Archive for April, 2008

Plum’s Golf Omnibus

April 30, 2008

P.G. WodehouseReading and writing are two of my favorite things. I have been reading voraciously for many years, but am very new to blogging. (So, apparently, is this spell-checker, which inexplicably does not recognize “blogs” or “blogging”.) One of the things I like about being here is that it feels as if I am part of a community of readers: readers are attracted to blogs. And one of the rewards of reading blogs is the opportunity to encounter something new. Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite writers, P.G. Wodehouse. If you have not read any of his work yet, you should give him a try. (Or read one of my stories; see below.) His first name is Pelham, a name that is perhaps a bit unfortunate, and not what I would name my son. If you say it quickly you come up with his nickname, Plum. His last name is not pronounced like you would think, because it’s pronounced, “would – house”.

Anyway, Wodehouse was a gifted comic writer who wrote nearly a hundred books, many of which are novels and the rest collections of short stories, plus many plays and musicals. Now, don’t screw up your face in disgust at the thought of musicals; it’s his novels and short stories I want to tell you about. In my hand today is his prized collection of golf short stories, The Golf Omnibus. You should run out and buy this 467-page collection boasting 31 short stories, and I’ll tell you why. Plum was crazy about golf, as am I, and loved to play when he could, but on rainy, dismal days like it is today in Edinburgh, he would happily read or write about golf.

An important note is required here to further explain what is meant by ‘golf short story’. These little jewels, averaging about fifteen pages, are primarily about people, but set against a backdrop of the greatest game. People fall in love, form lasting friendships, leave the office early to play golf, and steal your girl; there are lovable and deplorable people in these stories, just like people you know. There is something in each story that will appeal to anyone who likes to read; I bet, and I taught statistics for over ten years, that you will enjoy these stories even if you don’t play golf.

All the stories contain characters who love the game, and some play thirty-six holes a day, but not everyone is a golfer. And the most important themes are those you would find in other short story collections; it’s just that much of the action takes place on golf courses, in clubhouse bars, locker rooms and pro shops. A central character is The Oldest Member, a lovable old geezer who has been around forever. He’s the guy who was a member of the country club back when the protagonists’ grandfathers were members. A charming fact is that since The Oldest Member — and we never hear his real name — has been around for so long, he has most likely changed the diapers of the younger characters, which allows him such great intimacy with them, that they confide in him. I think that at certain ages we have trouble talking to our parents about sensitive subjects; in my turbulent teens I was able to open up to my best friend’s parents next door, because I felt I could talk to them about things that were somehow too uncomfortable to discuss with my mom & dad.

A typical plot line consists in a couple of young golfers who are romantically involved. Something happens to upset the relationship; a new seductress arrives on the scene, or something occurs to disrupt their happiness. One of the lovers will come looking for advice from the wise Oldest Member, who is most likely in his rocking chair on the porch of the club, where he can look out on the course and watch people play. Young people, being in a hurry, want a short answer, but as The Oldest Member comes from the teach-them-how-to-fish school, his method is to tell them a story like it was a parable.

The one seeking advice too late realizes the wise one is about to launch into one of his fables, and tries to duck out. But by then The Oldest Member has grabbed the unenlightened one by the wrist and is guiding him or her to the chair next to him. What then follows is a story within a story, and soon the reader can do nothing but smile and watch it all unfold. Much of the charm of the stories is in the warmth and humor of the narrative, and the dialog, which both crackles with realism, and soothes like an old sweater. And another part of the fun is guessing how the story will end, because The Oldest Member always does a good job of providing insight into the human condition, and it’s this knowledge that gently shoves the couple back to a happy conclusion. It’s great stuff, and the stories and novels are perfect for rainy day reads, again and again.

The photo above is of Wodehouse at age 23, and he has a relatively small smile. On the back cover of The Golf Omnibus is a photo of him at around age 90. He has the biggest smile you could imagine, perhaps a sign that writing golf stories leads to a long and happy life. I hope so.

If I may indulge in a bit of shameless self-promotion, since this is my blog, please read my golf short story on this site, A Niblick in Time; it’s my homage to Wodehouse. I hope you like it. Thanks for stopping by, and keep your head down.

