Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Filched from Wiki

Filched from Wiki

As I’m sure some of the more history-nerdy friends of the decanter are aware, today is the 445th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, the pivotal Renaissance sea battle in which a combined fleet of Spanish, Venitian, and Papal warships beat the living daylights out of a far larger Ottoman fleet, thereby saving the Med from a Muslim takeover.

In honor of the day, I recently started reading Niccolo Capponi’s Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto.  These days, most people (who have actually even heard of the battle, that is)  seem to believe that the “miracle” associated with Lepanto was the actual victory itself.  Me?  Reading this book about the hot mess that was 16th Century European politicks, I think the real miracle was that the Spanish, the Venitians, the Genoans, and the Holy See managed to cobble together a fleet in teh first place, and that said fleet was able to operate efficiently and cooperatively. (Capponi is very cynical about the horse-trading surrounding this combination.  To his credit, though, he is unflinching in his respect for St. Pius V, the Pope who put it all together.)

And largely based on this victory, today is also the Feast of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On his lunchtime walk, ol’ Robbo stumbled across a group of somewhere between 150 and 175 people praying the Rosary.  It was gratifying to toss in a couple decades myself as I circled round them.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

In comments to the post below about this past weekend, Mr. G. Hand asks: “But, how was the visit of Eldest Gel after the freedom of the dorm? Enquiring minds want to know!”

Well, as the farmer interested in the enormous commercial possibilities of ovine aviation said, “A feer quistion, and one that in recent weeks ‘as been mooch on moy moynd.”

You see, as the date of The Homecoming got closer and closer, the Eldest began talking about it more and more, going on at great length about how ready she was to get away from school and how glad she was to be coming back to Port Swiller Manor.  Indeed, last week she spoke of almost nothing else (aside from the elections, that is).  I won’t say that she became obsessive, but I will say that Mrs. Robbo and I were only mostly joking when we agreed we’d better have a contingency plan ready to go in the event the Gel announced she was going to move back in, transfer to community college, and get a job at Robek’s.  (That plan, as it turned out, was simply to say, “Oh, no you’re not.”)

Well, when the Gel rolled in Wednesday evening, she certainly was excited to be home.  For about the next 48 hours or so, she fully indulged herself in all of her old favorite activities – fooling with the dog, swinging on the rope swing out back, looking up HS friends, and so on.

But by Saturday morning, I couldn’t help noticing something of a change coming over the gel.  She started to seem a bit….antsy.  Fidgety, if you will.  Standing on one foot or the other with impatience.  This gradually got more noticeable as the day went by.  Indeed, she also started getting a bit testy with us.  At one point, when Mrs. R was fussing at her about something, the gel snapped, “You know, there are times when I like the concept of you guys much more than the reality of having to deal with you.”

By Sunday, the Gel also was making jokes about how she had to go back to school because she just couldn’t stand being under the same roof as her sisters any longer because of all the noise and hubbub.

On the other hand, another thing was that the Gel started talking to me about the things she likes at school.  You can’t get this stuff out of her if you ask – she just goes contrary and clams up.  But if you sit very still and let her bring it up herself, she’ll let it out – the friends she’s making; the clubs and activities she’s joined (including her favorite Friday evening trips to VMI for ball room dancing – she even volunteered to drive a carpool); her classes (except French).  As for the “freedom of the dorm”, that’s definitely part of it too, although not the way you might think.  What she enjoys most, I think, is the responsibility of running her own life.  (She despises those girls who have gone off the deep end of of debauchery now that they’re out from under the parental thumb.  There’s a lot of Scots Presbyterian blood running through that kid’s veins.)

In short, I think the Gel realized this weekend that already there is a part of her that likes being at college even more than it likes being at home.  I also think she surprised herself in this discovery, since she had been so eager to visit beforehand.

The final clue?  Not once did I hear her say anything about not wanting to head back Monday morning.  She was up at 5 ack emma, and after a big hug and a perfunctory “see you”, she was off to arm herself with coffee and donuts, pick up her classmate who was catching a ride back with her, and head down the highway.

