November 29, 2010
It was a hectic day at the office. Very hectic and trying indeed. Most of our 1,300 students were outside in the crowded hallway, and they all wanted to know something from us. They all had a question. We weren’t getting anything done.
Neal got fed up and wrote a hasty note about when the new exam date was (or something) and taped it on the outside of the door. He dusted off his hands as he came back in and said, “That ought to keep out the zombies!”
It didn’t. As Neal tried to get back into the towering piles of written exam papers we had to correct, several other students stuck their heads in the door, as they do, and timidly asked about whatever. Neal was about to blow a gasket.
It’s not like he’s never made a fool of himself before. He has a habit of accosting people on the street as long lost friends only to discover that they are total strangers. Then he makes it a thousand times worse by trying to explain. Neal also has a tendency to loudly use foul language when he thinks no one around can understand English, only to discover that a cruise ship has deposited hundreds of fellow Brits right next to him. Shocking.
Flatulence in a crowded lift … check. Standing by a huge mud puddle in the road when car races by … check. Neal looks in the upturned ketchup bottle to see why the ketchup is stuck … slap, plop, check. Glasses of wine knocked over onto people’s laps … a regular occurrence.
This time he was unusually peeved, perturbed and downright hysterical. Got up, as grandma would say, on the wrong side of the bed. It was pointless for me to suggest self-control. “The next person who interrupts me gets his arse chewed off,” Neal promised.
As if on cue, a nerdy looking boy with odd dark glasses pokes his head in the door and opens his mouth to say something. Before he could even talk Neal exploded:
“DON’T BOTHER ME! I’VE HAD ENOUGH! CAN’T YOU READ THE SIGN ON THE DOOR! WHAT ARE YOU, BLIND OR SOMETHING?!”
You know the feeling when you hear your own stupidity echo off the walls? Neal let the poor boy have it so viciously that he scared himself. I watched, frankly amused, for the next development. I could see the boy’s white cane tip through the crack in the door near his feet.
“I, uh, can’t read it.”
“WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM? I CAN’T GET ANY WORK DONE AROUND HERE WITH ALL THESE INTERRUPTIONS! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? …”
And Neal just had to stick his whole foot completely into his mouth with one more rhetorical question:
“ARE YOU BLINDDDDDDD????!!!!”
The boy with the white cane entered, thinking it only courteous to answer. “Yes, I am blind. Could you please tell me when the exams will be?”
Happy trials, Martin
Mutt: A neutron goes into a bar and asks the bartender, "How much for a beer?" The bartender replies, "For you, no charge."
Jeff: Two atoms meet. One says, "Are you all right?"
"No, I’ve lost an electron!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm positive!"
Mutt: Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
Jeff: A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you, but don't start anything."
Mutt: When she told me I was average, she was just being mean.
Jeff: The more things change, the more they stay insane.
Mutt: That’s deja moo.
Jeff: Right. The feeling that you've heard this bull before.
November 19, 2010
Don’t call it Frisco.
“Frisco” is, of course, a contraction of San Francisco, but there are other theories about its origin. Some have suggested it is an Americanization of el fresco, a term apparently used by Mexican immigrants coming to Fog City to escape the heat of the Sierra Nevada.The late etymologist Peter Tamony traced the word all the way back to the Middle English frithsoken, meaning refuge or sanctuary. Shortened to "frisco," the term was apparently used by sailors to refer to any port where ships could be repaired.
So what is a San Franciscan? Immigrants and refugees, of course, like everywhere. But do those of us squeezed in a few blocks between the Pacific and the Bay really have a collective personality? Are the fruits and nuts native? Do those chilly summers cause frostbite patterns in the gray matter? I’m sure the fog, creeping in the ears, scrambles the synapses. Maybe a list would help answer all these questions (probably not but I’m, as you know, a compulsive list-maker).
