Wednesday, December 23, 2015

PC Letters to Santa

Dear Santa: Nobody uses the term “Mrs.” these days. It's an outdated title that implies a woman is the property of her husband yet, in dozens of children’s books, your spouse is referred to as Mrs. Claus. Don’t you agree that future editions should refer to her as Ms. Claus? – Ms. Holly Day

Dear Holly: There is no longer a Mrs. or, for that matter, Ms. Claus. We were divorced on June 23. My new spouse should be properly referenced as "Mr. Dwayne Claus-Rosenberg."

Dear Santa: I’ve started a petition to ban radio stations from playing the racist song White Christmas. Your name at the top of it would lend credibility and help me collect more signatures. Will you sign it? – Melissa C

Dear Melissa C:  White Christmas isn’t about any particular race, it’s about snow you idiot. Bing Crosby is reminiscing about Christmases when he lived in a colder climate where snow, which is always white (except in highly polluted cities like Beijing), often covered the ground on December twenty-fifth. If you genuinely want to do something worthwhile this holiday season I suggest you ring bells for the Salvation Army, volunteer at a soup kitchen or bake cookies and take them to a lonely shut-in rather than expend energy trying to ban a song that evokes so much sentiment in people of all races who, unlike you, actually have the ability to think rationally.

Dear Santa: I’m sick and tired of my mother’s microaggressive behavior. She knows I’m a vegan yet, every year on the twenty-fifth of December, insists on serving ham, turkey, cookies made with butter and other disgusting foods she knows I can't eat. What should I do? -- AP

Dear AP: Bring your own food and eat that tasteless crap while everyone else in your family enjoys the traditional fare your mother was probably preparing when you were nothing more than a twinkle in your father’s eye.

Dear Mr. Claus: That’s a microaggressive reply. You’re assuming I have a father. I don’t.

Dear AP:  I can see why he took off.

Dear Santa:
 It makes my blood boil when I see TV commercials that say “Season’s Greetings” or when people wish me “Happy Holidays.” Christmas is a Christian holiday and Jesus is the reason we celebrate it. Don’t you agree? – Alpha Omega

Dear AO:  Christmas is indeed about celebrating the birth of Christ who famously advised his followers to "Love thy Neighbor." So let me ask you this: Have you ever met a Jewish person? Jews celebrate a religious holiday called Hanukkah at this time of year. Do you know any people of African descent? Some, but not all, celebrate a holiday known as Kwanzaa. How about a Brit? Ever heard of Boxing Day? It’s a holiday they celebrate on December 26. Did you ever stop to consider that all 6.9 billion inhabitants of our planet can celebrate the beginning of a new year at midnight on December 31 but only 2.2 billion of them classify themselves as Christian? “Happy Holidays” and "Season's Greetings" are generic greetings that recognize everyone, including you. Your friends, by all means, can wish you "Merry Christmas" but those who don't know you along with businesses that are trying to appeal to people of all ethnicities and beliefs shouldn't be made to feel badly for wishing you "Happy Holidays."  My suggestion for you in the new year is to get off your ass and travel someplace where you’ll have the opportunity to meet people who are different than you. Seasons Greetings -- SC

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Chinese candy bar wrapper atop our Christmas tree

We weren’t planning on doing much to observe Christmas this year until our son and daughter-in-law informed us they are flying in on Christmas Eve with our 21-month-old grandson. That jingled our bells big-time.

Step one was to procure a Christmas tree. Here in south Florida, that means an artificial one. I went online to read up on fake trees (polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene? prelighted or unlighted? metal hinges or plastic? incandescent or LED bulbs?) then visited half a dozen stores to find one that ticked all my boxes. I came home with a pre-lit nine-footer sold under the Martha Stewart brand name.

When I opened the box I was surprised to find something had been inserted between the top and bottom flap, a candy bar wrapper that, when I sniffed it, still smelled faintly of chocolate. It was printed in Chinese: Ms. Stewart, like every capitalist who hawks fake Christmas trees, has hers made in China.

As I assembled the tree, I found myself wondering about the person who slipped that wrapper into the box. It was, I assume, the worker responsible for the final step in the manufacturing process, taping the box shut.

Was that person a he or a she? Young or old? When did it happen? Last month? Last year? Did the wrapper wind up in the box because the worker was careless? Or was it placed there deliberately? Does the factory forbid workers from eating on the job and, not knowing what to do with the wrapper when a supervisor was approaching, did the worker stash it between the flaps to avoid being reprimanded?  

I can only guess.

The one time I was in China, in 1996, I toured a factory that was on the itinerary of a marketing association whose annual meeting I was attending in Hong Kong. We boarded a bus, were driven over the border –  Hong Kong was still British so our passports were carefully checked by armed customs officials –  and taken to a fancy country club for lunch. We then visited the factory, a grey, windowless building where dozens of young women were seated at row after row of sewing machines, poking holes in the heads of cheap rubber dolls through which workers in the next room were to weave strands of plastic hair. Guards stood watch at each door, a grim reminder to the workers that they weren’t free to come and go. We were later told the majority of the factory’s employees were from northern China and had migrated south, where most of the country’s factories are located, to find jobs. In return for working 12 hours a day, six days a week and living in cramped dormitory-styled housing owned by the factory, they could earn money to send home to their families. 

I don’t know if conditions in Chinese factories have changed much since then – I hope so – but have always remembered the workers at that doll factory and wondered what became of them. They’re middle-aged by now. Are they still working at the same factory? If so, do they still spend 12 hours a day poking holes in rubber doll heads or have they moved on to something else?

While many if not most of the presents we Americans will be unwrapping next week come from China, it’s important to keep in mind that the workers who make the smart phones, computers, toys, TVs, games and other gizmos we will be giving and getting are subjects of a totalitarian government that has little regard for them.

There’s no freedom of speech, the media is strictly censored, there are few safety nets for the poor or disabled, and hundreds of thousands of children languish in orphanages because, until recently, a woman who had more than one child was subject to arrest so unplanned babies were abandoned. My niece and her husband eight years ago adopted one of those babies, a malnourished two-year-old who had been left on an orphanage doorstep. Today that little girl, who probably has the highest IQ of anyone in our extended family, lives in a big rambling house, attends church services with a former president, is enrolled in an exclusive private school, plays the violin like a pro, earns straight As, and is doted upon by parents who will always make sure she has the best of everything. Her family’s gain came at the expense of a frightened mother who may well work in a factory like the one that made our tree and will never know what happened to that baby she left on the doorstep.  

Once my wife had trimmed the tree, we added a final decoration to one of its highest boughs -- a crumpled-up Chinese candy bar wrapper that will remind us, as we watch our grandson play with his new Chinese-made toys under our Chinese-made tree on Christmas morning, how lucky we Americans are.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

samX yrreM

This column was published in the Wilton (Conn.) Villager on Dec. 14, 2000.

For most people, Christmas is a time to celebrate life, the birth of a Savior. It’s time to spend with family and friends, to bask in good cheer, to count blessings. Christmas brings out the best in most people.

I am not one of them.

To me, Christmas isn’t about life. It’s about death, and every year is a struggle to get through it.

No violins please but my father died when I was 14. During Christmas of 1965, he was as ill as a human can be and still be classified as alive. He died shortly thereafter.

My father ran a general store in a tiny Missouri town.  Like many men of his generation, his work was his life and he worked six days a week, 12 hours a day. If I wanted to spend time with him, I had to be where he was. So, like my brother and sister before me, I started clerking at the store when I was eight. Every afternoon after school I would report to the store and stay until 7 p.m., closing time.

Christmas was a magical time to work in a country store. Not only did we sell exotic seasonal specialties like Brazil nuts, tangerines, egg nog and satin-y ribbon-shaped candies, we were stocked to the rafters with toys and practical Midwestern type gifts – scratchy flannel shirts, stocking caps, rubber galoshes, long underwear and the like.

Dryden’s Store had a large showroom window, facing the town’s block-long main street. My father let me decorate it each year, and it was the highlight of my holiday.

First I built a fireplace out of cardboard bricks. From the mantel I hung long stockings filled with nuts and candy canes. Around the cardboard hearth I placed empty boxes, wrapped in colorful paper and topped with curlicued bows made by the lady salesclerks. A plastic lighted three-foot Santa was stationed next to the fireplace. Strings of bubble lights draped with tinfoil icicles were tacked around the perimeter of the window. For my grand finale I always wrote “samX yrreM” in spray snow on the inside of the plate glass window, so people driving by could read it properly.

It was, in retrospect, as tacky as all get-out, but I was proud and dad always told customers it was my work.

My father was diagnosed with cancer just before Christmas, 1964, but nobody told me it was terminal. I knew he had undergone surgery in a St. Louis hospital, that he had lost weight, that his color was bad. But I was 13 and, as 13-year olds do, assumed the worst was over and things would return to normal.

I was wrong. Throughout 1965, his cough grew worse, he grew weaker and thinner. My mother, who had never worked outside the house a day in her life, took over the operations of the store.

It was our tradition – the only time of the year outside his work that my father and I spent time together – that on the Sunday before Christmas, we would go to a farm a mile south of town and chop down a cedar tree for our living room. But as Christmas 1965 grew nearer, there was no talk of a tree, decorations or of holiday plans.

One snowy night a few days before Christmas, I went to the farm, chopped down a tree, and dragged it home on my sled. When I called my mother out into the garage to see what I had brought home, she broke down weeping and told me there would be no Christmas because my father was going to die, and soon.

