Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ma






Ma, My Dad, Pa

The cheery thought for today: Everybody Dies.

Thank God, this thought wasn’t brought about by any specific person passing away today. It’s just that I was reading a biography and it mentioned how much the main character enjoyed Christmas dinner at his grandparent’s home. I stopped reading and thought about the many wonderful Christmas (and Thanksgiving and Easter) dinners I’ve enjoyed in the company of various relatives. Then, when I resumed reading, the next part of the story was about this guy’s grandfather kicking the bucket, and that started me thinking about all of the people I miss.

My mind raced around, recalling many folks who gave me love but who are no longer around for me to say "Thanks!" to. That’s not a big problem for me - one thing about both sides of my family is that we tend to say things like "Thanks" and "I Love You" before it’s too late, and we’re also very big on hugs and kisses – but I’d sure like to be able to say it again, anyway, to a few folks in particular. Here’s one.

MA

On my father’s side of the family, the great majority of folks haven’t lived to collect much of their social security or retirement.


Ma and her children - David, Jimmy, Loretta, and Tommy (my dad, who looks
gigantic because of the big difference in ages between he and his
siblings. In reality, he stood about 5'10".)
My father died when he was 62. His sister was even younger, and so was his brother, David. There were four siblings, and the only one of the four still remaining is my Uncle Jimmy. He’s a stubborn bastard – an admired trait among the Sullivans, thus I mean that in the nicest way possible – so he’s not leaving until he’s damned good and ready. Pa, my grandfather on that side (two good stories about him here and here) lasted until he was 69, if my math is correct. His father died in his thirties.

My father’s mother, Ma, was the first person who died. That is, she was the first person whose death touched me profoundly and made me struggle with the concept of never seeing someone again in this life. I was 9 years old. She was 56.

Dinner at my Mom's parents, with Sullivans invited guests.
From other end of table, on left: Uncle David, Uncle Jimmy, My Dad,
My Mom, not sure but may be my Grandma Drown, Auntie Ba (to some Retzie,
to others Loretta), Pa, Ma, again not sure.

The cause of death was listed as cerebral hemorrhage, but she had a few other problems that no doubt contributed. She had a big loving heart spiritually, but a weak one physically. And she was severely crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. In the photo above, with everybody gathered around the dinner table, she’s easily recognizable by the odd angle of her hand as she eats. She always had such wickedly crippled hands when I knew her. I don’t know how long she had to deal with that disease before I was born, but I never heard anyone talk about the onset of it, so I’ve always assumed it was a given, pretty much always there.

Christmas 1960 at Ma & Pa's. L to R: Friend of Retzie, Retzie,
Grandpa Drown, Mom, Me, Tippie, Ma, Pa.

I have scattered warm memories of her, but only scattered. As I say, I was 9 when she died. I remember her cooking fantastic fish dinners when I came for a visit, always mackerel or trout, rolled in egg and corn meal and then fried in a skillet. Much of my love for seafood stems from those aromatic dinners. And, on Easter and other holidays, she and Pa would cook up gigantic feasts; huge green and yellow ceramic bowls full of mashed potatoes, carrots, turnip, corn, cauliflower (the only one I didn’t like), and rich gravies to pour over the potatoes and whatever meat accompanied the vegetables, usually a succulent roast of beef.

I guess it’s no wonder why reading a passage about holiday dinner would trigger a memory of Ma for me.

Sometimes we drove to their home, but often we rode the long-since-gone elevated train to Forest Hills and then took a bus. For a kid, that was much the better option. A car was just a car, but the elevated train was an adventure.

At Hialeah Racetrack, Florida, just a couple of months before her death.
Me (snazzily dressed, as always), Ma, My Dad.

At the time of her death, she and my grandfather were living in the Beech Street public housing project in Roslindale, a section of Boston. These days, you might be taking your life into your hands going into that complex. Back then, it was considered a decent place among the city’s housing projects, though it certainly wasn’t without crime problems. There’s always some crime among the poor.

(I'm not saying the poor are the only people who commit crimes. It's just that they're the only ones with any excuse to do so.)

Ma and Pa were, in retrospect, about as poor as church mice. Pa was a hard worker, but he drank, liked to gamble a bit, and he smoked four packs a day. Ma was burdened with her various infirmities, thus so was Pa, and God bless him. The thing is, though, they kept a nice home, no matter the money situation. It was always clean, you were always welcome, and food was always on the table for you if you paid them a visit. I never heard anyone moaning and groaning about some sort of bum deal they had gotten from life. They didn’t blame; they just did what was needed and got on with it. I admire the hell out of that.

I distinctly remember the details of hearing about her death. She was in the hospital, and it was no secret she was very sick. On that day, I was outside, playing in our back yard, when my mother called for me. I came around the side of the house and immediately knew something terrible had happened. I don’t know if it was the look on my mother’s face or just an instinct, but I knew. My mother waited until I got to her, then hugged me close, saying, "Ma died." I burst into tears.

After that, it gets foggy. I spent the next day with my other set of grandparents while funeral arrangements and such were made. They took me to Mystic Seaport, a naval and shipping museum in Connecticut. It was a place most boys would have found fascinating, and I did, too, but my reverie was broken on a continuing basis as the thought of Ma being dead crossed my mind again and again. I was turning it over and over in my head, trying to grip the fact that this woman who was such a huge figure in my life would no longer... be.

Me, Ma, Aunt Jeanne (my mother's sister)

She’s been dead 42 years now. 42 years! When I was born, she was six years younger than I am today. How in hell did I get to be as old as my grandparents were?

Thanks for the fish dinners, Ma, and for the Easter baskets. Thanks for letting me roll around on that bed in the spare room, the one that had the bedspread with the little white bumpy pom-poms on it. You kept your pet canary there, and he was swell in his own little birdie way. Thanks for an overstuffed flowery couch to hang out on while you watched "As The World Turns", and for keeping pillow mints and butterscotches and other snacks (Cheez-Its!) on hand for me to nibble on. Mostly, I think, thanks for making my entire world, when I was in your presence, a warm and comforting embrace.

*****************************************************************

As I started this little rumination on morbidity, I had intended to write about a whole bunch of people aside from Ma, but I kept recalling little details, so, along with the photos, my reminiscence concerning her stretched out to fill the space. That’s not a bad thing, I guess. Each important person in your life shouldn’t have to share any sort of limited space. I’ll write about those other folks later on.

Everybody dies, but the best folks live on in your heart forever.

Soon, with more better stuff.





Monday, March 30, 2009

Parenting In The New Millennium



Very short story today.

You may remember me saying that we missed Avaroo's birthday party last weekend.

(If you don't recall who Avaroo is, go here.)

Well, yesterday we finally made it to her house. Because of our missing her big party, she got to have another smaller party yesterday. A good time was had by all.

At one point in the proceedings, Avaroo decided that she didn't want to do something; I forget exactly what. It wasn't anything earth-shattering. However, here is what Avaroo's mother said to her:

"If you don't behave, Uncle Jimmy won't write any more blogs about you!"

I have to believe that was the first time in the history of mankind that that particular combination of words was ever uttered. At the very least, I surely know none of our parents ever threatened us with the lack of a blog in order to get us to behave. We were told dreary things about starving children in Korea. I think that if I had been threatened with a lack of publicity, I might be an entirely different man today.

Of course, as soon as I heard Ava's mother make that threat, I said, "I don't know, Victoria. That sounds like a blog right there!"

And so it is.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Fartball, Anyone?





A very long time ago (almost two months!) Lime interviewed me. The questions were very Limelike (absurd, yet thought provoking) and my answers were very Suldoggian (abstract, yet banal.) Why, here's one now!

All sports as we know them have been banned. All sports equipment and factories for their manufacture have been destroyed. All the rulebooks have been burned. All professional, amateur, and children's leagues have been disbanded. Invent a new sport to capture the hearts of a nation. You cannot pay any professionals more than the average factory worker makes, men and women have to be able to compete in the same league, and children have to be the coaches and officials.

Well, as every child knows, the funniest thing in the world are farts. So, since children will be the coaches and officials, I'm inventing the NFL - the National Fartball League.

There isn't actually a "fartball", but it sounds funnier that way, so that's what I'm calling it. The rules are simple. The object of the game will be to advance from your end of the playing field to the opponent's goal. However, you can only run while you're farting. And it has to be a big blatting fart, too; no silent-but-deadlies. If, at any time, you move without emitting an audible blast of gas, then your opponents get to try to score.

