Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Vacation

Til August 11...and switching our look.

Monday, July 23, 2007

LIRR days

As we sat on the Long Island Railroad hurtling out toward Bay Shore – I knew all the stops because the conductor used to rattle them off over the intercom like, “This is the 3:30 local to Montauk, stopping at Freeport, Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Amityville, Copiague, Lindenhurst and BAB-bee-lon (Babylon). Change in BAB-bee-lon for the train to Bay Shore, Islip, Great River, Oakdale and Sayville. Change in Patchogue for the train to Montauk making all local stops. Next stop… FreeeeePORT!” – what came next was that this same conductor came down the aisle and collected fares. My dad would pay for mom and himself and then ask for two children’s tickets for Jim and me.

I was not a child.

I was 13. Jim was 11 and was most definitely a child.

I qualified for an adult ticket (anyone over 12) and – blast it all! – I wanted to have an adult ticket.

This recurring event stood in sharp contrast with three years later when, in response to my getting caught by the Ocean Beach, Fire Island cops drinking Heineken on the dock – I broke the law expensively – my parents somehow reasoned that I could drink at home under their supervision while I was still a minor. So, my dad saved a buck-fifty each time on the train by reducing me to a child, but on any given night I would put back a couple or three Ballantine Ales on my parents’ budget, which effectively negated the LIRR child’s ticket and then some, and I did so without blinking.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not so Dad

On the 405 going north toward Sacramento, trying to find the right off ramp leading to the 10 toward Santa Monica, I was seriously outgunned. I mean, the people here are all Professional Drivers. Like New Yorkers are Expert Walkers.

If you walk in New York the wrong way, you know, with a certain oh-well-la-dee-da gait, everyone within three city blocks will know you’re from Des Moines. Or, as did one of my in-laws, if you wear a fanny pack, you’re from Des Moines. White tennis shoes – Des Moines. T-shirt tucked in – Des Moines. The result of this slow walking is that you will not ever get a seat on the subway nor will you contribute to a rapid moving bagel and coffee line at the Korean deli in the morning where the lady behind the register barks, “StepDahn! StepDahn!” People will despise you and will never buy…corn…or whatever you grow or produce in Des Moines.

But I digress.

I’m in LA, and I am quite out of my element. I mean, I am a pretty good driver, learned behind the wheel of my grandmother’s 1970 Mercedes (it was racier than it sounds) – which, by the way, had a stash of chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast Bars in the trunk that my brother Jim and I used to sneak out and gobble. My mom taught me to drive, and she was a beautiful driver. My grandfather said so: “Your mother is a beautiful driver. She can glide up a hill and make you feel like you’re not going up. Knows just how to feather the accelerator.” True enough, she was great.

Not so Dad. I was in the vehicle once with him as driver, having just crossed over the Willis Avenue Bridge onto the Major Deegan Expressway, and I almost elected to jump out the backseat window into oncoming rush hour traffic in the South Bronx with drug dealers and Squeegee Men on every corner who didn’t like white boys from the time they cut teeth. Dad was awful.

He would have driven in this town, and they would have said, “Dude’s from Des Moines…”

Monday, July 16, 2007

Just one more bite, please...

When I was last headed to McCarren Int’l Airport in Las Vegas, I saw Susan Sarandon in the morning at the US Airways Club and Larry King by the pool that afternoon. So far at Logan I haven’t seen a single celebrity. On my way to LAX through Vegas today. [Inserted post-script comment from Free First-Class Upgraded Seat 2C, Vegas to LA: Woman walks on with every bit of her pumped with collagen and silicon. Didn’t know earlobes went under the knife but apparently they're included in the $2999 Facial Extremities Package…]

