Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Nose Doesn't Know....

I am not a drinker.

Well, maybe an occasional beer, but my real drinking days are far behind me.

I've never liked wine or hard liquors with the exception of gin and brandy. Back in college, I did find a taste for Yukon Jack, but didn't drink much of it.

When we drank, whether it was in college or the Army, it was for the alcohol.


And it was never expensive stuff.

I always assumed I didn't like wine or liquor simply because I never had anything that cost more than $6 a bottle. I mean, to get to the connoisseur level, you have to plunk down a lot of money, right?

The last few years, I've spent more time with family members who drink. The evolution of this situation would take too much explanation, but suffice it to say that the lack of time previously had nothing to do with animosity. Just distance.

These family members have some interesting liquors and wines. Some are quite expensive.

So any time I was asked if I would like a glass of something, I would indicate that a full glass wasn't necessary, but enough for a taste would be welcome.

With this, I have tasted moonshine, an expensive Italian wine and Johnnie Walker Blue scotch.

The moonshine was actually a homemade concoction my wife's uncle bought from a fellow who had a still. It was pure jet fuel. After the sip, I believe I commented that it tasted like a hangover in a jar. One taste was quite enough. That was a few years ago.

Recently, I tried the wine and scotch.

I can't remember the name of the wine, but I had a sip and found it to be somewhat better than I've had in the past. But it still wasn't enough of a difference to make me a convert.

The Johnnie Walker Blue is a $200 a bottle scotch. It has high praise from the alcohol reviewers in magazines and other media.

From one website I found this information.

Johnnie Walker Blue has a subtly sweet aroma with notes of bittersweet chocolate, caramelized oranges and a touch of tobacco.

The initial notes of roasted nuts and smoky chocolate are complemented by hints of rich fruits (including pears), dates, toasted bread and delicate brown spices. The finish, which is incredibly smooth, has a touch of pecan pie, milk chocolate, peppercorn and figs.

When I received the splash of JWB, I immediately sniffed it because I know that's what cultured people do. However, I sensed no hints or notes of anything but scotch. I certainly didn't notice a tobacco aroma. Maybe that description came about from people who like cigars with their scotch?

Then I took the first sip and was immediately struck by the expected jolt of alcohol flavor which mostly masked the taste of the scotch.

On the second sip, the alcohol was less obvious and I could taste the malt beverage. No roasted nuts or smoky chocolate came to mind on my perusal. Really, it was more like a little butterscotch and a little wood. That's about it.

I guess my palate isn't that refined.

Either that, or the reviewers are totally making this stuff up to obfuscate the fact that people are just drinking booze.

I can't imagine anyone drinking an alcohol-free scotch. I mean, who wants to guzzle down viscous woody butterscotch? At least not on a hot summer's day.

Nope. Fine scotch and whiskeys, not to mention rums, vodkas and so on are imbibed primarily for the feeling one gets from doing so. That's my take on all this.

The occasional beer? That's mostly to recall fun memories I had back in the day.

For the most part, I'll stick to coffee.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Traditions Come, Traditions Go

Traditions are the result of performing the same activity at the same time of year with the same or close to the same people. Traditions are basically habits imbued with a sense of family or friendship and a certain level of sentimentality. They are often warmly anticipated, though not always. Sometimes traditions are upheld through a sense of obligation.

As a kid, it was tradition for our family to go to my grandparents house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. All the families on my mother's side of the tree would gather there as well with the exception of my Aunt Barbara who lived in Ohio.

So on those two holidays, the house would be stuffed with people eating, exchanging gifts, watching football on the television. Memorable times.

Every August, my parents used to rent a cabin on Highland Lake and we spent two weeks there before returning to the school year. Those were very fine weeks of swimming, fishing, archery, exploring dirt roads on a minibike, grilling, boating and all the typical things done at camp. Memorable times as well.

Those traditions are done now, of course.

