Sunday, April 30, 2006

Wiener Beach

This is the third and last installment in the Connecticut Cruisers trilogy.

We had some misgivings about bringing our families to Orient Beach because we heard it was clothing-optional. We’re a pretty conservative group (and we had our children with us) so we wanted to keep our bathing suits on. We did a little research and discovered that the beach had a nude side and a prude side. So as not to be embarrassed, families could choose to go to the prude side. We thought this a splendid solution and piled in a taxi at the St. Maarten docks.

Our taxi, which was actually a van, climbed narrow dirt roads on the Dutch side of the island, past small pastel colored homes and several roadside fruit and vegetable stands. As we crossed into St. Martin, the French side of the island, we discussed our trepidations about exposing our children to a hedonistic beach and we worried about causing some kind of Freudian damage to their little minds.

As we pulled into the Orient Beach parking lot our Taxi driver spoke:

“ I’m not one to judge mon,”he said,” but I don’t understand why all dese people come all dis way to spend dere vacations in dere birtday suits.”

All the men in the van chuckled like 6th graders.

“ Now mon, If you want ta let it all hang out, you go to da right,” said our driver, “through dis hotel. I’ll drop you off right dere.”

“ I’m not one to judge, mon.”He repeated.

“Now if you folks is a little more modest,” he continued, “then you can go to the left side… or the ‘prude’ side as they call it”

We told the driver that… yes; in fact we were prudes and would like to go to the beach on the left.

“That’s good,” he said, “I know all da cabana boys over dere, and I’ll get you good deals on the beach chairs.”

We followed our driver across the parking lot to a small wooden hut at the edge of the white sand beach. It was there that he introduced us to Ludwig, our cabana boy.

Ludwig looked like a tanned, blond haired, blue-eyed California surfer dude and we were a little surprised to hear him speak with a German accent. The only bit of clothing he wore was a pair of brown cargo shorts that hung from his thin frame and a strand of puka shells that he had around his neck. He waited on his customers shirtless to better display his six-pack abs, which assured him good tips from the ladies (and by the looks of it, some men too!) He made what I professed to be my eye-candy, look like an eyesore.

While Ludwig was positioning our chaise lounges on the beach, we looked around and noticed that half the women on our “prude side” were topless. “I guess the Caribbean definition of “prude” differs from the American one,” I said.

My wife caught me staring at a woman in front of us who obviously had breast implants. I knew I was busted because I got her, “stop leering” look. I recognized this look from 13 years earlier, when we (before kids) were on vacation in Aruba. One day a topless woman lay in front of us at the beach. When she got up on all fours to adjust her blanket, her breasts, which resembled two long water balloons, dangled and began swaying back and forth like a hypnotist’s pocket watch. My eyes soon glazed over, and I couldn’t help but stare straight ahead at her swinging pendulums. It was then my wife gave me “the look.”

Ludwig served drinks, while the men stood and enjoyed the scenery. The ladies were slathering sunscreen on their daughters while two island women wove cornrows in their poker straight hair. The boys, who were all around eight years old, were busy building sandcastles and totally oblivious to what was going on around them.

I tend to get restless sitting in one place too long, so I asked a fellow dad if he wanted to go for a walk along the beach. After strolling for a while we came to the infamous clothing optional sign, a virtual Mason/Dixon line of modesty (some might say morality). We opted for clothing and crossed into unknown territory. It is said that on nude beaches, the people who are nude shouldn’t be…and the people who should be nude, aren’t. As if to prove this point, the first nude person we ran into was an obese woman in her sixties. Let’s just say that gravity has not been kind to her. A few feet away from her stood six bikini-clad college co-eds who were posing for a photo with a 50-something man whose only bit of attire was a Panama hat. As we walked on we saw naked surfing, naked fishing and (most disturbing) naked Frisbee.

It was time to leave.

When we returned to our beach chairs, the rest of our group reported that they had seen several old naked men walking past. My wife snapped a photo of one of these men's behind as he was waiting to be served at an outdoor cafĂ©. His gluteous maximus was now more of a gluteous minimus and when he turned around and displayed his shriveled “package,” our whole group burst into laughter.

This is why the Connecticut Cruiser kids now refer to Orient Beach as Wiener Beach.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

CT Cruisers pt. II -San Juan

Today’s post is the sequel to “Connecticut Cruisers.”