The Secret Life of Crumbs

April 29, 2008

CrumbsI recently read Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age” about the coming of the nano world, a world in which nanotechnology becomes pervasive. To think small is to think big. Tiny machines constructed on the atomic level, leading to things such as particles smaller than dust that can be inhaled and perform important medical functions, or poisonous destruction; invisible fences and nets to detect intruders and then trap or repel them; and smart clothing that stays dry and clean, adjusting temperature as conditions change, and providing color, camouflage or invisibility as the wearer wishes.

Dark currents of profound social change swirled through my consciousness as I cleaned the kitchen. And then I started to think about crumbs. What are they anyway? And how did they get there?

I don’t think crumbs are as innocent as they would have us believe; just because they are small doesn’t mean they are harmless. Because crumbs live in a world of darkness, I suspect their intent is dark as well.

A friend of mine has an electron microscope, so I sent some crumb samples over to her to examine. Having such a sophisticated lab instrument might seem unusual for some people, but if you knew some of my friends, you’d come to expect the unusual. She’s a bit of a geek, but I always felt that was a good thing. Have you ever considered a life without geeks? No cellphones, TV, computers or the Internet, and I haven’t even taken off my gloves yet. No microwaves, iPods, digital cameras, DVD’s or Red Bull. You heard me. Where do you think Red Bull comes from? I don’t know either, but if there’s organic chemistry involved there will be someone wearing a lab-coat, taped-up glasses and pocket protector at the helm, someone who was better at science in high school than you were.

An important part of crumb strategy -– are they man-made? or alien? or man-made to look alien? -– is to blend in and wait for the right moment, like a jungle sniper. A well-known crumb tactic is to be left behind; that’s how they disseminate. And anything involving “dissemination” will focus on controlling others by outnumbering them. That’s why we have to keep an eye on the Chinese. Do you ever wonder why there are so many of them? I do.

The Chinese government has for decades employed an insidious plot for world domination. They claim to have a “one child” policy. Secret data –- how did I get it? wouldn’t you like to know -– reveals a pattern of clandestine night flights of government aircraft dropping fertility drugs onto rice paddies. At the same time Chinese are given placebo contraceptive pills, which look suspiciously like M&M’s. (The tiny ‘M’ on each piece looks remarkably like the Chinese character for “Peace, Harmony, and NO MORE KIDS FOR YOU!”) I believe the powerful Mars family of Virginia, the people who just bought Wrigley, plan to get the Chinese population addicted to chocolate. Once addicted to chocolate, and only my fiancée seems to be immune, the Chinese will fuel demand for the Mars company’s dominance of the world chocolate market. And if you didn’t know it, the Mars company also owns Uncle Ben’s Rice. You think that’s a coincidence? Perhaps in the future there will be only two food groups: rice and chocolate. Has the Mars family formulated a plot to take over China, even while the Chinese have hopes of taking over the world? It wouldn’t surprise me.

Questionable interrogation techniques were used to glean important intelligence on the upcoming Olympics in Beijing. American agents employed waterboarding with torrents of Red Bull, and compelled captured Chinese operatives to reveal that important world figures will be kidnapped. Once the Olympic stadium, the so-called “Bird’s Nest” is full, the doors will be locked, and the approximately 90,000 people will be trapped. They will then be transferred to a huge underground prison, cunningly disguised as a food court. There, Westerners will be detained, questioned, drugged, and have their wallets emptied. These important but hapless Westerners will all then subsequently disappear, and be put to work in Chinese factories.

CIA satellite photography reveals that the new Terminal 3D of Beijing’s mammoth airport is designed for incoming flights only — clear evidence that tourists who come to Beijing are not expected to leave. Airline industry analysts suggest that the new terminal was modeled after Heathrow’s new Terminal 5, which should have raised considerable suspicion, after tens of thousands of pieces of luggage, and hundreds of passengers, simply vanished in the inaugural days of that airport’s new addition. Even the Queen is missing.

I have to finish cleaning the kitchen now. I haven’t heard back yet from my friend who was looking at crumbs under her electron microscope, but I bet she will find that each tiny crumb has ‘Made in China’ written on it. Be afraid.

Bartending for Dollars

April 28, 2008

Leonine Mane of HairMany years ago, when I still had a thick, leonine mane of hair, like my buddy pictured, I was a bartender. It was interesting work — especially in the nicer places — paid decent but not great money, and allowed a fair bit of freedom during the day. If you read the “About Me” section you will see I’m looking for work in the Boston area. Some friends have recommended I look for a bartender job.

