Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Family's Table...or Fat, Starch & Grease as Food Groups

When I was growing up, family meals were large - you could generally feed a small country - and heavy.  The rule of thumb was one pound per person and that was for everything.  It didn't matter if it was salad or lasagna.  Platters were piled so high you couldn't see your brother or your cousin, whoever was sitting opposite, to have a conversation.  Talking got in the way of eating, anyway.  My Grandfather would grunt and someone would pass the potatoes, the meatballs, the stuffing, the turkey, or the Arancini (rice balls).  Different foods had different grunts.  At the end of the meal, if there weren't leftovers, Grandma (and Mom) would be embarrassed: there wasn't enough food!  They'd plan on a bigger and heavier menu for the next holiday…even while Grandpa was protesting that we make too much food.

The typical post-holiday picture was my uncle sitting on the couch watching the game, breathing heavily through an open mouth and dozing by halftime.  His belt would be undone, his zipper lowered slightly and his hand, Al Bundy style, tucked comfortably in the waistband.  The kids would be off somewhere playing and the noise would continue around the table as the wine (sometimes with slices of orange mixed in) would flow and the conversation turned to politics or religion.  It was a lot of fun.

With apologies to my mother, however, there is nothing sexy about Italian cooking.  Not in our home, at least.  As proof, I offer the following memory: about three weeks after my wedding I visited my grandparents.  My Grandmother held my hands, took a set back and studied me.  I think she had me turn around.  I know she pinched my cheek (she had a pinch you couldn't forget) before announcing to my Grandfather: He's gaining weight.  She can cook.  My wife received a big hug and a kiss from the old lady and Grandpa threw her a smile.  That was as warm and fuzzy as he got.  I think it was the first time she was truly welcomed to the family.

If the meal is the gateway to sex and you want to be awake - and maybe even moving - never (Never!) take your girlfriend, your wife or even a first date to an Italian Family Meal.  Come late - insist your mother doesn't make you a plate because you're looking skinny or you'll get sick - and just have desert.  Italian desserts are the next best thing to spontaneous, unabashed, rock-your-world sex.  I don't care if it a fruit torte, an ├ęclair, a zabaglione or my personal favorite, the tiramisu, the person making them is thinking of you and making sure you get happy - even if you say something stupid in the car on the way home and sour the deal.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sitting Shivah for Charlie Harper

The presumed loss of Charlie Harper will be felt for years to come.  No, I am not talking about Charlie Sheen.  The self proclaimed rock star was one factor - but only one - in the injury suffered his better half.  Whether it was life imitating art or art imitating life, Charlie Harper hit rock bottom (Rose, really!) then looked for a shovel and dug deeper.  It had been coming for a long time.  Over the course of a year or two, he went from that funny jingle guy (He wrote "Maple Loops, remember) to a pathetic, hapless, directionless drunk.  The people expected to take care of him failed.  Alan, Berta, Evelyn, Jake,  even his Shrink tried but he lost purpose and focus; he became trapped in a temporal loop of booze and broads.  He didn't know what else to do so he kept digging and digging until the hole got so deep that only memories got out.  When I think of Charlie Harper, I hope he is remembered more as Charlie Waffles and less as Charlie what's his name.  Charlie Waffles was still that guy who believed everything would work out.  Probably won't happen…but at least he will be remembered.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


or how Newt's dreams were buried in a little blue box

I am loathe to defend Newt Gingrich.  It just feels preposterous and, maybe, a little unnatural.  And yet, here I am.  Damn you, Mr. Speaker…and your taste in jewelry!

Newt Gingrich, declared candidate for the Presidency of the United States, is currently baffled.  He said as much on NBC News this morning.  He is at the center of a storm because he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on jewelry from Tiffany's for his wife.  His own wife!  Not somebody else's wife.  Not the wife of some contractor doing business with the government.  Not a mistress…

(You think he has trouble now…a mistress would generate the type of firestorm media moguls live for.  Tomorrow's headline: Arnold Who!)

