Dream on, Cranky Man …

Looking for a little help interpreting a dream I had last night.  Please help me to understand this, as I am sure there is a message in there somewhere.

When people ask if you dream in color, I certainly do.

SETTING:  I am bike-riding (first definitely a dream clue!) in a semi-rural area with a well maintained bike path. The area is not recognizable to me (post-dream analysis).  I come to a bridge obviously under construction with concrete pathways both around and through the construction zone.  For some reason, the temporary path has several rather steep drop-offs that I can barely navigate, but do successfully.

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Dr. K (Gerald McRaney)

At one such drop-off  another biker joins me, an (much) older guy dressed for some reason in white shirt and dress pants.  It wasn’t until I woke up, replaying the dream that I recognize the gentlemen as none other than Dr. Nathon Katowski – Dr. K – from the NBC series This is us“.

 

Potential Predilection Admission:  OK … OK … Yes, I have been playing catch-up on the new NBC series I had been hearing so much about. But I can see no basis for a connection between the TV show and my dream.

Gerald McRaney really has nothing to offer in the way of fatherly physician advice or insight.  He simply looks at one of the drop-offs and mutters, “What the f—!”  (Apparently I also dream in expletives.)

As we emerge from the bridge construction site, we come onto a broad field strewn with rough boulders about the size of basketballs.  (Is this a detailed dream or what?)  Here the path separates left and straight across the clearing.  Dr. K goes straight; I go left!

MEATY DREAM ACTION:  As I pedal off, I glance over the good doctor’s way.  He’s about halfway across the field.  Then I see them!  Two … then three cute little bear cubs pop up right in the midst of Dr. K’s path.  He’s off his bike, so I shout to him a warning to “Stay away from the cubs!” … even though at the time I see no momma bear.

momma-bearNot sure if he hears me or not, but at that point one of the cubs breaks off in a run and the stupid doctor (We all KNOW better, right?!?) runs after the cub.  And suddenly, there is momma bear on hind legs though only slightly taller than the now-doomed doctor!

I’m too far away to do anything but yell for help.  Besides, I’m certainly not stupid enough to go bear fighting.  Meanwhile the bear and Doctor Doomed are kick-boxing (I kid you not …).  The bear then grabs Dr. K around one shoulder and starts body punching the crap out of the helpless human.  (For the record, I do like the Dr. K character. So that’s one theory out the window.)

I am reduced to waving my arms (not at all sure what that accomplishes) and screaming for help.

After what seems like an interminable period of time, some guy comes out of nowhere with a handgun – not a rifle or shotgun – and proceeds the shoot THE DOCTOR!!  Then he shoots at the bear …

The last image I had – probably before being elbowed awake for snoring – was Dr. K on the ground, but still alive.  Heck, he wasn’t even bloody, just lying there on the ground.  His shooter/rescuer was standing over him and firing at something unseen in the near distance (likely NOT Mandy Moore).

Please provide your Dreamy Interpretations as a Comment!  One important factor I neglected to mention … This dream occurred in the wee hours of Valentine’s Day morning. (That doesn’t mean anything, right?!?)

Be advised … All first-time commenters must be reviewed and approved before their comment will appear. Thanks for listening!  – Cranky Man

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An American Hajj

hajj – an honorary title given to an individual who is engaging in pilgrimage. The honorific title “Hajj” stays with him, even after his return from pilgrimage until his death, quite often as a permanent title and part of his name with friends and public.

main-buildings-golden-dome-university-of-notre-dame-library-of-congress-lc-dig-highsm-18705One weekend this coming September, I will embark on a pilgrimage to the one of the most important sites for American Roman Catholics.  No … not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, not the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, not the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa … not the Vatican …

I will be attending my first football game in South Bend, Indiana at the University of Notre Dame!

No doubt in some yet-to-be-discovered scroll tucked in a Galilean sea cave resides an ancient admonishment for all Roman Catholic citizens of the United States to make The Pilgrimage of The Fighting Irish at least once in one’s lifetime!  I’m sure of it.  It must exist … for how else to explain this overpowering physical attraction to The Program???

