrote about this even before I did!

Melissa, from My Life actually wrote something about this back on November 3rd.

And, also, mB, from Nkauj Ntses, who wrote about it on November 1st.

However, special long-suffering kudos go to Dusty Lens, from the twin cities of Minneapolis & St. Paul, who started writing about this pain in October. And had the heart to write about it again today.

Cleary Squared, which means something to those from Boston, but probably not so much to those not, wrote about how NOTHING should happen before December 1st.

Some general kudos to David McMahon in Australia. He's always been kind to me, and earlier this week he chose one of these Thanksgiving postings of mine to be his "Blog Of The Day" over at his Authorblog. He always drives a goodly amount of traffic here when he does that, and I appreciate it.

Also, Adam Gaffin, from Universal Hub, has always given me far more help than I deserve.

For those with a facebook account, we have a Wall. I was told about this by B. K. DeLong.

If I’ve left anyone out, my apologies to you. Let me know. I'll edit. If you Google “Thanksgiving Comes First,” you might find more stuff.

UPDATES SINCE POSTING: Manda Renee at Toccando Il Cielo and Isadora at Budapest Daily Photo have joined the fray.

(There are quite a few "(fill-in-the-city) Daily Photo" blogs listed here. This thing seems to have particularly struck a nerve amongst photographers. Odd, but nice.)

Another UPDATE: Business Of Life has a post.

(I think it's reaching a point where I won't be able to add many more, as I must complete work at my actual job today. Again, THANK YOU, ALL.)

I asked you to write letters to newspapers, or to radio stations that are playing Christmas music way too early, or to companies that have made Christmas a mockery. I wrote some. Here are a couple of replies I received:

From WROR radio, in Boston:

Thanks for listening to 105.7 WROR and thanks for your comments about our programming.

Here at WROR, we find Christmas fun and worthy of celebrating. With Thanksgiving next week, we thought we’d get into the spirit now. Led by Loren and Wally, we are all excited to celebrate the season by having some fun and playing Boston’s Favorite Christmas Songs. I’m sorry you don’t agree.

Hopefully, when the spirit touches you, you will join in the fun. Santa will be available to talk to your kids weeknights from 6 to 8.

I appreciate you taking the time to write. We will return to playing Boston’s Greatest Hits on December 26.

Ken West
Program Director
105.7 WROR
55 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, Ma 02125


Dear James Sullivan,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about our 2007 seasonal advertising. I'm sorry to hear of your disappointment. I do understand your concern for celebrating one holiday at a time.

I will forward your comments on to the appropriate department for further review.

We're always glad to hear from you, so whenever you have any questions or comments, give us a call at (800) 440-0680 or visit us on Either way, we're here to help!

Thanks for shopping with us. I hope we'll see you again soon at Target.


Target Guest Relations

I feel less animosity towards someone who actually pays attention. I give them credit for that.

On the other hand, Macy’s didn’t care enough to even acknowledge me. I promise you that they’ll be right on top of the list next year.

Next year?

Yes, next year. This isn’t the end of it, by any means. We let some steam off this year. Next year, if you’re game, we can do some really cool things to try to make a difference. I have some ideas. I’ll share them as they get fleshed out a bit more, OK? Think up some fun stuff of your own. We’ll compare notes later, and then get an earlier start.

In the meantime, Thanksgiving Comes Now. Well, at least for me it does. I always take Thanksgiving week off from work. This is because MY WIFE and I host Thanksgiving at our house for much of our family. I prefer to leisurely clean the house, take my time with shopping and prep of the foodstuffs, decorate, and all of the other stuff that needs to be done to make it a special day. And, since I have no Internet connection at home, this is my last posting until AFTER Thanksgiving.

This year, I’m especially thankful for YOU. You’ve made something that royally pisses me off quite a bit more bearable.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’ll see you on the 26th.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Monday, November 12, 2007

Friday, November 09, 2007

NYJB - The End

We'll wrap this thing up here. Meanwhile, if you need to catch up...


I sat in the cold rain, watching the football game. My cousin, David, sat next to me. To the right of David were the other David; his wife, Robin; and the NYJB - Fred.