Above all the work-related matters going on – among them some very positive developments including a working sabbatical this September and October, when I will study the issue of Christian giving – my favorite time this past week was going to Singing Beach with the boys and the lovely K. Thursday we loaded up and headed out in the Odyssey – what a great name for a minivan that is filled with little adventuresome boys – and arrived at the beach after the attendants had finished charging for parking, and when we could stay without getting ticketed by the town. I think the daily fee is up to $30 this summer, and that’s at area beaches of lesser desirability. In fact, you can’t even park at Singing Beach if you’re not a resident of Manchester. Town Nazis. (Karen once pointed me to an article that detailed how calling someone a “Nazi” basically ends an argument – as if nothing worse or more definitive can possibly be said. That is my intent in commenting on $30 parking fees at the beach…)

Of course, as soon as the automatic side doors started to slide open, the boys were out of their boosters and – barefooted and -chested – ran across the gravelly lot, through the bathhouse and onto the 50-yard wide sand crescent arching between huge beige boulders on the east and a black rocky point to the west, about ½ mile long. Low tide was in about an hour, so it was perfect sand castle and wading conditions.

After a time, I donned my wetsuit and did a 20-minute swim down the length of the beach and back, Karen losing sight of me at the opposite end and giving me a loving rebuke when I returned; she thought I had become fish food.

I took off my wetsuit and played in the surf with the boys. Carter stayed in the 63-degree water for about an hour. We were reluctant to leave at 7:15.

On the way out of Manchester, K picked up ice cream for the boys and herself at Captain Dusty’s and spooned me bites of Cookies and Cream as we drove home.

photo: diamondjoy

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Celluloid night

Singing Beach is so named, apparently, because when you walk barefoot on its white sand, it makes a squeak that is generously called “singing.”

When Karen and I moved to Massachusetts, we ended up in Manchester, the town that owns Singing Beach. Manchester was renamed “Manchester-by-the-Sea” in the mid-1990s by the town council in an effort to increase local tourism – but not too much, though…not too much – and ostensibly to separate it from its New England namesakes, Manchester, CT, and Manchester, NH. There are actually ten Manchesters in the United States (in addition to those in New England, they reside in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, California, Illinois, Georgia, Kansas and Kentucky – I know that’s not in alpha order; it’s how Mapquest listed them. Give me a break, please.). So, you can see, not wanting to be lumped in with Manchester, Kentucky, where no doubt your cousin lives down the street or perhaps shares a conjugal bed with you, the town elected to come out from the others and be renamed. Manchester, CA, actually is on the sea, too, but…you snooze, you lose.

Manchester-by-the-Sea, which I still call Manchester just because I don’t want to sound snooty – I already have an Upper East Side pedigree to try to explain away – was the location for the David Mamet film “State and Main.” We had sightings of Alec Baldwin and Rebecca Pidgeon and Philip Seymour Hoffman (one of my favorite actors) in Crosby’s market. Then, there was the cattle call for extras, and some 800 townspeople showed up. I think Manchester-by-the-Sea’s population was only like 600.

On the big night of the filming of the “car crash” – where the buzz was that a car was going to come careening down Union Street and fly through the air and burst into flames – the folks started lining the streets in front of the police station and the Congregational church at about seven for a 10 o’clock shooting. I had friends Ryan and Aaron over from my seminary Greek class for a spaghetti dinner, and then we traipsed down the hill, about a half mile, to stand along with others and watch the spectacle.

I won’t tell you what exactly happened – or didn’t – when they shot the scene. All I’ll say is that they did it in two takes, and Hollywood must have some serious kicka#$ special effects studios.

photo: GroenGras

Friday, July 06, 2007

The butcher on Fire Island

Dominick was the butcher out at the summer beach community where my parents had a house since the 70s. (Jim and I sold it in 2002 after their deaths, after we realized that $100,000+ of work probably wasn’t in our budgets.) This was back when it was okay to use that term for that profession – butcher – not deli worker, etc. You knew what a butcher did, and nobody was embarrassed by it, least of all the butcher himself.

