Thursday, May 10, 2018

Golfing in Ireland

Golfing in Ireland
April 28 – May 5, 2018




Here’s the executive summary from my recent golf trip to Ireland.  It was great fun, I’d recommend it to any golfer.  My traveling companions were delightful, the Irish people we encountered were friendly, the country is beautiful, and I lack sufficient superlatives to describe the varied golfing experiences.

If you’ve an interest in more detail, read on.

A member at our golf club, Indian Hills, organized a trip he dubbed, “Ricket’s Revenge’ in honor of our club pro, Mike.  I was one of twelve to sign up.  I knew Mike and two others by name.  I would later learn that our number included lawyers, an optometrist, entrepreneurs, finance and corporate guys.  More relevant; two played college basketball, one was a former professional kick boxer, one played baseball in the Olympics, one was a golf pro, and I’m sure there were additional, undiscovered athletic credentials.  Out of modesty, I never let on that 53 years ago I won the intramural badminton tournament at Drury College.

We had a five-hour layover in Newark en route to Shannon, Ireland.  I took advantage of the time to take a cab to join son, Ben, and daughter in law, Deb, in midtown Manhattan.  We had a delightful dinner and visit. I wanted to take the train out of Penn Station to get back to EWR.  They helped me navigate the transaction and guided me to the right track, instructing me to, “Get on that train.”  I complied, got a seat, and later saw Ben frantically waving at me saying to disembark as I was currently heading to Boston.  I later got on the correct train, and all was well.  This was a reversal of roles of the time when Ben, age nine, hopped on a Boston subway prematurely with me shouting instructions to him as they train rolled down the tracks.  Must be something about Boston.

The next day I received a text from Ben, “I hope Ireland is better than Boston would have been.”

Day 1

We arrived in Shannon (County Claire) around 10 am on Sunday and were greeted by our bus driver, Sennan, aka Badger.  He would prove to be a delightful companion as he guided our luxury coach over 500+ miles of Irish roads adding interesting and informative commentary along the way.  Our coach was a 24-seat, well equipped bar, with ample room to spread out.  He explained his nickname, “When I was 30, my hair turned white.  Later patches of black reappeared, and the pattern resembled a badger, and that is my lot.”




Someone asked about a group of small trailers we passed.  Badger explained, “Those are the gypsies.  They’re not much of a problem.  They mostly just engage in small time thuggery and theft and a bit of extortion.”

We drove about 40 miles to Lahinch, a smallish city on the west coast of Ireland, dropped our bags at the Atlantic Hotel, had a filling lunch, and headed for the Lahinch Castle course for a 1 pm tee time.  Spring had not yet sprung, and it was quite chilly, high 40’s, and cloudy.  We bundled up and played the easiest of the courses we would play, Lahinch Castle.  We experienced periods of sunshine, light rain, heavy rain, and even hail.  I sank a birdie putt, from about 30 feet on the 18th, and that warmed me up.  We did some more warming up in the clubhouse, and I enjoyed the first of many Half and Half’s, a mixture of Guinness and Smithwick’s (silent W) stout.

We checked into the Atlantic Hotel on the main street of Lahinch, only a few blocks from the two eponymous golf courses.  We agreed to meet for dinner and drinks at the nearby Cornerstone Pub for drinks and dinner at 8.  The place was ancient, constructed of stone walls, charming, low ceilinged, filled to capacity, and featuring great pub food and drink.  A group of musicians gathered and starting performing around 10.  One of the singers was extraordinary.  She had the voice of an angel. 

We later migrated to Kenny’s, a bar down the road.  I can’t be certain of all that follows in this narrative, but here’s the best I can recount.  I walked by a table occupied by two ladies.  One queried, “Hey old timer, what’s your story?” I sidled alongside them in their booth and embarked on the tale of the two nude ex-nun lesbian lovers in the hot tub. And we bonded.

I would subsequently learn that Carly was from Essex in England, the Joan was from Lahinch.  One was married to the cousin of the other.  Both had just turned 50, and were significantly more attractive than I, although the Irish lady had English teeth.  We conversed a bit, when a scuffle broke out near the front door of the pub.  It was an all-out fist fight, with broken glass; a regular donnybrook.  The Englishwoman ran to the site of the brawl, got in the face of the scofflaws, and screamed, “Stop that.  Stop that right now.  We just won’t have this.”  And they did.  They left, and Carly returned to our table for another round.  I inquired, “Are you in special forces or what?  That was amazing!  The only other person I know who would have done that is Judy, my wife.”  She added, “Women can get away with stuff sometimes.”

