Thursday, March 31, 2005

r.i.p.

No chance of this actually happening I know, but I recommend we in Blogland offer at least a few day's silence on the issue out of respect for all involved in the Schindler/Schiavo affair.

May she rest in peace.

stories worth a thousand words #6

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…THE REST OF THE CLAN

Written: November 19, 2004


NB : The names are not important here, so I’ve changed them all rather than use #’s like Ive done before. It’s more fun that way! This time I used comedians names! I must add that the name Ambrose Hossenfeffer isn’t as far off the original as it looks!



If there’s one advantage to being thousands of miles away from the bulk of your relatives, it’s that it sure makes your weddings cheaper! Since I’m currently working towards my second, such things are important! On the serious side, the long distance has meant that although I have always kept in contact with immediate family where possible, none of them have ever played an important role in my growing up. I will use this chapter to give brief descriptions of the significant players among the remaining family.


AUNTS AND UNCLES
My mother had two adopted brothers, Joseph Jr and Christopher. As my grandparents were approaching forty when they decided to start a family, they had arranged to adopt Joe as a year-old baby before they realized Grandma was pregnant with my mother. Five years later they completed the trio with the addition of Chris. They all lived in Nashua, NH until my grandfather’s first major migration to California in (1957).


Joe was to marry my Aunt Sally-Anne Higuera, and have two children, my cousins Loni and Ron. Chris and his long time girlfriend Brenda Carson had a daughter Mikaela, but tragically he contracted lymphatic leukaemia shortly after we arrived in Ireland and passed away when she was barely four. Today, I remain in email contact with Brenda and Mikaela; they are married to “nice-salesperson-guy” Stan Williams and “son-of-a-preacher-man” Greg Seinfeld respectively, while Mikaela’s little 3-year-old girl Morena makes up the family.


Unfortuantely I seem to have lost all ties with Joe’s side of things. He took the death of his brother very badly it seems, and doesn’t communicate with his sister ever. They are the classic city mouse/country mouse pair that will possibly never see each other again. Loni is on her second husband, having had two children, Charlotte and Jeff, with her first. I’m not sure of Ron’s situation; I think he did get married. Loni and I were trading emails for a while but I have yet to hear a reply from my attempts to inform her that her grandfather passed away earlier this year.


THE CARREYS
My grandfather’s youngest sister Maggie, who was but five years old on the day of his wedding, still lives in the house they all grew up in at 146 Oak St, Nashua, New Hampshire. If you had to point to an epicenter of my family, that house is definitely it. Her husband Christopher Carrey apparently left her for another woman, leaving her with their three young children Chris Jr, Amanda and Lauren. Maggie went on to meet a long-term companion with the fascinating name of Ambrose Hossenfeffer, who has played an invaluable role in the progress of the family, despite being repeatedly turned down in his proposals of marriage over the years.


Chris Jr lives the bachelor life in Boston, albeit with a curious on-again-off-again relationship with longtime friend Julie. I think Amanda is on her third marriage, and has three children, twins Susan and Rose and son George. Lauren had deep psychological scars and sadly took her own life, but not before having a girl of her own named Marcia in 1988. Today Maggie lives in the house with the 16-year-old and, wait for it, Marcia’s own baby who was born this year.


Poor Maggie’s life has been a tragic one what with her ex husband, her own battles with both cancer and depression, Lauren’s problems and now all of this with the new little one. She really does owe a lot to Ambrose, and I know for sure my grandfather always greatly appreciated his contribution.


THE FOLEYS
I can’t go without mentioning John and Mary Foley. They lived in Needham, Massachusetts, and were brother and sister. They were the only contemporary family members with whom my grandmother kept in touch over the years. When I knew them he was a retired priest and she was a spinster who took care of him despite her own advanced age.


On my travels to the USA I would never go to New England without paying a visit to their house on my grandmother’s behalf. John used to sit with me in their conservatory and ramble on about the “glorious history of Ireland” which he had read about in the seemingly infinite amount of books on the subject that adorned his shelves. Although Mary had a good sense of humour and would often scold her brother for derogatory remarks about people from places like “South-East Asia”, she did not escape my description of the pair as the “Fanatically Fascist Foleys”.


I guess I did an amazing job of hiding the fact that I abhorred their values so much, since when Mary passed away a few years after her brother, she included my name in her will to the tune of 25%. The timing could not have been worse for me, however, as rather than being the married father of two she would’ve thought I was when penning the testament, I was actually an emotionally-confused and newly-separated man with little respect for his own life let alone a sizable inheritance.


THE ONES MY KIDS KNOW ABOUT
This just leaves the people who my children would already know, so I can afford to be brief. Although Sandra’s father passed away several years ago, the positive way her mother Rita and brother John have reacted to our engagement lead me to believe he would have approved.


Despite the pending divorce I still get along well with Ruth’s mother and often have coffee with her when I collect the children. On our wedding day Ruth’s father, now sadly deceased as well, made up for his years of being quiet towards me by referring to me as “a gentleman”.


As for the new additions to the Lee circle, i.e. my biological father Mark’s family in Oregon, I have no idea what they make of me, but I do know they were mad about the kids after meeting them last summer, so we will always stay in touch.

© JL Pagano 2004

NEXT, #7 : 1000 WORDS ON…COUNT KARESHKA

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

aftershock

I was speechless when I heard the news of a second fatal earthquake in South East Asia less than 24 hours after I had written a post on the first one.
I wish I had some extra money to help them. The only thing my finacee and I can think of is to make the decision to have our honeymoon out there next fall; hopefully by then they will be built up again and would appreciate the business.
If your thoughts are with Terry Schiavo and/or those suffering in the Middle East and Iraq, please also spare some for those affected by this double tragedy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

leave them be

I have been loathe to comment on the Terry Schiavo case up to now, but after hearing reports of events yesterday, I feel I have no choice.

There is no victory here. True, I am a liberal but I challenge anyone to look me in the eye and tell me they think I will be happy when she dies. Just like Roe vs Wade, just like Bush vs Kerry, just like all the other black or white issues, Schiavo vs Schindler had to go one way or the other.
The decision has been made. I’m sure there will plenty of time in the future to go after the evil murdering judges that made these difficult decisions, for as we all know, judges are there to go along with what we want, not how they interpret the law.

The report I heard said that the Schindlers were resigned to their daughter’s fate. If this is true, then for the love of all that’s holy would the crowds outside the hospice ever just go home and let the family spend their last few hours with their daughter in peace. I heard some were even giving Terry’s own brother a hard time. This is an absolute disgrace. These are real people we are talking about, not actors on a stage who are there for people’s entertainment.

Of course the media are not helping. Now it seems there is a disagreement over funeral arrangements which of course will be guaranteed to fill column inches even beyond the poor woman’s death.

We need to let this one go and leave them be.

Monday, March 28, 2005

priorities

I watched a fascinating BBC documentary yesterday evening about the tsunami tragedy in South East Asia. Remember that? I had all but forgotten it. Since then there have been plenty of topics like Schiavo and Jackson to keep the 24-hour news channels occupied with their experts and their charts and their predictions. It was the fact that it was Easter Sunday that jolted me into watching, since the tragedy happened just after our last big Christian holiday.

Two things in particular interested me. One of the first waves to hit Indonesia was preceded by a massive trough which actually sucked the water AWAY from the coastline minutes before the fatal strike. The mostly-European holidaymakers on the beaches, clearly chilled out on their hard earned vacations, remained in their sun loungers, sipping their beers and licking their ice creams, watching the unusual spectacle without so much as a care in the world. They had absolutely no idea the retreating water was nature’s way of saying RUN!!!!!

The documentary interviewed a man who was Indonesia’s leading expert on tsunami who had been fired by the government because they feared his speculation, that the region was not prepared for waves with even 10% of the destructive power as those which caused such devastation in December, was bad for the tourist industry. Guess what; he was reinstated in January. Maybe the horse has bolted but at least NOW the gate is locked!!!!

Then we had an interview with a worker from The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) in Hawaii. Seemingly their ultra sensitive equipment detected the earthquake, and followed its own strict protocols in relaying a message around the world, which was worded something like this : “We at the PTWC have recorded an earthquake in South East Asia, and there is no apparent threat.” What the message meant is that there was no apparent threat to the countries for which the station was set up. However, since the message was sent to stations all over the region, what were THEY supposed to think? OK, maybe the Asians were under-prepared, but come on guys, a little heads up would be nice! According to the documentary it took the PTWC 50 minutes to make up their minds that the protocol book should be thrown out the window and they should call anyone and everyone.

