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Just put it on the squiggly lines


I had the great displeasure of running straight into laundry day this week. It’s an ordeal that corresponds with the absence of socks that also happen to be clean. From time to time, it dawns on me that I should just buy more socks, but the thought never really springs to mind until I’m out of the shower, freshly dripping.

I’ve also been taken with the wish to stop being so negative, to see the good in things—in other words to eschew my Irish heritage. So, when laundry day hit me this week, rather than stewing in my misfortune, I gave a thought to just how lucky I am to be washing my wearables in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Those of you smart (or lucky) enough to have successfully finished a load of washing elsewhere know of what I speak. You see, I’ve spent more than a few nail biting mornings trying to decipher the hieroglyphics of European washing machines and I have firmly concluded that we, in America, are either stupefyingly dense compared with the rest of the world or our appliance designers are infinitely more brilliant. (Or perhaps it’s just that I have an old washing machine.)

A few years back, I asked a college graduate in Galway what she’d studied in school. She replied that she’d spent four years learning how to do a load of laundry. “It’s easy enough once you realize it’s just a combination of the Seiberg–Witten theory and Henry Dixon’s later work. I charge by the load if you need assistance,” she said.

I stayed at a house in eastern Europe and couldn’t make heads or tails of the washing machine, so I downloaded the owner’s manual. (The internet was $9 a month, by the way, and faster than the cable provider I have in New Hampshire.) Unfortunately, the machine was Russian and so was the owner’s manual, so there was only so much I could glean. In the end, I put the first knob on the squiggly lines and the second one on 15, placed some soap in what appeared to be a storage bin and hit a few buttons until something started up. Whether it worked or not, I can’t say, but the soap disappeared and the clothes were wet when the beeper finally went off. And nobody in the area complained about my stench after three months. Of course, maybe they assumed everyone from America smells bad, but I’m going to take it as a win.

While we’re on the subject of clothes, is there anyone else who’s frustrated about American attire spreading across much of the globe? It wasn’t that long ago that the United States was the only place you were going to see adults wearing t-shirts emblazoned with corporate logos and sitcom characters. Not that I don’t enjoy a good sitcom like everyone else, but there used to be a definitive gap between what parents and their children wore. Nowadays, one can see 50-year old men in Dublin wearing Spiderman t-shirts. And they’re not tourists!

I have a photo of my parents on a plane in the 1960s and everyone was dressed up. (They had plane photographers!) Today, you’re just as likely to have the drifter next to you wearing flip flops. My grandfather beat flax seed out of the plant’s fiber for a living and he wore a tie to work for cripes sake. I’m not saying I wish there were more ties. On the contrary, they’re an abominable and useless piece of clothing, better for choking a man than anything else, but surely there’s some middle ground between a tuxedo and a pair of pajamas.

I think Jerry Seinfeld said it best. “You’re telling the world, ‘I give up. I can’t compete in normal society, so I might as well be comfortable.’”

Let’s see, what else? I wish there was more color in men’s clothing. For someone who shops at TJ Maxx and the like, the choices are underwhelming. Are colors more expensive to fabricate? Is a muted shirt more masculine? Are men aware that there are more colors than blue, gray and flannel? I suppose that’s where the tie comes in. That’s where we get to show our fun side. I’m looking out my window right now and the beautiful shades of autumn are all around. Then I peek in my closet and everything looks the same. Women can wear exciting tints, why can’t we?

My theory is that we men are too worried about looking foolish, that we don’t know what to do about separating our colors from whites and how to run the machine, and just like we won’t ask anyone for directions, we can’t be seen to be defeated by a machine. For that would be a John Henry—steel driving man—scenario, and no stinking machine is going to get the better of us. So, when someone asks what color our shirt was originally, we can look them square in the eye and say gray.

CD design for Winifred Horan

I was thrilled to design the artwork for famed Irish musician Winifred Horan's latest CD, "The Memory of Magic." As you might expect, the music that the former Solas founder and fiddler creates is phenomenal.


Everything you never cared to know about hotels

I sat down last week at a local restaurant and ordered the pancakes, eager to expand my waistline and foster a future case of diabetes. When the waitress brought the starchy goodness, my mouth was already watering. Then she asked if I wanted utensils. I glanced at the pat of butter melting on top and the plastic portion cup of maple syrup teetering on the edge of the plate and back to her, unsure if she was codding. Except that she wasn’t. “Yes, please,” I replied.

Until that moment, it hadn’t ever dawned on me that a fork wasn’t a prerequisite for flapjacks. And to boot, this was in the U.S. of A., not some backwards place like Alaska, where the only recognized utensil is a knife and everyone supplies his or her own… and has a spare.

It turns out there weren’t any clean utensils, so they had to wash some by hand and when she returned… well, what the pancakes lacked in warmth, the fork more than made up for in its sheer utility.

