Friday, December 30, 2005

Wonderbreadanimalman, Part Two

Part One

"Shit, is this thing on? Hey, Charlie, c'mere."

"What's up, Fred?"

"I was thinking there might be some kinda clue on this tape recorder, but I can't figure out if I've got it on or not."

"Lemme see."

Lieutenant Charles Copeland of the Boston Police Homicide Squad took the small handheld tape recorder from Sergeant Fred Wilson. He immediately shut it off.

"Yeah, it was on, Fred, but I think you pressed the 'record' button. How long've you been playing with this thing?"

"Shit, I dunno. When I first saw it, I tried to get it to play, but I thought it was just dead. Then I had to take a leak, so I put it down and went to the can, and then I was upstairs questioning that neighbor. Might've been twenty minutes or so."

"I don't know, Fred. You might've erased the whole tape - if there was anything on it to begin with."

"Aw, crap. I'm sorry, Charlie."

"Ahhhhh, I wouldn't sweat it, Fred. I mean, Jesus, look around. The guy was obviously a nutjob."

The small apartment was littered with hundreds of crude drawings. All of them showed some sort of comicbook character with a big 'W' on his chest. Empty cat food cans were scattered about on the floor. The strangest thing was the bread. There were little pieces of bread all over the place, in weird shapes that looked somewhat like animals.

"Yeah, Charlie, I mean, look at this bread. It's everywhere. And all the drawings, and the cat food. Definitely something strange about this guy."

"What did you find out from the landlord?"

"Well, the landlord's name is John Means. He was a captain in the marine corps, but he retired on a disability. He said that he got worried about the deceased when he heard the guy's cat meowing outside the back door. After like half a day, the guy still hadn't let him in, so he decided to check if everything was OK. He went down and knocked on his door, but no answer. That's when he went in, using a duplicate key, and found him stiff on the floor, dead."

"No note or anything like that? He didn't find anything with the body?"


"How about the neighbor? Did he see or hear anything unusual?"

"Naw, not a thing."

"Did he have much interaction with the deceased? Sometimes one guy lives on the top floor of a triple-decker, he hardly ever even sees whoever lives downstairs."

"Yeah, that was pretty much the case here. Neighbor's an old black guy, retired. Says he pretty much stays inside all day, watching TV. Only time he ever saw the deceased was when they ran into each other at the mailbox. One interesting thing about him, but it's just unusual; nothing that means anything."

"What's that?"

"The guy is constantly chewing on licorice."


"Yeah, you know, those little hard candies?"

"Oh. Did this Captain Means or the licorice guy have any other info about the deceased? Possible drug use, unusual visitors? Anything like that?"

"Naw, not much. A couple of small things. Means said that the guy used to work at the 7-11 down the street, but he was fired last week for stealing."

"Stealing? Did he say what?"

"Yeah. He said that the 7-11 manager told him the security tapes showed this guy stashing loaves of Wonder bread outside the back door for like three days running. What else could he do but fire him?"

"I suppose so. Anything else?"

"Yeah, the licorice guy said that he saw the deceased having an argument with a woman on the street out in front of this building; the guy's girlfriend, he guessed. This was a couple days before he started boosting Wonder bread. She was holding a coffee and she threw it in the guy's face and walked away. Licorice Guy assumed they were breaking up."

"Sounds like a decent assumption."

"Anyway, Licorice Guy goes downstairs to see if the guy is OK, and he was - except for a couple of minor burns on his face - but he started acting all weird and shouting at the Licorice Guy to stay away from him; some off-the-wall crap about nuclear waste. He said the guy sort of stumbled off down the street and that was the last he saw of him until today."



"I think my secret identity has been compromised. My boss found me stealing Wonder bread and..."

"Oh my God! You STOLE Wonder bread? What kind of a doofus superhero steals Wonder bread? You really are a clown."

"Hey, I feel bad enough! Shut up!"

"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! That's all you know how to say, isn't it? Clever. You are such a nincompoop."

"Please leave me alone! I need to get this recorded!"

"Why? So the rest of the world can have a record of your stupidity? What a total dweeb you are."

"Please give me a break, Mister Paws. I'm not feeling too good about myself right now."

"No doubt. What a loser. Your girlfriend breaks up with you, you lose your job because you get caught stealing Wonder bread, you're broke, living in this dump, you're ugly as sin, have no social graces whatsoever, and I still hate you, of course. If I were you, I'd kill myself."


"I said, 'If I were you, I'd kill myself'."

"Maybe I will."

"No, you aren't smart enough to choose something that beneficial to the world."

"Give me a moment to think."

"Think?!? You're incapable of thought. Why don't you just swallow those pills and be done with it. You'll be doing the world a favor."


"Sure. You don't have anything else around. 30 or 40 of those ought to do the job just as well as anything else."

"What about all the little bread animals? What will they do if I kill myself?"

"Who knows? They're just mindless crippled freaks you created, Frankenstein. Throw some water on them and that'll take care of that problem."

"No. I'll set them free."

"Suit yourself, pal. Hey, before you go, let me out. I've got to take a whizz."



"Hey, Fred, c'mere. I turned the tape over and got it to play. I think we might have our suicide note. This was one majorly disturbed individual. Listen to this shit."


"I think my secret identity has been compromised. My boss found me stealing Wonder bread and..."


"Hey, I feel bad enough! Shut up!"


"Please leave me alone! I need to get this recorded!"

"Meow. Meow."

"Please give me a break, Mister Paws. I'm not feeling too good about myself right now."




"Maybe I will."


"Give me a moment to think."




"What about all the little bread animals? What will they do if I kill myself?"


"No. I'll set them free."

"Meow. Meow."


Thursday, December 29, 2005


“OK, is this thing on? Testing, one, two…”

“It’s on, you dipstick.”

“Hey, can you please keep quiet for just a minute? I’m trying to record something.”

“What could you possibly be recording that would be of interest to anybody with a brain?”

“My friend, DJ Big Mick, suggested that I tell the story about …”

“How you became such a dope? Not much of a story. You were born; you were born a dope. End of story.”

“No, how I became…”

“A freak that doesn’t feed me enough? There’s a good story. Howsabout some chow, nimrod?”

“Alright already!”



OK, I’m back.

After I was splashed with the radioactive waste, I didn’t think much about it. I mean, sure, I wondered if I might die, but other than that? Not much.

The thing is, I didn’t care. I had just broken up with my girlfriend and I was broke and the rent was due. I didn’t even have enough extra scratch to buy a can of cat food for Mister Paws. He’s my cat. He hates me. I was talking to him about that the other day, and…

Oh, yeah, I guess I should tell you - because of my being splashed with the radioactive waste, I can talk to and understand cats. I like cats, but I found out that cats despise me. All of them hate my guts. Mister Paws doesn’t despise me as much as the rest of them, but I think it’s only because I feed him.

Anyway, I said, “Mister Paws, why is it that cats despise me?”

Mister Paws said, “Not really your fault. You were just born despicable.”

“Aw, come on. There has to be a real reason. Why won’t you tell me?”

“Tell you? Tell you what, exactly? Some reason why I hate you aside from the fact that you’re a whiny loser with hideously bad breath, a stench of a body odor, and the table manners of a buzzard on a rotting corpse?”

“Ah, skip it.”