On the third day of our cruise, we pulled into San Juan Bay in Puerto Rico. We were getting dressed in our cabin, when the spires of Fort San Felipe Del Morro suddenly appeared out our cabin window. The Spaniards built El Morro (as the locals call it), in 1539 to protect the island from the likes of The Dutch, Sir Francis Drake and the bands of Caribbean pirates that sailed the open sea. It’s cannons were now trained upon The Carnival Victory and it’s own band of scurvy dogs…The Connecticut Cruisers.

The weather clouded over as we prepared to disembark from the ship. By the time we walked down the plank, a fierce thunder and lightning storm had begun. The wind whipped and the thunder crashed as we ran down the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning pierced the sky. I said, “OK, now we can say we’ve been here.” We took refuge in one of the port’s duty free shops and then, like soaked rats, ran back on the ship.

Once again the island was saved.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Connecticut Cruisers

This time last year, my family was on a Carnival Cruise in the Caribbean. We had just finished putting a major addition on to our house and really couldn't afford to go, but it was one of those once in a life time chances and we really didn't want to miss it. Four other families from town, (all who had daughters on my youngest's softball team), were planning on going and they were kind enough to invite us along. We decided that this would be a good opportunity to get to know these families better and do a little bonding. My wife hates boats and gets sea-sick very easily but she decided to suck it up, take Bonine (which after considerable research on the internet outdoes Dramamine), and give it a try.

In preparation for the cruise, my wife and I joined the gym and went on the South Beach Diet. We each lost about 20 lbs. Since we are both melanin challenged, we also started going to a tanning salon to get a base tan before laying out in the Caribbean sun. After two months of primping and preening, I started telling the softball moms that I was going to be "eye-candy. "

"Wait 'till you see me in my Speedo!" I kidded them. "You won't be able to keep your hands off me!" This usually got a big round of chuckles from the ladies--Especially from my wife!

After several weeks of preparation, the departure date finally arrived. Our friend Nancy (otherwise known as Julie McCoy, our Cruise Director) and her husband, Kevin, made up yellow tee shirts for all of us. On the shirt's upper left hand corner was a logo that read "Connecticut Cruisers." These shirts served a dual purpose. It helped us stay together and also made us all feel like one cohesive unit.

I remember feeling pretty FRESH as I stood in line waiting to board our ship, the Carnival Victory, at The Port of Miami. I was TAN and I was BUFF. I had even "Naired" the hair off my back. Yeah, I was looking GOOD!

My ego was quickly deflated when one of my fellow Connecticut Cruisers approached me and said, "You really should have tried a tanning bed to get a base tan before the cruise." I told him that I just spent the last two months, three days a week, at the tanning salon and I pulled down the waist of my shorts to show him evidence of my Irish tan. Being Italian, he found this VERY amusing and he doubled over in laughter.

This would not be the my last humiliating experience on this cruise.

After boarding the ship and checking out our cabins, the next thing we Connecticut Cruisers did was put on our bathing suits and head up to the Lido deck for a little sun. All of the ladies quickly laid claim to the nearest row of chaise lounges, a Margarita in one hand and the latest bestseller in the other.

Before I took off my shirt, I thought it only fair to warn them:

"Are any of you diabetic?" I asked. "I don't want to send you into sugar shock when you get a load of this eye-candy."

They didn't even bother to look up from their books.

This was our first cruise and we were a little apprehensive about going. My wife has always hated boats and worried that she would get sea sick. Everyone I talked to about cruising promised us that we wouldn't feel a thing. "Nothing to worry about! Wait until you see the size of the ship," my friend Carl told me. "It's a floating city. You won't feel a thing."

I thought of Carl's statements later that first night of the cruise (right at dinner time) when our ship, heading straight into an enormous storm, swayed up and down while at the same time pitching back and forth. Magically, out of nowhere it seemed, there were strategically placed barf bag holders throughout the hallways and elevators. My wife sat down, head between her knees, crying on the Lido Deck--too dizzy to get up and walk. "What was I thinking?! How am I ever going to survive the week?" She cried. About an hour later, frozen but finally feeling a little better, we headed to the buffet line where she quickly downed the forbidden carbs--bread and rice--with a few others from our group who had never made it to the dining room earlier either.

A little later we went back to our cabin where the room continued to sway. We tried to get some sleep, but my wife grabbed hold of my arm digging me with her newly manicured fingernails, every time the ship smashed into a wave. The metal of the ship seemed to groan and twist. We could almost picture the rivets popping. Water crashed against the picture window. Needless to say, it was a long night!