He wore a tie and a white coat buttoned down the front that was stained with animal blood, and Dominick would give us slices of fresh bologna, the best bologna I have ever had since. Perhaps the taste was the taste of carefree summer more than the fact that it was made of…what is it made of anyway? I just did a Google search for this answer and came up with nothing satisfactory.

Not only did we dine liberally on mystery meat every time we went in the store – which, by the way, was pretty much the center of our activity away from the beach, as it was next to the Candy Store and constituted the “center” of the village – but during breaks from teaching sailing (it was a hard life), Dave, Dave, Jon and I would sit outside the store on the wood bench under an overhang and munch on boxes of Pop Tarts and Entenmann’s baked goods. (Like I said, a hard life.) The store taped on its plate glass window facing the walk twice a week – in advance of Wednesday and Sunday/Monday nights – posters of the coming movies. The Wednesday movies were geared mostly toward kids and moms, who were pretty much the only ones out at the beach during the week. The Sunday/Monday movies were targeted with dads in mind, many of whom stayed out Sunday night and took “the death boat” – meaning you felt like death warmed over at that hour of the day – Monday morning at 6:15, which delivered you across the Great South Bay in time to catch the early train from Bay Shore into the City with the rest of the Long Island commuters.

The movies that came to the community in those days were things like “Here Come the Fuzz” with Burt Reynolds and “Rabbit Test,” which was hands down the worst movie I have ever seen, even though it starred one of my favorite comedians, Billy Crystal. It was before people knew he was funny, though, and therefore I think he forgot to be funny. As you will recall, he never hosted the Oscars until the 90s.

The movies were shown in a large room with a vaulted ceiling, a space that also served for dances and wedding receptions, in a single-level building of about 4500 square feet, that was surrounded by clay tennis courts. The edifice dated back to the days of the Chautauqua Society in the 19th century. We would sit in blue and green directors chairs, with the canvas seats, and the big joke – not exactly original to us – was to lift off one side of the seatback and line up the flap carefully with the side post, giving it the appearance of being attached, and then waiting for your friend, or your friend’s mother, or the girl you had a crush on to whom you didn’t know how to express your emotions except to do adolescent tricks like this, waiting for them to sit back and – OH MY!! – have them be shocked to fall back on the person sitting behind them.

Everyone walked around in bare feet or rode bicycles. Toddlers and infants were pulled in wagons, and “mothers’ helpers” (a.k.a. au pairs, nannies) could be seen hauling a couple of towheads up to the beach, which was a fifty-yard wide stretch of pristine white sand facing south on the Atlantic ocean.

We ate Pop Tarts and mystery meat, and rode bicycles and watched Burt Reynolds movies and danced and played tennis and walked alongside mother’s helpers who became our friends and girlfriends, and we congregated in front of the store, me and the guys, and talked about…probably the surf or girls or the movie that sucked the night before. We didn’t talk about back home. The real world. School. Homework.

We all looked the same, and in fact once about a dozen of us went to a Rossington Collins (the band of survivors from the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash) concert down at the Palladium on 14th Street in Manhattan in late summer 1980, before the Palladium turned disco for the 80s. Afterwards, we went uptown to sit on the steps of the Met just to hang and talk. We all wore painters pants and concert t-shirts. We were tanned and thin and preppy. Someone walked by and said, “Oh, look, the cast of an Orange Crush commercial.”

photo: joseas

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dog breath, please

She sat down next to me and smelled like sweaty buttcrack, cigarettes, and Juicy Fruit gum.

Unfortunately, the Enterprise shuttle bus returning to Orlando International Airport had at least a 15-minute trip to go as I had learned on the way over the day before.

I had gotten on the bus when there were but four 20-something Japanese guys who looked like they were from LA – I always lump into LA residency anybody who is difficult to categorize as to their origin. These guys were hip and looked like Beatles in the early years, and they were chatting about the Sheryl Crow song which was on the shuttle bus radio, which I happened to like, too, so we all got along in principle. For some reason, I didn’t think they lived in Japan because…they just seemed West Coast.

