Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You better watch out Bambi, Bob is back

The house is smelling wonderful right now because I've had two big pork roasts in the oven since about noon. But that's not the big news.

The big news is that Bob the crossbow hunter was here setting up his tree stand earlier. He hasn't been around since I saw him get that doe in early December. A nice clean shot. She ran maybe twenty yards and then laid down next to the creek. Bob told me that he's also gotten three bucks on the property this year. So the score to date is Bob four and deer minus four. Things are just as they should be in the great circle of life. There are still plenty of the lily bud ravagers running around so I wished Bob well in getting a bunch more if he can.

Bob mentioned that his son is heading back to China with his family soon. He's a missionary there. Bob tells me that it varies depending on the province; but the Beijing authorities have been reasonably tolerant of Christian missionaries. Bob's son must be a pretty brave man, for the Chinese government has not been at all tolerant of the Falun Gong people they've been persecuting for the past few years. There are some pretty shocking but credible stories out there about the things they've been doing to Falun Gong folks. Bob said his impression is that the Chinese government is moderating it's oppression in general as a result of all the world attention from the Olympics and all; but it's hard to be sure.

Time will no doubt tell; but the view of time in China's governing circle is a bit different than here. There's a famous quote out there about one top Chinese leader's response in the 1970's when asked his opinion of the French revolution. He said, "It's too early to tell yet." For those of you who went to high school in the last thirty years I'll add that the French Revolution happened in 1789 or thereabouts.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Family traditions are important.

Linda and I, for instance, have a tradition of putting a little reminder on the inside of the front door each Monday morning so we don't forget to take the trash out to the curb on Monday evening. This morning we had to search for the hallowed "Trash Tonight" sign because Linda took it off the refrigerator and put it into a drawer as part of her traditional pre Christmas Eve cleanup operation which moves all sorts of things from their normal places to new surprising places. Linda thinks the "Trash Tonight" sign dates from before Aunt Mary R died,. which would make it more than ten years old. That little scrap of notebook paper has made a lot of trips from the refrigerator to the front door and back again over the years, recently accompanied by the blue Mascaro elephant refrigerator magnet. It used to travel in company with the carrot magnet that wasn't quite strong enough to secure it if you put it too close to the swinging open side of the refrigerator door; but the carrot magnet disappeared some time ago. Perhaps it will turn up again in a surprising place one of these days. I wonder if Al Gore is so careful in recycling his "trash tonight" sign so as to avoid putting stress on the planet.

Speaking of Fat Albert, we also have a tradition of eating healthy meals before we get our cholesterol tests so as not to needlessly alarm our doctors. Our blood chemistry is always at its most healthy when we go for our blood tests. We would probably live forever if they gave us blood tests every week, or perhaps if the doctors were smart enough to institute random blood testing procedures. I'll bet a lot of people would be a lot healthier if the doctors set up a system that held the threat of cholesterol tests over their heads like so many personal Swords of Damocles. I picture community service "volunteers" stopping random motorists - "Just the blood sample Ma'am." Maybe Barry will make that part of the brave new world order he hopes to implement.

On that note, the other day Jas charged me with calling President Elect Barack Hussein Obama "Barry" in imitation of Rush Limbaugh. For the record Sam is the Limbaugh fan. I'm very seldom aware of what Rush Limbaugh is saying because I use my car sound system to listen to book tapes. And, even though I tend to agree with much of what he says when I do hear him say things, I'm not a big fan of Limbaugh. He's a bit too forgiving of large corporations for my taste. Large corporations are not in favor of free markets. They are nearly as much in favor of fascist and totalitarian regulations and policies as Barry is because government intrusion in the marketplace almost always squeezes the little guys who threaten the cozy situations of the big guys. That only makes sense because the big guys are the ones who have the most money to buy folks like Barry and/or the regulators he will install to "protect the little guys". But the main point is that I wasn't aware that Rush Limbaugh was calling The One "Barry". For all I know Limbaugh's been imitating me.

But I was talking about Linda's desire to lower her cholesterol level before her blood test. So last night we had Indian food. I made Punjabi Chhole with the help of a spice packet. And I made spinach and potatoes that I made by cutting the top off the pouch it was in and microwaving the disgusting looking mixture which turned out to taste pretty good. The Chhole also turned out pretty darned good despite the fact that I kind of winged it with the proportions.

The Chhole spice packet was intended for a 30 ounce can of garbanzo beans; and it was a pretty disappointing spice packet in that the little print instructions on the back wanted fresh ginger and cilantro. Who keeps fresh ginger and cilantro on hand? And what good is a spice packet that doesn't include all the spices? So I had to go out to the market. And I had to adjust the recipe for a 19 ounce can of garbanzo beans. And I'm pretty disrespectful of recipes in the first place, let alone recipes on traitorously incomplete spice packets, so changes were made; but it turned out very good over Basmati Rice. If you haven't discovered Basmati Rice you need to get a package of it.

In addition Linda made a spinach, clementine segment and cucumber salad with a very good dressing that may never be reproducible because she used a spoonful of the honey mixture from the preserved kumquats we bought in Corfu. I'm doubly glad we took that cruise before the market collapse for a couple of reasons. First off we would definitely have thought twice about the money if we had already observed our 401Ks being ravaged. And secondly, the fact that we had already spent that dough meant that it wasn't in the market to be ravaged. The delights of the cruise are safely in our heads, completely insulated from the vagaries of the stock market. Grandpop L always said that you can't waste money on something that you put in your belly. I would add that you can't waste money on travel and new experiences as long as you don't cut into the assets you need for essentials like Basmati Rice. It's great prepared according to the package directions; but even better if you put a dribble of toasted Sesame oil and a tablespoon or so of Olive Oil in with the cooking water.

There are going to be some interesting meals around here if I remain in this semi-laid off state for a while. Linda got me an Indian cookbook for Christmas so there will soon be no more Indian cooking with spice packets and pouches and little tins of premixed curry powder. One of these days I'm going to go down to that Indian market in Trooper and outfit myself with the genuine individual spices. I may even go all the way and pick up a mortar and pestle.

Perhaps next Christmas Eve we'll have Rijsttafel instead of the traditional Italian foods. Or maybe we'll replace the angel atop the tree with a little Ganesh after New Year's day next year and have Rijsttafel on the fourth day of the next waning moon. Maybe Sam can arrange for someone to wear the Mascaro elephant suit to the party.

I've got to get going now. I need to pick up a couple of pork roasts to make for New Year's Eve, and I need to reserve a couple dozen medium kaiser rolls at Corropolese for pickup that morning. We're having Sam, Deb, Jas, Kathy, Mark and Linda over for porkette, potato salad and some other stuff. Linda's blood sample will be on the way to the lab by then, and my blood test is months away, so cholesterol is not a problem. We'll probably be pretty well behaved anyway because we're eating at 5:00 and we have to be sufficiently recovered to dance by 7:00 since that's when Deb has her church hall reserved. Have I mentioned that Linda and I have retained almost all of the intermediate Rumba moves that Jas and Kathy taught in the last series of lessons up at the Ballroom on High?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pizzles, Pogo Sticks and Pogo Possum

Pizzles. The women made pizzles during the cookie baking a few weeks ago. I'm speechless. Well, perhaps I'm not completely speechless.

We went over to Sam and Deb's for Christmas dinner. First off I saw Deb's sister Donna put a pat of butter on the mashed potatoes we brought. I hope her cholesterol numbers are well under control. Eight pounds of potatoes. Two teaspoons of salt. About half a teaspoon of pepper. Three quarters of a pound of butter. And a little milk which wasn't needed. The potatoes were just a bit too creamy; but they almost all went. And the only quibble was by Marianne who just had to get in a little dig.

After dinner I told Sam that he was completely off base on Christmas Eve when he asserted in his typical no-doubt-about-it fashion that the Pogo Stick was named after the Pogo comic strip. It sounded shaky to me at the time, so I looked it up. The Pogo Stick was patented in 1919; while the Pogo Possum comic strip didn't start til the 1940's.

Sam, of course, reacted to being trapped by trying to switch fields. He lamely claimed that the Pogo comic strip was named after the Pogo Stick. But I had already foreclosed that escape by looking up the info on the comic strip. No mention of any Pogo Sticks; but lots of mention of the writer choosing names to go with the type of animal. So the possum's name is Pogo for onomatopoetic reasons, not bouncing reasons. Besides, who would ever envision a sluggish waddling possum bouncing like a person on a Pogo Stick? If the character was named Pogo Pronghorn it would perhaps make sense to think that it was derived from a Pogo Stick; but thinking that of Pogo Possum doesn't make a lick of sense.

So I was up two points on Sam. And I still haven't gotten around to checking on whether Volare is the only foreign language song ever to get to number one on the Pop charts. Sam claims we saw that song sung on the Ed Sullivan show with Uncle Angelo that time when Mom and Pop were gone for a week and Aunt Tavia and Uncle Angelo were babysitting us. I tend to believe Sam in this case because he's pretty good with family stories; although the Volare flourish is just the sort of thing he would gratuitously embroider into a story. Sam's not a just-the-facts guy like me. Anyway, it's also intriguing to wonder where Mom and Pop went that time. And just now I realize where Mom and Pop went that time. The only other time I can remember anybody moving in to babysit us was when Grandmom and Grandpop L came up to take over while Mom was in the hospital having Marianne. But that's a story for another time. I have to get to the pizzles.

A bit later Hobbs was being cute, playing his well practiced "I want a treat" game. Have I ever mentioned that Hobbs runs that house? Anyway, Sam suggested to Deb that she give him one of the pizzelles, "He likes the pizzelles," Sam said. So Deb goes in the dining room and gives Hobbs his treat. Then she comes out and reports that she gave Hobbs a pizzle; at which Sam, Deb, Dolores and Marianne laugh. It's clearly an inside joke; but the combination of the pronunciation with the fact of Hobbs getting a treat has rung a bell for me even though some coincidences are just too incredible to occur; and at that point even I wasn't fully connecting all the dots, at least not consciously. So I spell out P-I-Z-Z-L-E and ask if that's how they're spelling the word.

