Sunday, March 26, 2006

No root beer

O'Neill'sThe clocks in Ireland were set forward an hour as we slept, so when the child bride and I awoke at 7 a.m. on Sunday we had enjoyed even less sleep.

At breakfast, I found myself giggling over a short conversation that Linus and I had the night before:
ME: "Did you get me a Guinness?"
LINUS: "No. I thought you didn't want one."
ME: "OK. No worries, I thought I had said I did want one."
LINUS: "No, I asked you if you wanted a Guinness and you said, 'Fuck off, Irish," which I thought was rude."

Rachel and I were at the bus stop in city center at about 8:30 a.m. and the area was deserted enough that she and I were able to stand in the middle of Suffolk Street and take pictures of one another. When I travel, I usually try to time things to allow for the possibility of everything going horribly wrong. Almost always this results in everything going exactly as it should. So, the child bride and I arrived at the Dublin airport some two hours and 45 minutes before our flight.

Fortunately, we were kept occupied by security checks. In line to get our boarding passes, we had to talk to a bloke with a thick Dublin accent who used "ya's" as the plural of "you" ("I just need to ask ya's a few questions about your luggage."), which was an element of speech that I didn't think really existed. As soon as we were finished talking to him, a woman pulled us aside for a "random bag search." Once we got our boarding passes, we had to go through the metal detector security check to get to the terminal. In the terminal we then had to go through U.S. Customs before we could get to our gate. And as we were boarding the plane, Rachel was pulled aside for a "random bag and body search," that involved one fellow breaking the zipper on her carry-on while she was frisked by a slightly butch female security official.

Rachel in DublinThe flight to Chicago was tedious, as you would expect, with the highlights coming from the head flight attendant who appeared to be suffering from age-related dementia. Her cabin announcements were filled with very long pauses and occasional rambling statements. She also displayed a true skill in driving the drinks cart into my knee.

"Do you have root beer?" the child bride asked.
"No. We have beer," the flight attendant said.

In what world is beer the same thing as root beer? In Crazy Person Land, that's where.

We sat amid a group of three girls from Los Angeles who had been in Ireland for spring break. One of the girls had four canisters of Pringles in her carry-on. Because God forbid you should trapped in a foreign country without any Pringles. Another girl sat directly across from me and appeared to be mildly disgusted when she saw me reading "Tocyn I'r Nefoedd" by Dafydd Llewelyn, which is obviously a Welsh-language novel.
"That is crazy looking. None of it even looks like words," she said.
"It's Welsh," I said.
That usually gets a blank response, so I added: "It's the root language of Irish."
"It doesn't look like any Celtic (she pronounced it 'Seltic') script I've ever seen," she said, as if I were lying.

In Chicago, we got to play Security Fun House again. We deplaned, had to collect our luggage, go through customs, then give our luggage to a sort of Oompa-Loompa assembly line of grumpy TSA agents, then go through another metal detector security check. But we did eventually make it back to Minnesota. We went to bed at 8 p.m. and slept for 12 hours straight.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Work is the curse of the drinking classes

Dublin streetSaturday morning was sunny and warm. While Rachel attended the last few hours of her conference, I walked up to the tourist office to check the schedule for buses back to the airport. I took a roundabout way that first took me around Merrion Square and then up past the statue of Phil Lynott. Dubliners are known for giving their statues rhyming nicknames, but I'm not sure anyone has yet come up with a name for Phil's.

Waking up early on the weekend is clearly not a popular activity in Dublin, so I had the city pretty much to myself as I walked back to Merrion Square to see the "Fag on the Crag," aka, the statue of Oscar Wilde.

Wilde was a heavyweight boxer when he was in college. Keep in mind that this was boxing in the 1870s, the time of John L. Sullivan and brutal, bare-fisted fighting. You have to admire a big gay man who can fight.

If anyone ever makes a statue of me, I would hope it would be as irreverent as the one of Wilde. He is sprawled out on a rock with a smirk on his face that lets you know that if he were still alive, he would think that you, the person standing there taking pictures of him, are an idiot. Actually, I'm pretty sure that most writers I admire would think I'm an idiot. I would like to think that if I were to get a chance to go back in time and meet Ernest Hemingway, he would punch me in the face. Wilde likely would just tell me that I am uncultured and dull -- he wouldn't even want to make out because I'm too old.

