Travel is one of the most broadening and educational of all endeavors.
My wife and I have been able to go to many unique and fascinating places over the last 25 years.
As would be fitting my personality, weird and odd things see to hover over me like a lawyer smelling the blood in the water.
Below is a collection of thoughts and situations that I think you will find amusing, if not entertaining.
** One of the most difficult trips we ever went on was in the summer of 2001 when we traveled to Northern France.
It was an exhausting trip which culminated in our climbing each one of the 312 steps of Mon San Michel.
Our room in Paris was the worst room we had ever stayed in.
The carpet was filthy and it had bloodstains on it.
My wife made me wear my shoes to bed.
I expected to see a yellow police tag stuffed under the mattress.
My wife hated the city and the people in it were very unfriendly.
There was a guy from North Carolina, who was loud and boisterous.
He talked too much and his jokes were corny. In other words, he was just like me.
People like me, hate people like me!
His funniest story was about a bumper sticker, which said, we should have picked our own damn cotton!
** Parisians are very rude.
Their motorists must get points to see how close they can come to killing you.
One motorist nearing impaled us on the bumper of his Peugeot.
As for service, I have had better luck in my local Post Office.
I guess my wife and I can never say, like Rick from Casablanca…we will always have Paris!!!
The friendliest person I met was a middle-aged working woman, who reminded me of Mae West, just as her charms started to fade.
I was leading the pack of eight of us who had just finished the best meal we had in Paris, at a little Italian restaurant.
I had crossed the street and to my dismay, no body had followed me.
When I lead, nobody follows!
While they waited for the light, I looked around, enjoying the sights.
There was a very tall Parisian woman on roller blades that caught my eye.
The Parisians have a weekly skating event, where hundreds of skaters glide through a secret but predetermined route that changes each week.
I guess she was just practicing
Then out of the blue, came this Mae West look-alike.
She smiled at me and said something in French I did not understand.
I politely said Nooooooo!
Then she said, Parlez Vous, Francaise?
I answered, turning beat red, Noooooo!
I later figured out that what she had said was probably that great line from the movie, Moulin Rogue, Voulez vous coucher avez moi, ce soir?
This modestly translates to Would you like to sleep with me tonight?
This from the song by Christine Aquilera, Lady Marmalade with Lil’ Kim, May and Pink.
The friendliest person and she’s a prostitute. Only in Paris.
** I told my parish priest, not in the confessional because I had resisted the prostitute’s fading charms, but after Mass one Sunday and he asked me, being the liberal he was, Was it a man or woman?
** He really is a great priest. He made me a real believer the first time I ever talked to him.
I had a file folder with some documents that he had to approve.
He stopped me ten yards away, telling me that he was leery of such folders.
What is it, he asked?
I said, a paternity suit.
He retorted. Well that would be an improvement!
This had to be in 1986 or so, many years before the homosexual scandal rocked our church.
** We took a marvelous trip to Northern New England and Canada one summer.
While staying in the beautiful Chateau Frontenac Hotel in Quebec City, I noticed the ornate ceiling.
My research revealed that it was painted by Eliot Stein, a 19th century muralist, in honor of his sister Juliet who had died of tubercles as a young woman.
The Qubeckers called it the Sis Stein Ceiling. (Hold the applause, please.)
Later that day on the bus to Montreal, I tell this story to Jimmy our guide.
He is a very staid, quiet Mainer who had done a great job, hiding his upper New England accent.
When he hears this, he goes into a hissy fit, losing his control of the language, saying, enuf, enuff… while making what some would recognize as the safe sign…had he been an umpire.
The next day, while standing outside the hotel in Montreal, I accosted him and demonstrated what I called the Jimmy two-step.
Making the safe sign, I glided three steps to my right.
Then I glided six steps to my left.
As I was doing this, a car whizzed out of the parking garage, missing my leg by inches.
Sometimes story telling can be hazardous to one’s health.
On another trip we went swimming in the Mediterranean, from our yacht, Le Ponant.
This prompted a boyhood friend, who had served in the Navy in the Med, to quip, did you get your tetanus shot?
You get all kind of guides when you travel on these tours. Some are good, some great, and others, less than adequate. And some are memorable.
Our first guide was a little Jewish gal from Las Vegas.
