Sunday, December 31, 2006

She wants to see the video

It seems appropriate at the end of the year to comment briefly on a life that came to a violent end on Friday night. I despised Saddam Hussein and all he represented. He was a cold, calculating man, a monster and the photographs of the Kurds whom he executed bring a chill to my heart and tears to my eyes. Coming from wartorn Northern Ireland, I can relate in some way to the terrible pain some Iraqis have suffered as a result of his brutal ways including the punishments and/or killing of family members and friends.

That said, as someone born and bred in a European country, I do not believe the death penalty has a valid role to play in a civilized society (backed up by the cold fact that innocent people have been put to death here in the United States) and feel the news footage and spin surrounding his hanging was nothing more than a gross and disgusting spectacle. I feel his punishment would have been far more appropriately cruel had he been compelled to live in abject isolation reflecting solely on the pain, misery, mayhem and murder done by his hands and that of his administration.

It horrifies me that videos (albeit grainy, though I'm sure cleaner versions will be forthcoming)of a human being's death--no matter how odious that person--has become a source of entertainment on the internet, a sort of modern day equivalent of the death games in the ancient Roman ampitheatres or a ringside seat at the beheadings of French royalty. The mass rejoicing and shooting of rifles into the air--the latter perhaps ironic in that Hussein was himself caught on camera making one such display. The course laughter. The articulated joy and desire by a fifteen-year-old Iraqi girl now living with her family in Michigan whom I heard on teh radio saying she wants desperately to watch the death video. Yes, a fifteen-year-old girl whose parents will allow her to watch a man's execution yet will not allow her to smoke a cigarette, drink a glass of wine or even kiss a guy.
Could I envision my young nieces watching such a video or being allowed to do so? Absolutely not! What does all of this spectacle say about the people we have become?

Also equally startling is the results of an ad hoc poll (we Americans love our polls) done by our local telly station where many viewers (overwhelmingly women, which was a breath-usurping shocker) emailed to state they were happy he was executed.

There is certainly a downside to the technology we've spawned.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Crossed lines

Our friend Lee has had all her medical tests done and found an excellent surgeon who has now performed the breast conservation procedure--formally used to be known as a lumpectomy, I believe.

Her surgeon also practices Reiki, which in its simplest form is simply the practitioner placing his or her hands on the recipient with the intent of bringing healing and willing for Reiki energy to flow. It was very important to Lee that the surgeon she chose have a holistic approach to the concept of healing.

During the operation, a biopsy was performed and thankfully the cancer had not spread to her lymph glands. In other words, the cancer was contained to the lump that was removed from her breast. Lee presented her surgeon with the gift of a miraculous medal she's had since childhood, a gesture that moved the woman very much.

At this stage, I have to admit that lines of communication somehow got crossed when she called Larry on the evening of her surgery and said she was doing well and given the all clear as nothing had been found in the biopsy. Larry was mistaken and assumed she meant that they had not discovered cancer and she was thus cancer-free. I was in NYC that day on business and he informed me of her 'great news' that night on my return. Next day, I called her still acting on the assumption and the phone just rang and rang so I thought she'd gone back to work. Next day, I rang again and the view she'd not had cancer endured throughout the call and beyond--which, it transpires, is not the case because she must now go through five or so radiation treatments and various follow-up visits.

Larry and I assumed she was fine and, as there were just two days left, probably very busy with the run up to Christmas so there was no further contact until we met at Sharon and Michelle's for Christmas Eve dinner.

Finding myself seated beside Lynne at table, I turned to her (a few turns prior to the turn that sent the chair back arcing toward the sideboard) and said, "That was such fantastic news about Lee. You must be so relieved."
"What do you mean, 'relieved?'"
I chinked my eyes in befuddlement. "Well, that she doesn't have cancer."
She looked at me strangely. "She had cancer and they removed it."

