Friday, April 13, 2018

A parable

In a small town, there sat two churches.

The older church had been there a hundred years. The parishioners were a mix of immigrants - Poles, Germans, some Italians, Hungarians and the like. The church was small, but humble. Its priest, while a bit absent-minded, was a likable fellow who played the saxophone at church picnics.

The newer church was about half as old. It had been formed by a group of Italians from the town, and served that ethnic community. The building was newer, the air conditioning worked, and it had a school attached to it.

One year, the bishop of the diocese announced that several parishes would have to be closed - and that the older church was on the list.

The parishioners wanted to keep their distinct identity, and were not pleased with the decision. They appealed to the bishop and told him about their church's history and the makeup of their congregation.

The bishop reluctantly said he would wait a year to finalize the decision. Until that time, he said, the priests from both parishes would be reassigned.

The Italian parish was sent a gregarious priest, an outgoing man with a personality many likened to Friar Tuck from the Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie. He was well-liked, and his sermons were lively.

The older parish was sent a good and devout priest, but one wholly unlike their prior one. He had gone through several strokes, and they had left him with trouble speaking and being understood. This caused him to be reserved and withdrawn, his understandable and justifiable frustration sometimes bordering on rude and irritable, when dealing with parishioners - several of whom started attending mass at the newer parish with its friendlier pastor.

At the end of a year, the bishop made his decision. There was no appeal to be made any longer.

With the added drop in attendance and revenue, the older parish would merge with the newer parish.

The frail, devout priest was asked to retire and would not be transferred to the new parish, whose main building would be used as the old church's doors were closed for good. Attempts were made to turn it into a restaurant, but it never worked. It was torn down and turned into a chain pharmacy.

The question of the parable: Who was served, and how?

The older church was mine growing up.

The gregarious priest was later accused of financial improprieties, and died shortly before charges were anticipated to be announced.

None of this was the fault of the earnest but physically challenged priest. But it has always seemed like the diocese used this man, a priest, as a tool for a rather reprehensible end - defeating the desire of this one church to keep existing.

The Roman Catholic Church will not marry my parents - even as a renewal of vows - due to them marrying when my mother was two months pregnant. Forty-two years later, they're two of the finest examples of Catholics in the universe. But ... that one thing ...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The KVP Calculator

#AppellateTwitter stalwart Kristen Vander-Plas rescued a treasure trove of legal books from Davis, Gerald, & Cremer, PC in Austin, Texas last week. The haul is shown above. And I began to wonder if a new unit of measure, similar to Ciminillos, was in order. So now ... you can calculate how many KVPs you own in law books.

Kristen said she has 2-3 tons of books, each weighing 5-8 pounds ... or roughly 50-80 times her own weight. From that, we can guess that one KVP equals 24 books.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Kiss me - I'm finally Irish!

This is my first year that I can celebrate my Irish heritage on St. Patrick's Day.

In the year since, lo, the Chicago River ran green, my mother received some genealogy information from her mother's side of the family.

The image above shows a part of the passenger manifest of the Brig Hannah, which sailed from Londonderry, Ireland, and arrived in Philadelphia in 1836. The fifth passenger listed is James Morrow, a 21-year-old weaver. He is the earliest ancestor of mine that I can trace, the first known to have come from the Old World to the New.

To this point, I had no idea that I had Irish blood. Polish, German, Italian - those we were sure of. It's quite possible that another ancestor was Serbian and may have killed an ancestor of a friend of mine from Twitter. Thankfully, that one is unconfirmed.

The Hannah sank in 1850 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Cape Ray on Newfoundland on its way to Quebec City from Ireland during the famine. Of the nearly 200 passengers and crew aboard, 49 died after the ship hit an iceberg. A Canadian documentary, "Famine and Shipwreck: An Irish Odyssey," lays out the story of the Hannah, the actions that led to the sinking, and one family's search for their own roots in Ireland.

"In order to survive, the poor were forced to abandon all their property and take refuge in Dickensian workhouses or board coffin-ships bound for Canada and the United States," the documentary's site says of Irish immigrants during the Potato Famine. "But that was another famine nightmare and many never made it alive."

Here is the full list of the Hannah's passengers from the voyage my great (and then some) grandfather took:

Friday, June 27, 2014

What do you get when you cross Bea Arthur, mountains and pizza?

You get a blog called bea arthur mountains pizza ... a definitive collection of photos featuring Bea Arthur, mountains and pizza. And here is my suggestion for it, a variation of the birth of Chewbeacca.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

The spontaneous orgasm and the senior citizen spelling bee

"Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe." - Typogycemia meme
The human mind can accomplish some amazing things, not the least of which is its desire to complete what's put before it. One example is the above text, an example of "typoglycemia," a portmanteau that doesn't really mean anything involving the second part of the word. While it's not clear whether scholarly work has actually ever been done on the phenomenon, I got to see this in action once when, in front of his elderly mother and about a hundred old people, my college adviser unleashed the language of love inadvertently on an unsuspecting audience.

The year was 1994, and as a college senior, I was a little lost. And since the Internet hadn't been unleashed on the general public, I decided grad school was a good way to find out what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life. To do that, I needed a few letters of recommendation - which wound up being an odd mix of self-serving quid pro quo. One letter I procured from a journalism adviser in exchange for restarting the college chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. That one turned out better for me than I anticipated - the "Foot in the Door" program I started in 1994 kept going and helped me get my first job out of school when I attended a 1995 installment where my first boss was a panelist.

