There is a lot of pressure to have fun on vacation. Most of the working class gets a limited amount of R&R time, and to waste it in any way is an almost unpardonable sin. To me, waste is the most relaxing thing one can do – waste a day reading, waste it sitting and thinking and talking and writing and drinking wine in a foreign country. You won’t regret it.
I know there will be people that find my stories of leisure and relaxation from Italy and Ireland to be boring. I know that because I read travel guides and websites and got recommendations, solicited and unsolicited, from many people before we left and I gotta be honest, I ignored a lot of you. It’s not because I don’t appreciate your ideas – I may not but that’s not the point. I wanted to do things that sounded fun to me.
The following recollections are not suggestions of what you should or should not do if you decide to journey across the Atlantic. If you’d like to follow the path we laid down, know that you’re following the path of a Catholic math nerd and a head-in-the-clouds Protestant vagabond who got endless enjoyment from walking to the nearest pub or wine bar in between seeing buildings that were hundreds or thousands of years old. We did not exactly trod the same ground as the people who did the day-long biking tours.
We had a wonderful time. Mrs. Me loved Italy, I loved Ireland and we both enjoyed Vatican City tremendously. But there were many little moments that made this the ultimate ‘baby moon’ (apparently that’s the name of the last big trip before you have a kid) and I tried to make notes of what I wanted to say about each of them.
Mrs. Me and I are pretty non-confrontational when it comes to each other. We both go with the flow. And while that’s a helpful state for a marriage most of the time, standing on a corner in a foreign country while having the same ‘What-do-you-want-to-do-I-don’t-care-what-do-you-want-to-do?’ conversation five times a day will only leave both of you frustrated. Somebody has to take control a little bit.
I’m not Catholic. I won’t ever be Catholic; you guys have a lot of rules, and I am not much for following rules. But even a Protestant can be moved by the sights and sounds around Vatican City. It’s been the cornerstone of the Christian World for a millennia. That’s a good run.
Instead of trying to clumsily use words to describe what I saw and how I saw it, here’s some photos.
On our final night in Dublin, we were sitting in a pub – stunner, right? Anyway, this old fella got a beer from the bar and sat a table near us when nature called. He sauntered up to us and asked, in a very polite growl, if I could tell him which way the Jackson room was.
I was not prepared for this question.
I was prepared for some language barriers in Italy, in that the extent of my Italian is hello, good-bye, thank you, you’re welcome and swear words. Buongiorno dannazione was not a sentence I expected to say and I was proven correct.
But Ireland is an English-speaking nation, and I had a tough time keeping up with them. Accents – so many accents, so strong that even the non-Gaelic’s occasionally sounded Gaelic. Anyway, turns out ‘Jackson Room’ is a slang term for bathroom.
I wouldn’t suggest this to anyone who didn’t appreciate the novelty of the event, but somehow we stumbled onto the Irish professional baseball league and went out to watch a game. Skill-wise, it was equal to a low-level high school JV game. The youngest player looked to be 16, and the oldest was probably in his 50s.
I’ve been watching baseball since I was a fetus, and I saw things that Sunday afternoon I have never seen before. Like a dropped pop-up that somehow turned into a double play. Like a rundown that ended after three throws when the baserunner stopped because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do anymore. Like players smoking cigarettes and wandering off to piss in the woods between innings. I heart you so much, Irish baseball.
I was excited to fly on what had generously been dubbed the ‘Southwest Airlines of Western Europe’ from Rome to Dublin, but what I didn’t know was that if your bag weighed more than 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds), they would slap you with fines and yell at you in Italian. Fly Aer Lingus; it sounds cooler anyway.
I discovered cab drivers in Ireland are an occasionally devious bunch. Drop you off one place when you wanted to be somewhere else. Drive you around because you don’t necessarily know where you’re going. One tip I picked up was to never grab a cab that’s parked out in front of the hotel: that’s a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist and don’t know where you are.
Conversely, the Italian cabbies, in addition to being insane drivers, were never exactly fussed about getting you to your destination. More than once we were dropped near where we were trying to go, and then given vague half-English, half-Italian instructions on how to get to the end of our journey.
