Thursday, December 25, 2008

So, through the embassy, Allyson and I scored tickets to Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. But when we showed up at St. Peter's Square around nine o'clock last night, the scene was, in typical Roman fashion, utter chaos. Lines everywhere, nobody quite sure what they were lined up for. Every time we asked a cop (or Swiss Guard) which line we should be in, we got a different answer. And most of the people in line had no tickets, and didn’t even seem to realize tickets were required.

We walked toward what we thought was the front of a line to do some investigating when, suddenly and unexpectedly, the line began to move forward. Pandemonium ensued. It reminded me of that time I saw the Grateful Dead at the Meadowlands in 1985, when I was nearly swept off my feet by the crush of the crowd when the gates opened. It was kind of scary. Definitely not a spiritual experience. And now I know what the Hajj must feel like.

We were, however unintentionally, butting in line. It was a venial sin, but nothing compared to the unholy things that were shouted at us by the unfortunates we’d butted in front of. (In purgatory, this will all be a wash.) (Hopefully.) Our ill-gotten reward was an excellent seat, as close to the front as the plebs get, and close to the aisle. When the pope entered the basilica, I shot this short video:

The mass itself was, well, long. Two hours. It was said in numerous languages, though mostly Latin and Italian. I’d estimate that about half the congregation were devout Catholics. The rest were tourists. A young lady two rows in front of us was text messaging throughout the homily. Unlike a lot of other congregants, I was a little self-conscious about taking pictures during mass, but I did manage to snap this shot:

Like all good Catholics, we snuck out during communion. Outside, I was surprised to see hundreds, maybe thousands more people standing in the cold, watching the mass on giant television screens erected in the square.

It was truly a remarkable experience. Once in a lifetime, as they say - but that’s all I need. Next year I think we’ll just go to the little church around the corner for Midnight Mass. No tickets required!

Buon Natale dear friends and family! Today, as every day, you are in our thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Happy Birthday to my Uncle Steve, who turns 92 this week! Mom visited him last weekend, and my brother Howard took this picture of her and her big brother.

By the way, congratulations to Mom's alma mater, Liberty High School in Bethlehem, 2008 Pennsylvania state football champions!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My friends at Minnesota Public Radio have put some of the contested ballots from the Minnesota Senate election on their website. Click here and decide for yourself whether the ballots should be accepted or rejected. (As an aside: Who in their right mind signs a ballot?!)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

We had a very nice trip to Mitteleuropa last week. We spent one night in Basel, which was all decked out for the season. It was also impossibly clean, quiet, and calm, with an impeccable public transportation system. It was, in other words, everything that Rome is not!

From Basel we took the train across the border to Freiburg. As I explained in an earlier post, it was my first trip back to Freiburg since I studied German there in the summer of 1985. I thought my return would trigger a flood of memories, but it didn’t. Nor did it restore my fluency in German. Still, Freiburg is a charming city. Best of all, it snowed.

Oh, and we discovered a pretty cool vodka bar, too.

Purple is clearly the "in" color this fall in Rome. All the clothing shops, men's and women's, have purple clothing on display in the windows: shirts, ties, dresses, jackets. Allyson insists purple is not one of her colors. But when we had her try on our friend Laura's purple scarf, I think you'll all agree she looked quite lovely.

Friday, December 05, 2008

This weekend, Allyson and I are flying (one of those discount airlines) up to Germany to spend a few days where the climate (at least) is more Christmas-like than it is here in dreary, rainy Rome. Specifically we are going to Freiburg, a small city in the Black Forest with a famous Christmas market (or Weihnachtsmarkt). Those of you who were reading this blog back in 1985 might remember that Freiburg is also where I studied German that summer. Here I am with my classmates, apparently after some sort of traditional German beer-drinking marathon:

I don't know why I'm the only one seated, or why I thought it was a swell idea to wear that ugly black Yes sweatshirt over a white dress shirt. I think I might recall the names of three or four of my classmates in this picture, but that's about it. As for my German, what little I had managed to remember over the years has long since been supplanted by French and, now, Italian.

I don't remember much about Freiburg, either. This will be my first trip back since that summer. I can't believe it's been more than 23 years. Where has the hair gone?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell, bless his heart, has a new book out. It's called Outliers and, based on what I've gleaned from the reviews, it seems to be about how people like Bill Gates aren't phenomenally successful just because they're talented – it's because they're lucky, too! Really?! Who'd've thunk it!

This is the third in Malcolm's trilogy of wildly popular duh books. In Blink he explained how snap judgments can be good – or bad. In The Tipping Point (the only one I've actually tried to read; gave up after fifty pages) he explained how word-of-mouth can help generate sales and make products successful.

Somehow, he manages to spin these wafer-thin premises out for 300 or more pages. (And I felt guilty for taking 288 pages to explain how two pro football teams merged in 1943.)

My disdain, of course, is firmly rooted in an unhealthy professional jealousy. But, really, my next book should be called No Sh*t Malcolm Gladwell.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What would Thanksgiving weekend be without some football? Today my friend Neil and I trekked up to Stadio Paolo Rosi, a small stadium on the north side of Rome, to see the Roma Grizzlies take on their bitter crosstown rivals, the Lazio Marines. Having just finished Playing for Pizza, John Grisham's new novel about American football in Italy, I was eager to see the Italian version of the game for myself.

Just a few miles away, the local soccer team, AS Roma, was playing Florence before a capacity crowd at the mammoth Olympic Stadium. The scene at Stadio Paolo Rosi was considerably more relaxed:

The field was only 80 yards long, and the level of play was probably equivalent to that of a small college or even a good high school team. But, without incessant TV timeouts, the game was fast-paced and fun to watch. Lazio opened the scoring with a short run for a touchdown:

Roma appeared to tie the score by returning the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. Unfortunately for Roma fans, the TD was called back because of a penalty (clipping, I believe):

It was getting cold, and we still hadn't had lunch (Stadio Paolo Rosi having no concession stand), so we left at halftime with Lazio leading 12-0 (or 14-0; they never even attempted the extra points, so I'm not sure whether an Italian touchdown is worth six or seven points). In keeping with the American theme of the weekend, we ate at Burger King.

I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed my chicken sandwich very much.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Yet again, the World’s Oldest Person has died.

Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Indiana, passed away on Wednesday. She was 115. Edna had held the title of W.O.P. for more than a year. Presumably she died of natural causes. If she’d died in a parachuting accident, I’d imagine that fact would have been mentioned in her obituary.

So let’s raise a glass to the new W.O.P., Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who was born on September 10, 1893. Quick, who was president then?

Grover Cleveland, of course!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving! I am happy to report that we finally have the Internets here at Casa Algeo. (Still working on the cable TV, however.) This has measurably improved my quality of life (and drastically reduced my alcohol consumption, since the only place with free WiFi around here is an Irish pub).

Last weekend, we took an embassy-sponsored trip to Spoleto, a beautiful little Umbrian hill town about two hours north of Rome. Spoleto is most famous for its annual summer music festival, but it’s also known for its superior olive oil. We were able to take a tour of an olive oil factory, which was pretty cool.

First, the olives are cleaned, and all the leaves and stems are removed (for the most part).

Then the olives are crushed. This releases a mixture of water and oil (the latter being contained in the pit). This mixture is then spun in a giant centrifuge, which separates the oil from the water, and – voila! – or, ecco!- you’ve got olive oil!

