Monday, August 31, 2009

Day 44: In the Drink

One drink ain't enough, Jack, you better make it three.

I wanna get drunk I'm gonna make it real clear,
I want one bourbon, one scotch and one beer
One bourbon, one scotch, one beer
George Thorogood

This morning Walt said that it was a good thing we didn't want to move in with them because it would destroy his liver.

We have heard similar comments quite often on our journey across the States. I am not altogether sure what it is about LK and me lobbing into someone's territory, but almost everyone seems to think that it's the adult equivalent of Spring Break in Florida (about like Schoolies' Week in Queensland, for my Aussie friends). No matter the reason, we have heard at least four different people say to us as we leave, "We don't usually drink this much."

Our stock standard reply is that we don't, either. But you can tell by the look on their faces that no one believes us. And now our reputation has started to precede us.

When we landed in Rutland my mother had gone out and bought Johnny Walker black and Ketel vodka for us. She even used the phrase "amber alert" when explaining why. David, whom we're seeing in Boston in a few days, has already sent a note expressing concern that his "sober" reputation may be sullied if I report a big drinking night with him in my blog.

I suppose I've brought this on myself by writing too much about it. But it does seem as if our friends are treating us as the equivalent of a road tour exhibition.

"Learn the A to Z of Binge Drinking at the exclusive US tour of the famous D&L Exhibition from Australia. Experience it firsthand yourself by joining in. Listen to voices get louder as words get harder to understand. See for yourself how heavy someone can be who drinks too much. Learn to tell stories you've told four times already this week. Laugh before the joke gets to the punch line and then try to remember why you're laughing. The exhibition opens every evening promptly at 5 and closes when the last person falls asleep."

This may make it all sound as if we're proud of our reputation, but the fact is even I have limits. When we were at the Speckled Hen B&B in Madison for two nights, we had one of those times when the scotch bottle and the vodka bottle both were finally emptied on the same night, as was a bottle of wine. Now, it had taken us quite a few days and three or four states to finish off the booze, but there we were in a lovely room with very nice hosts, and I didn't want them thinking we had killed a couple of quarts of spirits in our 48 hours with them.

So I put the empties in a plastic bag and packed them in the car with our luggage. In fact, I carried them across a couple of states and didn't throw them out until we got to Indiana later that day. That's when I threw them in a waste can. The waste can, of course, was outside a liquor store where we were buying more booze.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 43: Ashes to Ashes

On a cold, drizzly evening I revisited Freehold Raceway with Linda, Kay and Will. At one point all of our lives revolved around this little harness racing track in one way or another. Kay's husband (and Will's dad) Max was a talented horseman and trainer; Linda's first job as a single mom was running the database that distributed winning purses to the drivers; and I was the marketing manager for the owners and breeders group that raced there.

Max stopped training horses about 18 years ago, getting a job in the prison system where he supervised the maintenance team. I suggested to the group last night that he probably chose a job in the prison system over racing because he was tired of having so many crooks around him while he worked.

It was that attitude that had made me persona non grata at Freehold about a quarter century ago. By then I had left the marketing job, but I was still writing a monthly column for the national harness racing magazine. I wrote what was undoubtedly my best column ever if generating strong reaction is any guide to success.

In the column I described a small hometown track that failed to police its races well. I wrote about longshots winning races and yet the trifectas paid only about $40 when there should have been a few extra zeroes. And I wrote that if the bosses at the track didn't start getting a lot more serious about this sort of thing they would lose their audiences to other types of leisure activities.

It sounds like a very noble piece, but it would have been a lot moreso if I had written it while I was still working in the industry and was still carrying the drivers' bets to the windows for them. But that's another story.

In this particular instance, on my last visit to the racetrack - after that column - I suddenly found that the only person who would still talk to me was the woman who took the winner's circle photos. And she kept looking around nervously. I didn't go back until last night.

And LK worked there until the place burned down - literally. One afternoon smoke started billowing out of the grandstand, and much of the track went up. The admin offices weren't affected, but there also wasn't any prize money to distribute while the track was being rebuilt. With the grandstand in ashes, LK moved on to another job.

But the ashes from the grandstand makes a nice circle back to last night. The four of us were back at the track to spread Max's ashes at the track's finish line. Max died last week. LK called Kay to offer her condolences, and had told her she wanted to be with them when they brought his ashes to the track.

So first we had one of those sad/funny/reminiscing/catching-up dinners at which I mostly listened to Will and Kay talk about the wonderful guy they had lost. We bounced from emotion to emotion and topic to topic until we finally decided it was time to drive to the track.

At trackside, they each took a scoop of the ashes in their hands and threw them out onto the finish line. I took some pictures of this and then spread a handful more myself.

Kay and Will are doing OK and you can tell they're going to move through this. They laughed often and grew sad only a few times.

It's always tough to be with people dealing with such major losses in their life, but I am not worried about the two of them. They're both tough and survivors, and even a week later it's easy to see they are coping. After all, Will got Kay, Linda and me laughing shortly after flinging his dad's ashes on the track when he told us he had to go into the building to the men's room. "I've got dead guy on my hands, and I need to wash it off."

Friday, August 28, 2009

Day 42: Politics As Usual

"Jane, you ignorant slut..."
"Dan, you pompous ass..."

Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin beginning their remarks on their Saturday Night Live skit parodying Point/Counterpoint.

We had been doing pretty well the first few nights here in Freehold. Lots of funny stories shared with Walt and Terry. Lots of laughs as we reminisced about the silly things we'd done 20 years ago.

And then we went to the Court Jester on Wednesday for a couple of drinks and dinner. It was loud at the bar, three different baseball games were playing on TVs and I was sitting furthest to the left of the four of us. I was lucky if I could catch every third word.

But I did catch one sentence as we finished our meal that settled a heavy cloud of doom around my head. My bride leaned into Mr B and said, "I don't want to discuss politics, but . . ."

A little history helps here. Back when we lived here, LK and Walt would get into the most spirited, don't-give-an-inch discussions of politics this side of Glen Beck and James Carville. I say discussion, but frankly it usually became a question of which person could state their point of view the loudest - and as the night wore on, which stated their view last.

There was never any chance of even the slightest middle ground. Walt is so conservative he thinks most Republicans are too liberal. And whatever points he tended to make, you could count on Linda readily carrying the flag for the flip side of the argument.

For the first few nights here, we had managed to skip the political topics. It helps that we don't live here any more and spend much more of our time worrying about Sydney property prices than whether Barack Obama is a socialist. And yet we all knew that moment would come, as it did, when LK was bound to lean in and say, "I don't want to discuss politics, but . . ."

Suffice it to say that a spirited defense of two conflicting opinions went on for hours, with the volume rising and - as Walt noted the next day - the amber alerts coming faster than usual. By midnight I had heard enough and decided it was my bedtime.

Just before hitting the sack, though, Walt reminded me that this was just part of what made getting together fun. "We're all friends, Don," he said and I went to sleep with the faint murmur of further discussions going on. However, I couldn't stop remembering the night Walt became so agitated at LK's arguments that when we were getting ready to leave he left the room and returned in his old Army uniform.

