All posts by Christopher Mele

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Kitchen utensils and equipment have more than just practical uses.

Some are imbued with personal meaning and emotions.

For instance, I’ve got a rectangular pan that is misshapen and looks like it was manhandled by a gorilla.

It’s rusted in spots and dented.

Yet, I’d never give it up.

Why?

It belonged to my late fiancée and it has a lot of meaning to me.

Similarly, I’ve got a particular fork she was partial to (wouldn’t use any other one) and an oval dish the color of an orange highway construction cone that she insisted on eating everything on.

I was curious if I was the only one who had such sentimental feelings for inanimate objects, especially those in the kitchen, so I asked friends on Facebook to share their stories.

Here’s what they said:

Theta Pavis: Oh boy do I! My grandfather’s potato masher, mother’s Corning Ware and more. I love that masher. It has an old wooden handle.

Erin Logan DeRosa: I have a bowl that I use that my nanny used to bring over her famous chocolate mousse in the holidays. There are scrape marks on it and I  to imagine how they got there. I also use her old Pyrex dishes. Makes me feel a connection to her and I am only sorry she never got to know me as an adult.

Kathleen Woodruff Wickham: I have a large and a small cast iron skillet. I believe both came from my grandparents. I also have a yellow casserole with a raised fruit design and my great aunt’s pink floral china.

Krista Mason: Will send photos of Carla’s (my late fiancée and mother of Garth, Krista’s husband) can opener and mini hammer… which are both displayed proudly in our kitchen. One day I hope to get them both mounted on plaques, as they are “treasured family heirlooms.” They’re my one connection to her in my kitchen… aside from all the cows.

Kathy Farrell Sullivan:  A spatula and potato masher that my mother received as part of a set for her bridal shower in 1948.

Carol Montana: My parents had a knife, not sure what to call it, but it has smaller teeth than a bread knife. Cuts through almost anything. Made sure to take that one when we were cleaning out their house. Also a manual nut grinder. Takes more time than an electric, but makes me think of them whenever I use it. Mom would bake, Dad would chop the nuts.

Joseph LoTemplio: I have a wooden spoon my mother used to hit me with.

Deb Schiff: My step-dad gave me a wooden chopping bowl and a mezzaluna he used to make mock chopped liver (think green beans and hard-boiled eggs — it’s better than it sounds), among other dishes. I use it to chop nuts and dried fruit for granola: matchmaking shows in china

Nancy Garavell: I have my mother’s pink nut grinder with glass bottom that catches the nuts…I still use it.

Lindsay DiCarlo: Your aunt Lucille Tortora still has an ice pick from her dad, your grandfather, from his ice box days.

Paul L. Saulnier: One item we still have is an old-time ice cream scoop you saw in soda shops that our grandmother must have kept and passed down…wooden handle and all.

Blair Craddock: My mom has my grandparents’ Art Deco looking toaster that they got for a wedding present in the 1930s. It still works.

Meghan Murphy Borland: My Corning Ware mixing bowls are definitely special. First, it lasts through generations because it’s well made and tough. Second it looks so old school. Third it brings back childhood memories of licking the brownie bowl with my mom.

Jane Lerner: I have several pots, one that I use nearly every day, that I took from my grandma’s house after she died. They always make me think of her.

Debra Scacciaferro: We had a metal colander with four metal feet and two riveted handles that belonged to my husband’s grandmother, who taught him how to make pasta and gnocchi. We used it until one of the handles fell off. I posted that we had finally lost it, and then a friend of mine sent us his old colander in a surprise package. It always reminded Jim of his grandparents and the big Sunday pasta dinners they would host.

Spiders? No Problem. Water Bugs? Holy S***!

My son Daniel is petrified of spiders.

We live in the woods.

There are spiders in the woods.

Therefore, Dan will sometimes see spiders in the house.

He recently described how at 1 in the morning he saw one that he killed but then saw another bigger one on the wall.

The second one he described, with a scrunched-up face of disgust, as being gigantic with a big brown body.

When he went to kill it, it scrambled away.

So what did he do?

He FaceTimed one of his friends who told him: You need to kill it or it will keep you up all night knowing it’s there.

“It was fucking huge,” he recalled later. “I had to either kill myself or burn the house down. There were no other choices.”

He did eventually get a portable vacuum to make it go away.

All the while he was telling the story, he made gagging noises as if he was so repulsed he was going to barf.

Now look, we all have our phobias and things about creepy crawlies that make our skin crawl.

For me, spiders are no big whoop.

They are a part of nature, good for the environment and largely harmless enough.

Unless, of course, you are talking about the kinds of spiders you find in Australia or camel spiders, in which case, all bets are off!

Living in the woods, we’ve had our encounters with mice, bears and bats.

Eventful yes, and sometimes unpleasant, but relatively OK.

(Full disclosure: I was not here when the bat got in the house so I can speak as if though it were no big deal. My wife and son might have a different opinion!)

But what really gets me to shriek in terror?

My overwhelming fear is of roaches, water bugs or these ridiculous creepers called palmetto bugs that they have in Florida.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx and more specifically as a newspaper delivery boy, I’d encounter the godawful water bugs, especially in the halls of the basement apartments.

To this day, I can recall with clarity a water bug perched atop the doorway of a customer I was delivering to.

It was the length, I swear, of a dollar bill, its long thin antennae twitching.

I was so panicked at the sight of this thing, I flung the paper like a discus and fled up the stairs.

From that day forward, that was my M.O. in delivering to that door: Fear, fling, flee.

I know I am not the only one to share in this fear, which leads to this tale:

Pedro and I are at a sports bar in Queens, about two blocks from his place.

His phone buzzes. It’s his beloved wife.

Pedro (reading the text): “Ugh. Vanessa thinks she spotted a water bug in the hallway in the apartment.”

Phone buzzes.

Update: “OK, yeah, there was one and she’s paralyzed it with hairspray.”

Phone buzzes.

Update: “OK, we have to leave. She’s got it captured and immobilized under a plastic container but she needs me to get rid of it.”

We arrived, and sure enough, there it was under a plastic container with a flashlight atop it no less.

I know Pedro was exasperated at this minidrama, but in her defense, Vanessa at least did not threaten to burn the house down.

Captured critter.

Fade to Black: Parting With Old TVs

When I graduated high school, my parents got me a Panasonic TV.

 It was great, my very own TV.

For Christmas the month before, I was given a VCR and now could tape all my favorite shows.

Several years later, I had a VCR dedicated to taping “Star Trek: The Next Generation” weekly and another taping “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

 So, some years later, I had quite a collection pre-Netflix.

The TVs of old were sturdy in that you could pile a VCR on top along with an alarm clock.  During the winter months it also added a source of heat to my room.

In our living room, we had an RCA stereo TV with a remote control.

This too was a sweet giant picture tube device.

About 10 years ago my brother said that I should get a flat panel TV.

Why? These two were still working just fine.

Well maybe some channels worked well. When it hooked up to cable, all was good.

So soon after my brother’s visit the picture started to go.  The sound was great though.

I moved it to the back bedroom.

Again, it was a nice case and like furniture and held a lot on top of it. Plus, it weighed nearly 60 pounds.

Well, finally after about a year, it went into the trash heap.

My neighborhood collects electronics once a year.  I was sad to see it go but figured that it was time to go the flat panel route.

About two years ago, my Panasonic TV died.

