GRANDMA, THE SPOONFUL AND A DEAD PARROT

For the purposes of this week’s story, I’m simply going to state that although she was a well-meaning very nice woman, my Grandma Sara was a bit of an odd bird. I mean… I certainly could elaborate and list a few dozen examples that would illustrate she was loopier than a mountain road, nuttier than a Planters processing plant and wackier than a Laugh-In rerun.  But I guess now that I have said all that, it would be a bit like beating a dead horse.

Oh… Sorry… I was not meaning to in any way, shape or form imply that my dear departed Grandmother was equine-like nor was I saying she was of flying feathered endothermic vertebrate decent like an incessant parrot. No that would be distasteful and arguably not quite accurate. Now I did, in fact, use the word ‘was’ on purpose to not so subtly say that she currently is a ‘was’. Meaning that she is in fact, dead, passed on, no more, ceased to be, gone to meet her maker, bereft of life, kicked the bucket, shuffled off her Mortal coil, bid adieu to life… (Hmmmm, where have I heard that before?)

Please please, please, do not think I am callous or speaking ill of good ole’ Grammy. Again, let me make things as clear as an operatic Viking singing his love for Spam, eccentric Grandma Sara was a very sweet well-meaning soul.  Why, after a visit she would always send us little grand-kids home to Mom with a big bag full of special treats like a piece of fruit, cans of salmon and jars of wheat germ (nope, can’t make stuff like that up).  She also really liked telling us stories. Yes, she had the gift for gab.and we were a trapped audience. She could really talk… and talk… and once she got going it was quite hard to stop her.  She used to lecture us for hours about things like why we should wash our hands a couple a thousand times a day or why we should only watch Channel 13 Public Broadcasting.

In New York during the mid 1970’s, channel 13 not only showed Masterpiece Theatre and Sesame Street but was also the only place you could see Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which my siblings and I watched fairly religiously (certainly more religiously than we followed religion). To this day we still hide packages of Spam (but not Vikings) in each other’s houses as loose gag even more loosely based on the Monty Python Spam song. As a little kid, Python made quite the obvious impression on me;  I had never before seen such edgy tasteless humor like the Dead Parrot Sketch about a pet shop that sold a less than living bird nailed to its perch or the Undertaker Skit about a crass funeral home worker that suggests cannibalism.

One night while we were watching Monty Python my Grandmother called in a tizzy to make sure we were NOT following her directions and were NOT looking at PBS because they were showing the “strangest things” that she could not even describe. The image of our staid, old-fashioned slightly confused Grandma Sara watching her precious PBS expecting something docile and instead seeing the outrageous bawdiness of the Pythons is still an image that makes me laugh now as much as it did when it happened 45 years ago.  Grandma has been gone for decades (crackle crackle crackle) but I still think of her pretty much every time I see Monty Python…  or when I see canned salmon… or wheat germ.

An old friend once told me that even 30 years later, not a day goes by that something does not trigger a memory of her deceased Mother. I am so much of a control freak that I do not even like dreams because I can’t control them. I compartmentalize things in my brain and like to regulate when certain thoughts creep in. Not that it bothers me when a funny thought of Grandma Sara pops in my head while watching a skit about a Dead Parrot, but it always seems to catch me off guard.

This past week I went to a little club to see a concert with John Sebastian, the now rather old (but definitely not yet as dead as the Python parrot or the sacked Mother in the Undertaker Skit) leader of the 1960s folk/rock band The Loving Spoonful. Even though I was about 7 years old when that band broke up, I was still a fan. I purchased their  greatest hits album with allowance money when I was in Junior High School not long after I moved to Miami.

At the show, I unexpectedly kept thinking of my brother Neil. I had forgotten that I first got hooked on the band from listening to his album. I sat there clearly remembering the record cover and the inside gate-fold pictures from Neil’s Loving Spoonful record even though its been many decades since I last saw it. I really wanted to tell Neil about the show but that might be hard since unfortunately his ashes are currently just a few inches away from Grandma Sara’s in a cemetery columbarium.

At his funeral a couple of years ago, through the obvious sorrow, my siblings and I exchanged a few morbid gallows humor Monty Python-like tasteless jokes. I guess that’s what we’ve always done. Back at the concert, during one of the songs that I’ve known by heart since I was a little boy, I held my beverage up to toast no one in particular and thanked Neil.  Then my mind wandered farther than I expected.  I wondered if it was too inappropriate to leave a can of Spam at the cemetery… and maybe also can of salmon… and some wheat germ.

