Wednesday, August 31, 2005

the cretan condom caper



"Why won't the bloody thing go in for me?"

David Kelleher cut a very lonely figure as he stood in the toilets at the Temple Bar pub in Hersonnisos on the sunny island of Crete.


Not that he was actually on his own in there, of course. It was 2am on a Sunday morning, which as far as Dave and everyone around him was concerned was still Saturday night. One could hardly expect a bathroom in a bar to be empty at this hour, particularly one aimed at the Irish.

What made Dave stand out was that unlike the others, he was not relieving his body of fluids to make way for yet more bottles of Heineken to see out the night. Instead, he was furiously trying to jam a €2 coin into a slot that was clearly designed for smaller denominations.

Up to now, this had been a trip about rules - breaking as many of them as possible, that is. From the moment he met his seven mates from school at the airport, Dave had shamelessly flouted every directive that was put before him.

Sure why should I be following rules, he thought, haven't I just finished school! After twelve years of being told what I can and can't do, I'm all grown up now, and I can make my own decisions!

Please be sure and remove all change from your pockets before walking through the barrier.

BEEP goes the barrier.

"Ah, sure, I didn't think that included the forty cents in me back pocket!"

Please try not to consume too much alcohol immediately prior to boarding the plane as this may cause a dangerous rush for the toilets around takeoff time.

"Aw, come on, lads, let's get another two beers in, sure we've another twenty minutes at least till we board!"

Please remain seated when the pilot has lit the 'fasten seatbelts' sign.

"Hey, Davy, go on up the front there and get a loan of Anto's iPod, will ya?"

Please be sure and wear helmets at all times when riding rented motorbikes on the island.

"In this heat? Are ya mad? Sure who's gonna stop me anyway?"

Please try to respect others at an early hour by conducting yourself in a quiet, orderly fashion.

"Come on lads, altogether now!!!! LOW... LIE... THE FIELDS... OF ATHENRY... WHERE ONCE..."

And so on, and so on.

There was one area, however, where Dave was determined to play by the book. Two days before he set off he was given a graphic description via email of a nasty wart his older brother had picked up while in the Canaries five years earlier.

And so, delighted and all as he was that yer one with the pigtails and the pink skirt was willing to leave the pub and go back to his villa, and drunk and all as he was on a gagillion bottles of Heino not to mention the odd slurp of a cool new sugar-loaded alco-pop-fest called a Fish Bowl, he was determined to get himself protection.

Why didn't he have any with him? More words of wisdom from his brother in New York...

Whatever you do, don't bring them with you - it's bad luck and virtually guarantees you won't score...

With Pigtails waiting for him outside the pub, Dave was glad he had followed his brother's advice, though right now he wished he had also heeded the rest of it...

...and another thing, make sure you remember to buy them in a chemist during the day, cos the machines in the toilets never work!

And so here he was, physically banging a coin against a clearly-too-small slot on a condom machine, when all the while he was mentally banging his head against a brick wall for not being better prepared.

Pigtails had slurped a good few more of those Fish Bowls herself, he realized, so the longer this mission took him, the longer she had to either change her mind or simply pass out altogether!

If you are wondering why he didn't ask one of his more organized travelling buddies to sort him out, you obviously don't know them. As the Cretan bars open till 5am, Dave was hoping to take full advantage of this window between now and closing time before the lads who hadn't 'scored' arrived home to make life hell for those who had.

His frustration was understandably growing by the second.

Suddenly, he worked out the constant tapping on his shoulder was actually someone trying to get his attention.

He turned around, and towering over him was a heavy-set dark-haired man mumbling something to him. Partially due to Dave's drunkeness - well, ok, totally due to his drunkeness, he could neither make out the man's face, nor what he was saying.

He did thankfully have enough of his wits about him to see the man was holding out two single euro coins, and that an exchange could very well get him what he wanted.

After a muffled thank you, he then began the task of putting the new coins into the machine. The good news was, they fit perfectly; the bad, they both proceeded directly to the coin return slot.

By the time the stranger had completed his bathroom business, he saw that Dave was now continuously putting the coins through with one hand, while banging the side of the unit with the other.

Again, Dave felt a tap on his shoulder.

Again, he knew the same guy was talking to him.

Again, he could see he was being offered something.

This time, the man was holding out an extra condom he had in his wallet, and as realization of the gesture hit him, Dave could just about discern the words 'Knock yourself out, buddy.'

Were the kind stranger not twice his size, Dave would have kissed him. In fact, he started to, but quickly realized by the man's dismissive reaction (something like "Whoa! No need to go there!") that this was far, far from necessary - what he was better off doing was to say another quick thank you and head straight for the front door of the pub.

"Jaysis, did ya make the bloody thing yourself?", is more or less what Pigtails said when the young couple were eventually reunited.

Meanwhile, the kind stranger returned to his fiancée who was seated at the bar, and as he related the story of his good deed for the evening, the thought occurred to him this could very well be a good tale to post on his blog when he returned home to Dublin.

One can only assume Dave and Pigtails went on to live happily ever after.



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

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

bluebird



“Let’s go to the Bluebird
And the night will be sheer bliss!”
Never more a true word
Was spoken before this!

A boring office function
Ended in my compunction
And now I feel it is a tale I can share
Just as the night was fading
You came along parading
All you were packin clean out of nowhere

As we shared a sense of humour
Not scared of starting rumours
We quietly mocked the others one by one
Who were we really hurting
With all our subtle flirting
That’s when you said that we should prolong the fun

It had always seemed to me
That you and me
Were just never meant to be
But then you said…

“Let’s go to the Bluebird
And the night will be sheer bliss!”
Never more a true word
Was spoken before this!

The wits at my disposal
Considered your proposal
My heart was pumping more than you’ll ever know
Your words they served to flatter
Cos it didn’t seem to matter
That I had more baggage than London Heathrow

And so we left our colleagues
With all their boring follies
I liked the sound of where I was being led
In search of stimulation
More drink and motivation
We hailed a cab to paint the Fair City red

How could I fail to see
That you and me
Were just never meant to be
But still you said…

“Let’s go to the Bluebird
And the night will be sheer bliss!”
Never more a true word
Was spoken before this!

And so I took my chances
With my mistimed advances
You asked me why I had to spoil everything
I know we both had partners
I know I took it farther
Than I shoulda - was it such a bad thing?

There’s no use in pretending
That there’s a happy ending
Cos I assure you the boy did not get the girl
It fact on the contrary
He felt it necessary
To think he was the biggest fool in the world

You shoulda said to me
That you and me
Were just never meant to be
Before you said…

“Let’s go to the Bluebird
And the night will be sheer bliss!”

© JL Pagano 2001, 2005


These lyrics make up part of chapter 35 of my autobigraphy “Stories Worth A Thousand Words” called “1000 Words On…Even More Bloody Lyrics!!!”. The photo does not represent the place in question - that will only ever be known by myself and the person about whom the song was written. Nothing like a bit of intrigue to keep things interesting...


click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics

Monday, August 29, 2005

a town called jesus


He had a plan, he would walk for a while
To clear his head once and for all now
The sun would dry all of his tears
The red soil nourish his hopes now

The sound of the sea would silence his doubt
So that he could then see a way of working it out
That’s when he saw the sign and here’s what it read

This way to Jesus
This way to Jesus

He had been walking to forget
And stop the past from taking over
He was lonely kinda needed a friend
The sign it called him over

It said “This way you’ll find what you’re lookin for
We’ll give you peace of mind and who could want more”
So he considered that sign and all that it said

This way to Jesus
This way to Jesus

He was lonely, kinda needed a friend

But he had a plan, he’d set out his goals
Security lay in another town
Follow your head, my friend, not your heart
Your instinct can’t let you down

This he said to himself as he turned away
Still not ready to find this kind of new day
Yet forever that sign would live in his head

This way to Jesus
This way to Jesus

Follow your head, my friend, not your heart


Cos you know deep down in your soul one day it’s gonna be alright


© JL Pagano/”Noreen” 2000


These lyrics make up part of chapter 35 of my autobigraphy “Stories Worth A Thousand Words” called “1000 Words On…Even More Bloody Lyrics!!!” which I began posting yesterday.


click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics

Sunday, August 28, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #35

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…EVEN MORE BLOODY LYRICS!!!

