Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Tally

Disclaimer: Generally speaking, I’m not one for making lists of what presents I received and bitching about whatever I may not have received. In case you didn’t read the previous piece here, I’ll tell you my philosophy concerning gift-giving: All gifts are good and I always appreciate whatever anyone has been kind enough to give me. However, since you’ve been privy to my requests for certain items, I thought it would be only fair to fill you in on how those requests turned out.

Here’s the tally sheet for Christmas 2006.

I received one fruitcake and a gift certificate that could be used for another fruitcake. These were received gratefully – very gratefully – and thank you, Uncle Jim and Sister-In-Law Victoria! However, it is not enough fruitcake. What is enough fruitcake? I don’t know and at this rate I’m not going to find out anytime soon.

(I do have more possible fruitcakes and remnants of fruitcakes coming, however, and if I get them and I reach my limit, I’ll be sure to let you know - if I can still wedge myself close enough to the keyboard to write about it.)

My taste in music must be truly horrendous. Of the 10 CDs I requested on my Christmas list, I received two. I also received an I.O.U. for one, along with enough money to buy it, and that’s why I say my taste must really suck. My Mom tried to get one from the list, but she couldn’t find a single one of them at the place where she shopped. I think she also related a story about how the clerk (or some other dim bulb) in the store snickered at her when she asked about them, but I prefer not to think about my mother being abused in such a fashion.

(Not that I prefer to think about my mother being abused in any fashion.)

My brother-in-law found the two I did receive. You need to understand something concerning my brother-in-law, in order to know how much of a loving gift it was that he gave me. He was, at one time, a professional music critic; a record reviewer for, among others, The Boston Phoenix. Now, it probably didn’t hurt his ego too much to purchase The J. Geils Band CD he gave me, but he also gave me one of the Grand Funk CDs I requested and I know how embarrassing it must be to take one of those up to the checkout counter in this day and age, so I really appreciate his effort on my behalf.

As for the rest of the gifts I received this year, they were given with love and received in the same way. I don’t want to start describing any of them in a special way because that would make it seem as though the other fine gifts I got were somehow lesser. They weren’t. I’ll make one exception, though, because I think many of you will get a kick out of hearing about it.

My Mom, when she wasn’t being laughed at by music store cretins, bought me a chess set. I like chess, I play a fair game, and I’ve got a ten or twelve book library on theory, so it wasn’t a great stretch to know that a chess set might be something I’d use. The type of chess set she got me is what makes it interesting. It is a Red Sox vs. Yankees chess set.

Each team’s manager is the king. The queen is the pitcher, which makes sense for a baseball team because what other player decides the outcome of the game as often as the pitcher, and I think this one looks like Pedro, actually, so the queen is a diva. Batters are bishops, outfielders are knights – I’ve seen Manny drifting under a fly ball in a two steps forward and one to the side fashion, so that’s no stretch – and the mighty rooks are the equally tough and somewhat immobile catchers. The pawns are all infielders. I guess that leaves me to be Theo Epstein, generally managing my forces to victory.

The only problem I can foresee is finding someone in Boston who will be willing to play the Yankee side of the board without throwing the game.

MY WIFE and I don’t exchange gifts until The Feast Of The Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas, which is January 6th. This means that there’s still time this Christmas season for you to send me more fruitcakes. If you love me, it’s either that or Alice Cooper. You should decide which one would embarrass you to a lesser degree and then act accordingly. I’d do the same for you if you liked spotted dick and Milli Vanilli.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

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!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Christmas Meme

This was found at Rebecca's, where she said that anybody could take it, so I did. You, also, should post it - and then tell Rebecca.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Hot Chocolate almost every time, although I enjoy one or two glasses of Egg Nog (non-alcoholic) at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

At our house, Santa is the one who fills the stockings. I guess that means neither.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

Colored (although I believe the politically correct term these days is African-American.)

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

Never did until this year. When I opened up a box of old Christmas decorations, I found an unopened package of the stuff. Opened the package and found it to still be green and moist. Well, I have no idea how old it is, but it's at least a year, so that's sort of a miracle, isn't it? Who am I to look a gift miracle in the mouth? So, I hung it. MY WIFE and I smooched. So far, nobody else has been under it, but if you're planning a trip to our place, you may now consider yourself forewarned.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

Usually whatever weekend falls around December 5th - 10th. This year, it was the 9th. It is my pleasure to do this while MY WIFE is otherwise engaged - that is, at work or out with friends. She then comes home to a fully-decorated house and is (or at least feigns to be) delighted. She has none of the bother and I get to have everything as I like it. It's all good.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?