Oscar WildeI sat in Merrion Square for a while, reading and watching people walk by. At around noon, the child bride and I went for lunch.

We originally set out for the Temple Bar Food Market, but my shit map (provided by my shit guide book) did not identify the exact location of Meeting House Square. We spent a while wandering through Temple Bar and I know now that we were off by only one street. I suspect that we would have eventually found the market with a bit more wandering, but the child bride had no faith in my navigational skills after the fiasco of getting to the hotel on Wednesday, so she insisted on asking people.

She asked a woman who appeared to be a hostess at a restaurant, but who told Rachel, "I'm not from here." She then went into a hotel to ask, and the Eastern European girl at the counter didn't have a clue.

This was a common theme for most of my trip: people not from Ireland not having a clue what you were talking about. This is my roundabout way of lamenting that they did not speak English, but not wanting to blatantly complain about someone who doesn't speak English because it makes me sound like one of those people who complains that too much government money is spent supporting Welsh education.

Merrion Square In one pub, I had asked the bloke serving us if the pub served bitter (I only found out later that ales and bitter and the like are not terribly popular in Ireland).
"Wha?" he said.
"Bitter. Do you serve bitter?"
I just sat there, twitching. In my head I was screaming: "FUCK! JESUS FUCKING CHRIST OUR FUCKING LORD AND FUCKING SAVIOR ON A FUCKING POPSICLE STICK, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?! Miller?! Miller?! I'm in a pub, you ass. Do you see me eating Buffalo wings? Is there an American football game on? If not, I don't want to hear the word Miller. I am disappointed in myself that I'm not punching you in the throat right now."
After a few seconds, I was able to force out through grit teeth: "I'll just have a Guinness, thank you."

At another pub, I asked the girl if they served Caffrey's.
"Kilkenny?" she asked.
"Is that the same thing?" I asked.
I would find out later that, yes, it is similar, but all I got from her was a blank stare.
"Never mind. I'll have a Guinness," I said.

On the child bride's third attempt, another hotel, she found someone who claimed to know where the food market was located. This woman even produced a map and pointed out where we should go -- north of the river. Obviously, this woman was completely and totally wrong. Neighborhoods/districts hardly ever span rivers, regardless of the city. But with our reasoning abilities depleted by the continued exhaustion of jetlag, we wandered around a series of less-than-clean streets until Rachel decided she was ready to give up.

I spent several minutes cursing the worthlessness of my guidebook as we walked back to the Grafton Street area, where we found a small pizza place. It is frustrating to know now where the food market is, just as it is frustrating now to know that I should have gone on the Viking Splash Tour, which also went unmentioned in my guidebook.

Dublin bloggers and meIndeed, I probably would have written off my Dublin experience as a shockingly disappointing waste of $2,400 (cost of flights and hotel) had it not been for Linus' managing to put together a group of local bloggers and others willing to risk having their skin eaten to meet the child bride and me.

I'm not sure all who were there necessarily want to be visually identified, so I'll simply tell you who was there and you can guess which one they are in the picture: Elisa, Donal, Isobel, Linus, Ken, Mick, and Noel. Lucy had also toyed with the idea of coming up from the Kingdom of Tramore, but perhaps as a result of my exposing the fact that the Guinness in Dublin doesn't taste different than it does elsewhere, she stayed home. In her stead, Linus made sure to insult me.

Things went off better than a number of military operations, with Linus sending Donal and Isobel ahead to a pub called Grogan's while he went to meet us on the only street I had as yet been able to find with any sort of consistency. Once it was determined that Grogan's was too full, the Irish Blogger Recon Team was sent out to find another pub while Linus, Rachel and I ate dinner.

We all eventually met up at Neary's, which is strangely identified outside as the Chatham Lounge. Whatever it's called, I liked it and I enjoyed the company so much that the child bride and I were there a good three hours later than I had originally intended.

More pictures of Dublin taken on March 25

Quite hot

LampWe were up again at 8 a.m., but I lied in bed for a while because it was pissing down rain. At breakfast, a very large American woman insisted upon saying "Top o' the mornin'" to everyone who walked in.

Even with my dawdling, I was at the Museum of Archaeology and History some 15 minutes early. I wrapped up in the new coat my parents gave me for my birthday and fell asleep amid the sound of the rain.