Earlier in the day, the youngest in our group, a 31-year-old, advised me, “You must stay up until midnight, to best adapt to the 6-hour time change.”  It was past midnight when I noticed that my golfing mates were long gone.  My new friends asked where I was staying, and whether I knew how to get there.  Out of kindness, they accompanied me back to the Atlantic Hotel.  The rule for Irish drinking establishments is, ‘don’t close until the last customer leaves’.  Accordingly, the bar was open with 10 of 11 of my fellow travelers hard at it.  I walked into the bar with my arms around Carly and Joan and borrowed a line from my friend Benny shouting, “Let’s tear this place apart.”

I went on this trip with a modicum of apprehension.  I had a recent foot problem, and I was concerned about walking five courses. Buggies aka golf carts are not allowed. I was also the oldest participant, by quite a few decades, the worst golfer, and nine of the others were essentially strangers.  The younger guys were undoubtedly equally apprehensive about having a septuagenarian geezer in their midst.  I can only presume that their concerns were modestly allayed upon my arrival with the two chicks.

I asked Joan about the impact of Brexit on Ireland, and I paraphrase her response, “Things are fine as they are.  We (the Irish) definitely don’t want Northern Ireland to become part of Ireland.  Half of them are on the dole, and the other half work for shipyards and industry controlled by the English.  If they ever become part of Ireland, the English industry will leave, and then all of them will be on the dole.  We can’t afford that.”  Later in the week I would encounter a young man from Northern Ireland with a different view.

We had a few more beverages and were a wee bit loud.  Our trip leader asked the bartender how many rooms there were in the hotel.  “13.” And we were occupying 12 of the 13.  “Is anyone in the 13th room?”  “No, it’s just you lads.”  And so, we partied on.  I left around 2 am, ending day 1 for me.

Day 2

We enjoyed our first full Irish breakfast, identical to the English version, and equally tasty and filling.  There was fruit, cereal, juices, and pastries to start followed by eggs, bacon (more like Canadian bacon), baked beans, sausage links, blood pudding, mushrooms, toast, and potato cakes.

Badger arrived, we loaded up our luxury coach and headed south along the coast for a one-hour drive to Trump International Doonbeg Resort. The countryside was very much like rural England, with stone fences bordering small fields, many with cattle and sheep, and bustling villages.  The grass was green, but the trees had not yet leafed out.  Views of bluffs and beaches bordering the North Atlantic were plentiful and pleasing.

The facilities at Doonbeg were extraordinarily luxurious with a castle-like clubhouse, a hotel, and several guesthouses.  The golf course is laid out amidst the dunes (Doonbeg means small dunes in Irish).  It would be the only course of the five we would play that wasn’t built in the 19th century.  The first nine runs about 3 miles out from the clubhouse along the coast line.  The back nine brings you home.  It was sunny, but chilly, and the winds were blowing about 20 mph.  Amazingly, it appeared we were playing against the wind on every hole.  I mentioned that phenomena to my caddy, and he said, “You’re not the first person to notice.”

Our three foursomes were waiting to tee off #1 having been introduced to our caddies.  They were attired in white overalls like those one might see at the Masters.  One of the more outrageous personalities in our group would continually amaze me. He would say things to people apparently for shock value, yet just short of starting a fistfight.  He asked his caddy, “What do you wear under those things?” The tall, youngish man replied huffily in his heavy Irish accent, “Why would anyone ask such a question?  You concern yourself with what’s in your trousers, and I’ll take care of me own.”  I wasn’t in their foursome so I’m not sure whether their relationship got better or worse over the next five hours.

My caddy, Peter, was a real pro.  He had been carrying at Doonbeg for seventeen years, and he didn’t just transport a bag and find lost balls.  He was a guide, coach, and read putts well.  He offered encouragement when needed, which was often.  Peter volunteered that he once caddied for Trump.  I asked how it went.  “It was before he became president.  He is a very good golfer, but he’s very loud.  Big time.  He was nice, easy to work with, and a huge tipper.”  I asked what tees Trump played.  Peter gave me that what-a-stupid-question-look and said, “Gold, of course.”

