Hanging With The DAR

 I’m staying at a downtown Washington, D.C. hotel and the D.A.R. — the Daughters of the American Revolution — is in the house, big time.  The group has flooded the Nation’s Capital for an annual conference.  According to a pleasant woman in the elevator, 3,500 of the D.A.R. members are here.  Yesterday all of them seemingly were genteelly and graciously  packed, cheek to jowl, into the atrium lobby of my hotel.

Two observations about the D.A.R.  First, this is a group that really, really likes the American flag.  From the little decorations on the lobby desk that featured Old Glory and the D.A.R. flag, to the red, white, and blue themes of many outfits, to the little jeweled and spangled pins sported by some members, flag references were everywhere.

Second, the D.A.R. must be one of the top national consumers of ribbons and medals.  The ribbons — which surprisingly seem to come in red, white and blue — are worn just below the shoulder on one side, and the medals are pinned on the other.  The medals are actual metal, too.  

According to my fellow elevator riders, at least some of the medals show how many relatives and ancestors were D.A.R. members.  That is pretty awesome, because some of the very well-coiffed ladies had phalanxes of medals tugging at their blouses that made them look like Soviet era generals atop Lenin’s tomb for the May Day parade.  One woman had to walk around with one hand daintily but firmly pressed against her collar bone to keep her astonishingly vast and undoubtedly heavy medals board from ripping her blouse to shreds.  Every one of her female ancestors must have been a D.A.R. member — maybe back to the Revolution itself.

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Modern Hotel Technology

 It’s pathetic, but true:  our lives have devolved to the brutal basics of the constant search for electrical outlets.  “Omigod!  My iPhone is down to 78 percent!  Where can I plug in? ”  And  we mutter and curse if wherever we are doesn’t have multiple charging stations at the ready.
Which is why you have to give the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. credit.  They’ve built outlets into the bed frame, for God’s sake!  So charge up while you slumber, compadres!  And then tomorrow charge some more.

Solving Family Mysteries, One Keystroke At A Time

It’s a legendary family story.  When Grandma and Grandpa Neal traveled to Ireland in the ’70s, they decided to take a carriage ride.  As the grizzled Irish driver was struggling to help my grandmother — a portly woman — into the carriage, he muttered: “You’re beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer!”

Grandma, who had a wonderful sense of humor, thought it was one of the funniest comments ever — so of course we grandkids did, too.  But the driver’s jibe had an air of mystery and an almost lyrical quality that stuck with me.  A heifer was a cow, or course, but what, precisely, was a Mullingar heifer?

In those days, it would have taken forever to find out.  I suppose I could have gone to the reference section of the library, spoken to a severe-looking woman who probably would have been suspicious of my purported interest in Irish cattle, and with her assistance possibly located a massive book about bovine breeds that was available only in the library of the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine.  It was too much work to satisfy a bit of idle curiosity, obviously, so I didn’t even try.

But then the internet was invented!  (Thanks, Al Gore!)  So when I was thinking with a chuckle of the Irishman’s comment the other day, I entered “Mullingar heifer” into the little box on Google, and lo and behold, I not only found pictures of the mysterious creature, one of which I’ve now posted here, but also learned that “beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer” is a traditional Irish colloquialism typically used in connection with ladies with stout legs.  The latter discovery was a bit of a letdown, because for years I had been giving the Irish driver credit for coming up with a deft, original witticism.

Now that I’ve solved that decades-old mystery, it’s time to find the true origins of Mom’s exhortation to “put a little elbow grease into it!”

Taco Tuesday

IMG_5888Tuesday is, by tradition and by design, an unnoticed day of the week.  It doesn’t have the excitement of Friday or Saturday.  It isn’t hated, like Monday.  And it doesn’t have a cool nickname, like Humpday.  It just squats there toward the beginning of the work week, unremarkable and seemingly content to be viewed as just another day to get through.

But now — in Columbus, at least — there’s something to really like about Tuesday, for the fine folks at The Kitchen have declared it to be Taco Tuesday.

IMG_5887As readers of this blog know, The Kitchen is designed to offer “participatory dining” experiences and to serve as a venue for weddings and other functions.  On Tuesdays, though, they throw open their doors to the public in celebration of the taco.  Last night Kish and I paid our first visit to Taco Tuesday, and it was a riot.

First, two words about the ambiance and setting:  fun, and fun.  Diners go up to an order station to choose from the offerings listed on a big chalkboard.  Last night’s bill of fare included tacos (of course!), tamales, side dishes, desserts, and drinks — The Kitchen has an honest-to-god bartender who whips up a specialty cocktail also listed on the board.  After you order and pay, you drop your order slip off at the kitchen area, grab a small stanchion with your order number so the waitress can bring your order to you, and then find a seat at one of the long tables.

When you’re sitting at one of the long tables you get a communal dining experience, which adds a lot to the fun quotient.  Last night a good local folk singer-songwriter named Carole Walker was performing her music, which she describes as soul with a funky kick, and we sat with a friendly group of women who were there to listen to the tunes and drink a ice-cold pitcher of margaritas.  Needless to say, they were enjoying themselves as Ms. Walker rocked the house with her guitar and voice.