 

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HOARDING IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

My wife sometimes worries if left unchecked she could turn into one of those depressing people on that Hoarders show that for decades never throws anything out until their house becomes a tight labyrinth of thin weaving paths between the mountains of obsessively-kept crapola. Yes, like me, when it comes to keeping stuff she might be a cautious saver versus reckless tosser but speaking as someone that has lived with her for nearly two decades, I think her hoarder fear is completely unjustified.  Besides, there are so many better (worse) things to stay up all night being paranoid about.

Although I had many examples, when I was a little kid, I did not really think about the different ways people fill the space around them. My brother Arthur’s room was usually neat, organized and fairly sparse. His walls were fairly bare. His dresser often had some folded laundry on it that had not yet been put away but it was not messy. On his desk was usually a stack of textbooks and juggling beanbags (it was not till later that he made his first juggling clubs from the remaining pins of my old plastic bowling set). I recall he had a single fairly empty shelf with a few paperbacks like The Andromeda Strain and Cat’s Cradle next to his blue Soma Cube game which was his era’s popular geek puzzle game, sort of early 70s Tetris meets a Rubik’s cube.

On the other side of the spectrum was my brother Neil, whose room could be described as Early American Dump or Post-Modern Chaos. Sort of if The Odd Couple’s Oscar Madison rented out part of his room as a warehouse to the American Picker guys and hired a family of kleptomaniac blind chimps as caretakers of the place. To say he lived in a mess would be a vast understatement like saying ISIS is kinda not keen on Western Culture or Hitler was a bit unkind to the Jews.

I was the youngest of five and in our New York house, space was a premium. My first bedroom alone really wasn’t.  I mean, it was actually just a bigger room that I shared with Arthur. Dad put up an ultra-thin easily removable pressboard wood panel divider with no doors and a two-foot gap from the ceiling to regulate the temperature. My much older sister and brother would torture me by tossing my stuffed alligator over the wall till one day his leg almost tore off and I had to put him back together the only way I knew how, with band-aids. I still have not forgiven them. At least as revenge for here ever after, they will always continue to be old(er).

My room was somewhere between Arthur and Neil’s, busy but not messy.  My stuff was always put away but there was a lot of clutter. Atop my dresser and desk sat my record player along with random books and toys. From top to bottom my walls were covered with stuff like the fold-out insert from the Beatles White Album, Yankees baseball cards and various other pictures.

I have a vague memory from when I was pretty little of going to the Mays department store with my Mother and from the metal flip rack of posters in the ‘groovy teen department’ picking out two of King Kong.  I am not sure why I chose two different King Kong posters. I do not recall having any special affinity for Mr. Kong over say Godzilla or Frankenstein.  Maybe I was just always amused by monkeys.

I don’t think I picked the Kong posters because of Fay Wray being in them; at that age I would not have noticed if she was hot or not. It was not until several years later when my hormones were raging that I added to my wall a picture I cut out of Time magazine from the new 1970s version of King Kong where King’s giant fingers pulled down Jessica Lang’s top exposing, to a kid my age, some very exciting side boob-age.   Certainly if that slightly older breast-curious  pre-teen Dan went on that same poster shopping trip, the preference would be one of Suzanne Somers or Bernadette Peters.

I remember getting home and excitedly hanging my new King Kong posters on opposite walls but that night I was afraid they would come to life and I could not sleep. What I should have been afraid of was the desperately different proportion sizes of the ape to the city from one poster to the other. In one he was hanging off the top of a building swatting airplanes and on the other, he was stomping through the city taller than half the buildings. If he could change size so easily what was to stop him from coming in my front door?

During my High School years while living in Miami, my walls still were covered with many of the same posters including one of the Kongs. The only difference was under some of the posters I also had some naked woman pics cut from dirty magazines. Things were tougher for kids before the internet and its mega-easy access to porn. Hell, at one point I was happy with the bra ads in the color Sunday newspaper circulars.

