Monday, April 28, 2008

The Garage

Kathie and our daughter cleaned the garage last week.

Elisabeth, a teacher in Boston, came home on her spring break. Now cleaning someone’s garage, even my own, is not my idea of the dream vacation. In fact, whether considered recreation or a chore, it is something I have managed to avoid for the past 30 years.

When it has been suggested that I spend a fun-filled week on this project my dodge is that it is not my stuff, and I would feel terrible about tossing someone’s precious childhood memories.

Elisabeth, though, finally caved in and decided it was better to sacrifice a week of her life at one shot, rather than listen to her mother ask her in each and every conversation over the next decade what her plans were for the stuff she has in our garage.

The project was a big success, I gather. I gather because I managed to make myself scarce for most of the week. Lots of mother/daughter bonding took place and legions of old stuffed animals were dispatched.

Both made a stunning, perhaps unprecedented discovery….that I was actually right about something. “Dad”, Elisabeth said with a perplexed expression “None of the stuff in the garage was yours.” Ha!

Actually, there are two reasons for this:
Almost everything I have ever owned is still in use.
My stuff gets tossed by the powers that be before ever making it into storage.

My lawnmower, for example, is twenty years old. I thought maybe I have had it for “a few” years, but the last time I took it in for service the lawnmower repair guy looked at it wistfully and said “they don’t make them like that anymore.” I’m like: “You mean Toro stopped making quality lawnmowers three years ago?” He pointed out a plate on the mower that indicated it was made in the 80’s. I guess time flies when you have a good lawnmower.

I have a sweater that is 37 years old and I wear it regularly. It is a hand knit Norwegian ski sweater that I purchased for seven bucks in 1971 at a clearance sale. That was cheap even then. Kathie says it was out of style in ‘71 and hasn’t been in style any time in the ensuing 37 years. I also have an Irish sweater my mother bought me when I was a sophomore in college and a sport jacket from Ohrbach’s which went out of business in the Carter administration. If I find something I like, I stick with it. Also, given that the median age of the global human population is 26, I take pride in the fact that my wardrobe is older than half the people on earth.

However, a lot of my stuff goes away before I am through with it. Last week, going through my summer clothes I noticed my salmon-colored-tee-shirt-that-used-to-be-red-with-the-holes-and-bleach-stains-from-the-pool-we-took-down-six-years-ago was missing. It was the perfect compliment to my red shorts and black socks. I was okay when Kathie told me she threw it away, but she didn’t have to call it a rag. In fact, more than once I have rescued some key fashion accessory of mine from the plastic garbage barrel she designates for paint rags.

So, not a bad week for me: a clean garage, nice visit with our daughter…and it was unanimously decided I was right about something.

I still can’t fit my car in the garage though.

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's Spring, Damn It

After a long and easy winter, it is spring again in Califon.

Spring is when Kathie stops listing the things that need to be done inside the house, and turns her attention to the things that need to be done outside.

Just like the peeper frogs, this chirping emerges full blown on the first warm day.

Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t nag or pester…..she “mentions.”

Sometimes, she is more subtle than that, she demonstrates. For example, she would like to have a paved path from the back porch to the driveway. The other morning on our way out the back door, I noticed her walking on the dew wet grass like an egret wading in the shallows. I asked if all was well and she responded: “I don’t like to get my shoes wet. Other people have a paved path.”

Eventually, she will get her path. The problem is that this is the time of year when my Winter Ennui is replaced by my Spring Ennui. I would much prefer sitting on the porch puffing a cigar dreaming up a creative solution to our pathlessness, like suggesting water proof shoes.

The other thing about spring is that stuff starts to grow again. Just when I start to hope that maybe my lawn is permanently gone, it is lapping at my ankles. Like the Alien bursting through the astronaut’s stomach, weeds are already pushing their way through the black mulch that took me hours to put down last spring.