If you know of an opening for an experienced, high-end bartender or wine steward, I would appreciate hearing from you. I have about ten years of experience, having worked in bars, hotels and restaurants in England, Washington DC and Seattle. If there is plenty of background noise, it sounds as if I speak pretty decent German and French, and I pride myself on being able to talk to anyone about anything.

If your help results in landing me a job, I will express my thanks with a gift certificate to Ian’s House of Haggis.

Backward Christian Soldiers

April 28, 2008

After reading a recent article about religious intolerance in the US military, I am in a surprisingly good mood. I’m in a good mood because one young American soldier, Specialist Jeremy Hall, has shown great courage and the ability to think critically.

He is an atheist, and has been on the receiving end of religiose discrimination and threats. Ironic that because of threats made against him — by soldiers and officers in his own unit — he was sent back to the US from Iraq, because it was too dangerous for him there.

He joined the Army to serve his country, to become a soldier fighting for American political gains, not to become a jihadist.

Painfully we find that the military is still crowded with idiots who think that Christianity is some sort of unassailable pedigree, a necessary quality for military success. Hall said of his former fellow GI’s, “They don’t trust you because they think you are unreliable and might break…” because he didn’t believe that God was on his side.

One of the dumbest things a person could possibly say or think is that “God is on our side.” History has shown that combatants on both sides of the battlefield have thought that God was on their side, and one side always lost; history also shows that military outcomes are based on things like strategy, logistics, training and often dumb luck. If I am on the battlefield, and it goes without saying therefore that my life is on the line, I would MUCH rather have someone beside me who is courageous and capable of rational, critical thinking instead of someone who thinks God is on his side.

Specialist Hall was in a firefight in Iraq in 2007, a gunner on a Humvee. The vehicle took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, when his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said, “No, but I believe in Plexiglas.” This is my kind of guy.

If religion is a system of beliefs or convictions, then why not consider atheism another system of beliefs and convictions? The first amendment guarantees that we as American citizens — and I was born within sight of the Washington Monument — are entitled to be free to believe what we want. If you believe in God, or some variety of gods, or not, that is your right. And my right.

This soldier is being berated, antagonized and threatened because he is different; this is nothing more than bullying. There’s something about this that reminds me of the “blanket party” given to Pvt. Pyle in the movie “Full Metal Jacket”. That was the scene in which the underachieving Pyle was punished by soldiers in his own unit for causing them to suffer for his shortcomings. Each soldier put a bar of soap in a sock, then in turn swung it and viciously hit Pyle in his bed, the action causing pain but supposedly leaving no marks; an exercise in group justice. The under-thinking soldiers in Hall’s unit are doing the same thing, punishing him for being different, and for not toeing the Christian line. In my view, standing up to them makes Hall a lion, and we’ve all seen what happened in the Colosseum when lions faced Christians; my money’s on the lions.

Hall and another soldier have accused a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, of berating and threatening them, and saying some pretty stupid things like, “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Welborn denies it, saying “I’d love to tell my side of the story because it’s such a false story.” Like the New York judge who recently found the testimony of Sean Bell’s friends to have been less than plausible, I don’t accept Welborn’s refutations of Hall’s accusations.

If Maj. Welborn is guilty of lying about the accusations and threatening Hall and others like him, then Welborn is a very bad example of the Christian ideal, showing little reverence for tolerance or telling the truth. Is this the military’s version of Christianity, condoning not only intolerance and mendacity but also violence against others?

According to Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, the armed forces have regulations that respect “the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.”

In an e-mail statement, Bill Carr, the Defense Department’s deputy under secretary for military personnel policy, said he “saw near universal compliance with the department’s policy.”

After having taught statistics for over ten years, I’d like to know what that means. Did Carr tour and inspect every U.S. military installation on Earth, and question every soldier, sailor and fly-boy? Did he talk to three soldiers and two said everything was fine? Since the reluctance to come forward, based on fears of retribution, is well-known, his statement is particularly vague and vapid. This is one of those low-risk comments that in his mind allows him to do nothing, and yet not look as if he did anything wrong.