The dynamics involved in watching a football game are interesting. If you're a big fan of the home team, it's expected that you'll make lots of noise when the opposition has the ball. This is an attempt to confuse them; to make the other players unable to clearly hear the signals being barked out by the quarterback, perhaps causing them to take a false start penalty, or maybe - in the best scenario - having the players furthest from the quarterback not correctly hear the play call when the quarterback audibles at the line, thus exponentially increasing the odds of a turnover.

If you're not familiar with football terminology, I apologize. I'm making this sound more complicated than it is. The only thing you really need to know is that fans are expected to make as loud a sound as possible when the enemy has the ball. So, that's what I did. Every time Florida State stepped up to the line, I made a sound somewhat like "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

If I got nothing else out of this ballgame, I got a good workout for my lungs. I was heartened by the fact that, even after close to 25 years of not singing in heavy metal bands, I could still hold a note for close to 30 seconds.

My cousin David, meanwhile, was trying to uphold the other end of the home field advantage. There were two Florida State fans sitting three or four rows below us. Whenever FSU did something good, they'd jump to their feet and cheer. And, every time they did, David yelled "Siddown!" And they did, too. David was considerably larger than they were so, by halftime, discretion had become the better part of their valor.

In the end, it didn't matter. BC lost. David and I both felt that BC were the victims of bad officiating, but we were biased to begin with, so I'm willing to entertain the notion that they were just outplayed by Florida State. And, although we were doing our part in the noisemaking process, we both felt that much of the crowd there that night didn't know how they were supposed to react. This was the first time in many years that BC had been in a game with so much importance attached to it. Many were waiting for something to happen, and then cheer. They didn't understand that they needed to help make it happen.

As I said before, it was enjoyable nevertheless. We had had good food, lots of drink, pleasant conversation, and - considering the weather - relative comfort.

At halftime, FSU had a 7 - 0 lead. Fred, my cousin David, the other David, and Robin, all decided to go inside, to the bathroom or concessions. I stayed in the stands and watched the marching band perform. When my friends returned, they were minus one of the party.

You may recall an exchange from earlier in this story, when Fred had called to offer me a ticket to the game. The previous time we had gone to see BC play, he had left at halftime. I had had to leave with him. So, I said:

"Fred, I'd love to go to the game, and I love you. But I don't want to see half a game."

"Sully, I'll stay for the entire game this time. I promise!"


"You have my personal guarantee!"

Well, the one who was missing when they returned to the stands was Fred. He had again decided that one half of college football was more than enough for his taste. However, this time there were four other people who wanted to stay for the whole game, so he couldn't just go home. He had to stay in the vicinity. He told David to tell the rest of us that he would meet us at the car after the game.

We all stayed, rooting for BC, until the final nail was driven into the coffin via an interception return for a touchdown with a bit over a minute to play. We then shuffled out of the stands with heads down, while the smattering of Florida State fans had their chance to jeer at us. That's the way it goes. They won, 27 - 17.

When we got back to the car, Fred told us that he had taken a nap, for the length of the third quarter, in Conte Forum, the basketball and hockey arena attached to the football stadium. He had then returned to the car and waited for us. We exited the garage, amid the other dissapointed Eagles fans, and then drove back to Fred's place.

Once back at Fred's, we piled out of his mini-van and said our goodbyes. My cousin and I hugged. It had again been a genuine pleasure going to a football game with him. He's blood, but he's also good people. I'm very glad we've been able to share some time together after so many years of non-contact.

Fred, ever the good host, invited us in to share some further libations, but we all declined the offer. It was late, we were worn out (and some of us wetter than others, especially our feet...), so we all climbed into our respective rides and got on the road.

So, as I said in part one, this story could have been boiled down to three lines:

Last night, I went to see a football game. Even though the team I was rooting for lost, I had a good time. This is because I went to the game with good people.

However, when you've received as much good grace in this world as I have, you sometimes need to give yourself - and the people, like Fred, who have been responsible for so much of it - a stronger reminder of just how wonderful it actually is, as well as how much you appreciate it - and them. I've done that here, and I thank you for your patience while I was doing so.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

NYJB - 4

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

This here would be Part Four!

