Friday, March 22, 2013

Plunder and lightening

I've been watching the Viking series on the History Channel and I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed in the whole warrior image they have given the Vikings in the series. In the second episode, they sail a dragon ship west and land in England and attack a monastery where they kill most of the unarmed monks (who think the Vikings are part of the Apocalypse sent by god to punish them) and steal all of the religious artifacts. Where's the sport in that?

The thing that struck me by this dramatization was that the Vikings thought they were impressing their gods with how great of warriors they were when all they were doing was butchering peaceful monks who happily transcribing manuscripts and making wine. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around the cultural mindset that it is okay just to hop in a boat to find the nearest settlement to attack, kill and steal from.

In our society we call people who break into other peoples homes, rob and kill them thieves and murderers, not warriors. But although this is the History Channel, I imagine much license has been taken with how the Vikings are portrayed. One only has to look up Vikings on Wikipedia to discover (by sifting through some pretty dense academic text) that not much is really known about the Vikings. And they are portrayed as barbarians primarily by European Christians.

And much to my disappointment, they didn't wear helmets sporting horns. Such helmets wouldn't have worked very well in a battle and would more than likely poke one your fellow warriors eye out.

Someone should tell this to the Minnesota Vikings fans.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Still alive at 55

In honor of my 55th birthday, I am posting photos of myself as I actually appear today and not Photoshopped on some inanimate object, animal or food byproduct. Though I have to say I think I look better Photoshopped onto some inanimate object, animal or food byproduct. Although I am still startled every time I look into a mirror or look at a current photo of myself. This aged face is definitely not what my mind's eye thinks I should look like.

It is not that I mind being 55 so much. I just don't like looking 55 (or older). It shouldn't come as a surprise to me, though. My recently deceased 87-year old mother complained of the same thing. But getting old just isn't something you ever really believe will happen to you. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is just the folly of youth to imagine that it lasts forever.

Not that I would have wanted to be a teenager forever. God knows that was a miserable time in my life. At least now I don't have to deal with pimples, puberty or the urge to write bad poetry. Unfortunately I do have to deal with random hairs growing in the oddest places, a nose and ears that seem to defy logic and continue to grow while the rest of me shrinks. I feel like I'm turning into a Hobbit.

Ironically, I'm probably in better shape physically than I was in my youth. The only way you could get me to run in my 20s was to chase me with a knife. Now I can run several miles on a tread mill without coughing up major organs (though I sweat an inordinate amount). I am, however, not as flexible nor nimble as I used to be. I used to be able to sit cross legged on the ground without wondering how I was going to stand up again.  And while I could once put a foot behind my neck while standing, now I struggle at times to bend over and tie my shoe.

I am imagine that this is all way too much information for most people. But there is any point in writing this blog for almost nine years, it is to leave a time capsule of sorts. If nothing else, my children  will one day be able to read all of my blog posts and confirm what they believed all along. Dad was a very odd person.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It is easy being green

In preparation for St. Patrick's Day I have been listening to Irish music on Spotify non-stop. It has given me an insight into why the Irish drink. If their ballads aren't about someone dying in an IRA shootout, they are about drinking whiskey and attending wakes (presumably for someone killed in an IRA shootout) that they never sober up from.

Although my name is extremely Irish, genealogy has actually uncovered that it actually has its roots in England  and evolved into the Irish version in America. Add to that the fact that my father was adopted and I'm not related to the clan via blood and you separate me from the Irish even further. Plus, I was born the day after St. Patrick's Day adding insult to injury. The world parties the day before my birthday and throws up most of  my special day.

But still, I play the part of being Irish on St. Patrick's Day. For the past two years, my family has taken part in Seattle's annual St. Patrick's Day Dash, a 5K run/walk that encourages people to exploit all of the worst stereotypes of the Irish. You basically can't swing a dead (green) cat without hitting one of 7500 race participants dressing in green spandex, wearing fake red beards and t-shirts screaming, "KISS ME ARSE."

It is a definitely a family event. Try explaining to your 6-year old daughter why there is a man in gold lame' shorts, no shirt and a rubber horse head mask jogging past. I muttered something about "a horse's ass wearing a horse mask" and point out some jogging Guinness Cans. Then the Leprechaun with a goat jogs by and I'm saved.

I think the romance of the Irish stems from the beauty of their speech. And Irish speaker can meet you and basically tell you to "Go fock yer self and don ya know it" and the average America just melts. It is just a lyrical language. You then buy the person a drink they down with a "fock yer arse" toast and you laugh as if you've been recited poetry.

And although the Irish also have a reputation for violence, it is more of the drunken brawl variety. It's not like the Braveheart, screaming "Freedom" kind as they unwind his bowels like a garden hose. The Scottish seem a bit more noble when it comes to violence. The Irish seem to be just as proud of cleaning some one's clock for pouring a beer incorrectly as for fighting for freedom.

But I digress.

