Monday, December 21, 2009

Dig We Must

Years ago, there was a Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Yosemite Sam was stranded on a desert island. It showed him feasting on a wide range dishes, all consisting of coconuts prepared every way you could imagine. Eventually he pushed them all aside and said, in a snarling drawl, "I...hates...coconuts." (

Yesterday morning the snow stopped. We were lucky here, about 10". A lot of places along the east coast got much more. Pretty, white snow everywhere you looked, the stuff of snowmen and strong forts for blissful snowball fights. And with my shovel and ice scraper, I felt a great kinship to the image of Yosemite Sam with his knife and fork. I...hates...snow.

It was important to get the shoveling done right, and on-time. My wife was coming home from the rehab center by ambulette around mid-morning, a few days earlier than we'd thought at first, and to ensure her safety as she was brought in, the driveway, sidewalk, and porch stairs needed to be more than shoveled the usual way; they needed to be pristine. (Fortunately - and unlike her transfer from the hospital - we actually had a couple of days advance notice of her release. This made it possible for me to make sure I was home, and that she wouldn't have to be left in the yard or delivered to a neighbor's house till I got back.)

My first task was making sure I wasn't awakened at 5 am by some shovel-toting local youth, looking to ring my doorbell before all the other shovel-toting local youths. (Initiative is a fine thing, just not when it involves ringing my doorbell while I'm in a deep sleep.) With the snow still falling the night before, I'd put a big marker-on-poster-board sign on my front door: "Please do not ring bell. We'll shovel ourselves. Thanks." It worked better than the small, cute snowman signs I'd printed on the computer for other snowfalls. Subtlety, which I was not in the mood for anyway, is not the language of Jersey City youth.

Dividing the project into tasks, ordered by priority, I fortified myself with a cup of hot coffee and began. My thoughts wandered - that torch-is-passed-to-a-new-generation thing of shoveling the same driveway my father shoveled; feeling grateful to have a driveway to shovel in the first place, and the strength to do it; suddenly seeing a possible ulterior motive in my sons' decision to dorm at school instead of living at home. A few thoughts about feeling ready for the task despite having recently turned 50, and about all the people each year who feel ready for the task despite having recently turned 50 and end up keeling over next to their shovels anyway. Eventually the shoveling was done, and after a little clean-up work with the mysterious dark brown ice-melt chemical stuff, we were ambulette-ready.

Much of the living room is currently taken up by the pull-out sofa we're camping out on while my wife completes her recovery, so there was no room for the tree and no time for other decorating this year. Still, fashioning a make-shift table-top tree from the top section of our artificial tree - selecting only ornaments than won't break if (and, by "if," I mean "when") they're knocked off by Willie and Lilly - and putting up a couple of representative decorations, I managed to get something up as a nice surprise for her arrival. Christmas albums (nothing like some Clancy Brothers followed by Motown) on the cd-player - and finding out the cd player doesn't play cd's very well anymore - completed the setting.

Waiting at the front door, sipping a hot chocolate while watching my neighbors still shoveling, was pure, smug wonderfulness.

Happy to say, everything went according to plan, which is something of a rarity around here. Normalcy is never possible this time of year anyway, but at least we can start the process of getting a little back.

My sincere good wishes to all for a fine Christmas and a good, healthy New Year.

Unrelated Item: Just wanted to say...

A quick note on the sudden passing of Brittany Murphy. A few years ago, I was walking past the Ed Sullivan Theater as she was leaving after taping an appearance on David Letterman. I had never heard of her, but the crowd she drew caught my attention, and out of curiosity I watched a while as she interacted with them. There was the usual celebrity-in-a-hurry thing, and her handlers were trying to get her into the waiting Escalade. What I still remember is how, in spite of the pressure to rush away, she patiently made it a point to take time for the children who were there: posing for some pictures, smiling and talking for a moment with them, etc. It was easy to see it meant the world to these kids, and her warmth struck me as genuine. It was very classy, and totally charming.

No doubt we'll be hearing and reading a lot about her death. When a 32 year old woman suddenly dies of apparent cardiac arrest, there's a good chance some of that will not be kind. For whatever it's worth, I thought what I saw was worth a mention.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Updating the Updated Update

A man died and found himself at the entrance to hell. He tried to explain to the Associate Devil on duty that it surely was a mistake and he didn't belong there, but the AD, having heard it all before, wasn't impressed. Because of the man's persistence, however, the AD did offer the man the chance to choose what job he would be given. Seeing this was the best offer he was going to get, the man agreed. They walked down a long hallway and came to three doors.

Opening the first door, the man saw hoards of pained, sweaty men shoveling coal into the fires of hell. He surely didn't want that.

Behind the second door, he saw even larger hoards of even sweatier men mining the coal that would be used for the fires. He didn't want that either.

Behind the third door, the man saw a small group of men and women. They were standing knee deep in mud*, drinking coffee and talking. This looked odd to the man, but it seemed preferable to either of the other two rooms. The man chose the third room.

"Are you sure?," the Associate Devil asked. "Once you're in, I can't change the assignment." The man assured him he was certain this is the room he wanted.

After the AD left, the man looked around to find someone to get him a cup of coffee. As he was looking around, another Associate Devil came in and cracked a whip. "Coffee break's over," he said. "Back on your heads."
* Not the substance in the original version of this story, but one more suitable for a general readership

A few moments to do some long-overdue catching up.

Between the last post and this one, my wife got out of the hospital and into a local rehab center. There are many challenges, and progress is coming a little bit at a time - getting up, walking, sitting back down, building up lower and upper body strength, tolerating the food. (The food reminds me of another old story, the one about two old women in the dining room at a resort in the Catskills. The first one says, "The food here is really terrible." The second says, "Yes, and such small portions.") This is tentatively to go on till about 12/31. Ouch. There's some comfort knowing they're giving her recovery the time it needs, but still...

There's little chance any Christmas decorating will happen this year. I was able to find the treasured Chanukah menorah - a years-ago gift from my grandmother - just in time for last night's first candle. In a nod to my childhood, a practice I find myself taking comfort in these days (including treating myself to a jar of Ovaltine at the supermarket the other day), I went to the yarmulkah drawer (yes, I have a yarmulkah drawer) and selected the one I used to wear in Hebrew school in the early 70's, the burgundy velour one with silver-colored trim. (Hey, I did say it was from the early 70's. Just because I wasn't old enough to have long sideburns didn't mean I couldn't participate in that era's fashion absurdities somehow.) Back to the menorah: usually my wife selects the different color candles to use each night and, after I say the prayers and light the center shamus candle, my wife uses it to light the remaining candles. Last night, of course, I was on my own. (Our other custom is that, on the last night of Chanukah, my sons say the prayers. As they're bapitized Presbyterians whose Hebrew vocabulary is pretty much limited to "oy vey," this is usually an interesting experience for all.)

In the meantime, we keep things going: handling phone calls (no mean feat considering I don't usually answer the phone at home); checking e-mails for my wife (no mean feat considering the literally hundreds of store-spam e-mails she gets); responding to selected e-mails on her behalf (no mean feat considering the number of people I'm responding to that I either don't know or don't like); going through paper mail; making sure she has clean laundry; and whatever else needs to be done. It's all about the to-do list.

Speaking of the to-do list, I just looked at the time. Coffee break's over, back on my head.

Unrelated Item: So When Did He Find Time for Golf?

