Saturday, September 20, 2014

Danny Boy

The scene downstairs in what was a sleepy tavern last night is something for central casting. It is 125am local time.  I got into watching a movie from 10-1230 in my room and was considering going to sleep, but I figured I would just go downstairs and have a pint on this my last day in Dublin.

Well, let me tell you, nothing sleepy about the hotel pub tonight.  The place was jammed in the way taverns become when you have to try and make yourself thin to negotiate the narrow pathways.  Tomorrow there is a football match that is the equivalent of the super bowl held not far from here. And the singing boisterous, not shy about drinking regardless of how old you are, group are preparing for the day tomorrow.

In my experience crowded taverns are populated by young people, say 20 to 30 year olds with maybe a sprinkling of 40 or 50 year old folks.  The average age downstairs was between 50 and 60 with several feeling no pain having passed 60 years ago. And this was a family affair.  Husbands and wives, their childen--in their 30s-- were crooning with the singer, and to be sure, well on the other side of sober.  I could just imagine my dad taking me to a place like this. Not.

Yet this is not to disparage the revelers. They all seemed to be having a grand time. When the guitar player banged out Danny Boy, good lord, it was a Hollywood scene. The patrons got up, put their arms around each other, and started swaying from side to side, belting out the lyrics, drowning out the miked entertainer.

The guitar player took a break at 1, and this is way past my bedtime, so I went up to my room. But there was no shortage of clients who remained to challenge the sweating barkeepers.

I'm looking forward to seeing some of the singers tomorrow morning to assess how well they weathered the party.  People fifteen years my senior were banging them back and wobbling around the tavern.  The quaffers' abilities to negotiate the terrain tomorrow ought to reveal skill and perhaps there should be some sort of competition to determine who is most mobile at 9 am.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


I arrived in Dublin an hour ago after a trip from Boston which was about as long as a non stop flight to Las Vegas. Packed plane.

The cab driver from the airport told me something I had already known, sort of.  I had been told by the coordinator of the conference I'll be attending that rooms would be difficult to secure this weekend as Sunday, coincidentally, is the date of the football championship here in Dublin.

When I read the notice about the championship, I assumed that football meant a soccer match.  It was on this point that the taxi driver provided an education.  I asked him about the major sports in Ireland and he told me about the championship game of which, as I mention, I was familiar.  When I said, "by football, you mean soccer?" the fellow disabused me and then provided an engaging description of Irish football.

Now, after the tutorial, I still know next to nothing, but I do know the game is played fifteen on a side for 90 minutes.  The players advance the ball by running and kicking the ball. One cannot take more than three steps without kicking the ball or else the team with possession must relinquish possession.  A team gets three points by kicking the ball under a goalpost and one point for kicking it above the goalpost. The former is more difficult because a goal tender polices the under the goal post section.

The cab driver told me that I was in for a treat this weekend as followers from all over the country will be descending on Dublin for the match which happens to be played very close to my hotel.  I sit now in the lobby of this hotel, half asleep, since I have never got the hang of sleeping on red eye flights, and my room of course is not ready at 9 a.m.  I am tempted, if I can find the energy, to travel to the stadium where the match is to be played just to see the field.   I also look forward to meeting the fans who, if the cabby is correct, are likely to populate this hotel and others. I will imagine that they may be a rowdy group.  As I look about this lobby, the fans have not yet arrived. This place looks like a sleepy zone with other overseas travellers hanging out waiting for a room in which they may get their zs.  Nobody here and now looks like they could run three steps unencumbered, let alone progress toward a goal while athletic defenders attempt to block the path.

Twenty five euros from the airport, a distance of about 10 miles tops.  I gave him 30 not knowing protocol, he took the bills without offering change.  Thirty euros is equivalent to 45 dollars about what it costs to cab from Times Square in Manhattan to LaGuardia.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Urban Atrocity

There are several stories about companies who sold their products in ways that were incomprehensible.

A sneaker company decided to call a brand of shoe "the incubus."  This shoe was a woman's sneaker. Nobody, apparently, decided to look up what the word incubus meant.  They just thought it sounded right. An incubus is a devilish spirit that has unsolicited sexual relations with women as they are sleeping during the night.  It is not a common word, but it is a word, and it has a meaning, and the meaning is such that if you are a woman you are unlikely to want to wear a shoe named after a devil who rapes.

An automobile company could not understand why their vehicle was not selling in Spanish speaking countries the same way it had been selling in other locations.  The name for the car was a nova.  This was a problematic name for a vehicle because in Spanish, no va, means "it doesn't go."  Unlikely that one would want to buy a car that advertises itself as one that is not mobile.

A paint company had a similar problem with Spanish speaking countries and one of its slogans.  The slogan was "[the paint product] for years".  The intended message was that if you used this paint it was durable and one would not have to repaint as frequently. The problem was that when printed, the advertised slogan left off the ~ in años, and instead of "[the paint product] for años", wrote [the paint product] for anos".  Años means years in Spanish; anos means anus, if you don't want to employ the street term for that part of the anatomy.