Training regimens for the athletes will consist of eating huge buckets full of baked beans, cabbage, radishes, broccoli, and beer.

Before every game, the crowd will stand at attention and sing the league's theme song:

Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
Let's eat beans at every meal!



You win a game of fartball by scoring more goals than your opponent, of course, but you can also get a TKO if they pass out from your stench. Most of the kids won't care who wins; they'll be laughing so hard they won't be able to keep score anyway. Oh, and you can ONLY fart. You get thrown out of the game if you actually poop yourself.

I know some people don't find farting to be hilariously funny, and they will not be amused. That's OK, though, because the folks who don't find farting to be hilariously funny usually don't much care for sports to begin with, so it doesn't matter if they like it or not.

***************************************************************

With the above in mind, I'd like you to read some correspondence from a friend of mine.

Hey, Jim - One of those random thoughts I kept forgetting to include in past e-mails, obviously brought to mind by your "invention" of Fartball. (Warning: the following is for immature audiences only)

OK, so I don't know if I mentioned it ever, but last year I was diagnosed with pretty severe sleep apnea. They estimated, based on my sleep study, that I would wake up approximately 450 times in 8 hrs. Yow. Anyway, I was given a cpap machine which works wonders. Though I don't find myself raving about all the energy I now have like the people in the instructional vid, I do notice I no longer fall asleep during the day and I'm down to maybe 3 cups of coffee from my former 3 pots.

If you don't know about cpap, it's basically an air pump and mask that blows relatively low-pressure air down your throat, thus keeping the airway open, stopping snoring and apneas, and ultimately, letting you get to deep-sleep stages.

So, the complication, known to those in the med-biz as aerophagia. Literally, "air eating". You see, I think, where this is going...

Some nights, for some reason, the esophagus opens a bit, and the machine can pump you full of air. And I mean full. Stem to stern. Really, I mean, you've just been inflated by an electric pump. You wake up with the worst imaginable bloating, like, walking bent double. Walking, though you really should be running as, more often than not, the pumped-in air has encountered, shall we say, a blockage, which is about to be jet propelled out, hopefully into a proper receptacle.

Nor is this the end of it. Once the blockage is removed, as it were, lots of pressure remains to be released, through one of the two available apertures. Or, more usually, both, often simultaneously. I'm talking Krakatoa meets Vesuvius here. Fortunately, since these gases don't result from fermentation, they are delightfully fragrance-free. It occurred to me that use of such machines would need to be banned in the sport of Fartball, as anyone who could belch the alphabet while at the same time performing the national anthem on rectal-kazoo would clearly have an unfair advantage.

Just thought I'd share.

Happy Thursday. Your swell pal,

Donatello


As with most things concerning rude noises and excrement, I found this to be supremely funny. I asked Donatello if I might use it in my blog. His reply:

Hi - Yeah, sure. Be my guest. Actually, despite the occasionally considerable pain, I find it kind of funny too. It's pretty dramatic... rocket-powered, um... movements that leave you checking the bowl for cracks, followed by an episode of gas that could lift you bodily off the seat. Fortunately, this doesn't happen too often, to me at least. Some folks have to discontinue the cpap because of it, which leaves them without great options.

The sleep study itself was a joy also, an overnight deal. It took them maybe 20 minutes to wire up pretty much everything but my balls, then they said, OK, just sleep normally. Huh? Well, normally, I don't have 20 or 30 wires attached to me with medical adhesive plus a strange electric girdle, for starters... Then, halfway through, they came in to try a cpap machine and gave me a nose-only mask, which is fine until you open your mouth. Then, the air comes in your nose and blows right out your mouth: a bizarre sensation to say the least which startles you awake. So I have the full-face mask, which fixes that problem but causes the aerophagia. Well, what can you do?

The sleep study people were actually very nice and all. If there was something they could do to make you comfortable, they would do it. It's just the nature of the beast. And the mattress on the bed was perhaps the best mattress I've ever slept on. The place was a weird combination of hospital and hotel. The whole thing started when one of MY WIFE's co-workers dropped dead. Which left her thinking that I'd be next, etc.

Hmmm... I guess I pretty much told that tale backwards, anyways, do what you like. Gotta run, later.

Your swell pal,

Donatello


The great thing about having funny friends like Lime and Donatello is that, some days, they do almost all of your writing for you.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(By the way, the image came from CPAP.com, who sell the things should you medically need one - or if you wish to be the Fartball equivalent of Bonds or Clemens.)


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Many Ways To Say I Love You





Mister Rogers Swings!

That’s the name of a CD by Holly Yarbrough, and it’s also the truth. Yarbrough has taken sixteen songs from the Fred Rogers songbook and done them proud. And they all swing.

Now, "swing" is a term that needs definition in this case, since the word sometimes carries a connotation of up-tempo rhythms and blaring horn charts. You won’t find much of that here. But, swing it does. It’s a very gentle sort of swing, and, like Fred Rogers himself, non-threatening and full of love. This CD won’t make you hop off the couch and start jitterbugging, but it will definitely make you want to hug someone special to you. That can be fun, too.

The session opens, as seems obligatory in any reading of Rogers’ work, with a version of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? In a similar nod to conformity, it closes with It’s Such A Good Feeling. I don't really have a problem with that. It's comfortable, and they’re both swell tunes wherever they might have shown up. In between, we get material that will be familiar to long-time viewers of Fred’s show, many done up in a cool lounge vibe. Over top of the solidly mellow bass and drums, there are healthy doses of bright and to-the-point jazz guitar soloing, extremely tasty piano work, occasional loosening of the horn section’s leash (to especially good effect on You’ve Got To Do It, which features Roy Agee, George Tidwell, and the late Boots Randolph, trading short solos on trombone, trumpet, and saxophone, respectively), a few country-tinged pieces dominated by cello and fiddle, and - most inviting - Yarbrough’s wonderful vocals.

Yarbrough has a truly great set of pipes, and she uses them well. Her singing is smooth and melodic throughout. She sometimes doesn’t take a chance I would have preferred – there was one spot in Many Ways To Say I Love You where I thought for sure she’d go for the higher note, instead settling for the mid-range – but it's a matter of my taste, not her ability, and there’s really very little to quibble about in her choices. Throughout the CD, you ride along on the light golden honey of her singing, nary a bump in the road anywhere, and it’s an enjoyable journey.

One of my all-time favorite Fred Rogers compositions is the love song, When The Day Turns Into Night, and I’m happy to report it’s included here and done exceedingly well. The lyric is simple, yet as achingly beautiful as anything written by more-well-known purveyors of melancholy than Rogers – if the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Fred is puppets, this one may surprise you – and Yarbrough invests the words with just the right amount of tension, neither going over the top or leaving them bereft of the necessary emotion.

My favorite cut is probably Everybody’s Fancy, which opens with a bit of light scatting before the main lyric (I would assume the least favorite of Fred’s writings among some of those in the GLBT community, since Fred asserts that "boys are boys from the beginning, girls are girls right from the start", although the overall message about everybody’s body being just swell certainly must resonate.) The mid section features a very direct Lori Mechem piano solo.

And then, there's I Like To Be Told. Originally written to address the insecurity felt by children when parents go off on a trip or otherwise leave them temporarily alone, it is here delivered as a bluesy torch song, and one can't help hearing a subtle S&M component. It works.

I could continue with a detailed description of every selection, but I think I’d be doing you a disservice if I did so. You’ll be more delighted if you buy the CD (or download the songs) and discover the good bits for yourself. This is a collection of Fred Rogers’ songs that will, if you listen to it in the company of a significant other, likely make your evening all warm and tingly.

Mister Rogers Swings, indeed. Who knew?

Hear some samples at Holly Yarbrough's My Space page.

Buy it at Amazon.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Best Laid Schemes O' Mice An' Men, Gang Aft Agley





And sometimes, not so much. However...

Gang aft agley? I think people could make up total nonsense, attribute it to Robert Burns, and nobody would ever call them on it.

The lilac heather gloaming
Ur the loch beyond the licht
Ye were tarnin’ keen the thistle
O’er the moonlicht nicht tonicht

If I had put that out here without telling you my theory concerning Burns, some of you would have swallowed it. Not YOU specifically, of course, but some of you - the ones reading me in, say, some suburb of Biloxi.

