Friday, December 31, 2010

Saints be praised!

This year's advent calendar featured saints. Every day we opened one of those little doors and got a piece of artwork that has a picture of a saint. I was surprised but there were a handful I had never heard of. Weird names that belong to no one. I wondered how that happened, how some names disappear.

I grew up Catholic, so I couldn't help but stumble upon the various saints. The local churches and private schools, most of them had saint's names: Saint Francis, Saint Ursula, Saint Pius. (Did you know there are three Saint Adalbert's? How can that be?) In junior high, I went through confirmation when I got to pick my own saint and add another name to my given name. I was given a small book with the stories behind some of the saints (a Catholic Top-10, perhaps?) and I picked Agnes, mostly because her picture was so pretty. (Don't judge me; I know people who picked their saint because their other names fit together so nicely or the saint had a name they would rather have than their given name. We were in junior high; we shouldn't have been trusted to pick saints that had any actual meaning for us.)

The saints are a wacky bunch. They hear voices, they tend to die in awful ways (I read about one that was killed by stones placed one at a time on top of her breaking her back, then, finally, crushing her to death. There's another one who carved "Jesus" into her arm) Some of them just seem to do good deeds, which is admirable, but seems to be much easier that being burnt at the stake for your beliefs.

It seems like certain saints are around more than others; you see a lot of Saint Theresa and Saint Francis. Even non-Catholics will bury a Saint Joseph to try to sell their house. You also know people with names of saints. You might not know what Saint Maraget is about, but you know that there was a Saint Margaret (in fact, there was a bunch of various Saint Margarets). There doesn't seem to be a reason as to why some saints are more popular than others. I get that Joan of Arc was a big deal, but how did Saint Anne get to be so popular? She's a saint for being Mary's mom and for being older when she became a mom, an accident of biology more than a religious devotion.

This advent calendar has saints I have never heard of: Saint Walburga, Saint Casilda, Saint Palatias. Not only have I never heard of any of these saints but I don't know anyone (or any church) with these names. It made me wonder why there are some saints that get so much and others that are forgotten. What did these saints do to fall out of favor? Why do people pick up on some names but not others? Of course, I would have a hard time giving a baby girl the name Walburga.

Poor Saint Cunegund, forgotten except on the advent calendar.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

D'ya want fries with that?

Oh, central PA, you make the whole fast food experience not so fast. Here we are again, doing the trip to Ohio for the holidays and making another disappointing stop for fast food.

I need to remind myself that stopping for food on the Pennsylvania turnpike is always a tactical error. The reststops on the turnpike are populated by third- or fourth-tier fast food places. Sbarro, Famiglia. I finally settled on Roy Rogers. ("They still exist?" My dad was surprised.) Roy Rogers seems to have taken the marketing strategy of doing a little bit of everything and none of it very well. You can get your hamburger, you can get your roast beef, you can get your fried chicken. You have your choice of about five different sides, mostly potato-based. It all looks a bit sad and washed out.

I decide on the grilled chicken. If you get the "combo", you get a side and a drink. I go to order. There's at least three girls doing something behind the counter but no one is actually at a register and no one comes up to take my order. I wait. Still none of the girls come up to a register. Another person walks up in line behind me. Still no one steps to a register. I look at the guy behind me, maybe he can figure it out. He just shrugs.

Finally, a girl comes to a register. "Can I take your order?"

"I'd like the combination of the grilled chicken and mashed potatoes."

"If you want to add a drink, then you can make it a 'combo,'" she tells me, very happy to be saving me some money. I stop for a moment, wanting to explain that "combo" is actually short for "combination," then realize that it probably would just confuse her, so I nod and agree that that's what I want. She takes my money and hands me a soda cup.

I go to the soda machine which proudly declares that with a touch of a button, I could have one of four types of soda from the same spicket. Although they are different varieties of Coke (diet, sugar-filled, caffeine: yes or no), they are all brown varieties and I am suspicious. I go to the one that is dedicated to Diet Coke, knowing that all the sodas could be the exact same brown variety, but, for some reason, I am trusting this spicket a bit more.

When I get my chicken, I see that it is simply a hunk of chicken on a bun. Nothing more. There is a "Fixin's Bar" for anything else. I shake my head a bit. Roy Rogers can't even give me a bit of lettuce and some mayo. Instead they take the naked route, unwilling to commit to any toppings for your sandwich. I don't think this is the best strategy. McDonald's proudly lists what's on a Big Mac; Burger King may say that special orders won't upset them, but they have a bunch of stuff already slathered on and you have to "hold the pickles." I "fix" my chicken.

I suppose you're not tempted to dawdle with a meal like this. You eat and you get on the road. I had my book but barely read three pages. I look around and sigh. Time to get back to driving.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Do you want to know a secret?