We awoke the next morning to hear reports on CNN how the Norwegian Dawn had been hit by 80 foot waves that had taken out windows and flooded cabins from the same storm. The rest of our friends, knowing how my wife had reservations about going in the first place, tried to hide this fact from her--not knowing she had already seen the reports. Interestingly enough, she was one of the few in our group who did not actually throw up! She attributes that to her research and the wonders of Bonine!

The second day of the cruise the seas calmed and the cloudless sky turned a deep blue. I met up with my friend Art, who was wearing a green tee shirt that read: I AM THE MAN FROM NANTUCKET (this referred to the limerick about a well endowed man). He told me that while he was standing in the breakfast buffet line, a portly middle-aged woman stood in front of him. She kept turning around, looking at his tee-shirt and smiling. As he piled his plate with scrambled eggs and sausage, the woman turned around and whispered in his ear, "Why don't you come up to cabin 232 and prove it." Being that Art is a happily married man, he didn't take her up on her offer, but she haunted him for the rest of the cruise.

While standing on deck, Art and I discussed our plans for the week. Half of the Connecticut Cruisers had made reservations to go on a catamaran cruise off the coast of St. Martin and Art asked us if we wanted to join them.

"No," I said. "I think my wife has had enough of boats."

"So...What do you have planned for St Martin?" He asked.

"Nothing,"I said.

"You should go to Orient Beach," he said. "It's a nude beach!"

"Oh, I'm sure my wife and daughters would just love that!" I said sarcastically.

"Hey, you're on vacation!" he said.

"Then why aren't you going? I asked, now pointing at his "Nantucket" tee shirt. "Are you worried about getting charged with false advertising?"

After breakfast he changed his shirt.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Kay's Ashes

“All your baby pictures were lost in the fire.”

This is the story my mother, (Kay) told me…and I believed her.

There are various versions of how the fire started, each implicating different family members. Over the years, these conflicting stories have given our family countless hours of entertainment. After a few drinks, different family members start pointing accusatory fingers at one another, but in the end, nothing is resolved.

The one thing that can be agreed on is that my grandparents were called from next door and quickly formed a bucket brigade. It is said that the smoke from the fire turned my grandfather’s white hair yellow. The fire destroyed my parent’s bedroom and all of our family photos.

When I was in 6th grade my teacher asked us to bring in our baby pictures for the class bulletin board. He held a contest to see how many of our classmates we could identify by their baby pictures. The earliest picture I had was the family photo from my brother Emmett’s wedding album. I was four years old at that time and past the age limit for our class bulletin board.

I was very upset. I asked my mother if an uncle, aunt or family friend might have my baby picture.

“No,” she said. “All the baby pictures were lost in the fire.”

“Lost in the fire?!?” my brother Emmett said. “His photos couldn’t have been lost in the fire. The fire was in October of 1957. Bobby was born in 1962.”

My mother was busted!

The sad truth is that Emmett, the oldest in the family, had about 1000 baby pictures. My sister Kathy, the second oldest, probably had 200. Jimmy and Johnny (twin brothers), the next oldest, probably had 50. By the time they got to me, number nine; my parents didn’t even bother pulling out the camera.

About four years ago, Peggy, an old neighbor of mine, sent me this photo. That's me, age 2. Her mom had died and she was cleaning out a drawer when she stumbled upon it. She was kind enough to mail it to me.

I was thrilled!

Although the photo looks as though Matthew Brady took it in Appalachia during Reconstruction, it was actually taken in my neighbor’s yard in West Haven, CT in 1964. West Haven is a small city where the homes are only a few feet apart. Our street was bordered by railroad tracks on one end and one of the city's main thoroughfares on the other. Not rural at all. Mr. Chickla, (our neighbor) raised rabbits and apparently ducks in his backyard. I’m guessing that’s a piece of candy in my mouth and not a hayseed.

“You’re not going to post that picture on the Internet? My wife asked. “You look like a dirty little street urchin standing in front of your shanty in Ireland.”

“That’s what I like about,” I said. “In fact, someday I think I’ll put it on the cover of my first novel. I’ll title it… “Kay’s Ashes.”

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter!

Tomorrow we’re having 30 people over for Easter dinner. My wife and I have spent the past couple of days grocery shopping, cleaning the house, planting flowers and generally getting ready for our Easter visitors.

My wife really gets into holidays. On top of my computer monitor sits a little white bunny. It must have already multiplied (as rabbits tend to do) because I also see three more surrounding our TV. Even the fireplace mantle is draped with rabbit garland (who knew they even made such a thing!) On the end table stands a duck carting a giant painted egg. Giant cardboard eggs are displayed on the window panes in our family room. An oversized chocolate rabbit sits atop the kitchen cabinet, making direct eye contact with “Sara,” the red goose that we bought at Home Goods yesterday.

