Friday, April 30, 2010

The State of Things

It puzzles even my mother.  "I can't believe you're going to be 50", she exclaims, during my visit the other day.  Funny, I've been mumbling that to myself for the past several months.  I usually don't get worked up about birthdays, especialy my own.  Some prefer to call attention to it my throwing a party for themselves.  I think Donna's son, Preston, celebrated with a week-long party this year.  Some encourage their friends to organize the festivities.  I've preferred to keep it low-profile.  Honestly, most days it seems pretty much like any other day.

Is hitting the half-century mark different?  I'm not sure.  Last year, Donna surprised me with an out-of-town trip, which included a couple of Indians game, an NHL playoff-game, and all the microbreweries I could hit in a weekend.  I'm not sure how that one could be topped.  It was a fantastic trip, but I felt a little embarrassed that she went to all that trouble.  (I tried to reciprocate later in the year for her birthday, but she since she controls the purse-strings, I wouldn't have been able to surprise her.)  For the most part, since my mother mentioned that to me, I've probably been a bit more depressed about hitting the big 5-0.

I've never worried all that much about my age.  I've always felt that adding to antiquity is a good thing.  Even as a teenager, I was always attracted to older women.  What woman doesn't think Sean Connery looked better in Medicine Man than he did in any of the Bond films!  Why, some of the best barleywines I've ever had have been popped open after having lived in a cellar for a year or more!  Aged cheddar, cured ham, old wood floor-planks...hell, an old bathtub from some 1920's hotel fetches top-dollar at a salvage yard!  I've never worried about my hair or beard turning gray.  I always thought it was pretty cool.  And I never understood guys becoming angst-ridden over losing their hair.  Bald is beautiful, which explains why I break out the Headblade every summer!

For me, I think it's more philosophical.  What are the state of things in my life, now that I've reached 50?  Did I achieve anything of note?  Did I accomplish anything that I set out to do?  Those are big, looming questions that may take another 50 years to answer.  I'm not sure what will transpire next.  I'm not even sure what my aspirations are for the next half-century, besides staying alive and one day hoping the Indians hoist a World Series trophy.  Although it's difficult, I'm trying not to immerse myself in regret over the things I either haven't been able to accomplish yet or haven't had the temerity to try.  And if I spend an inordinate amount of time, as I have the last several months, thinking back on events and astonishing myself over how long ago they occurred, I'll drive myself nuts.  So if I throw any festivities this year, I choose to celebrate the things that I have had the opportunity to do, the talents that I have been able to express, and the testicular fortitude to make some decisions that sometimes involve risk or being scorned or ridiculed:

I celebrate the fact that after not having a whole lot of success in the girlfriend-arena, I was able to meet my wife.

I celebrate being in a large family, having a twin brother, being given all of the things that we needed growing up, and having both parents alive and in relatively good health.

I celebrate not being abused, neglected, or physically or psychologically injured as a child. (ok, I could address some of the after-effects of a Catholic upbringing, but perhaps we'll leave that for an alternate post.)

Even though I've been perpetually "husky", I celebrate having the opportunity to try to keep myself in decent shape. (now if I just utilized that opportunity more...)

Since laying in bed at night as a kid and knowing that I wanted to emulate those voices who came out of my Philco transistor radio, I celebrate the chance to do what I've wanted to do, career-wise.

Although I shudder at the mere mention of a yellow Ryder truck, I celebrate having been able to live and work in different parts of the country. 

Even though it's not Key West, I celebrate the chance to live near my family again and reconnect with a few old friends.

Have I already lived the best years of my life?  I'm not sure.  Is there another list of goals that need to be achieved in the next 50 years?  I'm not sure about that, either.  If my latest attempts at zazen have taught me anything, it's that the past and the future are inconsequential.  That's easily said, but difficult to realize.  Perhaps I'll come to terms with it within this next half-century.  But tonight, I'm going to enjoy my birthday present, which is a seat at Canal Park to watch the Akron Aeros play the Binghamton Mets.  Next to me will be Donna and a chilly Dortmunder Gold.  The temperature should be mild and the weekend is ahead.  Except for the Cavs winning Saturday, I can't think of a better gift.


