Monday, December 31, 2007


I don't do resolutions.

(Revolutions, yes. Resolutions, no.)

I see no point in setting myself up to be even more disappointed in myself than I already am. I refuse to make a bunch of promises I know I won't keep.

Hey, wait a minute! Maybe I can use reverse psychology on myself! Yeah, that's the ticket!

(This is a pretty flimsy text for a bit, even for me. Play along. What have you got to lose aside from the five minutes of your life that you'll never get back?)


* I resolve to smoke at least 7,500 cigarettes in the coming year.

(Oops! It's a leap year. Make that 7,520.)

* I resolve to gain another 10 pounds before Easter.

* I resolve to never change the oil in my car until it is at least 200 miles past the time when I should have done so.

* I resolve to wear cloth sneakers, at least one time, in both a driving rainstorm and a raging blizzard.

* I resolve to eat red meat at least 100 times in 2008.

* I resolve to let some broccoli rot in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator.

* I resolve to watch the Three Stooges at least 10 times when I could be doing something new and different.

* I resolve to leave the sidewalk and driveway unshoveled following a major snowstorm, thus ensuring that my car will be stuck for a week and that there will be no mail delivery during the same timespan.

* I resolve to follow up every decent blog posting with some piece of crap that will drive away whatever readers I accumulated with the good stuff.

* I resolve to curse and swear and throw temper tantrums whenever the tiniest and most insignificant things happen to upset me. Specifically, I shall continue to cry whenever I spill milk.

* I resolve to take three-hour naps every Saturday, rather than getting outside for some exercise and sunshine.

* I resolve to never walk anywhere so long as my car has gas in it.

* I resolve to drink as much coffee as there is in the pot, and then to make another pot. I resolve to use cream and sugar in every cup. I resolve to put a cigarette out in at least one mug during the coming year.

* I resolve to let the laundry pile up until it overflows the hamper.

* I resolve to eat an entire beef stick summer sausage, in one sitting, at least six times.

* Having retired from competitive sports, I resolve to do absolutely nothing during the times when I would have been playing softball, except eat beef stick summer sausages, drink coffee with cream and sugar, watch the Three Stooges, and smoke.

I've never yet kept a New Years resolution. Next year at this time, I should be the healthiest man alive. Wish me no luck in keeping them.

Soon (next year, really) with more better stuff.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Pointy The Poinsettia - My Christmas Gift To You

As Robert Burns once noted...

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men aft gang agley

Modern translation: Things often wind up in the crapper, no matter how much care you thought you took. And thus it was with our Christmas card for this year.

Lovely, no?

Well, inside of the card, we included a CD. It was the story of Pointy The Poinsettia (that's who the photo is of, of course) recorded by yours truly. It included music and sound effects and was (if I may say so, and who's going to stop me?) a lovely little bit of fluff, full of gentle laughs and heart-tugging sniffles. We expected it would receive general approbation, if not glorious applause.

What it received was a stomping by the United States Postal Service.

Out of the 50 or so CDs we mailed, TWO appear to have gotten through the mails safely. The remainder were received cracked, grooved, peeling, broken, smashed, and otherwise as though the mailman had danced a tarantella on it and then dropkicked it into the mailbox.

We got phone calls expressing disappointment. Although we wish we hadn't had to receive those calls, it did give us pause to consider how much our friends and family love us. If they didn't care, they wouldn't have called. They really DID want to hear the CD. Yay!

However, as I said, they couldn't. Boo!

We will send replacements to everyone who called, and even to some who didn't.

In the meantime, I've decided to try something I've never done here before. I'm going to attempt to post an audio file. And that audio file is...

POINTY THE POINSETTIA (An Original Christmas Tale)

Well, OK, I couldn't figure out how to post an audio file to Blogger. I'm not at all sure that it's possible, actually. However, the link will take you to a page where you can access the audio file. It's rather lengthy, so please give it a chance to load.

I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

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 20, 2007

I Am Spartacus!