After we toured the olive oil factory, we went to a farm out in the countryside where we enjoyed a wonderful three-hour lunch. All in all it was a lovely day!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Election Night, Excelsior Hotel, Rome, November 5, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sorry I haven't been posting more regularly (or answering my e-mail very much either). After the "miracles" of the previous two weeks (Phillies, Obama), I'd hoped that this week's miracle would be that we finally got Internet at home. Alas, it was too much to hope for. As we are discovering, here in Italy it can take a very long time to get basic services like phone, Internet, etc. hooked up!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Last week, the Phillies won the World Series.

This week, a black man was elected president.

I can’t wait to see what happens next week.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Believe it or not I’ve been too busy to spend much time on the Rome Bus Project lately. But over the past few weeks, I have ridden nine more lines (52, 62, 38, 40, 61, 80, 95, 116, and 630), mostly for short rips around the city. One of the rides, however, does merit special mention. With my friend Neil, I rode the No. 40 from the main train station to the big mall in the northern suburbs. (Neil took the photo above while we were waiting for the bus to leave.) The ride took nearly an hour, and our seatmate for much of the trip was a teenaged Bangladeshi girl who, with her parents, was returning to Rome from a trip back home. She was none too happy to be back in Rome, a city she hates. But she was very excited to be seated with fellow English speakers, and she peppered us with questions.

Her father was curious about us, too, especially when we told him that we had no jobs – i.e., our wives work but we don’t. Kept men. He had a hard time understanding that, I think.

At the mall I was finally able to buy a couple things we needed (slippers, a small radio) but couldn’t find in our neighborhood, where the shops cater almost entirely to tourists. (If we ever run out of postcards or mildly obscene underwear, however, we’re in luck.) I also did some bookshelf recon at the Ikea for Allyson.

The ride home was interesting, too. It was rush hour, and the bus was packed. It was also very hot, until one courageous passenger asked the driver to turn on the air conditioning. (Until then, I hadn’t even been sure the buses in Rome were equipped with air conditioning.) Soon cool air was blowing down on a grateful me. For that alone, the No. 40 merits a grade of B+.

So far I have ridden 15 of Rome’s 251 regular bus routes – nearly six percent.
You may remember me telling you about the piece of glass that was stuck in my right heel for nearly a month before somehow working itself out. Well, the few people I’ve shown it to haven’t been very impressed (though they were all a little grossed out). This reaction has disappointed me, for, as far as I’m concerned, the size of the piece of glass that was stuck in my heel is irrelevant. The very fact that it was in there for nearly a month is the remarkable thing. Anyway, after many, many attempts, I have finally managed to (sort of) photograph said shard, visual evidence I submit herewith, leaving it to you, dear reader, to determine whether you would feel comfortable walking around with this in your heel for NEARLY A MONTH:

Incidentally, I’m thinking about auctioning off this shard on eBay, to raise awareness of the problem of people walking around with small bits of glass lodged in their feet.
Rome Bus Project, Update No. 2

Trip No. 4, Bus No. 53
Centro Storico to Piazza Antonio Mancini, October 2, 2008
Grade D-

My worst ride so far. After waiting in vain at the stop for 30 minutes, a bus company employee came over and told us that the stop had been moved to the one usually used by No. 715. So we walked over there and got on the 53.

My seat was broken. It was missing a piece of plastic right where my right butt cheek went, so I had to sort of lean left the whole ride to compensate. Gave me a cramp and may have aggravated my sciatica.

About 30 minutes into the ride, a guy two rows ahead of me suddenly looked up from his newspaper and began scanning the passing landscape, apparently looking for familiar features. Seeing none, he was bemused. Not amused. Bemused. He asked an old woman sitting across the row if this was Bus No. 715. No, she said, this is No. 53. I later checked and discovered that the 715 goes in the exact opposite direction of the 53. Wherever that guy was headed, he was gonna be very late (and not in a very good mood, either).

The route itself was nice: it wound through Villa Borghese (a big park) and past several embassies before ending near the site of the 1960 Olympics. Still, you give me a late bus with a broken seat, you’re getting a D-. In fact, this bus is lucky I’m not giving it my first F.

Trip No. 5, Bus No. 911
Piazza Antonio Mancini to Monte Mario, October 2, 2008
Grade C-

A quiet, not very crowded bus from one suburb to another. My only quibble: It was lunchtime, and several passengers were eating sandwiches and pizza. This just grosses me out. I don’t know whether there’s a law against eating on buses in Rome, but that’s beside the point, the point being: Who in their right mind would WANT TO eat on a city bus (or any form of mass transit for that matter)? Seriously, is it that much different than taking lunch in a public restroom? It’s the kind of thing there shouldn’t need to be a law against.

Wait, turns out that’s not my only quibble: Also on the bus were two teenage girls with studs in their faces and jeans that sank a little too far south of the crack line who kept spraying themselves – and, this being a confined space, everybody else on board – with perfume. Not as bad as the No. 53, but close.

Trip No. 6, Bus No. 46
Monte Mario to Centro Storico, October 2, 2008
Grade C

A very crowded bus from the suburbs to the city center. Nearly an hour-long ride through some heavy city traffic. A pretty boring ride, actually, but we did pass St. Peter’s Basilica, which, as is often the case with these things, was much smaller than I’d imagined.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sorry the updates have been infrequent, but we still don’t have Internet access at home. I have also been busy planning my book tour! My publisher has generously agreed to underwrite a promotional tour when Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure is released next May. I will be re-tracing Harry and Bess’s route, so if anybody has any media contacts in Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus, Wheeling, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, or Washington (or points in between), please pass them along. And if you live along that route, you are hereby warned: I may be “visiting” for a day or two!

(By the way, the book is already listed on Never too early to pre-order!)

In other news…

Last weekend Allyson and I ran a 5K. Here we are with our friend Laura, who ran it with us:

(Thanks to Laura’s husband, Neil, who took the picture. He would’ve run it too, but he had to mind their dogs. At least that was his excuse.) I finished in about 34:15 (since it was “non-competitive” there was no official timing). Slower than my last 5K, but not too bad considering I hadn’t run at all since we got here. As usual, Allyson beat me.

What was really amazing, though, was the course: we ran past Circo Massimo (where they used to hold chariot races), the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum. At the Colosseum, tourists were lining both sides of the street, cheering us on. It was very cool…

I know I have fallen way behind on the Rome Bus Project, but more updates are coming soon, I promise…

For the next few days I will be living the life of a Phillies fan in Rome, either staying up very late (or getting up very early) to watch the World Series. Exactly where, I don’t know – we don’t have any TV reception yet, either…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

With the Phillies one win away from the World Series, I am pleased to present the following photograph, which was taken exactly 25 years ago yesterday.

With my friends Jeff Benner (center) and Greg Seip (right), I am preparing to go to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to see the Phillies play the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series. We were seniors in high school. The brown car in the background is, I believe, my parents’ 1975 Ford Maverick – my high school ride.

I have almost no recollection of the event, probably because the Phillies lost (and would go on to lose the Series). In fact, until Greg e-mailed me the photo this week, if somebody had asked me whether I’d ever been to a World Series game, I would have answered no.