Apparently he felt saying good night to a patriot would shame Linda into abandoning her wayward beliefs. That was never going to work that night, and for that and even more obvious reasons, I am pretty sure that uniform is never going to get a second go 20 years later.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 41: Menudo Sucks

I've been very lazy lately but yesterday I had the urge to resume my WiiFit exercises and walking. I should never have skipped so many days, but then again I wouldn't look like I do if I had the resolve to stick to an exercise program every day.

Anyhow, I decided to walk over to 69 Jackson Street, famous in my history as the first place where LK and I lived together. That was way back in 1983. We were married when I moved in, but unfortunately not to each other. Maybe that's why we are among the few who get a bit sentimental when they listen to the B-52's "Love Shack".

Linda had moved back to Freehold with the boys after she and Bob split. In the early days I would stay over and slip out very early before the kids woke up, drive the 20 miles to my apartment in Asbury Park, shower and get dressed and then drive back to my work in Freehold. It was all a pain in the neck, and once the kids told us they had known all along that I was staying over it made it easy to decide on moving in.

I have so many memories of that place. I remember the first Christmas when all of us felt absolutely committed to the belief that Christmas presents could be opened at midnight. All of us, that is, except Matt, the lone dissenter, getting quite annoyed that we were mucking with tradition and Christmas presents could only be opened in the morning.

He had this movie version in his mind where he would wake up, put on his slippers and robe and wait by the tree for the rest of us. Kind of like a 12-year-old Hugh Hefner without the pipe. Despite Matt calling us communists for breaking with tradition, he did join in and open his presents early once he saw the rest of us enjoying our gifts at one minute past midnight.

I remember Jason the scientist. As a young kid, Jay was always conducting experiments. We learned that plastic soldiers freeze quite well but they melt and leave stringy plastic bits all over when you microwave them. We also learned that lit light bulbs make a loud, explosive sound when you sprinkle cold water on them to "see what would happen". I have vague memories of learning some interesting zoology lessons from the goldfish, too.

I would like to forget, but cannot because LK keeps recalling it, that this was also the place of some of my great displays of handyman skills. She is particularly fond of the time I was home with the flu but got bored just lying in bed. So I figured I would sand down the hall floor and polish the wood.

I went to the rental place and ended up with one of those big industrial type sanders - you know, the ones where they say you have to steer it or it will steer you. I was doing all right until I got to the corner near the bedroom, and I just couldn't quite get it around there. Now the sensible person might have shut it off, lifted it up and moved it around the corner. But this was me so I just kept trying to get it to go on its own. For the rest of our time in that place, there was this odd depression in the floor about an inch deep and just about the size of the sander's disk.

I also remember walking out every morning and looking at the warehouse across the street. For our entire time there, the wall of that warehouse carried the message, "Menudo Sucks!" Why anyone felt the need to spray paint their feelings about the Puerto Rican boy band on that wall is beyond me, even though I had to agree that Menudo did indeed suck.

Now, as you can see, the wall has been painted over and there are no provocative music criticisms for the current residents of 69 Jackson St to see.

However, I just googled Menudo and see that the group has been reformed and they are going to announce new members soon. I figure I am in Freehold for another few nights. Maybe it's time to buy a can of spray paint and take my walk after dark. After all, the current people at 69 Jackson might not even know that Menudo sucks. It's the least I can do for them, since I assume they have to keep stepping over that depression in the hallway floor.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day 40: Beavis and Doctor Butthead

I had forgotten how much I laugh when I am with Walt and Terry. It's not just jokes, either. Some of the real-life stories are even funnier. Take this one, for example.

Terry had been having regular run-ins with a doctor who seemed to have taken a dislike to her for reasons she couldn't fathom. He was getting aggravated at the slightest thing, and the calmer she became the more agitated he became until at one point he told her, "Nobody here likes you." And for who-knows-how-many-times, he reported her to her superiors. Terry doesn't know how many times, by the way, because the superiors never took the complaints serious enough to do anything.

I know what it sounds like but, no, this doctor isn't a 13-year-old kid doing a Doogie Howser. He is in his mid-40s and a very successful specialist. He obviously just has this fairly large attitude problem and doesn't seem to cope well with the staff. And the proof had nothing to do with Terry, but a contract employee at the hospital.

It seems a short while ago this doctor wanted to read a patient's chart, and this woman was just finishing up copying some data to it. She told him she would be finished in a matter of seconds, and wrote down the final few entries and handed it to him with a smile and a joking comment, "That will be $20."

His sense of humor didn't quite mesh with hers, and her little comment annoyed him. How do we know? Well, his response was, "I'll give you 20" and proceeded to start to head butt the poor woman. Apparently he got eight knocks in before she was able to get away from him.

End result? He is now on medical leave, and hospital officials now refer to the woman as "a lawsuit in a dress". In hindsight, Terry is relieved that all he did was report her for not being popular. And, oh yes, for the last day and a half, LK and I have been saying "I'll give you 20" and headbutting one another.

I am guessing he won't be back at the hospital any time in the 21st Century, but I suggested to Terry that if he ever resurfaces she should just have a bicycle helmet handy on her desk when he comes on. After all, he's still got 12 of the original 20 to give.

Day 39: Roots

On our last full day in Rutland, my parents, Ben and I drove to Ludlow to visit the graveyard where my paternal grandparents and great-grandfather are buried. That's my grandparents' headstone in the picture. And if you're doing the sums, you're probably thinking I meant my great-grandfather.

But no, my father's father, William, was born in 1864 - that's 145 years ago. I don't imagine there are too many people around who are only a generation away from someone born during the American Civil War. It's a testament to the hardiness of the Kennedy men, I suppose. Or, to be honest, to the stamina of my grandfather.

And I do mean stamina, for my Dad was born when his father was 60. And if that isn't noteworthy enough, my father was not the youngest of the clan. He had a brother and sister born after him. Like a lot of Irishmen at that time, Grandfather William married quite late in life. However, he may have had a bit of Scot in him, as well, for he clearly decided that coming late to the party did not mean you couldn't have your full serving.

Needless to say, my grandparents were practicing Catholics. Although I have to add that by the time he had his seventh or eighth kid I don't think he he needed the practice anymore.

When I talk about my family roots, my Aussie friends know exactly what I mean. I will leave it up to my American readers to figure that one out themselves.

I grew up with more aunts and uncles than most people are blessed with - Jeannette, Don, Bill, Mary, Nellie, Sylvia and Harold.

Now there's only my Dad and Nellie left, and it was a real treat the other day when she stopped by. She and my Dad both inherited someone's humor gene, and she's very funny.

When she was leaning in for this picture with him, she said, "All of us kids, and now we're the only two left, Red." After just the right pause, she added, "And I don't think either of us is going to conquer the world now. But I'll take silver instead of gold."

And if the week in Rutland was all about family this time, it wasn't just about the previous generations. The river flowed in the other direction, as well, when my oldest son Ben flew up from Florida to spend time with us.

I am so proud of Ben. He is an amazingly generous and wonderful guy. He built a great career out of his own smarts combined with lots of challenging, hard work.

And on the personal level, he has proved this year that not all Kennedy men need to find plausible excuses to explain away their waistlines. Ben has been on a personal fitness regime that gives even me hope and inspiration that I may some day see my feet. It's ironic that we both shop in the Big & Tall Men's Store. But of course, I head off to the Big section, while Ben browses the Tall stuff.

