Friday, April 30, 2010

What To Do With Dad?

They say what drives you crazy makes you strong. Don’t you believe it! What drives you crazy really does drive you crazy. Nothing short of that, unless it is merely near crazy. I am not a stronger person for the experience. At best, I benefit from the emotional nourishment gleaned from my fits of maniacal laughter. The relief is infrequent and short-lived.

Before I proceed, my apologies. Is it bad manners to conclude before you commence? Have I confused a push cart for the horse-drawn cart? In summary, I begin.

We are clearly the product of the post-WWII sperm flow … the baby boomers. We lapped up life like a dog on a hot day. Somewhere along the way, we lay down for a nap, and pods were secretly placed beside our heads as we slept. We are one of them now, and we recognize one another by the distant stares and vacant eyes. Our worlds have turned upside down. The child has become the man and the man has become the child. We are like a drop of water in an ocean of boomers ... all of us trying to figure out what to do with our parents. If you are not there already, you will be.

We are trapped in a classic lose-lose situation. Our backgrounds suggest that we are decision-makers … our approach is to take control. Logic says to make all the decisions and to tell dad what he can or can’t do, to take away the car, to take over the checkbook and to bring in someone to clean and watch over him. Logic says to do all the things that I would rather die than have done for (or is it to) me. The alternative is the nursing home. It’s the easy path. I believe the easy path would kill him. I know this sounds bad, but I will say it anyway. Sometimes, I hope for dad to die. I do not mean that I want to kill him. I hope for him to die doing. I am not ashamed of this . We have done my dad and millions of others a great disservice. We have chosen life over dignity for our elders. We are trying to keep dad at home as long as possible … a facade of independence. We all know it is not real. He can’t see. He can’t hear. He can’t remember. But, he thinks he can do all three. We stick red-hot pokers in our eyes and hope for blindness. But we can see. We make speeches about the sanctity and dignity of life. I fear that both cease to exist in the absence of choice.

For now, my role is to telephone and to visit. I try to call weekly, but dad doesn't always hear the phone. The short-term memory is gone so our conversations are tough. My strategy is to listen to each story over and over again as if I had never heard it before. The re-telling of the story may begin 30 seconds after the finish of the first telling. I pretend that we are having a real conversation.

Yesterday, it was the leaf story. Dad is a little obsessed with the leaves. The gist of the story is that he rakes, he piles them on a tarp, he hitches himself to the tarp like a mule, he drags the leaves to the edge of the yard, he sneaks out to burn them, Dean stops him and tells him he will compost the leaves, the leaves have not been composted yet, dad wants to burn them again. Repeat chorus.

I am weak. After seven tellings, I couldn't take it any more. "Dad, where is your tarp?" I retrieved the tarp from the well house, intent upon removing the cursed pile of leaves. I unfolded the tarp. Unfurled before me was a twenty year old tarp, tied together in no less than 8 places with wire and with a multitude of holes ranging from 1 inch to 15 inches in diameter. I burst into uncontrollable laughter. "Dad, this tarp is useless. Have you ever thought of throwing it away?" Dean listened, obviously amused, and knowingly smiled and rolled his eyes. Dad launched into the eighth retelling ... the ninth ... the tenth. I walked away and disposed of the leaf pile in fifteen minutes. I made a mental note to buy a new tarp.

I took a walk with Dean in the garden to regain my composure. On our way back to the yard, I spotted what may have been the worst leaf rake I had ever seen. I started busting on Dean, but his grin told me what I should have realized at the start. The rake’s broken handle was repaired with a nail and duct tape. The plastic rake itself was broken in half and had been bolted back together with large bolts. Every tine on the rake had been broken off. Shaking my head in bewilderment, I listened as Dean explained how dad had taken it out of the trash three different times. I made a mental note to buy a new rake and secretly threw the old one away.