Anos may be the operative word for something I heard about last night.  As opposed to the examples identified above which were born of ignorance, this example was fueled by what can only be called an amalgam of idiocy and insensitivity.  I read that Urban Outfitters had produced a Kent State sweatshirt for sale.  In what I am sure some fool thought was "thinking out of the box" and "pushing the envelope" the product had blood stains on it, in order to ha, ha, ho, ho. refer to the killings at Kent State University in 1970, when for no good reason, four students were murdered, another was paralyzed, and several others were shot.  These shootings were called by a commission that studied the murders, "unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."  Jeffrey Miller, Alison Krause, Sandy Scheuer, and Bill Schroeder were murdered in a parking lot that day.  So, let's peddle, ha, ha, ho, ho, a sweatshirt with Kent State on it and blood stains.  Anos.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Silver Star

Jeannette Walls wrote one of the best memoirs I've ever read, The Glass Castle.  So when I saw this novel of hers in the library I thought it was worth a shot.

Not much here, and I was inclined to love it because of her earlier book.

This reads like it belongs in the young adult section except there are a few sentences with language in them.  Still, it is very simple--nothing wrong with that in and of itself--but neither the story or the theme has much to it.

The narrator, Bean, and her sister have a an irresponsible mother who abandons them regularly so that they have to fend for themselves. Bean is about 12 and her sister a year or so older.  Once while the mother is gone for a couple of weeks, they decide to take a bus to the rural south where the mother's brother lives.  And that is where most of the story takes place.  It is 1970, the schools in the south have just been integrated, and the controversies over the Vietnam War are increasing in intensity.

That is the setting for the stage, but not much happens in front of the background.  There is a bad guy who hires the girls to do work and something happens there.  There are references to tension because of integration. A cousin is considering marrying a Vietnamese woman and is questioning the wisdom of the war. The mother pops back in and then pops back out.  There are emus who are adopted as pets. An uncle crawls out of his shell.

There is a central incident that has a resolution, but nothing novel happens in the novel.

After I finished I went to Amazon and saw that the book has a four star rating and over a thousand reviewers. I think the number of readers is a function of the excellence of The Glass Castle.  And my guess is that the positive reviews reflect spillover because of how good The Glass Castle is.

If you are interested in an easy, sweet read, this will not disappoint, but you're not likely to think there is much to this.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Scenes from NY and the Open

Annually, myself and two high school buds meet in Queens and attend the USOPEN.  Yesterday was our day for 2014.  A number of thoughts from our rendezvous-- and my following day, today, in New York.

There is nothing like New York.   Within a few block radius from my hotel I could have eaten pizza, had burgers, gotten a hot dog from a vendor, gone to several happy hours, bought a dozen t shirts and/or shot glasses, purchased a suitcase for a song, stayed in a number of hotels, paid anywhere from 2.99 to 35 dollars for breakfast, seen 8 Broadway shows, taken one of a half dozen tours around the city, and of course visited at least 5 Starbucks.

The quality of play at the tennis center was remarkable.  A boy who looked like he might have been 14 played a terrific mixed doubles match against far more wizened opponents.  John Isner's serve looks unhittable.  The Williams sisters are so popular that spectators were hanging over a railing to watch their doubles match.  Even at the annually increasing ticket costs, the visit to the center for the Open is a bargain.  And I cannot be the only one who feels that way. The place was packed.  Citi Field where the Mets were playing concurrently, a few steps away, was half empty.

We three high school pals are getting older. Instead of discussing dates with former sweethearts, we discussed potential dates for retirement, best times for hip replacement surgery, the deaths of former teammates, and the medicine we should take before eating food that is not good for us so as to avoid stomach problems.

In mid town Manhattan I noticed that equal opportunity has hit Times Square. For years a person calling himself "the naked cowboy" had paraded about in his underwear, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat. Well chiseled above the elastic of his briefs, he posed for a sum with giggling women from around the Globe. Three women seem to want some similar action. In Times Square where thousands parade by within thirty minutes, these women were standing with nothing on but thongs.  Nada. They have, to demonstrate patriotism I guess, painted their bodies red white and  blue, but there are no duds at all north of the thong, just painted body parts. And there they stand willing to pose in any way one might like for a photo.  The naked cowboy and the naked ladies in Time Square.  Lots of folks were taking pictures.

Tsongas has lost some weight and he looks very good.  Won in straight sets against a fellow who looked mighty good himself.  Roger Federer has an easy draw and will make it to the finals.

I am not ready for football.  When I got back to my hotel last night there were games on tv but they had little appeal.  This is about the time of year for my annual rant against the silliness of college football's bogus champions. However, this year the NCAA has finally decided to employ a four team tournament at the end of the season.  This should make the season far more interesting--once I get into it.

I was on 56th and 7th.  One of the bellhops told me to go to 58 and 8th to catch the 1 train to 242nd street in the Bronx. Another told me to go to 49th and 7th.  This seemed like one of those math puzzles in school where you know there has to be a trick to it.  The guy who said 49th and 7th snorted that it was the faster way to go.  It did not make sense so I went to 58th and 8th.  The 49th and 7th turned out to be closer.  Complicated reason, but it was so.