And of course, my arch enemy, Hedge the Horrible, is beginning to blink its blood shot eyes and awaken. Just the thought of another season of mounting my ladder and tilting at this ninety foot long dragon with my trusty clippers is enough to send me back into hibernation.

If all of this is not enough, here come the bugs. Ants have returned to the kitchen, like swallows to Capistrano. Bees may be imperiled, but every other form of stinging insect is doing very nicely, thank you. I have already rousted the first yellow jacket colony from under the porch. Kathie has begun to “mention” how much she would like a screened porch.

Of course, I used to go to work every day and was spared the spectacle of watching nature reclaim my property inch by inch like a snake swallowing a frog. Now that I am unemployed/retired I am the first line of defense.

Alas, it is enough to make me long for the good old days of winter sitting by the fire listening to Kathie ask me when I intended to get around to painting the living room.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Things I'll sell on Ebay

You can sell anything on E-Bay if you just attach a good story or celebrity name to it.

Everything from a cornflake shaped like Germany to Brittany Spears used McDonalds napkin fetches big bucks.

Recently I have been doing some housecleaning both at home and in my office and have come across a number of treasures that will go over big on Ebay and insure my comfortable retirement:

. The piece of rusted metal I fished out of the river that looks like a human poo and that has resided in my dresser drawer for 20 years (see my blog on pockets). I plan to romance this item a bit by saying it’s a calcified dropping from Davy Crockett. This is brilliant because it targets the affluent Baby Boomers. I am sure Davy must have passed through new Jersey at some point.

. While on this subject, I will also be offering the small metal statue of a defecating dog that I dug up in my front yard. I have yet to come up with a believable story as to why it was buried there in the first place. Kathie will really be glad to see it go because it has sat on top of my dresser for years, except for those periods when she has hidden it from me. I might even “bundle” these two items for the scatological collector.

. The Asian Stink Beetle that lives in my bathroom will also go high. I spotted this really primordial insect crawling up my mirror several weeks ago. Obviously, Kathie hasn’t seen it yet because it is still alive. By mere coincidence I learned from an article in the NY Times that it is an Asian Stink Beetle. These bugs are harmless, the Times reports, but if you squash one you will find out how it got its name. This will need some careful packaging. I think there is a real story here about how this lowly creature made its way from deepest Asia to my bathroom mirror. Animal adventure stories are really popular and this one is hard to beat. Disney might even be interested. How about “It Stinks to be Lost in New Jersey”?

. The autographed letter I have from former senator John Danforth thanking me for sending him a necktie is another treasure. I found this one in the office files. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of why I sent him a tie, but I think this item will go over big with aficionados of obscure Midwestern politicians.

.The Christmas shopping list from 1986 that I recently excavated from my wallet is money in the bank. Stories of lost documents that emerge from strange places capture people’s imaginations. Unbelievably, a Cabbage Patch Kid and a She Ra figure are both included on the list. This is really important documentation for collectors in these categories.

I think you will be reading more on this subject as I have yet to get to my closets or garage. I sense a bonanza and a second home in Florida.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I was going through my closet the other day and discovered that I own more shoes than I have ever owned in my life.

The bottom of my closet looks like a beach in Mexico: awash in deceased footwear.
Some of these are simply worn out, holes in the soles and the like. Others have died of neglect, either because they are uncomfortable or I forgot I owned them.

I seem to be mentally capable of keeping track of only four pairs of shoes at a time: the brown ones, the black ones, the sneakers and the sandals. These favored few are on the top of the pile at the bottom of my closet. Or they are lined up in the kitchen, much to Kathie’s distress. When I come into the house from anywhere, first the coat comes off, then the shoes. She finally instituted what she calls the “two pair rule.” I am only permitted to have two pairs of shoes in the kitchen at any given time. The others get pitched in the dining room closet where I have to rummage around the old slide projector, the broken vacuum and the reel-to-reel tape recorder to fish them out. We actually had a discussion at one point about whether bedroom slippers counted as shoes. The higher court ruled that slippers were, indeed, shoes.