I do, however, very much remember that Phillies jersey I’m wearing. A powder blue pullover, 1,000 percent polyester, possibly the itchiest article of clothing ever manufactured. And a terrible knockoff, to boot, what with the red and white trim on the V-neck collar. I wonder what I’m wearing underneath it. Probably a Yes concert T-shirt…

Incidentally, our household effects – well, most of them – finally arrived on Monday. It was not an uncomplicated process. To avoid traffic congestion, the movers arrived before five in the morning. And the moving truck was too big to negotiate the narrow streets of central Rome, so they had to park it outside the old city walls and ferry everything to our apartment building in a van.

We have gone from living in a barren apartment to the exact opposite. Once everything is in order, I’ll post some pictures.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Around September 10, while we were in Maine, Allyson accidentally dropped a wine glass in our condo. It broke into a trillion pieces. Literally. OK, not literally, but it really did pretty much disintegrate. We thought we’d swept it all up, but the next morning I stepped on a shard and cut my heel. The cut never really healed, so I went to see the doctor at the embassy when we got to Rome. She advised me to wait it out. Well, earlier this week I was in the shower when I noticed a piece of glass sticking out of my heel! It took nearly four weeks, but that shard had finally worked its way out. It was surprisingly big too, a couple millimeters across, and very sharp. I was able to extract it with tweezers and tape it to an index card. I’m thinking about getting it framed.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Rome Bus Project, Update No. 1

Trip No. 1, Bus No. 85
Centro Storico to Colli Albani, October 1, 2008
Grade: C

The RBP got off to a rocky start when I get on the bus and try to validate my pass in the ticket-selling machine instead of the ticket-validating machine. Poor ticket-selling machine: I really tried to jam my pass in there. A friendly fellow passenger finally steered me straight.

The route passed the Colosseum, giving me my first glimpse at the world’s oldest surviving taxpayer-financed stadium (though it was a lot cheaper when the heavy lifting was done by slaves). By the way (speaking of slave labor), the bus was packed with German tourists. Once we moved into the suburbs, however, the Germans were replaced by a contingent of girls from a Catholic high school.

Teenage girls notwithstanding, there’s wasn’t anything extraordinary about my first ride, so I’m giving it a C.

Trip No. 2, Bus No. 671
Colli Albani to E.U.R., October 1, 2008
Grade: B

This was actually a pretty cool ride. The route goes through Esposizione Universale di Roma, or E.U.R., a neighborhood that was built by Mussolini for a sort of World’s Fair in 1942. The world being otherwise occupied at the time, the fair never happened, but that didn’t stop Il Duce, who went ahead and built E.U.R. anyway.

E.U.R. is a fascist dictator’s idea of the perfect city: humungous columned buildings separated by impossibly wide boulevards that resist all manner of pedestrianism.

Today E.U.R. is mostly government offices, museums, and apartment buildings. Mussolini fancied it a “New Rome,” with architecture meant to echo that of the Roman Empire. Instead it feels like a cross between Epcot Center and Pyongyang. But it’s still interesting to see, in a whew-I-am-REALLY-glad-we-won-the-war kind of way.

The bus wasn’t very crowded either. A solid B.

Trip No. 3, Bus No. 780
E.U.R. to Centro Storico, October 1, 2008
Grade: B-

The traffic on the ride back into the city was heavy, but I didn’t mind since I was neither driving nor in a hurry. The route passed through Trastevere, a funky neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber River. A pleasant but not especially memorable ride.

In an effort to get to know Rome (and to practice my Italian), and with a lot – a lot – of free time on my hands, I have decided that I will attempt to ride each and every one of the city’s 251 regular bus routes at least once while we are here.

Rome has a subway system, but it’s relatively small, and expanding it is difficult due to archeological considerations. So, more than in most major cities, residents of Rome rely primarily on buses for public transportation.

For six euros I purchased a Rome bus schedule and map, and for another 30 euros, I bought a monthly pass that gives me unlimited trips. (At the end of October I will reassess this grand experiment.)

It’s often said that a city is best appreciated by visitors when they live as the natives do. So that’s what I will be doing. I’ll be riding buses all day. Just like a real Roman. A real unemployed Roman.

Besides giving me a chance to explore the Eternal City from top to bottom, this exercise – the Rome Bus Project – will also supply badly needed material for the blog. Periodic updates will chronicle my progress and I will grade each route. Good news for you, dear reader! Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ever since we moved into our apartment, Allyson and I have been hearing a mysterious buzzer sound. It’s not the doorbell, which sounds completely different, though whenever we hear it we run to the door, only to find no one there. It’s not a smoke detector or a fire alarm, either. I’ve been joking that it’s a ghost.

It always rings at the most inopportune moments, like when I’m getting out of the shower. I wrap myself in a towel, run to the front door, see no one through the peephole, return to the bathroom, hang up my towel – and then it rings again!

Yesterday afternoon, while Allyson was doing laundry, it rang again, only this time it wouldn’t stop. It was constant, like somebody – the ghost? – was pressing on a hidden buzzer somewhere. The sound, we discovered, was coming from the electrical panel by the front door. The only way we could make it stop was to flip the circuit breakers – which of course turned off all the power to our apartment.

We called the embassy, which sent over an electrician (grazie, American taxpayers). He arrived within an hour (in the crepuscular light, I might add) and flipped the circuit breakers back on. The buzzing resumed. Then he asked us if we had bells in our bathroom. This question puzzled us. No, Allyson said, I don’t think so.

Here I should mention that each of our bathrooms has a string coming out of the wall above the bathtub. It looks like the string you might find in an American hotel or motel bathroom for hanging laundry from, the kind that attaches to a thingamajig on the other side of the shower stall and retracts into the wall. Only our strings don’t retract, and there is nothing to attach them to. They just hang there.

Still, we figured they must be for hanging laundry, so we tied them to the towel racks in each bathroom. I would hang my towel on the one in the main bathroom. Allyson would hang her laundry (gentle cycle stuff, of course) on the other.

So the electrician walked back to the second bathroom and politely asked Allyson to remove her unmentionables from the string, which she did. The string, which had been pulled taught, slackened. The buzzing stopped. The electrician explained, laughing, that the strings aren’t for hanging laundry, but for emergencies: if someone falls in the tub, he or she can summon help by pulling the string and ringing the buzzer.

It was the easiest 100 euros that electrician had made in a long time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Greetings from Rome! We all arrived safe and sound last week (cats included). I finally found a place with free wireless Internet access - a bar, as fortune would have it - so I can finally post something. (Forgive any typos or other errors, dear reader.)

Our apartment is smack dab in the center of the city, maybe a one minute walk from Trevi Fountain. I've been here less than a week, and the tourists are already on my nerves.

Our furnishings haven't arrived yet (maybe next week), so we're living with temporary furniture. temporary everything in fact. Setting up house for the umpteenth time this year is a pain, but, hey, we're in Rome.

We really haven't explored much yet. Allyson's at work and I'm mostly running errands.

It's all still pretty crazy, but we're adjusting. A fuller, more entertaining update soon...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Went to the Phillies game with some old friends yesterday. Had a great time, but it was HOT!

Tomorrow we leave for Rome. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. We don't have Internet access at our place up here in Maine, so my access to the Web is spotty. We're having a great time. On Tuesday we took a boat ride on Casco Bay. Yesterday was rainy, so we went to the movies and saw a great documentary called Man on Wire. It's about the guy who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974.

On Saturday we start heading south. Next Tuesday (the 16th) we fly from DC to Rome, so, God willing, one week from today we (inc. the two cats!) will all be safe and sound in our new home.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

My niece, Nora Algeo, is in a play that's now running at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It's called The Hoppers Hit the Road, and it's pretty hilarious. If you get a chance, check it out!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

They just don't make politicians like this anymore...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A terrible (and expensive) mistake has been made. By me. (By myself?)