Well, not all my plans went agley, but enough of them to warrant the title. This was the weekend of the great lunch – the one thing that went perfectly - and then the green puddle and the missed birthday party and the trip to the repair shop. In addition, there will be photos of sweaters. Something for everyone, if everyone wants to hear about pizza, leaking heater cores, and cardigans.

On Saturday, I met Lime, live and in-person. She was exactly as advertised – friendly, funny, and with a permanent mischievous gleam in her eye. She was in town to visit her cousin (who turned out to be a fantastic bonus gift at lunch, extremely quick-witted with high-quality wordplay and jokes.)

MY WIFE and I met Lime at Forest Hills station on the T’s Orange Line. We escorted her in Roddy The Wondercar (more about him later) to The Pleasant Café in Roslindale. We didn’t MAKE her ride the subway to a place convenient for us. She decided to do so of her own accord. She comes from a place without such a thrilling sort of public transportation, so she wanted to experience it during her weekend stay in the city. We, being somewhat insane ourselves, understood perfectly. While making plans for this rendezvous, there was some question about whether her cousin and her cousin’s son would be joining us. We were told they wanted to do so, but there were some small logistical problems. Then, after we picked up Lime, she informed us that they had been in a minor auto accident that morning. Things looked bleak for meeting the extended family. However, while we were riding toward the restaurant, Lime received a phone call from her cousin, and, yes, they would meet us there in about fifteen minutes. Great! We improvised a plan wherein we would kill a few brain cells with alcohol until they arrived.

We gave Lime a short crummy tour of Roslindale and we were soon at The Pleasant. I've given you plenty of description concerning The Pleasant in previous posts, so I won't go into that detail here. Suffice to say it was still everything it's ever been, as was the food, and that's a good thing. Soon enough, the cousin and her son arrived. We had a few more drinks, some great pizza, various main dishes following the pizza, and the jokes and stories flowed freely. It was one of the most enjoyable lunches MY WIFE and I have ever had with relative strangers. Actually, they turned out to be more like strange relatives, since it was not unlike meeting some family members we hadn’t seen in a few years. Lots of laughs, good food, and, upon parting, we said that it would be wonderful to get together again the next time Lime was in town, and we meant it. It was not the type of facile lie one might say to a person he or she could easily avoid for the rest of his or her life.

Here are a couple of photos of the historic meeting.

This is Lime with a whole bunch of lemons. She asked for a water with extra lemon. The waitress at The Pleasant, aiming to please, gave her many extra lemons.



Here's how we felt about meeting each other.



And here's how we really felt. We're full of good food, happy to have met, and sad to be parting (although that doesn't show here.)



Now we get to the stuff that went agley.

On Sunday, we were supposed to go to a birthday party for Avaroo. I was definitely looking forward to it. Where else could I go where someone lived who kisses me on top of my bald head and I’d also get some cake? However, a few hours before we were scheduled to get on the road, I decided to go to the store to get a newspaper and some cigarettes. When I went out to our garage, I was shocked to see a huge green puddle under Roddy The Wondercar.

My first thought was that having such an august personage as Lime sitting in him had made him so excited that he somehow had a huge green orgasm. However, upon further inspection, it appeared that he was just incontinent. I felt embarrassed for him. More than that, though, I was angry. Roddy had been in the shop just last week for work on his cooling system. It was not a good feeling to see that I would now have to bring him back to have his bladder sealed. I expected that if anything needed repair in the near future, something to do with fluids would most definitely not be it.

I could have filled Roddy with water and taken a chance, but since Avaroo and her part of the family live over an hour’s drive from us, it would have been foolhardy. I couldn’t reasonably gamble on Roddy not peeing all over the highway while we were on our way, and an overheated seized engine is no fun. I’ve had one before, so I know.

(That seizure, of a car previous to acquiring Roddy, happened while we were on our way to my father-in-law’s funeral. That was just one of the myriad joys we experienced during a twelve-month period wherein my father died, MY WIFE’s mother died, we were told by our landlord that he wanted us to vacate our apartment during the week of Christmas, MY WIFE’s father died, and then, as mentioned, the car decided to commit suicide in solidarity with all of the other deaths going on. It survived, though, costing us a few thousand dollars for a new engine. We paid for that, rather than just buying a new car, since I was still making payments on that poor depressed Cavalier and didn’t want to be sending $185 a month off into the ether for nothing. That was easily the worst year of our married life. The fact that I got through it without reverting to my previous usage of hard drugs is testament to both MY WIFE’s restorative powers and the fact that I couldn’t recall my dealer’s home number.)

Anyway, not only would we now be missing a chance for birthday cake, we had also planned on stopping at IKEA on our way. They were having a sale on stockpots and I wanted a new one. Now I wouldn’t be getting one. That might seem like small potatoes in comparison to everything else, but if I had small potatoes, then I wouldn’t need a new larger stockpot. And, on top of that, tomorrow I’d have to take Roddy to the shop, make damn sure they did the repair right this time, miss a day of work, and as Burns might have said, all was traveling ta the wee buildin’ wae the half-moon on the door.

Then... Well, see, I had already decided on the title for this piece when I sat down to write it. Let me tell you what happened halfway through, back up above near where the photos are. The Cro-Magnon computer we have at home froze and wouldn’t let me save what I had written. I was fairly apoplectic. If MY WIFE hadn’t been in the room, I might have picked up the damn computer and thrown it out the window. I would have been somewhat sorry had it landed on top of an innocent squirrel, but it had pretty much crushed my spirit at that point, so tough luck for any unlucky random squirrels.

MY WIFE was there, though, so cooler heads (hers) prevailed, the computer didn’t go flying through the window and crush an innocent rodent, and, through some sort of black magic that I probably should be more afraid of than I am considering it’s Sunday morning and all, my writing was still there on the screen after I completely shut down the computer and then re-booted it. Maybe it was good karma from some sort of squirrel deity.

That’s enough about the weekend; more than enough, really, excepting the part about Lime and her cousins, which is just about right. Let’s finish this up with something nice.

On Thursday of last week, I ran a piece about Fred Rogers. I promised that anyone who sent me a photo of themselves wearing a sweater would have that picture published here and be given a link back to their blog. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I’m a man of my word. So, here are the photos, with appropriate attribution.

Janet, from Adventures In The 32-Aker Wood, is first up. She sends a photo of herself, and also one of her lovely kids. At least, I assume they're her kids. And her Mom made all of the sweaters. Nice!




Next up, we have what I believe is a fraudulent photo. I'm having a hard time buying the fact that this is Jinksy from Napple Notes. I suppose it's bearly possible...



Here is Green Jello, looking sweet, coy, and entirely ungelatinized.



Jeni, over at Down River Drivel, did a nice piece about Fred Rogers. Find it here. Here she is with Maya, both of them wearing their sweaters. More photos at her place.



Finally, let me give you a nice little story concerning Fred Rogers and his trolley.

As you probably know, Trolley is a character in The Neighborhood Of Make Believe, as well as the conveyance by which we get there from Fred's "real" house. Here is a photo of Fred with Trolley.



Thimbelle tells this lovely little story about Twinks, her daughter.

When Twinks was a tiny girl, we would watch Mr. Rogers every morning together. Twinks especially loved the Trolley, and always waved at the TV whenever Trolley came into view. One day, when she was not quite three years old, we were shopping, and she spied a bright, shiny penny on the floor of the store. As she held it out to me, I said "Oh, look! A penny!" She shook her head no, and said "Look, Mama! Mista Wojers! Twolley!" Because in her magical little world, that *was* Mr. Rogers and her beloved Trolley, right there on that penny.

To this day, I can't pick up a penny without thinking of Mr. Rogers! :)




Soon, with more better stuff.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Do You Have A Sweater?



If so, please won't you wear it tomorrow?

(Addendum to original post: If you send me a photo of you wearing a sweater, I'll post it next week and give you a link to your site!)


If you've been coming here for any significant length of time, you know how I feel concerning the late Fred Rogers. In my estimation, he was an actual saint walking among us here on Earth.

If you are somehow unaware of who he was, this piece I wrote gives a decent history of the man. For a really nice story about the effect Fred Rogers could have on people, see this additional piece.

(The offer I made in the former piece, concerning the book, still stands.)

