Thursday, May 31, 2012

Paris: Day Two (part II)

After the tour my wife decided to hit the boutique. I had enough of Chanel, so I said, “Stay here on the Rue Cambon” as she disappeared inside. Then I moseyed back southward toward the Tuileries, toward the Metro stop we came out of. There was a book store I wanted to check out, but it turned out to be too corporate. I walked a block back and found a mysterious Church recessed at the intersection. I went inside.

It was comfortably, meditatively cool inside. Dark. I sat down and took in the atmosphere, took in the gold and the artwork and all the religious symbols I have grown to love. A sense of peace fell over me. An old man was a few pews in front, casually thumbing a bible in his lap. Across the church I spotted a Sacred Heart statute. I went there, prayed, and realized: all the signs in the church are Slavic. Or Polish. Odd.

Back outside I sat on the stone wall to the Church steps. A great way to spend time in Paris: sitting on masonry, watching the world walk by. I saw a young couple passionately embrace and kiss for several minutes on the sidewalk twenty yards away. Being Parisiens, they both had lit cigarettes they held away from each other while making contact. A Korean tourist family sat down next to me. A metrosexual on a bike stopped by, too. This easy mood lasted a good half-hour until a crazy man walked into the courtyard. Spotting pigeons, he immediately and angrily started dancing in front of them. Then he started talking, way too loud, to people who weren’t really there. Most of us on the steps drifted away, rather quickly.

Where was my wife? I wondered. I walked a block back up to the Chanel boutique, and there she was – visibly nervous, on the verge of becoming upset. “Do you know how upset I am?” she asked. Uh oh, loaded question. “I’ve been waiting here for 45 minutes! Where were you?” I told her of my movements the past three-quarters of an hour. “You said to stay right here!” she said, pointing at the step in fron of the boutique. “No,” I said, laughing, “I said ‘stay right here on the Rue Cambon.’” Needless to say, my laughing didn’t alleviate her anger / frustration / relief. She thought I’d gotten clipped by a bicyclist or something, and was en route to a French hospital, me who can only stutter, je ne comprand pas l’francaise

It was around five-ish, and we were hot, sweaty, uncomfortable in our clothes after walking the past six hours or so in hot, sweaty, uncomfortable Paris. Well, I speak only of the weather. Unseasonably warm, at least ten degrees warmer than what we packed for, so we were always slightly overdressed. We headed back to the Rue Rivoli, where the Metro station and my book store were, turned right, and headed the couple of blocks west to the Crillon. My wife took a nap; then we both showered and changed into clothes more appropriate for dinner.

By six-thirty we were back in the Crillon’s large, marble-floored reception room, and my wife was working the concierges again. The concierges were working my wallet again. The plan was to eat something special near the Louvre, and then tour the grand museum. Thirty euros lighter, we left and walked back down the Rue Rivoli, and continued on east nearly half-a-mile past the Rue Cambon, the Tuileries to our right behind stone walls and iron fences, and scores of tourist gift shops to our left.

Our destination was the Marley Café, and it proved impossible to find. Its street address simply did not exist. Up and down we walked, on both sides of the Rue Rivoli, up and down side streets, searching in vain for this little bistro which held our dinner reservations. The wife asked several shopowners and rival maitre d’s and we were pointed in the direction of the Louvre. Well, actually the Louvre, a massive courtyard enclosed by three or four-story high buildings at least two, maybe three centuries old. My wife thought it best just to walk toward the museum, keeping our eyes open. I thought it best to demand my ten euros back from Serge.

Then, among the Grecian pillars along the perimeter of the courtyard, we spotted the red banner of the Marley Café. Ah! Food at last, and not too late! We opted to eat inside (i.e., so as not to get a nicotine bath), and two beers and a half-bottle of wine quickly disposed of my foul mood. My wife has delicious scallops and I had raw salmon. I insisted that the dish was presented to me inaccurately, but my wife insisted that, yes, the waitress did indeed call it “salmon tartar.” I decided then and there that every subsequent meal I would eat in France would be the same meal she ordered.

Next followed one of the true highlights of our trip to Paris: the Louvre. Every human being on the planet should spend some time in this, the most glorious museum on the face of the earth. (How’s that for a ringing endorsement?) Serge at the Crillon had given us our tickets, so we needn’t wait in any lines (not that there were huge lines at 8 o’clock on a Wednesday night, but there were crowds constantly entering and exiting). We approached the futuristic-ish glass pyramid in the center of the courtyard that was the entrance to the Louvre. A few years back when it was first built, this thing of modern art caused quite a stir in Paris – and all negative. Looking back, it did look slightly odd and out-of-place, but not unnaturally so. And I am not a big fan of modern art.

We descended two floors by a giant escalator, then found an English map of the museum. Being tourists and wanting to do all the touristy stuff, the obvious first thing to see was … the Mona Lisa. And I, Hopper, stood not ten feet away from the most famous painting in the entire world. Didn’t get much of a chance to study it, mind you, as a crowd was always around it, snapping photos and jockeying for better positions. But see it I did, and the wife took a pair of pictures of it. (By the way, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City does not allow any pictures to be taken within its walls; a position entirely opposite to that of the Louvre’s. This puzzled us, and we initially felt like criminals taking pictures of all the paintings and whatnot).

There were other famous exhibits that we eventually got to in the ninety minutes we spent there. The Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternetie painting of the flag-wiedling woman leading the French Revolution. The portrait of St. Thomas Aquinas you’ll see in just about any biography of the Church Doctor. A massive painting of Napoleon crowning himself in the presence of the Pope. That painting alone neared twenty-five feet across and twenty-feet high. Entire galleries devoted to French and Italian painters, all larger-than-lifesize, impressive, dominating, humbling. A truly unique and wonderful experience to see them all.

The many museums in New York City are buildings which hold great pieces of work. The Louvre is itself a phenomenal work of art that holds countless other great pieces of work. Every gallery had ornate, golden domed ceilings, many with painted images of their own. The museum had the aire of a 16th century palace, which it probably once was. Even the additions had an aesthetic component to them that I just simply have not experienced anywhere else. The bottom line is you can spend all five days of your vacation in Paris and still not have enough time to appreciate this masterpiece.

We also visited the Greek, Roman, and Egyptians wings. Venus de Milo, the statue of the famous – and armless – Greek deity. Winged Victory. Busts of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Sarcophagi. Mummies. Rameses III. Partial pyramids and burial tombs. I read on the English map of the Louvre that the tablets containing the Code of Hammurabi were somewhere within this area, but we were unable to find them.

The museum closed at 9:30, and around 9:15 we found ourselves quite lost within the Egyptian section. Our attempts at following signs marked Sortie only seemed to get us more and more lost. We took elevators we weren’t supposed to. We followed other visitors until it appeared they were as lost as we were. Our feet were aching and we were itching to get topside and began the mile-long walk back to the comforts of the Crillon.

Eventually we did make it out, and it was wonderfully cool outside in the Parisian twilight. We leisurely strolled as far as we could into the Tuileries, until barred gates forced us to turn right and exit onto the Rue Rivoli. Then, it was a slow walk back to the hotel, passing and being passed by French natives and more adventurous tourists, many carrying bottles or walking arm-in-arm. We laughed and talked about the wonders we’d just seen, and how we absolutely had to make it back to this city soon.

We made it to the Crillon a little after ten with literally swollen feet. The air conditioning was, at that moment, perhaps the greatest thing I had ever felt in my life. After taking hot showers, we changed into some comfy sleep clothes and settled into that massive, comfy bed, and called the little ones half-a-world away. Little One, as usual, had us in hysterics. “I can’t talk right now, Mommy,” she said matter-of-factly over the speakerphone, “I’m on the toilet. Here’s Grammy.”

Thus, our final night in the Crillon began, that is, with exhausted us immediately falling into deep and uninterrupted sleep. That is, until that brisk, no-nonsense knocking erupted at the door at a way-to-early nine a.m. the following morning.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Paris: Day Two (part I)

It seemed we barely closed our eyes when brisk, no-nonsense knocking rang-out. “Room Service!” boomed through the door. I never saw my wife hop so fast out of bed and into the bathroom as I did in those seconds. I dragged myself out, scooted to the walk-in closet, fished around for a top, fumbled with the safe, then let opened the door for two gentlemen to come in. Both were dressed to the nines, both hauling one side of a table filled with croissants, rolls, jellies, juices, coffees, and water into our room. In a blur of activity they opened the heavy curtains, poured coffee, and kept busy until I passed a five euro bill into one of their hands. They left, but not after asking me to sign an itemized bill for the room service: 75 euros. I choked and paled as I signed (remember, 75 euros is half our daily budget) but my wife insisted the night before that it was all complementary.

Which it turned out to be, we confirmed later.

Taking advantage of all the amenities at the Crillon, we took long showers, dressed in the cool AC, and prepared for our first official day in Paris. (It must be noted that earlier I lounged in a long hot bath in the giant marble tub, reading about 50 pages of Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame.) Today was to be a busy one with four planned stops / activities, and we sat in the sitting room (how apropos) and plotted our strategy. By noon we hit the unseasonably hot and humid streets of the city.

We exited our hotel, crossed the street, and walked leftward to the Tuileries. These majestic gardens and ponds, encircled by great buildings reflecting the architecture of centuries past, awaited us. Grand statues reminiscent of those of the Titans from the Harryhausen film Jason and the Argonauts greeted us at various corners of the long, rectangular gardens. Old Frenchman stereotypically fed pigeons or read from rolled up newspapers carried in their back pockets. We sat a pond, a hundred-yards in diameter, and cooled off. Noting the massive pigeons that seemed to hone in on tourists, I remarked to my wife that just before one had made off with my passport. I had to fork over a euro to get it back. Sacre bleu!

There were scores and scores of tourists, groups of French children all wearing the same colored caps, stinky trinket street vendors, and, yes, Indian Petitioners. We strolled leisurely eastward through the Tuileries, about its 500-yard length, up to the Arc de Carrousel (a miniature version of the Arc de Triomphe, though with quite animated angelic statues adorning its “roof”). Just beyond was the Louvre, with it’s iconic glass pyramid entrance, but that was for later in the day. We meandered back to our point of origination, the Obelisk.

