Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

14 March 2007

A pain in the neck

Ever since returning to Rome on the 1st of February, I have been suffering from a sore neck and right shoulder. In addition, for the first week after my return, my left ear was completely blocked. While talking to my parents on the phone a few nights ago, my father offered this very sympathetic advice: “It’s hell getting old.”
This experience has made me realize that I have been quite fortunate in terms of my health. So far, I have even escaped any signs of heart disease, which tends to run in my family. My cholesterol, weight and blood pressure are all within acceptable ranges for my age. In fact, except for routine check-ups, I have only had to see a doctor twice in my life.
The first time was when I was about three or four years old. I stuck a small wooden bead up my nose because... well, because I could. This is when I discovered the principle that just because something goes in easily, it will not necessarily come out easily. After failed attempts on my part and on the part of my parents to remove the bead, I was taken to the emergency room, where a kindly doctor was able to remove the bead without causing too much discomfort.
My second medical incident occurred when I was about eight or nine years old. I woke up one morning with my head cocked to one side. Trying to straighten it hurt so I just kept it cocked. It must have seemed that I was in a permanently puzzled state of mind. Both my mother and I must have felt that it would eventually straighten itself out because I ended up going to school that way. By the time I went home for lunch (these were the days before the state-sponsored torture called the “school lunch program”), it still had not straightened out. The Cosmic Sadist saw to it that mother had prepared soup for lunch that day. As each spoonful approached my mouth, I had to tilt the spoon so that I could get it into my mouth, which meant that most of it ended up on the table or in my lap. I got the last laugh on the Cosmic Sadist, however, because I was able to skip school for the rest of the day in order to go to the doctor.
This time, my dad took me to a chiropractor. The doctor put me face down on a reclining table and began to examine me by feeling the vertebrae in my neck. Suddenly, he yanked my head to one side. There was a “POP” so loud that it surprised both my dad and the doctor. I wasn’t surprised. I was stunned. So stunned, in fact, that I couldn’t cry, which is what a deeper part of my brain was telling me to do.
That had put one of the errant vertebrae back in its place, but there was still another one to go. The doctor tried the maneuver again, but this time I was ready for it and tensed up, which made it ineffective. The doctor told me to relax, but how is one to relax when someone is trying to twist your head off?! Next he told me to lie on my side on a little bed in the office. He raised an adjustable head rest to keep my head at a comfortable angle. Then he began talking to my dad about this and that. I was left wondering when he was going to do his job and get my neck.... WHAM! The head rest suddenly gave way and POP! went the second vertebrae. This time I was not only stunned, but incredibly awed by the clever tactics of this doctor.
The doctor urged my dad to bring me back for follow-up treatments, but my dad and I saw through that scheme. I never went back, and have never had any problems since. Oh, wait a minute. DANG YOU, COSMIC SADIST!

03 March 2007

State-sponsored robbery

When I moved to Rome last year, I decided to send two boxes of stuff, mostly books and CD's, that I could not fit into my suitcases, nor could I live without. Seriously, how long could a person last without a dose of "Who's Next" now and again? One of the brothers told me he had a friend (first red flag) who worked for a well-known freight company, whose name I shall disguise as F***x, and that this friend could send the packages to me free of charge (second red flag). Before leaving on October 20, I informed said brother that the boxes were in my office, and were ready for delivery.

On my next trip to the States in December, the boxes were in my office, ready for delivery still. This was not entirely bad since it allowed me to further refine my selection process [Bible? No. Prayer books? No. Guide to Rhyming Cockney Slang? Most definitely!] I placed one box, ready for delivery, outside brother's door. Before returning to Rome on January 1, the box was gone—supposedly delivered to his friend at F***x.

By February 1, the date of my next trip to the States, I had not yet received the box. Brother called his friend, who apologized for the delay. Post 9/11 rules necessitated listing the contents of all packages in detail, along with each item's value. I'll admit that I have never worked for an international freight company, but it seems to me that this is something you might want to tell your customers BEFORE taking consignment. F***x friend helpfully itemized the contents of my box (without my knowledge or permission, I might add) and gave ridiculously high values to everything. $10 for a Mariah Carey compilation CD! WTF?! Then he puts everything into a new box twice the size of the old one, you know, to better attract the attention of the customs agents.

The final tab? For a box whose contents was nominally worth $677.50, but in reality probably worth much less, I had to pay €166 in Italian duties and value added taxes. Oh, and did I mention that several of the items had been purchased in Italy, where I already paid the value added tax on them? So much for "free" delivery.