The hard way

We where in the rental car in Italy when my wife made her confession:
"I didn't want to worry you, but I hit something with the car."
My wife is very hard on things. She would say that accidents happen. I would say that she's hard on things.
She's ruined two garage doors (I can only actually blame her for one; during a 116-degree day, she was the one who opened the door when the spring snapped, so you really can't count that one). But she actually closed the door on her car once, which crumpled the door.
Luckily, the Toyota was unhurt.
The door cost us $500.
I knew that when she said she hit something, it had cost us.
This is a woman who has called me from work to change two of her tires. Once, she made a U-turn too sharp and rammed the tire into the corner of a storm drain. The other time, she hit an eight-inch concrete screw on the highway.
She totalled her car three days before our wedding; she was calling to tell me that she had gotten my ring in the mail (we were a bit behind on ordering that). I heard the whole accident via cell phone.
I bought her the Rav4. Within three weeks of ownership, she hit a metal wheel chuck (it's the big metal thing 18-wheeler drivers put between their tires so the truck doesn't roll when parked) on the highway.
"Honest to God, there was nothing I could do," she said when she called. "It was on the Skyway and there was traffic coming and a cliff on the other side."
I think that cost us about $875.
We moved her into a Toyota Highlander last year. Her grandmother had a pacemaker installed, about two weeks she took ownership of the car.
She went down to Sacramento to be with her grandmother.
In the parking garage, someone side-swiped the car.
"I swear I don't do anything to bring this on," she said. "What wa I supposed to do?"
The estimate on that one was $545.
Now, we're in a rental can in Italy and she's smiling and cute and I haven't seen her in three weeks and so I say:
"So, what did you hit?"
"Well, you're not going to believe this - well, maybe you will, considering it was me - but I hit a couch."
"Excuse me?"
"I hit a couch. On the Bonneyview bridge. There was nothing I could do - it was black and it was at night."
We have a two-lane bridge we have to cross to get over the river; it curves. She was driving home one night and around the curve was this black couch that she couldn't avoid.
She took the enire decorative bumper off.
"I got home and called the cops," she said. "They said they knew about it and were sending a patrol car to get it out of the road."
The cop, after moving both the couch and the Highlander's bumper to the curb, paid a visit to the house.
"I'm not going to cite you," he told her. "But if the people come back to claim their couch, you could be liable for the damages."
She said they never came back. I don't know, however, since she keeps the checkbook.
That cost us $500; she got the sideswipe damage done at the same time.
"It looks so pretty," she said. "It looks like it just came off the showroom."
How long that will last is anyone's guess.

Fun with photography Part II

Spleen Cafe, Florence, Italy.

Not too sure what they served there, as it didn't open until late and we never did venture in. We ate next door at a really great place, then watched an Italian couple duke it out at about the same place where I took the picture. She went into Spleen for a drink; he fumed on the sidewalk. They bitch-slapped each other in the face.

Do you even know what function your spleen carries out?
It's like a filter for your blood.
Your spleen weighs about a half-pound and is purplish in color.
Don't eat it.

Fun with photography Part I

Seen on an electrical panel, Aqcui Terme, Italy.
Vandalism sure is fun, if done properly - and with gusto.

