We Need National Names

As the 21st century evolves, nationalism is becoming a dirty word.  Pride in one’s country is considered déclassé at best and downright racist at worst.  What a crock of crap!  Since when did self-esteem became synonymous with hostility?  God, we live in useless times!  Yet there are tons of people who want to do away with these “stereotypical labels.”  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  We’re all God’s children, artificially separated by imaginary political boundaries.  [Heavy sigh!]  The last time I ate that pie-in-the-sky, I was twelve.  Since ancient times, people have identified things by the places they come from — things like Persian carpets, Greek fire and Mongolian barbeque.  It’s jargon.  It gives us tons of information.  It’s doesn’t carry a judgement call.  Let me demonstrate.

When I was a kid, there was a cool joke that swept the neighbourhood.
“How do you make a Venetian Blind?”
“Poke his eyes out!”
This is a funny, but it simply doesn’t work with any other city.  There are all kinds of things like this.  For example:

A German Shepherd is a dog, whereas a Swiss Shepherd is Heidi’s grandfather.

Russian Roulette is a game you don’t really wanna play, but if you have enough money, regular roulette can be kinda fun.

I don’t think the Beatles song Norwegian Wood would have had the same impact if the refrain was “Isn’t it good? / Yugoslavian wood.”

The French are particularly good at just stealing stuff and saying it belongs to them.  Things like French toast, French manicure, French horn, French press, French braids, French beans and, obviously, French fries.  None of these are even French, BTW, but the entire world knows them by that name.  Remember when the Americans tried to change French fries to Freedom fries and came off lookin’ like total idiots?  And, of course, there’s the French kiss which, I can tell you from experience, is probably French, cuz it involves an awful lot more tongue than most people are used to.

Plus, some words are just shorthand.

People drink Scotch, not “a blended malt liquor from the northern part of the British Isles.”

For Christmas dinner, you trot out the good china, not “the very best dinnerware.”

And when you and the boyfriend are off to the beach you wear a Bikini, not an “obscenely skimpy, two-piece swimming costume.”  Meanwhile, he’s wearing Bermuda shorts, not “frumpy dad pants that make his ass look tired.”

A Singapore Sling is a drink.  A Chicago sling is probably what you use when the loan shark breaks your arm.

A Brazilian Wax is a cringe-worthy beauty affectation, but English wax is just what’s left over after the candles burn down.

Turkish Delight is a delicious snack you want to put in your mouth. America cheese? – not so much.

And it goes on

There are animals: Shetland ponies, Labrador retrievers and Bengal tigers.  Drinks: a Manhattan, Long Island Iced Tea and a Moscow Mule.  Foods: Belgium Waffles, Swedish Meatballs, Greek Salad, Baked Alaska and Chicken Kiev.

Did you know the Ebola virus was named for the Ebola River?

This stuff is everywhere.

But here is one example that categorically proves just how important national distinctions are:

American Football is two teams of large men wearing helmets and extensive padding, playing a game with a ball, using a standard set of rules.  Australian Football is a couple of street gangs in short pants, running around a pasture, trying to murder each other.

I rest my case!

Firenze – Shots Fired

From there, even though for the first couple of hours Martina Ciampi was practically trembling with impatience, events moved rather quickly.  Dreyfus learned what he needed to know about the Kovaci brothers and, in theory, decided to destroy their little corner of the world.  However, first he needed to slap these clowns for involving Emily and also remove her value as a bargaining chip. A delicate balance.  Eventually, he ordered coffee and excused himself to make a telephone call.

“Sydney, I need a car and a driver.  A taxi would work perfectly.”

“We don’t actually do taxis in that part of the world.  But I’ll get you what you need.”

“Something nondescript and deposable.”

“At your hotel in an hour – maybe a little longer?”

“That’s perfect.  Thank you, Sydney.  Goodbye.”

Then he finished his coffee, thanked Signora Ciampi for the information and told her he’d walk back to the hotel.  Martina, who had never seen anything like this in her life, said goodbye and sat for several minutes trying to figure out what had just happened.  When she finally stood up, she looked down at the crumbs on his plate and the red tinge at the bottom of his wine glass.  Jonathan McCormick hadn’t told her anything about this man.  She turned, to her left — in a circle — one and a half times and, standing facing away from the table, made the sign of the cross before she walked to the car.

At about the same time, Dreyfus could already see the river. (Florence is a small place.)  He stopped at a tourist kiosk and bought a hat, sunglasses and a red “Italia” shirt.  Then he bought a gelato and fought the crowd across Ponte Vecchio.  Back at the hotel, he found Janet Miller in the bar.

“What the fuck are you two playing at?”  Janet Miller was Janet Miller again.  Her eyes had flavor and spark and a lot of anger.

  Dreyfus was going to say … but decided against it and exhaled seriously. “Tell me what happened.”

“Three men with guns.”  The barman started over, took a look and turned around.  “They came from …

Dreyfus made a gesture with his hand.

“No, they just opened their jackets and showed us.”

“Then what?”

“Em said she wasn’t going anywhere unless they paid the bar bill.”  Janet took a drink, “So one of them went over and paid it.”

Dreyfus smiled.

“Then when she was getting into their car, she said, ‘Tell Dreyfus his damsel is in distress.’ And they just drove away.  James was going to call the Carabinieri, but I talked him out of it.  They think you two are playing some kind of a sick joke.  Is that what you’re doing?  Because …”

“No.  No, it’s not.  Look, Janet, you have to go back to the Montroses.  The Italians are going to release the body of their daughter in two days, and you need to help arrange transportation.”