I rejoined dad at his chair in the sun. I believe he is attempting to turn himself into a piece of leather and, in the process, is driving Dean insane. Personal care is a big issue now, and I noticed the new beard he seemed to be sporting. My question about it served as the catalyst for a new story, the retelling of which I would endure five times in the next 20 minutes. The electric razor pulled the hairs out and got so hot he could not put in on his face. No, he did not consider throwing it away or letting us know about it. I made a mental note to buy a new electric razor.

Like a new razor on a bearded face, we glide smoothly to the flower story. It is touching and sad at the same time. Dad walks twice a day and stops at mom’s grave and has a talk with her. As dad says, “She probably can’t hear me, but it makes me feel better”. Anyway, dad has beautiful azaleas. He picked a bunch, tied them with string and took them over to mom’s grave. He was astounded the next day when they were dead. The fact that they were left in the 80 degree heat with no water did not seem to register to him. He retold the flower story without interruption about eight times. I am weak. I excused myself to go to the bathroom. In the back door, out the front. I placed a bouquet of azaleas in a jar of water on mom’s grave and returned to the house.

It was time for me to go. By this, I don’t mean it was actually time to go. I needed to go! I drove straight WalMart. I bought an electric razor. I bought a tarp. I bought a rake. Tomorrow, I will go back to visit with dad.

Tomorrow, we will start over.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Full Tilt Boogie

Anne and I listened to an NPR program about a southern author named Lee Smith. On the program, she discussed her new book, Mrs. Darcey Meets the Blue-Eyed Stranger. She described her main character as being in a "full tilt boogie". I knew immediately that I had to read the book.

Curiosity killed the cat. I googled the phrase and read the Urban Dictionary definitions. They ranged from unbridled sex to out-of-control drug use to the feeling you get when you kill someone. I can't tell you how disappointed I was. I wanted it to be Lee Smith's creation alone. I didn't want it to be about sex. I didn't want it to be about drugs. I didn't want it to be about killing.

I don't care what the dictionaries say. To me, full tilt boogie is an exuberance and passion for life ... my life.

I want to be Mrs. Darcey.

I want the blue-eyed stranger to come to me in my dreams. [So long as it isn't Charlton Heston.]

I want to live life in a full tilt boogie.

Southern Diners

I have been fascinated by diners for years. No, I should say obsessed. I’m talking about southern diners, not northern diners. I have a history with southern diners. The food seldom tastes that good, but then again, it is billed as home cooking. Average home cooking, not great home cooking. It’s about what they serve. I always check the “sides” first. Like turnip greens, collards, field peas, butter beans, okra. Then the standards like hamburger steak or liver and onions. The technique of choice … fried, fried, fried. Next, I look around. Undoubtedly, there will be vinyl (probably red and probably ripped) and handwritten menus. Ancient, dirty menus are acceptable as well. The ultimate … if there are specials posted on paper plates and tacked all over the walls … then you are in the right place.

Eden, NC must be the Mecca of southern diners. We stopped at a new one on our way out of town on our last visit. It was called Nanny B’s. I think Nanny must be Aunt Bea’s sister from Mayberry. Louis took us there for the hot dogs. I got three (three for $2.89) for Anne and me, and Louis got three as well. He actually gave one to Anne, so I got to keep three for me. In addition, I ordered a thick-sliced bologna burger to go with it. (It goes without saying … sweet tea.) Do not confuse this with gluttony. It is behavioral research. Hot dogs rated high on the differential scale but the bologna came up short. First time customers at Nanny B’s get a free dessert. I thought that was a nice touch.

When you order hot dogs in the South, you need to know the lingo. In most places that means mustard and onions, or mustard onions and ketchup for the toned down version. “All the way” in the South is not the same as “all the way “ in the North. In the South, it generally means mustard, onions, and chili. “All the way and” includes slaw as well. Northerners have never heard of slaw on a dog and generally confuse it with the straw on a camel’s back. Notice that I did not mention relish … nor pickles … nor celery salt. These are abominations to the southern dog. Say those words in association with the words "hot" and "dog", and most likely you have unknowingly drifted across the Mason-Dixon Line. The absence of road kill possum should serve as a verification of this fact.