Life's little doldrums

What if you kept getting up each morning and nothing crazy happened? And you went through your entire day with nothing out of whack?
Sounds like heaven? For a writer and observer, it sucks.
My life has become…boring. I get up, eat breakfast, make my daughter’s lunch, read the paper and take her to school. I go to work and write stuff. I answer questions and I answer the phone. I talk a walk, eat my lunch and continue to do the day-to-day stuff that I always do.
I go home, start dinner, eat dinner, turn on jazz, and read. I brush my teeth, I go to bed.
For a week now, nothing out of the ordinary has happened.
And it sucks.
Not that I’m wishing my life to be more complicated. It already is. It’s just gotten a little stale.
Of course, a few days ago, I was in Italy, so I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.
There was one interesting happening. Wednesday morning, the neighbor’s dog kept barking. It woke us all up, since it sounded like the dog was in our yard.
It was.
I got up at 3 a.m. to see what I could see. My wife was up. Both kids were up, but didn’t actually get out of bed. I tried ear plugs. The dog’s barks cut through the foam. I had had enough.
I went outside to investigate.
The dog, a new one that’s older and completely untrained, is barking and growling at me from the neighbor’s driveway.
“Shuddup!” I growled.
It snarled louder. And barked. Then sat and started shaking uncontrollably. It was completely out of its comfort zone, alone in front of the house – and I couldn’t get by to let it into the backyard. So I talked to it calmly. For 10 minutes.
Then I went back to bed.
Either the neighbor heard me, or the dog felt comforted. It didn’t bark from the time I went back to bed until 5:30 a.m., when I got up.
Call me the dog whisperer.
I was hoping for some juicy confrontation last night.
“You mind if I go over to the neighbors and talk to them about their dog?” she asked when she got home.
Delicious. Something to witness. Something to write about.
“Go right ahead,” I said. “And be nice.”
“Yeah, like that’s going to happen,” she said. “Two nights in a row that dog woke us and the kids up.”
She was in a mood; sharp-tongued and ready to make her point. Anything could happen, and probably would.
Alas, the neighbors weren’t home. And the dog didn’t make a peep last night.
The life doldrums continue.

The Italian Way

Travel to a foreign land, immerse yourself in another culture for six weeks, and see if you don’t come back changed.
Reenergized. And you try to hang onto that feeling – even when the life you left behind for weeks comes knocking. Custody issues. Work issues. Kid issues. New business issues.
It’s enough to drive you insane.
But you keep looking back to six glorious weeks where you lived the Italian life – be happy, eat well, don’t worry – and you remember that being happy is a state of mind.
I’ve vowed to bring a lot of the Italian Way back to the cover the American Way.
We’re going to eat better – the idea is called Slow Food, where you eat what’s fresh and what’s in season and you cook very simply. Processed foods? Out the door. No processed sugar. What a sugary snack? Have an apple.
We’re going to have lots of family time. No blue glare of the television to baby-sit the kids. We’re going to talk, play games, laugh. We’re going to drink tea at night and relax and talk.
We’re not going to get caught up in what she has, what he has. We are going to live within our means, we’re going to plan and do projects and make our house a home again.
We’re going to be strong in body. I lost more than 20 pounds in Italy, even with all the good food, and wine with every meal. We walked everywhere. We ate well. The pounds fell off. It’s such an easy concept – eat well, exercise and the results will come.
Reconnect with my faith. You can’t go to Catholic Central – the Vatican – without being changed. You see the history throughout Italy (I saw an urn that held John the Baptist’s right arm, a silver cross commissioned by Constantine that held a piece of the cross) and you can’t help but think you could do better in your own life.
Mostly, I’m not going to get up and hack for 15 minutes stressing out about work and life. On a regular day, I do more work than about three other people. If something doesn’t get done, I’m not going to sweat it. Tomorrow is another day. That goes with my life outside work. Every problem is solvable – and long as you are willing to work within what you can control, and realize what you can’t.
But the pressures are tough to beat. They are always lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce, wrap their tendrils into you and squeeze.
That’s what I’ve made a pact to stay with the Italian Way. I spent several hours on Saturday hunting down good foods – lots of Italian stuff like cheese, olive oil and salami. Fresh vegetables. Organic yogurt. Granola from Moore’s Flour Mill. It’s going to get better. Fresh eggs when I can find them. Better olive oil from down the road in Corning, where olive groves stretch for miles. Fresh beef, handmade cheeses.
I’m walking every day, exploring like I used to on the weekends. Snowshoeing, cycling, hiking, paddling. It’s all out there, I just can’t be so focused on nothing (and really, what problems last week turned out to be nothing) not to see what’s out there.
Different cultures change people in different ways. Italy awoke in me a better spirit.
How can you not want to hang onto that?

