All posts by cooljesus

9/11

Hard to believe it’s been 7 years.  I was just a young 24-year-old kid when America was under attack.  I remember every detail of that day vividly.  I woke up in the morning just like every other work day.  I drove north on Route 93 just like I had been doing all summer.  Just as I hit Somerville and the Schraft’s building, Howard Stern and the gang broke the news of the plane hitting the first tower.  They, and most of the Western world, thought it was just an accident, so they treated it lightly.  By the time I reached my office, the second plane had struck and the world knew it was no accident.  We all changed that day.  It was my generation’s JFK and RFK rolled into one.  I’ll never forget where I was, who I was with, who I called, and what I did that day.  It was all a blur, but it’s remained crystal clear in my memory.  I ended 9/11/01 by driving straight to my precinct voting station and voting in that year’s local primaries.  It was my way of using citizenry to not let the terrorists win.  Each year, on each successive anniversary of 9/11, we cope a little better, we get a little bit more normal, we get on with our lives as usual, but we always remember.  Here’s to hoping that we’ll always remember, but we’ll always remember to not let the terrorists win.

On Aging and Pensive Thoughts

Last weekend, I mentioned to some of the staunchest readers of The Diatribe that I wrote my previous blog entry while somewhat drunk.  It was, as far as I can recall, the only time I’ve written a serious entry while drunk.  Under the circumstances, I’m glad it was well received.  I was having doubts about the fact that I let too many feelings or emotions come out, which I usually try to keep in check.  I’m not saying that this will start a trend, but it’s good to keep in mind.

Late last week, I was talking to a co-worker and, knowing that Swedish Girl is still out of the country, he said, “Be good this weekend.  Don’t be going all crazy.”  I told him that it promised to be a low-key weekend because I was driving down to a baptism (party…as it turned out).  I then mentioned just how strange it is when your friends grow up and start having kids.  I still haven’t gotten over the fact that my friends are now married, and now they’re having babies.  I know I’m a few pounds heavier, a few steps slower, and my hair…well, I don’t want to talk about that…but I still feel young.  On the inside, I still feel like I did 10 years ago, which means that I feel like a college senior whose friends are all marrying off and having babies.  It just seemed to happen so fast.

A good friend once uttered to Captain Larby and me just about the best thing anyone’s ever told me, “Love is a dog from hell.”  And that is just as true as it ever was, but aging is also a dog.  With Swedish Girl not being around for the big baptism celebration party last weekend, being there solo made me feel like I did during all those crazy times when we were all in our 20s.  Time keeps marching on, though, and I’m not saying that marriage and babies are bad.  I’m halfway there myself and may end up having kids of my own someday. 

I have to thank Perry for trying to snap me out of my pensive daydreams last weekend.  I couldn’t adequately explain where I was coming from, so it probably sounded more like I felt old, as in tired, worn down, and crotchety.  But like I wrote earlier, it’s a mental thing.  I’m not fond of being 31 and I’ve fought these steps to adulthood tooth and nail along the way, only to fall victim to each and every one of them so far.  College, real life job, marriage, responsibility, et al.

That co-worker of mine is 49, by the way.  In retrospect, he put everything in perspective days before I even realized it.  “Cool Jesus,” he said, “you think you feel old now, you just wait until your friends start becoming grandparents.”

An Exclusive Club

I’m not sure what our friend in the Philly area is calling himself in blogtopia these days, but this is more or less a narrowcast blog with him in mind.  After this Saturday, he and I will be members of an exclusive club consisting of Northeastern alumni godfathers.  I’m sure there are many of us out there, but I still prefer to think of this as an exclusive club.  Humor me.  I became a godfather on my recent trip to the homeland of Lithuania and I have to say that the experience was intense, humbling, honorable, and touching.  I might not get to see my godson as often as you will get to see your godson in the state next door, but the newfound honor still feels just as powerful. 

In the sartorial department, I went all out for this event.  I don’t recall exactly what Michael Corleone wore when he became a godfather (not “The” Godfather, which actually happened concurrently at the end of the first film), but I decided to get decked out in a white linen suit, complete with a white Panama hat.  I’m hoping to post a photo or two here soon, but in the interim let me tell you that everyone said I at least looked the part of a godfather.  And when you look good, you feel good, so I was halfway there before the ceremony even began.

