Thursday, December 27, 2012

Feud brewed confronting the rude and crude in the nude

The story you are about to read is true.


The underwear has been changed to protect the innocent.


I almost provoked a brawl at the YMCA.


In the steam room.


A room full of naked men.


Here's what happened.


The West End Y in Willoughby is an outstanding facility.


Great staff, great equipment, convenient hours.


After a workout, I hit the steam room.


Just like in the movies, a bunch of guys sitting around in a cloud of hot steam.






And as you'd expect, the required uniform is your birthday suit adorned by a white towel.


That's when my mouth got me into trouble.


You see, the YMCA has a rule: no shaving in the steam room.


It's based on fear of blood-borne disease.


One nick of your chin from your Gillette razor means blood could infect the whole room.


Who wants to sit on a bench splattered with your AB negative?


The Lake County Health Department has even issued warnings against such dangerous behavior.


One Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, a couple of us were soaking up the hot steam.

In walks a fellow with an apple in his left hand and something else in his right.


A razor.


The steam pumps into the room at an intense rate.


The newcomer begins to stroke the blade across his cheek.


He shakes the razor clean after each stroke, depositing scraped whiskers on the floor next to him.


A little gross.


I summoned my most non-confrontational tone.


I smile and speak.


"Excuse me, would you mind not shaving?"


He glares, "It's people like you who ruin this place for the rest of us!"


He begins to rise, menacingly.


He shouts, "Are you some kind of germophobe?"


He seems poised to throw a punch.


At this point, I'm somewhat alarmed.


Armed only with a towel that currently barely functions as a loincloth, I'm at a disadvantage.


I try to come up with a brilliant retort to defuse the tension.


"Yes, as a matter of fact, I'm terrified of germs. You'll see my picture in the dictionary next to the word 'Germophobe'."


The aggressor backs down.


Apparently, in the neanderthal mind, it's not worth taking a poke at those who suffer from obsessive phobias.


Psychology saves the day.


The Titan of the steam room has retreated.


However, he attempts one more dimwitted sarcastic thrust.


"Is it okay if I eat my apple, or does that bother you too?"


Interesting question.


You see, it is far from sanitary to munch a Macintosh in the land of sweaty buttcracks.


But the only danger is to the fool choosing to dine at Le Room de Steame.




"Go ahead, be my guest."


I showered and went home.


I'm happy I avoided fisticuffs that day.


I haven't seen my nemesis since then.


I hope he's okay.


But  then again, I haven't checked the obituaries.


I've heard that ingesting the staphylococcus virus can be fatal.


Bon apetit.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Man's humanity to man: a tribute to tender kindness at Christmas

Here's to a soup kitchen Christmas,
in a warehouse filled with good cheer.
Here's to a little old lady,
as she smiles at a kind  volunteer.
It's served on a plate made of paper.
It's not what you give the elite.
It's made with a love and compassion
no gourmet from Paris could beat.
There's a man playing Santa,
he's there every year,
even though he has family of his own.
He distributes the gifts with a laugh and a hug,
and reminds them that they are not alone.
So here's to a soup kitchen Christmas.
No sadness or loneliness there.
Here's to the warmth and the safety,
A peaceful and joyous affair.
Look in your heart when its Christmas.
Are there debts that you never repaid?
People you never forgiven?
Apologies you've never made?
There's misfortune around
that you seem not to see,
even though it's in front of your nose.
But for God's grace,
you're the one all alone,
disheveled in raggedy clothes.
So here's to a soup kitchen Christmas.
Above hangs the Bethlehem star.
Like it did o'er a child in a manger,
in a time and a place very far.
He said,   "Give to the hungry and homeless,
give hope to a desperate plight."
Come find the meaning of Christmas
in a soup kitchen on a cold Christmas night.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paul Simon sang of "Slip Slidin' Away" but without a push