7. Favorite Holiday memory?

You'll have to come back tomorrow for that - hint, hint.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

Truth? As Pontius Pilate once said, "What is truth?"

I believe the truth in this instance is that Santa exists. My proof is that I get a stocking full of presents every year. Good enough for me.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

Yes, a few. We celebrate with some relatives at their house. Insofar as exchange of gifts between MY WIFE and me, we exchange presents on January 6th, The Feast Of The Epiphany, also known as The Feast Of The Magi. This is the traditional gift-giving day in many locales outside of USA/Canada. As a matter of fact, the period of time between Christmas and January 6th is the "12 Days Of Christmas" fabled in song.

There you go - maybe you learned something by coming here. That could be a first.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?

Well, I first have to explain that we have FIVE trees.

You see, MY WIFE worked in a retail shop a few years back and these trees were used in a display. After the holiday season, the store was going to just toss them. However, she asked if she could have them, instead, and they said she could, so we have five green artificial trees ranging in size from two to about seven feet tall.

Anyway, first thing I do is string lights on the trees - one continuous strand arranged first around one tree, then another, then another, and so on. After that, I festoon them with various ornaments, of which we have way too many to fit on the trees all at once, so the choice is slightly different every year. I then put a garland or two on a couple of the trees and finally top the tallest tree with a star that has been in my family since at least my birth.

Finally, I arrange a white dropcloth around the bottom and (since these are five artificial trees) spray a bit of pine scent.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?

Love to look at it, dread shoveling it.

12. Can you ice skate?

Yes, but not very well. That's why I was a goalie. I mean, aside from the fact that I like having rock-hard hunks of black rubber flying at my face at speeds in excess of 100 MPH.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

I can honestly say that I've had no one favorite gift. I love all gifts.

14. What's the most important thing?

That's an open question, isn't it? I'll assume we're talking about the most important thing concerning Christmas. And I'll say Christ. After all, He takes up 2/3 of the letters when you spell it!

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

Squash Pie with something we call Hard Sauce.

17. What tops your tree?

A Star, as mentioned above.

18. Which do you prefer Giving or Receiving?

Both are perfectly swell.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?

Silver Bells. As a child who grew up in Boston and did all of his Christmas shopping downtown, it seemed to speak directly to me. The Johnny Mathis version is best.

20. Candy canes, Yuck or Yum?


(I notice that there is no #16. Feel free to make one up and then suppose that I gave a typical Suldoggian answer. For instance, "Turnip, unless you have to reverse direction quickly, in which case you'll want to make that a U-Turnip.")

See you tomorrow with the final posting before Christmas. It will be a repeat from a previous time, but I believe it may be the best thing I've ever written, so I'll be trotting it out here again. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Solomon The Milkman

What with the first night of Hanukkah coming up this weekend, I thought it might be a good opportunity to tell you about my Jewish roots.

My grandfather Sullivan was a milkman for H. P. Hood for many years. He told this story, which took place during the days when he did his route on a horse-drawn wagon.

His route travelled through the Mattapan section of Boston, which at that time was almost exclusively populated by Jewish families. Now, some of the people to whom he delivered milk thought he was Jewish. They thought his name was Solomon, not Sullivan.

I'm not positively sure how this assumption came about, but it's not a stretch to imagine what might have happened. Someone in the neighborhood probably asked what his name was and he (or, more likely, one of his customers with perhaps an Eastern European accent) said, "Sullivan", and whoever had asked the question, with the idea already in mind that he might be Jewish, heard "Solomon". That person told someone else, and so on.

It was possible. My grandfather didn't have the map of Ireland on his face like I do. He could have passed. Since he delivered milk in a Jewish neighborhood, his customers might naturally have assumed that he was Jewish, too. I don't suppose he would have had any reason to disabuse them of this notion. He probably figured it wouldn't hurt business to let them keep on thinking it.

Anyway, one day while he was doing his route, some of the older Jewish men called for him to come down off of his wagon so that he could help them meet the required numbers for a minyan; that is, so that they could have enough for prayer service, which required at least 10 men.

They yelled to him, "Solomon! We need another for a minyan! You got time maybe?"

My grandfather was sharp enough to know what they were talking about. He had been delivering milk in that neighborhood for some time, so he was familiar with words and phrases and customs that an Irishman might otherwise not be expected to know. The question was, what should he tell these men? Should he spill the beans and let them know that he wasn't really named Solomon, but Sullivan? That he wasn't Jewish, but Catholic, and that his ancestry was Irish and French?

Well, my grandfather figured it this way: Who did it hurt if he helped them out? As long as they thought he was Jewish, God wouldn't be mad at them for including an Irishman in their prayer service, and he also figured that God would probably look kindly on him for doing the old Jews a mitzvah. So, my grandfather parked the wagon and made the minyan for them.

