Somewhere overseas

By Carolyn Marsh | Oct 17, 2009

I thought that since I was going to be out of the state and the country for a couple of weeks on business that perhaps I would get a pass on Mad. But my editor is a hard taskmaster (and I can’t blame her; so was I), so I’m sitting in a hotel room in Dublin, Ireland, having just finished off a honey-baked gammon (ham to you stay-at-homes) and tomato sandwich and having made no inroads whatsoever on an absolutely gargantuan plate of french fries (described as crisps on the menu — which also had the price of the platter at two euros less than it actually was), looking out on a parking lot without any character to speak of, listening to the extractor run in the bathroom and waiting for inspiration to strike.

Several days ago I was in Baltimore at a health care convention. Baltimore is spectacularly beautiful — at least the Inner Harbor neighborhood where the convention took place is — and while I didn’t manage to get to the neighborhoods made famous in “The Wire,” only the greatest TV series ever, I did get to the aquarium, where I learned that the jellies (it is no longer PC, or perhaps scientifically accurate, to call them jellyfish) are taking over the seas. At first I couldn’t figure out what we (I and the rest of the humans) could possibly have done to cause this catastrophe, for such it is. Then, farther along in the display, I learned that overfishing and habitat destruction have practically eliminated the jellies’ natural predators, among them the giant sea turtle. I wish I could go to an aquarium and see something we are doing right, but I’m not holding my breath. The display did not, however, leave me in a mind to buy a plush jelly. And you know the situation is dire when I can’t find something to buy in the aquarium store.

I’d had hopes for barbecue in Baltimore, but as in Little Rock, anything that seemed to be genuine was a good ways out of town, so I settled for a second-rate substitute that bore so little resemblance to barbecue that it was accompanied by french fries and a dill pickle. I hedged my disappointment with two slices of designer cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory (I left them in the refrigerator in my hotel room with a note saying “Please eat these!”) and an ice cream cone from Ben & Jerry’s.

Crawling along the carpet at the convention center looking for a tiny piece of plastic that held the whole Picker Institute backdrop display together, I found instead a little blue sequin. I couldn’t help thinking about the time my friend Tommy, who was working as a production assistant on a public television show, called (I was vacationing in Maine) to ask if he could bring the subjects of a just-released television series to my apartment to see themselves on the “Today” show before they flew back to California, whence they had come. I didn’t manage to catch who the subjects were, but when I got back to New York I found my apartment literally awash in blue sequins. Blue sequins not being something I wear on a regular — or even an irregular — basis, I called Tommy and asked him who the heck had been there. It turned out to have been the Loud family, whom people of my generation will remember as the “stars” of the first-ever reality show at a time when the concept was so new that it could be broadcast only on public television. Lance, the flamboyant son (the other one was a mouse), had just come out of the closet to the world, over Channel 13, and he had celebrated his freedom from fear by buying a blue-sequined jumpsuit, which he wore that morning. Honestly, there were so many blue sequins in my apartment (I was finding them 20 years later) that there couldn’t have been that many left on the suit. I didn’t actually keep up with the Loud saga, but I did have a nice letter from Mrs. Loud thanking me for letting them use my apartment and eating some of the food in my kitchen. (When I lived in New York, my kitchen was known as “the museum,” because everything in it was really old, so I’m glad the Louds survived, though I can’t for the life of me imagine what they could have found to eat there.)

I arrived in Dublin a day or two ago very early — in fact, the plane from JFK made such good time that the cabin attendants didn’t even have time to serve the “light snack” we’d been promised for breakfast. My, but airplane food is terrible! It shouldn’t even be called food — the wonderful author Michal Pollan has a term for that, and it might be food product. About the only thing you can ever count on being edible is the paper napkin — and it’s hard to screw up a good paper napkin.

Robert Coffey, the charming taxi driver who brought me in from the airport, gave me a little early-morning tour: I saw the Liffey River, Trinity College, the place where the Irish parliament meets, the Grand Canal and some other interesting places, including the National Museum, where, Mr. Coffey told me, I could see the ancient people who had been unearthed from some of Ireland’s myriad peat habitats. I read a little bit more about them this morning and have decided to visit them. Must run — and this is for you, Tug — have to see a man about a bog.
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