Baby on board

My wife got pregnant in Italy.
This was a good trick, since I’ve had a vasectomy and can only shoot blanks.
It was a complete misunderstanding.
While Air France had her bag (remember Fuck Air France), we tried in vain to find her some clothing to buy so she didn’t have to wear the same thing she wore on the plane.
“Have you ever tried to buy clothing in a foreign country?” she’d ask. “The sizes are all different.”
Besides that, Italian women are built differently.
“They’re all ass and hips,” my wife said.
We went into one store and she actually found a pair of jeans she liked. They were about a foot too long, but they fit well everywhere else.
The women at the store said she could alter them that day. They were Armani. They cost 148 Euro ($179 American).
“Let’s keep looking,” she said.
I finally drug her into this juniors shop (she’s 36, but can pull anything off) where she found a lot of cute stuff to try on. Jeans, cargo pants, tops, the works.
“Come look at this,” she said from behind the curtain.
She had on a very stylish pair of jeans. Hip-huggers. Crack-of-the-ass kind of jeans.
“I don’t know how they do it,” she said. “You have to shave off a lot of pubic hair to wear these.”
The sales girl, the one who spoke the most English, was a trooper. She kept trying different styles of pants. They all fit the same.
My wife tried her best to explain.
“I’ve had babies,” she said as she cradled her arms and rocked.
“Ahhhhh,” the sales girl said.
And brought my wife a pair of sweat pants.
She threw them on; she looked great.
The sales girl pulled at the waist to show my wife that the sweats would expand – as the baby grew.
“Oh, God, she thinks I’m pregnant,” my wife said. “There’s no way I’m wearing those.”

FUCK Air France

I have rich, satisfying dreams of Air France planes falling out of the sky.
And I smile.
Fuck Air France.
Fuck the French.
I’m back from six weeks in Italy, where I covered the 2006 Winter Olympics, then disappeared into the Italian countryside for some well-deserved rest. The first four days of the R&R were hell.
Thanks to Air France (fuck ‘em all).
My wife was to meet me in Torino. We were supposed to hug and kiss and cry after being separated for a bit over three weeks. I was at the exit, waiting for her. I had a little sign I drew that said “GABRUKIEWICZ.” The flight landed. People exited.
No wife.
I waited for another 45 minutes. Longing turned into worry which turned into frustration. Next flight to come in, I snuck into the baggage area (which, by the way, was very easy to do).
I saw her blonde, curly hair, arms in motion as she was trying to explain something to an airline worker.
I knew immediately that Air France had lost her bag.
No problem, they said. It would be on the next flight. They’d send it by courier to our bed & breakfast in Acqui Terme, about an hour south of Torino. Don’t worry, they said.
We waited four days for her bag. We called Air France customer service (there’s an oxymoron) a dozen times a day. They all said they were very sorry, that they were working on the problem. My wife cried; they were cool and kept reading off a card.
I called. I told the woman that she was a bitch. I told her that I wanted the bag.
That I wanted all of her family to die in a fiery Air France plane crash.
The story changed every day; the courier had 24 hours to deliver it; the courier had 48 hours to deliver it; the courier delivers until midnight; the courier only delivers in the morning.
“You don’t have your bag?” the cold French bitch asked on Thursday.
“Do you think if I had the fucking bag I’d fucking be calling you?” I said.
My wife was in bed, crying.
“I just want to go home.”
Now, I’m beyond furious. I’m trying to figure out where the Air France customer service bitches were located. I wanted to remove thumbs with pliers.
“I’d do it, too,” I said.
The mobile rang.
It was the courier. He didn’t speak English.
“No problem,” the inn owner said. “He said he’ll see us in five minutes.”
An hour later I’m beside myself. The mobile rings again. I give the phone to Misha.
He says we have to come to town and get it,” he said. “He’s leaving in 15 minutes.”
I jump in the car and drive….the….two….miles….to…..where…….Mr. Courier…..was……parked.
And got my wife’s bag.
Air France owes us four days vacation. Either that, or one of their planes could crash. Full of Air France employees.
I would smile.