This is a phenomena with which I grew up in Irish Catholic Philadelphia during the 1960-70s.  It’s been a fascinating thing to witness, especially when few – if any – of those adults and children with whom I grew up actually attended Notre Dame!  The dedication is real and pervasive to the point where many families and friends set aside at least one weekend each football season to make the annual pilgrimage.

Frankly, an Irish Catholic’s love for Notre Dame football is not all that difficult to decipher as a natural development of growing up in undeniably wholesome and homogenous settings, where The Church was a central and integral part in the lives of our Parents and Grandparents … and thus onto us.  It’s a confluence of Sports and Religion unique in its roots, devotion and enduring strength.

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Rockne, The Four Horsemen, and friends

It’s origins likely the outgrowth of the rise of collegiate football in the decades preceding the existence of the National Football League (NFL); and the result of The Fighting Irish’s success and broad appeal in the collective conscience of those proud Catholics. While “the greatest generation” – the generation of my father and uncles, Irishmen all –  lived its formative years, Notre Dame football was a constant presence.

My father was born in 1919.  The years of 1918-1930 were the Knute Rockne years.  A twelve-year stretch consisting of FIVE undefeated seasons and SIX where no more than 2 losses were booked by The Fighting Irish!  So it’s not hard to see how a generation was immersed in the success and glory of Notre Dame football, even in a time long before football polls, National Championships, and the dreaded BCS.

Unfortunately, the lack  of clear-cut test for determining such pressing issues as football supremacy begot arguments that probably sent many an Irish-Americans into Saturday confessionals

For some reason I was not bitten as severely by the ND football bug as so many were in my extended fraternal family.  I like Notre Dame football; enjoy watching; and always pull for them when I catch their broadcasts.  But the fanaticism never took complete root.

In my family, I have had uncles and cousins make the pilgrimage as once-in-a-lifetime excursions or as regular visits.  I had at least one cousin buried in full Notre Dame regalia.  So many funerals and a few weddings had references to The Fighting Irish.

It’s a guy thing … a Catholic thing … a family thing …

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A family thing … Brother Pat and his two sons, Joseph and Andrew

Yet despite all that kelly green DNA, I never had the Irish-urge to see Notre Dame play locally or even think about taking the trip out to South Bend.

That changed a few weeks ago, when a close friend suggested we go out to God’s Country with mutual friends, who have made ND football an annual gig.  I demurred at first … again not smitten with the ND bug.  Then I found out my brother – a true ND football devotee – had decided to join the very same group from his home base on the West Coast.

Though I may not be a Notre Dame football disciple, I am certainly a huge fan of family, friends, fun, and good times.

What better reason could there be to embark on such an American hajj?!?

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“Hidden Figures”, unexpected lesson

hidden-figures-posterYour typical Saturday night … a reason to make plans a few days previous with friends for dinner and a movie … so why not combine the two?

That’s how a few hours of entertainment morphed into unexpected perspectives on one of the unnoticed parts of American history and the race into space.

Hidden Figures“, nominee for Best Picture at the 2017 Oscars, is the story of three African-American women who played important roles in the United States race to get man into space.  The movie plays out at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA in 1961.

The three women – a mathematical genius (called “computers” long before the electronic versions), an aspiring engineer, and the de facto supervisor of a group of a pool of data transcribers – struggle to gain respect and recognition in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration‘s (NASA) space program in the Jim Crow South.

The twist – both interesting and discomforting – came in the form of WHERE we decided to partake of food and adult beverages while catching a good movie.

Carol had arranged for us to see a movie Saturday night with friends.  We decided to try a local franchise of the Studio Movie Grill in Upper Darby, PA .. a township, seamlessly fused to the west side of Philadelphia.

images-2 The immediate western suburbs of Philadelphia – like West Philadelphia itself is largely African-American.  No surprise that the audience was almost entirely black.