He faked his way through by following the lead of the others. Having attended Catholic mass for many years, he knew he could probably get by with indistinct mumbling as long as he did the right body motions, so he kept his voice low and bowed when they did and so forth. Afterwards, the old men thanked him and he got back on his wagon and finished his route. Of course, from that day forward there was little doubt along Blue Hill Avenue that Tom Sullivan (that is, Solomon The Milkman) was Jewish - and a fairly devout Jew, at that.

Therefore, if someone calls me "Solly", instead of "Sully", I won't complain. My grandfather wasn't really a Jew, but he played one on his milk route.

Happy Hanukkah!

P.S. Keeping up my end of the family tradition, I've been invited to dinner Friday night with my Jewish friends Matt and Stu Stone and Freddy Goodman. I'll say the blessing, if they want.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam shehecheyanu v'kiyimanu v'higi'anu laz'man hazeh. (Amein)

(Of course, I may be getting ahead of myself. Maybe I'm just the Shabbos Goy.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stuff Off Of My Mind And - Unfortunately - Onto Yours

I have exactly eleven minutes to type up something while my macaroni is cooking and the sauce is re-heating. So, random thoughts!


I hate it when the term "B.C.E." is used when referring to the modern age. I’m a "B.C." guy - "Before Christ". It was good enough for how many hundreds of years? Now the politically correct types are using "B.C.E." - "Before Common Era".

I understand your use of that term if you’re not a Christian, OK? If you’re Jewish or a Hindu or otherwise have no belief system that includes Jesus Christ, no problem. It's most certainly not my call to tell you how to refer to the passing of years. What really boils my onions, however, is when Christian clergy use "B.C.E" instead of "B.C." What is it, exactly, that you believe in?

I was a lector at St. Bernard’s catholic church in Newton, MA, for about four years. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a lector is a person who does Bible readings during mass. Now, during the time when I was a lector, each year I’d receive a new book detailing the readings for the coming church year. The book would have some background information concerning the readings - in case you never actually read the Bible, I guess – and one year the notes made reference to a time in the past and the author of the notes used the date "400 B.C.E."

I wrote to the Archbishop of Chicago, whose imprimatur was on the inside frontispiece, explaining to him my position as a participant in the celebration of mass at my church and asking him if he might explain to me why a church-published document would include a term specifically made up to placate people who don’t believe that Jesus Christ existed, let alone was a relative of God.

I never got an answer. That was the beginning of the end for me, insofar as the Catholic Church was concerned. Not enough to get me to indignantly quit right then and there, but it was the first of many straws that finally added up to a broken back for this camel.

What brought this to mind for me again, enough to make me want to write about it, is that I was listening to a religious discussion show on the radio this past Sunday morning. The participants were a Protestant Minister, a Jewish Rabbi, and a Catholic Priest. The Minister gave an ancient date and used "B.C.E." when saying it. I felt like reaching into the radio and... well, saying what I felt like doing wouldn’t be very Christian of me, so I’ll just swallow it.

(Later on, after she and the priest had had a discussion concerning Mary, Jesus’s mother, she apparently felt bad about monopolizing the time with a strictly Christian topic and so she tried to include the Rabbi in the discussion by asking him what Jews thought about The Virgin Mary. Well, now at least I knew why a Protestant Minister was using a term such as "B.C.E." It was because she was a dolt.

The Rabbi, bless him, was extremely diplomatic, but I could tell by the initial silence that he was as dumbfounded by this question as I was. He haltingly explained, as nicely as possible, that Mary really doesn’t enter into the minds of most Jews, generally speaking. The Priest tried to help by saying something to the effect of such a thing not being on the radar of most Jewish people and the Rabbi gratefully grabbed onto this lifeline being offered. The Minister said something profound. I think it was, "Oh, I see."

What in the Hell could she possibly have expected this poor fellow to answer? It boggles the mind. She may as well have asked him if he wanted a bite of her ham sandwich and would he like to wash it down with a big glass of clam juice.)


My macaroni is done, so I’m going to eat. There’s more than one thing bothering me, though, so I’ll be back.


OK, I’m back.

Allen Iverson has demanded to be traded. There is talk of the Celtics acquiring him.

No. Please, No.

First off, I don’t ever want anyone on my team who has demanded to be traded from his current team. Who knows how long it will be before he becomes as disgruntled in your town and demands to be traded again?

Second, there is no way Iverson can work effectively on a team that includes both Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak. There just are not enough basketballs to go around for a team like that. Iverson will take at least 20 shots and given the chance, he’ll take 45 or 50.