I had no idea. And I still have no other memories of that, my father's last Christmas.

I know this column may seem inappropriate at this happy time of year, even ludicrous. Here I am, a grown man with his own family, bellyaching about something that happened decades ago. I know people who have experienced losses far more profound than mine. Death is a part of life. I should have been able to get over it by now.

But losing a parent, as more and more of my middle-aged friends have found out lately, is something that’s hard to get over. Losing a parent at Christmas, when you’re 14, is enough to take away the wonder and joy of the holiday forever.

I made my annual holiday shopping trip to the mall today. In the atrium, carolers were singing “Auld Lang Syne,” the song the townspeople sing at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie that reminds me of my father. I had to leave the mall, go sit in my car, and beat up on myself for being such a wuss, for feeling so sad when everyone around me seems so joyful. I want to feel joyful too but, dammit, I can’t.

And I’m not the only one. Mental health professionals report that millions of otherwise well-adjusted people plunge into funks at Christmastime. I bet a huge percentage of them lost loved ones at Christmas, the one time of year when everyone is supposed to be happy. For them, their wounds are ripped open anew every year the day after Thanksgiving and continue to bleed until New Year’s Day when the tree is taken down and the decorations are put away.

For most of the year I’m an upbeat kind of guy. But not at Christmas. And I want those of you who feel like me to know you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy.

I understand how tough it is to keep a happy face when everyone is singing about merry gentlemen and triumph in the skies and all you really want for Christmas is something you can’t have: To be once again – for one blessed moment – a boy writing “samX yerryM” in spray snow on the window of your father’s store, secure in the knowledge you’ll actually have one.

Postscript: I was 49 when I wrote the above column. Well, it’s 15 years later. I’m older and, supposedly, wiser. My sons are grown. My 20-month old grandson, the joy of our lives, will be arriving at our house on Christmas Eve. I suspect Santa will be generous with him.

Of all the columns I’ve ever written, "samX yrreM" generated the most response. I received dozens of emails, letters and calls from readers who said they felt the same way about Christmas as I do, and for the same reason  the loss of a loved one at, as the song goes, "the most wonderful time of the year." 

I still don’t like Christmas – Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, even Labor Day give me more pleasure –  but writing this column helped me work through it, and I’ve made a concentrated effort ever since not to let Christmas get me down. I realized it wasn’t fair to my wife and children, who had no reason to dislike the holiday, to wear my heart on my sleeve. 

That said, I can’t wait until New Year’s Day. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Making biscuit

I woke up craving my mother’s biscuits.

Ruby, who died in April at 102, never called them “biscuits.” She called them “biscuit” –  not that she ever made just one. I’d stumble into the kitchen for a cuppa coffee and she would announce, “I just took some biscuit out of the oven, do you want one?”

Of course I wanted one or, more often than not, six or seven. Ruby’s biscuit was/were sublime. She said her mother, my grandma Judy (not to be confused with my wife Judy or sister Judy), got up early every morning to make a fresh batch. Mom used her mother’s recipe.

Ruby had a way with bread – white, wheat and French (which she started making in her nineties after she got her Kitchen-Aid mixer). Her loaf bread was excellent but her light rolls were out-and-out ethereal. All her descendants dreaded the day she would be gone and we’d never be able to taste them again. We begged her to write down her recipe but she wouldn’t, claiming she had been “keeping house” for 80 years and that the one thing she had learned over the years was that it was necessary to vary the amounts of the ingredients depending on how the yeast reacted with them. One of my nieces actually made a video and followed Ruby around the kitchen as she explained how much of everything she used, but then started throwing in a little more of this and a little less of that and talking about the size of yeast bubbles and how the warmth of the water to use depended on the weather outside, so she gave up.

I would never attempt to replicate mom’s yeast breads, but it occurred to me this morning that I might be able to make biscuit so I went online looking for recipes.

Many of them promised buttery, flakey biscuit which is, apparently, the criteria by which food critics judge them. Ruby’s were neither. Hers were dense and flour-y, and she didn’t use butter, she used lard (and, after her open-heart surgery at 85, Crisco). She would mix the dough by hand, roll it out, knead it with the balls of her hand, turning the dough as she went, then cut out the individual biscuit into circles using a juice glass.

I finally found a recipe at that promised nothing heroic and seemed straightforward, something even I could make. Amazingly, we had the ingredients on hand. So, I made a batch of biscuit.

They turned out OK – as my great uncle Forrest who was born in the 1880s would say, “tolerable” – but not great, and certainly nothing like mom’s. They were even a bit flakey.

Ruby would be proud I tried but, I can hear her now, she’d say she knew before I started that mine couldn’t possibly have turned out as good as her biscuit because, after all, I haven’t been keeping house for 80 years.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A quick interview with Bernie Sanders

This is the fifth in my series of exclusive interviews with candidates running for president. See Blog Archive (scroll down on right side) for interviews with previous subjects including Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Lincoln Chafee (who dropped out of the race following our interview) and Jeb Bush. 

TD: Though you’re running for the Democratic nomination, you make no bones about it – you’re first and foremost a Socialist. Who is your role model?

BS: Call Mocks.

TD: Your Brooklyn accent comes as a surprise to many who hear you speak for the first time. How’d a Brooklyn guy wind up representing Vermont?

BS: You gotta prawblem wit Brooklyn?

TD: Let’s change the subject. You go on and on about the importance of paid family leave but say very little about Isis. What would you do to keep us safe from them?

BS: Oy-sis isn’t our numba one prawblem, the numba one issue is that new muthas and fathas are being foist to go back to woik to suppoet their babies. Next question.

TD: How are we going to fund paid family leave?

BS: We’ll plant more trees. Money grows on trees. We'll take that money and use it to pay women, men and transgendahs who become new parents.

TD: What did the Clinton campaign, knowing there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell a Socialist could win, promise you in return for running and enabling Hillary to give the illusion she actually had to fight for the nomination?

BS: Oy got nuttin’ to say about dat. Noise tawking witch chew.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

See how they run

For many Americans, Thanksgiving morning means watching the Macy’s Parade on TV.

Here in my Southwest Florida community it means an altogether different type of Thanksgiving parade, one comprised of hordes of skeletal young women in black tights, running maniacally up and down the palm-studded streets, looking miserable, as if someone is out to kill them.

Our development is located in a town where, according to the latest census, the median age is 59. Every Thanksgiving, planes full of visitors swoop in from points north to spend the holiday with parents, grandparents or in-laws. Many of those visitors are young women who have somehow gotten it into their heads that they should have the bodies of eight-year-old boys. For them, Thanksgiving is a day to feel anything but blessed because they know their mothers, grandmothers and mothers-in-law are going to insist they sit at the damn table with the rest of the family and eat.

The table will be laden with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, marshmallow-topped casseroles, pies, breads and other poisonous dishes they won’t be able to send back to the chef like they do in restaurants up north when they're trying to avoid eating because the chef, in this case, is someone who won’t hesitate to point out the obvious -- that, just this once, it won’t hurt them to eat because, frankly, they could stand to gain some weight.

And so, knowing that in a couple of hours they’re going to have to sit at the table and pretend they are enjoying themselves, they come to Florida and run. And run. I've seen at least two dozen pass my house already and it's not even 10 a.m.

It’s silly and sad at the same time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Let your love light shine

So there I was the other night, sitting in a corner booth of a dark restaurant with a group of friends, my arm around a beautiful woman, when I felt a warm and tingly sensation emanating from my crotch. A guy in his twenties experiences this feeling 100 times a day. A guy my age? Not nearly so often.

Glancing down, I saw a beam of light.  I had turned on the flashlight function of my iPhone so I could read the menu, had slipped the phone back in my pocket, and the light was still on.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Missouri alumni checklist

As an alumni of the University of Missouri, it is important that you take immediate action to secure your safety and property, and to disassociate yourself from an institution known not only for the racism of its student body but for being home of some of America's most inept administrators and faculty members. Here is a checklist containing suggestions for immediate implementation.

( ) Scrape Missouri Alumni decal from back window of vehicle. Muscle may be required.

( ) Write “Return to Sender” on Missouri Alumni magazine and replace in mailbox so postal workers will know you are ashamed.

( ) Take Mizzou blanket, diploma, sweatshirt, bookends, etc. to Goodwill, but leave them anonymously at the back entrance so employees won’t associate you with the school.

( ) Ask manager of local sports bar to provide a safe space for alumni group to watch football games.

( ) Sign petition demanding the University rename its mascot, Truman, because he was a hater who ordered bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

( ) When friends and co-workers ask, “Didn’t you go to the University of Missouri?”, inform them they must have heard you wrong, you attended the University of Mississippi with which it is often confused.

Be safe. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

The University of Misery

Saturday night I posted on Facebook an ESPN clip, a video retrospective of the University of Missouri Golden Girls, a group of dancers who perform at football games, that is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. One of the girls featured in that clip is now my wife. She was 19 at the time.

The clip was presented under the title, “SEC Nation,” part of an ongoing series of sidebars produced by EPSN to give football fans insight into the traditions of teams that belong to the Southeastern Athletic Conference. 

Missouri didn’t belong to the SEC when my golden girl was a Golden Girl. It belonged to the Big 8, a conference of Midwestern universities that included Iowa State, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas. The Big 8 became the Big 12 in 1996 with the addition of four Texas universities.