I studied the Obelisk in greater detail, to no avail, really. I had thought Napoleon had sacked it from Egypt around 1799 during his first great foreign campaign, but later in the week I found I was wrong while reading through a guidebook (it was donated around 1836 or so, if I’m not mistaken, and I could very well be). Still, it was absolutely fascinating. Dating from about 800 BC, me, ten or so feet from this relic from millennia ago, trying to decipher its secrets, its messages ... surreal, but very, very cool and very, very up close and personal. Do you have any idea what I mean?

Around this square, this Place de la Concorde, were Egyptian mummies. Some standing, some weirdly sitting on park benches. It took my wife pointing out to me that there were people inside them, wrapped up in the pre-Summer heat – see the cup in front of them, for donations? I was amazed, yet oddly nonplussed. Don’t we see stuff like this all the time when we drive a half-hour into New York City? Still, impressive.

A foursome of tourists commandeered my wife to take a photo of them in front of a great fountain between the Obelisk and the Crillon. And wouldn’t you know it – after some small talk, they’re from Atlanta, and their grandchildren know – Greg Russell, who my little ones adore every time they visit their Nana in South Carolina. Small world, isn’t it? So big, yet so very, very small.

All this only took a little over an hour or so, and we found ourselves with some time on our hands. The wife had a scheduled tour of Madame Coco Chanel’s apartment on Rue Cambon, a few hundred yards away, at 3 p.m. It was now a very hot, sunny, 1 o’clock. What to do?

Why, we decided to hoof it up to the Arch de Triomphe, a straight mile northwest up the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I had to do it, I wanted to do it, truth be told, I had seen much of that black-and-white stock footage of Nazi jeeps and tanks rolling past it I had to see the real thing in all its indominable glory. So we walked the incline up to it, sweating, huffing and puffing past all the crass commercialism that’s been cropping up along that avenue, past the tourists, past the sidewalk cafes, past the French businesspeople smoking and hustling off to work in the jackets or their pantyhosed shorts.

After a trek of thirty or forty minutes, we made it up to the top of the Avenues, the Arch de Triomphe before us. In some further unfortunate trend-setting, we forgot to bring water, so I had to pay a euro for a bottle of l’eau from a street huckster. We moved up to what’s called the Charles de Gaulle Etoile (“Star”), the Arch and the dozen or so streets that radiate outwards from it. Four or five lane traffic swirled about it, a veritable accident-in-waiting as cars, vans, pedicabs and bicycles all vied for the right-of-way. A shy pair of Asian girls came up to us and asked in broken English how to cross to the Arch, as apparently no pedestrian dared to. We replied that we didn’t know, though I later found out there is an underground walkway that takes one to the monument.

The Arch is truly an incredible work of architecture. Standing over 160 feet tall, it appears you could drive a ferry through the two great pillars. Inscribed are the names of Napoleon’s generals; guidebooks told me that underlined names signify generals who died on the field of battle; we were too far away (across the five-lane circle of traffic) to be able to discern this. People walked about atop the Arch, and next time I’m in Paris, I will be one of them.

Time was not our friend; it was after two and we had an appointment to keep on the Rue Cambon, a mile-and-a-half away. My wife decided to take the plunge and head down the Metro stairs a few feet away from our spot at the corner of the Etoile.

Now, the Metro intimidated me. Two reasons, I think. First, it’s the Parisian subway. I don’t even like the New York subway. Second, on all the maps we had, the Metro lines are all displayed in a funky cubic post-modern art style worthy of Picasso, where the routes and all don’t match up with reality when I turn the map over and look at the real scale relationships. Know what I mean? The map is not the territory, it’s said, but my brain appreciates some sort of one-to-something ratio. However, my wife seemed to be able to navigate the (in hindsight) simple path of taking the Metro down the three or four stops in a straight line from the Arch de Triomphe to the Place de Concorde. (Another unwritten rule fell into place: me, the street-top navigator, my wife, the subterranean pilot.)

I paid the 3.40 euro price for two tickets, and like ten minutes later, we were at the Concorde, a block away from the Rue Cambon, a half-hour early for my wife’s next appointment. While we chilled on the wall on the other side of the Tuileries, finishing off our bottle of water, we were delighted to the sight of a mother photographing her young daughter – exactly the age of Little One – on the Metro steps. The little girl had her French outfit, white, blue, and red, with matching scarf, working dual pony tails, and doing all sorts of model-y stuff on the hand rails, a little self-conscious but having fun. Several times she made eye contact with my wife, who smiled and nodded and gave a thumbs-up sign. It was very cool, and made me a little homesick.

My wife decided to be early for her tour, so we walked up the narrow sidewalks of the Rue Cambon and stopped in front of the Chanel boutique – the oldest Chanel outpost in France. She took a bunch of pictures from different angles while I tried to keep cool in scarce shade and rest my feet. We entered and were immediately accosted by a cross between a secret service agent and a Madonna back-up dancer. The wife immediately produced an email receipt of the scheduled tour, but that didn’t stop a brief moment of panic when they realized we weren’t on their list. A quartet of young Japanese ladies, all dressed impeccably and immaculately with Chanel identifiers, swooped in behind us. They were on the list.

“No problem, I give tour to all of you,” said a moderately-accented, well-dressed older French woman. “My name is Felicienne Foulard.” Ms. Foulard wore power around herself as some wear Chanel No. 5; she was obviously in charge of the boutique. The Japanese girls tittered; security guy adjusted his tie and hovered over to the door, my wife positively beamed with excitement and I tried to melt into the background.

Now, I don’t get fashion at all. Even more so do I not get the fashion industry. But I do admire, I must admit, Gabrielle Chanel. My wife holds her up as a role model of sorts, and entrepreneur who rose from poverty to influence millions, establish a commercial empire, and make so much money it no longer mattered to her late in life. So that end of the tour fascinated me. Perfumes and jewelry and dresses, not so much.

But that’s my wife’s business, and that in part is why we were in France.

The Chanel boutique is over five stories tall. From the outside, all the buildings are the same height, the same desert color, and all the windows have boxes with pink flowers growing out of them. The first floor was the boutique proper. To the right was an elegant staircase where, we were told, models would walk down wearing the season’s latest trends, which Ms. Chanel watched unseen a flight above. I took a picture of my wife on the famous steps, and the Japanese girls, nervously awestruck, took pictures of themselves in varying permutations.

The next floor up Felicienne brought out the haute couture collection. Yes, Hopper has used the phrase “haute couture.” Apparently, it means every thread was stiched by hand. I now joke to my wife that I only buy haute couture Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear. Anyway, the Japanese girls all nearly passed out when our tour guide let them handle one dress. My wife was in a contented trance watching all this, and bonded with Ms. Foulard more and more as the tour progressed.

Coco Chanel’s personal apartment was the floor above that; it is kept in pristine condition since she died in early 1971. Nothing has changed. Smaller than you’d think, it offered lots of insight into her mind. Animal statues reflecting different traits she admired (lions particularly), sculptures featuring wheat to emphasis her poor upbrinding, spectacular chandoliers in every tiny room, mystical personages from Eastern philosophies adorning the wallpapering. A crucifex given to her by Stravinsky (or was that Diaghilev?). I myself was fascinated by her book collection: Greek philosophy, the works of Shakespeare, and old-bound Bible. Very impressive, and I was chomping at the bit to crack one of them open, but there was something about Felicienne that you didn’t want to cross by assuming privileges. Lots and lots of photos ensued.

to be continued ...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Paris: Day One

Because we gained six hours flying east, and the trip took about eight hours, we landed around 10:30 a.m. in Charles de Gaulle airport, some miles north-northeast of Paris. After breezing through security checkpoints (my passport was checked but, strangely, not stamped; the wife’s was), we got our luggage without incident, and found ourselves in the predicament of how best to get to our hotel in the heart of Paris. Taxis were out of the question, being way too expensive. That left either the train, the metro, or the bus, none of which (obviously) we were familiar with. The guidebook my wife brought along and studied on the plane recommended the Roissybus as a quality, inexpensive means of travel, so we sought that out. It cost 2 euros a piece to board it, and we spent 15 or 20 minutes circling Charles de Gaulle picking up other passengers at other stops. Once full, the bus began an hour-long ride into the city, traversing, it must be told, some less-than-pristine sights (I’m talking slums and ghettos).

A brief note about money. Based on some calculations I made with the Euro-Dollar exchange rate in mind, I figured we should budget about 125 euros a day, 750 euros for the entire trip. Since one euro equaled around $1.30 as of about three weeks ago (and the bank tacks on a fee for the transaction), it cost me $1,009 to buy those 750. I quickly learned that Paris is a tres expensive city to visit, in part due to this disparity with the exchange rate. Anyway, I was often the bad guy on the trip as I was the one who held us to budget, no matter what weapons my wife would use against me (i.e., guilt, tears, silent treatment, whatever). However, I will acknowledge that as our trip neared its conclusion, she did contribute by offering several money-saving alternatives.

Another side note: I’m not a big car-watcher, but I was amazed at the brands of autos I saw waiting for the Roissybus (and later walking all about the city). The predominant vehicles were Volkswagens, followed by, in no particular order, Citroens, Puegeots, and Renaults. In the whole five days I saw but one Honda and one Ford. All cars are small; there are no SUVs in Paris. Even the vans are small. There are also a ton of bicycles in the city. Everyone bikes – artistes, businessmen, ladies in skirts, even hobos. I later learned that the city has 20,000 bicycles for rental, and we saw numerous rental stations all over. You put in your payment (a lot of people used a card they purchased at a cheaper rate), select your bike, and the machine unlocks it for your use.