Written: November 18, 2004 (except the lyrics of course!)

There’s nothing like relationship problems to inspire creativity. I almost thought my artistic well had run dry until I finally conceded my marriage was on the rocks in 2000.

When things finally went belly-up, I knew more songs would quickly follow. I was determined, however, to limit myself to just one tune on the subject of my bad feelings. Just one self-pity song. From this came “A Woman For Me”.

While in Ibiza on the Holiday From Hell in May 2000 (a whole chapter on that to come), I decided to fill a bottle of water, strap on my walkman and walk for an entire morning for as long as the road would take me. Along my journey I actually did see a sign which told me I was walking in the direction of a town called “Jesus”. The irony was striking, and I joked to myself that I would walk until I found Jesus. I actually only made it halfway to the town before turning back, more irony I guess. When I returned to Dublin I told the story to my netfriend “Noreen”, who is a bit of a lyricist herself. She was overcome by inspiration, and less than 24 hours later emailed me a poem which I modified to become the song “A Town Called Jesus”.

All I will say about “Bluebird” is that it’s a true story.

© JL Pagano 2004

"A Woman For Me" is posted below, as you can see. I'll post the other two over the next couple of days. For those wondering where the 1000 words are, I'm including the words from the lyrics - if you make the rules you can also bend them...

NEXT, #36 : 1000 WORDS ON…THE DEMON DRINK

a woman for me



You don’t have to tell me
There’s other fish in the sea
And please don’t remind me
I’ve got my whole life in front of me
It’s just I’m in a place right now
And I swear I won’t be long (belong?)
It’s just my way of coping
And there can’t be nothin wrong with just one self-pity song…

Can there ever be a woman for me
Can there ever be a woman for me
Evenings by the fire
Nights of pure desire
Walking hand in hand
To find our promised land
Someone I can love
Someone I’ve been thinking of
Can there ever be a woman for me

When all you have is all you need
And then you throw it away
You have a broken heart that cannot bleed
And there’s nothing you can say
Is it my imagination or are things really this bad?
As I look around for inspiration
All I can feel is sad
So here’s my self-pity song

Can there ever be a woman for me
Can there ever be a woman for me
Evenings by the fire
Nights of pure desire
Walking hand in hand
To find our promised land
Someone I can love
Someone I’ve been thinking of
Can there ever be a woman for me

There's nothing left to say

© JL Pagano 2000


click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics

Saturday, August 27, 2005

did ya miss me? well did ya?

Don't be fooled by the clouds in the distance - they didn't trouble us for the week.


Hi, honey, I'm home!

I'll just ramble on for a bit to get back into the swing of things.

Thank you all for your holiday best wishes - and yes, I got out of the week exactly what I wanted, relaxation and contemplation, and not a bad colour either if I do say so myself.

Having said all of that, I will never go to Crete again, that's a given, and for one reason only. I will elaborate later just to tease you. It's pretty gross, though, you may just want to take my word for it.

You can’t expect me to go down to the local shop without something mildly amusing happening, usually at the expense of my dignity, so a week on a Greek Island was no exception. I actually took the time while I was there to write a story down on my Palm Pilot, which I have called “The Cretan Condom Caper” and will publish later in the week, for yet more teasing hehehehe…I should tell you, however, that the story is nowhere near as intimate as the title suggests.

I’ll whet your appetite a bit by telling you about our waiter one night. He was clearly the owner of this particular Greek restaurant which was right by our apartment – a short grey haired gentleman with a goatee beard which gave him a distinguished quality.

When he discovered we were from Dublin, he impressed us with his knowledge of our home country, obviously accumulated from the hundreds if not thousands of patrons which will have darkened his door over the years.

The meal was going fine until we asked for the bill. The food was good; I tried moussaka for the first time and was impressed, we were enjoying ourselves no less so than any of the other nights, until we asked for the bill.

Our host decided to take the cocktail sticks from our complimentary post-entrée fruit selection and pose us with a puzzle. I won’t bore you with specifics, but I’m sure you are familiar with the type of brain-teasers where sticks are made to look like one thing and you have to make it look like something else with a limited amount of moves. Well he set us one of these, and went on about his business.

We decided to humour him, even though we had both seen this particular puzzle before. We even agreed to pretend to be arguing over whether it was right to make him feel he had done the right thing by us, even though we were bemused by his actions.

After about ten minutes of him scurrying about serving other customers he came over, without the bill, and inspected our efforts. He was happy with it, congratulated us, and went off again, supposedly for the check. How wrong we were.

He came back with another ****ing puzzle.

This time it was an assortment of pea-sized balls which were joined together in clusters of three and four, and seemingly it was possible to put them together to make a pyramid.

Please note that this wasn’t even a tactic to have us drink more, as we were by now at the end of our last bottles of beer which we had received when we first asked for the bill, and he did not so much as suggest we order more.

Rather than show annoyance by the conventional method, I decided to have a bit of fun with the situation. I rearranged the cocktail sticks and the balls to spell the word “Bill!” and left it there for him to hopefully get the hint the next time he graced our table with his presence.

So finally after more scurrying, he comes to our table.

“What is this nonsense? I said it has to be a pyramid! Here let me start you off!”

And as we look on in disbelief, he puts two of the pieces together and off he goes again.

Now we'd had enough.

I grabbed one of the other waiters, he brought us our check, not very surprised at our frustration with his boss by the way, and we somehow managed to both pay and make our escape before he had the chance to chase us down the street with a Rubik’s Cube.

This was the most blatant of several examples I noticed during our stay that led me to believe the Greeks seem to have a hard time understanding how the Irish like to be entertained.

I notice a lot of you kept checking back while I was gone, thanks again for that and I look forward to catching up with my Blogroll asap.

That word Blogroll, by the way, reminds me of the word “bogroll”, which is a term we Irish use as an alternative to “toilet paper”, which in turn reminds me of why I won’t go back to Crete again. If you still want to know the reason, I’ve just decided to post it on my Irish blog “Ah Sure Ya Know Yerself” tomorrow.

Enough rambling for now.

Friday, August 19, 2005

to chew on while i’m in the sun



Well, readers, I’m off to Crete for a week. I actually considered finding a net café somewhere near my resort to keep the posts flowing, but then I saw sense. A vacation is a goddam vacation after all.

While I’m gone, you can do no better for blog-reading pleasure than scan through the assorted blogs linked to here under "My Blogging Is Partly Inspired By..." down on the right hand side of this page, for none of them got there without being excellent bloggers in their own unique ways.
To prove this, I have copy pasted a lot of stuff from there onto my palm pilot to bring with me so I can catch up while I'm gone, particularly some archives from Buffalo's Path, Michele's List of Ten Things She Has Done, as well as Sex's excerpt from her novel.

Right - I'm gone.

Keep on eye on the place for me will ya? Try not to move anything?



*********************


A couple of hours later, I see this is the cover of the latest National Geographic which just hit my doormat. Looks like a front page that's going to give me something to read on the plane, what do you think?

Thursday, August 18, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #33

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY VIRTUAL LIFE

Written: November 9, 2004

I’ve been in some crazy situations with women in my day, but this one was by far and away the most bizarre.

At very least it provided me with the perfect anecdote with which to describe my life as a citizen of the global community popularly known as “Cyberspace”.

I had been chatting to “sharon_the_angel” for a good few months by then. Sharon was one of the regulars in Yahoo’s Dublin Global Chatroom #1. In fact, she could be better described as First Lady of the room. She was always there, and by the picture in her personal profile, I could tell she was easily the best looking. So when I (“crumlindude”) received an invite to pay a visit to her house in Tallaght on a sunny July morning in 2003, being a hot blooded single (if separated) male, I would be forgiven for thinking I was on to a good thing.

Oh, if only it could ever be that simple! First, there was my lifelong propensity to ignore any signals that could be sent out by a girl that fancied me. I was fully aware of this failing, and found it hard to reconcile my invitation with the fact that Sharon was also prone to flirting with another chatroom regular Phil, who went by the charming moniker “i_wanna_lik_u”.