(I’m not saying that Iverson is a totally selfish player. Despite the number of shots he puts up, I truly believe he isn’t just looking for his own numbers. He’s a warrior and I appreciate his hustle and willingness to bust his chops. However, you can’t have three guys like that on a team and expect anything but chaos.)

(You could offer Szczerbiak or Pierce in the trade, of course, but the Sixers have shown no interest in Szczerbiak and you’d be an absolute moron to offer Pierce.)

Third, the Celtics do not need a guard, even one of Iverson’s experience and talent. They have two potentially fine guards now and maybe a third.

Rajon Rondo is something special. He’ll prove that soon to the basketball world at large, once he starts getting more playing time. He is a superb passer and well above average defensively. Delonte West is perhaps the best defensive player on the team and all he needs is a continuing defined role instead of being shuffled from point to shooting guard and back to the point again. He is tremendous under pressure, the best foul shooter on the team and a three-point threat.

Sebastian Telfair may or may not be as good a player as he’s been touted. For whatever reason, he’s been ordained permanent starting point guard. I’d much rather see Rondo there, but Telfair definitely has skills; he’s not a bum. And Tony Allen is a good defensive player, one I’m willing to look at further to see if he can play up to the potential he’s shown over the 3+ seasons he’s been here.

In any case, we don’t need a guard.

Fourth, I don’t want to give up the players we’d need to give up to get Iverson. Al Jefferson? He’s finally having the type of games that I’ve been predicting for the past two years. There isn’t anybody in the league I’d trade Jefferson for at this point. Gerald Green? Rondo? West? Kendrick Perkins? Ryan Gomes? Pierce??? I don’t want to lose any of those guys. I still believe the Celtics have as much talent – albeit much of it raw – as any team in the NBA.

Getting Iverson would be a short-term fix, probably guaranteeing a playoff spot for a few years, but also fairly much guaranteeing no championships during that same time span.

We don’t need Iverson. What we need is patience.


Now, what else is currently making me angry?

I guess there’s that Iraq thing, what with people being maimed, mutilated, blown to bits and dying. World Hunger is a shame. All the talk about global warming comes to mind. AIDS is pretty bad, huh?

No. Petulant point guards and petty linguistics. That’s what really steams me.

Oy. Tomorrow, with what would have to be - by default - more better stuff.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Suldog's Home For Wayward Fruitcakes

[Those of you who have been coming here for a while will recognize this piece. It is from last year on approximately the same date. As a matter of fact, I should probably give you a general warning: the longer you come here, the more often you'll find out just how lazy a bugger I am. As long as nobody shoots me or anything, I'll just keep reprinting the same stuff, over and over.

(This goes for the "new" pieces, too. I'll recycle jokes enough times to get an award from The Sierra Club. However, I digress.)

Be that as it may - and it usually is - here is my heartfelt plea, from last year, for fruitcake clemency.]


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.

[2006 addendum: I have already received one fruitcake this holiday season. It came from my Uncle Jim - which, by the way, sounds like the title of a really campy horror flick. However, as delicious as it looks, it will not be enough. More! I need more fruitcakes! Send them, NOW! And I thank you.)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Holiday Party Pictures

As semi-promised yesterday, more pictures from the Marketing Messages holiday party.

No, that's not me above. It's the 18th hole. Get your ball in the evil clown's mouth and you get a hole-in-one. You also get a hole-in-one if you get it all the way to the back on either side of the evil clown's head. It is a rather simple hole. However, I managed to ricochet my ball off of the back wall and have it return down the ramp to the tee. I had to take a 2. Pitiful.

(Greg, the boss's son, offered me five bucks if I would just rear back and drive the ball through one of the evil clown's eyes. I declined. If I knew then that I was going to end up taking a 2 on the hole anyway, I might have done it.)

These pictures were all taken by Rich Snider a.k.a. The Boss. Therefore, he doesn't appear in any of them. Next party, I've got to remember to commandeer the camera so that some photos get taken of him. It seems a shame that he chronicles all of our good times but doesn't show up in any of the photos himself.

There are also no photos of his wife, Lynda. I suspect that this is because she's probably like MY WIFE. On the rare occasions when I've had a disposable camera, she always makes horrible faces when I point the thing at her, saying, "Aaargghh! Don't take any pictures of me!" The sad thing is that she's easily 100 times more photogenic than I am and I'm the exact opposite, in that you can't possibly take enough pictures of me to satisfy my ego.

To get things off to a magnificently cute start, we have Birdie Nelson. As an added bonus, we have her mom, Mandy.

MY WIFE and I actually bought that outfit as a present for Maggie, Birdie's big sister, a couple of Christmasses ago. Maggie is 2 now and we we're glad to see that it got another use.