Nowadays my wife and I still keep the walls very full with art, photos and clocks. Space for something new is at quite a premium but besides the busy walls and shelves, the place is usually not too messy. All the excess stuff goes into our storeroom i.e. ‘place to put crap we should really throw out but don’t’. Some people use the attic, basement or garage for such purposes but we have always had a dedicated room that we can lock when guests come over so we can pretend it does not exist.  Maybe I should add self-delusion to that list of paranoia that keep me up at night.

When the storeroom gets so full that I can’t swing open the door and toss something on top of the mountain of crap without it falling back out into the hall before I can slam shut the door, I know it is time to go in for one of our periodic sort and toss sessions.  That happened this past week which also explains how I wasted the better part of Sunday. Oh, its still a very full room that would make my crazy-organized neatnic Dad cringe but it works for us.  Does one out-of-control room make us hoarders? Well sometimes hoarding is in the eye of the beholder.

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WAITING FOR THE MARTIANS

I was raised in a very traditional German neighborhood in Queens New York.  It was so traditionally German that one of the best-rated local restaurants was a Bavarian place called Zum Stammtisch. It was so traditionally German there was a yearly Oktoberfest celebration held in one of the parks. It was so traditionally German we had a very Sargent Schultz-ish looking mailman named Helmut who wore lederhosen all summer and his constant whistling of traditional Deutschland songs got louder and louder with each of his many daily stops to sip schnapps, shared with him by his hausfrau friends.  It was so traditionally German one of our neighbors still had a framed photo of Adolf Hitler in their basement 25 years after World War 2 ended.  It was so traditionally German that across the street in both directions from our corner house lived two kids almost the same age, both named Erik Kraker.

The Erik Kraker on the north side of my house did not like the Erik Karaker on the east side of my house.  Nor did the family of the Erik Kraker to the North like the family of the Erik Kraker to the East. As a matter of fact, the only family in the neighborhood that North-side Erik Kraker’s family liked less than the East-side Erik Kraker’s family was their direct next door neighbor, another German family, the Yonkes.  Oh how the North-side Kraker’s hated the Yonkes and multiple times during one particular sweltering hot summer the simmering feud almost turned physically violent.

I was not really friendly with either Erik Kraker but the Yonke’s kid Johnny was a buddy of mine. Johnny and I hung around with the closer Kraker kid right after his family moved in, but before we really got to know him things between the two families soured worse than a scoop of sauerkraut on the sidewalk under the scorching summer sonne.

That was really the first time I was eyewitness to the irrational nonsense that bad-blood feuds are made of.  Sure, being raised Jewish I was all too familiar with undertones of antisemitism and growing up in the early era of desegregation busing I certainly saw plenty of racism. But this was different. To an outsider, these two families seemed so similar. Similar age. Similar heritage. Both with two kids in the same local parochial church-run private school. Yet they could find no common ground.

As far as I could tell, the original fight started over access to a side door in their shared driveway and spiraled out of control from there until it got to a point that they could not  see each other without exchanging words. Most of the screaming, yelling and post-fights under the breath muttering was in German, so I did not always get the exact details but you did not need an interpreter to understand the tones, volume and visible anger. It’s not like in the best of situations German is that soft and lilting a language.

The Kraker-Yonke battle was my first insight into how small easily solvable problems can escalate into the blinding rage of wars. It helped me learn each person’s view of the world is skewed by their own perceptions.  Those varying perspectives create lines of division. Yet in the big scheme of things, those differences are silly. I might feel like my neighbor is nothing like me but to a man from Mars we are all the same.

I was driving home from the grocery store the other day and discovered a little dog in the middle of a busy street.  I pulled over and got out to follow him to see if he was lost. I tried not to think about my perishables heating up in the car as the dog played a long slow successful game of keep-away from me. With the help of two Mexican gardeners working on a lawn and a somewhat gruff busybody-ish homeowner with large quantities of chicken fried steak drippings on his face, hands and shirt, we caught the dog.

We all worked together like a team to catch the pup.  It was not till we were standing around afterward as I called the  phone number on the dog’s tag, that the differences between us all become real obvious. Gruff guy made me wait while he went inside to get the dog a piece of chicken fried steak leaving the gardeners and I standing there with nothing to talk about but the dog and the weather in broken English. Then once I got the dog to it’s home, the owner just said ‘he’s been getting out a lot lately’ and did not really thank me for the last 45 minutes I spent catching him. I thought of how different I would have reacted.