The Roissybus dropped us off the Palais Garnier, the grand operahouse of Paris, just slightly west of the center of the city. I envision Paris as a lumpy potato laying on its side, with the river Seine making a rainbow shape in the lower half. The Garnier was roughly – very roughly – about a third of a mile north of the Seine, but were you to walk to the river you’d probably clock at least a mile, due to winding roads and parks and whatnot in your way. Out hotel was about a hundred yards closer, the Place de la Concorde near the ancient Egyptian Obelisk that marks the foot of the Champs-Élysées, still in that southern direction toward the Seine.

So there we are, two tourists from America, huddled on a busy street unfurling maps to see where the heck we need to go and, even more difficult, trying to orient ourselves. I found comfort that we were not the only ones; it seemed most of the Roissybus occupants were on the same street as us doing exactly as we were. It was at this moment that we were attacked by the Female Indian Petitioners.

“You speak English?” she asked, seeing us juggling maps and luggage. “Yes,” my wife replied, to which a clipboard petition was thrown in her face. Thinking this young Indian lady needed a translation, she translated it for her, but, no, the woman wanted my wife to pen her name and who knows what else to the petition. My wife shook her head; “No, I don’t sign anything unless I know what I’m signing.” Still she kept pestering us to sign it, so we just upped and moved across the street. A second Indian Petitioner acosted us on the way. By the end of our trip we were approached by at least six and maybe ten Female Indian Petitioners (I lost count). They usually hung out at all the tourist spots: Opera House, Tuileries, Louvre. It got so annoying that I routinely answered “Nyet” to any inquiry of “You speak English?” from a clipboard-weilding sub-Asian continent personage.

Unfortunately, Paris was a lot warmer than what the weather channel predicted, and ergo what we packed and were wearing was, uh, unfortunate. The temperatures and hauling close to forty pounds of wheeled luggage through the busy and crowded streets got us sweaty and irritable in no time. Several times we had to re-adjust and re-orient ourselves according to the maps and the streets. One neat feature of Paris is that the street signs are blue plaques posted into the walls of the buildings at streetcorners, ten feet above the ground, so it was relatively easy finding where you were.

Soon the streets we walked parted and a massive, colonnaded structure came into view. It must’ve been a hundred feet high, surrounded by two dozen columns and a massive staircase. Sculptures of what I assumed to be Christ, the Apostles, and Mary Magdalen adorned its upper walls. This appeared to be the Madeleine according to the map. We were heading in the right direction. I wanted to explore it, but the wife was getting tired and wanted to reach the hotel.

We traveled south along the busy Rue Royale, and I quickly spotted the Obelisk, a towering dark monument covered with hieroglyphics and sported a triangular golden top. We were at the Place de la Concorde, facing south. Just beyond was a bridge over the Seine. To the east, leftward, were the Tuilieries and the Louvre beyond; to the west, rightward, was the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, culminating in the Arc de Triomphe a mile or so northwesterly. The Eiffel Tower was also to be seen beyond the Seine in a southwesterly orientation.

A right turn brought us to the Hotel Crillon – one of the best hotels in Paris in terms of opulence and service (and probably price, too). Upon entering we were immediately accosted by hotel staff who refused to allow us to carry our bags a meter further. The pleasant chill in the marbled room cooled our sweaty bodies as we checked in. However, as the room would not be ready until 3 p.m., it was suggested we have lunch while they safely stored our luggage.

We agreed and headed back up towards the Madeleine, where the wife had earlier spotted an attractive streetside bistro. We sat down and immediately ordered drinks – she a wine, me a Heineken. It seems I would be doomed to spend my French vacation drinking German and Belgian beer, as that seemed to be all the beers restaurants stocked. Heinekens and Kronenbourgs. I did have a glass or two of wine, usually with dinner, but none that amazed me. Similarly, to be completely honest, this restaurant’s fare didn’t leave a great impression. I got fries without ketchup (I don’t think the French use ketchup) and a bloody, fatty steak that passed for “medium.” My wife liked her meal, though, and that proved a precedent for the meals to follow.

Returning to the Crillon, we completed the check-in process. A young French concierge-in-training, Kevin according to his badge, gave us a tour of the legendary and long-lived hotel. Very plush, filled with amenities, bristling with professionals devoted entirely to making our stay as comfortable as possible. The room was impossibly luxorious. Spacious, cool, an oasis from the bustling streets. Upon entering you’re greeted by a large mirror and a mini-bar; walk down a few steps and there’s a sitting room. A massive bed fills the next part of the room. I joke that it must’ve been twenty-feet across, and my wife jokes that she never even knew I was in bed with her. Regardless of the size, it was possibly the most awesomely comfortable bed I’ve ever laid upon. A large flatscreen teevee faced us from one corner, and a large antique writing desk from the other.

Behind the wall adjacent to the bed was a walk-in closet. Inside was a table and mirror for madame to apply her makeup. There was a safe for me to store my shrinking pile of euros. Two separate rooms across the closet held the toilet and bidet, and the tub and shower. The tub was set into raised marble; the shower was so large there was a stone bench inside it; a pair of his and her sinks separated the two.

We unpacked and rested for an hour or so, then showered and dressed into some fancy clothes. A dress for C, a jacket and collared shirt for moi. The wife had it in mind to eat somewhere nice. Kevin had mentioned this phrase in his tour for us: when you stay at the Crillon, you have to realize you have access to the best concierges in the city. Indeed, that phrase made the greatest impression on her, and she intended to test it out whenever possibly, much to my and my wallet’s chagrin.

(Another tidbit from the tour that made an impression on us: the Crillon will be closing – for two years! – for renovations. Not one wing, but the whole entire hotel. That amazed us. Apparently, the French don’t do capitalism like we do. What American hotel would close completely – for two whole years! – while renovating? My immediate thought was – what would Kevin or any of the other workers do during this period? France moving as quickly towards socialism that it is, would they simply be paid by the government not to work, or would they be reassigned elsewhere? I think we were both too shocked to ask Kevin any follow-up questions to this revelation.)

Freshly showered and dressed, we made our way down the four floors to the elegant marbled receiving area of the Crillon. My wife beelined towards Serge, the concierge on duty, and told him her simple request: a nice modest streetside cafe with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Serge consulted some maps and a well-hidden computer and made some suggestions and phone calls. Finally, we decided on a bistro called Le Coq in the circle he called Trocadero, about a mile or so due east and a quarter mile north of the Tower (which was across the Seine from this location). The only catch was that our view of the Tower would be obscured by two large semicircular buildings, the Palais de Chaillot. No problem, we agreed. I tipped Serge ten euros.

A ten-minute taxi ride costing around 8 euros brought us to Le Coq, and we opted for a table outside. Big mistake. Like most large cities, I suppose, the only place people are now allowed to smoke is outdoors. And Parisiens love to smoke. We were sandwiched between a dating couple on my right and a pair of young ladies, later joined by a student-type, on my left. All five bathed us with cigarette smoke. Nonstop, chainsmoking cigarette smoke. Every bite of food, every forkful of organic material en route to my mouth traveled through a cloud of smoke. I felt the onset of a headache, and I myself was a smoker only eight years ago. But it was no fun, and made my lobster pasta dish unpalatable. With this meal I had wine instead of beer, and it made no impression.

However, we were rewarded with a spectacular evening. (One thing I noticed that I can’t logically explain is that it doesn’t really get dark in Paris until 10 p.m. or so. Weird, to have so much ambient outdoor light at 9 ...) We crossed the street and made our way towards the gap between the two buildings that made up the Palais de Chaillot – and glimpsed the lit-up Eiffel Tower in all its glorious splendor. My wife choked up, and, I must admit, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer beauty, grandeur, and elegance of the scene. An open courtyard with young kids, older couples, and tourists lay before us, the Pont d’lena Bridge over the Seine, then Le Tour Eiffel.

We snapped some photos, navigated the crowds and dodged the legions of smelly stinky hustlers selling all sorts of junky trinkets on massive key rings. In no time we were at the Tower – and strolled beneath it. 400 feet between each of the four pillars, nearly a thousand feet tall. One pillar was still open, allowing sightseers to purchase a ticket to take an elevator ride to the top, but we did not do that. We walked through and beyond, continuing southeast, onto the Parc du Champ de Mars. About two or three hundred yards away we turned and watched as the Tower suddenly exploded in a galaxy of bright, dancing, sparking lights, for ten minutes, as it does every hour on the hour after dark.

Just then an older Frenchman approached my wife, rose in hand, and insisted on giving it to her. No, no, she politely demurred, then a little more forcefully, but he persisted. Finally, feeling flattered, she accepted the rose. Upon which he sidled over to my side of the fence we were leaning against, and held out his palm. Oh no, I just got shook down. Mifffed, I pulled out my wallet and handed over a five euro bill. Suddenly his smile disappeared. “Ten,” he said, the first words he spoke during this whole encounter. I pulled out a ten and when I handed it to him noticed his fat thumb securely holding down the five I just gave him. Not wanting to haggle – indeed, before the thought even occurred to me – somehow my ten was gone, and so was he, melted into the darkness in a blink of the eye.

That was the most expensive single flower I ever gave my wife.

Needless to say, there was a little friction between the two of us ... but only for a little while. This is Paris, no? So we walked for a bit – in the wrong direction. We were heading southeast, and our hotel was northeast, back over the Seine. After a half-hour, we pulled out the omnipresent map (we had three or four of varying sizes and detail with us) and plotted a course back to the Crillon. It was getting late and our feets were starting to get very, very tired.

We charted a northward course over the Avenue de la Motte Picquette and the Boulevard de la Tour Maubourg. These streets seemed to be somewhat commercial but more probably residential, as most everything was dark save for the streetlights due to the hour. There was the occassional streetside bistro we’d pass, though none were as hopping as those we’d seen north of the Seine. Eventually we hit the river after a mile of walking, and crossed over the wide Pont de l’Alma bridge, very quiet as the hour approached 11 p.m.

It was a simple walk directly eastward parallel to the Seine a half-mile or so to the hotel. A dark, tree-lined route pointed our way to the Obelisk in the distance. We passed such unlikely-named thoroughfares as the Avenues Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill – even passed a statue of the stocky, cigar-chomping British Prime Minister. An occassional bicyclist passed us and a few cars every now and then.