Continuing our travel theme, I’ve been on a train maybe four times in my life. I’ve never lived anywhere that it was more convenient to travel by train than car or plane. And after visiting Europe, I kind of wish I did because what a luxurious way to travel.
I’m not talking about a subway system here. I’m talking commuter train with seatbacks and tray tables that you could put your whole weight on and take a nap (did that) and no luggage restriction at all and no turbulence or chance somebody is going to rear-end you because they’re texting. If you get the chance, I highly recommend it. We’ve already decided that’s how we’ll travel next time we head across the pond.
As Mrs. Me pointed out, it sure is weird to be taking selfies in a place where thousands of people fought to the death over the course of a few hundred years. Still… between the Colosseum and the Forum, there was a very Gladiator feel to the place.
As pubs are to Ireland, small gelato shops were to Rome. Every few feet you could be sure to find another small gelato shop, and it would be delicious every time. I lost count of how many times I had gelato in Italy. In related news, I’m significantly fatter now than I was when we left.
Fish and chips. Bangers and Mash. ‘Blank and blank’ anything was a good combo in Ireland.
Now, the full Irish breakfast – that would catch up to you if you had it too often. Irish bacon (rashers), sausage, mushrooms, potatoes and pudding is all delicious but have a couple of helpings of that and then walk around all morning, toss down some early-afternoon dark beer and flee to the bathroom.
Driving in Rome seems to be a complicated dance. Traffic rules are nothing more than helpful suggestions. Drivers just weave into traffic, and create a space wherever they want to. And despite all this haphazard nonsense, not once did I see two Italian guys standing outside their cars screaming at one another in Italian. I was there six days and not once did I see a wreck. They know what they’re doing.
In Italy, one spends a lot of time staring at the ceiling. Even the most out-of-the-way cathedral is likely to be adorned with an epic scene splayed across its ceiling and of course the Sistine Chapel is the piece de resistance of such things.
Not naked people wandering the streets (that I saw anyway). But if I’m understanding what I saw correctly, the way to have a masterpiece of art was to make sure it prominently featured some naked folks. There were whole rooms devoted to people who were missing clothes.
Part Two…sometime. Maybe tomorrow.
I listen to an odd collection of things on my iPod. Lots of old and new country, various idioms of rock, comedy. Chuck Klosterman once wrote (I’m paraphrasing) that the worst people in the world say the like any music ‘except country’. I feel similar – you can’t say you like any music ‘except (blank)’. It’s like saying you love basketball but hate the NBA; you can’t do it. If you like music, you can find beauty and meaning in everything. Sure, some genres and styles tickle my ears more than others, but liking music means liking music.
However, when it’s storming out, when the sky opens and God hurls lightning and it looks like the world is ending, I listen exclusively to rap.
I’m not sure what it is that makes me pull out the Jay, the Dre and old-school Ludacris when God calls down the thunder. Maybe bass drops just sound better when backed by a driving rainstorm. But it feels dark and mysterious to match the skies, while at the same time there’s an element to the hooks that give you confidence to keep pressing forward when other people pull off or huddle under bridges to not get taken away by a tornado. It’s soundtracking your life to something that feels like it should be soundtracking something much more monumental; it gives the mundane importance. You’ve heard of mothers gaining superhuman strength when their children are trapped under a car or something? That’s me when ’99 Problems’ starts playing.
Music offers emotions an avenue from which to escape, especially for manly-men types who wouldn’t wince if you cut their leg off with a chainsaw but get misty-eyed whenever they hear ‘Only the Good Die Young’. For those classified as ‘just regular dudes’ (me!), the right music can inspire confidence where there is doubt or give the most ordinary situation – like driving – an opportunity to seem cool, even if you’re by yourself, which is literally the only time I feel cool.
And while I’m married and it no longer matters that I’m cool, so long as I’m still trying, the music you play when someone else is in the car is how you’ll be judged. I have no idea if women still feel this way, but I know being single and having nothing more current than Charlie Daniels in my CD player (it’s what we used to listen to music on – kids, ask an older cousin or someone between the ages of 22 and 30) was not going to get anyone to second base during the evening.
Music matters. In terms of art, it matters more than poetry, fiction, painting and theatre put together. I’d put it just behind baseball.
