Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ya Gotta Hand It to These Guys

Why do some guys act as if the sole purpose of shaking hands is to crush all of the other person’s bones from the wrist on down? Do they enjoy listening to the crunching and popping sounds? Do they get a kick out of seeing the other guy struggle to maintain his smile while every nerve in his body is screaming, “Ouch!”?
Some days my hand is so sore I’m convinced a doctor is required to reset my bones and put my wrist and hand in a cast. Other days I just wish I was wearing a cast to protect my right hand from the next vise-gripped gorilla I meet.

Shaking hands dates back to ancient times. (“Ancient times” to my kids means anything before the invention of the Internet, while in my mind, “ancient times” usually means anything before the invention of color television.) However, in the REAL ancient times, hundreds and even thousands of years ago, men would greet each other by clasping right hands. This gesture sent a clear message: “I have no intention of attacking you since my sword-wielding hand is currently busy trying to crush your knuckles.”
(I’m not sure what they did with left-handed guys. It would be easy for them to clasp right hands, smile sincerely, and then stick a knife in your back. Reminds me of a supervisor I had many years ago.)

My fulltime job is Engineering Marketing Manager, a rather fancy title, but what I do mostly is deliver doughnuts and chat about last night’s baseball games. (By the way, if my boss is reading this, that was a JOKE!) In my travels I shake hands all day long. By two o’clock in the afternoon, my right hand is so sore, I often feel like playing only nine holes. Oh, you thought Engineering Marketing Managers worked hard until 7 p.m.? Hee hee, aren’t you silly. (By the way, if my boss is reading this, that was, um, oh never mind. He knows it’s true.)

I occasionally have to meet with the end users of the products we sell, pipe fitters and sheet metal workers. Interestingly, when I shake their hands, they are gentle. Even though their occupation has produced forearms that would make Popeye jealous, it’s as if they instinctively know they can do serious damage to a white collar weenie like me, so they shake hands firmly but carefully. And fellas, I’m going to show my appreciation by bringing extra doughnuts next time.

The guys who most often crush my hand are fellow white collar weenies: engineers, draftsmen, and salesmen. I don’t understand how a gesture that originally meant, “I am not a threat; we are friends,” has now come to mean in many people’s minds, “I am stronger than you, wuss-boy! Don’t you forget it!”
Recently I came down with a bad cold and my wife ordered me not to shake anyone’s hand. She read in a woman’s magazine that cold germs are most often transmitted via hand-shaking. (How could we survive without woman’s magazines? If we didn’t have all that important health information, our life expectancy would plummet from the current age 78 all the way down to, oh, about 77-and-a-half.) 

For a full week, every time I met someone holding out his hand, I said, “No, no. I don’t want to give you my cold.” I went the entire time without getting my knuckles crunched. It was delightful. And as a bonus, I didn’t even want to stop playing after nine holes. So now if I can just get a doctor to write me a six-month prescription for a bottle of cold germs, my hand will have a chance to heal fully.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Missionary Work Still Needed Among the Wolves

In this week’s gospel reading, from Luke, chapter 10, we read about the time Jesus sent seventy-two of his followers out on an important mission. They were to go into all the towns and places that Jesus intended to visit, and they were to proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Their task was to get the people ready for Jesus’ imminent appearance.

Before they embarked on this mission, Jesus also said to them, “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”
For those of us who try to live the Christian life in modern day America, it sometimes seems as if we’re a bunch of lambs living among wolves. For example, who would’ve thought that judges could distort the First Amendment’s clear and obvious meaning—freedom OF religion—into the warped idea of freedom FROM religion?

I’m reminded of a case here in Connecticut a few years ago. A federal judge ruled in a lawsuit (filed by the ACLU, what a surprise) that a high school could not hold its graduation ceremony in a large, air-conditioned church, even though there would not have been any prayer or sermon, and all religious images were to be covered. The facility was selected solely because of its 3,000 theater-like seats, great sound system, and reasonable rental fee. But the judge claimed if people even entered the building, they would be coerced into accepting that particular church’s religious beliefs.

I’ve got news for the judge: I was dragged to Mass every week for 18 years, and I went off to college as a confirmed atheist. The idea that being inside a church automatically causes someone to be a Christian makes about as much sense as the idea that being inside a garage automatically causes someone to be a Buick.
Fifty years ago, who would’ve thought the two institutions that bring peace and stability to society—the family and the church—would be under such attack today? Who would’ve thought the Ten Commandments and prayer would be outlawed from public buildings, while abortion, immoral behavior, and a contempt for Western civilization would be enthusiastically promoted?