Missouri is an anomaly among American states. It was admitted to the union in 1821 as a slave state, settled by southerners who wanted to bring with them slaves to pick the tobacco and cotton they intended to plant. At the beginning of the Civl War, when other slave states were seceding from the union, Missouri, whose legislature had decided to join them, was kept from doing so by President Lincoln, who ordered its lawmakers arrested and jailed. Relations between blacks and whites in Missouri have been tense ever since and, on occasion, flare up spectacularly, as they did in Ferguson last year.

In 2011, the Board of Curators of the state’s university made the decision to withdraw from the Big 12 and to join the Southeastern Conference, comprised of universities located in states that were part of the Confederacy -- schools like Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. Many if not most northerners of a certain age will tell you that the first thing that comes to mind when you mention schools in that part of the country isn't football prowess. They're remembered primarily for refusing to admit African-Americans in the 1960s. Ole Miss famously tried to block James Meredith. Alabama Governor George Wallace attemped to prevent African-Americans from enrolling at that state’s university. Missouri wasn’t that far ahead in terms of accepting black students. Its first had been admitted in 1950 but Mizzou, by and large, escaped the notoriety the Deep South schools received.

What made the University of Missouri’s curators abandon the Big 12 for the SEC?  Money. SEC schools rake in millions made possible by advertising dollars. SEC fans live and breathe college football, enabling networks like EPSN to charge huge bucks for advertising which they share with the conference’s member schools.

As I write this, the University of Missouri campus is imploding. Following a series of race-motivated incidents to which many students felt the University president’s response was inadequate, Mizzou’s football players announced on Saturday, about the time I posted the Golden Girls clip, that they are refusing to play until he is fired. Faculty members, academics who have long resented that the president wasn’t “one of us” (he is a businessman rather than an academic) have joined in and are refusing to teach. It’s a mess, the lead story on the news, and an embarrassment for everyone associated with the school, my alma mater.

If the University of Missouri curators, who are scheduled to go into an emergency session momentarily to address the situation, really want to understand some of the reasons Mizzou is imploding, one of the first things they should do is look at the athletic department’s bank account. 

Today that bank account is overflowing because they, in their wisdom, decided the University of Missouri would be better off being known as a Southern college rather than a Midwestern one.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Dinner in Tokyo Bay

Night before last I stayed home and watched one of my favorite movies, Tora! Tora! Tora!, about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Last night, I dined in Tokyo Bay.

Not the Tokyo Bay where, aboard the USS Missouri, the Japanese signed the documents ending WWII. The Tokyo Bay I visited is an hibachi restaurant just outside the gates of our development here in Florida.

My wife is out of town this week which has freed me to a) watch movies she would never in a million years agree to watch and B) eat whatever I please. Dinner Monday was Stouffer's Chipped Beef. Tuesday I went through the drive-through window at KFC. Wednesday I wolfed down an entire “meat lovers” pizza.

Last night, feeling the need for real food and some company other than our ancient dachshunds who aren't good dinner conversationalists in the first place, I headed for Tokyo Bay as I often do when I’m on my own. My wife hates hibachi but I love it. Not only the food, but the spectacle of it all: watching the chef build mini mountains of sliced onions he douses with brandy then ignites, turning them into volcanoes; the sounds of clanking metal as he quickly and precisely slices/dices veggies and meats just like the chef in the old ginsu knife infomercial; and joining my fellow dinners in applauding as he crack eggs into mounds of fried rice and, using his spatula, tosses the shells over his head and into a basket held behind his back.

When I sat down at the U-shaped communal hibachi table, which holds 20, the only other diners were a couple who said they ran a dental lab down the street. They were nice enough and I acted interested when they informed me most dentists outsource the crowns they install in patients’ mouths to labs in China or India. Mr. Dental Lab said that if I would open my mouth and let him look inside he’d be able to tell if any of my crowns were of the inferior foreign-made variety. I lied and said I don’t have any.

About that time a group of ten well-dressed, attractive women who looked to be in their forties, early fifties tops, sat down at the table. I assumed they were co-workers celebrating a birthday or promotion but turns out they were high school BFFs from Terrano (how natives pronounce Toronto), here for a girls’ week in Florida. They looked young to me but many, I was surprised to learn, were grandmothers. First time I’ve ever found a group of grannies hot -- yet one more sign I'm getting old. They asked me to recommend local restaurants for the rest of their stay and I was happy to oblige.

Dining at Tokyo Bay reminded me of a story from my distant past, an hilarious albeit revolting tale I had enough sense not to tell the dentists or BFFs, who were shelling out $40 a pop for their hibachi dinners (excluding drinks, tax and tip). But it’s so damn funny I wanted to tell someone so you, my dear reader, are the lucky beneficiary.

In the 1980s I worked for a New York agency. One of our clients was a company that imported a pricey and prestigious English gin. The agency regularly entertained clients from the company. Their idea of a fun evening was to start out in a bar where everyone was expected to down six or seven drinks made with the client’s gin, then go out to a swell dinner.

One evening a new assistant account executive joined the group, which was intending to wind up at one of Midtown's finest hibachi restaurants. Fresh out of college, this kid had probably never drank one gin martini, much less the six or seven he had under his belt when he finally staggered into the restaurant and sat down with the clients around the hibachi table, at which point another round was ordered.

If you’ve ever been to an hibachi restaurant, you know the chef fires up the grill to approximately four zillion degrees, hot enough to flash-sear a steak in seconds. Once the chef started cooking, the smell of the food caused this drunk kid to vomit so forcefully his puke landed on the red hot grill, which immediately started bubbling, popping and exploding chunks of vomit not only all over the group at our table but onto diners at neighboring tables.

The entire restaurant – patrons, chefs, busboys, bartenders, hostesses – cleared out in 30 seconds flat.

Nothing that untoward happened last night at Tokyo Bay. Everyone was well behaved. Nobody got drunk. Nobody hurled. I convinced the Canadian ladies they should go out for Hawaiian Fusion tonight and to my favorite Italian bistro the night after. Then I came home and watched another war movie, The Longest Day, about D-Day. 

I’m hoping my children and grandson will someday be proud I have put my tale of the hibachi hurler on the Internet, where it will live forever.

But I somehow doubt it.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A quick interview with Jeb Bush

This is the fourth in my series of interviews with candidates running for president. For my interview with Donald Trump, click here. For my interview with Hillary Clinton, click here. For my interview with Lincoln Chafee who, in case you missed his announcement, dropped out of the race this week, 
click here.

TD: Why are you running?

JB: To secure my mother’s place in history. Right now she shares the distinction of having been married to one president and the mother of another with Abigail Adams. She wants to go down as the only First Lady who was mother of two presidents.

TD: Speaking of your brother, many Americans regard him as one of the worst presidents in history. Do you honestly think anyone would willingly vote for another Bush?

JB: Yes.

TD: Who?

JB: My mother.

TD: Many of the other candidates at this week’s presidential debate, including Trump, Christie, Rubio, Huckabee, and Cruz, took the CNBC moderators to task for their obvious bias against Republicans. Instead of following their cues, you, when asked a question about fantasy football designed to make Republicans look stupid, took the bait and proudly revealed you are 7-0 in your picks. Why?

JB: To show voters I’m just an ordinary guy who, like them, counts on the proceeds from his fantasy football winnings to put food on my family’s table. So what do you think about those Red Sox?

TD: During the debate you called on Marco Rubio, a fellow Floridian who is also running for your party’s nomination, to resign his Senate seat, claiming he is missing too many votes. He responded that someone put you up to that, implying you weren’t smart enough to come up with that suggestion on your own. Who did?

JB: My mother.

TD: Thank you Governor.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bingo boy

My mother, who died six months ago today at the age of 102, used to say that what she hated most about being old was that people patronized her. “Most people assume I’m either helpless or an idiot,” she would say. Mom was most definitely neither.

Control shift.

I belong to a gym six miles south of my house. I often ride my bike there and back, sometimes stopping by my mother-in-law’s assisted living community, which is on the way, for a quick visit, as I did today.

I knew the residents play Bingo on Sunday mornings, but figured they would be finished by the time I arrived. They weren’t – the game was still in progress in the activity room. I was plopped in an easy chair in the elevator lobby outside the room when a thirty-something woman appeared, carrying a vase of flowers. I assumed she was going to see a grandparent – she was too young to have a mother or father in assisted living.

“You didn’t feel like playing Bingo?” she asked sweetly.

“No,” I replied, shaking my head, thinking it was easier to leave it at that.

“Well then,” she smiled. “Would you like me to help you into the game room so you can play with your friends?”

I know I have crows’ feet. I know my hair is silver. I don’t go around trying to pretend I’m younger than I am (I'll be 64 next month) but, as a long-lost fraternity brother used to express disgust so eloquently, fuck that shit. Are there any guys reading this who’ve tried that hair color for men they sell in drugstores?

If so, does it wash out in case you don’t like the results?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jane's wedding

I’ve been having weird dreams. Last night’s took the cake.

I was back in my tiny hometown of Auxvasse, Mo. for the wedding of my friend, Jane. We haven’t seen each other for 40 years but stay in touch on Facebook. She was a year ahead of me in school. 

In my dream, Jane was her current age. I was in my twenties.

Snow had fallen the night before but, lucky for Jane, her wedding day dawned bright and sunny.

I saw Jane in her white dress and veil, her sister, and her parents as they were driving to the wedding. The four of them had somehow squeezed into the seat of her father’s pick-up, and were stopped at the town’s one traffic light in front of Dryden’s General Store. (Auxvasse doesn’t have a red/yellow/green traffic light, just a flashing red one above the intersection of what used to be Highway 54 before the state pissed away millions of taxpayer dollars building a four-lane bypass around the town, and the “farm-to-market” blacktop that runs through the countryside to Montgomery City.)