And not a problem …

But it had not occurred to me what would result from the intersection of movie and audience demographics.  That realization came shortly after the movie started.  We had made a fascinating choice in movie, given the makeup of the audience. It would be an interesting evening, enjoying “Hidden Figures” (a firm recommendation, dear Reader) and noting the differences in perspective.

Perspective was easily observed.

Four African-American women, roughly my age and dressed for a night out, were seated next to me.  As the evening war on, between a flatbread pizza and mac ‘n cheese (a firm NO, dear Reader), we watched a great story.  While I enjoyed the history of the story, they were connecting with Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary on an entirely different level.

There was a bit of verbal audience participation … encouraging advice, pleas to speak out, silent but deep disgust.  I could feel it, but I couldn’t really.

At one point in the film, I laughed when Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) scurried frantically across the Langley campus.  Then I realized she was on a one-mile round trip to use a “colored only” ladies room because one wasn’t available in the building to which she had been assigned.  I stopped myself short and listened.  There was no laughter, only the murmurs of those who grew up knowing such things as intimate history.

I learned what I thought I knew I could never ever really know.

FWIW …. I thought the movie was very good, the story compelling.  Although I have only seen Hidden Figures and La La Land (also very good) on the Best Picture nominee list, I would have thought Taraji Henson deserved a nomination.  Octavia Spencer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and should receive strong consideration.

Bad Santa

bad-santaChristmas is definitely more memorable when your kids are young. We had some fun traditions back then, including a few that might now qualify as “psychological abuse” in 17 states.

The first would occur after attending Christmas Eve Mass.

Our tradition would be to ride around the local area to check out the Christmas lights and displays with the Christmas songs turned up to ‘hood bouncing volume, before heading home and allowing the grandparents to give the boys early Christmas presents.

The boys, feeling the freedom of having the church obligation completed, and knowing full well that grandchild presents awaited, were usually quite patient and relaxed as our search for Lights of Christmas progressed. But after 30 minutes or so, their facade of patience would start to crack.

So I would start heading our old Dodge Grand Caravan towards home.

Of course when the kids recognized the more familiar streets and neighborhoods; they would know we were getting close to Christmas Present Time.

So each time we got really close to our house, I’d go right past the street or turn in the opposite direction, announcing to Mom that here was a house up the road I wanted her to see. If I turned down our street, I would make several loops around the neighborhood, sometimes slowing as we approached the driveway, then going right on past to the accompaniment of much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

By the time we got home, the kids were near emotional wrecks, and Mom and I could hardly keep from laughing out loud.

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Our next fond memory of “enhanced interruptive techniques” was experienced on Christmas morning …

Every Christmas one of the kids (usually that Mischievous Middle Child) would bounce onto our bed at 6:30 sharp. We had no illusions that the little termite hadn’t already been downstairs peeking, so we would waited to exact our own little brand of revenge.

After our MMC crowed one Christmas Eve about how early he was going to wake me up, I felt the dawning of a brilliant idea!

That night once the Children were nestled, all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums dance in their heads, I stealthily tied bungee cords from their bedroom doors to the stairway railing across the hall!

(Yes … Four out of five firemen would probably not recommend such a prank, but our house was virtually new back then. Very low risk, trust me!)

That was a fun Christmas morning with Carol and I giggling like sixth-graders as the wails from the MMC’s bedroom went on for roughly 10 minutes. Finally our resourceful little termite pried his door open just enough to squirm his body out his bedroom door. To his credit though, he immediately went downstairs to snoop at what was under the tree before heading back upstairs to free his fellow inmates.

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Most Christmases we made the boys wait at the top of the stairs as Mom and I prepped for the morning’s cyclone of torn wrapping paper and discarded bows. We took our grand old time getting our faces ready, usually with one keeping an eye on the inmates while the other was brushing their teeth.

Then I would head downstairs for the Official Opening Ceremony.