I have a little diner history. I love hanging out at a diner. When I was younger, I did it all the time. Never ate. Just drank cup after cup of coffee. Surely , the waitresses must have hated me. Here’s a thought … maybe the attraction wasn’t the food. Maybe it was the people! I love the fringes … and watching. I stopped in a diner late one night in a rough section of the town I grew up in. After a while, one of the waitresses asked me what I did for a living and I told her I that I was a teacher. Her reply was, “ That’s not what I heard. I heard that you are a narc”. So much for the merits of sitting alone and watching others. I vehemently assured her I WAS NOT!

I never went back there, but I have been to hundreds of other diners over the years. I never get enough of it … the food … the people … and yikes, the watching. I step through those doors and I am instantly back home. I pull up a stool and consume my past with gusto.

I love diners.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Who Needs London, Wales or Paris?

When I say who needs London, Wales or Paris the answer is me. Nevertheless our trip was canceled due to the volcano in Iceland. So be it. Instead, we took a trip to visit relatives in the South. I discovered that there was plenty to offer to replace those tourist sites we had hoped to see overseas. Here's what I mean.

The traffic at Piccadilly Circus is almost always zooming. Not quite so in Winchester,VA.

We were not so naive as to think we would see the Prince and Princess of Wales on our trip. However, we did run into the Prince and Princess of Whales in SC.

We had planned an excursion to see the Lloyd's of London building. Instead, we checked out Lloyd's of Simpsonville in SC.

I love to go to the zoo. We were quite satisfied when we found this zoo in Fountain Inn, SC to replace the visit to the London Zoo.

Winchester Cathedral would have been great to see. However, there are numerous interesting churches in the South.

Here in SC, we do not torture people in our towers, like they did at the Tower of London.

It would have been quite the treat to meet the Queen Mother. I was fortunate to meet the Queen Muther instead in Simpsonville.

We missed Buckingham Palace, but our visit to the Pooch Palace was quite interesting.

Too bad Louis and Susan did not get to Paris. However, I am pretty sure this clerk in the food store was named "Fifi".

You can see Big Ben in T.J.Maxx most any day.

If you think the London Eye is cool, check out this eye.

Conwy Castle was canceled, but we found a castle in NC anyway.

We had our hearts set on fish and chips. Lucky for us, we found a replacement restaurant in VA.

You know, I am not sure if I will ever travel abroad again. Why should I? It is all right here at my fingertips.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Never, ever get in a car without your camera. The minute you do you will happen upon something strange, or wonderful, or unbelievable that no one will believe unless you show them. The world is full of photo ops and strange resides just outside your door if you look for it. Here are a couple of examples.

There is a unique statue in Volens, Virginia near where I grew up. It has been there for years, however this year someone has clothed it. Not sure why. Volens is a rural tobacco growing area, not big enough to call a town or village. It is literally a signpost. I want a gorilla statue for my yard.

Anne and I were at Seagrove outside of Asheboro, NC. We made a trip there to check out the numerous potters in the area. By the way, we saw some great pottery there. We were not on any schedule and were just bumming around. We noticed a small
community nearby when we looked at the map. So we said, “Why not”?

There was another little town called Erect. Anne didn’t want to go there and I had a headache. We chose not to go there.

One of the potter’s we visited was a fisherman, I suspect. Took a pix of his mailbox. Later on I spotted a cool, 18-wheeler mailbox that was at least 12 feet long, but I did not have time to get a pix of it.