During our packout, I accidentally packed away our apartment building parking permit. A little piece of plastic that we hang from the rear view mirror whenever we rent a car and park it in our building’s garage (we don’t own a car).

The cost of replacing said permit: $250. How they arrived at such an outrageous figure is a mystery to me, but I guess it’s their prerogative.

How did it happen? Let me tell you…

I kept a bunch of junk on the windowsill next to my desk. Said junk was divided into two piles: important and unimportant.

Last week, our dryer broke. It wasn’t venting properly. The maintenance man came to check it out. He leaned out the window to inspect the vent. All the junk got pushed to one side (to keep it from falling out the window). The important and unimportant piles were commingled.

Over the succeeding days, I pulled the important stuff out of the big pile as I needed it and began creating a new important pile: State Department badge, wallet, keys, $20 Open gift certificate. But we didn’t rent a card after the dryer broke, so the parking permit stayed in the big pile, which became the de facto unimportant pile, and, as such, was packed away yesterday and is now on its way to Rome, along with various postcards, Washington pop-up maps, semi-used handkerchiefs, paper clips, and postage stamps.

Arrivederci $250 parking permit! See you in Rome!
Happy 100th, LBJ!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Today is Packout Day. Any minute now the movers will arrive and pack up our stuff. Last night we worked furiously to divide everything we own into four piles: stuff we will carry with us to Rome, stuff that will be shipped by air, stuff that will be shipped by boat, and stuff that will go to Goodwill.

By now we’ve gotten pretty good at this ritual, but questions still arise. Do Q-Tips belong in Category 1 or 2? (The former, in my opinion.) Those corduroys I haven’t worn in two years? (Probably the Goodwill pile.)

But the most important thing to remember: Make sure you take the passports with you!

Saturday we head up to Pennsylvania for a couple days, then on to Maine for two weeks before flying out.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

One hundred years ago today, on August 23, 1908, Samuel Algeo, an immigrant from the north of Ireland, stepped off a boat in Philadelphia and began a new life in the United States. Samuel came from Dunfanaghy, a village that was as beautiful as it was poor.

In Philadelphia he would meet and marry Margaret Anderson, another Irish immigrant. They would have five children, the youngest of which they named James.

In 1951, James married Theresa Kerecz, herself the child of immigrants. They would have seven children, the youngest of which is me.

All four of my grandparents were born into crushing poverty in nineteenth-century Europe. All four came to the United States in search of better lives, which they forged by dint of their hard work and diligence. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are leading lives of relative comfort, ease, and wealth, the likes of which they could not have imagined.

It is a remarkable story, but also typically American, and one chapter of it has come to an end. My father, James Algeo, died on August 11, just twelve days before the centennial of his father’s arrival on these shores.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Memo to litigants on TV judge shows, contestants on reality shows, guests on trashy daytime talk shows, and assorted other well-meaning but misguided Americans:

The next time you are about to utter the word “myself,” stop and think for a moment. Chances are pretty good – about 99.9% - that you will be using the word incorrectly.

When Judge Judy asks you who was at the bar when the fight started, don’t say, “My friend and myself were there.” In the Big Brother confession room, don’t say, “It’s up to myself to win the veto competition.” Don’t tell Maury you are “one million percent sure that the father is not myself.”

“Myself” is one of those words that people use because they think it will make them sound smart but usually has precisely the opposite effect. So just stop using it. Or better yet, stop talking altogether.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Me and my dad, 1974. (He's reading the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mom and Dad, circa 1951.
Me with my mom and dad at my graduation from college, 1988. (Hair by Flock of Seagulls.)

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Robert Hazard died today. He was a singer/songwriter best known for writing the Cyndi Lauper hit "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." To those of us of a certain age who grew up in the Philadelphia area, however, Robert Hazard was known for much more than that. He recorded songs that became part of the soundtrack of our early 1980s lives: "Escalator of Life," Change Reaction," etc.

In 1982 I bought his first album - it was an EP, actually - at the Listening Booth record store in the Montgomery Mall. It included a poster of him in all his New Wave splendor, with a huge pompadour and thin black tie. It was impossible to be cooler than Robert Hazard in 1982.

I never understood why his career never took off. Bad management? It couldn’t have been the songs. Trust me, he wrote some seriously catchy songs. But the only one anybody outside my cohort remembers is “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” That must have irked Robert (though the song helped pay for his place in the Adirondacks and a second home in Florida).

Robert Hazard died unexpectedly after surgery in Boston. He was 59.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Buzz Bissinger (the author of Friday Night Lights) had a nice op-ed piece in last Saturday's New York Times about the perils of being a Philadelphia sports fan.

Buzz notes how his almost-25-year-old son has never seen any of Philadelphia’s four major teams (Phillies, Flyers, Sixers, Eagles) win a championship. This reminds me, once again, how fortunate I was to grow up a Philadelphia sports fan when I did. In 1974, when I was eight years old, the Flyers won the Stanley Cup. They won it again the following year. When I was 14, the Phillies won their first (and only) World Series. When I was 17, the Sixers won the NBA championship. That’s the last title won by a Philadelphia team. If I’d known that at the time, I would have gone to the parade!

Buzz’s point (I think) is that Philadelphia sports fans actually relish losing in a perverse way. I’m not sure about that, but I do know that this quarter-century-long title drought has taught a generation of Philadelphians the folly of getting one’s hope up. The generic term for this is “being realistic.”
At the Newseum last week, Allyson and I saw a short “4-D” movie on the history of journalism. We were given special glasses to wear, and the 3-D effect was impressive. As for the fourth dimension, we were told we were being taken back in time. But something must have been screwed up with the museum’s time-space continuum, because, when the movie ended, we’d actually been transported 18 minutes into the future. Go figure.
Rod Stewart is the one celebrity whose enduring popularity utterly mystifies me.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hello world. Not much to report from Planet Algeo. I’m still taking Italian classes. Io studio, ma non parlo – I’m studying, but I can’t speak it. Not yet, anyway. …

Yesterday Allyson and I went to the Newseum, the museum of American journalism in Washington. They have a ton of old newspapers on display, from colonial times to the present. If anything, there’s too much too see. It’s a little overwhelming. …

At the Newseum I bought a baseball cap with the slogan “Got Freedom?” It was made in China. …

Pet peeve: I rented a car last weekend. The key ring was a single piece of wire that cannot be opened. This is understandable. However, why do they still put both keys on the ring? It’s not like I can take one off. So I have to walk around with both keys in my pocket. And if one key gets lost, both keys get lost. Nonsense. …

In two weeks, we have to move – from the 13th floor of our apartment building to the 9th floor. Seems the corporate housing company we rented our apartment through mistakenly rented it out from under us. So we have to move to a new apartment four floors down for two weeks. At least they’re giving us a good rate. …

Phillies are in town this week. I might go to the game tonight. Nice to see Jamie Moyer pick up the win last night. (He’s a pitcher for the Phillies.) Jamie is 45 years old, which makes him one of the very few Major League Baseball players older than me. It will be quite the personal milestone when no baseball players are older than me. Keep on truckin’, Jamie!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We have a new frontrunner for the coveted title of Literally the Best Misuse of "Literally" 2008. It was submitted by my friend Gary Andrew Poole (have you pre-ordered his new book yet?). Apparently Gary spends his days at the beach reading the Iceland Review, for that is where he came across this gem:

"The alley is literally crawling with bohemians and art lovers during the annual Summer Art Festival from mid-June to the end of August."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"He does literally everything."