Luckily, my enemies don’t know that cats despise me. If they did, they’d no doubt use that information against me. I mean, if Black Licorice or Captain Mean knew that information, I’m sure they’d gather up whole squadrons of cats to use against me. And then what kind of a superhero would I be?

Oh, yeah, I’m a superhero. Another result of the radioactive waste thing. You may have heard of me. Wonderbreadanimalman?

No? Ah, I’m not terribly surprised. I mean, look at the guys who get all the ink; Spiderman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern. They’re all well-built and good-looking and have powers that people respect. Me? Well, I can take a loaf of Wonder Bread, see? And carve little farm animals out of a slice and they come to life? And then they obey my every command!

Yeah, OK, it’s not an overwhelming superpower, but it’s more than most people can do. The only problem is that as soon as liquid touches the little animals, they sort of melt. But I can totally understand and talk to cats. But they despise me. I don’t know why.

And I suppose I’m not especially good-looking or well-built, either.


Maybe if I got a really snazzy costume that would help. I can’t afford one, though. Wonder bread isn’t all that expensive, but while I have the power to carve out these little animals that obey me, I’m not all that good at carving them out. So, sometimes I have to go through an entire loaf just to get one good horse, you know? And then, half the time, a cat comes along and pisses on it and I have to start over, and …

So, anyways, a couple of days after I was splashed with the radioactive waste, I made a sandwich. It was baloney and cheese, which was still more than I could afford, really. I didn’t have a job and my girlfriend had just left me and…

“Oh, for God’s sakes, get on with it, you miserable idiot! Cut to the chase! Tell them that you took a couple of bites of the sandwich and because your teeth were so hideous and snaggled, you had made the bread look something like a cow. And…”

“It’s my story! Let me tell it!”

“If you keep on telling it like you have been, it’ll take forever, dimwit. There isn’t enough recording tape in the world to contain all of the idiocy you could spew out. Anyway, whom do you think is going to care? You’re just pitiful.”

“Here, have the rest of my chicken.”

“OK, but get on with it, will you?”


So, yeah, I had accidentally made a cow out of Wonder bread. It began walking around and mooing. I was freaked, man! I…

“You peed your pants.”

“Shut up, you stupid cat!”

“Oh, calm down. I need to go out. Open the door.”

“I might be stupid…”

“Might be?”

“...But you still need me to open the door!”

“Opposable thumbs do not make you smart; they just make you handy.”


Where was I? Oh, yeah, so the little Wonder bread cow is walking around and I’m all freaked and I spill my milk and it sloshes over the little cow and melts him (or her, I guess, since it was a little cow.) Anyway, I’m thinking to myself that something weird has happened to me, maybe, though I’m not sure what. And then Mister Paws says, “You finally do one interesting thing in your life and then you go and destroy it the next second.”

I didn’t know then that I could understand what cats said, so I was even more freaked. I said, “Who said that?”

“Who do you think said it, you moron? Do you see anyone else in the room aside from you, me, and a little dead cow made out of Wonder bread?”

“Is... Is that YOU, Mister Paws?”

“Is… Is that you, Mister Paws? Yes, it’s… it’s me, Mister Paws. By the way, thanks for the swell name, buttwipe. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to be out looking for a female in heat and then you call out ‘Mister Paw-aws! Mister Paw-aws!’, and then all my friends start laughing and I’ve lost any chance I had of getting laid.”

“You’re a cat! You can’t be talking! And that little cow! And… m... uhnhhh…”

And that’s when I fainted.


When I came to, Mister Paws was licking up the milk. The little cow was gone.

I said, “Oh, man, what a weird dream. Maybe that nuclear waste did more of a job on me than I thought, Mister Paws. I dreamed that you could talk! Ha-ha-ha.”

”Oh, shut up and give me a hand cleaning up the mess you made.”

“Oh my God! You can talk!”

“OK, let’s get it straight, dummy. If by ‘talk’ you mean make those same gibbering noises you make, no, I can’t do that, and thank Meowsus for small favors. However, you can understand what I’m saying, and it’s about time.”


“Oh, please! Do I have to explain it again? I cannot ‘talk’, as you call it, but you…”

“I can understand what you’re saying.”

“Well, duh!”

“What… was there a little cow…?”

“Yes. I ate him.”

“You… ate him?”

“Her, actually. It was a cow. I figured if it looked like a cow, it might taste like a cow. Unfortunately, it tasted like Wonder bread. Yuck.”

“I… I just don’t understand.”

“OK, it’s really rather simple. You were splashed with nuclear waste. Somehow, it gave you the power to understand cats. And it also seems to have made you able to build farm animals from Wonder bread.”


“Look, it’s no big deal. Cats hate you, so it’s probably best if you just try not to listen to us most of the time. As for the farm animals…”

“You hate me?”

“Not just me – every cat in the world. I’m afraid I can’t tell you why, but it’s true.”

“You can’t tell me why? Why not?”

“Well, if I told you that, then I’d be pretty much telling you why, wouldn’t I? Just accept it as fact.”

“But… But you always come when I call you and you rub up against my leg and you purr when I pet you and …”

“I come because the only time you call me is when there’s food. I rub up against your leg because my head itches. And, as much as I might not like you, a good backrub is still a good backrub."


“OK, now let’s see about these farm animals. Can you try to make another one?”

“I don’t know how I made the first one.”

“You carved it with your crummy teeth.”

“I don’t know if I can do it again.”

“Oh, for goodness’ sakes, you don’t have to use your teeth. Try making one with your hands, you fool.”

“Oh. OK.”

So, I tried to make another cow, this time with my hands. I ripped the bread carefully and made something that sort of looked like a cow. However, it came out all lopsided and it staggered around, mooing pitifully and falling over every third step it took.

I said, “Mister Paws, it’s obvious I can do this thing, but what good is it?”

“Probably not much good at all, but let's explore the possibilities. Try telling it to do something.”

“Like what?”

“Anything. I just want to see if what I suspect to be true, is.”

“OK. Little cow, go get me a million dollars!”

“You friggin’ numbskull, it’s a little cow made out of Wonder bread, not a frickin’ genie! Ask it to do something it might actually be able to do.”

“Oh! Alright. Little cow, sit down!”

The little cow sat down. Right in what was left of the milk, so it melted.

“Oh my God, this is horrible! I’m creating life, but it’s all wrong! Not only are they misshapen and freakish, I’m killing them!”

“Get a grip on yourself, skillethead. I don’t think they really have much brain, otherwise they wouldn't obey a noodlebrain like you. Make another one.”


“Oh, never mind. Sooner or later, your curiosity will get the better of you and you’ll do it again, just to see if you can. Meanwhile, how about getting me something to eat? I’m famished.”


Mister Paws was right, of course. He usually is, damn him. I couldn't resist making another little animal out of Wonder bread. So, I did, and then...

Oh, shoot, I'm about to run out of tape! I'll have to continue this on the other side.


(go to Part Two)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Gift

Christmas, 1965 or thereabouts

The boy was very young; perhaps 7 or 8 years old. He loved everything about Christmas - the lights, the music, Santa Claus, the trees covered in tinsel and shiny ornaments - but especially the snow. For as long as he could remember (which wasn't very long, but it was a lifetime) there was always snow at Christmas. The whole thing was magical.

