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Sad News for the PL Family

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My friends at Portuguese Grill.

Brad and his family the night they sampled the delights of Portugal.

It is something of a crime against nature, when a young person dies.  I’ve witnessed the early deaths of friends and relatives, of students and of strangers, and said those words, over and over.  But when a person dies of a disease, anger turns to relief at some point because that person is no longer suffering.  Even the
death of my father’s first wife, who passed away in her twenties, came with the coda that she was sick, that it would have happened some day.

What I bring today really is a crime against what should have been.

A friend, Brad Hayes, who was featured on this blog a few years ago, passed away last week.  Except he didn’t exactly just “pass away.”  There is no euphemism that encapsulates the kind of death that Brad experienced and the shock it was to his wife, his daughters and his family.  And the details really do not matter to anyone but those who really loved him most.  What matters to the rest of us is that the light he brought to this world, that shone in the faces of his family and our friends, is now absent and always will be.

Brad was exactly the sort of person who you could take to a Portuguese restaurant without complaint or whining about the fact that he had no idea what the food would be.   That day, I told him I would go on my own.  He insisted on bringing the entire family.  Even his mother was there.  Nobody balked at the unfamiliar dishes, not even his six-year-old daughter.   There was just the joy of a family being together, which happened often, but not enough.

Brad did not treat me like Denise’s annoying friend, which let’s be honest, at times, I certainly am.  He treated me like his friend.  He once marveled at my ability to cut up drumsticks with a fork and knife, because I refuse to touch meat in front of other people.  He marveled but did not make fun of me.  Literally everyone else would and does.  He spent the first day of his Hawaiian honeymoon taking his wife- and his wife’s annoying friend- to the beach.  I was willing to be dropped off somewhere till my plane came.  He would not hear of it.   He asked me what I wanted to do, and happily went to an apparently famous gas station to sample their spam.  No joke.  Because I said so.

So I say good-bye to my friend, Brad, who at 34, still had a life to live.  Who still had kids he should have had the chance to guide into adulthood, and a new wife he should have grown old with.  To those he left, who must truly live with the hollowness his loss leaves behind, I am so sorry. I haven’t forgotten about you.  And I won’t forget Brad.


Slow And Low, That Is The Tempo

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In America, I’m different.  I didn’t  grow up the way everybody else did because my mother was not like everybody else.  In Portugal, you’d expect it to be more like a homecoming, where I’d have these things in common with others.  Um…. no. For one, all of those things about my childhood had to do with a Portugal that hasn’t existed since 1958, but that is another post.  Two, everyone thinks I am completely deficient by default and that the US is basically the moon populated by crack whores with no long-term memories who freebase burger patties.  During my trip to Portugal, I was asked:

If I knew what cough syrup was and if we had it in America.

If I knew what a delivery driver was.  When I remarked that pizza delivery drivers rode motorbikes instead of cars, my cousin spent about a full five minutes mansplaining pizza transport in shaky English.  One, I’d have understood the Portuguese.  Two, I realize pizza isn’t from Hogwarts.

I was asked if I knew what “faldas” were.  They’re diapers.  My Portuguese grandmother died at 94.  You bet your incontinent relative’s ass I know what a falda is.

If I’d seen a Lamborghini.  My cousin got in a car accident (A CAR ACCIDENT!!) while pointing out a Lamborghini at about 40 mph.  I went to college in La Jolla.  There is a dealership there.  I nervously sidled up to many a Lamborghini in my half-unpainted 1991 Dodge Shadow.

If I could possibly know anything in Portuguese to begin with. My cousin and her mother were shocked I could read the inter titles in the news on Portuguese TV.  Um… Hello.  Those words are almost identical in English and French; “primeiro-ministro” isn’t a huge challenge to understand with someone with any sort of brain activity.

If I figured out how to feed myself.  One cousin declared, with some grave concern, that I must be so fat because I eat rissois for breakfast.  Dude, I haven’t had a real rissol in 18 years, so I’m not holding back.  And despite shoving rissois in my mouth at all hours, Portugal is a giant stair master where I dropped ten whole pounds while eating dessert for breakfast.  BTW, folks, he’s in his 345th trimester.

If I had ever seen fish.  I was asked numerous times if I had seen any dish you can imagine eating in Portugal.  Um… yeah…  the LAST time I came to Portugal, the sardines and cod were not hiding.

Someone asked me once if I’d ever had broth.  Seriously.   America, no soup for you!!!

If I understood the function of the suburbs.  Several cousins seriously thought that because I went to stay with a cousin in Oeiras, I would never venture into Lisbon again.  Let’s review the reasons why Oeiras exists in the first place….

If I knew basic stories about my family.  You should have seen the shock on my 83 year old cousin’s face when I spouted off names of peripheral relatives.  Um… I’ve met these people!!

If I could handle watching international television.  I was perusing the channels and stumbled on a version of the Golden Girls’ episode where Blanche dates the younger jazzercise instructor reenacted by a Spanish cast.  They made comments the ENTIRE time I watched it as to why I would do so if I was not a Spanish speaker.  Come on, transposed Golden Girls?  HOW COULD I NOT WATCH THAT IN ANY LANGUAGE?!?!?

If I ate anything else but hamburgers.  This was because they saw Americans only eat hamburgers on a cruise.  Because I was on that cruise?  If only they knew what I spend on cheese at Whole Foods.