Saturday arrived, and I was ready for some football. Unfortunately, the outdoors world wasn't. The remnants of Hurricane Noel were hitting New England, hard. It was raining, and the downpour was expected to last all day. The temperature hovered in the 40's, and wind gusts were predicted to reach upwards of 50mph.

I had never been to a sporting event in such bad weather. Given the number of games I've attended over the years, in a place like Boston, it seems impossible that I wouldn't have gone to one in snow or something at one point in my life, but I hadn't. The Red Sox don't play when it rains. The Bruins and Celtics play indoors. Prior to this year, I had been to exactly 5 big-time football games in my life - 2 Patriots games, and 3 BC games - and they had all been played on clear days.

One of the BC games (versus Notre Dame, played at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, in 1975) was probably the coldest sporting event I had ever attended. I suffered miserably, not having dressed anywhere near warmly enough for it. It was played on September 15th, but it was frigid and windy. Who expected miserable cold that early in the year? Not me, that's for sure. Our tickets were in the upper reaches of the stands, where the wind whipped through and made my sweatshirt-clad body fairly ache.

Anyway, that game had taught me a lesson. I wasn't going to underdress for this game. I threw on some long johns and a stout pair of jeans. I wore a heavy shirt and a sweater. Some thick socks were on my feet. I broke out the heaviest winter jacket I had in the house and put it on. I topped all of this off with my BC baseball cap - not very warm, but fitting for the occasion.

I planned ahead for any uncomfortableness due to the wet conditions. I packed a hand towel in one of the jacket pockets, to wipe the rain from the metal benches that serve as seating in Alumni Stadium. Smart!

Of course, when it comes to avoiding wetness outside, what you wear on your feet is probably the most important thing. After all, your feet come in contact with the wet ground, and if you don't protect your feet, what's the use of all the other junk? You're going to be miserable if your feet get wet. So, of course, I wore sneakers.

Yup. Sneakers. CLOTH sneakers. Cloth sneakers with some small holes worn out in the top of them.


It wasn't readily apparent to me that I was making a hideous choice in footwear. After all, I only had about ten feet from my house to my car, and then another ten feet to walk when I reached Fred's house. Not much chance for my feet to get wet in that short of a time. I had chosen these old worn-out sneakers on purpose. I figured it was a miserable night, so why ruin some good footwear?

Again, DUH!

When I arrived at Fred's place, the door was answered by a woman I didn't recognize. We said a cheery "Hello!" to each other as she let me in.

I said, "Hi! I'm here to rob Fred's house. You don't mind, do you?"

She said, "No, not at all. You go right ahead and take whatever you want."

Right answer! I knew we'd get along well.

Fred came downstairs - he had been getting dressed - and made introductions. Her name was Robin, and her partner's name was Dave. They were the married couple that Fred had invited. Both of them were easy-going and there was no trouble falling into pleasant conversation with them.

Fred offered us all beers, which we gratefully accepted. Then Fred looked down at my feet.

"Sully! What the hell are those?"

"What are you talking about?"

"What are you wearing on your feet?"

"Sneakers, Freddy. Why?"

As I answered, I looked at the feet of everyone else. Boots all around.

Fred said, "Sully...", and shook his head, as though he were talking to a dog that had just messed his carpet.

I now realized that my choice of footwear was less-than-optimal, but I had to save face. I said, "For Goodness' sakes, Fred, what do you want me to wear? Wingtips? We're going to a football game in the rain. Why would I want to ruin a good pair of shoes?"

Nobody was buying it. They all pointed at their boots and made "tut-tut" noises, while shaking their heads. I was hoping my cousin would ring the bell and take the heat off of me. No such luck. And it was getting to be about 5:15, a quarter-hour after the scheduled time for arrival at Fred's place. Where was my cousin David?

(If this were a real story, with a plot and actual stuff taking place in it, this would be where I reveal that David had been late because he stopped off to rescue a baby from a burning building or something. However, this isn't a real story and there is no plot. It's basically a writing exercise to see just how many words I can string together about a fairly mundane day, without totally losing your interest, so no burning babies.)