As parents, my wife and I have established some traditions with our sons as well. We have carried on the tradition of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with my parents and sisters and their families. Our summer vacation became a tradition when we would drive 1000 miles to North Carolina to spend a couple weeks with my wife's parents. Sometimes there were family reunions attended there. After her parents passed on, we still made the trip for a few years to visit with her uncle and aunt who lived in the same area. But they are in Florida now and my sons are adults, so that tradition has passed on as well.

See, the thing about traditions is some of them just end. Some kind of fade away. You will miss some and not others. Some bring fond memories and others are viewed as just something that happened.

This Memorial Day, our tradition of getting together and watching the parade in my parents' hometown may be done. My parents have gotten to the age where it is difficult for them to get out. They aren't in bad health, just old.

My sons won't be there. It used to be great fun to take them to the parade when they were children. Their cousins would be there and the people marching by, the old cars, the fire trucks, enthralled them. There were balloons, candy thrown to the kids on the sidewalk, a lot of mayhem and poorly played (but enthusiastic) music by the middle schools' marching bands.

And now, I think I can safely say that this is one tradition that has grown old. It's time to let it lapse. The small town parade in a pretty good sized city is not the spectacle it used to be when I was much much younger.

Traditions come, traditions go. And I'll gladly say goodbye to this one.

The following is a video I made of the parade in 2011.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Latest Rant

Facebook has become a vast wasteland of unfunny memes, intended-to-be-inspirational sayings, supposedly thoughtful spiritual posters, graphics with cutting statements meant to shame, links to "news" stories that slam one political side or the other, links to not-so-scientific gotchas that preach about how bad foods or vaccines are for you, defiant pablum posts intended to boost people's self-esteem (mostly directed to women it seems), various videos of kittens and puppies doing cute things, ongoing updates about the depths of depravity the world has sunk into, fraudulent give-away hoaxes, many many many "mind-blowing" something-or-others.

It has become a mindless stream of content and true "aha" moments have all but vanished.

At least people don't post pictures of their meals as much as they used to.

Uh oh, there's one.

Friday, January 15, 2016


Brandon Robinson wants to impregnate his wife.

To that end, he's asking for people to provide the finances to use a fertility clinic.

I understand that he went through debilitating circumstances as a teen.

I understand that many couples would like to have children but are unable.

But why is any of this my concern?

A gofundme page has been set up for Brandon and Ashley. Click here to see it: gofundme.com
They have a wedding date of May 13, so assumably won't be looking for the fertility services until after then.

I understand that a gofundme donation is totally voluntary.

But back in the day when there was no gofundme, childless couples either
  1. Remained childless
  2. Had insurance that would cover such services
  3. Was loaned money by family or friends 
  4. Adopted
Now they ask the general public for money to support their dreams of having their own child.

This is what we have come to.

Maybe I should start a gofundme campaign so I can buy a Ferrari.

What do you think of that idea?

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Photo Finish

I never used to be this way.

But when I reached my fifties, I started thinking about the end.

It may have something to do with the increasing frequency of people I know who are shedding their mortal coil. It may have something to do with changes in my body and practices.

Either way, death has become a bit more real to me.

I don't obsess over it, yet I have made some preparations. A will. Considering where I would like to be buried. Insurances. But there are still some questions. For instance...

What will happen to my pictures?

We have thousands of pictures, both prints and digital. My wife has taken a fair amount of time to categorize and file away all the prints we have into a plastic tub and store it away under the bed. I assume that they will never be looked at again, for that seems to be the inefficiency of such a system.

I think that the value of picture taking is not in the action itself, but being able to refer back to the picture from time to time. It may be to relive a memory, to remember something. Or it might simply be that the picture is particularly liked for its subject matter and/or artistic value.

Photo albums can be created, of course, from favorites culled out from the pile. I'm not a fan, though, of the standard album where pictures yellow and become stuck behind a deteriorating piece of plastic sheeting. And they aren't practical for digital photos anyway.