A couple blocks from the hotel I caught sight of a man rummaging through a trash can in the park adjacent to our sidewalk. Then he caught sight of us, and immediately forgot about the trash can. He started directly for us, and he was about fifty yards away.

I caught sight of my wife catching sight of him. We quickened our pace, and I saw her glance back. “Is he following us?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, and I immediately felt slightly nervous, and, oddly, slightly ennervated.

After a hundred yards she turned and looked back again. “He’s right there,” she said, speeding up, and I followed. Vague images of being held up with a knife or something by a crazy random man flashed through my mind. Wildly I looked for a stick or something, but none was to be found on the well-manicured walkways of Tourist Paris. “Should we go into the street?” I asked, and the wife surprised me with a quick, emphatic “Yes!”

There were cars driving back and forth along this route parallel to the Seine. We didn’t care. We walked right into the street, headed right for the cement divider, and walked that towards the Champs-Élysées Obelisk, now comfortably close. Right now I wanted one of those tiny police cars to stop us. We went another short block, and our would-be assailant was no where in sight. Adreneline still flowing, we hoofed it over to the Crillon, took some photos, and made it up to our room by midnight. A shower, a quick call to the girls (it was 6 p.m. their time), a call down to the desk for breakfast, and we were sound asleep in that giant bed within five minutes of lights out.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Paris: En Route

With much excitement the wife and I looked forward to our first vacation, just the two of us, since, well, since our honeymoon many, many moons ago. A hundred-twenty-seven of them, give or take a few (that’s a little over eleven years to those of us who don’t reckon time by the lunar month). Anyway, it was long overdue, kinda like a ten-year-anniversary-slash-birthday-present-slash reward for all the b.s. we’ve been dealing with over the last couple of years.

Two months ago the wife won a two-night trip to Paris at her company’s annual sales conference. A thousand-to-one shot, and she won it (though we did have to put up $100 to purchase a ticket to that raffle). First class airfare to France, there and back, and two nights at a five-star hotel, arguably the ritziest hotel in Paris, the Ritz possibly excepted. Since you can’t possibly begin to crack Paris in three days, we decided to extend our trip another two days on our own dime. This, of course, necessitated a much more frugal establishment to stay. The contrasts between the two hotels definitely exposed us to the highs and lows of overseas travel.

Our flight was to leave JFK Monday night, May 21, at 8:45 p.m. We’d spent the previous weekend getting the house in order; my mother was going to stay the week to watch the girls. My father-in-law agreed to battle several bridge’s worth of traffic to get us to the airport. We managed to pack five days of clothing, toiletries, books, maps, cameras, money, identification, into two luggage backs and two carry-ons early Monday. Kissed the girls goodbye (they thought about crying, but didn’t, assured we’d call them every day) and left the house around 3:30.

Unfortunately, it was one of those off-again, on-again rainy days. Though we left during a lull in the afternoon storms, the traffic was abominable. Took us nearly an hour-and-a-half to get to Kennedy Airport, a trip that could possibly take thirty minutes if done around two a.m. on a Sunday morning. Driving there we had the unexpected surprise of seeing the Enterprise – that’s the newly-retired Space Shuttle – sitting under an open-air hangar at one of the airfields we passed.

We managed to get to the airport by 5 o’clock, plenty of time to check in and relax a bit. This was my first true out-of-the-country flying experience, so I was a little nervous and excited, not sure what to expect. My passport was examined at a couple different stops, obviously with no difficulties. We checked our luggage and got our boarding passes without a hitch. At the security check-point I had to take off my shoes, belt, watch, and put my carry-on in the trays to go under the x-ray scanner thingies, and for the first time I walked through one of those full-body MRI scanners. My only faux pas was forgetting to take out my wallet from my back pocket. Subsequently, a young, skinny, but no-nonsense TSA agent pulled me aside, asked me to pull out the wallet, and he inspected it, going through my bills, credit cards, a photos, all with me looking on. Satisfied I was not smuggling contraband or weaponry, he handed it back to me with a grunt and allowed me through.

By 6 we were at our gate. There was a scattering of folks awaiting to board the plane to Paris, including a hippie chick doing yoga (soon joined by an unrelated older woman), a young metrosexual couple, a flustered middle-age couple who stole all the recharging outlets before my wife could get there, and old man who initially plopped down next to me but was scared off by us. Across was a French family waiting to go home: the father, perhaps 60, wearing a Manhattan skyline t-shirt, the wife decked out in black, and a bubbly daughter around 20 with a red-white-and-blue scarf around her neck. Very cute and very touristy, no doubt how we’d look in five or six days, I thought.

My wife took off to find some magazines and get us a bite to eat, while I stayed back to watch our bags and our traveling companions. About a half-hour later she comes rushing back: “Guess who I just met!” I dunno, who? Arsenio Hall! Now, normally, this would elicit either a yawn or a vague stare from me, except for the fact that we watch Celebrity Apprentice. Those of you else who do will know that Arsenio beat out 17 other “celebrities” to become Trump’s apprentice, and this the night before. Mr. Hall was dressed incognito, with dark shades and a hoodie. My wife, who’s never been labeled “shy”, went up to the ex-talk show host, congratulated him. A big gummy smile ensued, and he asked her for her name. “Christian,” she said, to which he replied, “Anyone named Christian must be cool!” Then he held his phone up to her. “Say hello to Clay,” he told her, and she congratulated Clay Aiken, the celebrity on the other end of Arsenio’s cell. She got back to me beaming, as she always does whenever she has a celebrity encounter, which she does with surprising regularity.

We boarded a little after 6. This was my first time flying First Class. Business Class, it’s called on the ticket, but it’s the same thing. We board first, we disembark first. While the peons in Coach are boarding, we’re offered a glass of champagne. Then, our drink order is taken for when we level off after take-off (I ordered a Bailey’s on the rocks, the wife white wine). A three-course meal follows. The appetizer was absolutely delicious – chilled spicy shrimp and smokey salmon. A salad followed, with the main dish on its heels. I was sorry for the wrap I ate two hours earlier at the gate. I had some sort of veggie lasagna, but I mean, it wasn’t like a Smart Ones veggie lasagna you nuke in the microwave. It was as if American Airlines grew the vegetables themselves, and stowed Wolfgang Puck in an overhead compartment to throw it all together.

First Class rocks! I’ll never be able to fly coach again. Though my bank account will force me to.

The trip from JFK to Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris took about eight hours, with an hour delay on the tarmac before takeoff. I believe – don’t quote me on this – but our highest elevation was around 30,000 feet, our fastest speed was 530 m.p.h., and the temperature outside the cabin at this point was minus 50 degrees F. Though there were a few instances of minor turbulence, the trip was overall smooth. Since we were heading into night, most of the plane was mostly dark most of the trip. I managed to sleep about three hours, in four 45-minute naps.

Our main stewardess was not as personable as one would expect the airline to hire for such a position. So much so that my wife nicknamed her “Agnes.” No offense to people named “Agnes,” but this woman was an “Agnes.” I had no problem with her, but my wife was turned off by her bruskness and her struggle to ... I don’t know ... smile, perhaps? But Agnes impressed my better half with this one incident: A traveler from Coach walked into First Class (gasp!) and stood waiting to use the lavatory. Agnes promptly blocked the way with her properly proportioned body, and after words were exchanged, words we couldn’t hear over the hum of the engines, Agnes finally firmly said to the invading passenger, “You need to go back behind the curtain!” [that separates the castes of our airplane]. This was heard over the engines, and the woman from Coach turned tail and slunk back to loiter at the second-class bathroom.

Tomorrow: Our first official day in Paris …

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Well, we’re back!

Back from five-odd days in Paris. What an experience! What a feast for the eye, if not for the belly, too! I’m glad to be back, no doubt about that; I missed my girls, I missed the comforts of my own home. But I’m a bit sad, as is my wife, and we made a vow early in our trip to get back there again within the decade.

We took about two hundred photos on the digital camera. We both also took notes: mine somewhat eclectic and weird, my wife more straightforward in diary form. What I think I’m going to do over the next week is tell you about our trip, day-by-day, including the airplane ride over the Atlantic to and fro. Believe me, we saw the highs and the lows, and we did it all on a budget that didn’t break that bank. Our walking covered possibly a quarter of Paris (or maybe it just seemed that way), more so if you confine our little Venn diagram to the touristy sights. But it was all worth it. Beautiful, historic, fun, and – different.

So, starting tomorrow, every day around noon I’ll post a little travelogue that I hope you find interesting. Maybe even helpful – who knows? I want to get all these memories out of my head and transferred onto the electric page, a much more reliable long-term storage device. Ten years from now I want to re-read all this, and re-live it in no small part.

Care to follow us to Paris and back?

C’mon – it’ll be fun!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

New Best of the Hopper V

One for the lit geek cinephiles ... originally writ May 11, 2011

Will Munny meets Will Shakespeare

N.B. Will Munny is Clint Eastwood's gunslinger outta retirement from Unforgiven. Will Shakespeare is some guy who wrote a bunch of plays.

CALIBAN: As I told thee before, I am subject to a tyrant,
A sorcerer, that by his cunning hath
Cheated me of the island.

ARIEL (invisible): Thou liest.

CALIBAN: Thou liest, thou jesting monkey thou!
I would my valiant master would destroy thee.
I do not lie.

WILL MUNNY: Trinculo, if you trouble him any more in's tale,
by this hand, I will supplant some of your teeth.

TRINCULO: Why, I said nothing!

WILL MUNNY: Mum then, and no more. Proceed!

(The Tempest, Act III Scene II)

Or ....

CALIBAN: Pray you tread softly, that the blind mole may not
Hear a foot fall. We now are near his cell.

STEPHANO: Monster, your fairy, which you say is a harmless fairy,
has done little better than played the Jack with us.

WILL MUNNY: Monster, I do smell all horse-piss,
at which my nose is in great indignation.

(The Tempest, Act IV Scene I)

Friday, May 25, 2012

New Best of the Hopper IV

Submitted to CBS January 27, 2010, yet they did not decide to film it.  Wonder why?