As we discussed further, I realized our mistake and was aghast. (We'd even been calling friends to say it had been a false alarm and that Lee was fine.)

In hindsight--as only hindsight can reveal--I did remark to Lee during the call that her initial tests must have been what are called 'false positives' to which she replied 'Not...not really', but I didn't follow up on the comment and we moved on to other topics. Moreover, after the call, I remember thinking how ironic it is that so many Americans scoff at the British National Health Service and its failings and budget problems, but the American system, too, makes mistakes and false disgnoses such as Lee's.

"I'm so glad we've sorted this," Lynne said. "Lee's been getting calls from so many people this last few days asking how she's feeling, and she was so hurt because she didn't hear from you, guys. She said a few times, 'I wonder why Larry and Damian haven't called to see how I am.'"
What did you say?" I said.
"I just made excuses..." She laughed, "because I had no explanation and just didn't know what was wrong."
"You should have called us...even if it had been to bitch us out...and we're such good friends, you should have known something wasn't right. Oh, my God, I can't believe this mistake has happened between us who see each other so often."

We've been close friends for years so the misunderstanding was, of course, understood and forgiven, utterly. However, it serves as a valuable lesson to others in two regards, I think: first, I don't think men fully understand the entirety of what's involved when their mothers, wives, sisters and women friends are diagnosed with breast cancer--I think we have a tendency to downplay illness, including any sustained by others; and, secondly, I think people don't listen as much as they used to in the days before the advent of our craving for blackberries, emails, IM and cell phones, etc. We're losing the art of conversation. Clearly Lee had meant the cancer had not spread when we assumed she'd never had it in the first place and the initial results had rendered a false positive.

All in all, it also made me wonder how many countless misunderstandings take place throughout the US every day in every sphere of life including politics, some with very serious repercussions.

Finally, two useful sites to visit are:
mammogram if you've been putting off having one and another is National Breast Cancer Foundation for information

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The popping chair back

We went for Christmas Eve dinner to our friends Sharon and Michelle who've just recently moved to a lovely house in Lambertville--one of New Jersey's prettiest town's in my opinion--from Hoboken. They've also got a new puppy--a Cairnoodle (cross between a Cairn terrier and toy poodle so her fur is black with a beautiful copper sheen that glitters in the overhead lights) who's rambunctious, adorable and, for the first time since Spice died last April, made me think, "Yes, we could have another doggie." But we're still not there yet as we miss him still. (Recently, I planted daffodil bulbs on his grave which should come up in a few months time and I'm looking forward to seeing them bloom.)

L and L were also there. Sharon's of Polish heritage, so I was very much looking forward to traditional Polish fare and my taste buds were not disappointed. We had Kielbasaand sauerkraut--the genuine kind, not the suspicious, overly red stuff that masquerades as Kielbasa in supermarkets--and delicious Golomki, which is cabbage stuffed with chopped meat (mince steak in the UK). For dessert, Michelle baked excellent cookies, including my favorite which was stuffed with marzipan and topped with pine nuts, and thus I pigged out, necessitating an extra twenty-five minutes on the elliptical and two additional sets of sit-ups this morning as it was my first day back at the gym. At one point during supper, as I looked around the table at everyone chatting and laughing, I thought how truly important good food and friends are to making life happy and fulfilling.

A temporary glitch occurred thereafter because I had an accident. I turned to speak to Lynne and heard a dreadful crack. It wasn't the deafening kind, rather more like a popping sound. Before my brain could process what had occurred, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a piece of wood arc through the air toward the sideboard. I looked at the back of my chair (an antique one, to boot) and saw it was missing the upper horizontal of its back. Somehow, it had come off as I'd turned. A veil of silence plummeted as swiftly as Madame Guillotine. Larry's eyes drilled into mine in unarticulated 'Typical clumsy Damian' declaration. (I'd heard Sharon asking people not to lean back on the chairs as they were old and delicate--by that, she meant not to lean so that the chairs are balanced only by two legs, as some people have a habit of doing, a habit from school days--but I was entirely satisfied I'd not done that.) Naturally, I informed Sharon and she was most understanding and said Michelle could fix it. (She'd bought Michelle a professional saw--she's an artist who also makes furniture--replete with 'G' clamps for Christmas, so this would be a first try-out for the clamps.)