The wedding and reception were to be held at the north edge of town. I rode there with my best friend Craig in his 1966 red GTO. Craig and I spent countless hours in his Goat (his nickname for it) on hot summer nights, driving up and down Highway 54 from one end of town to the other (from the Shell Station to the Dairy Bride drive-in, less than a mile) during our youth, listening to music on the 8-track tape player he had purchased with the proceeds from his job pumping gas at the Sinclair station in Kingdom City, six miles south of town.

The Goat was a great-looking car, every teenage boy’s wet dream, but had a major problem: The right front wheel kept falling off, usually when Craig was driving at high speeds. Once, when we were barreling down Interstate 70 en route home from Columbia, he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker. At 80 mph the wheel detached and flew into a nearby cornfield. Craig didn’t freak at all, he and his passengers were used to it. He knew how to keep the car under control until he could steer it into the breakdown lane onto which the front end would gently fall, causing sparks to fly when the bumper hit the pavement, as he held the steering wheel tight and brought the car to a stop. The hitchhiker, who had begun shrieking the moment the wheel fell off, jumped out and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him while Craig and I went into the cornfield to find the wheel.

We parked outside the Chalet Café, a log cabin torn down decades ago, that served the best cheeseburgers known to man. As we were crossing the road to the wedding, I glanced to my right and saw Bill and Hillary Clinton. He was wearing a tuxedo, she was in a long blue satin gown. Hillary looked happy. She was carrying in her left hand a large box with a silver bow and with the right was holding up the hem of her dress so it wouldn’t get wet from the melting snow. I snuck a peek and it's true. She has cankles.

There’s senior housing on the actual spot to which the Clintons, Craig and I were headed but in my dream we arrived at an enormous Italian-style wedding venue, one of those places familiar to any New Yorker, a multi-story building with ornate Roman statues built into the façade, that can accommodate four or five wedding receptions simultaneously. There were no people of Italian ancestry when I was growing up in Auxvasse. There were no people of any ancestry other than Scotch-Irish, German and African. Heck, there was was only one Catholic family and they pretty much kept to themselves. Why this gaudy Italianate structure had been built in Auxvasse was mystifying.

When we arrived U-2 was playing and the dance floor was packed. Bono announced he had a special guest who wanted to sing. Olivia Newton-John got up on the stage, said she was so happy for her dear friend, and breathlessly sang “I Honestly Love You” as Jane and her groom danced under a spotlight. Olivia looked old.

Wedding cake was served. I love wedding cake, but only if it has real buttercream frosting. The frosting on Jane’s cake was that fluffy stuff that tastes like Cool Whip. Gross. I took one bite, and decided to work out.

Magically, I was outside in my workout clothes, in a large park with swaying palm trees where, under a canopy, there was an elliptical machine. I jumped on that until I started sweating heavily. (I’ve never used an elliptical machine.) It was so hot I removed my shirt and hung it over the railing. I then got off and was doing push-ups (I haven’t done those since I was in my twenties) when I realized someone was standing behind me, waiting to use the facility. It was the actor who plays a murdered cop on Hand of God, an Amazon series my wife and I are watching.

I grabbed my backpack and left. When I got back to my car (Craig and the GTO had disappeared) I realized I had left behind my gray t-shirt with a hole where the label used to be. I’ve had that shirt since the 1980s, it won’t shrink, the fabric is paper thin and the ribbing around the neck is frayed, but I’m as attached to it as a toddler is to his or her bankie. I was trying to decide if I should return to the park for it when I woke up.  

Our 14-year-old dachshund, Bonnie, was licking my face. Her tail was thumping, excited for her day to begin.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A quick interview with Lincoln Chafee

This is the third in my series of interviews with candidates running for president. For my interview with Donald Trump, click here. For my interview with Hillary Clinton, click here.

TD: You attended Providence Country Day School and Phillips Andover Academy, majored in Classics at Brown, inherited your father’s Senate seat and your financial statement reveals a net worth of nearly $70 million. Do you really think middle class Democratic voters will identify with you?

LC: Yes, once they find out my beach cottage has only five bathrooms.

TD: During the Democratic debate you were asked about your Senate vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall Banking Act which, some say, was a root cause of the 2008 financial crisis. You said that was your first vote, you just had taken over your father’s seat and were still grieving, and you weren’t sure what you were voting for. Anything else you’d like to tell my readers about that?

LC: I’ll admit I could have done a better job explaining that, the question caught me by surprise. The fact is, I thought I was voting against glass seagulls, which I consider gauche.

TD: You were a Republican senator, an Independent governor of Rhode Island, and now you are running for president as a Democrat. Pundits have said you wet your finger and stick it in the air to see which way the political wind is blowing? Is that true?

LC: No, my driver does that for me. I need to keep my fingers dry to shake hands in case anyone shows up at one of my town hall meetings.

TD:  Your campaign raised $392,000 during the first half of the year but $364,000 of that was a loan from you and your wife. To date you’ve received only two endorsements – one from your cousin Chauncey and one from the Deputy Mayor of Lower Duncaster, Vermont. Do you honestly think you can win the nomination much less the general election with that kind of support?

LC: I have momentum. Look for a letter to the editor in tomorrow’s edition of the Palm Beach Weekly Shopper endorsing me.

TD: You were overwhelmingly defeated in your 2006 Senate re-election bid and were one of the most unpopular governors in Rhode Island history yet now you’re running for president. Why?

LC: My wife wanted me out of the house.

TD: Thank you, sir.

LC: Don’t you have any more questions? I have plenty of time – my calendar is wide open until November.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cooking class: Tommy's French Beef Stew

Most retired folks here in my neck of the woods spend their days golfing and playing tennis.

"So, what do you do all day?" a woman inquired recently at a cocktail party after I told her I did neither. Rather than telling the truth -- that I'm an uncoordinated klutz and a bit of an agoraphobic to boot  -- I replied that I am teaching myself to cook.

I’ve been called many things but nobody has ever called me a good cook. I try – I do – but most things I attempt in the kitchen turn out tasting like shit badly. My wife, an excellent cook, says it’s because I follow recipes too closely which makes about as much sense as saying I’m a bad driver because I stay in the correct lane and obey the speed limits.

I am, however, renowned for four dishes, the inclusion of any of which on its menu would earn a restaurant at least four Michelin stars: 

1.   Pasta Bolognese: For the recipe, click here.

2.   Lemon Chess Pie: I’ll write about this someday. It’s easy.

3.   Hatton Chili: Thousands of gallons of this stuff which bears little resemblance to any chili you may know – it’s basically beef, bean and tomato soup but the best beef, bean and tomato soup imaginable – has been ladled out over the decades to hungry farm families attending get-togethers at the Community Hall in tiny (population 15 tops) Hatton, Missouri, near where I grew up. I fantasized about this chili for 40 years until my sister found at a garage sale a 1980s cookbook compiled by the ladies of the Hatton community. She called excitedly to report it included the recipe for Hatton Chili that, it turns out, was submitted by a friend whose mother-in-law was my eighth grade teacher. (I grew up in a town so small there were only two teachers for the entire junior high. Not that we even had a junior high school; all twelve grades were housed in the same building.) Now, if the Hatton ladies would publish their recipe for the pimiento cheese sandwiches they always serve with their chili I could die happy.

4.  French Beef Stew: It's a dish that’s perfect for cool autumn days which, here in Florida, mean temperatures that rise only to the mid-80s. And that, boys and girls, is what we are going to make today.

I found the base recipe on the Internet. It caught my attention because it contains something spicy that doesn’t come to mind when you think about beef stew. Despite that secret ingredient, the base recipe sounded blah so – maybe my wife is right here – I improvised and improved upon it, adding ingredients to, as the judges on American Idol urge contestants, “make it your own."

Ready for the best beef stew this side of the Atlantique? Pull up a stool, pour yourself a glass of wine (pour me one while you’re at it) and let’s get cooking.

Step 1:

Go to the grocery store and buy all the ingredients listed at the end of this blog. While this may sound condescending it’s no more condescending than an article I read the other day about saving for retirement that informed readers to, “Determine when you plan to retire and decide how much monthly income you will need once you’re not receiving a regular paycheck.” So I’m leaving nothing to chance here.

Step 2:

Note the label that says, “Born, Raised and Harvested 
in the U.S.” I suppose "Harvested" sounds better than, “Herded 
into a truck with a taser, taken to a slaughterhouse where its 
throat was slashed, then butchered and cut into bite-size pieces.”

Pour three or four tablespoons of olive oil into an electric skillet and set the temperature at 300 or so. As the oil is heating, pour a half-cup of flour into a plastic bag and add roughly two pounds of cut-up beef stew meat. Shake the bag (be sure to close it first or you’ll wind up looking like one of those living statues that inhabit the shopping mall at the Venetian in Las Vegas) until all the beef cubes are coated with flour.

Step 3:

Remove meat from bag and add meat to hot oil in skillet. Throw leftover flour away.

Stir and turn the meat every couple of minutes so it browns on all sides. (See photo below in case you're unable to envision what browned meat looks like.)

Once meat is brown (but not cooked through), remove from the skillet and place on a plate, in a bowl, in the clothes dryer, wherever – just make sure it’s not in the skillet before you proceed to …

Step 4:

Plop another splash of olive oil into the skillet, then add one diced red onion.