Why, here's Maggie now! I wish they had given me that club to use. It might have cut a stroke or two from my score.

Here's Dan, father of the extremely cute Maggie & Birdie.

Here is MY WIFE, resplendent in Christmassy-Hollified shirt and gold shoes.

This is Greg, the guy who tried to hire me as a clown hitman. If he'd offered me ten bucks instead of five, I probably wouldn't have hesitated.

This is Greg's fiance, Heather.

Here's Alyson, on the left, along with Heather Scafati. Heather (not to be confused with Heather) occupies the office directly to my right, unless you're in my office and facing out because then it's on the left. In any case, she's next door. Pity her.

This is Tara, no doubt telling me that no matter what happens here on the golf course, she's going to kick my ass in air hockey. And so she did. No, wait a minute. That's my arm in the background on the right, so she can't be talking to me. So, it appears that she's telling someone else that she'll kick their ass.

Oh, OK, here's a nicer picture of Tara, along with her nice son, Dallas.

Here's some wino.

Here's some more cuteness.

And here's The End. See you soon. *

* If Tara doesn't kick my ass.

Friday, December 01, 2006

101 Years Old Today

I originally published this piece one year ago today, on the occasion of my Grandma's 100th birthday. Today, she is 101.

There isn't much to add to what I wrote last year. It mostly concerns the past and the past hasn't changed. However, on the way into work this morning, I did think of a couple of things to mention.

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

The final verse contains the lines:

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

My Grandma is 101. This means that anyone who sings that song believes she is 9 years too old to wish a Merry Christmas. Well, my Grandma likes Christmas just as much as anyone, damn it. I propose changing the ninety-two to one-oh-two. It still fits the meter and is more inclusive.

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

The other thing I thought of is that anyone who reaches the age of 100 should receive some sort of prize package. You know, some coupons and maybe a candy bar and some flowers. It is a prodigious achievement, after all, and the least we could do, as a society, is give a person, say, 20% off at Starbucks or something. This could increase by 10% with each birthday, so that by the time you were 108, you'd get your mochachino half-decaf latte expresso grande for free - which, considering fixed incomes and the prices at Starbucks, would add up to a significant savings and might allow these folks to afford heating oil.

Anyway, when you see the figure "100" below, substitute "101". Thank you.


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.


That is to say, Happy 101st Birthday, Grandma. I love you.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tales From The Kitchen Of Chef Dumbass

I just now finished stripping the Thanksgiving turkey. What a magnificent bird! Even after almost a week’s worth of dinners, I was still able to fill a plate with close to two pounds of choice meat. Yum!

Having done that, and having received the following comment from Ericka concerning yesterday's entry...

“I have, in the past, flipped the d*mn bird onto the floor trying to get it off the rack and onto a serving platter. Stupid bird."

... I am reminded of a few stories concerning food that, unlike this year’s blessed bird, did NOT bring a smile to my face. I suppose since we’re already talking turkey, I can relate a few of the less savory stories concerning those I’ve cooked and then go on from there.

Like Ericka, I once put my bird on the kitchen floor. And, as I told her in reply to her comment from yesterday, I’m not going to say when – just in case anyone who ate that bird is reading this. Hey, if it didn’t taste like linoleum, then why worry? Are you alive? I’m assuming you are, since you’re reading this, so whichever bird it was, even if it was one you ate, you were none the wiser until this very moment, so don’t grouse about it.

(Grouse. Heh-heh. That's a fowl joke. If I were to string a few of those together here, I bet you'd want to knock the stuffing out of me. I won’t, though – I’m too chicken. I’m game, you understand. I could give you a literary goosing. I mean, some puns I can be as proud as a peacock about. However, that type appears to be as scarce as hen’s teeth in this paragraph, so please forgive my digressing and owl me to go on as if nothing happened.)

(OWL ME TO GO ON? Oh, Jim, you’ve sunk to a new low.)

I am also reminded of the time I cooked a turkey without first removing a bag full of giblets from the neck cavity. I correctly did everything that was supposed to be done with the other end of the bird. Surprisingly, the turkey itself tasted just fine, but it was a shock to find them there.

Of course, I’ve had my share of burned meals; things left too long in frying pans or in pots on the stove. There isn’t a cook alive who hasn’t burned something at some time or another. One instance stands out in my memory because it was so stupid, even I have trouble believing I did it and I was there.

I was perhaps 17 years old and had just come home from a night of doing benign drugs with my buddies in Dorchester. That is, we had been smoking pot. I was having a severe attack of the munchies. What I wanted more than anything in the world was a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches. What I wanted less than anything in the world was to drag a frying pan out of the kitchen cabinet and work at preparing them.