Sad as it is, that’s the situation today. People who try to promote Christian values and beliefs are like lambs among wolves.

Jesus gave his followers the power to conquer evil. He told them, “I have given you the power to tread upon…the full force of the enemy.” When the seventy-two returned from their mission, they exclaimed to Jesus, “Even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”

Modern-day Christians often forget that Christ has given us this same power through the Holy Spirit. We must remember that the forces of evil shudder at the sound of the Lord’s name. We can command evil influences to flee when we invoke the name of Jesus. I’ve seen it happen; it really works.

Jesus reminded the seventy-two evangelists about the true purpose of their mission. He said, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the [evil] spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
We don’t spread the Gospel for the fun of it. We don’t talk about Jesus just to have something to say. We don’t use his name in casting out temptation and evil because it’s cool to watch someone on the verge of sin suddenly stop. We don’t promote Christianity simply because we enjoy living in a sane and civilized society (although that’s a pretty good by-product of a citizenry that follows the teachings of Christ). 

We obey Jesus’ command to spread the Gospel so people can have their names inscribed in the book of life in Heaven. We do this for two simple reasons: Hell is awful, and forever is a long time. Please don’t lose sight of those facts.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

We Are Very Trusting People

Have you ever noticed how often we trust total strangers? I mean, we put our very lives in their hands, and quite often we don’t know these folks from Adam.

I was thinking about this a while back when I was out of town on a business trip. I had to board a bus at 6:30 a.m. for a 2-1/2 hour ride to a production facility. (Trust me, I would not have done that unless it was required for my job. I’m not in the habit of taking multi-hour bus rides just for the fun of it. And the next time someone uses the words “bus” and “fun” in the same sentence will be the first time.)

Anyway, as I climbed on board the bus, I noticed the driver looked about as tired as I felt. I took a seat and tried to fall asleep, but my brain started asking me questions. “Hey pal,” it whispered to me, “What do you know about this bus driver? How do you know he got a good night’s sleep? How do you know whether he’s struggling with a substance abuse problem? Or if he had a fight with his wife last night? Or if he has serious financial problems and has concluded there’s no reason to live anymore? How do you know any of those things, pal?”
“Oh, shut up!” I yelled to my brain, which caused other people on the bus to look at me funny.

“I’m just saying, pal,” my brain said quietly. “How many times have you heard on the news in recent years about a sleep-deprived bus driver who nods off and steers his bus right off the interstate and down a steep ravine and everyone onboard gets killed?”

“Oh please,” I replied. “We’re in Kansas City. It’s flat. There are no steep ravines.”

“Yeah, but lots of bridge abutments. Busses tend to disintegrate when they smash into those suckers.”

“Thanks for the visual,” I said sarcastically. “Look,” I continued, “The bus driver is fine. We’re not going to crash.”

“Oh, I see,” my brain replied. “I didn’t realize you two were such good buddies. You know everything about him, huh? Well, that’s comforting. Enjoy your nap. Oh by the way, what do you know about the pilot who’s going to fly you home tomorrow? Do you know for sure he’s not one of those pilots with a drinking problem? Or if he’s similar to that German pilot last year with the clinical depression issues, who decided to steer his plane into the Alps?”
“There are no Alps between Kansas City and Connecticut,” I said.

“That’s true, pal,” my brain answered. “So I guess nose-diving into a New Jersey suburb at 800 mph won’t hurt at all.”

“Would you please shut up?!” I yelled. Once again, other folks on the bus looked at me funny.
Despite its rudeness, my brain did raise an interesting point. We put our lives in the hands of total strangers on a regular basis. Besides bus drivers and airline pilots, we also trust pharmacists to put the correct pills in the little bottle. We trust the anonymous geek who wrote the software for our GPS device, and when the computerized voice says, “Turn left onto Maple Street,” we simply turn left without checking to see if we might be heading down a one-way street the wrong way. When the auto mechanic says, “OK, you’re brakes are all set,” we jump in the car and drive away, never once wondering if he forgot to install an important component, such as the actual brakes. 

