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I just left a comment in [livejournal.com profile] wordweaverlynn's LJ, as we were talking about family, and parental aspirations. And I talked a little bit about my maternal grandfather. I liked what I wrote, so I'm copying it here.
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Edited to Add: I realized that this post, made just a couple days ago, actually fits this month's Mixology Monday topic: Local Flavor. See, the Ward Eight was created in Boston's Ward Eight -- an election district containing Dorchester and part of the South End. It was for a victory party for a local politician from Ward Eight. It's significant to note that said victory party was being held on the night BEFORE the election . . . that's the kind of ward Ward Eight was at the time. So, since one topic for this month is a drink which was invented in my city, this actually fits right in. End of Explanatory Edit

Today being 08/08/08, there was a small party at my parents' house on that theme. I made up some Ward Eight cocktails for it.

Now, the Ward Eight is not one of the world's great cocktails. It's okay, but it's not spectacular. You make it right, and it's pleasant enough, but that's really all. Rye whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice, and grenadine (which, remember, means "pomegranite juice and sugar", not "red food coloring, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavorings"). It's decent, but it's the sort of thing that you make because you're going to an eight-themed party, or something like that, more than because you want a Ward Eight cocktail. Now, there's nothing wrong with lemon juice, orange juice, pomegranite juice, sugar, and rye whiskey, and they actually go together fairly well. But "fairly well" is not the same thing as "fitting together in perfect singing harmony", the way that, say, gin and dry vermouth do, or Campari and sweet vermouth, or rum and pineapple juice. . . you get the idea.

I made some up, and they went over about as well as could be expected, especially since, of the crowd who was there, the only one who actually is a drinker by nature is my mother -- and she's allergic to alcohol. (Well, she's alergic to SOMETHING that goes ALONG with alcohol, anyway. We've found occasional things that don't make her break out in a rash, but we haven't nailed down exactly what. But she drank an entire Americano -- Campari and sweet vermouth -- the other night with no ill effects, then had a sip of Chartreuse and broke out in hives all over her face. And when we were in Italy last summer, she could drink wine as much as she wanted. So we seem to have discovered that she can drink Italian things but not French things.)

My niece Winter was there, too, and she wanted to help me make the drinks. I had her juice the lemons -- I cut them in half, she juiced them, and we both worked on peeling strips off the outside of the lemons for garnish.

Now, as she is ten, she is not allowed to drink whiskey yet, but she wanted to try the stuff, so she mixed herself up a Ward Eight sans alcohol -- lemon juice, orange juice, and grenadine.

I taught her how to do the three-count free pour, and she poured 'em, and shook 'em. I opened the shaker and strained it out for her, because her hands aren't large enough for it yet, but she did the rest. She took the glass, twisted the peel to release the oils, and garnished the drinks.

Her version was more popular around the table than mine.

By, like, a LOT.

Since her drink was a success, I told her that she gets to name it, and that I'd blog it. She decided to just go with "Kids' Ward Eight."

So, here it is:
Winter Rose's Kids' Ward Eight
1 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 oz orange juice
1 oz homemade grenadine syrup

Shake well over ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a fresh lemon peel.

I'm so proud of her. She handles a shaker like a pro.
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I am thankful that, for all the weirdnesses and problems North America has had over its history, we still managed to develop a holiday dedicated to eating a meal with family (chosen and/or biological) and reflecting on reasons to feel gratitude.
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I can lead off by mentioning Lis. Every day I see her and wonder how I managed to be lucky enough to end up with her.

And I am also thankful for all the rest of my friends -- all of you reading this (those of you I know in person, and those of you I know only through LiveJournal, too) -- those of you I've known for years, either online or meatspace, and those of you I've only met, meatspace or online, recently.

I'm thankful for my family. I'm one of a relatively few people I know without any family-conflict issues. Again, I don't know how I lucked out to be born into my family, but I'm thankful for it. That is why our family tends to adopt people into it -- a few of you are my siblings simply because my mother and father adopted you. My parents are like that -- if you have a rocky relationship with your own parents, or if you have a GOOD relationship with your parents, but they're too far away for you to see very often, or if you have a good relationship with your parents and you see them a lot but you want MORE parents, too, my parents will take you in and give you love.

