Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things I Won't Miss About the Holidays

Well, they are all gone…..and I miss them. The kids, the grandchild, spouses, boyfriends have all moved on after a warm and happy holiday visit. On the whole it was a very successful and satisfying time. All major family groups and sub-groups were checked in with. Friends were wined and dined.

Still, as I sit in my easy chair gazing at the Christmas tree wondering whether I will put it out for the birds or just chuck it for pick-up, it occurs to me there are things I won’t miss about Christmas.

Father Bill’s Holiday Homily. We all pack up and head for Mass on Christmas Eve at the local parish. It is, in general, a very pleasant if not inspiring event: great decorations and good music are the highlights. The low-light is the pastor’s Christmas sermon. Any presentation (or at least the two I attend annually) usually contains references to the latest motion pictures, sometimes including reviews, and also to bodily functions. This year the theme was water and the good man was linking water with the divinity. He is not the first to do this. The Druids did it several thousand years ago and burned at the stake for it. He also did a clinical description on how our bodies use and excrete water. How this tied in to the higher message, I am not sure. The classic in this genre was the Jesus Farts homily he delivered a number of years ago. Granted, he was trying to make the point that Jesus was a human being, but he could have done it in a way that didn’t send the first three rows of the faithful into cardiac arrest.

Eating. Each year prior to the holidays I sit myself down for a lecture that goes like this:
“Look you do not have to shove everything that comes down the pike in the next two weeks in your pie hole. It’s embarrassing that you are always the guy with two plates at the buffet. Really, no one else even eats fruit cake. Do you really need three slices?” However, when the festivities start the little Christmas elf that lives in my hypothalamus starts to sing: “We need another cupcake, right this very minute….”

Snow. We have had more than our share of ice and snow this holiday season and I hate every infernal chunk and flake of it. Whenever guests are expected, I have to make sure every square inch of the place is shoveled and sanded and then hold my breath that someone doesn’t fall and test the boundaries of my home owners insurance. Every time I hear Bing whining about a white Christmas, I think that he didn’t deserve to die on a warm, sunny California golf course, but should have perished in a bone crushing fall on a snow covered Jersey walkway.

Christmas cards. The politics of Christmas cards in our household would give a Hapsburg diplomat the heebeejeebies. Weeks before the big day we review our lists and axe those people who have not sent us a card for two years. This is kindly Kathie’s policy. I have more of a hair trigger when it comes to non-senders and one slip up would dispatch them. Then there are the people on our list who send us a card every year, but we have either forgotten who they are, or never knew in the first place. We considered striking these people this year, but when Kathie mentioned a few names she was considering lopping, I countered by saying they sounded like my relatives and, in fairness, we should also strike some of the unknown that sounded like her relatives as well. A stalemate resulted and they all stayed.

Trips to the mail box are filled with angst or anger: either we will get a card from someone we didn’t include, or worse, realize we are not going to get a card from someone to whom we sent. I hope those rats realize they have entered their one year probationary period. Our response to getting a card from someone to whom we did not send depends on when we get the card. A few weeks before Christmas, and we fire one off to them, even if we don’t know who they are. A few days before the holiday and we are flumfloxxed. In our household, senders of cards that come after Christmas go on the probationary list because it is obvious that they only sent us one because we sent them one. Kathie has proposed that we either send e-cards or New Year’s cards to those we omitted. I don’t think e-cards count because you can’t clutter up the mantel and window sills with them like you can with real cards. Those who receive a New Year’s card will be pissed because they will think they have to send us one next year at a time when they believe they are clear of the whole stinking card mess.

The FedEx Guy. The regular delivery guy has a hard time finding our house, the holiday reinforcements are hopeless. We wind up chasing our packages all over creation. This year one showed up at our door with a nice and expensive looking package. A Wii, I’m thinking. Needless to say, it was not for us. On the way out, he backed over the spotlight that was a key element in my outdoor lighting display. We need another cupcake, right this very minute.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Naked Jen Aniston and Me

Jennifer Aniston appears on the Cover of the January 09 issue of GQ Magazine naked save a strategically placed necktie.

This apparently is big news. A few nights ago she presented the tie to David Letterman on live TV. This apparently is even bigger news.

This story caused a media firestorm. Just google “Aniston tie” and you will get some idea of what I am talking about.

I will not belabor the injustice of it all: you and I labor mightily at whatever we do and no one seems to notice, while Ms Aniston drops drawers and the world has an aneurism.

Still, I heard the sound of opportunity knocking. I have a web site,, that offers advice to men on how to dress and present a professional appearance. Not that they are interested. So far it has been about as successful as this blog. Still I saw the opportunity to ride Jen’s coattails (this is what is called a figure of speech since she wasn’t wearing a coat. I was going to say piggy-back but it sounded lurid.)

So I issued the following press release:

Aniston Could Have Found
A Match for That Tie

New York- Jennifer Aniston, who appeared naked on the cover of the January 09 issue of GQ Magazine wearing only a tie, could have benefited from a visit to the new fashion advise for guys web site.

“Obviously, she couldn’t find a shirt or suit to go with that boldly patterned necktie,” says Gerald Andersen, founder of and former Executive Director of the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association. “If she had visited my site and played the matching game, she would have realized that there are many stripe, plaid and check patterned shirts that coordinate beautifully with that tie.” The matching game is an interactive feature of the site that teaches visitors how to match patterned ties with patterned shirts.

He also takes issue with her choice of pattern. “The tie is the most expressive item of male apparel. You can find a tie that expresses any taste or personal interest,” he notes.
“If she had gone with a Labrador retriever theme tie, she could have gotten in a subtle plug for her new movie, Marley and Me. Women, who always look at a man’s tie, would have noticed and said ‘Hey, let’s go see that movie’ .”

“Clearly, the look works for her, but a guy showing up for a job interview similarly attired is going to have a problem,” Mr. Andersen cautions. also has tips and advice on how to dress for a job interview.

Since the tie is unknotted, she seems to have issues in this important accessorizing step.
Once again, comes to the rescue with step-by-step tie knotting directions. “Halle Berry, who appeared on the cover of the November Esquire wearing only a jacket, bra, and tie, got it right. The tie was perfectly tied and dimpled.”


Pretty slick, huh? I, of course, expect an avalanche of press on this and am already picking out my tie for the Letterman appearance. Either that or I will get a cease and desist from her lawyers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Holiday Party

I went into to New York City last week to attend the holiday party of an association of which I had been a member for many years.

After I was no longer working, I let my membership lapse. So I plopped down 85 bucks to attend as a non-member thinking it money well spent to touch base with old friends and network in the forlorn hope it may lead to employment.

The party was held at the shopping mall of the Time Warner Center in the showroom of a consumer electronics company. I was later told by one of the attendees that this is the latest trend in event planning: holding activities in commercial sites like stores and malls. I guess it makes sense because no one is using the stores anyway.

I made my way through the holiday shoppers and tourists and went up the escalator to the party site. I picked up my name tag and checked it out. In big letters it said “Gerald” and on the line below my full name. In the space where a company affiliation appears it had my name again. At least it didn’t say “Consultant” which is badge-speak for “Unemployed.” I scanned the crowd for familiar faces. There were few because, in a cost saving move, our group was co-sponsoring with several others. I spotted our Executive Director, a man I have known for 20 years, and went over to say hello. As I approached he smiled the tentative smile of the lost as his eyes went straight for my name tag. Either he was checking out my unique badge, or it was a case of out of association, out of mind.

It was an unpromising beginning. I wandered off to the men’s room. To get there you have to leave the cordoned area and mingle with the Uninvited. After washing up, I searched for a paper towel or blower. On the wall was a gizmo that resembled the kind of pants press you occasionally find in hotel rooms. I reasoned that this must be a hand press. I hesitated to put my hands in the device as I feared it would grip me and I might not be able to figure out how to release it. I would be trapped in the men’s facility. I had a flashback to the first grade when I inadvertently locked myself in the boy’s room stall and Sister Anita Therese had to crawl under the door to get in and release me. I will never forget the sight of her habit encased head glaring up sternly at me from the bathroom floor.

I dried my hands on my handkerchief.

As I was leaving, a homeless man was entering. He must have been going in to wash up and try out the new hand press because it was obvious from his cachet that he had already taken care of business.

Back at the party, I headed for the bar. My friend, David, greeted me there with the sobering news that they were not serving red wine. This is our libation of choice at these gatherings. I asked the bartender for an explanation and was told that red wine could not be served because it might stain the floor.

This left us bemused because the floor appeared to be some sort of industrial grade composite stone that people nowadays insist on having on their kitchen counters and the exact same stone that is used throughout the mall. If red wine can damage the material, I shudder to think what would happen if the homeless guy, a veritable walking sack of stone staining toxins, downloaded upon the stuff.

After chatting with old associates in the bar area, David and I wandered into the showroom where the younger attendees were playing with the many devices and gizmos on display. Since I couldn’t figure out the hand dryer, I thought it best to refrain from this activity. The last thing New York needs is another black out.

I asked a friend where she got the stuffed animal she was carrying. As a new grandfather, and an unemployed one, I am always on the prowl for free toys. She said if you have your picture taken with Santa he gives you a toy. After determining that I didn’t have to sit on his lap, I submitted to this procedure. Santa asked if I had been good and what I wanted for Christmas. I gave him an honest reply: a Porsche Boxter. He gave a jolly ho-ho and said: “Everyone has been asking for peace and prosperity. Finally someone has asked for some good shit.”

The resulting picture of two red faced, bearded, overweight, old men was too terrifying to ever show my grandson, or my wife.

I shoved the stuffed toy in my pocket and went forth into the cold New York night.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


This is my fiftieth blog.

That’s right the big Five-Oh.

When I started back in March, it was my goal to reach this number. Of course, I thought I would be picked up by New Yorker Magazine or the talent hunters in the book biz, who I assumed regularly prowled the internet, long before I reached it.

