Fish Fry Fridays

One of the things I like best about Lent is our Catholic tradition of hosting “Fish Fry Fridays.”

Back in the day, Catholics had to abstain from all meat on Fridays — every Friday. But when the Church relaxed its rules (permitting meat on Fridays except during the 40-day period of Lent and on Ash Wednesday), Catholics turned to fish. Reason tells me that was probably to help a struggling fishing industry somewhere, but oh well, fish is a good choice.

Who but a kid can exist for a whole day on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches or macaroni-and-cheese?

In many parishes, it’s the men — often members of the Knights of Columbus — who do the cooking and serving at Fish Fries. Usually, you can find the ladies or the youth group helping by carrying trays for senior citizens, taking up the money, cleaning tables.

It’s nice when everybody gets involved. Kind of homey.

Wise organizers of parish Fish Fries encourage lots of active participation — something about many hands making little work.

And generally, the group hosting the Fish Fry returns a portion of the proceeds back to the parish.

So everybody wins.

The menu typically features any or all of the following: deep-fried pieces of fish, hush puppies, French fries, baked potatoes, coleslaw, applesauce, baked beans, green beans, grilled cheese sandwiches, bread, rolls, lemonade, iced tea, hot coffee, cold beer, and desserts.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike come out to enjoy Friday Fish Fries. Many stick around for the socializing; others opt for carry-out.

But staying is part of the fun.

Fish Fries offer a chance to get together with folks you might not see every day.

And they’re excellent for would-be politicians seeking to “press the flesh” while supporting a worthy cause!

Most parishes hold Fish Fries at the school cafeteria or their parish hall. Those facilities are already paid for (or in the process of being paid for!); they seat a lot of people, are close to the Church, and have things like TVs and kitchens, bathrooms and game rooms for the kids.

As for the time, Fish Fries typically occur during the dinner hour. Parishes often try to hold their weekly Stations of the Cross observance then, too, to “capture” the early or late diners.

With so much fun and good food, Fridays seem more of a celebration than a punishment!

The Big Dance

I guess there’s a reason they call it March Madness.

Watching the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball games, I’m struck by how different the game feels from what we played as kids in P.E. class.

Besides being taller (w-a-a-a-y taller!) than most of us were, these young men and women are tougher. More aggressive, even.

Sure, there’s a lot riding on the outcome of their games. Prestige, trophies, money, commemorative rings, bragging rights.

But what’s with those other changes?

  • Chest-bumping. The guys don’t have a corner on this market; even the women are getting into the act, slamming themselves up against one another after somebody does something commendable. I know they probably wear those binding sports bras, but I cringe every time they do it.
  • Tattoos. Again, you kind of expect to see some of the young men sporting tattoos, but when the women start falling into that fad, I shudder. Isn’t it enough to have small tattoos that can be concealed? Why must they decorate their entire arms with graffiti? I mean, one day some of these people are going to be working in offices, banks, legal firms, medical plazas. Might they (or their employers) regret their “artistic” indulgence? Besides, I’ve got to confess that the unadorned arms, in my opinion, look cleaner. Just sayin’.
  • Traveling. Taking even one step with the ball without dribbling was considered a traveling foul for us in P.E. Now we see players take huge lunging leaps toward the goal, and the refs seem unfazed.
  • Penetration. Why is this word a sports announcer’s favorite word? You always hear the male announcers use it — you can hardly watch for five minutes without hearing it — but now the females are coming on board with it. They almost make it sound nasty.
  • Clock. The NCAA doesn’t use an automated clock for these championship games. Surprised? So was I when I read about it this morning. All of the teams who get to the championship level are good. Real good. And they deserve to have their contests monitored by something other than a timekeeper and a stopwatch. Especially when a first-class timing system wouldn’t cost much and would eliminate so much confusion.

Hey Reb

Something (or rather, someone) caught my eye last night as I watched the NCAA men’s basketball game between Illinois and UNLV on TV (the Fighting Illini won, for those who missed it!).

The “Rebels” of UNLV have a mascot that looks amazingly like Ole Miss’s Colonel Reb!

How is it possible that this school of more than 28,000 students located hundreds of miles from the Deep South can still have a Confederate-based mascot and Ole Miss had to ban ours?

So I did some research. “Hey Reb” debuted in 1983 and underwent several makeovers. Today, he wears UNLV’s school colors of scarlet and gray, a Confederate gray hat, and has a flowing white handlebar mustache. He even was named one of 12 All-American mascots.