What’s with these freakishly large onions and potatoes these days?
The smallest ones I could find at my local supermarket weighed
more than a pound. Thanks, Monsanto!

Add a teaspoon or so of diced garlic. Stir and allow the onions and garlic to cook for a couple of minutes until the onions look shiny but don’t let them become brown and crispy.

Step 5:

Pour about a quarter bottle of wine – red or white, whatever you have open – into the skillet.

Using a spoon (as opposed to your fingers because you know better than to touch a hot skillet), scrape from the bottom any meat, onion and/or garlic bits that are sticking to it.

This step is essential because a huge percentage of what will become the stew’s flavor is concentrated in that gunk at the bottom that, if you don’t scrape it off, you’ll have to scrub away anyway, so just do it. Stir vigorously to distribute the gunk evenly throughout the onion mixture.

Step 6:

Place the meat back into the skillet and, stirring every so often, let everything cook until all the wine has burned off.

Step 7:

Add three 14.5 oz. cans of Italian diced tomatoes.

Step 8:

Pour in two cans of beef broth.

Step 9: 

If you can find any that weigh less than a Ford Explorer, add four diced small potatoes. Otherwise use two gigunda Monsanto-enhanced potatoes but don’t blame me if your grandchildren are born with two heads.

Step 10:

Add six diced carrots.

Step 11:

Add 1.5 teaspoons (or so) of dried thyme. (I forgot to photograph this step, which is worrisome because people are completely visually oriented these days and if you can’t see this step you are likely to think it’s not required but trust me, you need the thyme.)

Step 12:

Add a big-ass splash of Worcestershire sauce.

Step 13:

Add some pepper – freshly ground is nice. And salt, lots of salt. Good food requires salt, a maligned spice the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy will someday soon announce is good for you.  

Step 14:

Bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat until the mixture is bubbling none-too-violently, cover it, and walk away for the next 1.5 hours. 

Step 15:

Remove cover. (Duh.)  If the mixture appears to be too soupy turn up the heat and allow it to boil (don’t replace the cover) until most of the liquid has evaporated and the stew is nice and thick, like the canned Dinty Moore stew your mother used to serve up on snow days because she, unlike you, was too lazy to make it from scratch.

Step 16 (Optional):

Five minutes before serving, stir in some frozen peas – half a bag or so.

Step 17:

Just before serving, stir in the secret ingredient that makes this stew a standout -- about three tablespoons of Dijon mustard. (If I had any class I’d recommend Grey Poupon but I don’t.)


This recipe serves 10, and leftovers freeze well.

Bon appetit.

Shopping list

Olive oil
2 lbs of beef stew meat harvested in the USA
1 red onion
Diced garlic
Bottle of wine (red or white)
3 14.5 oz cans Italian diced tomatoes
2 cans beef broth
4 small (or 2 big) potatoes
6 carrots
Dried thyme
Frozen peas
Dijon mustard

Monday, October 5, 2015

COMCAST MUST DIE (Installment # 4,215)

Me (speaking to a Comcast customer service agent): I just spent an hour on the phone with one of your agents who was trying to resolve an issue. She said she was sure she had gotten to the bottom of it, and only needed to speak to one other person, but then cut me off. Can you look up the name of the person I was talking to and connect me to her?

Agent: I’m sorry, but it’s Monday.

Me: So?

Agent: Well, Mondays are really busy and the moment that call ended another call was forwarded to her – that’s how the system works here. 

Me: That’s crazy.

Agent: I’m sure she’ll call you back when she has time.

Me: How can she when, every time she hangs up from one call, another call comes in? 

Agent: I can connect you to another agent.

Me: No, I just spent an hour on the phone with that agent. It’s complicated and I don’t want to have to explain it to someone else then have her cut me off.

Agent: Well, then, thank you for calling Comcast. Is there anything else I can do for you today?

For the record, I was calling this sewer of a company, which year after year is named the worst company in America for customer service, because I received a letter that said, “During a recent review of your account, we determined that your current service level does not meet the minimum service level required for the discounted package on your account.” 

In other words, "We are sorry we allowed you in December to sign up for our advertised $69 Triple Play” package (cable/phone/internet) that we promised would not go up in price for one year. Now that you’ve had the package for nine months we are going to jack your bill up by $20 or so every month, three months ahead of schedule. This is further proof we're lying scum with no integrity whatsoever whose managers laugh our asses off every time we get the opportunity to screw customers like you for whom Comcast is the only choice, because we know you can't do anything about it. And if you try to question anything we do we've instructed our employees to hang up on you."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five reasons I should be the next Speaker of the House

After much thought and prayer, I am announcing my candidacy to become the next Speaker of the House to replace John Boehner, who resigned last week.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Tom, you would be an awesome Speaker to lead us out of the legislative stalemate in which our nation finds itself. But you’re not a member of Congress.”

To which I say, read the Constitution. Nowhere does it stipulate that the Speaker of the House has to be an elected representative. I grant you that every speaker to date has been an elected member of that august body, but Congress, as everyone knows, is broken. It’s time to “shake things up” in Washington and I am the guy to do just that. Here’s why:

1. I know about compromise

The ongoing feud between Congressional Democrats and Republicans makes the enmity between Iran and Israel look like Steve and Eydie singing “Side By Side.” Nothing has been accomplished for years because the current Speaker, whose job is to bring opposing parties together, has been spending every waking moment in a spray tanning booth, rendering him incapable of working out compromises between them.

Having been married nearly 40 years, I have mastered the art of compromise. On numerous occasions when my wife and I have had honest differences of opinion, I’ve been able to suggest solutions that have worked out to the satisfaction of both of us.

For example, when we went to pick out a Christmas tree in December, 1987, she fell in love with a ten-foot Frasier fir. I reminded her that our ceilings were only eight feet high, and pointed out a beautiful eight-foot Balsam fir that cost less than half as much as the one she wanted. Ultimately, we bought the ten-foot Frasier and had the store cut two feet off the bottom. While we both gave up something, we each got something we wanted -- a Frasier for her, an eight-footer for me.

The other time I was able to affect compromise was when I wanted to go out for Hawaiian Fusion and she wanted Italian. I suggested we go to a Mexican restaurant since Mexico is between Hawaii and Italy. She said that, because it was my sixtieth birthday, she guessed that would be fine although we wound up at the Italian place because Senor Tequila's, when we arrived, wasn't open. I had forgotten it was closed on Mondays.  

2. I won’t take a salary

Thanks to the Affordable Health Care Act, which Congress passed without reading, I can no longer afford routine health care. My wife and I have to shell out $23,000 a year for premiums and deductibles before even a penny of any medical bill we incur is paid for by our so-called “health insurance” provider. As Speaker of the House, I’ll be eligible for the "Cadillac plan" health care coverage Congress receives and will show my appreciation each and every day by ensuring the passage of legislation that actually moves our country forward. I won’t even take a salary (though I will require use of an air force jet to fly me back and forth to my Florida home on weekends during the winter months because you can't possibly expect me to stay up there).

3. I can see both sides of every issue and the fact is, both parties are wrong not to mention completely insane

I started out as a Democrat. Then I became a Republican. Then I switched back to Democrat, after which I officially rejoined the Republican party until I once again decided to be a Democrat which I wish I wasn’t but I don’t want to be a Republican either so once I am named Speaker I intend to register as an Independent.

Fact is, neither party represents the majority of Americans who are, by and large, socially liberal and financially conservative, as am I. As the first independent Speaker I won’t hesitate to stand up to the power brokers who control the money in both parties and hold their representatives to their looney right- and left-wing agendas.

4. I represent continuity

Americans don't take well to change. That's why, year after year, they elect the same losers to represent them in Congress. But they have no choice this time because Boehner has resigned so a new Speaker has to be chosen.

Like Speaker Boehner, I have a permanent suntan which will provide the public with a sense of visual continuity every time they see me on TV sitting behind the president at the State of the Union address, kissing the Pope's ring, etc., But, unlike his, mine is real.

5. I’m qualified

I was a Speaker at the Association of National Advertisers convention in 1992. Plus I’ve owned five Houses. Speaker. Houses. I’m more than qualified.

I am sure that, by now, you agree I am the perfect choice. Please write your representative and urge him or her to vote for Tom Dryden for Speaker of the House.

Thank you and God Bless America.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A quick interview with Hillary Clinton

This is the second in my series of five-question interviews with leading presidential candidates. (For the first, an interview with Donald Trump, click here.)  Today's candidate: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

TD: Your campaign is faltering. Polls indicate that voters mistrust you. What would you say to that?

HRC: All I can say is that once people get to know me they’ll fucking love me and see I’m the only fucking candidate with the experience needed to run this fucking country. I’ve been fucking First Lady, a goddam senator from New York and Secretary of State for chrissakes.

TD: NBC anchor Brian Williams was demoted for making up a story about being shot at in a war zone. During the 2008 campaign you claimed a plane in which you were flying as First Lady came under fire as it was landing in Bosnia, which was later disproved. If NBC thought it appropriate to demote Williams for lying, why do you think the American people should elect you president when you basically did the same thing?

HRC: I was fucking exhausted the day I said that. I fucking misspoke, OK?

TD: As Secretary of State, you used a personal email server that was wiped clean before being handed over to the FBI. Do you regret that decision?