Facebook and other photo-sharing websites have become an important repository for the collection and display of pictures. This makes them available for friends to look as well.

Another strategy I have utilized is the creation of photo books through services such as shutterfly.com or blurb.com. These are not cheap books, but they can be created very nicely and present a quality feel. They make great gifts and offer a way to ensure that pictures will be seen at least once again.

However, it occurs to me that many of these pictures will be relevant to perhaps two or three generations: mine, my kids and possibly grandkids. Beyond that, I think they lose most of their inherent value.

I suspect that long after my wife and I are gone and all our possessions have been divvied up, sold or donated, the pictures will become an afterthought.

That is until my sons and their families get to the age where looking back becomes as important as looking forward. How many of those pictures will still be around then?

I guess only time will tell.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

People Prefer Posting a Plentitude of Platitudes

When I log into Facebook for the first time every day, I find my newsfeed filled with all sorts of memes, quotes and sayings. Some have to do with life, some with spirituality and others politics. It has become like wading through a wasteland of Bartlett's, Nouwen and Sanders. Or Gingrich. No matter.

People post other people's words regularly and constantly instead of their own.

There is beauty in a well-turned phrase. Sometimes, there's also truth and wisdom. If it wasn't so, then what someone said centuries ago would have long been forgotten.



However, like Jim Rome often says, "Have a take."

Real thinkers use the words of others to frame and support their own arguments. Nonthinkers use those same words to be their arguments and, in doing so, I suppose, hope to make themselves appear as thoughtful and wise as well.

An occasional witty saying has the potential to delight. A steadily flowing stream of them mutes and numbs.

Show some original thought, even if it isn't eloquent. Discuss if you like; it's far better than pontificating with words that aren't your own.

For goodness sake, just have a take.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Greater Portland Ghosts

It's not my intention to be a historian in this post. In fact, the research and compiling of historical data in order to present it in a readable, even interesting format is its own skillset. It's a passion I don't have.

However, over the course of decades, certain well-known locations (landmarks?) have vanished as economies changed and neighborhoods evolved. And it has become something of a desire of mine to try to at least record something if only to say, hey, these existed in my youth and I haven't forgotten them.

Is this living in the past? Probably to some extent. Yet, isn't that the reason we take pictures? So the past doesn't totally escape us and disappear forever?

Anyway, here are some businesses I used to know. All of them have been replaced by something else. Perhaps something with a more bland personality. And so the decades turn.

Across the street from DiPietro's Variety Store, there is a small strip of businesses.  Back in my day, there was a barbershop, a five and dime store, a ceramics studio where you could take lessons and make your own pieces, and some others over the years. This Cottage Road Pharmacy was there, but what years I don't know. This location is right near the corner where Pillsbury Street intersects Cottage Road in South Portland. In the small park nearby used to be Willard School where I attended my very first year of what was called subprimary.

This was Willard School. To see the park today where it once stood, it's hard to imagine a building of any size being located there. But it was, and it had a playground on either side of it. There is a Willard Beach, Willard Street and this school, of course, and if I was a real historian, I could tell you all about the Mr. Willard after whom all of it was named. But I'm not, and I can't.

Go further down Pillsbury Street and you will eventually come to Willard Square. This was my old neighborhood where I grew up, went trick or treating, rode bikes and generally had a good childhood. In Willard Square was a popular fixture called Bathras Market.

Mr. and Mrs. Bathras were the proprietors. They were a Greek couple who had two children, Lisa and Tim. Mr. Bathras died quite some time ago. Last I knew, Mrs. B. still lives above the store, and Tim's house isn't far away. Not sure about Lisa.  The store is no longer open. But as a kid, I thought they made the best Italian sandwiches.

Leave Willard Square and go to the business district of South Portland (which has long since become the Maine Mall area), and you would find Angelone's Pizza. It was on the corner of Broadway and Ocean Street. It sat kitty-corner to Mahoney Junior High School. I don't know if their pizza was considered good (certainly not compared to the brick-oven gourmet pizzas so readily available today), but I thought it was pretty tasty. This area is known as Mill Creek.