They explained that they're laughing because Rebecca, whose last name will not be mentioned to spare her embarrassment, had her pizzelle recipe labelled "pizzles" when she came to the cookie baking to make them. It also turns out that the inside joke people are laughing because they found the mis-spelling funny; but they're unaware that the joke goes deeper. So I point out that I could be wrong - I was wrong on a vocabulary question one time in the 1980's and I was wrong on a simple word spelling question one time in the 1950's, onstage at a spelling bee unfortunately - but I'm pretty sure a pizzle is the particular body part that connects a bull and a cow when they're in a romantic frame of mind and endeavoring to make a new little cow or bull.

None of them have heard of this meaning, even though I know for a fact that Sam has read Commanche Moon by Larry McMurtry. The word is used in there, quite memorably in a sentence uttered by Captain Inish Scull that I could come close to quoting if this weren't a family blog. The relevant phrase is ". . . a Dalrymple pizzle." I haven't googled that but it may work if someone has extracted memorable quotes from the book.

They're all doubting me so much that Deb even gets up and checks their dictionary; and she finds that pizzle isn't in their dictionary. So now even I'm doubting. But understand me. I'm not doubting the existence and meaning of the word. I'm doubting the quality of Sam and Deb's dictionary. And, just a little part of me is thinking that maybe I have the spelling wrong, even though I can visualize that sentence in Commanche Moon.

So when I got home I checked on the web, and sure enough there it is. Pizzle is not only a word, it's a pretty old word; and it's primary meaning is just what I thought. Not only that; but one of its other meanings, as a name brand for dog treats, explains why I perked up when Deb returned and mentioned that she had given Hobbs a pizzle.

Rebecca has a dog. I need to remember to buy a treat for him next Christmas. Maybe I'll pick up one for Hobbs too.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night

I've been told that some folks have been wondering why I haven't posted anything here for a while. Part of the truth is that my laptop, on which I'm writing this, has a virus that has been causing it to crash regularly. Another part of the truth is that I've been immersed in a couple of pretty good novels. And the final part of the truth is that I've started several blog entries that haven't worked.

So, I'd be working on a frustrating blog entry and the laptop would crash. And when the laptop crashed I would use it as an excuse to pick up one of the novels. Then when I returned to the laptop after it restarted, I would find myself facing the still unsatisfactory blog entry. So I would try a new start for it, or a new middle, or a new end, and then the laptop would crash again. And I would go off to one of the novels again.

The two novels were Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven, which I finished a couple of days ago and Playing for Pizza by John Grisham, which I finished an hour or so ago. Both were excellent, but now they're done. I plan to loan Playing for Pizza to Sam and Jas because it's about football, Italians and food; but Fleet of Worlds will go up on the shelf with the other science fiction since nobody around here likes science fiction.

We had a great Christmas Eve gathering here earlier even though we missed Al R and Angela. Al's down in Florida crowing about the warm temperatures every time we talk to him on Saturday mornings. Angie's out in San Diego waiting on a back operation that's now scheduled for New Year's Eve day, of all the days. Hopefully they'll get to cutting on her back before they get to partying.

Thankfully Catherine and Liana came over to help with the food preparation. Linda and I couldn't have done it without them. There is a tempo necessary to preparing the various fried foods.

Incidentally, the laptop crapped out after the line above and restarted itself. I went out and had a cigarette and read the beginning of The Godfather Returns by some schlemiel named Mark Weingardner. How can it be that the best writer they could hire to continue the godfather saga can't write one tenth as well as Mario Puzo? Well, at least this novel is set in the time of the original novel and uses some of the original characters.

Anyway, we had a great Christmas Eve gathering of the tribe. Marianne and Dave managed to find the old pogo stick I wrote about a few days ago and gave that to me as a Christmas present. I was encouraged to try it out; but I'm not that stupid. Nor was I that drunk. I'm told that Samuel managed to do ten jumps on it when the younger and more foolish folks took it out to the driveway, so the darn thing still works fifty three years after I first got it as a gift. Meanwhile it's now propped out there by the front door, so I'm stuck with it again.

Rebecca brought very serviceable red baccala stew, although it wasn't a hundred percent Aunt Mary style, and Rebecca fessed up to messing with the recipe. Caramelize some tomato paste indeed! Mom would have said "quan de gatsa de mossa." But I think Mom would have approved of the flavor. Also, Rebecca gave Sam a Marche' cookbook which looked interesting. It had what looked like some of the traditional recipes in there. I have to borrow it from Sam and read it.

The fried foods were as delicious as they were unhealthful. And, as usual, the folks ate an unbelievable amount of garlic and oil spaghetti. Some of them corrupted it with a topping of the quite good tomato gravy that Deb brought, but all seemed to enjoy it. There is a segment of the family that refuses to recognize that garlic and oil spaghetti is too good to mess up with tomato sauce.

I'm always amazed when they compliment that spaghetti on Christmas Eve. Just for the record there's nothing magical about why it tasted the way it did. The secret is in the garlic, the fresh instead of dried parsley and the egg noodle spaghetti instead of water based pasta. It's an everything to excess recipe.

One bulb of garlic for each 14 ounce package of egg pasta even though your hands get cramped from chopping so much garlic. Buy a chopper if you don't want your hands to get cramped. Don't cut down on the amount of garlic. And one supermarket bunch of chopped fresh parsley for four packages of pasta, which is how much we went through tonight. Also, a couple of tablespoons of salt at least in the pasta cooking water and a tablespoon or so of salt in the couple of cups of olive oil in which the garlic is cooked until some of it is browning. Forget all that stuff you were told about not overcooking garlic. Some of the garlic has to be overcooked.

Truth to tell, in my own opinion, I could have browned the garlic a bit more than I did tonight. I was a bit too quick to put in the water and parsley. But things were a bit hectic over there what with the four packages of pasta being a bit too much for the size of the cauldron that Kathy loaned us. Also, I was getting a bit tired of cooking by that point, and I had forgotten the garlic and oil for a bit and they were on high. So I panicked a little when I saw the first brown bits and put the water and parsley in maybe a couple of minutes too soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas music, ghouls, egg pastina and rodents

I went out earlier and got a new lithium battery for the remote control of our loony Bose music system which has no controls on it. No remote control, no music. But now I have glorious music. I'm sitting here totally immersed in Handel's Messiah. And I mean immersed. That thing can put out some sound when properly goosed by a remote control with a nice fresh battery. Fortunately all the windows are closed and our house is about a hundred yards from our nearest neighbor or the police would be here already.

Music I've learned, like many things in life, requires discretion. You can get a pretty weird look from a UPS driver if you forget to turn off the machine and he gets a blast of Pavarotti booming something unusual like Leoncavallo's Mattinata at about a hundred decibels when you open the door, especially if he's been knocking for a while and has heard a less refined voice joining in with the master. Have I ever mentioned that when in a proper mood I can accompany Pavarotti pretty darn well. Unfortunately I never perform in public, so you will never get to form an opinion on that score.

Linda isn't sympathetic to my firm view that classical music needs to be played at concert hall volume to be appreciated; and she tends not to appreciate certain of my somewhat idiosyncratic musical tastes. So it's only when I'm in the car or when Linda's not home that I can properly appreciate the Messiah, of which there is only one despite the starry looks in the eyes of some of Barry's adherents. Just coincidentally, "Are we like Sheep?" just started, not that I'm trying to cast any aspersions on The One's followers. But I'm here to tell you that Barry is not "The King of Glory," no matter by how many voters he "Unto us was given." He ain't "my Redeemer" and thankfully he shall not "reign forever." "Incorruptible," indeed!

Nonetheless, this is the Christmas season, so I heartily wish "Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power be unto" that supercilious big eared bast. . . er. . . fellow, at least for the duration of his four year term.

But let me not get started on Barry. Linda will tolerate The Messiah at reasonable volume, but she definitely lacks appreciation for sung Latin Masses even though I've pointed out that the beginning of the end of Western Civilization will one day be marked by some Muslim scholar as the date when Vatican II blithely betrayed us all by ordering the atrocity of vernacular masses. I never put on Masses when Linda's home because then things start to get a little strained around here well before the Kyrie Eleison booms forth; and the Kyrie is almost always the best part.

Maybe to truly appreciate sung Masses you have to have been an altar boy. I used to volunteer for funeral masses just for the music, especially the Kyrie. Well, maybe filthy lucre also exerted some influence; but I also liked the Kyrie in the Mass for the dead a lot - still do. A very good baritone worked the funeral circuit in those days. Nothing is better than the Kyrie with incense in the air. I've often been tempted to buy some frankincense so as to make it possible to enjoy something a bit closer to the full experience right here at home.

I once served as one of perhaps fifty altar boys at a funeral mass down in Philly. I can't remember who the dear departed was, probably some crooked politician. But we sent him off right. He got the full package, the acoustics of a big cathedral, the Archbishop, two Auxiliary Bishops, eight or so priests who included a couple of great chanters, a full choir properly up in the choir loft where they belonged and a baritone and soprano who were probably moonlighting from their regular jobs at the Metropolitan in New York. That day there was truly made a joyful noise unto the lord. Well, perhaps it was a lachrymose noise; but the principle is the same.