I decided that I'd go outside, in front of Fred's house, to have a smoke and keep an eye out for David. Fred also went. As soon as we opened the door and looked out, there was David getting out of his car. He explained that he had dropped off a client, then gone to a bar or something, then driven to Fred's house.

No big deal. We went back into the house, and Fred passed around some more refreshments. Then we piled into Fred's mini-van for the ride to the game.

It was still cold, wet, and miserable outside. David showed me his rain gear - a poncho he had originally acquired at a Patriot's game. Robin and her David were packing snow pants. Fred had on a big winter jacket, same as me. And everybody except me had sensible footwear.

As we approached the stadium, the traffic increased. It seemed a bit early for traffic to be backing up as much as it was. We soon found out the reason why. It seemed that, because of all the rain, the tailgating area (Shea Field) was closed. It was a quagmire. So, cops were redirecting all of the cars that might otherwise have parked there, and there were lots of them.

We were told to go to some garage on Commonwealth Avenue. We headed in the general direction, none of us remembering ever having seen a garage in that vicinity. We saw loads of people walking towards the stadium, getting drenched. There were no parking spaces on the streets, of course. This seemed like a bum deal.

David said that we could probably fake our way into the on-campus garage, connected to the stadium. After all, Fred had a parking pass; it just wasn't for that particular facility. We all told Fred to go for it, and he agreed. We figured that once we got in line, they really couldn't get us out of there, anyway. We took three right turns around city blocks and headed back towards the stadium.

Fred pulled his ride in behind others entering the garage. There was a person checking passes and whatnot at a gate prior to the garage. Fred rolled down his window, quickly flashed his pass, and she let us by. As we entered the garage, there was another sentry. He asked Fred for his pass. Fred again flashed it quickly and started driving towards the up ramp. We heard the sentry say, "Hey, wait a minute! Is that a pass for Shea Field?", as we disappeared from his sight. Mission accomplished! We were in the best parking spot on campus because Fred has big brass balls.

On the second floor of the garage, it was quite a sight. Everybody had grills cooking sausages and burgers, and there were coolers full of beer strewn across the expanse. Fred did a masterful parking job, squeezing his van into a space right by the ramp and next to a pole. We would have an easy exit after the game. Now it was time to go find the W. B. Mason hospitality tent.

We exited the garage, into the steady, cold rain. Fred had told us that there would be a big W. B. Mason delivery truck parked where the tent was. We spotted one and headed towards it, getting colder and wetter with every step. I was trying to jump as many of the bigger puddles as possible, so as to keep my sneakers dry. It was a losing battle. I finally just gave up and trudged along in my wet feet.

We reached the truck and there was no tent.

Well, this wasn't really surprising. It was half-a-hurricane out there. No tent was going to make it in this weather.

We saw folks heading indoors, to a building next to the truck. We hoped that perhaps the Mason party was moved into that building. We went up to a student manning the door and asked him if this was where we were supposed to go. He was very polite and helpful. He told us that we had to go somewhere called "Lower Cafeteria." He gave us directions, and we again started walking in the cold rain and wind.

We walked for a good quarter-mile or so, my face starting to feel the cold and my feet just soaked, before we came to the building we thought was the right one. We all went inside and, yes, it WAS the right one! And it was worth the walk, too.

It was warm as toast, there were huge projection-screen televisions showing the afternoon's previous football game on ABC, buffets were set up and serving a spread of great smoky barbecued pork and chicken (along with baked beans, cornbread, biscuits, cole slaw, and cookies) and - best of all - there was a bar.

We all headed for the bar first.

I decided to buy the first round, to show my appreciation for Fred having gotten me and my cousin the tickets to this shindig. We ordered three Sam Adams and two Heinekins. As the barmaid poured, I asked how much it was going to cost. She said, "Cost? Oh, no, sir. This is an open bar."

Well, so much for being a big sport. I left a five in her tip jar and we made our way to the nearest buffet. We each made up a big plate full of hot foods and went to sit down.

There were no tables that weren't filled, so we improvised. We took off our wet jackets, ponchos, hats, and boots (those who HAD boots) and made ourselves a nice little campground on the floor. It was as swell a pre-game as I've ever enjoyed. We drank as many beers as we could in the time allowed, and scarfed down pulled pork sandwiches, as we talked and enjoyed each other's company. The five of us made a good grouping. We were very comfortable together.