It is pointless to attribute blame, but we do have to look to what happens in the future. A brief bout of surfing tells me there is much debate about how we can update our warning systems around the world. And in THIS case, when I say "we", I mean "EVERYONE". Giant waves and earthquakes have little respect for our system of nations and borders and jurisdictions.

I am not a man of science by any description whatsoever, but one thing I DO know is that if we can use satellites and billion dollar computers to make sure missiles accurately reach their destination, we can formulate a system to minimize the loss when Mother Nature unleashes her power yet again.

The question is, do we really want to?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

when your partner eggs you on...

Sandra : I presume you're gonna put the Easter Egg hunt poems on your blog?
JL : Are you mad?
S : Aw, why not? They're so cuuuute!!!
JL : Which is EXACTLY why they're not going on the blog!
S : I thought you said your blog was to showcase your writing?
JL : Yeah, but...
S : Well, you wrote those clues for your kids, didn't you?
JL : Yeah, but...
S : Well, they should go on your blog then!
JL : Yeah, but...
S : Enough with the yeah but!!!
JL : OK, OK, I'll do it later. Hey, how about we take your Mom out for lunch this afternoon?
S : Fine, I'll hold you to that, but why don't you post that on your blog before we go???
JL : Alright, alright...SHEESH!!!
2nd Annual Pagano Easter Egg Hunt 2005
CLUE ONE

Just like Shrek and Spiderman
The “Pagano Easter Egg Hunt” can
Be just as fun with its part two
As the first one was for me and you

So off we go this one more time
Let’s hope the words I try to rhyme
Will lead you once more to your goal
Without much undo rigmarole

We’ll start off with an easy clue
The room it’s in is called “the loo”
Just think of where you see your face
And look behind that certain place!


Answer = clue 2 was behind mirror in bathroom

CLUE TWO

All right no more “Mr Nice Guy”
I’d really love to see you try
To find the next as easily
With this next clue, read on to see!

Last August as you both will know
Our Grandpa left this earth although
I know he’s watching from above
With constant never-ending love

So let him help you in your quest
Go where his wife does often rest
And find something up on a shelf
That reminds us all of his good self!

Answer = clue 3 was behind picture of grandpa in grandma's room

CLUE THREE

I really thought I had you then
Alas you proved me wrong again
This poem must be less revealing
If it is to be more appealing!

Fear not though and do not worry
We have all day there is no hurry
You’ll find the next clue captivating
For a chocolate treat is with it waiting!

Just think of what your Daddy wears
When, watching the TV, he scares
You both by screaming loud and long
To proudly spur his heroes on!


Answer = clue 4 plus 2 candy bars were taped inside shirt of Spurs, Daddy’s favorite soccer team

CLUE FOUR

Well done, now we’re half way there
You both are winning fair and square
So have a break before you strive
To work out where is hid clue five

Easter Sunday is a day
When we as Christians must repay
Jesus Christ himself who died
Three days before when crucified

And so that we may honour this
The next clue will be hard to miss
It’s where clue one was hid last year
Please don’t be cross if I’m unclear!

Answer = clue 5 was under crucifix in hallway

CLUE FIVE

Ah, yes, I knew you’d get that one
I hope you’re still both having fun
I’ve only hidden one more clue
I’d read carefully if I were you!

These poems have all gone the same
And so I might spice up the game
The next few lines I tried to fiddle
And now this Limerick holds the riddle!

There once was a thing on the wall
That told us what that day to call
Until we did spy
A month had gone by
And the numbers made no sense at all!


Answer = clue 6 was behind calendar in kitchen

FINAL CLUE

Just one more clue for you to guess
And since you’ve worked out all the rest
I have no doubt you will succeed
To earn your sugar loaded feed

Bex she chose the Mars Delight
Which now is tucked well out of sight
Together with an egg of creme
Which CJ had as his own dream!

Speaking of dream, that is a clue
And so is sleep and night-time too
Just think of when you’re undercover
And the final prize you will discover!

Answer = the eggs were wrapped in the duvet covers under which the kids sleep when they stay over

HAPPY EASTER!!!!!!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #5

A WARTS 'N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY GRANDMOTHER AND I

Written: December 31, 2004

My rugby team had won its competition, something like The Leinster Schools Junior Seconds League, with me being a substitute for the final match at Donnybrook. The captain of the team, N#### W#####, planned to have a party at his house one evening to celebrate, and issued invites to all of the members of the squad. From his point of view, it was a simple process, just asking everyone to be at his house at a certain time; it was not to be a wild night for the group of 14-15 year olds, just a supervised gathering to watch a couple of movies and munch on a few burgers and chips.

To my family however, and to my grandmother in particular, the whole event was to become an ordeal of seemingly epic proportions. With absolutely no experience of contact with other Irish parents to draw on, I think she determined the word “party” to mean something akin to a Woodstock concert, with drugs and sex and all sorts going on. When I mentioned the get-together, the first thing on which she insisted was to be given an address and contact number for the W##### house. As we were only given a couple of day’s notice of the party, I agreed to phone home with the required information when we all met up at the school as arranged.

I would have been in [freshman] Year at the time, and close to sitting my Intermediate Certificate Exam. I had just about emerged from my “uber-geek” phase, when I would never ever leave the house and spend entire summers in my own little fantasy world. My hair would be cut by my grandmother using the “bowl” method; heaven only knows what my classmates made of me in those days. At the time of the party, I had evolved socially enough to be able to visit a proper barber, but was still unsure of all the proper etiquette involved, and did not think it unusual to request addresses so I could ring home despite my fifteen years.

With that I found a payphone in Blackrock College while my team-mates waited, and rang home. To my surprise it was engaged, so I asked them all to wait while I tried again a few minutes later. Three subsequent attempts saw me fail to get through, and it was then that I realised I had held my peers up for long enough, so I left it at that and went on to the party, assuming that if my grandmother had really thought the information to be that important she would have left the phone line free.

Meanwhile, back in the Lee house at 49 T########## Gardens, my grandparents were unaware that on that night of all nights our phone line was down. Apparently my grandmother, assuming the worst not having heard from me, had something akin to a nervous breakdown, and set off on foot on a pointless escapade to go looking for me. By the time I arrived home later that night, she was sitting up in her bed babbling to herself, and in the end she had to be hospitalized for about a week.

She was still in her stupor when the hospital allowed her home. As far as I can recall she kept talking as though she were living around 20 years prior to then. One day as I sat with her while she rambled, I turned to her and said something like: “Grandma, we really need you to snap out of this soon.” With that, less than 24 hours later, she was back with us again.

I will never know if the whole thing was a façade, or did she come around sooner and choose to milk it a little while longer. Either way the incident best describes my relationship with my grandmother over the years. When I am with her, her pathetic attempts to draw attention to herself make me even angrier every time; when I am not with her, I can’t help but feel sorry for her, and this has pretty much been the cycle for the past thirty odd years with the two of us.

These days, my grandmother is at the grand old age of 95, and is in excellent mental condition. Just over a year ago, I decided to move in with her to be her “carer”. I was resigned to the fact that I must forego my “bachelor pad” for financial reasons, and assumed that any relationships with the opposite sex could only accrue from my dabbling in cyberspace. I was also fully aware of the conflict between her desire not to be on her own most of the time, and her determination not to be “packed away into a home”.

Little did I know when I moved in my stuff that within a few weeks I would have Sandra throwing me a lifeline by suggesting we get back together. It has become clear to me in the past few months that I will have to choose between a short term future taking day to day charge of my grandmother, and a long term one with Sandra. Put in that light, the choice is really a no brainer.

Still, putting her into some sort of facility is not something I am looking forward to by any means. It will be an ironic culmination to the way her life has gone to date. Her father was in the US Coast Guard, and thus she was forced to move all over the country based on where he was stationed. Then she married Joe and had to endure the ordeal of learning of his transgressions while in the army, before being led from New England to California then clean across to Ireland following his flights of fancy. Now it is down to me to determine where has to be her final resting place, when all this time, her daughter lays on her bed in San Francisco talking to her cats.
© JL Pagano 2004
NEXT, #6: 1000 WORDS ON...THE REST OF THE CLAN

Friday, March 25, 2005

they must mean the royal "everybody"




You know how at the end of some movies they say “based on a true story”? Well that is supposed to tell you it’s not actually that true story.

Now I see why at the end of each episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” the first thing to come up on the screen is “based on the comedy of Ray Romano”. It’s obviously meant to tell you it’s not actually comedy.

I had seen only excerpts before, so in the spirit of fair play (and nothing else being on TV) I decided this evening to sit through an entire episode. My suspicions were more than confirmed.