The museum was not suggested by my guide book and turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip. I was particularly amused by the size of the weaponry used by early Celts around the time the Vikings invaded. The swords are no longer than my forearm, which suggests that they were used by rather tiny blokes. And, indeed, they were -- their skeletons fit into boxes that wouldn't hold most modern overhead luggage.

Then, on the next floor, there is a Viking skeleton, which is of a fellow who was as tall or taller than me. You can see, then, why the Vikings were so successful in Ireland. They conquered thanks to an abundance of reach. They probably never got within striking distance of the wee Irish blokes and their miniature swords. In a very gruesome way, a fight between a Viking and a 8th century Celt must have been rather funny to watch.

DaffodilsAfter staring at everything in the archeology museum, I went over to the Museum of Natural History. This was suggested by my guide book, which means, of course, that it was a disappointment. It was interesting only in the sense that it gave you an idea of what was interesting to Victorians -- case after case after case of dead taxidermied animals. To its credit, though, the animals didn't look threatening. As a boy, I used to be dragged to these sorts of "Let's look at dead animals" exhibits all the time and it seemed the taxidermist had gone out of his way to make every single animal look as if it was in mid-attack: menacing ducks, evil mongoose, flying death snakes, etc.

I stayed at the natural history museum only long enough for the rain to let up, found an Internet cafe, e-mailed Linus to set up the next evening, did a quick blog post and went to lunch. I ate lunch in O'Neill's, then set out to visit the General Post Office, which had been suggested by my guidebook. When I got there, I discovered... a post office. I learned later that it had been a major symbol of the Easter Rising of 1916, but my guidebook made no mention of this. It said only that it was a quality bit of architecture. It was at this point I decided my guide book was a waste of time.

I randomly chose a spot on the map and decided to make my way to the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, also known as Christ Church. Admission was €5, but I managed to slip in for free, thanks to a group of very stupid French girls that were distracting the old fellow who was supposed to take my money. Has anyone else ever noticed that French people love to congregate in the most inconvenient places? They especially love standing in doorways. It's as if they have some sort of internal mechanism that drives them to do this.

I went back to the hotel at 4 p.m. for some tea and the child bride was there, eager to again take on the challenge of buying shoes. After hitting several stores, we both eventually bought shoes and then celebrated by eating at an Indian restaurant. Good Indian food cannot be found in Minnesota, so any trip to Ireland or the U.K. has to involve curry.

Statue An English couple sat next to us, and when the girl ordered chicken madras, the waiter said: "That's quite hot, OK?"
"What's 'quite hot?'" she asked.
"Well, hot. Quite hot."
"Hmm. Can you make it maybe not as quite hot?"
"It wouldn't be chicken madras then."
"OK. I'm fine with quite hot."

The time difference still wearing on us, the child bride and I went back to our hotel after dinner. We watched "Jeremiah Johnson" on RTE and went to bed.

More pictures of Dublin taken on March 24

Friday, March 24, 2006


StairsRachel and I were up at about 8 a.m., our wake-up call feeling like the sort of thing they might do to you at Guantanamo.

I started out for the Guinness Storehouse at 9 a.m., which seemed a bit early to be drinking, I'll admit, but fortunately I managed to get myself lost several times and it took me a full hour to walk a mile and a half.

The Storehouse is a multi-media do-it-yourself tour/learning experience based on the alcoholic liquid that could easily be the center of a religion for some people. Americans are the No. 1 visitors, according to the woman I asked at the customer service desk; the English come in at No. 2, with the Scots taking the No. 3 spot. In an audio post that I recorded shortly after visiting the Storehouse, I said that holding the No. 1 spot made me somewhat proud to be an American. But when you think about it in terms of population, Scotland should be the most proud -- there are far fewer Scots than Americans or English.

I finally found myself wandering through a series of old stone buildings and cobbled streets that looked like the set from a Batman film; this was the Guinness brewery complex. I got a sense of what it must feel like for a devout Catholic to see the pope when I saw that gate -- the gate from all those "Brilliant" ads ("A bear trap! Brilliant! Ahhhh!"). I took about 12 pictures of said gate, from all sorts of angles, as if it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. In the end, I kept only two pictures, this one and the one immediately below.