My visit was to be on the Wednesday morning, and the excuse was that I wanted to actually meet some people from the chatroom before we all went out together on the Saturday night downtown, an outing which Phil was also meant to be attending.

Then, there was the warning from another chatroom friend “hey_kitty_kitty” (or “kitty”) that Sharon had been known to actively look for a boyfriend for her mother, another chatter known as “Marilyn101”. She was 18 when she had Sharon, and is attractive for her 40+ years. I had also chatted to her a few times, and got on quite well with her.

And so, as I left the house to head for Tallaght, I knew I was to meet a potential partner, but I wasn’t quite sure whether it was to be one 9 years my junior or 9 years my senior. Two hours, a few joints and much awkwardness later, I was just as unsure!!!

Whereas I must have seemed a polite individual with not much to say, the inside of my head was actually a turmoil which wasn’t helped by the hash I was smoking. Should I flirt with Sharon or Marilyn? Have you ever gone into a shop, down to your last few pennies, and been unsure whether Coke or 7up will quench your thirst? Once you choose and twist open the top of the bottle, there’s no turning back? This is where I was that morning.

Marilyn and I seemed to get on very well from the start. We had similar interests, most specifically the smoking of hash, so my first instinct was that I was meant to flirt with mom. But then all of a sudden, Sharon said I was “very handsome”, and started chatting to me. And to top it all, they seemed like nice people, and the last thing I wanted to do was make the wrong move and alienate them for good.


"Do I dare
disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time,
for decisions and revisions that a minute will reverse."


(taken from "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" by TS Eliot)


And so I did nothing. Half-stoned and very confused I made my excuses and left in the early afternoon. God only knows what they made of me. I have seen them both several times since, but after that day I decided that I had made two extremely platonic friends from my online escapades.

Overall I would say I have made at least a dozen good quality netfriends over the years. The only trouble is, to meet a dozen decent people, you have to chat to hundreds if not thousands. There are a LOT of sick puppies out there! One of my better online pals Noreen (“mrs_jim_morrison”) puts it perfectly:


“If you want to meet people online, the odds will be extremely good, but the goods will be extremely odd!!!”


Truer words have seldom been spoken.

So why was I chatting at all? I was never a confident conversationalist with the opposite sex, and when my marriage fell apart in 2000, I tried in vain to get back into the singles scene. I hung around with a crowd that went regularly to Club92 in Leopardstown, and my attempts at chat-up lines were beyond pathetic. My apprehension at volunteering my status as being “used merchandise” would sap any self-esteem I had.

In most online communities, you have what is known as a “personal profile”, as mentioned above. This is basically a web page whereby you can give a synopsis of your own life scenario. Naturally, most people lie, but I figured if I put the “separated 30-something father of 2” info on there few would doubt it. I was convinced that this was the only way I could ever possibly meet someone for a long term relationship.

Luckily for me, Sandra was to twice disprove this theory. Our first spell saw me staying away from the chatrooms for a while, but when we split up, I resurrected my online persona and became a regular myself in “Dub Room 1”. Over the two periods of prolonged chatting I would say I had about ten dates, maybe four of which went further, but NONE of which promised anything worthwhile long term.

Ironically I was on a night out with a bunch of “chat-roomies” when Sandra rang me to ask could we give it another go. Drunk and all as I was at the time, I still had the common sense to agree. Looking back, I’m sure many would belittle my chatroom antics, but it was a crucial period of my life and I owe a lot to the genuine friendship shown to me by my cyber buddies.


© JL Pagano 2004



NEXT, #34 : 1000 WORDS ON…FOOTBALL IN IRELAND [as this is all about, well, what the title says it’s about, and also since I will be away in five days when I would normally publish it, I will stick it on my sports writing blog now. The next instalment you will see published here will be #35 : 1000 WORDS ON…EVEN MORE BLOODY LYRICS!!! and you'll see it hopefully on August 28th]

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

JOSEPH FRANCIS LEE'S WAR MEMOIRS, part 3

"Dad"


(continued from yesterday)


There was one interesting incident while we were in Esch.

Some valuable records had been left in Bastogne and it was decided that one of the agents – a volunteer would return there and attempt to retreive them. His name was Mickey Rooney and was not related to the film star. At local intelligence headquarters he was briefed on the way to travel to get there. He was warned that there was an American road block at a certain point on the outskirts of Bastogne and to move with great caution. Rooney made the trip successfully and returned with the records. He said there was one amusing incident.

On approaching Bastogne along the road in the area where the road block was supposed to be, he was moving slowly and carefully. Then along the road in front of him he saw a lone American GI carrying a Tommy gun and with clusters of hand grenades attached to his battle jacket. Rooney stopped on direction of the soldier and identified himself after giving the pass-word. Ready to move on he said : “There is supposed to be a road block around here. Can you tell me where it will be?” The road block answered : “Road block! I’m the road block!”

From Esch we soon moved to Neuchateau and then to Bouillon. We had found Luxembourg to be very interesting. One of the most notable features was the multi-linguistic abilities of the people, even the children. It reinforced the notion that the language should be learned in childhood as a matter of course and not as a discipline.

At this time Oliphant and I were set up as a team and we remained one until the end of the war. At the time during the Bulge it was our duty to travel the roads, visit the towns and to pick up any information which would be important to our troops. We talked to the mayors of towns, to the priests and to anyopne who might have information. The lines of battle at this time were very fluid and intelligence of mined roads and the like was very sketchy. The area in which we operated was quite wooded and German units and American units frequently used the same roads within a short time of each other. Oliphant and I set out each morning about nine o’clock and we returned to the hotel in which we were staying in Bouillon. The largest town and most active one which we visited was Libramont . Apparently the Germans still had good intelligence for the headquarters of the American forces in the area was hit directly by an air bomb and a general among others was killed in the blast.

Soon after a Belgian woman was picked up and accused of having relayed information of the location of the headquarters to the Germans. During the bomb attack Oliphant and I were on the outskirts of the town in a pretty open area. We left our vehicle and huddles at the parapet of a bridge until the single plane left. We had planned to meet members of another team, Joe Gray and Ray Opp at the headquarters. When we arrived at the location and saw the blasted building we were concerned that the team might have been inside when the bomb exploded. Later on in Bouillon we found out that the men had already left the headquarters before the bomb went off.

It was an adventure each morning as Oliphant and I set out on our patrol. Again, the battle lines were very fluid and there was a great deal of transport on the roads. Most of this was of military vehicles like our own and usually single ones or small envoys. The intelligence was that there were a number of teams of Germans dressed and equipped as Americans who were infiltrating our areas. There was a new password each day and whenever we were stopped at a road block which might appear suddenly and unexpectedly we were questioned something like this : “what are the Boston Red Sox?” or “What is shit on a shingle? ”. Incidentally, the latter referred to a common army breakfast passed up by many GI’s. It consisted of cooked hamburger meat in a milk sauce and over toast – a sort of “Sloppy Joe”.

In this area our most frequent intelligence source was the local parish priest. Also the mayors of the towns were very helpful. Too, we looked for travellers on foot who might have observed military movement along their way. Just as the Americans had a battle headquarters in Libramont the Germans had one in nearby St Hubert. Thus it was pretty safe in the area of Libramont and dangerous near St Hubert.

That the local people were accustomed to the German people was frequently shown when they were caught by surprise and would turn around with a “Heil Hitler” salute. At night there was quite a bit of German small plane activity. The towns people frequently reported them and spoke of flashing lights between the planes and the ground. This signal activity indicated that there seemed to be some german agents in the American area.

Now and then we ran into small units of other than Americans. There were scattered English and French in the area. Everyone seemed confused as indeed we were. On our patrols when we saw an approaching vehicle one would hope that it was friendly.


----------------------------------------------------------------------


Tragically, this is all he had written. If he tried to tell me these stories in person at the time he was writing them, I probably would have been looking at my watch every five minutes eager to get away, and taking in absolutely nothing. Now, a year after his passing, I would dearly love to hear the rest of his account.