CSI: Miami

OPENING SCENE: Camera pans up from a half-empty jar of peanut butter on a beach, to an ATM swaddled with crime scene tape. Flashing lights. A group of CSI agents silhouetted against a sepia sky. A pair of girls in bikinis strolls by.

WHITE CHICK: So what do we have here?

BLACK GUY: Seems like some sort of electronic theft.

WHITE CHICK: Electronic theft?

BLACK GUY: Yeah, it’s where money is taken out of your bank account without your knowledge or authorization.

HISPANIC GUY: Wait, they can do it?

WHITE GUY: Happens all the time. (disgusted) Big banks …

BLACK GUY: Here’s our victim.

VICTIM, elderly woman, sweater, hair in a bun: (confused) Hello officers.

WHITE CHICK: Can you tell us what happened?

VICTIM: Well, I put my ATM card into the ATM –


HISPANIC GUY: Automated Teller Machine. It’s a service most banks offer to enable their customers easy, 24-hour access to their money.

WHITE GUY: (disgusted) Big banks …

WHITE CHICK: Let me get this straight. You put your ATM card into the ATM and –

BLACK GUY: Hold on, hold on. ATM card?

BLACK CHICK: Yes, it’s a plastic card, similar to a credit card (split-screen and triple-split screen shots of her showing the officers some credit cards from her wallet). See?

WHITE GUY: I don’t get it. Doesn’t make sense.

HISPANIC GUY: This strip, here, contains information about your account (black-and-white close up of the back of Victim’s ATM card). The ATM can read it once you punch in the correct PIN.

WHITE CHICK: PIN? I don’t follow.

BLACK GUY: Personal Identification Number. It’s a four-digit number you choose for yourself, kind of a specialized lock you put on your card.

WHITE GUY: So you select your own PIN?


WHITE GUY: And the ATM reads it?

BLACK CHICK: Bingo. (to VICTIM) What happened next, ma’am?

VICTIM: My sight’s not so good, so I have to read the Braille keypad –


WHITE CHICK: It’s a system consisting of raised bumps which enable blind people – or people with limited eyesight – to read. Each cell consists of a recognizable pattern corresponding to a certain letter, number, or grammatical symbol.

WHITE GUY: Keypad?

BLACK GUY: Yes – this (raps knuckles on ATM keypad). It’s a set of buttons arranged in a block to facilitate the inputting of information into a computer.

HISPANIC GUY: And then what happened?

VICTIM: My fingers got stuck! It was as if someone smeared peanut butter all over the keypad! Then the readout said that I had no money in my account! Can you imagine that? My fingers are all sticky!

RED-HAIRED ALBINO GUY: Looks like our Automated Teller Machine ... has its own set ... of sticky fingers.

ROGER DALTREY: Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Best of the Hopper III

From the warped brain of Hopper, October 15, 2010:

Seeking Something Weird

I need to read something weird.

I need to be dropped into something strange and bizarre. Something mind-blowing and quixotic and warped and weird. I need to be subsumed by something sublime.

“Hopper,” you say, “what do you mean by this?”

Here’s what I mean:

Something that will open my eyes to something new. Something that will give me a different way of looking at the world. Something that will force me to put the book down, stare into the distance at nothingness-aeterna, and utter in my best Keanu Reeves voice: “Whoa.” Something that will raise goosebumps on my arms.

Something like Nietzsche crossed with Philip K. Dick, with PKD convinced that Nietzsche is still alive and running an underground global government.

Something like Gurdjieff after Gurdjieff commits Gödel Escher Bach to memory in a yogic trance.

Something like Lewis Carroll updated and adapted by Richard Feynman made into a movie by Terry Gilliam and then novelized by Ray Bradbury.

Something like Kant reinterpreted by Robert Heinlein, then the whole thing done up as a rock opera by Pete Townsend.

Something like Jorge Luis Borges unifying the thought of Thomas Aquinas with that of Martin Heidegger, in a series of 2,500-word vignettes taking place in a South America transplanted to another world. Oh, and the whole thing will be translated into English by Kurt Vonnegut.

Something like Colin Wilson developing a new theory of human consciousness after reading H. P. Lovecraft – wait, that’s been done already (see The Mind Parasites).

Something like a transcription of a 12-hour acid trip conversation between Arthur C. Clarke, Aldous Huxley, Albert Magnus, and Anaxagoras.

Something like an inverted and upside-down Tolkien trilogy, where 21st century America is as magical, mystical and ethereal to Middle-earth in the same proportion that Middle-earth is now magical, mystical and ethereal to shallow, vain, and dullish 21st century America.

Something like a Miltonesque song-cycle recapitulation of the dozen or so strains of quantum mechanical thought couched in the language and metaphors of the pre-Socratic philosophers.

Something like Ramanujan and Riemann and Russell carving out a multi-dimensional mathematical world which uncannily mirrors human psychology and historical-eschatological development.

Know what I mean?

Can anybody help me here, or do I have to write these things myself, and most likely make a complete damn fool of myself in the process?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New Best of the Hopper II

First broadcast October 26, 2009 ...

Required Courses

Instead of teaching high school kids how to put condoms on cucumbers, here are five classes I think would be invaluable to our little minds-full-of-mush.

1. Public Speaking

One of the most useful, practical courses ever for me was an Intro to Public Speaking class. I took it in what would have been my junior year in college. Because I was on the night-school plan, I was 27 when I learned how to speak in front of an audience. 27! That’s about 15 years of public speaking paralysis I had to deal with in my academic career. Public speaking ranks consistently in the top three greatest fears Americans have. Why not alleviate it with a class teaching young kids to do this effectively and fearlessly? Do it the same way I learned: slow and progressive, building up from a 30 second “Hello, my name is So-and-So” to chairing a debate team. Believe me, done this way, public speaking is painless.

2. Basic Economics

So many people are completely ignorant of basic economics (myself shamefully included to a certain degree). I would venture to say that most young people do not fully understand the United States tax system until they actually begin earning a serious paycheck (and even then, who really understands the tax system?). So many terms are thrown around in the media, terminology that the general public simply can’t define, and because of this various parties can bend and twist their meanings to convey whatever they want to convey. A basic but thorough course does not have to be sidled with political ideology and would go a long way to creating knowledgeable and well-informed citizens.

3. Personal Finance

A high school course in personal finance would probably put the credit card industry out of business. Seriously. Teach 14 and 15 year-olds how to balance a checkbook, create and stick to a monthly budget, understand some basic investing options, recognize the difference between good and bad debt, and know the concept of compound interest. If this was immediately implemented nationwide, in ten years personal bankruptcies would drop 50%, and in twenty years, a generation, it would drop to a level 10% or lower of what it is now.

4. Open Subject Mastery

This is a fun one, a class that would really free students from the stifling rigidity of traditional required courses, and would probably stay with the student a long, long time after he has left the confines of high school. The student is to select one intellectual subject – any subject, really, nothing’s out of bounds as long as it’s tasteful and sufficiently large enough – and simply master it. Proof will be a 10,000 word thesis (about 40 double-spaced pages) handed in the last week of the semester. Any topic from science to historical events to biography to sports to politics and war to engineering to … whatever. Just pick a topic close to your heart, master it, and prove your mastery.

5. My Future History

Not “my” meaning “me,” of course, but the student. Have the student spend a full semester creating a detailed, personalized future plan. Let them daydream, let them explore options – no matter how seemingly crazy – and teach them to create and organize short and long-term goals and sub-goals. Yeah, I know that alleged “Harvard study on goals”, you know, the one every self-help book quotes, where 3% of the students who set goals wound up a gazillion times the net worth of the other 97% after twenty years, I know that study has been debunked. But goals are worthwhile. So is knowing where you want to go. And to know where you want to go, you need to dream of yourself five, ten, twenty years down the road. No one teaches us to do this. And that is a shame.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Best of the Hopper I

First aired ... November 10, 2008 ...


Saturday night there was this awful, awful movie on the awful, awful Sci Fi channel entitled Yeti. It caused a minor disturbance at my house.

First, a disclaimer. I did not see the movie. Well, I did watch the last ten minutes, but I’ll get to that in a second. Basically, the plot follows, I think, a bunch of twentysomethings who crash on top of some snowy woodsy mountain and try to make it back to civilization. Problem is there’s this bloodthirsty yeti tracking them, and eventually hunts them down. I mean, this thing at one point rips some dude’s leg off, takes a bite out of it, and starts beating the poor chap with it.

Why is it so difficult to make a good hairy beast movie? I don’t think it’s ever been done. The angle to take is not one of gory violence or tense chase scenes. No. Absolutely, no! The way to go is to exploit the creepiness factor. Something moving in the shadows. Something that may be looking in your window. Watching you. Something that’s big and powerful and unknown. That’s scary enough. A Freddy Krueger sasquatch just ain’t. Anybody remember The Legend of Boggy Creek, from the early 70s? That movie scared the heck outta me as a little kid. I last saw it about ten or so years ago, and while the monster’s obviously some stunt man in a gorilla suit, it was creepy as all heck and it worked.

The problem with Yeti was that my four-year-old daughter saw the trailer with me while we were channel surfing Saturday afternoon. That’s all it took. The damn burst, and the questions followed. But instead of focusing on what a yeti was, she seemed really concerned that I not watch the movie. Talk about a budding young film critic! No, actually, I think the trailer scared her a bit and she didn’t want me to watch the movie. Maybe she thought that if I watched it … It might start watching us, eh?

Sunday morning rolls around, specifically six-thirty, a.m., and I’m awakened by a tiny finger tapping the center of my forehead. Groggy, dehydrated, I open my eyes and see my daughter, upside-down in my field of vision. Hands-on-hips. “Daddy,” she says in that clipped, disapproving voice she gets when she’s disappointed in something I’ve done, “Daddy, you watched Yeti!”

I laugh and shrug it off and roll over, but she pursues it. “Daddy! You watched Yeti!” I admit I watched the last ten minutes, after the DVD Mommy and me were watching ended. The Little One’s not pacified. “You said you weren’t going to watch Yeti but you did!” Laughing, I explain, patiently and slowly, that I didn’t intend to watch Yeti but the DVD finished early and we were surfing through the channels (actually my wife was feeding the Littlest One at this time), and I came across the movie and watched the ending. A pouting lip. Not good enough.

