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.