Thank you all for your kind comments over the past few days, and again I'm sorry this is all I have to share with you guys. It's a great comfort at this time of his anniversary to know that his efforts to record even some of his experiences were not in vain.

From tomorrow, you will have to go back to reading stuff from li'l ol' me I'm afraid, a lifelong civilian pacifist!


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

JOSEPH FRANCIS LEE'S WAR MEMOIRS, part 2

The Grubstake Snack Bar in The Union, University of Wisconsin, circa 1940s

(continued from yesterday)

The train ride was great as we were on the way to a new and more exciting adventure.

We got off the train in Chicago and stayed overnight in an hotel. I remember for the first time feeling like a privileged person as a member of the army. The hotel had people queing to register and get in. We were taken to the head of the “que” and given special rates.

Arriving in Madison the next day we, the soldiers, were assigned to fraternity house along the lake. This was really living. We had meals at the “Union” where pitchers of fresh milk were on the table at every meal. Mom and the other wives found rooms close to the university. In a university town during the off-season that is never difficult.

The months in Madison were very enjoyable. We had classes five days a week, morning and afternoon with very little of the usual military discipline. The teachers were capable and good. Many were Germans who had fled Nazi Germany. We studied German as a language, German history and geography. Too, we had many lectures on the characteristics of Germans in the various areas of that country. We were able to enjoy many of the activities of Madison as a university town. There were the football games in the Fall and many concerts and lectures throughout the year.

From Madison I was assigned to the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie in Maryland . The camp is beautifully located in pleasant surroundings. My training was in Photo and the Terrain Intelligence. In Terrain Intelligence I scored very high because I have no sense of direction and consequently learned to use a compass as few others did. Thus, relying on the compass and not my own faulty sense of directions I hit the target on each one of our map problems. I suppose the one Canadien Indian ancestor also may have had an influence as I always felt at home in the forest.

From Camp Ritchie after three months I was assigned to a Counter Intelligence Corps group in an armored division at Camp Hood in Texas. After only a few days there I was sent to C.I.C., 8th Armored Division at Camp Polk in Louisiana. They were on their may overseas and were short one agent. In short order we were moved to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey and were shortly on our way overseas landing after ten days at Southampton in England.

We went quickly to an army base, Tidworth, in Hampshire. There we were outfitted with jeeps, tents, trailers and similar things. Before leaving Camp Kilmer we had been taken into New Brunswick in New Jersey and outfitted with civilian clothes. We were in Tidworth long enough to visit London. While in London we were alerted and we rushed back to Tidworth. Gathering our equipment we moved on to the port at Southampton where we embarked on a landing craft and set off for the continent. Five landing craft set out at that time and we were on one of the two that made it. It was not because of enemy action but because of storms and high seas. On the ten days of the trip by sea from the States I was sick the whole time. On this very, very rough crossing on a small craft I felt no sickness at all. While others who had crossed the Atlantic without a problem turned green I felt fine, had a good appetite and enjoyed the American food especially the apple pie.

We sailed up the river Seine and landed at Rouen. Our instructions were to go to a wooded area, set up camp and wait for further orders. Incidentally, this was the only time we used the tents and other camp equipment. It was November and very damp. We had been instructed not to cut down any trees for fuel but before long we disobeyed this rule and kept a blazing fire in an oil drum we had found. Our outfit consisted of the leader, Captain Stanchik, his assistant, Lt Oliphant and special agents Joe Gray, Gene Kemp, Ray Opp, Bob McDonald, and myself. Stancik was from Pennsylvania, Oliphant from Oklahoma, Gray from New Mexico, Kemp from Illinois, Opp from Ohio, McDonald from California and I from New Hampshire. We represented a cross section of the States and except for a bit of difference in accents were all pretty much the same. At thirty-one I was perhaps the oldest in the group which except for a younger McDonald were in their late twenties.

There was an American headquarters at the city of Rouen and it was there we got food and other supplies. Also, the Captain went there each day to get instructions on our next move. We knew that we were going to Paris and had been told to await instructions before proceeding. While there we visited the city and I made the acquaintance of a very kind French family who lived close to where we were camping. After the war I corresponded with them for some time. Finally Capt Stanchik decided to move on to our headquarters in Paris, orders or no orders. We got our gear together and set off.

Arriving at CIC headquarters in Paris we found that they had lost our location and it was well that we had taken it upon ourselves to go on. In Paris we were quartered in afine hotel, the St Honoré . While there we had one of our jeeps repaired. Apparently new as it was it had been given to us without a transmission plug. While it became a bit noisy toward the end it made the trip from Rouen to Paris hauling a loaded trailer as well

Finally we were ready for our mission which was to get battle experience in a relatively quiet area of the front. Our assignment was to drive to Bastogne, Belgium and to report to the 8th Corps CIC located there. Our trip was relatively quiet until after dark we reached the outskirts of Bastogne. There was considerable shelling and small arms fire as well as moving army vehicles. I remember thinking if this is supposed to be quiet what would it be like if it was active. We found 8th Corps headquarters and found the members hurriedly getting everything ready to evacuate. It seemed the Germans had made an unexpected major attack and Bastogne was in the process of being surrounded by them. There was one road known to be open and we were instructed to take it and proceed to Esch Alzette in Luxemburg. Arriving there we found a CIC contingent and shared quarters with them. Meanwhile the activity known as The Battle Of The Bulge had commenced and we were in the middle of it.

(to be continued tomorrow)



To provide a measure of authenticity to these posts, here's a scan of an excerpt from my grandfather's notebook. This passage would be from both the end of part one and the beginning of part two. If you click the scan itself you get a closer look

Monday, August 15, 2005

JOSEPH FRANCIS LEE’S WAR MEMOIRS, part 1

Joseph F Lee, RIP
August 21, 1913 – August 27, 2004


Discovered by myself, his grandson, JL Pagano, on Wednesday, May 19, 2004. The following was written in a copybook bought in Eason’s bookstore, presumably the one in downtown Dublin. I imagine the memoirs were composed around the time I was travelling in America and when my grandparents lived in an apartment in Danes Court, Clontarf, and thus would be between the years of 1992 and 1994, when Mr Lee was aged 79-81. I have attempted to copy it word for word.

I will be away on vacation for both his birthday and his anniversary, so I would like to publish this on my blog over the next few days by way of commemoration.



My army experience began at Camp Devens in Massachusetts in the Spring of 1942.

It was an induction center which means that new recruits who went there were processed and made ready to be sent to an outfit where they would be trained. Uniforms were issued and tests were taken there. It was all very unreal for things happened so quickly. We were given tests and shown movies far into the nights and then awakened early in the mornings. There were all kinds of rumours and the best part about it was that we were not there very long.

From there I was shipped out with a group and we ended up at Camp Bowie, Texas . The trip took about three days and many of the newly made soldiers had their money stolen as they slept. Apparently it was a common problem. The regular crew who accompanied such shipments made a practice of stealing as the new recruits slept. Anticipating no such thing on the first night recruits left their wallets hanging by their bunks in their pockets. I didn’t have much money but was lucky enough to keep it under my pillow. The thefts took place only during the first night, of course. While they were reported, no money was recovered. Some guys really lost a lot for they carried with them more than was wise.

Too, on the trip, one of the recruits went mad. He began to scream about an invasion from outer space. At first people thought that he was joking. He wasn’t and became quite violent as time went on. Officials on board the train contacted proper authorities and he was removed at one of the stops. In the meantime he had to be restrained and I helped to do it. It took a group of us to hold him down and I was one of them.

The trip was not boring for the experience was so new. We were pretty crowded and there wasn’t much to do except talk among ourselves and look forward to stops at regular intervals. I believe that it was in the station in Memphis when little black kids danced for us on the station platform. They expected coins to be thrown at them and they were.

At some of the stops especially as we got closer to Texas there were groups of ladies who served us coffee and cakes. I still have a nice warm feeling when I think of it. They were there because they cared and their smiles were grand.

I remember Fort Worth and the siding there where we were made ready for transportation to the camp to which we had been assigned. It was my first experience with “Latinos”. There were many little Mexican children around and to me they were complete foreigners with their dark skins and to me unintelligible language. In Texas, though, the “foreigners” soon became a familiar sight.