Here's the deal concerning the sweater: Friday, March 20th, is the anniversary of the birth of Fred Rogers. If he were still alive, he would have been 81. As a token of the deep respect and appreciation some folks have for his lifework, we will wear sweaters tomorrow, much as he always donned one upon the start of each episode of his TV show.

I think it's a wonderful way to let people know that his memory lives on, and that his values are still cherished and worthwhile aspiring towards.

From the Family Communications (Rogers' non-profit production company) website:

(Pittsburgh) February 27, 2009– Since 1968, when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its national public television debut, Fred Rogers began each episode with his simple signature question in song: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Last year, the nation joined together to answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” as news anchors, librarians, students and CEO’s alike donned their favorite sweaters in honor of what would have been Rogers’ 80th birthday on March 20, 2008.

This year, the group that started it all is turning “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day into an annual tradition by asking the world to once again wear a sweater on March 20 in honor of America’s favorite neighbor.

“It started simply enough,” explains Margy Whitmer of Family Communications, Inc. (FCI is the nonprofit company founded in 1971 by Fred Rogers.) “We wanted to recognize Fred in a way that would reflect his deep appreciation of what it means to be a caring neighbor.”

So, “’Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day – WYBMND for short, although not by much – was born as a means of promoting neighborliness throughout the region.

“We’re asking everyone everywhere – from Pittsburgh (where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was filmed for 40 years) to Paris -- to wear their favorite sweater on March 20,” says David Newell, FCI’s public relations director and Mr. McFeely. “It doesn’t have to have a zipper down the front like the one Mister Rogers wore on the program; it just has to be special to you.”

“What’s been so encouraging,” Whitmer says, “is the continued enthusiastic response from people all over the country. We’ve marked this date to give
organizations and institutions the opportunity to create an event that encourages the people in their communities to be caring neighbors. We're also hoping that individuals will connect one-on-one with their neighbors in caring ways and that it will become an annual national day of community service.”


For more information about “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day, please visit: www.fci.org/neighbor.

As Fred said, so beautifully and so often, "There is only one person in the entire world exactly like you, and each person can like you exactly the way you are."

I like you exactly the way you are, and I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, should you choose to participate in this wonderful celebration of Mister Rogers and his good works.


Soon, with more better stuff.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Irishman Walks Into A Bar (Yeah, Like That's A Surprise...)



Hilarity will ensue. But, first...

It appears that all of the people whose blogs I faithfully followed have been spirited from the face of the earth. I guess the rapture happened and I was deemed non-qualified. Either that or Google has decided I shouldn't be allowed to follow anyone because I look like a stalker. In any case, I have lost all of the "follower links" from Google Reader, which I employed in order to know when you had published something new. I'll try to reconstruct and reattach - whatever the terms would be - as I make my way around to your sites. If you don't see me for a couple of days, now you know why. It's not because I don't love you; it's because Google doesn't love you (or hates me.)

(If you don't see me for a couple of weeks, drop me a line and remind me about yourself. If you don't see me for a couple of months, don't.)

Here's something to brighten your day, though. In the true spirit of yesterday's post concerning Saint Patrick's Day, all of my Irish (and semi-Irish) friends sent me jokes about Irishmen. As I said, the Irish are the last group you can joke about with utter disregard for hurt feelings and possible civil rights lawsuits. And what sort of good Irishman would I be if I didn't re-print a couple of those jokes for you now? So, here you go!

(By the way, my favorite part of all of these jokes is the varied way of putting Irish accents into print. The first joke differs wildly from the second joke, and they both differ from the third joke, as well as the fourth joke and my own post from yesterday. I guess our Irishmen come from different parts of the country. Let's call it Mayo, Kerry, Cork, Sligo, and Dingle [which sounds like the punchline to a joke about a dirty Irish law firm, but I digress within my digression, which is always bad form and necessitates the use of brackets within parentheses, like so.])


An Irishman is sitting at a bar. He sees a lamp at the end of the bar. He walks down to it and rubs it. Out pops a genie. It says, "I will give you three wishes."

The Irishman thinks awhile. Finally, he says, "I want a beer that never is empty."

With that, the genie makes a *POOF* sound, and on the bar is a bottle of beer. The Irishman starts drinking it and, just as he seems to be finishing it, it starts to refill every time.

The genie asks him what he'd like for his other two wishes.

"I want two more of these!"


Mick, from Dublin, appeared on 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' and towards the end of the program had already won 500,000 pounds.

"You've done very well so far," said Chris Tarrant, the show's presenter, "but for a million pounds you've only got one lifeline left - phone a friend. Everything is riding on this question... Will you go for it?"

"Sure," said Mick. "I'll have a go!"

"OK," said Chris. "Which of the following birds does NOT build its own nest?"

A: Sparrow
B: Thrush
C: Magpie
D: Cuckoo

"I haven't got a clue," said Mick, "so I'll use me last lifeline and phone me friend Paddy back home in Dublin."

Mick called up his mate and told him the circumstances, repeating the question as it was posed to him.

"Fookin' hell, Mick!" cried Paddy. "Dat's simple. It's a cuckoo."

"Are ye sure, Paddy?"

"I'm fookin' sure!"

Mick hung up the phone and told Chris, "I'll go wit Cuckoo as me answer."

"Is that your final answer?" asked Chris.

"Dat it is, Sir."

There was a long pause. Then the presenter screamed, "Cuckoo is the correct answer! Mick, you've won 1 million pounds!"

The next night, Mick invited Paddy to their local pub to buy him a drink.

"Tell me, Paddy, how in Heaven's name did you know it was da Cuckoo that doesn't build its own nest?"

"Because he lives in a fookin' clock!"


An Englishman, a Scot and an Irishman walk into a bar and order three pints. Just as they are served, a fly lands in each of their glasses.

The Englishman pushes his glass away in disgust and orders another.

The Scot picks the fly out of his glass and drinks his beer.

The Irishman grabs the fly and starts shouting "Spit it out, ya bastard! Spit it out!"


An Irishman leaves a pub. As he's walking down the street towards home, he is grabbed from behind and dragged into an alleyway.

His attacker, holding the Irishman's hair with one hand and using his other hand to hold a knife to the Irishman's throat, says, "Are you Catholic or Protestant?"

The Irishman, thinking fast, says, "Neither! I'm Jewish!"

"Praise Allah! I am the luckiest Taliban member in all of Ireland!"

***************************************************************

Tomorrow's posting will be absolutely 100%-obscenity-free! This news will delight some of you, while simultaneously keeping the others from returning.

See (some of you) then!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

'tis A Great Day For The Semi-Irish




Ah, Sweet Jayzis, ‘tis Saint Patty’s day! Time fer th' wearin’ o’ th' green!

I’ll be startin’ me day off wit’ a pint o’ Guinness, and then a big tub o’ corned beef an’ cabbage. After that - Tura Lura Loo! - I’ll slap ME WIFE upside her gob and t’row me 26 kiddos down th' stairs, so they'll be gettin' ready fer mass in a proper way. After th' sarvice, I’ll punch Fadder O’Malley in th' mush and head on over to th' pub and meet Murph, Mac, Murph, Quinn, Tommy Fitz, Timmy Fitz, Jimmy Fitz, Murph, Sweeney, Sully, Sully, Big Sully, Fahey, Sully, and O’Brien for a few quarts o’ whiskey. Faith and begorrah! Then we’ll have a grand time whalin’ th' bejeezus out of each other until the blood runs in rivers, I tells ya! Toity toity toy! Then some more corned beef an’ cabbage an’ more whiskey an’ more Guinness while we tell each other tales o’ how, if we was still in the Auld Sod, we’d be beatin’ the snot out o’ whole armies o’ English arseholes. Ptooie!

O! Then th' topper to the whole grand day! The parade, by Jayzis! Won’t it be a foin sight to see all the lads and lassies dressed in their foinest and marchin’ down th' street? Ah, where’s me shillelagh? Another pint o’ Guinness, O’Reilly, and póg mo thóin!

(*Snort*)

Ah, th' barmaid is a foin homely lass, she is, but I’m a married man! Where’s ME WIFE? I want another 6 kids! Ah, ‘tis a foin day!

(*punch*)

O’Toole, how are you? Go shit in yer fist, you boghoppin' son of a bitch! Where’s yer 42 kids? (*smash!*) Ah, Mullins! I thought that was you! Saints be praised, it’s good to see yer face!