Honestly, I probably didn’t give ample thought to becoming a godfather.  I gladly accepted the offer and set about preparing for the baptism.  It wasn’t until I was actually there and getting translated little snippets from Swedish Girl that I understood that I was now involved in a lifelong undertaking.  Not being able to understand what was being said in the various Lithuanian ceremonies allowed me to daydream about the situation.  By the way, my daydreams were interrupted by a couple of mandatory vodka shots and various other centuries-old traditions.  Not how I usually spend a Sunday morning, but when in Rome…

My own godfather, God rest his soul, wasn’t a hands-on type of godfather, but even still, I knew he’d lay his life on the line if need be.  He didn’t live long enough for me to reach the age that I could bum a beer off him and have some quasi-adult conversations; this is one of the chief regrets in my life.  So, I’m looking forward to sharing a similar bond with my godson.  This might be in a convoluted mix of Lithuanenglish, but I’m sure it’ll all work out.

So, to my old friend who is about to join this club, I welcome you aboard.  Perhaps we’ll end up comparing notes once in a while.  Either way, it’s a lifelong duty that I’m sure you’re embracing just as much as I am.

Home Sweet Home, Part 2

I’ve been back in Boston for nearly two weeks now and I’m finding myself missing Lithuania more than I did when I first returned home.  Gone are the unsavory memories about rude people and the lack of ice cubes, and what remains are the experiences and the family.  But what I wanted to enlighten you about are some more rapid-fire points about the differences between there and here.

* Malls in Lithuania are way, way better, hands down.  Akropolis is the largest mall and is found in the three largest cities.  I went to two of them.  There are three floors of shopping and eating wonderment.  And each has several currency exchange centers.  But what makes Akropolis so cool is that it is organized according to store type.  All shoe stores are clustered together, as are men’s clothing stores, ladies’ clothing stores, etc.  What a concept.  Also, Akropolis has a bowling alley and an ice skating rink.

* The grocery stores are also better than what we typically have here in the States.  Similar to Akropolis, this is due to a new mega-chain called Maxima.  They are everywhere (not just the biggest cities) and the selection of foods and beverages is exhaustive.  And I went to a Maxima in an Akropolis that sells men’s suits, scooters, canoes, and on and on.  I’m not saying I want to buy a suit at the supermarket, but still.  It’s a nice option if your really under the gun.

* Of all the things you can find at Akropolis or Maxima, you won’t find light beer.  Of all the countless restaurants and cafes I visited, none offered light beer.  And the only light beer I found at Maxima was a brand with several fruity flavors.  I passed. 

* Since I’m on a supermarket roll, I also have to mention that the cashiers there are allowed to sit on stools.  I’ve never seen that here.  In the U.S., you have to stand for your 8-hour shift and you have to like it.  Also, at all stores, the employees don’t hand you the money like they do here.  There are money trays where the customer has to place the money and that’s where the cashier places your change.  I’m still not sure why.

* Lithuania is also kicking our asses on the recycling front.  You cannot drive more than a minute without seeing these ubiquitous yellow, blue, and green conical pods.  These pods are for glass, paper, and plastic recyclable items.  Great idea and something that should have been in place in the U.S. years and years ago, especially considering we’ve been celebrating Earth Day since 1970.

Adios, Senor Ramirez

The cost of getting rid of perennial headache Manny Ramirez was steep for the Boston Red Sox.  Probably too steep, but still very much worth it.  Boston, with its struggling offense, not only had to give up two months of hitting from a future Hall of Famer, but also had to pay the last $7 million of his contract, had to give up on a bright hitting prospect and a downtrodden pitching prospect, and now will not get the two first round draft picks that the team would have received as compensation for losing a type A free agent to another team in the off-season.  In return, all they got was a younger left fielder.  Oh yeah, and they also got their peace of mind back.

You won’t find “peace of mind” listed in the official MLB trade transaction transcript, but trust me, it is huge and it can not be underestimated.  I didn’t mind when Ramirez slapped Kevin Youkilis and [allegedly] told him to “cut that shit out” (in reference to Youk’s constant whining and bitching about the strike zone, not to mention his bat and helming throwing tantrums).  Other Sox players were fed up with Youk, so I hear, and so the team was glad that someone finally got in Youk’s face.  However, I’d bet that the team would have prefered a more discreet way of dealing with him.

