Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Census Form for "Real" America

The U.S. Bureau of Fun Facts estimates it will take the average person either 10 minutes or 10 days to fill out this survey. If your layabout stepson Randy has moved back into the house, yes, you have to count him. Use a pen. With ink in it.

1) How many nights a week does your family watch “American Idol,” “Survivor” or that Donald Trump show?

2) How many members of your family believe President Obama was born in another country? How many members of your family believe Hawaii is another country?

3) How many times a week do members of your family go to the Wal Mart? __

For household items? __
For clothes? __
For food? __
For a social life? __

4) How many members of your family actually work at Wal Mart?

5) Would you describe your family members as close knit?
Chronically obese? Heavily armed?

6) Is there someone in your household – not a blood relative - who is just really getting on your last nerve? Identify.

7) Who is cuter? Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift? C’mon. No waiting.

8) Should Tiger’s wife like totally bail on him for running around with those floozies or should she just hang in there and take the money or what?

9) How many members of your family think Jimmie Johnson wins too many NASCAR races? Has Dale Earnhardt Jr. been pretty much of a disappointment to you and your entire family?

10) Coke Zero or Pepsi Free? Taco Bell or Sonic? Bud Light or Miller Light? Jack Daniels or 'Turkey? Ford pickup or Chevy pickup? Domino’s or Papa John’s?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Irish Pubs and Irish Bars

There's a difference, of course.

Irish bars, replete with florid lawyers of Irish-American extraction, knuckleheads in turned-around baseball caps, generally bad food and endless midnight choruses of "The Wild Rover," can be outgrown. Irish pubs - increasingly hard to find in American cities or in Ireland, for that matter - provide a different sort of experience, and a more enduring one.

Except on St. Patrick's Day, of course, when they all are equally to be avoided.

The practical matter is that, inevitably, Irish bars and Irish pubs in this country exist in the same space. The quiet late-afternoon-to-early-evening comfort of a shadowy hideaway for a drink, some conversation and maybe a few laughs is often transformed by night into a raucous, bibulous, banjo-rattling gymnasium.

This is probably a minority opinion. Proof that the appeal of the Irish bar extends beyond matters of Celtic heritage is that it is the one species of saloon that keeps growing. Certainly that's the case around Washington D.C., where they are now as common as congressional earmarks.

(In Ireland, pubs are closing at the rate of about one a day, falling victim to recession, smoking bans, drunk driving laws and changes in the Irish lifesyle. Still, no trip to Ireland is complete without a pint in McDaid's, a proper pub off Grafton Street in Dublin, or in a real country pub in Cork or Donegal or the county of your choosing).

In my youth - a phase my wife Jane refers to as "young and stupid" - I worked for a time as bartender in a pair of popular Irish bars in Washington; the Dubliner and Kelly's Irish Times, respectively. That was more than 30 years ago and the fact that both haunts are still pouring whiskey and keeping folks up late at night is testimony enough to their charms.

I worked the very first St. Patrick's Day at the Dubliner on Capitol Hill in 1974 and lived to tell the tale. Danny Coleman, the Dubliner's owner then and now, used to refer to this annual event as the ultimate in "planned hilarity." An honest bartender will tell you that early in a career working March 17 is highly prized, largely for the chance to earn what is generally called "serious money."

A couple of years of puddled green beer, puking coeds and deranged conversation will cure the sensible bartender of that itch.

It's a net plus to see the Irish get some attention, I suppose, but I don't have much good to say about St. Patrick's Day. In my barroom days, after flirting with the St. Paddy's Day tip cup, my idea of a good time was dinner with some friends at a long-gone Indian restaurant in Georgetown called Apana. Then, straight home.

In a decade as a single man living in Chicago, my loyalty to Butch McGuire's saloon on Division St. earned me access to the VIP back door in the alley on March 17, though I don't believe I ever afforded myself the opportunity.

At its best, the lure of the Irish saloon 364 days a year is all about pursuit of what is known in Ireland as "the craic."