Yesterday, I told you that I was dumb as a block of ice.

Today, I am KING of the ice.

Today, I’m the balls.

(Say it with a New York accent. It’s one of the few things that sound better that way.)

I am Da Man.

I am Spartacus!

Last night, I cleared my thirty-five foot snow-covered ice-encrusted driveway.

By myself.

I used nothing but a shovel.

It took me three-and-a-half hours. I sweated like a pig, even in the 30-something degree weather. I have cramps in both my hands from gripping the shovel. It was easily the best workout I’ve had since softball season ended, and I’ll feel it for a couple of days in my legs and shoulders.

But I damn well did it.

Me. Myself. I, Spartacus!

So, yesterday I told you I was waiting for a phone call from a guy with a Bobcat. He was going to tell me if he could do the job for me. I was willing to pay him whatever he charged.

He never called.

So, it got to be 1:30 at the office, this guy hadn’t called, and I knew I had to tackle the driveway myself, while the temperature was above freezing. It was supposed to snow again last night. If I didn’t clear the driveway NOW, I might not get my car out until April. I left work and started walking to the bus stop.

It’s a ten-minute walk to the stop from work. When I got there, there was another fellow waiting. I stood there, looking for the bus to come, and he kind of sidled up close to me and… stared. So, I stared back at him. Then he spoke.

"Do you know the Green Bay Packers?"

Well, that certainly wasn’t what I might have expected him to say. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but that sure wasn’t it.

I said, "Yeah, sure. Why?"

He said, "You look a lot like Brett Favre. Has anybody ever told you that?"

I had to admit that he was the first one to ever make that comparison.

He was harmless - and not blessed with good vision. As other folks came up to the bus stop, he engaged every one of them in conversation of some sort or another. He was just a friendly not-overly-bright sort of guy.

As the bus rounded the corner towards our stop, he again approached me and said, "Nobody’s ever told you that you look like him, huh?"

I again said no.

"You don’t think you look like him. I can tell. Do you?"

I said, "Maybe just a teeny bit, but that’s probably because I haven’t shaved lately."

That made him giggle. We both got on the bus.

I won’t bore you with any more details of my bus rides. Suffice to say I arrived home at a bit before three o’clock. I immediately grabbed my shovel and went to work.

And ball-busting backbreaking work it was, too. But you knew that. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be Spartacus, would I?

I finished the miserable job at 6:35. I drove Roddy (my car, and the best damn car in the world, too, and well it should be, because I am SPARTACUS!) out of the garage and filled his tank at the gas station. It was the least I could do, considering how I tried to abuse him Monday morning, trying to plow him through the shit it took me THREE-AND-A-HALF HOURS to clear.

(By myself. Me. Alone. MISTER Spartacus.)

After gassing up, I celebrated by going to the store and buying rock salt. On the way out of the store, I heard a Salvation Army bell ringer. I was in such a good mood, I dropped a twenty into his bucket and wished him a Merry Christmas. What cares Spartacus for filthy lucre, except the good it may do others? I climbed into Roddy, put the rock salt by the passenger seat, and flipped on the Nat King Cole CD I had in the player. To the strains of The Christmas Song ("Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...") I went and, as befits me, the man among men and (did I mention?) freakin’ SPARTACUS, I got two double cheeseburgers and a large fry.

They were damned good, too.

I wolfed down the burgers and fries, and then took a bracing hot shower. After toweling off, I still felt so Spartacus-like, I decided to throw on only a pair of jeans. No underwear; no shirt; no socks. Definitely no slippers. My boys are free-range, as befits someone like... Oh, I don’t know... maybe... SPARTACUS?!?

By the way, I no longer want to hear any talk about shoveling and heart attacks. If last night didn’t kill me, no shoveling ever will. Hell, shoveling and cheeseburgers and fries and cigarettes, too, because I may be Spartacus, but I didn’t say I’m overly bright. Anyway, if I ever do have a heart attack while I’m shoveling, it will be because it was my time, plain and simple. The shoveling itself will not cause it. How could it?