Anyway, when Ramirez assaulted the Sox travelling secretary, that was just plain wrong.  Ramirez should have been suspended for at least 10 games without pay immediately.  Nope, didn’t happen.  The Sox brass allegedly fined Ramirez about $10,000 or $15,000.  For a guy nearing the end of a $160 million contract, that is pocket change.  But in retrospect, maybe the team didn’t want to make a bigger national issue out of the incident.  Maybe they knew that keeping Manny in the starting lineup was the best way to ensure they got maximum value in return.  Well, if so, then it didn’t quite work out.  Jason Bay is a nice hitter and Fenway Park should bolster his stats even further, but there was never any way to get equal value for Ramirez.  Boston knew it.  Manny knew it.  Scott Boras knew it.  And the rest of MLB knew it.

That’s exactly why Boston had to give up so much.  And I, for one, think this is addition by subtraction.  I wish the Sox didn’t have to give up two young prospects, but this deal had to happen.  Even David Ortiz was losing his patience for his little buddy and that spoke volumes to the Sox brass.  I think the most relieved men in Boston right now are Theo Epstein and Terry Francona.   Boston might have hurt its chances of repeating as World Series champions in 2008, but in the end, they did the right thing.  I’ll miss your bat, Manny, but you can take that Hall of Fame attitude out to LA.  Adios!

Home Sweet Home

Just returned from Lithunia late last night.  Swedish Girl is still vacationing there until nearly Labor Day.  I enjoyed my time there, but I am glad to be back in Boston.  Before I left, my mother joked that I’d return with an accent.  It sounded silly, but I was away from English speakers for so long, and I tried my hand at some Lithuanian phrases whenever I could, so a few times, I actually did find myself speaking in an off-kilter, quasi-Eastern European accent.  I learned a great deal about this nation that will celebrate its 1,000th anniversary next year, and there were many more unexpected positives than negatives. 

I had a great time and a highlight for sure was my nephew’s baptism where Swedish Girl and I became godparents.  The ceremony was in two parts, the first of which was more of an introduction of what life in Lithuania was like in the 18th century.  It was conducted in a village similar to Plimoth Plantation (for those of you who have headed down to Plymouth, Mass.) where actual ancient structures that had been painstakingly dismantled across the country were carefully reconstructed.  After 2 godfatherly morning vodka shots, some cheese, sausage, and black bread, we walked over to an equally ancient church for the official baptism.  It was a very cool experience, even though the only things I understood (aside from 1 out of every 13 Lithuanian words) were Swedish Girl’s once-in-a-while translations and then when the priest said, “congratulations” to me at the conclusion. 

There are so many things I could say about the visit, but I’ll handle it in rapid-fire format for now (with a possible forthcoming sequel)…

* Lithuanian drivers are absolutely insane.  The worst I’ve ever experienced.  I thought Massachusetts drivers were pretty bad, but they are saintly compared to Lithuanians.  They drive fast and recklessly, which is a truly frightening double-whammy. 

* Lithuanian women are breathtaking.  I know I’m married, but I’m also married to an example of a breathtaking Lithuanian.  If you’re a single man with upcoming vacation time, I suggest you head over to Lithuania.  Did I mention the ratio of women to men is 53.4% to 46.6%?

* Lithuanians are crazy about cold fish.  They have it for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner.  Hot fish seemed somewhat rare.

* The people there are rude.  I’m free and clear in saying this, because even Swedish Girl was taken aback by it.  She’s been in the U.S. for so long now that she had forgotten just how rude her countrymen are.  I held the door open a few times and they didn’t say a word.  And no one holds the door open for you.  At a museum, I was pushing my nephew’s empty stroller while he was walking with his mom.  Granted, it was empty, but I was trying to get upstrairs and downstairs and people were astonishingly rude.  It got to the point that I was seriously using the stroller as a tank, purposely hitting people.  The country was starting to turn me rude.

* Lithuanian men are crazy about man purses.  Over 90% of the men under the age of 55 were wearing man purses. 

* The women seem to dress like they’re going to a nightclub all the time.  It’s like they are in constant competition.

* This one is, I think, consistent with most of Europe – ice cubes are harder to find than Osama bin Laden and that beer you expected to be frosty cold is almost room temperature. 

* Many apartment and office buildings were built by the Soviet Union back in USSR times and, therefore, have a very austere, cold, stern, Soviet feel to them.  They’re just ugly, gray, concrete and granite blocks.  My sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s apartment building was built in 1977; before they mentioned the year, I would have guessed 1950.  Ugly exterior, but their newly remodeled condo was gorgeous.