This makes ol’ Robbo very happy.   Leaving home certainly can be hard on a kid, but it is absolutely critical if you expect them ever to really grow up.  And after some initial bumps and shudders, it seems to me as if the Gel now “gets” it.

Incidentally, Mrs. Robbo and I will be headed down to see the Gel in her newly naturalized habitat for Family Weekend in a few weeks.  (I don’t think they call it “family” as opposed to “parents” weekend because of political correctness.  Instead, I think they want to encourage younger sisters to check the place out.  I know for certain that the Director of Admissions would love to get her hooks into the Middle Gel if she could.)  I wonder if we will look as hopeless a pair of doofuses (doofii?) in that environment as the Old Gentleman and the Mothe did to me when they came to visit me my freshman year.

No doubt.  No doubt.

But that’s good, too.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo doesn’t get out very much, in part because it gets expensive very quickly and in part because, once I’m done shlepping down to the shop and back every day, I’d really rayther stay home of an evening.

This weekend, therefore, was quite out of the ordinary.

First, as mentioned in the weirdo post immediately below, Friday evening saw the Family Robbo trek down to Nats Park to watch our beloved Nats take on the Fish.  We got there around 5:30 pm.  The game was supposed to start at 7 pm.  It didn’t actually start until 8:50 pm.  Here’s what ol’ Robbo had to look at during the wait:

"It's a tarp!"

“It’s a tarp!”


So why stay, you may ask?  After all, the Division Title was already locked up, the shakiest starter in the rotation was pitching (he actually lasted about 2 innings), and it was cold and rainy.  (Indeed, it never really stopped raining all evening.)

Well, I’ll tell you.  For one thing, Eldest Gel was home visiting from school and really wanted to go.  For another (related) thing, it’s rare that all of us do anything together as a group now that the gels are growing up.  For a third, I hadn’t been to an actual game all year.  And fourth? Look again at the pic.  We had bought seats in the upper deck, but the Gods of the Ticket Office decided to smile upon us and upgraded us to about 20 rows behind 1st Base.

I couldn’t pass that up.

Last evening, in turn, the Middle Gel and I went down the Kennedy Center to catch their production of Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro.

Curiously enough, while I have heard the piece many, many times, owning 2 CD versions and a pretty good DVD recording of it as well, I’d never seen it performed live before.  Go figure.  Anyhoo, we had a thoroughly delightful time.  It was well staged, most of the singers did very well and were obviously having fun, and the orchestra was good, too.

However, get a load of where we wound up sitting.

Photo credit: Middle Gel

Photo credit: Middle Gel

Yep, the Bob Uecker Front Row.  We’re talking real nose-bleeders here.  Indeed, we weren’t even sitting in one of the affixed rows, but in a couple chairs brought in at the very back.  (Thus the wages of putting off to the last minute trying to get tickets to a very popular production.  On the other hand, I was able to slip off my loafers without anyone noticing.)

All I can say is that even though we eventually started to succumb to altitude sickness, we could hear and see well enough.  I also found myself musing that this was just about the position we would have been in the night before if our ballpark seats hadn’t been changed.

Anyhoo, ol’ Robbo didn’t make it to bed until past one ack emma on either night, so I am in something pretty close to zombie mode now.  Which is another reason why I don’t much care for the night life.

In these cases, tho’, I think it was worth it.





Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It’s been rayther a long time since ol’ Robbo has reported one of his signature bizzarro dreams here.  Well, guess what? That drought is over.

It seems I found myself in a long, long procession or pilgrimage of people, a surprising number of whom I actually know in real life or via the innertoobs.   They seemed to be searching for The Way or The Light or some sort of Answer.  It became clear to me after a time, however, that there was nothing holy about what I was seeing, and that it was, in fact, some kind of cult of personality presided over by an evil spirit.  (The people themselves, however, were not evil, just deluded.  Don’t ask me how I knew these things.  I just did.)