If I could figure out my own reproductive system.  One cousin gave me a speech about the dangers of giving birth after 40.  Someone should tell him that the most dangerous thing about motherhood after 40 is repeating that speech to someone facing down that illustrious birthday.

IF I COULD REGULATE MY OWN MEMORIES.  I was there because I wrote about my memories of Portugal and of stories about my family.  But many relatives said to me and to my mother “OH  HOW COULD SHE REMEMBER, SHE WAS SO LITTLE!!”  The last time I was in Portugal, I was almost 21.  I went there also at age 8, and remember it like it was yesterday.

And of course, it was assumed I have 392,384,298 guns in my house.  Obviously.  In America, I am an anachronistic freak.  In Portugal, it is assumed that I am Ted Nugent.


I have no suggestions as to why people believe such silly things.  I don’t remember having conversations like this when I was a student in France.  And you would think that people who know and speak to my mother on a regular basis would realize that if she is intelligent, her daughter might not be stupid.  And they know my mother is a damn brain trust.  Some of them even make fun of her for it.   But some of them are shocked I can remember being 21.  I don’t get it.



I Heart Geoff!!!

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A monument built on the site of Chaucer's house.

A monument built on the site of Chaucer’s house.  London.


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A facade of the anticipated TJ Maxx debut in the UK, only it's spelled TJ Maxx.  Why????

Really? What difference does it make?

I passed this in Balham, near London, England, where my good friends Helen and John live.  Helen was very excited at the possibility of high-end brands at sensible prices.  John could not care less.  BUT neither could tell me why TJ Maxx had to become TK Maxx.  The consensus was whatever the second consonant in the name was, you still should go.

I just landed in London!

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I just landed in London!

Five more days till I make myself sick on pasteis de nata!

Chokin’ on Tokens

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When I was a kid, my grandma (not the Portuguese one) would give the WORST birthday/Christmas/anytime presents you could imagine.  Seriously.   She gave me stuffed bunnies for Easter long after I had sprouted double D’s.   She once gave me an old lady version of an Elton John jacket.  I got really good at pretending to be excited about half melted regifted candles while ignoring the gift tag from her friend that was still in the box (true story).  She wasn’t stingy, not at all.  She just had no clue what we would want.

I fear I am about to inflict this phenomenon on the whole of my mother’s family.

I have no clue what to get anyone.  And some people are seriously doing me some fat favors, sight practically unseen, at least since Oasis and Blur were fighting for world dominance.  I could go empty handed, but that would be decidedly douchey.

So, of course, I thought, how ’bout something local?  Oakland’s supposed to be the most exciting city in the country right now, right?

Two problems with this:

1.  I refuse to be the one who brought the word “hella” on the Lisbon metropolitan area.

2. Local shit is (prohibitively) expensive.

Seriously, guess how much a Lake Merritt themed bracelet is on Piedmont Ave.  122 bucks.  I shit you not.  I’d prefer to get 122 singles to toss all over my cousin’s kitchen, of course while yelling “Make it rain!”    At least the look on their faces would be priceless, as my dear cousins start phoning hotels.

So then I thought, why not Old Navy?  There’s no Old Navy in Portugal (I think), so it would be practically exotic.

This is the only thing that actually had  $*%&ing words on it:


Really?  That’s it?  I refuse to take a shirt emblazoned with “Land of the Free” to another democracy. Especially currently I’m pretty much just using my so-called freedom to eat hot dogs full of MRSA while complaining about getting spied on.

So I’m buying random things and hoping my cousins and friends will believe it’s the thought that counts.  Otherwise, I’m screwed.

The Genetics of Sausage-Making. Really.

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My parents went to a meeting at their doctor’s today.  Apparently he has some scam where he has figured out how to get people to throw money at him without doing anything he doesn’t normally do, without also having to strip. Good for him.

As my mother was registering for this event,  the nurse detected her accent and asked her where she’s from.

“I was born in Portugal.”  Never mind she had lived more years in California than in Portugal by the time she was forty.

“Oh, then, you must know how to make good sausage.”

Cue a lot of blinking from my mother.  “Erm…. no…. I don’t make…”

“Well then your mother must’ve.”

“Erm, well, no… we’re from a city.” Seriously.  They had some cornfields.  But they were such clueless city folk, when my mother’s aunt moved to Lemoore, a farm town in Central California, she thought it appropriate to SQUEEZE A CHICKEN to get the eggs out by breakfast.

Yes I said squeeze it.  Like a toothpaste tube. Let’s all have a moment of silence for that chicken that died that morning, its little chicken day ruined by a broken egg where no broken egg should ever be.

That woman did not ever make a sausage.  Neither did my grandmother, her mother, my mother, or any of my grandmother’s sisters, cousins or nieces, irrespective to how many post-fourth grade years they have completed.  None of them did it.  They were too busy catching the train.

Years ago, my grandmother’s neighbors were out on their front lawn, armpit deep in intestines, curing them to make sausage, when we rolled up in our Sunday best.  That smell is something that I will never forget.  To describe the horror of it wouldn’t do it any justice; it nearly seemed to suck the oxygen out of the air itself.  It was like being covered in a moldy blanket in a dank trunk.  And how it smelled like a whole lot of work.

Having smelled that, I will never understand how that woman was inspired to shoot my mother a look of abject disappointment when she said this:

“I can tell you where to buy it.”


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