(*crack*)

And I don’t suppose you were after forgettin’ th' time you tripped me durin’ recess in th' fifth grade, ya bastard! Go n-ithe an cat thú, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!

Jayzis, Mary and Joseph! I’m so drunk I can’t find me own arsehole and it’s time fer me to go meet me 32 brithers an’ sisters who’re on th' police department and me 64 uncles on th' fire department an’ me 487 cousins who work fer the state because we’re all goin’ over to Seamus McCarthy’s house to play th' harp, drink more whiskey, eat more corned beef and cabbage, and then fight all night until we collapse in the street in a drunken bloody stupor. Erin Go Bragh!

(sigh)

I’m partly Irish. You don’t get a name like Sullivan or a face like mine without some Irish blood, but - God help me – I sure do hate to admit it sometimes.

The Irish are just about the only ethnic group that you can defame with impunity. Nobody is holding rallies to change the name of the Notre Dame athletic teams. The Fighting Irish. Try calling some college team The Hotheaded Hispanics and see how far you get. Throw an Irish cop with a larcenous streak into a movie or a TV show and nobody blinks. Hell, make him a drunk who beats his wife and has 12 unkempt bratty children. You might as well go all the way. It’s not like anybody is going to complain, least of all the Irish themselves. The Irish are just about the only group that generally ignores most of the stereotypes people throw around about them. For that matter, many of us seem to take pride in our rotten image.

When I say “us,” I say it with some reservation. Yes, I have Irish blood, but unless I tell you, you wouldn’t know that I actually have a higher percentage of Hispanic, not to mention French. I also have Yankee, which is English in origin, of course. And some Scottish. The Irish is pretty much only pasty skin deep.

So, by the stereotypes, this is my make up:

I’m a red-headed Irish Hispanic, so I must have a hair-trigger temper. However, being French, as soon as you stand up to my temper, I’ll surrender. Since I’m also English, I’ll probably make a very wry joke while doing so. The Scot in me would like to make a buck out of the whole deal.

I like to eat potatoes at every meal, but I’ll have snails, greasy beef and haggis with them. Oh, yes, with jalapenos on the side. I’ll also have a heaping helping of spotted dick for dessert, but petit fours will do in a pinch.

I’m up for just about anything sexually, of course, but would you mind not shaving your armpits? I might slap you around a bit, but later you can tie up the English side of me and put a whip to my butt, so it’ll even out. Since I’m also a Scot, if you want me to wear a kilt while we’re doing it, I’m OK with that.

I think Jerry Lewis is a genius, but Monty Python, Cantinflas, Billy Connolly and the first half of this post also make me laugh. I drive a Jaguar low-rider powered by peat, but never on toll roads. I wear a beret on top of my sombrero, as well as a derby under it. I work for the government, I sponge off of the government, I am the government, and I want to overthrow the government.

Ah, that’s enough of that, I suppose.

(Just in case you’re really wondering, about 1/3 of the above is true. I’ll leave it to your imagination which 1/3.)

(Not the Jaguar, that’s for sure.)

So, I don’t really have much of a point here, but I’m glad you came along for the ride. If I’ve upset you in any way, just be thankful that it isn’t Bastille Day tomorrow. Or Cinco De Mayo, for that matter.

Soon, con mas (whatever the French word for “better” is) stuff, Bucko.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Where Do We See It Now?




[Following the bit of overblown dissertation that follows, I’d be especially interested in hearing from my non-American readers. Your memories and views would be most welcome. This is not to say that I don’t want my countrymen (and women) to chime in. I’m certainly interested in hearing about our shared experiences. I am, however, almost wholly ignorant concerning the experiences of Canadians, Australians, denizens of Great Britain, and other non-American peoples, concerning this subject.]

This past Saturday, I had the great pleasure of being at The Boston Athenaeum, a wonderful private library and repository of art located on Beacon Hill. I had ventured there, along with MY WIFE, in order to see the movie Good Night, And Good Luck, which was having a screening in conjunction with a series of lectures on civic discourse, media and democracy.

Dan Kennedy, assistant professor of journalism from Northeastern University, and whose blog, Media Nation, I often visit - and at which, I sometimes leave inane commentary - introduced the film.

(I say "inane" in deference to Dan, since his views are often diametrically opposed to my own. For instance, we’ve engaged in minor friendly debate concerning the role of media in politics, wherein I opined that Libertarians rarely get the coverage they deserve, while Dan seemed to espouse the theory that, if they got the coverage I wanted them to get, they would probably be even more ridiculed than they currently are. We are both baseball fans, though, and, more important, Red Sox fans, so our individual base intelligences are beyond question.)

In introducing the film, which is based upon that part of the life of Edward R. Murrow, the American broadcasting icon, wherein he railed against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt of the 1950’s, Dan spoke about the general fragmentation of today’s dissemination of news. Whereas Murrow had the advantage of being seen by a majority of American television viewers, due to his show, See It Now, being broadcast on the most powerful of what were then the only three television networks in existence, today’s newscasters have a smaller percentage of the nation as a whole viewing them. This is because of the proliferation of outlets available to the viewer (listener, reader, on-line gadabout) from which to gather information. We are no longer as homogenous a society, with concurrently homogenous newscasts to which we turn to get the “official” story.

The upshot of this fragmentation is that it is near-impossible today to imagine a lone commentator being able to deliver a similar strong blow to the reputation of a man such as McCarthy, considered now, via the long-view lens of history, to have been one of the most dangerous and divisive demagogues in the history of the republic. Without a central rallying point, at which plain folk might receive their marching orders, there is limited potential for the media to dethrone an imminent threat to our nation’s traditional liberties. It is Kennedy’s considered opinion, for instance – one with which I agree – that Richard Nixon’s disgrace and subsequent resignation, during Watergate, would have played out in a totally different fashion had it occurred today, the probability being that Nixon would have survived to finish out his full two terms as President and retired with no more blemish on his record than, say, our last two illustrious leaders, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush.

Although I was certainly familiar with Murrow’s work prior to viewing this film, he was a bit before my time. In his introduction to the film, though, Kennedy also spoke about Walter Cronkite. During the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, Cronkite was considered THE source for news for Americans. There were other practitioners to which we could turn at the time, of course. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, of NBC, come readily to mind as respected purveyors of the definitive story, as do the somewhat lesser lights John Chancellor, Howard K. Smith, and, on radio (which was already diffuse beyond repair as a national beacon) the recently-deceased Paul Harvey. But, if you told someone that Cronkite had said it, you were quoting the least-impeachable source available.

There is no such source today.

In today’s environment, the best we seem to be able to muster is a consensus among the choir being preached to. That is, those on the left end of the political spectrum may have a galvanizing focal point, and those on the right may have a similar pre-eminent talking head or two, but there is no one person you can cite who will be accepted by the great majority of Americans as being generally truthful and free from bias. The right wing do not accept Keith Olberman’s opinion as anything other than pandering, while the left see Bill O’Reilly as a near-psychotic.

And so, with the above as background, I’d like to find out your thoughts on the subject.

First, I’d especially like to know if those of you from outside of the United States had similar experiences. Did your country have one person, or perhaps one newsgathering entity, to which they most often turned in order to get their news? Is it possible that you still have such a source? Is there a particular instance you can recollect of a major political personage being brought down a peg via the reporting or commentary of one other person, such as Murrow being seen as the primary force behind the undoing of McCarthy in America?

Second, I’d like to find out your opinions concerning the fragmentation of our news sources. Is it a good thing, on the whole? Or is it a danger to a democratic republic when there is no certainty that the people within it will all be operating from a shared pool of knowledge, perhaps with the result being that too much time must be spent on explanation to others concerning your sources before meaningful debate can even begin?

Third, I’d like to ask you where you get your news. Are you a watcher of the national nightly broadcasts on a television network? Do you read newspapers? Or are you more likely to eschew such traditional sources in favor of, for example, the internet?

Please feel free to answer any or all of the questions, and in as much detail as you desire. If you decide to debate another commenter – or challenge the assumptions of Mr. Kennedy or myself - I ask that you be polite. I will delete commentary that veers into personal insult.

Thank you for your input.

(Tomorrow, I will be publishing a re-print of a piece concerning Saint Patrick’s Day. However, don’t let that serve as a signal to you that this piece, and the commentary, should be ignored from then on. Please continue any debate at your pleasure.)