Due Out: Sep. 21
Clint Eastwood is a national treasure, indeed the last one Hollywood may ever produce. As the baddest of bad-asses, Dirty Harry represents a generation (my dad’s, but still) that saw men be men, unsmiling, mean-spirited, down and dirty. Clint Eastwood was and is the tough-guy embodiment of being a dude.
So I kind of wish he’d quit doing the warm and fuzzy tear jerker’s.
Don’t get me wrong; Trouble With the Curve looks fantastic. Clint Eastwood, baseball, the Atlanta Braves… no movie could possibly be more American than that. Throw in the underrated Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake (much better as an actor than a musician, if you ask me) and this movie would probably be good even if the plot was lacking – which from all appearances, it is not.
That’s where this gets sticky. I once watched Clint Eastwood cry at the end of Million Dollar Baby and frankly, I still haven’t gotten over it. I watched the crotchety old-man Clint Eastwood I always suspected he would become have his hardened demeanor shattered by a young Asian kid and get gunned down for his troubles in Gran Torino (no spoiler alert; if you haven’t seen Gran Torino yet, you need to get off your ass). Watching Dirty Harry get gunned down by a bunch of thugs in Detroit sucked.
So that said, I’m dubious about Old Baseball Scout Clint Eastwood gunning for that one last prospect while struggling to connect with his daughter. Someone’s going to cry; it may be me. If they show an impossibly old Dirty Harry on his fictional deathbed, I won’t be able to help myself. Clint Eastwood is not allowed to be mortal.
Keep An Eye On: John Goodman, making a comeback of sorts this year – he also has fair to large roles in Flight and Argo. He plays an excellent second-fiddle/best buddy/oversized goofball character. Also, I mentioned Timberlake before; I still think the guy is a terrible singer but denying his acting chops as demonstrated through The Social Network, In Time and even his excellent turn hosting the ESPY Awards would be folly. He’s good and getting better.
Burning Question: How is Eastwood still doing this? He’s in his early 80s and still involved in a movie or two each year. If I make it into the 80s, I just hope I can still go to the bathroom by myself.
Reminds Me Of: A hybrid of Field of Dreams (which my wife hates and may be the only negative thing I can say about her) and Moneyball, with a bit of the Ben Affleck/Liv Tyler love story from Armageddon thrown in.
Theater, RedBox or Skip it: I realize that baseball isn’t for everyone (COMMIES!) and that Moneyball may have taken the precedent for a lot of people this year. At the very least, give this one a whirl through RedBox. I doubt that you’ll be disappointed.
Life: July 4, 1930 – July 13, 2010
Occupation: Owner, pardoned felon
Claim to Fame: Owned the New York Yankees for 37 years, becoming the first man to buy seven World Series titles.
Fun Fact: Parodied (excellently, might I add) in some of the best Seinfeld episodes. “Costanza! This is gonna be BIG!”
I am a lifelong Braves fan. George M. Steinbrenner represents everything I hated about the Yankees, the American League and baseball in general. The gross overspending. The DH. The insufferable pinstripes, the Yankee mystique, the New York media, the Quarter-Billion Dollar Fraud (Alex Rodriguez)… I could go on. The pretentious asshole bugged everyone.
And yet with all that said, July 13 2010 was one of the saddest days I had that year precisely because of Steinbrenner’s passing.
What can I say? Baseball was more fun with the Boss around. Everything needs a villain and Steinbrenner, with his penchant for bombastic behavior and ill-timed outbursts, was the perfect foil for baseball fans everywhere. I always found immense satisfaction when he would twist the knife on Red Sox fans (take this quote in the third paragraph after he beat Boston management in the race for A-Rod); even though I would always support the Sox over the Yanks – sometimes you just have to make choices in life and that was one of mine – I was always excited when someone would bait the Boss into making some snarky, anti-Boston comments.
The son of a shipping magnate (you know young George was just like every bratty trust-fund snob you’ve ever met), he was an Air Force lieutenant and an assistant football coach before turning his attention to the family business. After successfully becoming a rich bastard in his own right, George used his money to purchase the Yankees in 1973.