Go west on Broadway and right quickly you would come across Deering Ice Cream.

Deering Ice Cream used to have a dish called the Kitchen Sink. It was eight scoops of ice cream covered with syrups and toppings and if you could finish the entire thing, they gave you a pin that said, "I Ate the Kitchen Sink." I did and was in considerable discomfort for quite a while after.

Head north on Ocean and take a left on Market Street, and you would find a popular Saturday afternoon spot to hang out.

The Bowl-a-Rama. Candlepin bowling at its finest. Join a league or just bowl with some friends. Until my teen years, I had never heard of ten pin. The small balls were what defined bowling to me.

Woolworth's used to have a store at the Maine Mall. This isn't the exact picture of it - this is a mall somewhere else. But I remember it had the standard Woolworth's lunch counter, and the store used to sell guns as well as tropical fish, clothing and toys, etc.

Head on down Route 1 into Scarborough. South of Oak Hill there was a shopping plaza with a Mammoth Mart, one of the many discount department stores of the day. Now that plaza is some sort of business park with no retail in it as far as I know. Other department stores of which I can't find pictures include Arlan's, Giant, Kings, Wellwoods, and more recently, Ames.

Out in the Pine Tree Shopping Center in Portland there was a Zayre's Department Store. Here is a picture of it. This second picture is from a Zayre's in Illinois, but it looks quite similar to the one that used to be in Portland.

Further up Brighton Avenue, across the Westbrook line, there was a Bradlee's and Shop 'n Save.
Prior to the Shop 'n Save, the store was a Martin's grocery store. Martin's and Bradlee's used to share the same entrance. As you walked in there was a row of cash registers on the left and right, each servicing their respective stores. Keep walking and you would come to a set of stairs that led up to a small cafe where you could drink a soda, eat an English muffin and look out over the shoppers wandering the aisles. Now, there is a Kohl's where the Bradlee's used to be and a Shaw's Supermarket in the Shop 'n Save spot.

The face of downtown Portland has changed quite a bit over the years. These pictures were taken in the 1960s, I believe. Most of the businesses that lined the streets then are no longer there.

One of those stores was W.T. Grant. My mother used to take the bus into Portland because she didn't drive and my dad was either at work, or asleep during the day after he started working nights. She would haul us kids along, sometimes for a doctor's appointment or just to do some shopping. I've been in this Grant's before, but don't remember it well. Here are a couple inside shots.

The lunch counter seems familiar to me, though. Maybe the archetype is just part of my collective unconscious. There was also a Woolworth's in Portland as well.

Though this picture shows vehicles from the 1940s, the store lasted through the 60s, maybe even into the 70s.

Tommy's Hardware was a well-known fixture further down Congress Street towards Munjoy Hill. They used to sell scuba and snorkeling gear as well as hardware. That's all I remember about it. Jeff and Theda Shafran owned and ran the store in the 80s and 90s. Theda started a small upscale kids' clothing store in the Old Port called Tommy's Kids Gear. She passed away, unfortunately, in her store from a heart attack. I attended her funeral. She was a customer of the print shop where I worked from 95-98 and we did much of her store's printing. I attended her funeral at the Temple Beth El. There were many there to mourn Theda and support Jeff in his grieving. 

There used to be a Dunkin Donuts at the intersection of High Street and Congress Street. I had heard that it was a frequent haunt for Portland's prostitutes, though that may have just been a rumor. It's entirely possible, though, because I think at some point it stayed open all night. Now there's just a park.  

I have scoured Google images for pictures to save, but it isn't an easy process. Some of the photos here are from the South Portland Historical Society's website. Others came from sites talking about the history of Portland. As I find more, I may add them to this blog.

As I type this, I can think of many more places I'd like to be able to collect eventually. But good images - any images - are hard to come by online.  And it can become very time consuming to keep searching for them.