Image: Francesco Marino /

Image: graur razvan ionut /


Friday, April 23, 2010

Look, Press, Lean, Roll!

It reminded me of those days gone by, when I was a freshman in high school.  It happened at a football game on a Friday night.  I was walking down the track that seperated the stands from the sideline, en route to my seat.  There was a group of girls dressed in the colors of the opposing school, and for some reason they just started laughing at me.  Pointing at me and laughing.  I hadn't spoken so I knew it wasn't anything I'd said.  So I concluded that it must have been because of the black plastic-rim glasses with the tape in the middle holding them together.  That, and my girth.  It was a classic scenario that would play itself out a number of times during my youth.  Walk by a group of perfectly beautiful girls and get heckled.

I didn't think it would happen yesterday, though.  Not when I'm a mere week away from celebrating (celebrating?) my half-century of existence.  I was at a red light at the corner of Brittain Road and East Avenue.  So was the Hyundai full of girls next to me in the left-hand turn-lane.  Staring.  Pointing.  Laughing.  Ah, the memories.  However, my spectacles were devoid of duct-tape.  Even if I did rock some adhesive on my frames, they wouldn't have been able to be seen anyway because of my darkened face-shield.  And any lingering cellulite would have been compressed nicely by my form-fitting motorcycle jacket.  However, I wasn't on a motorcycle.  I was on my little scooter.  Admittedly, I would probably laugh at me, too, if I were sitting next to me waiting for the light to change. 

Last year, Donna and I were taking a walk in our Illinois neighborhood when we spotted a small red scooter with a "for sale" sign sitting on it.  It looked cool, and gas prices were nearing 4 dollars, so we wrote the phone number down.  Later in the day after calling it, we walked back down to meet the owner and look it over.  I had never been on a scooter before.  I had tried taking a lesson with my brother-in-law on his motorcycle several years ago.  But as we were getting started, so did the rain.  There endeth the lesson.  The sellers both owned motorcycles so they simply wanted to get rid of the scooter.  It was a 125 cc. bike, Chinese-made by the Yumbo Motorcycle Company.  We both took a test-spin on it and then discussed price a bit.  We finally decided on one.  As we were ready to drive it back home, the seller suggested taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course.  She mentioned that her husband had taken it and that it was invaluable, especially if you'd never been on a motorcycle before.  It seemed like a good idea, since I'd have to get tags for the bike anyway and that meant taking a test.  I figured I'd better have some training if I wanted to pass.

So I did.  I had always wanted to ride a motorcycle.  I'm not sure why it took me so long to try it.  It seemed easy for me to feel a kind of gravitational pull towards the mystique of the lifestyle.  I liked watching people float by me on the highway with their hair blowing beneath the colored bandanas, the open road ahead of them.  I couldn't quite understand why I was allowing myself to be trapped behind a wall of steel and four wheels.  I wanted to be out there, too.  I suppose fear played a part.  It still factored in as I was nearing my training weekend.  I felt alot of apprehension, and the more I read online in message boards about all of the situations that could seriously injure you or kill you, even for the most cautious riders, I continued to feel uneasy.  Yet I still wanted to do it.

It was a spectacular Fall weekend, sunny and warm.  The class was held in a parking lot on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.  The weekend was divided up into time spent "on the range" and in the classroom.  I didn't have to bring the scooter because motorcycles were provided.  On Saturday, we spent time completing a variety of exercises which taught us various techniques.  Once we had completed several, we adjourned to the classroom to go over the prescribed handbook, watch safety videos, and discuss real-life obstacles and predicaments out there on the road.  We did the same on Sunday, except the afternoon was reserved for testing.  On the range. we had to successfully pass 4 exercises, where we were graded.  After the skills testing, we headed for the classroom for the written test.  I was the last person finished in the classroom.  I guess I wanted to make sure that I hadn't blown a whole weekend by failing.  Interestingly, everyone in the class passed!  Receiving that completion card from the state of Illinois meant that I did not have to take the written or the skills test for my M-class license.  I was stoked!