Well, either that or Brett Favre.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dumb As A Block Of Ice

Did I ever tell you that I'm the stupidest man on the face of the earth?

No? Well, I would have assumed that you knew that by now, from reading this stuff, but just in case you haven't figured it out, I am. Let me give you a case in point.

Last week, it snowed here in the Boston area. 8 inches. You can usually discount such a figure as bragging when a guy says it, but in this case it was absolutely true. Anyway, the commute home that night was one of the worst in the city's history. Due to a number of extenuating circumstances, rides that usually take 30 minutes were turned into four and five hour nightmares. My own trek, from Newton to Watertown, took 90 minutes. It is generally an easygoing 15 minute ride.

I mostly spent that 90 minutes cursing out the people with whom I was sharing the road. It seemed to me I was the only one on the road who actually knew how to maneuver an automobile through snow. The people in front of me seemed content to plod along at 5 mph in zones usually traversed at 30 or 35.

Now, I understand the need for caution in dangerous conditions. I was willing to slow down to a reasonable 15 or 20, as the situation called for it, but most of the time it was just a matter of feeling the way your car was reacting to the road. If I felt a slip, or if the steering wheel started wanting to go opposite of the way I hoped, I let up on the accelerator. If need be, I applied the brakes in an even fashion. There was nothing on the road that, in my opinion, called for more than a 50% reduction in speed. Visibility was good enough to not have to slow to a crawl.

When I finally did arrive home - an hour later than I expected to - I did as I always do. I backed into my driveway. I did so with no rear window visibility. I used the mirrors on either side of the car to guide myself along the 35-foot drive and into the garage. I did not hit the house on my left, nor did I hit the fence on my right, and I left my upstairs neighbor's BMW, which was already in the garage and which I parked alongside of, completely unscathed.

After parking, I went back outside and did some shoveling. I cleared the sidewalk and the walkway to our front door. I started to clear the driveway, but only did about the first ten feet leading to the street. It was clear to me that if I could back in to the garage through 8 inches of snow, I could damn well get out through it in the morning going forwards. I saw no need to shovel the whole thing, especially since there was almost no place to put whatever snow I shoveled. The house is on the left, the fence is on the right, and you can only pile it so high against either structure before there just physically isn't anywhere to add more.

And, you know what? I was right. In the morning, I put Roddy - that's what MY WIFE and I call our car - into gear, started forward, and I had almost no trouble at all plowing through the snow and getting out to the street.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. Another storm hits. Another 8 inches.

In between the storms, our upstairs neighbors had their first child. They were at the hospital two days. They came home on Sunday. Before they came home, I had shoveled the walkway and the sidewalk again, but only about five feet of the driveway. I figured I'd wait until the plows were done on the streets before tackling the whole 10 or 15 feet I planned on doing. Why waste time shoveling out stuff that the plows would just deposit back in front of the driveway?

It gets to be about 5 pm and I look out the window. My upstairs neighbor, Peter, is shoveling the driveway. I decide it would be neighborly to go out and help him. He just had a child after all; he's probably pretty tired. Also, I want to hear him tell me about his new kid. It's all good.

So, I'm shoveling, and he tells me about his new daughter, and we get about ten feet into the driveway and we both sort of agree that as long as we have room to put one of his cars in the front of the driveway and off the street, that should be enough for now. I tell him I'm sure I can plow my way through the rest of the snow. I did it the rest of the week before this new stuff. I can do it again.

Peter seems slightly skeptical, but not enough to make him want to keep shoveling. We both head inside, after he parks his car in the cleared spot. When I want to get out in the morning, he'll move it. I go to bed with no dread other than that I usually associate with having to face Monday morning.

Comes the dawn, and I'm ready to go. Showered, dressed, Roddy warming up in the garage. Peter has heard me moving around downstairs, so he's come down to move his car. I go back inside and wait for him to do so.