Anyway, I mention this only in way of introduction to our latest topic: hotels. “How’s he going to segue from pancakes to hotels?” you ask. Allow me to add another anecdote. I was staying at a hotel for the Pittsburgh Irish Festival in 2003 and outside of the hotel was a large public park, which just happened to be the staging point for the biggest emergency drill you’ve ever seen. Thousands of emergency personnel were training for possible terrorist scenarios (in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks). The FBI was there, mobs of firemen, police, military, you name it. There were mock victims on stretchers, men and women with radios. You get the picture.

So anyway, I had just finished a breakfast of, you guessed it, pancakes, in the hotel restaurant, and I’d run into an acquaintance who was part of a Civil War reenactors group. He’d just come down from his room and informed me that one of the elevators was stuck and there was someone in it. So, we turned around to the man at the reception desk, who countered that he’d taken care of it by calling the elevator repair company. “How long has it been stuck?” my friend asked. “Not sure the employee replied, “a couple hours maybe.” As far as the clerk was concerned, he’d done his part.

Incredulous, my friend marched to the front glass doors, opened them and shouted to a pair of firemen in full gear walking by, “Do you guys know there’s someone stuck in an elevator in here?” One of the firemen asked if he was serious, and he responded that he was. So after a comment into a radio, the firemen entered the building and had the elevator open in the neighborhood of fifteen seconds. The front desk clerk didn’t seem moved. I’m wondering now if he has any relations in the food service industry.

So that’s how I chose to segue into hotels, when all I really wanted to do was complain about my breakfast.

A hotel room is a bit like the lottery, isn’t it, especially when you’re abroad. Sure, there are national chains, which—like McDonald’s burgers—are disturbingly alike, but I consider hotels to be part of traveling’s allure and want one as unique as the destination. I’m almost always happier with the personal touches missing from the chains—the character, if you will.

So let’s dive right in to my likes and dislikes and feel free to make up your own list for fun.

First the bad (in no particular order)

Those tiny metal garbage cans with lids. Why? Because you have to step on a pedal to open it and the thing inevitably slides back against the wall and clangs into it. Then whatever scrap of tissue you’re trying to throw in catches a gust of air and misses the four-inch opening, meaning you have to bend over and grab it off the ground and gingerly place it into the can.

Liquid soap in the shower. I’m looking at you, Europe.

Stiff 70s and 80s style bedspreads. These aren’t so common anymore, but they’re still out there.

Remotes with dead batteries. I don’t know how many buttons I’ve completely crushed by pressing harder in hopes that physical pressure on the remote control will make the channel change, perhaps with kinetic energy. And while I’m on the subject, if you’re in Europe and you can’t get the TV to turn on, try hitting the channel up button on the remote. No kidding.

Those “smart” fridges that inform the front desk when you’ve removed an item. I mean, come on. The fridge has to narc on us so we pay $6 for a packet of Pringles and not pick up a replacement for a buck and change at the convenience store the next time we’re out?

Straight shower curtain rods. Does anyone else recall the old days when the shower curtain would spend most of its time attached to your skin before some godsend of a designer asked why nobody curved the rod?

A lack of sound insulation. This is a particular problem in Spain, where they make hotel walls out of cray paper. It’s not that any of our neighbors were particularly loud, it’s that the walls doubled as microphones. I’d swear that we could hear people breathing.

And now the good (I’m running out of room)

I’ll often judge a room based on the shower: clean, glass enclosed, good, steady stream of water with a constant, reliable temperature. Sometimes it’s the most enjoyable thing in town.

A good bed. Here’s a tip I learned in Romania: Buy regular fitted sheets for your bed, but then buy two sets of smaller top sheets and small individual comforters for you and your partner. You can be close, if you like, but when it’s time for sleep, everyone has their own set of sheets, and no one will inadvertently pull the covers off of the other. I can’t believe this isn’t common practice now. We put a man on the moon for cripes sake.

The rest (because I really am out of space): Location. Light switches by the bed (individual reading lamps are great). Fridges that don’t rat on you. Coffee and tea making facilities. Modern thermostats (enough of turning a knob on the radiator already). Easily accessible outlets. No one wants to reach behind the bed to plug in their phone. Eco-friendly practices. Free on-site parking.

Check out my monthly column

Just in case you're wondering how to find my monthly column in the Ohio Irish American News, try this link: An Eejit Abroad

New column in Ohio Irish American News

I was recently approached by John O'Brien, a friend who also happens to be the editor for the Ohio Irish American News about writing a monthly column on my travels, or music or whatever gibberish comes out of my mind and I was thrilled to accept. So starting, I assume, in February, you can find my column, An Eejit Abroad in this quality publication. Make sure to check it out and the rest of the newspaper as well.

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Check out my monthly column

Just in case you're wondering how to find my monthly column in the Ohio Irish American News, try this link: An Eejit Abroad

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