--FOX baseball announcer Joe Buck on Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler

Friday, July 11, 2008

La nostra casa a Roma!

We finally found out where we will be living in Rome. It's a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in the center of the city, about one block north of Trevi Fountain. The neighborhood is Quirinal Hill (one of the Seven Hills of Rome). The apartment has a small terrace, and it's less than a mile from the embassy, so Allyson can walk to work. We're very excited! (Methinks we will have more visitors in Rome than we had in Bamako.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Buon giorno!

I started taking Italian language classes at the Foreign Service Institute this week. We’re in class more than five hours a day, with another hour or two of individual study. It’s pretty challenging, but also fun (so far, anyway). I’ll get two months of classes in before we move to Rome. By then I’m sure I’ll be fluent. Or at least able to order dinner. …

On the Fourth of July, Allyson and I, for reasons unknown, thought it would be a good idea to check out the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall. We realized it was, in fact, a very bad idea almost the minute we boarded the subway, which was packed tighter than something packed very tightly. When we got to the Mall, it was so crowded that, after, oh, two minutes, we (based on my most strenuous suggestion) decided to go back home. We tried again on Sunday. It was much less crowded and, of course, much more pleasant. …

I don’t know what happened, because I used to love big crowds. In fact, on consecutive Fourths of July – in 1987 and 1988 – I attended Grateful Dead concerts in, respectively, Buffalo and Foxboro, each of which was attended by at least 75,000 people. Being part of a vast audience was invigorating to me back then. Now I just hate it. …

On that misanthropic note…


Monday, June 30, 2008

On his cross-country trip in 1953, Harry Truman gave a speech at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. The hotel is best known as the site of a 1976 American Legion convention at which more than 200 people were stricken with a mysterious pneumonia-like malady. More than thirty eventually died of the illness, which was attributed to a bacterium in the hotel’s air conditioning system. The illness has come to be known as Legionnaires’ Disease.

If, as Holiday Inn likes to say, the best surprise in the lodging business is no surprise, then the worst is probably death. Naturally the outbreak had a deleterious effect on business, and the Bellevue-Stratford was forced to close by the end of that year. Since then it had been bought and sold, opened and closed, and remodeled and renamed many times. In its present incarnation it is a combination upscale mall/office building/boutique hotel known simply as The Bellevue.

Last Thursday I went up to Philadelphia for the day and visited the Bellevue. The once-ornate lobby has been subdivided into shops, including a Polo Ralph Lauren and a Tiffany. But a few original details have been preserved. The Grand Ballroom, where Harry delivered his speech, is still there. So is this magnificent Tiffany stained-glass window:

In any event, I have completed the manuscript. Yesterday I submitted it to the publisher. Now I am on pins and needles waiting to hear what my editor thinks of it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It has been brought to my attention (thanks, Howard) that today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Grover Cleveland. I'm sure we all remember where we were when we first heard the news. Anyway, raise a glass tonight in memory of good old Stephen (his real first name). Better yet, raise two. But not consecutively.
I'm checking some facts in the book and need to find answers to the following questions:

1. What is Woodrow Wilson clutching in his right hand in his official White House portrait? (Click here to see it.)

2. Using the latest technology, how long does it take, on average, for a farmer to plow five acres?

More to follow, I'm sure...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I’ve recently been researching the Korean War for my Truman book. Best I can tell, here’s what happened:

After World War II, Korea is divided, more or less arbitrarily, at the 38th parallel. Then, in 1950, the North (bad guys) invades the South (good guys) and captures Seoul. We send troops, re-take Seoul. North counterattacks, takes Seoul again. We counter-counterattack and take it back again. In 1953 a ceasefire is signed. The new border is pretty much the same as the old one. Everybody’s where they were when it all started, except a million people are dead, poor Seoul is in ruins, and Hollywood’s got plenty of fodder for a smashing sitcom.

Anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to visit the Korean War Memorial on the National Mall. So I did. It’s actually a rather nice memorial. It’s made up of 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers on patrol. There’s a long granite wall with the inscription “Freedom Is Not Free,” etched in one end. It really made me think. At least until this idiot started loudly jabbering away on his cell phone:

But I digress. I really think Harry Truman would like this memorial. It’s straightforward. It’s not abstract. Boy did Harry hate abstract art. “I dislike Picasso, and all the moderns – they are lousy,” he wrote. “Any kid can take an egg and a piece of ham and make more understandable pictures.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Click here to read a great article about the pros and cons of men going shirtless in public.

Oh wait - there are no pros.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sorry I haven’t posted anything in a while. The book is due July 1 – two weeks from today! – so I’ve been busy with that. With nothing exciting to report, I thought you might enjoy watching this old TV commercial, which I found at the blog Fire Joe Morgan. It proves there really is something about an Aqua Velva man. Something odd and slightly creepy.

Friday, June 06, 2008

On Judge Mathis today, the defendant explained why he punched the plaintiff thusly:

"He was garnishing a knife!"

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I’m stuck in the Indianapolis airport, hoping to catch a flight back to Washington, but everything’s messed up because of bad weather in the Midwest.

I came here to do some last-minute research for the book. Yesterday I visited the hotel that Harry and Bess stopped at in Richmond, Indiana. It’s a retirement home now, and while I was there I gave a presentation about the trip. It was attended by seven residents, two of whom dozed intermittently throughout. Still, I thought I did a pretty good job.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Great quote on the reality TV show "The Mole" tonight: A contestant bragging about his powers of recall said, "I have a photogenic memory."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Just got off the phone with a Very Old Lady who worked for a Prominent Businessman who was friends with Harry Truman. I wanted to interview her for my book. I had been warned that she was a bit curmudgeonly. Was she ever!

Me: How would you describe their relationship?

VOL: What kind of question is that?!

Me: Well, were they close friends? Did they call each other by their first names?

VOL: How would I know?!

Me: OK, do you remember when the Trumans visited him in 1953?

VOL: No! Too many years have passed!

It was apparent the interview was pointless.

Me (diplomatically, I think): Well, thank you so much for your time...

VOL: Is that all?!

It was kind of sad, actually. Even though she was being thoroughly uncooperative and unhelpful, I think she wanted to keep talking.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I recently updated my photograph on this blog. The new picture is from fifth or sixth grade at St. Agnes School in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. I found it recently in a box o' stuff at my mom and dad's house.

Picture day was always exciting in Catholic school (at least in mine), because it was the only day we were allowed to wear "regular" or "normal" clothes instead of our uniforms (navy blue pants, white shirts, plaid ties). So, for that one day at least, we could "pass" as "publics" (i.e., public school kids).

I remember that peach-colored shirt fondly. I wore it with light green pants, as I recall. It was a striking ensemble. My dad generously cut my hair for free.

Come to think of it, it's rather odd that we *didn't* wear our uniforms on picture day...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Last week I stopped for gas in a small town in central Pennsylvania. I went inside to buy a soda. The clerk was a short, shaggy guy, not exactly toothy, wearing a baseball cap. His nametag said “Mugzy.” When I walked in, Mugzy was in the middle of a conversation with a tall stocky guy eating a hot dog.

Mugzy: “Yeah, I was there for a couple years.”