I'm watching him, and talking to MY WIFE. There has been about four inches of snow plowed back into the very front of the driveway. Peter gets out of his car, grabs a shovel and starts removing some of this piddling bit of white stuff.

I say, to MY WIFE, "Oh, man. Peter really doesn't know how to drive in the snow. He should just plow right through that. It's no big deal."

He finishes clearing what he wants to, moves the car onto the street, and goes back into the house. I now go out and get into Roddy.

On my way out to actually get into Roddy, I walk down the driveway. There is a frozen crust of ice on top of the 25 feet of snow I need to traverse. With each step, I break through this crust and sink in.

It is while I'm doing this that I get my first suspicion that maybe I've made an error in judgment. The snow I'm sinking into, covered in a two-inch thick ice crust, is coming up to the bottom of my knees.

I hop into Roddy and turn on the heat. I'm surveying the scene in front of me and doubt is starting to creep into my mind. However, I said I could do it and what am I going to do if I don't do it? I have to do it. I put Roddy into gear and give him some gas.

Roddy sped along for about eight feet, like a trooper - then stopped as if he had hit a brick wall. I put my foot on the brake and shifted into reverse, to get another running start. Nothing. No movement.

OK. This wasn't going to be easy, but no problem. I know how to get a car out of a situation like this. You don't just gun the thing and dig a bigger hole for yourself. You keep shifting gears, forward and reverse, applying the brake when you reach the apex of each direction, until you have a bit of room to move in.

Nuh-uh. Nothing. I wasn't moving an inch either way. I tried turning the wheels to get a bit of different surface. Nope.

I put Roddy into park and got out of the car. I looked at the tires. I cleared around them as best as I could. Got back into the car and tried again. Nada.

Need I go on? No, I didn't think so.

I called work and took the day off. I figured that I'd do the work I should have done on Sunday, once the temperature rose a bit. I'd put in the hard labor and clear the damn driveway as much as possible. It would suck, but I could do it.

No, I couldn't. The temp never rose to above freezing that day, and trying to clear that stuff was a fruitless undertaking. I resigned myself - with much cursing - to having to take public transportation on Tuesday and attacking the driveway when the temps rose above freezing - whenever that might be.

It is now Wednesday. I took the bus (actually, TWO buses) again today. I am awaiting a return call from a fellow with a Bobcat front-end-loader. I am hoping he can clear the damn driveway, and I'm willing to pay him a premium to do so. This is because Christmas is next week and it's going to be one miserable holiday if I can't free Roddy from the glacier by this weekend. I'll have to rent a car for three or four days and I will STILL probably have to pay to have my driveway serviced.

Instead of doing 30 minutes worth of hard work on Sunday, I have suffered through three days of dread, anxiety, public transportation, and recriminations. I will probably end up shelling out a couple hundred dollars, one way or the other.

It is expected to snow again tonight.

And that is why I am the stupidest man on the face of the earth. Anyone care to argue?

I didn't think so.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bizarro Boomer Santa

One of my favorite childhood memories is of a white-bearded fat man dressed all in red. Every December, this fellow would show up and bring great joy to children. If you’re somewhere between 40 and 60, you probably have the same fond memories of this man.

Now, those of you younger than 40 or older than 60 are probably sitting there shaking your heads, saying something like this: “Jim, why do you think I have to be between 40 and 60 to have a fond memory of Santa Claus? Santa Claus was around before you hit the scene, and he’ll be here long after you’re gone, too. What’s the deal?”

My Santa Claus rode an electric razor down a snow-covered hill.

The people younger than 40 just went, “Huh?”

The people older than 60 continue to shake their heads. They know what I’m talking about now, but they find it hard to believe that this memory is as tremendously fond a one as I’m letting on.

Meanwhile, my generation just went, “Oh, yeah! Wow! NORELCO! That was SO cool! I wish I could see that again...”

Your wish is my command! Here you go!

I am part of the most bizarrely warped generation ever. And we thank you.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(Nah, that's a lie. What could be better than this was?)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cable TV Is The Anti-Christ

What do I want to watch? Anything aside from a blank screen, and thanks for asking.

