La storia del cane peloso

It was a blustery Thursday night in Brooklyn. The cold wind swirled sea air into parts of the city that normally smelled of exhaust, or garbage, or nothing.

Anna Chouvie was headed home from a tough day at the office, driving slowly through the neighborhood. All she wanted was to get home and relax, but at the same time she didn’t want to deal with making dinner.

Ahead she saw warm lights, a striped awning, and tables on the sidewalk, although nobody was braving the cold wind to dine al fresco. She’d passed this little Italian restaurant a thousand times, but never eaten there. On an impulse, she pulled over. Vinnie’s Ristorante, the sign said. Why not?

The teenage hostess guided Anna to a table and gave her the menu. “I apologize in advance,” the girl said, “we’re a little short staffed this evening. Someone will be over to take your drink order as soon as possible.“

A few minutes later, Anna was reading the menu, including a 3-paragraph history of Vinnie’s, when the hostess returned. “Well, actually, it’ll be me taking your order, because our only waiter has cut his hand and gone off to the urgent care!”

“Oh, yikes, well, I hope he’s ok,” said Anna. “I’d just like a glass of red wine.”

“House chianti coming right up! That’s one I can do myself… but don’t tell the liquor board or the police detective over there… I’m technically not old enough.”

Anna smiled. “Detective? Are we in some sort of film noir? But don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me, especially if it gets me a quicker glass of wine. But before you go, let me ask: is Vinnie here tonight?”

“She sure is, she still cooks every night, just like when she first opened.”

Vinnie Garanollo was also having a tough day. Besides having her idiot waiter cut his hand while slicing bread, her other waiter was a no-show. And the produce order was messed up, again. On the one hand, the bad weather meant the restaurant wasn’t too busy, but on the other it meant her paycheck was going to be light, again.

Vinnie’s parents had been overcome by the romantic impulse to name their daughter Venus after seeing Botticelli’s famous painting The Birth of Venus on their honeymoon in Italy. As a young child, being called Venus was cute, but at school she was teased mercilessly. She withdrew further and further into a tough Goth shell, until in high school she was barely passing and spoke hardly at all.

Home economics class saved the day. Some saw it as an easy A, while others thought of it as a dumping ground for the unmotivated. But for Venus, home ec was a lifeline. She liked having a big workbench to sit at instead of a little writing desk. She liked doing things instead of just reading about other people’s ideas. And she liked being away from some of the mean girls in her other classes. Out of the blue, she took to the cooking module with energy and flair. Seeing this new interest, her guidance counselor steered her to transfer to a vocational school with a food science track. The next year, she walked into the new school and announced herself as Vinnie. The name stuck, and so did the love of cooking.

After a slightly too long interval, the hostess came back to Anna Chouvie’s small table and asked if she was ready to order. “Yes,” Anna said, “I’d like the lasagna, it’ll warm me up tonight. But to start, can I have a salad?”

“Sure, how about a small Caesar? The Vinnie Garanollo dressing is to die for.”

“That would be great! But I have a special request… for the crunchy things on top, would you see if they have any dry chow mein noodles? I know that’s weird, and maybe you don’t have any in an Italian restaurant, but I just really like them on my salad. And another glass of wine. And also, will you tell Vinnie that Anna Chouvie is here? We were in junior high together, but I don’t know if she’d even remember me… we weren’t really friends or anything.”

“Ok, I’ll see what I can do. We normally serve the Caesar with those… what’s the word? Those little toasted bread cubes. But I’ll ask if maybe she’s got some dry noodles back there? Things are still backed up in the kitchen, though, so please bear with me. And I’m sure Vinnie will be glad to see you,” she said brightly as she hurried away.

As the hostess went off to pour the wine and place the order, one of the other diners looked on thoughtfully. Detective Perry Mazzana ate at Vinnie’s regularly. Tonight, he was noodling over a complex case while picking at a plate of linguine alle vongole. His main witness had clammed up, and Mazzana felt like he was as stuck in the mud. Switching back to the present, he glanced over to the bar area and heard the glug-glug of wine pouring from a newly opened bottle. He knew the hostess was too young to be behind the bar, but he didn’t really see the harm in it. The girl wasn’t drinking the booze herself, or at least not right there in front of the customers.

Anna settled in with her wine to wait for her meal, idly scrolling on her phone. She could hear dishes clanking… a little too hard? in the kitchen. A whiff of burnt smoke tickled her nose.