Since then,  I've spent the past year and a half riding around on this little scooter and getting used to being out on the open road.  It's a whole different world out there when you're not surrounded by a steel cage.  My Yumbo can't really do more than 45 miles-per-hour.  At that point, my throttle is back about as far as it can go.  So, it allows me to go to the gym, pick up a few things at the store, run errands, or joy-ride a little bit.  I've also realized that 55 degrees is a good deal colder out there when you're riding through it at 35 miles-per-hour.  I've also realized that although it looked idyllic to have one's hair flailing away underneath a Harley doo-rag, I prefer to have my melon encased in some form of helmet in case some dude decides to send a text while gunning it underneath a red light.  I've also seen the pictures of skin making contact with pavement, so I usually opt for long pants and an approved jacket.  Sure, it was uncomfortable to wear during a sweltering 90-degree St. Louis day, but not nearly as uncomfortable, I'm guessing, as laying in the ER wrapped from head to toe in bandages.

I've also learned that I want a bigger bike.  Sure, they all say that after they've been riding for awhile.  I don't know that I have a deep desire to do highway riding, since the Yumbo can travel on any road except the interstate.  It would be nice, though, to be able to at least keep up with traffic.  And I think I want to stay with a scooter, too.  I prefer not having to deal with a clutch and shifting.  I've been reading a good deal about the maxi-scooters, and I see one near me for sale.  It's a Suzuki 400, which I think would be a perfect upgrade for a newbie like me.  Bigger, sleeker, and a bit more reliable I think.  And it helps that you can get parts for it, which is not the case for the Yumbo.  The only thing that stands in the way is price.

I had a legitimate scare this past month.  No, I was not involved in an accident.  But when the movers agreed to transport the scooter, they removed the mirrors.  When the driver pulled up here, the first thing he handed to me were those mirrors.  Early last month when the weather broke, I planned my day around my first Ohio ride.  I was dressed, gassed-up, and ready to throttle back.  I asked Donna to check my brake light, when she suddenly called out, "Where's your mirrors"?  It took weeks and I couldn't locate them.  I tried ordering mirrors online, but they didn't fit.  I visited a local Yamaha dealer who ordered some, too, but with the disclaimer that "ya never know what's going to fit with these Chinese scooters".  As I was waiting for them to arrive, I inadvertently poked through an open box downstairs marked "Parts", and inside: the mirrors.  Hello, open roads!

So as I sat at that light waiting impatiently for it to turn green, I tried not to look over at the girls in the car.  Sure, they were laughing now, but wait until I have the power of a Suzuki Burgman 400 underneath me.  Until then, I'll continue to creep along on my little red bike with the funny name.  Sure, it's too small for me.  But the storage space underneath the seat will house a 6-pack perfectly, and I'll endure ridicule anytime for that.


Image: Tom Curtis /


Friday, April 16, 2010

On the Art of Gulping

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Summit County, Barberton, Ohio is generally not at the top of the list in those tourism books they hand out at the AAA.  The pundits speak of cities that exploded in "rust-belt decline".  Once the smoke clears, the archetype you would expect to see is very much what Barberton looks like.  Similar to many communities that surround Akron, Barberton fell into disrepair once the rubber industry and other businesses fled.  But even with its decaying neighborhoods and diminished industry, there are a number of  merchants in the "Magic City" trying to make a go of it.  There are a couple of decent restaurants downtown, along with businesses that have managed to weather the storm, including a butcher who also sells some of the best pierogies this side of Pittsburgh.  Believe it or not, Barberton also has a winery.  And tonight, I'm supposed to go to it. 