He walked down the street, on his way to a store near his home, and it was beginning to snow again. There was already an inch or two on the ground from yesterday and it was shiny, bright, white, and made everything it covered pretty. He opened his mouth and turned his face to the sky, trying to catch a couple of snowflakes on his tongue. He thought he succeeded, but it was hard to tell because snow melted as soon as it hit your tongue, so you couldn't collect a mouthful of it to prove that you caught some. He jingled a couple of nickels in his pocket, sliding his green rubber boots along in the snow as he walked with his face to the sky.

He was on his way to the store to buy a gift. He enjoyed receiving presents, of course; what child doesn't? However, he also very much enjoyed giving them to others. He loved to see people's faces when they opened their gifts. It was another magical thing about this time of year. He rarely saw anyone unhappy around Christmas and he never saw anyone unhappy when they opened a present.

Being very young, the boy didn't have much money. He received an allowance, but only one dollar. He had already bought presents for his mother and father. For his mother, it was some cheap perfume. For his father, it was some cheap cigars.

(Realize that when I say "cheap", I don't mean to imply that the boy had gone out of his way to buy inexpensive and shoddy presents. He hadn't. He had lovingly picked them out, albeit within his modest budget. The cigars and perfume were cheap, though. Being a young boy, he had no appreciation of perfume and thought they all smelled pretty much alike - stinky. He also had no idea that some cigars, when lit, smell like innertubes burning. However, these had come in a package with a big white owl on the front, and he did know that his dad liked owls.)

He had ten cents leftover from his original dollar, which will give you an idea of the value of the cigars and perfume. In any case, he now wanted to buy a present for his aunt.

His aunt was the older relative closest in age to the boy. She was around 19 or 20. She had lived with the boy and his parents for a short while when the boy was much younger. They had grown very close during this time. She was close enough in age to have been the boy's older sister and, in some ways, that's what the boy thought of her as.

The boy reached the main street. The store was on the other side, so he pressed the button that made the light red to stop the traffic. He loved how even the traffic lights joined in with the season, flashing red and green and yellow just like the lights on a Christmas tree. He looked both ways and then crossed the street.

He walked through the parking lot of the store, again noticing how people were so much happier this time of year. Everybody had a cheery "Hello!" for the people they met. As he entered the store through the automatic door (how did it know?) he heard Christmas music playing over the store's speakers.

He felt great. He was in love with the world.

Now he had to find a present for his aunt. He hadn't really given thought about this part of the task. He just assumed that he'd be able to find something nice. After all, a dime would buy a comic book, or two candy bars, or even twenty of those 2-for-1 Mint Julep candies. Certainly he'd be able to find something his aunt would love.

What sorts of thoughts go through the mind of a small boy? Many and varied, of course, but some are unfathomable. As he was walking down one of the aisles, he spotted something very colorful and pretty. He had always liked how these things looked. They were useful, too. And, when he checked the price, it was ten cents - just right! This is what he would get his aunt for Christmas.

He brought the gift up to the checkout and paid for it. Now there was nothing to jingle in his pockets, but that was OK. His Christmas shopping was done.

He made his way back home, enjoying the big colored lights that were on just about every house in the neighborhood, again catching (or trying to catch) snowflakes in his mouth.

When he got home, he took off his boots (which was always troublesome – he always seemed to leave one sock inside of a boot) and then ran upstairs to his room, to wrap this newest gift.

He was an only child. He spent many hours by himself, in his room, and he very much enjoyed that privacy. He didn’t dislike other people - far from it, in fact - but he did enjoy dreaming and using his imagination. He discovered early on that it’s almost impossible to dream when someone else is in your room. Someone else almost always wants to talk, and you can’t carry on a decent conversation with someone else and dream at the same time. Anyway, as a result of spending much time alone, he became fairly self-sufficient.

(Whenever anyone asked him if he wouldn’t rather have a brother or sister, he would firmly say, “No” and he hoped that the people asking him these questions would see to it that the proper authorities – whoever was in charge of bringing brothers and sisters – did not make any deliveries to his house.)

Being such a self-sufficient boy, he mostly wrapped his own presents. He had already wrapped all of his other gifts for family. Many of his relatives got handmade gifts of one sort or another. For instance, every year since he was able to handle crayons, he had made his grandfather a hand-drawn calendar, which his grandfather treasured receiving. Now, he wrapped the gift for his aunt in colorful paper, once again admiring how colorful the gift was, too.


That night, Christmas Eve, he did what most Christian boys and girls try to do. Almost immediately after dinner, he went to bed. He tried to go to sleep at an abnormally early hour, hoping to thus wake up sooner and make Christmas come quicker. Before going to bed, he hung his stocking on his bedroom door (since there were no chimney or fireplace in his house.) He turned on the little transistor radio he had received as a gift on his last birthday and searched out a station playing Christmas music. In those days of his youth, it seemed the only time they ever played Christmas music on the radio was starting on Christmas Eve and he loved hearing all of the songs he heard (and loved) a year ago. His favorite was “Silver Bells”, and they played it not long after he lay down, much to his delight. Slowly, to the strains of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, he drifted off to sleep.

(A curious thing about being a boy is that sometimes you can will yourself to dream what you want to dream. Not always, of course, but sometimes. You might think it an odd thing to dream, but the boy had dreamed of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound every Christmas Eve [that is, every one in the memory of his short life] and he hoped that he’d have that same dream again this night, as it was great fun running around with cartoon characters. He did.)

Since he had gone to bed so early, he awoke at 3 am. He got up to go to the bathroom, but when he opened his door, he felt the heaviness of a full stocking on the other side of it, so thoughts of peeing suddenly took a backseat to seeing what Santa had left. He gently took out the tack that was holding the stocking to the door, making doubly sure he had a firm grip on the stocking and it wouldn’t fall on the hall floor (in case there was anything in it that might break) and he took it back to his bed, flipping on the bedroom light switch as he did so.

He wasn’t a greedy sort of a boy and so he didn’t just dump everything out on the bed in one fell swoop. Instead, he took the items out one at a time and carefully, lovingly, examined them. There were candy cigarettes with little bits of red food coloring on the ends to simulate their being lit; a set of jacks with a small rubber ball; a wind-up dog that did backflips until there wasn’t enough wind-up left (so then it landed on its head); a pinkie ball (great for three-flies-out on the front steps); one of those puzzles that you have to move around the pieces until you get it to read 1 through 15 in order; and a pencil with his very own name engraved on it! He attempted to solve the puzzle for a little bit, but then he remembered that he had to pee, so he did.

(He went to the bathroom to do so.)

After washing his hands and brushing his teeth, he went downstairs and plugged in the Christmas tree. He considered a Christmas tree the most beautiful thing on earth, and this one was filled with enormous colored lights, ornaments of all shapes and sizes, big handfuls of tinsel on every branch, and a long garland of popcorn (which he and his mother had strung one evening last week.) Topping it off was a white star with a red bulb inside it. He sat down on the floor and just stared at the tree for ten minutes, bathing in its warmth, both real (from the gigantic lights) and metaphysical.