Yesterday afternoon, we said good-bye to everyone in Rutland and drove to Freehold, New Jersey, to visit our great friends Walt and Terry. Last night alone has given me enough material for a couple of posts. It should be a great week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 38: A Bee in Our Blue Bonnets

Yesterday I wrote about my writing assignment in Pownal. Today I would like to tell about the time Gaming Business sent me to Blue Bonnets in Montreal in the early 1980s.

I was in Rutland and had asked my Dad and brother, Bob, to accompany me on the 3+hour drive to the race track. I was scheduled to interview the president of the track at about 5pm, and I told them that after I was done with the interview, we would have dinner and watch a few races before driving back.

This was the first official Road Trip with just the three men of the family. Afterwards, my mother decreed it was the last.

We arrived at the track and were greeted by one of the greats of the Canadian harness racing industry, a wonderful gentleman named Raymond Benoit. That's him in the picture. I introduced my Dad and Bob to Raymond and asked him if he would get us a table in the dining room where they could wait while I went about my business.

Mais non, said Raymond. He had much better plans. It seems the track was having some sort of a press function in a few moments. Like all racetrack press functions, this meant free drinks and food. Your father and brother must come to our reception, he said. Not necessary, I said. But Raymond wouldn't hear of it.

So off I went to the president's office to conduct the interview while my family went off to the press function. Key words: free drinks. If this were a movie, you'd hear the ominous music about now.

After the interview, the president invited me to have dinner at his table in the dining room. Thanks, I said, but I asked my father and brother to drive up with me, and I'm going to dine with them.

Mais oui, he said. Raymond told me. Of course, I want them to join us, as well. Cue the music again.

Anyhow, I will skip most of the dinner. Let's just say the waiters had been trained to never let your wine glass go down to the halfway point. Raymond picked winners for us and there were beautiful women ready to carry our bets so we would never have to leave our drinks for even a moment and risk evaporation.

I do recall Raymond telling us that he had pioneered bi-lingual race calling in French and English. And I vaguely remember Bob asking Raymond if he had anything to do with benoit balls, only to be told, "Mais non. Those are spelled different."

At some point - and here details are obviously vague - we left to begin the long drive home. As we approached the border, we discussed whether to declare the case of Canadian beer Bob had bought and put in the trunk. The three of us agreed to say we had nothing to declare.

Yes, I know, but this was a quarter of a century ago, and back then the lonely border guards on the Canadian-Vermont border weren't really looking for bad guys and evil things.

We pulled up at the gate and the guard leaned in the driver's window.

"Do you have anything to declare?" he asked.

Simultaneously, the three of us said "No", "No" and "Yes".

He calmly asked which it was, and my brother - the yes man - said that he had bought beer and it was in the trunk. Actually, he said something like, "I baa beer an issin trunk"

"I see," the guard said quietly. He asked my father, the driver, where he was from. That one was easy. "Rutland," Dad said.

"And are you all from Rutland?" the guard asked.

"Yes", "Yes", "No" simultaneously.

He shone the flashlight on me in the back seat - the No Guy. "I live in Philadelphia," I said, although I think I added a few syllables to Philadelphia.

So here we had this border guard at a lonely outpost on the world's most peaceful border. He had asked two questions and got two mixed up answers. He had a case of beer he could collect duty on in the trunk. And he had three guys who could barely say their names. (But then again, "Kennedy" is always tough to say if you've had a few drinks.)

Times were very different back then. The guard stood up, obviously relished the fresh air rather than whatever fumes he was getting from leaning into the car, and waved us on. "Drive carefully," he said. And somehow my father did just that.

As it turned out the only trouble we got into was the next morning when Mom reviewed our actions. But fortunately for us kids, it was Dad who got the blame. But we all knew the real culprit was Raymond Benoit.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day 37: The Amazing Race - Vermont Style

There's nothing like a visit home to have your memory jogged with old stories. The other night we were at Bob and Deb's when he recalled two of my freelance writing assignments which didn't quite have the expected outcomes.

Back in the early 80s, I was a regular contributor to Gaming Business magazine. This was a trade magazine for people running casinos, racetracks, lotteries and any other legal scheme where the odds are stacked in favor of the house. I got to the point where I could more or less name my own assignment, and so I often convinced the editors that it would be a good idea, say, to cover the harness racing at the Rutland State Fair.

My strongest memory of that assignment was being invited to sit in the starting gate, only to find out that meant sitting in the flatbed of the pick-up truck they used to start the races. I imagine the people in the crowd thought I was a judge, but I felt like Jethro in the Beverly Hillbillies.

That was one trip home the magazine helped subsidize, but there were two others - one to profile dog racing at the Green Mountain Race Course in Pownal, Vermont and the other to write about Blue Bonnets, the Montreal racetrack a couple of hours above Rutland. In both instances, I drove home to Rutland and asked Bob to come along with me when I went to the tracks.

The Pownal visit is best remembered for the young PR guy whose name I no longer recall. He was showing us his office. I had already interviewed the president of this race course and the night's work was over. Bob had joined us, as had the PR guy's girlfriend.

The PR guy was bragging about having organized the first regional championship series where each dog course in New England held races to determine their champion. Then the winners from each course raced for the regional championship at the Pownal course.

Beaming, the PR guy announced, "We are first racetrack to host inter-course racing."

It was one of those moments where the others in the room more or less stop in their tracks, trying not to laugh at their host and pretty much stunned so they can't think of anything to say. Trying to maintain a semblance of professionalism, I looked at Bob with an expression he still recalls as meaning "Don't say a word. Just leave it. Please."

Who was I kidding? It's Bob, my brother. And after he had allowed an appropriate amount of silence to settle in after hearing that Green Mountain was the first to host inter-course racing, he quietly asked, "So, is that when the dog in the front stops suddenly?"

And even then I might have held onto a modicum of professionalism except the PR guy's girlfriend started roaring with laughter, and I couldn't help but join in. The good news - being a young PR guy, he had no idea why we were all laughing.

Tomorrow - The other story as Dad joins Bob and me on a road trip to the Montreal race course and we discover what US immigration checkpoints were like in the 1980s.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day 36: Laugh at This Post or I Will Shoot This Puppy

OK. OK. That headline, of course, is a rip-off of one of the greatest magazine covers of all time for the National Lampoon. The real reason the picture is here is because I don't have much to write about in this post, but I knew most of you would still love this blog if I showed you a picture of this little Boston terrier puppy I saw this week. His name is Edsel and he and his brother, Henry, were being kept by one of the managers at the Ford dealer where my parents got their sexy new car.

Anyhow, today's story is unfortunately too typical. It's now been nearly 30 days since we rented our car in Sacramento to start our grand adventure. I had booked the National rental to start on the 23rd of July and return it in Boston on the 3rd of September. However, the guy who was checking us in said their system could only handle 30 days of rental, and he wrote down a number and a name for me to call around August 23. "All you have to do is tell them you are going to keep the car until September 3rd," he said.

Easy-peasy. Well, it sounded that way.