The second came from Jake (not his real name, but many people who read this will know EXACTLY who this is), my English department adviser and fearless leader of the college's theater group. Jake is a Shakespearean actor - think of King Lear, and the person you see in your mind is Jake. He's the guy who always plays Ebenezer Scrooge in your town's yearly local production of "A Christmas Carol."

I had worked on a few of the shows he directed, shared a memorable scene as a Spanish thug in a forgettable play with one of his daughters and helped stage manage another play with his other daughter that led to me nearly blinding an actor with a congratulatory rose I'd bought for her. He's also indirectly responsible for the only game of Spin the Bottle that I've ever played, but that's not part of this story.

No. This is the story of the Allegheny County Spelling Championship, an event put on by the Allegheny County Department of Aging. That's right - an old people spelling bee.

Jake had the honor of using his theatrical voice in the role of pronouncer at the event, probably at the behest and in honor of his mother, who was a member of one of the Pittsburgh senior centers sending their champion to do battle. Three of his grad students had been roped into being the judges, but one had to cancel.

Yours truly was asked to step in as No. 3.

I had no idea what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I saw walking into the fray of felt banners, signs and cheering sections. One man came up to our delegation and said to Jake - I cannot make this up - "I see you brought the strapping young lad to carry the unabridged dictionary."

Um ... thanks ... can I take my seat now?

The grad students and I followed along as, within one round, half the contestants spelled themselves out of contention. What the regional senior center competition must have been, I don't wanna know.

We had only reached the "al-" portion of the spelling sheet when we came to the point where all hell didn't break loose.

The word next on Jake's list was "albino." The contestant asked for a definition. And Jake missed it by two letters.

Here's the definition on the sheet, which is forever burned into my mind:

albino - an organism that exhibits a
complete lack of pigmentation and color.

What came out of Jake's mouth was:

albino - an orgasm that exhibits a
complete lack of pigmentation and color.

Time froze. The concept of bullet time in "The Matrix" was created then and there as I heard "orgasm" come flying past my head, eyes wide open, trying to figure out if I had heard what I was sure I had heard.

I looked at the dais. The contestant was still trying to figure out how to spell "albino" while all I could hear was "orgasm" bouncing around my brain.

Jake was there, patiently waiting for the answer, seemingly unaware that he had just accidentally said "orgasm" in front of his mom, daughter and a legion of fans of old Pittsburghers spelling just the early As.

Seemingly, they had no idea what just happened either.

I turned around in my chair to face them.

No tittering. No whispers. No smirks on a slow burn to outright guffawdom. 

I raised an eyebrow and left it there.

The grad students sat stone-faced as well. No change in demeanor except, "spell albino, already, sheesh."

I began to question my sanity. Until I turned back toward the stage.

And saw one elderly woman, a contestant, sitting with raised eyebrows. Her eyes darted back in forth, scanning the crowd as I had done for evidence that a crime against pronunciation had been committed.

I looked forward, waiting for her attention to come my way.

Our eyes met. They locked. And she and I had a wordless, three-part conversation conducted entirely in mime.
Me: "Uh, did you ..." (eyebrow emphasis completing that sentence)
Her: "Pretty sure, yeah! So, what now?" (eyebrows furrowed, expecting instructions)
Me: (shrugs shoulders) "I have no idea."
Fortunately, for everyone involved, the speller defeated the orgasm and spelled albino correctly. If he had failed to do so, I was fully prepared to stop the proceedings and tell Jake about his spontaneous ejaculation (defined "something said quickly and suddently," o ye of dirty minds) and give the contestant another word due to an unspecified "technical error."

The event soldiered on, and a winner was crowned. Fans cheered. Hugs were exchanged. 

In another corner, a lady who had been eliminated sought out a similarly befuddled judge to ask the all-important question: "Did you hear that TOO?"

Turns out, we had. We went to Jake, because without us bringing it up in solidarity, we feared nobody would have believed us. She was the only other person who shared the moment with me - nobody else came forward to overhearing a rogue orgasm in the room. Not the grad students. Not Jake's family. Not even Jake himself. 

It was a moment of typoglycemia - two letters forgotten changing one word into something completely different, heard by an audience expecting merely a definition of albino and their brains receiving exactly that - a definition. Typoglycemia as mass hypnosis. A hundred brains processing without hearing, context providing a completion that satisfied their inner interpretation of a simple spelling bee interrupted by a little sexy talk.

My reward, aside from a story, is the magnifying glass bookmark at the top of this story. Have I needed it yet? No. One day, though, my eyes may get weary and I might ride into battle, a head full of words as my weapons, waiting for the person at the podium to "Cmoe at me, bro!"

Monday, February 10, 2014

A short guide to double standards in the 2014 Sochi Women's Olympics

Please remain fully clothed while celebrating a medal win ... 

... however, the rest of the year ...

... keep those emotions in ...

... unless ...

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Ciminillos Calculator

I know you've been wanting to know how many Ciminillos you occupy - who doesn't in this day and age? Here's where you can find out:


Shown above: A trunk space that accommodates approximately one unit of Ciminillo.

What is my trunk's Ciminillo capacity?

So you've got your car ready for the weekend, but you need to figure out how many Ciminillos you can pack effectively. Now you can calculate it easily.


This is a calculator designed a few years ago for Drive, She Said blogger Jill Ciminillo, who also operates under the guise of "Girl in the Trunk." This explains why someone might need to know how many diminutive-yet-fantastic auto writers can fit in the storage compartment of a vehicle.