...but his wife, the woman he married, loves and has the little blue boxes to prove it.

While discussing his befuddlement Mr. Gingrich announced that he is not carrying ANY debt.  The house, the car, the family jewels: all paid for from proceeds from his four businesses.  You would think that would make him the darling of Conservatives far and wide.  A politician who does not indulge in deficit spending, who has not mortgaged his future and who, apparently, lives within his means.  A politician who invests in the community, pays his taxes and grows business.  At least jewelry businesses.  Apparently that is a little simplistic, if not naive.

The problem is the amount.  My mother was absolutely incensed by the cost of the "Royal Wedding". How dare they spend that kind of money?  Couldn't they do it for half and use the rest to do some good?"  Newt, on a significantly smaller scale, is the victim of greenback envy.  He is spending money most people cannot imagine spending; most people actually believe they would do things differently if they had Newt's money.  For the record, I would not think twice about buying a $45,000 necklace for my wife and, while I wouldn't buy myself a $10,000 watch, I would take delivery on a ($100,000+) Tesla Roadster.  I am a friend of the planet and it is a small price to pay to go green.  Besides, it's a hot ride.  In the world a little closer to reality, I will not be taking delivery on my favorite breed of dog (the English Bulldog) anytime soon.  At present the $2,500 canine is 17 on the list - well below food, lodging, gas for the car and the occasional family vacation.

Have we come to a place in American Politics where a candidate has to buy gifts for his wife from Wal-Mart to be a credible candidate?  I do not agree with Mr. Gingrich's politics but he is intelligent, committed, dedicated and passionate.  With emphasis on the intelligent accolade, the Republican Party could do a lot worse.  I will not mention former 49th State governors or reality show moguls by name, but they really could do worse.

To paraphrase  Paul Simon, everyone wants to be "Richard Cory".  We should be honest about that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Poppi's Elegy

On April 28th, my father lost a short battle with cancer.  

To be honest, it wasn't much of a battle.  Dad spent five of his last six weeks in the hospital and in rehab being treated for a persistent pneumonia that taxed his ability to breathe.  He kept insisting that he didn't have pneumonia ("I've had pneumonia before.  This doesn't feel like pneumonia.") and he was right.  Over that brief five week period, pneumonia became pleurisy and, after two procedures, pleurisy became cancer.  The oncologist was very kind but the only words that mattered were "very advanced", "aggressive", "untreatable" and "life-ending".  She gave him six months ("maybe") and Dad got what he wanted all along: he got to go home.

Hospice set up the bed and the commode, they brought the wheelchair and the walker and the oxygen machine and my father took up residence in the living room.  The living room was a television free zone, but we made an exception, ran the cable and gave him his Jeopardy and Law & Order.  In the corner stood a small oxygen tank on a cart.  We saw it as a way of taking him to a restaurant or the movies; Hospice saw it as back-up in case the power went out.

Dad came home on Good Friday.  Because of various obligations (my nephew had to get back to college…I, and my branch of the family, lived 200 miles away and had to drive home) Easter Sunday was celebrated on Saturday.  We prepared the classic Italian meal piling more food than humans were meant to eat at one sitting at one table.  A little later, my nephew sat with his grandfather and shared a scotch.  To be clear, my father has craved a scotch - and the doctors have said "no!" - for a good many years.  He even asked the hospital nurses to bring him a drink.  That last glass of Pinch gave him one of his last, cherished memories.  I watched him sip his favorite amber liquor and smile.  He even smacked his lips when he was done and, as was his way, sucked the ice cubes.  Not one drop of Highland whiskey would be wasted.