HRC: I don’t know shit about computers. Up until a few months ago the only server I knew about was the fucker who plops a piece of rubber chicken in front of me at a fundraising dinner. I had no goddam idea there was a server in my fucking house. At any rate there was nothing on it except Chelsea’s wedding plans and yoga tips from the many friends I’ve made as I've traveled around the world representing this goddam country. As for wiping, the only wipe I know is that asswipe Joe Biden who, if he’s really thinking about running against me, would do well to watch his fucking back.

TD: Last week you told college women who claim they have been sexually assaulted that, and I quote, "You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed and we are with you." Juanita Broderick claimed your husband, when he was governor of Arkansas, raped her, and Paula Jones said he exposed himself and propositioned her. Do you think they should have been listened to?

HRC: I was talking about college women, not trailer trash whores. 

TD: It has been reported you cuss like a sailor. Is that true, and if so, do you believe that is appropriate behavior for someone who wants to be leader of the free world?

HRC: That’s a fucking lie, don't believe it.

TD: Thank you Secretary Clinton.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Three days in Iceland

Monday, September 7

Right on schedule at 7:25 p.m., Wow Airlines flight 118 thunders down the runway at Washington-Baltimore International Airport and I’m off. To, of all places, Iceland.

Why Iceland? Two reasons:

l. My great aunt Grace: My mother’s aunt, who died when I was nine, was a spinster schoolteacher whose estate consisted of stacks and stacks of musty National Geographic magazines dating back to the 1920s. By the time I was a teenager I had read them all. They, more than anything, were my real education, showing me the world outside my rural Missouri hometown was mine for the taking. One of my favorite issues was about Iceland, featuring black and white photos of glaciers, geysers, volcanoes, boiling springs, waterfalls and tidy farmhouses with turf roofs snuggled against cloud-topped mountains. I resolved I would someday go there but never got around to it. For the last three or four months as I’ve been baking in Florida’s nonstop summer sun, I’ve been thinking about Iceland a lot. It will be – just counted them up – my thirty-eighth country.

2. I can’t resist a bargain: Wow is a new Iceland-based discount airline that flies from Boston and Washington/Baltimore. For months I have been checking its website, hoping to score a deal. When I learned I was to be in Washington Labor Day weekend, I checked again and wow, a round-trip for $298, the cheapest rate I’d seen, provided I could leave Monday night and return Friday. Of course I could. I’m retired. My wife has commitments at home  – cold weather isn’t her thing anyway – so here I am, bound for the Arctic by myself.

I love traveling with my wife – we’ve visited every continent except Antarctica – but I also like traveling on my own. It goes back to the summer between my junior and senior year of college when I backpacked around Europe. I flew there with a friend. We intended to spend six weeks seeing the sites together but discovered, after a week, that we got on each other’s nerves. We went our own ways and I spent the rest of the trip doing exactly what I wanted to do, seeing exactly what I wanted to see, spending as much or as little time as I wanted to in any particular place. It was, up to that point, the highlight of my life and still ranks right up there with the biggies.

Wow is better than I would have expected for twice the price. The plane is brand-new. The flight attendants are drop-dead gorgeous, wearing tailored purple suits with military-style garrison caps, their hair done up in buns. These are honest-to-God glamorous stewardesses, a welcome and unexpected throwback to the days before ugly women could become flight attendants. I’ve scored a window seat behind an exit row and, hot damn, there’s no seat in front so I can s-t-r-e-t-c-h out. I am planning to sleep all the way so I can hit the ground running after the six-hour flight.

Scratch that. There’s a screaming kid one row back, across the aisle. This kid is three or four, old enough that her mother ought to be able to reason with her. She has been screaming bloody murder, at the top of her lungs, since lift-off. My youngest son, when he was two or so, tended to behave badly whenever we flew so I was willing to cut the mother some slack for the first half hour, figuring the kid would scream herself to sleep. But if anything the kid is sounding more desperate as the hours pass.

The mother tried carrying the kid up and down the aisle but the screaming continued full force, annoying passengers not just in the middle of the plane where I am sitting, but at the front and back as well, so she was asked to return to her seat. She then allowed the child to run up and down the aisle, shrieking like a banshee, prompting the flight attendant to instruct her, firmly, to get the kid under control, but the mother just shrugged. It’s been going on for four hours at this point and every passenger within 15 rows in front of or behind the kid is wide-awake. If someone were to grab the kid off the mother’s lap, hurl her to the floor and stomp her brains all over the purple carpet with the Wow logo woven into it, the rest of us would get together and buy that person a drink.

Over Greenland, five hours into the flight, as I am trying but unable to read my book because of the noise, the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – appear in the distance, a ribbon of shimmering purple and green that undulates almost rhythmically across the heavens for five magical minutes. Absolutely amazing, perhaps the most beautiful sight I have ever seen. The Northern Lights are the one thing I most wanted to see on this trip, though there’s no guarantee they’ll appear on any given night, particularly in early September; they’re more commonly seen in winter. I am lucky. Now I won’t have to ride out into the countryside on a bus at 10 p.m. with 50 other tourists to get away from the lights of Reykjavik in hopes of seeing them. If, on such tours, the lights don’t appear by 2 a.m., guests are driven back to their hotels and invited to try again the next night (and the next, and the next, etc.) for no extra charge but they don’t get their money back if, for any reason, they don’t see them. And to think I would have missed them if it weren’t for the kid.

  From the plane, I couldn't get a pic of the Northern Lights
with my iPhone (I tried) but they looked (sort of) like this
As the pilot announces our descent into Keflavik International Airport, the kid falls asleep in her mother’s arms.

Tuesday, September 8

Clearing passport control and arriving in the baggage claim area, I’m surprised to see crewmembers from Wow and Icelandair flights that originated in the U.S. are also waiting for luggage to arrive. Odd. All of them already have their standard crew wheelies with them.

Once the bags are delivered, they begin hoisting off the belt huge suitcases that are clearly packed to the max. Iceland is a tiny nation of only 300,000 people. The climate and soil are too harsh to grow much and there are few natural resources so almost everything – food, clothes, drugs, tools, appliances – has to be imported. Even ordinary things are expensive here. From the looks of those bulging suitcases, crewmembers go shopping when they fly to the States. What’s in those bags? Kids’ clothes from Sears? Heinz ketchup from Safeway? Car parts? The crewmembers all choose the “Nothing to Declare” line at customs.

Rental cars are expensive here, too. I’ve booked one from a company mentioned in my Lonely Planet guidebook that was half the price of an Avis, Hertz or Eurocar rental. I’m annoyed to discover the company has no desk at Keflavik. But neither do half a dozen other companies that have stationed representatives near the exit, holding up logoed signs with the names of travelers who have booked with them. I ask one if he knows where I can find the representative from my company. He says that guy rarely comes around but if I wait around long enough he might show up. So I wait. I buy a coffee while I wait some more. Finally, I hail a cab and tell the driver to take me to the address shown on my reservation. He points out it’s across the parking lot, about two blocks away.

There’s a driving rain, the temperature is in the high 40s, and I’m soaked and pissed by the time I get there. When I ask the clerk, a sullen Middle Easterner, why nobody met me, he says an airport pick-up would have cost 2,000 kroner (about $14) extra. I reply I wish the company’s web site had mentioned that so I could have made a choice. He shrugs – he’s obviously heard it before – and hands me the keys to a Suzuki Jimny AWD parked in front that appears to be the only car the company has. It’s rusted, dented, and, when I start it up, I see there are 279,000 kilometers on the odometer. There’s a faint odor of something burning as I exit the lot and head to Reykjavik, the country’s capital and largest city where I’ll be based for the next three days.

The landscape between Keflavik and Reykjavik is almost lunar – large black volcanic rocks, some covered with moss. Not that I can see it clearly. It’s foggy and raining. And windy. Boy, is it windy. I’m afraid the Jimny is going to be blown off the road.

I arrive at my hotel an hour later only to learn the Nordic Hilton has no record of my reservation. I hand the clerk a printout confirming I made one. He invites me to help myself to a cup of coffee and disappears to confer with a manager. A few minutes later he reappears. The issue has been resolved, my room is ready. Great news for this weary traveler. It’s only 8 a.m. and the room wasn’t supposed to be ready until 2 p.m.

I go upstairs, shut the blackout curtains, get in bed and wait for sleep that doesn’t come. It’s noisy; the wind is howling against my seventh floor window. Plus I’ve had two coffees since landing. Dumb. At least I’m finally able to read my book.

At noon, having failed to sleep, I head up the street, looking for something to eat. While I generally look forward to trying the cuisine of any new country I visit, I’m fairly sure I’m not going to be seeking out Icelandic food which, from what I’ve read, includes puffin (an Arctic bird that looks like a cross between a penguin and parrot), minka whale, lamb (I haven’t eaten that since our trip to Tasmania where we saw thousands of baby lambs frolicking with their mothers), air-dried fish and, grossest of all, horse.   

I duck into a Vietnamese restaurant, which, it turns out, serves excellent food. I ask the owner if he’s the only Vietnamese in Iceland. He laughs and says no, there are a few more.

It’s still raining and the wind is stronger than ever; walking back to the hotel I fear for a moment it is going to knock me over. No longer hungry but still tired, I drive a few blocks to Laugardalslaug, one of six public outdoor pools in Reykjavik. All are open year-around and are heated by geothermal springs that, the guidebook says, also provide all the heat and hot water for homes and businesses throughout the city. If a dip in a boiling pool won’t wake me up, nothing will.