Where would my clock go now? So, I got a newfangled flat panel and low and behold, six months later it was toast.

Now I have an old Toshiba TV in its place.

At night I just listen to the sound, so as it was, I could’ve kept the old stereo one.

Go figure.

Another Mud Run in the Record Books!

My third mud run is behind me and here is what a nearly 54-year-old guy can tell you:

I was definitely representing the ahem, senior class. That is, the 50 and older crowd.

I was surrounded by youngsters, most of them in their 20s and 30s, with some even younger, like in their teens.

I kept up with one young whippersnapper who was about 13 or so.

Every time he was walking but then saw me running, he would start running as well. I kept pace with him for a good while, so that was cool.

There was one guy who looked like the pitchman in the Old Spice commercials: Chiseled and six-pack abs.

Of course he was in my wave and of course he was shirtless.

He immediately dusted me on the course.

I decided I hated him.

Me? I was in a skintight sausage casing, including leggings that made me look like I was auditioning for Mel Brooks’s “Men in Tights.”

I had more rolls than a delicatessen.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

On the other hand, there was quite the assortment of people in all kinds of shapes and varieties. This was no beauty pageant.

For most people this was a chance to socialize and make an outing of it with friends and family.

Some of the signs along the route on this mud run, the Warrior Dash at Pocono Raceway, were inspirational: (“Two miles done. One to go!”)

Some made me smile. (“Be careful on the course. Call me when you’re done. Love, Mom.”)

And some were downright unfair. One about a tenth of a mile from the starting line, one sign read: “Finish line. (Just kidding. You have another three miles to go.)”

There was lots of climbing of steep ladders and other obstacles.

I heard one woman say of her efforts to get over one: “Well, that was not very ladylike.”

Not sure what she did.

Me, pre-mud.

One obstacle featured real barbed wire and I saw some women climbing OVER the wire.

Even though my privets were tucked in high and tight, I said no thanks and decided not to risk it and did a soldier’s crawl UNDER the barbed wire, thankyouverymuch.

I finished the 5K and its 12 obstacles in 48 minutes, which was a minute better than last year’s performance.

In crossing the finish line —  hark!

I could hear the cheering!

The shouting!

The screaming!

Oh wait.

That screaming was my legs and knees! Never mind.

Related:

Finding Meaning in the Mud

Some Final Thoughts Before My First Mud Run

 

 

 

The Real and Growing Threats Against the Press

Facing hostility comes with the territory of being a reporter.

Your job is to ask pointed and sometimes uncomfortable questions, so you’ve got to have a thick skin.

I’ve been harassed by corrupt cops I exposed, browbeaten and threatened by readers and subjected to bizarre low-level stalking by a conspiracy theorist and his followers.

I know other journalists who have endured far, far worse.

A friend and former colleague, Paula McMahon, now of The South Florida Sun Sentinel, was surrounded once in the mid-1990s by an angry mob of men in a Hasidic Jewish village in New York who were hellbent on trying to intimidate her. (It didn’t work.)

My friend Leslie-Jean Thornton, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, had her own story to share last week at a panel discussion, “Journalists in the Hot Seat: Staying Safe in a Hostile Political Climate,” hosted by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

She recounted how as the editor of a newspaper in Westchester County, N.Y., in 1990, she was subjected to persistent phone calls of the sounds of gunshots after she wrote an editorial about anti-abortion protesters who had distributed plastic fetuses in the local elementary school and put postcards with disturbing images in mailboxes.

As scary as those stories were, they were largely one-off occurrences.

They were not part of a pervasive and persistent pattern of animus – bordering on doing physical harm — toward members of the press.

That’s changed.

For about the past year, I’ve had a notion to write about the news media under fire.

Even after watching reporters regularly get jeered at presidential rallies, even after newsroom discussions of how to respond in case of an active shooter (Run. Hide. Fight.) and even after the unimaginable shootings at The Capital Gazette in Maryland that claimed the lives of five journalists, I felt like, nah, maybe I was just too close to the topic.

Maybe I was too paranoid or sensitive.

Maybe I was blowing things out of proportion.

And then I heard the panelists at this conference last week enumerate the ways the threats have escalated.

Networks have taken to hiring their own private security to protect certain high-profile news reporters when they are in the field.

There’s been a significant increase in death threats to reporters, especially those who have challenged the White House press secretary, panelists said.

And unrelated to politics, a panelist recounted how a young reporter at a small newspaper got death threats over a crime scene photo she took.

Thornton did a deep dive into the world of Instagram and found numerous disturbing memes depicting – and sometimes celebrating – violence against the press.

There was a press pass with a target superimposed on it.

Another read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”

And another featured the logos of major news outlets, such as The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post, with bullet holes and “Trump 2018” on the bottom.

Tomorrow, newspapers in editorials across the country are banding together to speak with one voice about President Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric about the press.

Among other things, he’s called the news media “the enemy of the people” and “very dangerous and sick!”

His repeated pronouncements have been seen as an incitement to violence.

(A caller to C-SPAN recently threatened to shoot CNN hosts Brian Stelter And Don Lemon, saying: “They started the war. If I see ’em, I’m going to shoot ’em.”)

The attacks come at time that newspapers have been ravaged by deep cuts, leaving voters less informed and elected officials less engaged. Local governments face higher borrowing costs because the lack of local watchdog reporting holds them less accountable, Columbia Journalism Review reported.

Faced with growing concerns for our safety and security and at the same time the need more than ever for a vigilant press, what’s the answer?

Hide?

Run?

Fight.

Yes, fight.

Not with guns, but with our work.

My Harrowing Experience in a Wildfire

The rampaging wildfires in California that have claimed the lives of at least six people are a reminder of the unpredictability of nature but also the bravery of those on the front lines fighting such blazes.

The so-called Carr Fire — one of several raging in California — consumed nearly 100,000 acres and destroyed more than 700 homes in just a week.

For me, devastation on such a scale is difficult to comprehend.

My first — and thankfully only time – reporting on a wildfire was one that destroyed “only” 300 acres and one house. By way of comparison, the Carr Fire was more than 300 times the size of the one I experienced.

Still, it was memorable.

It was May 16, 1991, and I was in Saranac Lake, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. It was around 3 p.m. and there was suddenly a caravan of fire trucks from neighboring Lake Placid wailing through the downtown.

Oddly, they were not stopping anywhere in the village but were making a beeline out of town.

That there were so many of them, that they were in such a tearing hurry and the route they were taking just made my news senses tingle.

So, I did what I’ve done since I was a kid in the Bronx: I followed the fire trucks.

That led me about 10 miles out of town to a hamlet called Vermontville. It did not take long to see the plumes of smoke.

The fire had leap-frogged ahead of efforts to contain it. More than 300 firefighters from 35 departments were called. The authorities at the time said it was the biggest wildfire in the area in 20 years.

“Water! Where the hell is my water?!” could be heard crackling over radios as firefighters dragged hoses. Later, civilian volunteers brought milk cans filled with water for the soot-covered firefighters working in the 84-degree heat.

What I am about to say next falls under the heading of “Don’t try this at home”: I roamed around alone and unescorted, snapping pictures and taking notes.

At one point I was busy taking a photo and there suddenly was this “Whooooosh!” and burst of heat. While my back was turned, flames had swallowed a tree, quickly reaching its crown.

Talk about great balls of fire.

It was like getting an instant sunburn.