Hall has shown leadership capabilities and courage, more so than Welborn and the other macho moron officer who threatened “to bust (Hall) in the mouth.” These men should be relieved of duty. They are rabid animals unfit to lead in a modern army, because a commanding officer should be able to lead by example, treating men with respect and recognizing that religious beliefs should not influence military decisions.

Hall said he enjoys being a team leader but has been told that having faith would make him a better leader.

“I will take care of my soldiers. Nowhere does it say I have to pray with my soldiers, but I do have to make sure my soldiers’ religious needs are met,” he said.

“Religion brings comfort to a lot of people,” he said. Hall was raised in a religious environment — one source said Protestant, while another source said Baptist — but concluded that faith was an unneeded encumbrance. “Personally, I don’t want it or need it. But I’m not going to get down on anybody else for it.”

Good for you, Specialist Hall. Keep your chin up, because you are doing the right thing.

Baseball in Scotland

April 27, 2008

I saw your eyebrows. They lifted in surprise when you saw today’s subject line. But there’s quite a bit of interest in American baseball here in Scotland. Well, from me mostly.

Each morning starts with a perusal of the box scores, recaps and standings on ESPN’s major league baseball “scoreboard”. From there one can jump to player stats, team stats, season stats, and pretty much anything you could want, short of having the phone number of Bill James. I focus on a handful of teams: the Seattle Mariners, because I lived there for half my life and still think they can go all the way; the Boston Red Sox, my newly adopted team, winners of two World Series in four years; the Baltimore Orioles, mostly from an ancient loyalty to my approximate birthplace, and proximity to Maryland’s Eastern Shore during those golden years at Washington College in Chestertown, and because Brother Dave goes to lots of games; the Washington Nationals, because they are the Senators reincarnate, although my interest rapidly declined after lots of losing; and lastly, the New York Yankees (?). I look at how the Damn Yankees do only because I love to see them lose. (There is something salubrious, for me at least, about splenetic Yankees owner George Steinbrenner getting furious when his team is beaten; his chip-off-the-old-block son Hank looks to follow in the micro-management mold, and is sure to earn as little respect as his dad among baseball people.) The best days are when the Bosox beat them, due to the age-old rivalry. Funny, here in Scotland you see a fair number of Yankee baseball hats on the heads of Scots. Michelle has some pretty choice words to describe the Yankees, and came close a couple times to telling off big burly Scots wearing those caps with the distinctive “NY” logo. Michelle and I believe they don’t have any idea what bums the Yankees are; they just wear the hats because they know it has something to do with the States.

Which reminds me, if you have never read Michaels Lewis’s book “Moneyball“, let me tell you it’s a fascinating refresher course in baseball managing strategy, and throws new light on baseball statistics. It came out in 2003 but is still valuable, and sits nicely on the shelf next to his other works on sports, economics and winning vs losing. For those new to baseball it is an excellent primer, and I recommended it to my students majoring in business as a guide to the world of winning with limited resources.

But what prompted my post today was the surprising performance of the Orioles. They’re sitting on top of the AL East! Holy cow! New manager Dave Trembley must be doing something right. Last year, and the year before that, they finished the season TWENTY-SEVEN games out of first place. Hometown fans must be enjoying the reversal of fortunes, since for the last home-stand series of games, attendance averaged just over 80% of capacity. Baltimore’s Camden Yards is one of my favorite ballparks, with great views, a friendly crowd — the opposite of the hostile beasts found at Yankee Stadium — and lots of excellent food like Maryland crab cakes. There’s lots of new talent, since I look at the box scores and don’t recognize more than one or two of the Baltimore players, which is weird since I used to know the names up and down the line-up. And while I hope to tag along this year with Dave to see the O’s again at Camden Yards, I also can’t wait for my first glimpse of Boston’s Fenway Park when I move to “The Hub” this summer. Cool.

Lastly, a team I have my eye on is the Arizona Diamondbacks. One interesting baseball stat that leads me to this is the difference between the runs scored and runs allowed. The Orioles sit at the top of the NL West division holding a three-run difference, while the D-backs sit on top of theirs, with a whopping fifty-four-run difference. Arizona had until recently led the majors in this category by a ton, until the Cubs largely caught up with a recent three-game series against Pittsburgh, in which they outscored the Pirates by TWENTY runs, and who now hold a forty-two-run difference. Baltimore will have to do a lot of things right to keep their lead in the AL East, if they can only maintain such a narrow margin of victory.