For the equivalent of $8, I’m issued a towel (I brought my own swim trunks), shown to a changing room and told to shower thoroughly – management is strict that bathers must be clean all over since the waters aren’t chlorinated. Just outside the locker room is a large pool where schoolchildren are taking swimming lessons, along with a number of “hot pots” – concrete-lined hot tubs that accommodate up to a dozen people, each featuring different water temperatures of increasing intensity. The hottest is 44 C  (111 F).

I watch to see what my fellow bathers do – mostly people my age and older, anyone younger is at work – and as they do, move from pot to pot until I find one that suits me just right. And I learn that soaking in a boiling hot tub that’s emitting steam into the Arctic air – it’s about 45 degrees – in a driving rain is just what I need to wake up. Funny, I hardly ever use the pool in my own backyard because, as I complain to my wife, it’s too cold, even in summer. So I fly all the way to Iceland and what’s the first thing I do? Jump in a pool.

A hot pot at Laugardalslaug. I didn't take this pic either.
Energized, I head downtown to see if what I’ve read is true – that Reykjavik is one of Europe’s most charming capitals. After an hour of walking around (in the rain, which hasn’t abated one whit since I got here this morning; people are wearing winter coats covered with rain slickers), I decide it isn’t. If you’ve ever taken a Caribbean cruise, imagine one of the port cities in which your ship docked, be it Phillipsburg, Nassau, Oranjestad, Charlotte Amalie or wherever. All these cities, when you get down to it, look pretty much alike, a bunch of two-or three-story buildings containing restaurants, bars and overpriced shops selling stuff you don’t need. That basically summarizes downtown Reykjavik. Disappointing but then, I didn’t come to Iceland to see cities.

According to my guidebook, the number one attraction in Reykjavik is something called the Phallus Museum featuring (you guessed it) schlongs from dozens of species. (Here's this advertising man's suggestion for attracting more visitors: Change the name to the Icelandick Museum.) The second most-important attraction is the main shopping street, which I’ve just seen. Numbers three through five are art museums. None represent my idea of a fun way to spend what’s left of the afternoon.

But, the Northern Lights Center near the harbor sounds intriguing so I head there, where I learn what causes the Aurora Borealis (charged particles from the sun enter earth’s atmosphere around the poles) and the myths accorded to these mysterious lights by people who live in the parts of the world over which they appear including Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. Interesting stuff.

From there I head to the Settlement Museum to learn about the Vikings who discovered Iceland around 800 – how they lived and settled what has to be one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. One of those Vikings, Leif Ericson, supposedly beat Columbus to the New World by 500 years.

A somewhat-related digression: Icelanders take a parent’s first name as their last name, to which the suffix “son” (for son) or “dottir (for daughter) is added. Leif was the son of Eric the Red, so his surname became Ericson (Eric’s son). If were Icelandic, I wouldn’t be Tom Dryden. I’d be Tom Gilbertson, since my father’s name was Gilbert. My sons’ last name would be Thomasson (Thomas’ son). My daughter LaToya (for demo purposes, I don’t have a daughter) would be known by my wife’s first name, Judy. That would make her LaToya Judysdottir. We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog post.

I also learn why the Icelandic language is so difficult to read, speak and understand. Icelandic, as it is spoken today, is basically the same language the early Vikings, who came from western Norway, spoke 1,000 years ago. Whereas the language now spoken in Norway has evolved with the times, the Norwegian spoken in Iceland has stayed pretty much the same since the island was settled because it’s in the middle of nowhere, high up in the north Atlantic a thousand miles west of Europe and a few hundred miles east of Greenland. Because Icelandic has no relationship to any language other than an extinct version of western Norwegian, it’s nearly impossible for non-natives to learn. The government actually provides grants to foreigners willing to study it.

Vietnamese food is like Chinese food. An hour after you eat it you’re hungry again. It has been six hours since lunch and I’ve been hungry for five of them. I don’t want to cruise up and down the rainy streets looking for a restaurant, so I head back to my hotel, remembering a restaurant near the Vietnamese place that looked promising. There were a number of entrees on the menu posted outside that sounded good.

And I’m in luck, there’s a table for one near the window. Unfortunately – and if you’re squeamish stop right here and skip to the next paragraph – there’s something on the menu I hadn’t noticed when I eyeballed it earlier: filet of foal. I ask the waiter, hoping there’s some mistake but there isn’t. “It’s one of the most popular items on our menu,” he tells me proudly, assuming I’m about to order it. I don’t want to eat anything that might come on a plate that once held filet of Mr. Ed so I tell him I’ve changed my mind and am no longer hungry. Two doors down I find an Italian restaurant.

Shortly after 9 p.m. I pop a Benadryl, read half a page of my guidebook and am out like a light, despite the ferocious wind howling outside.

Wednesday, September 9

Waking up at 9 a.m., I realize I’m already several hours behind the schedule I’ve established for my second day in Iceland. Today’s the day I plan to drive the Golden Circle, a route that isn’t circular, that takes in three of Iceland’s most popular attractions – Geysir (Iceland’s version of Old Faithful), Gullfoss (Europe’s largest waterfall) and Thingvellir National Park, where, in the 900s, Icelandic settlers established the world’s first democratic congress which, I’m going to assume here, probably worked better than the one we have in Washington.

After a couple of cups of coffee and a Skyr, an incredibly smooth and delicious Icelandic spin on yogurt, one of the few native foods I’m willing to try, I’m on my way. It’s still raining and I keep a tight grip on the steering wheel, fearing the wind will blow the Jimny either off the road or into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

The countryside east of Reykjavik doesn’t resemble in the least the landscape I saw yesterday coming from the airport. I’m driving up and down rolling hills and am surrounded by mountains. I can’t tell how high the mountains are, all are shrouded in fog.  This land is sparsely settled; there’s a farmhouse every three or four miles. There are lots of sheep and – alas – beautiful horses eating moss and low grasses that are somehow green despite the bone-chilling cold.

I grew up in a tiny Missouri town, Auxvasse, that was named by
French settlers. People who don't know better try to pronounce it
phoenetically, Ox-vass, but they're wrong, it's pronounced Of Oz,
as in the movie about the Wizard. This sign, indicating a waterfall on the
Oxara River ("foss" is Icelandic for waterfall) comes as close
 to that incorrect pronunciation as anything I've ever seen.
Climbing a hill about 30 miles into the trip, I realize the car behind me is right on my tail. I accelerate but … nothing. I downshift from fifth to fourth to pick up traction, but the Jimny goes slower … and slower … and, just over the crest, comes to a stop. Luckily I am able to pull off the road onto the shoulder. Something stinks. Can’t say for sure what it is but I’ve smelled it before. The Jimny will start but the transmission won’t engage in any gear.

My POS rental Jimny, broken down in the middle of nowhere

I wasn’t planning to turn on my cell phone and incur international roaming charges on this trip but I’m glad I have it with me. I call the emergency number on my rental contract and tell the woman who answers – every Icelander I’ve encountered speaks perfect English – that the car is broken down, and give her my best estimate of where I am. She promises to dispatch someone with a replacement vehicle but says it will be at least two hours. Swell. I have two more days in Iceland and it looks like the best part of this one is already shot. The rain and wind pick up and the fog intensifies as I sit in the broken-down Jimny, hoping a vehicle won’t come speeding over the hill and crash into mine.

Amazingly, an hour and a half later, out of the fog, a Ford F-150 appears pulling a flatbed trailer with a brand-new Jimny. The driver’s best guess is that after 279,000 miles, the clutch finally burned out or slipped or something like that – how the hell would I know, do I look like a mechanic? I’m on my way within minutes.

Gunnar (that was his name) saves the day
A few miles down the road I see a twenty-something couple lugging huge backpacks. Their thumbs are out and they are looking toward me hopefully. It’s pouring. And cold, with gale force winds.

I could never have published this when my mother was alive – she would have killed me – but the summer I backpacked around Europe, I had a Eurrail pass to get me from place to place. But when the train schedule didn’t jive with mine I hitched rides, just like these kids are doing, and remember how grateful I was when someone gave me a lift. I stop, lean over to open the passenger door and gesture for them to get in.

The hitchhikers, Yves and Claudette, are from France, (I just made those names up because we never exchanged names but hey, it’s my blog and those are the names I hope to remember them by.)

They are excited to be in Iceland, a country they admire because it has long been in the vanguard when it comes to protecting the environment. (Iceland has become quite the destination for tree huggers, not that there are any trees to hug because it’s above the timberline.) They arrived two days ago and plan to spend the next month seeing as much of this amazing country as they can. They say they’ve been cold ever since they stepped off the plane. (What did they expect coming to Iceland in September which, weather-wise, reminds me of Connecticut in December?)  Jean-Claude and Renee are saving money eating nothing but Ramen noodles, pitching their tent in the countryside to avoid campground fees, and hitching rides. If they have enough left over at the end of the trip they hope to rent an ATV to take them into Iceland’s unsettled interior, which is said to be the most beautiful part of the country. Today they’re headed to Geysir and Gullfoss. I tell them that’s where I’m going and am glad to have them along for the ride.

They tell me about their first night in a Reykjavik campground and their second in a field outside the town of Selfoss. They say both nights were as cold and rainy as today, maybe worse.

Jules says he has found the natives to be cold. I remind him they live in a country called Iceland. We laugh. We agree German travelers tend to be pushy and that camera-carrying Japanese tourists who spend more time taking pictures than actually looking at the attractions they visit (they’re ubiquitous here, as they are everywhere) are obnoxious. Philippe and Brigitte tell me their opinion about Americans. I tell them Americans think French waiters and hotel clerks are rude.