Then, an idea. I reach out, grab her, and say: “You just like saying the word ‘Yeti’!” She starts giggling, and I keep saying “Yeti Yeti Yeti”, chasing her around the living room. A couple of minutes later, I’m making us breakfast and she’s watching the Disney channel.

Situation diffused.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Ah! Our first real vacation (i.e., does not involve visiting/mooching off relatives in other states)! Our first real vacation in five years and the first vacation, for the wife and I, sans children since our honeymoon to Napa Valley, eleven long years ago.

Spent the weekend doing a phenomenal amount of work. My better half cleaned the house up and down, ’cuz my mother is staying over the week watching the little ones. She did about eight loads of laundry, mine included (which she almost never does). She also swapped out the girls’ winter clothes for summer, no small feat in itself as it involves several trips up to the attic.

Me, I mowed the front and back lawn, gathered up branches, seeded the backyard, cleaned off the deck, tidied up the garage, and actually built an electric grill. I was so exhausted I felt the need to soak in a hot tub, and even that felt like work. We had some delicious sushi (and a little ice cream) to finish off the weekend. We watched the finale of Celebrity Apprentice after the little ones went to bed, and then we went to bed and were out like lights within three minutes of hitting the sheets.

Some last minute stuff today: pack, pay bills, do the Hopper thing here. I think over the next five days we’ll be in Paris, I’ll queue up some “Best Of The Hopper” posts that are worth a second look. I’ll try to pick some that are funny or at least witty, or ones that will make you scratch your chin or pet your beard. So do check back every day for something interesting. And, of course, when we’re back next Sunday, I’ll do a recap of our trip to France.

I have no idea what to expect overseas. Quite a few people have warned me that I may be made the target of stereotypical French scorn and muted mockery (or not so muted). My brain can’t wrap around that; I mean, it’s not like we’ll be in the Burgundian countryside; we’ll be in the heart of Tourist, Inc, Franco-style. But maybe that’s the reason why. Dunno. Interested to see if any anti-Americanism or anti-Tourist-ism comes into play. Let you know in a week.

We do plan to do all the tourist-y stuff, unabashedly so. See the city from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Tour the Louvre. Pray in the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Basilique du Sacre Couer. Walk under the Arch de Triomphe. Dine on a floating restaurant on the Seine. Stroll the Champs-Élysées. Drink lots of famed French wine. Drink a glass of cognac.

All right. Got a couple of phone calls to make. Have a great week, check back daily, and be sure to stop by next Sunday for a Hopper take on the City of Lights.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Translation

I’m a traditionalist at heart, and I guess that makes me a conservative in my thinking, even in my thinking with the Church. Normally I’m not a big fan of Vatican II. To me, it was a watering-down of the special charisms of the Church by squishy liberals. Now I know that’s a generalization, and for every liberalizing effort down by Vatican II a liberal can show me something “conservative.” All well and good. But I’m still a fan of tradition because, well, there’s a reason things become tradition: They work.

So I’m in general agreement with the new changes instituted in the English translation at Mass six months ago. A particularly good example is that the “cup” is now referred to as the “chalice.” Ah, beauty! I also like that word, “consubstantial” in the Nicene Creed. Yes, we average Americans are not that dumb where we’ll run shrieking and trembling if you throw a four-syllable word at us.

However – and this shows I do keep an open mind – there’s one part of the new translation that I don’t dig. Consider –

OLD: Lord, I am not worthy to receive You; but only say the word and I shall be healed.

NEW: Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

I kinda like the old way better. To me, it’s more transcendent, as opposed to the earthly and literal feel to the new version. I am not worthy to RECEIVE You implies that the entire Presence of Christ is to indwell me, Eucharistically, and who is worthy of such a gift? I am not worthy that You should come under my roof would be something a first century disciple would say, especially one who lived in the Holy Land. At least, that’s the way it feels to me.

Also, I don’t like the fact that the new translation limits the healing to one’s soul. True, soul healing by far surpasses any other type of healing. But I liked how the old way included physical, mental, social, heck, even financial healing. I like that, and I need that. We all do.

Anyway, I’m nitpicking here. I was in a state of panic yesterday and this morning, because I went to the Church I confess at Saturday afternoon – and confessions were not scheduled! Outside the Church was a giant white Humvee limo and a muscle car! Noo! A wedding! I was panicking, because I want to leave the earth tomorrow evening – in the airplane, that is – with a clean and clear conscience. Pure as the driven snow. But my wonderful pastor and my Church was able to do a special anointing of the sick for me at the noon mass today (he’s aware of my lung issues plus he wanted to “heal my flying fears”), so cleansed I am, and I am grateful.

A pre-Paris travelogue preview tomorrow, and I’ll reveal what I have queued up for the Hopper for the five days we’ll be gone.

Peace of Christ be with you! As it is with me!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Top Jimmy

I’ve said it before (here?) and I’ll say it again. One of the best memories I’ve ever had in my entire life, spanning four decades or so (depending on how you reckon time), involves this song:

It also involves a villa in Puerto Rico, about two hundred feet above an oceanic cove horse-shoeing a secluded beach, a villa that includes an inground swimming pool with a dozen or so powerful external hi-fi speakers in surround-sound connected to a state-of-the-art sterio system indoors.

Now take away wives and children for the entire afternoon, but leave your best buddy. Throw in a case of Puerto Rican beer, ice cold, and a nerf football. Crank up the outdoor temperature to 85 degrees, keep it real sunny, and remove any trace of cloud from the sky. Put on the CD that contains the above tune, pass that football between each other from one side of the pool to the next, chugging beers, telling bad jokes, reminiscing about past good times, philosophizing about the future, stretch time impossibly long, and, well, you have just about the greatest day of your life.



PS - Found two pics on an old CD of “the pool”!

So how about one more song from that afternoon?  Okay!


Friday, May 18, 2012

The Other Side


We have a very beautiful chapel at Christ the King retreat center in Sacramento. Groups come from all over seeking a deeper walk with Christ. Once we sponsored an R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) workshop. They put a large cross right in the middle of the chapel floor. It was about 10 feet high and had no corpus on it.

One evening when the chapel was empty, I went and saw the cross standing there. I approached it and looked at the front of it. Because it was in the center of the floor, I was able to walk around it. I noticed something: the cross has two sides. Usually it is on a wall or hung somewhere and its other side is hard to notice. As I looked at the back side of the cross, I heard a tiny whisper in me. I believe it was the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. “The front side of the cross was for Jesus, the back side of the cross is for you.”

- from Live Passionately! by Father Cedric Pisegna

Something I plan to think about during my long, nocturnal ocean voyage in 72 hours …

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Karma Test

Let’s say you’ve worked for a company for eight months. You made a lot of money in that time – let’s round it to an even $75,000. But you also made a lot of mistakes. Yeah, you cost the company some money, but that’s built into your pay plan (a certain percentage off your commission, say). Finally, however, you did something so careless that it could have put the company out of business. They let you go.

But they let you go generously. That is, they pay all the money owed you, plus vacation time you accrued for the following year. Nothing is held up, nothing is nickel-and-dime’d. There’s just one problem, though. When you get your finally commission check, you see they overpaid you $1,500. It’s something they should have deducted from your commission, something that again is built into your pay plan, but for some reason they never deducted it.


What do you do?

(1) Keep the money and hope no one ever finds out about it

(2) Keep the money and hope no one at the company ever discovers their error

(3) Call them to let them know of the overpayment, and pay it all back immediately

(4) Call them to let them know of the overpayment, and arrange a schedule of smaller repayments

(5) Decide you’ll wait to find new work and then repay the overpayment in full

(6) Decide you’ll wait to find new work and then arrange a schedule of smaller repayments

What do you think this turkey I’m dealing with is going to decide to do?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Rarely does a physics book make me chuckle out loud, but this one did just now. It was so surprising and so outta left field I just had to come downstairs from my comfy reading nook and do a quick post.

From pages 74-75 of Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics:

(In supersymmetry-theory convention, the superpartners of fermions begin with an “s”, like the selectron, while the superpartners of bosons end in “ino.”) … A new superpartner is simply postulated to go along with each known particle. Not only are there squarks and sleptons and photinos, there are also sneutrinos to partner the neutrinos, Higgsinos with the Higgs, and gravitinos to go with the gravitons. Two by two, a regular Noah’s ark of particles. Sooner or later, tangled in the web of new snames and naminos, you begin to feel like Sbozo the clown. Or Bozo the clownino. Or swhatever.

How clever! How witty! Lee Smolin, your Dennis Miller-like command of language absolutely slayed me. Truly very funny stuff. Hope there’s more as I make my way through your somewhat curmudgeonly shot-across-the-bow of all those pop sci books that make every single theory and every single scientist out to be the greatest thing since, well, I guess that apple smacking Isaac on the noggin or little Albert imagining himself riding a beam of light. (And what a take-down of St. Albert Einstein in chapter 3 – ouch!)

Tolkien Reloaded

I finished the so-bad-it’s-good Area 51 last night, and found myself at a loss as to what to read next. A conundrum I face every couple of weeks. The thing is, now, we’re flying out to Paris on the 21st, and I intend to start Hugo’s Hunchback on the plane. So … what do I read for the next five days?

Don’t get me wrong. I can put away a book (or even two) in a five-day period. But these next five days will be different. Wall-to-wall busyness – packing and planning, doing last-minute this and that, getting the house in shape, blah blah blah. My spidey sense is telling me not to start something that will require attention over the next few days, as whatever I read I will not be able to properly devote myself to. (Wow – there was some mangled syntax in that sentence!)