Then the family of six started to pack in. She had just finished throwing her cigarette butt down outside the bus, spitting the blue-grey cloud down toward her chest as only accomplished smokers do. The man, sweaty buttcrack wife, two sons about 12 and 14 and two daughters about 8 and 10 wearing red t-shirts that said, “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” got on and, seeing we’d be tight, I moved to the end of the row that ran along the right side of the bus. She sat next to me. And I smelled her.

Now, Dear Reader, I often cannot smell Karen’s wonderful perfume. I often miss roses and roasts and jasmine because my nose is not what it should be except in its liberal size and the assurance it brings to our home that I will indeed each night snore loudly. But my nose worked fine this afternoon. Really fine. I have sat next to many a homeless person on the New York City subway, even next to one who decided to rise up and take a leak on the train door next to me while we were traveling between stations. (That was a new one; haven’t seen that repeated.) My point is that I have smelled much that is rare. She was rarer. And what made it worse is that I couldn’t see why. Why did she smell like this? Certainly, she and her husband had just footed the bill to spend a week down at Disney, they lived somewhere in Suffolk County on Long Island (I discerned from accents and their conversation), which isn’t cheap, and yet she smelled like someone who couldn’t scrounge bus fare. Oh, summer Coppertone beach odeur, where are you? Oh, magnolia blossom breeze, where art thou? Oh, Pluto, breathe dog breath on me!

Then, I thought: Certainly it’s not me. Oh. Heaven forbid it! It…can’t…be…me!? She’s chewing the gum, and she smoked the cigarette, which would leave me with…sweaty buttcrack. Oh. Please. No.

No. It was indeed her. To be sure.

Perhaps my recollection of all this is because I am grouchy right now. I was supposed to be home tonight at 11:45 after landing at Logan at around 10:30. Orlando, I learned, has thunderstorms nearly every day in the summer and, as the gate agent tells me, “some days are worse than others.” Today it is worse. We are grounded for more than two hours because of lightning strikes. The tower has a meter and every time lightning strikes, it means another fifteen minutes’ worth of automatic shutdown of the ramps, so that no workers can load or unload baggage being that close to a large chunk of metal. Frankly, I don’t see why high voltage electrocution doesn’t come under workman’s comp.

We are sitting there in the terminal, and one mitigating feature of the delay is that I strike up a conversation with a guy named Tony, who ends up sitting next to me in First Class (free upgrade, folks…I didn’t pay for this. Those of you who do pay extra, please read my post on Why First Class Doesn’t Pay. Not sure if that’s what I called it, but it’s how I feel now.) Tony works for a European company that is the second largest manufacturer of avionics and plane fuselages and such, whose main competition is Boeing, and he supports all the IT folks around the country. He is pretty cool, easy to talk to, tells me about how the US government militarizes their planes and, because of this, all parts and even documents and emails cannot be passed from the European company to the American company it owns and then back again because of security concerns. Once the American company gets anything, it is owned by the military and cannot be transferred back to any non-U.S. entity. There is a software called Orchestria that actually stops users at the moment they start to type in any technical data and reminds them of international protocol.

Tony, perhaps 60, bald deep brown-skinned head, glasses, crooked front teeth, and doesn’t smell of anything but pleasant cologne, tells me how he is raising his two grandkids, a 12-year-old-boy and 8-year-old-girl, after their mother, his daughter, died four years ago because of kidney failure. She died while on a dialysis machine. I don’t know what happened to the father, and I don’t ask. But Tony takes his wife and the kids to Florida each year – they split a week between Disney and the beach – on the autotrain, which leaves from DC where he lives and takes 15 hours to get to its destination. They board a little after 3 in the afternoon, let the kids run around, have dinner at 7, the kids watch a movie at 8 before falling asleep at 10:30 or so, wake at 6, have breakfast just in time for arrival. No sweat. Sounds like the way to travel. He says they serve good food on the train, “quality food,” on china. We talk about anniversary trips, his trip to San Francisco, our recent trip to New York, his wanting to take his wife on the cruise from Seattle to Alaska, my wanting to take the lovely K to Tuscany.

