Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival!

I haven't snipped on a Sunday since November 1st, so please allow me the room to warm up my mouse and work out the kink in my keyboard...

This week I would like to highlight two submissions: first, a reminiscent look back at the Gong Show and, thanks to Massachusett's own Martha Coakley, a wake-up call that as a devout Catholic I should definitely consider getting out of the Emergency nursing business...

Have a great week, everyone.  Please visit our gracious host!

Apparently I have chosen the wrong career.

I am fond of the city of Boston.  There is a unique mix of history and youth.  Streets lined with edifices built by the very founders of our nation are traversed by young men and women studying in the many colleges and universities that dot the city, giving it energy and vitality. 

That being said, there are a few things about Boston I am definitely NOT a fan of.  First, the New England Patriots.  Go Ravens.  Second, Faneuil Hall does not impress me.  It's overcrowded, overly-commercial, and vaguely reminiscent of a colonial-era shopping mall, complete with a Ye Olde Cinnabon.  (I know that I've just uttered words that the Boston Chamber of Commerce would consider sacrilege; so be it.)  Finally, the bus ride from the airport is nothing short of hell on wheels.  The drivers are lunatics, the traffic is horrendous, and the passengers laugh as your knuckles turn pale gripping the seat in front of you in sheer terror. 

Still, it's an awesome town.  There are few sights as amazing as Fenway, the harbor, and those amazing penguins in the New England Aquarium; they are AWESOME! 

Much like the college students who fill the city and surrounding areas each fall semester spending mommy and daddy's hard-earned retirement accounts at institutions of higher learning, I come to Boston intrigued...but while they are intrigued by how many beers a person can drink until he is face-first on a historic sidewalk, I am more interested in the juxtaposition of a storied Irish Catholic tradition and the perrenial election of politicians who directly oppose the teachings Catholics hold dear.  What's up, Bean Town?  Of course, this seems to be a state-wide problem in Massachusetts, so let's not put all the blame on Boston.  Liberal New England politicos are born and raised in this state.

I am most especially excited today because Martha Coakley, Democratic candidate to fill the recently expired Ted Kennedy's senate seat, has cleared up an obvious error I have made.  In an interview on WBSM with host Ken Pittman, Martha brought to light an issue I had previously not considered.  Here is the text:
PITTMAN: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin, uh, you don’t want to do that (work in an emergency room).
COAKLEY: No, but we have a seperation of church and state Ken, let’s be clear.
PITTMAN: Yeah, in the emergency room, you still have your religious freedom.
COAKLEY: [stuttering] The law says that people are allowed to have that. And so then, you can have religious freedom, but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.
PITTMAN: Wow. Okay.
Wow. Okay. So here is the problem: I am a devout Catholic; worse still, I not only WORK in an Emergency room, I pretty much run the whole dang thing. I guess I should have thought the whole thing through a little better. Thank you Martha, thank you Massachusetts, and thank you Democratic party for setting me straight. I will be filling out the matchbook cover Sally Struthers sent me to become a dental assistant. Hopefully Catholics are allowed to clean teeth.

What lunacy.  Maybe we should hang signs on the front of our Emergency Departments that read, "Catholics need not apply".  Does that ring a bell?  Would the Irish Catholics of Massachusetts please wake up?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Please help.

The devastation of Haiti and particularly in Port-au-Prince is a grim reminder of the tightrope we walk upon, the delicate balance of life that can so quickly be upturned by the realities of nature and poverty.

What will be done in Haiti? Millions are homeless in the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. There is no water, electricity, shelter, food, or medical care to be had. As the U.S. and others gear up to provide assistance thousands stand on street corners and in public spaces with no where to go, nothing to eat. As the screams and cries of those trapped are silenced in the coming days the enormity of the situation will be fully realized. It is a scenario rife with possibility for violence, disease, starvation and death.

We must move quickly.

I live in a city. I have often considered the impact of a major disaster or man-made catastrophe on my life and the lives of those I love. If the infrastructure that sustains us was destroyed and could not be restored in a reasonable amount of time we would have to leave, migrate to escape conditions not amenable to life. I would pray that my nation would come to our aid, help us to re-establish our lives and that we would persevere through tragedy.

Haiti is a tiny island nation. There is no where to go. Its government is morally and economically bankrupt.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Haiti, and please do what you can. Here is a link to Catholic Relief Services.  Please pray for the soul of Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince who was killed when the archdiocesan offices collapsed during he quake. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Gong Show

In 1975 Morris Albert recorded a song that left an indelible mark on my psyche, much like a hot branding iron leaves a blistered, burning flesh wound on the rear end of a cow. Just one year later Chuck Barris would pick open the scabs by dedicating an episode of the then-ubiquitous “Gong Show” to performers offering their ghastly renditions of the song, performances that would have made Simon Cowell consider William Hung a master at his craft. It has become a prototype for all the overly-sentimental lounge songs that spewed forth from the gullets of polyester-clad slime-balls so prevalent in the decade that gave birth to face lifts, Watergate, Bob Barker and the Love Boat.
Nothing more than feelings.
Trying to forget my feelings of love.