This was a time before cellphones, so I found a home that was being evacuated, interviewed the occupants (one of whom was disabled and being removed by a State Police helicopter) and asked if I could use their landline.

I called my then-wife to tell her where I had gone and to assure her I was fine (I left out the part of the burning tree and that I was calling from an evacuated home) and then quickly called my editor to save me some space in the next day’s paper.

My story and photo were above the fold with the headline “Fire ravages Adirondacks” and a breathless lede: “VERMONTVILLE — A wind-whipped fire ravaged about 300 acres of woodlands here Thursday, destroying one house, forcing families to flee their homes and injuring seven people.”

Now take my limited experience and amplify it by a 10,000 percent and think of those firefighters and smoke jumpers who do this kind of thing for a living.

My wife and I visited the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park in Arizona where 19 “hot shots” (wildland firefighters) perished fighting a wind-whipped fire outside Yarnell, Az., in 2013.

It was the largest number of firefighters killed in a single incident since the 9/11 attacks.

Whether it’s one firefighter saving a child from a burning building or a team of them trying to saving an entire community, what these people do is awe-inspiring and deserve our respect and gratitude.

Related:

http://aboutmenshow.com/being-a-fire-buff-goes-beyond-trucks-and-sirens/

 

 

 

The News for the Daily News Is Grim and I’m Taking It Personally

I will let industry experts pick apart why Tronc, the corporation that owns The Daily News, decided to slash its newsroom staff by half.

I know by heart the back story of the decline of newspapers but  I don’t care about The News’s circulation or revenue figures.

For me, what’s happening to The Daily News is personal.

The News was THE newspaper I grew up with in the Bronx.

It helped develop my love of newspapers, with the comics, horoscopes and Ann Landers my gateways to the paper. I would get lost in the Sunday comics of “Broom Hilda,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Blondie” and “Dick Tracy.”

The first article I read in The News was a Rex Reed review of the movie “Carrie.” (He didn’t like it but the review was so wonderfully bitchy!)

The News was also a source of information for school projects, like sunset, sunrise and the phases of the moon and for a time it published your Biorhythms. (Hey, it was the 70s!)

My family did not subscribe to the “TV Guide” that was so popular back then. Instead, we relied on the “TV sheet” — a pullout listing of the week’s television shows that The News carried on Sundays.

Befitting its longtime slogan as “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” it once featured a two-page center spread filled with photos. Sometimes there were feature shots from the tops of bridges where workers toiled or scenes from beaches on a hot day.

I started to read the columns by Jimmy Breslin, the TV critic Kay Gardella, gossip purveyor Liz Smith and later the Phantom of the Movies, who wrote passionately about Grade Z horror and sci-fi flicks.

I remember the Night Owl edition and people lining up at the candy store across the street from my apartment on Saturday nights to get the early version of the Sunday paper.

The News on Sundays was a monster paper that came in three sections: the comics, which were loaded with advertising inserts and coupons, the arts and entertainment section, and then the main book, which was that day’s daily newspaper.

I delivered The News for five years starting when I was 13. The sections would come in stages over the week and had to be assembled on Sunday morning.

At my peak, I had more than 100 Sunday customers and often had to make two trips to complete my appointed rounds. I broke many a shopping cart under the weight of the papers.

The work had its rewards as I was named The Daily News newspaper carrier of the year from the Bronx and won an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World for four – an achievement I still brag about!

As I got older, I appreciated The News’s sass and tone. It was fearless in calling out elected leaders (“Ford to City: Drop Dead”) and embodied a sense of social responsibility.

It led investigations, spoke truth to power and rooted for the little guy. It celebrated and reflected New York City – warts and all.

In the past decade or so, The News became a shadow of its former self and relied on gimmicky front pages that soured me on reading it. While my passion for The News may have faded, I still pray it rallies.

I certainly hope it does not go the way of another beloved tabloid, New York Newsday, where I cut my teeth as a college intern and worked with journalistic luminaries. That tab closed in 1995 after 10 years.

Over the decades, The News has survived strikes, blackouts and a bankruptcy, so don’t count it out.

Maybe a wealthy benefactor will step forward to rescue The News the way Jeff Bezos did for The Washington Post, John Henry did for The Boston Globe or more recently Patrick Soon-Shiong did for the The Los Angeles Times.

If such a white knight were to come forward, the front page could then declare: “Daily News to Tronc: Drop Dead.”

 

When Death Sends You a Message About Life

Life has a way of tapping you on the shoulder to ask if you are making the most of what time you have.

And then there are times life punches you really, really hard to ask if it’s got your attention.

A friend and former colleague dying one week after he learned he had cancer qualifies as one of those moments.

George Spohr, who had been a business editor at The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., found out he had cancer on his 37th birthday.

This is his clear-eyed text message five days before he died:

“For the past few weeks, I’ve been pushing past a lot of abdominal pain. The pain got so bad that I was hospitalized in Syracuse the past four days (I was home visiting family for the weekend). They found a mass on my liver, and spots on my pancreas and lungs that might be related. They did a biopsy and I got the results on Thursday evening. I have cancer. I don’t know much more than that; it’ll take a few days to learn what options for treatment I may have or how advanced it is. But I wanted you to know. The prognosis isn’t good (yesterday might have been my last birthday), so please keep up your prayers.”

I wish I could be a scold and say, “See boys and girls? This is the reason you should be sure to go to the doctor regularly.”

But that would not only be insensitive but untruthful.

George, according to a mutual friend, had been diligent about seeing the doctor regularly. Tests leading up to the discovery of his cancer turned up nothing abnormal.

He was a bear of a man, with a booming laugh and a toothy smile. He was an unabashed fan of White Castle and would make a point of posting photos of ones he visited as he crisscrossed the country.

He would punctuate gossipy conversations with “Are you serious?!”

George claimed to be a Republican and fan of Trump’s. With him, you could never be quite sure if he was pulling your leg.

That led to this text exchange with him after he told me the news:

Me: “But yes prayers bigly! Yuge! Hope you cracked a smile. Sending prayer and heartfelt wishes for strength and healing.”

Him: “Thank you, sir. Yes. #maga. Always!”

In the beginning, I had a combative relationship with George over turf issues in the newsroom.

Over time, we grew to mutually respect one another and the talents we each had and from that, our friendship grew.

I watched as he advanced in his career, moving from one newsroom leadership position to another in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and finally Indiana.

The way he died seems so desperately unfair, implausible and frightening.

I would be lying if I said that it did not have me badly rattled.

I am one of those people who have 1 percent of their mind occupied with anticipating the random worst things that can happen to myself or loved ones: a crash, terrorist attack, illness, derailment, etc.

I like to think that partly based on past personal experience (the unexpected death of my fiancée) and a longtime career in news, I’m braced for those out-of-the-blue moments.

But maybe not.

George’s death reminds me about a philosophy my wife and I share about gift-giving: Rather than getting a CD, we might consider tickets to a concert or a play instead.

Behind that premise is the notion that time spent with friends and loved ones — and the memories and stories they create — will last longer than any material object.

Another friend called it creating “scrapbook moments.”

My scrapbook with George is perhaps thinner than I’d like but I thought there would be time to add more memories.

Life reminds you though: Not always.

Rest in peace, George.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Search of Champ, the Loch Ness Monster of North America

As a kid I was captivated by the mysteries of U.F.O.s, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts and other paranormal doings.