I got home and as I carefully checked my warm groceries to see if anything spoiled, I started thinking about people. The guys that did all that work to help me rescue the dog and the under-appreciative owner. The Krakers and Yonkes. Democrats and Republicans.,the Israelis and Palestinians, Boko Haram, North Korea, Isis, Nazis and all the other examples of differences since the dawn of man. We all live on the same globe but see the world so differently. I pray for peace and wonder if it will take for those Martians to arrive before we all unite.

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DINNER DEBATES AND DELI DELIGHTS

What do you want for dinner?  I don’t know, what do you want for dinner? I can’t decide… you pick. I don’t know, I’m too tired and hungry to decide. There is nothing here, let’s just go out. Whatever you want is okay with me.  Okay but where do you want to go? I said, whatever you want is fine. You choose. Just pick a place.  YOU PICK A PLACE!  I DON’T CARE!!  I SAID WHATEVER YOU WANT!!!!!!  IIIIIII  DON’T CARRRRRREEEE. (stomp stomp stomp slammmmmmm) (stomp stomp stomp SLAMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM)

Okay, I know for some of you this is just a little too close to home. I have been around enough childless couples and heard this conversation play out before. I say childless because during the first year after having kids both partners are way too tired for this dinner dialog.  When the kids are older there is no time in the schedule to worry about dinner details. Once the kiddos are in college there is no money left for much of dinner debate. And of course, when you are old there is barely energy for dinner much less a decision dispute.

But way, way back when you are all googly-eyed with each other at a relationship’s beginning, when the real-world woes have not yet started weighing you down like an aged gammy-legged over-loaded pack mule on his two-thousandth daily Grand Canyon hike, nobody warns you about the common escalation of the silly supper skirmishes.

My wife and I have never had the issue. Very early in our relationship we set up the pick three rule. One of us names three foods/places for dinner. The other either picks one of those or can toss one off the list and add a different option, bouncing the final pick back to the original person. The caveat is if the other does not like the final pick they can override with another three if it includes the last pick. It’s ingeniously simple. Everyone gets what they want, neither is ever let down and neither ever feels like they must repeatedly sacrifice their personal desires and to make the other one happy slowly creating a brooding long-term resentment that leads to anger, frustration and eventual adultery because you never get your needs in the relationship satisfied.  Who knew meal-time acquiescence could ruin a marriage?

The other night while trying to avoid falling into a dinner rut, instead of my pick three all being from our freezer, one of my three offered options was I would run to the store to pick up the ingredients for Chicken Cordon Bleu. Mind you, our take on Chicken Cordon Bleu might be less then traditional, but so is our version of an ice-box rut.  Currently our freezer fodder consists of Peruvian Aji Amirillo, hatch pepper sausages, black bean burgers, massaman curry, Trader Joe’s scallops in mushroom sauce, langastinos, various veggies, pork schnitzel loins, sliced rhubarb pieces and a big bag of brat burgers we brought home in a cooler from a small-town Iowa butcher.

The wife seemed keen on my ‘blue ribbon chicken’ idea so off to the market I went for supplies. When I got there my local grocery store was making a big whoop over it being national Pretzel Day. I must have missed the 6th avenue morning parade with Auntie Anne as the Grand Marshal.

I did not know there was a National Pretzel Day. I don’t get off work for that one but it would not shock me if Government employees celebrate do.  I guess it’s kinda’ cool that back in 610AD monks invented pretzels as sort of religious reward with both the ingredients and shape having religious significance but I am not sure that really qualifies it for a National holiday.  That said, with Nov 14th being Pickle Day, May 3rd celebrating Old Lumpy Rug Day, Sept 19th being Talk Like A Pirate Day and April 4th commemorating Walk Around Things Day, the pretzel nonsense does not seem so far-fetched. That said, things in the market were a bit over the top.

Last week I made the somewhat embarrassing confession that I find an odd mix of amusement and comfort watching reruns of the incredibly dated Lawrence Welk show. I get the same feeling walking around my hometown New York.  Not the busy touristy midtown jammed-sidewalks working stiff areas but the surprisingly quiet afternoon five borough neighborhood streets where real locals live. Where every neighborhood oddly feels like a compressed small town.