As with previous celebrity news circuses, it's not my intention to devote a lot of pixels to Tiger Woods. Given the current high number of Google searches on Tiger Woods' name, I realize I could probably improve traffic to this site by writing about Tiger Woods, mentioning Tiger Woods this and Tiger Woods that. I just believe the problems Tiger Woods is currently experiencing are things Tiger Woods should be discussing with his wife and that, as an adult, Tiger Woods doesn't need our help dealing with all the headlines that mention "Tiger Woods." The journalistic integrity of this space is not going to be compromised by constant mentions of Tiger Woods, no matter how many search engine hits would send new readers anytime someone does a search for Tiger Woods or anything relating to Tiger Woods.

All that said, a couple of thoughts do come to mind:

1. Given the countless women, paid and unpaid, that we are now told he was, um, "with," I'm dismayed by his behavior, but impressed by his stamina. I guess the age-old question of whether golfers are athletes has finally been settled.

2. I am hoping - really, deeply hoping - that 2010 is the year Tiger Woods appears on David Letterman. How unspeakably cool would that be?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The New York Experience

Still reeling from Oprah announcing the end of her show (ok, it's not for another two years and the announcement was actually that she was going to be announcing it the next day which I would have taken to be the same as announcing it but what do I know?), it turns out my wife didn't get out of the hospital after all on Friday; in fact, she didn't even get out of the recovery room until late afternoon. (No room at the inn, that sort of thing. I suppose one of the downsides of a hospital that focuses on joint surgery is that people don't die there and free up rooms as frequently.) It's looking like she'll be in through the weekend, with some time at a rehab facility after that. (That last part remains to be confirmed.) My heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful expressions of support.

It's an interesting trip to the hospital, which is located on 70th Street, about as far to the east in Manhattan as you can go. (Let's put it this way; take two steps in the wrong direction and you're in the East River, dodging tugboats, barges, and the occasional Circle Line tour boat.) Since the train from NJ puts me at 33rd Street at about the mid-point of Manhattan's east-to-west span, it's about a two and a half mile travel distance from there to the hospital. For the trip there and back, I decided to walk rather than take the subway; something about walking has always made it possible for me to think, relax, create and energize in ways that just don't happen at any other time. It's surely better than other ways I've tried. Experience has shown me there are no answers at the bottom of a box of oreos.

Every city has its character, of course, and its characters, but even when you've commuted to New York City nearly every day for over thirty years, there's still so much to see on a walk like that. The autograph shop on West 57th with the most amazingly cool things in the window. The cross-dressing guy in a see-through outfit (or maybe it was just a zombie trying to meet someone special) walking along Third Avenue. In the mid-forties, the theater district, I noticed a restaurant that advertises it's been providing the finest Cuban cuisine since 1963, and thought, yeah, I'll bet in 1963 Cuban cuisine was just a great business to be in.

At 34th Street, Herald Square, Macy's is in full swing in its preparation for Christmas and the Thanksgiving Day Parade/world's largest infomercial. Every year, they put up fantastically involved window displays along the Broadway side. Tourists flock to see them, and even jaded New Yorkers have been known to stop for a moment and look. (Not for too long, of course. Got somewhere to be, you know, though we're not always quite sure where that is and have to think of it along the way.)

Anyway, for folks not expecting to be in New York City this holiday season, a brief glimpse of what you'll see as you pass the windows. (This year's theme is Letters to Santa, with the windows showing the path letters take as they are handled in the North Pole.) These are strictly camera-phone videos, about five seconds each, and not broadcast quality. But I thought they had a New York flavor and would be kind of fun to post anyway. As for me, well, I'd better get back to my research; a man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's an oreo for?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Game Day

Just a short update on today's surgery.

Happy to say it went well. It turns out the tendon didn't actually sever; it just came disconnected from the knee bone. We'll find out in the morning, but it looks like my wife will be able to come home from the hospital on Friday. Still to be determined is what approach we'll be taking in the weeks ahead - physical therapy, rehab, etc. - and for how long.

If every you need joint surgery of any kind, we can give a strong recommendation to the high-level professionals of The Hospital for Special Surgeries in NYC. Every detail is checked and rechecked to make sure everything is done right. And rather than having to spend an hour searching the hospital for someone, anyone, when you need something, we had an on-going parade of hospital staff checking on what we needed before we needed it. The surgical waiting area is a large atrium with a great view of the East River. And most importantly, they provide coffee at no cost.

Time for some sleep.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Temporary Set-Back, I Assure You

Surgery is set for this Thursday.

Surgery...say what?

Flashback to November 5. My wife had been out of the immobilizer for a couple of weeks, making nice progress, faithfully doing her exercises and gaining a bit of strength. She was even starting to walk some. At first, walking required the therapist's help but she soon progressed to making it around the therapy room with the therapist nearby and a husband moving the wheelchair close behind. (I'm not sure if pushing the wheelchair really did anything for my wife, but it did give me something to do, like those toy car dashboards parents put on their young children's strollers, and for all I know that may have been the real purpose.)

With victory near, my wife was determined to overcome whatever residual fears remained about walking with no one's help. Waiting for me to get home to take her to physical therapy, she decided to try some unmonitored practice and surprise me. It went well up until the last attempt before I got home; a small turn didn't work and she went down.

I'd called a few minutes from home to tell her I would be there shortly - no answer. I was a little concerned about that, but there are many reasons that could happen and almost all of them are not problematic. When I got to the house and saw the back window was dark, my spidey-sense was tingling - it's funny how you can sometimes sense when something's not right before you actually know anything for sure. My first words yelled across the house to wherever she was: "Are you ok?" Her response: "Not really." She was on the floor, in a good deal of pain. Her efforts to surprise me worked, just not as planned.

By then, of course, we knew the drill; this time we even had an immobilizer for the trip to the Emergency Room. (And, of course, we had my really cool leg support wheelchair attachment.) X-rays there, follow-up orthopedist visit, MRI to follow up the follow-up visit, orthopedist visit to follow-up the MRI that followed-up the orthopedist visit that followed up the trip to the ER, and countless follow-up phone calls from well-meaning family and friends who each know the best doctor/hospital/procedure for us to follow-up with, and it comes down to this: the knee isn't refractured, but the tendon that connects the quadricep muscle to the knee cap snapped. (Normally - pardon the high-level technical medical terminology - the thigh bone's connected to the knee bone, and the knee bone's connected to the shin bone. Well, right now, they're not.)

The plan now - after follow-up visits to our regular doctors to clear my wife for surgery - is for the orthopedist (the one from the second orthopedic follow-up) to go in with a large, sterile sewing machine and give the tendon a basting stitch. The surgeon is very optimistic.

Not to worry - as things progress, I'll follow up.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kodak Moment

No, this is not my cats' idea of dressing up as illegal immigrants in a car trunk for Halloween. Nor is it a nostalgic attempt to relive their pre-birth experience. You see, this morning was the annual "bring Willie and Lilly to the vet" ordeal.

It's amazing how two college educated adults can spend days planning to out-think two animals with brains the size of a walnut, and only partially succeed. Regardless of what other steps we take, and regardless of the fact that they only see the carriers once a year, at first glimpse of them the cats go into evasive maneuvers that would make a fighter jet pilot envious. (Contrast this to their daddy, who has people in his office that he's seen daily for years and whose names he still can't remember.)

We know to close off all the best escape routes upstairs. (If they get under a bed you might as well cancel the vet appointment.) I thought I'd be cool and leave only the bathroom door open, since it's a dead end and if they ran there their furry little butts would be mine.) Unfortunately, they figured that out a lot faster than I did. Consistent with their personalities, Willie tried to muscle his way out of the problem, and it didn't take very long at all before he was in his carrier. Lilly may be smaller than Willie, but it seems that the human world is not the only one in which girls are smarter than boys.