Most people remember the song’s most identifiable lyrics: “whoa, whoa, whoa”. Yes, it was that good. And Morris Albert, along with radio stations across the fruited plain made sure we all shared his painful agony over and over and over and over.

I am fully aware that somewhere out there in cyberspace someone is feeling insulted. Someone cried through a break-up singing that song. Someone was served divorce papers while it played on their AM transistor radio. Someone had a Tiger Beat poster of Morris Albert in their locker. I know not everyone shares my nausea. But I think most do, and so, as a self-appointed spokesman for the masses, I propose we erase all evidence it was ever produced. I fear that two thousand years from now some archaeologist digging in the ruins of what was once a thriving “Record Theatre” franchise will find an old 45 and base their understanding of our age on “whoa, whoa, whoa”.

This past December I began my forty-second year of existence. As I age, hopefully in wisdom and age and favor before God and man, I begin to see the enormity of wasted time and energy all around me: grudges and enmity…Gossip and hatred…anger and animosity…prejudice and conceit. I do not present myself simply as an accuser: I stand before God guilty of all this and more. As I begin what I perceive as the mid-point of my life I look at my weaknesses with certain sadness, recognizing the losses I have suffered by concentrating on…nothing. Like a stupid song playing over and over I have filled much of my time with meaningless garbage.

Feelings. Nothing more than feelings.

Much of our day is dominated by our feelings of anger, hurt, jealousy, envy, and disappointment. We beat ourselves up, and worse, others, too. We assume the motivations and thoughts of others. We judge actions and form opinions in complete ignorance and act on them as though they were fact. We hurt those we love most and isolate others with our words. We, "the daughters and sons of Him who built the valleys and plains"...who should know better.  So much time lost.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Habits are a hard thing to break, but I want to love more. I want to separate myself from the fleeting emotions that cloud my thinking. I want to share in the lives of those I love and mend the fences that I have broken. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Back in 1976 every one of the contestants on that shining Chuck Barris contribution to society heard the mighty clang of the gong and were sent away packing. They were all that bad. It would be a funny thing if there was a gong on judgment day. Well, not really all that funny.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Night Shift

I saw a dear old friend I worked with for many years this morning.  She is a nurse in labor and delivery, and has been lobbying for me to work there for years.  Yes, I am quite certain that will never happen.  While I know that most women would be tickled to have a mildly overweight (mildly put) middle-aged guy with a five-o'clock shadow and a case of reflux that produces untimely musical outbursts peering twixt the stirrups and shouting "PUSH" like Mike Ditka on a blitz, I will pass.  Definitely not my cup o' tea; lost me at the whole "mucus plug" thing.  So I gently repeat my mantra, "I don't know nothin' bout birthin' no babies".  Okay, so I borrowed that line.  But it fits.

It was good to see her, and some of the old gang from the night shift.  It brought back memories of incredible camaraderie.  The night shift, unlike their day and evening counterparts, is a different animal entirely.  When the managers, directors, movers and shakers are all snug in their beds with visions of meeting minutes dancing in their heads the night crew carries on with the business of healing, relying not on decision-makers paid to interpret spread sheets and budgets but on one another, becoming a cohesive team that rarely gets the credit it deserves.  For many years I enjoyed the company of wonderful nurses, nursing assistants, physicians, and rad techs.  Each one of us had our idiosyncrasies, but we overcame any impatience and grew into friends.  That was a gift, and one I miss dearly.

The world bathed in sunlight can be a frightening place for a boy raised in the dark hours of the night.  There are protocols and proper channels to follow.  Decisions are made by those paid to do so.  Innovation can be viewed as overstepping bounds.  The critical thinking one became accustomed to may be reserved for someone with more experience, more education.  There are adjustments that must be made...but, oh, to sleep at night, to wake up with the world and drink coffee when it was meant to be enjoyed...these things are so wonderful that the race becomes tolerable, and one can convince himself that the challenges are offset by the increase of vitamin D coursing through his veins...but there are difficulties, to be sure.

Of course, the grass is always greener...

So to all those who toil when the rest of us slumber, I honor your work, and offer my thanks.  To the nurse who tends to the sick and the broken, the policeman who patrols the streets, the soldier standing watch, and the baker making them sweet tastin' Krispy Kremes, I salute you.  I know most folks think you're a bit odd and a little pasty looking, but I know the truth - you are innovative and independent, creative and confident.  You deserve a lot more recognition than you get.