(Yes, I know, it’s not like preparing grilled cheese sandwiches is all that strenuous an undertaking. Hey, I said this was a stupid story.)

What I did was take four slices of bread and a couple of slices of American cheese. I put a slice of cheese between two slices of bread. I did it again. I then pressed as hard as I could on these cold sandwiches, compressing them. Then, I did the stupid thing. I put them into the toaster and went into the living room to watch TV until they popped up.

Well, do I really have to tell you how it turned out? Yuck! Ruined the toaster, of course. The kitchen was full of smoke and smelled exactly like you might imagine – of burned cheese and burned bread and bad electricity. The smoke was so thick and so foul that it woke my father from a sound sleep, one floor up, and he came downstairs and gave me holy hell. And, boy, did I deserve it. What a maroon!

(That’s why they call it... Oh, shut up.)

Another time I let a pan full of macaroni cook dry in a beautiful piece of Revereware. Well, it was beautiful before that, anyway. Just totally forgot that I had it on the stove and took a nap on the couch. This time, the fumes woke me up instead of my Dad. From that night on, we had only three pieces of Revereware instead of four. It was utterly unsalvageable. The macaroni was black and stuck to the bottom of the pan as though nature had intended it that way from the beginning of time.

Now, having told you these tales of catastrophic cuisine, I want it to be known that I’m actually quite a good cook. Not a chef, mind you; I’m not that full of myself. However, I have no doubt whatsoever that the folks who eat my meals on a regular or semi-regular basis will gladly tell you that I serve good food, prepared well.

I learned how to cook from both my Mom and my Dad, but mostly from my Dad. The men on that side of the family were almost all good cooks and some of them, going back a generation or two, were even professional chefs. An ancestor of mine on the Sullivan side of the family was the chef who, while working at The Parker House in Boston, invented the Parker House Roll.

I have to relate all of this good stuff about my lineage and abilities so that the story I’m about to tell you won’t just leave you with a picture of me as a psychotic idiot who shouldn’t be let within thirty feet of a kitchen without someone standing by with a tranquilizer gun. Probably won’t make a difference, but I had to try anyway.

About twelve years ago, on some special occasion or other, I decided to make a grand dinner and also bake a cake. I think it may have been Canada Day. We’re not Canadian, but MY WIFE and I like excuses to eat. Anyway, the dinner would be a roast of beef; horseradish mashed potatoes; homemade gravy; julienne green beans; and pureed turnip (or rutabaga – yellow turnip, that is, which goes so well with a roast.) The cake would be a chocolate layer cake with vanilla cream frosting, served with freshly ground and brewed coffee when we retired to the living room. There, while soft romantic music played and candles provided the light, we’d say kind words about our neighbors to the north and maybe exchange a few smooches.

Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Well, as you ladies know (and probably a few of you men, too, but you’re too macho to admit it) beauty requires a lot of hard work. I won’t bore you with a lot of details, but the prep work – cleaning the house to make it lovely, sous chef stuff, arranging the table, setting the candles, etc. – took a while and left me with little time to spare between when I had to make the cake (NOW!) and then start preparing the main courses.

I’ll make this a bit more compact of a story by telling you that the layers of the cake had come out of the oven looking lovely. I prepared my confectioner’s sugar and vanilla butter frosting while the cake cooled enough to be removed from the pans. Everything was on schedule and looking great.

Finally, the cake had cooled enough and I removed the layers from their pans, placing one - the bottom layer, of course - on a plate. I ladled out some of the frosting onto this layer and spread it evenly. I then placed another layer over it, spread more frosting, then the final layer on top of that. I proceeded to frost the outside of the cake, artistically putting little peaks and swirls onto the top surface while smoothing the sides.

I was just about done with the cake when I noticed a tiny little bare patch on the side. I lifted the plate with my left hand and regarded this little bit of cake nudity. Easy enough to fix - just a small dollop of frosting needed. I counterbalanced the plate for a few seconds with my right hand while positioning it on the splayed fingers of my left hand – somewhat like how a waiter carries a tray of food with one hand, you know, and I held the cake that way at eye level. I then turned to get a small spatula full of frosting from the bowl on the counter.

The plate tilted. The cake fell onto the kitchen floor. SPLAT.

It fell top down. I still had the plate, but the plate had no cake.

What happened next was pure unthinking reaction. I was seeing red, fairly much blind with rage. I growled a polysyllabic swear word and then did the one ridiculous thing that could have made matters worse.


Honestly, I did. I reared back and did an Adam Vinatieri on it. And now there was freaking chocolate cake and gooey frosting everywhere; on the floor, on the walls, on the tablecloth, on the stove, on the kitchen door, on the counter and on my heretofore white canvas sneaker.