The tribe said their goodbyes on Easter Sunday and we drove back to Lake George and Bolton Landing.  On Monday, the phone calls started. "Dad can't get out of bed."  "Dad is breathing too quickly."  "Dad's not eating."  "Dad can't talk."  By Wednesday I knew I had to go back.  It was a decision I had been avoiding.  If I didn't go back, he wouldn't die.  I arrived at 12:10 on Thursday afternoon and he was gone at 12:20.  Ten minutes after I walked through the door.  Somehow, six months had become six days.  The only consolation, the one humans cling to, is that he passed peacefully.

Over the mantle is a photo that he loved.  It was taken on the occasion of my Mother's eightieth birthday and, from time to time, he would point to that portrait and exclaim, "I really like that picture!"  He wouldn't always remember when it was taken or where we were at the time (memory was no longer his strong suit) but, somehow, he recognized that we were all together and he was proud of that.  Towards the end, I used to hate his loving that photo.  Eleven months ago, two of my grandchildren died and his "we were all together" hurt deeply.  Two chairs were empty.  And now, the patriarch's chair stood vacant but it was not the same. The sense of loss was different.   It occurred to me that, at the end of his life, my Father got it right.  Families change, they grow, they contract, the characters in the portrait change but the members who came before never leave.  They are still there.  I do not see the empty chairs when I look at that snapshot.  I see Albert and Hope and Mackenzie.

It is the love we share that keeps us "all together".

Dad will always be "Poppi".

He will always have his place.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hey Arnold...the World is Ending!

Remember the cartoon about the kid with the football-shaped head who faced adversity on an almost daily basis and somehow managed to triumph? Arnold Swartzenegger is not he.

Reports of the Terminator's (or the former Governator's) clandestine affair and the subsequent confession that he fathered a child with a member of his household staff has obsessed the media and pushed real news off the front page. Sarah Palin and Snookie must be pissed. Arnold and his dalliances, Arnold and his impending divorce, Arnold and his love child are not the stuff of great journalism. It is nothing more than a blip on the news cycle and, once upon a time, would only have been mentioned if the Lusitania had not sunk or the Hindenburg had not burst into flames. In other words, if nothing else had happened. The only real story is how cliche Arnold choose to be. I mean really: a member of his household staff! Did he insist on a "French Maid" outfit? People want to know.

In a nation where 50% of married partners (men & women) cheat, have an affair, slip, lust, diddle or canoodle I am amazed by the incredulity. How could this happen? Well, let's see: boredom, intrigue, adventure, opportunity, stupidity, revenge, stature (personal, not physical) or just plan want it, need it, can't live without it. One former employer once described it as nothing more than friction. He should know; he was divorced more than once.  This is not the stuff of great tragedy.  No one poured poison in the king's ear.  Star crossed lovers didn't allow their hormones to get the better of them.  Arnold is not Othello.  Maria Schriver is not Desdemona.  It was an affair, just an affair; even the fact that he got caught isn't news (though getting away with it for 14 years might be!).

One final fascination: the need for a public mea culpa. Arnold is putting his movie career on hold to deal with the impending divorce. The world will have to wait for yet another Terminator movie while he gets his proverbial house in order. Someone should point out how well that worked for Tiger Woods.

I am told the world will end at 6 PM this evening. I saw it on the news. (Guys, think of the possibilities: Honey, I know we don't have a lot of time but I can't face eternity without sleeping with you.") I'm not sure if 6 PM is Eastern Time but, if it is and it does, I should point out that the announcement met with less media attention than Arnold's own rapture. If you are reading this on Sunday, Monday or beyond, I guess that too was another oops moment.

[Post Apocalyptic Comments (that have absolutely nothing to do with this blog):  1) I cannot fathom being so dissatisfied with life that you rejoice in the extinction of everyone - whether we want to go or not and 2) I cannot understand why some people give away their earthly possessions.  Aren't we all leaving at the same time.  That ring you wanted.  Here.  Enjoy.  For the next 10 minutes. Gotcha!]