I've often wondered if my appreciation of funeral music has a genetic component. Pop and Aunt Carmella often discussed the fact that their oldest sister, Aunt Mary P, was a "ghoul" who invariably attended wakes with a similarly inclined friend whether they knew the dear departed or not. When she wasn't attending wakes Aunt Mary P made great chicken soup. Uncle Chick liked to put a little ketchup in his bowl when we had lunch together after watching Hopalong Cassidy and the other westerns on Saturday mornings. They had a TV before we did and they lived conveniently next door to our house on Penn Street. Aunt Mary dressed her pastina soup egg drop style rather than with butter as Mom did; but putting up with her alien pastina was a small price to pay for enjoying Saturday morning cowboys with Uncle Chick. I still sometimes put a touch of ketchup in chicken soup when I'm not being watched, and I think of Uncle Chick. I also think of Aunt Mary P, in her black veil, walking past Aunt Carmella's house a friend, headed down to enjoy a good wake.

But I seem to have strayed. And Pavarotti doing Ingemisco from Verdi's great Messa di Requiem has brought me back. As I said, Linda isn't home today. So the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei will boom forth in several versions at the very limit of the Bose's volume. Oh, yes they will! I may even put on the disk of sea chanties later to inspire me while I attend to the heavy labor at making dinner.

Meanwhile, since I'm in the Christmas spirit I'll pass on this heartening story to which Ken M alerted me earlier. Attending to the poor is a sacred duty, and this German politician is clearly alert to that duty.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Say it ain't so, Joe

I was going to write a nice little post about Angela's Happy Holidays 2009 letter; but then Linda sent me the shocking news that Joe Biden, who's a bit of a whipped old cur himself, has been out supporting a cruel puppy mill by acquiring his new dog there.

Oh, the humanity. Here I was feeling just a little sorry for old Joe because his bro Barry has already made it clear that he will be cut out of all the action in the White House for the next four years. Joe gave an interview the other day in which he said he prefers to be a pitcher of warm spit type Vice President; but everybody knew that was just his way of putting lipstick on a pig, so to speak, thus making himself look less pathetic when he runs around attending funerals of minor foreign dignitaries and cutting ribbons at new sewer plants.

And now this. How can one sympathize with a man who seeks out a cruel puppy mill at which to buy his dog. I think he should be investigated by the SPCA. Such a man is not fit to have a puppy.


On the Ninth Day before Christmas

We all want consistency in our parents; but we treasure and remember the surprises.

Today, for instance I was remembering Pop on a certain Christmas Eve, probably the Christmas Eve of 1954 or so because we were still living down on Penn Street, and I had to be old enough for Doc to have taken it to mind that I was old enough to need a pogo stick. For the record I didn't weigh enough to be able to make that pogo stick work for at least several years after I got it.

Anyway, Pop is hopping on the pogo stick in front of our house on Penn Street sometime after Midnight. It takes him a few tries; but eventually he gets up to being able to maintain a string of about ten pretty good hops. This I know because I was watching from the second floor window.

Mom, meanwhile, is hissing at him from the open door of the house. "Get in here you damned idiot. You're drunk. You're going to fall and break your neck." Mostly she's not happy with the spectacle because Midnight Mass is about to let out down at Holy Saviour Church and the neighborhood will be filled with quiet upstanding neighbors shortly. This I know because it was one of Mom's favorite stories concerning what I'll call the Christmas Eve follies.

We had that pogo stick for a long time because it was practically indestructible. It was made to last of heavy gauge metal; and it had a spring that was so stiff that it took a real jump by someone weighing at least a hundred and forty or so pounds to get it to work at all. When you mounted that thing you either jumped on for real or you wouldn't depress the spring enough to get any kind of a bounce.

To get up to even a few continuous bounces was very hard. I never got beyond six or seven bounces; but then I never tried the thing after a dozen or two shots of Canadian Club, which would have alleviated the concern that I would break my neck and thus made me more daring. The heads of the simpering nannies at the Consumer Product Safety Commission would explode if someone tried to sell a similar toy today.

To imagine Pop healthy enough and athletic enough to get up to ten or so continuous bounces on a pogo stick is probably impossible for those of you who didn't see him do it. But I'm here to tell you that there was a time when he made that thing work for him. I've often wondered how many continuous bounces he would have gotten up to if Mom hadn't coaxed him into the house just after he really started getting the knack of the thing.

Friday, December 12, 2008

I'm torn about the BlaHoyaVich thing

Yawn. Yet another Illinois politician has been caught with his hand, arm and shoulder deep in the honey pot. But he's a long time pal of Barry's, and Barry dumbly claimed he never talked to the guy about the price of his former senate seat, so the new "change" administration is going to start with a nice juicy never ending scandal about who said what to whom and when. The more things change. . .

But I'm ambivalent about the whole thing, because who among us has perfectly clean hands? Certainly not me, for I carry the memory of an interaction with the Chicago political machine. It goes back a ways so I'm not going to consult a lawyer about the statute of limitations in Illinois.

It all started when Dave B and I were selected for "kidnapping" by the fraternity house pledges when they planned their weekend escape from the house and visit to a sister chapter house in downstate Illinois. We were pretty proud to be selected from among the actives. It was quite an honor to be dragged along on the annual pledge skip, signifying as it did recognition by the pledges that one was reliably flexible enough to buy the booze (with their money of course), and also mature enough to aid in controlling and protecting the weaker and more immature members of the pledge herd.

But these pledges had gone one better than most classes in their planning. They planned their skip on a weekend when a house party was scheduled, and they were clever enough to volunteer the car of one of their members as the pickup car for the two kegs of beer and the case of loganberry wine for the punch for that party. You haven't asked but I'll tell you anyway that a mixture of one part loganberry wine to one part beer makes a pretty excellent punch. It has unfortunate later effects on those who imbibe too freely, but it goes down pretty easy.

Anyway, Dave and I were each picked up by a couple of beefy pledges neatly as could be and taken to the gathering point where a bunch of pledge class cars met to form a caravan for the ride south. Good planning, worthy of a Solozzo; but when we arrived we found that the foolish pledges had picked an unfortunate rendezvous location. A group of local citizens was not pleased with the gathering of so many honkies in their neighborhood - so displeased that some words were already being exchanged. Fortunately though, two cars bearing a total of four of Chicago's finest arrived before the situation could get out of hand.

Copper One immediately took charge and asked me what was up, perhaps because I appeared to be the oldest in the group and perhaps because the pledges hid behind me like abject cowards. I was in fact the best spokesman. Dave, who is actually a year older than me, looked quite a bit younger. He still looks younger - life is fundamentally unfair.

I explained the situation to the police sargeant. All was fine. The pledges were skipping out for the weekend. The location had been foolishly picked by youngsters who should indeed have known better - "You're certainly right about that Officer," this in my best respectful tone. Always treat people wearing badges and guns with respect, even exaggerated respect.

I went on that we had no desire more pressing than to be out of Chicago and out of his hair. And we certainly had no desire for interaction with the crowd of local people that had continued to grow.

I had everything in control and we were set to go on our way when a bottle flew and neatly knocked the driver's side mirror off of the car of the president of the pledge class. That intelligent fellow who later acquired a degree in engineering - I won't mention his name, for he knows his name - picked up the mirror and decided to put it in his trunk.

Now, there is one overriding rule governing relations with the law which you should learn if you never have. When you have a body in the trunk of a car you never, never, never voluntarily open that trunk in the presence of a police officer. Mr. pledge class president, Mr. now big shot corporate executive, had not yet learned that rule. So he helpfully opened the trunk of his car and let a police sargeant see enough booze to keep a group of twenty or so eighteen year olds well oiled for a very long weekend, or, alternatively, enough to fuel quite a nice happy hour at a police stationhouse.

"What are you young fellows doing with all this beer?" the copper alertly asked, "none of you look over twenty-one to me." At this point Dave B should have taken over because he actually was over twenty one years old at the time. But he was bred German to the bone and thus overly respectful of authority, so he hung back. Thus it was left to me to handle the most delicate legal conversation I've ever had.

Not that I was completely lacking in resources. I was a few months shy of twenty one; but I had observed Pop quite a bit in my youth, and I was confident that the IDs in my wallet would pass reasonable inspection. I was pretty proud of the contents of that wallet. This was the era before Xerox machines; but I can be pretty inventive when motivated, and I had created some pretty good paper considering the crude tools available.

I had an extra Navy ID created from a page of an ROTC textbook that contained a perfect sized Navy Seal. And before I sealed it in plastic it had even become embossed with the embosser that was usually in a locked drawer of the desk of the ROTC office manager. Quite a nice touch, if I may say so myself. In addition I had a Colorado State driver's license that looked quite a bit more legitimate that the real Colorado license that one of my fraternity brothers carried. Finally, I had a Shriners ID card that I worked up from some Shriners card stock that Dave brought back to the house. He worked part time helping out the Shriners with their then state of the art computer system. The room containing that computer also contained enough materials to make IDs for most of the population of Mexico.

Computer hacking is not a new thing, it's just that back then you had to do it at the control console of the computer, or else by slipping actual punched cards into a scheduled run. Dave had enrolled many of us in the fraternity house as Shriners, some at quite high levels of rank; and he had made us nice certificates every bit as fancy as those on the walls of the fat old fellows who ride those little cars around in Chicago parades to this day. But I was the only one smart enough to realize that the various items available in the Shriner's print room could be combined to make up a very good ID card. And who was going to know that a real Shriner's card didn't have a picture and a birth date on it?

All three ID's lined up as to birth date, and the three had different pictures, important details of which I was pretty proud. It's true that by the time of this incident those cards made me twenty three years old. They had occasionally drawn wry looks from particularly alert bartenders; but they had never failed me. I was well into the habit of thinking that I was over twenty one, and inner confidence is nine-tenths of selling a line. You have to believe it with at least a good part of your mind if you're going to sell it to someone else.

So it was easy to tell the cop, "I'm over twenty-one, officer." He immediately shot back, "What are you doing with all this beer? And a case of wine?" Then he looked more closely at the case of wine and made a bit of a face. Just my luck; of all the Chicago police sargeants I had to get an oenophile. I think that particular vintage of loganberry sweet red went for about eighty cents a bottle, cheaper in case lots. I shrugged to communicate that he couldn't hold me responsible for the wine selection. I would no more than he imbibe such swill. Ah, the second lie is always easier than the first. Sister Mary Francis was very right in some things.