I grew up watching the television series “In Search of…” hosted by Leonard Nimoy and read whatever books I could about unexplained phenomena.

During free reading time in 7th grade, I was the nerd always with a book about U.F.O.s, with titles like “Project Blue Book” (named after the Air Force’s investigation into unidentified flying objects) or “Chariots of the Gods.”

Yeah, I was some sort of geek/desk-bound adventurer.

My interest in those topics waned as I took on the responsibilities of career, family and the other trappings of being a grown-up. (However, I was a HUGE fan of the television series “The X-Files.”)

But somewhere deep down there remained that childlike spark of curiosity and wonder about things that do not fit our orderly understanding of the world.

That spark was fanned into a flame recently when I read a Facebook post by a former colleague at The Press-Republican, Lohr McKinstry.

He posted that he was donating a trove of his articles about Champ, the often-reported, sometimes-documented but never-authenticated mystery creature of Lake Champlain, known as the Loch Ness Monster of North America.

That led me in June to spend some time in Vermont with Katy Elizabeth, the lead researcher and founder of Champ Search, which is dedicated to proving the existence of Champ and protecting it.

Katy Elizabeth unpacks equipment from her car, preparing for a day’s searching on the lake.

From my time working at The Press-Republican, I was aware of the legend. Sightings of Champ stretch back centuries to when Indian tribes populated the area and continue to present day.

Some early accounts described it as serpent more than 100 feet long though Elizabeth believes it might be an amphibian/reptile hybrid that is between 15 and 30 feet long, with knobs on its back, a long, slender snake-like neck and head shaped like a horse.

Skeptics believe the sightings can be attributed to gar, sturgeon, schools of fish or even logs.

Me? I was just excited to shadow Elizabeth in her work.

Over the years I’ve grown to appreciate people who see the world differently because they open up new horizons.

Plus, I have all the admiration and respect for anyone who is passionate about their work!

It was like going on a ghost hunt with all the spectrometers and other paranormal-measuring equipment except instead of looking for spirits in the basement of an abandoned hotel, I’d be outdoors on the shore of Lake Champlain.

Elizabeth, 33, who is known among locals as the “Champ Lady” or the “Lake Monster Queen,” got turned onto Champ when she was 7.

She was watching an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries,” which featured an episode about the creature.

She got hooked and has been ever since.

She will get up before sunrise and spend two to four hours staking out the lake and then return at sunset, the theory being that Champ is nocturnal.

The trunk of her car is filled with hard plastic containers with hydrophones with a recorder and underwater microphone, binoculars, camera and tripod.

Among the assorted equipment she relies on in her search efforts.

“You are not going to see something every day, but when you do, it’s an amazing experience,” she said, adding that patience and staying open to possibilities are critical.

Elizabeth, who grew up in Rhode Island near water, said she is a trained observer of lakes and seas and can readily distinguish logs, fish and boats from other objects on the water’s surface that are not readily explained.

Some of the things she told me about Champ were a surprise.

For instance, though “Champ” is often referred to in the singular, it really is “Champs,” as in a whole school of them.

She described the creatures as “a very tough species of animals” given how they have survived the sewage and other pollution that has gone into the lake over the years.

The other thing that surprised me was that there have been reported sightings of Champ on land!

She regularly scours the shoreline searching for teeth, bones or other physical traces of Champ. In one case she found a bone of an ancient bison, a conclusion she said was backed up by a natural history museum in Ohio that examined the relic.

“It’s really cool to find stuff like that to remind you how ancient this area is,” she said.

Tripod and camera at the ready, Katy Elizabeth regularly scours the lake on the search for Champ.

As for the dearth of physical evidence of Champ, such as scat, a skeleton or carcass, Elizabeth is quick to ask: “How many times do you find a dead turtle? You think about whales and dolphins. How many times do you see a carcass of these animals?”

She said some species know when their death is imminent and seek hidden places to die. And with Lake Champlain being 120 miles long, there are a lot of places of hide.

Elizabeth herself has had more than a dozen encounters with Champ, garnering her five different videos and four or five audio recordings. Some of the sounds might be territorial calls, she said.

She attributes her extraordinary number of sightings to a heightened sensitivity to paranormal elements.

“I am not Ms. Cleo,” she said, referring to the psychic best known for her television commercials pitching a psychic pay-per-call service. “I pick up on things.”

Elizabeth hopes to earn degrees in marine biology and marine bioacoustics but in the meantime relies on her own self-taught methods and research.

While some “armchair researchers” will either merely talk about the search for Champ or put in a perfunctory effort, Elizabeth said she is dedicated full time to finding proof of its existence.

But her work will not stop there.

Protecting the creature is vital, she said. “People think that once Champ is discovered, that’s the end but it’s really the beginning.”

Such a discovery would open up Champ to study similar to tagging sharks or whales and learning more about their behaviors and characteristics.

“I think the most important thing for people who are skeptical is to keep an open mind,” she said. “To think we are the only beings on this planet is selfish.”

On the day of my visit, we were at Arnold Bay on the Vermont side, looking across the lake at Westport and Port Henry in New York. Apart from a father and daughter fishing, I didn’t see any activity on the lake.

I’m a skeptic by nature (and training) but it’s difficult, after talking at length to Elizabeth and hearing her passion and enthusiasm for her work, not to discount the possibility that something unexplained lurks beneath the surface in Lake Champlain.

I want to believe…

Rats?! Oh, Hell No!

I was walking along Eighth Avenue on a Sunday night, headed to Penn Station after work when a woman coming in the opposite direction cast her eyes to the sidewalk, scooted to a stop Fred Flintstone-braking style and said loudly: “Oh hell no!”

I looked where she was looking and said in return: “Oh yeah. Believe it.”

The object of our conversation was a few feet away and about 10 inches long: Rattus norvegicus, better known as the brown rat.

I was as skeeved out as she was but just did a better job of hiding it.

It’s a ritual of mine on Sunday nights that I walk by the garbage from restaurants and cafes that is piled high for Monday morning pick-up.

I scan the sidewalk for rats coming up from the sewer grates (and God only knows where else) and swarm the garbage.

I cringe as I see tourists and other unsuspecting pedestrians walk right near the piles and I want to scream out a warning!

I hug the walls of the buildings near these hot spots and sprint like an Olympian or walk waaaay the hell out into the street.

I figure I will take my chances with an oncoming cab.

In a case of if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them, I recently read a book by Robert Sullivan called “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.”

It was a deep dive into the history of rats, their behaviors and their environment, especially in Manhattan.

Gotta say, it was interesting in a “Oh hell no!” kind of way.

For instance, did you know:

  • Male and female rats may have sex 20 times a day and a female can produce 12 litters of 20 rats a year. Shudder!
  • 26 percent of all electric cable breaks and 18 percent of phone cable disruptions are caused by rats.
  • 25 percent of all fires of unknown origin are caused by rats.

The author staked out an alleyway in Lower Manhattan at night for a year, sometimes wearing night-vision goggles, to see firsthand how they acted. He also interviewed exterminators and sanitation workers.

He also described the shrieking noises they make when they fight for food and the pecking order that comes with being the biggest and baddest in a colony of them.

I read the book with a blend of disgust and awe.

As a “Publisher’s Weekly” review described it: “This book is a must pickup for every city dweller, even if you feel like you need to wash your hands when you put it down.”