Today I rang the number - which turned out to be the National and Alamo switchboard in Sacramento. "If you know your party's extension, you may enter it at any time," the message told me. I had Tina's name and extension, and thought - how easy! Indeed.

The first time I entered her extension, I went through to the general manager's voicemail. With no back key on automated phone systems, I had to ring again. This time the extension put me through to the maintenance department. I hung up and rang again.

I was prepared. Forget about Tina's extension. I hung on through about five steps in the automated process until I was offered an option to press 5 to extend my return date or change my drop-off location. I promptly pushed 5 and was told that all their lines were in use. Would I please try another time. And they hung up on me.

I left it for a few hours, and when I returned I tried Tina's extension. This time I got Lost & Found. Hung up. Tried the automated system. Got to option 5, pressed it, was told the lines were in use and the system hung up on me again.

Next time I got smart. I waited until the option offered me the operator. Pressed that and spoke to Julie. Asked for Tina, was told she wasn't working today, but Julie said she could help me. To make this long story only somewhat long, I will recap the conversation. I told her what I needed, she took my details, the phone where I could be reached and said she would call back to confirm the extension.

About ten minutes later Julie rang back. She told me she had my records and that I didn't have to call. Since I had booked the car through September 3rd, it would be extended automatically.

I don't mind wasting about an hour doing something they told me to do that I didn't have to. After all, I'm retired and on vacation. I do know Edsel is lucky he wasn't around when I hung up on Julie. Oh, I wouldn't have shot him, but I can't guarantee there wouldn't have been a drop kick on the horizon.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 35: The Living Don Tour

For those lucky enough to spend several days in Rutland, Vermont, there are certain must-do things. Most have heard of the exquisite luxury shopping at such emporiums as the Dollar Store in the Diamond Run Mall. And the fine dining at such top restaurants as Applebee's and Friendly's have spawned dozens of imitators throughout the country. But the one thing most savvy visitors feel is an absolute must-do in Rutland is the Living Don Tour.

Following in the early footsteps of Don Kennedy, one of Rutland's most notorious sons, visitors get to see the places where his personality and artistic temperament were first developed. Don has nominated himself as "A Living Treasure of Rutland" and if the city fathers ever agree, you can expect large crowds so it is to everyone's advantage to take the Living Don Tour as soon as possible.

STOP 1: The Nativity

Despite his earlier claims, Don was born in neither a manger nor a log cabin, and the tour begins, appropriately enough, where Don was actually born at the building that used to be Rutland Hospital.

Don was born 61 years ago on Father's Day, which also means that he was less than 6-hours old the first time he failed to send his father a card.

Don was born just before dinner time, which has more or less defined his timing ever since.

He also was born with a very pointy head, which may explain why his hair fell out and he now wears a cap most of the time.

Stop 2: Religious Teaching

Just a short walk from the old Rutland Hospital is Immaculate Heart of Mary, a beautiful marble church with an equally beautiful cinder-block and cement school.

It was at this school that Don first received instruction from religious elders. Despite his earlier claims that as a child he astonished the elders with his wisdom, the actual report cards from the school indicate that he was a good student but there were always one or two brown-nosing girls who got slightly better marks that they really didn't deserve.

It was also at Immaculate Heart that Don received his early religious training, with the sisters and priests encouraging him to devote his life to the church. This ultimately led him down the path to enter the seminary to train as a Catholic priest. It was at two of these seminaries that other priests told him the others were wrong and demanded that he not devote his life to the church.

Stop 3: The Paramount

Just a short walk down the hill from Immaculate Heart is the beautifully restored Paramount Theater.

This is the site of Don's first date. At the age of 7, he invited his sweetheart, Judy Courcelle, to a movie. The movie was "The Deadly Mantis".

This is a significant date in Don's history. Most donologists believe this is the only girl whom he ever dated whom he did not ask to marry him.

Stop 4: The First Home

The next stops on the Living Don Tour are a short drive south on Route 7. Turn right at the intersection with Park Street (easily identifiable by the presence of the Rutland Fairgrounds) and park anywhere for an easy stroll to the most significant sites in Don's early life. (Caution: Parking is extremely difficult during Fair Week.)

Don's first home when returning from the hospital was at 17 1/2 Park Street. This modest house is located at the end of a driveway next to 17 Park Street and is hidden by large trees.

If you walk down the driveway to see the house, though, you will likely be yelled at by residents who are wondering why you are wandering on their property and taking pictures, as happened during our recent visit. As a result, binoculars are recommended.

Stop 5: The Second Home

Always adventurous, the Kennedy family moved from 17 1/2 Park Street when Don was still a toddler. They relocated to 17 Park Street, the house in front.

This is the house where Don lived until 9 years old when the family moved to Syracuse, New York. This is the period of his life about which very little is known.

He has been known to tell associates of a few key memories: he recalled several dogs, none of which seemed to survive very long, numerous playmates in the neighborhood, and the purchase of the family's first television - after which most of his memories were of TV programs.

He claimed to distinctly remember playing toss-and-catch with his father while living there - although he described it as more toss-and-chase-the-missed-ball. And he recalled riding a bike for the first time without training wheels. He said he mostly recalled it because it was one of the few times in his life he was able to do so.

Stop 6: The Rutland Fairgrounds

Directly across the street from Don's second house (and in fact directly across the street from every house on Park Street) was the Rutland Fairgrounds.

In the era before the Comfort Inn and luxury RVs, when the fair came to Rutland in the 1950's, many locals rented rooms to the carnival workers. In what is probably the most surprising thing historians have learned about his parents, evidently they rented rooms as well.

In his memoirs Don could not recall much about the carny couple who stayed, but he definitely remembered the huge pack of tickets they gave him so he could ride the rides on the midway. He also recalled trying to get cars to pay to park on the front lawn during fair week, a practice he hopes to resume if the Living Don Tour catches on.

Stop 7: Lord's Corner Store

This landmark building does not exist anymore, but it is a short walk from Don's second house to the site where it stood.

Lord's, run by Russell and Edie Lord, was a classic 1950's corner store. In Don's unpublished memoirs, he fondly recalled their penny candy case.

Most donologists now agree that Lord's with its penny candy case was the single strongest influence on Don's physique. There is a particularly interesting design on the concrete in front of the current edifice. What appears to be melted milk balls and licorice whips have formed letters reading "DK was here".

Stop 8: The Coca Cola Bottling Plant

Across Route 7 from the former site of Lord's is the former site of the Coca Cola Bottling Plant, where Don's father Red worked when Don was born. Today it has been converted into restaurants and something called The Trolley Barn which is neither a barn nor does it have any trolleys.

While important to the family, this really has little to do with Don and is only included to make the Living Don Tour a bit longer. Don does remember, however, how cool the plant was with the bottles moving along the conveyor belt.


For the more adventurous, there are numerous other sites worth investigating. For those seriously interested in the early years of Don, tops on that list would be the former Kellogg Farm several miles north on Route 7.

This is where Don's mother Norma grew up and he and his family spent much time there with his grandparents and great-grandmother.

This is the place where the young Don learned that when you drop an egg in the henhouse, the chickens will eat it and turn into cannibals consuming all the other eggs. Close to that henhouse is the place where Don jumped onto a pitchfork and pierced his foot, a fairly strong omen of what was to come.