But the copper's interest in the nature of the wine had triggered something deep down in my mind. Also, there was something about the way he was looking at the beer. Being alert to nonverbal clues is very important. So I explained that it was the fraternity house's beer and wine, and the pledges had taken it as a joke on the actives. The reason they had taken me and Dave was precisely because adults had to be responsible for the alchohol.

Then I added perhaps the most brilliant line I've ever uttered. "Actually, officer," I said, "this beer is going to get warm anyway, and it's sure to be ruined by all the driving we're going to be doing; so it would be just as well with me if we were to leave it here, or at least leave one of the kegs here, to lighten the load on this car."

I was a lot smarter than Governor Blagovesich even when I was twenty years old. The crime of bribery is all about offering a quid for a self interest quo. So the briber must never, never, never name both the quid and the real quo. The idea is to name the quid and then associate it with a quo that's clearly in the public interest. The bribee can then accept the quid in the name of the public interest quo with arguably clean hands. The real quo remains unmentioned.

The copper, Irish and one of Chicago's finest in every sense of the word, immediately moved off a bit to confer privately with his partner. I busied myself with herding the stupid pledges into the cars before one of them could say something. A couple of the more alert among them had begun to understand what was happening. I very much wanted them to share their insight with their fellows, for of what use is brilliance if not appreciated; but this was not the time for high fives or other untoward displays like the sorts of stupidity Governor Blagovesich was caught exhibiting on tape. I didn't want anyone pullng a blahoyavich and queering the deal - there, I've coined a new word, taking some liberty with the fool's name because no one not from Chicago can pronounce his real name.

The cop returned smiling. Then, just to bust my. . . uh. . . just to exhibit his dominance and test my resolve in a friendly way, he said, "Maybe you boys should leave both of these kegs. we'll get rid of them for you."

A test, but I've always done well on tests; and respect for officers of the law only goes so far. One must not descend to obsequiousness unless absolutely cornered. Bargainers are far better respected than toadies. I responded that I'd personally like nothing better than to leave both kegs; but it would leave us with nothing to balance the weight of the case of wine in the trunk, and we couldn't leave the case of wine because we had to return that to the fraternity house after we came back from the weekend. So simple prudence dictated that we would have to keep one keg of the beer and dispose of it properly downstate.

The cop laughed. We were brothers in that moment; so we didn't need to shake hands or anything sappy like that. He and I just needed to lift the one keg out of the trunk of the pledge's car and move it into the trunk of the squad car, which was helpfully opened by his partner. The partner, an Italian by his nametag, at first said nothing; but it was clear he considered me a credit to our shared ethnicity. Then, just to prove he was wide awake, he mentioned that perhaps they should also take the tapper off our hands. But I was on firm ground now, so I pointed out that we were bound to return the tapper to the beer distributor or else they would keep our deposit. I didn't mention that the distributor would also keep our deposit on the one missing keg, but I did mention the name of the distributor and the hope that the keg would find its way back there.

Like I said, these were truly among Chicago's finest. Once bought they stayed bought, and they were discreet, unlike a certain blahoyavich I could mention - there's a second meaning of my new addition to the lexicon. When we returned from the weekend I had a nice conversation with the wide awake Polish fellow at the distributor who asked how it happened that I was returning one keg but its mate had been returned the other day by a squad car. He returned the deposits, laughed, and assured me that my business was always welcome after acting like he believed my ridiculous explanation.

Some other time I'll relate the events that brought me into contact with an Illinois State cop who responded to the report of a disturbance on the lawn of a fraternity house in Springfield during that same weekend. That encounter also ended happily; and I'm sure the state trooper remembers it as vividly as I do, for it played out as well as any Saturday Night Live skit.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The other day Florence King and now Camille Paglia

What a week of treats. The other day I read a column by Florence King; and today I ran across this new column by Camille Paglia.

Paglia is in fine form. First she spitefully sinks her fangs into Hillary Clinton, who's always worthy of attack. Then she pauses for a little mild praise of Dick Cavett like a cobra mesmerizing its prey before striking. What makes the attack all the more enjoyable is that Cavett is almost too pathetic a bow tied dweeb to merit attention from such a one as Paglia.

One imagines Hillary recoiling like a startled water buffalo from the cobra that has suddenly reared up in its path and bitten it on the nose. Cavett can only be envisioned twitching and stumbling around in circles like a stunned and suddenly spastic mouse awaiting ingestion, digestion and elimination.


And - for those of you who can control your dirty minds and avoid getting all judgmental there is this link to an article about a new robot that listens and talks and helps its inventor out with his finances.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A passable movie and an excellent book

Tonight Linda and I watched On a Clear Day. It's a pretty watchable movie about a strong silent shipyard worker who gets laid off, gets depressed and then decides to swim across the English Channel. He trains in the pool, he bonds with his three shipyard buddies and the cook at a Chinese restaurant. He is inspired by a disabled kid who never gives up swimming back and forth in the pool. He reconnects with his son. He finally communicates just a little bit with his wife. And, of course, he swims the channel.

An ultimately sappy movie, but worth watching. Pop would have watched it all the way through, but he would have been making comments periodicly. There are no dogs or old time costumes in it; but there are kids in it. Pop generally made a show of disapproving of movies containing dogs, kids or old time costumes.

The March by E.L Doctorow is a whole different thing. I listened to it as an audio book over the past couple of weeks. It's truly excellent, and also somewhat surprising, for Doctorow treats General William Tecumseh Sherman with surprising sympathy. Surprising, because current day liberals don't approve of the sort of war Sherman waged as he blazed a path of destruction through the South, destroying or requisitioning crops and food supplies as well as laying waste to manufacturing plants and railroad lines. Sherman was carrying out the first truly modern example of total war, a dress rehearsal for the wars of the twentieth century.

Doctorow also avoids the temptation to present all of the slaves and former slaves as noble and all of the slave owners as evil. Finally, his periodic visits with the southern cracker who gains pardon from execution by volunteering to fight in the confederate army, deserts and passes himself off as a northern soldier and finally masquerades as a travelling photographer are a sheer delight.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wow! What a good movie

I just finished watching the movie In Bruges which I had never heard of. I highly recommend it. A great morality tale from the skewed perspective of the hitman movie.

Linda started watching it with me, but then got drawn away by a call from her sister and they talked for quite a while. By the time she got back to the TV the plot was far too complex to explain so she went off to read. Truth to tell Linda had been skeptical of the movie from the start because she doesn't approve of gangster movies or hitman movies.

To appreciate a hitman movie you have to accept the moral premises of the particular characters, the same way you accept the moral premises of Buggs Bunny and Elmer Fudd if you want to appreciate their interaction. One can't fall into the trap of judging a Charley Partanna any more than one can fall into the trap of judging the Coyote as he lays his traps for the
Roadrunner. Charley is a cook and a devotee of advice columns, and he is a hitman. It's just a job, until he runs into Irene Walker; but even then, a good and loyal worker, he must sublimate his personal feelings.

There has been a recent flowering of the hitman genre. We've had the indeterminate ethnicity wacko Anton Chugurh in No Country For Old Men, although he's in a special category, the functional lunatic hitman. Before that there was the sensitive caring Polish alchoholic hitman who was out in San Francisco to dry out - I can't remember the name of the movie. And there was the Russian undercover operative hitman in that other movie whose name I also can't remember right now. And now we have this In Bruges movie, which is about Irish hitmen laying low in Belgium.

There is, of course a long history of this genre, leading back beyond Charles Bronson in (I think) The Mechanic. What a great ending, Jan Michael Vincent reading Bronson's note on the steering wheel, ". . . if you're reading this it means I didn't make it. Bang! You're dead."

The Godfather, book and movie, is not a hitman story, although it contains memorable sketches of hitmen as only Puzo can do them, especially in the book which has much more scope. Prizzi's Honor, the book now, which was much better and very different from the movie, is a hitman story cleverly masquerading as a mafia story in service to the fact that it's a parody. Shibumi by Trevanian is the ultimate hitman story, but oddly it's never been made into a movie. In it, Trevanian introduces us to what appears an ultimate professional, and then pits that fellow against a character who so overshadows him that we must question our worldview.

A funny recent story about The Godfather reveals how much we've corrupted some of the rest of the family by our constant references to it. On Saturday Sam said Al A had told him to tell me about a gathering planned for A family men at La Fontana. I immediately took fake umbrage saying Al A should have called me rather than him. Sam said, "Well he called me." So I said "I'm your older brother, Sam, I deserve respect." Jas immediately piped up, "Yeah, he deserves respect, he's smart." Rebecca was listening and capped it off by recognizing the source of the exchange.

Of course all too often Sam, Jas and I get to laughing about some reference and everybody else around is looking at us like we're crazy.

Lions and Tigers and Bare-Faced Liars

Lions and tigers and bears were what Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion feared in The Wizard of Oz. But today we have much more to fear from Bare-Faced Liars like those in the media who persist in trying to make massacres carried out by Muslims be about everything except what they're really about.

But before I get started on that I wanted to mention that it's as cold as. . . Well, as Pop used to say, it's cold as a brass bra on a witch's. . . Sorry, I forgot for a moment that this is a family blog. Sis reminded me just the other day after I posted that thing about how pleased Aunt Mary would be to see the acceptance of the new word in the language.

Bobbitise was used as a verb by a writer for the Times of India. You'll have to look it up on your own because I don't have time to explain right now since I'm determined not to let this turn into one of these interminable posts that wanders all over the place.

I have to get back to the fact that it's wery, wery cold out there right now, as Bugs Bunny would say. I just walked back from leaving my car over at the Ford Dealer. I wanted to get it serviced before Ford goes bankrupt or they shut all the dealers down. Plus, I noticed on Friday that my inspection sticker was three months out of date.