She would prepare her notes the night before in the hotel bars.
After a while, I playful referred to her as the Ditz.
I had been riding her unmercifully for her lack of historical knowledge.
But one day, she really got me.
I was reading about the travails of Joey Buttafucco.
Remember he’s the fellow whose young lover, Amy Fisher shot his wife in the face.
(Mary Jo finally shed her last name and re-married just last week.)
She obviously did not know who he was.
They must have been living in a cave some where. The Ditz passes me and said, Who is Joey Buttafuoco, your cousin?
I was dumbfounded. As they say, you had to be there.
But the Ditz was really great.
We were driving past Holy Cross, on the Massachusetts Parkway and she let me have the microphone for a few to tell people what I knew about the area.
I said Worcester had been destroyed by Indian attacks, three times, prior to 1701.
It was a shame that it was rebuilt a third time.
** When in Rome or Paris, you really have to be aware of pickpockets.
I heard of a man who kept his hands in his pockets every time he went outside.
One day he returned to find that his underwear had been stolen.
Man that guy must have been really good!
If anyone has gone to Rome, please tell me how many Spanish Steps there are.
I have personally counted them twice and it is either 132 or 133 steps. I need to know this.
I have quipped that I had only two real identifiable talents in life–a very good memory and a very big mouth.
During my many years on radio they have both served me well.
I just loved that song from the 1950’s that was on the weekly Hit Parade TV show that we watched as a family when I was growing up in Queens.
Al Stillman and Robert Allen composed Moments to Remember, which was recorded by Four Lads in 1955.
The song also features a woman, who is not credited in the song, whose voice is first heard in the introduction to the song:
January though December/We’ll have Moments to Remember
The line I remember most was–the day we tore the goal post down–we will have these moments to remember.
While I seriously doubt the width of my mouth will shrink, I worry a lot about losing my memory.
My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease.
I watched her lose her entire ability to communicate with me and anyone around over the last 12 years of a disease that probably started 18-20 years before her death on 3/11.*
First it was speech.
Then it was her ability to walk and stand up
Then it was her inability to care for herself and get out of bed.
The good news was that she was pretty much unaware of her memory loss and ultimately her life ebbing away from us all.
My obsession with memory loss runs very deeply within my soul.
It was her illness that prompted me to write my first produced play, The Last Memory of an Ol’ Brownie Fan.
This was my cathartic way of dealing with my latent fears.
I didn’t know a great deal about my mother.
She was not as sharing with personal information as I am–I doubt if anyone talks as much about him or herself as I do but I often wish she had because she would have given me a lot more to remember her by and more importantly to pass down to her grandchildren and as many generations as I can make.
But by comparison with my mother, my dad was a mute.
He was an introvert almost to the point of being shy, except when he had a Manhattan or two.
Unfortunately I learned way too few things about him.
He never mentioned his mother, except to say her name had been Louisa Stiehl.
My mother, the blabbermouth, told me that her mother-in-law had hanged herself when he was 12.
She told me that in an Alexanders’ Department store parking lot 44 years ago.
I often wish that they had told me that when I was younger because I would have cut my dad a lot more slack than I ever did.
For all I knew he found his mother hanging there.
Maybe that explained his adult demeanor.
My mom did say that it was menopausal.
To think that was in 1909 and had it happened two generations later, with modern medicine, I would probably have gotten to know her.
His father was another story.
Even as a boy I could tell there was almost a latent anger in his voice about his father.
Perhaps he blamed him for the loss of his mother.
My dad’s mother was my grandfather’s second wife.
He was the one who took the family out of the Catholic Church after a tiff with a priest in the Confessional.
He was just 12 years old.
My father never joined the Church but his two sisters did.
His oldest sister was the devout one whose close relationship with a Jesuit was largely responsible for my getting into Xavier HS.
He didn’t think he was a good businessman after an injury forced his retirement from the NYPD.
He died of heart disease at the age of 75 in 1937 the same year my dad got married.
But so many questions about my parents remained unasked and unanswered.
Their answers could have provided more information about roots that might have given more clarity to my own life.
I also wished I had asked him more about his business knowledge–after a short-lived medical career of just 18 years my father went into private investments and was very good at it.
My mother’s mother died in 1957 when I was 14.
I really did not know much about her.
I think she got her husband, who was not a Catholic to convert.
She was very morally strict and hard on my mother.
She was also my Irish connection, having been a Dolan.
She also had a lot of family in New Jersey.
They are all just distant names to me.
My grandfather died in 1984.
I have to say that he was the opposite of me–taciturn.
I think he only said four things to me in my 19 years as his grandson that I remember.
The most memorable was that Ty Cobb was a dirty player.
Evidently he was a baseball fan.
I wish I had that to share with him then but the subject never came up again.
He did teach me to tell time–I’ll bet most kids today can only do digital–and tie my own shoelaces–I can still do both.
There is a lesson for all of us in this post.
What I did learn is that it is so important we tell our kids and their kids about ourselves–who we are, what we hoped to have been and where we made our mistakes.
This includes even the blemishes but without gilding them.
But we should always tell our stories with the utmost of human respect and empathy for what they did, tried to do or failed to do.
Kids need to have that connection with the past, since the schools don’t provide that anymore.
You and I and the millions like us are walking encyclopedias of the past.
That’s how we advance the human family.
That’s how we validate our own humanity.
As we grow older, we add even more pages of memory for our children and their children and so on down the line.
We need to pass on our stories before we pass on ourselves.
Do this before the mystic chords of our memories** become nothing more than faint echoes without detail, substance or meaning.
It is probably the best legacy we can guarantee them.
* They don’t give the year for 9/11, so why should I give the year for my mother’s death?
** Paraphrased from Abraham Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural Address, given in March of 1861.
Religion and Barack Obama seem like polar opposites.
It is my contention that President Obama’s life, career and religious beliefs are, not only enigmatic but virtually opaque.
What do we really know about him?
Over the last three+ public years, we have found him to be thin-skinned–Governor Brewer of Arizona revealed that.
He is petulant, lacks patience when challenged and is haughty to a fault.
What do we know about his religious faith?
He has been to a real church just a handful of times.
And on those occasions it was a radical black church way out of touch with the American ethos.
His 20-years of faithful attendance at the church of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright with gospel of black liberation is enough proof of that.
At the recent National Prayer Breakfast, the president let a few more cats out of his secret bag of tricks and innuendos.
He said that he prays every night.
I am wondering if when prays, he is looking out the East Wing, while kneeling on a small rug.
He probably used more Biblical quotes in that one speech than he has during his presidency.
In most of them he twisted the meaning to suit his political ideology.
For example–he stated that we are our brothers’ keepers, an oblique reference to Cain’s snide remark, when questioned after he slew his brother Abel.
If so then let the individual American keep his brother.
Let him give to the charities of his choice.
Well in Obama’s world, this is not a requirement for the individual.
It is the collective responsibility of the entire country to keep our brothers.
What he really means is that as the president of the United States, he has the power and the religious duty to confiscate the wealth of our nation and give it to whomever he deems as “our” brother.
I guess that like the right to abortion, this presidential duty lies in the penumbra of the general welfare clause.
He also said to whom much is given, much is expected.
I have always thought this is a fair and reasonable demand that God has put on those He has blessed.
It is incumbent on us as individuals or in voluntary unity with our friends and business associates to seek out the honest poor, the needy, and any one who cannot help themselves.
The St. Vincent DePaul Society is founded on this principle.
But again the president is not only interested in confiscating our wealth, he wants to snatch our possible moments of grace for adhering to this gospel imperative.
Religion to him seems like nothing more than another weapon in his arsenal of divide and conquer.
We learned during the early years of his perennial campaign what he thought of people who clung to their religion.
Take the Catholic Church for instance.
While he caters to the Catholic vote, and has the loyal support of several nominal Catholics, such as his current vice-president, Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, his continued attacks on Catholic beliefs and now the Church itself is audacious.
I guess first he took our hope and now we must endure his audacity.
This is so because in 2008 54% of the Catholic population, including an undetermined number of bishops, priests and nuns voted for him, despite his pr-abortion proclivities.
His 2009 visit to Notre Dame underscored how much and far a wedge he has driven in the Catholic membership.
Now her has taken on the American hierarchy with his unyielding stance on the lack of a conscience rights clause in his Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
It seems that within the bill’s 2300 pages that no one had the time to read, nor discuss when it was passed in 2010, there were mandates forcing all Catholic and religious institutions in the health care industry to pay for contraceptives, many of which are abortifacients, and sterilization–all of which are in violation of Catholic teachings.
The Church now has until 2013 to comply with the law or else face the consequences, which could be paralyzing fines, lawsuits and the virtual elimination of viable religion from the health care industry.
This is precisely their long-range goal in my opinion.
Freedom of religion has quickly changed under Obama into freedom from religion.
What is the church to do?
For the first time in eons the Catholic leadership seems intent on fighting back and even biting the hand that has been feeding its social programs for decades.
They have finally realized that all of their coziness with the Obama government, their initial qualified support of the Health Care Bill and their acceptances of millions in taxpayer dollars has long and binding strings on it.
But of course many conservatives warned them.
Many years ago I questioned the wife of a prominent local conservative about her crusade for School Choice.
I correctly suggested that it might not be worth it to our schools because this kind of money always has strings.
She resented my comment and questioned my Catholic faith…as if School Choice is Catholic doctrine.
Two of the liberal Catholics in my Men’s Bible Study have reached the tipping point–according to one of them (from what to what?)
This is serious when the liberals in my church finally feel their ox–personal freedom being gored.
I sat there in astonishment as they sounded…well…just like me.
In groups such as this I am usually, though not always, the loud voice crying in the wilderness.
I can’t wait for Catholic liberals–note the deliberate distinction above–to shout separation of state, their tired and worn mantra that is nothing more than verbal symbol they drag out everytime the Catholics and evangelicals try to fight back.
Obama’s rant at the prayer breakfast was nothing more than a deliberate melding to the point of obscuring the separation and distinction of government and religion.
While the enthusiasm is running high–the Archbishop of St. Louis issued a forceful letter on this issue that had to be read from the pulpit during each Mass last weekend, I question how deep is their outrage.
What I fear is that at the last-minute Obama will take back his threats–offer the Catholic Church a peace pipe of hope and an exemption from the teeth of his law.
Of course there will be a time limit on the exemption.
The bishops will celebrate victory in October and hordes of naive Catholics will vote for his re-election en mass and then suffer the reality of his disingenuous lies after November.
What they don’t seem to understand is according to the Wall Street Journal, is that the HHS diktat isn’t something unique to President Obama.
What is really offensive is the political essence of government-run medicine.
When politicians determine who can and who cannot receive benefits, as well as who pays for the nation’s medical care, government will have absolute power over every American’s life from cradle to grave.
They can use it for their own political expediency and as Obama has already demonstrated the American public will be damned!
The Bishops have gotten themselves into a high stakes game of chess with an untrustworthy King with most of its members serving as sacrificial pawns.
Our Catholic leaders remind me of the Peanuts cartoon, and the saintly Charlie Brown with the facsimile crown of thorns on his sweater.
Obama is Lucy, which is short for…maybe I had better not go there….yet.
Lucy always asks Charlie to kick the football she has teed up.
He always does and she always pulls it away at the last-minute.
He never learns.
Can Catholics leaders and their docile pawns?
If not it’s checkmate!
I try to use my treadmill twice a week.
I doubt is if there is a better metaphor for American life now than that instrument of self-torture.
The economic and political situations, not to mention the many threats from terrorism at home and abroad are so unsettling that relaxation is hardly possible.
So many of us are stuck in an endless cycle of work, eat, shop, kids, carpool and maybe sleep that there is little time to contemplate what does it all mean.
Millions of people are like the the wanderer who seeks out the Buddhist monk on a mountain top in the Himalays, trying to find the meaning of life.
Even the denizens of the shanties and haunts of the poorest neighborhood, some people wonder what their lives must mean if anything.
This is probably the eternal question—why was I born?
As a first grader at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, the third question of the Baltimore Catechism purported to answer that question.
This natural examination of one’s life, according to Socrates makes life worth living.
Scholars spend an entire lifetime attempting trying to understand the near unfathomable mysteries of life wih little recognition from the general public.
Even Hollywood has to get into the act.
Cinema directors and producers produce big budget films with the philosophical input of a sophomore in college that usually experience a broad appeal at the box office.