I was in the last of the three foursomes to tee off. As we were walking down the first fairway Peter inquired how long I had known these guys. I replied, “A week ago most of these guys were complete strangers to me.  They’re no longer strangers, but they are still strange.”  That puzzled him since we were all members of the same club. 

One of the guys organized a Ryder Cup type event.  We were split up into two groups.  I was on team US, captained by Mike.  The other team would be known as team Europa, captained by the strongest and youngest player in the event, Ricardo.  Each of us would have a match play contest (where the player earns a point for each hole in which they best their opponent, as opposed to stroke play) against a different opponent for each of the next four courses.  I was allowed to play the senior tees in exchange for reducing my handicap (17.7 in my case) by two strokes.  At Doonbeg, I had a significant advantage playing 5,279 yards vs. the rest of the field playing the gold tees at 6,425.

I started well, with three pars for the first six holes.  Then I chunked my tee shot into impenetrable grass on a par three taking a six.  On seven I got in a pot bunker, took four shots to get out and recorded a 9 on a par five.  I played better on the back nine, finished with a par on the picturesque 18th running parallel to the ocean and ended up with a 103 for the day.  Amazingly, I won my individual match by one point. 

We met for drinks and hors d’oevres on a sheltered patio offering commanding views of the sea and the golf course.  Badger arrived, loaded us up, and we returned to Lahinch.  En route we stopped by the Cliffs of Moher.  They are granite cliffs that rise up to 700 feet up from the Atlantic.  They run for nine miles between Lahinch and Galway.  A dozen castle-like watch towers are scattered over the cliffs.  They were built in the late 1400’s by the English and served as an early warning system against the Spanish navy.

We got back to the Atlantic, and arranged to dine in the hotel’s dining room.  We started at nine.  There was a young Australian couple in the restaurant, and we learned they now occupied the 13th room.  They quickly joined in the festivities, but I was tired and retired around 1 am.

Day 3

We had an early tee time 10 am for Lahinch, Old Course, as we would be driving to Dublin afterwards.  Lahinch Old was originally built in 1892 by Old Tom Morris for the British Army then stationed there.  It was redesigned by Alister MacKenzie in 1926.  It has been dubbed, ‘The St. Andrews of Ireland.’

The weather forecast was perfectly awful, with a high of 48 degrees, rain, 25 mph winds gusting to 40.  Worst of all, it was accurate.  I wore the identical clothing I have used for climbing 14ers in Colorado; five layers on the torso, ski cap, gaiters, and waterproof hiking boots.  It rained intermittently, sometimes heavy, sometimes light, but it always rained.  Caddies don’t use umbrellas, because they would just blow away.  Lahinch Old is rated the 30th best course in the world, and justifiably so.  Like Doonbeg, it is built on dunes running along a crescent shaped beach.  My caddy, Jerry, nearly my age, was excellent.  He was a delightful companion for the five-hour round, and extremely helpful.  Near the end of the round he asked, “Have you had a good life?”  “Aye, I have. And you?”  “Aye.”

I shot a 91, my best round of the week, in spite of four putting for a five on a par three and taking an 8 on a par five.  I even had a sandy (getting a par out of the sand) on a par three.  I played the ladies tees at 5,502 yards, and the big boys played 6,339 yards.  I was appropriately attired, and stayed warm and dry. 

One of the caddies in our foursome, Dewey, had been caddying for 55 years.  He had a leathered face that looked like he’d been on the losing end of many a bar fight. He was also a guitar player and singer.  I told him of the fantastic singer we heard at the Cornerstone, and he said, “That’s Ireland for you. It’s a musical land.”

We showered in the clubhouse to warm up, hopped on the bus, and were off for the three-hour drive to the center city of Dublin 170 miles distant.  The Irish countryside is uniformly beautiful.  The smaller farms bordered by stone fences gave way to larger scale operations.  Yellow barley fields accented green pastures.  Badger told us that Ireland grows seven times as much food as it uses, the remainder being exported to other EU countries. I observed no ugliness; no billboards, no unkempt barns or houses, nothing was untidy.  The bus occupants were uncommonly subdued during the ride. We stopped at a truckstop that was nicer and cleaner than any I’ve seen in the U.S.

Dublin, the capital city of Ireland, was founded in 1191 and is home to 1.2 million inhabitants.  It is located on the east coast of Ireland at the mouth of the River Liffey, and lying in the shadow of with Wicklow Mountains.  It is also uncommonly tidy.  We passed a beautiful canal that bisects the city in one direction perpendicular to the River Liffey segmenting the city into quadrants.  It is a high-density city, but few buildings exceed five stories.  Badger told us, “No building can exceed the height of the Guinness Brewery.”  Above ground trains were ubiquitous and modern.