Did you ever think we'd be cheering Joe Leiberman? But the guy came through (with Susan Collins, to give full credit.) "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is now gone, and, maybe, we'll all be a touch more tolerant.

John McCain: Shut up. Seriously, you do not get it. "...we are doing great damage." Really? Please explain. Oh, yes, that study. The one where a majority of military members and their spouses would be absolutely fine with serving alongside openly gay members. But John McCain would rather troll down to the numbers that support his opinion. That certain subgroups don't like the idea of repealing DADT. And maybe that is true, but perhaps McCain would better serve unity in the troops if he, as a war hero, would step forward and make a plea for acceptance. Maybe if he put it out there that it won't make a difference if someone is gay or not, maybe the combat troops would think, "you know, he's right."

Here's what McCain has to say about the conclusions, "I think they're mature enough to make a judgment on who they want to serve with and the impact on their battle effectiveness." You know, I wish I could take a survey about who I want to work alongside, because I'd pick "no intolerant jerks."

"A sad day in history." Oh, John McCain, grow up.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm so sick of words!

I am editing an entry for a writing competition. At this point, the entry is mostly written, but I am approximately 100 words over (I get 3000 for the entire entry.) It is time to trim away the unnecessary words, the extra phrases that aren't helping the cause.

The "a's" and "the's" are smug; they know that although they don't really add anything, they're more or less mandatory for proper grammar. The adverbs are nervous. The adjectives are weighing themselves against each other: is the day both "sunny" and "perfect"? Maybe one of them will have to go.

There are whole sentences that think they're safe, but with one swoop, they're nothing but a memory. The surrounding sentences are shocked. They were just next to that sentence and now it's gone! Then they relax for a bit; they're safe for now. But the panic comes back: what if the entire paragraph goes? They check the word count: it's very close. It's doubtful a whole paragraph will go. But, wait, are there words being added? That can't be good.

The nouns try to be confident, but they know that the focus could shift. Those damn pronouns might take over. The verbs know they're needed to keep things going but are there too many? They eye each other; they are the most aggressive of words after all, always itching for a fight.

I am down to 36 to go. I curse the electronic submission process, as it doesn't allow me to cheat. Some of the words are getting annoyed. "You've seen us a hundred times. Just move on. You clearly want us around. Why don't you go after Page 4 for a while?" I skip to the next section and the words on that page breathe a sigh of relief.

I'm a bit sad at the thought of getting rid of any words. Words are valuable. Something made me put them to the page and now: poof! As I edit, I hope the words understand. Someday I might go back to them. Someday I might need them again.

I close my eyes for a moment, thinking of those stray words. I am dreaming that they are still there: forming their own story for later.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Don't get me wrong; I love the show, but I have to wonder: does anyone watch "The Simpsons" anymore? It's still on, right? There are new episodes coming out and I'm sure they're brilliant and funny as always, but is anyone watching them? Are there folks out there who are catching that latest episode on Sunday so they can chat about it at work on Monday?

It seems like the Simpsons have been around forever. In fact, "The Simpsons" have been on the air since 1989 as a half-hour show. Before that, they lived as shorts on "The Tracey Ullman Show" for a couple of years. Think about that for a minute. You have college graduates that have never lived in a world without Homer choking Bart.

Even before that, I was a big fan of Matt Groening's brilliant "Life in Hell" comics. The first time I caught a Simpson short, I shouted, "Matt Groening!" and, I admit, I thought I was pretty cool, being ahead of the trend there. (This does not happen often, so I have to really hold onto these moments.)

Remember when "The Simpsons" was must-see television? Maybe it still is but I'm no longer the demographic. It's not because of any quality issue, but I haven't watched "The Simpsons" in years. This makes me sort of sad, but I have the feeling I'd watch and think, "It's not as funny as it used to be."

I've been scrolling through an episode list of those first seasons when I used to watch religiously and they're all so chock-full of great stuff. Maybe "The Simpsons" is like SNL in that you watch when you're "that age" and you love those episodes/cast from that era, but then you insist that it'll never be as good as when you watched. I'm still quoting from "Treehouse of Horror III" when I figure something out ("There's your problem -- this doll's set to evil.")

I am amazed at the world that was created by The Simpsons. Is there a show that ever existed that has so many characters, so much history? You know Springfield. You know who lives there and their backstories. Crazy Cat Lady! Disco Stu! I don't know the name of the character Joe Mantegna plays on "Criminal Minds" but I do know he's Fat Tony on "The Simpsons." I love that "The Simpsons" has given us that world.

And, in case you were wondering, my favorite episode of all time: "Last Exit to Springfield."