You may think I’m kidding, but that’s exactly what it was!

I would prattle around for 20 minutes, getting the coffee going; lighting the tree; fiddling with the old shoulder-held VHS recorder; and putting the dog out for her morning constitutional. All the while the kids are pleading, “Dad, hurry up!”

Which of course that just made me move a little slower.

Finally, I would have everything ready, the VHS recorder in position; and the kids would start creeping down the steps. And then I would launch into my Christmas Morning Speech

It was usually a thing of beauty. Like a condensed senatorial filibuster …

“Mom, he’s doing this on purpose!”

I would set the stage for the day’s event and provide the viewers with an elaborate description of the tree, the number of presents (with a few “Oohs” and “Ahhs” thrown in to turn the screws a little tighter), that day’s participants (by now the boys were pleading with their mother to shut me down), and then a lengthy description of the weather.

Once the wailing had subsided, I would end my speech with a “Merry Christmas to all!”; and the boys anticipation would be at peek levels …

Then I’d say, “Dammit, somethings wrong with the camera/tree/coffee maker.”

The cacophony of wails was both heart rendering and side-splitting funny.

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Now for those who might think such acts qualify me for The Grinch that Stole Christmas, let me assure you that these stories are repeated year-after-year during our holidays together. Like it or not, like me or not … They are a small – but funny – part of our family’s Holiday tradition!

Merry Christmas to all, and make sure you can get out that door before you Sugar-Plum Dance!

Christmas Tree Wars

Yes, reader … It’s that time of the year once again!

Cranky Man's Lawn

crooked tree“So, how do you guys make sure … ?”

Those words were a precursor to a Christmas experience I had yet to have the “pleasure” of experiencing.  By the time I finished that sentence, I was having one of those little voice-in-the-back-of-the-head premonitions of impending Yuletide Aggravation.

We were Christmas tree shopping two weekends before the holiday.  And we had found a suitable tree …

A suitable tree is a) alive, b) reasonably full and bushy, and c) fixable in places where it’s not reasonably full and bushy.  

After looking at the first 45 trees, I usually remind my spousal unit that the tree doesn’t have to be “perfect”, which always gets me that “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” tilt-headed glare … which of course I live for!

As is the customary belief of REAL Christmas tree aficionados, Artificial Trees are reserved for soul-less, Just-Add-Water, Communists.

Fidel Castro extolling the virtues of a straight - but artificial - Christmas tree! Fidel Castro extolling the perfect alignment of artificial Communist Christmas trees.

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Experience the Couples Massage!

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Not us pictured … Divorce might result if it was!

Hope you enjoy this very carefully, very tastefully written review of our first couples massage experience.  Hopefully I will not end up sleeping on the couch … again, when the incredibly lovely Carol stumbles across this post and discovers I shared an semi-intimate moment solely as a way to promote tourism to the Dominican Republic.

OK … and for the laughs.

As I see it … at my age … any day that starts off with me in a pool with a naked female is a Very, Very Good Day!

When it comes to the massage, one must acknowledge that the ability to render a proper massage is an Art!  The techniques are to be admired and enjoyed, but require training and experience.  Although many an intimate couple will play at the Art of Massage, without the proper knowledge and experience, the massage is just a means to an end.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that ….

I will be the first to admit my skills at massage never advanced beyond the clumsy basics.  After this experience while in Punta Cana, I can honestly state that I had no idea just how inexperienced I was.

The Couples Massage package was an extra to the all-inclusive concept at Barceló Bávaro Beach.  But it’s worth every penny!  The spa is located within the Palace Deluxe Hotel complex. and is accessible at any time by Premium Club members.  Besides the quiet, fragrant massage rooms, the spa includes a large outdoor pool and jacuzzi, indoor jacuzzi and small pool, but no drink service.  (You can bring in adult libations if you so desire.)