I don’t think I am alone in my inability to focus on footwear. I have been noticing that a lot of guys wear the same shoes day in and day out. There is one older man on my train who wears the same pair of sneakers every day. So my four shoe rotation probably puts me on the upper end of the male shoe awareness spectrum.

Apparently, women are not like this. I once read that the first thing a woman notices about a man is his shoes. Maybe this is because he is usually sprawled out with his big clods in the aisle.

I don’t think I have ever noticed a woman’s shoes unless there was something funky going on. For example, I was walking on the street in Manhattan on a chilly morning recently, when I saw the otherwise well-dressed woman ahead of me was wearing flip-flops on her bare feet. My heart ached for her poor, exposed piggies given the range of unpleasant things that can happen to even a shod foot on the mean streets of New York.

Some women will spend their last dime on shoes and have huge collections. Kathie is not one of these, but our daughter loves to shop for shoes. I also know this from TV. Many women on “House Hunters” have said their reason for seeking a larger home is to have more room for their shoe collection.

After years of enduring my reckless and thoughtless shoe behavior, my wife and daughter drafted rules for me to follow to establish podiatric peace in the house:
. No socks with sneakers and shorts. The original rule was no sneakers with shorts, but I won a revision on appeal. For some reason, those low white socks that wind up bunched in the toe of your shoe are allowed. Black socks with shorts and sneakers is, of course, an unspeakable felony.
. No sneakers in Italy. I am told the Italians don’t wear sneakers. It does me no good to argue that I am not an Italian.
. No socks with sandals. I guess I agree, but toenail maintenance can be time consuming.
. No sneakers to work. I whine: “EVERYBODY wears their sneakers to work, so why can’t I?”

Oh well, back to my closet to see if I still have the white bucks I wore in grade school.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Irritable Male Syndrome

My niece informs me that I come across as grumpy in some of my blogs.

Frankly, I think this is a very insensitive thing to say when I may well be one of the millions of aging males afflicted with Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS). This disorder, which is also called Grumpy Old Man Disease by people like my niece, afflicts up to 30 per cent of the male population.

According to the one and only article I read by way of research for this post, stress and poor diet are linked to the ailment. One doctor suggests eating 3 to 5 times a day with an intake of 300-500 calories per meal. Well, duh, if I was stuffing my face five times a day I would have very little cause to be irritable.

Now if you think Irritable Male Syndrome sounds a lot like Irritable Bowel Syndrome that is not a coincidence, since IMS is the leading cause of IBS in women.

Another expert likens IMS to PMS (getting confused?). This is another sign the Good Lord has a sense of irony. Just as our spouses are emerging from their hormone induced crabby years, we aging males are entering ours. It’s also a good argument against May-December marriages. The convergence of IMS and PMS can strain the most solid trophy wife/old rich guy relationship.

I am sure there are warning signs for IMS, but I am too lazy to look them up, so I have made up a few:

. Your favorite form of salutation is “hey, nitwit.”
. You feel the irresistible urge to boo during church services.
. You think Dick Cheney smiles too much.
. You always feel like you’ve just caught your penis in your zipper.
. You start beeping and cursing before you’ve left your driveway.
. Even attractive women can piss you off.
. You think Howard Stern is nice.
. You believe waterboarding is an acceptable form of discipline in the elementary schools.

If you start to develop these forms of behavior, beware. You may be the next victim of this dreaded syndrome……or you may be becoming a Republican.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ice Cubes

I am tired of filling the ice cube trays.

Every tray I examine has just two ice cubes remaining. It is as if the perpetrator of this outrage, and she knows who she is, decides that as long as there are two cubes left, it would be wasteful to fill the tray. One cube, apparently, can be sacrificed.

Consequently, every time I wish to put ice in my beverage I am limited to two cubes, unless I want to fill two ice cube trays. I must then walk all the way across the kitchen and refill the tray or trays slopping water along the way that I will step in later in my stocking feet.