And since I tend to live in my own little world, I thought that blogging, while not a unique thing to do, was at least somewhat unusual. This is not true. There are a lot of bloggers out there. I have recently learned that there are 13 right here in town who are signed up at Blogspot. Califon has a population of 1,300 which means that one per cent is blogging. Sounds like a small number but if one per cent of the American citizenry is blathering away, it means there are 3 million bloggers out there from Blogspot alone.

One more thing about numbers: according to my SiteMeter, about 1,200 people have read these pages since I started. Of course, you have to factor in that SiteMeter counts me every time I go on to see who has been on. Since I do this about 10 times a day, this thins out the crowd of Wry Bother aficionados considerably. In fact, I suspect it produces a popularity rating for my efforts of near Bushian proportions.

I am aware that there are ways to pump up my readership. Writing about things that people are interested in would surely help. Using key words that people might Google is another way of suckering in readers. I noticed that many misguided souls seeking information about Irritable Male Syndrome land here because it is a subject about which I have written. I recently read that “sex”, “money”, and “big tits” are three of the most frequently Googled words. There, I’ve just increased my readership.

Had you read this, you might well have asked: “Jerry, which of your 50 (congratulations, by the way) essays is your favorite?” That would have been a very good question. I would have responded by saying that I like them all, but have a special fondness for “The Unemployment Office” (July 12) because that actual event was so surreal that the piece wrote itself. Weigh in with your choice and I may actually re-run it, thus sparing myself several hours of needless effort.

I will end with a poem (maybe someone Googling “doggerel” will land here) to mark this special occasion.

Happy 50th, Wry Bother, my favorite spot,
Full of wit, humor, and Tommy-rot.
There is no quit in this old dog
As my laptop I happily flog
Grinding out wit and drivel in equal measure
Because in so doing I take great pleasure.
It’s fine to be stroked by an adoring nation,
But there’s much to be said for self-gratification.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Deck the Walls

The outside Christmas decorations went up yesterday.

No Griswaldian displays for us, we are low key all the way. The colored light vs. white light dispute was resolved years ago when the colored adherents, the kids, left the premises.

Here are the Outside Decoration Commandments:
. Large wreath with white lights on gable end of the house highlighted by spot light.
. Large fir tree at front corner of house draped with white lights.
. Electric candles in every window.
. Spotlight highlighting front of house.
. Wreath on front door.
. Spotlighted wreath on barn.
. Skating frogs in front yard pond.

It takes me just moments to list these because I know them by heart. This is the way it is every year. My family is very tradition oriented when in comes to holiday trappings. If there is deviation from the scriptures above it will be commented on, noted, and complained about. I am as bad as anyone, I guess, because Christmas feels incomplete unless everything is in its assigned place.

The wreath in the gable is the keystone of our scheme and it is the most acrobatic installation I face. It requires my climbing to the porch roof, then to the kitchen roof, and from there, via stepladder, up to the gable. It’s easy enough in nice weather, but a challenge when there is snow on the roof. I take great care to avoid creating a headline like “Local Man Dies in Tragic Holiday Fall” for my neighbors to tsk and cluck over.

We like to think that the spotlighted wreath against the stone of the house creates a look that would please Andrew Wyeth……or at least Jamie Wyeth.

Placing the spotlight to shine on the front of the house is easy, but takes some tweaking. I know I have got it right when guests leaving the front door throw their arms over their eyes and stagger blindly down the path. One told me once that he thought he had stepped out into a police raid.

The real challenge is getting the lights on the tree at the corner of the house. Kathie suggested that I might not want to attempt it this year which inspired me all the more to do just that. I refuse to make compromises to age and circumstances, particularly when it comes to holiday decorating.

I used to be able to get all the lights on from a stepladder. However, the rapid growth of the tree combined with my equally rapid shrinkage has forced me to change my strategy. I duct tape two broom handles to a scrubbing brush, place the light cord on the brush and hoist it to the top of the tree. I then feed more cord and place it with the brush until I get to a point where I can finish flatfooted. I originally tried a rake but the wire would get tangled on the tines. The brush works nicely because it holds the wire in place without gripping it. So if you got to this page by Googling “putting lights on a tall outside tree”, I hope this helps.

Last year I wound up with the female end of the light string at the bottom. In some human endeavors female on bottom or on top is equally satisfactory. However, in tree light stringing it is an irreversible error. I had to start over.

Things went smoothly this year, though the damn tree swallows lights like a black hole. I ended up with about 1200 bulbs. Still, the total impact is worth it. Kathie said that the effect was so dramatic that it should be the town tree.

Not to boast, but she is right. The present town tree is a forlorn little fir that sits at the edge of the funeral parlor parking lot.

It used to be a modest, but handsome, tree next to the railway station museum. However, the gas company pronounced it a threat to its line that ran underneath and lopped it down. This was a tad on the Scrooge-ish side since it did not seem to bother them that the path of the line soon proceeds straight into a forest where it is surrounded by 40 foot trees.

However, caroling at the Califon tree lighting in the very shadow of the funeral parlor adds a gravitas to the festivities that visitors to the Rockefeller Center event never get to experience.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Thanksgiving Gift to America

I am the cause of the collapse of gas and oil prices.

Call this version of chaos theory the Andersen Effect.

Just as the Butterfly Effect posits that a butterfly flapping its wings in Guatemala causes a typhoon in Malaysia, my decision to purchase an expensive wood stove has sent the global petroleum market tumbling.

Back in the summer, when heating oil was around four bucks a gallon, Kathie and I decided to seek an alternate means of heating our house. With an old stone house and oil heat we were facing potentially devastating heating bills this winter. I crunched the numbers based on our usual consumption and panicked.

I envisioned that the only way we could stay warm was sweating over how to pay the oil tab. Based on the numbers I came up with, Kathie and I could close the house up and move to Florida for the winter for free. However, since I have a working wife this was not a possibility. I couldn’t persuade her that we could at least save half by shipping just me and my golf clubs south.

We decided on a wood pellet stove insert for our dining room fireplace. This is a very expensive piece of equipment costing twice as much as the new oil furnace we put in a few years. However, based on the price of oil at the time I calculated a two year payback on the investment.

In August, we purchased our stove from a local merchant. We were not the only ones seeking alternate solutions to heating problems, so the stove we wanted was backordered. We made a down payment and were assigned an October 31 installation date.

Since that time the price of oil has marched steadily downward.

I also learned that since I did my research, which included investigating the supply and price of wood pellets, a pellet shortage had developed. Of course, the prices shot upward as well.

Another sign that things may not be going our way was the freak blizzard that arrived on our delivery day postponing it for a week.

Finally, the thing was installed. I was informed that I could not use it until it had been inspected by the local fire officer. After it passed, the installer would return and complete the hook-up. It took a week to get the fire inspector on the premises because he couldn’t find our house and then got mad at us and sulked for a few days. After five minutes of poking and prodding the thing, he pronounced it passed.

I called the stove merchant and for another week could get no one to return my calls. On one occasion, the aged proprietor put the phone down with me onboard and wandered off to tend customers. He never returned.

Finally I decided that a trip to the store was in order. After all, these people install woodstoves, a mid-nineteenth century technology, and obviously hadn’t caught up with phones and the like.

After launching into my grumpy old man routine, it was agreed the installer would be back the next day to complete the work. Mike, a nice and eager, though somewhat disorganized young man, completed the task.

For two days the stove did its thing. It made noises like the boiler room of the Titanic in its death throes, but it heated the house. On the third day it stopped.

Mike returned and pronounced the heat distribution blower dead. This thing apparently has more blowers than the Tijuana Brass. He said he had some coming in and would return on Monday with a new one. I waited all day but he failed to appear. I guess his horse and wagon broke down.

He arrived today and after much grunting and groaning got the thing up and running again. It didn’t inspire my confidence when I asked if he thought this would take care of the problem and he responded: “I know as much about these things as the next guy.”

As the price of oil continues to drop, I find myself in the awkward position of rooting for a rally. At this rate my break even point is fading into my twilight years.

I guess I should feel like a good little butterfly. My decision to buy a pellet stove has enabled millions of Americans to pack up the gas guzzling SUV and head for grandma’s house this weekend after all. Happy Thanksgiving, America!

The Answers

Enough of you had trouble with the quiz (see last blog) that I think it would be well worth everyone’s while going over the answers in class. Okay. Get your papers out.

The challenge was to distinguish between actual Chinese proverbs and the faux variety coined by your humble instructor.

Here we go:
1. Beat your gong and sell your candles. This is an actual proverb. A contemporary American way of articulating it might be “advertising is an important part of your candle marketing strategy.”
2. Never link whole global economy to debt swap derivatives. This is not a Chinese proverb. Neither is it an American one, unfortunately.
3. Do not allow the sheep to die for a half-penny of tar. This one is real. I think it’s like “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”, which is not a Chinese proverb because very often the ancient Chinese did throw the baby out with the bath water.
4. Cold water makes a limp noodle. I confess but it expresses a universal truth in any language.
5. An unhappy pig tastes the same as a happy one. This may have fooled a lot of you because it sounds like an actual proverb. Not!! I had a chicken in there first but switched to a pig when I saw I had a chicken in the next one. As the Chinese say, too many chickens spoil the proverbs.
6. The weasel comes to say “Happy New Year” to the chicken. This is the real deal and I haven’t a clue what it means. I suppose it’s like “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” This refers to the Trojan horse. One time the Greeks screw up with a bad gift, and they hear about it for the next 3,500 years.
7. Never fart in silk pajamas. Good advise and deeper than it appears at first glance, but not a proverb.
8. Dead song birds make a sad meal. I couldn’t have made this one up.
9. Put the fat lady in the back of the row boat. Wise counseling that will be appreciated by anyone who ever put the fat lady in front, but not a proverb.
10. Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from a friend’s forehead. Except if your friend is a debt swap derivatives trader. This one is real.
11. Don’t believe the menu, it ALL contains MSG. This is me and I stand by it: it does all contain MSG
12. Falling hurts least those who fly low. I’ll bet you thought this one was a fake because the ancient Chinese didn’t have airplanes. Gotcha! It’s not. They had kites.
13. All people are your relatives, therefore expect trouble. I WISH I had written this.
14. Never bet on the eunuch to win the Most Eligible Bachelor contest. Me, again. It’s believable because eunuchs were commonplace in the Imperial Court. Also, it’s a well known fact that the Emperor Hon Lo was addicted to Most Eligible Bachelor contests because he always won.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Quiz

Let’s do something different.