It seemed that every now and then a dissenter would be singled out in a kind of cat-and-mouse game played by the forces of evil.  The dissenter would be put to an impromptu show trial and then carted off to the executioner for torture and/or beheading.

It also seemed that there was some kind of underground movement that sought to save such dissenters.  Apparently, it was very good at getting them away from the captors but didn’t really have a clue as to what to do with them afterwards, and the freed dissenters typically were re-caught.

At some point in my dream, the scene shifted from a broad, rolling upland to the interior of an impossibly large railroad car.  As I stood in the crowd, I suddenly realized that people were quietly slipping away from my sides and that all at once I was quite alone.  I found myself facing a woman lounging on a sofa.  I don’t think she was the actual guiding force of the cult, but believed she was one of the senior lieutenants.  I don’t remember what she or I said specifically, but the upshot was that I was accused of Crimes Against The Body and sentenced to death.

I then found myself in a field, apparently awaiting execution.  There was a group of people near me who seemed to be praying.  I asked them if I could borrow a Bible.  One of the group immediately handed me what turned out to be a missal instead of a Bible.  But he also (accidentally, I think) handed me a wallet, which I immediately turned over the wrong way, spilling out all the contents.  I hastily tried to gather up a large number of credit cards, paper receipts and cash, and was much distressed that I couldn’t seem to get them all back into the wallet.  I don’t recall how the affair ended.

Next, I found it was Time.  A group of people gathered around me and started hustling me off to the place of execution.  Some of them were taunting me, but others slipped in close and muttered things like, “We’ll get you out,” “We haven’t got a plan yet, but we’re working on it,” “Just keep your eyes open and watch for opportunities,”  and the like.  Curiously, I found I had no faith that they could spring me, but also was not greatly distressed about it.  My overall feeling was of calm resignation.

I arrived at the execution spot, where I understood I was to have my head chopped off.  It was just an open place in the field with a square marked off in yellow paint.  Apparently, somebody had forgotten to build a proper platform, so there was going to be another delay while they sorted things out.  Meanwhile, a major league umpire was standing nearby, kicking his heals as he waited to officiate.  For some reason, St. Thomas More suddenly wandered into my braims, so I sidled up to the ump and said, “I understand this axe-man is a seasoned pro.  Well, I’m just rookie meat.  So will you please be generous with the strike zone?”

And then, as they say, I woke up.

(The only part of this dream I can explain in absolutely concrete terms is the presence of the fuming ump.  The Family Robbo went to see our beloved Nationals play last evening and there was an almost two hour rain delay before the game began.  The rest seems to be a bad mash-up of Msrg. Robert Hugh Benson’s The Lord of the World and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil“.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, the big nooz around Port Swiller Manor this week is that the Eldest Gel is coming home tomorrow for the first time since we dropped her off at college almost six weeks ago.  (It’s end of quarter reading days, which she’s been planning to make an extended at-home weekend from the very beginning.)

It will be fascinating to see what effect a month and a half of having been booted out of the nest will have had on her.  Certainly I’ve noticed a change in her tone over the phone, especially since she got some pretty good grades on her first essays in English and history.  More mature, more task-oriented.  Also, she seems to want to go and visit with all the adults round here who helped her make the transition, and is insistent that we have Family Dinners during her stay (something she always hated while in previous residence here).

Yep, I think teh Gel is growing up.  And while it worried ol’ Robbo somewhat early on, at least now I’m satisfied that we won’t have any trouble about her going back to school come Sunday.

(Incidentally, ol’ Robbo was never all that happy about the idea of the Gel driving three hours each way through the Virginny countryside all by herself.  As it turns out, however, she discovered a classmate the other day who lives the next town over and who was looking to bum a ride home.  So it’s all good.)





Greetings, my fellow port swillers and, although I’m a day or two late about it, Happy Autumn!