Before my weekly ritual avoiding contact with rats, I had lived a largely rat-free existence.

Mice? Yes, living in the woods/country will lend itself to that.

But rats? No.

The closest near-encounter I had was in 1986, when I was an intern reporting for New York Newsday.

For one assignment I shadowed the Department of Health’s rat patrol.

That led me to a vacant lot in Upper Manhattan, ankle deep in garbage, rotting food and debris. I distinctly remember thinking I wanted to see a rat but at the same time I really didn’t want to see one.

I found the article I wrote. In it, I quoted a veteran, a guy named George Laws.

The story described how a nearby resident said she saw rats every night.

“They’re that big,” she told Laws excitedly, pointing to her two-foot-long pet dog.

Laws, who had been exterminating for 28 years, shook his head and replied, “If I see a rat that big, I’ll leave New York myself.”

Related:

Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How One Man Followed His Dream (and What We Can Learn From Him)

Tris Korten is a man with a mission and vision.

I should know, having worked with him a long, long time ago in newspapers and seeing up close his dedication to his craft.

As with so many work colleagues, Tris fell off my radar for decades but then resurfaced thanks to Facebook.

And what he had been up to was nothing less than astonishing: He’d published a nonfiction book that I could not put down.

[Order it here.]

It was a page-turner.

Gripping, suspenseful, moving, filled with humanity and tragedy.

What struck me — beyond the sheer accomplishment of the book — was HOW he did it.

It’s one thing to dream big.

It’s quite another to see those dreams to reality.

And that is exactly what he did.

I thought that it would be instructive to hear from Tris about the path he followed to get there, what obstacles he faced and what he did to keep on going.

His remarks, edited lightly here, are candid, funny and smart. There are lessons in here for all of us.

From conception to publication, how long did “Into the Storm” take?

Well, the line blurs.

First I wrote a magazine story that the book is based on. That appeared in the November, 2016, issue of GQ.

Then I wrote a book proposal, then I wrote a book. The book itself took just under a year. But I had been neck deep in the topic for at least two years.

Briefly outline the path you took to get the book to publication.

GQ signed off on my story in Feb/March of 2016. It appeared in the magazine in November of 2016. From that research I then wrote a proposal that was sold to Ballantine in March of 2017.

The proposal was thin for a book.

I was not able to contact the captain of the Minouche, one of the two ships I write about, for either the magazine piece or the proposal. It was only after Ballantine had signed off that I finally found my captain and several of his crew members.

That was a good day.

It was a quick turnaround on the book, first draft in by November, we were done editing by late February/early March. Luckily, the amount of work I did on the magazine article laid a strong foundation for the book.

Describe the challenges of balancing the work of writing this book with demands of the rest of your life, such as your marriage, kids’ social and school calendars and other work commitments.

I work from home, a three-bed, two-bath apartment on Miami Beach, right on a large canal complete with coconut trees, fish, sharks, and five-foot long iguanas.

I share this space with my wife and two young daughters (ages 11 and 13).  My wife is a nurse and she works three days a week. On those days I pick the kids up.

I have a home office, but it ain’t soundproof. That’s always a challenge.

Normally when I write I don’t like any distractions, but I started wearing headphones and listening to classical music, piano concertos and nocturnes when the girls were home during this process.

Generally, my days were devoted to research and writing until the kids came home. Then homework with them, dinner, a little end of night TV.

Then I’d hit the office again for an hour or two more.

How did you discipline yourself to stay on track and still meet the demands of your personal life?

One lifestyle change I had to make was cutting back on my drinking.

Normally, I have a beer or two while cooking dinner and watching the news.

Then a glass or two of wine with dinner.

Maybe, just maybe, two fingers of rum after the kids go to bed.

During much of this process I cut way back. One beer or one glass of wine with dinner.

For a good two-month stretch I didn’t drink any alcohol.

Eh, I wasn’t that much more productive.

What kinds of obstacles did you face in reporting and writing this book?

Really the only issue was time. Time was not my friend.

There was a surfeit of information on the sinking of one of my ships, El Faro. The National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Coast Guard ran a joint hearing, so there was a lot of testimony to go through.

They put out final reports, which were very detailed and technical.

And there was a 500-page transcription of the Voyage Data Recorder, which chronicled the last 26-hours of conversation on the bridge.

It was almost completely the opposite for the Minouche, which was foreign-flagged and had a crew of Haitians and Filipinos.

U.S. authorities were not responsible for putting out a report on what happened there. No one was. So I had to piece what happened together through interviews.

Any strategies you can share for dealing with setbacks and frustrations when tackling a project like this? What did you do to keep yourself sane? Did you cook, work out, decompress watching movies, etc.?

The subject matter was sad. In half my book I write a tragedy. The other half I write about triumph.

Living with that tragedy for months on end – interviewing family of lost sailors, reading those sailors’ last words on the Voyage Data Recorder, discovering what went wrong and how it could have been prevented – does take a psychological toll.

Normally I like to stay active.

I’ve taken up boxing. I do a fair amount of freedive spearfishing. But the time pressures were so acute, I really didn’t feel comfortable taking any time off.

When it got to be too much, I’d go for a run, and let the repetitive pounding on the pavement kind of shake the low-grade sadness off.

Having kids helps too.

In general. I may have been a bit more curt and unavailable to them during this period. But for me, to come out of my office and have laughing, funny, little people around was a joy.

Guys can be notoriously thick-headed when it comes to asking for help and support in their lives. Was that an issue for you at all?

Nope. Never had that problem. Not proud. Ask directions all the time. Ask for help when needed.

The problem was, as much as I was overloaded, there was nobody else to turn to. It was on me to finish this project. I can’t ask someone else to write a chapter for me.

Beyond that, my wife was of course helping where she could. She was under her own pressures, finishing up a master’s degree in Nursing Education.

So this was an intense period in the Korten household.

So many times in life, we can have big dreams to start a project, a new venture or business, but then talk ourselves out of it. What advice do you have for others to keep that motivational flame alive?

Yeah, that’s a good one. I’m no model for this and I wouldn’t recommend doing what I do. I’m not even sure it has paid off … except, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

I gave that caveat because I’m a freelance journalist. I don’t do anything else. I don’t teach, I don’t work for a website on the side, or sell insurance. (OK for two years recently, I did run the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, but then I got restless).

It’s not a logical way to live. I can see my finances about six months to a year out. After that, it’s wide-open. To me that’s exciting. To others, not so much.

So, what I did to propel me forward, and I’m not sure I even did this consciously, is I pulled up on the beach of this life then burned my boat.

No going back. No side jobs that could distract me.

This has the added benefit of keeping me hungry for great stories. My motivation is survival.

Describe that moment when you first held the hard cover culmination of all of your work in your hands. What was that like?

The big moment wasn’t holding the hardcover, because there were many milestones like that; turning in the manuscript; finishing the last edit; getting the galley copies; getting the hardcover.

And generally, I wouldn’t let myself celebrate because there was always something to do after that – even with publication, there were readings and then worrying about sales etc.

The truest feeling of joy from the culmination of writing the book was in the gradual build-up of reader response.

The people who read the book really connected to it, and were touched and moved by the lives of the sailors and Coast Guard members I write about.

Last question: Who sports that Walter White look better? You or the lead character from “Breaking Bad”?

Yes, I get that a lot. I mean a lot. I’ve had people in bars ask me to pose with them. I had a whole group of ladies at a hotel pool take pictures with me.