Arriving by truck at Camp Bowie we were assigned to quarters and kept busy from the time of arrival. Just as I was becoming familiar with my new outfit – a Tank Destroyer Battalion, I found that I had been wrongly assigned and belonged to a different one on the same base. The change was made without much real trauma and I settled down to basic training, army style.

My biggest problem was not getting paid for two or three months. Apparently my wrong assignment had fouled up my records. As a consequence I was soon without funds as I had brought only a couple of dollars with me. I was too proud to ask “Mom” for money and so I just went without and kept away from the PX . When I was finally paid I remember going to that place and eating ice cream until I was almost sick. I have never had a special desire for ice cream except at this time. Texas was hot and dry and ice cream was wet and cold. It was lovely.

After my first pay I also learned a bit about rolling dice. I found out about the hard numbers and the easy ones. On the hard ones there were two chances to get them and on the easy, three. On one experience there was a person betting even money on the hard numbers. I watched for this kind of “sucker” and bet against him. Before long I had amassed a fortune of almost a hundred dollars. As a consequence, I splurged and bought dress shoes and all sorts of toiletries. It was good that I did when I did for my winnings were quickly gone by losing to a more astute player than I.

Mom came to Texas and lived with a family with whom we were friends in Nashua. He was a doctor at a camp close by. I would not recommend the experience for anyone else. Basic training brings worries enough without the extra ones created by such a situation. We survived, but I would not recommend it.

Then came ASTP – the Army Specialized Training Program . It was intended to train specialists who had above average intellectual ability. Let me say now that one deserves no credit for intellectual ability. The credit belongs to ones parents and to the genes which produce the ability. Anyhow, I was sent to Louisiana State University there to remain until I was assigned to a university to study French for which I had qualified. The assignment was to the University of Wisconsin and Mom and I travelled with a group to Madison, Wisconsin.

(to be continued tomorrow)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

forget



Take all your troubles
Take all your fears
Lose all your worries
From over the years
Lay down beside me
Turn out the light
Let’s dance with the angels

And if you still have regret
I can help you forget
For a night

There are those who will scorn us
And be sure there are those who will warn us
That we’ve got so much to lose
Yet between us we choose
Not to end what we have

One day you’ll leave me
And run far away
Back to your homeland
To a brighter day
Always forever
My thoughts will be with you
Don’t doubt for a moment

There’s no way I can let
Myself ever forget
Of this night

Just ignore those who scorn us
Pay no heed to the ones that will warn us
That we’ve got so much to lose
Yet between us we choose
Not to end what we have

So take all your troubles
And take all your fears
Lose all your worries
From over the years
Lay down beside me
Turn out the light
Let’s dance with the angels

And if you still have regret
I can help you forget
One more night
© JL Pagano 2005


click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics

Saturday, August 13, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #32

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY SON

CJ aged 1 day, with his old man


Written: December 20, 2004

Everything was much more relaxed coming up to the birth of our second child, in fact, this time MyX decided to schedule an induction, so rather than have a bag ready-packed beside the front door, we could have everything in order and be prepared for a day in The Coombe Hospital that suited our schedule.

I was even able to book two weeks off from work to be there for the event. Now, when I said relaxed, I meant every stage right up to the arrival in Delivery Room 4 of a woman who can only be described as The Man-Hating Midwife Bitch From Hell.

“Ok, you can leave now if you want”, she barked, as she stormed past me upon first entering the room. By the time the birth was imminent, I was tempted to end a life in conjunction with the one that was beginning, hoping noone would mind! I do not know what this woman had against the fathers being present, but whatever it was, I wasn’t about to let her take it all out on me at this important time!

The culmination of my dealings with this weirdo came immediately after the birth when I looked down and proclaimed “It’s a boy” to which she declared that this was a fact the required some sort of confirmation on her part! I know they had some kind of special training and all, but for God’s sake my humble abilities as a male surely at least stretch to being able to tell the gender of a baby!!!

And so CJ was born around 1:30pm on July 21st, 1997. We already had the name picked out for a boy, since with my uncle and MyX’s father (both deceased) having it made the choice a natural one. Our first challenge was how to introduce him to his big sister, and this was achieved by ensuring he was in his cot and not in his mother’s arms when she first laid eyes on him. Of course, we were to later find that this was not a sure fire way of preventing sibling jealousy!

A couple of days ago I spent the entire afternoon with my son, as his sister was spending a day with some of her school buddies to celebrate her birthday which is later this week. I had promised CJ a lads day out which was to comprise a movie, watching some football on TV and finally watching the movie Star Wars.

Although it was a wet and windy day, he seemed to enjoy it all, though his main focus seemed to be on having evidence of his good times to be able to show off to his sister! He insisted on keeping the ticket and even the bag of popcorn from the film, and when he had the privilege of pressing the button for the pedestrian lights crossing the road, a task he would normally cede to his sibling, he would declare “Eat my shorts, RA!”

If the above suggests a dislike for his immediate elder, nothing could be further from the truth, for he absolutely worships her in every respect. This fact is borne out in his choice of Christmas presents this year – she has conned him into wanting “Bratz” dolls (albeit the male ones) so he can participate in her own various games!

It struck me early in his life that I was to be not only his principal male role model, but his only one. When I wasn’t around, he was spending the bulk of his time with his mother, his gran, his sister, his aunts, his female teachers. Being the cute big-eyed baby he was, he was smothered in attention from all of the above.

We had a classic example of his sensitive nature last Sunday, when Sandra the kids and I were in McDonalds for lunch. I went with him to the toilet, and as we left he hesitated at the door for a brief moment, at which time someone came through the entrance, banging the door into his poor little head. I knew he wanted to cry, and I could see his face as he tried to hold back the tears, since he knew he’d get a hard time from his sister if she saw him blubbing. I have said it to him as well for smaller things, but this time it was quite a blow the poor guy took, and tears were understandable. The whole thing just looked a little suspect to the woman watching us emerge from the restroom, with him crying holding his head and me, big bulky daddy towering over him!

He does his best to fight his corner with his strong-willed older sister, but more often than not gives in to her wishes. It can’t be easy for either of them being carted back and forth between their mum & BikerBoy, their gran, school, and me & my gran all the time, and RA is the only constant companion he has.

Overall it has to be said that my son has a heart of gold, and always tries to do the right thing. He is an extremely bright, caring little boy, and I would only have two worries about his future, depending on which way things go in the next year or so. I will either find myself having to threaten a fellow schoolboy’s dad for his son stealing CJ’s pocket money, or threaten my boy himself for smoking behind the bike sheds!

As we walked home from our travels on Saturday, I asked him the age-old question for the first time. “So, CJ, what do you wanna be when you grow up?” No hesitation, the 7½ year old replied, “A singer, just like Robbie Williams”. That response could be taken in SO many different ways, so I chose not to analyse it too much; instead I patted him on the head and looked forward to the rest of our “lad’s day”.



© JL Pagano 2004


NEXT, #33 : 1000 WORDS ON…MY VIRTUAL LIFE

Friday, August 12, 2005

…and what do you get? “busted!”


Gimme a “Q”… now a “U”… now an “I” … an “R”… now a K… and a “Y”…

What have you got? This nugget from Ananova’s Quirky files…

Cheerleaders help nab motorist


A group of cheerleaders who saw a driver speed off after causing a pile-up turned his number plate into a cheer.

The Lincoln High School varsity cheerleading squad didn't have a pen handy when they saw the smash near the University of Michigan campus.

So they did what comes naturally by chanting the car registration in unison to remember it, reports the Ann Arbor News.

Senior captain Kimmie Ostrowski led the nine-member squad's impromptu performance until the police arrived.



My first reaction – maybe it seemed like a good idea at the time and of course I’m delighted it worked, but isn’t a group of teenage girls wearing skirts dancing by the side of the road more liable to CAUSE a pile up than it is to report someone for creating one?

More power to them all the same.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

hu's on first?