He probably would have stared at it a bit longer, but his cat came along and started playing with one of the low-hanging ornaments and that broke him out of his reverie. He loved the cat very much and he loved watching her play - even more than he liked looking at the tree. After she failed to defeat the ornament - it still hung on the branch and she now wriggled on her back, enjoying the pine needles that had fallen - he went out to the kitchen and opened a can of cat food. Hearing the opener whirr, she came running like a shot - for a cat will take food over ornaments, every time (thus proving, once again, their innate intelligence.)

The boy poured himself a glass of milk and added some chocolate to it. He then took this back upstairs, drank it while eating a candy cigarette, and went back to sleep, listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” and imagining himself a poor boy playing drums for Jesus. The cat came upstairs and joined him in sleep, though what she dreamed of remains a mystery.

When he awoke again, it was 7am and his mother and father were also awake. They all went downstairs and opened presents, enjoying some cocoa while they did so. The boy received wonderful presents of games and toys, as well as a couple of shirts and such that he knew he should be more thankful for than he was. The cat received a catnip mouse (from Sandy Claws) and was very thankful for it. The parents exchanged gifts with each other and were thankful for those, and they received the stinky perfume and the smelly cigars with warmth at the thought behind them.

Now it was time for mass, after which the family would head over to the aunt’s to exchange gifts, before heading off to the house of the boy's grandparents.

Mass was as mass usually is – something which cats are thankful not to have to attend. It wasn’t that the boy didn’t want to wish Jesus a happy birthday and all – he really loved the bible stories very much, and he admired to no end someone who would lay down his own life for that of his friends – but the priest saying the mass this morning just went on and on and on and on. Even though he had slept close to ten hours, the boy could feel his eyes drooping as the interminable homily crept, s-l-o-w-l-y, towards a conclusion that had stopped being meaningful to all but the most die-hard some ten minutes before. Finally, after the homily died its excruciating death and communion was served, and after everyone had sung a rousing “Joy To The World”, it was time to get on the road and go exchange presents with other family members. After a 15-minute drive, the boy and his parents arrived at the aunt’s house.

They went inside to a warm welcome from the aunt and the rest of her family gathered there, which included a few other adults and a couple of infants, the boy's cousins. After a few minutes of small talk (mostly complaints from the boy’s father concerning the length of the homily at mass) it was time to open presents.

The boy watched with delight as everybody opened packages and smiled. Here was the magic again. Everyone oohed and aahed in the appropriate places as they received the presents that others had purchased for them. And now, his aunt had his gift in her hands and she carefully removed the wrapping paper, revealing the gift for all to see.

There were some smiles. Not that the boy noticed, but there were also a couple of glances exchanged by the grown-ups with some muffled laughter included. The aunt regarded her gift and looked lovingly at the boy. He looked back at her with love in his heart.

She said, “Oh, Jimmy, they’re just what I needed! Thank you, darling!”

She reached over and kissed him. He blushed and said, “You’re welcome.”

Never before had a package of red and green kitchen sponges brought such joy to two people.


True story.

My Auntie Ba could have laughed at such a ridiculous gift. Some of the other adults might have joined in and then I would have been mortified. Instead, she taught me a marvelous lesson that Christmas, and she did so just by being her wonderful loving self. She taught me that there is no such thing as a bad gift, so long as there is love behind the giving of it.

My Christmas wish for all of you is that the gifts you give, whether large or small or precious or ludicrous (like sponges) be received as lovingly. My Christmas request to all of you is that you receive with love every gift given you. You never know how profoundly your love might affect someone.

My Auntie Ba is gone now, and I miss her, but her spirit lives on with me every Christmas because of the love she showed a well-meaning boy and his silly gift.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Christmas Miracle

The opportunity to share a really nice bit of news is my joy today.

You might remember Myles, a cat that became separated from his people. The post I wrote, detailing his loss and giving contact info, appeared here over 30 days ago. Well, I have received word that Myles was found. Imagine that - especially in light of the huge snowstorm we had in this area a week ago. Even the most diehard pet owner would have considered a cat lost for more than a month an irretrievably lost cause at this point.

It seems that Myles had somehow gotten himself trapped in the eaves of someone's house. How or why, we won't ever know - unless Myles develops the power of human speech. Anyway, the owner of this house kept hearing meowing at odd times, but never saw a cat.

Now, from what I understand, a garage is attached to that house. Once, this guy opened his garage door and a black cat ran out. Myles is an orange sort of a cat, so that wasn't him. However, it appears that Myles may not have been without company, at least for part of his ordeal.

The owner of the house thought that this black cat was the cat he had been hearing, but then he still heard meowing. Twice, he set a humane trap in the eaves, baiting it with a can of tuna. Twice, it was eaten - no cat. The third time, though, there was Myles; scraggly, a bit sad, and considerably down in weight, but otherwise OK.

This fellow had heard about a cat being missing, so he took Myles to the house that had advertised a missing cat. He rang the doorbell. Myles' owner came to the door and looked out, but all he could see was this man's back. He opened the door.

"Hi. Can I help you?"

The man outside turned around and said, "Is this yours?"

At this point, Myles leaped from the neighbor's hands onto the chest of his owner. The owner was so overcome he literally couldn't speak. He just sort of staggered back into the house, with Myles digging into his shoulders, and it was almost a half-hour before he could compose himself enough to go over to his neighbor's house and profusely thank him.

Needless to say, the folks who own Myles are overjoyed and they consider this a Christmas miracle. As a matter of fact, they had already gotten another cat. They had, quite understandably, given up completely on Myles, as it was over 30 days since he became lost. So, as it turns out, it's a miracle on two fronts. First, of course, Myles is back. Second, this new cat (Abraham) was a stray and now he has a nice home. Here's a picture of Abraham.

Two cats: one thought dead, but not, and the other saved from almost certain death. Pretty damned cool. I wish I had stuff like this to write about every day.

By the way, you can perform a Christmas miracle of your own, by giving a home to a cat or dog who has nowhere left to go. Abraham was adopted from the website of Petfinder, which seems like a very nice organization. If you'd like some living breathing love, then check out this website and/or those of your local animal shelters. Nothing wrong with a pedigree, but the felines and canines that populate the shelters don't just need a home - they're waiting for a reprieve.

There's an old episode of The Honeymooners, wherein Alice adopts a puppy, without Ralph knowing about it. When he finds out, he angrily brings the puppy back to the pound. However (as you know if you're familiar with the show) Ralph is, despite his hair-trigger temper, a real sweetheart deep down, so after he returns the puppy, he asks the man at the shelter what will happen to it. The man tells him that, if nobody adopts him after a certain time, he'll have to be put down. Ralph says, "Not MY dog!", and he rushes into the back to save the puppy. Meanwhile, Alice finds out about Ralph returning the dog to the pound, so she heads down there herself to try and stop Ralph from doing so. When she gets there, Ralph comes out of the back - not only with the original puppy, but with every dog whose time was about up.

I'm the same way. Just like Ralph, I go to pieces when I think about the animals in those places. I'd like to just walk in and take home every cat facing a time limit. Unfortunately, though I've given a home to quite a few strays in my life, it's an impossible situation now. MY WIFE is very allergic to animal dander. We just can't have a cat. The best I can currently do is what I'm doing here - making an appeal to you.

No, that's a lie; there is something else I can do. I can make a donation to help feed a few of those kitties waiting for adoption. In honor of Myles being found and Abraham being saved, I'm going to do just that, today. See you Monday.