Friday, March 13, 2009

NSFW





(Pretty snazzy artwork, eh? I'll have you know that's a Suldog original! I slaved over my drawing board for a good minute-and-a-half to come up with that.)

To the best of my recollection, I've held 28 different jobs. Here they are.

Paperboy, Blackjack Dealer, Carnival Barker, Shoe Salesman, Door-To-Door Salesman, Stock Clerk, Dishwasher, Musician (you could go here, among others), Drug Dealer, Cab Driver, Gambler, Courier, Bowler, School Bus Driver, Street Cleaner, Mail Room Clerk, Warehouse Worker, Security Guard, Garage Cleaner, Packer, Ice Cream Truck Driver, Proofreader, Fruit & Produce Delivery Driver, Medical Study Participant, Order Picker, Purchasing Clerk, Customer Service Agent, Catalog Writer, Voice-Overs & Commercial Production (my current gig).

My criteria for calling something a "job" is that I worked hard at it and also made money. So, if you want to argue, for instance, that dealing drugs isn't a job, I'll argue right back at you. Same goes for bowling, playing in a band, and gambling. Every one of the things mentioned above was something either I was hired to do or that I seriously tried to pursue as a career path, and it showed a profit, however meager.

The point of telling you all this - and about time, too - is that I've never been one to stick around just to draw a check. Money isn't the most important thing in the world to me. If I don't like where I'm working, or what I'm doing, or the people with whom I'm working, I'll quit. I've done it 26 times before. Only once out of those 28 jobs was I not the one to make the decision of whether I would stay or go.

(Bonus points if you can guess which one I was laid off from. It's one of those linked above, and I don't blame them even a tiny bit.)

The 27th job, the one I'm at now, has been ongoing for 18 years. I've been employed by my present company for almost 15 years longer than at any other job I've held. The reason for this is that I've never been pissed off enough to walk out. And the main reason for that is my boss.

My boss is a good decent guy. He pays me well; doesn't force a lot of useless rules on me (I don't ever wear a suit or tie unless I want to do so, and shaving is optional); is generous with bonuses and personal use of company equipment; and just generally keeps the office a non-stressful place to be. He hires good people, so there rarely have been any uncomfortable squabbles here. We all joke with each other and nobody is looking to file a lawsuit because their feelings were hurt. When you need an early exit, for an appointment of a non-work nature, my boss will let you go without making you sign an I.O.U. promising to give him back the half-hour on a later date. Of course, for our part, we realize it's a favor, so we don't start squawking for overtime if we're here some night until 5:10.

A few days ago, he asked me about the possibility of writing a blog for our company website.

He knows about this blog, and he's cool with it. I've never gotten a memo from him telling me to not say such-and-such because it would reflect badly on the company. I think he understands that anything stupid I might say here - and Lord knows that's a lot - only reflects poorly on me.

When he asked me about writing a company blog, I told him I was amenable to the idea. However, I wanted to know just what I could or couldn't put into it. Obviously, if he was completely comfortable with what I wrote in this space, he would have just asked me to link this stuff to the company website, and he didn't ask for that.

I told him that I had already written a few posts, for my own blog, that dealt with my work as a voice-over talent and/or recording engineer. I suggested that these might be immediately transferable to the company website; perhaps a minor edit here or there to insert the company name. I printed them out for him to read. After he looked at them, well...

Boss: You write well, Jim. You have a unique voice; quirky and entertaining.

Me: Thanks!

Boss: However, there are a couple of things that we couldn't put on the company website.

Me: Such as...

Boss: Well, this, for instance. In it, you call yourself a "Vocal Whore."

Me: And?

Boss: Well, "whore" isn't really a word we want on the website.

Me: No?

Boss: You go on to say that you wouldn't be able to give any real information concerning the client's product even if someone held a red-hot poker to your private parts. You wouldn't actually write something like that in a piece for the company, would you?

Me: Well, uh...

Boss: And then, you say, "If you hear a male voice telling you to press one for customer service and press two for sales, it might be me. I'm that son of a bitch." We can't have language like that.

Me: No? Well, I...

Boss: And in this one, you say that in high school you flunked Spanish three times, Latin twice, and French once. That makes you sound as though you don't know what you're doing.

Me: When it comes to foreign languages, I don't. I'm pitiful!

Boss: But you can't let the clients know that!

Me: I think it's more believable than letting them think I'm fluent in the 60-some languages we sometimes have in our scripts, but...

Boss: Later on in the same piece, you say you don't particularly like working with our foreign voice talents. That sounds horrible, Jim!

Me: I do say that they're all swell people, though, and it's just my ignorance of their languages that makes it uncomfortable, and... Oh, I see. It's the same thing about showing ignorance, right?

Boss: Mmmmmm... mostly. And you printed part of a script here, to illustrate what editing Mandarin Chinese is like. It doesn't contain anything that could link it to a specific client of ours, does it? If it does, that's not good.

Me: I don't think it does. But, it's in Chinese! Nobody can read it!

Boss: Jim, there are over a billion people in the world who can read Mandarin.

Me: Oh, yeah, I guess you're right. I was just thinking of, like, Boston. Oops!

Boss: And this other piece about a client. We could get sued!

[No, you don't get a link to that one, just in case.]

Me: Sued? Why?

Boss: It's a very litigious society out there, Jim.

Me: But, I went out of my way to call them a wonderful company that makes great and useful products. You really think they'd sue us?

Boss: I don't know, but I'd prefer you not write anything like that again.

Me: OK.

Boss: And in this other piece, you pretend to be talking to a client and you say, "Pull your head out of your ass and give me a fucking clue."

Me: Well... uh... It's a joke, see... and... uh...

And so on.

The above wasn't an exact replication of any one conversation. It's actually a composite of a few different bits from discussions with both my boss and my partner in the production department, but I strung them together to give you the full effect of how well my stuff was received in its raw state. I truly, honestly, wouldn't have given a second thought to any of those things going onto a company website, which is why I'm where I am and my boss owns a company.

So, it appears that I am Not Safe For Work, even my own.

I've since rewritten one of the pieces, making it very family-friendly, and we'll see how he likes it. I think he will. I can write that way all the time, if need be, but I'll be a son of a bitch if I can see how it's any improvement on my normal shit.

Soon, with more @#%@*! stuff.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Avaroo



Chris Mauger, over at Maugeritaville, told a story that reminded me of a nice little encounter with my niece, Ava. I'll tell you the story, after I tell you a bit about Ava.


She is Ava-Marie Josephine White. She is my sister-in-law Victoria's third child. Her other daughters, Caitlyn and Alyssa, were prominently featured in a story I wrote at least 15 years ago, so please take that into account if you decide to read it, and be kind. They are both adult women now. As a matter of fact, Caitlyn has a son, Darian, a cute kid in his own right. That makes Victoria a grandmother.

Interesting aside: Ava is Darian's aunt. There is only a 10-month difference in their ages. They often play together, and it's fun to watch an aunt and nephew who are both currently three chasing each other around the house. Down the road, they'll not easily be able to convince folks that they're an aunt and her nephew. Aside from their ages being so close, Darian's father is black. So, Darian is a nice light chocolate with curly brown hair, while Ava is an extremely white blond. He's a pretty muscular kid, while she's somewhat slight. I look forward to seeing some of the disbelieving faces people will make when introduced to them and told about how they're related. Should be fun.

Anyway, Ava is a very sweet girl, turning four a week from this coming Sunday. I like to call her "Avaroo." This comes from a time when she was watching a Winnie-The-Pooh movie. She decided that if Kanga was a Kangaroo, then she, being Ava, would be an Avaroo, so she called herself that and hopped around for a while.

She was somewhat non-verbal for the first couple of years. I'm not sure why, but she was more likely to point and act, rather than speak, when trying to get you to understand something. It was oddly endearing, in a way, to have a very small mime in the family, but I'm happy to report that she's now talking complete sentences and seems to be as advanced as any normal almost-four-year-old. And our short story for today is about one of her recent conversations with me.

MY WIFE and I were visiting Victoria and her family. We had been there a little while, comfortable on the sofa while watching some video or another (perhaps Charlie & Lola, a favorite of Ava, Darian, and me and MY WIFE.) Ava climbed up onto the arm of the sofa near my side of the couch, taking a seat there. She smiled at me and then turned to watch the film.