Other points of interest would be Coolidge State Park, where a young Don fell and hit his head, and Wallingford, the home of the Kennedy family and also the place where young Norma met John on St Patrick's Day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 34: Eating and Playing and Shopping

OK. We're at the halfway point in our Rutland sojourn, and one trend is starting to become clear. We eat a lot here.

I suspect part of it is a match made in heaven. My mother loves to cook, and I think she goes out of her way whenever I visit. I love to eat, especially her food. Last night five of us ate spaghetti with her home-made sauce and meatballs and sausages, with salad and crusty bread. I couldn't resist the extra meatball. I awoke this morning, still feeling like I ate too much. Which I did.
(That picture of Bob and Deb with Mom was from the previous night's pot roast and corn feast.)

We have also squeezed in several rubbers of bridge between meals. LK and I haven't played bridge in years. I know some who say getting back into bridge after a long break is like getting back on a bicycle. Actually, it's more like remembering how to fall off the bicycle, but it was fun anyway.

In this picture you can see my mother (and bridge partner) fighting off my father's defense. I was the dummy, which is a bridge term and not an affectionate nickname LK has given me.

I don't believe in bragging, so I won't tell you who won all the rubbers. I can tell you that I shuffled and dealt for my father because he has arthritis, and we did very well on those particular hands.

And LK has found her own private Rutland this week. She loves the pool at Bob and Deb's, and will probably be back there today. And yesterday I brought her to a jeweler who sells Pandora to get a belated anniversary gift. Actually, it's quite belated since it represents not only this year's 25th, but numbers 21 through 24, as well. Somehow her other Pandora bracelet went missing, and I know how much she loved it, so I thought it would be nice to replace it. The fact that Pandora is about 1/10th the cost of, say, Tiffany, had absolutely no influence on my wonderful, generous spirit.

One of the nice things about Pandora is that you build your own jewelry, picking out the pieces you want and putting them in the order you want. It's kind of like summer camp arts & crafts for grown-ups. Here you can see LK deliberating over the bracelet. If you look carefully, you will also see a string bracelet on her left wrist, which at $1 was the best-value gift of jewelry I ever bought for her.

Ben arrived last night and looks absolutely fantastic. He has lost an amazing amount of weight, disproving all of my excuses for not doing so. I will take a picture or three today, but I think you will enjoy seeing the three generations of Kennedy men in, more or less, descending order. Today my Aunt Nelly is visiting, so Ben will get to meet her which is nice.

And tonight we are having another feast, I guess. Gotta go. My Wii Man is insisting I work out this morning, and he's started calling me "Fat Boy".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Day 33: Rutland Days

Fanmail from Jason yesterday: "It appears that you've been having the quintessential America road trip. Drinking, driving, partying...wait where's the fighting. I want to see a nice bruised photo from a bar fight in Rutland on 4Q."

Well Jay, it's kind of sad that you've chosen to see our trip that way. It's actually been very educational and extremely laid back. What you see as drinking, driving and partying are just interludes between the learning experiences. (OK, I'm lying, but we have learned about a few new things along the way.)

As for fighting, if you don't count your mother's arguments with Honor the GPS, there haven't been many occasions for a fight. Besides, in the week marking the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, we're all peace, love and happiness. This road trip is more "Harry and Tonto" (without the cat) than Easy Rider.

Take yesterday, for example. It was a big day. My folks traded in their 9-year-old car for a snazzy apple-red Ford Escape, making them the owners of the sexiest vehicle at The Maples, where they live. I intended to chronicle the changing of the car keys ceremony, but became so absorbed in listening to the instructions on how to make the wipers change speeds on the intermittent setting that I forgot to take pictures. Oh well.

And yesterday Linda discovered the joys of Bob and Deb's swimming pool. She likes to sun herself, and a little exercise in the pool is always a good thing, I thought, as I dropped her off there before joining my parents on their way to the car dealership.

I returned at about 12:30 to find LK, Bob and Deb sitting around the table on the deck finishing off what turns out to have been their second round of Bloody Marys. I hate it when they start the party without me, especially when they all say they're not having any more. I especially hate that dilemma of drinking alone to catch up or knowing they're having a better time than I am. In the end, I decided to be noble and take the high road, forgetting that it would not impress any of them.

After a break back to the room to shower and dress, we returned to Bob and Deb's for some drinks and nibblies and then to Mom and Dad's for pot roast and fresh corn. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying being here during the peak season for sweet corn. They simply do not grow this kind of corn in Oz, and it is one of the best foods I know of. Even my father loves it, and just on a general principle, he avoids vegetables as if they were poison.

Having overeaten - again - I had no desire to do anything but chill out after dinner. So we were back in the room fairly early to end what was yet another fight-free but good day. Even the Red Sox cooperated by winning a game to move back into a playoff spot.

Today promises to be good with more of the same pace. But in honor of road trip movies, I think I will swing by my favorite sandwich shop here for lunch. It's named "Thelma and Louise".

Then tonight Ben arrives from Florida, which will be great. And his grandmother has already started the spaghetti and meatballs dinner to celebrate his arrival. Hmmm, if I keep up this pace I'm going to have more XXs on my clothing labels than a porn movie ad.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 32: The Wii Man Syndrome

There has been a third person along for this trip whom I haven't mentioned. Let me introduce you to my personal trainer, the Wii man who puts me through my paces during my exercise workouts.

He doesn't have a name, although Sandy suggested I should give him one. If anyone has any suggestions, I will be glad to consider them. Let me tell you a little bit about him.

He speaks in a very nice British accent. Some days he wears his hair in a very small ponytail, and other days he doesn't. I can't figure out why. He is obviously very fit and flexible. You wouldn't believe how high in the air his tush gets during the Downward-facing Dog.

And at times he is also extremely encouraging, saying things like, "Your balance is excellent," while I am standing on one leg with my arms and the other leg wildly flaying to prevent me from falling into the TV.

Being gone from home for so long, I did not want to stop exercising, but obviously I couldn't take the Wii. So I taped the program one morning and now play it on my laptop. It's very odd some times.

For example, I will be trying for the 135th time to do the Tree pose and my right leg will decide it was not meant to support this enormous load all on its own. The hip and thigh start to vibrate ever so softly, and the Tree that is me starts to bend in the breeze.

And even though this is a recording, and my Wii man is not actually monitoring today's performance, he says at precisely the right time, "You're a little unsteady. That's not good for your back."

Of course, the recording is not always spot on. I can do really lazy torso twists for the next 30 days, and I know that my Wii man will always say, "Those were excellent twists. Keep on doing them to firm up your waist." (Which also shows that he cannot really see out from inside the screen, because that waist hasn't been firmed up since I was 35.)

Which is a long, roundabout way of getting to why this site looks slightly different today. Yesterday, I was finishing my Wii regime and thought I would use the Mii (my Wii character) instead of the Lynch Kennedy picture that has been on this blog since the beginning.

It was easy enough to replace the picture in my profile, but for some reason doing that stopped the blog template from including the "About Me" info and pic. Not such a big deal to my 9 loyal readers, but if someone accidentally stumbled upon it, I thought they might like a sense of what it's all about.