It’s like slipping on your favorite old cozy sweatshirt on a cool afternoon. I feel an odd inner peace walking around listening to the familiar accented voices floating out of the open windows of the tight row houses, brownstones and apartments. The overheard local sports team conversations of the gruff voiced men echoing outside the blocks long rows of store fronts. The gossiping of the housewives with curlers in their hair under a kerchief, wearing a housedress pulling a folding cart filled with groceries from a local small market or bodega. The loud sounds from the mix off teens and adults grabbing a quick slice at the corner pizzeria.

Instead of being annoyed at the grocery store’s long deli-counter line during the loud Pretzel Day hub-bub, I ended up with that ‘time-machine to my childhood in Queens’ flashback wave of comfort, while waiting to order my sliced cheese and ham. Standing out amongst the chaos was one groucey old homunculus of a man in an ill-fitting white t-shirt who played self-appointed deli-police directing who’s next before he angrily ordered an unsliced uncut exactly one-pound brick of Munster cheese. I was behind a squinting snooty mush-faced woman requesting her meat be sliced from a new unopened package, and an Indian gentleman complaining that his cheese sliced on the thinnest setting was still not thin enough.

I closed my eyes and smiled. Like the dinner debates I overheard so many times visiting friends when they, and their relationships, were young, the deli counter cacophony sounded familiar and strangely comforting. I eventually resisted the heavy-handed temptation and went home pretzel-less but with an unexpected smile. Dinner was great, and the world was a good place.

 

dad and ellen eating

SISTER ELLEN EATING, DAD IN A GROOVY EARLY 70S SHIRT, MOM’S BETTER DISHES IN OUR NEW YORK DINING ROOM

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BLUE YODEL #8

My wife is constantly proving that she is an incredibly tolerant woman.  Well, to a point.  I mean yes, she will go to Octoberfest and only visibly cringe a little while I grin away in sheer joy and contentment under the big tent drinking beer and watching the costumed crowds dance to the accordion and tuba-driven oompa music. I know she’d rather eat pierogis, kielbasa and potato salad just about anywhere else besides that loud tent but she goes because it makes me happy.

octI try not to push her too far. Like I would never dream of asking her to sit with me while I watch ancient reruns of the old Lawrence Welk show.  I know… I’m crazy, but I’ve secretly watched them for years.  Its not just the schmaltzy music, its the outfits, hair and attitudes that provide a surreal semi-warped fictitious perspective of a bygone era. It’s like a twisted manipulated  snapshot of the idealized version of the world that my parents and grandparents thought they should be living in. The people, the clothes, the music all remind me of the simplicity of my life when I was a very little boy.

Or maybe that is all rationalization and I just get a big kick out of polka music because in a weird convoluted way it is imprinted onto my DNA.

Nestled aside the lush shores of the Netta River in the northeast corner of Poland is the ‘relaxation’ resort town of Augustow.  Currently known for its many stunning lakes, therapeutic spas and 19th century canal, that certainly was not the case in 1557 when it was granted city rights by it’s namesake, grumpy mean King Sigismund ll Augustus, who though married three times including to two sisters, remained childless.  Maybe that’s why the guy acted like he had a Pole up his butt.

Still far from being a lux tourist hot-spot, the city of Augustus was more known for its cattle and horse trade while under Russia’s tyrannical rule in the  mid-1800s.  That era was when some of my earliest traced ancestors lived in the region.  That part of the world was definitely considered Russia when my Grandfather was born there in 1900. He escaped fighting in the army and migrated to America before things got really ugly during World War 1 and 2 when the Germans and Soviets repeatedly battled until eventually in 1944 when the Nazis executed most of the remaining residents while destroying over 70% of the city.

So you see, it makes perfect sense that I like accordion music from Poland and Germany. Switzerland is not too far either, so toss yodeling into the mix too, although the US version of yodeling is more derivative of the pitch hopping songs of the African pygmy and Bantu tribes. Should I be embarrassed that I know this stuff.  I don’t get to talk about it much, like I said, my wife only has only so much patience and tolerance so I try not to waste it on things like this.

Although the other day we were talking about earworms. Those songs that get stuck in your head that you find yourself repeatedly singing for hours, days or weeks. Recently I could not shake the Roy Orbison song Crying from my brain. Over and over when I least expected it, my brain was suddenly singing the chorus. I tried everything to get rid of it. I listened to other catchy tunes, watched hook-laden TV commercials and even played the Badger, Badger, Badger video in an attempt to override it.