Hot dog guy: “What did you think?”

Mugzy: “Oh, wasn’t so bad. Better than Smithfield.”

Hot dog guy: “Had to be!”

It took me another moment or two to realize they were talking about their respective stints in prison.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My ballparks

Went to see the Phillies play the Nationals at the new ballpark in Washington tonight. (Phillies lost.) Got me to thinking about all the major league ballparks I’ve been to…

1. Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia (1974). Got free tickets for being a “straight A” student. Bob Gibson pitched for the Cardinals vs. the Phillies.

2. Memorial Stadium, Baltimore (1979). Caught three foul balls during batting practice. (Note: I originally listed this incorrectly as "Municipal Stadium.")

3. Tiger Stadium, Detroit (1986). Steve Carlton made his American League debut for the White Sox vs. the Tigers.

4. Wrigley Field, Chicago (c. 1986). I forget who the Cubs played, but I seem to remember the pitcher for the opposing team hitting a home run.

5. Municipal Stadium, Cleveland (c. 1986). A weekday day game. 3,000 people in an 80,000-seat stadium. Walked halfway round the concourse. Didn’t see a soul. Weird.

6. Kingdome, Seattle (1989). Like watching a game in a big living room.

7. Metrodome, Minneapolis (c. 1993). Crowd scenes for a movie called Little Big League were filmed before the game.

8. Busch Stadium, St. Louis (1997). By far the best of the “cookie cutter” stadiums. Never should have been torn down.

9. Fenway Park, Boston (1999). Decrepit and overrated.

10. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago (c. 2000). Steepest upper deck ever!

11. PNC Park, Pittsburgh (c. 2002). Simply gorgeous. My favorite ballpark.

12. Petco Park, San Diego (2004). Second favorite park. What Wrigley Field must have felt like when it was new.

13. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles (2004). My friend and I took a bus to the game. We may be the only people who have ever taken a bus to a game at Dodger Stadium.

14. Angel Stadium, Anaheim (2004). Angels-Red Sox playoff game. Drunk Red Sox fan walked up the aisle, middle fingers raised, challenging any Angels fan to fight. Hi-larious.

15. RFK Stadium, Washington (2005). Last of the cookie cutters. Narrow concourses. Terrible food.

16. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia (2006). Just made me miss the Vet.

17. Safeco Field, Seattle (2006). Very Seattle. I liked it.

18. Miller Park, Milwaukee (2006). Barry Bonds hit a homer.

19. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City (2007). A friend bought my ticket. I said, Don’t worry I’ll buy the food. Turned out to be Dollar Dog night.

20. Nationals Stadium, Washington (2008). Yet another “retro” park. But the chili cheese fries were awesome.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

While researching my book it's been interesting to see how buildings have (or haven't changed) over the past 50 years or so. On their trip, one of the restaurants that Harry and Bess ate at was the Country House in New Kingstown, Pennsylvania, just west of Harrisburg. Last winter I spoke on the phone with Harvey Sunday, who owned the restaurant. He told me the building that housed the restaurant is now being used as a post office. I went to New Kingstown and snapped this picture:

When I went inside the building, it was hard to imagine that it had ever been a restaurant. The lobby, the counter, the rows of P.O. boxes - it looked exactly like a post office should. I even began to wonder if Harvey wasn't mistaken. Then, earlier this week, I was lucky enough to meet with Harvey in person, at his retirement home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He showed me an old brochure from the restaurant, with this picture on the front:

Clearly the same building. I wonder how many other post offices used to be restuarants?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On their 1953 road trip (about which I am writing a book), Harry and Bess Truman stopped at a service station in Frederick, Maryland, where Harry had a Coke. That bottle of Coke was saved by the station manager, whose son later donated it to the Historical Society of Frederick County, where it resides today. I saw the Truman Coke bottle this week when I was in Frederick doing some research, and the museum was kind enough to let me photograph it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I ran a 5K today and boy are my legs tired. I hadn't run a race since high school - 25 years ago. But, as part of an effort to "get in shape," I signed up for the National Police Week 5K, a 3.1 mile race around Capitol Hill. I began training, oh, about four days ago. First day I couldn't run more than a half mile. Second day I barely made it a mile. Third day I took off.

But today I managed to run the whole race - I never stopped to walk. I wasn't very fast. My time was 33:41, which put me 90th out of 112 in my age division. But, hey, I was faster than 22 other forty-something guys.

Allyson also ran, and she kicked my butt. She finished in 28:07, good enough for 32nd out of 135 in her age division. But she jogs all the time. That's sort of like cheating, isn't it?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Did you see me on the Today show last Friday? For about half a second at 8:30? Yeah, that was me, looking a little like a stalker or an assassin, in the crowd while Neil Diamond performed on Rockefeller Plaza.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A new documentary on the Steagles premieres this weekend on Fox Sports Network. “The Steagles: When Rivals Became Teammates" is part of a series called “Amazing Sports Stories,” which is produced by Bruce Nash (who also brings you “World’s Most Amazing Videos”).

I was interviewed for the documentary last fall, and I expect to be featured prominently in it, mainly because everybody else they talked to is at least, oh, 90 years old.

“The Steagles: When Rivals Became Teammates" is scheduled to air Sunday night. Times and channels vary, but in Philadelphia it will be on Comcast SportsNet at 7, and will be re-broadcast May 7 at 4 p.m. and May 8 and May 10 at 9:30 p.m. (unless the hockey playoffs mess up the schedule).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Went to see Jimmy Carter tonight. The former president was signing his new book (about his mother) at a Books-A-Million in a strip mall in McLean, Virginia, alongside Total Wine, Countrywide Home Loan, and Advance Auto Parts, and about ten miles west of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The signing was scheduled for 7:00 p.m. We showed up at 5:00 and about 50 people were already ahead of us in line.

Around 5:45 we were let into the store. The Secret Service searched our bags and checked us out with handheld metal detectors. Then we waited in line again. We were stuck in the Romance section. I’d never browsed that section before. I picked up a copy of Parallel Desire by Deidre Knight. Flipping through it I detected much heaving, blazing, burning, unspent emotion, and swarthy skin, particularly involving Jake and Shelby. (Spoiler alert: I think Jake might be a robot. Or a time traveler. Or both.) Suddenly, around 6:00, the line began moving. The former president, it seemed, was running early.

The middle of the store had been cleared out, and the bookshelves had been covered with black sheets. Mr. Carter was sitting behind a large faux mahogany desk with a red velvet rope in front of it. He was wearing a white dress shirt with blue stripes. It felt a little funereal. Secret Service agents stood sentry at each side of the desk. I handed the books to a Books-A-Million minion, who handed them to the former president. I stepped to the front of the big desk as he began to sign them. It was very quiet. The very arrangement discouraged interaction. I wasn't even sure we were allowed to talk to him. But I was determined to ask him… something. We’d only bought three books for him to sign. Time was running out. Finally, I blurted out, “Mr. President, did you ever meet Harry Truman?” He stopped signing for a moment and looked up at me. His expression was serious. He seemed to be rummaging through his mental filing cabinets. “No,” he said after a moment. “I wish I had.” He resumed signing but continued talking. “I never met another Democratic president until Bill Clinton. I did meet Richard Nixon when I was governor. But I was just a peanut farmer before that, so I never met Harry Truman.” With that our books were signed and it was time for us to move on. The whole thing lasted, what, 30 seconds. Which is more than most everybody else got. At his last book signing, I heard he’d signed 1,600 books in ninety minutes. That’s less than four seconds a book, less than 20 for the allowed maximum of five books.