And the rest of my family is similar. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins: everyone in my family is honorable, caring, clever, and decent. I don't know how I lucked out to be born into this family.

And then, Lis's family, too -- I managed to marry one of the only OTHER people I know whose whole family is honorable, caring, clever, and decent. I am as thankful for my in-laws as for the part of the family into which I was born.

I am thankful that we appear to have found a medication which controls my Depression, and is allowing me to restructure my life to be effective and productive. I am thankful that I am now in the process of making that restructuring, and that I feel like I am making some progress toward it.

I am thankful that we have a house, for which we paid a reasonable price, and which allows us to have rental income. I am thankful that we rent to good people who I like having as neighbors -- [livejournal.com profile] marquisedea and her boyfriend Josh upstairs, and [livejournal.com profile] vonbeck downstairs. I am thankful that our house is warm and dry, and comfortable. I am thankful that I have a kitchen in which I can cook, and that we have bookshelves full of books. I am thankful that we have plenty of warm, comfortable, and reasonably-good looking clothing to wear, warm jackets, shoes that keep our feet dry.

I am thankful that we have a washing machine and dryer so we don't have to go to the laundromat -- it makes life a lot easier. I'm thankful that we have a dishwasher. I'm thankful for our standing mixer, our electric kettle, our rice cooker, our Henkel's and Wusthoff knives. I'm thankful for our refrigerator, and our pantry, full of food.
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I was supposed to bring [livejournal.com profile] papersky's book FARTHING with me to Nana's, to lend to Mom, but I forgot. But then, when we were at Nana and Papa's, Papa had been experimenting with baking with candied fruit, and had made a cake-like-thing. Both Dad and I quite liked it, but Papa wasn't thrilled with how it came out, so Mom and Dad took half and I took the other. But I forgot my cake. And I left before Mom and Dad.

So they phoned and asked if they could drop by and drop off the cake and pick up the book and visit for a while. So they did.

As Mom and I were talking, Dad happened to see an old Alan Dean Foster paperback I had lying around on the kitchen counter, and started flipping through it. I told him I was done with it, so he could take it with him, so he was. And, later, as they were getting ready to leave, Dad started flipping through FARTHING, and started reading it.

Mom teased him, "Your son is standing RIGHT THERE in front of you, and you're standing there reading, instead of talking to him?" I said, "Well, see, now you see where I get it. Seriously, I can't be offended by this, since, among my friends, this is a perfectly normal social interaction -- standing there reading next to each other. Sometimes we'll read particularly cool passages out loud."

Mom and Dad laughed.

I really like my parents.
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Lis is in Washington DC for a conference, Elizabeth Bear([livejournal.com profile] matociquala) is in Boston for a signing at Pandemonium Books ([livejournal.com profile] pandemonium_bks), and I just went with my parents to visit my grandmother and grandfather in Marblehead.

My grandmother has Alzheimer's, and I don't much like it. My grandfather is dealing with it okay, all things considered, but their kids who are reasonably local -- which is most of 'em (the farthest one away is Providence, Rhode Island) do try to make sure to visit a fair bit to help take some of the stress off of Papa. Besides, they like their parents, and Nana is still Nana even if she does get confused as to where she is, when it is, who you are, and what you just said.

She mentioned several times that she wanted to go home. She asked Papa to complain to the manager because she didn't like the room we were sitting in. She told us several times that she didn't feel comfortable entertaining in someone else's house, but she'd LOVE it if we came over to HER house in Marblehead, because she had a GORGEOUS house. At another time, when Papa was explaining that this WAS their house, that they'd lived in it for fifty-two years, she said, "Oh, yeah, big shot rich man -- says he owns a house."

Have I mentioned that Alzheimer's terrifies me? Well, it does. I'm hoping they come up with a cure for it before Mom gets it. And I'm REALLY hoping they come up with a cure for it before I get it.