Then as quick as it got stuck in my head, poof it was gone.  Suddenly replaced by Blue Yodel #8, the 1930 Jimmie Rodgers song better known as Mule Skinner Blues. It was not the beer-tent or countri-fied versions of the oft recorded song circling my skull but instead the wackier electric guitar one by The Fenderman recorded in 1960.

The wife and I have a warm relationship based on love, sharing, openness and honesty, but do I really want to push her tolerance level by repeatedly singing and playing Mule Skinner Blues repeatedly around the house? I have made her sit through The Shaggs, William Shatner and The Bobs. Just this past Saturday before going to sleep I made our little bedside Alexa play Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine. But repeated playings of Mule Skinner Blues? There is only so much a relationship can handle.

 

 

 

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GRAY LIKE PETER CUSHING

While my wife and I were traipsing around London on our super-amazo cheese sandwich quest, our Methuselah-aged dachshund was staying at our Vet’s boarding facility. We always feel guilty envisioning him sadly imprisoned behind cold steely bars in brutal conditions that would make Alcatraz seem like a Club Med, but the truth is the place is really nice and the vet techs pamper him like he is at a 5-star resort spa. Since he is rather old, fairly deaf and semi-blind, half the time they let him have free reign wandering around like he owns the place. He always comes home tired from playing, a little heavier from eating so well and even more spoiled than usual (if that is possible).

This time, as well as getting his usual bath/ brush / mani / pedi, he also got his bi-yearly geriatric exam. I can’t wait for the day my doctor starts calling my yearly physical a geriatric exam. Its bad enough the AARP already inundates my snail mailbox begging me to join. I guess they assume oldsters don’t do the mail that starts with an ‘e’.

As a reminder to me that she is over 7 years younger, my wife never tosses the AARP letters with the other junk mail, but instead leaves them spread out on the counter where I cant miss them.  I almost considered filling out an application once, under her name!

Unfortunately, along with our happy greeting when I picked up the pup we also got a not very good report from his physical. He had dangerously elevated levels of bad stuff and unhealthily lower levels of good.

After some additional poking, prodding and scanning, we then had to wait a few days before they could confirm if it was liver failure, Cushings or cancer. Not the best of options. That is kind of like deciding if you would rather be tossed off a mountain, repeatedly poked in the eyes or burned at the stake.

Luckily the Pup’s diagnosis was the repeatedly poked in the eye option or the most treatable of the options, Cushings disease.  Although nothing to cheer about, it was definitely the best of the three possibilities. Even with the fairly good news, my wife was in no mood for my jokes pondering if he had a rare variation called Peter Cushing disease that would cause him to start acting like Dr. Frankenstein and Grand Moff Tarkin.

She also ignored me when I questioned if instead Peter Cushing if he had Peter Graves disease would his diagnose paperwork self-destruct in 10 seconds?  My wife is very good at tuning me out when I get on one of those arid dry bad joke roles. I don’t blame her. Even in the best of couples you still must sometimes seek self-preservation.

We dramatically prolonged one of our cat’s live’s by treating his near-total kidney failure by giving him subcutaneous fluid for more than half a decade, so the prospect of daily medication to keep the dog’s Cushings from getting worse seemed like no big deal. The medicine is kinda expensive but the dog seemed happy about the prospect of every day being served a pre-meal lagniappe ‘Amuse-Pooch’ of pricy medicinal capsule ‘farci’ a’la liver pill-pocket.

So now we are optimistic that things will get better and his test results will quickly improve.I just hope when I’m his age I am as loved and cared for… and maybe, just maybe, by then I might consider myself old enough to join that damn AARP.
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So Who Has More Grey? Or Gray?

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CHEESE SANDWICH TRAVELS

Last week my wife and I flew to England for cheese sandwiches. Extremely good cheese sandwiches. It was our first get away from reality vacation together in ages. Obviously, we did lots of other stuff in our 4 days there but our inspiration and excuse for the trip that we told everyone was the sandwich. Which it was. Did I mention it was a very, very good sandwich?