I briefly debated reading a short story or two. I have a paperback of Lloyd Biggle’s short s stories I’ve been eyeing for a while now (he’s an old-time sci fi guy). Plus some stuff by Harlan Ellison, both original stories as well as stories edited by him. But neither really jumped out at me. Despairing, my eyes scanned the shelves of my bookcase, when suddenly they lighted on –

The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, by Robert Foster! Dog-eared, musty, yellowed, spine a-crumbling, my copy of Foster’s paperback Tolkien dictionary! I memorized the darn thing in 8th grade, during and after my first voyage with Frodo et al. I found it in a used book store a decade ago, and read it sporadically, mostly during my second reading of the Lord of the Rings. And last night it literally jumped off the shelf into my arms!

It’s the type of encyclopedia where one entry leads to another, and another, and another, and before I know it, an hour has flown by. I read a bit last night until sleep overcame me; I read for 20 more minutes after wolfing down my sandwich (… ‘warging’ down my sandwich, perhaps? …). I’ll probably read some more of it in bed tonight after the kiddies go down a little after 8. And I will love every minute of it. In fact, I’m already contemplating on reading the LotR a third time, which translates to: soon.

I re-read all my Tolkienna posts on this blog earlier, and I must say, I’m kinda proud of them. One thing I didn’t write about, though, is the Tolkien encyclopedia. The Foster book was a mainstay at my friend Karl’s house, the buddy I pal’d around with back in middle school. However, my uncle, another strong proponent of Tolkien in my circle those days, advocated The Complete Tolkien Companion, by J. E. A. Tyler. This book, too, I spent many, many hours analyzing and exploring, and it opened up the world of Middle-earth just as much as the other. Back in those days, I considered it a mere coin toss as to which was a better source of reference material.

Until I re-read the LotR two years ago. I made the discovery that Tyler had transformed his modest encyclopedia into a tome of gargantuan size and scope – The Complete Tolkien Companion: Totally Revised and Updated. The copy I borrowed from the library had the heft of a no-nonsense Oxford dictionary. Hardcover bound, 8 ½ by 11, nearing 750 pages, tipping the scales at ten pounds. This is a work I could get lost in! If Foster and the original Tyler were books written by aficionados in the spare time during the wee hours of the night, the Totally Revised and Updated has an aura of legions of grad students and literary professors commandeering dark-oak libraries, working day and night, week after week, exploring every vale and mountaintop of Middle-earth, writing down their visions and glories for future generations to read. Hello, Santa …

Still, though, I have my small paperback Guide for now, and I am happy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Everything is Linked to Everything

I’m reading a cheesy-yet-incredibly-entertaining novel Area 51 last night when I stumble upon yet another table leg to the belief that Everything is Linked to Everything. When you read enough books like I do – and they don’t even have to be books on the same subject – you start finding references and mentions and citations and parallelisms cropping up all over the place. If you’ve ever read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, it’s just like that, except the computer, Abulafia, is the gray matter between my ears.

Anyway, the book is written in a techno-thriller style reminiscent of a Clancy or Cussler, a group of disparate desperate people across the globe racing against time to stop something Very Bad from happening at the mysterious government base Area 51 in the Nevada desert. It attempts to intertwine UFOs, the Great Pyramid in Egypt, alien abductions, Nazis, and Atlantis and form some sort of coherent explanation in the framework of a potboiler. It partially succeeds on all of those counts, but fails when considered a work of literature (you know, the requirement of having three-dimensional characters, for example). There’s a gritty investigative reporter chick, the rogue special forces agent, the eccentric college professor, the remorseful old German, the bat-crazy General – you know, clichés.

Still, I can’t put the thing down. I read something like 60-70 pages a night and will have it done in a day or so.

So I’m at a scene about two-thirds through the book where the rogue special forces agent says to the gritty investigative reporter chick, “Ever read a book called The Killer Angels?” and proceeds to use its subject to describe their next plan of attack in order to survive.

The Killer Angels? That’s right on the bookshelf behind me! It’s by Michael Shaara, and if I recall correctly, it won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s about the Battle of Gettysburg. Except told in novel form, with the generals and other important soldiers rounding out the cast. His son, Jeff, wrote a prelude, Gods and Generals, and a concluding work, The Last Full Measure, creating a father-son trilogy of sorts of the Civil War. I’ve read the son’s works over the past six weeks, and both books were excellent.

And here the original novel, the award-winning Killer Angels, is mentioned in a novel about UFOs.

Everything is Linked to Everything!

Airborne Lifetime

1987 – Flew to Los Angeles, California (5534-mile round trip)

2001 – Flew to San Francisco, California (5790-mile round trip)

2002 – Flew to Savannah, Georgia via Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1853-mile round trip)

2007 – Flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico (3218-mile round trip)

I am flying way too much. I mean, 16,395 miles in 25 years! That’s like a trip from my house to Portland, Maine and back, once a year, every year. (Note: I have never been to Portland, Maine. Though I wouldn’t mind visiting it. Driving there, that is.)

And now, this trip to Paris will tack on 7,278 more miles, or a 44 percent increase in my airborne lifetime, all in the space of five days! Yikes! Normally it should’ve taken me another eleven years to reach this amount of flight time. Egad!!

Now, my wife flies anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 miles a year, depending which coast holds her company’s annual sales meeting. Also, she’s not adverse to packing the little ones up and jetting down to her ma’s in Hilton Head, a 1670 mile round trip, when I’m not involved in the equation. I’m sure in the past 25 years she’s flown almost 45,000 miles, close to three times as much as I have. And that includes a previous trip to Paris as an exchange student in high school.

So, I am somewhat nervous about my first trip across the Atlantic.

Fortunately, we’re traveling business class, a perk from winning first prize in that there raffle that my wife done did. I may or may not have a stiff drink at the first possible minute, in hopes that it will relax me, if not knock me out stone cold for the 8 hour trip. Additionally, I’m bringing along The Hunchback of Notre Dame – it’ll either completely engross me or else do the job that stiff drink couldn’t. I also have a very important book of a religious spiritual devotional nature that I want to bring to France; be sure I’ll be dog-earing those pages. And I intend to camp out in the aisle seat. That’s right: aisle seat.

Please, if you know me – or even if you don’t! – say a little prayer for me next Monday night, for a safe trip overseas, and another little prayer Saturday night, for a safe return. After all, you wanna be reading the Hopper for years and years to come, right?!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Respite Please!

Somebody tell the world to stop – or just slow down.”

- Johnny Winter

Time stand still – not looking back but I want to look around me now.”

- Rush

Way way way too busy this past month … three doctors appointments, a lung scan, Confession, a first Holy Communion, three times serving as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, a two-day garage sale, a visit from the in-laws, a visit from our friends from Pittsburgh, our eleven year anniversary, preparations for the trip to Paris (two trips to the bank and several to the library for French books), Mother’s Day, dentist appointment, two meetings with the day care owners, removing the grill from my deck –


Now the wife is holed up in some ritzy four-star hotel in NYC for more meetings and conferences with her coworkers for the next three days. Strangely, this should provide me with a brief oasis – a respite, if you will – from the sturm und drang of life. After 8 o’clock, that is, once the little ones are abed. Most likely, though, that’ll be around 8:30 or so, even 8:45, as they take exponentially longer to get ready for bed the fewer adults there are around to corral them.

Tonight, I plan on reading my deliciously cheesy Area 51, and dip into some more string theory.

Mmmmmm … string cheese ….

The School

Here’s how to solve those five itchy problems in contemporary modern physics I spoke about this past Saturday …

First, get a billion dollars.

(For some reason, this old joke comes to mind: How do you become a millionaire? First, get a billion dollars. Then, buy an airline.)

Anyway, the billion will be our bankroll. But we’re going to do a little something different with it.

We’re going to buy a school.

Not a school here, mind you, ‘here’ meaning the US of A. No. We need to get past that malignant thing called the NEA. So, we’ll buy a school in Switzerland. Or whatever country has the most hands-off policy towards education. We’ll set one up in Antarctica if we have to. This is too important to waste time and money dueling with fat bureaucrats.

Then, you populate it. With the youngest l’il geniuses you can find.

This is by no means an original thought. Plato (in the voice of Socrates) spoke about something similar in The Republic 2,500 years ago. However, the idea of breeding humans for specific purposes, of stealing them from their parent’s arms as infants, of systematically training them as they mature – such an idea I find revolting and repugnant, and rightfully so. We are not to play God.

However, I see no problem with allowing free will to remain in place. Incentivized free will, if you will, and that’s where some of that billion comes in.

You hire the best scientific minds – geneticists and behavioral psychologists – to locate a massive pool of potential applicants for the School. (Note the draconian upper-case S – mwah hah hah hah!) These potential applicants would have to be very young, maybe six or seven years old. Can be of any gender, but the School segregates (up to a certain age – read on). Say, 2,000 are located worldwide (and I’d wager that at least 50 percent come from Israel and the Far East).

Then, you pay them (their families, until the young scholars reach a certain age), an annuity for the rest of their lives if they wish to test themselves in the School. Set up rigorous mathematics and physics, and create a culture that nourishes and thrives on accomplishment. Positive rewards and reinforcements – absolutely nothing negative here. And it all must be 100 percent voluntary. If a student wishes to leave, he or she may. They’ll forfeit that lifelong annuity, but they’ll get a bonus for trying.

From age six or seven these children will learn. Not revisionist history, not gender politics, nothing of that sort. They will learn all forms of mathematics and all forms of physics. Electives in other sciences, sure, it will stimulate the mental juices. But the emphasis at the School will be on cutting edge, modern, state-of-the-art physics. Specifically, those five problems.

Free-form brainstorming will be encouraged. So will out-and-out daydreaming. The children may read whatever they wish to read. They can talk about whatever they want to talk about. Older students will be encouraged to mentor younger ones. Games of all types will be played – all with the goal of solving the Big Five. High achievers in physics and math will be rewarded generously with all sorts of recognitions and perks.

The School must remain ruthlessly apolitical, and must not be tied down to any philosophy other than solving those Five Problems. (And, of course, as each is solved dozens more of all shapes and sizes will crop up.) This leads me to believe that the School must be secret. That entails whole sets of problems I can’t even begin to fathom at the moment. But unless it is such a school will become a target by those who will feel threatened by its existence. Which I imagine most of contemporary civilization will be, for right or wrong.