The double-jointed expletive that flew out of my mouth would have rivaled the best that a convention of Tourette’s sufferers could have come up with given a week to work on it.

Thankfully, I had enough presence of mind not to throw the plate that was still in my hand. I laid it down on the counter and surveyed the damage. And then, God help me, I started to laugh; just a little at first, but then it burst from me like a loon. What else was there to do? It was either that or cry. I slumped down onto the cake-covered floor and laughed until I was gasping. It was just too hideous a scene to do anything else.

Long story short, I cleaned everything up – it took a good hour at least and I can assure you I didn't keep laughing the whole time – made another less elaborate cake, cooked the dinner and then, because I couldn’t keep a straight face over dessert, told MY WIFE all about it. It has become legend between us as perhaps the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in the kitchen, if not life overall, and that covers a lot of ground, believe me.

Tomorrow with more better stuff, on the occasion of my Grandma’s 101st birthday. I will not be baking her a cake, so she has a good chance to make it to 102.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

47 Minutes Of Random Thoughts

It is Tuesday afternoon and I just got home from work. I am going to write until MY WIFE gets home from work. I expect that will happen in about thirty minutes or so.

I have no plan other than to record the random thoughts that pop into my head. And when I say random, you best believe I mean random, R-A-N-D-U-M-B. God be with you.

On the way home, I was listening to a CD of Benny Goodman. The song that was playing as I pulled into the driveway was Sing, Sing, Sing. I’ve always thought that could be worked into a dynamite heavy metal jam. Other swing tunes that I’d like to see tackled by an excellent heavy metal band (Deep Purple comes readily to mind) are Glenn Miller’s In The Mood, Tommy Dorsey’s Opus One and Song of India (which is actually based on a theme by Rimsky-Korsakov) and Charlie Barnet’s Cherokee. I’ve thought about this sort of thing - an entire session of nothing but big band tunes done in metal style - for over thirty years now, ever since I was in my first band, but I’ve never done anything about it. I probably never will.

If I were a rich man (which would not make a good heavy metal tune) I would have electrolysis done on certain areas of my body. Should I say which ones or leave it up to your imagination? No, I suppose I should tell you. The things you could imagine would be way too gruesome. My ears. There is hair growing in my freaking ears. As a result, I stick a razor as far into my ears as possible once or twice a month in an attempt to stem the tide. Occasionally, in so doing, I cut my ear. Well, duh. That’s what happens when you’re dumb enough to stick a fucking razor in your ear. It’s still better than being aggravated (tickled, really) by the hairs if they get too long.

I mean, what the fuck. I started losing the hair where I wanted it to grow when I was about 20 and I started growing hair in all sorts of places I didn’t want it at all when I was about 40. Should I expect something hideously-hair-related to happen every twenty years? What, when I’m 60 will my chest hair migrate to my back? When I’m 80, will my eyelashes start growing out of my eyeballs? I want my money back. Life is a gyp.

Aw, that’s kind of cute, in a morbid way, but it’s not true. Life is good, generally. I just had a great Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas is coming up. The company holiday party is this coming Monday and that should be fun. We’re going to have an amusement center all to ourselves. Miniature golf, skeeball, air hockey, that sort of thing. I have a bet of sorts with our office manager. She said that she’s the Queen of Air Hockey. I told her that I’d kick her ass in miniature golf. If we end up tied after those two events, the tiebreaker will be the skeeball. There will, of course, have to be something good riding on this. Perhaps, oh, I don’t know, something to do with getting naked, climbing on top of a desk in the middle of the office, and singing a song about how the other person is the almighty all-time sports champion and rocks her entire world.

No, that wouldn’t be any good for her. I’ve got hair growing out of my ears, for goodness’ sakes, so why would she want to take a chance at seeing what might be happening under my clothes? And I can carry a tune, but only if you provide me with a bucket. I’m sure we’ll think of something good. I’ll let you know.

It is now officially after Thanksgiving, of course, so I’m not pissed off when I hear Christmas music. As a matter of fact, I’ve broken out the Christmas CDs at home and started listening to them. Here are my favorites, in no particular order.

Christmas Eve And Other Stories – The Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Hard rock, metal and other interesting renditions of traditional carols, woven into a tapestry of original tunes. Powerful and moving.

Yules Of Yore – Various Artists (Nick At Nite Records)

Cheesy old renditions by folks such as Mike Douglas and Jim Nabors. Nostalgic.

All-Star Christmas – Various Artists

Like the above, but a bit less schmaltz. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and that bunch.