I’ll leave you for now with this anecdote.  My savior during the trip was a handy Lithuanian-English dictionary and phrasebook.  In several places in that book, the author (a native Lithuanian) suggests that travellers wait to watch Lithuanians eat certain dishes in order to avoid possible embarrassment.  I pointed that out to Swedish Girl and made cracks about how stupid that was.  Well, one day, Swedish Girl’s sister put an oval platter on the table; it was filled with sunflower seeds.  Even though my first thought was, “Wow!  That is a ton of sunflower seeds!  I never knew they were so wild about sunflower seeds here,” I dug in and helped myself. 

Fast forward a few minutes and Swedish Girl sat down and asked my why I wasn’t eating any of the fish.  Before I could defend myself that there was no fish anywhere, she cut into the platter, which had layer of cold fish, a layer of cream cheese, and then a healthy layer of sunflower seeds.   I just hope that my in-laws can chalk up my gaffe to IFS (Innocent Foreigner Syndrome).

The 4am Fog Walk

First off, congratulations to LTJ and Miss Possible on tying the knot yesterday.  A great time was had by all.  The weather cooperated for the most part and everything went off without a hitch.  I could go on at length about just how great everything was planned, but what I have to fill you in on is my 4am walk back to my hotel.  Due to some pre-planning mishaps, Swedish Girl and I ended up at a different hotel than the rest of the wedding party.  It would have been fine, except for the fact that it was across the street, beset by highway on-ramps and off-ramps on all sides, and devoid of sidewalks.

After the reception, Swedish Girl was all partied out, so we got her some quick food and she dropped me off at the wedding group’s hotel.  I knew that getting back to our hotel wasn’t going to be a breeze, but I figured I’d worry about that problem after a handful of beers.  I definitely did not regret the first half of the decision, as the beers were cold and we all laughed our asses off for a couple of hours.  When I checked the time, I was shocked to see that it was 4am already.  Swedish Girl had called me almost three hours earlier to find out when I’d be back and I had assured her then that it wouldn’t be long.

It was at this point that I probably would have been better served to just stay another 60 or 90 minutes until daybreak.  The walk back to my hotel was one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever been foolish enough to do.  It doesn’t compare to The Big Dig Story (to be included in my upcoming book), but it’s up there.  The distance was under a mile, but it was so dark and foggy that I thought for sure I was a sitting duck for oncoming cars.  The speed limit on that road was upwards of 40 to 45 MPH and I thanked the heavens above that only two or three cars passed me.  Close to half my walk was on the shoulder of the road and I soon realized one huge mistake.  I was still wearing a black tuxedo. 

Not great attire in fog so thick that I was swimming through it.  I considered holding my cell phone over my head as a beacon in the night, but didn’t want to kill the battery.  That’s when a decent idea came to mind – I removed my tuxedo jacket so that the bright white back of my vest would be seen in people’s headlights.  The whole walk was probably no more than 10 or 15 minutes, but felt like an hour.  I was so relieved to be back at the hotel that it felt like home sweet home.  And as Captain Larby mentioned in his best man speech, these types of things are par for the course when LTJ is involved.

Thank Goodness They Don’t Come in Threes

Today was just an odd day.  Slept in pretty late after a late night last night.  Got an even later start after my upstairs neighbors decided to shut off our water to do some impromptu plumbing work.  So, the day started off rocky, as I had to complain to the upstairs assholes and check with various other neighbors about possible recourse.  I thought I left the worst behind me once I left my cursed building.   Ha!  Not so.

As Swedish Girl and I were driving along the Expressway to Target, we saw a pigeon dart into traffic from an underpass.  At first, we thought it was just an overly aggressive city pigeon, but it flew lower in 60 MPH+ traffic than any other bird I’ve ever seen.  Not only that, but after it passed in front of one car, it dashed back and then we lost sight of it.  But only for a few moments.  The car in front of us slowed down and moved quickly to its right, but to no avail.  We saw the pigeon turn up under its driver’s side wheels.  I’m no fan of pigeons, but to see one commit suicide was pretty sad.

We shrugged it off, in time, and enjoyed our time at Target, Old Navy, TJ Maxx, Uno’s, and DSW, only to come upon strike 2.  As we were leaving the second mondo-plaza of the day (and enjoying the glow of a Celtics Game 7 victory), we were the third car in line at a dangerous intersection without lights.  This is the same intersection that I was pulled over once by Officer Beardface for driving too fast right through his half-hearted and half-assed hand signals.  Seargent Beardface chastised me, wagged his finger, and let me go with a warning.  Fitting, since he only logs about 4.5 hours per weekend and each weekend is witness to at least one collision.