Lilly didn't outrun me. She out-thought me. After nearly an hour of searching there was no sign of her. I was actually getting worried; we'll never know for sure, but I strongly suspect it was trying to shimmy out of a too-tight spot that led to Skids' life-ending injury a little over two years ago. Then I thought of one more place to look. We have a large sideboard cabinet that comes all the way down to the floor in the front, but that has a small opening in the back; sure enough, I turned the flashlight there and a little pink
nose was staring back at me. It meant moving the side-board and several other pieces of furniture, but after a sword dance that included chasing, hissing (by both of us) and other elements of a good western's barroom brawl, eventually she was cornered on the stairs and tried to run past me. Game over.

Frustrated and sweaty, I told my wife I'd caught them both, and cautioned her that if ever I was looking for her, she was never to hide under the furniture. Having put up with this kind of thing nearly every day for the past 27 years, she agreed and went back to watching the weekend edition of the Today Show.

Back to the photo. We finally got to the vet and I pried Willie from his carrier - first you can't get them in, then you can't get them out.
I opened the door of Lilly's to get her and before I could stop him Willie scooted past me and into it. There were now two cats - one a little over 13 pounds, the other a little over nine pounds - packed into a carrier that was originally purchased for my previous 5 and a half pound cat. I think I saw this in a Marx Brothers movie once.

I Like Left-Overs But...
It's after 6:00 pm and I've had exactly three trick-or-treaters. (Based on previous years' turnouts, I'm prepared for 200.) If things don't pick up, this week at work I'll be brown bagging Sugar Daddy sandwiches with a side of Swedish Fish.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Back in the Saddle

This past week was my second back at work after four or five weeks - I don't even remember anymore - on Family Medical Leave. It felt good to get back. Everything was right where I left it (which is mostly a good thing, but not entirely), no major disasters on my projects, my building pass still worked, and so far I've still got that rested-and-ready feeling. Structure, like anything else, is good if kept in moderation.

We're still fitting physical therapy into the schedule. If it's ok with some insurance company clerks who've never met my wife and whose medical background consists of putting a band-aid on their Winnie the Pooh doll's boo-boo at the age of four, we'll continue for the next couple of weeks. Progress is slower than my wife would like, but it's there. She's back to feeding the cats (so they don't have to like me any more if they don't want to), and doing most of the cooking again. (I did get to make a decent beef goulash with spaetzle and ginger-glazed carrots last night. At least I think that's what spaetzle is supposed to taste like.)

That ginger-glazed carrot recipe is interesting. It's from Alton Brown on, and uses ginger ale as the main element for the glaze. (It does benefit from an extra pinch of ginger, but the ginger ale gives it a better flavor than you might expect.) I never envisioned myself using ginger ale as an ingredient, but when you've got hungry mouths to feed you learn to relax certain standards. I've found this to be particularly true when one of the hungry mouths is your own. I draw the line at ketchup-as-ingredient, though. At least for now.

One final food note: this past week a chef originally from Jersey City (and a graduate of the county-run culinary school where I've gotten to take some weekend adult-ed classes) beat Morimoto on Iron Chef America. Most significantly, despite his Jersey City/Hudson County background, he appears to have won without any payoffs, threats or back-room deals. There's hope for us yet.

Why Bees Are Disappearing

The other day I was in the yard watching three bees working my basil plant. Basil is mostly leafy, of course, but if you let it overgrow a bit the branches grow small, pretty white flowers. The bees were sticking their faces into the flowers, doing whatever it is they do, and moving on to the next flower. A moment later another bee would come to the same flower, stick his face in, and do the same thing. Then the third. It got me thinking: is that sanitary? What if one of those bees has a cold? Maybe if we had some teeny-tiny surgical masks...

With Friends Like These...

It amazes me to think back at how hard it used to be to turn down Friend Requests on Facebook. It's a networking site, for goodness sake. Just because someone doesn't know me or any of the other 1500 friends in their friend list, or their profiles are offensive (defined here as expressing views different from mine) or not even in English, is no reason to risk offending them. But like learning to throw paper junkmail out unopened, it's something that gets easier every time you do it, and you'll get to wondering why it was ever hard in the first place. Enough requests to play Mafia Wars will do that.

I did make a Facebook profile in connection with this journal, and if you are of a mind to take a look, it's found under the e-mail address,, with the name T.M. Ben. And I promise I won't turn down your Friend Request.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Joe Sixpack's Country Fried Late Night Comedian Make-Over

I won't dwell on it, because it ultimately does come down to a private matter between a man and his wife, but let me say this: I'm REALLY glad I'm not David Letterman right now.

That said, a few things to share:

Make THIS Over
Been getting to see daytime tv shows I (mercifully) don't normally get to watch. Maybe it's like when everything tastes salty because you're not used to eating salt, or maybe it's just a guy thing, but it seems as if every program during the day is making some middle-aged woman over. I have no problem with self-improvement, finding a new hairstyle that is more flattering than your current one, etc. Those are normal things, even healthy ones. What I'm seeing on a daily basis, though, is more like a parade of full-grown women who believe in their esteem-deprived hearts that some expert-to-the-stars can provide a new hair cut, make-up or style of dress that will validate their lives with meaning and purpose, and who have the encouragement of a cheering studio audience to prove it. One particularly henious ex
ample (won't mention the show, but the host normally does things that are yum-o) had women telling a stylist what "star" they admired, and the stylist made them over in that celebrity's own style. Remember, these aren't 14 year old girls showing up at a Mylie Cyrus concert dressed like Hannah Montana. These are grown women who have families, jobs, and the right, though perhaps not the stability, to vote.

It comes down to one of my favorite quotes, years old but completely timeless, from the funny and brilliant Brett Butler: "If you wait till you're rich and famous to be happy, you're screwed."

You Betcha!

Hard as it is to believe, there is finally something Sarah Palin and I agree on: it would be a great thing for this country if Levi Johnston would just go away, never to be seen or heard from again. It's not an easy thing to emerge as a bigger sleaze
(and one less qualified for fatherhood) than Jon Gosselin, but despite the odds Johnston has managed it.

This Isn't a Cooking Blog, But...
For some reason, the other day I found myself wanting some Chicken Fried Steak.

For readers outside of the U.S. (and probably some American readers too), Chicken Fried Steak - also known as Country Fried Steak - is one of the truly great comfort foods of the south. It may be described as follows:

  • a steak that has been "tenderized" (a genteel culinary term for having the living daylights beaten out of it by a stressed cook wielding a spiked hammer that looks like something out of a horror movie or fetish shop) then dredged, breaded and fried in the style of fried chicken, and finally smothered in gravy; and
  • an irresistably delicious meal whose fat and salt content will eventually kill you.

The catch, of course, is that having cholesterol issues, I don't fry. (Truth be told, I've made three or four attempts at frying things. In a cosmic effort to keep me from eating fried food, all failed miserably. Frying is a lot harder than it looks.) My desire for Chicken Fried Steak being strong, however, I set out to find a healthier, "oven-fried" version.

First I needed a base recipe from which to work; since I was looking for a southern dish whose fat and salt content will eventually kill you, I knew to check Paula Deen's recipes first. Taking her fried recipe as a starting point, I changed it to use the oven-frying methods I've been putting together from various sources and experience. I'm proud to present the result below. It came out right the first time, and that's something of a rarity for me.

When serving, make frequent use of "y'all" (a southern form of the more familiar New York "youse") and the adjective, "big ol' ".


