Sunday, November 24, 2013

My year as a Catholic (sort of)....

I come from a family with wide traditions of worship. Snake handling pentacostals, speaking in tongues; atheists; baptists, etc. My father never had much use for religion, but did convert to Catholicism to marry his third wife, who came from a VERY Catholic family...that was long after this tale though. My mother had me baptized in the Episcopal church when I was a baby and she drug me from time to time to services, which I hated. I was fascinated as a kid by all of this stuff....the Fire and Brimstone rantings of the 'Brothers' at my grandparents' church, to the reasoned 'talks' we'd get at the Episcopal church. I never understood what any of them were talking about though...and I certainly didn't believe that anything I did in life was going to get me thrust into a sulfurous pit of fire for all eternity.

Between my second and third grade year, my parents decided to move from Ypsi, Michigan to Charleston, SC. Other than my father preferring the south and hating cold weather, I don't why those particular locations were chosen. It was decided that my sister would stay with an Aunt in Chicago for the summer, I would stay with my paternal grandparents in Gary, IN. After moving down and establishing themselves over the summer, my dad would come retrieve us at the end of the summer.

My parents had a lot or problems over the years, break ups, divorces, remarriage, abuse, you name it. I was too young to know how much, if any of this was going on at the time or contributing to this move.

At the end of summer, Dad showed up and collected us and we were on our way through the Smokies in the good old red Maverick. It was then that I discovered I suffere from motion sickness which only seems to affect me in cars driving through mountains. 235 gallons of water and 8 packages of Dramamine later we pulled into our new digs at the Pine Country trailer park in Charleston, SC.

We had arrived about a week before school started and for some reason, which was never make clear to me, both myself and my sister were enrolled in a Catholic school. This made no sense because a) as I stated above, we werent' Catholic and b) where would my parents get the money for Catholic school, and shouldn't that kind of money be spent on a house or car since there were perfectly fine public schools? This these questions I never received an answer.

A week later I was trussed up in black shoes, dark green pants, white shirt, dark green tie, and rucksack. The uniform. We assembled outside on the playground and directed inside to our classrooms. Turns out that my classroom was a free standing out-building that had been a garage. My teacher was a young nun named Sister Rene.

I came to love Sister Rene very much. She wore the full penguin suit which limited the amount of her that I actually saw, however she had a pretty round face and a set of amazing blue eyes. She was a soft spoken, intelligent women who strove to see that her students did well. She was patient, for instance, she could never get me to take our Bible stories studies seriously (which they really want you to do in Catholic school). Tales of Christians eaten by lions, and Lazarus and all that struck me pretty much like Greek and Roman myth did later. They weren't real. She tried hard to make me see them as real.

Most other aspects of the school were the same as all of the other shools I'd been to, except one. Friday Mass.

The period I'm talking about was around 1964. All students were required to attend Friday Mass. Those who could take communion sat down front, those not ready for communion (catechism not finished, etc.), and finally I sat up in the back and simply observed the whole floor show.

I remember a lot of candlelight, then a lot of talking and singing in Latin (which I didn't understand). Then some crankin' organ music and all these guys dressed like Miles Davis or Parliament Funkadelic handing out communion. Then at the end, there was like a parade out of the church with these guys swinging these incense pots and such.

The snake handlers had nothing on these guys!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tolls and Pikes. Let's not fall for any of that crap again!

I live in New England where toll roads are quite common. I hate toll roads. I hate the very concept of a toll road. Why? Because toll roads are a cheap hustle foisted on people by local, state and national gov'ts, who ought to be more interested in serving the general public, not hustling them.

Most toll roads start out with the idea that there's a location that would be really well served by a new road, or bridge, or other piece of infrastructure.  Trouble is, there's no money in the budget for it and no politician wants to propose a tax hike. So, a proposal is made for a toll road. A road will be built at location X, stretching to location Y. It will be of n number of lanes, blah blah blah. It is quite common, at this stage of development (proposal) for a statement along the lines of "the total costs for the road should be covered by collected tolls over a 20 year period".

When's the last time you saw a toll road lose its toll? There are roads like these that have been operating for 50 years and they still charge a toll. As a matter of fact, the tolls usually go up periodically! Great bureaucracies grow around these roads, toll collector's unions, you name it. All wanting to continue to suck at the teat of the great toll hog.

And what is the deal with these 'turnpikes'. I've driven on many turnpikes and guess what. They're a hunk of highway indistinguishable from every other hunk of highway I've driven on. There's nothing special about them, yet one can spend healthy sums using them....why?  Here in Massachusetts we have the Mass. Turnpike Authority. Guess what they do?  They maintain a big road. The state manages to maintain a whole bunch of big roads, but for some reason we need an 'Authority' to maintain this road. Sounds like the Masspike has an attitude problem.

Maybe it's because of where I live that I don't see too many proposals for toll roads (or bridges) anymore. I hope they've gone the way of the Dodo bird. But if anybody starts talking about this crap in your neighborhood, squelch them immediately?