Don't worry. I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to sit here and rant about cable. You've sat through that before and you don't need to hear it again.

Well... maybe just a little. Sorry!

Last week, our cable stopped delivering programming. It didn't go out totally; we still had the on-screen viewguide. It's just that we couldn't see any of the wonderful programs that the viewguide told us we should be able to see. We'd flip to a channel, expecting to see said channel and be entertained by it, but instead we saw...


... which wasn't very entertaining at all after the first five minutes or so.

It was the same for every channel to which we had subscribed. Just an otherwise blank screen with that baldfaced lie on it. I called Comcast.

To be truthful, MY WIFE called Comcast, and God bless her for that. I have had surgeries less painful than calling Comcast. The last time I called Comcast concerning a service outage... well, here's the obscenity-laced rant that followed. You'll want to open it only if you have an asbestos-infused screen. Otherwise, your computer may melt.

Having learned precious little from my last encounter with Comcast customer service personnel, I assumed that a short jolt of electricity, sent from them to my TV, might solve the current problem.

(Hah! Current! Electricity! It's almost something like a joke!)

No go. MY WIFE handed me the phone when the guy asked her to do something involving the connections on the TV, as I know a bit more about such things. It turned out that the dope on the other end wanted us to unplug the TV, then plug it back in. That was as much as he knew to do. I may as well have walked up to the TV, waggled my fingers, and said, "Booga, booga, booga!" It would have had just as much of an effect. As soon as he suggested it, I knew that it wouldn't work. I did it anyway. What the hell. I'm a Christian, so I believe in miracles.

After it didn't work, he suggested we have a service tech visit our home. I had a suggestion for him, but I tried to keep my cool. It wasn't his fault he was a dumb bastard unable to do anything helpful whatsoever. Comcast bore that responsibility. They hired him and then failed to train him in any way that would actually provide help to the customers who called.

I told him that I wanted to cancel our service. He said he couldn't do that. He said I'd have to call back during regular business hours and speak to someone else. I told him that was bullshit. I told him to leave a message for the sales office or whatever cabal there was there who had to be informed. He said...

Screw it. You don't need to hear the whole conversation. Suffice to say it involved repeated obscenities, until I couldn't take any more of it, at which point I handed the phone back to MY WIFE, whose cooler head was beginning to become as hot as mine was. She demanded a service appointment during the evening, as I had already taken a day off from work the last time Comcast didn't deliver the services it was supposed to deliver.

Mr. Helpful Customer Service Rep said that the earliest appointment in the evening was on next Tuesday. It was Wednesday evening when we were calling. He wanted us to wait seven days before service was restored. MY WIFE said that this was unacceptable. He said that it was the earliest he could offer. She said that it was unacceptable. He said that it was the earliest he could offer. Repeat, ad nauseum.

Finally, she told him to set up the appointment for Tuesday evening, but if we could get RCN to come in and install their service prior to then, tough luck, Comcast. He asked if there was anything else he could do to help us this evening. We couldn't think of anything aside from disemboweling himself, so no.

The next day, I went on-line to the RCN website. There was a handy form wherein I could set up an installation. And they had appointments on the coming Sunday morning. Excellent! I could get new service, from what almost had to be a more responsive company, two full days before I had been promised service from the company I was already doing business with. I signed us up for RCN, with a service tech scheduled to come to our home between 8am and 11am Sunday.

Skip past the next four days. You certainly don't need to hear about me watching old wrestling tapes, which is what I did whenever my TV jones became too much and I needed a visual fix.

It is now 11:05am on Sunday. The RCN tech has not shown up during the scheduled three hour time period. I call RCN customer service. After going through the same basic "press this" menu as Comcast had, I'm on-hold waiting for a service rep, same as with Comcast.

The RCN rep finally comes on the line. He asks me for my account number. I explain that we don't yet have an account, as I've been waiting for the installer to arrive. I tell him that the installer was supposed to be here sometime within the past three hours, but he never showed up. The rep puts me on-hold.