Country Over-Fried Steak
Yield: 4 servings


4 – 4 oz. tenderized thin cut steaks

¾ cup Panko

¼ tsp fresh ground pepper

Seasoning Mix: 1/2 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp fresh-ground pepper, 1/8 tsp garlic powder

1 cup buttermilk

3 - 4 cups beef gravy

½ bunch green onions, or ½ medium yellow onion, sliced for topping


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place baking sheet in oven to preheat.
  • Combine Panko and ¼ tsp black pepper in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag.
  • Combine seasoning mix ingredients and season both sides of the steaks. Dredge each steak in the buttermilk, shake off excess, and coat with Panko, pressing crumbs in. Let coated steaks rest in refrigerator for at least 15 minutes
  • When steaks have finished resting, spray preheated baking sheet with cooking spray. Place steaks on the baking sheet and spray tops lightly. Bake until coating is golden brown and crispy, about 20 - 25 minutes, turning half-way.
  • While steaks are baking, prepare gravy using any preferred recipe. When gravy is ready, add the steaks and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Reduce the heat to low, put onions on top, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Serve with mashed potatoes, smothering both with gravy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Circadian-Free Life

A couple of weeks into my family leave, the non-schedule schedule has gotten way too comfortable. It isn't so much that the clock no longer is in charge of my life. It's that nothing else has stepped into the power vacuum. I suppose it can be said I feel young again if by "young" is meant "infant with his days and nights mixed up." Or, worse, a college student.

Physically the past couple of weeks haven't been overly taxing. I have to say there's not a lot of mental down-time, though. It's like a chess game where every move is planned three moves in advance. My respect for stay-at-home moms is greater than ever.

Of course, I'm scheduled to be returning to work in a couple more weeks, so it's important to stay grounded as much as can be managed. Through e-mails and phone messages I've been able to keep up with the major issues at my office. I've continued to play an active role in heading off problems and, when necessary, generating effective solutions decisively. For example, just this past Friday there was an e-mail asking for recipes for the office fund-raising cookbook, and I was able to send several.

A few observations at the mid-point of my family leave:

  • It may be just my imagination, but I swear the cats like me better now that I'm the one feeding them. I guess my usual cat-job - cleaning the litter box - just isn't as high on the cats-appreciate-it list.
  • I don't care if it does make my wife laugh at me - there's a right way and a wrong way to make a tuna salad sandwich and, dammit, I'm going to look up a recipe for it.
  • A major discovery: making double portions means not having to cook a meal from scratch the next night. Remember, you read it here first.
Cooking remains an active focus. So far the winner of the truly strange recipe contest comes from, where the Neeleys posted a shrimp corn-dog. (It's basically a hot dog made of a shrimp mixture, instead of the meat by-products, insect parts, and heaven only knows what else mixture regular hot dogs are made of. You batter it and process as a corn-dog and, voila!) Yes, some of the ingredients are a little expensive, but the look on people's faces when you tell them you've made a shrimp hot dog? Priceless.

Tonight I begin my Yom Kippur fast. Not to worry, though. Making food for others when you're fasting - my wife is not Jewish and, despite their fondness for whitefish flavor Friskies, neither are Willie and Lilly - is just something you get used to.

So You Think You Can Dance

While canoodling on Youtube the other night, I came across the clip embedded below. It's from Stormy Weather. Cab Calloway and his orchestra performing Jumpin' Jive is worth seeing on its own merits. But it's the performance by the Nicholas Brothers about 1:36 into the clip that, I'm warning you, may blow out the circuitry on your computers. It is, simply, astonishing. This is about a five minute clip, and if you give it a look I'm certain you'll be very glad you did.

While on the subject of dancing, Dancing with the Stars is normally light fun, the only reality show I like to watch. But that gorgeously human moment last week when Kelly Osborne ran to O
zzy and Sharon after she finished transcended the show, celebrity, and anything else superficial. The famously outrageous and occasionally bizarre rock couple were exposed as actually being a wonderfully ordinary set of loving, proud parents. It took a while, but a little reality finally made its way onto a reality show.

One Day at a Time, Indeed

Waking up in a drug-induced haze to find you've been sleeping with someone who looked like Papa John Philips would be a traumatic experience even if he weren't your father, and so daughter MacKenzie is a good example of how wrong it so often is to speak of celebrity children as being privileged. As often as not, such kids are well-financed but otherwise unprepared for the rigors of navigating life once they're out of their protective biospheres. That said, I'm wondering what develops during a public childhood that leads one to think so intensely personal a matter is best handled in a public forum. Odd thing for a blogger to say, I suppose, but I'm also not here writing about that time I...well, never mind.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Rehearsing Retirement

I find myself unexpectedly on family medical leave for about the next three to four weeks.

No, no one here just gave birth. [Wiping brow in relief just at the thought.] This past Monday my wife fell and injured her knee. Finding the ER waiting room surprisingly empty (I guess you don't get a lot of gunshot wounds at Labor Day picnics), we got taken care of in pretty short order. We received mixed news:

  • On the up side, the injury turned out to be a slight break, not as bad as the previous one, requiring an immobilizer but not a cast.
  • Also on the up side, I got a lot of compliments on my improvised scrap wood and duct tape leg support-immobilizer attachment for the wheelchair.
  • There was some bad news too: due to budget constraints, the hospital no longer validates parking for the lot across the street.

My wife isn't in any pain other than what would normally be associated with having me home 24 hours a day. Mostly she's just understandably frustrated about being immobilized.She'll be laid up for a few weeks and, until she can look after herself, needs someone with her. With the boys away at school and the cats saying they'd like to help but it's not in their cat-union contract, it looks like I'll be home for a while, playing the role of gentleman farmer.

There are adjustments to make and every day we're figuring out work-arounds to manage another one or two normal things. The overall pace of juggling house tasks is constant but not hectic. After several days of me sleeping on the sofa and my wife sleeping in the lounge chair - getting upstairs is not an option at the present time - we finally remembered yesterday that the sofa is the sleeper kind, so last night was actually spent in the relative comfort of a real bed.

The cats, much of whose daily routine revolves around our normal bedroom, are walking around very confused these days. The whole business of us relocating our lives to the living room was disorienting enough for them. Yesterday, when a bed magically appeared there, their bewildered stares moving back and forth over it nearly made everything we've been through so far worth the trouble. I can only imagine what they're thinking, since it's in the very spot that, every December, a tree that blooms cat toys mysteriously grows.

One good part of all this is that I'm getting to do some real cooking. Up until now I've made mostly fun, individual items when I felt like it - baking a pie, things like that - or making a batch of something or other to have for lunch that week. For the first time I'm having to plan out and make contiguous meals - a protein, starch and vegetable that are coordinated enough to seem like they're
not the culinary equivalent of a ransom note with glued letters from eight different newspapers. It's fun and interesting and requires a lot of "ok, let's see what we've got in the house and what can I do with it," something the plan-every-step-beforehand cook I've always been never had to do. I'd always been a disciple of Ina Garten for the odds-and-ends stuff, but now that I need regular meal items on a daily basis I'm quickly coming to appreciate Tyler Florence. Great stuff, and not complicated for someone making it the first time. Yesterday alone I made two of his on the spur of the moment: roasted rosemary potatoes, and green beans with almonds and caramelized onions. At this rate I'll be going through his entire list of recipes before my leave is finished, kind of a K-mart version of "Julie and Julia." Other recipes are coming from wherever I can find them; an outstanding (and thankfully simple) baked salmon recipe came from the back of the salmon fillet package. I'm learning a lot, too, from my wife's directions.

In some ways the hardest part of all this is not having a day-structure provided for me. That kind of freedom is fine for people with discipline, but what about the rest of us? I'm hoping to keep up with what's going on at work through phone messages and e-mails. My goal is to keep them from realizing how well they function without me.

Unrelated Item 1: No Love Lost

Memo to self: Do NOT get Serena Williams angry.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Leader of the Pack

While the nation mourns the loss of Ted Kennedy, I hope the passing of another notable gets, well, noted.