Monday, December 12, 2005

23 Pieces Of Good Advice

I've received my first fruitcake already. MY WIFE is worried that folks who don't like my blog will be sending me fruitcakes loaded with rat poison, and that I shouldn't have published our address. My response? Pshaw!

(I've always wanted to actually say that. And "Harrumph!", too. I don't think anybody has actually ever said those words, but they seem like the sorts of words to which there really aren't any comeback. However, I digress.)

I feel that publishing our address here isn't that big a deal. First, if someone wants to find out my address, it's not all that hard to do. My real name is public knowledge and so is the town I live in, so it wouldn't be much work to find out the street. Second, though, as much as it pains me to admit it? My readership just isn't that big. It wouldn't be very hard to track down someone who tried to send me a fruitcake loaded with arsenic.

Anyway, MY WIFE says we should buy a canary and feed it little bits of each fruitcake I receive. That's probably sound advice. I'm ignoring it, of course, as I do with most sound advice I receive. Some of you might not be as foolhardy, though, so here's a selection of some of the best advice I've ever received and I hope it helps you to avoid life's poisoned fruitcakes.

Again, I'll point out what should be obvious: I haven't always followed this advice. However, I've never found a time when any of it wasn't correct.



(For instance, it's much easier to say "No" to someone offering you that first shot of heroin than it will be for you to go cold turkey later.)


(Case in point: Y2K.)

(One pair of really good shoes will last longer than two pair of crappy ones.)

(Eat right, exercise, die anyway.)



(It is almost always better to tell the truth and be done with it, than to have to remember who you lied to and when. However...)

(If you can save someone much pain and sorrow by telling a lie, then a lie is morally better than the truth. For instance, if someone is dying, and they ask you if their life insurance is paid up and will take care of their family, but it isn't and won't, will telling them that help them in any way? If you know for sure that nothing can be done about it, tell them that everything is all set and they've got nothing to worry about. Not all situations are that clear cut, but you get the idea.)

(Otherwise known as Suldog's Philosophy Of Life...)


(You wouldn't believe how many people go to Las Vegas firmly expecting to lose more money than they would spend on a comparable vacation elsewhere. For goodness' sakes, people, either go to Disneyworld or go to Las Vegas and DON'T GAMBLE.)

(The "Good Old Days" sometimes just seem that way based on incomplete evidence.)






(My Dad said this many years ago, concerning the Catholic church, and I agree totally. If you know going in what the rules are, and you join of your own free will, then you really have no right to complain that the rules are oppressive once you're in. Nobody forced you to join and nobody is forcing you to stay.)

(That's why I'm no longer a Catholic.)

(Really. Just get the hell out of there while you can. There's nothing more deadly to the spirit than a person [or organization] with no sense of humor.)

And, finally, this isn't really advice, per se, but more a philosophy of life.


And, if you've got a problem with that last bit? See number 22.

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Confession

I am about to make an extremely shocking admission, even for a reprobate like me. You should probably be sitting down. You might even wish to take a medicinal belt beforehand, so that the enormity of this truth I'm about to tell you doesn't send you into immediate cardiac arrest.

Are you ready? OK, here goes.

I love fruitcake.

There, I said it. It's not something that very many people would admit to these days, what with the unabashed fruitcake bashing that goes on every Christmas season, but I've never been very reticent about bringing up my peculiarities, so there it is. Little fluorescent green pieces of unidentified fruit? Love 'em. Cake with the approximate equal weight to lead? Bring it on! Cherries of a red hue unfound in any part or portion of nature? I plain cannot get enough.

I realize this makes me one of an extremely tiny minority these days. Most folks seem to have no better use for fruitcakes than to launch them with catapults or other such desecrations. At best, they are used as doorstops or perhaps something with which to whack an intruder over the head.

I, on the other hand, like to eat them.

Say what you will about my tastes, or lack thereof, I just love fruitcake and it pains me every time somebody makes the blanket assertion that nobody eats them. Saying something like that makes it just that much harder for me to find one when I want one, and makes it damned near impossible to get one as a present (which I very much appreciate, by the way.) It seems that almost nobody is willing to risk incurring the wrath of the snarky jokesters who have made "fruitcake" some sort of holiday swear word.

MY WIFE used to make a really great fruitcake, but she hasn't for a few years now. This is because she lost her recipe. Oh, the tears I've shed! That was my best shot at getting fruitcake for Christmas, without having to actually buy one. My sister-in-law gave me one a couple of years ago and that was nice.

Look, if you have fruitcake that you want to get rid of, please don't hurl it into space or relegate it to anonymous doorstop duty. Send it to ME. I'd love to give it a nice home (in my belly) and I will sing your praises should you send me one. Here's an address, and you can feel free to forward it:

Suldog's Home For Wayward Fruitcakes
93 Winsor Avenue
Watertown, MA 02472

No joke - send it! Believe me, you'll build up whole bunches of karma points if you do.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

If I Am Elected...

Good evening, folks. I'd call you ladies and gentlemen, but you know what you are.


In response to a request from Melissa, I am now going to discuss my platform. I would rather discuss the plataforma, but we can make dinner plans later.

Oh, I suppose I should tell you that this is my presidential platform. So, this is what you can expect, should you be so high that you decide to cast a vote for me in 2008.

1) More Drugs!

Hey, if you being high got me elected, I better keep 'em coming. Every year, everybody gets a government-issued 300-day supply of the drug of their choice. If you use it up in 100 days, that's your problem. Come on, people! You have to learn some self-control, for goodness' sakes.

Some of you are no doubt wondering why it isn't a 365-day supply. Look, you've got to work sometime or the whole country will tank and then nobody gets any drugs. In order to qualify for the government buzz, you must show at least 65 days on a payroll during the previous year. Pharmacists and Doctors are ineligible because they can get as much as they want anytime anyway. If you're on the dole, you'll have to get your drugs by mugging people like you do now.

To show you my sincerity, I shall personally be handing out syringes and bongs at random polling places on election day. Nothing to put in them until I'm elected, though, so get voting!

Now, some of you may be asking how I will fund this plan. That's simple. I am going to sell off all of our military resources and equipment to the highest foreign bidders. You can get a lot of bones for the price of a stealth bomber, let me tell you! Factor in all the various bombs, aircraft carriers, miscellaneous tanks and hand weapons? That should be enough to keep everybody high for at least 20 years, and probably fund the school systems to boot.

"But what will we do when someone attacks us?", I hear some nancy-boy saying. I've got it covered.

2) No More War!

Yes, I have the solution to war. I propose building a gigantic see-through dome over the entire country. This will keep bombs out.

Of course, it will also keep out rain, so we'll have to build a gigantic network of aqueducts and water-treatment plants from coast-to-coast, in order to facilitate the growing of crops. Special consideration will be given to those crops which can be made into pharmaceuticals.

To do this, I will authorize a plan whereby every man, woman, and child will work 65 days a year for the federal government. This will also solve the employment problem from proposal number one.

I realize that the Bomb Dome will tend to cut down on air travel. Too bad. See America First. By Rail. Yeah, that's the ticket! That should put AMTRAK in the black, too.

Of course, a gigantic dome will not only keep bombs and rain out, it will also keep pollution in. Therefore, to alleviate that eventuality...