Oh my good Lord, how can a program meant to evoke laughter be SO not funny???

If you try to dive into the deep mysterious depths that are the main characters, it will be like jumping off a springboard into a paddling pool.

First there’s Ray – the husband, the father, the guy who tries to do his embarrassing guy stuff without his wife knowing.

Next there’s the wife, who of course is doing all the REAL work running the home and bringing up the kids. She can’t understand her silly husband at all, yet she consoles herself with the fact that at least he’s good for bringing home the money. Oh, and of course, she loves him at the end of the day no matter what foolish things he says or gets up to.

THEN there’s the big dopey brother who’s always saying big dopey things, which, believe it or not, are really thinly veiled pearls of wisdom which show Raymond the way to each instalment’s predictable moral conclusion.

THEN there’s the parents. Dad to Mom: “You’re ugly.” Mom to Dad: “You’re bad in bed.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure this format was very funny back when Jackie Gleason did it. And Archie Bunker. And Bill Cosby. And Fred Flintstone. And all the others.

The really scary thing? CBS is currently airing the NINTH (count ‘em) series, each of wish has 24 episodes. I’m afraid to do the math.

One thing I’d love to do is watch an episode in the USA and see what ads come up in the breaks to learn exactly what demographic these (9 x 24, I'm still afraid) half-hours of trash are aimed at.

Maybe THAT would make me laugh.
I guess comedy is in the eye of the beholder.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

when i was the greatest



Here’s a story about something I used to do when I was young and bored.

It would only last about 10-15 seconds, but in that time, I was The Greatest Footballer In The World.

First, let me be clear on what I mean by “football”. There are several sports out there that go by this name, but as far as I’m concerned, most should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act.

Association Football, or “soccer” as the Americans call it, is the ONLY game that can be legitimately referred to as “football”. Why? Em, because the BALL is primarily propelled by the FOOT, duh!!! There’s your association! All the other sports should be re-named, and here are some suggestions….

“Rugby” is often called football. No way. If anything it should be “carry-ball”. Have you ever tried kicking a rugby ball? The damn thing can go anywhere! No wonder that dude William Webb Ellis decided to pick it up and run with it – he was the only one who had any sense!!!

“American football” is no more deserving of the name. That should be re-named “wear-too-much-padding-and-take-ad-breaks-every-ten-seconds-ball”. A bit long winded I know, but I’m sure there are clever people out there who can chop it down to a more marketable nickname.

“Gaelic football” should be renamed “murder-ball”. While I am sure that there may very well be many balls kicked out there on the field during play, I would venture few are of the leather variety.

“Australian Rules Football” has TWO names that need changing, since it does not appear to have any rules. I thus recommend “chaos-ball”. The misshapen lump of leather seems to be passed in all directions until everyone gets thirsty for a few tinnies.

One thing I will say about the Aussies is that they have by far and away the best and most honest sports commentators.

Here’s an example: imagine David Beckham, arguably one of the most high profile (real) football players in the world, is taking a free-kick close to the goal, a situation which is his forte, and one which normally ends up in him stroking an immaculate shot curling into the top corner of the goal past the despairing lunge of the goalie.

Let’s say this time, for argument’s sake, he makes a complete mess of his kick, and sends the ball soaring towards the back row of the stands.

What would a British commentator say? Master of the understatement, it would no doubt be something like this: “Oh, my word, he WON’T be too pleased with that.” No kidding!!!!

And an American? He would probably blind you with stats. “Yes, well that’s concurrent with Beckham’s goal scoring average on the road, especially after the All Star Break!”, in which case I would need psychiatric evaluation if I actually cared!

Leave it to our friend from Down Under to put it right. As soon as the ball goes high over the goal, he’d say: “STREWTH, that was BLOODY AWFUL! I know a blind, three-legged dingo with RABIES that woulda done better with THAT one, mate!!!!” Ah, YES! THAT’S what I wanted to say!

But I digress.

Having properly defined football, I must now describe the other elements required to complete my little routine.

I would rarely do it when alone; it was usually performed when I was hanging out with friends and we were bored out of our skins. Perhaps it was in the schoolyard, during the last ten minutes of recess when we were just loafing around killing time.

My colleagues would be instantly transported to the last ten seconds of either The World Cup Final or The FA Cup Final, whichever was more recent. The score at this late stage of the game HAS to be 2-2, and this can be easily explained.

Being The Greatest Footballer In The World, I had already scored two goals earlier in the game. I then tragically twisted my ankle and to the fans’ consternation had to be taken off for treatment. While I was gone, naturally, the opponents came back into it with two goals of their own. This set the stage for me to heroically limp back onto the field in the dying moments to play through the pain, complete my “hat-trick”, and steal the glory.

So now I have my sport, and my setting. What’s next? Ah yes, a ball!!! Not advisable to use an actual sphere, however. I always got much better control with a crushed empty can of Coke thrown on the ground. Perhaps being a bit high on the cola drink therein is what persuaded me to do this in the first place.

The goalposts can be any two nearby objects that provide an appropriate gap. Even one of your onlooking friends can be one if you know they’re not going to move at the wrong moment.

How about a commentator thrown in for good measure? Doesn’t matter where he’s from. “And he dribbles the ball left, then right, beats three defenders, shoots, HE SCORES!!!!! IT’S THERE!!!! PAGANO HAS DONE IT!!!! OH MY WORD!!!!” I think the American equivalent is something like “HOLY COW!!! THE (INSERT LOCAL TEAM HERE) WIN THE PENNANT!!” One important thing to note, though - you MUST do the commentator voice yourself. If you let your friends do it, there’s no way you’re going to score. You’re bound to be slide tackled at the last minute or trip over a daisy or something if you leave it up to them.

The last element is that noise you do as a boy when you somehow manage to simulate a hundred thousand screaming voices with one whispering voice: “AAAAAAAHHHH”. As you emit the sound to represent your adoring fans, an elaborate celebration dance is no harm for a finishing touch.

And so, as my schoolmates looked on with varying degrees of boredom, I would manoeuvre a tin can with my foot while I screamed out loud until I would kick it through a gap between a schoolbag and a trashcan and run off emitting a long drawn out whisper as I pulled my sweater up over my head and rejoiced because, for that moment at least, I truly was The Greatest Footballer In The World.

All in all it was a perfect way for a bored preteen boy to pointlessly waste time.

These days I just write for my blog.


Click here for a full list of the "Lifeslice" stories

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

united we stand; how does the rest go again?

Gun control.

The Schiavo case.

Abortion.

The War on Terror.

The Raising and Distribution of Taxes.

Gay Marriage.

President George W Bush re-elected, November 2004.

51% of total votes for him, 49% against him.

I always thought a good leader was one who brought unity.

To everyone, not just to those who agree with him.

Don’t think for a minute that I believe there’s a Democrat out there who could do any better.

I simply recommend the country be renamed The Divided States Of America until further notice.

Monday, March 21, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #4

A WARTS 'N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY GRANDFATHER AND I

Written : October 21, 2004 (Speech done August 27, 2004)

It was about 1:30am when the call came. As soon as I saw the words Royal Hospital Donnybrook on my phone I knew what had happened. The head nurse from the night shift complied with my wish to ring me on my mobile and not subject Grandma to being first to hear the news. At the very least he had passed away in his sleep like he had always wanted.

So now what to do? I had the kids staying with me. I wanted them out of here when I told Grandma. I had to get them ready in the morning and bring them to school, THEN come home and break the news. Still not quite 2am, I called Sandra and told her. She told me she would take the day off work on Friday to be with me. I was so glad she was there when I eventually informed Mrs Lee of her husband’s passing.

Of course there was no way I was going to sleep now. Then it struck me – what if I have to say something at the funeral? I set up my laptop and put together a speech.

“First I would like to thank all of you for your incredible support at this difficult time, it has been a source of great comfort to Mrs Lee and all of her family.

In 1976 Mr Joseph Francis Lee was diagnosed as having cancer of the throat. At the age of 63 he had already led a full rewarding and productive life, serving his country in World War II, raising 3 children and serving his community as principal of the local high school in Pittsburg, California. Many would say he had spent his time on earth and that his day had come, but as far as he was concerned he was not yet done with his responsibilities.

He and his wife Ann had already accepted the challenge of raising their grandson as their own, and with this in mind he made the incredibly brave decision to move his family lock stock and barrel here to Ireland on the strength of his research which told him this was the best place for me to receive a good Catholic upbringing and education.