Anyhow, after many many tries, I gave up and patched up as well I could. I put the "about" words under the title and put the original picture back in case the Wii Don was the problem. This is it, and LK said it's just as well I didn't use it for the blog because it doesn't look so much like I'm a boxer as an old bald guy in red underpants. I just like it because it makes me look slim.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 31: Home Again

We are in Rutland now after a shorter drive than everyone predicted. (Everyone except Honor, our GPS, who nailed the time quite accurately.) We drove straight through and so there's not much to write about today.

Our tourism yesterday pretty much consisted of me saying things like "We had lots of barbecues in that park", "If I got off here, you could see where we used to live", "This is the exit for where I went to college," "This is the exit for the race track", etc etc.

We got a slight break from highway driving when Honor suggested we could save 5 minutes (!) off our trip by getting off the Thruway early. "Go for it," LK urged and we exited at Amsterdam and took secondary roads up through Ballston Spa and did not get on the Northway until just below Saratoga.

About the only thing I learned yesterday is that there are parks I had never heard of. We passed the Trieble Passive Recreation Area, which sounded a lot like the sort of recreation I prefer. Checked it out on the web and it turns out passive recreation areas are not giant grandstands where you can watch other people exercising. They are public lands with minimal needs for upkeep that typically encourage activities such as walking around or whatever. But you probably knew that already, didn't you?

Got to Rutland at 5. Checked in and went to my folks place for a catch-up and dinner. It was great to see them after a year, and it's the first time I've seen their new place which I like a lot.

And I learned the real value of blogs. My Mom picked up Johnny Walker Black so LK wouldn't suffer from Amber Alerts while visiting. And she checked my posts to make sure she got the right spirits for me. (They were.)

In town for a week. More Vermont Life in this week's posts.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day 30: Starting and Ending in Pittsford

Short post today because it is traveling day. We had a fun, fun week with Peg, Sandy, Dave, Jordan and Christopher.

It was also productive. Dave and I developed the Olive Diet, and I am glad to provide the details. All you need is a variety of stuffed olives (classic pimiento, garlic, jalapeno, etc.) Prior to dinner, serve three of them chilled in a triangular glass filled with vodka and a dash of vermouth. Repeat. After two of those, you can eat your meal and you won't care if you're fat as a pig or not.

In a few hours, we are heading to Rutland. It's been over a year since I've been home, so it will be great to see the family and re-learn how to talk like a Vermonter. (I don't think I've said "Ay-uh" in months.) That rich Vermont accent that Hollywood actors love so much is really only spoken by a few people anymore. It is often referred to as "woodchuck" but given Dave's history of armed conflict with those animals, I won't use that phrase until we're well out of range.

The town we're leaving, Pittsford New York, is really lovely, and after a week I've even learned how to get to and from the store without turning on the GPS. It has the same name as the town in Vermont in the area where the Kelloggs, my mother's family, lived for well over a century. (And many of them still do live there.)

Last night I sent Jordan and her friends on a Google research project and we discovered that Pittsford, New York was in fact given its name by Caleb Hopkins, who was originally from - where else - Pittsford, Vermont. Google couldn't confirm it, but I suspect he was sent into exile because Vermont's only fortune teller at the time correctly predicted that his descendants would cheer for the New York Yankees and Buffalo Bills, rather than the Patriots and Red Sox.

Two minutes of free association with Google this morning, showed that Samuel Hopkins of Pittsford VT received the first patent in the US at about the same time that Caleb would have been living there. Can't prove a connection, but wouldn't be surprised since there wouldn't have been many people living there at the time. Hey, there aren't many people living there now - especially if you don't count flatlanders. (Wow, I'm already starting to talk Vermont!)

Amos Kellogg lived in Pittsford VT at this time and served in Captain Caleb Hendee's company in the War of 1812. Don't know if that is one of my ancestors, but wouldn't be surprised. And the Hendees are still around the area, as well.

Oh well, can either spend all morning speculating on odd results from Google or can get ready to hit the road for 5 1/2 hours and go from Pittsford to - well - just a few miles south of Pittsford.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 29: The Real Groundhog Day

The wily woodchuck is an inoffensive yet challenging target. While normally harmless, the woodchuck can become dangerous when aroused. It is frequently hunted at ranges of 200-400 yards. Although many people believe that this is because they are shy and easily frightened, quickly disappearing into their burrows, experienced hunters know that the extended range is for personal safety. It is critical to move cautiously when encountering groups of woodchucks, as they are known to engage in cooperative behavior and react explosively.

I was searching for a picture of a groundhog - also called a woodchuck - and came upon this at Yankee Artifacts. It was so appropriate that I felt I had to use it, but you can check out more of this site here.

The reason I was searching was because I heard a great story about groundhogs last night which I want to re-tell. And I wanted my Aussie friends to have a sense of what these creatures look like. I should caution you, though, if that picture is your only guide. Most do not wear battle gear in the wild.

It seems a certain favorite in-law of mine, whom I will call Dave for this tale, was having a terrible problem with groundhogs which were burrowing close to the house and causing leakage problems in the basement. Dave decided to get rid of those pests, but his choices were limited since - among other things - he lives in a neighborhood which, for some reason or other, discourages the use of firearms in your backyard.

Being an (accomplished?) archer, Dave decided he would nail the little buggers with his trusty bow and razor-tipped arrow (that's an arrow used to hunt deer, which are about 400 times the size of groundhogs).

All of this is prelude to three tales of Groundhog Hunting - Dave Style.

The first was a fairly routine episode. Well, initially. It seems that Dave flooded the burrows. Sure enough the pest emerged and Dave let the arrow fly from a fairly good distance.

One snap of the bow. One target hit. Unfortunately, not every shot is a kill shot, and this arrow went through the fatty part of the groundhog's neck, meaning that the animal was suddenly about three times wider than it usually is.

The animal ran for its burrow, but its newly aquired accessory proved to be quite a bit wider than the hole, proving that Dave's plan had not taken this aspect of physics into account, as the illustration shows.

Finishing off the job was awkward, difficult and traumatic. For the groundhog, too, I would guess.

But the second episode shows how quickly skilled hunters learn. This time Dave's wife, whom I will call Sandy, spotted one of the groundhogs in the backyard. Dave instructed her to stand stock still since they were easily spooked. He grabbed his bow and arrow and snuck around the house. One can only speculate what went through the mind of passing motorists who may have seen him.

Sneaking around the corner, he aimed, drew back the bow. One shot, one hit. And one more groundhog with an arrow in it trying to get into a burrow hole that just wouldn't accommodate the hardware.

This time Dave knew what was needed and went to the garage for the correct tool.

In the meantime, a neighbor had pulled into the driveway next door. This neighbor is a gentle soul - perhaps best described as a "peace love and happiness" sort of guy - and Sandy felt the need to make sure Dave's hunting in the backyard wouldn't disturb him.

She walked over to tell the neighbor that they had groundhog problems and, in her words, "were trying to eradicate them as humanely as possible." It was at this moment that she and the neighbor turned the corner to see Dave finishing off Victim #2 by whacking it with a 4-iron from Dave's golf bag.