My plummeting readership, if going from four to two is considered a plummet, leads me to believe I need to shake things up a bit for you not-yet-terminally-bored survivors.

How about a quiz? First off let’s make it clear that I am unemployed and broke, so there are no prizes. If you are the sort who likes to reward each of your life’s successes by going shopping, doing well on this test is as good an excuse as any. So consider this my effort to aid the ailing economy.

In my last blog, I made up a Chinese proverb. I did this for two reasons: comic effect; and I don’t know any real Chinese proverbs. Now in my opinion any writer worth his salt can quote Chinese proverbs, although no such writers immediately come to mind.

So I decided to broaden my literary range by Googling a list of Sino-Bromides (I invented this expression because I used Chinese proverb three times in the last paragraph).

Anyway, I found a site that had over 620 of them. So here is the game: From the list of proverbs below, you have to decide which are real and which are made up by little Norwegian-Irish-German-American me. The answers will be provided at the end of my next posting. Bet that’ll bring ya back, huh?

Pencils ready. Here we go:

One more thing, this particular form of humor used to be called Confucius Say jokes and was popularized by Burma Shave road signs in the 1930’s and declared Politically Incorrect during the Carter Administration.

Okay, here we really go:

1. Beat your gong and sell your candles.
2. Never link whole global economy to debt swap derivatives.
3. Do not allow the sheep to die for a half-penny of tar.
4. Cold water makes a limp noodle.
5. An unhappy pig tastes the same as a happy one.
6. The weasel comes to say “Happy New Year” to the chicken.
7. Never fart in silk pajamas.
8. Dead song birds make a sad meal.
9. Put the fat lady in the back of the row boat.
10. Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from a friend’s forehead.
11. Don’t believe the menu, it ALL contains MSG.
12. Falling hurts least those who fly low.
13. All people are your relatives, therefore expect trouble.
14. Never bet on the eunuch to win the Most Eligible Bachelor contest.

Okay. Pencils down. I hope you didn’t cheat by Googling. Confucius say person who cheat on dumb quiz is real lame-o.

By the way, don’t use the comment section to bug me for early answers. If that happens, I may decide to never release them. Remember: one bad apple spoils it for everyone.
That is not a Chinese proverb but the words of Sister Helen Maurice spoken in 1956 when she kept the whole sixth grade in because one misguided youth locked her in the stationery closet.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Monitor

My blood pressure has gone up.

I have had hypertension since senior year in college. It has been under control for years but bumped up on my last visit to the doctor. He decided that I should wear a monitor that would track my blood pressure for 24 hours before deciding if a change in medication was called for.

Nurse Phyllis fitted me out. Here’s the deal: a standard blood pressure cuff is installed on my arm and is attached by hose to a controller that hangs from my belt. As soon as she fired the thing up and it inflated, gripping my arm like a boa constrictor on steroids, I started to whimper and cry. She responded: “You have such big arms that we have to use our biggest cuff and it is still a bit too tight.” I quieted down immediately. Nurse Phyllis, a trained professional, knows that stroking a man’s ego is the best way to stop his whimpering.

She explained that the controller would beep several times before the cuff inflated. This would give me time to get my arm in position to get the best reading. It would take a reading every hour. I was to record in a preprinted log what I was doing at the time. The log had three columns labeled time, activity, and position. The position column offered only three options: standing, sitting, and lying. I suppose this would discourage people who were inclined to engage in sex while wearing this contraption from putting down things like “missionary” and “flying monkey”

As I leave, I take stock of my situation. The controller is not exactly an Ipod. It weighs at least 2 pounds and immediately starts pulling my pants south. There has to be at least six feet of hose from the controller to the cuff. Unfortunately, since the distance from the controller to the cuff on my arm is a foot or two at the most, this leaves four feet of hose hanging outside my pants.

Also to the casual observer, it looks like the hose is going down my pants and not up my shirt. I decide to forgo the trip to Shop Rite and Wal-Mart I originally planned. I really wanted to avoid hearing the following conversation on the check-out line:
First woman: “Why does that old man have a hose going into his pants?”
Second woman: “Maybe he's getting his cellar pumped."
Also, beep is an understatement. This thing sounds like a UPS truck backing up and will terrify small children and the elderly when it goes off in public.

This of course, is followed by the sight of my arm blowing up like Bruce Banner’s as he morphs into the Hulk.

I decide that the day, a rainy one anyway, is best spent on quiet activities at home.

As the hours go by I dutifully record my activities. As I read them, I begin to feel self-conscious:
1:00 PM watching TV
2:00 PM watching TV
3:00 PM watching TV
4:00 PM watching TV
Etc., etc.

When the doctor sees this he is going to think I don’t have a life. So I start zipping things up with activities like: “inventing”, “hypothesizing”, “parsing”,"dissecting" and (my favorite) “cogitating.”

Soon it is time for bed. Nurse Phyllis told me that the beeping stops automatically after 11:00, so I don’t have to worry about that. The main problems are that it is going to wake me up as it cuts off circulation to my arm, and where to park the controller and 6 feet of hose. I decide to put the controller under my pillow. I wake up during the night, but I am able to get back to sleep.

When I wake up at 7:00 AM the hose is wrapped around my neck. Kathie, all too familiar with my nightly contortions, says she is surprised I didn’t manage to get the cuff wound around my neck.

I am done. I find the off switch and shut the thing down.

As I am packing things up, I see a list of do’s and don’ts on the back of the log. It is my modus operandi to always read the directions after things have gone haywire. Sure enough, Don’t Numero Uno is “NEVER TURN THE CONTROLLER OFF UNLESS THERE IS AN EXTREME EMERGENCY.”

Oh well, I hope it is idiot proof. I have been hoping that a lot lately. I don't think I will tell Fearsome Phyllis.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Almost Voted. I Think.

Well it has happened again.

Faced with a new device that performs a well-established function, I again went into Consternation Mode. This is happening so frequently that I suspect yet another of my brain functions has wandered off. Last week it was my run in with the McCormick salt grinder (see Salt Shaker Blues). This week it was the voting booth that bamboozled me.

Like putting salt on my food, I really thought I had this one down. Califon is a small town so every vote counts. That’s why I try to vote in every election. It’s not like it’s something new to me.

And I really wanted to weigh in on this the most important Presidential election in years.
This being so important and all, you might think I would have troubled myself to read the voting instructions on the sample ballot that was mailed before the election. You would be wrong. In the first place, I don’t usually read directions unless I break something that I am operating without having read the directions. In the second place, the ballot went out with the recycling on Monday.

As I enter the electronic voting booth I am faced with the ballot. What I do not see is any obvious box or button that I can push to place my vote. Immediately I am in Consternation Mode. I resort to reading the directions. It says to push the button to the right of the candidate's name to record your vote. Still not seeing a box, I push next to the candidate of my choice’s name. A green light goes on at the top of the column, but I see no indication next to the name that I have placed my vote for him. If I push again, the green light goes off. Now I hear the impatient shuffling of feet outside the booth. I fear I am seconds away from hearing the booming voice of the chief election lady cry out “WHAT IS HE DOING IN THERE!!!.

Now I am in Panic Mode. I cannot believe that I am screwing up voting. I push a bunch of buttons, record my vote, and leave the booth. The only vote I am absolutely positive I registered was for a public question that “provides that method of selection and appointment of certain municipal judges be set by statute rather than by the constitution.” This is a very important issue I am sure, but not why I shaved and put on a clean shirt to come out and voice my opinion.

Later in the day, I am telling Elisabeth about my difficulties executing my democratic privilege. She tells me not to worry because Oprah had problems with the voting booth as well.

I wondered if her problems were similar to mine. That evening I saw an interview with her and she said she was so excited about the prospect of Obama becoming President that she was “throbbing” and “pulsating.” Well I was for Obama as well (now it can be revealed), but I was not suffering from this condition. I was in the booth long enough that I think the chief election lady suspected I was throbbing and pulsating in there, but I was not. In some situations I do throb and pulsate, like when I am thinking about my supper, but I voted in mid-morning so this was not a factor. Being familiar with the condition, I could sympathize with Oprah if she was afflicted while in the voting booth.

In any case, the election was a rout so it didn’t matter. As the old Chinese proverb says: “All leaves fly before a strong wind.” Actually, this is not a Chinese proverb. I just made it up as I am sitting here watching my neighbors strategically placed pile of leaves blow into my yard.

I am beginning to throb and pulsate.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Salt Shaker Blues

Charlie, Ray and I, the tres retired amigos, took a road trip the other day out to Famous Cigars in Easton, Pa.

After loading up on enough stogies to smoke out an anti-Bush rally, we headed for lunch at a local burger joint.

When our food arrived, my first move, as usual, was to reach for the salt shaker. Don’t tell my doctor, but I put salt on everything. I would even salt my ice cream if it wasn’t for that whole melting thing.

Now in my 63 years, one thing I thought I had mastered was the use of a salt shaker.
As is my wont, I inverted the shaker and shook. Nothing came out. I realized that this was a salt grinder, not a shaker. This was something new to me. I also noticed that it had a McCormick label on it. I turned it right side up and twisted the top as one would a pepper mill. No salt was forth coming for the simple reason that there were no holes in the bottom. So, I turned it upside down and vigorously twisted the top. In the dim light, I thought I could see salt landing on my burger. Satisfied, I dug in.

Soon after, Ray, who apparently had some experience with this sort of contrivance, picked up the shaker. He turned it upside down and removed the cap. Approximately a teaspoon of freshly ground salt landed in a pile on his potato chips. “Well”, he said, “There’s all the salt Jerry ground into the cap.” This was not said in a critical or reproachful tone, but just as a statement of fact. Chagrined, all I could say was “What do you expect? I was an English major in college?”

