May 31, 2004

if it's not scottish...

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a few hours with the Scottish-born Parents yesterday. I've not mastered any language other than English (something I'm not proud of, by the way) but it's in conversations with them that I realize I'm bilingual. Before I feed further into a huge misconception (and because I've actually been asked), I just want to take this opportunity to state that people in Scotland do in fact speak English, do NOT walk around wearing kilts while playing the bagpipes and tossing cabers in between doing the Highland Fling and scarfing down a steaming helping of haggis. You're more inclined to find that on THIS side of the pond at a heritage festival. The only thing my parents fling about are phrases and expressions that confound most but make total sense to their Scottish brethren and offspring. Most of my friends are polite enough to vacantly smile and nod while the Parents speak. They wait until they're out of earshot before hitting me up for a translation.

I don't always have to translate for just my family though. I've swooped in and cleared up the language barrier several times outside of my home. I worked at an Italian restaurant in college. I answered the phone and worked the counter but one night a waitress approached me and asked me to take the order at Table 3 because she claimed she couldn't understand a word they were saying. Scottish accents can be rather tough especially when infused with a lot of slang so I didn't give her a hard time. These people had pretty clean accents but their attempt to pronounce words like "cavatelli" and "parmigiana" completely threw off the smoky-voiced waitress who grew up on the mean streets of Newark. I don't think she ever backed down from a fight in her life but upon hearing "parma-YAHNA," she just gave up and deferred to me. I even did an over-the-phone Scottish accent lesson for one of my actor friend's scene partner. I fully expect to be thanked in an acceptance speech one of these days.

I'm totally American (born in New Jersey for Christ's sake!) but the town I grew up in was settled by Irish and Scottish immigrants and the culture still pervades. There was also an influx of Portuguese and Spanish immigrants so I know from good paella and sangria. I grew up with mostly first-generation Americans and we embrace our heritage with a bear hug. The Portuguese Cultural Association is teeming with youth. Those in my ethnic group can be found at the Irish-American Association and the Scots-American Club toasting Guinness and Tennent's with a hearty "Slainte!" (that's Gaelic for cheers). I totally dig it.

What I really love about talking to my parents is their expressions. A party at their home is like a feast for my ears. Non-Scottish and -Irish friends clamor to attend these events to absorb the dialogue. Some phrases pop out at me and make me chuckle and others are actually a part of my vocabulary. I'm more aware of it now but for years, I used Scottish terms completely unaware that people had NO idea what I was talking about. This was mostly right after high school when I left the confines of my Scottish enclave.

I can't remember all of them but I thought I'd share a few expressions with you. These aren't actually in a dictionary (that I know of) so my spelling for some of these is strictly phonetic. I've also added sentences for a few of the more obscure ones:
fusty: stale
These scones are fusty.

peely-wally: pale
You're looking awfully peely-wally today. Are you feelin' okay?

bold: bratty
Ach, don't you be so bold, you cheeky wee devil! [I heard this one A LOT growing up]

snot box: one who is bratty [I also heard this one a lot too]

boot: trunk of a car
I need to get my gear out of the boot.

bed clothes: bedding (sheets, comforter, pillow cases); NOT pajamas

ta: thanks

house coat: a robe

tea towel: a dish towel

knackered: tired

washing-up liquid: dish soap (Dawn, Palmolive)

movie house: movie theater
I know I'm forgetting about a million so I invite you to add to this list. Don't limit yourself to Scottish and Irish though. My current vocabulary is loaded with Spanish, Yiddish and Italian phrases and I'm always looking to expand it. Slainte!

May 27, 2004

cereal monogamy

The past few days I've been craving cereal like a crack fiend. I don't eat meat so when I'm running low on protein and iron, my body is usually pretty conscientious about issuing a craving to satisfy my nutritional needs. I've been known to blurt out "I need cheese" at random times. Most people understand because well, mmm...cheese. I guess I'm low on riboflavin and massive amounts of sugar because my body issued a cereal edict today. So I stopped at Key Food on my way home from work and perused the aisle certain that something would jump out at me right away. And then I saw it... Peanut Butter Toast Crunch. I loves me some peanut butter especially in a bite-sized crunchy format. I rationalized that it would be a better purchase than the Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch standby because the latter can be a tad rough on the roof of one's mouth. I think I drooled in the aisle anticipating what this new concoction would taste like. I had to resist the urge to rip open the box while waiting to pay for it. Naturally I was stuck behind a woman quibbling with the cashier about whether the ground turkey was on sale or not. Despite my mounting hysteria, I managed to squelch the "Haul ass, bitch!" that was desperately fighting to come out. I then had to battle the need to bust open the box and eat it while walking home. This was a severe jones I was riding out.