Meanwhile, the thunder is pounding away like some tribal war beat threatening all commuters and Disney-weary vacationers. He and I grab a sandwich from the food court and make it back just in time to board. No more lightning.

We’re on the plane now, and he’ll be home tonight. Me, I made a reservation at the airport Marriott at Reagan International and will take an early morning flight back to Boston, getting in around 9:15.

“I’ll still be sleeping then,” he says with a smirk.

“Thanks,” I return.

We laugh.

photo: ubik2010

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pauly, where are you?

My early morning foray into the thick Orlando air was at first quite unsuccessful.

I had planned on going to Dexter’s, which was the recommendation of “Michelle” at Marriott’s front desk, but upon calling last night I learned they were not open for breakfast.

Then I did a Google search for “best breakfast Orlando home cooking” and came up with Pauly’s Diner, on Nebraska off N. Mill Avenue just north of downtown. Driving there with the wipers on intermittent because I couldn’t make the AC get rid of the condensation on my windshield, I first passed Nebraska because there was no street sign and then, doubling back, found it on the left-hand corner, but with the feared “CLOSED” sign in the window. A light was on in back, toward the kitchen, and the Internet had said it opened at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast – it was about 6:05. But what did the world wide web know about Pauly’s personal schedule? Maybe Pauly was off surfing. Maybe he took the family to the lake. Maybe Pauly was a woman and was PMS-ing. Maybe Pauly was a transsexual and was having problems adjusting to the latest hormone injections. I really didn’t know, and it’s not that all those thoughts went through my head. But they could have. Because I was kind of mad. And the dreaded alternative was what I passed on the way over: IHOP.

Its name starting with the ubiquitous first-person vowel, which normally typifies everything cool these days, this restaurant typifies all that is wrong with American eating. The one redeeming quality is its waitresses. I think of a Lone Star song about a waitress saving up “two-bit tips” to send her boy to college. Sure enough, my tip - $2 off a bill of $10.24 – was barely over two bits. The waitress here calls me “honey” a lot, and that’s cool, because the only thing that could be worse than an IHOP meal would be an IHOP person. No, she is real and might have had a job previously at Pauly’s, back when Pauly was still a man and didn’t PMS because s/he didn’t have problems going on with hormone injections and she dealt with real people eating real food.

photo: jimrhoda

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The albino and the cripple

They make an ugly couple. As the world see them, that is.

He is albino and mostly blind, not allowed to drive a car or operate heavy machinery, I assume, but that is all right because he is gleefully content to be a custodial foreman. Every task done from moving chairs and tables in classrooms to making sure bathrooms are clean and light bulbs are replaced in offices is done with excellence and celerity. (Always loved that word; thought I’d apply it to him.) One of my administrator peers once asked – he thought rhetorically – “Why do we have a supervisor of cleanliness who is mostly blind?” I don’t know the answer to that; it doesn’t make sense to me either. No justifiable reason, besides the fact that everything was always clean, and light always brightened each room one walked into.

Tim is like that, too. He brightens the room and is never a dark soul.

His wife has muscular dystrophy, is in a wheelchair when she’s not in bed and has something going on with her face that has distorted the way she looks, like Picasso got a hold of some real flesh and started fiddling around before he realized it wasn’t a canvass.

Apparently, as Tim told me the other day, her disease is progressing fairly quickly. She has good days and bad days, but it never gets better. When I see her, she always smiles.

The near-blind albino and the cripple. Not a pretty sight. At least in the world’s eyes. But there is One who sees into them and smiles.

The light is on, and it is shining.