Thereafter, we repaired to the parlor where we played an interesting game (can't remember its name, though) involving a board, die, cards with questions and a DVD. There were three categories of questions--music, film and another I can't remember--and we selected questions about bands and music. Much craic (fun) was had. All of us were stumped when the questions involved recent pop bands or artists--I'm not talking about questions dealing with the likes of Kelly Clarkson or Spears, etc and, of course, we all know the true and lasting talent of people like Christine Aguilera--which I suppose is a sign we're getting on a bit. Some things become just more important.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Flying Sauc...Fruitcakes

I love fruitcake and I love Christmas pudding so you can imagine my shock when I first moved to the States and discovered just how much it's detested and make fun of when Christmas rolls around. Americans simply cannot understand how the Brits and Irish can tuck down pounds and pounds of mince pies and heavy fruit cake--it's just so hideous to conceive and they'd far rather have a nice warm apple or pumpkin pie.

At first I was bewildered, though I will admit some of the cakes masquerading as fruitcake in stores here is indeed highly suspect, if not downright criminal. I picked one up a few years ago and could not determine what exactly was holding the imposter together other than its plastic wrapping--it seemed to be all bright red and green cherries, assorted colorless fruit peel, a few bloated raisins and pecans. I mean, who puts pecans in a traditional fruitcake? I purchased it to complete my forensics at home and even I, supreme fruitcake lover, would not dare eat it because it was uncooked flour goo that turned out to be the binding agent.

There is nothing in existence to beat a wellmade fruitcake in my opinion. A friend travels to London frequently and makes a point of bringing me back a decently sized one if he's there near Christmastime, sneaking it past customs who might be inclined to think its some sort of missile because it's so dense with fruit....and rum and other desirable alcohols. My sister Deirdre bakes her delicious fruitcakes during the summer (she's been doing them ever since she learned how in domestic science class at school) and all throughout the fall she seasons them with brandy. If she knows I'll be home that year, she bakes one for me so I can sneak it past the watchful customs people. This year, I was over in Ireland and also brought back a Marks and Spencer Christmas pudding that my sister Siobhan had in her back cupboard, as well as some rhubarb jam my Mom bought and had blessed at a monastary. (Only kidding about the blessed bit, but I knew I'd get it home safely considering its point of origin.) We had the pud about a month ago and it was moist and pleasingly chewy--though I wished I'd had brandy butter and had to settle for vanilla ice-cream with real vanilla extract.

On the telly the other night, I saw a segment about an American family that have been playing a game of pass the same tinned fruitcake between them for the last fifteen years. That's what I call true re-gifting. One of the sons decided to end the game when it arrived at his house this year. He called the family together, opened the tin, and cut himself a slice.

"How is it?" his mother asked. She'd been the one who first bought it as a gift.
He chewed for a few minutes without replying, then swallowed. "A bit rubbery. I'm not going to finish it. I hate fruitcake anyway."

One town, Manitou Springs in Colorado, even has an annual fruitcake toss. This year will be their twelth year holding the event and it's taken very seriously. There's even rules and some competitors build very complex launchers, including trebuchets.

Here are some of their rules:

1. Participants should bring their own fruitcakes. Fruitcakes must contain glaced fruits, nuts and flour. They cannot contain anything inedible. Fruitcakes will not be “taste tested”. Fruitcakes must be visible to the inspectors, no duct tape, foil, etc. All Fruitcakes will be examined by the “Fruitcake Toss Tech Inspectors.”