I think it’s true – and I’m almost positive research has borne this out – that young children are sponges when it comes to learning, particularly languages. They pick up stuff so fast and their memory is phenomenal. Working with my daughter with math, I never shake the nagging feeling that, at age 7, she should have mastered multiplication and division by now, and be well immersed in algebra and geometry. I know she could do it if, well, someone sat down and did it with her. I myself have taught her how to do column math in her head while we drive about on Saturday mornings. It can be done. It can also be done better, and on a wider-scale.

By the time a child at the School reaches double-digits, he or she will have mastered all math up to calculus, basic physics, introductory quantum mechanics, wave mechanics, relativity theory, electrical theory and basic application, and basic chemistry. Now before you give me the Beavis-watching-a-Winger-video look, remember, these will all be kids who score high on aptitude and interest assessments, so they’ll enjoy studying these subjects together.

Originally I was for gender-segregated partitions of the School, but now I don’t think so. Don’t want to create any unnecessary drama, and I’m not lumping the hormone-driven rages young teens have in this category. I think that’s natural, and in a way, I think it can enhance creativity in some strange bizarre way. So I wouldn’t go out of my way hindering. Now, it’s also an undeniable fact (and not a politically-correct one) that men outnumber women something like 9 to 1 in higher math and physics studies. That will be a problem. Not for social engineering purposes (not the School’s mission), but as our talent pool enters puberty. That’s why the School will have to staff plenty of empathetic and mature psychologists of both genders.

Establish the School, and in twenty years each of those five problems will be solved. That’s a guarantee. I only ask to be let in on the ground floor to write its story.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Five Easy Pieces

The five greatest problems in contemporary theoretical physics, according to physicist and writer Lee Smolin:

- Combine general relativity and quantum theory into a single theory that can claim to be the complete theory of nature.

- Resolve the problems in the foundations of quantum mechanics, either by making sense of the theory as it stands or by inventing a new theory that does make sense.

- Determine whether or not the various particles and forces can be unified in a theory that explains them all as manifestations of a single, fundamental entity.

- Explain how the values of the free constants in the standard model of particle physics are chosen in nature.

- Explain dark matter and dark energy. Or, if they don’t exist, determine how and why gravity is modified on large scales. More generally, explain why the constants of the standard model of cosmology, including the dark energy, have the values they do.

(taken from chapter 1 of his book, The Trouble With Physics)

Tomorrow I will explain how each can be solved …

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rant of a Political Nature

POLITICAL RANT in 5 ….. 4 …. 3 … 2 .. 1 –

Wait a minute …

What are we talking about?

What are we all talking about?

Gay ‘marriage’? An alleged bullying event that took place 50 years ago in high school? Contraception? The year-old assassination of OBL?

Why aren’t we talking about –

The $4 a gallon price of gas?

The 8-10 percent unemployment we’ve had every month for the past three-and-a-half years?

The estimated 19 percent underemployment for the same time period?

The $15 trillion of debt we have (an increase of at least 50 percent over the past three-and-a-half years)?

The killing of that Canadian pipeline?

The moratorium on drilling in the Gulf?

The failed initiatives into alternative energy sources – Solyndra, the Volt, ‘algae power’?

So why is all I hear when I turn on the news gay ‘marriage’, an alleged bullying event that took place 50 years ago in high school, contraception, and the year-old assassination of OBL?

Oh, right. It’s because Obama can’t run on his record.

He can’t defend his record.

He doesn’t want you to think about the American economy of the past three-and-a-half years.

He can only run against boogeymen.

He can only run against straw men.

He can only run on scare tactics and fear mongering.

Where is the Hope and Change?

Where has it been over the past three-and-a-half years?

Where is this “Great Uniter” we were promised?

Want scary? I’ll tell you scary. It’s scary that this election is still a coin toss. Could someone please explain that to me? Please!

All right – enough of that.

END POLITICAL RANT in 3 … 2 … 1 …

[until next month…]

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Apologies Apologies

Apologies for not posting much of late. Lot on my mind, lot on my plate – such as …

  • The incredible shrinking pulmonary vein
  • Five days in Paree in eleven days
  • Will my doc give me the okily-dokily to travel
  • Keeping my creditors at bay with this chair and whip
  • Walking the thin line at work between the worker bees and management
  • Getting them darn kids to listen to me every once in a while
  • Where’d my paycheck go to?
  • Why this dark night of the soul? Didn’t I push all the correct buttons this month?

And some more too personal to reveal on this publicly anonymous blog.
I do have material. Just not written. Coupla movies I saw, coupla ones I wanna see. Finished another Western. Some weird metaphysical stuff (always a crowd pleaser). Some musical stuff I’m into right about now. Just haven’t had the time to write these past four or five days. And when I do squeeze a half-hour here or a half-hour there, I don’t have the will and / or the energy.
But I promise more stuff on the near horizon, and that ‘near’ signifies a temporal not spatial sense. Light cones and all that.
¡Mañana, amigos!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bad Bad News

Got a voice mail from my cardiologist today, and it wasn’t hugs and roses. He finally got around to taking a look at my annual lung scan I did fifteen days ago. It’s not good.

My left superior pulmonary vein is closing up yet again. The inferior vein closed up three or more years ago, after my second catheterization to cure atrial fibrillation. Since you only have two veins going from the heart to the lung, this is quite serious.

First, they put a balloon into the vein to blow it up. This lasted three months. Then, they put a stent in it. That lasted a year. This was followed up by a stent within the first stent, and now, it seems, that that has lasted two years.

But the fn vein is still closing up.

I am equal parts frustrated, angry, scared, and disillusioned. It’s official; life is too hard. It seems I need to pay the price of a lung for whatever sins of omission or commission I may have done earlier in my life. I don’t know; the Great Vacuum has told me nothing. Or maybe I’m just tuned to a different frequency.

The wife tried to cheer me up this afternoon. We’ll get a consultation with your doctor, she said, even after I said that he has no idea what to do next.

I don’t either.

Prayers appreciated.

Monday, May 7, 2012

First Holy Communion

Well, it was a two-steps-forward-one-step-back three months to get Little One to her first Holy Communion. It started back in January. See, our parish has this thing where they do Sunday School for the first half of the school year, then the parents take over for the second half. For the record, I have no problem with this, other than the fact it seems a bit out of the ordinary since I never did it as a kid myself. But I kinda like the fact that we’re involved in her religious formation.

Anyway, back in January we got a First Penance workbook. Six chapters, six weeks until the little ones were scheduled to tell their deepest, darkest sins to Father Jim (“I yelled at my sister!” “I snuck a box of yogurt raisins from the kitchen cabinet!”) I would read the chapter with my Little One, one a week, usually each of us alternating paragraphs. There were big lessons to be drawn, as well as pictures. Other fun stuff for her including things like mini crossword puzzles and word searches.

Early in March she went to first Penance – the last of like a hundred kids to go. We went to the mass with her and were very proud when she left the confessional and got her certificate and a little cross pin to wear. She was fearless and perhaps even eager to receive this Sacrament, which made me feel quite relieved, as I had a very profound fear of adults as a little kid, especially big adults like Father Jim.

Then, another workbook, this one for First Holy Communion. Six chapters over six weeks again, though I must admit (maybe confess?) that we slacked a bit and wound up doing four chapters the last week. There was also an artsy-craftsy banner she had to make for the pew her family would be sitting in, which made us growl, “This is why there should always be Sunday School on Sundays!” But it turned out beautiful, as does most everything Little One does. (Yes, I realize I am totally biased, so take the previous sentence with big heapings of salt.)

Before we knew it, the day of the Communion was here. I volunteer as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at my parish (one of the laypeople who help serve the Body and Blood during mass). I’m on a rotating schedule, about twice a month, but they asked me if I wanted to help out at my daughter’s ceremony. Of course I agreed, and we made arrangements so I would give her the first taste of the wine-turned-mystical-blood. Father Jim would give her the Eucharist, as is fitting and proper.

The whole weekend seemed surrealistically like a dress rehearsal for a wedding. A mini-wedding. Friends and relatives flew in; some stayed with us, some stayed in a local Residence Inn. There was a reception to follow. There was a cake to pick up. There was a line out the door to the bathroom all morning. Suits to put on, ties to match. My darling Little One in her beautiful white dress. And a mad dash to get to the church on time.

She was absolutely gorgeous, glowing and radiant as she walked down the aisle, heading a procession of about twenty-five of her young peers. The girls all looked like miniature brides; the boys all looked like slobby goofballs. Thanks to a trick in the alphabet, we got the first pew on the left side of the church. The ceremony was at times moving, reverent, and humorous, as Father Jim walked down off the altar to engage the children in various discussions about the importance of food, and tied it all in to the Spiritual Food in which they were momentarily to be given.

After the mass we closed down the church taking a couple thousand digital photographs of every possible permutation of family members with Little One. We made it to the upscale pizzeria a town over where we booked a side room for a couple of hours. Course after course after course came out for us and our guests: cheeses, meats, salads, pastas, pizzas. My wife picked up a case of red and white, and a case of beer, and it all flowed. The children ran around insane; our admonishments for them not to run with utensils only led them to fashion jailhouse shivs with wine bottle corks and toothpicks. The communion cake which ended the afternoon seemed almost anticlimactic.

We got back home by four or five, unpacked, and watched the ponies at the Kentucky Derby. My in-laws and our friends from Pittsburgh hung out with us till nearly midnight, drinking wine and eating cold leftover pizza. We let Little One have a sleepover with Maddie; they stayed up until nearly eleven giggling and reading with the lava lamp on. Then, the next day, we all had to race back to the church again, for, per Father Jim, the Saturday communion mass technically did not fulfill our Sunday obligation. My daughter wore her white dress again, and again was absolutely stunning.

I’m still tired from the weekend, and I’m still fighting that chest congestion from a week ago, but I’m way, way on the rebound. Tonight I plan on chilling, reading a Western I’m working my way through, and something weird on the Voynich manuscript. I feel good, and life is good.