The concept is both simple and often debated. And the pronunciation is "crack." It is time spent away from the stressful and the unpleasant, from the rigors of real life and work and money and sometimes family and often responsibility.

"The craic" can be quiet or noisy, played out in a small group or a large one, fueled by grand doses of adult beverage, or not so much.

Fun, for want of a more literary term.

"The craic was mighty," you could hear a fellow say in Ireland. If you were there, you know exactly what he means.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eric Massa and the old home town

Posted on Huffington Post, March 10, 2010

By Steve Daley

My father was the town Democrat. At least it felt that way growing up in Corning, N.Y.

Before my father, my maternal grandfather pretty much held the title in the small, scenic company town (Corning Inc.) in the Republican stronghold of southwestern New York State.

Joe Daley and Paul V. Lovette Sr. were Democratic aldermen in a place where Democrats won elected office about as often the local temperature hit 100 degrees on Thanksgiving morning.

For decades, Congressional representation in that part of the state was the private reserve of dull Chamber of Commerce Republican businessmen.

When the Sisters of Mercy had control of me in grade school, the local congressman was W. Sterling Cole, a stolid GOP lawyer from Painted Post, N.Y. who held the seat for more than 20 years.

When popular Jamestown mayor Stan Lundine somehow won the seat after the retirement of the GOP member in 1976, he became the first Democrat in the 20th century to represent the district in the House of Representatives.

A few years later, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, showing his legendary political savvy, sent Lundine into permanent public obscurity by picking him as his lieutenant governor.

Republican Amory Houghton Jr., former Chairman and CEO of Corning Inc., won the seat, which, it must be said, he ably held for nearly two decades.

My father was resigned to Houghton’s tenure in Washington, believing it only fair that a man who owned the district might as well represent it in Congress.

The truth is, Houghton was an independent sort who voted against the Iraq war and was possessed of a political spine as alien to Eric Massa and Democrats such as Ben Nelson, Max Baucus and Blanche Lincoln as webbed feet.

Houghton’s retirement and the election of garden-variety GOP Rep. Randy Kuhl in 2006 seemed to signal more of the same for the district.

So the 2008 election of Democratic Rep. Eric Massa to the House from the 29th district looked like a pretty big deal, at least to a Steuben County native son and political junkie who had been away a long time.

There was some evidence that the local politics was shifting. In 2008 President Barack Obama won nearly 49 percent of the vote in the district (John McCain drew 50.5%).

In 2006, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton ran strong for re-election in the “Southern Tier,” in part because she wasn’t afraid to show up in places such as Corning, Hornell and Jamestown.

So having set aside my official journalist’s cap some time ago, I sent Massa a modest $50 campaign contribution, which earned me a handwritten thank you note (not sure who the hand belonged to).

It did not take Massa long to bring me to my senses.

Having once voiced support for a single-payer health care system, he quickly signed on with 38 other House Democrats to vote against his own party’s health care reform bill. Which is something Randy Kuhl could have done, and would have done.

Through modern electronic channels, never having met the man, I told Massa to take me off his money list. I was a trifle let down, but what’s the worst that can happen?

Well, it turns out there’s resignation and disgrace and whining and conflicting rationales and the overwhelming likelihood the district will again have a Republican serving in the House.

If it was a Democratic renaissance, it was a short one.

Last week, Eric Massa of Corning followed New York Gov. David Paterson and Rep. Charles Rangel into political ignominy in the Empire State.

On a Wednesday Massa announced he would not be seeking a second term in the House, citing a recurrence of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

On Friday, after published reports that he had been accused of sexual harassment by a male employee and was the subject of an inquiry by the House ethics committee, Massa resigned effective this week and booked a date on the Glenn Beck program.

Joe Daley and Paul Lovette are gone, and so it appears are the Democrats in my old hometown and its environs. Local savants say the mayor of Hornell would make the best Democratic candidate to replace Massa.

My guess is they’ll elect a Democrat to Congress sometime before the next Ice Age.