There was also this weird guy hanging a stone in a tree. I put one of my hanging stones in a tree at the entrance to my nephew’s housing development about four years ago. Just last fall, I replaced the feather on it. This time, I noticed that the stone had disappeared. It seems that several of the local kids had found it, and they had determined it was left by Indians. By the next night, the stone had vanished. None of the kids would admit taking it.
Quinn, Barrett and I went on a mini-adventure to hang another stone in a secret spot, although they were quickly distracted by dandelions they wanted to pick.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trip Journal - April 18,2010

Up at 4:00 AM and off by 4:30 AM. We decided not to let the cancellation of our London trip get the best of us. Road trip ... Virginia ... North Carloina ... South Carolina. The concept is simple. We lower our eyes, squeeze out a tear or two and and speak softly. We follow up espoused determination to move on and not let the disappointment get us down. Meanwhile, the sympathy pours in and we lavish in it. We make the full circuit. Brother-in-law in VA ... cousins in NC ... nephew in SC. We're like Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. Well-planned, well-coordinated lightning strikes ... then we melt back into the swamp. They will hardly realize that we have been there until they check their now-empty refrigerators.

We know the circuit by heart.Eight hours to the VA line and ten to the Staunton Quality Inn. We ruled out local B & B's. I'm too cheap. I took over the search and got the QI for $53 a night. We were both shocked when we arrived. The room was actually nice. Believe me, we have been in worse.

Like I said, eight hours to the VA line. That is, if you only stop for gas ... no food. I did an Aunt Bee. Fixed a roasted red pepper and horsradish meatloaf for sandwiches the night before for the trip. Once we got to VA, we decided to take US Rt. 11 from Winchester to Staunton instead of interstate. Scenery was great. Huge farms with green and yellow blankets of new spring growth. Stopped by the Belle Meade Plantation. It was the home of James Madison's sister and her husband. Also stopped at a gallery in Edinburg. The artist/owner was Mark Strauss. He is a Ukranian Jew and a Holocuast survivor. For two years, (age 10-12), he hid in the home of a friend, unable to stand up in his hiding place for fear of being seen. He had to relearn how to walk when he got out. His gallery was filled with his work and with pictures of presentations he had made in local schools about his experience and the letters of thanks from the students. The gallery was certainly an unexpected find.

To tell the truth, both Anne and I were exhausted. Trying to make heads or tails out of the London fiasco and attmepting to recoup some of our prepayments turned out to be pretty stressful. We finally realized this and headed out for an early dinner followed by some rest. Ate at a spot called the Mill in downtown Staunton. Turned out to be an excellent choice with quite a diverse menu. Anne chose the St. Loius ribs with a Kansas City BBQ sauce. I opted for a rabbit liver pate for the appetizer and then a black bean burger for the entree. We were in the South ... iced tea to drink for the both of us.

Staunton VA .. Home of Mary Baldwin College, the Stonewall Jackson Hotel, the Frontier Museum, birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, historic downtown, Civil War Trails. It was a nice ending to several long days and worth a closer look. For us, however, it was on to SC early the next day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Staring back at me from the mirror is a face I hardly recognize. I must look 61 to those around me … tired and worn out from the raucous nightlife of our London vacation. I am in the restroom of Poncho’s, the Mexican eatery on the fifth floor of Harrods’s in the West End. We are here for our last dinner out before we depart for home. I glance to the right and sense a comfort washes over me when I spot the familiar sign above the lavoratory:


I strolled back to our table and noticed the large group in the corner of the room that had been seated while I was in the WC. It was a baker’s dozen of them, loud, but not rowdy. The guy in the middle was definitely in charge and seemed to be making a presentation to the group. My guess is that it was one of those pharmaceutical meetings where the rep wines and dines a bunch of doctors to solicit their business. The rep seemed to be making a toast … holding up what lookedto be a Bloody Mary and gesturing to the other guys. It must have been a good one because he passed it around for everyone to taste. Man, were they ever smacking their lips … I could hear it all the way over at our table. Same thing with the bread. From where I sat, it looked like a sourdough loaf, which seemed really odd for a Mexican Restaurant. Whatever, everyone tried it and not a one put any butter on it or dipped it in olive oil.