Anyway, it's funny what Nana does and does not lose track of. She ALWAYS knows that she's married to Papa Tunny, who is a good man, and adorable, and whom she loves very much. She doesn't always RECOGNIZE him, although she almost always does.

The weird thing is -- I think she only vaguely recognized me, and only intermittently. But she wanted to know where my wife was, and when I told her she was at a Christopher Marlowe conference in Washington, DC, she said how my wife was SUCH a smart girl, and so pretty, too. I couldn't do anything but agree wholeheartedly.

See, I think she doesn't always remember ME, but she remembers Lis. Even though I was there and Lis wasn't.

It's possible, of course, that, in her mind, Lis got conflated with one of her daughters, since I guess you could see some similarities -- all of her daughters are black-haired Jewish women, as is Lis, so it's possible that Nana just remembers Lis as among her daughters, and thinks of me as "one of the guys who married one of her daughters," rather than me being the grandson and Lis being the one who married in. Which would explain why, at family gatherings, Nana always seeks out Lis to tell her that she and her husband should come over and visit, rather than telling ME. It really is kind of adorable -- I guess there's not much of a question that Lis is an integral part of our family.
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Forgot to blog this earlier.

So, yesterday afternoon, the phone rings; I answer it.

"Hello, Uncle Ian."

"Hello, Drew. How are you doing?"

"Uncle Ian, can you do me a favor?"

"Depends what it is. Go ahead and ask."

"Can you answer a question?"

"Sure -- what is it?"

"Why do dragons have gold?"

"I give up -- why do dragons have gold?"

"I don't know. That's why I called."

"OH! I'm sorry. I thought you were asking a riddle. Dragons have gold to sleep on. It's very comfortable for dragons."

"Thank you, Uncle Ian. I love you."

"I love you too, Drew."

His mother, my foster-sister got on the phone then, and explained that Drew and she had been talking, and he'd said that, if HE were a knight, he'd go around and kill dragons and take their gold, and then he started wondering why dragons had gold in the FIRST place. She didn't know; it's not like they ever BUY anything, and so they decided to think of who they knew who WOULD know the answer. After all, they have THIS friend for gardening questions, and they call Leila for marine biology related questions, so they figured that I was the go-to guy for dragon-related stuff.

I'm very grateful to [livejournal.com profile] papersky for writing the book that explained this fact about dragons, so I could enlighten my nephew, who was entirely satisfied by this answer and felt it made perfect sense and explained much.

Drew is now reading on a second or third grade level, and has started reading some of his father's manga. The age-appropriate ones -- the other ones aren't anywhere the kids can get to them.
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Lis noticed that, in two years, Talk Like a Pirate day will fall on Rosh Hashana.

When we informed my parents of this, my mother, who typically runs High Holiday Services at her community, got very thoughtful and said, "Remind me of that a month before, because I'm not going to remember, and it ought not pass without recognition."

My father thought a moment, and said, "Arrr! Who by cannon, and who by cutlass. Who by scurvy, and who by walkin' tha plank. . . "
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So, since my cousins Todd and Kate both graduated college and moved into their own houses, my aunt and uncle have decided to move to a smaller house. The house was bought to house Jackie and David, and Todd and Kate, and Jackie's father Gus, who had his own, well, father-in-law apartment, I guess you'd call it. Since Gus died a couple years ago, and Todd and Kate have their own places, they really need only a third of the space they had before.

As usual, when someone in the family moves to a smaller place, or dies, Lis and I are given a chunk of their books, and most of their booze. I'm the only one in the family who is likely to actually DRINK the stuff. Everyone in the family has, like, a bottle of Canadian Club which was bought in the Sixties and is about two-thirds full, a couple flavored brandies, some liqueurs, maybe a dark rum -- nobody in the family drinks much, so the stuff that they DO buy tends to be either the stuff you make girly-drinks from (which is fine by me: I love girly drinks), or reasonably high-quality stuff. I mean, they may have bought the bottle of Meyers Rum twenty years ago, and are never going to drink it, but, y'know, Meyers is actually pretty good, and you wouldn't want to throw it away, so I get it. 'Cause I'll drink it.