It was an "awww" moment for me this morning when I learned of the passing of Ellie Greenwich. You probably know her name, you unquestionably know her work. If you've spent any time at all listening to the great hits in the years leading up to the British Invasion, probably 80% of the songs you've enjoyed were the work of about four or so songwriting teams. Ellie Greenwich and her husband Jeff Barry were one of them. It's not practical, and probably not even necessary, to list her hits here. Our lives touched once, sorta-kinda, in the most indirect way possible, and it was a small, strange experience I've always found oddly heartwarming.

Years ago, my wife and I belonged to a group of sign language students who, in the spare time we seemed to have in those days, used to get together at our house to work out signed renditions of various popular songs. (I'll put our "Chipmunk's Christmas Song" next to anyone's.) At one point we were working on "Leader of the Pack'" and, as often happened before Al Gore invented the Internet, had a disagreement over one part of the lyrics we were listening to. (Ok, we all agreed on the lyrics except for one of us who had an absurd interpretation of one line that I would even now be embarrassed to say.) I knew that Ellie Greenwich worked out of New York, and thought if I could look up her office address, we could drop her a "note" (a primal form of written communication that existed before e-mails that younger readers can ask their grandparents about) and settle the lyric question. What I found in the NY telephone book was a phone number with no address listed, which I took to mean Ms. Greenwich worked out of a home office. (One of the advantages of working in a profession that doesn't involve large industrial machines, I suppose.) I'll say a lot of things to a lot of different people, but even in those days there was no way I was going to call a famous songwriter at home and ask her about a lyric she'd written 30 years before. Another much bolder member of our group made the call and got to speak to her. Explaining our dilemma, my friend asked what the line after "One day my dad said 'Find someone new' " was. Pausing a moment to think, singing through the lyrics and, most of all, exhibiting enormous kindness, she responded that it was, "I had to tell my Jimmy we're through." My friend thanked her profusely and reported back to us.

I've sometimes wondered what Ms. Greenwich thought of that strange phone call, in the unlikely event she thought of it at all; when you've got her list of accomplishments, things like that probably don't stand out. For those of us on the other end of the phone, however - older now certainly, and perhaps a little wiser - it was a memory, and a happy one at that.


A good bit of the early part of this week was spent in some pain due to an earache. It's a recurring thing I've more or less adjusted to but, unlike the ones before, this one didn't go away after a day. After three days of acetamitaphin (I don't think there are any extra "ita's" in there, but I could be wrong) and some homeopathic (Latin for "expensive and doesn't work very well") stuff I got at the drugstore, I was getting desperate.

Enter the Internet. According to, well, I don't know who but it was on the Internet so it must be true, a good treatment for some of the more common forms of earaches is to apply the liquid from a garlic clove to the inner ear. (My wife had suggested warm olive oil and, after reading the garlic suggestion, I though about just pouring some Italian dressing down my ear canal, but couldn't find any in the house.) Not experienced in this type of remedy but desperate for some relief, I got out the garlic press and gave it a try. I made two discoveries:

  1. If you're ever given a choice between putting either garlic in your ear, or the fires of hell, go with the fires. It will burn less.
  2. I woke up the next morning, and every morning since, free of ear pain. (I hate it when stuff that hurts so much works.)
Just thought I'd share...

Here Comes Treble

An entry or two ago I wrote about the tattoo my son James got. Now my son Jacob has joined the club. His is a g-clef, about 4 inches or so in height, on his right shoulder blade. I don't have a picture yet, but will post one when it's available.

I mentioned this to a (non-tattooed) friend today, and she told me of an interesting question she'd once been asked: if a law were passed saying you HAD to get a tattoo, what would you get and where? I'm still considering the question, and would welcome anyone who cares to sharing their answer. Could be wonderfully revealing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Dash of Catch-Up

A warm welcome to new reader MrsSchlereth, who raised the question of whether my son's tattoo was his own design. It's not. In fact, it's currently a popular tattoo design with some minor variations here and there. (Not that I knew this when he first talked to us about getting it. I thought it was the name of a band I never heard of, which would be true of any music group formed after about 1964, the year my musical tastes went into suspended animation.)

It's been a bad couple of weeks for electronics here. First, the hard drive on my desktop computer blew out. Ok, says I wistfully, I've got a laptop and fairly recent backups of everything except the 500 songs on my ipod, and since the songs are already loaded on the ipod, no big deal. A couple of days later, I turned on my ipod and found the screen was cracked from the inside which, if you are familiar with ipods, you know means they're pretty much destroyed. (It is with no small irony that I remembered feeling terribly smug and smart about not spending $15 to buy a protective plastic case that, while probably worth about fifty cents, would have saved me from having to spend $150 on another damn ipod.)

Ok, says I, a bit less wistfully, I still have the music cd's I got the songs from the first time, and that nice set of backups of my other files, so it's just a question of loading them onto the laptop. And by laptop, I mean the computer that, a couple of days after the ipod debacle, happened to be near where some idiot (ok, it was me, but don't tell anyone) set down a cup of coffee. The coffee did what coffee always does when placed in the general proximity of electronic equipment, creating what computer service people genteelly call a "liquid spill." Twenty four hours, one can of compressed air, and a whole lot of guilt-ridden prayer later, the laptop was able to function completely again. Well, almost completely; the letter that comes after "y" doesn't work. This wouldn't be a big deal, except my normal isp is veri[letter after y]on.


And Now For Something Completely Different

Canoodling (I love that word) around You-Tube a few days ago, I came across a Monty Python clip in which they performed Eric Idle's brilliant song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." I've heard it countless times, but for some reason a portion of the lyrics really jumped out at me this time and have continued to rebound in my head. Not quite haunting me, but something close. I won't think about why.

"For life can be absurd, and death's the final word.
Always face the curtain with a bow.

"Forget about your sin, give the audience a grin.
Enjoy it. It's your last chance anyhow."

Let Me Say This About That

I watched the Frost-Nixon movie dvd a couple of days ago. What a great pleasure to watch a well-made movie that relies on cerebral, grown-up concepts instead of visceral reactions to loud noises and visual stimulation. Frank Langella as Nixon was astonishing. And the irony of putting a dvd into a player to watch a movie about Nixon and having it start off with an FBI warning: priceless.

Living the Dream

Having reluctantly abandoned my life-long ambition of having someone walk up to me on the street in NYC and ask how to get to Carnegie Hall, before it's too late I wanted to set down in writing a couple of things I still want to accomplish before they're singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" at a memorial service for me:

  • Every day in NYC I see those double-decker sight-seeing buses filled with camera-carrying tourists. And every time I do, it's impossible not to think about how much fun it would be to moon them. ("Hey, I got your sights, right here!")
  • Have you ever watched those morning shows where grown men and women get up at heaven-only-knows what time so they can stand behind Matt or Meredith or whomever and wave a "Hi Mom" sign on television for three seconds? (Heaven help me, I once saw the Today Show's Ann Curry do a remote from Antarctica and there were people behind her doing this. IN FRIGGING ANTARCTICA!) How cool would it be to hold up a sign like that and, when the camera's on, let a flap fall open that says something deeply crude and grossly obscene? Just wondering...
Wanted to Mention

I don't care whether that camping picture with the squirrel is real or not. It's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


So now it turns out there's some kind of federal law against elected officials taking money in exchange for political favors. Who knew?

On a more important note, every generation hopes the next generation goes even f
urther. Or farther. Whatever - I'm too tired right now to reach for the dictionary. In my family, for example, my generation has been the first to have the opportunity to go to college. Continuing in that spirit, today my son James became the first in our family history to get a tattoo, a series of letters and religious symbols that, taken together, spell out "coexist." It's a pleasing message and, I suppose, not surprising given the diversity of religions, nationalities, races, sanity levels, etc. that my kids have had the advantage of knowing all their lives, at home as much as on the outside.