Later, the more I thought about this the angrier I got. The old system worked for me: a couple of holes in the top of a container. No password, no PIN, no technological ability required. What is the advantage of freshly ground salt? It’s laid in the ground for a few million years. How fresh can it be? What I don’t need in my life is more opportunities to embarrass myself.

I decided, because I was mad and because I have too much time on my hands, to take this up with the folks at McCormick.

Here is a summary of the e-mail I sent them:

Dear Sirs/Madams,

I recently had an unfortunate experience with one of your products while lunching at a restaurant with my friends, Ray and Charlie. (Here follows a description of the tragic events) The teaspoon or so of salt I had ground into the cap landed on his burger rendering it inedible. Charlie was so traumatized by this that he could not finish his lunch. I, mortified by my failure to realize there was a top and for being the cause of ruining Ray’s meal, was similarly indisposed.

Now I am not seeking compensation or a free supply of McCormick products for my friends, but I would like you to explain why you would unnecessarily complicate what had always been a very simple task: salting one’s food. Do we not all face enough complications in life without adding new ones?

I would appreciate a quotable response as I would like to include in my widely read blog.

Thank you for your prompt reply.

Jerry Andersen
Wry Bother

Now let’s examine this letter which I think is a masterpiece. Ray’s meal was not rendered inedible. The salt landed on some chips which he shook off and consumed. Charlie was not traumatized, unless mild amusement is traumatic. And nothing puts me off my feed, certainly not embarrassment. This is what I call Strategic Misrepresentation, because contrary to the next paragraph, I am, in fact, seeking compensation and/or freebies. Hey, I just priced out some McCormick’s dill and they want four bucks for a jar of dead weeds. Who’s conning who?

If I had said I was seeking compensation or free stuff, the letter would land on the desk of some lawyer who would do what all lawyers do….nothing.

By sounding like a journalist seeking the truth, they might decide to schmooze me by sending a few crate loads of over-priced herbs and spices. Pretty slick, huh?

The reference to my “widely read blog”,however, is not a Strategic Misrepresentation, but a big, fat lie.

It has been two hours since I sent this and I have still not had a reply.

Since you are probably as anxious as I to drop this subject and move on, here is what I imagine their response might be.

“Dear Mr. Andersen,

We regret your difficulties with our new Saline Delivery System. This device was extensively tested on animals in our lab before it was released into the market. Our standard is that if a chicken can operate it, the average consumer should have no problem.
In this case, we did not feel that chicken had the manual dexterity to operate the grinder so we sought out the dumbest primate we could find, in this case, the Malayan Lemur.
After one demonstration, the lemur successfully salted his nuts ten times.

While we cannot offer you free products at this time, we can offer you a position in our test lab as the lemur succumbed to hypertension.

Here is a step by step explanation of how to operate the devise (if there is a big word you don’t understand, let us know and we will send you a simpler one.)

. Remove cap by pulling upward (^)
. Turn bottle upside down (The M in McCormick should now resemble a W)
. Twist bottle neck in any direction you prefer.
. The appearance of white flakes on your food indicates salt is being dispensed.
. Reverse the procedure and replace bottle next to the pepper.”

That’s what I would write if I was their PR guy, but they may not be as snotty as I. Anyway, I have to sign off now and see if I can figure out my new talcum powder grinder.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Howie Said

The other day I learned from Howie Mandel that I have Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

I was channel surfing when I stumbled upon Howie talking about how he was diagnosed with AADD. At least I think it was Howie. Maybe it wasn’t. Anyway he was that bald guy with an earring who hosts a quiz show that I have channel surfed through a number of times.

In any event, my attention wandered before he was finished, so I moved on. However, his discussion of the symptoms got me thinking: that’s me!

My chronic lack of organization and procrastination may stem from a certifiable disorder rather than poor potty training as I have always thought.

It also excited me to think that I may now have both a disorder and a syndrome; since Kathie insists I already suffer from Irritable Male Syndrome. Handicap license plates seem like a real possibility. No more trudging a half mile across the parking lot to get to the liquor store.

Before I let myself get too excited though, I reflected on the fact that I have been down this road many times before. It goes back to my college days in psychology 101. Each time a new neurosis or psychosis was discussed, I was sure they were talking about me. I was convinced I was a lobotomy candidate by the end of the semester and even affected a black watch cap like Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

My first and last step in self-diagnosis was Wikipedia. We AADD types like Wikipedia because it gives us a great deal of superficial information before we lose interest in what we are doing.

The discussion of AADD lists the 21 signs that you might have the disorder. Here are a few highlights of my self evaluation:
. Sense of underachievement. This blog sucks!
. Difficulty getting organized. My sock drawer speaks for itself.
. Chronic procrastination. Like waiting until your 63 to find out you have AADD.
. Many projects going simultaneously…poor follow-up. This is hard because I don’t have many projects going simultaneously. In fact, I don’t have any. But if I did, I know I wouldn’t be following up on them.
. Easy distractibility…..tendency to tune out in mid conversation. Kathie is nodding her head and giggling.
. Inaccurate self-evaluation. Does this mean maybe I don’t have AADD because I think I do? I’m getting a headache..

Of the 21 signs, I have myself down for 20. The only reason I don’t think I have #9, “creative, intuitive, highly intelligent”, is because I do have #19, “low self-esteem.”

Now I know what you are thinking: most everyone has these symptoms. However, you are missing the point: this is about me. If you care so much about everyone else, read their damn blogs. Sorry, please excuse my Irritable Male Syndrome.

The depressing thing is that, according to the Wikipedia article, AADD results in a loss of $77 billion in income. Even if I had been able to hang on to a just a couple billion of it, my pension would be in a lot better shape today.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Leaf Me Alone

Here they come.

First they waft down in twos and threes in mid-October like scouts or pickets probing for the enemy’s weakness. Later in the month the main body arrives in their thousands, their legions, their hordes.

Falling leaves. Frank Sinatra can break your heart singing about them, and you can break your back cleaning them up. They are the price one pays for a shady yard and the magnificent display of fiery color we have been enjoying these past few weeks.

Well, the price some people pay. It seems I am the only homeowner in the area who does not have an illegal immigrant to clear up Mother Nature’s litter. I have always done my own leaves. We looked into hiring a yard service, but found they would charge $500 to clean up our modest little yard. Kathie, my wife and Finance Minister, said it would be better if I did it again. “You have nothing else to do and it would save us a lot,” she said. “It would be like working again and earning money.”

Yes, I remember those days, but frankly, I would rather have a paper route. But she is right in a way; it would be like working again: slaving away and not actually seeing the money.

Although we have a small yard, we have four large trees that spew a staggering amount of leaves into a very small space. When our kids were little, they enjoyed making huge piles and jumping off the porch roof into them. No kidding.

There are three maples, a horse chestnut, and an almost dead cherry tree. The horse chestnut is the worst. It not only puts forth leaves, but not surprisingly, chestnuts. When these fire out of the discharge port on my mower they become deadly missiles that can fell a grown man like a…..well, like a tree. I have often considered donning the kids’ old soccer shin guards to fend off the bruising chestnut wounds. I have to admit that I enjoy firing a few in the direction of our neighbor’s cat as she sashays through our yard on her way to wreak slaughter at my bird feeder. She can really levitate her fat feline ass as she dives for the trenches.

Since I know what these leaves look like, it really burns me up when I find alien species amid my native domestic crop. This means the ill winds of fortune are delivering the neighbors' output to my turf. I would like to sort each and every one out and return them with a sharply worded note. Now I am sure it works the other way as well, since I have been known to use the Prevailing Wind Direction approach to leaf cleanup. Still, it is human nature to assume one is getting the short end of the leafy stick.

We have to bag our leaves in Califon and leave them at the curb for pickup. In a typical season, I put out 50 bags of mulched leaves. Without mulching, I would probably put out more like 150 bags. This takes hours of work.

Here are the tools of my trade: leaf blower with vacuum attachment, several rakes, lawn mower and plastic garbage barrel. My modus is to blow the leaves into a pile, run the mulching mower over them, and vacuum the mulch into the bag lined barrel.

A word here about leaf blowers: I hate them. In October and November the drone of leaf blowers is the background music of our lives. My neighbor runs his 24/7. In bed at 11:00 clock we are lulled to sleep by the whine of his blower. I have to admire him though. He is a true warrior and engages each and every individual leaf in hand-to-hand combat. A leaf appears, and he is on it before it hits the ground. I prefer to let things pile up a bit before starting the mass destruction.

When people approaching the house are only visible by their hats, it is time to start leaf clean up.

I keep trading up my leaf blower. They all stink, as far as I can tell. My current model says it blows air at 230 mph. A 230 mph wind will flatten a city, but this thing can barely move you’re shoelaces, much less a leaf clinging for its survival to the grass.

I have tool envy for the commercial guys who wear these backpack blowers that look like the flame throwers the Marines used on Iwo Jima.

The powers-that-be keep making the job more difficult as well. You used to be able to burn your leaves and the fall air was filled with the pungent aroma. Plus, burning leaves was fun; at least if you were a guy for whom burning things is always fun. Now we have leaf blower gas fumes.

This year someone has decided that plastic bags are a no-no. We now must use paper bags. I bought some at the hardware store yesterday and they are more expensive than plastic, hold less, are more difficult to work with, and when filled must be stored indoors until pick-up day. So now anyone who lives close enough to the river to blow their leaves into will do so, or hire a yard service.

I will soldier on paper bags and all.

Although I sometimes wonder what would happen if I just left the leaves to their own devises. Let nature take its course. What could be more environmentally correct?

Plus I wouldn’t have to mow the damn grass in the spring.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hung Up

It was a beautiful Indian summer day in Califon. After some internal debate, I decided to go fishing. I have not been retired long enough not to feel guilt about doing recreational things during the workday. I rationalized that there would only be a few more days like this before we settle into another cold and drab winter.

So I packed my guilt and my gear and went fishing. I decided to select a spot along the river where I haven’t fished before. The area I chose was along a bend about a mile from my house. There is enough room to park one car. A trail leads through the woods to the river.

To access the trail you can either go around the guardrail through a thick undergrowth of flora bunda and poison ivy, or you can go over the rail.