Me at Guinness gateIt's vain to say this, but the picture to the right is probably one of the best pictures taken of me ever. It makes me look like a writer, if that makes sense. If I can't write like an actual writer, at least I can cherish this picture that makes me look like one.

I paid €14 to attend the Guinness exhibit. That's $16.82, or £9.62, or three pints of Guinness at The Liffey to walk around and learn everything you could every possibly want to know about Guinness. But, factor in the fact that they give you a pint of Guinness at the end of the tour and a souvenir, and I suppose the admission drops to about €8. The souvenir is a clear plastic medallion, about 2 inches in diameter, that has a little drop of Guinness in it. I decided I would give it to the concubine, who demanded that I get her something from Dublin.

Side note: never, ever, ever, ever, ever tell me to get you something when I go on vacation. You can ask, politely, but never say: "Get me something." That turns a part of my vacation into a stupid task that I have to perform just to keep you happy. Said task will eat away at me and make me angry and you will end up getting some piece of shit I got for free, whereas everyone else will get really cool scarves and T-shirts and candy made of whiskey.

Here are a few things I learned about Guinness:
  • It is not black; it is, in fact, ruby red.
  • The water does not come from the River Liffey, and thank God for that. The water comes from the Wicklow Mountains and always has done.
  • The city of Dublin once determined that Arthur Guinness was using more water than he was allocated and sent a few fellows down to shut off his water supply. They were unable to perform said task because Arthur came at them with a pick ax.
  • There are several types of Guinness that are shipped to various parts of the world, which is probably where this "Guinness tastes different outside of Ireland" myth got started. I knew about Guinness Extra Stout and Guinness Draught, but I had never before heard of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which has higher alcohol content and is not sold in the United States.

    GuinnessIt took me a little more than an hour to make my way through the self-guided tour and up to the bar where the complimentary pint of Guinness is served. The bar overlooks the whole of Dublin and strangely, or perhaps appropriately, plays popular American music.

    The bar is a large room that offers a panoramic view of Dublin, with modern IKEA-style tables pushed up near the windows. As I sat enjoying my pint and the view, an English woman came up and asked if I was using the chair next to me. I said no, and she proceeded to move the chair directly in front of me, thus blocking my view. For the first time in my life, I was able to see why some people thoroughly dislike the English (I should point out, though, that this was one of those upper-middle-class on-the-older-side-of-middle-age almost-certainly-conservative types that no one likes, regardless of nationality). Fortunately, as an American, I will always win a battle of rudeness.

    "I said you could take my chair; I didn't say you could take my view," I growled, allowing my Texas accent to come out.

    She blustered and moved out of my line of sight. Later, she and her group would raise their glasses say, "That Irish toast."

    I wanted to (but didn't) yell at them: "Sláinte, for fuck's sake. It's an Irish word that actually sounds like it looks, you morons. People like you are the reason the Empire fell apart. Fucking try, you fucks."

    Ha'Penny BridgeAgain I got lost almost immediately after I left the Storehouse. Eventually, I found my way to the Liffey River and walked along its northern banks up to the Ha'penny Bridge. The Guinness Storehouse makes a point of letting you know that the water for its beer has never come from the Liffey and you can understand why they want you to know this when you see and smell said body of water. It's not exactly the sort of thing you'd jump into on a hot day.

    As I walked along its banks, I was reminded of the first time I saw the Charles River, in Boston, which is far more attractive. It was summer and my friend, Paul, and I were walking across Harvard Bridge; I debated jumping off the bridge into the water and he said rather matter-of-factly: "You could; they've cleaned it up a lot -- you no longer need a tetanus shot if you fall in."

    Who knows what you'd need if you fell into the Liffey. There are little life preservers along the banks that you can throw to an unfortunate victim. I think it would be more appropriate to put rifles there, so you could put the person out of their misery.

    But a walk along the Liffey tells you something that I sensed about that city as a whole - it is, or, at least, was for a very long time, a rather utilitarian city. This is where people live and work. I sense that the idea of Dublin as a tourist destination is not one that stretches back too many decades. The walk along the Liffey is narrow and very close to cars; it is not built for a leisurely stroll as are sections of the Thames through London, or the Taff through Cardiff, or the Mississippi through St. Paul, etc. I'm not really trying to make a statement in pointing this out, I just found it interesting.

