Things NEVER to say to Italian-American co-workers

“Did you see ‘The Sopranos’ last night?”

Italian-Americans NEVER watch movies or television shows about Italian gangsters, no matter how well written or compentently directed. Especially avoid praising “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II”. It is okay to discuss “The Godfather: Part III” as it is generally considered a lame movie.

“Hey, are you EYE-talian?”

Italian-Americans learn from birth to roll up the windows and drive as fast as possible when in parts of the country where people say EYE-talian. Also, be sensitive to Italy’s dialectically and culturally diverse regions. A Sicilian does not want to be confused with a Calabrese or a Neopolitan. Don’t you ignorant crackers know anything?

“I’m behind on my rent. Would you please garrote my landlord?”

No self-respecting Italian-American, even a sociopathic one, would seriously consider such an up-front and direct request. The appropriate etiquette is to arrange a meeting in a dark alley, bring a bag of money, and ask euphemistically “if you could make my little problem disappear.” Also, garrotting is a technique preferred by the Japanese yakuza, a sophistication to which no Italian-American could ever aspire to achieve.

“I love The Olive Garden.”

Italian-Americans have been known to gnaw off their own arms rather than eat at The Olive Garden. In general, Italian-Americans eat only foods that have been cooked by a toothless old matriarch who rarely leaves the kitchen and speaks pidgin English. The large Italian-American families depicted in Olive Garden advertisements are usually played by non-union Albanians.

Be nice to Indians

Today at work we all got an e-mail–from somebody who probably works in the basement of an EEO office somewhere but is trying to make himself useful anyway–linking to an article titled “Things NEVER to Say to American Indian Co-workers”. I’m glad someone is looking out for us ignorant and insensitive crackers and keeping us on the straight-and-narrow.

For example, NEVER ask an Indian, “Do you live in a teepee?” Pretty obvious, but fair enough. That’s a stupid thing to say.

But NEVER say to an Indian, “That’s a nice costume.” Even complimenting people can be considered rude and offensive, since calling traditional clothing a costume cheapens their culture. NEVER EVER compliment Indians, for they may be incapable of saying, “Thank you, but I don’t consider this a costume, as it is an important part of my heritage.” So I’m glad that somebody is looking out for shy Indians, too.

I was afraid this linguistic totalitarianism was fading away, but thanks to the guy in the EEO office basement it is alive and kicking in my e-mail trash can.

Play ball

I’m listening to the Yankees-Red Sox game as I ice my knee. They made a nice trade today getting outfielder Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, a left-handed relief pitcher. This should help them a lot. They’ve been without a lefty reliever all season. They also got rid of LaTroy Hawkins and Kei Igawa. I’m surprised they gave up on Igawa. They spent a lot of money on him and even though he didn’t pitch well, they regarded him as a long-term project

Now that the Yankees are winning again and making some improvements to the roster I’m more optimistic. Suddenly they have a really good bullpen, clearing out the underachievers in Hawkins, Traber, and Ohlendorf. Edwar Ramirez, Jose Veras, David Robertson, and Dan Giese are pitching really way in their steads. Mussina, Pettitte, and Chamberlain are giving them strong starts, helping me forget about the disastrous starts by Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

I knew they would come around eventually but the constant injuries and inconsistency were starting to worry me.


Today is the last day (Day 7) of RAGBRAI, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. Thousands of people do this ever year, making it Iowa’s biggest event.

After work on Thursday I rode up to nearby North Liberty, where Day 6 was to begin, to meet a friend who had been riding all week. I actually packed my camping gear onto the back of my bicycle so I could pitch a tent and be ready to leave early yesterday morning. Iowa soil is great for planting corn and other crop, but it’s ideal for tent stakes.

So yesterday, I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. to pack up my tent again and put it on a truck where it would meet me in Tipton, the next overnight stop. I was underway by 5:30 a.m. for a 65 mile bicycle ride.

Pretty cool right? A mile out of North Liberty I busted a spoke. If it were on “Prairie Home Companion”, it would sound like: pedal, pedal, pedal, ka-chunk, “What the…”. Thinking erroneously that this was not a big deal, I tucked it in between another spoke and the hub and, since I couldn’t hear it flailing around as I cycled, forgot about it.

Turns out it didn’t cause me any problems, but after hearing some horror stories about broken spokes, I got it fixed in Tipton.

Two girl scouts announce a sale of their fresh baked goods.I rode 12 miles before I ate breakfast in Solon, the first stop. When RAGBRAI passes through a town it’s a pretty big deal, and probably a bigger deal as the towns get smaller. Local organizations raise money by selling food and other cyclists, plus there are all sorts of vendors (including repair tents) along the route.

Two recycling bins, each with a portrait of Obama or McCain, tally the Vote with Your Bottle poll.The small communities route the cyclists right through their main streets, making it congested enough so you have to walk through. They make sure you get a good look at their town. Iowans’ political savvy and humor carried over from the caucuses in Lisbon, where we were invited to “Vote with Your Bottle” by tossing our recyclables into a bin marked either Obama or McCain. Lisbon advertised a sauerkraut festival (“Show us your cabbages!” read one sign) for next month.