Yeah, I’m sure you’ve all seen this already as it has been doing the rounds via email, but I don’t care; it’s too funny to pass up, especially since I don’t feel like being creative myself today…

And yes, I can admit I’m just about old enough to remember Abbott and Costello, so sue me…

Hu's the new leader of China

Playwright Jim Sherman wrote this after Hu Jintao was named chief of the Communist Party in China.

(We take you now to the Oval Office.)

George: Condi! Nice to see you. What's happening?

Condi: Sir, I have the report here about the new leader of China.

George: Great. Lay it on me.

Condi: Hu is the new leader of China.

George: That's what I want to know.

Condi: That's what I'm telling you.

George: That's what I'm asking you. Who is the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes.

George: I mean the fellow's name.

Condi: Hu.

George: The guy in China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The new leader of China.

Condi: Hu.

George: The Chinaman!

Condi: Hu is leading China.

George: Now whaddya' asking me for?

Condi: I'm telling you Hu is leading China.

George: Well, I'm asking you. Who is leading China?

Condi: That's the man's name.

George: That's who's name?

Condi: Yes.

George: Will you or will you not tell me the name of the new leader of China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir? Yassir Arafat is in China? I thought he was in the Middle East.

Condi: That's correct.

George: Then who is in China?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir is in China?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Then who is?

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Yassir?

Condi: No, sir.

George: Look, Condi. I need to know the name of the new leader of China. Get me the Secretary General of the U.N. on the phone.

Condi: Kofi?

George: No, thanks.

Condi: You want Kofi?

George: No.

Condi: You don't want Kofi.

George: No. But now that you mention it, I could use a glass of milk. And then get me the U.N.

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: Not Yassir! The guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi?

George: Milk! Will you please make the call?

Condi: And call who?

George: Who is the guy at the U.N?

Condi: Hu is the guy in China.

George: Will you stay out of China?!

Condi: Yes, sir.

George: And stay out of the Middle East! Just get me the guy at the U.N.

Condi: Kofi.

George: All right! With cream and two sugars. Now get on the phone.

(Condi picks up the phone.)

Condi: Rice, here.

George: Rice? Good idea. And a couple of egg rolls, too. Maybe we should send some to the guy in China. And the Middle East. Can you get Chinese food in the Middle East?



If you ask me, that’s Saddam funny skit.

Aw come on, ya gotta give me ONE…

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

ghost in the machine




Today’s story happened around the time I had to take two buses every day to get to work.

We only had the one car, which MyX had commandeered as she was responsible for bringing the kids to their playgroup.

Since I was the manager of my sports store and had to be there before everyone else, I had to leave home at around 6:30am. Since I am not your fall-out-of-bed-and-head-straight-to-work kinda guy, this meant that in order to be properly ready to leave the house I had to set my alarm for 5am. Yuk.

We were doing ok financially at the time, and had recently purchased our first home personal computer. With it came a video game, a soccer simulation one called FIFA96. It became part of my morning routine to drag myself out of bed, make a huge mug of coffee, and sit down for about 20 minutes to half an hour’s play as I tried to gradually guide my favorite soccer team through a full season.

Luckily my early morning ritual meant my 2-year-old daughter was also asleep, so the house was at perfect silence at this hour. All I had to do was plug in the headphones and I could play away with no fear of waking anyone who would not stir before I left the house.

One of the features of FIFA96 was that it included the real voice of legendary British commentator John Motson. With a feat of technical wizardry his voice would accurately describe the action of the game you were playing, and I could not get over how clever that was – of course over time the technology has become even more advanced and he now has a sidekick with him in the virtual commentary booth!

Back in ’96, however, I was happy with just John’s voice to help my escapism from reality for a brief period as the caffeine helped kickstart my synapses.

Normally his commentary would go something like this :

“And Beckham takes the ball down on his chest, and plays a lovely through ball to Keane, who shoots first time – AND IT’S THERE!!! WHAT A GOAL!!!!”

Imagine my surprise when one morning, shortly after 5am, I hear John say this through my headphones :

“Are you ALWAYS on the computer at this hour of the morning?”

I stopped what I was doing, and shook my head a little. What did he just say?

The computer was switched off in a hurry.

The point of this story is to attempt to describe the way I felt between that moment and when I arrived in work later that morning after two bus journeys.

Was I working too hard? Was I under too much stress? Or was I just going crazy? Did I REALLY hear what I thought I had heard?
From the moment I switched off my computer to the moment I remembered Dave was working that day, this was all I could think about. I had never ever felt anything like this before, always considering myself to be relatively sane.

Luckily one of my staff was a Self-Confessed Grade A Premium Computer Game Geek. Dave used to actually plan his vacation time around the release of new PlayStation games just so he could spend a good 72 hours on the trot mastering them.

“Ah, I know what that is. Are you playing the game on a PC?”, Dave queried when I put my dilemma to him soon after the start of his shift. When I nodded, he went on,

“Yeah, sometimes the game designer programs the game to have a look at things on your PC and ask you questions about them, like “Can you believe it’s July already?” and stuff like that, just to freak you out a little.”

A little?

Then all I could picture was a sad lonely little man punching keys until 4 in the morning thinking to himself, “Ha-this will get them reaching for the valium!”

And ya know what, it nearly did.


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

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

and that’s the truth, ruth

(warning – this post contains strong offensive language)




If you haven’t seen Spike Lee’s 1989 masterpiece “Do The Right Thing” then I strongly recommend it.

Maybe I should qualify that statement – if you want American racial tensions encapsulated within two hours of a powerful moving story which does a better job than most of putting a human face on senseless violence, then this is for you.

Excellent performances from Lee himself, Rosie Perez, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Samuel L Jackson and Richard Edson amongst others makes this a movie that has you gripped and keeps you thinking and teaches you things you didn’t even know you needed to learn, and what’s more you don’t even have to convert to the teachings of Malcolm X to do it.

Below is the dialogue from my favourite part of the movie. Five of the main characters go on a “Taunt-Off” with Samuel L Jackson’s character coming in at the end to try and make them see sense.

When I first found the script website I despaired because the whole movie was on one page, but I soon realized a quick “Find on this page” with the word “wop” would lead me where I wanted to go…


MOOKIE (African American, to Pino)
Dago, wop, garlic-breath, guinea,
pizza-slinging, spaghetti-bending,
Vic Damone, Perry Como, Luciano
Pavarotti, Sole Mio, nonsinging
motherfucker.



PINO (Italian American, to Mookie)
You gold-teeth, gold-chain-wearing,
fried-chicken-and-biscuit-eatin',
monkey, ape, baboon, big thigh,
fast-running, three-hundred-sixty-
degree-basketball-dunking spade
Moulan Yan.


STEVIE (Latino American, to Korean)
You slant-eyed, me-no-speak-
American, own every fruit and
vegetable stand in New York,
Reverend Moon, Summer Olympics '88,
Korean kick-boxing bastard.


OFFICER LONG (Caucasian, to Stevie)
Goya bean-eating, fifteen in a car,
thirty in an apartment, pointed
shoes, red-wearing, Menudo, meda-
meda Puerto Rican cocksucker.



KOREAN CLERK (to Officer Long)
It's cheap, I got a good price for
you, Mayor Koch, "How I'm doing,"
chocolate-egg-cream-drinking, bagel
and lox, B'nai B'rith asshole.


MISTER SEÑOR LOVE DADDY (to everyone)
Yo! Hold up! Time out! Time out!
Y'all take a chill. Ya need to
cool that shit out... and that's
the truth, Ruth.



You said it, Mister Señor Love Daddy.

You know what, I’m actually a little disappointed the Irish didn’t get a mention!

"Guinness-drinkin, green-fields-havin, gun-smugglin, popular-people-begrudgin, names-that start-with-O-apostrophe-havin, British-hatin Paddies!!!!"

Monday, August 08, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #31

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA




Written : November 8, 2004


My Uncle Jim lived in Brentwood, a tiny community out in the East Bay in California, about 70 miles from San Francisco.

I can’t quite remember his friend’s name, let’s call him Buddy. If Jim wasn’t quite the personification of rural America, Buddy certainly was. He wore jeans, a tank top, and one of those horrible square baseball caps. It was the summer of 1986, and the three of us were seated at the kitchen table in my uncle’s house at mid morning.