The top rail is made of wood, maybe a 6x6, and is several feet off the ground. There is a drop off of a foot or so on the trail side.

I donned my chest high waders and put on my vest. During warmer months I wear shorts underneath, but today I was wearing jeans.

Since I really didn’t feel like plowing trough poison ivy, I chose to go over the rail. I often wish my body and mind would get on the same page when faced with these situations. My brain looks at things from the perspective of a thirty year old: “Leap that ditch? Sure no prob.” While my aching body is like “you gotta be kidding.”

I managed to get my left leg over the rail. I hate to admit it, but I actually had to partially lift it up to get it started. Now I was astraddle the rail with several inches between my feet and the ground.

The problem is immediately apparent. I cannot get my right leg over the rail, and, because of the drop off on the trail side, I can’t get my left leg in contact with the ground.

A touch of arthritis in my right hip is partly to blame, but my waders are the major issue.
There is no doubt that I have chubbed up a bit since I retired and because I am wearing jeans, there is little slack to be had in my waders. They are too tight for me to move either leg upward. Michelin Man, meet the guardrail.

I am hung up. Beached. Stranded.

I consider my options. I can call Kathie. She, however, is hard at work while I have gone fishing. My male pride removes this from the table.

I can flag down a passing motorist. There is little traffic on this rural road and what there is consists mainly of stay-at-home moms running errands. What woman is going to stop and check out an overweight man in the missionary position atop a guardrail? I wouldn’t want the woman to stop who would stop in such a situation.

I could fish out my cell phone and call the fire company. They could rescue me like I was a large stranded cat. With one burly lad grabbing me under the arms and one on each leg, I would be out in a flash. However, I have lived in this town many years and know most of these guys. It would be chuckled about for generations.

Also, the incident would surely make the police blotter section of the local paper.
I could see the story: The Califon fire department was called out to rescue Jerry Andersen who was stranded astride a guardrail. He was treated for acute humiliation at the scene and released.

No. I was going to have to get out of this on my own. I could just throw myself off to the right and land head first, or gimpy shoulder first, in the parking lot. A last resort.

I undid the suspenders on my waders and managed to shove them down far enough to get some slack in the legs. I was then able to lift and drag my right leg over the rail.

Free at last, free at last………

I went fishing, but I didn’t catch anything.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Driving New Jersey

People in New England don’t drive like we do in New Jersey.

For example, they just mosey onto the interstate without looking. All of them. Everyone. I have even had New Englanders try to tell me that cars accessing the highway have the right-of-way and vehicles already on the road must yield. That is not the case here. In New Jersey we are taught that if you are coming onto the highway, you must speed up or slow down to merge seamlessly with the flow of traffic. This is purely theoretical of course since traffic on the interstate is usually at a complete standstill anyway.

I can see why they had to change things around in New England. The typical New England driver cannot see out his rear windshield because it is totally encrusted with Red Sox decals. Nor can he look over his left shoulder because the brim of his Sox cap will bump into his visor. Since all he can do is pull on the road and hope for the best, the states had to accept reality to prevent needless slaughter and preserve the Sox fan base.

Not that we are such great drivers in New Jersey. Our state motto should be “We Will Not Yield.” New Jersey drivers will not let another driver in… no way, no how. Drivers in other states are not so dogmatic. Despite their fearsome reputations, New York City drivers will let other cars in ahead of them. Usually they do so by swerving into the next lane and cutting that driver off who swerves into the next lane, etc., etc.

It is not so in New Jersey. Even if you innocently find yourself in a pickle because of roadwork or a stalled vehicle in your lane, Jersey drivers will not let you in. They will creep forward until their bumper is locked with the car in front. They will stare icily ahead, never making eye contact with the motorist seeking salvation. Most New Jersey drivers would rather have an accident than yield to another driver. We pay the highest auto insurance rates in the country; we might as well get something for it.

The only chance you might have of getting in is for your wife or female companion to roll down the window and plead with the other driver that she is with child and due to deliver momentarily. Even this doesn’t always work because many Jerseyans take a dim view of adding another child to the school rosters, thus pushing their already insane property taxes even higher.

Yielding not only costs you your position and possibly delays you reaching your destination by a few nano seconds, it is perceived as an insult to your manhood and self-respect.

The worst form of this is what I call “Getting Taken From the Rear.” This happens on state and county roads that go back and forth from one lane to two. These two lane stretches are usually provided on the upslope of steep hills or to accommodate access to the ubiquitous Jersey strip mall. During these short two lane stretches, everyone is either trying to advance his position or resist Getting Taken From the Rear. Slow drivers will speed up and occupy the left lane, daring anyone to pass them on the right. Faster more aggressive drivers will rocket in the right hand lane trying to knock off as many slower cars as possible before the road goes back to one lane.

And that, of course, is the moment of truth. Someone will dominate, and someone will Get Taken From the Rear. The Taken driver will feel a sense of humiliation and violation that will remind him of his times in the showers at Rahway State Prison.

Another thing about Jersey drivers is that apparently we believe we are the only ones who know how to drive a traffic circle. I have seen this on several “You are from New Jersey if” joke sites: “You are from New Jersey if you know how to drive a traffic circle.”

In New England they call them rotaries. This confuses the New Jersey driver to whom a Rotary is a social/business club. If he sees a sign that reads “Rotary Ahead” he will be having a warm and fuzzy vision of sharing a few coldies with insurance brokers in polyester sport coats and loud ties only to find himself navigating the incomprehensible complexities of a traffic circle that no one but he knows how to drive (“keep moving, you idiot!”).

Anyway, I have come full circle. I think I will go for a ride.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Hey, Lay Off McCain

I got your hopes up there when you read the title. You thought: “He is going to write a political piece. At last some meat in this content free stew he calls a blog.”

Not so fast. In the first place, I don’t like your tone. In the second, I wanted to see how many googlers and spiders would wind up on my blog if I mentioned McCain in the title. I am told that, although it sounds like a halloween party, having googlers and spiders is a good thing.

As I said before, I know nothing about anything and even less since Kathie cancelled my subscription to the New York Times.

Thus, I know little about McCain’s positions. I slept through half of the first debate and spent the other half flipping back to the Food Channel when it was his turn to speak. Hell, I didn’t want to miss ALL of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” It’s not that I don’t care; it’s just that I made up my mind a long time ago. Besides, I am the type who likes to cover his eyes when he sees a train wreck coming.

However, I don’t think it is fair that everyone is getting on McCain because he is an elder. By the way, I prefer “elder” to the more common “senior”. Elder suggests wisdom and respect, as in “village elder.” It also suggests a position one is elected to rather than arrives at via the passage of time. Senior brings back memories of those smug wise asses we all hated when we were underclassmen and someone who is about to graduate and move on to the University in the Sky.

Anyway, every comedian in the world has been having a field day with the fact that he is on in years. There have even been serious suggestions that he agree to a one term limit because he will be 106, or whatever, when he starts his second term. If one of these politicos started that with me, I would tell him: “Yo, whipper-snapper, your heart could explode at any given second. Then who would have the last laugh?”

I for one am not worried about his age. It's not that big of a deal to make sure that the nuclear launch button is not hooked up to his Clapper.

Some people also think it is a negative that he is not computer savvy. It’s OK with me. I would prefer my president to not have a FaceBook page. And he won’t spend the next four years blogging, chatting, gaming, trolling, texting and prowling porno web sites. No, I wasn’t referring specifically to Bill Clinton.

Besides, as I can personally attest, taking a nice little nap is far more productive than blogging.

And, so what if his cell phone is a Jitterbug?

He does seem to have a touch of Irritable Male Syndrome, however. That may be a good thing. Someone has to tell Chavez, Kim Il Jung and the rest of the neighborhood brats to stay the hell off our lawn.

Anyway, Palin can stop by the White House on her way from dropping the kids at soccer practice and make sure he has enough tuna and tea bags and is keeping himself clean.

That’s as political as I am going to get. This elder feels a nap coming on.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Portrait of a Lady

Well, she is gone. Out of my life. Adios. Hasta la vista.

I know she has gone to a better place. Being housed in my barn took a toll on her.

An early bird at the Califon town yard sale last week bought the mid-nineteenth century portrait of a woman that I acquired at an auction years ago. I paid a hundred bucks for her. She hung for many years in our living room before being banished to the barn.

It was 7:30 AM and I was getting ready for the sale that kicked off at nine. I was just pulling the furniture I planned to sell out of the barn when a black Mercedes pulled up the lane. Out popped a petite middle-aged woman who immediately began poring over the furniture I had just dragged out. “I’m not interested in any of this,” she declared while slipping past me into the barn. “What else are you selling from in here?”

The lady, hanging in a dark corner, seemed to shout: “Me! Me! Me!”
“I suppose I could part with the portrait,” I said. She was interested.

We took her out into the daylight for a better look. She’d seen better days (the portrait that is). Some mold had grown on her nose. The layers of dust and grime hid the great swaths of paint I had inadvertently removed in an ill-advised cleaning effort.

“I suppose I could take a chance for $100”, the early bird said. Sold and she and the lady were gone.

I texted my daughter, Elisabeth, that I sold the lady. She immediately fired back: “No way!!!”

Elisabeth always hated and was spooked by this painting. When she was little she would not be in the living room alone with her ladyship.

The portrait shows a middle-aged woman with curls piled on her head and with what I would describe as a forlorn expression, neither menacing nor severe. To me she always resembled a depressed Joan Baez after a bad perm.

Elisabeth was not the only one uncomfortable with the painting. Most of her friends shared her unease. In fact, we later learned that several older girls declined to baby-sit for us because they thought Joan Baez was giving them the evil eye.

So she was replaced by a non-threatening portrait of a child and packed off to the barn.

There she hung for a few years. Kathie felt that it was foolish to hang a potentially valuable painting in the barn and, now that Elisabeth was a few years older, we should find a place for her in the house. We decided on the upstairs hall. In those days, with the long commute, I usually didn’t get to these kinds of projects until after the kids went to bed. So I fetched the picture, took down the one in the hall, and replaced it with her ladyship.