And so in September 1977 he retired and the three of us emigrated here when I was only 8 years old, and shortly after our arrival he had his operation to remove his larynx, a procedure though while it left him without a voice, it was one that gave him an extra 26 years of life, all of which he devoted primarily to myself and my rearing. All I have in my life right now, especially my two beautiful children, stands as a testament to those sacrifices.

I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of Mrs Lee and indeed all the Lee family on both sides of the Atlantic to thank all of the staff at The Royal Hospital, Donnybrook for all their round the clock care and attention they paid to Mr Lee over the years. There is no doubt that without them we would not have been able to cope, and we will do what we can to ensure they can continue their incredible work.

Joseph Lee was a man of few words even before his operation, but believe me, when he felt strongly about something, his lack of vocal chords would not stand in the way of him getting his point across. I am reminded of a particular incident about ten years ago when we went to The Punch Bowl in Booterstown for a pint to discuss or actually lock horns over a particular family matter for which we had both drawn very distinct lines in the sand. I won’t give details of the argument, but suffice to say his fury at my not complying to his wishes was matched by my frustration at not being understood by someone two generations my senior. We proceeded to go at it hammer and tongs in the pub until we reached an agreement, but it was long after the incident that I realised how it must have looked to the other customers, with me shouting and roaring at a poor old man that didn’t appear to be even answering back!!!!

Because he was in the most part a quiet, private yet extremely proud man, he won’t want me to be going on for too long up here, but I wish to conclude by making one important point. I have chosen my words very carefully up to now, referring to him either or as “Him” or “Mr Lee”. This is because if I call him my grandfather as befits his biological relationship to me, I would be doing the man a serious disservice.

Even up to his last few weeks in Donnybrook he would introduce me to people as his son. Even when he could not recognise others around him he would always acknowledge me. Now it just so happens that in the last few years I have both made first contact with and begun a relationship with my birth father, which in its own way has been a welcome addition to the lives of myself and my children.

But before you all today, I wish to make it perfectly clear that as long as I draw breath I will consider Joseph Francis Lee to be my father in every true meaning of the word, and I am in no doubt whatsoever that he will continue to watch over the family he leaves behind and give us all the strength to carry on. Thanks for everything, Dad, I love you. May He Rest In Peace.”

I can’t lie, when Father Kennedy informed me the following Monday afternoon that his church did not encourage speeches, and that I could do a reading instead at the funeral the next day, I was a relieved man. It was almost as if someone “up there” was helping me through it all.
© JL Pagano 2004
NEXT, #5 : 1000 WORDS ON...MY GRANDMOTHER AND I

Saturday, March 19, 2005

cutting the grass that's greener (reprise)

Love can conquer pretty much everything it seems. The following post was written in November 2004. I chose to alter the names of those involved.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bizarre happenings last night. Sandra's roommate Sheila is a good close friend of hers, and she has been seeing this guy Mike for the past 7 months. They have had their problems but according to my fiancee they have gotten over them. Being a typical guy, I'm only half listening when she tells me about the situation, but I paid enough attention to know that he spends long periods of time away from her when with a bit of effort on his part they could be together. The fact that made me laugh was that he would constantly leave the flat early on a Saturday morning because he had to drive all the way home to "cut the grass". With that I privately christened him The Lawnmower Man.

And so Sandra and I were in Liffey Valley Shopping Center last night. We were to see a movie, The Grudge, at 7pm. We got there an hour early, and split up as her appetite for shopping was matched by mine for dinner. I devoured a KFC variety meal and decided to go down to Virgin Megastore to browse around for a while until our rendez-vous outside the theatre.

I first thought I spied Mike as I was walking out of the store. I paused because I had only met him a few times and would say hello, but then realized he was with another girl. My first instincts were (a) maybe it's not him and (b) maybe he's not "with" the girl. The latter doubt was erased when she leaned over and appeared to kiss him. That just left a positive ID to be made, so I rang Sandra and told her to get over to Virgin asap.

She was trying on a coat at the time and thought I was in some sort of trouble, so apparently she got into all kinds of contortions to get herself out of the designer label item and over to me. By then Mike and the girl were at the counter making a purchase, so I waited outside. I told her what I had seen, and with that the couple came out and went into the shoe shop next door. I advised Sandra not to make a scene, and she followed them in to be sure it was him. She went in and actually said hello to him, and reported that his face went twenty shades of red when he saw her. To her credit she didn't accuse him of anything, and they simply exchanged pleasantries.

That left us with the dilemma of what to do with the information. I persuaded Sandra to call Sheila first and see where she thought her boyfriend was before she told her anything.

After the phone call we realized we had to forego the cost of the flick and drive back to the apartment to be with her. Seemingly Sheila was at home alone that evening because Mike was “too tired” to drive over and see her and was heading home straight from work for an early night. His last phone call to her came less than half an hour before we spotted him in the shopping centre.

And with that we stayed up chatting until the early hours along with the other flatmate Billie and 5 bottles of wine. It was about 10pm when Sheila gathered up the courage to send an accusatory text. He proceeded to call and text and call and text declaring his innocence. She would not answer the calls, and Billie, Sandra and I took turns reading out the texts. I won't go into his defense word for word, but I have to tell you one part of it.

We had gone through a re-enactment of the kiss in the store and I conceded that it could have been a case of her kissing him; he had his back to me so I didn't actually see his part of the exchange.

So after Sheila told him in a text that he had been "seen kissing", he replied by saying it wasn't a kiss, they were just fooling around, and "all I did was lick her face a bit."!!!!!!!!

Sandra and Billie are both convinced she will forgive him and believe whatever he eventually says. We will see. Perhaps public face-licking is acceptable these days, sometimes it's hard to keep up!!!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next day, Mike came over to the flat and pleaded his case. After a long discussion up in his girlfriend’s room, he went downstairs and told Sandra how “angry” he was with her. Seemingly she should have asked him in the busy shopping centre for an explanation. She stood her ground and said she was just reporting what we had seen to her friend.

Not once have I personally set eyes on this guy since. Believe me, it’s not on account of any policy on my part.

The couple now have a house together. I sincerely wish them all the best. It will be very interesting to see if I am invited to the wedding if and when it happens!!!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

beannachtaí lá ‘le phádraig

(I’m pretty sure that’s “Happy St Patrick’s Day” in Irish)

My fellow blogger Shan’s hilarious post insipred this entry.

Did you hear the one about the Irishman? He was stupid!

This has been the gist of Irish jokes over the years. But did you ever wonder how the Irish were perceived as being intellectually challenged???

Allow me to go through the country’s history and explain in vivid detail exactly how 800 years of oppression by the evil British empire led to everything the Irish said, especially literal translations of phrases from the Irish language, being misconstrued for a general lack of brain power.

Ok, maybe I already explained it with that last sentence; let’s go straight to the examples!!!

Consider the following sentences:

1. “I’ll be with you now, in a minute.”

2. “I turned away for a second, and when I looked back, there it was, gone.”

3. “I always used to do that sometimes”

All have been used by Irish folk over the years.

To English speakers from Britain or North America, they may all seem ludicrous.

I have news for you; in the Irish language, those phrases make perfect sense.

I won’t bore you with the linguistic specifics. Just imagine explaining English language phrases like “paying through the nose” and “raining cats and dogs” to a Frenchman by literally translating them into his language. Fait accompli!!!

Finally, I’ll share this scene from the movie “The Commitments” which is based around Irish (particularly Dublin) humour.

One of the main characters, Jimmy, goes into a block of “flats” in a very poor area of Dublin. Amazingly, the elevator (called a “lift” here) works, and he is waiting patiently for it.

Suddenly he notices that beside him, there is someone else also waiting, and with him, he has a pony of all things.

“Em, excuse me,” Jimmy says to the guy, “Are you really gonna take that horse into the lift?”

“Course I am!” came the reply, “Sure the stairs would kill him!!!”

Stupid? I don’t think so! Didn’t he answer the man’s question?

Oh, and a few more things I need to clear up while I'm at it ....

(a) we do NOT EVER EVER EVER say "Top 'o the mornin to ya". EVER.

(b) THERE ARE NO LEPRECHAUNS.

(c) You canNOT buy either "Lucky Charms" OR "Irish Spring" in the 32 counties.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, everyone!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #3

A WARTS 'N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY LIFE BEFORE IRELAND

Written : November 2, 2004


I was strolling down the stairs in our big house on the corner of B####### Road and R####### Avenue, before anyone else had woken up. I was saying out loud to myself something like, “So what if I’m 6 years old today? So it’s my birthday – Big deal!!!!” That would have been my earliest memory that I could confidently put a date on, which would’ve been March 21st, 1975.

