Favorite Posts

How does an Italian American, living and working in NYC, minding her own business I might add, end up on the news in England….TWICE!! Moreover, how does she not manage to see either broadcast?

Well, here are my stories….

Christmas pudding decorated with skimmia rathe...

Image via Wikipedia

I visited England for the first time in the 90s and enjoyed traveling round, eating country pub food and taking in all the country had to offer. My boyfriend was British and as it was just before Christmas, he was kind enough to purchase English food for me to take home to New York. One of the items that would haunt me later lay wait in my luggage, a Christmas Pudding. When we arrived at Manchester Airport, my luggage was x-rayed and I moved on to the check-in counter. I was then met by a very imposing security agent who pulled me to the side and proceeded to grill me for the next 30 minutes! Now I had travelled somewhat by this time so was familiar with the usual questions: did anyone give you anything to carry, did you pack your own bags?? But no, now I was being asked who I was with and I had to point out my boyfriend from whom I’d been separated from during this ordeal. I was not allowed to speak to him or look to him for answers. The agent continued. Why did you come to England? Where did you both go? What did you do while you were here, what kind of work do you do? I began to sweat and wondered if I had done something wrong. Did he know that I took the Suchard’s hot cocoa that had been left in my hotel room? After what seemed like forever, he let me go and I sat down in the lounge with my boyfriend where we said our tearful goodbyes. I tore myself away and moved through security and on to the gate. Lo and Behold! The same testy security agent was there standing next to the jetway waiting for none other but little ole me! I thought, do they just take their security so seriously that they escort people to the plane or could it be that he was trying to make amends for being so hostile earlier? He wished me a good flight and I boarded the plane, settling down for a 7 hour flight.I arrived at JFK, collected my luggage and returned home. My family was excited to hear about my travels and in relaying my experiences, I walked over to my luggage to extract the souvenirs I had purchased for them. I was horrified and frankly, pissed off to find that my bags had been slashed with razors. Those bastards! I assumed someone at one of the airports had stolen from me. But no, as I continued to look through my belongings I realized nothing had been taken and all my souvenirs and the food I was given was in tact and there in front of me. That’s strange I thought. And a while later forgot all about it.

My boyfriend called to make sure I arrived safely and informed me that he knew why I had been questioned at the airport so intensly. He said that it had been on the news that same day that the Manchester Airport had installed new x-ray machines that could not differentiate between semtex, an explosive used by terrorists and favored by the IRA at the time and my Christmas Pudding! The agent wasn’t greeting me he was waiting to see if I got on the plane…..I’m still waiting for my apology!!

Fast forward 10 months later and I was living in England and had just been married. My new husband, myself and my family had been staying in a manse (home of a vicar or minister) as my father in law was just that and had married us a few days before. As we were honeymooning in Scotland we left eastern England at 4am to be able to get to Western Scotland, Glasgow, to drop my family off at the airport. I had thrown on comfortable clothes for the long trip up into the highlands and had not even put on make-up. We were headed to the Isle of Skye for our honeymoon and took the foodstuffs we had acquired at the manse with us.

Loch lomond 2003 09 06

Beautiful Loch Lommond-Image via Wikipedia

The roads and vistas in the highlands were breathtaking. We had traveled past Gretna Green where lovers go to elope, stopped off at Loch Lommond where the fog hovered above the water on a beautifully sunny day and were on the outskirts of Fort William when we had to stop for petrol (gas). There was a film crew there which did not faze me in the least as one always sees tv shows or films of one kind or another being made in New York. My husband got out to pay for the gas and the film crew rushed him. They said they were asking people what brought them to the Highlands of Scotland as they were doing a piece on this. My husband, a man of very few words, pointed to the “Just Married” sign on the car and proceeded to walk into the shop. The crew then turned their attention on me. I happily showed them my wedding ring and one cheeky git who I would later learn was a famous football star there known as Allie McCoist, said “oh aye, I see you have jams in the back seat, what are you plannin on doin with those then.” A sound man then thrust his fuzzy microphone in my face as I answered in earnest, “My husband likes his crumpets, they are for him.” Well! that was it, 4 grown men were in hysterics and falling all over themselves. My heart dropped as I knew I’d said something wrong but had no idea what it was yet. There was another man there who I would also later learn was a famous comedian called Fred MacAulay who jumped on that and continued to ask embarrassing questions until my husband returned and they scattered like sheep.