For some reason my kids' friends are surprised that my wife and I are ok with this. In my mind, as long as the tattoo is selected and placed such that it passes the "job interview" test, it shouldn't be a problem. It's not something I'd elect to do for myself - for some reason I'm just not comfortable doing anything that includes getting a reversed graphic image in blood on a large bandage - but I'm sure I've done a thing or two my kids wouldn't want to get near either. All I've ever really asked of my children is to be good people, respect themselves and others, and support their parents in grand style after retirement. (That would be the parents' retirement, not the kids'.) That's not too much to expect, is it?

Unrelated Item: Paradigm Shift Into Overdrive

For as long as anyone could remember, car salesmen were understood to be bottom-feeding, silver-tongued people-hating swindlers. A tough economy somehow has turned them into sympathetic characters. I'm not sure I can go along with that; I'll have to ok it with the manager.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Taking The Fourth

One of the problems with not posting often is that when posts do finally get written, they tend to be a bit on the long side. You've been warned. And at least this one has pictures. Color ones, even.

I love the Fourth of July. It i
s a wonderful opportunity to pause and remember the courageous men and women who bravely sacrificed so that future generations could live in a nation in which a qualified person of any race or belief system (except Libertarians) can be elected to the highest office in the land (and by this I mean First Lady); where, if you want your cheeseburger, fries and shake supersized it shall be so; and where a pathological self-mutilating pedophile who, if he couldn't sing and dance and were like the rest of us, would have been given a sequined straight-jacket and put in a padded hyperbaric chamber a long time ago, can become a candidate for sainthood.

By far, my favorite part of the Fourth of July celebration is our tradition of fireworks shows. For years, Macy's has put on a huge, world-class show in New York City that somehow manages to outdo the previous year's display. Normally I shy away from attending in person, remembering some years back when it took me two hours to get home from seeing them at a state park I live about ten minutes from. Feeling brave this year, we decided to try another location.

This year we tried Weehawken, a nearby city along the Hudson River with a great view of the New York City skyline. (The skyline is always kind of a mixed thing for me. I alternate between marveling, like everyone else, at its majestic beauty, and thinking, as a seasoned and occasionally jaded New Yorker, that it's too much packed into too small a space, but that's a post for another day.) We found a spot right by the bust of Alexander Hamilton and settled in. With a long wait between our arrival and the start of the fireworks, I spent a good bit of time looking into Mr. Hamilton's eyes and thinking, as many Americans surely would, "You frigging dummy."

Hamilton was,, of course, one of this nation's founding fathers. He served as the first Secretary of the Treasury, co-wrote The Federalist Papers, and did a whole lot of other things I'm never going to do. But the reason the statue was there at all was that the place we were standing is where Hamilton, along with Aaron Burr, the former vice-president, engaged in a "duel," a somewhat extreme case of "I'll see you in the schoolyard after 3:00" and, in the process, threw away his life and everything he'd ever accomplished. (Remember, this was before airplanes, when vice-presidents wanting to shoot things were limited to doing it from the ground.) What at the time may well have seemed a rite of being a gentleman is more easily understood today to be the supreme act of childishness. And when, like Hamilton, you can't hit the broad side of a barn from the inside to begin with, it's a particularly bad idea. (On the other hand, it did earn him a really cool statue.)

In a fitting, if unintended, tribute to this, a woman standing near us for the fireworks thought another woman was speaking too loud (she was) and responded by, of course, yelling at her. A third woman joined in, siding with the loud talker. None of this involved a lot of English, but it was kind of fun to witness. Unfortunately, it settled down before I was able to get out the pistols and clear out ten paces worth of open space.

Back to the fireworks. Here are some p
ictures I'd love to say I took, but the fact is that except for the Alexander Hamilton bust and the Dueling Grounds plaque, they're the work of my son Jacob. I think they provide a little bit of a feeling of what it was to see this year's fireworks show. The photos are mostly self-explanatory. There are just a couple of things I'd like to offer comment on:

  • In the next-to-last photo, you'll see the top of the Empire State Building just to the right of the fireworks burst,. lit up red-white-and-blue for the occasion. (They've got a pretty impressive collection of lights up there and illuminate the building in different colors for a wide range of special occasions.)
  • The last photo shows something that didn't get widely reported, a fire that broke out on one of the barges near the end of the display. A few fireworks on board were ignited, but damage was minimal and no injuries were reported.

Gratuitous Political Commentary

Item 1: I've Heard the Word "Minnesotans" More in the Last Week Than I Have in my Entire Life Preceeding That

You've got to admire Norm Coleman. After the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that he lost the election and had no more legal avenues left to continue contesting it, the former senator decided to concede. How gracious of him. Al Franken has now been sworn in as the new junior senator. Franken is ready for the challenge. He's prepared to work hard, he understands the issues and, doggone it, people like him.

Item 2: From Parts of Alaska You Can Actually See Political Obscurity

Sarah Palin is resigning as governor of Alaska (nickname: the "Oh Yeah, I Forgot That's a State" state). Her own words, from her Facebook page:

"How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it's about country. And though it's honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make."

Those are not the words of a president. Memo to the governor: the first rule of being in a hole is to stop digging. Also, in this case, to stop pouting.

And, not for nothing, as we say here in the hood, but when I think of politicians who have left their positions without finishing their term, I'm remembering some who sneaked out the back door in disgrace, some who were led out in handcuffs, and some who, sad to say, were carried out on a gurney. I'm drawing a blank on any who left to pursue a higher calling. Maybe someone can help me here.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me make it clear that on a personal level, I have only the highest respect for Sarah Palin. Parenting is hard under the best of circumstances, and on the home front she's dealt pretty well, even admirably, with some very tough situations. And there are undoubtedly positions of leadership she's suited for. It's just that at this point, from stunningly poor campaign interviews to clumsy debate performance to pouty personal Facebood entries, I'm thinking Leader of the Free World is not one of them.

Item 3: Full-Court Press

I'm not too worried about Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas got confirmed, for goodness sake. How hard can it be?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Passing Thoughts

As we begin to see the onslaught of "All Michael, All The Time" programming, a few quickly-written thoughts before running out the door to get my cholesterol checked. (Following that, the rest of the morning will be spent eating all the things I avoided before the test so no one at the lab would know.)

Vacation Progress Report

Pretty productive week so far. A couple of things from the "do these or see your life as worthless" list mentioned in the previous post had to be put off, but for valid reasons. (I misplaced the charger for the tool I need to work on the magic case and am waiting for the new one I ordered, and yesterday was my sons' birthday and my wife, as is her custom every year, made them each their choice of yummy cake, so making the cupcakes as I'd first intended would have has us sitting here with more cake than any civilized family of four should ever have.) Other projects, of course, take their place seamlessly. Got some bank business tended to, survived both a colonoscopy and a dentist visit, finished what I hope is the final draft of the article I'd mentioned previously, got some weeds pulled, even put a converter box on the old black and white tv here in my office. (Be warned: if you're putting a converter box on an old tv, there's about $18 worth of parts you'll need in addition to the converter box itself. The upside is, it's so easy even I was able to figure it out.) It's been so productive one of the only things I haven't gotten around to doing this week is having a vacation. But it is on the list.

Not Meant to Seem Cynical, Just Honest

I'm haven't been what you'd consider a fan of either Farrah Fawcett or Michael Jackson over the years, but it seems impossible not to offer at least some brief thoughts on their passings yesterday.