As ol’ Robbo has said probably every year since he first started blogging (well, and before that, too), this is truly my very favorite season.  (Spring is a close but distinct second. While I like the start of winter, the novelty seems to wear off earlier every year.  I have always despised summah, a loathing picked up during my misspent yoot in South Texas.)

Ma Nature, getting into the swing of things, has seen fit to dish up a series of highs in the low 70’s in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor for the next week or so, allowing ol’ Robbo to spend about four hours this morning giving the grounds a good Monty without suffering from heat stroke.  (What is a “Monty” you ask? In this context it means mowing and trimming the entire yard, plus the ditch between the sidewalk and street and the little meadow between the back gate and the creek.  I also sprayed weeds, watered whiskey barrels, and cleaned the accumulated ashes out of the grill.)

While this is pleasant enough, ol’ Robbo’s ideal fall weather conditions – which won’t arrive for at least another four weeks or so – involve a temperature of about 45 degrees with a steady rain and fog.  There’s something about tramping around in it, smelling the mixture of dank, rotting leaves and chimney smoke, hearing the crows cawing off in the distance, that gives ol’ Robbo a delicious feeling of memento mori.  I’m not being morbid in this, because it also seems to focus and increase my sense of (or at least desire for) piety.  I sometimes wonder if the Church Fathers had this psychological phenomenon in mind when they set the liturgical calendar to restart in late fall.  (Of course, there’s also something delicious about coming in out of it, pouring a large glass of Lafroaig, and flopping down in front of the fire which is also highly satisfying, if perhaps for not such high-falootin’ reasons.)

Anyhoo, working around the house today brought two other things to mind.  First, this year ol’ Robbo put a couple of large urns on the patio out back, in which he planted dwarf boxwoods and surrounded them with trailing annuals.  (They really look quite nice.)  I have begun to wonder what I ought to do about them over the winter.  Boxwood is really too pricey to be treated as an annual and, for practical purposes, I really can’t move them.  It occurs to me that maybe I can somehow insulate them – you know, wrapping some kind of material around them to keep the shrubs’ roots from freezing.  Anyone have any ideas or experiences along these lines?

Second, I am resolved this year to finally start using the fire pit that also sits on the patio.  I bought it about three years ago, and for some reason have never done much more with it than use it to burn empty charcoal bags.  Why this is, I just don’t know.

(Speaking of fall, a colleague of mine at work was telling me all about the trip she and her new fiancee plan to take up to Maine in about three weeks.  She’s never been before and one of the things she said she was looking forward to was seeing all the foliage.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the leaves will be more or less down already by the time she gets up there.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Second and final day of ol’ Robbo’s employment “retreat” and it was about what I had expected, maybe even worse.  (I won’t go into details, lest I find myself posted to the happy fun reeducation camps quam celereme.  Let’s just say that, according to several speakers at least, I am a very, very bad person.)

Anyhoo, what else is there to do but come home and flush it all out with some serious sound:

I’ve read various bits and pieces on the Great 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, the upshot of which is that by the time they got to this song, Benny and the Boys were in the Zone and just going flat out.  Certainly, none of the studio versions of it I’ve heard are quite the same.

By the bye, no offense to drummer Gene Krupa, but I like to imagine Animal on the skins here.  I may have mentioned it here before, but Mrs. R and I got married at Sweet Briar College, the service being in the school chapel and the reception in the campus center.  For the reception, we hired out a 13 piece big band run by one of the Science Department professors of the day, and the place absolutely jumped.   I ardently tried to get them to finish up with “Sing, Sing, Sing”, but they wouldn’t do it.  Possibly this was because they didn’t know the song.  Alternatively, it might have been because I kept requesting it in Animal Voice.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Has ol’ Robbo mentioned here before his firmly-held belief that Tuesday is the worst day of the week?  Well it is, simply due to the fact that it has absolutely nothing going for it.  Monday, for all its awfulness, is at least a bridgehead.  Wednesday is, of course, Hump…DAAAAAAY.  Thursday is down hill and Friday speaks for itself.  Tuesday is nothing more than a freakin’ hole in the week.