3) SUVs Will Be Illegal!

Actually, I don't give a damn about pollution. I just hate driving behind them. You can't see a damned thing! So, no more SUVs. And anyone caught with a Hummer will be executed by having it fed to them in bite-size pieces. With one exception...

4) The President Will Be The Only One Allowed To Have A Hummer!

Hey, get back behind those barricades! I didn't say that the President would be the only one allowed to GET a Hummer. You're thinking of that fellow from Arkansas. No, in the interests of national security, I can take up as much space as I want. Hey, you got a problem with that? I'm the guy giving out the free buzz, remember? So move your crummy Miata to the side of the road and let me by.

By the way...

5) There Will Not Be An Inaugural Parade!

Why in the name of Beelzebub's left tit do you need to see the President (that is to say, me) marching down Pennsylvania Avenue? That's always seemed like a tremendous waste of money to me (that is to say, Your President.) So, take what you would have spent on the parade and put it into the general drug fund. Anyway, I don't feel like walking that far, even if I'm riding in my Hummer.


6) There Will Be An Inaugural Party!

And one hellacious one, too, you bet! But you won't be invited, unless you make a significant contribution to my campaign. Significance starts at $10,000,000.

Better yet, contribute to one of my many RE-election campaigns. You say I'm limited to two terms? Hah! I will win over and over again, because...

7) I Shall Repeal All Term Limits!

You think once I get in, I'm going to give anyone a fighting chance at getting me out? What government-issued goodies have you been smoking? And, just to make sure I can carry out this plan...

8) Congress Shall Be Abolished!

They suck, anyway, so they're history. Except for Ron Paul. He's the only one with any common sense, so what the heck, I'm appointing him Congress For Life. Not CongressMAN - CONGRESS. He's it. As for the rest of them...

9) All Congressional Salaries & Pensions Will Be Abolished!

These monies will be put into the general drug fund, except those earmarked for Presidential Hummers. All of the frauds currently receiving Congressional salaries, and those past frauds receiving pensions, will be put to work constructing the Bomb Dome. They will NOT receive the usual 300-day drug benefit. Instead, in order to up their productivity, they will be force-fed crystal meth and f*** 'em if their hearts pop.

The only exception to the above is the aforementioned Ron Paul, who will have his pension upped 5% every time another of the Congressional Domeworkers keels over dead.

Insofar as who will be the vice-president when I'm elected...

10) My Running Mate Will Be Chosen At Random By Publishers Clearing House!

So, get those entries in today! Special priority will be given those who purchase subscriptions to High Times. If you get your entry in before the primaries, you'll be eligible for the special early-bird prize: A seat on the Supreme Court.

Remember this, though. If you win the nomination as my running mate, but you get some uppity idea about succeeding me as President after the election...

11) The Vice-President Will Be 247th In Line For Succession!

The 246 people before him in line will be a secret. That way, you'll think twice before offing me. I might be crazy, but I'm not stupid, and how do you know I don't have the Grand Dragon of the KKK at the top of the list? Better the buzz-giving devil you know.

As a special incentive...

12) Everybody Who Leaves A Comment On This Blog Gets To Be A General!

Or an admiral - your choice. There won't be an Army or Navy or anything, what with the Bomb Dome in place, but you'll still get to ride around in a jeep or on a yacht wearing a snazzy uniform. This is your last chance, so comment NOW!

13) Everybody Who Left An Unfavorable Comment Will Be Jailed!

You'd rather lick a pigeon? It had to be a good comment. It pays to read ahead. Too late now, pal. See you in the gulag!

14) All People Named Sullivan, Married To A Sullivan, Who Gave Birth To A Sullivan Or Who Are Ancestors Of A Sullivan Get A Network TV Show!

Those who are able to prove direct relation to me get one on CBS, NBC or ABC. After that, my cousins, it will be Fox, the WB, UPN, and on down the line until those with nebulous relationships get either The Home Shopping Network or Spike.

15) Fast-Pitch Softball Will Be The Mandatory National Sport!

The President (ME) will be given five strikes and will only need two balls to walk. And, believe me, this President has 'em already.

16) Anyone Who Kicks A Kid Out Of School For Carrying Aspirin Or A Nailfile Will Be Castrated, Live And In Color, On The President Suldog Show, Wednesday, 8pm (9pm Central) On CBS.

It's frickin' hard enough to get kids educated without suspending them because of some hare-brained politically-correct nonsense about zero tolerance. Those school officials in violation of this policy who were born without the necessary equipment for castration will be given sex-changes and then castrated.

And, finally...

17) Anybody Who Isn't A Three Stooges Fan Will Have Their Choice Of Being Burned At The Stake Or Having Their Head Cut Off!

If you're a fan, then you know what your reply should be to that statement. If you have no clue? DIE! DIE! DIE!

But, first, I'd appreciate your vote. Thanks for your time!

Monday, December 05, 2005


...was My Grandma's 100th birthday party. It was held at the Adams Heights Mens Club. My stepfather, Bill MacDonald, is a member there. There's a very nice function hall on the second floor which we used for the proceedings.

A four-piece band (piano, mandolin, sax, drums) played standards, and many of the attendees got up and took a turn singing. There were poems written and read. A proclamation was made - Steve Tobin, the state rep, came by with an official document from the house of representatives, recognizing Maybelle's life accomplishments. Several of us made food for the party (including many of Bill's family, who are awfully nice to have done so for my Grandma. Thanks very much, guys!) I made a half-ton of beef stew on Saturday, and MY WIFE baked a slew of cupcakes.

Actually, the cupcakes were part of a cute idea that MY WIFE had. Instead of just a traditional cake, MY WIFE and my cousins baked 101 cupcakes, which we laid out on a table in an ever widening circle, one candle each. When the candles were lit, we sang "Happy Birthday" and the great-grandkids helped Maybelle blow them out. As a centerpiece, there was a beautiful cake made by Konditor Meister, which my mother won by entering my Grandma in a contest at radio station WJDA.

Maybelle was quite touched by the whole thing, and a good time was had by all.

One of the most distressing things was the response I got to the piece I wrote about my Grandma. I made copies to distribute as part of a booklet which my Mom put together concerning Maybelle's life and times. Many folks complimented me on it, and I certainly thank them for that, but now they'll be heading here to read other stuff by me. That means they'll find out I'm not all sweetness and light - my cover is blown - and that most of what I put out here is sophomoric drivel with little or no redeeming social value.

That's about it for today, folks. I'm weary and worn from the party prep/execution, and I think I'm nearing the peak of a vicious cold. This morning in the shower I was bringing up green and brown lungers that looked like they could have walked away under their own power if I hadn't acted quickly and directed them down the drain.

(See? That's my usual style, if you can call it that.)

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and see you real soon.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

100 Years Old Today

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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What I Did On My Vacation, Part Two

I would refer you to part one, but this hasn't exactly been scintillating stuff so far. If you want to read it, go ahead, but you won't be lost here if you don't. Blame CatPants. She suggested I write about this, in response to my asking folks to tell me what to write about. I'm sure it seemed like a perfectly reasonable request when she made it, but how was she to know I'd take such a boring vacation?