Let's skip further gory details and move directly to the third and final tale. This one is simple, and it does show how much each episode taught our intrepid hunter.

Groundhog spotted. One arrow flies, one groundhog hit. One groundhog running around the backyard with an arrow in it.

I'll let Dave teach you the final lesson. "This time I was prepared. No more 4-iron. I took out my driver."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Day 28: A New England Patriot in King Buffalo's Court

"What I seed was this whole raft of people sitting on two banks and staring at each other across this pretty little cow pasture and somebody had took and drawed white lines on it and put posts in it."
Andy Griffith, What It Was Was Football

Last night, was a special treat for me. The Buffalo Bills use the nearby fields at St John Fisher College for their team practices. Dave had tickets and invited me to come along.

That's right. You read it correctly. You actually need tickets to get into the stadium to watch the team practice. As you can see, it was a sell-out, too.

The practice session had all the air of a real NFL gameday, except for the disappointing absence of a tailgating party and the even more disappointing absence of cheerleaders (the Buffalo Jills, in this instance). It did, however, encourage fans to part with their hard-earned somalis by buying paraphernalia with a picture of a buffalo on it.

In this particular instance, you can see Dave buying a gift for Jordan.

He wasn't sure of the size, but I reasoned with him that if the t-shirt was too big, she could wear it as a nightshirt. That solved, we proceeded through the merchandise tent.

Just outside, we saw stands offering gourmet snacks for the hungry fans.

I was tempted by such traditional delicacies as fried dough and chicken fingers. However, since - unlike real NFL games - there was no beer being sold to wash down the tasty treats, I decided to give my cholesterol pills a chance to work and passed.

Also, it became evident that the Bills have not been enjoying great financial success lately, because they have had to abandon the team bus and stick the lads in the back of a pick-up truck.

(OK, I had to get one dig in since I am dyed-in-the-wool Patriots fan.)

Speaking of dyed-in-the wool, the Buffalo Bills mascot was in attendance.

Because the team comes from a city named after buffaloes (which probably never roamed there, by the way), it was fairly easy to assume they would choose a buffalo as a mascot.

Because the team's colors are blue, white and silver, it was probably a fairly lengthy debate as to whether the mascot would be a blue, white or silver buffalo. In the end, because this is the NFL, the voice of reason lost.

I myself kept thinking of the lonely guy stuck inside the costume. On a fairly warm summer evening, this guy was wearing a big furry thing with very few obvious places for air to cool him down. I suspect the most authentic thing about the buffalo mascot would be the smell at the end of the day.

Speaking of which, the players did some fairly interesting exercises during warm-up. At first, they were just stretching pretty much like I do with WiiFit. I was thinking to myself, I bet none of them get asked, "Do you often fall over when you run?" until I realized that, in fact, that pretty much defines what most of them do for a living.

After doing a bit of macho yoga and what-not, though, several of them engaged in a most unusual move. There's no delicate way to describe it, but as you can see, they pretty much started sniffing one another's butts. I will forever think of this team as the Buffalo Dogs after observing that. (OK, 2 digs from a Patriots fan.)

The sidelines were as much fun to watch as the on-field practice.

I was astonished to see eight cameramen filming the practice for the local TV news. Actually, there were seven TV news cameramen, and since this is the Buffalo Bills one of them was for the local radio station. (OK, OK, 3 digs)

And my favorite participant in last night's practice wasn't even on the field. She was standing on the sideline during scrimmages holding a marker to indicate which down it was.

She walked up and down the field as the ball moved, and she even changed the numbers from 1 through 4.

I'm not sure what having that marker contributes to the practice, but I guess the coaches want the practice to be as much like game day as possible. If I'm right on that, then I would have thought her marker should have more or less indicated 4th down the whole practice. (Oh dear. Is that yet another dig?)

And finally, I should add that we saw a little football being played, although no real blocking or tackling, of course. That was the most fun to watch, and I especially enjoyed the 15 minutes devoted to special teams practice with punts and field goals.

But in the end, it was just practice and the real test comes on the field.

As Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said last night after his exhibition game against the Eagles, "I need the work, we all need the work. You can't duplicate this on the practice field."

Did I mention the Patriots won that game?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 27: The Blog of Knowledge (US edition)

That's Sandy's office at the high school. Those are two very naughty girls, who are trying to convince Mrs Wigg not to send them for detention.

And while we are on the subject of schools and education, this seems like a good time to revisit the Blog of Knowledge, in which I share various scientific discoveries that I have come across lately.

First, the University of Wisconsin (remember, this is the "Land of the Crazy Glue Tallywhacker") recently reported the findings of a study that took 20 years. They discovered that rhesus monkeys that were fed a low-calorie diet were aging more slowly than counterparts fed diets with 30% more calories. The ones on the low-cal regimen had less diabetes, cancer, heart and brain disease.

Unfortunately, the study also discovered they also had less fun, even by monkey standards. And only born-again baboons enjoyed having a meal with them.

The second study learned that women are more susceptible to cold than men. Apparently the military has even conducted research that shows women are more susceptible to frostbite, hypothermia and other cold-related conditions. I had always thought it was just me who couldn't stand the heat because I carry all that extra insulation, but it turns out most guys are like that.

That explains why I sit in shorts and and a t-shirt at home while LK wraps her pashminka around her shoulders. Even on this trip we had duelling air conditioner settings in few rooms, with LK acting like I was a caveman to want the room as cold as I did. And I am very deliberately not making any remarks about the hot flashes of menopause a few years ago. And we all know why.

Last night we got to put the Cool Men & Hot Women Study to a real-life test.

Sandy booked us into Rio Tomatlan, a Mexican restaurant in Canandaigua. "Great food, very casual and absolutely freezing," she told us.

She was right about the great food. Maybe the best place LK and I have eaten at during the whole trip.

And "very casual but absolutely freezing" meant that Dave and I went in t-shirts and shorts while the females in the party wore either long sleeves (LK and Sandy), a sweatshirt (Jordan) or what looks suspiciously like a winter coat (Peg). Yep, the study is probably right.

The third study is pretty close to my heart. It seems that because we are more sensitive, redheads need more anesthesia than other people.

I could have saved them all that research money. All they had to do was ask and I would have told them how much I need to drink each night before my lips go numb.

And the final study in today's Blog of Knowledge found that old farts like me are much happier now than when we were young. Pew Research Center discovered that the happiest men are aged 60 to 69, while the least happy are aged 20 to 29.

I know I am happier in my 60s than I was in my 20s, but I had always assumed it had to do with no longer having to explain to my American bosses why I wasn't having a good year, and also having enough time to do the stuff I really want to do. Coupled, of course, with the fairly large amount of anesthesetics I drink every night.

The study also found that older people have better mental health than younger people. But I am pretty sure we have just had more time learning how to make our craziness look normal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day 26: Mother-in-law

Q: Why do they bury mothers-in-law 18 feet down, when everyone else is buried 6 feet down?
A: Because deep, deep down, they really are very nice people.

I opened the door this morning, and there was my mother-in-law on the front step. She asked, "Can I stay here a few days?" I said, "Sure," and shut the door in her face.

A man was told by his doctor that he had only six months to live. He decided to move in with his mother-in-law, because living with her for six months will seem like forever.