Good looking guy that Bryan Cranston.

Once your beard gets to a certain length, it’s like a friend, or a pet.

You don’t want to see it go.

I let it go a little crazy-long during the book, just because I didn’t have to go out and meet people or interact meaningfully with anything other than my book (and my indulgent wife).

Anyway, the kids love it.  They made me get beard balm, and beard oil. They blow dry and comb it.

Caring for my beard is a family activity at this point.

 

Rihanna, ‘Ocean’s 8’ and Me

Pretty swiftly on my arrival at work one evening at The New York Times, word spread that the singer Rihanna was somewhere in the building filming a scene for a movie.

The excitement about her presence was electric.

Messages on the communications platform Slack stacked up speculating about where in the building she was, what she was filming and how long she’d be at 620 Eighth Avenue.

Me? My attitude was best summed up with the shrug emoji.

(I later discovered she was filming a scene for “Ocean’s 8,” which features an all-female cast in a classic heist movie. There is a scene where Rihanna is downstairs in the building lobby, commandeering a custodian’s cart in the middle of the night.)

I don’t want to sound too blase but yes it was cool that she was there, but I had work to do so I moved on.

By the time I headed for an elevator for the lobby around 12:30 a.m., I had completely forgotten she was in the building.

Yes, she walked out these VERY doors!

And then this happened: I headed to the two sets of double doors leading out to West 40th Street, my mind occupied with the commute home.

I really was not paying attention when I realized I was sort of sandwiched between a gaggle of people who were also leaving.

I turned behind me to hold the door open for one of these people and it was this guy, who I swear, filled the damn doorway top to bottom and side to side.

No exaggeration, he blocked out the light.

You know that character from “Game of Thrones” who is known as The Mountain?

In real life, that character is played by an Icelandic named Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson who has won competitions to be named the World’s Strongest Man and the first person to win the Arnold Strongman Classic.

The dude is 6 foot 9 inches tall.

Well, the guy in The Times building that night must’ve been his brother.

The Brother of the Mountain gave me a pleasant “thank you” for holding the door but it was only when I turned around that I realize that Rihanna was a mere footstep ahead of me.

And then I realized that this guy was her bodyguard and that I had somehow — inadvertently and stupidly — got between him and his protectee.

That is the equivalent of getting between a mama bear and her cubs: ill-advised and dangerous.

The guy could have snapped me like a matchstick.

When we got outside of the building, a guy in drag called out to Rihanna, who was stunningly beautiful in real life and could not have been more gracious to this fan waiting for her on the street.

She climbed into a big SUV and that was the last I saw of her.

That was my brush with fame — and probably near death if I got any closer to her!

 

 

My Dad’s Best Stories From His Days in the Navy

To celebrate Father’s Day, I thought I would share some of my dad’s best stories from his days in the Navy, where he served on the USS William R. Rush.

He served in the Navy from Aug. 30, 1955, to Aug. 8, 1958.

He was not quite 17 when he signed up so my grandfather had to sign the enlistment papers.

***

Dad joked that when he was in the Navy, grandpa went to the Russian embassy to buy war bonds so he would be on the winning side.

***

He recalled a drill when they were ordered to put on life preservers.

Most of the crew was smashed drunk but one sailor was sober and insisted on taking a closer look at the life vests.

They were from WWI and when the sober sailor threw it in the water, “it sank like a stone” because all the cork inside the old vests had dried out.

***

To serve on a destroyer like the Rush, you had to be easy-going because you slept 18 inches apart, he said.

He joined the Navy because he wanted to travel, get three meals a day and escape an unhappy home life.

“I hit it just right,” he said, noting that if he had re-enlisted, he could have been ensnared in Vietnam.

***

His ship was in heavy, heavy seas — the worst of his tour — and dad was fearful.

He said, “I got on my knees and prayed to God to keep me safe. I swore to Him: ‘I’ll give up smoking. I’ll give up drinking. I won’t see those girls in the bars in Barcelona.’

“Well, human frailty being what it is, we got through the rough seas and what did I do? I smoked, I drank and I saw those girls in Barcelona!​”

***

Dad was like 19 and there was this black Southerner who saw dad was fearful and holding on for dear life, and he goes: “Mele, you got religion? Because if you don’t, you better get some tonight!”

***

I got his naval enlistment and discharge papers from the military: What training he had, where he did his tours, etc.

But the highlight was his application in which he listed “fishing” as a hobby.

So I went to my old man, and I was like: “Che cazzo è?” (More or less like WTF in Italian slang.)

I asked: “Dad, you grew up in the Bronx and the closest watering hole was a puddle in your neighborhood or Orchard Beach or City Island, which was a bus or train ride away.  Where did you getting this ‘fishing’ shit from?”

He listed fishing because it was related to water and he thought it would look good on his application to the Navy!

***

He did three cruises in 1956, ’57 and ’58.

He went to Cuba twice, Spain, France, Scotland, Turkey, Greece and Jamaica.

He described the ship as a “radar picket” — an expendable commodity for torpedoes or mines.

***

He recalled a chief who was an insomniac who went out on the deck of an aircraft carrier at 2 in the morning to drink coffee.

He drifted into the active flight deck and one of the hooks they use to catch landing planes somehow struck the chief in the temple and killed him.

Dad said even though he was not there to witness what happened, it left him badly shaken but another officer told him: “It was his time to die and you have to accept that.”

***

He became known as the “Ginger Ale Kid” because he was fearful of getting caught drinking underage (sailors were warned they would do civilian AND military time if they got caught) so dad was relentless in not drinking and stuck to ginger ale.

***

On the chow line some sailors would say of the food: “Just like mother used to make. That’s why I left home!”

Related:

The World According to My Dad

 

Father’s Day Roundtable

 

Lights! Camera! New York!

If there is one thing guys can argue about, it’s movies.

Put three guys in a room and ask them to rank the best movie in any category and you will get five different opinions.

Now, suppose these guys are New Yorkers.

You can get five different opinions — this time with attitude.

Which bring us to this: Picking the top three movies that were either set in New York City or best depicted it.

This was all set in motion by an article last year in The New York Times that attempted to tackle this issue.

At AMR, we are an opinionated stubborn lot, each with our own heartfelt views of movies and each with our own personal favorites for which movie shined the best spotlight on our hometown.

So over the next few days, each of us will weigh in with our “Best Of” lists. Turns out some of our picks overlap but many do not.

What movies set in New York City were your favorites? How far off base are our picks?

Let us know. You can comment on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com

Or be like a New Yorker and just scream at your computer screen loud enough to wake the neighbors.

Here’s my picks:

“The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three”

For me, this is the quintessential New York movie. Maybe it explains why it ranks as my all-time favorite (Shhhhhh….Don’t tell “Star Wars.”)

Let’s start with the basics: The No. 6 line (aka Pelham line aka Lexington Avenue line ) was the one I grew up with, so it’s close to home.

The thing about “Pelham” is that it so perfectly captured the attitude, passion, dark humor and grittiness of New York and its 8 million inhabitants.

The plot is terrific and the dialogue is like listening to a beautiful symphony of smart-ass street-savvy New Yorkers.

The authentic feel of the cop cars, the politics and the trains coupled with the dynamic soundtrack make this a must-see celebration of the city.

“The Warriors”

This is another one of those dark gritty movies with some smaller light moments to break up the grim.