We arrived at The Dean Hotel, in the center city and arranged to meet in the rooftop bar and restaurant at 9.  Our new lodgings featured hipster touches everywhere.  My room had a functioning turntable and ABBA albums.  The phone was an old time Crosley Kettle Rotary.  The only drawback was the presence of a package of earplugs on the bedside table.  A loud disco located somewhere nearby blared a pounding beat until 3 am clarifying the matter.

Our organizer had a party room available for us featuring a well-stocked bar, foosball table, and other amusements.  We had a few drinks and ambled to the roof top bar for an exquisite dinner and great views of the city.  We returned to the party room for after dinner refreshments.  Someone suggested we go to a disco.  Sadly, I didn’t go.  I would learn I missed the Silent Disco experience.  In such a place, everyone is issued headphones through which one selects their own choice of music.  One of the lads took a video of the proceedings.  With little fear of offending, it looks a bit goofy to see people dancing solo to their own tunes.  It’s not as though the world needs even less socialization.

Day 4

We took a respite from golf, much needed in my case.  We met for drinks and lunch at the Shelbourne, an elegant hotel built in 1824.  From there we took a tour of the Guinness Brewery.  It was a bit touristy, but it featured free beer in a viewing room that gave 360 degree views of Dublin.  Afterwards, some took a tour of a distillery, but I went back to the hotel.

Badger picked us up at 6 for the 30-minute drive north to Malahide, described by our leader as the ‘Mission Hills’ of Dublin.  Two newcomers joined us on the bus.  Apparently one of our group engaged two Australian ladies, Kate and Ashley, in conversation at the brewery and invited them to join us for dinner in Malahide. Kate, sat beside me on the bus ride, presumably because I look harmless and grandfatherly, and we chatted.  She is a 26-year-old optician, married, statuesque, and the part owner of six stores in Brisbane.  Ashley, is her employee and traveling companion as her husband doesn’t like to travel.  They were mugged while in Rome, and she spent the night in the hospital from a blow to the cheekbone.  Her left arm was covered in multi-colored tattoos, and I inquired, “What if fashions change?”  They were keen to watch the evening’s soccer match between Liverpool and Rome, which was the semi-final of the Premier league.  Kate was originally from Liverpool so she was avidly rooting for the Reds.

The Grand Hotel, where we would stay for the next three nights, is an elegant establishment.  We all had ocean views and extremely nice rooms.  It was clearly the grandest of the lodgings we enjoyed.  After drinks in the hotel’s bar, we walked to Gibney’s, a nearby pub.  It is large, and it was packed well beyond capacity owing to the start of the soccer match.  We dined on bar food standing up, sort of watching the game and chatting with anyone we encountered.  Liverpool scored the first goal just as I was commenting on the lack of scoring to my new pal, Kate.  Liverpool won, and everyone was happy, and we drank until it was time to go back to the hotel.  Kate and Ashley invited us to go discoing back with them in Dublin, but all declined.

Lamentably, one of our number had to return to the states owing to a family emergency.  This left us with eleven golfers in a twelve-man match.  The problem was solved by inviting Chris, a young bartender at Gibney’s to join us.  He proved to be a delightful and informative companion for the rounds at Portmarnock and Royal County Down.

Day 5

The Portmarnock Links Course was only a 15-minute drive from our hotel.  It was built in 1894 and has hosted nineteen Irish Opens, the Walker Cup, and many other notable golf events.  It is ranked #47 in the world and is located on the Dublin Peninsula reaching into the Irish Sea. It is also home to at least a dozen pot bunkers per hole. It was more like golfing on a pinball machine. I played the senior tees, 5,851 yards, and the others played 6,705.  I had my typical round with 5 pars, a few blow up holes, and a 94.  I won my match only because my opponent missed a three-footer on #18 that would have tied the contest.

By now our routines were pretty standard.  Badger would get us safely back to the hotel, we’d clean up, meet at the hotel bar, and then head for dinner.  Our trip organizer had every reservation made in advance, so we never had trouble seating 12.  We dined at Duffy’s, a pub in downtown Malahide, a 10-minute walk from the hotel.  Like every establishment we patronized, it was extremely crowded.  A band called the Moogs, started at 9 and played for an hour.  I was hoping for Irish music but they played a high energy set of pop standards, ala Eagles, Journey, etc.  They were world class good. 