Incidentally, this was the first time I’d seen Jimmy Carter in 30 years. Back in 1978, he spoke at my brother’s graduation from the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I don’t think he remembered me though.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Went to the doctor last week (just a checkup). When the doctor walked into the examining room, she glanced down at my chart, looked up, and cheerfully said, “Good morning Mr. Angelo!”

My surname is pronounced just like it’s spelled. Algeo. AL-jee-oh. Slight emphasis on the first syllable. It’s not a crazy Polish name like Krzyzewski (shuh-SHEF-skee, as in Mike, the Duke University basketball coach). Yet, for some reason, nobody seems to be able to pronounce it. (“Algeo,” for the record, is an Irish name.)

Allegro. I get that one a lot. I mean, it’s not even close. Alego – uh-LAY-go – that one I can almost understand. The third and fourth letters get transposed. OK. But Allegro? It’s like Angelo – where do those extra consonants come from?

Maybe (as my brother Howard has theorized) it’s because “Algeo” is one of those rare five-letter words with three vowels. Don’t get many of those in English. So maybe, subconsciously, people insert their own vowels to make it easier for them to pronounce. Who knows?

When we lived in francophone West Africa, nobody had a problem with my name. It was al-ZHAY-oh. Quite mellifluous, actually. I’m told it will be similar in Rome, only it will be pronounced al-JAY-oh. I’m looking forward to that.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

As many of you know, I am currently writing a book about a road trip that Harry and Bess Truman took in the summer of 1953. For some time now I have been searching for Harry’s 1953 Chrysler New Yorker, which, the Truman Library tells me, is in the hands of a private collector who wishes to remain anonymous. I have contacted Chrysler clubs and posted enquiries on Internet news groups, all to no avail. But my search has not been fruitless; it led me to a very nice guy named Alan Hais, who owns a 1953 New Yorker much like Harry’s. Today I visited Alan (and his Chrysler) at his home in Maryland.

Alan’s New Yorker is a maroon two-door convertible. Harry’s was a black four-door hardtop, but in most every other respect the cars are identical. Alan bought the car for $300 back in 1971. Back then, of course, it was only 18 years old – just another used car. It now has 108,000 miles on it, but it still runs like a charm. It’s massive – 18 to 19 feet long, 4,500 pounds – and safety features are practically nonexistent (though the previous owner did install seatbelts). The car is gorgeous. I especially like the instrument panel. That’s a cigarette lighter above the ignition (and check out how small the key is):

Alan was even nice enough to let me drive the car for a couple miles. It certainly didn’t handle like the rented Toyota Corolla I’d driven over to his place. It has an early version of power steering, but when I moved the steering wheel, it seemed to take the car a moment or two to respond. Alan agreed there was a certain “vagueness” in the steering. I admit I was relieved when I safely pulled the big car into his driveway. The car has an early version of Chrysler's famous “Hemi” engine, but when Alan lifted the hood, I was most surprised to see that it also had windshield washer fluid:

Many thanks to Alan for sharing his beautiful car with me. In the meantime, my search for Harry’s 1953 Chrysler New Yorker continues. If you happen to see one tootling around, please let me know. I’m even thinking of hiring a private investigator to help me find it. Can anybody recommend one – preferably a cheap one?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Recently on the People’s Court – or maybe it was Judge Judy – a plaintiff – or maybe it was a defendant – said:

“On the day I had moved out I gave him a check.”

The word “had” in that sentence is, of course, completely unnecessary. I hear this extraneous “had” a lot on trashy daytime TV.

“I had went to the supermarket.”

Maybe the people who use it think they sound smarter by using an extra word. Maybe they’re just dumb. But it really bugs me, and it must stop posthaste.

Friday, April 11, 2008

I haven't come across a really good misuse of "literally" in a while, but my brother Howard spotted one in the May issue of Men's Fitness magazine, in an article about sunglasses:

"The Ray-Ban Wayfarer has been worn by literally everyone over the past 50 years...."

As Howard notes, it was not a great look for Pope Paul VI.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Allyson gives a tour of our new (and very tiny) condo in Portland:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Allyson and I took a stroll around the Tidal Basin here in Washington to see the cherry blossoms yesterday. (Allyson seems to believe we don’t do enough strolling.) According to what I’m about to cut-and-paste from Wikipedia, Japan gave 3,020 cherry trees as a gift to the United States in 1912 to celebrate the nations' then-growing friendship.

The trees are in “peak bloom” right now (says the Washington Post anyway). They are very pretty, and we did have a nice stroll around the basin to the Jefferson Memorial. For a Wednesday evening there were a lot of people out. There’s a bit of an is-that-all-there-is-to-it? quality to seeing the cherry blossoms. But at the same time it’s refreshing to see so many people coming out to just look at trees.

On an entirely different topic, allow me a few moments to discuss line management. I’m talking about the fact that some fast food restaurants – e.g., McDonald’s and Burger King – don’t have any sort of corral or whatever you call it to keep people in a single line while they wait for someone at the counter to take their order. (Wendy’s and Taco Bell usually have these corrals.)

Without the corrals the result is CHAOS! The McDonald’s across from the Rosslyn Metro stop here in D.C. is the absolute worst for this. This morning I was in need of a Fast Food Breakfast Sandwich, but when I went into the McDonald’s there was a mass of people standing around the counter, some waiting to place their orders, some (who had already placed their orders) waiting for their food. There are entrances to the “restaurant” on both sides of the counter, so people just keep filling up the counter area, looking for some semblance of a line, standing behind people who have already placed their orders – like I said TOTAL CHAOS! I went next door to Burger King – SAME THING. I turned around and came home and did what I should have done in the first place: made my own breakfast sandwich at home. It’s not exactly a secret recipe. Anyway, I don’t know why McDonald’s and Burger King don’t have corrals. I’m sure they’ve done studies that found people like the “freedom” of not being corralled like cattle. But that’s baloney. What good is freedom if the result is CHAOS? TOTAL CHAOS!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Here's an interesting statistic: According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, three people are still receiving Civil War benefits. Presumably they are the disabled adult children of Civil War veterans.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On our travels last month, we visited the Ohio statehouse in Columbus. In the basement, there was a display of Etch-A-Sketch art by Tim George, America’s finest (and only?) Etch-A-Sketch artist. Here’s my favorite, a rendition of good ol’ Benjamin Harrison:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My favorite seasons (in order):

1. Fall
2. Winter
3. Summer
4. Spring

Flying to Timbuktu, January 2008.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

How much "experience" should a president have? Good question. I asked the Constitution, and this is what it told me:

"No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States."

Sounds like the Founding Fathers weren't too worried about "experience" as a qualifying factor for the presidency.

Also, I would like to point out once again that John McCain was not born in the United States.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Hey, just a quick update: I'm back in D.C. after spending a week back home, keeping my mom company while my dad was in the hospital. (He finally went home on Monday.) I should be hard at work on the book but I'm really having trouble getting started. So instead I do things like updating my blog, even when I don't really have anything to say. The generic term for this is procrastinating.

Above is a picture from our recent travels. It's me standing in front of the country's first crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania. It was built in 1876 by one Francis LeMoyne. From 1876 to 1900 there were 42 cremations there - including that of LeMoyne himself, whose cremains are interred right out front (I'm standing next to his gravestone).