Set largely at night with an overwhelming sense of menace lurking behind every corner, this 1979 movie captured the dispirited nature of New Yorkers who were contending with high crime and a broken subway system.

Despite its almost relentless hopelessness, there does come triumph in the end.

It’s a bit schlocky in places and maybe the production values are not the highest, but it stands out for the sense of place it delivers about the city.

Bonus: In recognition of a big blowout cast reunion in 2015, I interviewed one of the leading actors, Terence Michos, who played Vermin in the movie.

Vermin Speaks! An About Men Radio Podcast Interview With “The Warriors” Star

​”The Pope of Greenwich Village”

This one is a personal favorite again because it hit close to home.

I was in college when it was being shot, with many key scenes filmed at “my” subway stop on the No. 6 line at Castle Hill Avenue.

I recall the big stage lights and crew occupying one of the entrances to the subway and being there for a long stretch. It was exciting to see a bit of Hollywood come to the Bronx!

There was an old Irish bar on the corner of Castle Hill and Westchester Avenues where some of the key characters, played by Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, meet.

That it was shot in a place so familiar to me lent the film an air of authenticity that was easy to relate to.

You know, it’s like one of those things where you see a scene on the big screen and you go: “I know where that is!”

BTW, as a total aside, AMR posse member Pedro and I both have had our brush with Hollywood, appearing as extras in a crowd protest scene in the 1983 movie “Daniel,” starring Timothy Hutton.

We had to get to the Lower East Side super early on a winter’s morning, wear dark clothing and donated our day’s pay to a charity.

If you want to see what we look like, click here. It’s truly a “Where’s Waldo?” moment.

And no, I still have not watched the movie.

 

 

 

 

“Lost in Space” on Netflix Is a Fun Fresh Reboot

When I first heard that Netflix rolled out a reboot of “Lost in Space,” I reacted with “Danger, Netflix! Danger!”

The TV series, which aired from 1965-68, was a childhood favorite of mine.

It featured space exploration!

And aliens!

And a very cool robot cleverly named Robot!

And, oh yeah, two young female leads, who were pretty hot, but I digress…

The “Lost in Space” movie from 1998 was also surprisingly good, but an entirely new series?

Hmmmm….I was skeptical.

To quote Dr. Smith from the original series: “Oh the pain, the pain!”

But you know what? I am here to tell you the new series is every bit as good as the original and even better.

It has been updated to reflect modern advancements while still staying largely true to the underlying plot: The journey of the Robinson family goes about as straight as a corkscrew.

In the Netflix series, the family seeks out a new life after fleeing a decaying and endangered Earth.

I was utterly hooked from the very first episode. I was emotionally invested and, yeah, at several points on the verge of tears because of the high-stakes situations characters found themselves in.

Among the striking things about the show: the true-to-life family dynamics right down to the tensions between parents and children, the strong female leads (the mom is played by Molly Parker, who is a favorite of mine), the display of smart people finding smart solutions to crises, and the use of music to build suspense.

The other things that impressed me were the gorgeous scenery and investment in sets, costumes, vehicles, design, etc.

In the original series, you will recall the family Robinson was outfitted in space suits that looked like they were wrapped in yards of aluminum foil or some funky velour body suits.

And the props and costumes? Let’s just charitably call them primitive.

When you look back on it, the campy sets and special effects of the original TV show makes this dramatic trailer put out by CBS even more hilarious.

In it, the narrator described the series as “adventures farther out in concept than television has ever gone out before.”

It continued: “‘Lost in Space’ is a top-budget, top-quality show designed to dazzle the eye and ear with the most impressive production values and spectacular effects ever lavished on any TV series.”

Well, yeah. Maybe for its time.

I think that kind of hyperbole applies much more aptly to this Netflix reboot.

If you were fan of the original series, you will not regret going along for this latest ride on the Jupiter 2.

Related:

How I Got My Very Own Robot from “Lost in Space”

 

 

Hello, Darkness

In the world of social media, everyone appears to live in a happy, carefree place.

But do we really?

Is it more the reality that, as Henry David Thoreau once observed, that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I wrote the following as a snapshot of some of the struggles that I — and I think many guys — confront at a certain age:

The Irish, according to my wife, have an expression that goes like this: “It’s a grand life, if you don’t weaken.”

It captures some of the dark humor of a society that endured famine, discrimination and all kinds of hard times.

But it also embodies something else I have been thinking about: Does life ever get easier?

Think about it: When you were an infant, someone fed you, you napped when you want and crapped your pants at your leisure.

As a child, you got to play pretty much all day and had your meals and laundry done for you.

Chores, responsibilities, careers, paying bills, parenthood, confronting aging and your own mortality, all of that nonsense that is part of adulthood can really rob you of the joy of life.

There is a scene from the British television comedy “Fawlty Towers,” where the protagonist and henpecked husband Basil Fawlty, played with such comedic brilliance by John Cleese, has this piece of dialogue with his wife, Sybil, played by Prunella Scales:

Basil Fawlty: [putting an arm around Sybil] Seriously, Sybil, do you remember, when we were first manacled together, we used to laugh quite a lot?

Sybil Fawlty: [she pushes him off and exits] Yes, but not at the same time, Basil.

Basil Fawlty: [to himself] Ah, that’s true. That was a warning all right, I guess? Should have spotted that, shouldn’t I? Zhoom! What was that? That was your life, Mate! Oh, that was quick. Do I get another? Sorry, Mate. That’s your lot.

I find myself at 53 having more and more of these kinds of introspective thoughts — more questions really.

Is that all there is?

Is this what life is supposed to be about?

One endless clawing your way from one day to the next, trying to survive and maybe scratching your way forward in increments?

Can I still find my passion in my profession, one that I’ve dedicated more than 30 years to?

Yes, I’ve been blessed with good health, a loving family and friends and a rewarding career but when I look forward 20 years, I am not sure I can have a lot of confidence in my future quality of life.

Maybe some of these dark thoughts are fueled by corrosive world developments: a rogue state with growing missile capabilities led by an erratic and unpredictable leader, dire forecasts of how climate change will affect a sustainable future and an evolving economy in which job insecurity feels more like the rule than the exception.

It seems cruel to me that at the time you can most enjoy your life — after you retire (although who knows what that will look like) — you will likely be on a fixed income and unless you have taken care of yourself, your health might be too iffy to do many of the things that might enrich your life.

Is it really the case that as the saying goes “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”

I sure hope not.

 

Related:

How I Dealt with My Depression

“Manopause” and Having a Midlife Crisis

Talkin’ Mother’s Day

Ah, Mother’s Day.

That day of the year that brings with it a mixture of guilt, apprehension, obligation and confusion.

You know: The essential ingredients of any familial relationship.

For Pedro and Chris, the relationships with their mothers are fraught with baggage — some more than others.

In Chris’s case, it’s more the size of carry-on luggage.

And with Pedro…well, let’s size it up as a steamer trunk.

And having the bombardment of commercial messages from retailers, florists, online advertisers and the media about the importance of Mother’s Day does not help.

Should we, as sons, act out of a sense of obligation?

Shouldn’t we be honoring our mothers all year-round?

Do we automatically owe them our respect and love because, let’s face it, they gave birth to us, wiped our asses when we were little and put up with our nonsense for lo these many years?

How do we define the relationships with our mothers as sons and adult men and fathers ourselves?