It came near to game time, so we got dressed again and gathered up our stuff in anticipation of the walk in the rain to the stadium. As it turned out, we didn't need to repeat our previous long route. The stadium was much nearer our current location. We went in at Gate D, climbed the stairs to the upper deck, and got to our seats a few minutes before kickoff.

They were GREAT seats, almost right on the 50-yard line. Thanks, Fred! I pulled out my towel and wiped the metal bench. While my feet were cold and wet, my ass was warm and dry. I was about to see the #2 team in the country play ball. I was in the company of some good folks, my belly was full, I had a nice buzz on, and, all in all, life was very, very good.

Tomorrow: Life continues to be good, despite the game.

(Wow! Edge-of-your-seat stuff, huh?)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

NYJB - 3

For those arriving late to the tale, you can find the first chapter HERE. If that isn't enough for you, look HERE for part two.

Fred went about securing another ticket to the BC - Florida State game for my cousin. Without going into a lot of detail (a first for me in this space) he did come up with one. After a few e-mails back and forth, we were all set. Going to the game would be Fred, me, my cousin David, and a married couple that Fred knew dating back to his days at Northeastern. We would all meet at Fred's house by 5pm on Saturday. The game was scheduled to start at 8. That would leave us three hours to drive to the game, park using Fred's pass for Shea Field (the tailgating area) and then enjoy the largesse at W. B. Mason's hospitality tent.

I'll finish the tale tomorrow, or it may possibly drag into Friday. In the meantime, I'm going to reprint something, as background, that I wrote about 45 days ago. It is the story of my reunion with my cousin after almost 40 years of not seeing each other. I hope you'll enjoy it. The title of it is...


(Thanksgiving 1967 - My grandfather, Pa Sullivan, holding my cousins Joey, David & Joan; Me in the suit.)

So, there I was eating some breakfast on Saturday morning when the phone rang. MY WIFE answered it. From the other room, I heard, “Yes, he’s here. Who’s calling please?”

I was slightly perturbed that she had told someone I was here before she found out who it was. We generally screen each other’s calls for telemarketers, politicians, bill collectors, fundraisers, IRS agents, and other potential scumbags. However, surprise soon replaced budding anger. It was my Cousin David.

I hadn’t spoken to or seen my cousin in close to forty years.

(Well, OK - that’s the truth, but still a slight exaggeration. We’d seen pictures of each other, exchanged e-mails, and – most important – been reading each other’s blogs. We’d had a chance to “meet” electronically. I just hadn’t actually heard his voice, or seen him in the flesh, in four decades.)

To set the scene more fully, I need to give you a bit of background.

Last weekend, Boston College had defeated Georgia Tech in a football game. I’m a BC fan, so I enjoyed that. My cousin is also a fan of BC, so he had made a bet upon the outcome of that game. He bet another blogger – Plez – that BC would win. The loser had to display the other school’s logo on his blog for a week. BC, and thus my cousin, won.

Plez, being an honorable alum of GT, made good on the bet. He displayed the logo all of last week. My cousin, being the winner, couldn’t be blamed for wanting to publicize his victory. He wrote about it on his blog. You can read about it, if you want. I made four or five different comments, since I enjoyed the victory so much myself. Anyway, as you'll see if you peruse the comments, I decided to go to BC’s next game, vs. Army.

I went to a website that re-sells season ticket holder’s tickets when they aren’t able to make it to a game. I was able to score an excellent seat in the first row of the upper deck, on the 30-yard line.

(On the left, my Cousin David, with his redheaded son. On the right, my Dad, with his redheaded son.)

And now, we return to my breakfast table, MY WIFE handing me the telephone, my cousin on the other end. Rather than recount the entire conversation, I’ll give you highlights.

It seems David had been playing in a golf tournament on Friday. Part of the tournament was a long-drive competition, and in that, he had won tickets to the BC game. He wanted to know if we might get together before the game.