Generally, I like wine.  I've tried to educate myself a bit about it.  Usually my budget gets in the way, though.  Like golf, it can be an expensive habit.  But once I've sampled the soft tannins of an Oregon cabernet sauvignon or the buttery smoothness of a Napa chardonnay for awhile, my taste for fermented grapes is usually quenched.  You see, when it comes right down to it, I'm just a beer-guy.

I've always had a unique interest in spirits.  While I was teaching, I supplemented my pathetic income with a job as a bartender.  I went to "mixology school" (if there is such a thing) and worked in several restaurants in the evenings and on weekends.  In addition to learning a bit about wine, I also became a fan of single-malt scotch and Irish whiskey.  I also learned early on, though, that I tend to lean towards being a "gulper" rather than  a "sipper".  Not gulping as in "chugging", but more of a fill-up-the-mouth-then-swallow-then-ruminate-on-the-joyous-afterglow technique.  And when the micro-beer surge occurred in northeast Ohio, I realized that although I enjoyed varied spirits, beer would always be my first love.

I'm not a prodigious drinker.  Sure, I did my best to try to keep up with the rest of the guys during high school graduation week as we rode around in a car passing around cans of Genesee Cream Ale.  But I knew there was a huge world of beer out there, and I wanted to settle on "taste" rather than "quantity".  During college, I would stumble over to the Geisen Haus in Canton.  They had this program called "Beers of the World Club".  They would give you a card with numbers on it.  These numbers corresponded to the numbers next to the various offerings on their huge beer menu.  There were beers from everywhere in the world, so it seemed.  As you tried each beer, they would punch the number on your card.  Once your card was complete, you had gone "Round the World".  Then Hans Huber, the Stein-Maker, (yes, there was really this guy on-site in lederhosen cooped up in a little booth putting personalized lettering on his hand-made ceramic steins!) would fashion you the stein of your choice.  It was marvelous!  There was Bitburger from Germany.  Bass Ale from England.  Even Steinlager from New Zealand!  Number 37 was Guinness Stout.  I had never consumed motor oil before.  The person next to me said, "You'll hate it.  Just fill up your mouth as much as you can, close your eyes, swallow fast, and do it again till it's empty.  Punch that number and get it outta the way!"  But I liked it.  It tasted dense and chalky, unlike anything I had ever tasted.  McEwan's Scotch Ale looked exactly like it.  After visiting beers from Denmark, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. (yes, they made you drink a Budweiser), I finally had my ceramic mug.  I had "The Professor" put on it.

It was in the early 90's, after getting back a hefty tax-refund, that we planned a trip.  We didn't quite know where we wanted to go.  We had a globe in the basement so we brought it upstairs.  Donna said, "Let's spin it and wherever it lands that's where we'll go".  It landed on Seattle, Washington.  That excursion to the Pacific Northwest would be the beer satori that would take me to the next level.  While in bars in both Seattle and Portland, I would never again encounter so many different varieties of beers!  Multiple tap-handles dotted the bar, with strange names like "Full Sail" and "Red Hook".  My questions about these beers would elicit sample after sample from the bartenders, each saying "You'll like this. Try it".  And the taste.  I had never experienced  such explosive flavors before!  It was as if I had tasted hops and malt for the first time.  I didn't quite know the difference between an "American pale ale" and an "India pale ale", but I was more than willing to learn.          

My twin brother really enjoyed different beers, too.  But his craft-beer journey ended when he was diagnosed as a Celiac.  There are more brewers making gluten-free beers, but the options are pretty limited.  My other brothers are "quantity" over "quality" drinkers.  I'm not sure Anheuser-Busch makes enough beer when Mike and Pat get together.  I've tried, though, to get them to see the error of their ways by introducing an occasional Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold or even a Victory Prima Pils, but eventually they shake their heads and reach for a can of Busch Lite.  Donna is not a beer-drinker, though over the years she's indulged my fetish by accompanying me to all sorts of brewpubs, more than likely against her will.