Twelve Songs Of Christmas – Jim Reeves

I don’t know. There’s just something about Jim Reeves voice that transports me back to a gentler time. One somewhat racist tune (Senor Santa Claus) but the rest is easy on the ears and makes me feel warm all over.

Merry Xmas From The Space Age Bachelor Pad – Esquivel

If you aren’t familiar with Esquivel, there’s no easy way to describe his music. “Weird” is the easiest adjective, but that doesn’t do it justice. Deceptively intricate orchestral arrangements full of odd backing vocals – “Zoom, zoom, boink, boink”.

Boogie Woogie Christmas – The Brian Setzer Orchestra

Great rocking Christmas album. Big Band flavors with rockabilly guitar. Great stuff.

There are other Christmas CDs I like a lot – The John Rutter Christmas Album, Christmas Cocktails, Christmas On The Bandstand - but we have some 30 of them, so I have to stop somewhere. Anyway, I just thought of something else having to do with CDs and Christmas.

The other day, MY WIFE asked me what I wanted for Christmas. She does this every year. She does it because she loves me and she wants to get me something that I’ll really like. However, I’m always uncomfortable answering a question like that. It seems too greedy somehow. So, every year I never really give her an answer. This year, though, I’ve decided that I will answer her and the following is my answer.

I want some CDs.

For some time now, I’ve wanted the following CDs. I haven’t bought them myself because I’ve got a buttload of CDs already and we’ve been trying to cut back on silly personal expenses, you know, stuff like lottery tickets. If somebody wants to buy me some CDs as a gift, though, here are the CDs I’d like to have.

(If anybody aside from MY WIFE sees this list and decides to buy me a CD, that person should probably coordinate that purchase with MY WIFE who might, maybe, keep a master list of those being purchased, perhaps like.)

(Of course, the above is basically me begging people to buy CDs for me as presents. See what happens when you ask me what I want and I actually answer that question? The greedy pig in me comes front and center. Too late now, Pandora, I’m out of the box.)

(No, MY WIFE’s name isn’t Pandora.)

Grand Funk – Grand Funk (The Red Album, so called because, well, it’s red. If it’s not red, you’ve got the wrong one. Put it back and get me Closer To Home, so called because, well, that’s its name.)

The Allman Brothers Band – Live At The Filmore East

The J. Geils Band – Full House

Focus – Moving Waves

Steppenwolf – Greatest Hits

Alice Cooper – Billion Dollar Babies

Black Sabbath – Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath

The Beatles – There are two collections. The first is entitled something like 1962 – 1965 and the second is 1966 – 1968 or something similar. I’d like to have both of them, but I prefer the latter. The album covers both feature The Beatles posing on the balcony of an apartment building, as I remember.

And there you have it: My Christmas List.

MY WIFE just came home so that’s that, as promised. Bye!

(I just typed in the title of this piece while saving it to disk. Imagine that. 47 minutes for me to come up with this garbage. I sure as hell hope it took you less time to read it.)

P.S. Just in case it took you longer than 47 minutes, here’s another 5 minutes or so that might make it worth your while. I had a brainstorm this past Thanksgiving and I shall now share said brainstorm with you, you’re welcome.

Every year, it is a pain in the ass to get the turkey out of the pan. The damn thing usually weighs about twenty pounds and I somehow manage to get it out of the pan and onto a platter only by grabbing it with various kitchen implements like forks, spatulas and oven mitts and wrestling it precariously out, usually splattering pan drippings on the floor and burning my hands, as well as leaving pieces of the bird in the pan. This year, I invented a way to get it out painlessly and cleanly.

I used a pair of shoelaces.

What I did was drape a pair of shoelaces on the bottom of the pan before putting the bird in, leaving them dangling out of either side of the pan. They were about six inches apart. I then placed the bird on top of the shoelaces and tied the ends of the laces together. When the bird was cooked, I simply grabbed the tied shoelaces and lifted straight up. It worked perfectly.

Yes, shoelaces. Twenty-eight inch white shoelaces. I cleaned them before I put them into the pan, running them under hot water and scrubbing them in case there might have been some sort of finish on them. They were clean to begin with, anyway. They were new. I didn’t just take my dirty shoelaces from the sneakers I wear every day and put them into the oven with my Thanksgiving dinner. And nobody died.

(Now, there may well be a perfectly sane invention out there, of a similar nature, that I could have used and which you know about, but I had to think on my feet - so to speak. My method worked like a charm and I’m proud of myself, thanks.)

I’m going to go have my supper now – some lovely turkey, not even a tiny trace of shoelace in any of it - and then maybe shave my ears. If I don’t bleed to death or get botulism, I’ll see you tomorrow.