Fortunately for me the local police are shockingly inefficient after almost eight years of poor leadership by the Bush administration, which is being held responsible for every other goofy thing that goes wrong in the country so why not this. I have a feeling that important laws like getting our cars inspected every year in the proper month and not mixing recyclables in the regular trash will be a lot better enforced after Barry drafts a million or so secret police stooges, I mean community service volunteers, to poke their noses up our. . . er. . . to keep a very close and helpful eye on all of us. And I just can't wait until he provides me with a community organizer to help keep me better organized and more attentive to the environment and stuff.

So anyway, being a law abiding citizen, I dropped my car off at the dealer this morning as soon as I could after realizing that I would eventually get caught; but then I had to walk home, a shocking thing, a very unnatural thing with gasoline down to $1.79 a gallon at the Wawa.

Is this a great country or what! The rest of the world is paying like $8.00 a gallon for gas and we're well on our way down to paying a buck. You almost hate turning the car off overnight and then having to run out there to start it so it can warm up while you're having your second cup of coffee in the morning. I really, really need one of those remote control starters. I'll bet Al Gore never has to waddle his fat. . . er. . . never has to waddle outside to start a frozen car so it can warm up in the morning.

Speaking of which, or rather not speaking of which, I just read a great paragraph in Florence King's latest column in National Review when I slipped outside for a cigarette The way Barry's going to be doing on the White House balcony once he gets inaugurated. What? The media never told you he's a weak willed tobacco addict. Never mind.

Anyway, I'm too lazy to look up the link to Florence King's column, so you'll have to google it if you want to read the whole thing. Her column is called "the bent pin," and this edition's entry is titled 'Iceberg, Right Ahead'.

She wrote, "Did you know it's entirely possible to drink a whole bottle of vodka a day with no hangover or other ill effects if you use milk as a mixer? I did it the last week of the campaign. I don't know what size the bottles were because I don't understand these new foreign measurements, but they were whole bottles and I polished them off. My doctor was alarmed. "Don't worry," I said, "it was skim milk,""

I had a fraternity brother back in college who swore by scotch and milk; but he never could get me to try it. Not that I was terribly scrupulous about the scotch, although I considered it an expensive affectation. That was during the period when I was perhaps not paying as much attention to my studies as I should have been. I had a free ride scholarship from the Navy that also included $100 per month in spending money, and I was making some extra money on the side, so money was the least of my problems; but something about paying for scotch just didn't fit my thinking.

That same buddy and I later quit drinking cold turkey for quite a while after watching the movie The Lost Weekend. The movie was very powerful; but our period of temperance may have had something to do with the fact that we shared a quart of on-sale cognac and a bottle of wine during the movie on the theory that cognac is made from wine so it should be compatible with wine. Oh, and we watched the movie after returning from The Knotty Pine after the bartender rudely refused to continue to serve us.

I think the wine was Barcelona Sweet Red; but it may have been Thunderbird, which had a great slogan. The Senior VP of Sales at my company recently greeted me with "What's the word, Sully?" as I approached him in a corridor. I immediately gave him back, "What's the word? Thunderbird. What's the price? Thirty twice." It turned out he had never heard the slogan, so I had to explain it to him later. He's a bit younger than me so I'm not sure he believed me 100% that T-Bird was sixty cents a quart at the time.

The wine turned out not to be compatible with cognac on top of beer. And it did not endear me to my roommate, Dave B, who returned to the room from the weekend at home to find me curled up on his bed in a nest made of the formerly clean clothes that had been neatly stacked there. He took a can of instant drink powder and turned me into a crusted mummy while I slept. Later, when I woke he was not at all sympathetic to my explanation that I had moved to his bed only because mine became unsuitable for sleeping in during the night.

All was not lost though, for the pattern of events did result in a never since repeated physiological experience. When I finally arose to stumble down the hall to the shower room I found that all I could see was a tiny image in the center of my field of view. The effect was like looking down a long pipe. Very strange and edifying in a certain sort of way.

Ever since then I've been a veritable paragon of moderation in all things, more or less. All of us learn in life. Well, most of us learn, mostly from experience, those of us who survive. There is, of course the fact that ultimately none of us survive. But best not go there.

I was talking about my lack of temperance in my younger days, and perhaps to this day in some things. I take solace in Saint Augustine, who sort of said, 'Lord give me temperance and self control; but not yet.' Good old Saint Augie. He was definitely a righteous dude who would have fit right in at our fraternity, at least before he got into the robes and started talking and writing all kinds of heavy downer stuff.

I've always wondered if he's an ancestor; but I've done so privately since senior year of high school. One of the nuns at Bishop Kenrick became quite cross with me when I speculated a bit along that line in a book report that strayed a somewhat from the theme of City of God. She very unjustly gave me a C for that paper even though that was an A paper if I've ever written one, very inventive. But she was a wise old bird though, that nun. She was just teaching me a valuable lesson with that C grade. Never, never, never speak truth to power. The Cambodians, I think it's the Cambodians, have a somewhat similar wisdom, in their folk saying, 'When elephants dance the mice should stay clear.'

But I was writing about Florence King. Ah, Florence, it's a great pity she's about a hundred or a hundred and ten years old and can't live forever. What a piece of work. One of these days I really need to get her first book, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady. I've read all of her other books and I've been looking forward to her columns for years.

But I appear to have digressed and gotten myself all twisted around like a coyote in a hall of mirrors with a roadrunner. I was at the Ford Dealer. And I was dressed in about five layers for the walk; but still, I about froze my. . . Sorry again. . . Uh, various and sundry parts of me were very chilled by the time I walked the couple of miles home.

What the heck is going on anyway. We were promised global warming to eliminate these cold winters. Yet this November and December are easily the coldest we've had for a long while. The pond has had a skin of ice on it for a couple of weeks which is unprecedented in the thirty years since we moved here.

Anyway, I plan to get back to that in another post; so back to the running amok Muslims and their perfidious apologists in the media.

Here are the plain facts. . .

Eh, I'm too lazy to lay out the facts and the Ford Dealer just called to say my car is ready; so I'll just give you a link to a column by Mark Steyn, who's a lot more disciplined and organized than me, and who makes a lot of sense on this subject.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fish stories

Don A down in Florida helpfully provided a list of baccala recipes. The one below looks pretty much like the one Grandmon L and Aunt Mary R used to make on Christmas Eve, and which Angela made more recently, but without the green olives, capers and pignolis which are only appropriate if Don Corleone is coming to visit. There are some other interesting looking baccala recipes on the document Don sent me. If you want the full list send me an email or leave your email address in a comment.

A warning - If you decide to make this or anything else with baccala you need to remember, as I often haven't, that two pounds of dried salted cod is a lot, a very lot. After you soak it, it will swell up like a monster set loose in Phoenixville into something like four or five pounds of fish. I think this recipe must mean two pounds after it's been soaked; so it's a recipe intended for maybe half of one of the hard as wood dried cod fillets that you find being sold right out of the wooden box in a proper market.

One time I showed up at Mom and Pop's house with three dried cod fillets of which I was pretty proud because I had ignored the dirty looks of the clerk and leafed through the fillets in the box just like Mom used to do to get the ones with the thickest thick ends. Pop, who didn't like baccala, took one look at the maybe six pounds of dried cod and said, "What the hell are you gonna do with all of that damned stuff." Mom just laughed. As I recall she kept one of the fillets to use for Christmas Eve and one for later and sent me home with the third along with instructions about how to soak it. So me and Linda had a second Christmas Eve, at least from a baccala standpoint, in late January of that year. Come to think of it I made the red baccala that year myself, so Mom must have said something like, 'soak the fish, fry some garlic in olive oil, put in a can of chopped tomatoes, some potatoes and some raisins and cook it 'til it's done.'

You need to start forty eight hours before you plan to cook the fish by putting the dried fillet in a big pot of cold water. Bend it or cut it in half if need be so it's fully submerged and put the pot in the refrigerator. Change the cold water at least twice and finally change it again before boiling the now swelled up and soft fish. The fact that the whole house will smell like a Portuguese fishing boat for a day or so after you boil it is part of the fun, it adds atmosphere. The fish ends up looking pure and white, surprisingly like fresh fish, given that it starts out yellow and fibrous; but it has more body, more texture and bite, than fresh fish.

I'm always amazed that only me and Sam and Angela really look forward to the red bacalla on Christmas Eve. The rest of the family at best tolerates it and at worst takes Pop's attitude. Pop never met a fish he really liked even though he liked to fish when he was younger.

This classic bacalla dish includes potatoes and green olives, found in many sicilian dishes
2 lbs of bacalla (soaked, cleaned & deboned)
1 cup of olive oil
2 med onions - sliced
2 celery stalks - sliced
4 tomatoes - peeled, seeded and chopped
1 lb potatoes - peeled
10 green olives - pitted
2 tbls capers
2 tbls pignoli nuts
4 tbls raisins
Heat the oil in a deep skillet or sauce pan/saute the onions & celery and cook till softened/add the tomatoes and 1/2 cup of warm water/bring to a slow simmer/cut the bacalla into fairly large uniform pieces/cut potatoes into quarters/add the bacalla, potatoes, and the rest of the ingredients to the pot & simmer for 30-40 minutes

Friday, December 5, 2008

A foot and a half wide and much less than an inch deep

I can't remember which river it is, but there's a river out West that's said to be a mile wide and an inch deep. I think the same river may be the one that is also said to be too thick to drink and too thin to plow. I'm too lazy to look it up, and also I want to get to writing about the most pressing and important question of the age.

How on earth did someone as stupid and shallow as Barbara Walters become a national celebrity?

I almost never watch such shows; but last night I happened to watch Walters' show about the most fascinating people of the year. And I actually found it to be interesting in a mindless sort of way. Barbara's looking her age, which is not surprising for she must be in her eighties; but the picks her producers made for her were actually fairly interesting people.