Notable San Franciscans:
[born and raised]
[born and raised]
Pat & Jerry Brown
Dom & Joe DiMaggio
Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket)
William Randolph Hearst
James D. Houston
James D. Houston
Other famous residents:
[came as adults]
[came as adults]
As usual, the ‘so-what’ question has no answer. There’s the list, draw your own conclusion. Because I’m too lazy to come up with it or because there is no answer? Every city has a list and character. But I think the thing is that we know what we mean, who we are, it just can’t be put into words. San Francisco, after all, is not a huge city, about the size of Jacksonville FL, but it is the oldest city in the West and a cultural center since the Gold Rush. People came here to escape from prejudice and misery at home. Australian prisoners, Peruvians and the Mormons came early on, the Chinese too, the Beats, Hippies, Gays, Mixed-race couples, Sicilians, Ship-builders, Yuppies, Dot.commers, Radicals and Free-thinkers followed. As Carlos Santana said: More artists than con artists. Yes indeed. Oh, and add him to the list.
Happy trials, Martin
Mutt: My wife's gone to the West Indies.
Mutt: No, she went of her own accord.
Jeff: My wife's gone to St Petersburg.
Mutt: Is she Russian?
Jeff: No, she's taking her time.
Mutt: My wife's had an accident on a volcano.
Mutt: No. She broke her leg.
Jeff: My wife's gone on a singing tour of South Korea.
Jeff: No, R&B.
Mutt: Y’know, that reminds me. My wife went to a very bad concert in South East Asia.
Mutt: Terrible. And the rest of the band was terrible too.
Jeff: Excuse me, Mutt, are you even married?
Mutt: No, you?
Jeff: I had a girlfriend once.
Mutt: Wanna marry me? In San Francisco. They’ll change that discriminatory law pretty soon.
Jeff: I’m tempted. But if we get married, people will think we’re, y’know, flits.
Mutt: It’s San Francisco, man, same-sex heterosexual marriage is the new wave, the future, the giddy-upcoming! Perfect double transgression. So post-post-modern.
Jeff: Count me in, baby. Just don’t let down your avant garde.
November 14, 2010
Mutt: You start pitching on Thursday.
That’s a joke, right? Baseball in Heaven, baseball as heaven, playing a never-ending game: 9 innings, ten, a hundred, a billion innings. Life and afterlife as an endless season. Isn’t it? (Many of the Giants are already playing Winter Ball to bide the time till spring training starts.) And when a runner gets home and scores and is happy (even without a smile, especially without a smile), if the inning doesn’t end, they get another at-bat to begin again. Infinite do-overs.
Ever sit in an airport and watch the people flow by? The features blur. Clothes, hair, nose shapes, skin color, all different until they become all one. I could be in love with that person, but we’ve never met. That could be my dear son, if I had one. What if they were my father and mother instead of the ones I have? If that person was my friend for life? What? Would it all be the same? Are we interchangeable pieces? Plug-in people in one another’s lives? Is it really, 'love the one you're with'? In the stands? (Just so they're not Dodger fans.)
Walt Whitman played and watched the game at its beginnings. He wrote about it in Leaves of Grass, which includes:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,Identity, commonality, playfulness, history, family, health, life-death and summer grass—that’s baseball, folks. The poet’s sport. That’s the answer to every question. Try it.
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Jeff: Pay increase?
Mutt: Dream on, boy.
November 5, 2010
“Break a leg,” in English, means ‘Good Luck.’ Not where Neal is concerned.
There are lots of man-holes in Messina (winkwink-nudgenudge-saynomore), and many of the ones on the sidewalks are uncovered. Something happens and the cover disappears so you have a hole about two feet square open to the sky and a thousand miles deep. They are rarely repaired. They can be dangerous and must be avoided.
Neal was walking down the street one bright morning several years ago. Guess what happened. Was he watching carefully where he was going? Did he look down to see the open manhole in his path? You know the answer.
He stepped right in it and broke his right leg. It hurt like hell. Some passersby called an ambulance and helped him lie on the filthy sidewalk until it came. They put a newspaper under Neal’s head so as not to dirty a jacket or something soft. Neal’s head bounced on the cement a time or two as he writhed in pain. They yanked off his cowboy boots, causing a long scream. They brought Neal a glass of water. He wasn’t thirsty.