I have a few requirements when I drink beer.  I rarely drink beer during the day.  Even one beer usually makes me sluggish.  And even though there is more and more written about the pairing of beer and food, I almost never combine the two.  I like to enjoy my libations, and then turn to my fork.  Once I've eaten, it's difficult for me to drink beer, unless some time passes.  Then, it might be more of a "sipping" beer, like a barleywine.  But I'm normally done, and then usually opt for water.  Sure, I enjoy the glowing after-affects of a couple of Tommyknocker Butt Head dopplebocks.  It's part of the magic when yeasts does it's crazy, whimsical dance with malted barley.  (The experience is even better when it happens while the Indians are coming back from a three-run deficit in the 8th inning!)  But because beer is a beautiful sesnory experience for me,  I stop drinking when my ability to taste and smell the nuances of a beer starts to wane.  Then, I know I've had enough. 

I was asked earlier this month to write an article for Heart of Ohio magazine about beer.  They asked me to approach it from the angle of trying to educate someone who's never had a craft-beer experience.  That was tough.  I tried to talk a little about the history of beer and of the craft-beer movement in America.  I interviewed several brewers and industry professionals about their experiences with beer, and their advice to newbies.  I offered some of my favorite "starter-beers", especially as it relates to products available in Ohio.  But I didn't have a chance to tell them what a delightful experience it is to reach your seat at an Akron Aeros game on a picture-perfect summer evening and take that first drink of a Dogfish Head "60 Minute IPA", or how cool it is to meet up with my Nashville friend Jeff in Cincinnati and talk baseball while watching the Reds over a Bell's Oberon.  I didn't quite know how to put it into words the beauty of sitting outside in front of the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis late on a fall afternoon after a Navy football game watching the people mingle with the Midshipman while drinking a Fordham Brewing Oyster Stout.  And I wished they'd granted me the space to pontificate about the sublime event it is when you walk into a brewpub, greeted head-on by the smell of boiling wort, being able to taste that first gulp of a beer you've been reading about, and have the results turn out to be even better than you had anticipated.

But tonight I'll have to settle for wine.  Ohio wine.  In Barberton, of all places.  Are Ohio wines good?  Not really.  I suppose their on-par with wines made in Pennsylvania, or Indiana, or any of the states that you would normally not consider when you think of world-class wines.  Oh, sure, you'll run into a few reds that will occasionally make you want to take a bottle home with you.  But most of them are average at-best, but plentiful if you enjoy wines made with elderberries, strawberries, or Niagara grapes.  True, the winery experience is supposed to be about the enjoyment of being with friends you love, and the folks we're meeting tonight are dear friends.  But as I'm sipping my dry red with the name "Redemption" or "Nouveau" or whatever, I'll be thinking of that copper-colored ale with the creamy white head and all that malty goodness.  After all, I'm a gulper.


Image: Simon Howden /

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thrown Into the Box

He called me an idiot.  He didn't say, "I'd like to disagree with you on this point" or "You may want to reconsider your thinking when you make a comment like that".  Nope.  He just wrote "you're a freaking idiot", and that was that.  I was a bit taken-back by the cold swiftness of his response at the time, but I think I'm much more used to it by now.   In the early days, I would feel the embarrassment creep up on me, sense my ears turning red.  I didn't like people disagreeing with  me.  And I certainly didn't like it that someone else didn't seem to like me.  I like to be liked.  But I got over it.  If you want to survive out there in Facebook-Land, you have to take the chink in your armor and move on.

I haven't decided what to make of Facebook.  In a way, I'm not really sure what it's for.  Oh, sure, I understand that it's "social networking", but for what?  I told my friend Brad the other day that he should be on Facebook.  After I wrote that to him in an email, I paused and thought to myself, "Why did I tell him that?  I'm not even sure why I'm on Facebook."  I have connected with a few people from my past and that's been interesting.  We've mostly discovered that we're old and that the things we remember about ourselves happened a really long time ago.  It's also been nice to be able to view photos and videos of people I haven't seen for a long time, or of business acquaintances and partners I've yet to meet.