Wednesday the 23rd

Day before the big gathering of relatives and friends, so time to take care of whatever needs to be taken care of around the house. I dust all around, clean the floors, take stuff from the living room and stuff it wherever it will fit in the bedroom, etc.

Also, I prep whatever foods I can beforehand. I peel and chop the turnips, same with the squash, lay out some orderve trays, make sure all of the pots and pans are clean, check one last time to see that everything I need is here and that I don't have to go to the store again.

(Doesn't sound like a vacation, does it? Well, if I didn't take the time off, I'd have to do all of this stuff between the time I woke up on Thursday and 1pm, when I expect folks to start showing up, so it's a vacation from that...)

Really, all I wanted was time off from work so that Thanksgiving wouldn't be a hurried pain-in-the-ass, and so that I could just nap, watch sports, read a book, or do whatever else I wanted to, when I wanted to, and that alone would be enough to let me relax and get rid of the tensions I'd built up from work. I hadn't had a real vacation in over a year, so this really did the trick. I am, despite the work involved in hosting Thanksgiving, very relaxed. And I just love Thanksgiving, and I love cooking for groups, so that's a treat, as long as I have plenty of time to accomplish it in the manner I wish.

Here I will mention how invaluable MY WIFE is as an ally in this endeavor. She remembers things that need to be done that I would have missed entirely and then swore a blue streak about. For instance, every year I totally forget about putting the rolls in the oven. She makes sure they get done in time. She keeps everybody amused while I go about finishing everything. She makes sure everybody is happy and comfortable while I'm struggling to get the potatoes mashed, while making the gravy and carving the bird and re-heating everything at two minute intervals in the microwave. She sets the table and arranges the seating and gets everybody's drink orders and a hundred other details I just wouldn't have time for. She thinks she doesn't do enough, and she'll even think this paragraph makes her look bad, but it doesn't and I couldn't do it without her.

Not much else to tell about today. Gassed up Roddy (our car) and watched the Celtics. In between those two things and the cleaning and food prep, I read a few chapters of Let Me Tell You A Story, a book about Red Auerbach by John Feinstein, which I recommend highly if you're a Celtics' fan or a basketball nut or both.

Thursday the 24th, Thanksgiving

Up early to stuff the bird and get it into the oven. I don't have a recipe for stuffing, but it comes out OK every year. I just keep throwing bread, pearl onions, celery and Bell's Seasoning together, with a little water, until the consistency and smell seem right. It works.

Bird in the oven, so time to start on the turnip and squash, which I prepped last night. I have enough turnip to feed about 30, but it's one of my favorite leftovers, so no problem. I prepare the squash with maple syrup and it's really, really good. Now I can lay out the cranberry sauce, and make a tray with roasted red peppers, pickled banana peppers, celery and dill pickle quarters (for folks to nibble while waiting), and a basket of shelled mixed nuts, for those who don't want any vegetables before the meal. After that, I get to work on the yams, the carrots, the green beans (french cut), the potatoes, and everything else. MY WIFE ably assists. Meanwhile, the bird needs basting every twenty minutes or so.

Man! I absolutely loooooooove the smell of Thanksgiving dinner cooking! Somebody should make an air freshener of it.

That's enough detail about the cooking. If you've done it yourself, you know it already, and if you don't do the cooking, it probably bores hell out of you to hear about it.

First to arrive are my Mom, Step-Dad Bill, and good friend Tom Starr. Mom brings the desserts every year. This year it's apple pie, pumpkin pie, peach pie, whipped topping, and hard sauce. Hard Sauce may be unique to my family; I don't know. It's a concoction of butter, powdered sugar and vanilla, and it really goes grrrrreat
with pumpkin or squash pie. Tom makes a very good dish with parsnips each year and he has that with him.

Next up are my Uncle Rick and Grandma. Uncle Rick comes bearing chocolates. Excellent! My Grandma will be 100 on December 1st. She's an amazing lady. You'll see what I mean tomorrow when I write about her.

Finally, when I'm just about to give up on them and start serving, my cousin Scott and his wife, Andrea, arrive. Usually, they're the first ones to arrive each year, but for some reason they had the idea that we might not be doing Thanksgiving this year and had made no plans to stop by. I found out that this might be the case when I called my Mom just this morning and she mentioned that she hadn't spoken to them about coming. Knowing how uber-polite they are, I figured I'd better call them and make sure they knew they were welcome. So, I called them and told them, "Well, of course we're having Thanksgiving! And we love you and expect you to be here every year unless told otherwise!" Anyway, they came with a cheese ball, crackers, and more egg nog. Now we can get this show on the road!

I planned everything to be ready to serve at 2pm. This is because that's halftime of the Detroit Lions game. Bill and I are the big pro football fans, so this is to accommodate us. By the time everything is finished and the desserts come out, it will be a short bit into the third quarter.

Everything goes very well. I receive many compliments, which I appreciate, but I wonder - does anybody ever tell the host that the food sucks?

Desserts! And coffee, mints, football, good conversation - everything that caps a fine meal. This is my favorite time of the whole day. Everything is done, everybody is well-fed and happy, there's football on the TV, I've got some pie and coffee... Life Is Good. Thanks, God!

The rest of the afternoon is spent watching football, burping, packing up some take-home meals for everyone, and enjoying some conversation with my Grandma (and everybody else, of course, but she's a bit [a lot] deaf, so she rarely gets the ebb and flow in a conversation involving lots of folks, so I sort of stick by her side for much of the time and just enjoy listening to her.)

Around halftime of the second football game, everybody has gone home. MY WIFE and I do a quick clean-up and then just sit back and enjoy each other's company (and I also enjoy a small turkey sandwich on one of the leftover rolls, along with some stuffing.)

Not much else to say about this, except that it is easily my favorite holiday. Christmas used to be, and it is still tremendous and meaningful, but as I grow older the Thanksgiving celebration has overtaken it. I'm not sure I could put into words why, but I suspect it has something to do with just getting older. I mean, I was never one of those greedy kids who looked forward to Christmas with unbridled avarice - I've never gotten a gift I didn't like, so anything was appreciated - but I think it might have a bit to do with that end of things. I enjoy the giving and receiving, and the religious aspects of the holiday are important to me, but it just doesn't give me that frisson it used to when I was younger.

To bed, to dream of leftovers. Yum!

Friday the 25th, Saturday the 26th, Sunday the 27th

I'm going to wrap things up quickly, as nothing of much import happened on these days. More football and more Celtics. Did you see the new uniforms? Not as bad as I expected they might be. I would rather they never change the uniforms, on any team, but especially so with a franchise that embodies so much tradition and past success that they shouldn't need to resort to cheap marketing ploys, but the new uniforms really aren't too bad. And they won, so maybe it's a good thing.

I read some more of the Auerbach book, took another long walk, ate gigantic amounts of leftover turkey and fixings, took more naps, and generally enjoyed the leisure time. That's about it, folks.

Tomorrow is my Grandma's 100th birthday, so please come back to read all about her. Until then...

Monday, November 28, 2005

What I Did On My Vacation

Ask (as did CatPants) and ye shall receive. Blame her if this is tres boring.

Saturday the 19th

Arose early, at 6am, as I usually do on Saturdays. MY WIFE says I'm crazy, and that I don't know the difference between a day off and a work day, but my thinking is different. Why should I sleep away the morning of a perfectly good day off? If I want to sleep, I can take a nap later. That's something you can't do at work.