"I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport." Henny Youngman

"I'd love to slit my mother-in-law's corsets and watch her spread to death." Phyllis Diller


There. Had to get those out of my system. And in this wonderful age we live in, it took about 3 google-seconds to find several web sites devoted to mother-in-law jokes so all credit to them for archiving these old jokes.

We've been staying with my mother-in-law Peg this week, and I got to thinking yesterday about this tradition of mother-in-law jokes. I am not quite sure why or how they all got started, but there's a real nasty edge to many of them.

I am guessing they are the relics of an era that time has passed by. I'm pretty sure modern comedians are not pulling out mother-in-law jokes from their gag bags. But then, I haven't been to the Catskills in about 40 years, either, and if there's any place that would be recycling 50-year-old humor, that would be it.

The mother-in-law jokes must have arisen at a time when families lived closer together and newlyweds couldn't easily get away from the interfering mother. Actually, even today lots of people in their 20s and 30s live with their parents for at least part of the time, so it can't be because families are no longer as close. It could be that today's mother-in-law just doesn't interfere . But I doubt that human nature has changed that much, too.

My best guess is that it's just like all humor stereotypes. The mother-in-law joke is funny to us even though we don't feel that way about our own mother-in-law.

That's certainly the case with Peg. She's a fantastic lady whom I love being around. I've had great times with her here in Pittsford, in Sydney, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Cape Cod, Washington, Freehold, Boston and many more places. A retired first- and second-grade teacher, I can well imagine how much she would have meant to the kids in her class.

One of my favorite days with Peg was at Monmouth Race Course when she and I sent LK off to work and decided to have a fun day to ourselves.

She's also my third mother-in-law, of course. But to be honest, although one of them was what I will politely term "eccentric", the other was a great, fun person, as well. As Meatloaf sang so well, two out of three ain't bad.

Or, if you prefer something slightly older, there's Ernie K-Doe's famous song in the 50s. He obviously didn't have a mother-in-law like Peg:

Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law.
Satan should be her name.

To me they're 'bout the same.
Every time I open my mouth
She steps in, tries to put me out.
How could she stoop so low?
Mother-in-law. Mother-in-law

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Day 25: Legends of the Fall

I stubbed my little toe Saturday. It doesn't look so bad - kind of like a link sausage that is just starting to cook - but it is sore.

I tell you that because I think that may have had something to do with the fact that I fell down yesterday when I did not quite lift that foot high enough to go up the step at Sandy and Dave's house. LK thinks it may have been the flip-flops I was wearing. Peg thinks the step is a wee bit on the high side. Of course, those are essentially three excuses covering up the truth. I fall because that's just what I do.

Because I've had so many pictures taken in my shorts, I've (re-)noticed how scarred the bottom of my calves are. You know, the part that's hard for me to see from my normal view standing up. Those are scarred from a bout of cellulitis I had in Africa many years ago. That infection came about because - can you guess? - I fell down and scraped my legs while LK and I were walking to the bridge over the Zambezi River.

So during the next hour, she becames a star by bungee jumping off the bridge, while I stood there pouring mouthwash over my scraped legs hoping (and failing) to keep them from getting infected.

It really was no surprise earlier this year when my Wii asked me if I often tripped while I was walking.

Until I hit the trifecta of clumsiness here, I had felt I was getting better at this whole thing. But yesterday dispelled that optimism. Oh, did I say trifecta? Well, I should tell you that we all went to lunch yesterday.

It was good food but massively more than a single portion. LK and I both ordered salads, and the amount we each got was about what we would serve at dinner for four people. As I told her, only in America can they take ordering something healthy like a salad and turn it into an act of overeating.

Peg had a massive "small" salad with her sandwich, and we ended up with two full take-away containers full of the leftover salad. I was carrying them out of the restaurant when the top one started to slide off. Let me be precise, it was flying as if it and the container below were magnets of opposite charges.

I had no chance to catch the escaping salad, but I was near the door and I lurched just in time to wedge both salads against the glass. At which point the door, of course, started to open. With both salads now pretty close to hitting the ground - and surely spilling all over - I managed to reach under just in time to get the fugitive salad, while still holding onto the other one. Messiness averted.

Not many saw this, but one of the staff at the restaurant did. "That was an impressive catch," she said. She very politely didn't mention that my own clumsiness got me into the predicament in the first instance.

Oh well, this all could be biblical. LK says I don't take any pride in myself since I retired, and we all know what pride goeth before. Or it could just be that my biorhythms are very low, except that apparently that theory must have been debunked since no one uses it anymore.

The only good thing about all of these tumbles. They all happened in the afternoon before I had a drink. Better to be thought clumsy than a stumblebum.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Day 24: Dinner for Seven

Photo by Cassandra Jordan (CJ) Young

There are things about family dinners that seem inevitable. Too much food will be eaten, and a drink or two beyond what is recommended will be consumed. Old times will be recalled, embarrassing incidents will be told in great detail, people we have known and loved our whole lives will be called the wrong name. And I will say something stupid. Last night was no exception.

Peg, Linda and I drove to Sandy and Dave's for dinner the last two nights. Saturday, Sandy and Dave made great barbecued steaks and salmon with fresh corn and salad. We all ate too much to have the dessert Sandy had made.

Yesterday, LK did much of the cooking here and the pork and roasted potatoes were transported. Sandy and Dave walked across the street to a neighbor who grows corn. And we somehow found enough in reserve to try dessert. Two great meals.

Add in a few cocktails and a couple bottles of Ceja rose, and we were having a wonderful evening last night. Jordan's friend CJ took that picture of us all, and that's Christopher next to me. He'd flown in from Portand for the week which was a special bonus this trip.

We talked about so many old times. We talked about our first joint family holiday in Cape Cod in 1994, about the California home LK and Sandy grew up in. We talked about Matt and Jay in Oz and we talked about Steve and Gus. We even made it an official family dinner by turning on the TV next to the table because the Buffalo Bills were playing a pre-season game at 8.

I discovered that my mother is not alone. I can safely predict that some time next week I will be called Bobby, in much the same way that Peg looked Sandy squarely in the face and called her Linda. I think Sandy could have had a complaint except that she looked Dave squarely in the face and called him Don. I think all of this is fairly normal, but perhaps the second bottle of rose had something to do with it.

And yes, I did say something stupid. A little background first. If you look back a couple of posts, you will see a picture of LK with her Aunt Phyllis and cousin Jo. Everyone has a big smile on their faces. My trick as photographer was to say, just before snapping, "I want all of you to imagine that I'm taking your picture with no clothes on." Believe me, people laugh at that thought.

Last night CJ, who was visiting Jordan, was asked to take the group picture. I figured everyone would crack up if I told them how I had made the three ladies smile for the picture. Unfortunately, I got it a bit twisted and told everyone to imagine CJ without her clothes on.

As LK explained to me later, that's not the best thing for a fat old fart to say to a nice young girl. She also said she knew I had mixed up what I was trying to say. Anyhow, it didn't have the desired effect. You can see that only a few of us are smiling, and that everyone except LK (who understands me) has moved as far away from me as they could.

I am looking forward to more family dinners this week. And, thankfully, we have polished off the rose.