“100 B####### Road” WAS a big house, located in Pittsburg, California, which is about 50 miles outside of San Francisco. At the time the two roads at the junction in question were very important connectors to adjoining towns like Antioch. The big white structure was previously owned by a S##### M#####, who had the shrewdness to build a smaller dwelling on the edge of the property, move into it herself and sell the original house for a substantial profit. My grandparents had moved there in the late 1950’s, when my mother and her two brothers were relatively young.

By the time I was wandering the halls questioning the importance of my birthday, there was just three of us living there. My grandfather was principal of Pittsburg High, his wife was a domestic engineer, and I was a schoolboy at the local Highlands Elementary. My mother worked in downtown San Francisco and lived in an apartment there with her boyfriend P## M#####.

Christmas was always a big family occasion, with a massive tree adorning the front room for the plentiful presents that would be found underneath each year. My uncles, aunts and cousins would give us the full traditional family scenario, though my knowledge of this is confined to looking at pictures!!! I was probably only interested in my personal booty!!!

I was a bit of a bright spark at school. By the time we had left to move for Ireland I had already been bumped up from 2nd to 3rd grade for being such a know it all, as well as being enrolled in a program affectionately entitled “Mentally Gifted Minors” or MGM whereby I suppose I sat in with other wunderkinder and had things such as calculus and nuclear physics explained to us by Ernie and Bert puppets. Other school memories are few and far between.

I do however remember the first girl I fancied. Her name was D### B######. When we got our school photograph from that year I would sit and stare at her face for hours, and I even had dreams about her, nothing too sordid but how could it be, I hadn’t even turned 8!!! My popularity in school wasn’t great until I had an “outdoor gym” set installed in the back yard, which practically made it into a park playground! I remember feeling good that so many kids wanted to come to my house, but of course now I know the naivety of those feelings.

The first school buddy I invited home was a boy called B#### F######. I don’t remember too much about him, but again I can imagine the look on my grandparent’s faces when I brought him home, as he was a black kid! It made no difference to me, and to be fair to them they had no objection to his returning the invitation and I do remember being in his home at some stage.

We had a couple of pets while I lived there, a dog called Princess and a cat called Tuxedo. I think my Uncle Joe got the dog for me, I remember it was a puppy Doberman of all things. They had to have it tied up in the backyard. I presume they considered her to be dangerous when she grew up because I think they had her put down. After returning from a holiday when I was around 6, I remember being sad but accepting of the story that she had broken her chain and run away. The cat was named by me on account of her black and white markings and lived with us right up to leaving the country. She was a bit of a psycho I seem to recall.

My grandfather used to bring me to mass every week, with a reward promised afterwards of a trip to a new restaurant near to the church owned by some guy called McDonald. Contrary to his good intentions, the weekly experience left me converted to fast food and indifferent to Catholicism!!!

I do remember one night just after I had gotten into bed, my grandfather came into me and tried to explain how he had cancer and that he may die. It didn’t really scare me as such, but I know I was worried and confused. As for our imminent move to Ireland, I took it all in my stride as a new adventure; as I was only 8 it was not much of a wrench to leave my schoolmates.

Apparently I had a good knowledge of the legal wrangle my grandfather was having with Pittsburg city council over the acquisition of land in his front garden, a conflict which together with the cancer seemingly persuaded him it was time to move on. When we stopped with his relatives in Nashua, New Hampshire on the way to Dublin, I wrote Maura a letter going into great detail even drawing a picture of how our front garden would look with houses built on it!!!

It’s hard to make this passage too colourful as I remember so little. All in all it can be safely said that I had an extremely comfortable existence before the great 6000 mile move. I was an only child, raised by his upper middle class grandparents, spoiled rotten, and about to begin a new life in a brand new country. None of my scarce memories of the time involve my being particularly upset in anyway, save for the time I was stung by a bee for the first time!!! Not much to lament about from the comfort of a psychiatrist’s couch!!!

© JL Pagano 2004

Next, #4 : 1000 Words on...MY GRANDFATHER AND I

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

six brave women – the first victory

“Sinn Fein is accusing the PSNI [police force in Northern Ireland] of refusing to question suspects .. and turning away witnesses who want to give evidence regarding the murder. Martin McGuinness says the police have a politically-motivated agenda in wanting to drag the case out.”

A group of unfortunate people standing at a bus stop jumped out of their skins as, while stopped at a red light, I bellowed expletives at my car radio after hearing the above report an hour ago.

It seems I was right to suggest the McCartney sisters were considering entering the political arena. The following news sent a chill down my spine, as it would for anyone who knew the man in question was himself a convicted terrorist :

“Mr McGuinness said the McCartneys needed to be very careful they did not step over the line into party politics, which he said could do a huge disservice to their campaign to bring the killers to justice.”

Yet Robert McCartney’s partner and his five sisters have seen their courage rewarded by being granted an audience with no less than President George W Bush himself on St Patrick’s Day, at the expense of a photo-op with the IRA’s political wing Sinn Féin (pronounced SHIN FAYNE).

The republican organization’s threats and accusations are nothing but desperate measures. The police thing is particularly incredible, and is what led to my tirade earlier. If the police HAD run around gathering suspects as McGuinness said they schemed to avoid, he would be the very one screaming injustice.

It’s time for the terrorists to learn they can’t have it both ways.

I take my hat off to whoever told the president this was the right thing to do.

I will drink a pint on St Patrick’s Day in celebration for the six brave women’s first victory in their struggle, and hope against hope that they achieve their ultimate goal, which is of course bringing their loved one’s killers to justice.

be my guest

[I've been WAY WAY too serious with my posting lately!!! I need to lighten up a little, stop watching the news and reading the papers for a week or so, and maybe even rent a few comedy movies and catch a few stand-up routines on the TV. Even tuning in to what my kids say to each other for five minutes brings forth a giggle. This post perked me up a notch or six. Thanks, Mike!]

Hardware’s gone soft by Mike Todd

My wife Kara recently tricked me into thinking we were going tool shopping. I know, I know, I should have smelled a trap. I’m like Wiley Coyote – she paints the tunnel on the rock face, and I run smack into it every time.

She fooled me by taking me to a store called Restoration Hardware, and I, for reasons that seemed obvious at the time, expected to find myself in a hardware store. Once we got there, though, I realized it was really a Pottery Barn in disguise. Talk about your dirty tricks. Someday, I’m going to open up a sports bar called “Pillows n’ Scented Candles.”

I actually can’t complain too much about getting tricked into furniture shopping with my wife -- furniture stores always have a place to sit. Shopping with Kara is much more fun for both of us when I can just sit and space out until it’s time to go home.

If it was socially acceptable for a grown man to play GameBoy in public, I’d be a regular furniture shop-a-holic. Nintendo needs to come out with a GameMan for the more mature nerd. It could double as an electric shaver or something.

Anyway, that fake hardware store sure did have a nice place to sit. I found a couch there that was so comfy, it was obviously the result of celestial intervention.

In Greek mythology, Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalworking, crafted a golden throne inside his volcano forge. He gave this throne to the goddess Hera, and when she sat upon it, invisible chains entrapped her. Many years later, that throne was re-upholstered, outfitted with a hide-a-bed, and set upon display at Restoration Hardware (which, by the way, does not sell hardware).

Hephaestus eventually returned to Mount Olympus and set Hera free. If I was trapped on that couch, and Hephaestus came to set me free, I’d say, “Thanks but no thanks, Heph. But hey, before you leave, would you mind using that volcano of yours to fire me up some Cheetos?”

Seriously, if this couch were in my living room, all I’d need to survive would be a remote control, an IV drip, a catheter, and some sort of water-wheel-and-pulley contraption to roll me over every couple of days.

I hung out on that couch until Kara finished looking at all the satiny, aromatic delights of the hardware store. When she came back to retrieve me, I rolled over and checked the price tag, which read $4,000.

“You like that couch?” Kara asked.

“Heck no!” I said. “It’s lumpy. No, no -- don’t sit down. Let’s get out of here.”

“It looks like a nice couch,” she said, eyeing it up.

“Depends on what kind of highway mileage it gets,” I replied. Clearly, nothing costs that much money that can’t be driven home.

Apparently, that couch is so expensive because it is upholstered with the woven chest hair of virgin leprechauns, and the pillows are all stuffed with $20 bills. At least that’s what I assume. We hustled out of there so quickly, I didn’t have time to find out anything else about it.

I didn’t need the temptation. The Couch of the Gods got trumped by the specter of the Unholy Credit Card Bill.
***DISCLAIMER***
The author of this blog accepts no responsibility for any mirth, merriment and/or knee-slapping that is caused by the above post therein.