Aside from  realizing that I have absolutely zero interest in involving myself in this "Farmville" escapade, I have also learned a few things from my involvement on Facebook.  I've learned that most people's day-to-day lives are, like mine, pretty hum-ho, that some people forward some cool videos, and that others throw out F-bombs because, well, they can .  But more importantly, I've learned through Facebook that the battle-lines regarding politics and religion are drawn as succinctly as ever, and that in order to survive all those chinks in your armor, you're expected to jump in one box or the other.

I've been involved in numerous discussions over the past couple of months, especially regarding topics like the health-care crisis and the latest scandal rocking the Vatican.  Reading through various posts, it's generally easy to see where people stand.  It's also easy to see how simple it is for people to automatically lump one another into categories without too much effort.  In favor of a government-run health-care solution?  Well, you must have a Nancy Pelosi poster on your wall.  And you probably recycle.  You attended a Tea Party rally?  Then you must be a subscriber to Glenn Beck's newsletter.  And you're probably going to the shooting-range this weekend.  On Facebook, reveal one thing about yourself, and your DNA is instantly visible.

I don't like being placed into a box.  But they exist.  I responded to a post from a friend-of-a-friend who mentioned something to the effect of "don't people take care of each other anymore".  I responded, light-heartedly, that "that could be misconstrued by those who don't watch MSNBC as socialism".  Did I place someone else "in a box" with my comment?  Possibly.  And the responses flew back at me!  One friend assumed that I must be a liberal because I watch MSNBC and that they're ratings are so low that "they got beat by the Cartoon Network".    

We place ourselves in boxes all the time.  Simply by joining a political party, you've categorized yourself, and others assume that you nod in agreement to that party's every whim.  I suppose the same could be said of religion.  As a Catholic, most people would assume that I'm Pro-Life, that I don't believe that there should be gay-marriage, and that capital punishment is against God's law.  But even if I say what I am, can I not jump out of the box?  Can I say I'm a Progressive and be against abortion?  Can I say I'm a Conservative and still support the passing of the health-care bill?

Some of the pundits say we're all shaped by the media, that talk radio, for instance, has contributed to the dividing lines, the strictly-designed fences that round us up and toss us into a category, and then judge us as such.  I agree.  I frankly think the current evolution of modern talk radio sucks.  Consultants and program directors urge most hosts to be "compelling" as they like to say, and they help them achieve it by asking them to be outlandish, to take a strong stance, and to create havoc.  In fact, some consultants don't even refer to them as hosts as much as they call them "brands".  It's true that most of these hosts are of the right-wing variety.  Rush, Hannity, Beck, and Savage are easy to find on most radio dials.  But they don't do much to blur the lines of the boxes.  While it's understandable to have a strong opinion, it might also be refreshing to have one of these national "brands" actually engage consistently in substantive discourse without relegating themselves to nine-minute intervals of party talking-points, Marxist hysteria, or far-flung political conspiracy theories.  And it's not just Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity.  Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, and Bill Maher are guilty of it, too.  But those genteel discussions don't generate ratings.  "That," they'd probably say, " is what NPR is for".  

I'm not advocating sitting on the middle of the fence.  I appreciate strong opinions.  I have some myself.  But I think we're predestined towards "black and white" and "either/or".  We don't like "gray".  There's no time for it.  I'm a 23-year radio veteran so I understand the consultants who talk about all the listening options that are available today, and how it's of the utmost importance for hosts to make their case with "Topic A" and then get to the phones before tune-out occurs.  But sometimes an opinion can't be summed up in a thirty-second phone call to some radio talk-show host right before he gets to his next commercial break.  "What do I think of the health-care bill?"  I have a great deal of opinions about the passing of the health-care bill, but I'm not sure it can be summed up during my tenure as "caller 7" on a Thursday afternoon.  And I don't think my affiliation with a party should encapsulate how I should feel about it.  I want the lowest premiums and the best coverage, and I don't want to pay $239.00 for a prescription.  Is that Republican or Democrat?