I sit on my couch for five minutes, listening to advertisements for pay-per-view events. I am fuming once again. It appears that there is no such thing as a cable company that provides good service. I am now seriously considering going to any random cable office and slaying the first ten people with whom I come into contact. It would appear to be a boon to mankind if I did so.

A totally different rep comes back on the line and asks me for my account number. I again explain that I do not yet have an account. He asks me for my phone number. I give it to him. He asks for my name, and my address, and my zip code. I give him those. It sounds as though he is punching these things into his system. He says that he would like to set up a security question for me, so that no one else may access my account. I again explain that I do not yet have an account, but if he wants to set up some sort of security question for this non-existent account, he should feel free to knock himself out. I hope he doesn't take me literally, as then I would have to go through this rigmarole with yet another service rep.

He doesn't set up the security question. Instead, he asks me to wait just a minute, and he puts me on-hold.

If the installer had showed up at that very moment, I would have carved him up into bite-size pieces and fed him to the fishes in the Charles River. Luckily, there was still no sign of him. I listened to another five minutes of ads for pay-per-view events.

The rep came back on the line and told me that he had been in contact with the Boston-area supervisor. He said it appeared that the installer had not yet been by my place.

Really? Gee! Thanks! Now, what was it I was calling about? Oh, yeah! That very thing!

(Insert unintelligible sounds of mental anguish.)

He then said that he had a confirmation number, from the Boston-area supervisor, which I could have. God only knows why I would have a reason for wanting that number. He read it to me anyway. I didn't write it down, nor did I commit any of my remaining brain cells to even the slightest bit of memorization of said number. Instead, I asked him what was going to happen, now that he had done these wondrous feats on my behalf.

He informed me that the supervisor would probably call me.

I said that if he didn't call me within ten minutes, RCN could go take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. We'd stay with the devil (read: shitty provider of service) we already knew.

Approximately thirty minutes later, when I expected nobody from RCN to ever darken my doorway, and I had decided to wait for the Comcast visit on Tuesday, and I was ready to take a nap - having awoken way early that morning in anticipation of the imminent arrival of RCN, which hadn't happened - the RCN service tech finally shows up.

OK. I decided that, as long as he was here, I'd see if he could actually give us some service. He seemed like a nice enough fellow.

As it turned out, he did give us service. He installed the RCN converter box; made the connections and disconnections outside of the house; was polite and helpful concerning my questions; and he even made an extra-special effort to wipe his feet extremely clean every time he had to come in from the snow-covered outside world. As a result, we are now RCN customers. When the Comcast tech shows up on Tuesday, I'll hand him the Comcast converter box and ask him to relay to his superiors where they can put it.

Notice to The Dish Network: If RCN doesn't work out, you're next.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Solomon The Milkman

The first night of Hanukkah is tonight, so I'm re-printing this piece.

(In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'll clue you in. My goal is to write 365 really good pieces. Once I've done that, I'll keep trotting them out in perpetuity and never write anything new again. So far, I've got about six. Your count may be lower.)

Anyway, without fur the rado, here's Solomon The Milkman.

I'm going 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 traveled 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.

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

Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

All The World's A Stooge

And all the men and women merely chuckleheads.
They have pie-in-the-face exits and pratfall entrances;
And one birdbrain in his time writes many well-meaning, yet unintelligible, blog posts.

OK, do most of you think that I went off of my nut? Is that the reason for the dearth of comments on yesterday's post?

Here's the deal (which I thought was obvious, but I guess not):

All of the quotes from the coach and the players were lifted verbatim from Three Stooges films.

Coach Howard = Moe Howard

Lawrence Fine = Larry Fine

Sam Horowitz = Shemp Howard

(His real name was Samuel Horowitz. The same was true for all of the Howard brothers; their real last name was Horowitz.)