Then we returned to Gibney’s to meet up with Chris, the newest member of our golfing group, who was back to bartending for the evening.  A tribute band calling themselves Mack Fleetwood was playing in the back room for a mere 10 euros extra.   A large and appreciative crowd listened.  I was impressed by the mixing of generations in the pubs.  The girl singing the Christine McVie parts was as good or better than the real thing.  We stayed until they closed down and returned to the hotel bar.

One of our number was chatting with a rather provocatively clad 24-year-old and her Mum, Michelle and Colette.  I complimented her on her attire, and we were drawn to her like moths to a flame.  We subsequently congregated in the hotel lobby to enjoy the final concert of the evening.  Michelle had an enchanting voice and sang ‘Danny Boy’ and other Irish standards until the wee hours. 

Day 6

Royal County Down Championship Course is located in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, about a two-hour drive north of Malahide.  There was nothing to let you know when you left Ireland and entered Northern Ireland.  Brexit could change that, but it is still up in the air.  The only thing I noticed was that gasoline station signs went from €1.40 / liter to £1.23 / liter.

Newcastle is a charming seaside town nestled at the foot of Mount Mourn.  RCD is rated either number 1, 3, or 5 in the world, depending upon your source.  It is undeniably wonderful.  It was designed by Old Tom Morris in 1889.  Every hole is distinct.  The multitude of bunkers that guard the greens and defend the approaches are all natural.  The bunkers in the other courses we played were made by walls constructed of sod layers.  The principal hazards were gorse, heather, and dense sea grasses.  We were fortunate to be there during the six weeks the gorse was in bloom, with vibrant yellow colors and 2” long thorns.  If your ball went into the gorse, it was gone.  It would be the warmest day of our trip, probably in the high 50’s.  It was somewhat windy, and got windier as the day went on, but there was no rain.



My yardage advantage over the young guys was reduced.  I played 6,249 yards vs. their 6,675.  My tees featured five par fours over 400 yards. As we were walking down the first fairway my opponent inquired if I wanted to take on a side bet suggesting a $100 Nassau.  I declined, explaining I didn’t need any more stressors.  In keeping with my custom, I started strong.  I was on the green in regulation on the first three holes, all going downwind, but I three putted all of them for bogeys.  I birdied the fourth hole, a 159-yard par three into the wind.  My putt stopped short of the hole and then the wind pushed it in.  Yea! Then the wheels fell off.  I met my goal of breaking 100 finishing with a 97. 

Miscellaneous

I used my iPhone feature to track of the miles and elevation of my walking each day.  Portmarnock was 9.2 miles and 48 equivalent flights of stairs climbed.  RCD was 8.2 miles, 30 flights.  Doonbeg was 7.4 miles and 25 flights. Lahinch Old Course was 8 miles, 30 flights.  That’s a pretty good day’s walk.  It was so much fun I never really got tired.

My favorite course, a view shared by all, was RCD.  The remaining rankings are a close call, but I’d go with Doonbeg, Lahinch Old Course, Portmarnock, and Lahinch Castle.

Like most European countries, the people we encountered were predominantly trim and fit.  Real estate prices are quite high.  I checked real estate office signs in both Lahinch and Malahide.  Relatively modest dwellings were being offered for sale in the €650,000–€850,000 range.  The euro traded at $1.20 during our trip.  One of my caddies is a real estate speculator.  Smoking is heavier than in the U.S.  Most people roll their own as packaged cigarettes cost €12 / pack.

A special thanks to Dan for organizing this wonderful trip.  Thanks also to my eleven lively traveling companions.  I heard some terrific stories from some mighty impressive people.  I was again reminded that we live in a big small town with one degree of separation.  

And that’s the news from here.
Chuck

Charles A. Wells, Jr.
3317 W. 68th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS 66208
816 289-1924
Author of: Ordinary People Who Aren't: An Anthology and
Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People
Now available in all ebook formats on Amazon at:  http://www.amazon.com
Also available at:

  Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd Street, Fairway, KS

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mardi Gras 2018 and Other Stuff

Mardi Gras 2018

The Friday before Mardi Gras is a big deal for the locals.  Lunch spots at the nicer restaurants in the city are coveted and spoken for years in advance.  Our friend, Patrick, owner of Patrick Bar Vin enjoys his busiest day of the year.  My host has reserved a table for clients and friends at the Rib Room for a dining / drinking extravaganza for the past decade.  We arrived at 11 am and were welcomed with bloody Mary’s in the festive lounge.  Around noon we moved to our table for cocktails.  All the guests brought one or two bottles of their best wine to share.  The eight of us would subsequently down thirteen bottles during our four-hour, four-course lunch, mindful of Hemingway’s 1920’s memoir, A Moveable Feast.