Monday, March 14, 2005

bullets and booze

St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, a day which sees America and Ireland celebrate the similarities in their respective cultures.

Today I am reminded of one parallel that I very much doubt will be a theme for a float anywhere come Thursday.

Imagine an entire nation rocked by regular carnage caused by something which is supposedly for practical and even recreational purposes and which in the wrong hands can be drastically transformed into a lethal weapon. So much money is made from this product that the industry involved does everything in its power to prevent legislation being enacted which will affect its profit margins. The industry hides behind an organisation it created itself, arguing the product in question is supposed be a part of that very same nation’s national heritage!

I am of course referring to the NRA.

BUT HERE’S THE CATCH.

I mean The National Roads Authority here in Ireland.

Drink driving accounts for an increasing amount of road deaths each year. I’d love to quote you precise figures, but you see, it’s not quite that simple.

A road death may very well hit the headlines, but for “legal reasons” the reporters cannot say whether or not the driver responsible was suspected of being DUI. By the time a case reaches court, months if not years down the line, it is long since forgotten, and there are no reporters present to get the real message across to Joe Public right when the iron is good and hot. “Mr So-and-so from Anytown was convicted today for being 5 times over the legal limit when his car came onto the sidewalk and killed 4 people last year.” Not good copy it seems, for in the meantime there have been another hundred or so deaths on the roads.

Naturally road safety goes beyond just drink driving. My point here is that the drinks industry stands to lose a lot from anything remotely resembling a zero tolerance policy. They set up an organization known as “MEAS” (pronounced “mass”, is Irish Gaelic for “respect”, and also stands for Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society), which basically exists so they can say “Listen guys, don’t blame us! Look what we do to promote responsible drinking” whenever another victim is slain on our roads.

Yet the convictions do not make the mainstream media. Yet our version of the NRA is reluctant to release accurate figures. Yet prohibitive legislation is slow to be forced through. Yet the police do not regularly do the seemingly obvious task of stopping and testing the drivers of dozens of cars parked outside hundreds of pubs until 2 in the morning.

“But drinking is part of Ireland’s culture, man!!! An Irishman is entitled to his pint; it’s a long standing tradition! Good God, we can’t take that away from him, what will be next?”

Naturally I was reminded of this issue by the events of the weekend in Brookfield Wisconsin, Houston Texas and Atlanta Georgia. I don’t have to make my point about gun control, the incidents speak for themselves.

“But guns are part of America’s culture, man!!! An American is entitled to bear arms, it’s right there in the Constitution! Good God, we can’t take that away from him, what will be next?”

I’d be more inclined to ask: WHO will be next???

Saturday, March 12, 2005

not in my back yard



HOTEL RWANDA

Can you really show me power?
Cos I can show you a slave!
And can you really show me a border?
Cos I can show you a grave!

[The movie reminded me of this part of a poem I wrote back in the 90's (when I was convinced I knew everything) called "Human Constitution" ]

I have no doubt in my mind that there isn't a single human being alive today that wouldn't do anything and I mean ANYTHING for his or her family. What this film highlights, IMHO, is that one of our biggest problems as a race is that we all have different definitions as to what our "family" entails. Some see it as those in their home, some as those in their country, some as from their own ideology, some as from their own religion, some as just themselves.

Think about what you consider to be your "family" and watch Hotel Rwanda.

That this movie did not win an Oscar is blatant proof of the theme running throughout its own storyline - the "West" plain and simple does not care. Apparently stories about a singer, a reclusive millionaire and a fictional female boxer are more important than that of Paul Rusesabagina, a real-life hero placed in an impossible situation by unthinkable circumstances.

To get an idea of the plot, think of a cross between Cry Freedom and Schindler's List. It may also help to bone up on Rwanda's young political history beforehand, though the dialogue does much to quickly bring you up to speed.

Don Cheadle could very well become this generation's Sidney Poitier. The message of this film reaches out and grabs you by the scruff of the neck, not least on the strength of his talent.

Oftentimes a true story can be jazzed up a bit for the big screen, as I'm sure this, Ray and The Aviator were, in their own ways. Nonetheless, you would need a heart of pure stone not to be moved by Paul's turmoil after making his decision when chasing the truck.

There are very strong performances in support by Sophie Okonedo and Nick Nolte; even Joaquin Phoenix and Jean Reno accepted small roles in the hope that their names may inspire more to watch. I hope they do.

Friday, March 11, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #2

A WARTS 'N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…BEFORE I CAME ALONG

Written: December 21, 2004


From: JL Pagano
To: Maura Lee
Date: December 8, 2004 2pm
Subject: Brain Picking


Hi,

I was wondering if you could help me with an assignment I'm working on. Inspired by Grandpa's memoirs, I have decided to do something similar for my kids. I‘d like you to contribute in the form of a chapter entitled “Before I Came Along”. The only restrictions would be that the piece covers the family history from 1909-1969, and that it contains exactly 800 words. I know that is pretty brief, but conciseness is one of the themes of the project as a whole. Should you agree, whatever you put forward will go in to the completed work verbatim. My aim is to have the whole thing completed by New Year’s Day, so any time before that would be ideal.

J.

From: Maura Lee
To: JL Pagano
Date: December 8, 2004 9pm
Subject: RE: Brain Picking

Jeff,
Let me think it over, ok? I'm working straight through the holidays and another deadline does not sound very appealing, but I may be able to do it.
Maura Lee
Executive Assistant to ***** *. *****, Ph.D.
****** *********


Should this text make the final draft of my book, it will indicate that my mother found herself too busy to comply with my request, from which you can draw your own conclusions. I will attempt to account for this period with what little information I have.

The Lee family as we know it today can trace its origins to Boston, Massachusetts, USA, on July 13, 1909. On that day my grandmother Anna Mary Kilroy was born. Her father was in the US Coast Guard and travelled all over the country. At the age of about 4 she was shipped over here to Ireland with her mother and her younger sister Sarah Elizabeth, and they were to stay with her own grandmother in Carlingford right up to the end of the First World War in 1919. Even today she loves telling the story of how she stood up to the Black And Tan soldiers who would come into her gran’s tea-room using their guns for currency. The nine-year-old would valiantly proclaim to the dubious patrons; “You can’t do anything to me, I’m an American!” After the war, they returned to America and she continued to move around the country while growing up.

Joseph Francis Lee was born on August 21, 1913 in Nashua, New Hampshire. The eldest of eight children, his family lived at *** ******* St in Nashua, where the youngest sister N****still lives today. His father worked for the post office while his mother, the only great-grandparent I was to meet, was of French-Canadian origin and looked after both the children and the home.

The impression I have of him as a young man was something of a “wide-boy” with a keen eye for the ladies, a reputation he was to keep right the way through his life. He did various low-paid jobs before finally settling on being a teacher at Nashua High School, a job that was to become his chosen career.

I understand they were introduced by their respective families through mutual acquaintances; him being an unstable casanova and her being a 26-year old spinster, something virtually unheard of in American Catholic families in those days. The word is that they were married less than three months after meeting, in something of a shotgun wedding without the labour pains. It is easy to be judgemental here in the twenty-first century about the perils of getting hitched so soon to someone you don’t know too well, but back then it was a whole different ball game.

And so the couple lived in Nashua from their wedding in 1936 up to the beginning of World War II, when their lives were to drastically change. He enlisted to military service, and he was sent all over the country for several months to receive his training before being shipped off to Europe for the war, where he worked in intelligence in Belgium, Germany and Czechoslovakia.

My grandfather only ever once spoke of his war experience, the night he and his wife met my prospective in-laws shortly before my wedding in 1992. With a few whiskeys on him, he proceeded to relate, through me as translator for his whispery larynx-less voice, a dramatic account of how he and a colleague had to interrogate a prisoner with the “good cop bad cop” routine (he was good) only to find the captive had hung himself in his cell the following morning aware of his fate should he fall back in the custody of the Nazis.

One account he was sure not to share with us all, was one of how he had an affair with a German frauline while over there, and he returned to the USA in 1945, informing his wife that he wanted a divorce. Devout in her faith and no doubt uncertain of what her future would hold, she refused to give it to him. Although her decision was clearly the pivotal one in my coming into being, I can’t help but feeling sorry for the two of them being forced by their religion to stay together, when this incident had to inflict deep psychological wounds on their relationship.