And I even learned something. I learned that Tina Fey, the woman who has recently become famous for imitating Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, is actually a whole lot more than a talented mimic. She's a highly accomplished actress, comedian, producer and writer, a majorly smart and talented and goal oriented powerhouse woman. I drew all of that from a few little snippets that the idiot Barbara's warders included in a little video they put on before the great Barbara asked Tina Fey three or four questions.

So, just now I googled Tina Fey and I filled in what Barbara didn't have time to get into because her most pressing task, the most interesting thing she could find to ask Tina Fey about had to do with the very trivial fact that she did a job any one of a hundred or a thousand mimics could have done in imitating Sarah Palin.

Barbara had the chance to ask questions of a highly successful, multidimensional, woman who rose to become head writer of Saturday Night Live, perhaps the most prestigious and demanding writing job in show business, and she was interested in nothing but having her exhibit her talent as a parrot.

I've seen a lot of dumb things in my life. Hell, I've even done one or two, or maybe a few, pretty darn dumb things in my life. But I've never seen or done anything that even remotely approaches the sort of brain dead stupidity that Barbara Walters exhibited with those three or four questions.

The woman is a valley girl in a more conservative dress. She's not as wide as that river out west, but she makes up for it by being a lot more shallow.

Where has common sense gone?

The fact that we here in the U.S. haven't suffered a major terrorist attack since the two muslim snipers killed a bunch of people down in Virginia in 2003 or so has made us all complacent. The post at the link below by Andy McCarthy of National Review is a good reminder that our law enforcement system and our immigration system are run by complete imbeciles. This story has flown under the radar of the big media because it doesn't fit their worldview that all is sweetness and light.

Republicans don't want to publicize it because the idiots in law enforcement and immigration have been working under the orders of President Bush for the last eight years while this cancer has been metasticizing across our country. The Democrats don't want to publicize it because a small but significant wing of their party is composed of outright terrorist and their sympathizers, and another larger wing is composed of people who approve of anything that harms this country. There - I think that's a nicely balanced nonpartisan paragraph.

This is what things have come to. The FBI apparently helped out by flying the shreds and tatters of a muslim suicide bomber to Minnesota so he could be buried "at home." Part of me understands that the feebies are just making nice in the hope of developing sources of information in the muslim community there; since there are 20 young men missing from that community who are almost surely overseas plotting massacres or being trained to carry out massacres. But I can't help but think that the "good cop" routine isn't the most effective way to react to the situation.


I have a couple of thoughts about this that are somewhat politically incorrect.

1. The FBI should have carefully and respectfully investigated everything about the immigration status of the members of his family, his mosque and the community the suicide bomber came from with an eye toward enforcing every single wrinkle of immigration law, no matter how much it cost or how long it took.

2. Then they should have started as big a task force of lawyers as necessary working to deport every non-citizen in the above groups who had ever been found guilty of so much as a traffic violation or made so much as a mistake with a comma on his or her immigration papers.

If the above course had been followed muslim parents and teachers all over the country and all over the world would right now be explaining to the young people in their communities that it's alright to hate this country, but not wise to attack this country. Also, and this is just as important, there would no doubt arise a big and noisy contingent of lawyers and activists and such to fight the program, and a bunch of judges would no doubt issue rulings impeding the program. The list of such folks would be very useful to publicize the next time there is a big terrorist attack in this country, as there will be.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

These little guys should replace those annoying tortoises

These little guys put a whole new meaning to the word "slow". They only move about an inch per day. Comcast should get rid of those obnoxious tortoises and sign on a couple of them to do the high speed internet commercials. Munchkins, I think, is a better name for them than sea grapes. If I'm understanding the article correctly they roll by taking in food on one side of their marble sized bodies and eliminating waste products out the other side.


Research is clearly needed to figure out how to keep them alive in captivity. And the article doesn't address whether they can be trained to do tricks. It also says nothing about whether they're affectionate. Finally, it doesn't get into the fascinating subject, always thoroughly addressed on the Science Channel and National Geographic Channel nature shows, of how and when they get it on to make new little munchkins. Do the males fight for territory or mates? Do they roll around together for a couple of months to get to know one another? Do they mate for life or is it bump and go?

Talk about a great potential pet! At an inch a day it would take them a week just to go from one end to the other of a small tank. Put in a few little walls and you could make a maze in a five gallon tank that would take them months to fully explore. And they can't eat much, so they would be cheap to feed. I wonder if their shells are tough enough to resist scratching and gumming by, say, a feisty little Xenopus.

Christmas is a comin'

Ha! The New York Times apparently just discovered the merits of organic Christmas trees.


We've had the most organic Christmas trees that it's possible to have ever since Alex and I got Linda to agree to the idea of a big tree and we cut down that fir back beyond the pond several years ago. Rebecca's disapproval when she found out we had cut a forty or fifty foot tree to use the top fourteen feet made my enjoyment of the tree all the better. Note to self - don't let Rebecca find out that I have my eye on an even bigger fir tree that has a nice symmetrical top.

I still remember that first live tree quite well because of Linda's skepticism when we dragged it in and set it up in the living room. It looked a lot bigger inside than it had outside, a lot bigger. I also remember it because the bottom thirty or so feet of it is still over there in the woods. I've had no reason to cut up the trunk because fir gives off too much creosote when you burn it; and the lower branches are still holding the trunk off the ground; so it isn't rotting.

Plus, it bothers me that such a nice straight log is sitting there unused. At one point I was going to remove the branches and use it as a stringer for the bridge; but I ended up using four cedars for the stringers because I thought they would last longer. The upstart is that that's turned out not to be the case. There the fir is, mocking me, still solid each time I whack it with a machete; and the thin ends of a couple of the cedar logs in the bridge are rotting.

I may replace them with oak trunks when I get around to taking apart the bridge and rebuilding it. There are oaks which really should be culled from the grove off to the side of the house and the trunk of the dead english oak hasn't rotted in more than a decade even though it's sitting on the ground. Of course, it's possible that the wood of the white and pin oaks in the grove will not be as rot resistant as english oak.

Come to think of it we should get a carbon credit for cutting that fir tree and leaving it lay in a way which has kept all the carbon in its trunk bound up and out of the atmosphere all these years.

Sadly there will be no live tree this year because Alex won't be home for Christmas. So we're going back to our artificial tree that's been taking up space in the garage for the past few years. Which reminds me that I just got an email from Angie. She's not coming for Christmas this year either. She's going to be recovering from a planned back operation to relieve pressure on a nerve. That means me and Linda are going to be breading and frying on Christmas Eve all alone. . . unless perhaps Liana and Catherine want to help?

Arrgh! It also means no baccala with potatoes, raisins and tomato sauce unless somebody wants to contact Angie for the recipe. There's no way Linda or I will have time to make it on Christmas Eve. I'll provide the baccala if someone wants to make it since I'll be buying and soaking some for the white baccala recipe anyway.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another great dance class

Linda and I just returned from our Wednesday evening dance class up at the Ballroom on High in Pottstown. A great break in the middle of the week, nice people, a little exercise, and the challenge of learning new tricks. Some of us, of course, learn new tricks faster than others.

The Ballroom is run by a fellow named Faryl Codispoti who has a website named swingkat.com. Faryl and his wife are mostly into swing dancing and they run swing dances on Friday nights. Sam, Deb, Jas, Kathy, Linda and I have been going to the ballroom dances on Saturday nights off and on for a couple of years. We've also been taking lessons on Wednesday nights, especially since Jas went off and got certified as an instructor. He and Kathy have become quite the professional instructors, so much so that they've accumulated a following.

Where can you get a better deal than $9 for an hour long dance lesson on Wednesday night and $12 for a beginner lesson and a couple of hours of dancing to a DJ on Saturday nights? Reasonable prices and a group of genuinely nice people. Up to a hundred or so come to the Saturday night dances, and we've gotten to know about twenty or so of them pretty well.

Linda and I have gotten pretty decent at the Waltz, Foxtrot and Rumba, and we can do a passable imitation of a jitterbug. We can fake a bit of Samba, and we discovered that you can do a Rumba to a Cha Cha and get away with it. Sam and Deb are better and, of course, Jas and Kathy are in a different class. But even they are outclassed by some of the folks who come on Saturday nights.

Jas was teaching solo tonight because Kathy wasn't feeling well. That was a bit of a challenge because we're getting to the complication point in the intermediate Rumba class where some of us old dogs are seriously having problems with the new tricks. But the quality and sheer niceness of the thirty or so folks in the class made it a great time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A new recipe, woe to bambi and Aunt Mary R is LHAO

"Life," Forrest Gump said, "is like a box of chocolates. . . you never know what you're gonna get."

I try my best to prepare dinners in that spirit when I'm home and loose in the kitchen, as I am this week. Today, for instance we had a Mediterranean themed dinner. Linda knew about the little pork tenderloin roast, of course, because she bought it and put it in the refrigerator last weekend - one of those marinated things, very good actually - and she even suggested it for today's dinner. This one was marinated in Italian spices. So the roast was no surprise.

But the potatoes, ahh. My original intention was simply to mash them and serve them with Heinz brown gravy from the can. Lazy, I know; but it's impossible to make good brown gravy from the drippings off a puny little low fat pork roast. And anyway that would have been off theme for potatoes are, from a Mediterranean diet point of view, suitable only for feeding to pigs, or at least that's what Grandmom L used to say every Thanksgiving. She also had that opinion of corn, only more so.

But I was writing about tonight's dinner, and traditional mashed potatoes wouldn't fit Linda's stricture that we should eat lower cholesterol meals for a few days to balance off the delicious but ultimately deadly diet we enjoyed over the Thanksgiving weekend. There's a reason you don't see Pilgrims walking around. The ones the Indians didn't wisely tomahawk or shoot full of arrows are all dead of heart disease from using scrawny, practically inedible turkeys as an excuse to indulge in mashed potatoes, real brown gravy, bread stuffing cooked with butter and drippings, and apple and pumpkin pies with flaky crusts.

