Sunday, September 28, 2008

An empty house is a sad thing.

My friend's wife came home this weekend to clear out all of their stuff from the house. We worked for hours each day with some help from some of her friends and got two moving pods filled. All that remains are some couches in the living room, a chair on the kitchen and the box springs and mattress on the floor in the master bedroom; the remainder of the house is bare except for my few belongings.

I had always held out hope that they were going to return to town after she was done with her traveling job. Even the presence of the gallows-shaped "For Sale" sign did not deter my hope that they would give up on selling the house and come back; that my friends would stay. But there is talk of the short sale and plans beyond that; either way they want to "get out from under this house".

I lived in the house I grew up in until I married at 26. I was only forced to move from there because my mother put it up for sale with, apparently, no intention of passing it down. I moved from my home of Rhode Island only because situations forced me to and would still be there if I had my druthers.

I can not imagine people who are constantly moving. Who have had dozens of houses. I have always wanted a HOME. I even walk this house and imagine all the memories that were built here; children, parties, holidays and more. When I left my house for the last time I hid a little note in a secret little cranny wishing those who followed before me would live up to the spirit of that home that had seen me through childhood. Heck, I'm even nostalgic, at times, for the trailer I lived in for 5 years before moving here.

I still want that home someday. Not sure if I'll get it, but I can dream.

Monday, September 22, 2008

This week I will be living in heaven. Weenie heaven, that is.

A department manager where I work is a fellow Rhode Islander and we have shared many stories of home and she is currently borrowed my copy of "You Must Be This Tall". She has had the movie for a month or two and was feeling guilty for taking so long to watch it. Today, she absolved herself by bringing me a week's supply of New York System hot weenies!

If you are scratching your head and wondering what a hot weenie is, then you are probably NOT from Rhode Island. Let me translate for those of you on a lower rung on the evolutionary ladder.

The hot weenie is one of God's great creations and are found almost exclusively in Rhode Island. These are a specific "RI Red Hots" brand of hot dog which are slow roasted on a grill while the buns are sitting in a steam cabinet for hours on end. The 4 inch slices of nirvana are covered in a Double Secret Probation Recipe of meat sauce which is a mix of spices and grease. The only way to have these is "alldaway" which is mustard, onions and celery salt.


The other enjoyable part of the hot weenie is ordering one. All it requires is a small amount of money and a strong voice. Any of the dozens of restaurants around the state are OK to go to but, of course, there is always the Mecca of the Olneyville New York System.

You walk up to the counter and bark out the number of weenies you want and how you want them: "Three alldaway!" The guy behind the counter then starts to work lining up the buns along his arm. He drops the weenie in the bun, slathers it with sauce, pulls a wooden dowel out of a tub of mustard and runs it over the weenie, takes forks full of chopped onion and sprinkles it down,finally topping them all with a shower of celery salt. The show continues by wrapping them, two at a time, in paper and then dropping them in a brown paper bag which is tightly closed to hold in the warmth and aroma. The paper bag was never strong enough and as you drove home the car would be wafting with the ambrosia-like smells.

I can remember racing to the car any time my father said, "How about some hot weenies for dinner?!" It was a right of passage when I was old enough to go in by myself, order and pay all by myself. The guy behind the counter would line up as many as he could and it would be an amazing feat of balance and skill when as many as 8 or 10 would defy the law of physics perched between the guys hand and elbow.

Long before Nathan's of Coney Island had their hot dog eating contest, my friends and I would see how many hot weenies we could eat at once. My record was 12! These were cheap and delicious. The ultimate comfort food.

My friend had presented me with a bag filled with weenies and sauce which had been driven back from Rhode Island packed in dry ice. While I was not able to steam the buns, a good 15 seconds in the microwave softened them enough to simulate the process. As I sat at my table in the lunch room giggling to myself like Dr. Frankenstein I carefully assembled my hot weenie as my friends looked on suspiciously.

"Jack, what the hell are you eating?"

"Manna from heaven!"

It looked right. It smelled right. The bread was soft enough. I closed my eyes and raised the hot weenie to my mouth and bit down. Suddenly, I was transported home. The strong bite of the celery salt and the warm greasiness of the sauce danced over my taste buds. I flet that if I opened my eyes I would be sitting in my 1972 Plymouth Valiant parked at the Oakland Beach seawall.


My friend had given me enough to last all week. Thanks to my gastric bypass surgery, gone are the days of a dozen weenie in one sitting; I was only able to eat two before my stomach let me know I was full. In my previous trips home I have always stocked up on Portuguese sweet bread and coffee syrup. Now I know that on my next trip I will get some dry ice and head for Widles Corner!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

There's an interesting little dynamic I recently noticed amongst the siblings in my family which gave me pause for introspection.

Lack of communication and a fear of confrontation.

Recently, I went to my oldest sister for some help in my recent problems. Did I call her and talk this out? Something this serious and intimate you would think could only be done on a one on one basis.

No, I faxed her a letter.

Call it passive-aggressive, call it avoidance, call it be chicken-shit if you want; but it ain't just me.