(Unless you're a security guard on the midnight to 8am shift, which is why I didn't mind having that shift when I was one. However, I digress.)

Got dressed and put together my coupons for the weekly grocery shopping. Yes, I do the shopping. I enjoy it, actually, as long as I don't have to fight my way through a crowded supermarket. And, since I'm usually at the store by 7am, that's not a problem.

(By the way, I'm not obsessive about the coupons. I usually buy a Sunday paper and there are pullout sections with coupons. I figure the coupons pay for the paper. However, I digress again. You should probably get used to it, because it will be a continuing theme.)

This is the big shopping day, of course, as Thanksgiving is coming up. We have Thanksgiving at our place and I cook Thanksgiving dinner for 9 relatives and friends.

(Yes, I do the cooking. Damned good at it, too. As a matter of fact, much of the cooking in my family [at least on the Sullivan side] has been done by the men. We beat hell out of the women as cooks, for the most part. Trivia: one of my paternal ancestors was the chef who invented the Parker House Roll. However, again...)

So, I get to the store and start looking for a turkey with a thyroid problem. I want one that weighs in at about 24 or 25 pounds, if possible. I want enough leftover turkey to send home a good meal with everybody and still have 5 or 6 pounds for myself to make sandwiches.

No such luck. The biggest bird I can find is a tad less than 21. He'll have to do. Turnip, potatoes, carrots, green beans, yams, bread for stuffing, cranberry sauce, nuts, mints, pickles, peppers, squash, onions, celery, milk, cream, coffee, sugar, eggnog. Nobody ever leaves my Thanksgiving dinner hungry. Mom will bring desserts.

Get the big bird home and start re-arranging our fridge to make room. Take out a shelf here, double-stack a few cans and containers there. If I eat this last bit of pudding, that should just about make enough room. Perfect!

OK, I'm not going to give you every minute of every day, mostly because it would be mind-numbingly boring. I watched some football, took that nap, watched some more football, read a bit of a book, watched some non-football tv with MY WIFE, watched the Celtics, etc.

Sunday the 20th

Another way that I'm odd (you should be making a list for future reference) is that I tend to get into shape during vacations, as opposed to most folks, who just let themselves go.

So, this morning I arise early and take a good long walk. I don't do exercise on days that I work, unless it's a softball game after work, because I have trouble enough just getting to work on time without exercising beforehand, and I'm too tired to do any afterwards, unless it's something I really like, for instance softball or sex. I walk around the neighborhood, up and down different streets, for a bit less than two miles, ending up at a little store that sells cigarettes, newspapers, and lottery tickets. I buy the Sunday Globe, four packs of Kools for the price of two (which is why I go to this store - they always have some sort of two for one and I refuse to pay full price to kill myself), and a lottery scratch ticket.

(A few months ago, MY WIFE and I decided to buy one scratch ticket a week. If we hit for $100 or better, we are giving 10% to charity. Anything under $100 all goes to charity. Thus far, we have spent about $40 to make $18 for charity. If things keep going the way they have been, though, charity may begin at home. However, there I go again. I told you.)

I get home in time to watch "CBS Sunday Morning" which both MY WIFE and I consider one of the best shows on TV. Always interesting stories, just the right mix of news, whimsy, and light humor. During commercial breaks I switch over to "The Three Stooges" on another channel, because sometimes you can only take so much whimsy before you need to see someone have a crosscut saw raked across his skull.

The rest of the day is just like Saturday - football, nap, football - with the exception of The Simpsons, which is like watching a car wreck involving a whole bunch of your good friends. It used to be the best show on TV, ever. Now it has a couple of good lines a week, so you can't give up on it totally, but the rest of the time you kind of wish they'd put it out of its misery and salvage what little dignity there is left.

(OK, digression time again. The Simpsons started to go downhill dating from the "Mary Bobbins" episode. That wasn't a horrible episode, but it was around that time that the writing staff absorbed much of the staff of "The Critic". That show had an entirely different sensibility. It wasn't built on characterization so much as it was on broad jokes, mostly at the expense of celebrities. From that point, there were more and more disconnected-to-any-plotline "outrageous" jokes showing up in The Simpsons, and what had been inviolable rules concerning characterization were just tossed whenever an expedient solution or a "shocking" joke was needed. I am thankful for the writers' ability to sometimes see how much they've fucked up this show ("Worst episode ever!"), but instead of referencing their inability to keep the level of the writing where it should have been, I'd prefer that they had just done so - or let someone who could do the job, do it.)

Monday the 21st

Ahhhhh. The first actual day when I should be at work but I'm not. So, of course, I'm awake almost an hour earlier so that I can savor all of it at length.

Again, a two-mile or so walk, but this time heading into parts of the general neighborhood I've never visited before, at least on foot. It's funny - you can know in your head that you can't possibly be too far from someplace you'll recognize, but if you've been walking some streets that you're unfamiliar with, for 10 or 15 minutes, you still begin to question your sense of direction and you even begin to wonder just how lost you might be. Certainly not any sort of full-blown panic attack, but more the thought of "Shit. I've gone about two miles already. How far am I going to have to go to get home?"

I got home.

Spent much of the day cleaning this and that, in preparation for the great influx of company on Thursday. Not much entertaining in that, so on to...

Tuesday the 22nd

This is the day of the haircut.

I'd been putting off getting a haircut for a couple of weeks now, although I've been getting pretty shaggy. Or, at least as shaggy as a bald guy gets. Anyway, I just never dragged my ass down to the guy who usually does my hair. I know his shop opens at 7:30 on Tuesdays, so I figured I'd go today, early.

First, though, I took another longish walk, this time heading in the direction of Belmont. Did another 2+ miles. After getting home and driving MY WIFE to the T (Ha-Ha! You have to work!) I head to the barber.

Problem is, he's not open. It looks like he's taken Thanksgiving week off. How dare he! What sort of irresponsible buttwad would do that? I... Uh...


Anyway, I have my mind set on getting my hair cut TODAY. So, I decide to investigate another local barber. I mean, I'm almost completely bald on top. How much can anyone screw up my head?


My first clue should have come when I was waiting for one of the two barbers to become free. There was one fellow in front of me. When the older barber finished his previous customer, he called out, "Next!", and I deferred to this guy who had been waiting. He said, "No, you go ahead. I'll wait for Angelo."

I end up with the shortest haircut I've had in at least 35 years. I mean, almost a buzz cut. And I'm afraid it does NOT flatter me. Not that it looks totally hideous - I don't need to start wearing some sort of Elephant Man getup - and I did tell the guy I wanted it short all around, but this is just not the best look I've ever had. The drastically short hair on the sides makes my hair appear even whiter than it already has become, what with my pasty skin showing through. And he totally hacked the tiny bit of hair I had on top, so that now I can't even pretend to comb it over. Eh. It's alright, I was no matinee idol to begin with and it'll grow back.

More sports watching, then "House" (which is easily the best show on TV these days) and a bit more cleaning and so forth. I find that I am slowly relaxing from the tension I'd built up over the past year or so at work without any sort of a real extended vacation.

Wednesday the 23rd

Will be forthcoming. Right now, I have to get back to work. See you tomorrow!