OK, back to the book...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Reggie Powell

Today is the tenth anniversary of the execution of Reggie Powell, an execution I witnessed at the state prison in Potosi, Missouri.

Reggie killed two men in a street fight, but he shouldn’t have been executed. For one thing, his attorney wasn’t very effective, mainly because she was sleeping with him during his trial. He was also mildly retarded, and he was sentenced to death by a judge, not a jury – both disqualifying factors for the death penalty today, but not in 1998. (Click here to listen to the story I did on the case for NPR back then.)

At his execution, I was one of six or seven witnesses, mostly reporters. Nobody from Reggie’s family attended. Nor did anyone from the victims' families. At midnight we were led into a small room. We sat in the kind of cheap molded plastic chairs you might buy for your patio. Before us was a window covered on both sides by Venetian blinds. I could hear the blinds on the other side being raised. A few moments later, after, apparently, the executioners had had time to leave the death chamber, a guard lifted the blinds on our side.

There was Reggie, lying flat on a gurney, covered to his neck with a white sheet. He was wearing eyeglasses, which surprised me for some reason. Reggie had grown up in North St. Louis. I’m sure he never had a pair of glasses until he went to prison. Imagine how they must have changed his life – just being able to watch TV, or recognize faces from across the room.

A voice announced that the first drug was being administered, then the second, then the third. Reggie seemed to cough loudly once or twice. Then he closed his eyes. Just like that, it was over. The “procedure,” the voice said, was complete. The guard lowered the blinds on our side of the window. It was all quite disturbing.

As we exited the room, we (the witnesses) were asked to sign a paper that said we’d witnessed the execution and that the condemned was, indeed, dead. It seemed a little absurd. I mean, how could we be sure he was dead? For all I knew he’d only been sedated. Besides, what happened if we refused to sign? Would his execution remain technically incomplete?

A few weeks later, my mom bought flowers in Reggie’s name for her church’s Easter service. Allyson and I did the same for several years at our church in Portland. I used to think of Reggie a lot, but as the years have passed, I think of him less frequently. That’s inevitable I guess. But I still wish he hadn’t been killed in my name.
I hate “man on the street” interviews. Who cares what some random yahoo thinks about pressing issues? When I was a radio reporter, I despised collecting tape for MOS pieces (also known as “vox pop” – voice of the people). Invariably, the most thoughtful opinions were expressed by those who declined to be recorded. So I was always left with lots of tape from loudmouths who loved the sound of their own voice expressing half-baked opinions.

Given my disdain for the forum, on those rare occasions when the shoe has been on the other foot, and I have been asked to express my opinion for an MOS piece, I have always declined. Until recently.

I was passing through Richmond, Indiana. I was headed into the library to do some research for the book. Out front, standing in the cold, was a reporter from the local newspaper (the wonderfully named Palladium-Item). He couldn’t have been more than 24. He was shivering. He had been sent out to get some MOS on the government’s kooky tax-rebate scheme. He didn’t seem to be having much luck. I felt so sorry for him that, for the first time ever, I submitted to an MOS interview.

Here is the result.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Allyson and I finally arrived in Washington Monday evening after traveling more than 3,000 miles in a little more than two weeks, from Tennessee to Philadelphia to Maine to New York, Harrisburg, Columbus, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and various points in between. It was a good trip, but it left us a little run down.

The weather was OK (for the most part), and there are definite advantages to being off-season tourists. In Dayton, we were the only two visitors to the Air Force Museum’s presidential airplanes exhibit (where we got to walk through Harry Truman’s old plane, as well as an old Air Force One). That was pretty cool.

In Washington, Pa., we were driving by the campus of Washington and Jefferson College when eagle-eyed Allyson spotted the marker pictured above. I don’t know who Albert M. Algeo was, but I guess he had a lot of money.

Our furnished apartment in Washington (Rosslyn, actually) is very nice. It’s on the 13th floor, which I kind of like. We picked up the cats yesterday. They seem to be adjusting to their new home.

Finally, the procedure – I guess it technically wasn’t an operation – that my dad underwent last week went OK. He’s still in the hospital, but we hope he can go home this weekend.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Quick update: We hooked up with our friends Phil Johnston and Jill Cordes in New York last week. Had a great time. On Saturday we went to the Tenement Museum, which was pretty cool. Highly recommended next time you're in New York.

Spent the last two nights at the Waldorf=Astoria - nice place. Harry and Bess stayed there on their trip, though, unlike us, they stayed for free. (We did, however, get upgraded to the Waldorf Towers.) Didn't get to see the room they actually stayed in, though I did manage to sneak a peek at the door, which, I must report, was unremarkable.

Today we drove from New York to Washington - Washington, Pennsylvania, which is in the southwestern corner of the state. Tomorrow we hope to drive to Indianapolis, though there's supposed to be a big storm tonight, so we'll see how that goes.

In other news, my dad is having some health problems and is in the hospital. On Wednesday he's going to have an operation, so please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Otherwise all is well...

Friday, February 01, 2008

The trip home was blessedly uneventful. Even the cats didn’t seem to mind the trip too much. We drove down to Allyson’s parents in eastern Tennessee on Tuesday morning. Since then we’ve been busy running errands: haircut, dentist, etc. Tomorrow we drive up to see my parents in Pennsylvania. From there it’s on to Maine.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Today we leave Bamako. It’s been an amazing two years. I won’t miss the heat, the mosquitoes, or the traffic, but I will miss the people. Allyson’s colleagues at the embassy have shown us every kindness, and the Malians we’ve come to know are, simply put, some of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. We will miss them all.

We’ll also miss our big house with the swimming pool.

We leave for the airport tonight at nine. The cats won’t be happy. But – inshallah – we will all arrive in Washington early tomorrow afternoon.

If you ever get the chance, visit Mali. It’s wonderful, vibrant, chaotic, and warm (in all meanings of the word). This has been an extraordinary experience. We will miss this place.

But I am looking forward to winter in America.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Simply crossing the street in Bamako can be an exercise in peril. When our friends Phil Johnston and Jill Cordes came to visit us, Phil shot this video of the four of us crossing a street not too far from our house.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Before we started packing for the move today, Allyson and I made a video tour of our house in Bamako for my mom and dad:

Monday, January 07, 2008

After nearly two years in Mali, Allyson and I finally made it up to Timbuktu last weekend. It was a whirlwind visit. We flew up on Saturday to meet our friends Phil and Jill. (It’s a two-and-a-half hour flight, including a stop in Mopti.) Our flight was a few hours late (long story), so we barely had time to take a camel ride out into the Sahara before sunset. It was a lot of fun, but my camel was ornery and nearly threw me off once!

After that, we took a quick tour of the city. There wasn’t much happening in Timbuktu. The narrow, sandy streets were dark and very quiet. Our guide managed to find somebody to open the museum for us, and we were able to get our passports stamped at the tourist office (a nice souvenir). After the tour we met Phil and Jill for dinner at a wonderful open-air restaurant (La Maison). The four of us flew back early Sunday morning. Phil and Jill flew back to New York early this morning.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

While Googling myself recently (no jokes, please), I stumbled upon this article, which references another Matthew Algeo.

Three-year-old Matthew Algeo of Cincinnati joins Canadian auto mechanic Matthew Algeo, Florida college student Matthew Algeo, and yours truly as the world’s only known Matthew Algeos – known to me, at least.

It would be really cool if we all got together sometime.