In 1967, Spencer Tracy delivered one of the most spellbinding performances in the history of film.
The movie was called “Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.”
It culminates with Tracy’s moving soliloquy about truth, justice, racism, and love.
Fourteen days after filming was completed, Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack.
He had been battling lung disease, diabetes, and liver failure.
But he was determined to make that movie because he believed in its message.
No doctor was going to expedite Tracy's  arrival at Forest Lawn.
Which brings me to a recent story published in the Daily Mail in London.
The National Health Service, England's government run health care system, has established something called the Liverpool Care Pathway.
This is a program in which the doctor decides that because you don't have much longer to live, action may be taken to expedite the process.
The medical professional subjectively decides that you belong in the express lane of the checkout counter even if you may have many days of life ahead of you.
Professor  Patrick Pullicino recently addressed the Royal Society of Medicine in London.
He is a board certified neurologist for East Kent Hospital and teaches clinical neuroscience at the University of Kent.
The good doctor cited a specific case where his patient was placed on the Liverpool Care Pathway by a visiting weekend physician.
The Pathway protocol calls for denial of food, water, and all medicines other than pain relievers.
When Dr. Pullicino came in to see his patient  Monday morning, he was shocked.
He removed the seventy-one year old gentleman from the Pathway protocol and resumed appropriate medical treatment despite opposition from the hospital administration.
After four weeks, the patient was discharged home to his family where he lived another fourteen months of productive life surrounded by the loving care of his children.
Fourteen months!
Dr. Peter Millard from the University of London and Dr. Peter Hargreaves at the St. Luke's Cancer Center refer to the Pathway protocol as a form of “backdoor euthanasia”.
I agree.
No one should be permitted to  discount the value of your last days.
Pathway grants authority to give you a little push while you are standing on the edge of the cliff looking out into eternity.
I will stand on the edge of that cliff as long as I damn well please.
It may be very costly and may tie up a hospital bed.
But it is insane for  government to create incentives for medical professionals to “hurry things along”.
I plan to use my last days to do my very best work.
I'm going to  communicate to my family how much I've loved and appreciated them.
The Pathway protocol applied to Spencer Tracy  would've snuffed out his tour de force  cinematic moment before it ever happened.
I'm going to be like the tough old coot that Spencer Tracy portrayed in “Guess Who's Coming To Dinner.”
I'm going to fight all the way through to the end as a matter of principle.
You don’t have to if you don’t want to.
But I don't want some doctor to have access to a button that  opens a trapdoor right below where I'm standing.
It's not right.
That’s why government shouldn’t be running our medical system.
Stop Obamacare.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

There's someone you see often but do you recognize him?

Planned giving.


It's an elegant term meaning donation upon death.


You leave money to the charity in your will.


The tax-exempt organization waits for you to die.


I have a better idea.


Not planned giving.


Spontaneous giving.


More exciting.


Less morbid.


Here's the way it works.


If you come across someone in need, you give them money.


Now I warn you that most police departments say I'm nuts.


Giving to the homeless can be dangerous.


I hear that.


But I'm haunted by the beautiful story of the final judgment told by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.


When, Master, did we see you hungry and not feed you, naked and not clothe you,  homeless and deny you shelter?


Jesus tells the condemned  they missed him.


Disguised as those in need.


That's why I concluded spontaneous giving is perfectly acceptable.


The beggar downtown is Jesus, isn't he?


Not sure, are you?


For me, it started about five years ago.


I attended  noon church service on a Friday in Advent.


In the vestibule, just before mass, a young woman appeared out of nowhere.




Told me a tough story about a lost check and hungry children.


And her hope in me.


That's when crazy really kicked in.


I  let go of rational thought and let compassion rule.


I told myself that whatever denomination of currency I pulled from my pocket, I'd hand it to that lady.


Momentarily, I forgot my plans to Christmas shop that afternoon.


It was an act of blind faith.


You take over now, Jesus.


Whatever I pull out goes to the needy mom.


A $100 bill!


I gave it to her.


She hugged me.


I attended the service, my pocket lighter by one Ben Franklin.


But my spirits were lifted by the exhilaration of surrender to love.


You don't have to be that insane.


But you can spontaneously give something, even to a panhandler that just might use it for booze or drugs.


You don't know.


So don't judge.


My Dad  once invited a homeless man to a downtown restaurant for lunch.