Suddenly, the kitchen door burst open and Vinnie came through. Silhouetted in front of the bright kitchen with her chef’s smock open at the neck, her cap askew, and holding a large knife, she looked like a figure from Hollywood. Whether that character was from a comedy or a horror film wasn’t immediately obvious. She surveyed the room and found Anna.

“Well, well, Anna Chouvie,” she said, rather loudly, as she walked to Anna’s table. “I haven’t seen you since high school. What are you doing back in the old neighborhood?”

“Hi, Vinnie. I know! But high school? I thought you transferred after junior high.”

“No, we spent a year and a half in the same high school.” Vinnie went on with a note of bitterness. “But I can see how you might not have noticed me… we had different interests by then.”

“Hmm, well, err, I’m sorry I don’t remember,” said Anna, looking a little uncomfortable. “I just decided to pop in tonight… I had no idea this was your place! How cool to have a restaurant of your own.

“As for me, I never really left. I moved away for college, but came back after and moved into a place not that far away to take care of my parents. I was married for a few years, but it didn’t work out and so I’m on my own these days.”

“Really?” asked Vinnie. “So you’ve been around the whole time I’ve had the restaurant but you’ve never been in before? Well, that just figures.”

Anna opened and closed her mouth before answering. But Vinnie went on. “And now you show up and you want chow mein noodles? On the day when nothing is going right, you want chow mein noodles on your Caesar salad. Well, that’s just great.”

Vinnie turned and stomped back into the kitchen.

Anna just sat there, not knowing what to think. And Det. Mazzana, who had watched the whole scene, got that funny feeling he sometimes got, a little itch that said ‘trouble.’ That itchy feeling had gotten him promoted to detective, and he’d learned to trust it. He got out his phone and dialed a familiar number.

“Hey Sal, it’s Mazzana here. Are you on patrol?” He waited for a response and then smiled. “None of that cheesy Detective stuff from you, my friend. I’m just Per Mazzana like always. Listen, can you and Ed swing over to Vinnie’s restaurant? I have a funny feeling, and even if it’s nothing I’m sure you guys wouldn’t mind a bite of pasta on a night like this.”

He hung up and looked around the room. Everyone had seen Vinnie come out of the kitchen and most had heard the brief outburst. But no one seemed alarmed. They were mostly regulars and knew Vinnie’s temper was a little hot sometimes.

Suddenly Vinnie reappeared and marched right over to Anna’s table. “It’s just like in Girl Scouts, you know. Your uniform was always perfect, your projects were always perfect, and then when you won the prize you just quit and walked away. And now you just pop in here after all this time and you want chow mein noodles. But why??”

“Gee, Vinnie, Girl Scouts! That’s kind of a lot to unpack! But I’ll tell you why. It’s something my dad would do. He used to tell us these outrageous stories in the evenings, full of stupid puns and terrible punchlines. One of those stories involved a Chinese chef on a desert island, a wombat, and a helicopter. I don’t even remember it all, but from then on, it was always chow mein noodles on every salad, no matter what. So when I walked in here tonight, I just thought…”

Then Anna folded her napkin and said “But maybe I should just pay for the wine and go. I know it’s a tough night for you, Vinnie.”

“No, no, no. You stay right there,” said Vinnie, waggling the knife as she talked. “I’ll make your dinner, Anna Chouvie, since you’re such a big fish who can order whatever she wants. And on your salad I’ll put plenty of the Vinnie Garanollo dressing that that the Brooklyn Daily Eagle called ‘light and refreshing’.” She stomped off.

Anna sat for a minute, looked around, and gave a little shrug to herself. She caught Det. Mazzana’s eye, and he gave her a little shrug of his own, raised his glass in a mock toast, and took a sip.

Just then, Sal and Ed walked in and headed to Mazzana’s table. They waved at the hostess who was carrying a big load of dishes toward the kitchen. “Hey boss, you buying? We got here right away” said Sal, with Ed nodding eagerly.

“Something just doesn’t feel right tonight, boys, and I’m glad you’re here.”

There was a loud crash of broken glass and silverware hitting the floor, followed by a scream that started low and got higher and higher. Every diner looked toward the kitchen.

The young hostess, looking stunned, raced through the dining room, grabbed her jacket from the front desk, and bolted for the door. Vinnie came out of the kitchen and yelled “And don’t EVER come back, you stupid clumsy bitch!!”

Vinnie, red and panting, looked wildly around the room. All three cops rose from their seats, their left hands automatically assuming that placating palms-down gesture you see them do, while their right hands all moved closer to the belt.