And what did they do to make things right? They had three kids! They adopted Joe Jr and Chris, and had Maura naturally. They lived in Nashua until around 1957, when Joe Sr declared that they were going to up sticks and move clean across the country to California. What the man was running away from, or indeed thought he was going to, remains a mystery.
And so The Lee family finally settled in a house in Pittsburg, California, where I was to be “illegitimately” born on March 21st, 1969. Thanks to lack of compliance from those still around today, that is pretty much all the detail I have for this period. Eventually I hope to learn much more.
© JL Pagano 2004
Next, #3 : 1000 Words on...My Life Before Ireland

Thursday, March 10, 2005

chain blogging

I, in turn, borrwed this from "Buffalo's Path".
While blog surfing this afternoon I discovered the following, and "borrowed" it, from Michele's Hangout.
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for the “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet!
I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.
The book on my desk is THE REMOURSEFUL DAY by Colin Dexter (The last Inspector Morse Novel)
...fine pint of Morrell's Bitter - of which Morse took liberal advantage that early Saturday lunchtime. The printed menu and the chalked-up specials on the board were strong temptations to many a man. But not to Morse. These past two decades he had almost invariably taken his lunchtime calories in liquid form; and he did so now.
Hm! This looks interesting! Maybe I'll actually read it!!! [it's my grandmother's book!]

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

six brave women : follow-up

Imagine drawing a line in the sand, and then having your own people push you over it.

The six brave women I wrote about a while ago are still demanding that their loved one’s killers be brought before the courts.

They have managed to rock the Republican movement to its very core and galvanize public opinion behind them in a way no politician on either side has been able to do for a long, long time.

So much so that the political wing of the IRA, Sinn Fein, have been falling over themselves to remind everyone that they are actually on the side of the sextet. They have been quite rightly exposed for doing a u-turn in their policy based purely on the actions of Robert McCartney’s five sisters and his partner.

So much so that the IRA itself issued a statement yesterday admitting not only that its own members were involved in the stabbing, but that they even offered to kill the perpetrators. How nice of them. Naturally the offer was rejected.
So much so, that even Unionist politicians, from the Protestant side of the debate, have been forced to break out of their very low profile of late and make a reaction.

Although I have yet to hear it suggested, I have a feeling what is behind all their back-tracking is that Sinn Fein is worried one or all of these women will stand in the British General Elections in May, putting a serious dent in its own support, possibly even crushing it altogether.

There are very interesting times ahead.

Again I salute the courage of these women. All they want is justice.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

it was no walk in the park...

Saturday, June 12, 2004 was the day I finally realized I wasn’t young anymore. It had been about ten years since I was at a concert like this, and I am sure the only difference between the two was the eyes with which I viewed them.

Today’s the day! The Pixies and the Chilli Peppers live hooray! Get a bus into town, another one out to Phoenix Park. Not quite sure where to get off or where to go? Just follow the crowd! Off at the final stop of the Number 10 and follow the crowd! Walking and walking down the road to the corner. Long line outside liquor store. Get around the corner, what an incredible sight. Empty cans and plastic pint glasses and crumpled bags without chips and squashed chips without bags and bodies and everything all over the ground. Girlfriend has to pee; I’ll wait outside the pub. Boy no older than my 7-year old lights up a cigarette in front of me. She comes out of the pub, couldn’t go, line too long. Walking and walking to the front gates of the park. They’re handing out free bottles of Lucozade. People get the idea and go back to join that line at the liquor store so they could smuggle vodka in with the bottles. How much were the tickets again? Walking and walking till we see some portaloos. Ah there you go, there may be a line but it’s not too bad. Join the line, moving nicely. Most other people continue walking and walking, doesn’t seem too far, don’t pay much attention. Heck, we’ve loads of time, it’s only just after 4pm, Pixies not on till 6:30, and it’s not like they’re gonna start on time. People try to cut the line and walk straight into the portaloos but Stone Cold Steve Austin is in charge so nobody cuts. Girlfriend pees, back to walking and walking. Some people pass us, we pass some people. Blokes climb over high fences to pee cos they didn’t like the look of that line back there and realise they won’t hold it till they reach the gig. Walking and walking. Now they’re handing out water, but only if you hand them money. “The nearer you get the dearer it gets!” they cry. The tickets were sixty euros each, around $75. We sip on our Lucozade, not too much in case we have to pee again. Walking and walking. The thought occurs to me if I complain about all the walking I’ll sound like an old fart. Besides, there’s a statue thing in the distance, can’t be far from there. Walking and walking. Why did some people go a different direction when they got to the statue thing? What did they know? Best go with the majority. Walking and walking. I knew I shouldn’t have worn these goddam Caterpillar boots; I only did in case it rained. I didn’t account for the walking and walking. More walking and walking. What a day to get my worst hay fever attack. Of course I expect they cut the grass in the park the day before the concert. Sneezing and walking and walking and sneezing. That’s sixty euros PLUS the booking fee whatever that was. Every time we’d reach a bend, we thought the gig was around it. I can hear the Thrills, they’re on before the Pixies, we can’t be far now. Walking and sneezing and walking. We have friends there, getting texts from them telling us where they are. Walking and walking. Finally around a bend we see in the distance where the gig is. A wonderful sign marked “entrance”. Bit of walking and walking to get to it. Now I can show someone my ticket for the first time. Into the arena. I see signs telling me where I can buy beer. Signs telling me where I can buy t-shirts. Signs telling me where I can buy chips. I’m looking and I’m looking – where’s the goddam stage? Maybe there’s a sign? It’s between acts, maybe the beer stand is going to turn around and have the Pixies playing behind it? Id have easily paid an extra tenner if they took the goddam walking away. Let’s follow some people and see where they’re going. Ok, not these people, they’re in line for beer! Will we get one? Look at the line, not bloody worth it. Besides, it’s 6:15 by now, you never know, The Pixies might be on time. Maybe that crowd is headed to the stage, through a gap in the trees, ahhhhh THERE it is! I see a stage! Making way through the crowds, trying to avoid both rubbish strewn everywhere and stepping on peoples heads. Trying to text our friends see where they are, no coverage. Walking towards the stage, cheering starts, music starts, The Pixies open their set bang on time. And the set went like clockwork. We knew the songs, we sang along, Frank just screamed out his tunes didn’t say a word, Kim muttered something about Wicklow, but few heard. Every step toward the gig will mean a similar step away from it at the end. I stand between my girlfriend and a crowd of drunken stoned lads who are throwing themselves all over the place to impress some very young girls beside me. One encore. The Pixies fucked off around seven thirty. Better get something to eat, how bout an ice cream... Sit on the ground for 10 minutes. Throw wrappers on the ground with the rest of the filth, not a trashcan in sight, as they’d be pointless. Back to where we were before for when the Chilli Peppers begin. They open their set. We know some of the words. Big screen beside the stage flashes the score of the soccer game I was recording. Goddam I was sure I’d be able to miss the score at a gig! Anthony Keidis has to tell the other band members what to play next after each song. Thought they may have had all that worked out before they went on. God I’m sounding like an old fart but I really wanna write about this. The real entertainment comes from the shaky human pyramids all attempting to go three-high while surviving the barrage of half-full Lucozade bottles being flung at them by some very accurate hurlers! About one in ten pyramids achieves their goal of having the lightweight person on the third tier reaching out both their hands in a victory salute before the whole thing comes crashing down. Most just come crashing down. A half-full Lucozade bottle whizzes past my ear. Fuck all I could’ve done if it hit me. Oh wait, the Chillies are still playing! Have they done Under the Bridge yet? Anthony tries to relate to the Dublin crowd between songs by saying how cool U2 are. Ah THERE’s Under the Bridge. Cracking tune, we sing along, well at least till the high bit at the end. Gig’s over, time for walking and walking again. This whole piece just looks like one big long rant, which of course it is. This time it’s everyone at the same time, walking and walking and walking. Follow the signs to the city centre. Walking and walking. At least the sneezing has stopped. Walking and walking. The sun was just setting on that evening in June when the Chillies left the stage. Ah, at least now I can see the gate in the distance. More very slow walking and walking, and the walking is getting slower by the step. Now we have almost stopped. Maybe if I scatter points in bold type throughout it will make an impact. Now I can see why everything is so slow. The path which is full of people walking in walking is about 70 or 80 metres across, while the exit gate we were all heading for was no more than 12 meters across. It may have been narrow, but the gate was definitely wide enough for buses to ferry people back and forth to or from a point much much closer to the stage. Once finally out of the park, more walking in walking in the vain hope of finding a taxi. It was 3am by the time our walking finally stopped, and my boots could come off. I could not think of a time that I had felt more pleasure than when I lay on the bed in my bare feet twiddling my toes. I thought it best not to complain in case I sounded like an old fart. I wonder if I mentioned all the walking enough?