Steinbrenner’s Yankee tenure included the following: Seven World Series titles, 11 American League pennants, two year-long suspensions (the only owner to be banned from baseball on two separate occasions), notable personalities (Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Roger Clemens), notable feuds (Martin, Jackson, Hideki Irabu) and George’s infamous spending sprees that escalated player salaries to the point of mass hysteria they’ve climbed to now. It can even be argued that the Boss’ willingness to throw cash around like Pac-Man Jones at Anthony’s Showplace led to salaries escalating in all sports, not just baseball. So you can go ahead and blame George M. Steinbrenner the next time you have to pay $77 for a crappy obstructed-view ticket and $9 for a watered-down, lukewarm beer.
When George started slipping in his declining years (fainting at NFL great Otto Graham’s funeral, giving rambling press conference answers, displaying restraint when the Yanks struggled), it wasn’t much fun for fans — even Sox fans — to watch. Understand: for the entire time he owned the Yankees, it seemed as though George went out of his way to belittle and degrade employees, poke fun at the general public and behave like the egotistical, rich jack-hole that he was (he played that role beautifully, by the way). People couldn’t believe someone of George’s stature and grandiloquence could be human; he had created an air of invincibility.
Love him or hate him, having King George around was good for the game and good for entertainment. Regardless of how you feel about the Yankees (and good people the world over hate the Yanks, with good reason), George’s larger-than-life specter provided fans with a lightning rod for discussion and deep down, I’d say the Boss loved every minute of it. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but he is missed.
Four Things to Watch This Week
1. 101 Gadgets That Changed the World (Friday, 8 p.m. CT, History Channel)
Should you be sick (it is the end of February, even if it feels like early May) or have limited social options on Friday night, this looks to be a sweet show to catch. I have not seen this show; my only hope is that duct tape will finally get its day in the sun.
2. North Carolina at Duke (Saturday, 6 p.m. CT, ESPN)
As good as these games always seem to be, the last one in the Dean Dome on Feb. 8 was one of the all-timers. Freshman guard Austin Rivers hit a big-money shot at the buzzer to cap the Dukies 13-point come-from-behind win. That game also featured one of the weirder plays I’ve ever seen: on a Ryan Kelly jumper, North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller went for the rebound and accidentally tipped the ball in.
By the way, I hate both these teams. But good basketball is good basketball.
3. Big East Basketball Tournament (Begins Tuesday, 11 a.m. CT, ESPN)
Syracuse! Georgetown! Jim Burr and the rest of the Big East officials figuring out how to screw up a game! Jim Calhoun press conferences where he makes everyone feel awkward! I love the Big East tournament, as presently constructed. I’m not excited for Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to exit, but am all sorts of jacked for Memphis to finally make the move in with the big boys.
4. Super Tuesday (Tuesday, 9 p.m., NBC)
Another in a long list of supposedly important days during an election year whose result has been a foregone conclusion for a while now. Barack Obama is going to be President for four more years, unless Mitt Romney suddenly galvanizes the country. That’s a dubious proposition at best. Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich… election fodder. We’re getting the guy with the dictator’s middle name for four more years; I don’t know what else to tell you.
Three Things I’m Reading (And You Should Too)
1. “The Last Real Season” by Mike Shropshire
Like almost no one I know, I’m nostalgic for a past I was never part of. If all you knew of 1975 was the account depicted in this book, you’d probably think it was pretty sweet too. Imagine a time where ballplayers behaved as brazenly as most of the fans, did drugs by the bucketful and earned the same wage as your average mechanic. At least my generation has two out of three.
This book is a must for baseball fans of all walks. I read it around this time every year, since spring training has begun and baseball is still seen as pure and child-like. By June we’ll have had scandal, cheating, doping and lying (and that’s just in the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium), but now is the time for the purists.
2. “Inside Baseball” by Abe Streep
San Quentin has a baseball team. Not the town, which I’m sure is lovely and probably features a ball team of some sort. San Quentin the California state prison has a team comprised of inmates. Outsiders come in and play ball against the inmates, giving normal people a rare opportunity to draw a walk and have leisurely conversation with a serial killer at first base. I can only assume this is where Rick “The Wild Thing” Vaughn got his start.