April 24, 2008

Today’s short post answers the age-old equestrian, how many horsepower does a two-horse carriage have? Careful — it might be a trick, so I had better take the reins. (Which reminds me, recently someone in a nationally syndicated column used the wrong version of the homonyms rein/reign in an expression. She said that some overly-forceful, type-A personality in the news should be “reigned in” as in controlled or pulled back, whereas I believe that the phrase is based upon the horse-related reins; the kind of “reign” spelled with the ‘g’ refers to the period of time when some lucky character with royal blood gets to sit in the big chair and boss people around. Off with her head!)

I was driving through Strathkinness today, which has extremely narrow streets. Indeed, many of Scotland’s streets are cunningly designed so that they are just wide enough so that two vehicles cannot pass. When driving, one must quickly judge if the vehicle one is piloting can indeed fit, or if not, one should quickly duck to the side and allow the larger vehicle, the one that can crush yours like a fried piece of bacon with a rolling pin, to pass by. Scotland and the rest of Europe has many tiny cars with engines seemingly better suited to sewing machines, but there are also very large trucks — they call them “lorries” here — vying for road-space.

As I crawled along in the 20 mph High Street through Strathkinness, I saw a strange sight coming my way. First, I saw that the clip-clopping conveyance was bigger than mine, so I pulled over, and as it got closer I realized that it was a horse-drawn carriage, boasting precisely two horsepower. I love horsepower, so I waved at the driver. He waved back. I drove away with a smile.

Don’t You Know Who I Am?

April 23, 2008

Recently the general manager of a Boston TV station was arrested at Logan Airport for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault and battery on a police officer. (Here’s the article.) According to the poorly spelled police report, officers were called to the airport to handle a “disorderly female” aboard Delta Flight number 4944.

Randi Goldklank, general manager of WHDH, who appeared drunk and smelled strongly of alcohol, had to be assisted off the plane by two members of the flight crew. Even though Goldklank was staggering and too unsteady to walk on her own, she still tried to break free from those who were helping her to get through the terminal building. When confronted by the four officers who responded to the call, she began screaming obscenities. When the officers tried to communicate with her, and ultimately quiet her and bring her under control, she “swung her arms” and “flailed” at them, striking an officer at least once and breaking the officer’s eyeglasses. The report states that she called herself a Boston big shot, and said, “Don’t you know who [deleted expletive] I am?”

Ah, yes. The old “Don’t you know who I am?” gambit. (Known by the arrogance cognoscenti as the DYKWIAG.) The parlor trick used by those who are more important than you and me.

How do people become so arrogant that they conclude that whatever worth someone else has, they have more? Central to their conceitedness is the perception that they are so important and so well-known, that they possess awesome, redoubtable power which will be used against those who stand in their way. And, let’s face it, as far as these characters are concerned, everybody is in their way. Goldklank, during one of her eloquent rants at the police officers, said, “…you think your (sic) a [deleted expletive] tough guy, you just watch and see what [deleted expletive] happens to you when I get [deleted expletive] out of here. I’ll have your [deleted expletive] jobs…”

She was outraged at the loss of power, seen by her attempt to break free from those flight crew members — no doubt glad to be free of her — who were helping her with bipedal locomotion. She screamed obscenities at all the police officers as they tried to control the situation, and she continued to scream as the officers handcuffed her.

It’s interesting how handcuffs symbolize a self-important person’s worst fear and greatest insult: the loss of power, and secondarily, prestige. Maybe Ms Goldklank would benefit from hearing the metallic clank of handcuffs on her for a while; it might teach her some humility.

If you are one of those people who has used the DYKWIAG, or who has even thought of using it, grab the nearest two-by-four or 9-iron and whack yourself on the head until the urge passes. This may take a while.

My favorite “Don’t you know who I am?” story is also set in an airport. The check-in desk is crowded with people traveling. One gentleman feels too important to wait in line; conceited people hate to wait in line. He pushes past lesser mortals to confront the harried lady at the airline desk, who tells him he will have to wait in line like everybody else. This infuriates him, which leads to him bellowing, “Don’t you know who I am!?!”

The lady behind the desk has obviously heard the DYKWIAG before, and so turns on her public address system microphone and asks, “Does anybody know who this gentleman is? He seems to have contracted amnesia and has forgotten who he is.” This provokes wild laughter from the crowd, but as if on cue, the self-important person yells, “F*CK YOU!”

The self-controlled lady replies, “I’m sorry sir. You’ll have to get in line for that too.”

One article noted that Ms Goldklank referred to herself as a “1,000 mph” person. Maybe this will teach her to slow down enough to think about others.

Putin’s Putative Divorce

April 19, 2008

A recent article in the press suggested that Vladimir Putin, that wild and crazy guy who runs Russia, is contemplating divorcing his similarly middle-aged wife and marrying the young and flexible Alina Kabayeva, pictured. He pooh-poohed the idea, if one is allowed to pooh-pooh in today’s Russia. Putin immediately challenged the reporter who posed the question at a press conference in Italy, to a drinking contest. Putin, from a bottle of vodka kept in his coat pocket, and the reporter, from a plastic bottle proffered by Putin, and which appeared to contain Russian crude oil.

Was I the only one who was reminded of the ‘Seinfeld’ episode with the Eastern European gymnast? In that classic episode, Jerry is dating a hot Romanian athlete, Katya. Jerry’s guy friends, Kramer and George, encourage Seinfeld to pursue the opportunity to have sex with her, since she is so propitiously flexible; one’s imagination begins to work overtime. Kramer seals the deal by showing Jerry a tape of Katya performing in the 1984 Olympics, and so Jerry is now convinced of the medal-winning merits of a lissome liaison.

Is Putin Russia’s new Jerry Seinfeld? Will Putin ever demonstrate a Seinfeldesque sense of humor? Will Putin find out how flexible Alina really is? Stay tuned.

Some Thoughts on the Cooking of Fish

April 18, 2008

Deeply ingrained in all of us is the desire, or duty, to act in such a way as to promote longevity. We refrain from running with scissors. We choose not to stick our heads into alligators’ mouths. And we feel guilty when we eat the stuff that’s not good for us.

On a recent visit to the supermarket I bought a large container of oatmeal. Two or three times a week now I follow the instructions on the box and make a bowl of the stuff, which I lavishly sex up with raisins, molasses, brown sugar or dried mango. I have fought back the urge to add a splash of brandy or Drambuie. “You will do no such thing!” says my righteous half, after which I’ll add some crumbled up Girl Scout cookies to the gruel.

In the aim of improving health, many of us are eating more red meat, or less red meat, or more or less carbohydrates, or less bad carbohydrates. We search for what we believe will be the “right” diet.

Maybe you’re like me, and have been trying to eat more fish. (The great P.G. Wodehouse’s “Bertie” character thought his gentleman’s gentleman “Jeeves” was so smart because he ate fish as a child.) You fry it, poach it, boil it, bake it, broil it or even nuke it. You get bored and want to try something new. About a week ago there was an article in the New York Times Wednesday food section. The author known as the Minimalist says old fashioned chefs claim fish should be cooked with the head attached. They say there’s more flavor, that it tastes better. There was no mention of whether the fish wants to look at you while it’s being cooked. Or eaten. Anyway, I wanted to try cooking a fish with the head on.

My buddy Kate loaned me her mini Weber, and I’ve been lighting it up nearly every night since I moved back into my condo. I’ll sit in a folding chair on my patio, look out over downtown and the bay, and slowly empty a cocktail shaker of Manhattans. Attention alternates between the coals and the New Yorker.

The fish chosen for this experiment was a tilapia purchased for about $1.50 the night before. I named the fish Clarence. Don’t ask.

Before I found Clarence I had chosen a package containing two of his cousins next to him. His cousins still had their heads, but also their guts. A small note on Clarence’s package said “cleaned”, and there was a surgical looking slit along his tummy. I put his cousins back and put Clarence in my shopping cart.

On the big night I got the coals going, and made some fish-enhancing Manhattans. In the mixing bowl, with a tiny rubber ducky from China, Clarence was taking a bath in white wine and lemon juice. Next to Clarence’s steel bathtub a nice piece of wild steelhead salmon splashed about in an aluminum foil pool of butter and Marsala. This was my backup plan in case I did something wrong to Clarence.