UNLV got its start in the 1950s as an extension campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. In 1965, it became Nevada Southern University, adopting the “Rebels” name and Confederate-styled symbols as a way of breaking free from its northern neighbor. Its first mascot was Beauregard, a winking Confederate-styled cartoon wolf that played opposite to UNR’s Wolf Pack mascot.

Beauregard was ditched in the 1970s after a group of black athletes complained about its connection with the wrong side of the Civil War. The student senate selected the human “Hey Reb” mascot and it stuck, sending UNLV to the top in college apparel licensing in 10 years.

I hate to belabor the point, but it’s all about Tradition.

Obviously, a cartoony college mascot dancing on the sidelines of an athletic event isn’t a big deal in the overall scheme of things. Not when you consider all the grave events taking place in our world today.

But that mascot symbolizes something to past and present students. It unifies them the way songs and slang unify generations.

Outsiders have a right to dislike a school’s mascot, but does any outsider have a right to strip an institution of its long-held, much-loved traditions?

I think not.

Who Goes to Hotels to Sleep?

Why do some people act worse than animals when they stay at a hotel?

Take last Friday, for example.

I’d picked up My Favorite Domer for Mid-Term Break and, rather than fighting traffic, we checked into a chain hotel with plans to watch college basketball and get an early start home on Saturday.

I’d stayed there before and found it okay. Nothing fancy, mind you, but clean and readily accessible to the shopping/dining spots we were visiting.

No sooner had we settled in to watch the games, the NOISE started.

Our room was located near the end of the hall, far from the typical noise-makers: ice and soda machines and elevator.

But some parents must have decided everybody should share in the delight of their little darlings, as the kids charged up and down the hallway, screaming like banshees and slamming their room door every chance they got.

A few minutes after this began, MFD looked over at me and asked, “Do you smell smoke?”

Fleeting images of us re-donning our day clothes, re-packing suitcases, and evacuating the premises went through my mind as I shook my head. Then it wafted my way.

Cigarettes, on our non-smoking hall.

I called the Front Desk and was told our entire wing was non-smoking. “If we catch them,” he added, “we’ll assess them an extra $75.”

Ooh, I’ll bet that would’ve scared them — not!

So we turned up the TV and clicked on the heating/air conditioning unit to block out the noise and disperse the smoke.

I also called down to the Front Desk again to complain.

Nothing did any good.

Along about 11 p.m., the kids started crying at the top of their lungs. Their parents must not have known they were over-stimulated and up past their bedtime.

Finally, just before midnight, the smoking ceased, as did the noise.

When we checked out the next morning, I voiced my displeasure to a new Front Desk clerk, who was somewhat more sympathetic. I couldn’t help noticing the No Pets Allowed sign and told her, “I’d rather have stayed with dogs than endure those screaming kids.”

St. Paddy’s Day

Methinks St. Paddy’s Day celebrations, especially on college campuses in the U.S., have gotten out of hand.

At the University of Illinois, for example, “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” was held this past weekend. Buses and trains brought in party-goers from across the state and even from out of state. Besides consuming more alcohol than was reasonably prudent, these revelers tossed objects from balconies, received more than 300 notices to appear in court for drug possession and public urination (among others),  and left behind enough litter to fill a football stadium.

More than 20 were taken to local hospitals on alcohol-related issues. In previous years, some have been injured or even lost their life, again mostly alcohol-related.

Now I love a good party as much as the next Irishman, but really, is all this craziness necessary? When a person can’t remember how he got where he is, who he was with, or what he did, why does he think he had a good time??

Traditionally, March 17 was set aside to honor St. Patrick, who used a three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to pagan Irish people and convert them to Christianity.

What once was a mostly Catholic saint’s day, with observers attending church and dining simply on corned beef and cabbage, has become an excuse for drunken celebrations across the land.

That makes me a wee bit sad, for as a culture, the Irish have been known for too long as drinkers. There are Irish drinking jokes, Irish toasts, even Irish quips on T-shirts.

I suspect there’s one reason behind all this — money.

Bars and restaurants are happy to trade food and drink to party-goers for green cash. Communities, strapped in tough economic times, are glad to take tourists’ money in exchange for hosting a colorful parade or dying some river or fountain Kelly green.

But not all Irish are drunks;  some Irish never even touch alcohol.


And I hate to see what should be a joyous occasion marked by people throwing up in the streets and winding up unconscious (or worse) in some hospital.

Especially when those people are our young.