As my brain often says to me, “Hey, pal, relax. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Trust Not In Princes

At my age, I’ve lived through quite a few presidential elections, and it seems this year the anxiety level of Americans has reached unprecedented heights. People are very nervous right now because it looks like our choice is going to be either the most dishonest person ever to run for president, or the most narcissistic person ever to run. (And that is saying a LOT, considering the type of personality that is drawn to run for the office.) If folks even bother to vote at all in November, I suspect they’ll be holding their noses as they make their choice.
I read and listen to a fair amount of political commentary, especially from Christian pundits, and quite frequently over the last few decades I’ve noticed a recurring theme: the commentators insist we must elect a godly president, one who will restore biblical values to our nation.

Now, let’s be clear, I am all for biblical values being restored to the good ol’ US of A. In the past half-century we as a nation have drifted so far from God, we’ve actually reached a point where the Seven Deadly Sins are now promoted by our culture as good things, that is, as the proper attitudes to have in life. Pride, anger, covetousness, lust, envy, greed, and sloth are no longer shameful behaviors to be avoided, they now are celebrated and rewarded. I’m convinced a nation cannot survive consecutive Me Generations. But that is exactly what we have. First, Baby Boomers abandoned God and were convinced the Universe revolved around them (or I should say, “us”); then Generation Xer’s came along; and now the Millennials, all intensely self-absorbed. So yeah, I’m all for our country returning to godly, biblical values before we collapse into a pathetic, exhausted, toxic heap.
But the thing is, so-called godly values are not imposed onto a society from the top down. They come from the bottom up, regardless of who the leaders are. Godly values are formed in each individual human heart, and then permeate a culture at the grass roots level.

The psalmist said it quite well in Scripture: “Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in princes” (Psalm 118:9).

Year after year, election after election, American citizens put their trust in princes, or rather, in politicians. If only the right person takes office, we are told, everything will be fine. In my lifetime, I can think of two US presidents who were not bashful about professing their faith in Christ, one from each political party. The first of these two men presided over a very uninspiring four years, which included a prolonged hostage crisis, and is often called the “worst president in modern history.” The other got us involved in two questionable and costly wars and exploded the national debt.

Having godly people in office doesn’t really matter much if a sizable percentage of the population is lacking in virtue. Conversely, if the rulers are creeps, but the citizens are virtuous, it will be difficult for the leaders to implement too many rotten policies, as the people won’t stand for it. (This, of course, only applies in representative republics, our current form of government. If we end up with a dictatorship—not unthinkable anymore, I’m sad to say—then all bets are off.)

This November, cast your ballot for whomever you think is best: either the female reincarnation of Richard Nixon, except with a higher level of paranoia and a longer enemies list; or the man who embodies five of the Seven Deadly Sins—six, if one of the Deadly Sins is “goofy hair.”

But most of all, cast your ballot for the Lord and ruler of the Universe, Jesus Christ. As the psalmist said, it’s much better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in mere mortals. And if the Lord has deemed that the good ol’ US of A has reached the end of the line, and a cultural and economic meltdown is going to be the price we pay for abandoning Him, then we’re all going to need to be really close to Him. He’ll be all that we have left.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Multitasking Raises Stress Levels

For many years I’ve taken pride in the fact that I am a gifted multitasker. I can do many different tasks at the same time, each one performed with an amazing level of proficiency.

For example, during busy periods at work, I’ll type an email reply to a client on my computer with one hand, while at the same time my other hand is flipping through a catalog to look up some technical information for a different client. While doing those things, I also glance over at my cell phone to read a new text message that just came in from yet another client, and all-the-while the receiver of my desk phone is wedged between my shoulder and my tilted head as a fourth client is reciting important figures that he thinks I am writing down. I’m actually not writing anything down because this is what my ear hears through the phone: “Blah blah, blah blah blah, six-four-three. You got that, Bill?”

Oh, and while all this is going on, just to add to the excitement, a little radio is blaring the weather forecast and my iPad is showing video highlights of last night’s baseball game.
But I am multitasking, and that’s a valuable skill in our fast-paced world, right? Even though once in a while my email reply mentions that it will be partly-cloudy this afternoon when the client only wanted to know the size of the motor on a particular exhaust fan; and sometimes the catalog information I look up is about the metal thickness used for a certain type of ductwork when that client wanted to know the color options for a wall louver; and occasionally I’ll say into the phone, “I got it, Petey. You just turned a six-four-three double play,” and he’ll say, “Um, my name is Bob, and what I said was the shipment weighs six-hundred and forty-three pounds.”