The food was really good, too, and affordable.  Kish had two tilapia tacos, a cold summer soup, and a ginger rhubarb popsicle (seriously!) made in-house.  I had a pork tamale, a flank steak taco, black beans, and a Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat draft that tasted like summer and went well with the Mexican menu.  My meal came to $15, and we got the food fast, too.

Tuesday is definitely moving up the list.

The New True

The new season of True Detective premiered on HBO Sunday night.

It’s got an impossible act to follow.  Last year, with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey playing two mismatched detectives on the trail of a twisted killer, True Detective was a riveting powerhouse.  McConaughey’s character, Rustin Cohle,was so finely crafted and unique, and the chemistry between Harrelson and McConaughey was so powerful, that you wondered how the producers of the show could possibly follow it up.

And the answer is . . . they can’t, and they aren’t really trying to do so.  This year, the cast is different, the setting is different, and the storyline is different, with no quasi-religious serial killer lurking — at least, not so far.  Unlike last season, where the discovery of a disturbing mystical killing, the use of constant flashbacks, and Cohle’s unexplained change from straight arrow cop to alcoholic longhair made the first episode immediately riveting, this year the storyline threads are more diverse and drawing them together will take some time.  We knew it was still True Detective, though, when one key flashback was shown.

There’s a common, deeper theme between this year and last year, too:  the world is a sick, messed-up place.  This year we’ve got another weird killing to solve, when the bag man in a corrupt California town is found with his eyes missing and a visit to his home shows he was in the grip of multiple sexual fetishes.  The cast includes Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon, the outwardly glad-handing but obviously ruthless boss of the town, a creepy Russian who Semyon hopes will help fund his latest scheme, and three police officers who will investigate the bag man’s murder.  All three have obvious problems:  Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell, is a drunken, hyper-violent drug abuser who willingly participates in the town’s corruption and is glad to beat up either reporters trying to expose the town’s criminality or the father of a bullying kid who cut up his son’s expensive shoes; Ani Bezzerides, played by Rachel McAdams, whose Dad is a guru and whose sister performs live sex acts on porn website, has her own difficulties in establishing personal relationships; and Paul Woodrugh, played by Taylor Kitsch, is a suicidal veteran and California Highway Patrol officer who needs to take a blue pill to become intimate with his girlfriend.

It’s a rich stew of graft, violence, booze, and drugs, stirred by some very troubled people.  That’s apt, because True Detective traces its roots to the pulp  crime magazines of days gone by that thrilled barber shop patrons with their tales of murder and seduction.  This year’s version is off to a promising start in my book.

Ezekiel’s Run

We’re in the doldrums here, where the football fans among us are pining for some gridiron activity.  It seems only fair to recall one of the many magical moments in Ohio State’s run to the National Championship last year — Ezekiel Elliott’s back-breaking 85-yard gallop to a clinching touchdown against Alabama.  I love this clip because it neatly contrasts the delirious Ohio State fans versus the deflated Crimson Tide faithful who are seeing their boys go down to defeat.

We’re about two months away from serious talk about college football, folks, but I hope this will Tide you over.

Becoming An Investor

When I was in junior high school, I took a class called General Business where the teacher taught us about the marvels of capitalism and the wonders of the stock market.  After I took that class, I had one goal:  I wanted to own some stock in a company.

I saved my pay from high school jobs and talked to Uncle Tony, who was a stockbroker.  He identified three stocks that were cheap enough that I could buy a decent number of shares, and I picked one called Vikoa, for a company that sold a product related to cable TV.  I figured cable TV, which we had at our house, was likely to grow and prosper.

It was a great day when my fancy Vikoa stock certificate, made out to my Mom in my name because I was under age, arrived at the house.  Vikoa’s stock was listed on one of the smaller exchanges, so every morning at breakfast I could check the listings in the Columbus Citizen-Journal to see how my investment was doing.  For a time, Vikoa seemed to thrive and its stock went up — so much so that I decided that I should make another investment, this time in a new restaurant chain called Pizza Hut that had opened near our house and made pretty good thin crust pizza.

The Pizza Hut investment turned out well and earned a profit, but not so much for Vikoa.  Its stock plummeted — in those pre-internet days, I never found out why — and ultimately it vanished entirely from the exchange listings.  I later got another stock certificate, for some fractional interest in a different company that apparently had bought whatever was left of Vikoa, then that company also went under.  My investment had failed.

I made money on one investment and lost my shirt on the other, but I was young and didn’t mind.  My investing days were over until I started working after college and law school and considered how to plan for retirement — and then the teachings from General Business class and the specter of Vikoa resurfaced.  I decided that rather than take a chance on a single company again, I’d just invest in mutual funds, where the fund manager picks the investments and keeps track of their performance.  That’s been my practice ever since.  The Vikoa lesson was one I didn’t need to learn twice.