It DOES mean my liquor cabinet is kind of filled-to-overflowing, and includes stuff I don't drink, but, in general, it's a good deal.
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So, I was just thinking about my own emotional and mental health.

Seems to me that one's psychic health (using "psychic" to mean "emotional and mental", not, y'know "ESP-like") is partially genetic and partially from experience -- that is, it's both nature and nurture.

A bunch of my friends are psychically less healthy than they ought to be, because of incompetent parenting, or because of traumatic social experiences growing up. A bunch of my friends have had reasonably-decent childhoods, but are genetically predisposed to poor psychic health.

Now, I'm not THAT great mentally and emotionally -- but I think I'm better than my genetics would indicate. I have my problems, biochemical in nature, but I am more stable and able to form trustworthy friendships than I'd expect, given my biology.

So, that suggests to me that my parents did something right. And I've been trying to think about what lessons I learned from them that have led to me being as sane as I am.

One of the big ones, I think, was that my mother, whenever she yelled at me or punished me for doing something wrong, would ALSO explain that, "Just because I'm mad at you doesn't mean I don't still love you." So, for me, "conflict" =/= "abandonment".
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We came home from the farm, and had a couple of hours until our dinner reservations at a relatively-nearby restaurant (at which Fabio's son-in-law worked). Some of us took a dip in the pool, or a quick nap, or chatted, or whatever, and then, eventually, we all changed for dinner and came down.

Nobody particularly came UP with the idea of changing for dinner -- it's just that ONE person started putting together an outfit, and then someone else thought that changing was a good idea, and we all dressed up just a little -- not much, but enough that Nonnie noticed, and said, "You all look nice," and looked pleased that we all had demonstrated that we thought that spending a night out with our family was important enough that we'd do a little something to mark it.

In any case, it was the last night that Meghan and her if-he's-not-scared-off-by-this-he's-gotta-be-a-fiancee Patrick were going to be around, as they were going home the morning of the 23rd, so that was another reason to just, y'know, look a LITTLE nicer than usual.

It was a traditional Italian meal, and we ordered it as such -- antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti. The place was known also for its pizzas, which, I guess, you could get served either as primi or secondi.

Nonnie was convinced that we'd ordered FAR too much food when she realized that the antipasti plates that were being brought out were brought one per PERSON, rather than one per every three or four people.

And yet. . . we pretty much cleaned every one of those plates.Read more... )
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One of the other things we learned back on the 21st was that the 22nd was going to be a train-strike day. Only a few critical trains would be running on Friday.

So, we let everybody back at the house know this, and suggested that this made an excellent excuse to just chill and take it easy.

See, my grandmother is an Italian Catholic (not hugely practicing). My grandfather is Protestant, at least technically.

They run the family business together, along with my father, his brother, and his brother-in-law. Plus other people, too, but the point is, what happens when you add the Italian temper and temperament to the Protestant work ethic?

You end up with a situation where, when you suggest to my generation the idea of having a day just hanging around the beautiful villa, lying out by the pool, maybe wandering down to the village for a beer or coffee, and generally taking it easy and hanging out, they react not only enthusiastically, but with genuine relief. Lis and I hadn't been in Italy when everyone else took the day trip to Lucca, but, frankly, I'm GLAD we weren't there. Everyone agrees that Walter is an AMAZING driver for being able to take the ten-person van down the medieval streets in which they had to fold in the mirrors on both sides in order to fit, but nobody seems to really dwell on the fact that they were only IN those streets because everyone was completely ignoring Patrick, who had the map and was saying, "Um, we need to turn left here to avoid going into tiny little medieval streets in which our van isn't allowed. . . "

In any case, Fabio, who is the owner of the villa we are renting, came by and asked if we all wanted to go on a car tour of the area. He'd take his van, we'd take our van, and he could show us cool things in and around Bucine.

This seemed like an excellent, low-key plan, and we did it. We drove over a bridge in which the structural part was Roman work, and above it was medieval work, and then they put modern pavement on it. We stopped at an apiary to watch them extract honey from honeycomb. We went to a partially-restored medieval castle, which is now a village with five families in it. We went to the winery that Fabio is part-owner of, then went to Fabio's father's farm, and saw the more traditional setup with which his father-in-law makes and bottles HIS wine. As well as meeting the gentleman and wandering around his farm. And then we went out to dinner.