Later, in the deepest, darkest night, Elisabeth awakened, troubled by a dream that the woman in the portrait was chasing her. She got up to go to the bathroom for a drink, turned on the hall light, and came nose to canvas with her nemesis.

She let out a scream that would not only have awakened the proverbial dead, but would have caused him to run for his life as if he had one.

Twice in my life I have been awakened from a sound sleep to find myself standing in the middle of the room. The first time was during my childhood when the abandoned house across the street blew up. This was louder.

After we quieted the poor child, I traipsed out to the barn with the portrait in tow and there she has hung until last Saturday.

Elisabeth called shortly after the early bird and her prize had left. “I am so glad you got rid of that picture,” she said. “It has a really weird vibe. I am sure your luck will greatly improve now that she is gone.” Hold on sec. I am in good health, retired, and supported by a working wife. What’s so bad about my luck?

Anyway, I expect to see the Baez ancestor again. She will either show up at my door with a note from the early bird begging me to take her back. Or worse, I’ll see her on Antiques Road Show all primped up and worth thirty grand.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Great White Whale

Moby Dick is my favorite novel. The 1956 John Huston film starring Gregory Peck as Ahab is my favorite movie and for my money perhaps the adaptation of a novel to the screen.

The film recently aired on Channel 13 and seeing it inspired me to do a woodcarving based on the great white whale.

I was looking for a dramatic idea for a piece that I could enter in a prestigious art show in Buck’s County. Also, I have a perfect spot for it in the house. This is important, since I have never been able to sell any of my works, they must all find a home with Kathie and I.

About a year ago we purchased an old New England sea chest that resides in the upstairs hall of our house adjacent to my closet. Kathie has given me carte blanche to decorate this area in any way I choose. Actually, this is carte semi-blanche since there are some constraints on what I am allowed to display. For example, my Indian artifacts are out because they scratch the furniture. The photo of Jack Nicklaus and I is also out. Why I don’t know, but it keeps winding up back in my dresser drawer.

I have chosen a nautical theme since I have a few pieces of scrimshaw. A model made by my grandfather of the whaling ship he sailed on in his youth also sits on my dresser top.
Moby would be the perfect addition to this collection.

I had ten days to whip this thing up for the show. I carved like a fiend, as monomaniacal as old Ahab himself. My X-Acto knife was my harpoon as I stabbed and carved life into the great white whale. Wood chips were everywhere: in my beard, in my food, in my bed, on my wife. Finally, as Michelangelo wrenched David from a block of marble, Ahab and his nemesis emerged from my scraps of #2 pine. Ta-da! My masterpiece was complete. And a giant it is at 2 1/2 feet long and 2 feet high.

Next step: haul the Colossus of Califon to Bucks County for the big show. This is a juried event. A panel of la-di-da judges passes on the entries and admits only the worthy. I was blissfully unafraid in my ignorance.

First surprise: there was a line a block long of artists submitting their work. We all shuffled along dragging our artwork behind us. One poor man staggered along in a pornographic embrace with a life size wooden statue of a nude upside down woman. A very nice young artist in front of me, whose specialty is painting pictures of smooth stones on smooth stones, told me it was kind of hit or miss whether one’s work was accepted. She said that some years she got in, others not. I guess it depends on how the judges feel about smooth stones from year to year. I was not worried. Moby was a lock. And, like Ahab, I might have exhibited some hubris as I was pondering whether I should wear a turtleneck or a tie to the artists reception

Several days later a letter arrived. Moby was not accepted. That’s the words they used: “Not Accepted.” I was stunned. The great white whale was harpooned and sent to the bottom with old Ahab on his back, just like in the book. I was told to pick up my work on a specific date or I would be charged five bucks a day.

I couldn’t make it on that date so I called the Chairman of the show to arrange to pick it up on another occasion. She asked why my gallery rep couldn’t come for it. I did not inform her that I did not know what a gallery rep was, never mind have one, but lied and said she was too busy delivering my works to eager buyers.

When I got Moby/Ahab back it had a paper taped on with a big, red “N” (as in “not accepted”). I was going to leave it on as a part of the piece’s history and to bring the big fellas down a peg or two. Kathie removed it.

So now Moby is docked on my sea chest where he will sit until the tide of artistic appreciation rises and launches him on the sea of fame and fortune…or until my grandson knocks him over.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sam's Club Reject

I just got bounced from Sam's Club.

For those of you who have been in solitary confinement for the past dozen or so years, Sam’s Club is not a topless bar as the name suggests but a Wal-Mart spin-off that charges you a $40 per year membership fee for the privilege of buying the same crap you can buy in Wal-Mart. This only works in a society where the citizens gladly pay a dollar a bottle for liquid refreshment that comes straight from their taps free for nothing.

The gig is that by buying the crap in gargantuan quantities, Uncle Sam passes the bulk savings on to you, the savvy club member. By the way, Sam is none other than Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart. He is dead, so I am not so sure I want to be a member of his club anyway.

Don’t go there to pick up a roll of toilet paper. If, however, you need a pallet of the stuff, enough to wipe every behind in Cleveland with enough leftover to supply an entire middle school on Mischief Night, then Sam’s is your kind of place.

I don’t buy into the club concept. Why should I pay forty bucks just to go shopping? It’s not like there are any other privileges that go with it or that it is prestigious. When was the last time you saw “Member of Sam’s Club” on someone’s resume?

The savings are not that terrific either. I do the grocery shopping in our household and generally frequent ShopRite. Prices there are usually on a par with or lower than those at Sam’s. They also let you buy without proving that you have never belonged to a labor union or been a member of the Democratic Party.

They take this club business seriously at Sam’s. When I went several months ago, I cleverly got in line behind a man buying just a pack of gum. An extremely large pack to be sure, but one pack nevertheless. Well, when they ran his card it seems it had expired. An executive meeting had to be called on the spot to decide whether to extend his club privileges to enable him to buy his gum. I, along with the twenty other people on line by now, was extremely relieved to see things go his way. As he left, he wore the dazed look of a man whose chewing gum had just cost him forty six bucks.

The other day Kathie asked me to stock up on some things there and to renew our membership. I disagreed, grumbled, complained and went to Sam’s.

No prob renewing the membership. The trouble came at check out. First, the woman ahead of me had a gigantic box of Depends, enough to soak up the entire output of a frat house after a kegger. The genius at the register holds the box up for all to see and says to me: “Are these yours?” Before I can answer, the woman snatches them from him. “They’re mine she says”, while skewering him with a homicidal glance.

I was next. I handed over my newly renewed membership card. He stared at the card and then at me. “Are you Kathleen Andersen?” he asked with a perfectly straight face. Now, the correct answer to this question would have been “yes”. I am sure he would have bought it. Instead, I said: “Why do you ask?” “Because this is her card,” he replied holding it up for my inspection. Sure enough, the card is in her name. Not only that, there is a picture of her on the card.

I have soloed to Sam’s on several occasions and never had a problem using the card. In fact, it was the first I realized that it was in Kathie’s name.

Also, what’s up with picture? Are they afraid that identity thieves are going to counterfeit Sam’s Club cards so they can corner the market on toilet paper?

Apparently that is the case. “You can’t use another member’s card,” the genius sneers.
“She’s my wife,” I respond. Management is called in and a conference takes place. Sadly, things do not go my way. I am not allowed to purchase the two hundred bucks or so of rock bottom priced bargains I have stacked on the counter. I am handed the card and summarily dismissed.

As I slink toward the door, a convicted Sam’s Club Cheat, I am heartened by the words of Groucho Marx who said: “I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Rage Against the Machine

The Techno-Gizmo Machine is winning.

Sometimes I think I can deal with the gadgets, devices, passwords, access cards, pin numbers, etc. that the Machine requires to be a part of out lives. Sometimes I actually think I can win.

The events of the past several weeks demonstrate that I am wrong.

I recently went to Staples to purchase a switch that would enable me to connect a computer to my cable modem via an Ethernet cable as well as the wireless router. I was pretty proud of myself for having figured this out.

As I was checking out, the young lady at the register asked if I had a Staples Discount Card. I replied that I did not. “Yes, you do,” she said with that eager, ready to pounce expression that the young get when they have cornered an elder. Now I was confused. What high tech magic had she worked on her register that would convey this information, considering I hadn't even found my debit card yet? "I really don't think I have a Staples card," I said with just a hint of uncertainty creeping into my voice. "Sure you do," she replied,“I can see it in your wallet.” Sure enough, my wallet was open on the counter as I groped about for my debit card. Then, with a lightening fast move that would have brought a tear to old Fagan’s eye, she deftly snatched a Staples card from between my ShopRite Price Plus Card and my Sam’s Club Membership.

“There, all set,” she cheerfully gloated. I stood there with the dumb look of a rube who has just had a quarter pulled from his ear by the carnival magician. Now, I know my wallet is a black hole where sales receipts go to be magically recycled into blank sheets of paper, but I have no idea where the Staples card came from.

Whatever joy I felt from solving my computer problem vanished. The Machine trumped me with a discount card.

Another seeming victory was similarly snatched away. I have managed to negotiate a deal for the Triple Play from Comcast that packages upgraded cable television, broadband internet, and digital phone for the same price as I was formerly paying for just basic cable. This required hours on hold and dozens of phone conversations that took me from the depths of Arkansas to the outskirts of Lahore.

Unfortunately, just two weeks after we were up and running with all computers connected, a violent thunderstorm fried our modem. We returned from vacation to find we had no phones, and no internet. Kathie observed that in 30 years with the phone company we had never lost our service. This was spoken with what I interpreted as an accusatory tone.

One minute I was Steven Jobs, the Poor Soul the next.

Two days later, a repairman apparently suffering from clinical depression showed up at our house to install a new modem. When he was finished I asked if there was anything else I should know. He just gave a shrug that suggested that not knowing was always the better option and gloomily strode out the door.