So my traditional mashed potatoes were out, for a couple of good reasons, even though they are, if I may say so myself, in a league by themselves, suitable for the rare well loved king. If the king is well out of reach of his doctors. For what are mashed potatoes, after all, but an elegant vehicle for exploding the flavor of butter and salt in a worthy person's mouth without undue distraction. Ahhh. Mashed potatoes.

Where was I? I was wondering how to make the potatoes both low in cholesterol and high in Mediterraneanness. So I made mashed potatoes in the classic Greek style, or at least in the style the classical Greeks would have made mashed potatoes if they had had potatoes.

I peeled and boiled the potatoes (about 1.5 pounds) and then mashed them with four cloves of garlic that I roasted and steamed in their skins in a little pouch of aluminum foil for an hour or so in the oven with the pork roast. Then I added about a half cup of pitted kalamata olives and mashed them some more while adding about a quarter cup of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Superb! Creamy and very mildly garlic and kalamata flavored, but punctuated with bursts of intense flavor as you came upon the pieces of the olives. I'm happy to report that Linda was impressed after some initial skepticism.

To go with the pork and the potatoes I thawed a small container of the Swiss Chard that I liberated from Sam's garden and parboiled back in August while he and Deb were down in Florida. Sauteed with a little garlic and oil it was the perfect accompaniment, even down to the fact that acqusition via rapine adds a special savor to food in a very Mediterranean fashion. The pear or the fig from across the fence always tastes sweeter than the one from your own tree.

Update: Linda and I just got back from our walk. A cold night, but warmed by the changing scenery. At this season the neighborhood changes nightly as more and more Christmas lights appear. I always feel just a little guilty that we don't put up any lights until just before Christmas; but we're probably the ones who most enjoy the neighborhood lights since we walk every night unless the weather is ridiculous. Fortunately rationalization is one of my most well honed skills. I comfort myself by remembering that without us to view them those lights wouldn't even exist, or at least that's what some hyper-reductive philosophers assert.

Have I mentioned that the deer herd has been much in evidence lately. I'm hoping for a major trimming of their numbers over the next few weeks. There are now three bow hunters staking out the property, two experienced and one novice. It's not quite as much coverage as I'd like, but there's no way the herd is going to get through the winter without significant attrition. Here's to the deer. May they roast in peace.

Dave B has been seriously practicing and can shoot a very credible group with his compound bow. And he met and is being mentored by an interesting young fellow named Rick who's a bow hunting advisor at French Creek Outfitters. Between the two of them they have shooting lanes cleared around tree stands that cover the deer trails in the woods across the little creek behind the pond, and the swampy area below the pond where they like to sleep.

Rick is from St. Augustine down in Florida and he's apparently been hunting all his life. He said that this year he's using a recurve bow rather than a compound one for the challenge. I joked with him that after he gets a deer with the recurve bow he should set out to make his own bow and hunting arrows and take things to their most basic. Then I was surprised when he said he's thought about it. So I led him to the little grove of osage orange trees and told him he's welcome to cut some if he decides he wants to make his own bow from scratch. When I see him again I need to mention that I have a few six foot long splits English oak that may also serve for a bow.

Dave and Rick aren't the deer herd's only problems; for the other day I got an exceptionally pleasant surprise when Bob showed up. Bob's been hunting the property for a few years but I wasn't expecting to see him again. He's been on and off chemotherapy for a while. A couple of years ago he had to switch to a crossbow for lack of arm strength to hold on target.

What a trooper. When he switched to the crossbow he joked about the fact that it's a major advantage, the only good aspect of the cancer he's been fighting. Last winter he got four deer, but surprised me when I met him in the woods in January or February by calmly saying that he was probably enjoying his last week of hunting because the doctors were warning him that he didn't have long to go. May he stock his freezer with venison for many years to come.

Update 2: Aunt Mary R is no doubt laughing her ass off up in heaven after reading this article.


Monday, December 1, 2008

A few thoughts

1. I'm not a great big fan of Jeff Bezos; but here's a reason to give him some business by shopping at Amazon. He's actually trying to do something about those plastic packages that are impossible to open. The most interesting thing in the article is the fact that 6,000 people end up at the emergency room each year as a result of the various schemes we all come up with to try to open those packages.


2. There is a problem with pirates off the West coast of Africa, and there is a problem with shoppers rampaging like barbarian hordes and trampling store clerks to death up on Long Island. It seems to me we could solve both problems by giving cutlasses to the berserk shoppers and then telling them there are bargains aboard the pirate ships.

3. There was a time, not so long ago, when it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire. For you youngsters that meant Great Britain had colonies stretching all the way around the world. Back in that time the British were renowned for their stiff upper lip. That stemmed from the time when Francis Drake didn't let a little thing like the reported arrival of the Spanish Armada interrupt his game of lawn bowling. Drake finished his game and then went to his ship to fight the armada. That's a stiff upper lip.

Those days are over, for it turns out the English Cricket Team ran from India like cowardly dogs with their tails between their legs just because of a few little terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week. Courage and fortitude are vanishing virtues. Perhaps western civilization deserves to collapse.

4. There is a new news and opinion website that I just learned about. It seems to take a very mature attitude toward the results of the recent election. I haven't done much more than skim down to get a sense of what they have to say; but I like the concept.


5. Speaking of running dogs, Barry Obama is running from his campaign promises faster than an English cricket team runs from commitments. His supporters and voters may not notice; but I will notice if he fails to release all the terrorist killers from Guantanamo immediately after he's inaugurated. I'll also notice if he fails to take away the right to a secret ballot from working people in union elections. And I'll notice if he doesn't withdraw all of our troops from Iraq within 18 months of his inauguration. And I'll notice if he doesn't raise taxes on the rich like he said he would. And if he doesn't send troops to invade Pakistan to catch Osama Bin Laden.

Promises are promises, even stupid promises. I'll be soooo disappointed if Barry turns out to be just another lying politician.

And what's with those terrorist attacks in India anyway. I thought the world was going to love us once Barry was elected.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mr. Tad's Thanksgiving; and some sappy stuff

We just returned home from Thanksgiving dinner. Quite a gathering, perhaps the last of an era because Jas and Kathy have been talking of spending a lot of time in Florida after they retire next August. The Thanksgiving gathering has been at their house for about the last ten years, so we may be getting toward one of those unpleasant junctions in life when old and familiar things change.

Today's gathering included Jas, Kathy, Johnny, Angela, Jenny, Doug, me, Linda, Alex, Christina, Sam, Debra, Samuel, Don, Delores, Marianne, Dave, Liana, Catherine, Mark, Linda and Mark. Dave A had to work, so he missed dinner, although he was around earlier in the day.

Twenty-two of us sharing the most precious thing of all to be thankful for.

Not the food, although the food, prepared mostly by Kathy and Jenny, was excellent - traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, brussel sprouts, peas, a tart cranberry relish, a sweet cranberry mold and, of course, multiple desserts. The food was great, but Thanksgiving gatherings have boasted similar food for all of my sixty years.

And not the scintillating conversation, even though it was wide ranging. And even though Linda remembered that my frog once had a proper name, Mr. Tad. In observance of Thanksgiving I gave Mr. Tad a special treat today, a little pinch of bloodworms from the quarter of an ounce container out of which he has gotten an occasional pinch for about fifteen years. He likes bloodworms, a lot; and even frogs should have reason to be thankful.

And not the memories evoked as we older folks remembered the days of The Three Stooges and bemoaned the fact that the youngsters have no respect for the great old black and white movies. All leading, as such remembrance conversations sometimes do, to marvelling about how Aunt Mary R became fascinated with the story of Lorena Bobbitt, holding her up as an example to all womankind after the first little snippet about her appeared in The Times Herald, long before the story went national in a big way. "Good for her. . .That's what all you men deserve," was her greatest quote. A complex and interesting woman, Aunt Mary R, harboring some deep currents under the image of the dutiful Italian housewife.

But I was talking about being thankful. The most important thing we all have to be thankful for is the fact that Mom and Pop succeeded in raising the four of us in such a way that we have remained compatible one with the other, and as a family, for all of the past forty nine years since Marianne appeared. Even more miraculously, the four of us have all been fortunate enough to make good and lasting marriages to spouses who are also compatible.

For more than fifty years that I can attest to we've been gathering for dinners on Thanksgiving. And that's besides the gatherings for dinner on Christmas, New Year's Day and Easter, and for picnics, cookouts, on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. We've been a close family even putting aside the run of the mill Sunday dinners and desserts, the Saturday morning coffee klatches, the weekday evening visits, the weeklong vacations together in Stone Harbor, then Chincoteague, then Corolla Light and finally The Villages, plus a couple of road trips out west.

Early on in that period we Augustines clustered with the hordes of ravenous Raimos and Luzis and Capones and Romanos and Piermarinis and DiAngelis's at 403 Walnut Street in Norristown. Grandmom L and Aunt Mary R did the honors for dinners that included thirty or forty, not counting those who stopped by after dinner to pay their respects to Grandmom and Grandpop L, and maybe stay for coffee and "just a little dessert."

At the very peak of decadence back then I remember Thanksgiving dinners that included turkey and all the trimmings as above, plus a ham, plus lasagna and meatballs, all topped off with one of Aunt Mary's signature four layer twenty pound rum cream cakes, several of Mom's apple pies, a couple of pumpkin pies and Aunt Nancy's nonpareil rice pudding which could not be resisted even if one was near to bursting. It's fortunate there were no seat belts in those days, because it would surely have been painful to put them on for the ride back home. Looking back from the perspective of this cholesterol aware age, it's amazing anyone emerged alive from those dinners.