That's the overview. Let me now zoom in and tell you a couple cool bits from here and there around the day. . .
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We used Lis's cell phone to call my parents to let them know we'd be late, and sauntered off to the train station, spending as much time as we wanted just looking at stuff. And we got to the train station in plenty of time to catch the next train. Which we couldn't figure out where it was. On the track that we THOUGHT the train was supposed to be, a different train was. We were a bit confused, and after a few minutes, we watched that train pull out, and I looked at the schedule on the wall again.

"Hey, Lis?" I said. "Do you think it's significant that, when we look at the schedule for THAT train that pulled out, and the schedule for the one WE wanted to take, they both leave from the same track at exactly the same time, and go to exactly the same stations?"

"Hmm," she said, and we wandered off to find someone who worked for the trains, to ask if we had just missed the train that we wanted which was disguised as a different train.

We found someone, and he looked at me, and said, "Shalom!" He was the third or fourth person who recognized me as Jewish -- I forgot to mention that the guy selling the leather jacket was ALSO Jewish, and recognized me as such.

Now, I don't consider myself to look, y'know, NOT Jewish, but I don't think of myself as looking TOTALLY OBVIOUSLY Jewish, either.

Apparently, however, I need to re-evaluate.

And, yes, of course, that HAD been our train.

We shrugged, and wandered off to the cafe in the train station to get a soda or something, and phoned my folks to let them know that we were going to be even later.

We wandered around the station for a bid, and Lis said, "Hey! Look at that!" "That" was a woman in an incredibly cute short black dress, bolero jacket, heels, and pearls, who just swayed VERY nicely while she walked. She was quite a worthwhile sight to look at, which showed that there were some compensations for missing our train.

And a thought came to me, a useful thought for being on vacation in Italy: "Yes, where I'm going is going to be very nice. But, where I am is ALSO very nice. It will be good to be THERE, but it is also good to be HERE. So, I will get THERE when I get there, and it will be nice, but, until then, I will be HERE, and that's not bad, either."

We got back to the villa, and everyone had put on a big spread for dinner for all of us, which, as we were a couple hours late, we hadn't had to help cook. And it was really good, as well as just being good to hang out with everyone.

We started to finish up eating, and my sister and a bunch of my cousins took some of the plates and stuff into the kitchen, and came back with carrying a cake with a candle in it, and singing "Happy Birthday" to Lis.

All in all, a pretty good day.
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So, did we make it on time?
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Lis and I were in a sleeper car going from Paris to Florence. We'd swapped bunks, because I decided that I wanted the window open while I was sleeping, and, when we went through towns, the streetlights threw light onto the bottom bunk, which bothered Lis. But I don't mind that, and the top bunk was higher than the window, so light didn't shine on it.

I woke up looking at a beautiful sunrise. And, we passed through a town, the first stop in Italy. It was gorgeous watching the red sun rise over the town.

Then it occurred to me that we were supposed to go through that town something like 4:15 in the morning, and it was now quite a bit more like 6:15.

We were scheduled to arrive in Florence at 7:06 AM, and there were several trains from Florence to Bucine. We had not, really, expected to make the 7:13 train, especially since we had left half an hour late. But we now realized that we weren't going to make any of the OTHER trains, either, except MAYBE the last one, the 9:34. Well, not the LAST one, but the last one until 11:something, which would get us to Bucine at too late to go back to Rome at the time we had to in order to catch the train to Castelgandalfo.

We had plans for the afternoon and evening of the 20th, you see.
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Winter Rose is staying at my parents for the week. She and her brother have been getting weeks at "Grandparent Camp" and "Auntie Leila and Uncle Bear Camp" this summer -- going to Wayland to stay with my folks, and going to Florida to stay with my sister and her fiance. Just one kid at a time -- they don't have to share the experiences with their sibling -- doing stuff with your sibling is good, too, but getting your grandparents and aunts and uncles to your self is better.