I was up for it. From everything David had written on his blog, as well as from correspondence, he seemed like a good guy. He’s blood, of course, but he also appeared to be someone I’d like hanging with even if he wasn’t. He was driving to the game from his home in western Massachusetts (about an hour’s drive) while I planned on parking at my place of business and then taking public transportation. We arranged to meet in front of a movie theater in Cleveland Circle, about a 15-minute leisurely walk from the stadium.

(On the left, my Dad as a toddler. Compare to my Cousin David's boy above. On the right, my Dad. Compare to my Cousin David above.)

I arrived at the theater 10 minutes in front of our arranged meeting time. While I was waiting, I wondered what it would be like to see David in person. In pictures I had seen of him, he had a great resemblance to my Dad. Since my Dad has been dead for 13 years now, I wondered if seeing David might be a bit more emotional than a general reunion with another family member. Would it be like seeing my Dad walking towards me?

David pulled his car into the parking lot and got out. He was immediately recognizable to me, of course. He DID look a lot like my Dad, and if he had been wearing a suit and tie, I might have freaked. However, David is a casual dresser, as I am, and that tempered the effect. My Dad almost never wore shorts, a baseball cap, and a jersey.

(In my usual self-absorbed fashion, I never considered that I might resemble someone David knew. As he later told me, I bear a bit of a resemblance to his brother.)

We shook hands, and then hugged. We started walking towards the stadium. We passed a ballfield that I had mentioned in my blog. He asked me if that was where I played my games. I said yes, telling him a couple of small peculiarities about the field. We made small talk about sports, but easily fell into conversation about my Cousin Joey (deceased in the past year, from a drug overdose) and that led into deeper family subjects, such as about how David’s father, my Uncle David, had abandoned him and his mother at an early age.

David told me about the spotty meetings they had through the years; a few minutes before school here, a bit of conversation someplace else. He related to me how he wished his father had done things differently. He said that he had pretty much reached a stage of forgiveness – or at least acceptance – and if his father had made a little bit of extra effort at that point, they might have had some sort of real relationship. Uncle David never did, though. One of my cousin's big regrets is that he had never really had a chance to know the Sullivan side of his family. His memories of family members – people I knew well, spent lots of time with, and loved deeply – were just shreds and shadows.

(I don’t want to paint David as some sort of pathetic character. He’s far from that. He seems to have his shit together like very few people I’ve known. He’s successful in his field. He’s happily married with lovely kids. He’s self-assured, confident, outgoing, a real nice guy, and I can’t imagine him backing down from much. He wasn’t crying while he told me these things, so I want to make sure that in no way I leave you with that impression concerning him. More than anything else – even during the talks about things that might have hurt – we were both smiling.)


We reached Alumni Stadium and went inside. It was still about a half-hour before game time, so we just walked around the inside perimeter of the place, first searching for a beer stand (it turns out they don’t sell beer at Alumni Stadium – Horrors!) and then for a hot dog/sausage stand. Finding a place that sold sausages, I bought one with peppers and onions. David opted for a hot dog. We stopped our walking, ate, and talked some more.

Sometimes the son of an alcoholic becomes a teetotaler, a response to the sadness caused by his father's addiction. Similarly, David has become a devoted family man, in response to his own father's abandonment. He is as much of a good father and husband as his own dad generally wasn't to him and his mother.


The conversation reverted back to sports for a while. Talk of my arthroscopic knee operation led into David relating a painful story about an injury in high school football (which I won’t go into detail about, but it concerned a bruised testicle, which should be enough said) and we easily fell into casual conversation about a variety of subjects - family, youthful indiscretions, life in general. I wasn’t looking forward to us splitting up when David went to his seat in the end zone and I went to mine on the sidelines. I suggested that he accompany me to my seat and that he join me, if there was an empty seat next to mine.

As it turned out, there were a few empty seats in the front row and we were able to sit together throughout the entire game. As we watched BC defeat Army, 37 – 17, we talked about family, the Red Sox, illegal drug usage common to both of our pasts, politics, whether Matt Ryan has a shot at actually winning the Heisman Trophy (we think yes, but definitely a longshot), more family, more drugs, the Patriots, the Celtics, our respective jobs, gambling, and that we both share a similar fear of heights, therefore making our seats in the first row of the second deck a source of slight recurring vertigo for both of us. The conversation flowed effortlessly, and I had a very enjoyable afternoon. To me, it seemed as though we had been friends for forty years, rather than not having seen each other in that long a time.