I blame Kathie for this because I know I have to fill at least one tray each and every time I have a drink. She of course blames me. I know I am right because I cannot recall ever having personally witnessed her filling a tray. In fairness, I may be doing her an injustice. Maybe it’s like one of those math puzzles where you add, subtract and divide a series of numbers and always end up with your birthday. Maybe no matter how many ice cubes you take or make, there will always be two cubes remaining.

I used to blame our daughter but she moved out, not surprisingly, several years ago. However, I still pin the rap on her when she comes home for a visit, and am still told that I need to get a life.

Now I am sure none of you can relate to this, because Kathie tells me we are the only people left in the world who do not have a fridge that makes ice. I, however, recall seeing a special on National Geographic about a tribe in the deepest jungles of Brazil that has to fill their ice cube trays from the Amazon River. It was noted as an example of the simple but difficult lives they lead.

I envy people who have icemakers, who can just push their glass against a lever and fill it to the brim with refreshing frozen water; or who can open the door to the freezer and SCOOP an endless supply of frosty nuggets.

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law have a machine that just makes ice..that’s all it does!
They have a scoop that’s as big as a boat bailer and can cool down a drink or a swimming pool in a flash.

They say it’s great for entertaining. When we entertain we have to go to the supermarket and buy a bag of ice cubes which, when put in the freezer, promptly turns into a solid frozen mass that we have to loosen by dropping on the kitchen floor. It’s very entertaining for our guests. I guess I could get an ice pick. I don’t know if they still make these but suppose they do since I saw one on the Sopranos. They didn’t use it for ice though.

Why don’t we get a new fridge? Well, I am told that the machine, plus the cost of getting water pipes to where it resides, would cost more than a new BMW.

Excuse me. I have to go fill the ice cube trays.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Random Acts of Inconsiderate Kindness

While I was out the other day, my next door neighbor stopped by and asked Kathie if he could come into our yard to clear some of the ivy that is climbing over the fence that separates our properties.

“That’s odd,” I said, “Why didn’t he just ask me to cut the ivy?” Kathie gave me one of those patient looks she once reserved for the children and responded: “Perhaps he thinks we are getting on in years and he is just being kind.”

Well, screw him. I am perfectly capable of cutting my own damn ivy. Of course, this part of my yard has looked like Sleeping Beauty’s castle since I was in my early middle years. Perhaps he thought that if it didn’t get done when I was a robust specimen, it isn’t likely to get done now that I have other things on my agenda like changing the batteries in my hearing aid and oiling up my walker. Harrumph!!

As you can see, my reaction to this sort of inconsiderate kindness, is irritation. Although I am 63, I don’t identify with the older set. I am still capable of flipping the bird to some codger toodling along in the left lane at 50 miles per hour, or grumbling when some granny takes 10 minutes to run her credit card at the check out line. I am not like them.

I tend to view myself as one of the young up-and-coming dudes, not one of over-the-hill gang. I know, I know. It is a delusion. That’s why this sort of episode brings me up short like a slap in the face.

When we were in Boston recently, some little twerp actually offered me his seat on the T.
I just shot him a glare that I hope said: “Back off, punk. I can still take you.” That’s the first time that’s ever happened to me and joins the Patriots and Red Sox on the list of things I don’t like about Boston: people are often polite. Thankfully, that would never happen in New York where seniors are trampled and run over along with everyone else in a spirit of heartless equality.

The real shocker came last summer when my son actually volunteered to come down and paint our house. This was very surprising because when he lived here he was a hard person to find when there was work to be done.

I have always painted our house. In the first place, I am cheap. In the second place, it is a point of honor and pride with me. “Look at him. He’s in his sixties and he’s up there on the ladder painting his own house. That’s impressive.” Nobody actually said that, but I know that’s what they would have said if I had gotten around to painting it.

I accepted his offer, but I insisted on paying him so he didn’t get the idea he was doing the old man any favors.

Kathie’s view on this is almost zen-like in its simplicity: if people want to be kind to you, let them. That for me is a bitter pill to swallow.