2. A limited number of fruitcakes will be available to rent for $1.00 if you were not fortunate enough to receive one of your own or if you were unable to find the time or recipe to bake one.


4. For the Fruitcake Launch the device used to launch the fruitcake must not be powered by fuel (ie: no motors, engines, gasoline, diesel, etc.) The maximum length of the hurling device will be 10 feet. Safety is the most important issue. Any device deemed not to be safe by the organizing committee will not be allowed to compete.

Prizes awarded for: Most Beautiful Fruitcake, Ugliest Fruitcake, Most Creative Use of Fruit Cake, Fruitcake that traveled the greatest distance to the event (proof provided by post marks on package).

With such current disrespect for the lowly fruitcake, what chance does it truly have of being accepted as an equal in these United States? I think that's a viable question to occupy the time of the next Congress. If the President pardons two turkeys annually, why can't they establish a Committee of the Fruitcake and establish some rules....and respect?

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rocky rocks the pastors

I'm a sucker for the triumph of the underdog and overcoming the odds--heck I've written about it--but I couldn't help smirking when I heard on NPR the other day that the latest Rocky movie "Rocky Balboa" is being shopped to pastors and religious leaders as a tool to teach their parishoners solid christain values and principles, a sort of outreach program. I am not joking. Apparantly Rocky is humble, turns the other cheek, and is an all-round tremendous guy and thus a good example of how to lead one's life--never mind he's mashing up his opponent's face and/or beating the shite out of him and vice versa. There's even a website called that's been set up by Hollywood (well, not all of Hollywood understandably) and/or Stallone--who spoke recently at a teleconference to the pastors about being reborn.

According to the radio piece, the website encourages churches and religious leaders to include references to Rocky in their sermons, to show clips from the movie, and thereby illustrate what a tremendous example of Christianity he is as he goes about his life. Why, they're so helpful, they even suggest themes for the Sunday sermon.

And the amazing things is that many pastors and priests have bought the spiel and done as the website suggested. I joke not. I'm convinced Rocky might be the first fictional character to be canonized if this ball keeps a-rolling.

As always there's a tiny fly in the ointment. Apparantly, Stallone is neither 'talking up' his 'reborn' credentials nor Jesus and the Christian arc of the story when he's interviewed by the mainstream press or other market segments which the studio and/or he has targeted. It's led one cynical wag to suggest they're trying to ride the coat tails of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," by targeting church leaders to drive the buzz and sales.

Of course pastors are in a lather to get people into their pews, but surely they can spot a bit of slick willie marketing, can't they? Maybe not--though it's true some are denouncing the attempt to influence the course of their sermons.

At least the City of Philadelphia had the good sense recently to refuse to designate the statue of Rocky (which they'd erected in some minor park) as a landmark and thus assure its permanent removal to the top of the steps of the venerable Art Museum, as some fans and interested persons desired. As a compromise, it now stands near the bottom of the steps as a piece of interesting artwork.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Shuttle sighting...I think

I was watching the local news on the telly last night and they said Bucks County residents would be able to see the new space lab and shuttle fly by on its orbit between five-thirty and five forty-five.

Off Larry and I rushed with our glasses of red wine to the field where he's building the fieldstone house in the style of a French Country home. (He put a Christmas wreath on a top floor window last week--even made the red bow with crimson lights-- and it shimmered in the crystal clear air as we came up the drive that's really just a lane made of stone, currently.

We stepped out of the car and looked up at the sky which was pocked with aircraft, both commercial jets flying to Europe, undoubtedly military aircraft on their way to Dover airforce base and smaller private planes belonging to locals who've got landing rights and strips here. It was magical watching the warning lights flash on and off intermittently as the aircraft crossed the huge expanse of sky.