To all extents and purposes, they were the experienced 40 something elders, and I was the raw impressionable 17 year old over visiting the USA for the first time since emigrating to Ireland nine years before. For this reason I kept quiet as they carried out their discussion.

They talked about several different topics, mostly of a local nature, but Buddy’s attitude changed the minute Jim happened to mention the Russians. His face became consumed with anger. He leaned forward on the table and made this solemn proclamation: “I’m tellin both of you right now, as sure as I’m sittin’ here, if the Ruskies land on the shores of California tomorra, I’m grabbin me a piece!”

My astonishment was not from the prospect of him holding a gun, for his appearance pretty much suggested that image anyway. Despite whatever education and various media information would have been beamed in this guy’s direction for the past forty plus years, he actually believed it was feasible for the Russians to “land” on the shores of the USA. Presuming him to be an exception rather than an example, I looked over to my uncle, who to my horror was nodding sternly in agreement.

This experience was one which first got me thinking about exactly what America was and what it stood for. At that tender age I could be forgiven for thinking the whole nation felt that way. Today, especially with the 51/49 split of the popular vote in the recent presidential elections, I am more aware than ever of the divide that is right down the middle of American opinion.

On the domestic front, I have to admit that I know very little. My experience of the divide between the city dwellers and their country cousins was limited to trips on BART from my mother’s apartment in foggy downtown San Francisco to my uncle’s place out in the sunny East Bay. Quite a contrast.

Half the people believe the USA should take its rightful place among the nations of the world; the others believe their lives would be easier if the other nations weren’t there, and so want to either ignore them or attack them. The stark disparity between those who are willing to debate what they believe in, and those who are willing to be told what they should believe is mind-boggling. One side wants the right to bare arms amended in the constitution, the other hopes to tinker with free speech. It’s a chasm that perhaps can never be bridged.

But this can’t just be a rant about America’s negative qualities, for I am all in favour of promoting its positive ones as well. For me, they mostly come from the country’s history.

I often hear rhetoric about what “the founding fathers” intended when they created the mechanisms of the state back in 1776, so being a passport holder I feel I have the right to throw my own interpretation into the ring. What they appear to have been doing when they drew up the incredible document that was the original Constitution was endeavouring to create a nation which comprised 13 states, each of which would retain their own separate values and cultures, but would also put aside these differences when necessary for the sake of the greater good of the nation as a whole. They also made the wise provision for the addition of other states in the future.

It’s an awe-inspiring concept; united we stand, divided we fall. Would it be too improbable to hope that one day these principles could be applied to the world as a whole? A Human Constitution perhaps? Maybe not with today’s United Nations, a title which I believe to be a contradiction in itself. But were such a global document to be drawn up one day I believe it could not do much better than to take inspiration from the 1776 masterpiece.

Unfortunately, many of my countrymen seem to think these principles end at their own borders. Instead of seeing its Constitution as an example to the world at large, many consider it to be a way of distinguishing America as somehow superior to all other nations. This apathy to the rest of the world is stupefying, and does much to fuel the fire of anti-American feeling around the globe.

Were it not for the Bill Clinton years I would probably be ready to throw away my passport for good. Say what you like about the whole Monica Lewinsky thing – he was a damn good ambassador for his country, and for me anyway he set the standard for the image a president should project to the world. He may not have actually found solutions for the conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, but at least he made an effort which would befit the founding father’s intentions of unity among separate nations.

When Americans slap their hands on their chest and beam with pride as they sing their national anthem, I often wonder do they realize that the last line of the song is actually asking a question, perpetually posing a challenge to all US citizens, for I certainly do.

“Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and home of the brave?”

My answer is “not just yet”. True bravery will be shown by taking our place alongside the other nations of the world rather than isolating ourselves from them. I hope against hope that one day it will happen.


© JL Pagano 2004


NEXT, #32 : 1000 WORDS ON…MY SON

Sunday, August 07, 2005

san francisco (you can be my mistress anytime)


[With my doing so much posting that could suggest that I was totally anti-American this weekend, I thought I’d stick these lyrics in for good measure to even things up; they are from a blues song I wrote all about my second favourite city. The women in the song are strictly metaphorical, I promise...]

Lemme tell you the story
Bout how you won my heart
Well-that’s not really true cos, What you really did was,
Tear it all apart

There was I, a happily married man with a beautiful woman
Occupying mind, body and soul
Then you just walked clean outta nowhere honey
And played around with my so-called self control

And though our relationship was always shaky (get it?)
I didn’t mind
And understanding like yours and mine
It’s so very hard to find

But though we had so much in common
Like our sense of humour, our taste, and our liberal views
Even now when I’m pressed for a decision, baby
All I wanna do is play the blues

Play the blues…

You got your keen dress sense
And your long flowin hair
Your sleek smooth body
And your cold piercin stare

When ya turn round and walk up to me
I just forget all my shame
And when ya put your arms around me
I can never feel the same

Well if Dublin’s my woman,
San Francisco,
You can be my mistress anytime!


© JL Pagano 1991


click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics

Saturday, August 06, 2005

remember japan's 9/11

I love every member of my family, despite our flaws, despite mistakes each and every one of us has made in the past.

Those mistakes cannot be ignored, nor can they be forgotten. If we can bring ourselves to at least acknowledge them, they can serve to help us get on with our future.

The same applies to my country. I am an American citizen, and I am very much happy to be one.

On July 4 of every year, The United States of America celebrates everything about herself for which she is proud, and rightly so.

I believe August 6 should be a day of reflection for all Americans, where we take in everything that happened around that day sixty years ago, and maybe, just maybe, we can look at the world in a light that doesn’t follow the over-simplistic “good guys/bad guys” mentality many would have us believe is reality.

Pearl Harbour, Nazism, 9/11, Bali, Madrid and most recently London all were human tragedies.

So were Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In retribution for attacking a military target, Weapons Of Mass Destruction were unleashed by the US on two civilian towns in Japan in 1945. The radioactive legacy remains in both regions even today.

These are facts that noone can airbrush out of history.

I have yet to be convinced these events are not right up there with the others. I am constantly amazed by the way so many from a race of people are in such collective denial that this event was an atrocity when they in turn are so willing to acknowledge atrocities performed by others.

What will we learn from it all?

How should we explain it all to our children?

Just to be clear - the point I am making here is not about which atrocity was greater or more terrible than the other, just the fact that they should all be defined as such.

The USA has done much more good since 1945, but this was extremely bad. I for one am willing to come to terms with that fact, and I believe one day out of each year to both commemorate it and learn from it is appropriate.

These pictures are from an excellent set I found on BBC.com – click here to see them all.



Between 2,000 and 6,500 children are believed to have been orphaned by the atomic bomb, although the exact number may never be known.

Now, Hiroshima is an important industrial city with a population of 1.1 million.


About a third of Hiroshima's population was killed within a week of the bombing. Many more have since died through radiation sickness.

The first atomic bomb used in war was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August, 1945. The A Bomb Dome, the former Trade Promotion Hall, is one of the few buildings near the epicentre of the blast still standing from that time.

A powerful focus for children in Hiroshima is a memorial to Sasaki Sadako, a 10-year-old girl who died from leukaemia as a result of the radiation. She believed that if she could make 1,000 paper cranes - Japanese good luck symbols - she would be healed.

The Peace Memorial Park near the A Bomb Dome has a number of different monuments and statues. In front is the Memorial Cenotaph with its Flame of Peace, which will burn for as long as there are nuclear weapons.



Contemporary pictures by Mike Coles

Friday, August 05, 2005

the bomb


[I have already posted these lyrics on this blog before, but since it is almost 20 years since I wrote them, and almost 60 since the event in question, I thought it would be poignant to post them again. I’ll have more to say on it tomorrow.]

The scene at Buckingham Palace gate
In London, 1945
The people of England celebrate
They’re all amazed they’re still alive
But cast your eyes to the other side
of the world, where war is still waged
An emperor who can’t swallow his pride
A president who won’t calm his rage

Harry goes into the conference hall
Can he survive through one more day?
In three months he thought he’d seen it all
Till an army commander gets up to say
“Mr President I’m afraid our boys
would die in their thousands if war goes on”
Harry says “Then, we’ve got no choice.
Go ahead and drop the bomb.”