The most important of these have been Month Python’s The Meaning of Life and Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life.
The Meaning of Life is a 1983 comedy film by the Monty Python team.The feature film properly opens with the human faces of the six Pythons placed on the bodies of fish who are swimming aimlessly in a tank at a restaurant.
Upon seeing that one of their fellow fish is being served to a customer they begin to engage in a brief philosophical conversation on the meaning of life.
As the movie painfully trudges along through the Seven Stages of Life, including sex, war and old age, it takes a satirical look at the Catholic Church’s view on masturbation and contraception.
It is replete with such catchy songs, as Every sperm is sacred!
Their MOL is no threat to William Shakespeare.
Quite simply people are born, fight wars, get married, have sex, get fat and old and die.
There is little of a coherent philosophy underscoring that the fact that its producers were in it strictly for the laughs than any pretense at making any meaningful explanation for human life and history.
Terrance Malick, known for his serious cinematic exploits, took a much more ambitious route with his TOL.
Malick’s film chronicles the origins and meaning of life by way of a middle-aged man’s childhood memories of his family living in 1950s Texas, interspersed with imagery of the origins of the universe and the inception of life on Earth.
A mysterious, wavering light that resembles a flame flickers in the darkness. Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) recalls a lesson taught to her that people must choose to either follow the path of grace or the path of nature.
In the mid 1960s, she receives a telegram informing her of her son’s death at age nineteen.
Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) is notified by telephone.
Five billion years in the future, life on the planet Earth is destroyed, incinerated by the Sun as it expands into a red giant and then left alone as a desolate, lifeless frozen planet still orbiting the Sun, which by that time has turned into a feeble white dwarf.
The film relies heavily on flashbacks.
In the present, adult Jack leaves work.
Riding the elevator down he experiences a vision of walking on rocky terrain.
He tentatively walks through a wooden door frame which is erected on the rocks.
On a sandbar, Jack is reunited with his family and all the people who populate his memory.
His father is happy to see him.
His mother is overjoyed when Jack’s memory resurrects his dead brother.
She thanks Jack, kissing his arm twice.
Jack’s vision ends and he leaves his building smiling.
The mysterious, wavering light continues to flicker in the darkness.
I think Malick is like so many armchair theologians, who are clueless as to what the meaning of life really is.
It was Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who pointed out that the human heart–the anatomical one , not what you see in ads for Valentine’s Day, is missing a piece at the top.
It is that missing piece that all human beings seek.
Unfortunately most look in all the wrong places.
They look in accumulating more wealth, finer clothing, faster cars, larger homes, more elegant trips to Europe.
They look for better or at least more frequent sex with a faceless line of thinner, fleshier, taller, shorter partners whose names seem to fade to black as soon as the moment of passion has started to wane.
At the end none of these fleeting moments of satisfaction, ever seem to be enough.
Some will say that life is like eating at a Chinese restaurant every night.
Their souls are hungry for more just three hours later.
Why is that?
There can never be a heaven on earth.
Our pleasures were made, not to satisfy but to entice for the real pleasures that will undoubtedly come in the next world.
All here is but a dim reflection of what the Lord has prepared for us.
The momentary high of good feeling from a jog in the park or a delicious meal fades as the realities of life replace the physical sense of exhilaration.
No matter how great the sensation, reality always sets in as life moves on.
This explains why millions have dropped out of society with drug, alcohol and even sexual addictions.
They keep looking for their next artificially-induced high.
At my age I have decided to smell the roses—I don’t really like the smell of coffee.
I have been trying to find those fleeting moments of wonder in a child’s smile, a pretty girl walking past me, a good book or film.
I have a massage twice a week no and for that time I can just let my soul and mind drift all over my interior universe.
I have learned to let my physical high transcend my body so that my soul soars even higher than my bodily sensations.
Then there is the flowglow as I call it that can last a few more days until the reality of everyday living intrudes.
This is not a New Age kind of high.
It is deeply rooted in my Catholic as I have tried to link it with John Paul II’s revolutionary Theology of the Body.
My massage gives me what can best be described as a foretaste of Heaven.
St. Augustine knew all about special highs.
He knew from painful experience that our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
Only then can we satisfy the insatiable emptiness of of our hungry hearts..