A buttered crumpet

Crumpet of Shame-Image-Wikipedia

My husband saw their reaction and saw my face and said “Oh no, what did you say?” I told him that I’d shown them my wedding ring and talked about the honeymoon and our plans and that one of them had asked about the jams in the box in the back seat and I told him that you like your crumpets. “Oh no, oh no” he moaned, looking down shaking his head. What! What did I say? I implored. He looked at me with a pained face and said “crumpet means ‘a piece of ass’ here.” To say I died of embarrassment would be an understatement and……. premature. We got back on the road and stayed a night in Fort William, a lovely place if not for the F16s that love to break the sound barrier there while people are trying to sleep! As we moved deeper in the highlands we lost radio signal and when we arrived at our cottage we had no tv reception save local channels that were in gaelic! We also had no phone. When we happened upon a call box (phone booth) my husband called his parents to let them know we’d arrived safely. His 77 year old father, the vicar I mentioned before, proceeded to tell him that he had had a number of calls from various family members who had seen his son’s new American wife on the telly (tv) on the McCoist and MacAulay Show which is seen by millions of people as it is broadcast after Match of the Day, a show that highlights all the football (soccer) matches that took place that day!The faces of all the sweet people who had come to the wedding flashed before my eyes. As did the details of that day: no make up, boring clothes, crumpets and jams…..I felt my stomach flip and wanted to crawl beneath a mound of heather and never come out! The show aired on BBC and to this day and after repeated requests and out and out begging, I still have not seen the episode in which I featured! What I do know is that the comedy duo had a segment that basically made fun of people on the street. Partial ignorance, semi bliss yes…but continously cringeworthy? Oh Aye!


My name is not Justin Halpern and I am not a comedy writer. I don’t need to be in comedy because the things that come out of my father’s mouth are funny enough. What makes his utterings truly hysterical is that he doesn’t think a thing of them. He says them with a straight face and goes on with his day. Here is a sampling:

  • A couple of weeks ago a meteor exploded over several states. The meteor made national news and I called my father to see if he had heard anything. He said “the house shook and the windows rattled. I figured the house next door blew up.” I laughed and when I asked, so if you thought that what did you do about it? He said “nothing. I didn’t feel like getting up. I figured I’d wait to see if the fire engines came.”
  • My father had the ever dreaded physical and for men over 40 that means a prostate exam. The doctor entered the room and proceeded to put on rubber gloves. My father’s response to this was, “I hope you’re getting ready to do some dishes.”
  • My father had surgery many years ago. It was in a sensitive area of his colon and it was to be expected that going to the bathroom would be uncomfortable if not painful. When he went for his follow-up appointment the doctor asked about this. He said, so have you passed a stool? My father said, “A STOOL! IT FELT LIKE A TABLE AND FOUR CHAIRS!”
  • My stepmother is a hairdresser and has always cut my father’s hair as well. After one cut she sized him up and said she wasn’t that happy about it as it made his head look square. She joked that he looked like SpongeBob. Cut to a few months later, we are all out to dinner and my father drops his fork. He leans over near me to pick it up. As he struggles to get back up he whispers to me “I almost hit the corner of my head on the table.”
  • I was typing away on facebook while visiting my father and when he saw that he picked up the laptop I gave him and declared that he was going to the Google Earth website to look around. He asked me to name someplace I’d been that he could check out. So, I said Stratford-upon-Avon. He chastised me stating “not that place it’s too much to type!” So I said ok, go to Skye. He got busy with that. I asked him if he could see Dunvegan Castle and he said “I’m not there yet” and at the same time his dog started barking at the next door neighbors. He shouted (and meant it) “Shut up! You’re ruining my trip!”


Gondola of Shame

We’ve all heard “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” right? However, usually when you spend time and money to go to Europe, you hope to return home with good memories, great pix and maybe an inside joke or two. Moreover, you look forward to sharing your adventures and pictures with anyone who will listen to you! I had not planned to tell this story, especially to an unknown audience however, it’s been a year and it’s time…I think.

We traveled to Italy last year and had been in Venice a couple of days. Anyone who has been will know that you become accustomed to traveling the waterways via vaporettos (water buses) or water taxis. Jumping on and off these boats becomes second nature. I thought I had done pretty well until I decided that my trip to Venice would not be complete without a gondola ride.

I was with my husband/ex husband (it’s complicated and he will be known as hxh forthwith) and we found some Gondolieri (Gondola, captains, operators?). After agreeing on a price, and yes we got ripped off…they see Americans coming from a mile away, we were led to two gondolas. The Gondolier jumped into the long boat and motioned for us to do the same. I was next and my hxh waited behind me on the steps of the dock. I held on to one of the wooden poles as I attempted to step down onto the gondola with my right foot. Unlike the other boats I’d experienced, the gondola did not float as I stepped down. Rather it continued to sink beneath my foot. In a split second I spontaneously attempted to pirouette, twisting my body around toward the dock and my hxh, eyes pleading HELP ME!! It was too late. The movement I made had the effect of moving the boat further away whereby I now had two choices: a) fall into the water or b) cling to the pole with as much of my body as I could manage. Embarrassed to say, I, well, my body, chose b. Now I am stuck to this wooden pole that is lodged into the floor of the Grand Canal, like a scared cat on a greasy pole-arms wrapped round, splinters digging in, one foot on the dock and one on the edge of the gondola behind me. The Gondolier is yelling at me as the gondola slowly moves away from the pole. It is just a matter of time before I am drinking polluted Venetian sludge water. Just when I am resigned to my fate, I am shocked and horrified to realize that the Gondolier has thrust his arm between my legs (no,I’m not making this up-God, I wish I was), lifted me up and placed me in the boat!