My favorite St. Patrick's Day was spent in New Orleans 14 years ago. I stood along a St. Patrick's Day Parade route near Bourbon Street catching green beads thrown by Irish Parade Princesses from floats that also tossed out heads of cabbage and condoms. There were tons of police cars in the parade as well since most of the police force in New Orleans are of Irish descent. I stood there drinking green beer when a large man dressed like a Leprechaun approached me, handed me a Irish wool tie and kissed me on the cheek screaming, "You are blessed amongst men."

It didn't seem weird at the time. In retrospect, I haven't a clue what it was all about.

But "Whale oil beef hooked!" Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stinky Cheese Man

"Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the Stinky Cheese Man!"
--The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
 Of all the books I've read my children over the years, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales has got to be the only one that has entertained me much more than it does my kids. Shoot, I'd read it even if I didn't have kids.

The book is sheer genius. For one, it makes fun of the fairy tales that we've heard ad nauseum since we were kids and two, each story is no more than a page or two long and they are funny! And believe me, when your kid asks you to just read one more story before lights out, you'll appreciate a story that is no longer than a page or two and one that makes you laugh.

Stinky Cheese Man is my favorite story (though my 4-year old won't let me read it because for some reason it freaks him out). Stinky Cheese Man is loosely based on a more traditional story called, The Gingerbread Man. In The Gingerbread Man, an old woman bakes a gingerbread man because she and an old man are hungry. When she opens the oven door, the gingerbread bread man shouts, "don't eat me" and begins running. The old woman chases him and the gingerbread man chants, "Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"

The gingerbread man outruns the old woman, an old man, a pig, a cow who want to eat him, all the while taunting them with his chant about not being able to catch him. Eventually he comes to a river where a sly fox offers to carry him across on his tail. The gingerbread man trusts the fox, but half way across the river, the fox convinces him to move from his tail to his back to his nose. Then he eats the gingerbread man.

The Stinky Cheese Man also starts out as something an old woman throws into the oven to bake because she and an old man are hungry. But instead of being made of gingerbread with raisins for eyes, a cinnamon drop for a mouth and chocolate chips for buttons, the Stinky Cheese Man is made out of, you guessed it, stinky cheese. His mouth is a slice of bacon and he had two olives for eyes. When the old woman opens the oven she is overwhelmed by the stench of the Stinky Cheese Man. He hops out and chants, "Run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the Stinky Cheese Man." But neither the old woman or man have any desire to eat or catch the Stinky Cheese Man.

Oblivious the Stinky Cheese Man taunts a cow, and a little boy and girl convinced that they all want to catch and eat him when all they want to do is get away from his smell. He too eventually comes to a river and meets a sly fox who offers to carry him across the river on his back. Half way across the river the fox says, "What is that funky smell?" It then begins choking and coughing and the Stinky Cheese Man falls in the river and falls apart.

Okay, so my synopsis of the story isn't as funny as the actual story, but trust me, it is hilarious. The true genius of the story is that it intentionally or unintentionally is a parable about many real life Stinky Cheese Men who dash through life thinking everyone wants to cut their cheese when everyone really just wonders who cut the cheese.

At least that is my take on it. But then again, I think fart jokes are funny, too.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

No one walks in L.A.

 I was in Los Angeles last week on a business trip around the same time as the Academy Awards were taking place (the above photo is of LA from my airplane...that small white dash on the hill in the background is the Hollywood's the closest I got to it). The conference I was at was in a hotel in downtown L.A.  And downtown L.A. is probably one of the last places you really want to be if you are in Southern California. It has all the character of  a "Three's Company" rerun, it is seedy and unless you have a car, you are trapped there.

Other than a few excursions with fellow conference attendees to a couple of local restaurants, I barely left my hotel. I tried walking around a bit and I discovered why no one walks in L.A.  Fortunately, it was a nice hotel with a decent work out room. And one morning, while working out, I looked out the window to a courtyard by a pool and saw this hawk swoop down and grab a bird that it proceeded to leisurely devour. It took so much time eating the bird that I had time to grab my phone and snap this photo.

It was about the most interesting thing that happened on the trip. I didn't even see any of the Academy Awards activity though I watched bits of it on the television in my room. I felt vindicated that Lincoln didn't win best picture after my anticlimactic viewing of it. And I was happy that Daniel Day Lewis won the best actor award since I thought he did a great job portraying our 16th president although he is a foreigner.

Why is it that the British can portray Americans easily yet most American actors trying to be British sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins? Love-leeee!

But I digress.

I am extremely happy that I do not live in L.A. The only thing it seems to have going for it is the weather (which they talk about a great deal on their local news...they seem obliged to explain why the Santa Ana winds are so warm ad nauseam). I realize that few people actually live in downtown L.A. (other than those camped out in Pershing Square and in tents along some of the streets). But I can honestly say that, other than Dallas, I have never been in a downtown so devoid of charm or personality.

But as I sit in my office staring out the window at the various shades of gray that make up Seattle, I do miss the sun. Wait, there it is. No. Sorry, that was the reflection of my lamp on the window pane.