The experience begins in the gender-specific locker rooms where one can shed all the decorative physical trappings of modest society … at least on the female side.  The men however were encouraged to keep their swimsuits or shorts on …

Bummer … Completely understandable, I guess … Still a bummer …

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Draperies are closed to enhance the romantic mood, and were opened only after the massage was completed.

Once ensconced in a fluffy terry cloth robe, Carol and I met up in the couples suite.  Quiet, dimly lit by candles, with a romantic arrangement of towels in the shape of a heart and two obviously smitten terrycloth swans, richly appointed with fragrant flower petals.  The atmosphere exudes everything you need to slowly slip into a coma of complete relaxation.

What caught me off guard was finding Carol sans ALL Decorative Trappings of Modest Society, while I was still in a swimsuit.  WT … ?!?

But I guess the presence of two female masseuse explains the discrimination to which I was unexposed.  Not that I’m complaining …  At least one of us was completely stripped of all Decorative Trappings of Modest Society!

Even funnier was the experience of the gentleman in the couple who accompanied us to the DR.  He was instructed to shed his swimwear and sling his … uh … male-hood in a “banana hammock”!

When I heard of this AFTER our massage, I was relieved I wasn’t required to sling The Hammock!  Otherwise Carol would have been laughing throughout the entire massage experience!

The massage itself starts with an exfoliation, cleaning and massage of the lower legs and feet while reclining peacefully and blindfolded, which simply makes the experience a bit more mysteriously unsettling.

“What the heck is she doing?  What’s that stuff??  Oh, that’s nice …”

Next comes the main massage event, complete with security-inducing sheet and coverlet on the traditional massage table.  It was during this transition that I noticed Carol and I were differently dressed.

Have I mentioned that already???

To make a long post shorter, I will not go into a detailed playback of the massage itself.  Rest assured it was expertly applied and deeply relaxing.  This being my first professional massage experience, I can say without reservation that the good masseur at Barceló know what they are doing!

champagnesetup02Once the experts were done, the drapes to our private couples room were thrown open to reveal a small pool set off in an equally private walled-off courtyard.  And when we slipped out the door, we were surprised by the presence of two lounge chairs, a bottle of champagne and two glasses!

As one masseuse bid us farewell and drew closed the drapery, she made a very clear pronouncement, “I will be back in 20 minutes!”

That’s when the light went on!

Hmmmm … Carol still au naturel … champagne … massage oils … a pool and complete privacy … for 20 minutes!?!

Well, I appreciated the optimism, especially as to my personal stamina, but that presumption was a bridge too far.  We did however enjoy the personal intimacy of being secluded in an extremely relaxed state in a very cold pool, and enough bubbly to liberate one’s inhibitions.

But that water might have been a bit too cold …

As it turned out, it was one of the best days of the vacation.  The couples massage is definitely worth the price of admission, assuming of course you get a masseuse who knows what they’re doing!

For me … I hit the daily Double the next day with ANOTHER naked female in the pool.  But it was a dolphin …

Travel: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

dominican-republic-fact-fil-578x298I am not much the world traveler.  When the kids were young, all our vacations were Domestically oriented.  It was simpler, more affordable, easier to manage with kiddies.

That will hopefully change a bit now that Carol and I are entering (almost) Empty Nest Syndrome.  My better half has the leg up so far, enjoying several south-of-the-border vacations with a friend.  But if they are having this much fun, I may smarten up and start following her around more.

For our 30th anniversary (October 2015) we promised ourselves a nice tropical trip; and finally decided to book an Apple Vacation to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with another couple with whom we have vacationed with the last few years.  For me, it’s been awhile that I hit the Jamaican beaches on our honeymoon.

A long time ago … in a land far, far away …

We left in late September, returning in the first week of October.  More on that experience and our closer-than-comfortable proximity to Matthew later.

Being a neophyte at international vacationing, I prefer Simple over Elaborate; so chosing an All-Inclusive route fits my emergent needs perfectly.  Our choice was Barceló Bavarro Beach, an adults only all-inclusive situated within a larger, free-range resort complete with family oriented and other less-inclusive … I assume … options.