‘How do you know …?”  Janet looked pained at the mention of her goddaughter, and her face lost most of its life.

“I just know.  But this is serious.  You have to get the Montroses out of the country as soon as.  And you have to make sure they don’t come back until the rest of this gets sorted.”

“They’re coming here later to pick me up.”  The colour was coming back into Janet’s face.  She had a job to do.

“That’ll work.”

“JJ didn’t die of an overdose, did she?”

“No.  That’s what the autopsy is going to say, but no, no she didn’t.”  Dreyfus was definitely not going to give Janet Miller any more information.

A couple of hours later, Dreyfus was sitting in the back seat of a squared-off, four-door some kind of car that he couldn’t name.  He had Emily’s suitcase beside him and a 9mm Beretta in a holster under his left arm.  It was that strange time in the Italian day – too late for sunny afternoon but too early for cool breeze evening – when even the tourist streets were relatively empty.  As if the world was waiting.  Dreyfus was waiting for a gaggle of middle-aged, middle-class couples to get out of the narrow side street he wanted a little privacy on.  He could just see the blue-green neon Salut sign.  It was a one-door Kovaci brothers’ dance club, with two bored doormen waiting for the late night dance ‘til-the-Ecstasy-wears-off rush.  The couples turned the corner, and Dreyfus got out of the car.  He pulled Emily’s suitcase behind him, and in his other hand, hidden by his hip, was the Beretta.  He stopped just short of the two doormen and pulled the suitcase forward.  

“My name is Dreyfus Sinclair.  Tell your boss this is the English woman’s suitcase.  She’s going to …”

The first man stepped forward.

“Fuck o …”

On average, 9 mm bullets travel at 300 mps (metres per second.)  So, at that range, when Dreyfus shot the man in the face, he was dead before he finished the sentence and was already crumpling to the cobblestones when Dreyfus leveled the smoking gun at the second man’s head.

“Open your jacket.  Two fingers.”

The man obeyed, shaking his head.

“My name is Dreyfus Sinclair.  Tell your boss this is the English woman’s suitcase.  She’s going to want to change her clothes.  I’ll be by and collect her in a couple of days.  And you,” Dreyfus gestured with the gun, “Give your boss the message, and go back to Albania.  Because if I see you again, I’m going to kill you.”

Dreyfus let go of the suitcase, turned and casually walked back to the car.  He got into the back seat and said to the driver Sydney had provided for him: “Next.”

I Just Say No!

The world is large and it’s full of wonder, but it’s also an obstacle course of nasty.  This is the stuff that we know is unfair, stuff we know is a scam, stuff that insults our intelligence and our integrity.  In general, we just have to put up with this crap – or spend our entire lives cultivating an apoplectic ulcer.  However, there is one way to survive without being totally pissed off all the time: that’s to stop, take three deep breaths and refuse to participate.  Here are just a few things I refuse to do.  (Some of them are more serious than others.)

I refuse to use Gillette products – A while ago, the multinational boys at Gillette made a video that called me (and every other man) a bad friend, a bad father/brother/uncle, a bad role model, a bad mentor, generally a bad person, certainly a sexist and quite possibly a … anyway … you get the idea.  Their only purpose, as far as I can see, was to cash in on trending “toxic masculinity.”  So be it.  Well, I’ve been called a lot of names over the years, but I’ve never paid anybody for the privilege – and I’m certainly not going to start now.

I refuse to wear short pants – I know it’s uber-fashionable, but in ten years, we’re all going to laugh ourselves stupid at the photographs.  Here’s the deal.  Unless you’re a swimmer, a diver, a runner, a pole vaulter or an ice hockey player (think about it!) there is no logical reason for a grown man in the northern hemisphere to wear shorts to work.  Just sayin’!

I refuse to Tweet – My only mission in life is to communicate, and Twitter is the poster child of communication in the 21st century.  So what’s the problem?  Quite simply, Twitter is the meanest, nastiest, most judgemental, disrespectful, petty form of communication since Grog the Caveman grunted obscenities at the Neanderthals down the road.  History is going to look at our time and conclude most of our problems came from the horrible way we talked to each other – and I’m not willing to be part of that.

I refuse to eat liver – I have no philosophical quarrel with liver, but I ain’t going to eat it.  (This is my mother’s fault.)

I refuse to give money to charity — Sounds hard-hearted and it is, but in my defence, I’ve donated tons of clothing, furniture and food over the years.  I’ve recorded radio programs for the blind, cooked pancake breakfasts, swept floors, washed dishes, picked up garbage, sold raffle tickets and taught public speaking in a federal prison – all gratis.  When I get to the Gates of Valhalla, I’m not going to have anything to be ashamed of in the good works department.  My problem with giving cold hard cash to charity is there’s always a middleman somewhere, and no one is ever willing to tell me how much he’s taking off the top.

And finally

I refuse to be lectured by students – I’ve always worked on the premise that the ideas of young people are fresh.  They look at the world with an untrained eye, which gives them a lot of latitude — and that’s a good thing.  However, I’m not interested in being berated for my many failures by someone whose biggest accomplishment so far in life is mastering puberty.  The notion that kids bring just as much to the table as the experts who’ve studied the problem for years is ludicrous.  Here’s how it works: if your kitchen is flooded, who are you going to call to fix the water pipes – some child fresh out of Cultural Studies 101 or a professional plumber?  The choice is yours, but I’m going with the plumber.