The ensuing conversations are always interesting and enlightening.  Out of the blue, my nearest table mate, the managing partner of a NOLA consulting engineering firm, said, “Never use the words ‘dirt, mud, or muck’, it’s always soil and be descriptive.”  I assured him I would keep that in mind.  Then one of our group, geo-technical engineer from NYC added, “My soils professor at Northwestern warned us on the first day of his class, ‘If you ever use the word dirt in this class, you will fail.’”  The two engineers then discovered they had the same professor, although at different schools.
 
I asked Walter, another regular in the event, if he were a native of NOLA.  He then shared the following glimpse into his family’s past.    His ancestors immigrated to NOLA early in the 19th century from Germany.  His great, great grandfather was a civil war general.  He graduated in the same West Point class as Robert E. Lee. Shortly thereafter he left the military and became a civil engineer.  He returned to the army to fight in the Mexican war and again returned to the civilian life of an engineer in NOLA until the Civil War broke out.  He signed up with the Confederate cause and was quickly promoted from colonel to brigadier general and served in both the eastern and western theatres of the war. His wife, Walter’s great, great grandmother, was in Charleston, SC., when Sherman’s Army took possession of the city.  She hid in a convent with her children, wore a nun’s attire, and told the invaders that she was running an orphanage.  The Union officer who found her bought the story and gave her ration coupons.  Many years after the war, the general and his wife met the same officer while dining in a NOLA restaurant.  He remembered the encounter, and they laughed over the shared remembrance from grimmer times.  And such is the richness of family histories.

It was warm and the crowds were boisterous, and the Rib Room luncheon again served as the perfect kickoff for Mardi Gras 2018.

On Saturday morning, we were hosted by a friend to a brunch at Stanley’s located off Jackson Square.  I enjoyed the breakfast fried seafood special featuring shrimp, softshell crab, oysters, complimenting a generous serving of eggs Benedict.  It was possibly the best, and most filling, breakfast dish ever.

We share a balcony with John, Karen, and DeAnn.  They hail from Yazoo City, MS.  They are delightful neighbors, and we find ourselves mixing easily with the crowds that gather in their apartment. On Saturday their guests included a boy about twelve and a girl aged ten, both nice kids and enthusiastic participants in the festivities.  The little girl dispensed beads generously and would occasionally freak out when one of her recipients began to disrobe.  She’d shriek, “No! no! no!  That’s for those guys.” and point to us. 

Late on Saturday afternoon a well-endowed woman sashayed topless and stopped beneath our balcony.  People would approach and have their pictures taken with her. She was there for 5 or 10 minutes before I noticed that our new 12-year-old balcony neighbor had gone down to street level to have his picture taken with the exhibitionist.  Her soldiers stood proud and firm at the boy’s eye level, each roughly equal in size to his head.  I’m thinking, “Is this even legal?”  When his Mom discovered his youthful perfidiousness, she instructed him to delete the photo.  We watched with amusement and a fairly high degree of certainty that the photo(s) still exists.

On Saturday and Sunday, a superb Dixieland group plays virtually all day about two doors to the left of our balcony.  Anywhere from five to nine musicians perform at any given time.  Their clarinetist was truly terrific.  About three doors to our right, a juggler performed.  During the finale of his act he balanced on a board that rests on a north/south facing wooden cylinder that in turn rests on an east/west facing cylinder, and then juggled swords.  He always drew a large and appreciative crowd.  The best part of his act was that it was quiet.

Occasionally one gets an unexpected break.  On Sunday, two tall, thin, androgynous looking young men assembled in the alcove of M.S. Rau Antique shop situated across Royal Street, cattycorner from our balcony.  One was white, one black, both shirtless and heavily tattooed.  One wore a sarong, and the other black leather lederhosen.  They chatted amiably with passersby for nearly an hour before their intentions became clear.  They set up two card tables and chairs and a sign saying ‘Nipple Glitter’.  Quickly a line formed of young women eager for such a treatment.  The application only took a few minutes.  But the drying time takes a bit longer offering pleasing peeks.