The ambulance eventually came and picked the heavy Neal up off the sidewalk, picked up his cowboy boots, and carried the crying Neal to the hospital. Not the nearest hospital, which didn’t have the resources to deal with such a rare and complicated accident, but to another hospital much further away. The ride was painful with every bump in the road. In Messina there are many.
In the Emergency Room, Neal waited for several hours. Several hours is a long time to wait with a broken leg. He asked the people dressed like medical personnel (you can never tell who’s a doctor, a nurse or an orderly) if they could help him. Even though he spoke in Italian they acted like they didn’t understand. Finally, they gave him a pain-killer (aspirin) and explained that they had some life-or-death cases to take care of first. Well, nothing to say about that. You wouldn’t want someone to die because the doctors were busy putting your leg in a cast. Would you?
He saw some of them smoking outside, chatting or chewing on candy bars and flirting. Must have been their break; everyone’s entitled to a break. Then, right before Neal passed out, a doctor, Dr. Lempo, finally arrived to take a look. “How are you, American Boy?” Neal is British.
“Okay, here is a bit gonfia. What is gonfia in the English?”
“Swollen,” Neal answered, wondering why the great Doctor was examining the left leg. Probably he wanted to see the contusion and scrape that the sound leg had suffered in the fall. Dr. Lempo was feeling the bone with his thumbs on the ridge of Neal’s left leg—maybe he would then compare the swelling to the broken right leg—but gradually Neal became suspicious that Dr. Lempo had not understood which leg was really broken. As Neal started to say something, the doctor banged the broken right leg with his elbow.
Neal yelped in pain and tears ran down his cheeks. “Oh, don’t being the baby. This leg, this leg … I no think.” Wincing Neal was pointing to his right leg because he could not speak. The doctor said, “No, no, I no think …” and whacked his elbow into Neal’s broken right leg again. Neal screamed again; his right leg was twice its normal size.
“Ma insomma, I can no do examination if you cry like baby.”
A nurse whispered something in the doctor’s ear. “Okay, American cry baby, we take the x-ray now.” And he shipped Neal off to radiology to get rid of him. Two more hours waiting during which the nurses had to cut his jeans off. Neal’s leg was purple, and it was dark outside when Neal’s x-rays were finally ready.
Dr. Lempo was still on duty. He made incomprehensible jokes while he applied the plaster cast to Neal’s right leg (directed by the nurse) and complained that those people in radiology always get things wrong.
Neal had to call his friend Gianantonio to bring him some jeans and crutches, and take him away from his 12-hour ordeal in the E.R. The jeans were too small (very few Italians wear Neal’s size), and they couldn’t find crutches until the sanitari opened Monday morning. Neal had to leave the hospital leaning on his friend in a backwards dressing gown, holding his cowboy boots and dimission papers. The staff cracked up watching.
Neal never got the hang of walking on crutches, of course. As he tried to use them the first time, one got caught behind the heel of the cast and he went tumbling to the ground again. None of us were surprised by that, in fact it was pretty hilarious. Neal was hurt, but nothing new was broken.
Happy trials, Martin
Mutt: A man—maybe Neal—woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, "Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!" The doctor replied, "I know you can't - I've cut off your arms!"
Jeff: Finally a funny one.
Mutt: You know how stress causes falling hair?
Mutt: When the going gets tough, the tufts get going.
Jeff: Okay, two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says "dam!"
Mutt: Well, I went to the butchers the other day, and I bet him $50 that he couldn't reach the meat off the top shelf. He said, “no, the steaks are too high.”
Jeff: A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West, he sidles up to the bar and announces: "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."
Mutt: Two vultures get ready to board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at them and says, "I'm sorry, gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger."
Jeff: Why did the golfer bring two pair of pants to the game?
Mutt: I’m afraid to ask.
Jeff: In case he got a hole in one.
Mutt: And last but not least, here’s one about you.
Mutt: Yeah, because outside the bathroom you’re American.
Jeff: Uh huh.
Mutt: But inside European.