A year or so before my gastric bypass surgery, when I was still topping the scales at over 500 pounds, two of my sisters came to visit me. Everything seemed okay until about a month afterwards when I got a letter from them saying how concerned and worried they were over my health condition. Again, something so serious and intimate you would think could only be done on a one on one basis.

I can only speak for myself. I was 5 or 6 when my father had his strokes; two of them over about 18 months. While there was no physical or neuroligical damage there was a change in his personality. After his illness I was always told, "You can't do or say anything to upset Daddy" or "You can't bother Daddy". A genial man of good temper was turned into someone with a short fuse who would get upset at the slightest thing and emotion outbursts of your own would feed into his. I was trained to keep emotions in and, really in essence, not deal with them.

A perfect example is when I was around 9 my bedroom was on the first floor of our house and my parents' room was upstairs. I had some health issues due to my asthma and to make sure they could know immediaetly if there was a problem my father installed an intercom. I woke up sick one night long after we had all gone to bed and had to call out for my parents. However, I had been so conditioned only to bother my father when it was completly necessary that I first laid there getting sicker and sicker; not wanting to cry out for help because it would be "bothering Daddy". Then when I finally got up the nerve to call out towards the intercom I did it in steps of volume; first mouthing the words with no sound at all, then a whisper, a little louder, and a little louder building, finally to a cry for help.

So, I have never wanted to bother anyone. Because I was taught to avoid confrontations with my father I never learned how to argue like any normal person would. (My ex-wives might disagree with that one).

An odd offshoot to this is now when I am in a stressful or highly charged emotional situation I cannot bottle my emotions. When in a confrontational or emotional moment I cry way too easily. On the rare occasions when I do lose my tempter it can be a volcano exploding.

I don't know why my sisters, who are older than me and knew our father before his strokes, react the same way. Maybe now that I can finally see the history in my own life and identify it as some sort of a family trait that I might be able to find a way around the emotion potholes.

Phew.....that was cathartic. Excuse me while I go have a good cry.
Du'oh! Guess I still have some work to do!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Joan Winston has passed away and that makes me sad.

This is a total geek thing as Joanie was one of the original organizers of the first Star Trek conventions back in the 1970's. The last time I saw her was at Shore Leave in 2005 and it was one of my most prized memories.

I had first met Joanie at one of the last "original" cons in 1976 in New York City. She was on the committee but, at the last moment, had to cancel out due to an appendicitis attack and surgery. By Saturday night of the convention she had apparently told the doctors that she HAD TO be at the Statler Waldorf come hell or high water and rolled into the hotel in a wheel chair less than a day after surgery.

For those fans of today with instant access to knowledge and information on the net you have to understand what the stone knives and bearskins of fandom were at that time. There were three books that had told us fans anything about the making of the show; Roddenberry's "The Making of Star Trek, Marshak and Culbreth's "The World of Star Trek" and Gerrold's "Making of The Trouble With Tribbles". That was ALL we had for inside information. I must have read each book ten times over. In these there was mention of Joanie and "The Committee" who had the wild idea of getting together with some other Trek fans for a weekend and 15,000 people showed up. Joanie was like the Neil Armstrong of fandom; we wouldn't have conventions if there wasn't a Joan Winston.

So, here I am; a starry-eyed adolescent standing in the presence of a legend when she says that she would love to get around to all the panels and parties but would need someone to push her and she turns to me and says, "How about you, kid?" The next thing I know I'm Hoke to her Miss Daisy! "Gotta go here! Gotta go there!...Get me to this room!...Get me to that room!" We went to panel discussions, parties and just groups of people sitting in corners of the hotel singing filk songs until around 1AM.

I loved every minuet of it!

Then in 2005 I finally ha the chance to corner her say hello after all those years. I told her the story of how we had met and she squinted her eyes and looked off almost as if she were trying to actually see back that far.

"Oh, my goodness, YES!" She touched her hand to my arm gently, "I certainly ran you around that night. If I didn't say think you then, let me say it now; thank you!"

It was me who thanked her. Not only for that geek moment for a kid but for all she had done for fandom in general. It meant so much to me that she remembered; it showed what other fans meant to her. I was also glad my son was there for that moment; to see what an act of kindness can mean to a person even after the passing of decades.

I'll miss you, Joanie.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I miss running.

I saw a little kid running down the street the other day and suddenly realized that I could not remember the last time I actually ran. I can move quickly, yes; but I'm talking about a full bore, hair whipping in the wind, catch your breath run.

I miss the exhilaration of running. Feeling your blood pumping as the world whizzes past you. I miss the adrenalin rush of running on an uneven surface like the woods or a seawall of boulders.

My fallen arches and weak ankles have made running a thing of the past. I haven't really minded having to give in to wearing glasses (OK, damnit, BIFOCALS!) because it was my own choice 35 years ago to simply stop wearing glasses; so it was my own fault I ended up with them back again. But I would love to run again.