For all she accomplished as a real actress - and she accomplished much - anyone who was aware of their surroundings in 1976 undoubtedly still remembers the famous Farrah swimsuit poster. Putting the show business stuff aside and seeing a human element in all of this, that moment-frozen-in-time image of a bright, attractive woman with a great smile makes her death, and the time-passes-and-we're all-mortal reminders that go with it, all the more poignant. By now it's probably fair to say everyone's life has been touched by cancer, and in that context Farrah impressed me greatly these past months. That thought would be incomplete without also mentioning Ryan O'neal, to whom I hadn't given a lot of thought before, and what a mensch he's been through the whole difficult process. I don't expect this to matter, except in some small cosmic way and probably not even that, but they both have my respect.

When I heard the first reports saying Michael Jackson had died, it was impossible for me not to think about the reports of Andy Kaufman's passing some years back. Hoping this doesn't read like a crude and inappropriate joke, because it is the absolute truth, Andy Kaufman was dead for two weeks before I believed it. If you remember the man's aggressively creative comic genius, you'll also remember it would not have been entirely out of character for him to release a story like that as an elaborate prank, a grand media nose-tweak.

In Michael Jackson's case, I was skeptical at first but within a few hours the reports did convince me. It goes without saying, of course, that the sudden death of a 50 year old guy, any 50 year old guy, is sad and a bit disturbing. And as a creative artist, Jackson really was amazing - it's not supposed to be possible for a human being to move like that. It's hard not let the personal wierdnesses - and that's the kindest way I can say it - cloud the view, especially since these were choices he made himself. I've heard moving, eloquent statements from members of his family, musicians he worked with, friends, etc. (I've been tuning in and out of the news, so I seem to have missed any endearing memories poured out by the kids and parents involved in the pedophilia accusations, including the one he settled out of court with. You would have thought that a $22 million settlement would have at least gotten the child to say something lovely now. People are just so ungrateful.)

As we prepare to endure several weeks of repetition of the same clips, stories, quotes, reports and, of course, rememberances (first from those who knew him, from those familiar with those who knew him, then - in the third and (hopefully) final wave, from those who went to nursery school with someone related to someone who knew him), I offer the following encouragement: it eventually settled down with Elvis, and it will eventually settle down with St. Michael.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

Back again, hopefully more regularly from now on. Yeah, yeah, I know I've said that before.

So what's been going on? The spring term of the course I was teaching is finished - anonymous student survey gave an instructor rating of 6.57 out of 7 and a course evaluation of 5.71 out of 7 (yea, me!). The summer course was canceled due to low enrollment - one of the hazards of retail education (as opposed to years spent teaching college students with guns to their heads taking a required course), but normal for this time of year - and I'm looking forward to the fall term. In the meantime, I've been tutoring a student who, I suppose, would have taken the summer course were it available. Because of time limitations - it's a prep course for an exam which will be offered in its current form for the last time at the end of June - the sessions have been pretty concentrated, covering what was 20 hours of classroom material in about a week and a half of after-work meetings. A pleasant experience - the student and I have gotten along well, she's worked hard and I love doing this stuff. Just a tiring and, for writing purposes, a time-consuming one.

And now I'm off for a few days. Considering the schedule for next week includes a colonoscopy (I picked up the gatorade-from-hell from the pharmacy yesterday), a dentist visit, and a checkup at my doctor's office, how much I'm looking forward to it says something about the current state of my tight-woundedness. A few other projects I wistfully hope to fit in include trying out a couple of cupcake icing recipes (Nigella's cupcake recipe worked great; the royal icing she used with it didn't appeal to us over here); finishing writing an article I hope to get published somewhere (faithful reader and all-around terrific person Oldhousegal will remember giving me some much-appreciated editing suggestions a couple of hundred years ago - yes, I finally hope to finish it); and finishing building a new case for my magic items. We'll see how many of those things actually got done by the end of the week. Pray for me.

No, Really, it is a Speaker

Since the last post I have gotten to fly to another state for a show, and learned an important lesson: if ever you're feeling in need of attention, put a wireless PA speaker in your carry-on bag. You'll get to meet lots of nice peo
ple from the TSA. Just be sure to allow extra time at the airport. (I did notice that they were so focused on the speaker, they didn't examine the battery-pack unit for the lapel mic. Tsk, tsk.)

The Sixteenth Minute

We're seeing a barrage of entertainment news: Jon and Kate, Rob and Kristen, Heidi's and Spencer's contentious interview with Al Roker, etc. etc. The nature of celebrity makes for a great study of the human thought process, and there are great debates to be had on things like the definition and importance of celebrity, its role in our culture, etc. Here's one thing I'd always thought there was no debate on: "celebrity" should, at some point, involve someone you've heard of. Who in the world ARE these people?

Hey, Cookie...

The radio is on as I write this, and as part of a news report about a product recall of packaged cookie dough I've just learned there are more than 40 groups on Facebook for people who love raw cookie dough. Who knew? I suspect a good number of folks who feel a need to be a member of one of those groups enjoy their cookie dough while watching entertainment news.

Go West, Young Man

The-bimbette-formerly-known-as-Miss-California has been back in the news again. Let's put aside for a moment our inexplicable penchant for putting a microphone in the face of some woman whose ambition is to be Miss Someplace-or-Other and being
shocked - shocked! - when she says something less than insightful. Past entries have already made clear my disdain for beauty pageant perpetrators, so I won't repeat that here. Still, this latest episode is even more fun than usual because of her total, unabashed insistence that every aspect of this has been someone else's fault.

I'm reminded of a friend who served in the Marine Corps and was awarded their "Good Conduct" medal. He explained that, within the ranks, it's sometimes referred to as the "never-been-caught" medal. The real mystery about these beauty pageants is not why it seems as if some mis-guided contestant gets exposed - literally and figuratively - e
very year. It is by what public-relations miracle doesn't it happen to more of them?

Maybe it's a good thing there are people who think these contestants represent the feminine ideal. It means less competition for the women really worth sharing your life with for those who know better.

I Got You, Babe

One celebrity news item that did catch my interest this week was Cher's public statement concerning her daughter's sex-change operation.
The matter of having to issue a public statement about something so private in the first place notwithstanding, I loved what she wrote. A stage persona is just that; in the clutch, Cher has once again shown herself to be the epitome of grace and dignity. If you've not seen it already:

"Chaz is embarking on a difficult journey, but one that I will support. I respect the courage it takes to go through this transition in the glare of public scrutiny and although I may not understand I will strive to be understanding. The one thing that will never change is my abiding love for my child."
"Although I may not understand I will strive to be understanding." Take that, Miss California.

Obligatory Cute Cat Picture

This is from this morning. Just a quick cel-phone picture, but I thought it was worth sharing. They do
grow, don't they.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

The Mission:
With final exams ending Wednesday at 7:00 pm, bring two college freshmen and the entire contents of their dorm rooms home by 10:00 am Thursday when their dorms will be closing.

The Plan:
After work on Wednesday, drive about 45 minutes to the campus, bring one of said freshmen and his possessions home. On Thursday, take the bus to work and let that freshman drive back down and bring back the other freshman and all his possessions, returning in time to make a 2:00 pm summer job interview.

The Reality:
On Wednesday after work, drive down about 40 minutes and, once near the campus, stop at a red light. When the light has turned green, find that the car has suddenly turned off and refuses to turn back on. After waving annoyed drivers past me, some using less than all fingers, make panic phone call to the two freshmen and ask them to take the bus to where I was and help me push the car to a less controversial part of the street. Make panic phone call to AAA. Passing tow truck from AAA comes by as the freshmen arrive. Freshmen get on bus back to their dorms without having had to push car. Make panic phone call to wife to try to arrange for a van rental tomorrow so the two freshmen will not be living in a refrigerator box outside their locked dorm. Tow truck brings car to the garage where, before going off duty, the driver transfers the car to another tow truck for the drive back home. Wife calls to say Rental Place "E" (nice people located up the street from the mechanic; preferred) was closed for the night so made on-line reservation with Rental Place "U" (nasty people located farther away; not preferred). Tip first driver. Make panic phone call to supervisor to say I won't be at work on Thursday. Along with wounded car, arrive back home with neither the freshmen nor any of their possessions. Tip second driver and reimburse turnpike tolls. Go inside, eat Chinese take-out.