So as I mentioned earlier, I can do many different tasks at the same time, each one performed with an amazing level of, um, mediocrity.

Maybe multitasking isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. (But the phrase “crack up” might be appropriate.) A neuroscientist at M.I.T., Dr. Earl Miller, says our brains are “not wired to multitask well. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”

I’m not sure what “cognitive cost” means, but when I screw up something at work because I tried to do five things at once, there is definitely a monetary cost.

A recent article in Inc. Magazine discussed medical studies which show that multitasking actually lowers work quality and productivity. To make matters worse, multitasking increases the production of cortisol, the human body’s stress hormone. So we get the best of both worlds: we do a lousy job and we get stressed out in the process. When our brains constantly shift gears, it raises stress levels and wears us out more quickly, which may explain why I often feel exhausted by 10:30 a.m. — or maybe that’s just my Dunkin Donuts-induced caffeine and sugar high wearing off.
According to the studies, the biggest cause of multitasking is the email inbox. As soon as we notice a new email has arrived, many people, myself included, stop whatever we’re doing and read the new email. Oftentimes, within ten minutes, we can find ourselves juggling six tasks at once. 

So, in order to be more productive at work, and to keep my stress level down, instead of checking my email constantly, I’m only going to check it periodically. I think once a month should be fine. Yeah, I’m sure my clients will understand.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Who Do the Crowds Say That I Am?

Opinion polls and surveys are very popular. It seems our entire society is being run by opinion polls these days. Most politicians check survey results each morning to discover what values they believe in. Some won’t even choose which tie to wear (or which pantsuit) until they get the latest report on popular colors.
Opinion polls are nothing new, however. In this week’s gospel reading Jesus conducted a public opinion survey. He asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

The disciples pulled out their iPads, opened up the latest spreadsheet analysis, and gave Jesus the results: John the Baptist, 42.9 percent; Elijah, 28.6 percent; one of the prophets of old, 13.4 percent; undecided, 15.1 percent—with a margin of error of plus or minus four percent.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “But you—who do you say that I am?”

Now the disciples could have acted like modern politicians. They could have studied the data and realized that John the Baptist, while not yet a clear-cut majority view, was by far the most popular response, and issued a statement: “In keeping with our commitment to strengthening families and improving economic opportunities for all citizens, we are convinced that the proper course of action at this critical moment in history is to endorse legislation making John the Baptist the official identity of Jesus.  And, of course, we do this for the children.”

But the disciples were not like modern day politicians (thank God!). They were more concerned about the truth rather than popular opinion. Peter stepped forward and, in a moment of politically incorrect courage, declared, “You are the Messiah of God.”
Peter didn’t care what the crowds thought. He wasn’t interested in jumping on any public opinion bandwagon. He could give a hoot about being part of the “in” crowd.  Being right was more important to Peter than being popular. (Of course, we know that later on, on the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter decided that being wrong was safer than being arrested—a choice he deeply regretted afterward.)

Peter’s behavior was rare. Most people don’t feel very comfortable expressing a minority view. It’s much easier to parrot popular opinion than to speak your mind.

We see this principle in action all the time today. As soon as a survey is published claiming that the majority of the population feels a certain way about a topic, subsequent surveys show that that particular view has strengthened. The results of the initial survey actually help people make up their minds.

If a survey was conducted today, asking the same question Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” what would be the response?

There can be many answers: A prophet, the founder of a great religion, a good and wise teacher, the figment of someone else’s imagination, a philosopher, an egocentric nut-case, or Peter’s answer, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

I’m kind of hoping that a fair number of people would give the answer that Peter gave.  But I wonder, what if the question was phrased, “In a recent survey, 88 percent of Americans said that Jesus was a good and wise teacher, but only human. Now, what is your opinion, who do you say that Jesus was?”
I’ve got a funny feeling that a lot of people who might have given the same answer Peter gave will quickly change their minds, not wanting to go against such a strong trend.

When we die and our souls stand before God's throne of judgment, popular opinion is not going to matter. It won’t do us any good to whine, “Hey, you can’t hold it against me just because I thought Jesus was a human teacher. That’s what everybody else thought. It’s not fair!”