Just as we'd concluded we'd missed the space lab, a much larger white light emerged on the horizon and slowly arced across the sky. It traveled slowly and had no flashing lights, so we're pretty sure it was the shuttle and lab. We saw it, though all it was was a white light about the size of Venus. Might as well have been Venus, which we see every morning...but of course the telly guys never tell you that all you're going to see is a moving light and you won't see windows and astronauts walking about outside. Bright lights aren't newsworthy, I imagine. Not even for local news.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

How to get a new stadium 101

The sun was shining and it was warm like it was a mid-spring day as we drove up to NYC, this time for our Puerto Rican Christmas dinner at Larry's Mum's apartment. It was delicious, delicious, delicious. Her apartment lies just off the Grand Concourse, near the beautiful Bronx Supreme Court building where I once held a surprisingly competitive foreclosure sale a few years ago on a large commercial property (left me with knots in my stomach in case I'd screw up the paperwork as it was my first real estate sale as a NY lawyer and my boss was a difficult mensch, I shall say, diplomatically) for the FDIC and it's got four beautiful pink, unpolished granite reliefs of ancient Greek men and women playing sports and reading tablets in the art deco style.

It also looks right into Yankee stadium, though that's going to change next year because they're busy with the construction of a new multi-million dollar stadium behind it that's beginning to take shape. That's something that blew my mind when I first moved to the United States; how football, basketball and baseball stadiums that are twenty-five years old are suddenly declared obsolete and torn down. America is a throw-away society--from refridgerators to baseball stadiums. Few people repair fridges or stoves anymore because it's easier to throw them out and buy a new one. Crazy, but true. I'm convinced telly and fridge repairmen will soon be categorized as artisans here.

With regards the stadiums, the teams charge huge ticket prices in order to pay their players and management disgusting amounts of money--money that they could earmark to finance the building of their own facilities. Of course they don't want to hear that sort of pragmatism. No, they want the like sof NYC and Philadelphia, etc. tax payers to do that because they think we're all dummies. (It's no wonder the international soccer organization (FIFA) tried so hard to make their sport break-out over here a few years ago. They saw the dollars; but it was all for nothing because soccer's regarded as a women's sport in the US and baseball and American football's too entrenched.)

The rip off of the tax payer normally begins with the team's owners declaring their old stadium is too old and they're going to move to another city (or New Jersey) which they state will build them a new gig; sometime's it's true, but as often as not, it's total bullshit and intended to pressurize the current city's mayor and administration to come to the bargaining table with millions of tax dollars for the new project. The Philadelphia Eagles and Philly's did it a few years ago successfully. And last year was the Yankee's turn.

Regarding another NYC construction project, yesterday was a particularly poignant day at Ground Zero because families of people who were murdered on 9/11 and interested members of the public were invited to come down there and sign the first steel beam that is to become the soaring Freedom Tower. It was available until 3.00 pm. On NYC radio, I heard some family members read (between gasps and tears of sadness) what they'd written about their loved ones on the beam and it was heartwrenching. Some wounds will never heal and it is right and fitting they are being involved in this process.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Little reminders

The day before yesterday in Berks County, the next county along from where I live, they experienced an earthquake--I think it registered 2.7 on the Richter scale, which is nothing big, meaning only a few cups and saucers shook in peoples cupboards.

Two years ago, when my publisher sent me to California on tour, I was a bit nervous when I arrived in San Francisco because I thought the 'Big One' will probably occur when I'm in mid-read at Book Passage in Corte Madera given my luck. As I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge--and it is a thrill to drive across it for the first time even though its color is more rust in appearance than gold--it also crossed my mind that it might happen and I'd be left undulating in my rental car.

Of course, I learned and had forgotten that New York City (Manhattan Island) is also built on a set of crisscrossing faultlines and has had two earthquakes in 1774 and 1884 measuring about 5 on the scale, which is still relatively mild.