John Kennedy said "Old age is a shipwreck". I'm agreeing with him more and more as I get older.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Battlestar Galactica is 30 years old today! While I revel in the latest incarnation there is my love of the original. I had a Viper pilot jacket which I wore to school and if I could have afforded those biker boots they used on the show I would have worn then, too! This was right after Star Wars and before Trek had returned so I didn't see the campiness in it at the time. I walked around saying "Frak!" and "Feldergarb!" I was considered a geek already, so it came as no surprise to those around me.

I had tickets to see Richard Kiley in Boston in “Man of LaMancha” on that day. I was thrilled to go see the show with my mother and an aunt. We had these tickets for months in advance. Then I heard about the premiere of BSG……ON THE SAME DAY!!!!! Luckily, It was a matinee on that Sunday and I made sure with my mother that we would be back from Boston in plenty of time.

The show was terrific and Kiley was magnificent. The moment the curtain came down I said, “OK, mom! We gotta go so we’re home in time for Galactica!!!!!!” Our ride back to Providence was the longest of my life. I kept asking what time it was and each mile seemed to stretch on forever. We pulled into my aunt’s house five minutes before the premiere. Since I lived on the other side of town I knew we wouldn’t make it home in time so I begged and pleaded (whined was probably more like it) to stay there to watch the show.

My whining paid off as I sat alone in my aunt’s living room with dinner on a TV tray while she and my mother played cards in the other room, planted at a folding TV tray and dinner of what ever leftovers my aunt could find to watch the 2 hour premiere.

Richard Kiley and Loren Greene in the same day! Can’t get better than that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Last Thursday was our annual Talent Show.


We filled the Lyric Theater's 500 seats. It was amazing to play to a full house. We had a few new acts which added to the diversity of the show including our first member of senior management who has a voice which blew the roof off the place.

Our biggest mission of the night was to win over the new head of human resources. He comes with the new compant which bought us out and a talent show was not on his To Do Lost. However, a number of people made mention of it to him and rumor of an employee petition drive caused him to give in. Naturally, he was my first target of jokes for the evening. And it paid off! He was laughing his ass off and came up to me afterwards, hugging me and saying "You've got a fan!"

SOmetimes it's the small things which set off the evening. I scrambled just before going out the door the night of the show looking for some walk-on music for me and my co-host, Kenny. At the last moment I grabbed The Blues Brothers soundtrack and figured the "The Peter Gunn Theme" would work well enough. The music started, Kenny and I walked towards each other from opposite sides of the stage and hit fists together right on a music cue and the audience went crazy! It fit perfectly and set the attitude for the night.

I still get people coming up to me and commenting on the show. "You should be a stand up comedian!" "You should be in show business" "What are you doing wasting yourself here?"

They have no idea how many times I ask myself the same questions.

Monday, September 15, 2008

So...where have I been?

To Hell and back!

To give you the Readers Digest version; my car broke down, I had a financial meltdown, was without electric for a while, groveled to my sister for help and pissed her off, my aunt died, my friends have put this house back on the market and I got in trouble at work.

All within a three week period.

We call it Livin' La Vida Towaway.

And it's not just the big stuff; during this three week ride through the circles of hell there were little kicks in the nads along the way.

One night I decided to walk up to the local Chinese restaurant to get a meal. I waited for the sun to start going down so I wouldn't be as sweaty when I got there. As I walked along the darkest part of the side street a car came up behind me. I stepped aside to get off the road. Not seeing exactly where I was stepping I found the softest patch of sand, my foot twisted and I went down like a sack of wet cement. I just kind of laid there for a moment or two resigning myself to what had happened.

A few days later I decided to make the same walk. The entire day had been rather cool with clouds lurking around and a good, strong breeze. I, again, waited till later in the day so it would be cooler for my walk. The moment I stepped out of my neighborhood side street onto the main road the lurking clouds decided to unload their precipitation. Not just a light summer rain but a torrential, soaking Florida down pour. By the time I got to the store my clothes were plastered to my skin and my shoes squished with every step. I got what I needed and headed back out into the sheets of rain to walk back home. The moment I stepped off the main road and onto my neighborhood side street.....the rain stopped.

God has a mean sense of humor.

The topper was the night I borrow a large, super bright flashlight from my neighbor. With the flick of a button this would light even the biggest room in the house with no problem. I brought it onto the house and as soon as the sun went down I flicked the switch....and the bulb blew out.

Oh, there's more!

Later that night I couldn't sleep in the still warm and stuffy bedroom and headed out to the hammock which hung by the pool over the concrete patio; a good breeze promised a restful sleep. As soon as I settled in and put my head back on the pillow I started hearing a tearing sound. In the darkness I couldn't see exactly what it was but knew that the continued tearing sound would only end with me cracking my skull on the concrete under the hammock. Turns out, the hammock itself is intact but the lines that held the hammock to the post had started pulling apart. With the agility of the dancing hippos in "Fantasia" I was able to extract myself before injuring myself.

I am considering changing my name to Job.

There are some other things that went on during my recent absence and I will deal with those in subsequent posts. And don't feel guilty if you have been laughing at me while reading this post; I'm used to it by now. I've also discovered that it's only my real good friends that laugh at me.