A week later, I got a call from a Comcast rep inquiring if I was satisfied with the service and the installation personnel. I didn’t tell her how I had to accompany the installer on his mission because I feared he would throw himself out the third floor window. She asked if he had explained the service and how the various features worked. I hesitated to criticize the unstable installer because I don’t want to be a stop on his hit parade when he finally snaps. I did say that perhaps he was a teensy bit vague. She promised to send me the Welcome Package, which, of course, never came.

Cut to last weekend. I am boasting to my nieces about my prowess in negotiating the Triple Play and saving big bucks. Of course, I leave out the part about the violent thunderstorm and two phoneless days. They ask how I like the digital phone. I reply that I can’t get used to the dial tone which consists of three short bursts followed by the normal tone.

“That means you have a message in your voice mail box,” they say with their eyeballs rolling skyward in unison. “Didn’t anyone explain THAT to you?”

No, they didn’t, but we still eagerly await our Welcome Package. As I write this I am on hold with Comcast because we have just had a brief power outage that seems to have fried my new connector switch that I just purchased at Staples at great cost to my self-esteem.

At this point I surrender to the Machine. I will run a digital white flag up the old internet flagpole. If only I could remember my password to it’s web site.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Officially Old

Well, it’s official: I’m old.

I went down to the Social Security office and signed up to receive my benefits.

There were warning shots over my bow that I was getting on in years, like the disappearance of my children from the dinner table and the AARP membership card that appeared on my fiftieth birthday.

But going on Social Security nails it down.

For some reason or another, I have managed to hang on to my original Social Security Card. I remember applying for it at the age of 16. In fact, that was my last appearance at a Social Security office.

Having a card, in those days, meant you could work without having “working papers” and parental permission. This was an exciting prospect at the age of 16. It is less so at the age of 63.

The card is signed by Gerald Andersen in a clear, legible hand that still bears the signs of the Palmer Method of penmanship that was ruler smacked into my small muscle memory by the sisters at St. Al’s, a far cry from the palsied scrawl that passes for my signature nowadays.

In reading the back of this withered document, I noted the following peculiar statement: “Tell your family to notify the nearest Social Security Office in the event of your death.”

In the nearly half century since this card was issued we have made enormous technological progress, but apparently we have lost the ability to communicate from beyond the grave.

To get your benefits you need to apply. I chose to do this on line. As I have said before (“The Unemployment Office”) I don’t deal well with forms and questionnaires, and the SS one is a doozy…long and complicated. Each time I would complete a page and hit the “continue” button it would come flying back at me with a half dozen errors flagged in red and with an extravagant number of exclamation marks (I don’t know about you, but I hate to see my tax dollars going toward excess punctuation marks) . They ask a lot of questions one of which is “do you have any outstanding arrest warrants?” I couldn’t help but wonder what criminal mastermind would answer yes to this question.

You can complete the process on line, but they want you to mail them your original birth certificate. I chose not to trust them with this since, after all, this is the federal government……”Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”

So I made an appointment to come in to the Parsippany office. They sent me two reminders and left a reminder call. I guess this is necessary when dealing with older citizens. I only got one notice to appear before the draft board.

They also tell you to get there fifteen minutes before your scheduled appointment. At first blush this seems unnecessary since old people are always early. I think that is why they suggest fifteen minutes, because otherwise we geezers would be showing up an hour ahead of time. I, in fact, was 45 minutes early, but waited in my car.

Things got off on the wrong foot. As I entered the office, staring at me from across the room in six rows of chairs are 40 waiting old people, all of whom, I am sure, are an hour early for their appointments. I am ashamed to admit it, but I always feel a certain sense of superiority in these situations: I am young and on the ball, not like these people.

I was quickly disabused of this notion. At the entrance there is a large computer screen and a sign that directs you to register. You are instructed to select the reason for your visit from six or seven options, and enter it on the screen. I assumed it was a touch screen and touched on the reason that best described my visit. Not only did nothing happen, but I discovered that there was a screen over the computer screen. I turned to the guard who was seated at a desk nearby. He told me to just enter the reason for my visit on the screen.
Stupidly, I pressed on the screen again. “Try using the keypad,” he suggested with more than a hint of sarcasm. Sure enough, there was a keypad in plain sight. I entered the code for my visit and was prompted to enter the last 4 digits of my social security number. Now, of course, I am totally flustered and forget my number. I must take my wallet out and refer to my card.

As I turn around I face 40 pairs of elderly eyes who, had they been a Greek chorus, would have chanted You Old Fool in unison.

I slunk to a seat. No one who came, no matter how old, how infirm, or how alien, made the same mistake I did. All went directly to the keypad.

I guess I’m ready for Social Security.

Monday, August 25, 2008

10,000 Magazines

According to Wikipedia, there are over 10,000 magazines published in the United States.

With this many, you might assume there would be a market somewhere for the crap I write.

Apparently not, so it looks like I am going to have to tailor stories to fit the needs of specific publications. I picked some magazines from the Wikipedia list and worked up ideas that will have their editors drooling to sign me up.

Since I am too lazy to do research and too cheap to actually acquire any of these publications, I can only guess at what their editorial slant might be.

I suppose that “Swine Practitioner” is aimed at bad hygiene enthusiasts. I am going to suggest an article titled “Soiled Underwear: a Chick Turn-On.” If they don't go for it I'm sure the editors at “Dirty Linen” will scoop it up.

The Deciders at “Skinned Knuckles” will really jump for my story called “Gloves Would Help.”

Since “Exquisite Corpse” probably deals with funeral cosmetology, how about my piece, “Put a Smile on His Face, Make Everyone Happy”?

I was sorry to see that “Trouser Press Magazine” has folded (neatly, I hope). My article, “Wrinkled Pants Linked to Impotence”, might have saved them.

The gang over at “Real Simple” is very interested in my thought provoking op-ed, “If It's Real Simple, Why Do We Need a Big, Fat Magazine to Explain It?”

“What? No Beano in Heaven?” is right on target for “Angel Exhaust.”

The editorial review board at “Naval History” is intrigued by my think piece, “Did Neanderthals Have Belly-Button Lint.”

“The Skeptical Inquirer” won't have second thoughts about my article called “Yeah, Right.”

My research effort, “Cursing Under Your Breath Lowers Blood Pressure”, will surely interest the editors over at “The Unspeakable Oath.”

If the team at “The Sentimentalist” can ever pull themselves together they will pay big bucks for my tell-all article, “Oprah Doesn't Care Anymore.”

I still haven't come with an idea for “Excellent Prismatic Spray”, but I'm working on it.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I can do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle.

This is not a boast, but rather a pithy summary of my most noteworthy talents.

Some people can time the stock market; some can sing like angels; some can draw like Michelangelo. All are very marketable talents.

I can do the NY Times Sunday puzzle.

Like whatever other talents I have there is no correlation between the talent and making money. Even someone who can wiggle his ears, or touch the tip of his nose with his tongue can make a few bucks in barroom bets. Walk into a bar and say, “Hey, five bucks says I can do the NY Times Sunday puzzle”, and you won’t get many takers; and if you do they will all be drunk or asleep by the time you finish.

In other words, doing the puzzle is not a spectator sport. There are tournaments but you won’t be seeing them on ESPN any time soon. There is even a crossword game show.

I’m not betting on its success because it is an activity that is almost synonymous with boredom; it is what cops do on stake out, patients in waiting rooms, and commuters and travelers on the interminable ride home.

In other words, what many people do instead of blogging. I do both. I really need a life.

I’m not knocking it. Actually, I used to enjoy sitting on the train or Path doing the puzzle in my usual methodic top to bottom fashion. Very frequently some yenta would look over and say: “My God, you can do the Times Sunday puzzle!” I have to admit it puffed me up a bit. There is always someone, however, who will say they know a guy who can do it in fifteen minutes flat, thus un-puffing me.

It apparently isn’t even that much of a talent. Will Shortz, the Times puzzle editor, took all us Completers down a peg when he said on the Charlie Rose Show that the Sunday puzzle is just a long Thursday in difficulty. Now, for the uninitiated, the Time puzzles increase in difficulty as the week goes along with Monday being the easiest and, according to Shortz, Saturday being the most difficult.

He was like “you Sunday Completers think you’re so special, but your not, you’re just like those mediocre Thursday people but with more time on your hands.” I took exception.

Doing crosswords has come back in vogue because many experts feel that doing them keeps the brain healthy. Take it from someone who does a lot of puzzles, I still need a Dust Buster to clean the dead brain cells off my pillow in the morning.

I think that the only thing that crossword puzzles do for your brain is exercise the part that deals with crossword puzzles. I may be able to come up with a three-letter word for lugubrious, but still forget my Social Security number.

Oh, one more thing: I have always done the puzzle in ink. Take that, Will Shortz!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sandal Scandal

Well, I’m in trouble.

In my last blog, I launched into a major rant about the perils of sandals. (See August 6 post.)

Wouldn’t you know, I heard from the Sandal Manufacturers of America and Canada Association (SMACASS).

They accused me of making “anti-sandalian” remarks and jeopardizing the livelihood of the 8,000 people who work in the sandal industry. It couldn’t be more ironic that I should wind up in a pickle like this. In my former life I was head of a trade association that represented the necktie manufacturers. I was always belaboring some poor devil for “anti-tie” remarks. It shows to go you that what goes around comes around.

The Sandalnistas didn’t challenge my contention that people who REALLY can’t afford to fall, like mountain climbers, tight rope walkers, and high iron workers, don’t wear sandals, but countered that the founders of most of the world’s major religions were sandal wearers. They pointed out that nowhere in the copious religious texts is there any reference to any of the Holy Ones taking a digger. I said this doesn’t prove anything since their disciples would not include such an event fearing the believers might interpret it as a Fall from Grace.

They took issue with my contention that New Jersey was passing a helmet law for sandal wearers. Okay, I made it up. But, in my defense, it’s not like I actually do any research for these blogs.

They also didn’t like my blaming the Fall of Rome on the fact that its occupants were wearing sandals at the time. They countered that Roman soldiers wore sandals and conquered the known world. Hold on a sec. Most of the people they were conquering were barefoot and painted their asses blue, so of course the Romans were one up on them foot tech wise. However, as soon as the Ostrogoths, Vandals, Huns and such showed up in their hobnail boots, they put a major stomping on the legionnaires’ exposed digits. (Readers caution: I have no idea if any of these tribes wore hob nail boots (what is a hob nail anyway?), but they sound like something a barbarian would invent.)