    StickA highlight of this walk came when I cut north toward the shopping areas and encountered three girls who were beyond the definition of white trash, beyond the definition of chav, and into some never-before-encountered territory of human filth. The leader of the crew was a foul-mouthed young woman who appeared to be 8 months pregnant. She wore a dirty pink track suit, the top of which could not cover her distended belly, making it more of a midriff top. She was, of course, smoking a cigarette. I considered taking a picture of her, but worried that the girls would somehow develop super-human-trash speed and come running across the street to pummel me.

    I ate a late lunch at the Stag's Head which has been helping people get drunk since 1795. If a pub is about as old or older than the nation of my birth, I have an overwhelming desire to go there. After a bit more wandering I went back to the hotel and slept and read until the child bride showed up.

    Rachel decided that she wanted "European" shoes, so we went shopping in Grafton Street for a short while, discovering that we are giants. Rachel was forced to look for shoes in the men's section, and I was told that several styles I was interested in didn't go up to my size. We gave up in frustration and ate dinner at Bewley's, then were back to our hotel in time to join a literary pub crawl.

    The evening started off with the actors doing a quick scene from "Waiting For Godot," which isn't the sort of barn burner stuff I would use to try to really wow the crowd from the start, but Irish literary figures have hardly ever been Tony Orlando on the entertainment scale, so you work with what you're given.

    More pictures from Dublin taken on March 23.
  • Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Drunken Muslim

    Cope StreetThe child bride and I arrived in Ireland at about 9 a.m. local time Wednesday. Dublin's airport has a certain feel to it that makes it seem as if it is a throwback to the Soviet era. In the way that Irish pubs are built in Ireland and then shipped around the world to be assembled elsewhere, Dublin's airport appears to have been shipped from the Ukraine.

    They say that queuing (aka standing in line for things) is one of the great British pastimes, so perhaps out of spite the Irish offer nothing even remotely resembling a queue to get through customs. It's just a multitude of people, most of them desperate to be released so they can buy leprechaun figurines.

    Before I go any further, I want to clear up something from a conversation that would take place a few days later. When the child bride said aloud in a pub in Dublin that she thought Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom, she got exactly the sort of response one would expect; she was soundly corrected as I nervously made note of the fact that the room we were in had only one exit. She never got a chance to explain that, yes, she knows Ireland is not British, but that she thought "United Kingdom" was a charmingly antiquated phrase that is synonymous with "British Isles."

    And apparently, she is not the only one to be unclear on what larger groups Ireland fit into. As we stood in the mob waiting to get through customs, a group of pre-teen Irish boys stood in front of us and argued over whether they could go through the area marked for members of the European Union.

    Davenport"Ireland isn't in Europe, you ponce," one of them said.

    We took a bus into Dublin, and it was there that I first encountered what would be a common theme for the trip: if someone loudly bumbles into the room (or bus) in Dublin, they are almost certain to have an American or English accent. The full 30-minute trip into city center consisted of my listening to some low-level manager from Woking calling the three or four people that she was in charge of and asking them unnecessary questions.

    Another common theme was my getting lost. Within seconds of getting off the bus, I had no idea where we were. I was forced to stop every 20 feet and look at my map while Rachel communicated telepathically to the whole of Ireland that I was an idiot. If you look at a map, we walked slightly less than 900 yards down what is effectively one street. But since the street changes names four times -- Suffolk, Nassau, Leinster, Clare -- and I had not slept in about 24 hours, my navigational skills were soundly defeated.

    HousesWe ate lunch at Gallagher's Boxty House in Temple Bar, which marked the single success for my tourist guidebook. Shortly before I left for Dublin, my dad gave me Fodor's "Dublin's 25 Best." With the exception of its suggestion to eat at Gallagher's, a better title would have been "How to Be Disappointed in Dublin."

    The food was delicious (as it should be for $70 -- Dublin is an expensive fucking city), and with food finally in our bellies, the child bride and I found it hard to stay awake as we sat at our table. We went back to our hotel and, despite everything that they tell you about adjusting to the time difference, took a three-hour nap. It took me an additional hour to fully wake up and I felt as if I had been hit by some sort of massive Nerf semi-truck -- I didn't hurt but I was completely disoriented. And my bowels hated me.