Besser and DeRita = Joe Besser and Curly-Joe DeRita, the folks who filled the "Third Stooge" role following the deaths of Curly and Shemp.

Finally, Curly Q. Link = Jerome "Curly" Howard.

(It was the name of his character in one of the films; If A Body Meets A Body, if you really need to know.)

OK, maybe I did go off my nut.

I thought it was a cute idea. I guess it was just an insane idea.

(The lovely Michal, of Relishing Motherhood, got it. Bless you, my dear!)

The thing is, I keep forgetting that not everybody is a Three Stooges fanatic. So, I didn't think I'd have to make it any couchier than I did.

(Couchier. That was a term used by Milton Berle. In the early days of television, when Uncle Miltie ruled the roost, the screens were small and the reception generally lousy. As a result, Berle felt that every gag should be as broad as possible, so that anybody, no matter how fuzzy their picture or tiny their picture tube, would get it. He wanted no doubt about it playing to the people at home sitting on their couches. So, if he was in a writers meeting, and he felt that the gag was too subtle, he'd say, "It's not couchy enough! Make it couchier!"

I might be insane, but at least you learned something today. Not that anybody who hasn't read this will have any idea what in the hell you're talking about if you go around yelling, "Make it couchier!")

The funny thing is that I didn't just do this on the spur of the moment. I had this in a notebook at home for about a month. Every couple of days, I'd pull out the notebook, look at that bit, and try to remember more Stooge lines that would fit. Never once did it enter my mind that anybody wouldn't get it. Oh, well.

In any case, if you think it might help, feel free to call me a knucklehead, then put a wrench on my nose and give it a twist.

Soon, with more better (maybe even rational) stuff.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Post-Game Interview

I don’t know how I do it. I’m a pretty lucky guy sometimes. I scored a ticket to the big college football game on Saturday. And not only did I get to see the game; I also ended up at the post-game press conference. It was fascinating, to say the least.

The head coach came out of the locker room and took the podium. All of the reporters yelled, “Coach! Coach Howard!”

He pointed at one of them, and then the questioning began.

“Coach, it’s been a long time since there’s been a game that lopsided. You guys lost 83 – 2. What was the game plan going in?

“All for one, one for all, every man for himself.”

“Considering the outcome, do you think that was the best way to approach things?”

“Why don’t you get a toupee with some brains in it?”

“Hey, there’s no need to get personal, coach. I was just...”

“I’ll tear your esophagus out and shove it right in your eye!”

In the face of such vituperation, the reporter judiciously backed off. Another reporter asked a question.

“Coach, in the third quarter, your quarterback went down with an injury. You ran out onto the field and talked to him while he was lying there. What did you say to him?”

“Hey, kid, say a few syllables! Utter a few adjectives! Tell me your name so I can tell your mother!”

“And then what did he say?”

“He said, ’My mother KNOWS my name.’”

“So, then you slapped him, punched him in the stomach, and poked him in the eyes, right? What did he say then?”

“He said, ‘I can’t see! I can’t see!’ and when I asked him why not, he said, ‘I’ve got my eyes closed!’ so I hit him over the head with my clipboard, stuck my finger up his nostril and dragged him off the field by his nose.”

“Coach! Coach!”

“OK, lamebrain, you’re next.”

“Was this worse than your loss to that team from upstate New York?”


He was then overcome with some sort of a fit. It was pretty much the consensus opinion that none of the reporters would attempt to follow up on that line of questioning. Instead, they asked about the team’s star running back, Lawrence Fine.

Coach Howard said, “Why don’t you ask him yourself, cabbagehead? Hey, Porcupine, c’mere!”

Fine said, “I’ll do it when I’m good and ready!”

The coach asked, “Are you ready?”

Fine said, “Yeah, I'm ready...”

A reporter asked about Fine’s inability to keep the same roommates all year long. He noted Fine’s purported snoring problem.

Fine retorted angrily, “I don’t snore! I stayed up all last night to see if I snored, and I didn’t.”