I don’t know if they teach this maneuver at Gondolier school however the shock of being attacked in this way had the desired effect as I did release the pole with an accompanying gasp. I instinctively moved backwards toward the upolstered seats to regain my composure and recuperate from the violation! My hxh then stepped into the boat, effortlessly I might add. Now as if this wasn’t bad enough, the Gondolier then says “ok, now get into the next boat” (see picture above). Was he insane? Did he really expect me to go through this all again? There was no &$%^ way I was moving let alone jumping into the boat beside us! His mate was gesticulating in Italian and motioning for me to move to his boat. I was too overcome to speak though shook my head whispering no, no, no,no.

Our home for 20 minutes, $120 and my dignity!

The gondolier took one look at my face and gave up, knowing it was hopeless. We proceeded on, he rhythmically moving his pole along the canal floor as my hxh took in the sights. I repeating a mantra of “I’m sorry, oh my God!, I’m sorry, Oh my God!” The gondolier took us through narrow corridors and alleyways, chatting with other Gondolieri along the way (I know he told them he got to use the maneuver!). It was an expensive and vague blur of a ride through a veil or mortification. Would I do it again you ask? Probably. How often does one get to Venice and how long before it’s under water? I would recommend it because really there is nothing like it. There is an intimacy (cough/blush) with the environment that is like no other in the world. For the love of pasta, if you do decide to take a gondola ride, just close your eyes and jump in quick!

One Gondolier teaching another "the maneuver"


Every time I sneeze in presence of other people, I think, I should write about this. It’s so funny to me to see how people react and reactions seem to change based on the setting the sneeze takes place in. Some people say “bless you” and others refuse. I’ve noticed that religious and non religious people exercise their right to reserve a blessing.

I’ve heard the argument, why should I bless you? I’m not God. My answer to that is, do you really think the person you bestow a blessing upon confuses you with God, for Christ sake! I jest. And if you give a blessing to their ungrateful nose, they refuse to say thank you to prove that same point. “I don’t need you to bless me, you’re not God!”

Some people say, why should I say God Bless you? Who are you to me? I might say it to my family, but I’m sure as hell not going to say it on the subway or while waiting online at the bank or worse in an elevator. Oh, they ignore you but they are speaking volumes!

And of course we have all been in one of those situations when it is very quiet and you can feel the surge rising up in you, and you think nooooooo not now. It can not be controlled or suppressed. No! It’s coming whether you want it to or not. You feebly try the finger under the nose trick but no, it’s too late. Your sneeze enters the world to a deafening, pin dropping silence. You think to yourself, my heart may have just stopped there, doesn’t anyone even care? Would they really rather see me drop dead right here at the bank? I could have the plague (the birthplace of the “bless you” apparently), well a cold then, is this any time for me to be benedictionally bereft?

Have you noticed that when someone does summon up the courage to offer a “bless you” in one of the above environments, historically hostile to the blessing, that it is said under the breath, murmured or whispered as if they are giving out the password of a master freemason or giving up the location of someone in the witness protection program? A solitary bless you in a crowd of avoiders, refusers and ignorers is tantamount to heresy. It is the Anne Boleyn of expressions these days. If you say it in New York, you’re a religious freak. If you say it in the South, you’re blasphemous. Where are the mannered among us to go?

Then there are the people who are kind enough to say bless you however the recipient then does not say thank you! The blesser is then left to ponder the incident. Did I offend them? Did they appreciate that I cared enough to bless them? What sort of person is the Blessee? Is this sniffling ingrate the same person who barges through a door you happen to be holding open for someone else or who won’t let you in when you’re leaving the gas station? A nice gesture turns to resentment and head shaking, these people!

Then you have the international response, the most popular being Gesundheit! Why only German? One never hears a response in Italian, Chinese or Swedish! Since sneezing is part of the human condition, I am assuming that every culture addresses it in some way. I wonder if they have the same issues Americans have; a snotty mountain made from a well meaning molehill.

Personally I don’t care what the reason for the sentiment is or whether it is accurate, religious or proper. In a time of insular isolating communication, it is one of the last courtesies we can show fellow humans without needing a reason to do so. It’s a chance to connect with a stranger and say hey! I care about you man. It’s a chance to live in a civilized society. What’s that you may ask? Cast your memory back to when people said “thank you” not to mention the endangered “you’re welcome” ….it’s like that!

3 responses to “Favorite Posts

  1. torreybyles

    I want to know, was the English boyfriend, of the semtex Christmas pudding mix up, the same person as the new husband in the “crumpets” gaffe?

  2. torreybyles

    thanks for clarifying!

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