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A recent conversation with my friend Francesca revolved around ‘50’s & 60’s ersatz cuisine. The tried and true Spam reference popped up and certainly I had experienced that wartime relic but what ruined convenience eating for me were codfish cakes. Fish from a can! This line of discussion seldom generates the desired repulsion from listeners but when I expand the description to frame the image of my mom, wrapped in a full apron, pouring Campbell’s tomato soup liberally over the grey lumps of fish parts, that’s what draws them up short. Being a sensitive and impressionable youngster it actually ruined me. To this day I am sorry to announce I am ruined. Moments ago my lovely sister wrote in an e-mail that I should consider cod fish oil for its health benefits. Obviously she has no clue that I am ruined by that disgusting fish.

I was also ruined by the nuns, those cruddy priests of childhood and the whole pathetically bombastic Catholic Church but let’s not go there. It’s like shooting the proverbial (cod) fish in the barrel.

I was likewise ruined by my sisters who doted on me so intensely that it became hard, in later life, for women to measure up to their outpourings (I think  this is true because they tell be it is). My brother ruined me too but very differently. He was so cool, so athletic, so devil-may-care that it felt nearly impossible to catch up. Instead I retreated to a liberal education and, of course, that ruined me too.

In grade school Carol Ann Scott ruined me for chances at later romance. Carol was not particularly aware of my existence in the universe back in the 6th grade. Unbeknownst to her my friend Richard Hickey and I battled fiercely for her love in adventure stories. It was in an empty lot near downtown Hoosick Falls that our epic duels and feats of daring-do competed for her imagined loving devotion. The fact that Carol died as a child within five years of those episodes sealed my ruined fate. Does this sound callous or crude? I hope not because the person I think of as Carol Ann Scott has lived in my ruined heart for all these years.

Now that I think about it Villanova University ruined me. Are you surprised? You say it’s more likely “on me” that they booted my sorry ass after 1 ½ rears of low grades? Not really. Weigh the possibilities. On the one side is dry, boring dusty courses devoted to math and science and, I don’t know, some other equally forgettable stuff. On the other side were dance mixers, beer and voluptuous women of the world. My path was a fait acompli’ so surely you can now understand that Villanova ruined me.

I was also ruined by those long tubes of hard candy filled with peanut butter. Mom (don’t get me started on ruination) bought a big bag of these treats at the Bennington A&P and later that night allowed me to sneak off to watch in the dark the Steve Canyon fighter pilot show on Friday night TV. So sick was I from gobbling the bag that I can’t even imagine eating another one of those buggers, Ruined!

And my father also played a powerful role in my ruination. Imagine my feelings (I’m ruined I gulped) when once at mid-day, walking home from school, I walked into the cool, dark entry to the Immaculate Conception church on Main Street. There in one of the last rows under the choir loft kneelt my father praying (no doubt for his ruined son). How can a growing lad come to terms with this image of humility, devotion and saintliness?

I figured right then I was ruined.