July 15–24, 2011

By the midpoint of this year, Joan and I were both long overdue for some time off. She had especially earned a vacation after completing her grueling, four-year OB/GYN residency program at Lankenau Medical Center in mid-June and taking her written board exam 10 days later — I’m incredibly proud of her.

We started out with a two-night trip to the Washington, D.C., area, stopping by La Tolteca in Delaware for a Mexican dinner on Friday night en route to the Dupont Circle Hotel. The following day was bright and unusually comfortable for mid-July in D.C., so we hopped onto the Metro and rode to Catholic University, where we visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in the country. I had toured it with my dad several times when I was a kid, but it was Joan’s first visit, and she was deeply impressed.

By mid-afternoon, Joan and I made our way to Spider Kelly’s in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Va., for a combined 40th birthday party hosted by my old friends Tony and Mandy. It was wonderful to catch up with so many good friends, and the food was terrific. After the big bash, our fellow partygoers John and Laura graciously hosted us at their house for the remainder of the evening, along with our friends Joe and Katherine.

Following a delicious Sunday brunch at our hotel, Joan and I made the four-hour drive through heavy traffic to my parents’ shore house in Stone Harbor, N.J. We joined them for a casual dinner at the house before they drove home on Sunday night. Joan and I certainly made the most of the week, between spending late afternoons together on the beach, taking a long bike ride into Avalon, and even getting up early to see a hazy sunrise on the beach one morning. And, of course, we sampled plenty of delicious food, ranging from Italian fare at Nemo’s and Marabella’s to seafood at the timeless Lobster House and the relatively new Quahog’s Seafood Shack, and enjoyed drinks at the newly renovated Fred’s Tavern, along with the Whitebrier, Windrift, and Princeton in Avalon, too!

Usually, the shore provides some relief from unbearably hot weather back in the Philly area. But during the second half of our week, we were assaulted by temperatures near 100°, so we spent the majority of a few afternoons inside the house. Once again, thank God for the modern marvel of air conditioning.

A few random observations around town:

[ No. 607 ]

July 12–13, 2011

People have often told me, “You could really be a stand-up comedian!”

It’s a very kind compliment. Growing up, I always admired those who could make other people laugh, and I’ve since developed a knack for telling jokes and stories, often with some decent voice impersonations.

This past winter, my former coworker Caroline urged me to try a stand-up comedy class through a friend of hers. My work schedule was particularly hectic back then, so I politely declined but asked to be kept informed of any future sessions. When another class was scheduled to start in early May, I mulled it over and decided to give it a shot! (As the old saying goes: If not now, when?)

The class, called the Comedy Collective and instructed by Vince Valentine, consisted of 10 two-hour sessions on Wednesday nights in the back room of Roosevelt’s Pub at 23rd and Walnut in Philadelphia. During the first few classes in May, the 11 other students and I took notes on effective writing and delivery, and practiced some lines standing on a small stage with a microphone.

I was disappointed that half of the class dropped out before the end, but I was impressed by the dedication of the remaining students — Elle, Faith, Mike B., Randy, and Shana — who all dramatically improved their routines each week. And as the 10-week program drew to a close, I became increasingly confident in my own writing and stage presence.

Following a rehearsal during the 10th and final class, our “graduation” took the form of a comedy showcase in which each student performs a five-minute routine of original material to an audience of 60–70 people! I invited Joan and several friends to the big Tuesday night event at Roosevelt’s, which also included a performance by a headliner, Paul Lyons. I was the second of six students to perform, and my routine covering 10 brief topics (which ranged from playing the clarinet to scrapple to job interviews) went without a hitch. I overcame some initial jitters after the first few jokes, and my material drew plenty of laughs from the audience!

Here’s the video footage, which Joan captured using my digital camera:

After the show, Joan and I celebrated with drinks at Village Whiskey, the site of our dinner before my proposal to her last December. She even presented me with a very thoughtful gift: a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses!

The comedy showcase was originally scheduled for two nights, but due to the number of students who had prematurely left the class, we all had the chance to perform again the following night, which was headlined by Mike Eagan. Due to time constraints, I delivered a slightly shorter set, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn’t even nervous during my second time on the stage.

I’m amazed at how much progress I was able to make in just 10 weeks, and I’m very grateful to Vince for his help and encouragement. My debut performance as a stand-up comedian was an experience that I’ll never forget, and I’m looking forward to performing at some open-mic nights in the area soon!

[ No. 606 ]

July 8–10, 2011

I grew up going to the Jersey shore with my family for summer vacations, so I was excited to try a new leisure destination by spending a weekend with Joan at her family’s mountain house near Laporte, Pa., along with her dad and his girlfriend Cathy.

After a foggy drive north on Friday night, we spent early Saturday afternoon in the quaint town of Eagles Mere, where we visited an outdoor antique show, browsed through some stores, and enjoyed ice-cream cones at Joan’s childhood favorite, the Sweet Shop.

Later in the day, I embarked on my maiden voyage in a kayak, which was very fun and surprisingly easy to learn. We rowed on the calm waters of Hunters Lake, where we spotted a bald eagle flying overhead and a blue heron along the shore! The four of us then drove up to Canyon Vista, a gorgeous lookout in nearby Worlds End State Park, just in time for sunset. A late dinner at the Sonestown Country Inn capped off a wonderful day in the mountains.

On Sunday, after brunch at the house, Joan and I met up with my friend Jeff on the way home for our first Reading Phillies game. I was surprised to see a large crowd of over 7,400, especially on such an oppressively hot late afternoon. The game-day atmosphere was both nostalgic (FirstEnergy Stadium, originally Reading Municipal Memorial Stadium, opened in 1951) and bizarre (the team is supported by no fewer than five mascots, not counting the aptly named Crazy Hot Dog Vendor). The R-Phils went on to defeat the Trenton Thunder, a minor-league affiliate of the hated Yankees, 8–5, to conclude a superb weekend on the road.

[ No. 605 ]