These type of public works projects should be handled the American way. Like the Big Dig here in Beantown. The largest construction project in the world. Proposed at 4 years and 3 billion dollars, came in at 11 years and 38 billion dollars. Several people killed the first year as pieces of the underpasses fell on cars.

But at least we won't be paying tolls on it for 50 years to come!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


As I watch various food shows and read food blogs, and see reviews of local restaurants, I continually run across some bozo who is selling a 'cuban sandwich'. Except, they're NOT selling a cuban sandwich.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the cuban sandwich. The classic cuban sandwich was born in Tampa Florida during the 1880s and was consumed mostly by the cigar factory workers in the Ybor City section of town. It is a very specific thing which I will describe below.

Before I do though, let me explain why I feel it necessary to do this. All my life I've been seeing cooks, institutions, writers and various other folk mislabeling all kinds of different concoctions as the cuban sandwich. I mean, even going to school in the Tampa Bay area, they would serve us bologna sandwiches on longbread for lunch and call it a cuban sandwich. When one cares about food, and when one experiences this kind of thing long enough, one feels the need to set the record straight. So here we go.

The Cuban Sandwich

This sandwich, while being incredibly tasty and satisfying, is pretty simple. However, it is IMPERITIVE to use the right ingredients!

  • Cuban bread - cuban bread is very similar to a french baguette, but the body of the bread tends to be a bit lighter and less dense. One can get away with a good baguette, but it's not the same as cuban pan.
  • Sliced roast pork - not pulled pork, not mexican carnitas. This should be pork butt, or loin roasted, cooled and sliced in about 1/8" slices.
  • Serrano ham - this is a cured, dense, flavorful ham from Spain. Similar to prosciutto or a real Smithfield ham. Smithfield will substitute if need be. The ham should be sliced at about 1/8".
  • Swiss cheese - not fontina, not parmesan, certainly not cheddar! Regular swiss cheese with the holes in it. Sliced at about 1/8".
  • Pickles - nothing fancy here, just regular old dill pickle chips. The kind you get on a fast food hamburger.
  • Margarine - that's right margarine. As an avowed butter addict, it's hard for me to list margarine, but that's what they use on the real cuban sandwich, so use it!
Slice the bread horizontally (cubans are typically like a big submarine sandwich, say 6-12 inches)
Slather both sides with margarine
Lay the swiss cheese out on one side of the bread
Lay the roast pork out on the opposite side of the bread
Lay the ham on top of the pork
Lay the pickles on the cheese
Assemble the sandwich and put into a sandwich press until the cheese is melted and the bread toasty

That's a Cuban Sandwich. I like mine with a Batido de Chocolate (chocolate shake).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Hi tech Lo tech

The ships arrived at dawn and by 8:00 AM it was clear that wherever the aliens were from, they were far, far ahead of us technologically. They demanded not a world or national leader or statesman, not a poet laureate, but a common person to whom they would explain their demands. I had spent the night passed out at the laundromat after a party at Sullivan's. It was there that the UN Security Force found me and hustled me onto the alien shuttle. There were hordes of politicos, strategists, academics, etc. all babbling incessantly about what I should say and try to learn. I was just thinking of a cold Heineken and some sardines and crackers. 

On the ship I was led to a smallish room with a huge dais sized couch thing and a smaller, humanform chair. I took the chair. Shortly our alien invader appeared. It was big. REALLY big, like elephant big. It's body would be best described as fish like. Its head was a sunken cavity in the large end of the fish body that had two eyestalk like appendages in the middle and a large flabby opening that I assumed was a mouth. The body was teal colored, gradually darkening into a deep burgundy. It undulated across the room and occasionally puked up huge amounts of liquid that resembled oatmeal mixed with Vick's Nyquil. Speaking through a translator, the alien spent the next hour explaining to me that they were conquerors from across the galaxy and now we and our planet belonged to them, resistance was futile, basically all the things you'd expect a conquering elephant-fish race to say. 

However, during these proceedings, I started feeling the cumulative effects of my previous night's activities. Slight nausea, rumbling stomach, extreme hunger mixed with thoughts of never eating again in my life, craving for water. As the talk went on, these feelings grew, until finally my body emitted the mother of all farts. The sound actually lasted a good 30 seconds. Feelings of relief and pleasure like nothing I'd felt before ensued. Pressure was off and I felt great. Then there was the smell. As the noxious fumes wafted through the small cabin, the alien started intermittently stopping in the middle of its speech. The giant elephant-fish began to convulse and with one huge gout of the oatmeal tonic, it flipped off of the giant dais and onto its back. All movement and sound stopped. It was dead...humanity had its salvation and I was reminded once again, that technology isn't everything.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Le Petite Chanson-Noir

It was such a cliche, I meet a mysterious woman in a seedy bar, she accepts my offer of a drink and my small advances, until many drinks and several hours later we stand together in the mouth of the small, dirty alley sharing a warm embrace.