Both men were thrilled by that meal.


Dad was like Will Rogers: never met a man he didn't like.


I once had a priest give the following penance in the confessional: say yes to the first person who asks for help.


On the sidewalk, a stranger down on his luck came right up to me and asked for money.


Weird, right?


I gave him some cash.


And I was more than okay with that.


I know they'll be criticism of this column.


Don't abandon all common sense in favor of reckless and dangerous behavior.


But I know you.


You have that impulse that occasionally moves you.


Be careful, but it's alright to act on that impulse every now and then.


Maybe the Son of Man is that putrid smelling hobo holding a sign on the shoulder of the road.


You might see him again sometime on judgment day.


Why take the chance?


Merry  Christmas.





Thursday, November 29, 2012

Little Child wants to climb into manger early

Let's talk about a particular Christmas tradition.


There is one in  my church  and likely yours that creates frustration.


No Christmas songs until Christmas day.


On the surface this seems to make sense.


After all Advent is about waiting.


Waiting for the Savior to arrive.


Some of you reading will see me as an impatient little kid who wants those Christmas presents… Now!


That's not it.


Sometime in November,  the Christmas music starts surrounding us.


Radio stations go nuts with it, especially on the FM dial.


Restaurant sound systems.


Even the Muzak playing in the background at the bank.


By the time Advent actually begins in early December, we are immersed in holiday melodies.


Meanwhile back at your local parish, we launch into a couple of tunes about waiting.


Oh Come Oh Come  Emmanuel.


Something wonderful is on its way.


Outside of church the really beautiful Christmas songs continue to engulf us.


I  love some of the modern renditions of classics like Oh Holy Night.


Back to church again the following Sunday.


More Oh Come Emmanuel.


Back out into the real world.


Target plays a poignant version of O Little Town Of Bethlehem and I am grateful for the Redeemer.


Back to church again.


More Emmanuel.



In my car, a Christian  radio station  delivers 100 hours of uninterrupted Christmas carols and we are still a couple of weeks away from the big day.


Finally Christmas actually arrives and our local churches unwrap the Christmas music.


The problem is that the churchgoers by now  have been assaulted by the shopping mall's onslaught of Christmas tunes.


As a result, the  impact of those songs at church is lost.


By December 27, my wife has disassembled the tree and moved on to planning for the next holiday.


During this period, Sunday worshipers try to keep  things going.


Even though we've been turned into zombies, bludgeoned into a post-Christmas stupor by the likes of Michael Jackson, the Beach Boys, and the Carpenters.


Here's all that I'm asking.


Church leaders, give us at least a morsel of some of the more subdued Christmas hymns to sing during Advent in order to get us in the right spirit.


No one's going to die if Silent Night or Away in a Manger are softly intoned like snowflakes gently decorating a pasture.


Imagine the inspiration of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear as your congregation  envisions the City of David  in the weeks leading up to that first Christmas.


Men of the cloth, it's not your fault but the world we live in is so oversaturated with Christmas music that by the time you allow it in the church, it feels a little anti-climactic.


Anyway, consider this column to be my one-man petition to let baby Jesus softly poke his nose into your church during the Advent season.


I assure you that the roof of the church will not come crashing down into the sanctuary.


Andy Williams and Burl Ives are stealing your thunder.


Let's take it back.




Thursday, November 22, 2012

Answer: An irritating Canadian. Question: Who is Alex Trebek?