Vinnie sputtered “In the kitchen I’m surrounded by imbeciles!” She eyed the cops and grimaced. “And out here I’ve got Sal, Ed, Anna Chouvie, and Per Mazzana. Let us see what we can cook up now!”

She turned toward Anna and raised the knife.

“Seize her! Sal! Ed!” yelled Mazzana. The veteran cops grabbed Vinnie and easily forced the knife from her hand. One on each side, they started to march her toward the door.

Vinnie struggled and squirmed, trying to get free, still staring daggers at Anna. Practically crying with rage and frustration, she said “You’re just a little fish, Anna Chouvie. And I’ll be back, and I’ll see you again, and then, then…”

“It’ll be CROUTONS for you!”

Grand or great?

It looks like there are two ways to describe my relationship to Miss Austin Clarke, who I got to meet this week for the first time. She is doted on by so many people… and at least two dogs.

Our relationship definitely includes the notion of niece. And now that we’ve met, I declare that she is both great- and grand- !

Hard at work and hardly working

I was kicked out of my office the other day due to some work going on inside. But thanks to the wonders of wi-fi, I could just keep Zoom’ing from the patio.

Misty soon showed up to supervise. If she’d only had a kitty sized shovel to lean on.

… and boy are my arms tired!

Because the open water swimming community is relatively small and very friendly, a regular guy like me can start this story with “my swim buddy Jono…” without stretching the truth too much. So here goes…

My swim buddy Jono Ridler just swam over 60 miles… continuously, without a wetsuit, in really tough conditions. It’s the longest swim ever recorded in New Zealand waters. Besides the physical feat, he teamed up with the Live Ocean Foundation founded by Americas Cup and Olympic sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. They all used the swim to raise money and awareness of the terrible damage our Hauraki Gulf has suffered due to overfishing and pollution.

As you can see in the picture above, he finished slightly off the dotted line that shows the planned course. The wind and waves and rain were making the whole thing unsafe for him and for the support boats. He’d hoped to go another hour or so.

As a result of this course change, by the time I got to the finish line to welcome Jono ashore he’d already been bundled into an ambulance and taken to the hospital for observation. He’s fine. Those two little points of light on the right of the picture above are the support crew heading away to the marina. I was really sorry not to be there, although from the videos I saw of him getting out, he wouldn’t have known if I was there or not. He’d been in the water a looong time.

I’m so impressed with this swim. Jono has taken the physical gifts he won in the genetic lottery and combined them with a discipline and training focus that I can only observe from afar. But every Olympian does that, and every All-Black. The difference there is that many of those athletes are chasing the big money, or at least they have a framework for their efforts… there’s a highly evolved infrastructure of school sports, government sponsored training camps, and competitions they can slot into. Jono ain’t gonna get rich off this, that’s certain. He also had to invent the event, and recruit the support team, and find his sponsors. He had to build his own ice bath! That combination of athlete, impresario, manager, and team leader is astonishing to me.

What an achievement and what an inspiration.

It’s about time

We bought that giant clock back in Salt Lake. Our house there had been owned previously by a woman who did fancy textured paint jobs. We thought the clock worked perfectly in our plaster-effect dining room.

Then, in Brattleboro it hung dramatically in the stairwell until at some point the (inexpensive quartz) movement gave out. It went into storage when we left for New Zealand.

For the past year and a half, it’s been sitting in my office in the cardboard wrapper the movers fashioned to get it here safely. Leaned up against the wall behind my bike I could almost ignore it.

But the forced isolation of COVID inspired me to order a new movement online, and get up on the tall ladder to hang the clock. It looks good up there!

They’re cleaning up

Even though I can attest that it’s still possible to get COVID-19, the moment of hand sanitizer panic is long past. Our supermarket was recently giving away a big jug to everyone at the checkout. And this display at the pharmacy reminds us how the sanitizer market bubble has popped.

I wonder how many of those little bottles were actually sold at $32.99.


We saw this exuberant blossom on a walk recently. According to PlantSnap, that’s a protea neriifloria, or oleander leaf protea. Beautiful!

Let them eat… whatever they serve at the mall

Construction continues on the new food court wing at Highbury Shopping Centre up the street from us. The final holdout in the old section, a Burger King that had been there 37 years, closed last week. As the anchor for the whole Birkenhead village shopping area, the mall plays an important role, and we’re really glad they are improving the place.