All of the towns I visited yesterday are within a half-hour drive of where I live, but I’ve rarely if ever visted them. Mount Vernon, for example, where I took a long break about a third of the way along the route is a cute little college town. I’ve driven through it before but never really visited.
Two of the towns in Linn County I had never even heard of: Martelle and Morley. In Martelle, a farm auctioneer in a booth greeted us over a loudspeaker and announced directions to parking and toilets.

A red antique Farmall tractor on display in front of large metal building.While Martelle and Morley are both small, Morley is by far the smallest. The streets are gravel. There wasn’t much sign of commercial activity except for the grain elevator. However, it had a massive public edifice the size of an airplane hangar, the Morley Community Building, where we could use the toilets and buy snacks. I didn’t go in but I heard there was a gym in there. A man out in front filled our water bottles for free. Now that I think about it I should have asked him more about the building.

I was a little surprised by the amount of complaining I heard from the riders. As we were leaving Morley I heard someone say–in the presence of one of the young locals directing traffic– that “this town sucks”. I wonder what the hell kind of town they were expecting to find every ten miles in Iowa. I give Morley a thumbs up.

A woman in a red shirt greets cyclist to Mechanicsville.This was all before lunch. I got to Mechanicsville–fifty miles into the day–by about one o’clock. I took another long break and had a good lunch at North Cedar Elementary School, where they were serving baked potatoes and watermelons in the cafeteria. The lunch tables were so small that I laughed when I sat down.

By now I was getting a little tired and sore. The weather really helped me out though, it was cool and cloudy with almost no wind. Had it been either hotter or with strong headwinds I would have had a rougher time. My butt was pretty swollen though in tolerable condition, but my knee was hurting. I have bad knees and they act up at the worst times.

I had to pee a lot. This goes with drinking a lot of water like you are supposed to, but it’s not comfortable to feel like peeing half the day. Corn grows really tall in Iowa, as I’m sure you know, and cornfields make perfect pit stops because you can literally disappear into them. But they are also on private property and they are our food supply, so I have some misgivings about people peeing in them. Despite my best efforts, I did stop to pee in a cornfield between Mechanicsville and Tipton, at fifteen miles the longest leg of the route. Sorry. Wash your corn before you eat it.

I rolled into Tipton at four o’clock. I treated myself to some ice cream as a reward for completing 65 miles, my new personal high. Bill pointed out that I can claim a “metric century”, a century being the term cyclists use for 100-mile rides. We pitched tents and ate food, then I got my spoke fixed at a repair tent. The showers closed before I could get to them, so I felt like a disgusting oily mess this morning when I woke up.

I had the option of riding another 50 or so miles to LeClere on the Mississippi River today but I decided to ride the 26 miles back home instead to give my knee an earlier rest. Otherwise I feel pretty good. In fact I was really jazzed after I got home this morning. I had ridden 100 miles since 6:00 p.m. on Thursday. My knee feels better now (this may be the ibuprofen talking) and though I’m tired and sore I’m not debilitated. I could have done the rest of the ride to LeClere. Next year I’ll do some more.


Yesterday after work I filled my gas tank for the first time in 36 days. I accomplished part of that by not going anywhere, at least not outside the east side of Iowa City or West Branch. I’ve also been on my bike a good part of the last month. I’ve been riding it to the grocery store or bank and occasionally to work or anywhere else I’ve needed to go. It’s a nice thing to be able to say that I was able to go for so long without refueling.

50 miles

I rode 50 miles today, or maybe a fraction of a mile short of that. That’s a new personal high, but I’m totally beaten. The wind let me breeze along at first but killed me coming back. I basically limped home. My new padded bicycle shorts didn’t do much to save my rear end. I’d say more like they spread the soreness across my buttocks more evenly.

Three books

If there is a benefit to being shut in by rain and floods this spring, it’s that I spent some time at home reading.

There was “Collapse” by Jared Diamond, which examined environmental collapses in a number of historical societies. I liked it as much for Diamond’s comparative histories as for his defense of environmental conservation.

Then I finally got around to “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. The movie was okay and turns out to be fairly faithful to the book. The book characters are much, much more complicated. It’s an easy read and a good story.

For something a little lighter, I picked up “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim” by David Sedaris. I’ve read parts of “Me Talk Pretty One Day”, which is really funny. Does he choose titles his books by playing with those refrigerator magnet word puzzles? “Dress Your Family” is funny too, but a little darker than “Me Talk Pretty”. Most of the stories deal with his family relationships, but they are unflattering portraits of a large family with a disproportionate number of underachievers. Sedaris does refer to the fact that his family is wary of telling him anything lest he publish it in a book. I’m not sure I could do that to my folks, which is why I don’t write about them much here.

Adam on wheels

I’m really tired after working the last two days. It wasn’t work that tired me out as much as bicycling there both days. I declared independence from $4.00 per gallon gasoline by commuting on my bicycle. Actually the weather was great for it: 75 to 80 degrees and not much wind. So I’ve been out to West Branch by bicycle four times in the last week.

RAGBRAI is coming up soon and I want to bicycle at least one day of it. The bad weather and the flooding last month really inhibited my ability to train. So I have two more weekends to get some long rides in.

But first, I need to buy some padded bicycle shorts because my rear end is real sore.