I blew off dinner completely and sat my ass in front of the TV with a Yuengling and started tearing at the cardboard. I'm not a big fan of milk so any cereal I eat is straight up, right out of the box. I don't always drink beer with my cereal but this was a special occasion. It was a first date of sorts. I was in such a frenzy that I don't think I even tasted the first few handfuls. When I snapped out of my altered state, I had peanut butter dust all over my black clothes as well as caked on my face. What's even more pathetic is that the cereal wasn't even good. It took me half the box before I realized that it, in fact, sucked. I've never experienced morning-after-a-one-night-stand regret but I think I understand what it feels like now. I'm so sorry I strayed, Cap'n. I remain forever your bitch.

May 25, 2004

a stolen rainbow

For today's installment, I'm dipping into the journal again. Mmm... dip. I distinctly remember writing this at work in between answering phones for a magazine publisher while his assistant was on vacation. Temping can really suck but it's not bad when you're not expected to do anything but pick up the phone when it rings. The pay was awful and the work boring, but sometimes I long for the simplicity and the extra free time. This was written on 10.28.1997.

Humiliation is a part of daily life. No one is immune to this torment, however some receive more frequent and intense doses than others. Humiliation was part of the curriculum when I was in sixth grade. A typical day would start at 8:30am with religion class, reading, math and mental anguish to round out the morning. Believe it or not, the teachers set aside a time to inflict some serious psychological scars on their pupils. Make no mistake, degradation and embarrassment were a part of every class particularly those that included oral exams and mental math tests. These torture sessions in particular made certain that the makers of Mylanta will be in business well through the next century. Students, including myself, would give themselves stomach aches worrying if they would be cut down after incorrectly responding to the teacher's rapid-fire questioning. I'm certain that my town will soon be designated an ulcer pocket.

The boys-against-girls or class-against-class competitions were bad enough but nothing could top the talent portion of the Mortification Olympics in terms of emotional and gastrointestinal distress. We never knew when it would happen but every now and then, the two sixth grade nuns would mutually decide to take us down a notch. The phrase, "Okay everyone, put your desks in a circle," signaled the beginning of the end. We would all suck in our breath as we waited for the rest of the instructions hoping and praying for a grammar drill or a history pop quiz. No such luck. "You're going to come up one by one and sing, recite a poem, dance or do something to entertain us in some way. Who's first?" We'd all panic and jog our memories to remember a song or joke that was suitable in a parochial school setting. The worst was when I locked in on a good poem (I refused to sing) and while waiting for my turn, someone else had the same idea and performed it first. There were no repeats, you see. It was devastating.

It was a pitiful sight to behold as this group of ragtag, talentless (for the most part) performers favored the rest of the class with their selections. The only things missing from this scenario were Chuck Barris and a huge gong. The Unknown Comic looked like a master of his craft compared to some of the acts on display here. One student was so desperate to quickly end his misery that he skipped around the room while pretending to shampoo his hair and sang, "I'm Going to Wash That Gray Right out of My Hair." Like many in my generation, he had NO idea that the jingle was based on a song from South Pacific. Had he known the actual words included "man" instead of "gray," he might not have picked that song. After he was done, we were promptly told, "No commercials!" The mad scramble for original material resumed.

Little did the nuns know that their little exercise in humility was also a showcase of the backstabbing, manipulative streaks that lay beneath the surface of even their sweetest students. Hidden under the layers of sunny conformity and the authority-pleasing eagerness lay a dark side of me that put the scheming wenches of Melrose to shame [ed note: remember, this was written in '97 and Melrose was the model example of bitchy behavior.] I'm not proud of it but I did the unthinkable one day. I was having one of those three-alarm stomach aches worrying about my turn in the scorching spotlight. I had no idea what to do. My panic was only making it worse -- I even considered singing but I couldn't remember the words to any songs. I couldn't remember what I had done the last time I went. Then I had an idea. I feigned curiosity and interest and got the girl next to me to tell me what she was going to do. I actually knew the poem she was planning to recite!! As soon as the stage cleared, my hand shot up in the air and I volunteered to go next. I walked to the center of the stage and began: "I saw a lovely arc of rainbow span the sky..." I might as well have stolen her boyfriend and made out with him right there. As I was talking about sunshine and rainbows, the look on her face suggested death and destruction. It was quite a contrast.