This seems like a crazy fun thing to do; in fact, my only worry has nothing to do with the prospect of getting shivved for taking the extra base. I was always the kid that got nerves in the batter’s box standing in front of 30 parents. I’d probably pee myself if I dug in, only to get stared down from the mound by a guy doing 24 years for dealing meth. I’ve led such a sheltered life.
3. “The Hacker is Watching” by David Kushner
If you have a webcam, this story will make you think twice about leaving it on. This hacker managed to get so far into people’s systems he could control everything. And what did he do? Terrorized and blackmailed them by threatening to turn them in for something illegal or embarassing. Frankly, I’d rather he hacked my credit card info (not that he could get much) and left my illegal music downloads out of it.
I’m kidding, of course. I’m much more concerned with my insider trading.
Quote of the Week Interlude
Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.
– Robert A. Heinlein
Two People to Follow on Twitter
1. The Drudge Report (@Drudge_Report)
Matt Drudge runs the DrudgeReport.com website, which basically serves as an AP wire for the world at large. It’s nice if you’re into that sort of thing; it seems like a lonely occupation for the dude. And don’t expect to be too impressed with his website; it really kind of sucks.
Reason to follow him: he usually knows what happens in the world faster than every other news service, so it’s like getting a head start on knowledge, if you classify knowledge as “knowing obscure things about policy in other countries.”
2. The Tennessean (@Tennessean)
This one is more for us middle Tennessee folk; no scary foreign policy to worry with here. Recent tweets include “Coach sues #Murfreesboro hair salon over knock-off products” and “UPDATE: Latest effort to end Tennessee helmet law fails.” That’s what we need in Tennessee: fake hair products and people getting their skulls crushed because they can’t wear a helmet.
Famous Dead Person of the Week
Pat Garrett (June 5, 1850-Feb. 29, 1908) – Best known for killing the outlaw known as Billy the Kid, Garrett journeyed skyward after getting shot twice by another dude because Garrett took offense to the man allowing goats to graze on his property. While perhaps not the OK Corral, it’s still a pretty manly way to go out.
I think I would be embarrassed to have lived in the old West if I hadn’t gone down in a blaze of gunshots. That would be like Tony Soprano living to a ripe old age and dying in some Boca Raton retirement community.
One Nationally-Relevant Rant
I know I lead this thing off every week by telling you things I think you should watch. I do this because it’s hard to find anything worth watching anymore, which seems implausible since we all have 200 channels now. I’m doing a public service.
Unless you’re desperately fascinated with the lives of people that aren’t you, it’s hard to find entertainment on TV. I remember when reality TV was the Saturday baseball game on FOX (cue old man music). Shit, the people on “Everybody Loves Raymond” reminded me just enough of my family that it seemed real.
Now, reality television isn’t real enough. It’s not enough to watch these buffoons behave like gorillas on crank; we have to participate via Twitter and other social media platforms. Never was this more apparent than with the news that Jersey Shore starlet Snooki’s deal with the Devil had expired and she had gotten knocked up.
I don’t have to sell you on why Jersey Shore is a ridiculous embarrassment of the northeast United States and America in general; if you’ve been able to read this much, I have to assume it means you have enough intellect not to watch that show.
So why were my Twitter/Facebook timelines abuzz with talk about the forthcoming bundle of joy for Snooki and whatever unemployed douche knocked her up? Probably because I need to adjust my settings so I don’t have to hear as much from stupid people. But people seemed divided into two camps: those who were excited that a stranger on television had gotten knocked up and those that were eager to make fun of a tramp (confession time: I’m probably in the latter camp. Sorry Jesus.)
I have to know why anyone cares that this dyslexic half-a-tard finally got knocked up (from what I gather, this scenario was a long time coming) when there’s actual shit to worry about. I’m not saying throw yourself into politics or start learning conversational German in your spare time, but there’s got to be something else we can do as a culture instead of watching over-tanned pygmy’s discuss squat thrusts. That’s not entertainment; it’s not even interesting. It wouldn’t be interesting if my friends were discussing it (it would be weird), let alone these strangers.
I’m dismayed, because reality TV is not going away; I realize now it’s here to stay. I’ll hold out as long as possible, but I’m sure in 50 years, I’ll be on Who Wants to Marry a Geriatric? in order to pay for my nursing home. My future sucks, mostly because it reminds me of someone else’s present that I despise.