It’s not a popularity contest. It’s not a majority rule democratic election. The key to eternal life in heaven is to give the same answer that Peter gave, regardless of what the opinion polls say.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Everybody Has a Sleep Story

In mid-May, my weekly humor column described an interesting adventure where I ended up sleeping in an airport terminal. Although “sleeping” is not the most accurate word I could use to describe the ordeal. A better word to use would be: “tossing and turning in sheer agony on a rock-hard floor covered with a thin dirty carpet from midnight to 4 a.m. while my sleep-deprived brain started hallucinating and nearby industrial strength vacuum cleaners pounded rock concert-level decibels into my ear drums.” (And come to think of it, “word” is not the most accurate word to use to describe an ordeal that requires, at minimum, a 41-word, punctuation-free, run-on sentence, the kind that compels high school English teachers to give no more than a C-minus.)
If you didn’t catch the original weekly column, you should look it up online, as it was the absolute best column I ever wrote that week.

Anyway, I noticed an interesting phenomenon regarding that particular adventure. Once I finally arrived home after the airport experience, I told many people about it. And then, of course, I wrote about the ordeal in my newspaper column, which means an additional six people learned about it. Well, everybody I spoke with immediately replied with their own tale of woe. It seems having to endure a sleepless night is a vivid and memorable event in a person’s life. (And I’m a prime example, as this is the second column about that night, and I’m sure I can milk this topic some more by squeezing out a couple more columns.)

The stories people shared with me about their sleeping nightmares fell into one of two different categories: either a similar airport terminal ordeal or camping.

When telling people what happened to me, I was surprised at how many folks wouldn’t even let me finish before they launched into their own “stuck in an airport” saga. More than a few times I found myself thinking, “Hey, I’m the one telling the story. I’m the one looking for a little sympathy. This just happened to me two days ago. I don’t want to hear about your Logan Airport incident from nine years ago.”
But virtually every time I told my story, the other person would get really excited and exclaim, “Yeah, that happened to me, too!”

These folks had some interesting adventures, many involving crying babies and no more diapers, which makes my airport ordeal seem rather tame by comparison, as I only had to deal with one crying adult (me) and the men’s room was 20 feet away. It seems those of us who have been forced to spend a night in an airport terminal have a special bond. We’ve been through the same ordeal and can offer each other heartfelt empathy.

The other lack-of-sleep stories I heard were about camping, stories such as: it started raining and the tent leaked; I discovered ants in my sleeping bag; the air mattress deflated at 2 a.m.; I thought I heard a bear and couldn’t fall asleep. I’m sorry, people, but camping stories received zero empathy from me. You weren’t forced to spend a sleepless night in a terrible situation because of problems with the national air transportation system. You put yourself in that situation on purpose!

So if you want to interrupt me to tell of the time you were stranded in an airport for three days because of a blizzard, I’m all ears. I feel your pain. But if you want to tell me how little sleep you got on a camping trip, I don’t have time for it, because I have to write another column about my night in the airport.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Forgiveness Is Awesome, But Sin Still Hurts

This weekend, June 11th and 12th, all three readings at Mass have the same theme: God’s forgiveness. In the first reading, the prophet Nathan confronted King David. David had done a couple of rather nasty things recently. First, he committed adultery; then, in an attempt to cover it up, he committed murder.

When David humbly confessed his sins, Nathan said, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”
In the second reading, from his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul explained that we cannot earn God’s love. However, if we trust in God’s love through faith we will be justified.

Finally, in the gospel reading, Jesus was dining at the home of a prominent Pharisee named Simon. As they ate, a sinful women came into the dining room, probably right in the middle of their Buffalo wing appetizers, and she went over to Jesus. The woman began to weep, and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.

The other dinner guests were horrified. “If this man were a prophet,” Simon said to himself regarding Jesus, “he would know…that she is a sinner.”

Jesus, of course, quickly turned the tables on the self-righteous Pharisee. He pointed out that the sinful woman had treated Jesus much more graciously than had Simon. Jesus then said, “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.”
The main lesson this week is God’s love and forgiveness. No matter how badly we’ve sinned, no matter how selfishly and cruelly we’ve behaved, if we genuinely repent and ask for forgiveness, God will forgive us. Wow, how great is that?

There is, however, a secondary lesson this week that we should not overlook. Although God most certainly forgives us of our sins, when we do sin, very often there are severe consequences. In the first reading God forgave David. But speaking through the prophet Nathan, God also said, “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house.”