In case you might someday wish to establish a similar enterprise in your neighborhood, here’s how these skilled operators applied their craft.  First, they would cup the breast in one hand and apply glue to the nipple with a small paint brush.  Next, they would pour some glitter into the palm of their hand, hold it close to the intended target, and blow gently.

After an initial burst of activity, the female customer base faltered and the young men started attracting male customers and then face painting. One of the many evangelical Christian groups set up free face painting stands across the street from the lads, but it didn’t appear to negatively impact their business.

Rex and Zulu parades are the top of the pecking order in NOLA society.  Rex mostly white, Zulu mostly black.  In days gone by it was mandated that everyone riding on Mardi Gras floats wear masks, excepting blacks, who were forbidden to wear masks.  Then they changed the rules to mandate that blacks also wear masks, but the blacks responded, and I paraphrase, ‘Bite me.’  Now Zulu is the only parade whose participants do not wear masks, but instead most blacks and all whites riding on Zulu floats wear black face.

Monday was cold and gray, so we decided to go to the WWII museum.  This is a ‘must see’ attraction if you’re ever in NOLA.  We rode by Lee Circle en route to the museum which is now conspicuous by the absence of the statue of the former Confederate general.  The tall marble column in the center of the circle stands starkly naked.

Mardi Gras day was warm and sunny; the crowds were large and festive; and we all agreed, it was the best year ever in the boobs for beads banter and barter category. This year’s most effective line of bs went something like this:

“You can have these beads, but we have to see your boobs.” 

“I couldn’t possibly do that.” 

“It’s the rule.  Those are the official Mardi Gras Rules.  We don’t make them up, we just comply.” 

“Okay then.”  Flash. 

I thought our advanced age might be an impediment, but such was not the case.

Three of the four members of our Mardi Gras quartet might be thought of as scientifically proficient: two are geo-technical engineers, and one is a dentist.  I qualify only by having once taken physics in high school from Mr. Kahler.  Accordingly, we continually seek to learn from systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the continual formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.  Here is what we have garnered from the application of the scientific method to Mardi Gras day behavior:

Alcohol increases licentiousness.  Merrymakers promenading beneath our balcony typically start drinking around 10 am, but it’s several hours later before the ladies are sufficiently impaired to denudate.  The refrain that remains music to our ears, “Here, honey, hold my drink,” freeing both hands for the lift.

Music plays a big part in the transaction.  Around 3 pm a karaoke mini-float parked right in the middle of the intersection of St. Peter and Royal.  They started singing the Queen classic, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (quite badly if I do say so), but hundreds of people joined in the singing, and the partygoers emerged in a frenzy.  From that moment until dark, we enjoyed a veritable plethora of bared breasts.  The four of us could barely keep up with those beseeching beads. One needed multiple sets of eyes and an ammo runner to keep ‘abreast’ of the phenomenon. 

The quality of beads is important.  By 3 pm we are displaying our very best beads.  When those have been exchanged, we work down the line.  By 5 even semi-decent trinkets are sufficient to engender the desired response.  By the time the crowd lessened we were basically out of beads.  We each kept some to wear to dinner, and that was that.

Age doesn’t matter.  Young and old and everything in between were willing to share their wares.  A first for us this year was a trifecta of a grandmother, mother, daughter.  It’s pretty darn special when three generations share common pursuits.

A few other tidbits. Weather does matter. Warm is good, cold is bad. Bustiers are an insurmountable hindrance to our purposes.  Women with boob jobs are understandably eager to share the objects of their investment.  Crowds draw crowds.  Once a group forms begging for beads, others join in creating a scene mindful of fish farm trout at feeding time.

We are not total ogres as we dispensed chum freely to all until we ran out, and we gave toy footballs to little boys and battery lit tiaras to little girls.

Our transgender acquaintance was back in town.  Through a mutual friend we learned she is now happily married, to a man.  She sauntered past our balcony a few times, but fortunately, we saw her before she saw us, and in a manly manner, we retreated inside failing to respond to her entreaties, “I know you’re in there.”

My cousin Sue from Columbus stopped by our balcony for a brief visit.  She was in NOLA for business, came a little early, and we were fortunate to have a brief reunion on our balcony on Mardi Gras day.  Thanks for stopping by Sue.