So many people know it was wrong
And our cries are much too late
But the fact that we’ve been fighting for years
Doesn’t mean that there’s no room for change

The man on the radio does his job
The news they’d all been waiting for
He says they’ve built a great new bomb
Its purpose is to end the war
Mother looks up from her knitting and prays
“Maybe our son will be home someday!”
Daddy looks up from his paper and says
“Maybe at last those Japs will pay.”

One man got more power
Than he could ever need
An evil that was born with fear
And driven on by greed
But we can’t just say it’s all his fault
For we all must take the blame
From world wars to family rows
When will we see they’re all the same?

Now the runway’s clear and the engines roar
Enola soars into the sky
Waiting to release her load
She doesn’t care how many humans die
Now what you’re witnessing is the destruction
Of the Land of the Rising Sun
It’s amazing how the lives of millions
Are put into the hands of one

It may be hard for me to complain
Since I wasn’t even there
But it’s not to hard to feel the pain
And I’d be foolish not to care
If it was only there to make the “peace”
Then the killing has just begun
It all happened as a war was won
It all happened on the day they dropped the bomb



© JL Pagano 1985


click here for a full index of my poetry and song lyrics

Thursday, August 04, 2005

between two stools

August could very well be a tough month for me as it is coming up to a year since my grandfather, who regular readers will know reared me as his son, passed away.

I know for a fact he wouldn’t mind my telling this story in an attempt to cheer myself up.

During his time in permanent residence at the Royal Hospital Donnybrook, visiting my grandfather was always a traumatic experience, but it was made even more so when I’d bring my grandmother with me. She always blamed herself for his being there, even though she could hardly look after him herself on her own being well into her nineties herself.

This one particular day I had her in her newly-acquired wheelchair and I was pushing her into his ward. As we passed the nurses’ station, she was warmly greeted by all the staff. Since my grandmother has retained her American accent, they would always treat her as if she was some kind of ageing movie star, which of course she totally lapped up.

Having worked in a hospital herself in her day, she was never exactly shy about asking the staff for specific information which most would avoid. This day was no exception. With me smiling nervously at all before us, she instantly came out with the question;

“Has Joe been moving his bowels regularly?”

To which of course I replied,

“Grandma, haven’t you ever heard of small talk?”

Everyone laughed, and the head nurse managed to tactfully answer my grandmother’s question.

Then, out of the blue, with me already extremely anxious to get moving to his bedside behind the sanctuary of his surrounding curtain, one of the Filipino nurses chipped in with this:

“Oh, that reminds me! Did I ever show you the stool your husband made, Mrs Lee?”

If ever there was a question that made “small talk” into “no talk”, that was it.

Amazed by our communal silence, the nurse continued.

“No, really, you have to see it, it’s very nice! I have it over here, just under the desk!”

And as all my awkward nightmares seemed to be coming together at once, off she went to the desk and reached in underneath it.

I stood there behind my grandmother’s wheelchair like a deer caught in the headlights.

In my head, I was desperately trying to think of something, ANYTHING polite to say about whatever this strange lady was about to produce from below the desk.

And with that, she took it out.

My line of sight nervously travelled from her smiling face…

to her shoulder…

to her arm…

to her forearm…

to her hand…

to the wooden stool my grandfather had “made” in the hospital’s woodwork shop.

Our collective silence continued as the nature of the double entendre sunk in.

Luckily one of the nurses was able to break it with her thick Dublin accent…

“Jaysis, luv, I didn’t know WHA yiz were gonna pull outta der!!!”

As we all guffawed, the Filipino nurse stood there going “What’s so funny?” as she was holding the stool, which of course made us guffaw even more.

And so my grandmother and I were left with a funny story to remember our difficult hospital visits by.

RIP, Grandpa.


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

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #30

A WARTS ‘N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY



1000 WORDS ON…MY DAUGHTER

Written: December 24, 2004

“Would you like to hold your daughter now, Mr Pagano?”

That sentence was weird on so many levels! First, who the hell is Mr Pagano? Second, you mean to tell me this screaming pice of flesh wrapped in a blanket before me is actually my daughter? Indeed it was, and the amazing thing was that I would swear she was actually staring back at me as I held her for the first time.

Looking back although it wasn’t exactly the most traumatic labour in maternity ward history, being our first, everything was a new experience and was thus difficult to cope with. MyX was a week past her due date, and woke up early on the morning of the December 23rd in a blind panic as she could feel nothing. As a precaution we got a taxi into the Coombe from this house here in Booterstown where we had recently moved with my grandparents. This birth was the culmination of a hectic few months since returning from the USA, what with my father-in-law’s passing and moving lock stock and barrel from Clontarf back to the southside.

They say as soon as one life ends another begins, and I will never forget how we learned that the baby was a girl on the very afternoon following his death. He had gone at 4:30am but MyX was still determined to carry out her sonogram appointment. We could clearly make out RA’s face in the womb, and she even yawned for us! Since we had the girl’s name picked, she was now officially a person from that day forth. Apparently there was a girl in MyX’s class when she was little called RA and she always liked the name.

Before we knew what was what, I was looking down into her little eyes as the doctors were putting her mother’s birthy bits back together again. Much has been written about the joy of looking upon one’s offspring for the first time, and I doubt I could add too many superlatives; suffice to say it was even more mind blowing than I had expected.

It was Christmas Eve, and I wanted to go out and tell the world. Having had no sleep for over 24 hours, I proceeded to go to the pub where I had worked and get blotto on two or three pints, running around telling everyone who would listen that my daughter had been born that morning. Meanwhile back in The Coombe, MyX was busy trying to bond, and though she was a bit upset the breastfeeding thing wasn’t happening, she was still overjoyed. A few days later, we were home, with the umbilical cord of the nurses’ help having been cut and the two of us wondering how on earth could we look after this little bundle day in and day out!

But look after her we did, and she seemed to make the transition from baby to toddler to little girl to young lady in very quick time. The hardest period she has had to endure was obviously when her mother and I split up. I guess since we had CJ as well and RA was older, we assumed she was more able to cope, but one day I was to be given a rude awakening of sorts. Though she seems to have comes to terms with both her parents’ new partners, one day I found a piece of paper on which my daughter had written : “Dear God, if you can give me one wish, PLEASE let it be that my mummy and daddy get back together.”

I was completely lost for words, and had no idea what to do or how to explain things to her. She never mentions it when she is with me, and you couldn’t call her an unhappy child by any means. However this plea brought it home to me that just because she older than her sibling it doesn’t mean she isn’t still a little innocent girl that needs as much love as I can give her, and try to give it I will.

Today, my first born child celebrates her 10th birthday, and a beautiful young lady she is in every respect. She is beginning to fall into the typical big sister routine of constantly despairing of her younger sibling, but underneath it all she adores CJ, and they are not suprisingly very close. She demonstrated a strong desire to be part of a stable family when she was in a flood of tears at Medford Airport in Oregon having spent a week with my father last summer. With that I am doing my best to piece together as much of my own family as I can, since I cannot comply with her heartfelt plea in her note.

Of course, like any other kid, she has her moments! It is not surprising that I empathise when she shows qualities I know she got from me, yet get furious when she displays ones inherited from her mother! She appears to be very creative, yet uncertain of her own abilities, while all the time displaying all the hallmarks of a scatterbrain; for this she has the Pagano family gene to thank! All this goes with qualities taken from her mother’s side, which include a stubborn refusal to admit when she’s wrong, even given the most comprehensive evidence to the contrary.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she says a teacher. To me this demonstrates that when she is in a situation she does her best to work out what is really going on around her, and that she is dreaming up ways to get the job done herself. I wanted to be a teacher when I was in school, then when I worked in the pub I wanted to be a pub manager, then it was a sports shop manager! Hopefully I will be able to help her see beyond her immediate environment and realise her true potential.


© JL Pagano 2004


NEXT, #31 : 1000 WORDS ON…THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA