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.

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 …

Cranky Man’s 5 Stages of the Gym Mourning

‘Tis annoying when one goes to the gym or “fitness center” and encounters those “lunks”, as hopeless gym rats are derisively described by such authority figures as Planet Fitness.  Face it, some people were born to spend copious amounts of time in the gym.  They actually look forward to it!  Enjoy the hard work and sweaty toil … the Pain needed to make the Gains … the form-fitting workout gear only the lunky or curvaceous gym apostle can wear.

Bastards …

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For the rest of us – which I would venture is the most of us – going to the gym is three rungs above a Dental appointment and one rung below dinner with the In-Laws.  A sad – but honest – admission …

As for me, I go through my own personal 5 Stages of Gym Mourning just to get out of bed and through a workout.  Similar to the more infamous 5 Stages of Grief, the stages to my gym morning are saturated in emotion and the desire to hide from painful Truth.  A sense of Loss lays the foundation for both.  In the case of anti-gym types like me, it is the Loss of Youth, the Loss of Leisurely Morning Routine, the potential Loss of Health, the Loss of Body Form and Image, the Loss of Laissez Faire Eating Habits, the Loss of Hair …

Need I go further …?

gym rats

No one likes the pretty gym people … except other pretty gym people.

After all to morning anti-gym rats, “grief” fairly accurately describes the process of hauling our sleepy bodies from our warm beds for the purposes of strapping ourselves to Machines of Torture!  For me, that’s 2-3 mornings a week depending on Mood, Physical Health, Weather, or if I absolutely have to fit into those pants I bought when I was oh-so-proud about recent weight-loss.  There are few things more demoralizing than your Significant Other perusing your chosen evening wear and saying, “Those pants have gotten a little tight there, chubby.”

So for all those reasons, I subject myself to the following Cranky Man 5 Stages of Gym Mourning pre-workout routine …

0515 hours … “What is that incessant noise?!?  Who the hell set the alarm clock on a Saturday?!?  This is freakin’ ridiculous!”

“OMG … It’s only Thursday.  You have got to be kidding me!  There’s no way I’m getting up this early.  This is stupid!  Who does this every morning???  Son-of-a ….”

ANGER … is always the first response.

0524 hours … The alarm again … “Oh c’mon … I can’t do this. This is inhuman!”

“No, you have to do this. You can do this!”  And rounds of BARGAINING begin.

“OK … If I go today, then I don’t have to go tomorrow.  Tomorrow’s Friday … You can sleep all the way to 0630 tomorrow if you just go to the gym today.”

“No … No way!  This is stupid!”

“Now, now … Listen!  There’s a half-gallon of Breyer’s Ice Cream in the freezer, Slick.  Go to the gym today and maybe – if you’re good all day long – you can have low-guilt ice cream tonight!” 

“OK … OK … OK … I’m getting up!”

(Now of course such a thing as “low-guilt ice cream” is impossible, as any reluctant prisoner of the Healthy Gym Workout cycle can tell you!)

gym-rat+treadmill+wheelA Bargain will eventually be reached.  And you will drag yourself from that warm bed  … unless the Bargain was reduced to sleeping in today for “guilt-filled ice cream” and a workout tomorrow.

The majority of those who go the gym, do so because they can eat whatever they want with little in the way of Rationalization.  That and a lighter load of Bad Food Guilt is as good as any endorphin buzz a workout can give the reluctant gym denizen!

ACCEPTANCE is usually the easiest phase to live through.  By this time, I have dragged my weary body from my soft, warm bed … one appendage at a time; pushed myself squint-eyed through the morning bathroom routine, bouts of resolve-strengthening mental cheerleading, and perhaps a few additional rounds of Bargaining. Then, once prepped in my gym-enduring workout clothes, primed for another day of attempting to fool Mother Nature, I resolutely head out the door.

Truth is the warm months of Summer make the Acceptance process all the easier.  Being able to roll out of bed and head off to the gym in the same clothes I wore to bed the night before makes all the difference in the world.  I can do everything up to climbing into the car with my eyes still barely open!

The biggest difference from the more well-known 5 Stages of Grief is the feeling of ACCOMPLISHMENT one gets from completing a strenuous, exhausting, and sweat-filled workout.  Let’s face it … The biggest reason many of us hit the gym is that feeling of doing something entirely for yourself.  Improving your health; increasing your Stamina; sharpening your Focus … blah blah blah …

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I don’t really look older when you work out. I just feel older … a lot older.

Yes, it’s a good feeling … That lasts all of 20 minutes until you realize you have to repeat the process in a few days ….

Forever and Ever and Ever!

That’s the realization that sends this Cranky Man into the final stage of his 5 Stages of the Gym Mourning …

DEPRESSION!

 

Have a Merry Global Warming Christmas!

Yeah, yeah … I know.

“That’s not “climate”, it’s just weather!”

Still …

I’m really getting into this Winter Global Warming/Cooling/Wetting/Drying/Changing thing.

I also picked up the parts I needed to get my snowblower into top working condition, thereby ensuring we will not get any snow this Winter. Maybe in July …

So here’s an apropos Christmas song for the new tropical Eastern United States!

Merry Christmas from the Cranky Man!

Police Academy 19

1626For 19 times the police departments of Horsham and Hatboro, Pennsylvania have presented a seminar-type forum know as the Citizens Police Academy.  Having heard several rave reviews of the program, its organization, and presentation, I decided to register and take a look at what our local law enforcement types do and how they do it.  There are local CPAs in surrounding communities as well, such as Abington, Cheltenham, as well as both regionally and nationally.

This past Wednesday night was our first session.  And although the first session was by necessity a bit dry and full of background information and program objective, several interesting factoids were presented that would make the under-educated (police service-wise) go, “Hmmmm …”

If subsequent sessions appear to be nearly as interesting as I think they might, I intend to share some of my experiences and lessons-learned with you.  I will not promise to do so each week; but I will not let anything of value out.

By way of full disclosure I reveal the following.  I have several former and current officers in my family, including one who retired from a command position in a fairly large police department out west.  Currently, I have one extended family member serving as a patrol officer (last time I checked) in Wilmington, Delaware.

The objective of the Citizens Police Academy (CPA) are fairly obvious.

  • Improved community relations
  • Improved public safety
  • Crime prevention through the elimination of Opportunities to commit crime

PA-HorshamTwpPDOf course, the primary goal is an outreach to its citizens as a way of fostering familiarity with police roles and techniques, an understanding of what police can and cannot do, as well as a forum for citizens to learn how to prevent the most common criminal acts and how local police will react and handle those situations.  The underlying theme is to promote a tighter relationship between the community and the police, and to encourage greater participation by everyday citizens in community.

Personally, I find it to be an excellent way to show support for local law enforcement as well as taking an interest in the important role they play in making our community a safer, more attractive place to live.

My class has roughly 20-25 attendees on the first night, coming from both Horsham and Hatboro.  For those not familiar with the two communities, they are located very closely though they do not physically border each other.  The township of Upper Moreland separates the two by a thin piece of land, known by some as “the dog leg”.  However the two communities share a common school district, known appropriately enough as the Hatboro-Horsham School District.

I live in Horsham.  But in a strange quirk of U.S. Postal Service zip-coding, my residence holds a Hatboro zip code.  (Not sure how that fits the narrative here, but there ya go!)

You want to do what?!?   (generic CPA photo)

You want to do what?!?
(generic CPA photo)

Our first class was mostly a familiarization session, with some random facts and an opportunity to check out the routine equipment carried and used by today’s officers.  Most of this was interesting in a hands-on way, being able to feel the heft of the expandable baton or noticing that their sidearm ammunition used hollow-point bullets or imagining what it feels to have 50,000 volts of taser hitting your muscles from an effective range of 25 feet.

Does this come in pink? (generic CPA photo)

Does this come in pink?
(generic CPA photo)

Future classes will include patrol functions, a session on District Courts, use of force, crime scene and homicide investigations (CSI), the FBI, terrorism, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), K-9 programs, and drug awareness.

Some other random tidbits picked up in our first session:

  • Although Pennsylvania is an open carry” state, as soon as you enter a vehicle with your weapon, it is considered to be “concealed” for the purposes of requiring a Concealed Carry permit.
  • The average police shooting last 3-6 seconds from a distance of 3-6 meters where 3-6 rounds are fired.
  • Police officers “walk through” every school in the Hatboro-Horsham SD at least once a day.
  • Hatboro will be celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015!

More to follow …

Golfing Myrtle Beach

Par 3  #5 at Grande Dunes Resort (Parred it too!)

Par 3 #5 at Grande Dunes Resort

Last month I took full advantage of an opportunity to enjoy four days on a golf holiday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  For golfers, The Grand Strand is one of those must-do destinations for the number and quality of golf courses (over 100, not including 50 miniature golf locales for miniature golfers), agreeable weather, close proximity to ocean beaches, and a wide assortment of family distracting, non-golf related attractions.

This was not my first foray into the northeast corner of the Palmetto State.  Many moons ago in a land far away, Carol and I bundled the kids and six tons of provisions into and onto our Dodge Grand Caravan and drove the 11-hour trip to Golf Heaven.

Problem was my golf clubs wouldn’t fit.

Oh, they would have fit in the car just fine.  They just wouldn’t “fit” family vacation time with three kids and a spousal unit, who rode shotgun on the Shortall herd for most of the other 358 days of the year.