I think my younger sister was instrumental in bringing this horrifying practice to an end. Two years later when she was in this class, she had the cojones to get up and sing a song she learned at Girl Scout Camp. Oooh! "Girl Scout Camp"!!! I should have sung that. Anyhoo, the younger sister and two of her friends took the stage and sang a ditty that goes a little something like this:
Oh I was I was a little bar of soap (bar of soap)
Oh I was I was a little bar of soap (bar of soap)
I'd go slippy slippy slidey over everybody's heinie
Oh I was I was a little bar of soap!

Oh I was I was a little mos-qui-TO (mos-qui-TO)
Oh I was I was a little mos-qui-TO (mos-qui-TO)
I'd go bitey bitey bitey under everybody's nightie
Oh I was I was a little mos-qui-TO (mos-qui-TO)!
I think when they got to the verse about being a keg of beer (going down with a slurp and up with a burp), the two nuns had heard enough and brought an abrupt end to the talent show. Yet again, the wee sis had done me proud.

May 23, 2004

curly's big adventure

I sit here this morning writing to you with a screamingly sore bum. No, not for THAT reason, dirty-minded ones. I bought a bike yesterday and promptly went for a 14-mile ride in Prospect Park.

My Good Neighbor was kind enough to accompany me on a bike-shopping expedition yesterday. We started out at a shop for serious riders in the East Village. I had intended on buying a used bike so that I could get a quality frame at a decent price. But when we arrived at Bikes By George, the pickings were rather slim... and they weren't pretty.

I didn't necessarily want one with a basket on the front or rainbow-colored tassels hanging from the grips but the hot pink and mustard-colored offerings were less than stellar. Good Neighbor realized what he was dealing with and promptly got on the phone and found a few more stores. As we walked westward, many bikes were chained up along the way which we naturally critiqued:
Good Neighbor: That's a nice one.

Yours Truly: Nope, too "Mrs. Gulch."

Good Neighbor:
We had big plans to hit the shops for serious cyclists but we took a quick detour into the Astor Place K-mart "just to look." Less than 30 minutes later, I was swiping my debit card at the register with a kick-ass Huffy (going back to my roots) in tow. It's a sweet ride. The last time I bought a bike, I was about 13. I had saved up money from my paper route (I kid you not) and bought a powder pink and gray Huffy 10-speed. The handlebars had pink grips and there were lovely splashes of pastel colors on the frame. I bought it on a Saturday but couldn't pick it up until Monday because it had to be assembled. That schoolday was quite possibly the longest, most excruciating day ever.

This time around, the seat had a bar code sticker on it so we wheeled it to the register, the cashier scanned it and off we went. I also got a helmet but I made Good Neighbor carry the K-mart bag because I still have embarrassment issues stemming from childhood about that. I think I was ridiculed in school because of K-mart brand crayons one year and I've been scarred ever since. Besides, I looked kick-ass on the 6 train standing next to a metallic blue bike with a shock-absorbing frame. I couldn't ruin the illusion with a plastic bag draped from my wrist. Ew.

May 20, 2004

since i'm up now anyway...

The phone rang this morning at 6:45am. It wasn't until the third ring that I realized I wasn't dreaming and someone was actually calling me before my alarm went off (a mortal sin if there ever was one). When I finally came to, I heard my mother's voice leaving a message. Was someone ill? Did someone die? Why was she calling me at this ungodly hour of the morning?!?!

Because my apartment is a REALLY REALLY REALLY small studio, I have a loft bed -- okay, adult bunk bed -- to save space. Because I'm six feet off the ground, nothing, including the phone, is within arm's reach. As I climbed down the ladder and made my way over to the answering machine, all sorts of horrible scenarios played out in my mind. I thought I'd be attending a wake before the week was out. With a quivering hand I reached for the playback button and out came the soft, Scottish-tinged voice:
Uh, yes hello. It's Mum. Just calling to remind you that today is a holy day of obligation. Okay, bye bye now. BEEP!
What the hell?! That bit of news couldn't wait until later? I guess in a way it's good because I can now formulate a white lie about going to Mass instead of her ambushing me (oh yes, I HAVE been ambushed). I disagree with my parents about many things but I've learned to choose my battles. If believing I go to Mass keeps the mother happy, so be it. I'm saving up the heartache for when I finally reveal that her daughter's a big ol' rug muncher. Well, perhaps I'll be a bit more tactful than that...

I don't even remember what holy day it is. Okay, it's May so it must have something to do with Mary, correct? The Assumption? I racked my feeble, sleep-addled brain in the minutes following that message trying to figure out what month, nevermind what religious observance, it is. I hate starting the day off all guilty and confused. I can get myself into that state very well on my own, thank you.