Central Park is beautiful.  Plane flew over it when it came in from Chicago.   Remarkable green area in the middle of a city that has it all.

Waiting for the train to take me to Waltham. I asked about the senior citizen rate when I bought my ticket.  She said I have to wait two months.  And then she said, "it's half price then, but not worth it."

Monday, August 25, 2014

$15 Burger

Is it sacrilegious to write that I know for sure that my parents are no longer with us, because while waiting for my delayed (vu den) American Airlines flight, I stopped in an airport restaurant and paid 15 dollars for a hamburger.  If my folks were alive, and knew that I paid that much for a burger, I would be getting an e-mail from my father that my mother would have dictated.

And they would be right.

I got to the airport early as is my tendency post 9-11.  Now, thirteen years after the abomination, airport security does not require the delays that once were characteristic in the early post twin tower years.  Still, I have recollections of very long lines and don't want to miss a flight.  A number of times that nearly occurred--though not in the last half dozen years.  Regardless, I get to the airport early, do my e-mails while waiting for the flight, and in the case of American or USAir always have even extra time while their late planes get to the destination.  Remarkable how rarely Southwest and JetBlue are late.

Anyway, I was here early, saw the predictable sign that I even had more time because the plane was delayed, had not eaten much since around 11, and was hungry.  There was a seat at the bar so I parked myself and my bags.  

(An aside, I just saw that my flight is now delayed three hours. Just great. And since this is one of the rare times I have checked a bag, I cannot take one of the earlier flights because if I were to do so, I would still have to wait for my bag to arrive with the later flight).

So, when I got here I sat at the bar and opened the menu.  There was no item less than ten dollars. I had a hunger for a burger.  Can't recall what they called it, but I spotted the burger on the menu.  Maybe it was called the airport burger.  I ordered it. 15 bucks.

Sometimes these gala burgers look and taste special. The sourpus bartender who took the order asked me if I wanted "everything on it."  I am not a picky eater so I figured "everything on it" would include lettuce, tomato, maybe some mushrooms and onions.  I said, yeah, everything on it.

Out it came. Not much there.  No lettuce, tomato, or onion.  Relatively small burger--bout the size of a quarter pounder at the McDonalds around the corner at the food court. On top was a piece of american cheese that looked like it had been tossed maybe frisbee style on top of the burger and covered about half of it.  On top of the cheese was one sorry piece of bacon.  That is it. But, ho ho, the ketchup was not in a bottle but served in a paper cup.  When I was a kid and got a burger in what we called "luncheonettes" such cups were where the cook stuffed the cole slaw.  There were a few fries on the plate.  End of 15 dollar dinner.

With the beverage and tip, my trip to the tavern at the airport cost me close to 30 dollars.  Wherever they are, my parents are rolling their eyes and wondering about my wisdom for having decided to dine there.  And they are right.  Meanwhile, before we board the flight, I will probably have to go to McDonalds and buy a three dollar burger because I will now not get into my hotel in Chicago until midnight and I am hungry already.  Odds are fifty fifty that the carrier loses my bag.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Marriage Plot

Excellent, if depressing and unsettling--at least to me--novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. Very good book.

I think I write well, but every once in a while I read a book like this and I realize that there are the minor leagues, and then there are those who are major leaguers.  This guy is in the majors, and on the all-star team.  A half dozen times I would read a sentence, stick my finger at the place in the book, close the book around my finger, and shake my head marveling at how this guy can string words together.

The book is about three students--two men, Mitchell and Leonard, and a woman, Madeleine-- at Brown who are graduating in 1983.  One of the men is part Greek from Detroit who, after graduation, travels to India.*  He is a religious studies major and has an epiphany during his sophomore year that Madeleine is the love of his life.  Problem is, she, a literature major, is not interested in him but has her eyes on Leonard, a science major and resident lothario. Problem with the lothario is that he is a manic depressive.

So, you have a love triangle in Providence Rhode Island during the Reagan years with the main characters very bright college students: a religious studies major, a fledgling scientist who is maniacal but has several dancing partners, and a woman--a literature major--who eventually publishes an essay entitled, "I Thought You'd Never Ask: Thoughts on the Marriage Plot."

The characters are so well drawn and nuanced.  I have this tendency when I read books to adopt the thinking and speaking patterns of the characters in the book.  It can be kind of wild to hear myself saying something to a colleague in the way a character might utter it.  Imagine my discomfort while on the subway yesterday and reading a brilliantly written section about the musings of the manic-depressive.  I did not want to talk to anybody on that train.  Not kidding.

If you are a reader, then you will enjoy this book.  It is not as easy sailing as say an Ann Tyler who I am crazy about.  This author, Eugenides, jumps months without much warning and you have to keep track of where you are and what country.

But it is worth the ride to try to figure out where you are.  I'm guessing that's a message in the novel.

*(The author, Eugenides, is a Brown 1983 graduate, from Detroit, of Greek origin who travelled to India, Just fyi.)