After the game, we hugged again, and I said that we’d have to do something else soon, maybe with OUR WIVES along. I headed to the Chestnut Hill train station, to ride back to Newton and my car, while David walked back to Cleveland Circle to retrieve his car. I hope we DO get together again fairly soon. It was a fun day.

I bought a ticket to a football game, but what I got was an excellent family reunion. Way cool.


(For David's take on our reunion, please go HERE.)

TOMORROW - The actual football game, wherein we all get soaked - both inside and out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

NYJB - Part Two

At the end of Part One yesterday, I told you that NYJB was short for New York Jew Boy, my affectionate nickname for Fred Goodman. I also told you that Fred calls me a Boston Mick. Among the other things Fred has called me:

Sabre-Toothed Mastodon (that was before I got my implants)

When I'm not calling Fred "NYJB", I call him Fred, Freddy, FG or Goody (which is what he prefers, as he always has that on the backs of his softball jerseys) and, when he doesn't slide on a play that clearly calls for it, You Dumb Bastard.

(It just now occurs to me that Fred has never called me by my actual first name, Jim, during the entire time I've known him. That's OK. Nobody says, "Sully!" with quite as much gusto as Fred does, so I prefer that.)

Now, you may be asking yourself how a New York Jew Boy and a Boston Mick became such good friends. I've told this tale before, but it's worth re-telling.

Fred, originally from Brooklyn (of the Sheepshead Bay Goodmans) came to Boston to attend college. He matriculated all over the Northeastern campus until they caught him at it one day and told him he had to leave.

I had been working at a place called Blake & Rebhan. It was a stationer/office supply company, located on D Street in South Boston. I started there in 1985. After I had been there for two years, Fred came to work for the company. That was in October of 1987.

My ascent up the company ladder had already been taking place. I started in the warehouse, picking orders. From there, I was promoted to the shipping department, and then to purchasing. I had been kicked upstairs to customer service by the time Fred was hired. I would soon be given another promotion, to the catalogue publications department. As a matter of fact, I was the catalogue publications department. However, that's another story - and you can find it right here. If you still have the stomach for it, part two can be found here.

Fred and I became decent acquaintances immediately, but our true bonding didn't happen until about two months later. We attended a company Christmas party. Blake & Rebhan was full of people who knew how to party - often to the detriment of their own personal health - and this Christmas party was no slouch. Everybody was quite juiced, all on their own favorite substances. Mine was a mix of vodka and cocaine. Fred's was... well, probably a bit of smoke to go with the liquid refreshments, although I don't want to cast any aspersions upon his current boy-scout-like reputation.

We had previously discussed many things - shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages and kings - but it was at this party that we discovered each other's affinity for all things Deep Purple; that is, the rock group. We found out we were both fanatics, in the truest sense of that word. And thus it was that, somewhere around midnight, we were hanging onto each other and singing "Highway Star" a cappella at the top of our lungs.

We became bosom buddies from that point on. Our friendship was further strengthened the next spring and summer. Fred played softball on the company team, of which I was the manager. We have been teammates - mostly on teams that I've managed - ever since.

Also, since our friendship was more-or-less founded on a heavy metal basis, we have attended many concerts together. As a matter of fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand (well, maybe two hands and one foot) the number of concerts I've attended without Fred, over the course of the past twenty years.

I'll tell you a few concert-going war stories.

Going to a concert with Fred is an experience. It has a bit to do with our tastes in music. We prefer groups - like AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple – who are loud, heavy, full of aural pyrotechnics, and whose concerts are sometimes populated by the anti-social and uncivilized. But, no matter what band is playing, Fred and I tend to have memorable experiences. Let me tell you about a couple of them.

We had tickets to see AC/DC in Providence. This was while we were both still employed by Blake & Rebhan, thus I was in the midst of my “If you take me to a baseball game, don’t show me the foul line; I’ll probably try to snort it” period.