Anyway, we ended the conversation on amicable terms. I said that since only two people read this blog and I have seen the light and my wife wears sandals anyway, the 8,000 workers’ jobs are safe until all of the SMACASS members move their factories to China.

I stood firm on the Flip-Flop issue, however. I am spearheading an Advertising Council effort to acquaint consumers with the dangers of this odious footwear. Our motto is going to be “Flip-Flops: First You Flip, Then You Flop.” Catchy, huh?

We are going to have leading medicos link flip-flop wearing with the dreaded Flat Face Syndrome. We are trying to line up the Clintons as our spokespeople, since ….well, you get it.

The sandal manufacturers haven’t heard the last from me. I’ve dug in my heels.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

2-Dollar Digger: A Maine Tale

I fell when we were up in Maine last week.

Here’s what happened:

My wife, Kathie, and I always visit Pemaquid Beach when we are up there. It isn’t much of a beach by New Jersey standards. It’s rocky and weedy and the water is cold. Still, it is beautiful in a Maine way and the scene of many happy memories from the days when we went up there with the kids every year.

Then, they never enforced the two dollar per person admission charge and you could evade it altogether by entering the beach at one of its ends, rather than the main entrance. Now they are making a more concerted effort to collect it. Kathie dropped me at the end that required me to walk through a swamp to access the beach. She went to the parking lot and paid her two bucks.

After wading through the muck, I had to climb a huge mound of sand that had been placed where the swamp trail meets the beach in an apparent effort to block it. I climbed up and over this obstacle and was on the beach. Hey, two bucks is two bucks.

I found Kathie and she said she could not carry my chair and book from the parking lot. I took her ticket stub so I didn’t have to pay admission to get back on the beach and went to fetch my things.

As I was returning along the sandy path that wound in front of the concession stand and passed some picnic tables before leading to the beach, I was feeling all happy and content with my two buck savings. As usual, this was when disaster struck.

Suddenly, I lost my footing and lurched forward in a Spiral of Doom. My falls are rambling, sprawling affairs with lots of arm flapping and leg wagging ala Ray Bolger’s Straw Man.

I came to earth under a picnic table at which a late middle age woman was seated talking on her cell phone. She looked at my twisted corpse in shock and said to her phone mate: “I have to go. A man has just fallen at my feet.” Now, you know the chance to utter those words must have made her day, if not her entire vacation.
“Are you all right?” she asked. “You fell a long way.”
“Not so far,” I replied. “I’m only five foot ten.”
“No. You started to fall over there,” she said pointing at a spot 25 feet away. “ I thought for a second you were going to recover, but then you seemed to give up.” She sounded disappointed in me.

I realized I was having a conversation with someone from under a picnic table and decided now was a good time to get up and take stock.
“ I seem to be fine. Sorry for interrupting your conversation.”
I immediately launched an investigation into the causes of this calamity. I suspected divine retribution for my admission fee evasion, but soon found solid physical evidence for a more mundane explanation.

My efforts revealed the following: I tripped on a root that was hidden by the sand in the path; and I was wearing sandals.

The Witness said that she would report the root to management. In New Jersey this would have resulted in the whole area being sealed off with crime scene tape and the beach being evacuated until it could be determined if foul play was involved. This is Maine, however. Since the root was as thick as my arm, I suspected it has been happily tripping fee evaders and payers for generations.

The sandal thing is another story. I hate sandals. The only reason I was wearing them was that I was at the beach and I had a momentary brain freeze that made me think I could get away with it. Sandals, in my view, are a public health hazard. I believe New Jersey, a state that requires wearing a crash helmet for most human activities, is about to require helmets and kneepads when sandals are worn.

It should come as no surprise that people who REALLY don’t want to fall-high iron workers, tight rope walkers, mountain climbers-don’t wear sandals. I saw a History Channel special that revealed that the Fall of Rome was caused by the fact that all of the occupants were wearing sandals at the time.

Anyway, I thanked the Witness, gathered my scattered belongings and headed for the beach. Just to cover the retribution thing, next time I paid the admission.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Kathie and I went to the Bruce Springsteen concert last night.

It was terrific, but there were a few glitches along the way. A huge accident at the Turnpike’s Meadowlands exit delayed thousands of fans so the concert’s starting time was postponed for an hour and a half.

Springsteen did not come on stage until 9:30. He gave a wonderful performance before a packed house of hometown fans. He did not leave until 12:45.

Since few left early, the whole 40 odd thousand people drained out of the stadium at the same time. We did not get home until 3:00 AM. Kathie asked if I could recall the last time we were out that late. I don’t think I was ever out that late. Sorry, I’ve led a quiet life.

We had a great time, but we may be getting too old for rock concerts.
If you think you might also be in the same boat, here are a few warning signs:

. You are in your seats at 7:30 PM, the posted starting time. You are alone.
. As soon at the place fills up, you start scanning the crowd for people who are older than you. There are none.
. Your wife brings ear plugs in case the music gets too loud.
. Eventhough your feet hurt, you stand through the entire concert because you don’t want to be that old guy who sits down.
. You mention to the young people seated next to you that Springsteen is starting to resemble Tony Bennett. They don’t know who Tony Bennett is.
. You complain that you can’t hear the lyrics over the “damned racket.”
. You wonder if you should say something to the young lady in front of you about the number of beers she has consumed.
. After the third encore, you hear yourself saying: “Oh, no. Here they come again!!”
. Everyone else is half naked, but you brought a sweater.
. You listen carefully to the stadium evacuation plan.
. Eventhough you have written down your parking location and referenced appropriate landmarks, you still lose your car.
. It worries you that you are not allowed to bring an umbrella into the stadium.
. You buy one water after grumbling about the $4.50 price tag and refill from the water fountains.

If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you should probably stay home, pop a Bruce cassette into your Walkman, and take a snoozy in your lounger. Sounds good to me.

Yankee Stadium

It was a nostalgic journey. Kathie purchased two tickets from a co-worker to a Yankee game and Kris came down from Haverhill to attend with me in this the team’s last season in the old stadium.

We were determined to get there early and have time for batting practice, a visit to the monuments, and to absorb the history and ambience of the old ball yard.

On the drive in we reminisced about our many visits to the stadium over the years. In those days we always tried to sit in right field so Kris could be near his favorite player, Dave Winfield. We commiserated about the venality of Yankee management for tearing down the House That Ruth Built for a glitzier, corporate luxury box equipped version.

We arrived at 11:00 AM. With a 1:00 PM start, this left us plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere. The first disappointment was that we couldn’t get to Monument Park. The trouble with living in New York is that whatever unique idea you have; a hundred thousand other people have the same one. The line for the park was so long they closed it down to any additional fans.

Next stop, batting practice. We positioned ourselves in the left field ground level boxes near the foul pole. I was unaware of the fact that members of the pitching staff shag the fly balls that don’t leave the playing field. Kyle Farnsworth, the erratic (now former) Yankee reliever, was standing near us. Whenever he would catch a ball, fans would beg and plead with him to toss it to them. I thought it was typical New York chutzpah that a guy wearing an “Anyone but Farnsworth” t-shirt was actually begging the man for a ball.
He was disappointed.

I made up my mind that I would make a reasonable effort to catch anything that came my way. Sure enough a ball hit by A-Rod headed on a trajectory that took it about six feet to my right. An older man made a leap for it just as three other guys crashed into him sending him backwards over the seat and into the next row. The ball came loose and soon all the contenders were crawling under the seats trying to secure this treasure. I was glad to see that the old guy prevailed. I am sure he regretted it the next day. I would have liked to have heard him explain to his wife why a beat up batting practice ball was worth three of his remaining vertebrae.

It started to get very hot. Predictions were that the temperatures would soar into the high nineties with high humidity. Kris and I decided to wander around the corridors of the stadium before going to our seats. Everywhere we went was hot, dark and gloomy, not to mention slick and slimy from generations of spilled beer and sweat.

We went to our seats which were directly behind home plate in the very upper reaches of the stadium. In fact, we were about seven rows from the top. It was a steep climb getting there, but once there we were rewarded with a splendid view of the field. However, it was a little bit like watching the screen of one of the early versions of Sega Baseball with itty-bitty players racing around the bases.

It was also disconcerting to see the birds flying below us.

Soon, the regular season ticket holders started to arrive. They were all old and all male. Several had to take several rest stops before continuing their climb. My guess is that they were retired teachers or postal workers. Soon they started their banter and quaint insults. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone called a “four-eyed jerk.”

As the game wore on, it got hotter and hotter. I kept sending Kris down to refill my water bottle. Kathie had given me huge red bandana and suggested that if I got really hot I should wet it and wrap it around my neck, or drape it over my head. I have seen her do this and frankly would prefer a session with the defibrillator and an intravenous saline solution. Normally, I am not bothered by the heat but it was really getting to me. Maybe it was compounded by the proximity of all of that overheated human flesh. Out came the bandana. I asked Kris to go wet it for me. He stared at it with disdain. “Who did you get this from? Mom?”

And the game wore on and on. From the seventh inning, the fans in the row behind us started cheering on and exhorting the players, which was an exercise in futility since they weren’t even in the same area code, never mind ear shot.

They were strange, convoluted encouragements. Not just “Go, Jeter” but rambling edited- on- the -fly directions: “Hit a homer, Jeter. No, No…..shoot a double between second and third….Wait, wait….lay down a sacrifice…whatever you do, don’t strike out.”

At the top of the twelfth the game was still tied after the Yankees had squandered many opportunities to go ahead. We had had enough, or at least I had.

As we drove down the Deegan headed for the George Washington Bridge we heard the game’s anti climatic-ending when Jose Molina was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded walking in the winning run. We didn’t feel like we missed anything.

We had a great day, but both agreed it was time to tear that dump down.

Note: Kris has done an excellent blog on this same subject at his site