Perhaps we need to imitate the Irish in the motherland, who celebrate the festive occasion with music, sports competitions, fireworks, films, and other family-friendly events.

And remember, “There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish and those who wish they were!”

Hydraulic Lifts

Notre Dame announced this morning that no longer would it use extending hydraulic lifts to film football practices.

Instead, the university is installing four remote-controlled cameras mounted on 50-foot poles at its practice fields, in addition to two permanent structures already on the sidelines.

The move comes in the wake of the October 2010 death of Declan Sullivan, a junior student from the Chicago area who was killed when the scissor lift he was filming football practice from toppled over in 50-plus mph wind gusts.

Indiana OHSA continues to investigate Sullivan’s death, as does the University, which has signed on an independent consultant.

It’s believed that Notre Dame is the first university in the land to go with these camera devices; they’re expected to be operational by the start of Spring football practice.

While I’m so glad to see something positive come from this tragic incident, I have just one question:

Why, oh why, does it take a death before people realize that something’s inherently dangerous?

I mean, anybody could take one look at a hydraulic lift and see it’s not safe.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 26 construction workers, many of them painters, die each year in aerial lift accidents. Of that number, one-fourth are from scissor lifts.

Not a huge number, unless it’s your loved one who’s killed.

And we’ve got kids operating these things?

Think about it.

St. Joseph Altar

For longer than I can remember, every time a storm was on its way, my mom tossed out a piece of “blessed bread” and said a prayer to St. Joseph for protection.

(St. Joseph is the patron of those in need, whether it be workers, travelers, the persecuted, poor, aged, and dying. His feast day is March 19.)

The other night at dinner, Mom pointed out that her supply of blessed bread is dwindling and now that her sister (Auntie M.) has passed, she probably won’t be able to replenish it.

Auntie M., you see, always attended the St. Joseph Altars held along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and she always sent Mom a supply of blessed bread and cookies to stash in the freezer for stormy days.

It dawned on me that she was right. Here in the Midwest, I’ve never heard of anyone holding a St. Joseph Altar. I lived in Texas for several years; same story.

Holding a St. Joseph Altar is a Sicilian tradition (yes, I’m half Sicilian!). It started many years ago when a drought took hold of Sicily, the people prayed to St. Joseph, and the famine ceased. In thanksgiving, they prepared a table with a variety of food they’d harvested, and gave that food to the poor.

Immigrants to this country brought the custom with them, embellishing it and setting up elaborate tables filled with breads, cookies, and pastries baked in shapes like chalices. Custom dictated that no expense be incurred in setting up the altar; consequently, the “hosts” had to beg for contributions, similar to what the Sicilian people did.

I attended one of these Altars as a youngster and found it fascinating. Children portray members of the Holy Family, going door to door before reaching the site of the Altar; huge pots of spaghetti and other foods are served to the public; Fava (“lucky”) beans and a piece of blessed bread are sent home with those who attend; everything (money, food, whatever) is distributed to the poor afterward.

Hosting a St. Joseph Altar involves an entire family, and I just can’t see Mom undertaking such a task at this stage of her life. So I guess we’ll have to continue the “begging” tradition and rely on the rest of my family to send some goodies this way — hint, hint!

How Come…

I’m up to my ears designing today, but I know I’ve got to post something. How about a list of questions, most of which don’t have easy answers?

How come…

  • Nobody I know ever wins the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes?
  • You rarely see an adult with a face full of freckles?
  • A bad haircut takes forever to grow out, but a good one sends you back for a trim in two weeks?
  • The bigger the dog, the more it thinks it belongs in your lap?
  • When men are presented a tough job they have no experience with, they shrug and tell you that of course it’s doable; but women will take their time, examine every aspect, and say it might be possible?
  • Mascara sticks so well to skin around your eyes, but fades from sight on your lashes by noon?
  • Cats think nothing of traipsing across the yard, even if they smell “dog” there?
  • You send in a small donation to one charity and suddenly, demands for your funds start pouring in from charities you never even knew existed?
  • Kids home from college on break stay in the shower until the hot water runs out?
  • Doctors give you an appointment day and time, expecting you to be there, but seem nonchalant about forcing you to wait past that time to see them?
  • You just can’t make your car re-create that funny noise when you take it in for service?
  • People at funerals always say the deceased looks like they’re sleeping, when they’ve never actually seen the person sleeping at all?
  • There are so many awesome bloggers out there, yet very few have nabbed book contracts?
  • The tinier the swimsuit, the larger the woman who wants to wear it in public?