We’ve set up three separate tables in the kitchen, dining room and living room. They are already adorned with tablecloths and cute little holiday centerpieces and candles. Yesterday, I purchased two-dozen tulips at Dahlias, a great flower stand in Grand Central. My wife tells me she’ll scatter these around the house to make it look extra festive. She even put daffodils in the bathroom!

Because we’re having such a large crowd, my wife has assigned everybody a dish to bring. She’s cooking three hams as well as cream cheese mashed potatoes. My sisters have been assigned things like; green bean casserole, baked beans and ziti. My brothers have gotten off easier; beer, wine, soda and stuffed breads from the local pizza joint.

My daughters and I just finished dying eggs,(do they ever get too old for this?) Tomorrow is also my older daughter's 14th birthday, so we'll be having chocolate raspberry buttercreme birthday cake for dessert.

With the exception of my brother Brian, who is going to his in-laws, all my siblings will be in attendance, (not an easy feat these days.) We’ll certainly miss his traditional holiday greeting:

“Happy Easter…Up your keister!”

Yeh, I know it’s sacrilegious…but it’s funny!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Live From New York...It's Victoria Jackson!

Saturday Night Live comedienne, Victoria Jackson, was a regular on my late afternoon train in the early 1990’s. She starred as one of the show’s Not Ready for Prime Time Players. She is as sweet and naive as she appears on TV and I always felt a little protective of her whenever passengers approached her for an autograph. At the time she was embroiled in a nasty divorce battle with her husband, a circus performer, who she described as “pure evil.”

Victoria often complained to me that SNL was a male-dominated show, and that it was hard for her to get any airtime. I suggested that perhaps, if she wrote some fresh ideas for the show, she would appear in more skits. Every so often I would try to come up with ideas in hopes that she would propose them during her weekly writing sessions. I remember one idea in particular, it was called, “Victoria’s Secrets.”

This skit had Victoria dressed in lingerie while interviewing celebrities. Each week she would interrogate a star and have them reveal a horrible, deep hidden, disturbing secret about themselves. The twist would be that the celebrity, both male and female, would also be dressed in sexy lingerie. I advised that the first episode should feature actor John Goodman, crying about some childhood trauma while dressed in a teddy.

Victoria half listened to my idea. Her young daughter Scarlet was spinning around the grab poles in the train’s bar car and she worried for her safety.

About six months later, I was watching Saturday Night Live when one of their satirical commercials came on. It featured Victoria, dressed in lingerie, lying seductively on a bearskin rug. “Hi, I’m Victoria,” she said, “and these are my secrets.”

When I later questioned her about this, she said that actor Jon Lovitz had written the skit for her. She hadn’t remembered our conversation at all.

Victoria asked me on several occasions if my wife and I would like to visit NBC studios and watch the show.

"We would love to," I said.

Months past and we never received tickets. I didn't ask because I didn't want to pester her. I assumed she simply forgot. Then one night when I was at work, Victoria called. She told my wife that she was leaving the show and she had tickets for me. Since my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, we thought it better to go sooner than later.

I called her back and made arrangements to go to the show on the following Saturday. We planned that we would drive to Westport, (Victoria’s station,) and take the train into New York. Victoria said we could join her on a chauffeured limo ride back to Connecticut. We jumped at the chance.

All seemed to be going according to plan. We arrived at 30 Rockefeller Center in plenty of time to find studio 8H, (which is surprisingly small,) and find our seats. The guest host that evening was John Goodman and Garth Brooks was the musical guest.

The show was great, but we noticed that Victoria did not appear in any of the skits.
At the end of show the cast and the guest star came out on stage to say goodbye and to thank everybody for watching. Victoria was missing.

I hoped she hadn’t forgotten about our ride home, I thought.

My wife and I went down to the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Center where the show is filmed and waited for NBC security to clear us to go upstairs to the dressing rooms. While we waited, cast member Adam Sandler stood nearby surrounded by beautiful young women seeking his autograph.

Security finally gave us clearance to go up to the elevator to the dressing rooms. We went down a narrow hallway and asked a burly trumpet player where Victoria’s dressing room was. Just as he pointed to a door, I heard Victoria sob in the distance. We knocked on her door and with her voice choking back tears Victoria said, “Come in.” There sat Victoria, black mascara running down her cheeks and an empty wine bottle on the counter in front of her. It seems that during the rehearsal, the show’s producer, Lorne Michaels, had cut two of her skits from the show--she was very upset, and very drunk.