So yesterday was a cupboard shaking reminder that earthquakes don't just happen on the West Coast. And last week London got its reminder that tornadoes happen in England, too.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A call to weights

Today's a sodden, mist-enshrouded day in this part of the eastern seaboard, a day that reminds me of living in London and Ireland, a day when the deer peer gloomily from the woods and not even the skunks or ubiquitous grey squirrels venture out to gather yet more decaying black walnuts to add to their stockpiles in preparation for the bitter Pennsylvania winter that's been forecast by Glen, the perpetually dickey-bowed weatherman, on our NBC affiliate. (He boasts an eighty percent accuracy rate in his long range forecasts so we'll see; if he is, he'll drive me from this part of the states for sure because I can't hack snow or winds so chilly they numb the lips within seconds of being exposed to them.)

Today was also D-day in a way. You see I've been a wee bit lazy of late: I stopped doing my weight-lifting six weeks ago, although I continued to do the elliptical and even bumped my time up by five minutes in a futile attempt to delude myself that I was still being scrupulously diligent. A few weeks ago was also my anniversary at the 'Y'. I've now been going there for a year; in fact I just renewed my membership for another year and am resoved to take up Yoga and Pilates in the coming months.

So, on this unmotivating day, I decided to return to the weight-lifting section of the gym because, though my body is taut and quite satisfactory in general, I was beginning to think my biceps were becoming a little slack and my tummy has begun to chomp discomfitingly against the waistband of my Levi's (even with the belt's removal) rather like a horse's mouth at a bit. I'm sure the biceps issue is all to do with guilt and an overactive imagination, but said Levi chomping will not be denied, nor can my voracious appetite and vino-imbibing during Thanksgiving and subsequent Christmas parties of late. It's all conspired to remind me of how much sweat I've spilled to get to this body-stage and, knowing I have four parties this week beginning tonight and four more next week, was sufficient motivation to dispatch me to the dumbbells and hellish abdominal machine.

Hornet was already in the section (she no longer owns the Hummer as I don't see it in the parking lot anymore and has now taken up weights in addition to her hours of cardio) working on her abs and we nodded at one another. We've lapsed into a sort of agreeable nodding and I'm hopeful this bout of amiability will last. There is only one tiny threat to its termination. We're both creatures of routine and, like me, she gets to the gym after eight in the morning and loves to get rid of the tedious and difficult exercises in her routine first. This includes abdominals. As there's only one machine and it's very popular and never free at the moment one needs it, we'll have to see how it works out though I am determined not to fire the first volley of shots. I refrained from asking her how long she required and did my butt squeezes instead.

I remain confident. We shall see.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

A looming day

Early in the mornings, on my way to the gym, I drive by a dilapidated clapboard house and a few outbuildings that declares itself a farm judging by a sign near the mailbox and boasts it was built circa 1875. (Use of the word 'circa' is very big in the states.) During the summer the family arranges a few scrappy-looking beefsteak tomatoes or zucchinis for sale on a rickety table by the roadside and they also have a sign attached to a barn that states 'Brown eggs available', presumably laid that morning by one or other of a bunch of scrappy brown hens I see wandering the yard. I'm convinced the farm's a bit of a ruse and they aren't really farming for a living, have in actuality just fenced off their couple of fields and call it a working farm so they can claim the benefits of one or more of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's tax laws--maybe even getting an IRS (federal tax) concession or two into the bargain.

Propped against the barn is a lifesized model of a deer made of foam that has been shot through the heart so many times I can see through to the barn siding. Of course, we're now in the peek weeks of the deer-hunting season so I sometimes see the men of the family (plus one pugnacious-looking women with biceps I'm working diligently to acquire who's a wife of one of the sons or a daughter and favors a scary looking bow and quiver of arrows rather than a rifle) dressed in their camouflage and piling into a couple of rusty pickups with their friends to go for a spot of bonding and killing in the woods.

Also on the property is a squat, sun-bleached windowless shed that looks sinister. I think it's used for processing. Yes, processsing. My suspicions are probably correct because in an adjacent field that's really more of a back garden, there are usually two calves grazing for periods of six months. In the field there is also a pen where said farmer/hunters train the calves to approach and get fed grain from buckets. This family appears to have a a voracious appetite for red meat; four cows a year, in addition to the legally permitted two, three or four deer...and let's not forget the brown eggs because I'm sure people don't stop to buy them...oh, and I'd imagine any of the scrappy chickens that have the misfortune to become unproductive.

About one year ago, the family had Aberdeen Angus and tan Hereford calves. The Hereford's face was white, unblemished and it had those long cute eyelashes calves have. Though I grew up in the countryside and do eat a little meat, I grew distantly attached to the Hereford to the extent I even considered driving there in the dead of night and releasing both it and its companion, but of course I did not give foot to my consideration. I didn't because I rather feared getting an arrow or two in my back and ass. The day came six months ago when the white-faced Hereford and Aberdeen were no longer there. Two Aberdeen Angus calves arrived a few weeks later. Like their predecessors, they too were cute and innocent. Throughout the summer, I've watched the pair transform to sleek, fat bullocks whose coats look coppery in the late fall sun.

Christmas is now soon upon us, the radio's playing carols, people are drinking and partying, and another of those days is coming again. Very soon. Next week or the week after I will drive past on my way to the gym and the field will contain only dried hoof prints, the pen only the two pails side by side, and the door of the squat windowless building will be shut.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

The drunken pompom:a true Bronx tale

I zipped up to the Bronx to visit Larry's Mum (not the official Christmas visit where we eat traditional Puerto Rican Pernil) on the day New York officially banned transfats from our diets effective 2007. Predictably the restaurant lobby is up in arms, but tough S.H. One. T as my sister Siobhan the pragmatic social worker says on these occasions. (I love New York City when they do sensible things like this because restaurants can easily make the dietary changes without compromising taste and, as it's known widely that what New York and California do today, the rest of America does tomorrow; already it's happening because Boston and Chicago announced they plan to follow suit.)

His Mum always cooks fried plantains (they look a bit like hard bananas but are vegetables and must be served hot) for me regardless as to what she's prepared for lunch because she knows I LOVE them...amd I do to the point of transforming into a piglet at table. However, being well brought up and always wanting to be well thought of, I try to curb my gluttony in public so never wolf all of them down and, on this occasion, left one piece for her--usually I leave one-and-a-half or two, the dryish or more browned ones, which she sometimes munches on while Larry and I tuck into dessert.

Afterwards, she asked us to put up her Christmas tree. It's artificial, about three-feet tale, and she likes to place it on top of a waist-high wooden cabinet. Larry was anxious for us to get out of the city again early because of the Christmas traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge and I78, had forgotten she'd want her tree decorated, and was consequently a bit snarky as he pulled out her Christmas bits and bobs from the storage closet. But his mother is as strongwilled and Germanic as he and, try as he might to take shortcuts, she pulled him up on it. I helped decorate, but couldn't help laughing inwardly as she rattled off at him in Spanish (the family's been in Puerto Rico for centuries now) about what he was doing that she didn't like, which I partially understood as a result of being with him for years.

At last it came to topping the tree and she desired a life-sized white dove with real feathers--a gift given years ago from a now deceased son--to have the honor. Larry yelled it wasn't possible because the dove was too heavy and stuck it into the tree just beneath and then proceeded to spear a colored ball on the uppermost spike so that it looked like a pixie hat pompom. As I watched, the tree tip lurched then slowly swayed to one side as if the pompom were drunk.

'It's okay,' Larry said to his mother, who looked at me aghast.
'No, it's not,' I said. 'She wants the dove on top. I did it last year...very well, too, I hasten to add.'
'You did it wrong,' he said. 'It fell off twice before Christmas day.'
Determined to make a point, I glared at him before snatching the dove from its roost within the branches, pulled off the ball and bent the uppermost tree spike in three, and began to affix it to the remaining stump but the damned thing's right leg came unglued.
'Oh dear, its leg's come off,' I said. I was horrified. 'Can you fix it, Larry?'
'I told you it wasn't possible to put it up there,' he said smugly.
His mother went up to a box and began rummaging through it.
'Larry, don't you get it?' I whispered. 'What your Mum wants is what you have to give her in this case. It's not about the dove. It's about--'
'Give me that bird and let me see if I can fix it,' he said, an edge still in his voice to show I wasn't entirely forgiven.
'It's okay,' his mother said. 'Here's another one. Junior gave me two doves. Put this one on top.' She looked at Larry 'You can fix it another time, chikita'
'Ma, no crying,' he said.
(His mother visits his brother's grave almost every week and Larry is soft-hearted and can't bear to see her cry.)
With absolute determination, I placed the dove atop the tree and then tested it to make sure it would not fall as it did last year. And if I'd had a camera handy I'd have taken a pic to prove its sturdiness because this scene will play out next year again. Absolutely, it will.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Arriving American style

Siobhan, my sister, just informed me of my nephew David's preparations for his sixth-form social, which is the Northern Irish equivalent of the prom, and they seem extensive. He attends a Catholic college (was Siobhan's alma mater as it used to be a convent (high school) for girls and the surrounding all-boy Catholic high schools nicknamed them the 'blue virgins' because of their royal blue school uniforms) and this is his final year, but it appears times have changed since I was a sixth-former in Ulster.

Apparantly, school kids over there have adopted the sort of American trappings I detest. He's dressing 'black-tie' for the event, which is fine--in my day, we went dressed in casual attire to the girls school called Dominican College, named after the order of nuns that patrol its corridors and dorms with their mean looks and oversized wooden rosary that clack as they stride--but David will travel with his date and friends in a limo, which is not fine. Sadly, I believe the limo is also American manufactured, one of those stretched Lincoln contraptions that some local entrepreneur decided would make him a buck or two if he imported it for this and other similar purposes. Furthermore, I think I saw one of them on my recent trip there.

If school kids over there want to be tres cool, they should arrive at their socials in Smart cars. They're cute and very noteworthy. But it's not going to happen. Big vulgar American limos will win out least for a while. The kids are brainwashed with all the mindless American television programming we export there.

Now, my nephew's gonna (I mean, is going to) hate me.

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Searching for avocado...still searching

I love avocado pears and guacamole, but a Californian housewife is hoping her disappointment over a dip will lead to taking a big check to the bank.

Apparantly she bought Kraft's Avocado dip, whisked it up, decided it didn't taste 'avocady' enough and filed suit.

Putting on my lawyer hat for a moment, I find it hard to believe she found an attorney to take the case. One requirement for filing suit is the nexus between plaintiff and sustained damages and/or loss. Other than the price of a packet of dip, I'm finding it tough to come up with any sort of damage that would merit a lawyer getting involved--unlike, for example, finding a bit of mouse in a bowl of chile.

Well documented here is that I'm no cheerleader for conglomerations such as Kraft, but I tend to agree with them when they state that a reading of the packet would have shown her excatly what was in it, that there was no avocado contained in the ingredients.

Moreover,in my estimation, a quick pour of the powdery stuff into a bowl would have been another clue.

Mind you it has scared Kraft because they've whipped (pardon the pun)all Avacoda dip packets of the American supermarket shelves. I think it's to return in the near future as Avocado-like dip or some equally tortured wording. (Maybe they should follow the pharaceutical industries current fad in marketing and abbreviate its name like they do freshly invented illnesses that can only be treated by their new minted drugs.)

I'm sure this woman's been scouring for years for an excuse and product to sue a corporation with deep pockets. Wonder when exactly it'll make it into a subplot in Desperate Housewives or even make it to TV movie of the week.

No wonder people have such low opinions about my profession in the states.

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