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Barcelo Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana

 

To rate the experience as one of our Best Vacations Ever is no overstatement!

The Barceló Group is a family owned Spanish tourism company founded over 85 years ago.  Employing 23,000 people at 100 hotels in 19 countries and 685 travel agencies in 22 nations, they really have their act together!  Despite that I had never heard of them before last week.  Now they top the list as my favorite international resort.  (Yes, as mentioned, it’s a small sample size.)

The accommodations were very good, given the great idea to upgrade our package to the Premium Club, that – among other benefits – gave us an ocean-front view.  The upgrade allowed for dinner at all the resort’s restaurants; provided discounts on excursions; and access to other limited-access amenities.

The resort staff were nothing if not exceptionally friendly and obliging.  The resort was spotless and comfortably appointed.  The adult beverage stations were convenient; the service friendly, generous, and – most times – quick.

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View outside our room

The food was good, not great; although the resort’s best restaurants (Kyoto Japanese, La Comidie French) made for memorable meal experiences.  Skip México Lindo and the Sante Fe Steakhouse establishments.  The El Coral Restaurant (seafood) and La Dolcé Vita (Italian) were also very good.  We heard Le Fuente (Spanish menu) was excellent, but we missed that one.

The breakfast and lunch buffets were good, clean, and nourishing.  But you know buffets … Timing is everything!  Almost everywhere the meal wait staff was friendly and attentive.

Yet … It was a trip we almost did not make.

Attempt #1 … Scheduled for June originally, we had to push the trip back a few months due to one of our – ahem – less youthful companions ripping a vital tendon while playing power forward with “less experienced” individuals.

Attempt #2 … Scheduled for the very end of September through the first week in October (“That’s hurricane season, ya know.”, I helpfully added at the time.) drew near just as Category 1 (soon-to-be-a-4 ) Hurricane Matthew drew near to the southern Caribbean.  The night before the scheduled  participants (all with intact tendons) debated the Probabilities, Possible Outcomes, and Risks until eventually concluding we all really, really needed many fruity drinks in a clothing-minimizing locale and “To Hell with …” caution.  (And it was going to cost too much to change!)

That evening Matthew passed to the south of the D.R., then spent a few days nagging the northern coast of South America … and growing in strength before heading north. Much more fortunately for us than the good people of Jamaica, Haiti, and Cuba, Matthew threw us nothing more than a day and a half of rain.  It was not even enough to keep us from doing what activities we had already scheduled.

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Carol & I … pre-drowning attempt on snorkeling/booze cruise

The excursions and packages we took advantage of were …

  • Snorkeling & Booze Cruise (A+ … Look for a separate blog post later.)
  • Dolphin Discovery (A)
  • Couples Massage (A+++ … Will touch on this also at great personal risk.)

Of course, one does not need the expensive (but honestly well worth the price) excursions to have an entertaining time!  Barceló Punta Cana has much to offer without leaving the friendly confines of the resort.  There’s golf, a casino, a discotheque, a bowling alley, miniature golf, water parks for both young children and adults, several live show venues and offerings (Most of these were a bit corny and amateurish.), Dolphin Island (We chose to go off-campus for our experience.), tons of shopping opportunities, a sports bar, and daily activities on the beach and in the pools.

The beach itself is a beautiful spot, yet we only spent parts of two days there.  Most of our resort “downtime” was spent in the pools, fountains, and walk-up/swim-up bars.  There is plenty of shaded areas for the sun-adverse, like me.  You really cannot beat the quiet relaxation of the pools on the adult-only side of the resort.  And if you want more noise while enjoying the refreshing waters, head over to Barceló Palace, the center of the resort, where most of the action takes place, including the swim-up pool bar!

In my humble, inexperienced opinion, you would really have to struggle to not have a grand time at Barceló Punta Cana!

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Pool at Barcelo Bavarro Beach