[Since the story won't die:  Early morning radio is reporting a second Arnold "love child".  CNN is running a video: How to Tell If He will Cheat.  Maybe someone should publish a list of what not to do - a Cheating for Dummies manual.  You know, things like, don't have the maid clean your room three times a day, don't leave your best videos in the DVD player, close your email and IM accounts and don't (please!) have your secretary bring you chicken soup - at home - when you're sick.]


A friend recently posed the following philosophical question in two parts with a couple of ABCs for color:

"You enjoy sudden and unexpected good fortune..."

A)  You get that promotion and the corner office you were never immodest enough to consider...or

B)  While on vacation in Las Vegas you decide to bet the farm on one spin of the roulette wheel but you can't decide between 29 and 26.  One is your birthday.  The other your anniversary.  Finally, you decide to bet on your wife.  If you lose, it will be her fault.  The wheel spins. The ball spins. You hear the click click click as the ball slows and drops into its nesting spot.  You hear the croupier call the number and you are suddenly very glad you got married - at least on that particular day...or

C)  If, you want to go all in, you arrive at your favorite convenience store just two minutes before closing time to purchase a ticket for the largest lottery drawing in New York State history.  And, guess what, yours are the six lucky numbers - the ones you found in a fortune cookie - and you are the only one who bet them.

"...what is the first thing you say?

"Most people, my friend reported, utter, exclaim, shout and even hoot "Thank God!" or some other similar, dutifully grateful ejaculation.  He conducted innumerable interviews over coffee at Starbucks, Tweeted and Twittered and posted the thought to the Facebook universe.  He expressed confidence in his data.

The second part of the question elicited a less demonstrative, though no less definitive, answer.

"Tragedy strikes..."

A) You are making dinner when the phone rings.  It is your mother and she's feeling lonely so you settle into the couch for a long conversation of "uh-huh" and "seriously?"  You listen to her complain about how her best friend went to the store without telling her so now she doesn’t have bread and the milk tastes funny... It doesn't take long before you realize that the oil you left on the stove is really pissed and your kitchen is in flames.  An hour later, the Fire Chief offers his condolences; the house is a total loss...or

B) You read about a small Southern farming community devastated by a tornado.  This is the type of area that barely has the price of a Pepsi left over at the end of the year.  An E.F. 5, "the Finger of God", if you believe the movie Twister, follows the interstate avoiding a junkyard, an old and seedy strip joint, the demolition derby track, those abandoned houses where high school kids go to have unprotected, premarital sex and maybe even that crack house that everyone knows about but no will admit exists before hanging a left on Farm Road 11. That's where the real fun begins.  The crops, the barns, the animals (remember the cow from Twister), the equipment, even some of the homes...all gone.  The Church of the Holy Harvest, built with virtually every cent of local, farming profit, stands white and sparkling in the middle of the devastation, untouched...or

C)  You stumble across a news article about a man who took his legally acquired gun to his daughter’s school and shot everyone in her class.  His action became “necessary” when she got an “F” on her 500 word paper on the subject of evolution.  It seems her teacher took exception to the claim that dinosaurs walked the earth on the sixth day.  His daughter, who always sat in the front row, was the first to go.

"...what is the first thing you say?"

There was an almost universal split between "Lord, help me", "Lord, protect me" and "Lord, forgive me".  There was a small but statistically significant number that asked “why”.  This latter group was not questioning the Almighty; they simply wanted to know what they had done wrong.  This latter group did not answer why their indiscretions and sins caused death, destruction and devastation to others but my friend stood firm on the sanctity of his data.

And then, my friend posed his question:

"Why does God get all the credit but never any of the blame?"

He pointed out, in asking his question, that each individual who faced tragedy had worked hard to lead a good life and struggled everyday to do right by his family and neighbors.  He went on to say that he could have described portraits of the most evil among us reaping great profits and causing immense harm without consequence but, for balance, choose only to address the good and the everyday.

I found the question intriguing but I am not going to answer it.

My friend did not answer it for me.

Your comments would be appreciated.