The first car ahead of us pulled into traffic, only to be greeted by a visitor (at no less than 20 MPH) into its left fender.  There was a loud noise, the screaching of tires, and two plumes of smoke.  I remain doubtful that Officer Beardface (about 5 years past retirement, with a bright white beard about 0.5-inch longer than I’ve ever been able to grow) would have been able to prevent this collision had he been there.  Probably because he spends half his overtime shift nestled safely in the warm body of his gigantic SUV. 

Anyway, I yanked my wheel to the right and passed the stunned motorist in front of me, as he/she gawked at the accident before him/her.  I might have been the only one of us aware of the rotary just 500 meters ahead of us.  By the time I made the rotary turn and headed back homeward, I was a few football fields away before I saw the flashing blue lights of the law (Officer Beardface, perhaps?) in place to shut down an entire two lanes of Route 1.   I had beer and wine in my vehicle and was more than relieved to be just a few hundred meters from home.  All in all, it was a strange day, complete with bird suicide and a completely preventable two-car collision.  As I hoist this final beer of the weekend to my lips, I’ll give thanks that I made it through alive and in one piece.

The Game

Tomorrow evening, I won’t be able to be here at home enjoying myself in quiet calm.  Instead, I’ll be playing The Game.  We all have to play The Game at various times.  In my case, I have to go candlepin bowling after work with co-workers.  Other times, we have to buy candy, popcorn, or Girl Scout cookies.  Other times, we have to chip in to buy gifts for bosses and VPs, even though they make much, much more than we do and they wouldn’t think to ever buy us anything.  And if they do, they use the company credit card. 

I used to be pretty good at avoiding The Game.  The same boss that arranged for this second annual bowling night (if you can call candlepin bowling) also organized monthly summer cookouts in the courtyard of our office park over the last few years.  There were many, many things that I would have rather been doing than sitting around with these Dilbert rejects, so over a four- or five-year period, I was able to hone my craft in dodging The Game.  The very first time, a Friday, was a work of art.  Captain Larby and Mrs. Larby were coming into town for the weekend, so I high-tailed it out of the office on that Friday at 5pm, telling my boss that I had to leave because I had “friends coming in from out of town.”  Yes, they were, but not until the next day.  I didn’t lie.  I just used some creative chronology to my advantage.

Several other dodges entailed invoking The Costanza Method.  See, the original cookouts began close to 5pm, but later on, they started around 3pm.  This made it more difficult on me, but if I acted stressed out and frustrated while shuffling papers and typing away at my desk, I could convince everyone that I was busy and couldn’t break away for any longer than it took to get a burger and some potato salad.  On still another dodge – the most satisfying – I moved my car to an unseen part of the parking lot at lunchtime.  When the cookout began a couple of hours later, everyone was out in the courtyard, eating, drinking, and talking.  Two co-workers and I bolted undetected out of a side door to our obstructed cars and were home free. 

Now, we’re in a new office without a courtyard, so cookout avoidance is a game of the past.  Thank goodness.  But there are new Games and my mighty deflection techniques aren’t infallible.  This bowling night was initially scheduled for a few weeks ago.  I declined the invitation, citing major (and not at all faked) allergies; it was truly a message from God that He was trying to help me out.  But my boss didn’t blink.  I’m not saying she rescheduled because of me, but she set up a new night and a chief, if unwritten, rule is that you can’t dodge the same event twice in a row.  Like the 2007 Christmas party, for example…but that’s a story for another time.

Hillary &!*$%# Clinton?

Way back when, I was a skinny high school track athlete and Hillary Clinton was a freshly minted First Lady.  I remember how she made news when she announced that she was, going forward, to be known as Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Whoop-dee-doo!  I think she much more quietly dropped the Rodham, right?  Anyway, my old track coach liked to pit the runners versus the field events guys using various competitions, trivia, etc.  On one particular spring afternoon, as we all sat on the track and basked in the sun, I remember Coach G. announcing a trivia week of some sorts.  The first question was something like, “President Clinton’s wife, Hillary, just announced that she is using a middle name.  Does anyone know what her middle name is?”

And without missing a beat, one of my teammates gave me a comedy moment that I’ll never forget.  His loud answer was, “Bitch?!?”

Brilliant.  Classic.  Hilarious.  It was just so unexpected, especially from a 16 year-old inner-city kid.  And in my mind, he and Hillary are forever linked.