After a short while, she turned around to face me. She stared at my head. Specifically, she stared at the top of my head, with a slightly puzzled look on her face. Following a half-minute-or-so of this, she leaned over and whispered into my ear as though she were telling me a big secret. Very quietly, she said:

"You don't have any hair."

She said this in an extremely sympathetic and gentle way, as though she were a doctor breaking the bad news to me that I was bald. She then got up on her knees on the arm of the sofa, looked me in the eyes, gave me a smile, and kissed me on top of my bald head. Her work done, she then slipped off of the couch and went into the kitchen, perhaps to perform some other act of mercy.

Well, that was about as sweet a reaction as I've ever gotten to being bald. Would that every woman were so nice about it. MY WIFE is nice, of course, but she's contractually obligated.

Soon, with more better stuff.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Hello, Dummies! You Asked For It!




It’s 5:35 Saturday morning.

(Yes, I’m writing a blog post at 5:35 on a Saturday morning. MY WIFE says I have no idea how to take a day off. She says you’re supposed to sleep later on the days you don’t work. I totally disagree. I say getting up earlier on the days you have off allows you to enjoy more of that day. On the other hand, if I could sleep through work...)

(If any of my co-workers leaves a snarky comment, the office coffee will taste funny and you’ll know why. That’s all I’m saying.)

Anyway, life is good. Last night, I went to the Celtics game with MY WIFE, and we saw them beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. Almost better than the win, we got to see LeBron James blow an absolute showboat of a dunk. With the score something like 6 – 4 in the first quarter, he roared in from right of the basket and wound up to tomahawk the ball through the hoop, but it just went *BOING!* off of the rim and shot up into the air while the entire arena fell apart laughing. That’s entertainment! Before the game, we had a delicious meal at Phoenicia, a great little middle-eastern restaurant that, for some unknown reason, had only us and one other couple in it on a Friday night, while every other place up and down the street was jammed. The shish kebab and falafel were great, the service was attentive, and the price (with tax and drinks included) was $40. Now that we know where to go to avoid the a-holes on a Friday, they’ll no doubt go out of business.

(Maybe everybody else in Boston knew we were there, and they were the ones avoiding the a-holes? Nah, couldn’t be that.)

At the game, MY WIFE took a trip to the concessions stand and came back with a souvenir drink cup for me – it says "17-time world champions" and has every winning year printed around the rim – and when we got home, there was a message on the answering machine saying that my new glasses were ready to be picked up, so next time LeBron makes an ass of himself, I’ll be able to see it as clearly as I would have when I was a teenager. Right now, I’m drinking wonderfully tasty and aromatic freshly-ground coffee; I’ll be taking a relaxing hot shower as soon as I’m done typing; and I’ve got the first round of the World Baseball Classic to look forward to later on. In Jimworld (copyright pending, but unlikely) it just doesn’t get any better than this.

However, some rain must fall into every life. Last week, two people gave me awards.

If you’ve been coming here for any appreciable length of time, you know how I accept awards: with extreme venom. I diss the award and rip the presenter a new one. I don’t see any reason to change that now.

This first award appears to be a lemonade stand.


At first, I had trouble understanding why. Then I figured it out. It’s a lemonade stand because when life hands me lemons, I wind up and throw the fucking lemons full-speed back at life's oh-so-smug face. Or I make lemonade. It’s one or the other. In any case, I supposedly have a great attitude and I’m full of gratitude. Yeah, right. Did you click on the link above about the coffee?

The person who gave me this award isn’t actually a person. She’s a frog. I’m not just throwing out a weird little insult here; I’m serious. Take a look at her avatar.


Her name is Jazz, and she’s a frickin’ frog. I’m getting awards from amphibians now. Granted, it’s an amphibian in a top hat, but still. What’s next? A toad in a tutu? Crocodiles in spats? A porcupine in a jumper? Oh, wait a minute. I already DID get an award from a porcupine in a jumper. Never mind.

The best thing is that she actually calls me out. She said, and I quote:

"I’m going out of my way to give [this award] to Suldog because, traditionally, every time someone gives him an award, he tears them to tiny bits..."

Imagine that. It’s reached the point where people are giving me awards because they WANT me to do a tarantella on their heads. I’ve become the Don Rickles of the blogosphere, with folks desperately trying to get seats in the front row so that I can insult their clothing and call them hockey pucks. Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my time barely earning a living on the fringes of show business, it’s to always give the people what they want, so I hope the above has satisfied your warped needs.

If not, try this on for size. I think lemonade sucks. It’s the most over-rated drink in the history of the universe. It doesn’t satisfy your thirst, and even though it has enough sugar in it to send your average diabetic into a coma, it still puckers up your kisser and makes the phlegm clog your throat. And... Oh, Hell, I don’t know where I’m headed with this, but you’re still a freakin’ FROG. There was a reason God made tons of them fall from the sky on the Egyptians, you know. It’s because people think they’re slimy and gross. The Egyptians weren’t standing in the middle of the street going, "Aw, look at the cute little frogs!" They were running away, screaming, "Shit! Frogs! Quick, Amenotep! Close all the windows!"

Come to think of it, has anyone ever had a single good thing to say about a frog? No, of course not. When you want to insult a Frenchman, what do you call him? Right. And any animal that the best you can say about it is that it resembles a Frenchman isn’t going to get you any sympathy, lady. And I’m part French, so that ought to tell you something. And then, after you drink the lemonade, you piss like a cow on a flat rock, you’re still thirsty, you probably swallowed some seeds that will lodge in your appendix and kill you, and enough about frogs, lets move on to Green Jello.

Green Jello? Yes, that’s the name of the person who gave me the other award. If it’s Green Jello, maybe it’s made from frogs! Nah, probably it’s snot.

(Get it? It’s SNOT? It’s NOT? And snot is green? Yeah, like I’m supposed to be upset that you’re gagging. If you've stuck around this long, you deserve whatever you get, you masochist. And it’s not like you paid to get in.)

The award that comes from Chartreuse Gelatin? It looks like this.



OK, I’ve got to admit that I like the idea of making someone jiggle. However, the award is named after the person who gave it! How amazingly self-absorbed, childish, and ego-driven!

(I’m hoping none of you remember this. If you do, keep your mouth shut and play along.)

So, Froggy Snots, you thought that giving me this gettin’ all jiggly wid it thang would make me happy enough to spare you a flaying? Not bloody likely, Booger Dessert.

Geez, that’s enough. I can’t come up with any more combinations of Frog, Snot, and Jello. If I keep going, I’ll have to admit that it’s probably just lime-flavored (even though it’s likely made from horse hooves. Yech!)

As usual, I’m supposed to pass these abominations on to a whole bunch of other unsuspecting wretches. As usual, I won’t. You can all relax now. Well, except for two of you. I’m giving both of these awards to the people who gave me the other one. Green Jello gets the lemonade stand, and Jazz gets the Jello Jiggler. Serves you both right for thinking you could get away with this.

And now, since I’m Don Rickles, I’ll end the same way he always does. I’ll say that this entire performance has just been in fun and I don’t really hate anybody. Good night and God bless!

(Of course, Rickles ended his act that way because he was performing in front of a live audience and the possibility always existed that some moron in the audience wouldn’t get it and might actually attack him in the parking lot afterward. That doesn’t really make any sense for me, since you’re not really here. So, screw you. I meant every word of it.)

In closing, let me say that this has been 30 minutes of my life wasted, which is probably about six times as many minutes wasted by you reading it, so you got off easy. I’ll add these awards to the gallery on my sidebar, as proud of them as I am all of the others, despite the vitriol spewed in the paragraphs above. I say this just in case one of you actually is a psycho bitch with access to my address. I’ll remind you that I’m a Libertarian and therefore likely to be armed.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Frogs. Bleah.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Riding The Zamboni




Yesterday, I rode the Zamboni.

If you're from a foreign country, such as New Zealand or Alabama, that may sound like a euphemism for some sort of salacious act, but it's not. A Zamboni is the machine used to clean and re-surface the ice between periods of a hockey game. Here's a picture of a couple of them in action before a game.


How did I get to ride the Zamboni? Good question. Allow me to explain.

************************************************************

My birthday was Monday. I was - and am currently - fifty-two. MY WIFE, marvelous creature that she is, wanted to do something wonderful and different for my birthday. So, when I awoke on Monday, she greeted me with a Ring Ding into which a candle had been stuck. That was certainly peculiar at 7 o'clock in the morning, but more was ahead.