Awake on Thursday, can't get mechanic on phone. Make reservation with Place "E" for cargo van; cancel reservation with Place "U." Pay a $50 cancellation fee. Take chance and drive to mechanic without appointment; he says no openings till next week. I leave car anyway. Not sure whether I'm more afraid he'll call and say it's a $2000 repair, or that he'll call and say he found nothing wrong. Thinking too how nice it's been the last couple of years no longer having to make car payments, and hoping I won't have to start up paying them again. Walk up the street, pick up the cargo van, drive down to college, the entire drive a reminder of how different, and therefore more difficult, vans are to drive when you're used to a regular car. Arrive at freshman 1 dorm, having figured out along the way where the turn signals and windshield wipers are on the van. Load up and drive him to the train so he can get back home in time for his interview. Drive to freshman 2 dorm, passing the spot at which I broke down the day before, load the freshman and all his possessions into the van. Get call from mechanic; repair can be done today and will cost about $280. I approve the work, trying to sound like I really know what a drive shaft is and why a damaged position sensor will cause the car to stall out. Arrive home, bring freshmen and their possessions into the house, wondering how their things grew so much from what we'd brought down back in August. Drive van to shopping mall where freshman 1 has interview. Drive back to Rental Place and return van. Walk down street to mechanic and pick up repaired vehicle. Drive back to shopping mall to pick up freshman 1 who, it turned out, never got to be interviewed because the manager hadn't shown up.

Return home, resolve to do nothing constructive tonight.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Editing Shakespeare

My, it's good to be back.

As I've noted previously, these past few weeks I've been reminded that writing new lectures takes a lot longer than putting a few updates into existing ones. I knew that, of course, but hadn't fully appreciated what "a lot longer" really means. It means "aaaaaaa llllllllllllot loooooooonger," so much so there's no time for writing anything else. With the new term now being over - and, I must mention, with my having been reminded why I like teaching so much (and, conversely, of how burnt out I'd become at my old teaching position without realizing it) - I can now ease myself back into what I pretend is a normal life. Your patience, dear readers, is very much appreciated.

Before today's main topic, I wanted to express a particular - and long overdue - thanks to loyal reader Lori for kindly including me as a recipient of her Kreativ Blogger award ( Now that I've been so flattered, I should probably write something.

Way back...and I do mean way back (ok, it was the fall of 1973), I had my bar mitzvah. For those not familiar with it, a bar mitzvah is a ceremony in which a young Jewish boy celebrates his passage into manhood with two traditional parts: a beautiful religious service, and a reception during which his classmates mix Coca Cola into the cole slaw. It's an important time, probably more so than a 13 year old is likely to understand, and it brings many memories. One of them was a gift I received from my oldest brother, a gift that then, as now, has great meaning and importance in the process of accepting the responsibilities that come with maturity.

He gave me a rifle.

More important than the rifle, which I still have, was the box it came in, on which my brother wrote the following (from Shakespeare's King Henry VI, Part III):
"My crown is in my heart, not on my head; Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, Nor to be seen: my crown is called content: A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy."
This past Sunday, it was my privilege to be part of another important growth passage, serving as best man at the wedding of a dear friend I've known since the first grade. (Yes, he was at my bar mitzvah, though there is no evidence to indicate he was involved in the mixing of deli salads with soft drinks.)

The best man has certain responsibilities, and two of the most important are the bachelor party and the wedding toast. I went the middle-aged route on the bachelor party: men gathered together at a good steak restaurant, eating manly things and telling manly stories, with entertainment provided by a magician friend. Not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "bachelor party" I suppose, and some of the men expressed some disappointment at that (my friend not being one of them), but it was self-preservation winning out over debauchery. And let's face it folks; at our age, given the choice between having a woman writhing on the table in front of us, and having a decent steak on the table in front of us, we're better off opting for the steak. (The evening was not without its wild side, of course. Most of us did wear Hawaiian shirts.)

In preparing the wedding toast, I remembered the Shakespeare quote and including it seemed wonderfully appropriate. The first draft said most of what I wanted to say, including the quote, but something seemed to drag in the reading. After a few more run-throughs, I realized it was the cherished quote. Not the quote itself, but my decidedly unexpert reading of it. Proclaiming the words of King Henry VI is one thing if you're Patrick Stewart in the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's quite another if you're Ben of Jersey City.

A second draft omitted the quote. Although the words read much more smoothly, they clearly lacked the soul I wanted them to have.

In the third draft, I gritted my teeth and did the unthinkable: I edited Shakespeare. My valued readers including several folks from Britain, a former actor, and other fine writers from here in the U.S., I am loath to admit committing so obvious an act of literary desecration, but I thought it better to 'fess up. In my defense, I offer that it was not done lightly, nor without good intent: better to edit and be understood than not to edit and not be understood. As Shakespeare would surely have said, "That be my story, a story it is to which I will stick.")

The toast, including my corrections to Mr. Shakespeare's writing, follows:

"They tell me there’s something like six billion people in the world. If one of life’s greatest joys is finding the one you want more than anything to spend the rest of your life with, I can tell you that it is a joy nearly as great to see it happen to a couple of wonderful people you care about a lot.

"In the course of getting to see each other grow up over the last 43 years, Tony and I have been through quite a few things, none of which we’re going to talk about right now. [pause] We don’t want the younger folks here to think we’re suggesting that sort of behavior is acceptable. [pause] It is not.

"I only know Jamie for a year or so. The difference – 43 years or 1 year – doesn’t matter. When two great people find that lightning strike of great compatibility, and then nurture it into a great love, it’s the easiest thing in the world to recognize. And when I met Jamie for the first time, my reaction was probably the same as that of most people here today. It took me about three and a half seconds, if that long, to say, “Man, they are so right together.”

"I think most of us know Tony is a goal-oriented guy, and one of the first goals I remember him setting for himself years ago was to make himself a millionaire. Keep in mind, in those days, two or three million dollars was considered a lot of money. It’s years later now and we’re all still working for a living, but I look around here today and see Maricel, and Marilyn [his daughters], their own beautiful families, and now Jamie, and I have to tell you something you no doubt already know. You made it. You are a wealthy man, my friend.

"Shakespeare once wrote, “My crown is in my heart, not on my head. Not decked with diamonds, not to be seen. My crown is called content and it is a crown that kings seldom enjoy.”

"Jamie, Anthony…in your new life together, every time you look at each other, every time you think of each other, every time your cel phone rings and you see from the caller id it’s the other calling, may you always, always, feel the crown of content, right there on those two beautiful, and now joined, hearts.

"Cento anni di salute e felicita!"

Here, though just barely, are a couple of photos that show both the fun, loving tone of the wedding, and the fact that you should never take wedding pictures with a cheap, disposable, camera. I call the first one, "Leave the gun; take the cannoli." The second is the toast itself.

Unrelated Item: "No, really, I AM running for re-election!"

Here in Jersey City we have an election for mayor coming up. (For my overseas friends, a "mayor" is something like a "queen," except a "mayor" doesn't do as much hard work.) Today at the train station I saw our Mayor Healy reaching out to voters at rush hour. I found it worth noting, and so share herewith in the video below, how the eager voters responded. (Remember, this is not some fringe candidate. This is the current mayor.) You can tell which one's the mayor. He's the one trying to get someone's, anyone's, attention.