She carried her wine bottle and continued to cry as we went down the elevator through the lobby and into the waiting limo.

It seemed Victoria had offered a ride home to half of the shows’ cast and crew. A makeup artist and one of the show’s hair stylists took her up on her offer. She introduced everyone as we all piled into the limo.

We shuttled our new friends around Manhattan and she continued to wail. We each took turns trying to console her by telling her how funny and talented she was. “Nobody can do a handstand like you,” someone said. “You’re a great ukulele player,” said someone else.

Victoria said,"Lorne is a #%&*#."

Now, had she used this word on the show that night, the NBC censor would have bleeped her. Apparently, the censor was the only person she failed to offer a ride to, so the expletives flew.

When she was finished exorcising her demons, she asked, “Are you Christians?” Followed by, “I’m born again.”

She got on the limo car phone to call her boyfriend Rick in Florida. This was before we had cell phones, we were quite impressed. While she dialed the phone, she explained that Rick was an old high school sweetheart. He was now a police officer with the Miami SWAT team.

When Rick picked up the phone she burst into tears again. She cried through the Bronx and told him that she was leaving show business. She sobbed through Westchester County and asked him to marry her. In Connecticut she whined and told him that she wanted to live the simple life, just like the cute train conductor and his adorable pregnant wife who were sitting across from her in the limo.

I couldn’t help but remember this night, when on a recent evening, my wife and I saw Victoria on a new reality TV show. The show features overweight celebrities in a weight loss competition. The stars are separated into two teams, red and blue. Each week the teams clash in different athletic events. At the end of the each show, each team stands in one of two giant gold plates, which, as the camera pulls back, are attached to a giant scale of justice. The scale teeters and totters while we, the audience, wait to see which team has lost the most weight.

How low can you go?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Katie, Meredith and Me

They’re calling it the worst kept secret in broadcasting: Katie Couric is leaving The Today Show to anchor The CBS Evening News. It was such a poorly kept secret that even I knew about it.

One evening, about a month ago, I had two CBS executives riding my train. One of them reached into his briefcase and pulled out two 8x10 glossy photos of Katie Couric sitting behind a desk in front of the CBS Evening News logo. When I came to collect his ticket, he quickly hid the pictures. It was as if I was his mother and caught him looking at a Playboy Magazine. His partner laughed when he did this and said something like…“You have to be more careful with those.”

This week, when the news was released that Katie took the anchor job, I thought…Yea, I knew that!

The second worst kept secret in broadcasting was that Meredith Viera is taking over Katie’s position at The Today Show.

About five years ago, my older daughter and I met Meredith in a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Shop on Cape Cod. We had just left the beach and went to grab an ice cream cone. When we went into the shop, there were only two other people in line, a woman and her young son. They ordered frozen fruit drinks then stepped aside to let us order. It was then I realized it was Meredith.

It looked as though they also had just come from the beach. She was wearing a white tank top and a pair of gray sweat pants. Her hair was wind blown and she wasn’t wearing any make-up and yet she was still very pretty. Her voice sounded somehow different than one she uses on TV.

“Meredith Viera?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Hi” I said, “My wife and I watch your show all the time... Do you have a house up here?”

“No,” she said, “My in-laws have a place down the road and we visit every summer.”

We bantered back and forth like this for several minutes while she waited for her fruit drinks to be prepared and blended. I was struck by how down to earth she seemed and how unforced our conversation was.

Before she left I told her that I couldn’t wait to tell my wife that I met her and I confessed that I had a little bit of a crush on her.

“Oh, you’re sweet,” she said.

When I returned to our motel, I told my wife how we had met Meredith and how I had confessed my crush to her.

“Oh great!” she said, “Now she probably thinks you’re a stalker.”

A few months after our meeting, I read an interview with Meredith in some women's magazine I found on the train. She told the interviewer that she sometimes wishes she could retire from broadcasting and move to Cape Cod.

For ten million dollars a year, I'd change my mind too.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

First Annual Blogger Convention

The First Annual Blogger Convention was held at The Villa Bianca Banquet Hall in Seymour, Connecticut on Saturday. Conventiently, this was also the setting of my nephew John's wedding to his lovely bride Lindsay. Bloggers in attendance at this year's event were my nephew Justin, author of "Things I Like" and his lovely and charming wife Cara, author of "No Agenda".

We had a deep and profound conversation as the DJ played in the background:


Me: I call to order, the First Annual Blogger Convention.


Cara: What?








Cara and Justin: WHAT?