Yes, I do watch MSNBC.  Yes, I DVR Real Time with Bill Maher.  I also occasionally tune in to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and the Fox News channel.  Do I have a tendency to roll my eyes a bit more when listening to the latter?  Yes.  But I've never been a "black and white" guy.  While growing up in a particularly strict Catholic household, some tenets of the faith just seemed...dumb to me, which probably expalins why I'm not a very good Catholic.  Even in the seminary, I looked for other contemplative ways to enhance my spiritual development, some of them in direct opposition to traditional Judeo-Christian methods.  I like the fact that there can be two sides to every story, that every once in awhile the "gray area" appears, and that consideration has to be given to it.  Hell, even though I don't agree with his vision of America, I think it's cool that Mike Huckabee plays bass guitar in a band!

Maybe that's what Facebook is, though.  Perhaps it's sort of like a talk show, and when you post a comment, you are "caller 7" at that moment.  You make your case, you're judged, thrown into the box, and then you move on to the next post.   With all of these social networking sites, who you are is very much "in the now":  I'm doing this, and then I'm going to do that.  Or, here's a link to this story I came across, and now you know how I feel about it.  I guess it, in the end, is an invitation to be automatically tossed into a category.  "Look at that," they say to themselves. "Matt is in favor of gay marriage, therefore he MUST also believe this..."

I'm sure I'll be called a "freakin' idiot" a couple dozen more times before Facebook evolves into something else or flames out, or whatever.  Until then, I'll play along with the rest of my "friends".  I will speak out, though, if I come across instances of blatant fallacious reasoning.  An old friend of mine stated that during the warm days earlier in the week, he was "sitting on his deck, drinking a beer.  When it's this cold it doesn't matter what kind of beer it is".  As a certified good-beer geek, I felt it to be my duty to respond. "Dude,", I wrote. "Are you a freakin' idiot??!!"


Image: renjith krishnan /

Image: Francesco Marino /

Image: renjith krishnan /

Image: Francesco Marino /

Friday, April 2, 2010

Trying to Make it a Good Friday

At least one day during the week, I generally break away from my oatmeal-only breakfast ritual and make eggs.  I happen to think that my eggs are pretty good.  Seems appropriate with the upcoming Holiday, no?  I like to grate cheese and put it in the skillet, just like my Uncle Albert did when we used to visit him back in West Virginia.  Like most concoctions in our kitchen, copious amounts of garlic usually make it into most recipes.  I also throw in other spices, including some Kansas City steak-rub that I bought several years ago.  Gives those eggs some "cookin' on the grill" essence, you know.  And I usually toss in some sort of meat, if I have it.  Today, I reached for some sliced ham, diced it up fine morsels and was ready to add it to the mixture when I remembered that it's Good Friday.

I'm not supposed to eat meat on Good Friday.  Actually, as most good, practicing Catholics will tell you, this day should be devoid of most ostentatious and enjoyable things.  Some would even tell you that this should be a day of fasting.  I had already informed clients that I would be closing the studio at Noon so that I could attend Good Friday services at 1 o'clock.  But I must admit that there's an uncertainty in the air, an uneasiness.  Joey Zaza, in The Godfather Part III, put it best when he addressed fellow Catholic Michael Corleone by saying, "I have a stone in my shoe".  I suppose I do, as well.  This season of Lent seems even more grim in light of the current events surrounding Pope Benedict and the Church.