Errant thoughts.
Here are a few.
I heard an ad on the radio the other day  for a car dealership called "Collection Auto Group."
Collection Auto Group?
Next they'll open a franchise called Repossession Chevrolet.
Why do they call it evaporated milk?
When you open the can, it pours out in liquid form.
When did it evaporate?
What am I supposed to do when the automated voice at the self check-out register tells me to place the item in the bagging area when I already have?
When did men's razor blades become so expensive and rare?
You must extract razor blade packages from an extra high-security dispenser  frequently requiring a manager to unlock the dispenser before it is activated.
No wonder beards are the rage.
I love the English language.
That's why I am irritated by its abuse.
For several years now,  service providers at coffee shops and other places have called out the following phrase.
"Can I help who's next?"
The proper usage is "Can I help the person who is next?"
Please America, love your lattes but love your language more.
How do ballclubs manage to call a timeout precisely when TV shows on other channels are airing a commercial?
Why is Alex Trebek so annoying?
He pronounces every French phrase with a snooty condescending flair.
He wants to remind us that we are unsophisticated hicks also known by another name.
I want to slap him.
Why do you have to pay hundreds of dollars for a wooden casket for a cremation?
We all know that Uncle Louie is going up in smoke.
While he is in the box.
Use cardboard.
Why do I feel guilty about not putting money in the basket at church when we've signed up for our parish's auto payment  which deducts the weekly contribution  from my checking account?
My wife says I don't want the usher or other observers to think I'm stiffing the good padre.
I think she's right.
Have you been to a restaurant chain called "Steak and Shake" ?
You can get a shake but steak is not on the menu.
A steakburger is not a steak.
It's a hamburger.
Change the name.
Regarding a product called "I can't believe it's not butter".
I've tasted it.
It does not taste like butter.
Believe it.
Do you know how they harvest cranberries?
They float to the top in giant ponds called bogs.
Men in chest-high rubber boots tramp around the bogs scooping up  the delectable berries and corralling them into collection machines.

Those rubber boots remind me of  fishing trips a neighbor used to take in Canada.
He and those stinkin' boots would return from up North reeking of fish.
They sat in the garage all year long until it was time to return to moose country for another round of swilling beer and trying to catch bass.
In my mind, cranberries equal rubber boots.
Makes you think twice about that cranberry sauce doesn't it?
Happy holidays.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Unforgettable Images of an Unforgettable Wedding Ceremony

This column contains some disturbing elements.
Be warned.
Sometimes images are so jarring that they become seared into our psyche.
Always lurking just below the surface of our consciousness.
Imagine a  bucket of water with ice cubes.
You can push the cubes to the bottom but they eventually make their way to the top.
I enjoyed officiating at weddings during my time as Mayor of Euclid.
It was great to share in someone else's joyful moments.
Anyway, this one was unusual.
I was asked to come to the bride's home for the ceremony.
Her dad was ill and couldn't get out of the house.
If you can't get to the wedding, bring the wedding to you.
The bride was stunning in her ivory lace down, the groom lovingly gazing upon the woman he planned to grow old with.
Dad sat in his wheelchair.
But he was dying.
The bride's father had mouth  cancer.
It had spread.
His mouth was eaten away.
He had no lips left.
My hand is shaking as I write this.
The upper left portion of his cheek had no skin.
Only pulsating tissue.
Veins and bone  exposed.
An IV supplied painkillers.
My mind raced trying to organize these fearful visuals.
Emotions began to seize up within me.
I remember thinking that face was reminiscent of Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera unmasked.
It was chilling.
Dad's eyes were glassy, staring straight ahead.
Was there enough life left in him such that he knew that right in front of him his little girl was beginning a new life with her dashing young husband?
I was overcome with compassion.
I was ashamed that I had experienced horror.
There was a lot of love in that room.
All kinds of love.
Between lovers.
Between siblings.
Deep love for a dad  slipping away into eternity almost during the ceremony.
I looked at the bride.
Can you read a face?
I could that day.
The bride's face said I love you Dad.
Don't worry.
This new man will take care of me.
And by the way, I'll never forget you.
I'll never stop loving you.
I regained my composure and led the couple through their vows.
I felt the presence of God.
And I'll never forget those images.
All those feelings.
Love your family.
Love them with such fervor that the love survives all things.
Don't be embarrassed to show your love.
Be  gaudy in  the expression of love.
Let the memory of love be so loudly proclaimed that it becomes a bridge to the time when you are reunited.
Reunited with a terrific dad.
Or with a daughter who made a lovely bride.
A bride who can't wait to tenderly kiss her father again in heaven.
In a place without pain or suffering.
A place where love continues.
But remember this.
For love to continue there, you've got to express it here.
Those images haunt me.
And they remind me to love.