After the gatherings switched to 2808 Second Avenue in Trooper the menu tailed off to turkey and the trimmings, most memorably topped off with one of Mom's cookie sheet apple pies during the period in which she decided that one huge rectangular pie was more efficient to produce than several smaller round ones. Has anyone ever made better apple pie than mom, with that flaky crust that can only be achieve with lard or crisco. There were, of course, always a couple of pumpkin pies that one had to at least sample as well; and sometimes lasagna sneaked onto the menu; but I don't think Mom ever added a ham to the mix.

After dinner and dessert in Trooper, of course, we had to go down to Norristown to visit Grandmom and Grandpop. And it was impossible, once there, to avoid having a couple pieces of rum cream cake and maybe another piece of pie. It would then have been impolite not to at least stop in and say hi to Aunt Carmella, and doubly impolite to turn down her offer of coffee and maybe some cookies to force down while Russos, Jackinskis, Prostocks and DiPrinzios ebbed and flowed around.

Gatherings for Thanksgiving at Mom and Pop's Hopwood Road house in Collegeville, are the most memorable, of course. For what previous occurrences could have competed with the joy at the successive arrival of the various cute little rugrats - John, Rebecca, Jennifer, David, Alex, Samuel, Donald, Catherine and Liana - who first crawled and then ran around in their diapers, and occasionally broke loose and ran around without their diapers, their fathers oblivious and their mothers in hot pursuit.

If each member of that new generation is one tenth as lucky in their relationships as Linda and I have been in the steady closeness we've enjoyed with their parents they will be lucky indeed in life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Update 11/29: Marianne, my annoyingly watchful sister, reminded me last evening that Thanksgiving dinners after 1990 had come full circle and were down at 403 Walnut because Mom was then living with Aunt Mary R. The dinners moved up to Canci Court when Mom moved in with Jas and Kathy after Aunt Mary died. Thus Catherine and Liana celebrated their first Thanksgivings with the family at 403 Walnut.

Let the bailouts roll on

Why should $10 Million per year bloated executives and $76 per hour unionized auto workers at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get all the loot? Here's a much more worthy recipient for some of your tax money.


Hat Tip to John J. Miller at National Review

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In the palace of art

A few weeks ago I was sitting here on Saturday morning waiting for Sam and Jas to show up; and I got to thinking about Pop and Louie Jiggs. Specifically, I got to thinking about the time back in the 1970's, when they went to the art museum down in Philly, of all places. I never got straight the story of what inspired them to make the trip; but it's been worth a lot of laughs over the years, the notion of Louie Jiggs and the Pop of that era loose, unchaperoned, in the palace of art. You've got to remember that this wasn't all too many years after that other Italian fellow visited the Louvre and decided he liked the Mona Lisa - he really liked it - so he cut it out of its frame and took it home to have it where he could look at it whenever he wanted.

Don't get me wrong, Pop and Louie were both church going folks, solid reliable workers, each at his own trade; and they were basicly law abiding in most things. Neither would ever have stolen something from a person, unless it was a very rich person and no relation to them. But if either of them had been alone in an alley when a bag of money fell off a Brinks truck, well. . . I, for one, have never been too judgmental about Joey Coyle even though I always give back small amounts when careless cashiers make errors in my favor. But I've never been alone in an alley when a bag of small bills fell off a Brinks truck; and I've always thought that folks who are judgmental about Joe Coyle never have been either.

But I've strayed from the Art Museum. Pop was much too smart to think he could take a painting from the Philadelphia Museum of Art even if no one was looking. First off Pop was not a big art lover; although he was a pretty fair artist who every year surreptitiously painted a very credible little Santa, Sleigh and Reindeer in the sky on the picture Mom had in the dining room down in Trooper. But at the art museum Pop would also have known that there was no way to sell such a painting even if you could take it. Pop was not very well educated; but he was very good at math, very good at computing odds, which are, after all, nothing but risk reward ratios. But Louie. . .

Louie was a little fireplug shaped guy, a barber by trade, and he was a perfect exemplar of the ethics of the time. One time in the 1980's Louie came up to visit at Mom and Pop's house in Collegeville. On the way out the long gravel driveway from their house Louie stopped in Mr. C's section of the shared driveway, out of sight of the house; and he dumped off a bunch of cinder blocks and other trash in the drainage ditch next to the driveway. Jas brought that up while he and Sam were here, as he always does when the subject of Louie Jiggs comes up. "Outrageous," Jas always says, dumping trash by the side of the driveway that leads to your best friend's house. That, of course, was an era when none of us gave a second thought to opening the window of a car and tossing out a bottle or a food wrapper, or a brown paper bag of trash, as long as there wasn't an obvious cop around.

In a sense the art museum was designed for the edification of folks like Pop and Louie; but in another sense one can't think about their visit there without imagining the reaction of the Visigoths when they first conquered Rome and wondered wide eyed in its marbelled and statued streets, dragging their squealing and struggling prizes along with them, looking for a place to conduct some well deserved rest and recreation. I may owe my bluish gray eye color to one of those Visigoths, or to one of the Ostrogoths. Although my eye color could also owe to a Roman Legionary bringing back a souvenir, so to speak, from Gaul or Germania. Or I may owe by blue eyes to a legionary buying a German wife during the good times, for the Romans at least, when Julius Caeser and Caesar Augustus and their predecessor and successor thugs had disciplined armies of diminutive legionaries about as tall as Louie Jiggs out conquering and plundering and otherwise "civilizing" the known world.

One of my fraternity brothers, a southerner and ex-military type a few years older than the rest of us, used to remark after a few drinks that I was the only "blue-eyed Wop" he had ever seen. I used to counter with a comment on the likely rest and recreation habits of his white trash ancestors. And then I would take a firm grip on the neck of my beer bottle, just in case, and I would express my surprise that his skin color was so light. He and I got along well; but he was bigger than me and more muscular even after the summer when I went to Army Airborne School, so I always made sure to be ready to use the bottle when I went down that road. "Silky," he would say, "I could kick your ass for that, you know." And I would answer, "Maybe so, and maybe not, cracker." And he would laugh.

He and I both kept back an empty or two on the table when we went with a couple of our other fraternity brothers to the redneck bar near campus for the Friday night fights. Don't get me wrong, we never went to fight. He had had his fill of fighting in Vietnam, and I've never believed in fighting unless it's absolutely necessary. We went as spectators. We would leave after one beer if we couldn't get the table that was up a couple of steps on the little side platform overlooking the bar area. That platform had a railing that served like the palisade of a Roman legionary camp once the inevitable fight started and the chairs and bottles started flying.

Good times. . . having a few beers, watching the factory worker rednecks get drunk, wagering a round on which cracker would start the fight, wagering on which of them would pinch or otherwise insult which other one's girl, lining the railing to discourage assault on our little fort, and then watching the fun until the cops arrived to end the fight. One of our number, Bill F, was an off duty cop, so we never had any problems; although he had to show his badge a couple of times.

But this post was supposed to be about paintings and sculptures rather than performance art. Pop used to laugh when he remarked that it was tough tearing Louie away from the nudes in the classical art sections of the museum. Louie's eyes about popped out of his head, Pop used to say. A great pity that both Pop and Louie died before the internet.

Pop also always commented on the painting of the huge sow done by one of the Wyeths. Aside from the nudes that painting of the sow was the most memorable to them; that and a painting of a cowboy holding a huge catfish, now that I'm thinking about it.

Remembering the painting of the cowboy with the catfish always got Pop remembering that the blacks used to fish for catfish in the Schuylkill. Pop and every other white person in Norristown called blacks "colored" in those days - now that I think about it that's not true, Grandmom L referred to blacks as "chocolat." She was more or less accepting of everyone; but she was suspicious of anyone whose ancestors on both sides weren't from Ascoli Picento, her home town in the Marche' section of Italy; and she was suspicious of the motives of most people whose ancestors did come from Ascoli Picento. Talk about suspicious, Grandpop L, a member of the Marche' club in Norristown, used to say in Italian something like, "having a Marche' knocking at the door is worse than having a dead body in the living room." The idea, according to Pop, never one hundred percent reliable in such matters of translation, was that it was easier to get rid of a body than to get rid of a Marche' with a proposition.

Anyway, Pop wouldn't eat catfish from the Schuylkill because, he said, they had a muddy taste. This was perhaps not surprising because he also said that at that time the surface of the Schuylkill was dark with coal dust, and the Norristown sewage flowed untreated right into the river. Pop also always said that "the colored" liked and would buy catfish; but even they wouldn't eat another kind of fish, a very bony kind of fish, that he and they caught in the Schuylkill. They sold those bony fish to the Jews, Pop said. The Jews liked those bony fish and would pay for them. The big snapping turtles, Pop said, were the real prize. Restaurants would pay significant money for those snapping turtles, plus the cook would treat you to a rich bowl of the soup after it was done. Pop fondly remembered those bowls of snapper soup, shared out back of restaurants with a black guy named Sims who was his fishing buddy. One of the few luxuries he and Mom bought in the 1950's, was an occasional can of Bookbinder's snapper soup. Sims later became custodian of one of the movie theaters, The Norris, that was one of Pop's regular daily stops when he was a runner for Uncle Joe Sky and picked up numbers and horse business after he returned from the war.

Like I said before, Pop wasn't formally educated; but he was a storehouse of information and he had friends in all walks of life and all sections of the population. He knew the custodian the movie theater every bit as well as he knew the desk sergeant at the police station and the chief clerk at the Montgomery County Courthouse and the secretary in the district attorney's office. He also knew the Greek and Hebrew alphabets; and he knew the names of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods as well as the names of lots of artists and composers and politicians and kings and generals. He had to know all those people so he could efficiently do his business; and he had to know all that random stuff so he could quickly do the crossword puzzle in the Daily News after he read the sports section, before he got to the serious work of the day and headed off to make his regular stops on the way to Norristown picking up the wagers of the day.