The fascinating thing to me is not that we flew 10 hours for a cheese sandwich, certainly others have traveled farther distances for cheesier excuses, but that nobody we told that to seemed to think it terribly odd that we would fly across the Atlantic for a cheese sandwich. I’m not sure what that says about people’s perceptions of me.

I have spent a healthy chunk of my life wondering about perceptions and what goes on in people’s heads. My brief dalliance as a psychology major in college was primarily because I wished I could be inside other people’s brains to see how differently they see the world than I do and even more selfishly, to also attempt to understand how other folks really, truly view me. That also explains why I quickly left that field of study and shifted to Advertising, where I could essentially use that same knowledge, not to help people, but to manipulate the sheep-like masses in order to sell them crap they did not know they needed. I did not really follow through pursuing that career either, only gaining enough knowledge to identify I too was a manipulated drooling sheep that liked the crap being sold to me but was not wise enough to break away from the flock and resist it.

At one point while the Wife and I traveled around London on our cheese sandwich adventure, I found myself looking at the blocks and blocks of sometimes centuries-old row houses and ‘flats’ through the front window of a double-decker city bus. My mind wandered as I thought about all the people that live there, what they do, what their lives are like….

That always seems to be an obsession of mine when I travel. I try to imagine what each person is thinking. What are their perceptions? How do they see the world versus how I do? Would they dismiss the chances I have a unique viewpoint and just lump me into some sort of stereotype collective American viewpoint? Was I doing that to them? Many times I have felt like I am out of step with people at home and when I travel I often wonder if I will have a sort of ‘a-ha’ moment discovering a place where I truly fit.

My wife first had that cheese sandwich a few years ago. She tried to recreate it at home for me but her blend of four fresh cheeses and various onions pressed to toasty melty perfection was defiantly not the same as the real thing. This was a sandwich worth the flight. This was a sandwich worth ANY flight.

My Great-Grand parents were all born in Eastern Europe. My twisty family shrub is getting more varied and multi-cultural with each generation farther away from the original immigrants. My Grandfather very briefly lived in England before coming permanently to America. When he made it through the processing at Ellis Island he went to use a payphone to call a relative already in New York and found a coin in the change return slot. He looked around thinking it was another test to see if he was trustworthy enough to stay. But no, he made money his first day in the new world.

I am old enough to understand the cultural mores of Grandpa’s era that they brought with them. But I am also young enough to see those disappear in those born after me. I wonder if that feeling like I don’t belong is due to my heart feeling I am old soul but my brain wanting to chase young desires?

The first morning of our short stay we ‘minded the gap’ and took the Tube to Borough Hall, a large multi-booth marketplace under an open roof somewhat connected to an overhead train trestle. I followed my wife’s lead as we hunted through the dozens of overwhelming booths selling all manner of fresh vegetables, cheeses, baked goods, meat pies, pulled goat sandwiches, fish and charcuterie. I was hungry and everything looked good.

The cheese sandwich place was not where my wife remembered it being. Neither of us said anything but a little sense of panic set in. We both got a bit quiet. This was a long road we had traveled.

My Grandparents and Parents worked very hard to make a life for themselves and provide for their families in New York. I don’t think they ever would have done something so frivolous as travel to London for a cheese sandwich. But we needed a break from the serious real world.

While traveling back and forth to her home state of Iowa almost every weekend during her Mother’s prolonged illness, my Wife was reminded again that she really didn’t feel like she fit in up there anymore and why after college it was easy for her to move away. The two of us both moved from our birthplaces and ended up finding each other years ago in of all places, Texas. Not that we always feel we found the perfect fit in Dallas, but we found the perfect fit with each other. As long as I am at her side, I feel I belong.

We found our way to the far side of the hall and she spotted the line across the street. The cheese place had moved from their tiny booth to an equally as tiny store front. They only had two items on their menu. Little round potatoes with a large pile of melted cheese on them scraped directly from the heated original wheel and those absolutely amazing cheese sandwiches made from multiple cheeses fresh from their own dairy farm. We ordered one of each to split.

Yes, these cheese sandwiches were worth the trip. We finished them up, walked around the marketplace a bit and then without much thought walked back to purchase a second sandwich to split. Hey why not? How often do you trek a quarter of the way around the globe for a cheese sandwich?

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D & D with lots of cheese. The shop is behind us.

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