David’s sins had earthly consequences, and in fact from that time on, his family was a mess. There were hatreds and betrayals and murders for many generations after David. The culmination came when the entire kingdom was torn in two, split into the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah. From the moment David committed those terrible sins, there was no peace in his life or in the lives of his descendants.

In our lives the same principle holds true. If we commit a sin, say, driving under the influence, God certainly will forgive us if we sincerely repent. But if we get arrested, we have to pay the price. And if, God forbid, we kill somebody while driving drunk, we have to pay a huge price (although not nearly as huge as the price paid by the innocent victim). By the way, even if we don’t get caught, there still is a steep price to pay for abusing alcohol, in the form of damaged relationships, poor work performance, financial problems, health issues, etc.
Just like King David, our sins can harm us and our descendants. Think of the example I’m using, the irresponsible use of alcohol. We all know families that have been devastated by booze. Not only can it wreck the drinker’s life, it can cause severe problems for his or her family for many generations. The same things can happen with other sins: adultery, dishonesty, theft, laziness, rooting for the Yankees, you name it. 

It’s great to know that God will forgive us, no matter what terrible things we’ve done. But it certainly is best not to do those terrible things in the first place. Yes, we still can receive eternal life in Heaven when we repent, but sometimes the consequences of our sin can be Hell on earth, for us and our loved ones and all of society.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Food Problems Loom For Italy Trip

A few weeks ago I wrote about our upcoming trip to Italy for our daughter’s wedding, and the fact that I don’t know how to speak Italian. Many readers send me email messages, most of which focused on my concluding comment that if I constantly keep my mouth filled with food, it will hide the fact I don’t know a single word in Italian other than the word Spaghetti-Os. (That is an Italian word, right? I’m pretty sure it is. It’s certainly not Irish, because in that case it would be O’Spaghetti.)

The various email notes I received expressed delight that I will be in Italy, where the food is awesome, rather than, say, Great Britain, where they actually eat things like blood pudding and jellied eels. No wonder the British spent centuries sailing around the globe conquering nation after nation: they were simply trying to find something, anything, that tasted good. (So why they had their greatest empire-building success in a place that puts curry on everything, I'll never understand.)
My email friends offered a long list of wonderful Italian foods I should shove into my face the entire time we are in Italy, things such as cannolis, manicotti, calzones, pizza, gelato — and then wash it all down with massive quantities of wine.

OK, that sounds great. However, there are two slight problems: first, I am lactose intolerant, and second, I am a recovering alcoholic. Whenever I eat something that contains cheese, milk, cream, butter, etc., within 20 minutes I have to sprint to the bathroom. And regarding booze, it’s been three decades and counting since I “put the plug in the jug,” but I remember all too well what it was like in the bad ol’ days. After one drink I was jovial. After two drinks I was hilarious. After three drinks I was a cross between Don Rickles and Norman Bates. And I never stopped at two drinks.
In Italy, if I eat any of those dairy-laden items and wash it down with a bottle of wine, my sprinting will be more like zig-zag staggering, and I probably won't make it to the bathroom in time. Without going into a lot of gruesome gastrointestinal details, let’s just say if this occurs, it surely will spark an international incident, one which could bring the U.S. and Italy to the brink of war.

My personal “Bucket List” has a few weird items on it, but “start a war” is definitely not one of them. So in the interest of global peace and harmony, it is very important that I refrain from consuming dairy products and/or wine while in Italy. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: that is absolutely impossible. In Italy, if you order a slice of white bread, they automatically put a hunk of mozzarella cheese on it. If you order a glass of water, they ask you, “Red or white?” And if you order any item in a restaurant and specifically say (in Italian, which I haven’t learned yet), “No cheese! Please, I’m begging you. No cheese!” They interpret that to mean, “OK, I’ll only put three different types of cheese on his meal rather than the usual five.”
I suspect when my future in-laws hear that I can neither eat cheese nor drink wine, they’ll say, “Oh, I’m so sorry. When did he die?” When it’s explained that I’m actually alive, they’ll reply, “Let’s not quibble. There’s death, and then there’s no reason to live.” 

The wedding will be great. But if in mid-October you hear a breaking news report that a U.S. Navy battle group is steaming up the Adriatic Sea toward the city of Venice, it probably will be my fault.