We were just getting our nachos when I noticed a waiter bringing the rep a small platter. He had ordered appetizer special, fresh sardines, grilled. It was served on a bed of lettuce with two small loaves of bread. The waiter sat a large jug of water beside it. I know you think that I am crazy, drinking or senile, but the next time I looked over, everybody is putting away the sardines and drinking wine. I swear to you that I never saw another waiter bring additional platters nor the first glass of wine. It is a complete mystery to me.

Later in the evening as we were getting ready to go, I heard shouting from the other table. They must have been confusion over a raffle drawing or something cause one guy was shouting, “Not me, not me”, and the rep was babbling about roosters crowing, and everyone was staring at this one guy suspicious-like.

I confess. I am bad about eavesdropping on the conversations at other tables when I dine out. I didn’t catch it all. The rep definitely was Mexican … dark complexion but very little accent. I can’t remember what they kept calling him for the life of me, but to tell the truth, I thought he was Fabio at first. I don’t think he ate out that often because he didn’t seem to know how much to tip. The rep kept telling them to set aside 10% of what they had. I thought this was a little low.

We headed out. I glanced over my shoulder and the group seemed to finishing up as well. They had all stopped hugging one another and someone had popped out a camera for a group shot.

So long fictitious London. We had a BLAST.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


9:30 AM. First day of our long-awaited London adventure. Anne and I rocked back in our chairs, watching early morning shoppers strolling by the restaurant window front. The waitress approached and presented us with the orders. We were ravenous … and wasted no time digging in. Steamed curled into the air and with it the aroma of toast and eggs. We had selected Moroccan cuisine to begin our journey and ordered the Pasha omelette for Anne and the Avocado omelette for me. Each came with a toasted Portuguese roll and spicy hash browns. Or maybe they were hashish browns … either way, they were delicious. We sipped Moroccan mint tea as we dined.

It is amazing how tiring international travel can be. Already, we were exhausted. Alarms bellowing at 5:00 AM … last minute packing and straightening up before we left … You know, I always worry a bit on that first morning … did I forget anything? The Air Canada people were exceptionally helpful. “No, you cannot check in”. “No, your flight has not been cancelled”. “No, London is completely shut down”. Everything we heard was exactly what we expected to hear. We saw on the news that all airports in Great Britain were shut down. When we tried to check in online, we were told there was a problem and we had to check in at the airport. However, the flight had not been cancelled. We had to try … so we drove to Hartford to hear the Air Canada people tell us to go home and call Air Canada. Adios, London vacation.

The first ethnic meal for our London adventure was in Northampton MA at Amanouz. It was great. Fate … no, not fate … the Icelandic volcano had given us the dirty deal. We were tired and depressed … but not defeated! “Don’t worry Anne, we will figure out something else to do to make up for the spoiled vacation”.

And then I knocked over my glass of tea onto my lap. I picked the mint leaf off my crotch and we went home. Bon Appetit.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Before I get started, let me clear the air. No, I am not in London. No, I am not sure when, or if, I will be able to get there. No, I did not think my trip would be jeopardized by a volcano in Iceland. There. Do you feel better now? No, I do not feel better yet.

Today, we are having lunch at The Fish Palace in East London near the Brixton Tube. The Fish Palace is a wonderful fish and chip shop. The décor is nothing to write home about, but everyone raves about the fish here. I am dying to have the fish and chip special here, but given the situation, I am opting for the char-broiled, Icelandic Salmon instead. The salmon today comes lightly coated with a thin layer of volcanic ash. It is a little difficult to see it on the plate due to the light coating of ash on the plates, seats, floor, streets, etc. The meat is succulent and moist but unfortunately has a slight ashy aftertaste. I couldn’t even wash the taste out of my mouth with the gray water I was served. I realize that this is a fictitious restaurant and that I must pretend to be in London. Even so, the meal was totally unsatisfactory, as was the service. I might as well have lunched in Pompey.