Anyhoo, to fill that hole, a few stray thoughts:

♦  Before I forget it, and in connection with the Wednesday link above, I have to say that ol’ Robbo is continually impressed with the consistent brilliance of Geico’s teevee advertising (which I see through watching my beloved Nats play on MASN).  Campaign after campaign after campaign – from cavemen to geckos to bad ideas – whoever comes up with this stuff is truly gifted.  It’s one thing to get an occasional home run, but these people hit for the freakin’ cycle.   And speaking of which, for some reason ol’ Robbo finds their latest amusing enough to repost here:

(Full disclosure, by the bye, ol’ Robbo is not a Geico customer or paid shill.  We’re USAA through the Old Gentleman’s military stint and quite content with it.)

♦  And speaking of ol’ Robbo’s beloved Nats, they just dropped their fourth straight to an out-of-it NL East team playing for nothing but pride tonight.  I know the odds of us not clinching the pennant at this point are in the SMOD 2016 range, but come on, guys!

♦   Speaking of sports, last Sunday ol’ Robbo was asked by one of his Mass buddies who doesn’t pay much attention to the current so-called “culture” to explain the whole NFL national anthem kerfluffle.  Whelp, I was able to give her a brief description just based on what I see on the Innertoobs, but the fact of the matter is that ol’ Robbo really hasn’t watched pro football at all since Dan Marino retired in 1999.  This was partly because the ‘Fins were the only team I ever followed and they have gone to hell since then, and partly because NFL Sunday afternoon advertising is raunchy enough that I didn’t want the gels seeing it.  Overall, I don’t think I’ve really missed very much.

♦   It would be extremely foolish of ol’ Robbo to comment on the state of the Presidential race at this point, at least so far as endorsements go.  But one thing strikes me as peculiar:  Normally, my corner of NoVA and my commuter route into the Imperial City are, by this point, wall-to-wall with yard signs and bumper stickers.  This year?  Almost nada.  Just about the only signs I see in the immediate neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor are for the local incumbent House member.  Make of that what you will.

♦   Good thoughts would be appreciated:  The next two days ol’ Robbo is being forced to go on “retreat” with his office colleagues.   Usually, I’m pretty good at being able to dodge work-related functions, but I gather there’s no getting out of this one barring accidental amputation of a limb or kidnapping by Boko Haram.  Sigh.  In my experience, “retreats” are both boring and dangerous, and the only thing to do is to keep one’s head down, one’s mouth shut, and one’s most political smile firmly nailed to one’s face.

♦  Speaking of face, ol’ Robbo is trying out a new prescription set of gas-permiable hard contact lenses this week.  (My venture into disposable soft lenses proved an abject failure.)  They seem to work reasonably well for my near-sightedness.  The trouble is that they also bring my far-sightedness into, er, very sharp focus: wearing them, I can’t make out much within a four or five foot radius without a pair of store-bought 2X reading glasses.  I’m having trouble here understanding why I go to the bother of contacts in the first place.

♦  Relatedly, while getting fitted for the new contacts, I also got a prescription for a new pair of glasses.  My current pair is about four years old and I’ve had nothing but grief about them (in terms of aesthetics) from Mrs. R.  This time, I got the Missus to come down to the Hour-Eyes with me.  “Here,” I said, “You pick out the frames!”  And she did.  Despicable pre-emptive surrender? Or ingenious seizure of the high ground?  Your answer may very well depend on your marital status. (Hint: “Yes, dear” can be a double-edged weapon.)

Whelp, I suppose that’s enough hole-in-the-week plugging for now.  Pass the port to the left as you take it in, if you please.

UPDATE:  Day One of Robbo’s retreat featured the predictable “team-building challenges” and a lot of middle-management level blether from an HR consultant (what a racket that is!) about effective communications with different personality types.   Forehead? Meet table!  As a colleague of mine put it sotto voce, “Here’s an idea: You’re all grownups…Act like it.”