When the coals were ready I gently grabbed Clarence by the tail and laid him down. I like my salmon on the rare side so I didn’t put the two pieces of fish on at the same time. After a little while, and a lot of fretting, a small frown seemed to appear on Clarence’s face. I turned away and took a large pull of my Manhattan.

One of the building’s cats came over for a look, but I dispatched him with a forceful lecture on etiquette.

Feeling a bit braver, I thought it was time to inspect Clarence. Maybe you are one of those grillers who believes in turning things only once. I am not one of those. Frequent turning, in fact, well, probably does nothing, but it makes me feel more involved, more in control. I used the classic modified Dallas grip on my new tongs, and reached for Clarence’s tail. There was a little resistance when I turned him over, and you could see that part of his side had stuck to the grill, so that some of the meat was exposed. It looked like he was cooking nicely, but I had hoped to keep him intact. At this point I put the salmon on the grill and closed the top. More or less satisfied with the progress, I took another healthy sip – well, swig actually – on my Manhattan. Things were shaping up nicely. The sunset wanted to get in on the act.

In the hopes of optimizing pleasure I decided to keep the heat relatively low. I thought if the grill was too hot, then timing would become crucial, and for my first time I didn’t mind taking longer to cook Clarence, as long as he was cooked just right.

After a little bit it was time to turn both fish again, and they both were looking good. Clarence had a rather blank look on his face, and smelled pretty good, but the salmon smelled really good. About twenty yards away I spotted the cat watching closely with his binoculars, so I reloaded my water pistol. A man can’t have too many water pistols.

I decided that Clarence was ready, and as this had taken longer than I had imagined, my stomach was starting to rumble. With some trepidation I grabbed my tongs, the latest GrillPride X4000’s, with cavity back grippers, tungsten inserts and perimeter weighting, designed by Bob Sklebowski – he’s considered the Ben Hogan of tong designers – and reached for Clarence.

With Clarence’s tail in my grasp, I gingerly lifted him up and was about to inspect him before putting him on a plate. But at that instant about 95% of Clarence’s body, the meaty part, fell with a splat on the ground while his skeleton stayed safely in the tongs. In my shock I didn’t notice if Clarence’s now dirty face had a small smile or not, but I was so surprised and upset at losing the fish after all that work I grabbed what I could of him and threw him over the bushes in the direction of the cat.

I received no feline ‘thank you’ note, but the salmon was delicious.

Papal Visitor

April 18, 2008

Recently I was reading about the arrival of the pope in New York City. He will be in town for the weekend, and as you might imagine, security will be tight. There were a few things that bothered me.

Am I the only one whose eyebrows raised at the discovery that the pope’s private jet is named “Shepherd One”?

On the surface it’s a humble title — shepherd — and so it’s a little surprising that such a humble title is painted on a multi-million dollar jet plane. On the other hand, it’s to be expected, at least to me, since I see the Catholic Church as an extraordinarily successful business. (The shepherding business must be doing pretty good.) A very wealthy ongoing concern, with a multi-billion dollar real estate portfolio and other ancient and priceless assets. Not to mention that the Catholic Church is a thousand year old brand. And we all know that brand names carry values; when a firm is sold, right there on the balance sheet is the estimated value of the company’s name. The pope, as the head of the Catholic Church, is exactly like the head of a very big company, and so deserves to travel in first-class style.

On Sunday the pope will celebrate mass at Yankee Stadium. Yankee Stadium?!?  As a future Boston resident and Red Sox fan, I hope this isn’t evidence that the pope is a Yankee fan…

Another thing that caught my attention was the note that the pope will take part in a “youth event” on Saturday evening. Given the history of Catholic priests and altar boys, isn’t this a little like throwing gasoline at a fire?

On a lighter note, a contingent of the pope’s ancient and prestigious Swiss Guard will be on hand to assist in the important job of keeping the pope safe. This honor guard, approximately 450 years old, wears colorful outfits similar to those worn by court jesters, and carry halberds. My question is: will these guys be wearing their traditional garb and be armed with seven hundred-year-old weapons in New York City?

It seems like American taxpayers are shelling out a lot of money to protect his Holiness, when a few guys in funny outfits and long poles should be able to handle anything unexpected.