Gaston and Madeleine say they were waiting a long time. Car after car passed but nobody stopped until I came along. I’m glad I did because being with them makes me feel 20 again.

My sightseeing companions, Andre and Gabrielle,
with Geysir in the background
Geysir isn’t all that impressive. I’ve never seen a geyser before, but was somehow expecting something more, considering it’s one of Iceland’s most visited attractions. I ask an American tourist if he has ever visited Old Faithful. He says yes, and that it spurts higher and for much longer than its Icelandic counterpart that belches a plume of steamy water for what seems no longer than two seconds.

Thar she blows
After an hour watching Geysir spout off every five minutes or so, we head to Gullfoss which, Paulette says, is supposed to be more powerful than Niagara Falls. I say that’s unlikely; I can’t imagine anything more powerful than Niagara.

But, by God, she is right. The top tier cascades over a series of cliffs, forms a shallow pool, then topples off another side into a narrow gorge so deep it’s difficult to see all the way to the bottom. There are no fences. It’s possible to walk right to the edge of both falls. Within seconds we are drenched with spray but hey, it was raining anyway so why not?

I ask where they plan to camp tonight. They say they think they’ll stay in a field adjacent to the parking lot because the next day they want to see how close they can get to the Langjokull Glacier that, through the fog, is barely visible in the distance. They take their backpacks from the Jimny and we bid adieu.

It’s lonesome in the Jimny. For a minute, until I pick up another couple standing by the road outside the parking lot with outstretched thumbs.

William and Catherine are from the southwest of England and are about the same age as Thierry and Sophie. They, too, are here for a month to visit a country that values its environment. They want to see it before it’s ruined (presumably by tourists like us).  Like Martin and Martine, they’re living on noodles, camping wherever they can pitch their tent, hitching rides and hope to rent an ATV to explore the interior. William is a big guy. I say I don’t see how someone his size can possibly live on noodles. “He eats a lot of them,” Catherine says. “It’s getting to be a problem.”

Once again I feel like a college kid as we laugh and chat about their adventures.

We stop briefly at a roadside pull-off in Thingvellir Park, where the European and North American Tectonic plates meet. One side is Old World. One side is New. Cool.

I drop them off in a driving rain, near a campground where they hope to spend the night, and head back toward Reykjavik. Not wanting to retrace the route I followed this morning, I take another road that, had she come with me, would scare my wife out of her wits. She is terrified of twisty, mountainous roads – has been ever since we visited Tenerife in 2005 – and would be especially terrified by this road that twists in, out, above and below rainclouds that, at times, are dispensing sleet.

Dinner is a pizza near the hotel. I order an Americano – ground beef, tomato, mushrooms and cheese. It is tasteless, but the Gull beer that accompanies it is excellent.

Thursday, September 10

Today I will be driving nine or ten hours as I navigate the Snaefellsnes peninsula, the westernmost part of Iceland that juts out into the Atlantic about 60 miles northwest of Reykjavik. Once again, it’s raining and foggy with gusty winds as I wend my way up Highway 1, the national road that circles the island. It’s raining so hard I take a wrong turn that turns out to be my best move of the day because, even though it adds an hour to my trip, the road winds around a spectacular fjord.

In Bojarnes, a hamlet the guidebook calls “fun loving” (a great phrase travel writers fall back on when they have nothing else to describe an otherwise forgettable town), I stop at a convenience store for coffee. As I’m enjoying it, a bus of school children stops and the kids file in. The children of Iceland are beautiful. All but a few of the ones I’ve seen are blonde with blue eyes just like their Norse ancestors, which makes sense because Iceland is one of the, if not the, least ethnically diverse countries on earth. Fully 93 percent of its inhabitants are of Norse descent. Unlike Germany, Sweden, Denmark and other northern European countries that are packed with work-seeking immigrants from southern Europe and Islamic countries, few want to move to an Arctic island where the sun shines only a few hours a day in winter and the average summer high temperature may, if you are lucky, reach the upper fifties but that’s before you subtract ten degrees for the wind chill factor. So the gene pool remains Nordic-pure.

Have you ever seen a child with eyes this pale blue? Or hair this blond?
Oh wait, that kid isn't Icelandic. That's my 17-month-old grandson, Teddy.
Speaking of wind, the windows of the C-store are rattling. I don’t know how picture windows can possibly withstand gusts this relentless but nobody seems alarmed, so I’ve got to assume it’s normal for this time of year.

My guidebook says that when I get to Gerouberg where the peninsula begins, I will see “dramatic basalt towers rising from the plain.” It’s pouring when I turn off on a gravel road toward Gerouberg. After half a mile or so I come to what I assume are “basalt towers.” Don’t know for sure, never saw basalt towers before. I step out of my car, getting soaked to the bone in the time it takes to snap the picture below, and continue on my way.

If you have ever seen the "dramatic basalt towers of Gerouberg,"
please let me know if these are them
Half an hour later I arrive at the only roadside café on the southern side of Snaefellsnes (try saying that three times fast). It is packed with locals. There aren’t many of them, only 4,000 hardy souls inhabit the whole of the fifty-mile long peninsula.

I order lamb soup, the only menu item that sounds vaguely appealing. (I know, I swore never to eat lamb again but lamb soup somehow seems apropos on a cold gray day like this.) It is completely devoid of taste – mushy root vegetables and chunks of lamb that have had all the flavor they ever possessed boiled out of them, in a thin lukewarm broth. But the slice of homemade rye bread served with it is good.

As I exit the restaurant the rain has stopped and there’s even a hint of sunshine through the low-hanging clouds. The wind, however, is stronger than ever. Where I come from we call wind like this a Category 3 hurricane.

Thirty miles down the road a waterfall is toppling over a cliff. (There are waterfalls – a waterfall is called a “foss” in Iceland – every mile or so, so many it becomes annoying after a while because you’re not sure whether you should stop and take a picture.) The breeze blowing in from the ocean is so strong at this particular “foss” that the water that should be cascading off the side of the mountain is being blown upwards and backwards into the stream from whence it came. How far back I can’t tell but as you can see if you look closely, it’s an amazing sight.

If you look closely, you can see the water that's supposed to be falling
over the cliff being blown upwards and backwards by the incredibly strong wind 

I stop to see the beach at Bouir, another “must see” according to the guidebook, but the waves are so huge it’s impossible to get anywhere near it; I can feel the ocean spray a quarter mile away. There is a picturesque little church overlooking the sea and on this dismal day a wedding is taking place in the yard. The bride is wearing a sleeveless dress that looks like a gunnysack. This marriage is doomed because the bride will be dead of frostbite soon.

At Arnarstapi, there’s a monument honoring Jules Verne whose Journey to the Center of the Earth was supposedly inspired by the eerie, rocky landscape.

From an observation deck built over the sea in Hellnar I can see in the distance a rock kiosk formed by thousands of millennia (or least three days) of winds like these.

I was hoping to get a glimpse of the Snaeffsjokull Glacier as I swing northward but it’s covered with fog. Bummer. I would, if I were the kind of guy who owned hiking boots, be welcome to join a daily expedition up the mountain to the glacier that’s led by seasoned rangers, but I am not.

Arriving in the fishing village of Hellisandur at the northwest tip of the peninsula I catch my first glimpse of the Arctic Sea. It looks, duh, cold. I stop for gas in Grundarfjordur, another fishing village. The more I interact with Icelanders, the better I’m understanding what my French friend was saying. The clerk at the N-1 convenience store, a dour-looking woman about my age, treats me like an inconvenience, another stupid American who has to be shown how to use the credit card machine at the gas pump.

Just east of town a rainbow appears over a fjord.

Two and a half hours later I’m back in Reykjavik. Not wanting Vietnamese, horse, pizza or lamb soup, I head downtown to find a restaurant. The sun has finally decided to show its face and its rays are slanting down the same way they slant in New England in the late fall, bathing even the ugly buildings clustered around the harbor in beauty. Perhaps I was too quick to judge the town my first day when I was tired, wet and cold.

I wander in and out of stores, looking for something to buy Teddy, my 17-month-old grandson. I decide Teddy badly needs a plastic Viking headpiece with horns, but no store has one in a child’s size.

I climb a hilly street painted the colors of the rainbow – last month Reykjavik hosted the country’s second most-attended annual event, Iceland’s gay pride parade, for which the street was painted – to the modernistic Hallgrimskirkja, a church made of poured concrete that took more than 40 years to build. A well-traveled fellow volunteer at the food bank where I work once a week told me I should be sure to see it and, I have to admit, it’s nice if you happen to like minimalistic no-frills Scandinavian design, which I am starting to.

A hilly street painted in rainbow colors leading up to
Reykjavik's modernist Hallgrimskirjka church
Dinner, my last in Iceland, is at an upscale Italian joint on the town’s main shopping street. It is excellent. And expensive. What the hell, I may not pass this way again but if I do I’ll be sure to eat all my meals here.
Friday, September 11

The rain and fog lift and finally, on my last morning,
I can see the view from my hotel room
I eat an enormous breakfast, return to the Laugardalslaug for a quick dip, check out of my hotel, drive to Keflavik, turn in the Jimny and check-in for my flight. 

I was hoping to find a Viking hat in Teddy’s size in one of the airport’s duty-free shops but there wasn't one to be had so I bought him a puffin t-shirt that says “Iceland.”