May 18, 2004

fear and loathing in south amboy

This was originally written on 07.08.1997 for a writing class I was taking at The New School. The assignment: Write about a truly frightening experience. I was trying to improve my descriptive writing abilities with this piece. As I read it now, I see that I'm a bit heavy-handed with the comparisons and my current tendency to write rambling, run-on sentences was really taking root.

The Honda maneuvered through pitch-black darkness. The dense late summer tree cover eclipsed the moon's attempts at illumination making the road ahead all but invisible, even with the aid of high beams. The chirping of crickets mixed with the low hum of the engine and the gravel popping under the weight of the tires were the only sounds on the deserted stretch of road.

The thick foliage abruptly ended to reveal a large, wide-open space similar to a crop circle in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. Beyond the clearance sat an odd-shaped structure shimmering with dazzling, chasing lights. We inched closer and pulled into a vacant spot.

With some apprehension, we made our way on foot to the parting doors where mist and smoke rolled out to greet us. The movements of the people inside were like stop-action figures in a flip book intermittently lit by a strobe which flickered at a dizzying speed. We saw the moonlight peering through an open back door beckoning us to join the rest of our group. We dodged and weaved through a semi-organized cluster of participants engaged in a ritualistic dance until we reached our destination.

Down the stairs and under a big-top tent, various groups of females -- young, middle-aged, old and ancient -- flooded into rows of chairs that surrounded a long, green indoor/outdoor carpet-lined runway protruding from the stage. Shortly after, club music blared from the speakers as scantily-clad males skidded across the stage and pranced down the runway into a sea of outstretched arms. Wrinkled, fake-tanned hands with liver spots, protruding veins and fluorescent-colored fingernails clawed and pawed at the bronzed mass of oiled muscles writhing before them. Soggy dollar bills were transferred from sweat-drenched hands into the tight straps of red G-strings. The orderly system of seats was leveled in an estrogen-fueled stampede as the crowd clamored for an up-close glimpse of the gyrating forms scampering about.

Our fortress in the back behind some tables was penetrated by "Tonto" in his attempt to escape the posse in hot pursuit. Our refuge was reduced to rubble with overturned folding chairs and beer cups left in the wake of the female mob. We were now vulnerable to further attack as "Joey the Cop" and "Vinnie the Baby" seized upon the moment to hit us up for a donation.

I still remember that night vividly. It was over 10 years ago but I won't forget it. Ever. There was this one woman in particular who was really bold in her pursuit of the dancers. She looked and acted like Carla Tortelli on Cheers. Despite the creepy, dirty old ladies, I think the scariest part of the evening was what we noticed on our way out -- a very well-attended Trixter reunion going on in the main bar. ::shudder::

May 03, 2004

things I'm not ashamed to admit... but probably should be

1. I sucked my thumb until I was 10. Twenty years, a set of braces and a retainer later, I've kicked the habit but still sleep with a security blanket (my woobie). Next to habitual lateness and consuming mass quantities of Belgian beer (mmm... Hoegaarden), it's really my only vice and I don't plan on kicking it any time soon.

2. I am completely caught up in the intrigue and drama of The Real World, Road Rules and joy of all joys, the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Do not disturb me when these programs are on even if it's a repeat. Seriously... don't.

3. I am not theatrically trained -- nor a gay man -- but I can sing Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park with George note for note. I do admit that some showtunes really do suck. As a matter of fact, Andrew Lloyd Webber is a complete and total wanker.

4. I have an irrational fear of mayonnaise. Given the choice between Hellmann's and Chinese water torture, I'll take the latter, thank you very much. If you come to my home and fancy you some sandwich spread, BYO-Miracle Whip. When I am tooling around in someone else's fridge, I will not even touch the jar. If I want pickles or some other item unfortunately situated behind the mayo, I'll use another bottle or jar to push the offending condiment out of the way until my mission is complete. There are many people who share my aversion to the white slime -- see for yourself.

5. I've read Star Wars fan fiction... and liked it. I also went to the rereleases of the three original films at the Ziegfeld Theater and knowingly giggled at all of the unintentional innuendo.

6. I recently broke the towel rod in my bathroom. That in and of itself is not shameful but the way it snapped in half most certainly is -- two words: iron cross.

7. I had a major crush on Bobby Vinton as a child. Ain't nothin' hotter than a poodle-permed, polyester-clad man singing polka tunes. I also had the hots for Skip from Real People and the Professor from Gilligan's Island was no slouch either. Now I'm no shrink but I think it's safe to say that my preference for goofy, non-threatening men with zero sex appeal as a child was an early indicator of my Sapphic proclivities. To further prove my point, I also loved me some Fred from Scooby Doo (an ascot, hellooo?!?!) and Alan from Josie and the Pussycats. You do the math...