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National Tartan Day

 It's National Tartan Day. Eat yer haggis.

Today, I will rise from slumber and brush my teeth until they sparkle. With cheeks stretched from sea to shining sea, I will smile. It's National Tartan Day, the annual celebration for Scottish Americans. Both houses of Congress approved resolutions affirming the date, acknowledging the contributions made to the nation by Scottish Americans. From business-philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie to the Confederate officers who founded the Ku Klux Klan, the Scottish have certainly made an impact. Just ask Newt Gingrich. His birth name is McPherson.

After flossing, I will listen to bagpipe music, put on my kilt, place two kitchen knives in the shape of St. Andrew's cross on the floor, and dance around them, a cutlery version of the traditional Highland fling and sword dance. Forgoing French toast for breakfast, I will have a large glass of scotch instead. Maybe two. By noon, my smile will set, hours before the California sun, and the fixture that Scots have carried around with them for centuries will settle on my face. Dour.

Being smile-deprived is a disaster when you live in the American hub of happiness. "You look so sour, why don't you smile?" has been a dagger thrown at me on many occasions. Finally, I was tired of giving smarty-pants answers such as, "It's the anti-psychotic medication I'm on," or "I'm smile challenged. Please don't discriminate against me, I'm Scottish." Action was needed to cure the dour disaffection. Start with the teeth.

It is well documented that Scots have the worst teeth in the Western world. I grew up on the Scottish national diet of sodas, cakes and candy. Scottish supermarkets have row after row dedicated to these goodies. By age 10, I had 15 fillings. I was unwilling to show my teeth, afraid others would recoil in horror. My crooked smile was robbed of gleam, my show of happiness burgled. If I were to find a confident smile for my American friends, this childhood fear would need extraction. So I called a dentist for the first time in more than a decade.

I saw the dentist grimace as she looked inside that dark Scottish cave. After hours of scraping with sharp instruments, the removal of a dead tooth and some serious enamel buffing, I was ready to try a smile on the public. The result was disappointing. No one seemed to notice. On MTV, I saw that rappers had abandoned their enamel for gold grills. Maybe I could invent plaid grills, custom made to fit your dentures, with your clan tartan embossed upon them. Resourcefulness and inventiveness were celebrated Scottish traits.

Obviously, momentary flashes of white teeth were not enough. The dour power was too strong, the cheeks refused to stay up for any length of time. A smile needed to be sustained in order to have an impact. My hairy jungle eyebrows, the heavy kind that force down the cheekbones, were a mighty problem. To open the smiley treasure, I needed to raise the cheeks from the depths of the dour. It would require some dangerous facial engineering, a pioneering bid in the fight to rid the Scottish of that blasted albatross around our necks.

Being Scottish means being tightfisted, so they say. And I was tightfisted when I stood on my head allowing my cheeks to fall to the center of the earth. If I stayed inverted for 10 minutes a day, my cheeks might rise when I straightened up. Even a degree or two of lift could change the outlook. But I only got acid reflux and felt even more sourness. I looked at a picture of Joan Rivers, and thought about purchasing a permanent smile but figured a cosmetic surgeon would operate on my wallet, leaving a painful scar. So I was left attaching the aptly named Scotch tape to my cheeks and wrapping it around my head, hoping for lift. The forces of dourness prevailed. The tape ripped off and caused facial burns.

P.G. Wodehouse, an Englishman of letters, wrote, "It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine." Try living in a country where it rains 250 days a year, mister! There are days where the clouds descend to street level. Living inside a rain cloud can make you sad. Antidepressant medication in Scotland is as popular as the cake aisle in the supermarket. But I refuse to join the prescription list in the pursuit of happiness. So having failed to make light of a heavy situation, on National Tartan Day, there is just one thing to do, and that is to blame the English for our dourness, and everything else.

The dour Scot, sullen, grieving, living under a cloud, every day. And no wonder! Look who lives next door! But it is a little rich for the English to brand the Scots as miserable, as they do. Just look at Queen Victoria. She had a face like the back end of a bus. The sun might have been shining over the British Empire, but it never got through the thick curtains at Buckingham Palace. So the Scots may not smile often, but they do know how to laugh. That's easy when you've got the right kind of neighbor to mock.

Alan Black is a bartender by trade. His first book, "Kick the Balls," is published in June by Hudson Street Press.

This article appeared on page P - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle

 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/04/06/CM7IVG0UI.DTL is the link

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I miss

being called "hen." I miss the clouds, the rain, haggis, unwrapping the newspaper and watching steam rise on a cold day, the oily bites warming my stomach as I trod the cobbled streets of Stirling, going for long walks with friends in rain, wearing Wellingtons, returning to coal fires at tea time, finding hedgehogs stuck in the trough beneath cattle guards, climbing wet rocks on the bank of the Firth of Forth in the early darkness of fall. I miss my coffee white, I miss the phallic, black silhouette of Wallace Tower, thrusting into to the dawn, the ubiquitous small, white Cadbury vending machines at train stations, the bottles shattering hurled by burly men with red faces after football match in Dundee. I miss of Margaret McCleod, Collin Campbell and Gordon Wallace of Ayrshire who had the most beautiful smile of all. I miss the sad, scared, lonely girl I was at twenty.