Besides, who else is going to know what pizzeria delivers at 3AM?  I mean, c'mon, that's gotta come in handy.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fortune Cookies, Debbie the Cat, and the Buffalo Sabres

When you believe in things

That you don't understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition aint the way.
      -“Superstition”, Stevie Wonder

The Marciniak ranch is well known as a center of culinary excellence in the Western New York region. Born of a need to cater three meals a day for eleven and the magic of Food TV, techniques have developed and flavors previously unknown have been vaulted to the forefront of contemporary cuisine from our humble and inadequate four-burner stove. Greats such as Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and the grossly underweight Giada de Laurentis have seen their exquisite recipes, albeit tweaked to reflect Buffalonian modesty, presented to eager children with hypersalivation issues at regularly scheduled intervals. That being said, when there’s a few rubles in the coffers, we make a bee-line for the China Star, purveyor of fine Oriental take-out.

After the delectable cartons of General Tso’s chicken, shrimp lo mein, mei fun noodles, and such are exhausted of their high-cal, sodium-enriched contents and the satisfying release of gastric air is complete (forcefully if you are male, by our experience), the obligatory fortune cookies are dispensed. It is a tradition repeated often at Sterling Avenue estates, and shared with many, both the lay and ordained. Fr. Dennis Mancuso, an aficionado of (in his words), “vast quantities of Chinese food” (spoken with a definitive Monty Pythonesque accent) has shared this epicurean explosion more than once and can verify that the experience is just shy of gluttonous. Nonetheless, if gluttony is achieved, he is more than happy to offer the sacrament of reconciliation at a moment’s notice. After a few more dumplings. Others of lesser fortitude have run from our home clutching their offended, weak stomachs while vowing a return to boxed macaroni and cheese and to never stray. Not the Marciniaks. We’ve got gullets of steel. Szechuan’s not Szechuan unless it leaves welts on your tongue.

Of all the possible difficulties of these events (perforated ulcers, colonic inflammation, barking at the sidewalk), only one has emerged: fortune cookies. One guest is offended by them. As the children crack their little cookies tasting faintly of flour and corrugated cardboard, she looks suspiciously at the my wife and I. She relates the messages, such as “Industriousness will mean success” or “Happiness brings long life” on the tiny strips of paper baked in the cookies as on par with tarot cards, palm reading, and black magic. To our westernized American kids from an age marked by technology, unprecedented information access and a window on every corner of the world via the simple act of typing on a keyboard, this attitude is seen as relevant as Greek mythology. Our guest, an Eastern Catholic (a tradition that, in personal interpretation, has been known to express itself occasionally in superstitious practices) has grown to believe that the insidious nature of the occult as expressed in superstitions is never innocuous and to be avoided even in its most benign forms.

It would be my nature at this point to argue that the superstitions of the ages are circling the drain, so to speak. Are there any educated individuals who really believe black cats are unlucky (if so, please don’t tell my cat, Debbie. She’s quite sensitive)? Is the act of walking under a ladder really a harbinger of evil, or just an opportunity to have paint drip on your head? Does breaking a mirror really cause seven years of bad luck, or just a risk for a bad hair day? As I access the suffering of the world on the very screen upon which I prepare this essay, is it reasonable to wonder if the victims of violence and misfortune throughout the planet may have perhaps stepped on a sidewalk crack, or bragged of their youth? I think of Jesus questioning whether those killed in the collapse of a tower were more sinful than others; he recognized the danger of man judging cause and effect in unexplained suffering, and the negative consequences this can have among the faithful. Death and suffering, misfortune and tragedy are the wages of sin. These wages are distributed among us all, a reality that cannot be diminished by adherence to superstitions.

As sure as our bodily death is, our eternal life is another matter…the God of our fathers has given us an example, a guide and comforter, and a mother. Jesus, whom we emulate, the Holy Spirit who guides and encourages, and mother Church in combination with our Blessed Mother’s gentle hand can lead us to salvation. Superstitions cannot. They deny the power of God and place undue regard for meaningless objects and actions. Satan loves that. Why, then, do we have them? Why do we adhere to superstitious practices in direct opposition to the reality of God’s saving grace? Perhaps it all comes down to trust. We just don’t have enough. We need concrete assurances that God just doesn’t seem to provide; places like Lilydale, New York, crawling with “seers” and psychics and, unfortunately, Catholics seeking their assistance, rely on our lack of trust for their livelihood. So does Satan.

Let us pray for trust; trust in a God who loves us, who has sent His only Son, who by His life, death and resurrection purchased for us the rewards of eternal life; trust in the Holy Spirit and the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church He leads.

Now, on a lighter note, I am going to put all this into immediate practice by uttering taboo words equated with a perennial jynx. Here goes: STANLEY CUP. There. I said it. Those horrified by that statement in the Buffalo area may now re-read the above essay. STANLEY CUP, STANLEY CUP, STANLEY CUP!

Go Sabres!