I can smell her perfume and the bourbon on her breath as I lean in for another passionate kiss. We've been here for at least half an hour, and one of us should suggest retiring together to somebody's apartment or hotel room.

I hesitate to speak. My mouth is occupied. But that's not it. Her name has slipped away in the cloud of bourbon that's surrounding the inner folds of my brain. Was it Nancy or Heloise? No, something more modern like Britney or Madison? That's not it either.

We end our kiss and I lean into her body, my face nuzzling the side of her neck as I drunkenly struggle for words. What was her damned name? She hugs me tightly and it heightens my frustration as I again try to remember her name.

Suddenly, it comes to me. Linda. That's right, pretty Linda, and just as suddenly I feel the icepick thrust into the back of my neck. Pain and shock explode in my head as the tip of the ice pick makes its way steadily through the tissue and bone of my neck, finally poking its way out of the front of my throat, and I begin to fall, sliding noiselessly down the front of her coat.

Definitely a cliche.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I could've been somebody...

I was in 10th grade and things were rocky at home. My father and I had never gotten along well. How does one get along with an abusive megalomaniac? Dad was a foreman with a company that installed underground utilities for other companies, the majority of the work being digging trenches, burying conduit, and pulling cable through it for the phone company. He was a proud blue collar worker. After 8 years with the company and a reputation as one of the toughest, most productive foreman, he was head of a large crew and taking down a cool $5.60 an hour.

We didn't get on well, and as I grew older and matured, our relationship deteriorated. He was particularly unhappy about my aspirations as a musician and took every opportunity to let me know about it. I could never understand what his problem was until I grew old enough to realize that music was one thing (maybe THE one thing) that I could do reasonably well, but that he had absolutely no ability to do. He couldn't carry a tune with a bucket. I don't think he could tell which of two pitches was higher or lower. He didn't take well to the notion that there was anything he could not do, and found the idea that I could possibly to something that he couldn't to be particularly repugnant.

On this particular afternoon, I was home after school, practicing my trumpet. I was in my bedroom, but happened, between Arban's exercises, to hear him pull up in the front driveway. I remembered that I had locked the front door, so I rushed to the living room to open it to avoid aggravating him.

As I pulled the door open, he was getting out of his candy apple red Maverick, lunchbox and hard hat in hand. He was wearing his usual work outfit, a short sleeved blue work shirt, stained and patched blue jeans that he only wore for work, and worn cowboy boots. He was a smaller man than me, five feet eight inches tall with a slender yet broad chested build. He wore his hair on the longish side and sported a full beard and mustache. His popeye-esque forearms bulged and were covered with light hair, bleached by days spent working in the sun. He was covered with dirt from head to toe, damp with groundwater and perspiration.

As I stood there holding my trumpet, waiting for him to enter the house, he glared at me across the yard and said "Playing music is no way for a man to make a living."

And try as I might, I could not avoid the thought that invaded my mind at the very nanosecond that his comment ended -- "I've just received career advice from the Mole Man"

Things went downhill over the next few years...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Baby talk

I've mentioned it in this blog before, but it's an amazing technological time we live in. Everyday, people from all economic strata use and benefit from amazing technologies. It's also a great time for design and the meeting of design and techology. iPhones, iPods, computers, medical devices, cars, you name it, these devices are ubiquitous and influence peoples lives in ways that I think we as a society, don't fully understand.
There's one industry though, that I've noticed for the amazing leaps in design and function in the past several years. No, it's not sports cars, it's not the Segway, it's not Apple. It's the baby products industry.

I live in a neighborhood that contains, well let's face it, a lot of yuppies. These couples are having kids left and right these days, and because I live in an urban environment, it's possible to observe them out walking or running errands, all with their kids in tow. The first thing that caught my eye was the heavy duty, jogging mommy stroller. These things are amazing: lightweight construction from the latest industrial materials, large wheels with substantial titanium frames, carrier sections (you know, where the baby hangs out) that can be totally closed off into weatherproof little enviro-bubbles for junior's total comfort, plus pouches and slots and pockets for all of the modern accutrements, including the ever-present bottle of water. And they fold up into a slender package with a handle on one end that weighs less than junior.

Next, is the car seat. Again, an great design. A federally approved molded seat that straps into the car to securely hold junior in the event of any kind of mishap. If there's a bad accident and junior gets thrown from the vehicle, he merely slides down the road in the ever-protective car seat. But that's not all. The car seats are now being designed so that you can just leave junior in the seat, remove the seat from the car, and carry the seat around with a sun hood included. And some of these car seats even snap into the above mentioned industrial stroller. Amazing.

I have no doubt that at least some of the principals and materials used in these devices have filtered down from the space program.

I remember when I was a rode on mommy's lap in the front seat until you were a little enough pain in the ass to ride in the back seat. There were no seatbelts, let alone modularized federally approved cocoons for baby's protection.

But then, my mom never went out and jogged when I was an infant...