Well, there was no coke to be had. I therefore made do by getting stewed to the gills on vodka alone. By the time we arrived in downtown Providence and parked, Fred basically had to tilt the car to one side and pour me out. Even so, I wasn’t so wasted that I didn’t realize that something was drastically wrong.

We had been able to find a parking space about half-a-block from the front door of the Civic Center. There were no throngs of tie-dyed neo-hippies, leather-clad groupies, or any of the other denizens of the deep one expected to see roaming the streets. The smell of weed was completely absent from the air. Nobody was hawking tour t-shirts, or trying to scalp bum tickets. There was no heat for the aforementioned to keep an eye out for. As a matter of fact, Fred and I were about the only people on the street AT ALL.

Fred said, “There’s something wrong here, Sully.”

I said something intelligent like, “Mmmfggrgnrawwww!”

Fred pulled the tickets out of his pocket and looked at them. I tried to focus, but it was a task just to stand still.

Fred said, “Sully, the concert is NEXT WEEK! We’re a week early!”

“Mmphf? Awwwwfug.”

Fred picked up the pieces of my buzz and tossed them into the car. As we drove back towards Boston, I began to sober up enough to become semi-intelligible. Fred suggested that, so it wouldn't be a total loss, why don’t we go somewhere and get some Chinese food? I suggested China Sky in Dorchester, not too far from my house.

At the restaurant, Fred did most of the ordering. The only thing I remember, with crystal clarity, is that we had a dish called Char Sue Din. It was some sort of pork dish with almonds. I remember it so clearly because, as soon as I got home, I saw it again and again and again. I have never had Char Sue Din again, nor will I ever. Just typing this is making me queasy.

That wasn't the only time we went to a non-existent concert. We also went to see Ozzy Osbourne at Great Woods, but he wasn’t there when we showed up. We weren’t a week early this time. It was just that the concert had been cancelled, due to Ozzy coming down with mange or something, and we were the only two people who hadn’t paid attention enough to know about it. We circled the empty parking lot, finally saw a sign or something telling us about the sad news, and then we went home. We did NOT stop off for Char Sue Din that time.

Now, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that every concert we attended – or tried to attend – was a disaster. Sometimes they came with a bonus.

We again had tickets for AC/DC, and this time we showed up on the right date. They were excellent tickets, too. We were in the second row, slightly left of center stage, at the Fleet Center in Boston. As the band launched into it’s first number, Fred gave me a poke in the ribs and told me to look where he was pointing. What I saw was the most amazing thing I have ever seen at a concert.

There was a group of very attractive women in our row, just five or six seats to our right. They were flashing the band with their very attractive breasts. When they tired of that, they basically started doing each other, right out in the open. They were dropping their drawers and poking their noses into each other’s business. It was a jaw-dropping spectacle. As a matter of fact, there was a kid sitting next to me - he couldn’t have been more than 15 - and his mouth just sort of hung open, drooling, for the entire concert. I don’t think he looked at the band once all night.

The personal highlight of the evening came when one of these tarts decided to go take a pee or something, and she slinked by us as she made her way out of the arena. As she passed me, she grabbed my crotch and gave it a healthy squeeze. She looked me in the eye and winked, then continued on her way. Well, I’m a very happily married man now, and I was then, too, so I didn’t follow her. I just sort of stood there, stunned. I told Fred that I had been groped. I got the sense he was just a wee bit jealous of the attention that had been lavished upon me.

When the band left the stage before their encore number, someone came out from the wings and escorted those ladies backstage. Big surprise. Angus and the rest of the boys from down under weren’t blind.

Well, that gives you some background concerning Fred and myself. We’ve shared a few interesting adventures and we’d pretty much go to the wall for each other.

Be that as it may - and I've never been given any reason why it shouldn't - I promised you the details concerning the impending get-together to watch BC play Florida State, so it's about time I get to them. I had Fred’s promise that we’d stay for the whole game, so I was really getting psyched. This was going to be one of the hottest tickets in town. I had just one question for Fred. Could he get an extra ticket for my cousin?

Tomorrow: Fred Gets An Extra Ticket For My Cousin.

(Kind of takes all the suspense out of it, doesn't it? Eh. You know me. By the time I'm finished writing it, it will probably have nothing to do with what I've promised you.)