Another reporter: “Well, now you’re rooming with a defensive back, Sam Horowitz. Do you guys get along?”

“Sure, we’re known as The Fishmarket Duet!”

“The Fishmarket Duet?”

“Yeah, we sing for the halibut!”

Just then, Horowitz walked into the room and joined Fine at the podium. Another reporter stood up.

“I’m Brown from The Sun.”

Horowitz said, “Aw, that’s too bad. Are you peeling?”

Coach Howard came back into the room, bonked their heads together like two coconuts, and left again.

Brown asked a question.

“Sam, following a play in the second quarter, you went up into the stands, grabbed a handful of ice creams from a vendor, and then you and Fine went over to the opposing bench and rubbed the ice creams all over the face of opposing Coach Vernon Dent. What did he say to the two of you after that?”

“He said, ‘If I ever see you guys again, I’ll tear you limb from limb!’”

“And what did you say in return?”

“I said, ‘Them’s fightin’ words in MY country!’”

“Well, how come there wasn’t a fight?”

“We’re not in my country!”

Fine and Horowitz left the interview area, and next up to the mic were offensive linemen Besser and DeRita.

“Joe! Joe!”

In unison, they both said, “Yes?”

Directing his question towards Besser, a reporter asked how physical the game had been.

“Not so ha-ard!”

“Joe, it looked like maybe you really didn’t have your heart in this whole thing? Any truth to that?”

“Oooooh, you big snitch, you!”

DeRita didn’t say anything memorable.

Finally, the team’s quarterback, Curly Q. Link, took some questions.

“Curly, what does the ‘Q’ stand for?”


“Curly, early on in the game, it appears that you audibled a play. Could you run through that sequence for us?”


“What was the audible call?”

“B-A-Bay, B-E-Bee, B-I-Bicky-Bi, B-O-Bo, Bicky-Bi-Bo-B-U-Boo, Bicky-Bi-Bo-Boo.”

(I remember that play. The team was hit with two delay of game penalties by the time he finished the call.)

“Curly, some say that you’ve overcome a lot of adversity to get to this point. What's your philosophy of life?”

“If at first you don’t succeed, keep on sucking ‘til you DO succeed!”

“Before you became the team’s quarterback, you had a job, right?”

“I was a pilot in a bakery.”

“A pilot in a bakery?”

“Yeah, I took the bread from one corner and piled it in another.”

“Did you work there long?”

“Nah, I got sick of the dough and went on the loaf.”

“Curly, you threw six interceptions, fumbled five times, you were sacked nine times, and you completed only three passes in the entire game. What happened out there?”

“I'm a victim of soicumstance!”

The moderator told us that there was time for just one more question. By this time, Coach Howard and all the rest of the players had left the locker room, and were in the interview area.

A reporter asked, “Guys, you’ve lost every game this year, and you’ve been outscored by a combined 438 to 19. Is there a reason, overall, why you’re willing to take the beating you take, week after week?”

The boys thought about it for a minute, then they all answered in unison:

“For duty and humanity!”

Then they all ran away. I heard a faint “Woob, woob, woob, woob, woob!” trailing off into the distance as they did so.

I made my way back to my suite at the Hotel Costa Plente. I called room service and ordered some burnt toast and a rotten egg. When they asked why I wanted burnt toast and a rotten egg, I said I had a tapeworm and it was good enough for him.

Well, not really, but it seemed appropriate.

Friday, November 30, 2007

102 Years Old Today

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


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

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

The final verse contains the lines:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Grandma, with unidentified future writer, circa 1957)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(left: Maybelle and her younger sister, Gerry)

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pointy The Poinsettia

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?” asked Pointy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"You're really pretty, Rose."

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

Pointy blushed.

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

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

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

“Newton? Where’s that?”

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

“Oh! Is that a good thing?”

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

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

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

Rose shrugged her shoulders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell is that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pointy listened disinterestedly.

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

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

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

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

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

Pointy was shocked by how good it felt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

He even knew Pointy’s name!

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

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