    We walked to a chemists and got to live a sort of comedy sketch in my being forced to tell the chemist exactly what was wrong with me. Very little medication -- at this chemists, anyway -- is available over the counter, so rather than simply finding Immodium on the shelf at Walgreens and purchasing it camouflaged among conditioner, gummy bears and a copy of Time, I instead had to stand a counter and tell an attractive woman that I had the runs.

    ME: "I need some, uh, stomach medicine."
    ATTRACTIVE IRISH FEMALE CHEMIST: "Certainly, what sort of stomach medicine?"
    ME: "Uhm, well, I just flew in from the U.S., so I'm just a little off."
    HER: "Right. Something for motion sickness?"
    ME: "No. Not. Like. I have to, you know, go frequently?"
    HER: "Frequently?"
    ME: "I, oh, hell, I have a bit of diarrhea."
    HER: "I'm sorry, you were mumbling."
    ME: "Diarrhea."
    HER: "Oh, diarrhea. No problem. We've got this and this."
    ME: "Uhm, that one I guess."
    HER: "You're pointing, but I can't see to which. Do you have cramps with your diarrhea?"
    ME: "Uhm.."
    HER: "You're mumbling again."
    ME: "No. I'll... I'll take that box you've got in your right hand. Please let me leave."

    MountainsI was back to something resembling normal by the time the child bride and I went out for the evening to a social event connected to the conference she was attending.

    Public health nutrition is not really a male-dominated profession it seems, and I found myself as one of only four men in the room -- all of us husbands. I didn't talk to them because I was too busy sitting in stunned silence at the fact that the Guinness in Dublin does not taste different than the Guinness in St. Paul. All our grown lives we have been told that Ireland, Dublin specifically, is a Valhalla of Guinness, but it simply isn't true. I had traveled 3,728 miles to drink a pint of Guinness exactly the same as the one I could get at The Liffey. It was like learning that Santa Claus isn't real. It was like getting Kiera Knightley naked and discovering that she has an enormous tattoo celebrating the Bay City Rollers on her lower back. Sure, I still celebrate Christmas, I would still participate in a bit of "how's your father" with Kiera, and I still drank four pints of Guinness, but a certain innocence was lost. I hoped against hope that just the pub in question, The Gingerman, was to blame.

    The evening finished with the child bride and me at a table with a young woman from Indiana, a woman from Adelaide, Australia, a San Diego-raised Mexican who lives in Sweden, a woman who lives in Malawi, and a Denver-raised Lebanese Muslim who was blasted on white wine.

    Cope Street

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    Irish, Russian, whatever

    When I saw my dad today, I noticed he was wearing a pin on his lapel that I hadn't seen in at least 20 years.

    "Is that one of the pins from the Soviet grain ship?" I asked.

    When I was a kid, there was a rundown seafood restaurant called Hill's just off Pier 19 in Galveston, Texas, that my family went to all the time. The restaurant had enormous fresh Gulf shrimp that I had an amazing capacity to consume. It was tradition for the ships docked at the pier to make themselves available to all the visitors willing to scramble through a section of pulled-back chain-link fence. Perhaps it wasn't tradition at all, now that I think of it.

    Nonetheless, my family would always go check out the ships and would ask if we could come aboard and look around. Mostly it was Coast Guard ships. I clearly grew up in a different time that a family of four could just sort of wander up to a U.S. military vessel and ask to look around.

    But easily the most memorable ship visit came when we found ourselves on a grain ship from the Soviet Union.

    The Soviet Union! Remember that I grew up in Texas, and it was drilled into our heads in school that the Soviets were atheist psychopaths hell-bent on war. As the son of a journalist and Democrat, I was skeptical of such claims, but going aboard that grain ship with my brother and mother and father felt like the craziest, most death-defying thing that a little boy had ever done in the history of little boys.

    The men on the ship were hilarious. They had converted one of the empty grain bins into a swimming pool and were all jovial and friendly as one of them showed us just about every inch of the ship and told us all about what it was like to live aboard her. Russians weren't scary; they were cool! And at the end of our impromptu tour, the bloke who had been showing us around gave us little lapel pins (British people call them "badges," I think), each one different, with Russian writing on them.

    "Yep, it is; commemorating 70 years since the Bolshevik revolution," my dad said, pointing to the red, gold and green pin on his chest, with the embossed numbers "1917-1987."

    "I haven't seen that in years," I said. "Why the hell are you wearing that?"

    "It's the only thing I could find with any green in it," he said.