She then handed me a gift bag. I reached in to get whatever was there. My hands found a coffee mug with a Boston Bruins logo on it. Inside of the mug were two tickets to the game versus Philadelphia on Tuesday.


Very nice, if a bit puzzling. I'm a fan of all sports, so hockey is among them, but it isn't my favorite sport among the "major four" North American sports (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) and MY WIFE knows this. As great a game as it can sometimes be, I'd have to say that hockey finishes fourth out of four on a fairly regular basis. When I was younger, it was sometimes higher, but so was I.

Anyway, I expressed my honest thanks for the mug and the tickets. The Bruins are hot stuff again, in first place in their division. They have a real chance to win the Stanley Cup, which would be the first time in over 35 years. The seats were in the loge, fairly costly. It would be a fun evening, for sure.

MY WIFE then said, "If you went to a hockey game, what would you like to do most of all?"

I knew something was up, but I couldn't imagine what. I thought about an answer to the question, but I was drawing a blank. I had just awakened, hadn't had any coffee, and also needed to take a whiz. She saw the vacant look in my eyes and re-phrased the question.

"What do they have at hockey games?"

I thought about it for a moment.

"Pucks?"

"Well, yes, but what else?"

"Ice?"

"And what do they use to clean the ice?", she said, as though prompting a not-particularly-bright four-year-old.

"A Zamboni?"

"Yes!"

The light was still a ways off from dawning on Marblehead.

She exclaimed, "You're going to ride the Zamboni!"

To say I was dumbfounded would be an extreme understatement. I was not only dumbfounded, I was bemused, flummoxed, befuddled, wondering, confounded, puzzled, astonished, and also totally excited. I had no idea how this was going to happen, but if she said I was going to ride the Zamboni, I knew it was the truth. When MY WIFE wants to make something incredible and fun take place, she will make it happen. She had previously shanghaied me, by the dictionary definition, and we spent a couple of days aboard a boat named The Golden Slipper in Boston Harbor. Not once, but twice, she had pulled off major surprise parties for my birthday without me having even the faintest idea of what was about to happen. If she said I was riding the Zamboni, then riding the Zamboni I would be.

I had woken up five minutes ago and now I knew I was going to be gliding over the ice at TD Banknorth Garden in front of more than 17,000 people tomorrow night. Life is exceedingly strange some mornings. I kissed her, then went to take that whiz.

After I returned from the bathroom, MY WIFE explained that she had previously attempted to do this for me, as a Christmas present, but wasn't able to make it happen at that time. However, she had kept at it and found out that the day after my birthday was a game night, and that the slot for riding the Zamboni that evening was open. Apparently, the Bruins sell rides on the Zamboni every night during the season. In order to ride it, you need to make a contribution to the Boston Bruins Foundation, a charitable organization run by the team. MY WIFE made a donation, so I was going to be the lucky fan who got to ride the Zamboni between the first and second periods on Tuesday evening.

Oh, I guess I left you hanging at one point. If any of you were wondering why MY WIFE put a candle in a Ring Ding, it's because it looks like a hockey puck. See?


MY WIFE is unique, and I love her dearly.

*****************************************************************

We had to be at The Garden by 6pm for instructions. The game was scheduled for a 7:00 start. MY WIFE met me at the west entrance to The Garden at 5:45. We entered and went upstairs to level four. We had been instructed to meet Liz Serpico of the Boston Bruins Foundation, at their table near the entrance to the loge seats.

After introducing ourselves, she explained that we had to be back at her post with approximately 10 minutes remaining in the first period, at which time we would be taken into the “backstage” area of the arena to await my ride. She had me complete a waiver form absolving the Bruins from any lawsuits should I somehow fall off of the Zamboni, get sucked underneath it, and become part of the ice surface for the second period. Then we went to our seats.

We sat in Loge 6, which is a section more-or-less behind one of the goals. They were great seats for a hockey game. We were high up enough to have a magnificent view of the entire ice surface, but also close enough to actually hear some of the sounds of the game, such as that made by skates shaving ice when a player put on the brakes before hitting the boards.

I had been to Bruins games before, of course, but not for a few years. And this was MY WIFE's very first professional hockey game. I had forgotten what an intimate game hockey can be. What I mean is that, unlike some other sports, a hockey game continually brings the action close to the spectator. The physics of the game, and the construction of the rink, tend to make much of the action happen on the edges of the playing area, near to the fans. When players chase after the puck, their faces often are right up against the glass partitions that serve as a barrier, and fans in the first row often pound on the glass at that point, usually when an unlucky opposing player is trapped there. Fans probably feel more a part of the action in hockey than, say, basketball. Rarely does a Kobe Bryant or Paul Pierce get physically interacted with by the rabid crowd.

As we watched the game unfold, I had one eye on the clock. Stoppages in a hockey game are usually fewer than in most sports, so the game clock tends to move rather quickly. I wanted to be sure we made it to our designated spot at the appointed time. When a whistle blew at the 12-minute mark, we said, “Excuse me” to the other folks in our row and left. I assume they wondered why we were apparently leaving the game with only 8 minutes having elapsed.

Back at the charity’s table, we were met by a young woman named Stephanie. She would be taking us downstairs to the Zamboni. We had to wait for the other lucky rider to show up. There are actually two Zamboni machines used during each intermission, and I would be riding one, he the other.

To my delight, the other guy turned out to be a grown-up, too. I was somewhat worried that a little kid might be the other rider, in which case I would look somewhat goofy by comparison. Well, goofier than usual, anyway. He was also there with his wife. In addition, they had brought their three-month-old son to the game, dressed in a baby bruin costume. Too cute. Here’s a picture.


Stephanie now led us down into the bowels of The Garden, and a fascinating quick tour was given. She pointed out where the opposing team bus parks, and brought us past various locker rooms, food prep areas, and storage spaces. The Garden is used for multiple sports, of course, and when the rink is not in use, the famous parquet floor of the Boston Celtics has to be laid down for basketball games. We were shown where they kept it stacked, and it was quite odd to see and recognize various parts of it in its unconnected fashion.


With the backboards down, MY WIFE took the opportunity to slam one through the rim.


And then, the Zambonis!


I was told that I would ride the orange Zamboni, with the other fellow on the yellow one. As it neared intermission, they rolled out into position and we climbed on-board with the drivers. My driver was a real personable guy named Paul, a Zamboni operator at The Garden for the past 14 years. Here he is.


I asked him how he got the job. So far as I knew, there wasn't some sort of Zamboni school you graduated from with job placement services as part of the deal. He explained that he had been part of the "bull crew" (the guys who change the playing surface from ice rink to basketball parquet, and vice-versa) for a few years when one of the Zamboni operators retired. He, and 12 or 13 other guys, applied for the position, and were taken to a skating rink in the North End of Boston to see how they'd do on the machine. Paul had never driven one before, but he was a natural. He got the job. As he confided to me while chuckling, he doesn't even skate, so he figured my being in his care, while out on the ice, was like someone who doesn't swim taking me out to sea.

Here's the view, from under the stands, as we prepared to make our entrance.


The Zamboni machine is about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide (my best guess) and the seat I rode in was perhaps 7 feet up from the ice surface. As we entered the arena, I felt somewhat like a pageant queen riding in a parade. I wondered if I should be waving at the crowd. I decided not to. Another thing I decided was to take our camera out onto the ice with me, rather than have MY WIFE shoot pictures of me riding. I figured a birds-eye view of the proceedings would be interesting.

Here are a few shots showing what I saw as I rode.





I've got to tell you, it was a total blast being out there. I felt surprisingly at home being in the center of the arena with 17,000+ staring down at me. My ego is even bigger than I previously thought.

As I rode around, other folks were taking snapshots. Then, they announced my name and showed me on the Jumbotron. I got this self-portrait.


Well, all good things must come to an end. After about 7 minutes of tooling around the ice at a blazing 8 mph, the ride was over. Paul drove our Zamboni back under the stands and I disembarked. MY WIFE was waiting for me. I hugged and kissed her, thanking her profusely for one of the most wonderful birthday presents I had ever received. She said that I didn't stop smiling a single moment while I was out there. I believe her.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(Some of you may be interested in learning more about the Zamboni ice re-surfacing machine. Here is the story of The Man Behind The Machine.)