Lifestyles of the out-of-touch

It’s no surprise to anyone when The New York Times celebrates hedonism, consumerism or just plain excess in its pages, right? Don’t get me wrong — it’s still my “go-to” source for real news. But a regular reading also shows me just how far away I am (geographically and mentally) from the Hamptons and Central Park West.

As friends and family struggle to hold onto their jobs and homes and pay their mortgages, I found the front page of yesterday’s “Home” section to be flat-out offensive. “Child’s Play, Grown-up Cash” wastes a full page-and-a-half (11 color photos and a sidebar, yes) on lifestyles of the rich and stupid who build playhouses for children that come with pricetags higher than what we paid for our house.

“Pre-fab” models can go as high as $200,000, but most of these clueless folks went higher. A Houston oil company exec (wonder why our gas prices are so high? Look no further than this guy’s backyard . . . ) and his “Playboy model turned blogger” wife (go ahead, it’s just too easy not to go to town with that description) were conservative in the $50k they dropped on their 4-year-old’s house, but it includes a working sink and fridge, big-screen TV, and air conditioning.

The article even quotes “an artist and playhouse builder,” who waxes rhapsodic about childhood being “a precious and finite thing . . . and a special playhouse is not the sort of thing you can put off until the economy gets better.”

I threw up in my mouth a little bit just typing that.

The California defense systems manufacturing retiree who spent $248K on a playhouse wanted to give his grandkids a reason to visit. Wow. I don’t have any grandchildren, but I guess I’m already screwed if I do someday have a few. I’ll never see them if I’m relying on the pleasure of my company and maybe something home-baked being enough of an allure.

As I see “Foreclosure” signs lingering in the community, as they are in every community, and as the value of my house keeps dropping (bye-bye retirement nest egg), such articles make me damn angry. Angry at these out-of-touch, overcompensating parents and angry at the Times for wasting that many inches on them. How about a little more space on how Japan is recovering from the earthquake, how the thousands of homeless there are coping? Or how about some interviews with people who have concrete plans to improve the poverty in Haiti, so much worse since the January 2010 earthquake there?

Yeah, yeah, I’m all social justice and liberal tears, you’re thinking. But when you’ve spent time in countries where people live without running water, where children go blind because of numerous eye infections due to lack of sanitation, where healthcare isn’t even an option, let alone a luxury, you look at this crap differently. Especially when you’re a parent.

So if my kids need therapy because they didn’t have a playhouse, then so be it. I can live with that.

Just in case you think I’m all sour grapes because I didn’t have a playhouse as a kid, I had a damn playhouse. I had two of them back in the Bronx. Maybe even more.

And I’m betting that I enjoyed them just as much as little Tiffany, Harper, Sinclair or  Maximilian does theirs.

Cabbages and kings

For a few months before I left my previous job, lines from Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter” kept playing over and over in my head. As Tweedledum and Tweedledee tell Alice,

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings.”

Kevin Smith, in his hilarious and highly irreverent film “Dogma,” uses the central character of Loki to offer the suggestion that the verses are an indictment of organized religion and that religion disingenuously leads followers to self-destruction.

I don’t agree with that assessment of organized religion, or of that interpretation of the verses. But I did think it was interesting that those were the lines niggling at me each time I began to assess the need for a job change — and the fact that I worked for the Catholic Church, surely one of the world’s largest organized religions.

When the topic of clergy abuse arises — as it invariably seems to at any family or social gathering I attend — people often ask me how I managed to spend 24 years working for various Catholic dioceses. My answer is always the same: my faith has little or nothing to do with the institutional church and everything to do with the beliefs of Christianity.

If we place our faith in men and institutions, we are always disapppointed.

And disappointed I was over the years. When more news of abuse in Philadelphia broke out earlier this year, my head spun. How much longer will we continue to see this? The worse part about Philly was, of course, the sexual abuse, but the abuse of power was right up there with it.

As one longtime Catholic journalist friend told me when I announced my decision to leave the diocese where I’d worked for 18 years, “You do know by now it’s not about sexism, right? It’s purely about clericalism.”

That’s been a major cause of crises in the church for well over 1,000 years, and I fear it’s not changing as quickly as it should have. We spend four or more years telling seminarians how wonderful they are, how much of a sacrifice they are making, how noble is their calling, how they are a symbol of God for people — and then we wonder why they believe us? And why some of them then live like they are above human law and morality?

That’s not to say I haven’t known some amazing priests in my life. I count both Cardinals John O’Connor and Joseph Bernardin as major influences on my spiritual views. I only met Bernardin a couple of times, but O’Connor was an amazing man whom I loved dearly. He walked the talk. Longtime cardinal secretaries “Unky Chunky” McDonough and current Archbishop Ed O’Brien are up there, too, as are a handful of good men doing work in parishes and schools with little recognition or praise.

And missionaries? They’re the closest thing to saints I’ve seen. I witnessed Jesuits Kevin Flaherty and the late Kevin Gallagher giving their lives to the people of the slums of Peru, as do so many other unnamed men and women in the missions, whether lay, ordained, religious.

So that’s why I’m still a faith-filled person, despite some crappy personal experiences with the institutional church and its leaders.

“It seems a shame,” the Walrus said,
“To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!”
The Carpenter said nothing but
“The butter’s spread too thick!”

“I weep for you,” the Walrus said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none—
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.


Move over, Clooney. I’ve got a new Kentucky favorite.

I’m not much of a bourbon drinker, preferring to imbibe the poteen of my forebears over ice from time to time. John Jameson, actually a Scot transplanted to Dublin in the late 1700s, was a truly great inventor, and I thank his genius each time I hoist a glass from his still.

The Jameson’s distillery employs such people as a “master of whiskey science” and a “master distiller.” No one ever mentioned such noble careers to me in my high school’s  guidance office 35 years ago. WTF? Admittedly, my chemistry skills were a little lacking. But one can always overcome such limitations.

Now at the risk of sounding like an afternoon regular at the local saloon, I must offer the qualifier: I’m not much of a drinker. Having descended from a long line of successful alcoholics (successful in their alcoholism, not much else), I tend to err on the side of caution. I’m almost always the DD, and that’s how it’s been since the age of 16. I’ve never thrown up from drinking, although I did take down a towel rack in my parent’s house a long time ago (The room was whirling, and I needed something to hold on to). That good girl syndrome just never dies for some of us.

But when I find something worth praise, I like to acknowledge it: a song, a book, a movie, a recipe. Or an alcoholic libation.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale now gives us two things we can thank the Bluegrass State for (The other is George Clooney, duh.).

KBB is served in a snifter (unless you come to my house, in which case you may get it in a juice glass, a martini glass or a coffee cup — whatever is clean and handiest). The alcohol content is about 2-3 times that of a regular beer, thanks to the remnants of bourbon that infiltrate the brew from the barrel it’s stored in. Smooth, rich and clean-tasting. Yum. If I’m going to waste the calories on something other than a hot fudge sundae or pasta, alcohol better be this good.

You won’t find it in the Budweiser price range, but unlike Starbucks, some things are just worth it.