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First hearing of “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy” of the year.

Going to be a looooooong season.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I hope all of you had a very happy Thanksgiving, coupling the proper sense of gratitude with the festive board groaning, as it were, with food and drink.

Such was our own experience as we merrily freeloaded off my brother and his family down in North Carolina.  Brother’s bird, cooked on the grill, turned out fabulous.  And as the gels and my nephew and two nieces, all of whom are roughly coeval, are finally crossing the threshold from Barbary ape to civilized human being, we were able to sit down, eleven to the table, with a hearty flow of good cheer without having to worry about tantrums, accidents or food fights.

Which is not to say that I didn’t witness some pretty awful behavior this weekend.

First, unbeknownst to us, the hotel in which we were staying had let its “banquet facility” Friday night to a group that wanted to throw a party “for young people who would otherwise be walking around on the street.”  What could possibly go wrong?  As we pulled in late in the evening, the parking lot was full of cars, as well as many, many unsavory-looking types, most of them carrying some kind of adult beverage and some already well under the influence.  As our room was directly across from said “banquet facility,” the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa-yo-yo-yo of the “music” literally made the windows rattle.   As I lay there listening to it, coupled with the screams, shrieks and yells of the revelers, the thought came to mind that if Mussorgsky ever considered rewriting “Night on Bald Mountain,” he could have picked up a hint or two from being in my shoes.   A call to the front desk around 12:30 AM produced an offer to change our rooms if we wanted.  Yes, I thought, I’m going to pack up my family in the dead of night and, under the gaze of this crowd, sneak off to the other side of the building.  Right.

Anyhoo, the thumpa-thumpa stopped around a quarter to two, while the sounds of revelry continued for about another hour, many of the “young people” apparently having no means by which to go anywhere else.  Needless to say, Mrs. R and I didn’t get much sleep that night.  (The gels, with the blessing of yoot, slept right through it all.)

The second instance was much closer to home and of a different nature entirely.  At the beginning of his homily at Mass yesterday, Father S took a few moments to talk about the tradition of liturgical etiquette.  Noting that church is a place specifically for the purpose of worship and that we are, as it were, on God’s time, congregants should be mindful not to create distractions for those around them.  This means no gossiping while waiting for the bell to ring, no cell phones, no unruly children, no extended bouts of hacking and coughing and, as we’re Catholics, no banging of rosaries against pew backs.  Simple courtesy, one would think, although the crack about the rosaries got an appreciative chuckle.  I smiled to myself, thinking that since ours is the Tridentine Mass and therefore full of Rad-Trads, such a reminder was rayther like getting coals to Newcastle.

Well, shortly after Father started in on his homily proper, which was of course about the meaning of Advent, one of the side doors opened and a group of about half a dozen people I’d never seen before started noisily to stream in.  They had a couple little girls, aged about three or four, who immediately started squealing and dancing about the aisle, whilst the adults had a lengthy and apparently somewhat acrimonious discussion about where to sit.  This finally sorted out, and the crowd beginning to drift en masse toward an empty pew, one of the females of the group suddenly whipped out a camera and started taking photographs, flash photographs, mind you, of various group members with the altar in the background.   After a couple of shots, one of the regulars finally got the woman’s attention with some subdued but serious flapping, and got her to cut it out.  (Where’s a good usher when you need one?)

Group A, if I may so term them, had finally settled down, and Father had by then started in on the Consecration of the Host, when much to my horror, reinforcements arrived, in the shape of another half-dozen or so people.  Call them Group B.  Evidently, Groups A and B knew each other, as they all started waiving as the second group came in.  Not content with this acknowledgement, sundry members of Group A then proceeded to get up, move out into the aisle and begin hob-knobbing with their counterparts.  I was gobsmacked.   Meanwhile, I could see Father, now very red in the face, determined to stick to his sacred duty but just itching to ex-communicate the lot of them, possibly offering physical violence as well.  As I remarked to somebody later, I could not tell at that point whether the smoke which wreathed the altar was coming from the censor or from Father’s ears.  It was truly appalling.

Finally, the combined forces of Groups A and B settled down.  I noticed that none of them came forward for Communion.  It was probably just as well, because I am fairly certain Father would have told them to go to blazes.

Afterwards, as I shook hands with Father S upon leaving, I found myself on the verge of asking him if the whole thing had been a set up to illustrate the point he had been making about distractions.  Fortunately, Reason stepped in and kyboshed the joke, which was just as well as he probably would have told me to go to blazes.

All the same, I ask you!  What on earth could these people have possibly been thinking?

Well, so as not to end a post in darkness, I will light two candles for you:

Regarding the Friday Night Fiasco, when Mrs. R called the next day to demand a deep discount on what we paid, the manager actually thanked her for being so polite about it:  Apparently, he’d been being yelled at by infuriated fellow guests all day.  That sort of (to use an old-fashioned, almost taboo word) class, makes ol’ Robbo very, very happy.

Saturday afternoon found the Family Robbo, homeward bound, coming through Charlottesville, Virginny, just in time to get caught in the traffic headed for the UVA/Virginia Tech slay-fest game.  Once on the north side of town, we stopped at Chick-Fil-A for lunch.  People of a certain ilk like to sneer at Chick-Fil-A on the grounds of its heavily Christian business ethic.  But I will tell you this:  The place was absolutely mobbed with football fans.  Nonetheless, the staff were bright, courteous, efficient, patient and friendly.  And despite the fact that the place was a sea of humanity, I heard not a single grumble, saw not a single rude gesture from anybody in line.  Instead, there was nothing but goodwill and cooperation, even amongst the SUV pilots in the parking lot.  As I sat contemplating the scene, the evidence of Mankind’s potential for Good, the evidence that we can be civilized if we only try, even in very trying circumstances, was quite heartwarming.  And it made my chicken sammich taste that much better.  Gratitude will do that.

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