For those with an interest in our dining spots, here is a quick rundown in meal order:  Doris’ Steak House, Rib Room, Stella’s, Arnaud’s, Royal House, Italian Barrel, Mr. B’s, GW Finn, Central Grocery, and Rib Room.  It’s a real toss up as to which is my favorite, but I’d have to go with Arnaud’s.

Part of getting older is the tendency to reflect on what makes something special.  It’s not the boobs for bead thing. It’s not the great food and wine. It’s not the assemblage of wacky people and their costumes. It’s not the skilled street performers and musicians. It’s not even the experience of my first viewing of skilled nipple glitter applicators. It’s just getting together with dear friends and laughing at shared old memories and making new ones.



Jim and Mary’s Cat

Jim and Mary decided they would like to invite a cat to join their household.  They wished to avoid the kitten phase and visited their local animal shelter to survey the options.  Finding none, they explored private placements offered through Craigslist.  Their first visit was to the home of a young lady who had recently moved in with her Mother, only to find her new host was terribly allergic to cats. 

Upon the first viewing of Tubbs, Jim and Mary knew this was the cat of their dreams.  He is smallish, with a velvety black coat accented by white socks.  I can personally attest that Tubbs is a most handsome feline.  The young woman agreed to the transfer, and Jim and Mary traveled home with their new companion.

It takes a while for a cat, or anyone for that matter, to adjust to totally new surroundings and housemates.  Tubbs was no exception, so he would tend to wander off finding private spots in his new house. 

On Tubb’s first day in his new home Mary departed to run errands.  Jim was observing Tubbs while sitting in one of a pair of IMG leather reclining chairs.  He fell asleep, and upon awaking, he couldn’t find Tubbs.  He looked all around the house, but to no avail. Eventually, he heard a soft sound coming from one of the recliners.  He investigated and found that Tubbs had entangled himself in the motor mechanism of the chair and was frozen in place.

Jim tried unsuccessfully to free Tubbs who was becoming increasingly frantic.  Eventually he gave up and called 911.  What happened next requires some context.  Jim is a survivor of open heart surgery and several other dreadful remedies to various ailments.  They have developed close relationships with their neighbors.  Many are retirees and are often at home or in their yards puttering around the way oldsters do.

And so, they were alarmed when the fire truck and EMT’s arrived at Jim’s house, thinking the worst had happened.  Mary was highly alarmed and agitated when she arrived to see her driveway blocked by two emergency vehicles. But upon entering she noticed three young firemen lying on her family room floor attempting to free Tubbs from the recliner.  And they succeeded. 

That was several months ago.  Tubbs is now well adjusted to his new surroundings.  He loves to be petted and will sit peacefully purring in a welcoming lap.  He will not, however, go near the Norwegian leather recliners.

Letter’s from Santa

We were dining at Indian Hills Country Club a few weeks before Christmas with Lucy, Fred, and the kids.  Everything was decorated festively, and the staff had a colorful mailbox set out specifically for letters to Santa.  Forms were conveniently supplied requesting one’s name, age, and gift request.  The kids eagerly filled out their forms and placed them with care in the mailbox. 

Seven-year-old Finn then asked me, “Papa, don’t you want to ask for something from Santa?”

I pondered for a moment and then replied, “I’d like a Wood-Mizer LT35 Sawmill with hydraulics.”

Finn said, “How do you spell ‘hydraulics’?”

A few days later I received the following semi-customized form letter, which I have abbreviated:

“Dear Chuck,

I understand that you’ve been a good little boy this year.  My how you’ve grown now that you’re 72.  I hope you find a Wood-Mizer LT35 with hydraulics under your Christmas tree this year.

Santa
North Pole”

Miscellaneous

Sales of Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People and Ordinary People Who Aren’t continue to trickle in, but I remain short of besting Melville.  Thanks for getting me this far.

All the best,
Chuck

p.s.  If you go to my blog  http://www.ordinarypeoplewhoarent.blogspot.com it will link you to a slide / audio presentation about Building Finn and Charlie’s Cabin.  Take a gander if you’ve an interest.


Charles A. Wells, Jr.
3317 W. 68th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS 66208
816 289-1924
Author of: Ordinary People Who Aren't: An Anthology and
Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People
Now available in all ebook formats on Amazon at:  http://www.amazon.com
Follow my blog at: Available at:
  Rainy Day Books, 2706 W. 53rd Street, Fairway, KS