UPDATE DEUX: Nats’ Magic Number now down to, er, deux.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Next month marks the sixteenth anniversary of the Family Robbo’s setting up shop here at Port Swiller Manor.  With each passing year, as is inevitable, major appliances and fixtures have come to the end of their useful lives and have had to be replaced – the furnace, the water heater, the InSinkErator, the oven (well, that was more of an upgrade than a needed replacement), all of the potties, and so on.  In fact, the only three such items which I can recall being part of the original equipment we bought with the place are the Kenmore washer/dryer combination, the garage door opener, and the Maytag dishwasher.**

The first two items are still going strong, but the dishwasher is beginning to show its age.  One sign of this is that, recently, the lower dish rack has started rusting in spots.  (When that rust gets on the rims of the plates during a wash cycle, it’s a major pain to get the stains off again.)  So ol’ Robbo began to noodle around in his braims about what he could do short of replacing the whole thing (which seems absurd since it still runs perfectly well).

My first idea was to look for a replacement part.  As I say, it’s an old Maytag but I can’t seem to find any model number or other identification on it.  Nonetheless, at first I figured I could do a little measuring and a little eye-balling and a little detail comparison, and come up with something that would fit.  I found such parts readily available on-line, but also found that they’re a lot more expensive than I had imagined – a couple hundred bucks in some places.  That’s a bit too steep a gamble for me.

But as I hunted around, I also noticed another option in the form of some goop that you can put on the rust spots to seal them over.  Six bucks a bottle.  It has the consistency of liquid paper and you apply it by slapping on multiple layers every half hour or so and then letting the patches dry overnight.  (It also has some right powerful fumes that take me back to the hours and hours I spent in my misspent yoot putting together and painting model airplanes.  Duuuuuude...)

Anyhoo, that’s what I’m amusing myself with this afternoon and I must say that it’s giving me no end of enjoyment.  I guess it says something about ol’ Robbo’s station in life that such a homeowner’s short-cut can give so much satisfaction.  Unless, of course, it’s just the fumes.  (Duuuuuuude….)

By the bye, I’ve no doubt that there are many friends of the decanter saying to yourselves “Self, I wonder how ol’ Robbo’s Eldest Gel is taking to college life?”  Well, the short answer is that, despite the predictable bounces and shakes, overall tolerable well, tolerable well.  I put together a post this week listing all the activities and whatnot she’s got herself involved in, but it wound up reading like one of those awful family “news letters” that go out with the Christmas cards, so I chucked it.  Instead, I’m reviewing my more general thoughts about the overall shift in family dynamics caused by her absence and may have something to say about that.  Also, she’s coming home for the weekend in a couple weeks and it will be interesting to see what, if any, changes the first six weeks of school have made in her.

** Mrs. Robbo says that we put the dishwasher in our first year here, but I have no recollection of that.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, now that we are well on into September and sunrise and sunset are more exactly correlating with ol’ Robbo’s commute-time, a perennial phenomenon which drives me absolutely batty is once again raising its ugly head.

I’m talking about people who, driving directly into the sun, suddenly notice that their windshields are dirty and, without thinking about it, hit the cleaner spray.

What said people never seem to realize is that doing this while they’re still driving straight into the light has the effect of rendering them absolutely blind to what’s in front of them for several seconds, what with all the fluid splattered and smeared all over their windshields and being back-lit by sun rays coming in horizontally.  They also don’t seem to give a hoot that their own spray inevitably spews backwards and hits the windshield of the car immediately behind them.  That would be me, by the bye.)

Is it so difficult to wait until one hits a shady patch?  That’s what ol’ Robbo does.  (Much of my commute is along a parkway with ample tree-cover in spots.  It’s not like we’re out on the Overseas Highway.)

It may not seem like a big point, but when you’re stuck in 70 mph bumper-to-bumper gridlock, those several seconds can make all the difference in the world.


Ah, well.  Give it a couple months and ol’ Robbo will be having to deal with those people (probably the same ones) who don’t clear all the snow off the tops of their cars before setting out.





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