It seems quite tough to figure out what to put in our downtown shops. Back in the day, there was a post office, a department store, a hardware store, all the banks had branches. But the post office is just a little kiosk in the bookstore (at least we still have a bookstore!) , the department store moved to larger premises in the mall one town over, the hardware store was killed by big box competition, and the banks have all closed their branches.

People keep trying, however. Someone just opened up a menswear store that looks a lot like Pasadena’s Bayne-Williams where I worked in the early 1980s. A dog treats store that opened last year already has a For Lease sign in the window. We have a new non-chain burger place that seems to be doing OK. Cafés and restaurants, in general, and hair / nails / massage places, are proliferating. Don’t know how many of them survive. We’ve got some thrift stores, and two ‘cheap Chinese crap’ stores full of interesting stuff. There’s a new music school, and the New Zealand Stage and Screen Combat School seems to have taken hold in the basement below the off-track betting and the dodgy massage parlor.

We hope the mall project succeeds, drawing more people into town, and that those people will spill out into the rest of the village. Even though we ourselves don’t spend a ton of money — or any money — in most of those shops, it’s definitely nice to have them there!


Just at the end of my mandated isolation period was the ANZAC Day holiday. I walked over to the local parade and commemorative ceremony, staying a bit apart from the crowd just in case.

Very moving, in a wholesome small-town way. The band was followed by active and returned service members, some marching fairly smartly in formation, while a few of the oldest struggled to stay upright in their best suits bedecked with ribbons and medals.

The day’s slogan is “Lest we forget” the senseless horrors of war. That’s important. But I worry that knowing and remembering may not be enough. In the face of so much post-truth thinking in the world, maybe that noble sentiment should be accompanied by “Lest we repeat”.

The Real Cure for COVID-19

An absolutely delicious pot of chicken soup that Lee made for me! She thankfully never got sick or even tested positive.

I felt feverish for about a day. Then sort of spacy and lethargic for 3-4 days. Then I felt almost normal for a few more days but still tested positive, although the signal got fainter each time.

I returned to exercise over a couple of weeks and could tell from the power meter on my bike that I wasn’t quite back to full strength. Yesterday I had the first ride where I was able to hold something close to full effort.

Im very grateful to the world’s politicians, including some with whom I vehemently disagree, who cleared the way for the scientific industrial complex to knock out vaccines so quickly. And to the New Zealand politicians who took charge, closed the border, and spent whatever was needed to buy us the time and the immunity for this illness to finally hit me about as hard as a common cold.

I hope we humans can maintain some of the solidarity and momentum we discovered during the worst parts of the pandemic.

Digital Seniors

There’s Lee at the public library volunteering for Digital Seniors, a non-profit dedicated to helping older folks with their gadgets.

We got connected to Digital Seniors through swim buddy Catherine who also volunteers with them. So far, as in this picture, there have been more coaches than customers, but it’s early days yet and the word is still getting out.


Finally it’s my turn.

So far no worse than a cold.

I realize that I’ve been feeling a bit smug and somehow morally superior to everyone else because I haven’t gotten it. It’s good to purge thoughts like that, although even better to do it through introspection rather than illness.

A heli of a way to do it

Fairly often in the afternoons lately we hear a lot of helicopter noise in the area. We’ve been able to just catch glimpses of them from our deck, so we knew it was some kind of construction thing.

Yesterday we walked down the road and got to see up close.

Turns out they’re restoring the parkland trails and bridges washed out in the January storms. The helicopter is hauling out debris and soil, while hauling in lumber etc.

The precision and confidence of the pilot and the ground crew were impressive. The chopper drops the canvas waste container onto a pile and then sort of bounces up and down (still flying of course) to release the harness catch somehow.

Then it flies that dangling line over to where the other guys have a load all strapped up and ready to go. We watched them put on a big pre-assembled footbridge section. Snik snak click, and away he goes.

It must be enormously expensive to hire a helicopter like that. But it would also be expensive to hike all material a mile into the bush, and take a heli of a lot longer. (See what I did there? Heli?🤣 When I’m 90 I hope I still think I’m hilarious)

Ram raid

It’s not all sunrises and rainbows here in Aotearoa. For a couple of years now there’s been an absolute plague of people stealing cars and ramming them into shops.

It seems to be partly about stealing stuff: jewelry, cigarettes and vapes, liquor are the primary targets. But it’s definitely also about vandalism and just destroying stuff. It’s often kids behind the wheel.

I saw this scene early Sunday morning and it was doubly heartbreaking because it’s the second time in only a few months for that jewelry store. The couple that own the shop are lovely and of a certain age. They must wonder if it makes sense to carry on.

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