So Winter is in town this week, and I went over this afternoon to see her. She's a wonderful person. One of the first things about her is that she's really well-behaved. And, y'know, there are some kids for whom being well-behaved comes at least SOMEWHAT naturally. Not Winter and Drew -- they, by temperament, are little devils, but their parents have actually instilled manners and behavior into them. That's why it's worth mentioning -- this is something that is an effort for her, that she nonetheless manages. I'm always impressed by that whenever I see her -- and the same is true for her little brother.

Another thing about her is that she is really talented at math. And by "math", I do not mean "arithmetic" -- she's good at arithmetic only because she actually UNDERSTANDS how it works. She was having fun being annoying at me with the "Why?" game, and we'd managed to get to "because you're nine" "why?" "Because last year you were eight" "why?" "because eight is one less than nine, and if you add one to it, you get nine" "why?" "because if you define the set of non-negative integers as set S, and define 'zero' as the cardinality of the empty set, and we define 'addition' as. . . " "SIMPLIFY YOUR ANSWER!"

I would have, too, if I actually understood what I was saying, instead of trying to spew a half-remembered lecture that a friend gave me a while back. But note: Winter's genuine reaction to that is that, if I did even a halfway competent job of EXPLAINING what I was talking about, she would have understood it. And she's right. She would have. She has an excellent logical mind and can grasp mathematical relationships very well.

So I taught her one of the card tricks I know that is based on noting positional differences of cards, which she understood immediately.

We also went out for Chinese food, and the people at the next table complimented her on how gorgeous her hair is. And the same thing happened at Ben and Jerry's where we went for free cone day. She gets so annoyed at that, but does her best to accept the compliments gracefully. Yes, she does have piles of red ringlets on top of her head, and, yes, it IS adorable, but she gets so tired of hearing it all the time.
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Since half my family's Christian, we have Easter at my grandmother's every year. Which is always a bit fun, since it, by design, falls within Pesach (if you're Roman Catholic or the vast majority of Protestants). (That's the whole thing about the "The first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, or whatever it is -- it's designed to get it to fall in the week of 14 Nissan, which is Pesach. See, since Jewish months start on the New Moon, the 14th of the month is the full moon, and therefore, the Sunday after the full moon after the Spring Equinox is the Sunday within Pesach. Except if it's a Jewish leap year, in which case it's one month out, since Jewish leap years add an extra month in.)

But there's usually enough food for my parents and Lis and me to eat, what with the salad and the potatoes and the asparagus and the salmon and so forth.

So, we had a big meal and hung out with family, and then Lis and my cousin Erica and I fell asleep on various sofas and beds that are around my grandparents house, and that was Easter. It was really pretty nice.
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Okay, Leila and Kent, and Mike and Erin -- you have GOT to see this.

I know you're both arguing about how to work in Princess Bride to your weddings, as is the family tradition, but I think, after seeing this, you'll agree that we need to add in THIS tradition, as well.
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So, I've been intending to blog this for a few weeks. It was at the night-before-my-cousin's-wedding shindig, and my cousin's wedding was on Erev Purim, so this was on the day before.

So, we were at the night-before-my-cousin's-wedding shindig, and one of the people there was my cousin's friend Chad, and we were talking. And he told us something that happened to him at work. He's working as a pharmacy tech. And he was filling a prescription for a woman and answering some of the basic questions about co-pay and stuff, and then she asked a question about drug side effects or interactions or something, and he said, "I'm not the pharmacist -- I'll go get him."

So he does, and the woman asks her question again, and the pharmacist answers, and then the woman says, "So you ARE the pharmacist, aren't you?"

And he says, "No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night."

(After they all crack up laughing, he does confirm that, yes, he is the pharmacist. For those outside the United States, it's the tagline from a particularly amusing series of advertisements, with the motif that Holiday Inn is so comfortable that you'll sleep well enough to feel more competent than you actually are. . . )
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Check out the link on the story about "Traveling Dentists Help Kids who Need It".

The dentist in question, Dr. Todd Belf Becker, is my cousin.

http://www.boston.com/news/necn/Health/

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