Bringing the Frustration Sticks?  Wouldn’t be prudent.  Not gonna do it … and I lived to golf another day.

But this time would be different.  This time would be Mike time!

So me and one of my regular golf buddies departed at Zero Dark Thirty (roughly 0330 hours EDT) for Atlantic City International Airport and a 0630 flight on Spirit Airlines.

We did this in an attempt to shave a few farthings from the trip bill.  To be honest, I’m not sure we saved all that much money; but I can say with certainty, we saved ourselves significant aggravation by departing and arriving through relatively small airports compared to Philadelphia International.  Quicker lines through check-in and security screening; shorter walks to on-site parking; and no dependency on courtesy shuttles to get where one needed to go.

A drawback to the long commute to AC was exhaustion for those (me) who are not finely tuned, frequent travelers.  The party we joined in Myrtle – our host for the weekend –  wanted to play a round as soon as we got off the plane!  Not a big fan of travel stress or of rushing right off the plane to do anything, that first round of golf was tough.  Then we added food shopping and adult beverage provisioning following the round, so I was dead by the time we reached our condo.  The beach and party time would have to wait.

Party time?

Let’s put it this way.  Take three guys well over 50; add golf, travel and a few beers, and it was a struggle to stay awake past 9 PM!  So we concerned ourselves with the Thursday Night NFL game (Giants vs. Washington … a blow out … Thanks a bunch, Redskins!), enjoying the night time ocean breezes from the downstairs bar’s dune-side courtyard, and one spectacular Italian dinner (Villa Romana … Try the Shrimps San Marzano!).

Of course after our fine Italian meal, we had to play miniature golf!  Not because we needed more golf, just that one of our party has an “adrenaline rush” dependency, insisting we play $1 skins with carry-overs.  I’m not usually a betting man with the state of my golf game, but I’m proud to say I walked out of mini-golf $17 dollars to the plus side of the ledger!

As for the golf?  Well, you can’t go wrong in Myrtle!

With over 100 courses, you can find tracks to accommodate all levels of golf competency (or lack thereof) and all price levels.  Obviously, to attract the widest range of golf talent and therefore their golf dollars, there are quite a few courses in Myrtle Beach that can result in wild golf tantrums.

We tended to play more difficult courses, which was a struggle for those of us who are challenged on our normal tracts.  If you really want to enjoy yourself, be true to your capabilities and pick courses that are appropriate for your “skill set” … or lack thereof.  Then tee it up from age and/or talent-appropriate tees.

The courses we played from 25-28 September:

Hole #5 on the Waterway Links at Arrowhead CC

Hole #5 on the Waterway Links at Arrowhead CC

Arrowhead Country Club – a 27-hole golf complex designed by PGA pro Raymond Floyd and Tom Jackson, a renown course designer.  This is the course we played right off the plane; and admittedly my LOFT (Lack Of Freaking Talent) quotient was very high.  Conditions were very wet with The Grand Strand getting a lot of rain the week before our trip.  I would love to get another crack at this beauty.  Beware though, I seem to have found an inordinately high number of sand traps; so take my warning about appropriate tee box selection seriously and enjoy.  As an added bonus the course features several holes along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Moorland @ Legends Golf & Resort – Very, very tough course that did not ease at all my high LOFT quotient.  More undulations than a herd of elephants in an earthquake … And when the elephants die, where do you bury them?  In the greens of course!  Geared more for the low handicapper, in my humble opinion.  Loved the course, the staff was excellent, the facilities top-notch!  The problem?  This place is a golf factory (with three full 18-hole courses) … and not the

Course designer P.B.Dye is a monster!

Moorland at Legends’ course designer P.B.Dye is a monster!

good kind!  Take a hint from what your $109 buys in addition to your round of golf:  Breakfast, lunch and two beers.  Not a bad deal, but it reflects an orientation towards High Volume Play.  When we arrived there at 8 AM, there must have been easily 100-150 golfers in various stages of play or prep, including enjoying that breakfast buffet in one of the largest golf clubhouses known to man.  If you like crowds, you will LOVE Legends!

Grande Dunes Resort Club – Easily my favorite and – of course – the most expensive course we played ($129).  That pays for your golf and nothing but your golf.  Good news?  It keeps the crowd down.  Other than that, this was the most easily played round of golf, with no doubt the best scenery of the three courses.  Like Arrowhead, Grande Dunes has several holes that parallel the Intracoastal Waterway; and like many of the courses in Myrtle, it is the centerpiece of an assortment of vacation homes.  The scenery, between the style and beauty of the neighboring properties and golf holes that are well-elevated above the Intracoastal, is spectacular and makes this course a Must Play.  Not as difficult as Moorland for sure; probably closer to Arrowhead in skill level needed.

So grip it and rip it!