My sister Emma invited me to dinner last weekend.  Donna was away in Florida so I decided to drive down to her house to join her.  My mother and sister Ann were there, too.  While we were eating, the subject of the Church's scandal, of course, came up in conversation.  My mother mentioned how disillusioned my father had been lately, telling her that he wasn't sure what to believe.  And although both my mother and sister vehemently abhor everything that has happened in regards to the abuse victims, they both continue to espouse, to a certain extent, this notion held by many Catholics that the Pope is shielded from these offenses, that he can't be held accountable if he claims he didn't know anything about them.  I mentioned that more and more information is starting to emerge that suggests that he, and other Cardinals and Archbishops, did have knowledge of incidents of abuse, some of the priests being multiple-offenders.  Ann reacted pretty strongly, saying that "other denominations and religions also had their abusers, and this is another example of people coming down on the Catholics".

I suppose our conversation could have been much longer and much more vocal.  The kids were all in the next room and I felt a bit uneasy about launching into a diatribe on the merits of hunting down pedophile priests and the administrators who allowed them to continue to work around children.  I don't know how often my mom or Ann question their faith; I'm sure everyone has, at one point or another.  But after all the points are brought out in defense of the Church, I can only imagine how they must feel afterwards trying to justify it to themselves.  I know that it's been disconcerting to me. I'm sure during this Easter weekend that the pulpits will be filled with priests giving carefully-worded homilies both berating the offenses committed and defending the actions of the authorities above them, especially Pope Benedict.  It won't be easy.  The media and the Vatican are involved in a tremendous battle, and the media has a good deal of artillery.

I've always felt a bit uncomfortable sharing some of my religious beliefs with my family, especially as it regards Catholicism.  After 8 years of Catholic grade school, 4 years of Catholic high school, and three years of Catholic seminary, I don't feel like a very good Catholic.  Even as a teenager, so many Catholic concepts, philosophically, just didn't make sense to me.  But, in the name of tradition, ritual, and, probably, fear, I went along with the program.  But today, at almost 50, I still struggle with some of the core concepts of the Catholic church.  I shared some of those during our conversation at Emma's house.  Ann had brought up the point that perhaps these priests wouldn't be in a position to do what they did if they were allowed to be married.  "I'm all for a married clergy," I said.  "But this priest who raped 200 boys broke his vow of celibacy  200 times!  Why would he not break his marriage vow!?"  My mother's blank stare did not sit well with me.  I wasn't sure if she was upset with what I'd said or merely upset, in general.  I thought it best not to share my beliefs about the ordination of women.

But I wanted to.  I wanted to throw it all out on the table.  I wanted to talk about married clergy, and how the number of priests might be elevated if the Church allowed it.  I wanted to talk about how grossly absurd it is that the Catholic church won't allow women to be priests.  I wanted to scream out about how boring the Liturgy is, and that most of the congregation participate with the same enthusiasm they show when they're waiting for their number to be called at the BMV.  I wanted to rail against the fact that we sing the same old songs, say the same dumb prayers, and read the same readings at the same time every year.  Why do the Pope and the Cardinals and the Archbishops have to wear these outlandish uniforms and rings?  Jesus didn't!  But I kept it to myself.  I figured that maybe my mother had had a tough week already.

As I ate my meatless eggs, I pondered Lent, Good Friday, and Easter.  I stared at the latest story in the Beacon Journal about the Vatican's response to the scandal.  And I stared at the picture of the Pope and I wondered if he's truly culpable.  What I wanted to tell my mom and sister is that underneath the gaudy vestments and the white collars, they're just men.  Some of these people are men with a serious problem.  And some of these men should go to prison and never see the outside again for the rest of their lives.

So, the journey continues.  I don't know what future Catholicism holds for me.  In light of everything, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to believe, or what it's supposed to mean.  As I flirt with Zen Buddhist meditation, Native Americam wisdom, holistic philosophies, and other non-Christian and secular techniques to enhance whatever spirituality lies within, I still continue to be flummoxed, bewildered, and awe-inspired by the story that a preacher from Nazareth died on a crucifix and then rose from the dead three days later.   For me.   I have to admit that I'm still trying to figure that one out!


Image: Suat Eman /