So far British cuisine is living up to it’s reputation. Let’s hope tomorrow’s meals will be better.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


British cuisine. I mentioned before that the British have no real cuisine. Maybe I was a bit hasty. I have been goggling again and have found a few dishes that are definitely British. Actually, they sound more like rites of passage rather than dishes. Remind me to put them on my “must try” list for the trip.

The Classic Full English Breakfast – Officially, it is five courses and includes, juice, porridge, fried eggs, meat (bacon, kipper, deviled kidney) toast, jam and tea. You can bet we won’t see this at our hotels. Pretty sure we can expect tea, toast, eggs, bacon, and a healthy helping of baked beans.

The Ploughman’s Lunch – This is definitely the working man’s lunch. It consists of a wedge of cheese, bread, and a pickle. Next time I get ready to plough the south 40, I will definitely get this.

So much for the normal stuff. I really have some concerns about some of the other “traditional dishes”. Bangers and Mash. Sounds like the hot dog I had once served with two scoops of mashed potatoes on top. Better yet, it sounds like some kind of ghetto dog (bangers). Either way, a sausage and mashed potatoes is nothing to write home about. How about digging in to the gelatinous mass they call Eel Pie made with eel brood? Can I get you some Spotted Dick? What about a Toad-in-the-Hole? Black Pudding? Blood Sausages? Last but not least, Bubble and Squeak. Excuse me, isn’t that what you do hours after the meal?

Is there such a thing as British cuisine? You be the judge.


We know how to travel. We have a style of our own. We are trip-wise and budget-conscious. That’s somewhat of a contradiction in terms. Anne and I will search online for hours to find a room for $30 (to save money) and then drop $100 on a meal. Think of it like a military operation … and as you know, the army travels on its stomach. We don’t miss many meals. The foods … the groceries … the restaurants … they tell the story of our journey.

You could plan an entire trip around the cuisine of a country. We don’t … but, it’s not a bad idea. This year we are going to London. Here is our culinary dilemma … there is no British cuisine. What there is instead is ethnic diversity. The cuisine of London is all about the neighborhoods. I want to taste Ethiopian London … and Burmese London … and Iranian London … and Indian London … and

To make it more interesting, there are four of us. Anne tends to enjoy more delicate flavors. Louis and Susan are meat-and-potatoes oriented, but they are game. Me? I have been known to partake of a tripe sandwich for breakfast. I want something different … something unusual. And of course … a must on every trip … the local hot dog! The four of us have one thing in common – we can do a number on some groceries!

I decided to blog about our eating experiences on the trip. I needed to come up with a title for the series. This Little Piggy Went To … was interesting, but felt too wordy. I came up with an alternative. Close your eyes. Relax. Listen. Can you hear it? Metal on metal. The sound of a large metal spoon clanging the sides of the battered bucket. “Here, pig, pig, pig.” Can you hear the squeals? Welcome to The Trough.

Let’s get started. I did some pre-trip research and have ruled out a number of restaurants already. We live in a democracy. If the others choose to go, so be it … but I will not be at:

Cabbages and Condoms
Butty Boys
Phat Phuc Noodle Shop
The Golden Stool
Bung Hole
The Slug and Lettuce

But, what’s in a name? I dug a little deeper. I found a restaurant called The Pale Blue Door. There are no listed directions there. You book and make a deposit on the meal. They email you directions on how to find the restaurant. When you arrive, you are greeted by a performance artist in red lipstick and fruit attached to his chest and it goes from there. “Cancel my reservation, please.”

Another find, is Dans Le Noir. Sounded romantic, but it is not candlelight dining. It is a concept restaurant. No lights … you eat in the dark … pitch black. Actually, the concept is pretty cool. It is about re-evaluating our food enjoyment using senses other than our eyes. It is also a social experiment dealing with empathy and role reversals. Did I forget to mention that the wait staff is blind? The diners are sightless but the staff is blind. In a sense only the blind can see. Eat in the dark? I don’t think so! I just can’t see it.

Bon Appétit!