Click here for a full list of the "Lifeslice" stories

Monday, March 07, 2005

not a good sign!


Consider this Dublin road sign for a minute. It is situated at a significant T-junction coming from a road which comes from a major ferry terminal (other than Dublin Port!). Imagine you are a traveller over from Britain in a rented car. You look at your map, and you see that Wexford is located due south of Dublin.....
Note that Dublin drivers are generally reluctant to allow you time to take in all the specific information a sign like this has to offer.
Good luck to you!!!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #1

A WARTS 'N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY


[I decided this morning to publish my "autobiography", which I composed towards the end of last year, on my main blog one chapter at a time, every few days. It will at least ensure I have something to post on a regular basis!]



1000 WORDS ON…INTRODUCTIONS


Written November 14, 2004



I would say I had stumbled across my grandfather’s World War II memoirs at least a half a dozen times before.
Each time I would close the red hardbacked notebook as quickly as I had opened it. This time however, it was able to grab my attention, as by now Joseph Lee was permanently bed ridden at the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook and his condition was deteriorating on a daily basis.


I took it upon myself to type out what he had written for posterity. As I was doing so I was fascinated not only by its content, but also of his mindset at the time of writing. At a few points during my transcription I noticed he made references to a “Mom” and I was confused as to how his mother related to his story so closely. Then it dawned on me – the “Mom” was in fact my grandmother, and the account was written for me.


I would estimate that the writing had been done between the years of 1992 and 1994, when I was living in the USA with my new bride. Although we had always planned to return to Ireland after a few years of travelling, it is only now that I can clearly see my grandparent’s point of view – as we set off they believed that it would be the last time they ever saw us. At the airport that day I shrugged off my grandmother’s tears; now they make perfect sense. As she had said several times that her husband needed a hobby, I assume it was on the strength of her nagging that he started writing.


Tragically he did not get very far. He documented his basic training and his journey to Luxembourg via England and ended the missive around the time of The Battle Of The Bulge. After copying everything word for word, I was left with a zillion questions, and I was kicking myself for not being as curious when I could have asked them. I did not just wonder about his war stories; I wanted to know about his whole life right up to when I came into the picture in March 1969.


So why not ask my grandmother? She is still in relatively full possession of her mental faculties at the amazing age of 95. Unfortunately her knowledge of her husband’s activities was as poor as mine; such was the nature of their relationship. He has since passed away and so I am permanently left with my curiosity.


At the time of writing I have two wonderful children of my own, aged 9 and 7 respectively. I hope one day they will have a similar interest in their own parent’s backgrounds, and this project is designed to fill that potential need, at least from my perspective – their mum can write her own book!!! And who knows, my daughter "RA" has shown a desire to write her own little stories, maybe one day she will do the same. Now suitably inspired, all that was left for me to do before setting off on my literary journey was to come up with a format.


We live in an age where the term “the pen is mightier than the sword” needs to be modified. If that metaphorical pen goes on to write hundreds of pages of endless tedious rhetoric which contains long drawn out descriptive accounts laden with colourful adjectives, its might would be more equivalent to that of a toothpick. If you look at advertising, newspapers or any kind of media you want, this can be borne out. It seems to be the quirky soundbyte that grabs the attention of the masses, not the eloquent prose. It was with this in mind that I came up with the “1000 words on…” restriction.


I could now do the chapters in random order, completing each one as sufficient motivation came to me. And so I set about my first piece, and with the attention-grabbing desire fully in mind, I decided to make it about the time I lost my virginity. I pictured the finished work in my head, and imagined my kids going to the “Table of Contents” and heading straight for a chapter with anything to do with sex in it. My assumption, of course, is based on what I would do if I had a similar book on my grandfather!!!


In my view this would not be worth the paper it is printed on without the “warts ‘n all” directive. If I’m not careful I may fall into the trap of making this work little more than a testimony, defending my errant decisions to my kids, and leaving out vital bits of information which I fear my descendants may judge me on. Of course, too many “warts” turns it from a testimony into a confession, so expect an air of balance!!! I suppose my aim would be to make it like wearing my heart on my sleeve without having to get out too many bloodstains afterwards.


All I needed now was a limit of chapters within which I could work. At the end of October 2004 I heard about a website for aspiring writers which posed them the challenge of writing a 50,000 word novel before the end of November. There was no way I would have the time to do THIS, but it did give me the idea to set myself the target to complete 50 chapters by New Year’s Day 2005.


Once I had my format and my target, there was no stopping me. Although this chapter will be the first in the finished work, it is actually the 15th I have written, and I am well on course to being completed in time. I find writing them extremely therapeutic, and the whole project is so far proving to be more of a snapshot of my life in the Ireland of 2004 from which I can benefit myself. And as the saying goes, “a picture can be worth a thousand words”!!!


© JL Pagano 2004


Next , #2 : "1000 words on...Before I Came Along"

Saturday, March 05, 2005

receipt deceit

Maybe it’s not new to the Irish, but racism is definitely new to Ireland the country. Hard to believe that we are no longer on the receiving end though!

The past ten years has seen our economy flourish, mostly thanks to handouts from the European Union. Some bright spark economist coined the term “The Celtic Tiger” to represent our boom period.

This prosperous spell has, quite naturally, led to an influx of people from all kinds of different countries, most notably China and Nigeria. Now, all the so-called “crappy” jobs in fast-food restaurants, gas stations and the like, have been taken by these people.

The Irish just don’t know how to handle it! We’re used to most people being white! Names being O’Leary and Ryan and McGuinness! Everyone being Catholic! Black people, Chinese people, everywhere we go!!! What oh what can we possibly do???

Last year, the people of Ireland overwhelmingly voted “yes” in a referendum to the proposal to take the right to determine who gets to be “Irish” out of the constitution and into the hands of the government from now on, a plebescite which was clearly designed to pave the way for future legislation curtailing the influx of foreign nationals.

The debate surrounding the referendum led to widespead suspicion towards anyone who did “not look Irish”. Less than a week ago, I was headed for a taxi rank in downtown Dublin. My fiancee and I had enjoyed a few beers on a Sunday afternoon watching the Ireland v England rugby game, and we were in buoyant mood, as the Irish won.

A couple were ahead of us approaching the rank. For some reason, they looked into the first taxi in the line, and proceeded to take the one behind it, which accepted the fare and drove off. To my horror but not so much to my surprise, we got to the cab that had been spurned and found out its driver was of Indian/Pakistani origin. The other cab, with both its passengers and its driver guilty as charged, was stopped at a nearby set of lights for a few seconds, and all inside stared blankly ahead as they tried to ignore my cries of disbelief that they would refuse to take this cab. We got inside and he duly took us home. He did not seem fazed by the incident. I doubt it was the first time it happened to him.

My personal opinion is that it is amazing how a nation of people that is so fervent in remembering its “800 years of opression” by the British can be so remarkably unwelcoming to anyone. I am becoming increasingly disheartened by the realisation that so few people around me feel the same. The referendum I refer to above was passed by a ratio of four to one.

Just this evening, I stopped off at a gas station to get some groceries as I was picking up my kids for the weekend. The place was totally manned by people of seemingly Chinese origin. My purchase consisted of a loaf of bread, a litre of milk and a tub of Pringles. The guy at the register did not scan any items, he just looked at them and said “€4.30 please”. I gave him the money and he just put it in the register. I stood there looking at him.

“Was there something else?”

“Yes, can I have a receipt, please?” Something was not right.

“Uh, yeah.”

He then proceeded to write the items down on a piece of paper, and when he added them up he discovered the total was now €5.20.

“Is there something wrong with the register that you are not scanning them in?”

“Uh, yeah, it’s, um, not working today.”

This was way, way fishy. This was a station from a well known worldwide gas empire. He was making no record of the transaction; what was being purchased, nothing; he was just throwing the money into the register. When I was a store manager, I would have fallen over myself to make sure not only our inventory was straight, but also none of the customers could think there was anything untoward.

By now there was a line behind me. If he were Irish, I would have kicked up a fuss. Instead, I thought it better to hand him the extra money, keep the receipt I had been given and leave the store and make a decision once I got home whether or not to take further action.

For me, an end to racism can be claimed the day I can see a man of a race different to my own being an asshole, and be able to call him an asshole without my being called a racist. The quest for equality is much like a pendulum, which must swing both ways before it rests at the centre.

I’m still not sure what to do with this receipt. In case you are wondering, I don’t exactly look as if I was born under the Blarney Stone myself!!!