Well, we dive into all of that in this latest episode of About Men Radio.

Give a listen and tell your friends.

And by the way, would it kill you to call your mom just once in a while?

Ask Us Men Anything!

You know how Redditt has a feature called AMA for “Ask Me Anything”?

Well, here at About Men Radio we’re rolling out “AAMA”: Ask A Man Anything.

The concept is simple and is offered especially as a service to our female listeners and readers:

What do you want explained about inexplicable guy behavior?

What questions have you always had but were too afraid to ask?

What things about what we do and how we do them just leaves you mystified?

We invite you to raise any topic — no matter how far-ranging or embarrassing.

We rolled out this feature nearly three years ago and it generated a good number of questions from readers.

Here’s how you can send us your questions:

I mean, look at the faces on these guys!

Can’t you imagine the intelligent, insightful, invigorating answers you will get from us?!

Yeah, neither can I.

 

 

 

Braless in Lake Placid

A story recently surfaced in Florida of a 17-year-old high school student who was called to the principal’s office and told her breasts were distracting.

She was asked why she wasn’t wearing a bra and told to put Band-aids over her nipples, The Miami Herald reported.

Though I don’t have daughters, the story did bring to mind an uncomfortable situation I once found myself in as a reporter overseeing an intern in the summer of 1990.

At the time, I worked in a one-person bureau in Lake Placid, N.Y., and there was a preppie Brown University student who wanted to work as an intern.

Her name was Suzie.

She was a brunette, young, attractive and smart but maybe not street savvy.

She wanted to study journalism and get real-life experience.

It was summer and the bureau was on the second floor of a building with no AC.

She pretty regularly wore a top minus a bra.

Yeah, I noticed. Sue me.

So this went on like this for several weeks until one day I was assigning her to go to a minimum-security prison — they called them camps — to do a feature on the inmates making wooden toys in their shops for needy kids come Christmastime.

They would make these in bulk during the summer to meet the demand in December.

So I had to have a very, very uncomfortable conversation with her (I mean I was only maybe six years older than her) and tell her that before she went to the prison, she’d need to wear a bra.

These were inmates.

These were male inmates.

These were male inmates who did not regularly interact with attractive young women.

You get the picture.

Well the day of the assignment, I am pretty sure she wore a turtleneck in the blistering heat.

Even dressed like that, she said she could not get over how uncomfortable she felt with the leering looks and the attention of all these guys.

Yeah, it was my first uncomfortable chat as a quasi-manager and a memorable one for both of us.

I didn’t have to ask her about wearing a bra after that!

Dancing in Cinderblock Shoes

A  story in The New York Times suggested that there could be cognitive advantages to learning how to dance, that it could be good for your brain and help offset some of the effects of aging.

As the story noted:

“The demands it places on the mind and body could make it unusually potent at slowing some of the changes inside our skulls that seem otherwise inevitable with aging.”

If that is the case, I say, let my brain turn to the consistency of pudding – preferably chocolate please.

Here is what I can tell you about dancing:

There are those who are naturally gifted with a sense of rhythm and a seamless gracefulness in which they move fluidly through space, their bodies natural extensions of music.

And then there are guys like me.

I move like someone frenetically trying to dodge the business end of a cattle prod.

It’s not pretty.

So about five years ago, my best beloved and I took formal ballroom dance lessons.

It was not “Dancing with the Stars” but it was damn hard work and tiring.

We had a Zen-like instructor, Bob Bader of Scranton, who took us through our paces.

Bob leading Meg through some dance lessons. I filmed so I could get a better handle on the steps.
And a twirl!

He was a sweetheart of a guy who was unflappable and always had a kind word of encouragement, even if, like me, you looked like Frankenstein moving in cinderblock shoes.

“That was beautiful,” he would say. “You got it!”

What I “got” I was never entirely sure.

All I knew was that after 90 minutes of lessons, I was beat.

I was supposed to lead but I was nervous.

I had got more flop sweat than Capt. Ahab at a Save the Whales convention.

Not only did we have to learn where to place our feet, legs, arms and hands, but — get this — we were expected to remember where to put them in the right order!

This went on for more than two months as we learned the box step, rumba and worked our way up the evolutionary dance ladder.

Meg and I enjoy dancing at parties, weddings and clubs. But I am not, um, what you would call “classically trained.”

Other couples had a knack for picking up the moves and they were a marvel to watch.

I was hesitant and clumsy, making the lessons a bit more of a contact sport than they should be.

Bob swore that when we were done learning, we would be the center of attention at our next dance appearance.

That was encouraging.

But come to think of it, he never said exactly why we would be the center of attention.

 

Facebook Does a Faceplant and We’re Paying the Price

Farmville.

Mafia Wars.

Poking friends.

Ah, Facebook.

Not that many years ago it seemed so innocent and harmless.

Taking online quizzes about which Harry Potter character I was?

Checking in with the locations of places I visited?

Sharing personal details of my day-to-day life?

Of course! Why not?

What could possibly go wrong?

Fast-forward to 2018 and headlines are brimming with news of data hijacking for all kinds of nefarious purposes, lack of safeguards by Facebook and tens of millions of personal accounts that have been scraped of user’s most intimate details.

Facebook, which was once seen as a bit of a refuge from the black hole of nastiness that is Twitter, suddenly looks like Twitter’s evil twin.

It makes you want to become very unsocial on “the socials” and unplug from the world.

In this episode of About Men Radio, Chris and Pedro discuss their concerns about Facebook, how their social media habits are changing and, of course, cat videos.

Listen in.  Enjoy.  And tell your friends about the show.

But maybe tell them by email.

Happy Birthday to us!

Congratulations to us!

We are four years old today.

Considering much of the content we produce, that will come as no surprise to our listeners and readers. Four years old? Yeah, sounds about right.

But if you have not already, catch up on four years of insightful,  sometimes serious and revealing but almost always fun podcasts and blog posts at aboutmenradio.com

Go ahead. What are you waiting for? Get going!

 

 

More Misadventures With Food

My column last week about my misadventures with coffee stirred up memories of other food mishaps.

Here are three such stories:

Reader Judy Young writes:

When we were kids, my dad was always grumpy when he worked a different shift and we learned to stay out of his way.

He came down from a nap to eat supper. We all scattered because he was not usually in a good mood coming from a nap and having to eat and then go to work again.

He filled his plate from various pots on the stove.

However, he didn’t know that my mother was in the process of cooking chocolate fudge.

He mistakenly ladled it onto his mashed potatoes, thinking it was gravy.

When he took a bite, we all knew something happened from the ruckus in the kitchen.

Afterward, one of my smart-aleck brothers, labeled all the items in the kitchen, e.g. “faucet,” “cabinet,” etc.

On the pan of fudge, he put “NOT gravy.”

***

From my wife, Meg McGuire:

When I lived in England, my family there was my mother’s sister.

A year or so into what turned into a 10-year stay, I was invited to my aunt’s to celebrate my birthday.

After dinner, she brought out the cake. It looked remarkable with white icing and swept-up peaks on the top.

Time to cut the cake.

There was a lot of chatter so my cake-cutting went on in a quiet corner. I gently pushed the knife down, expecting the usual soft icing and cake.

It wasn’t soft. In fact, it was pretty hard. I was aghast.

My aunt’s cake was a failure.

I wasn’t going to tell her but I attempted to saw my way into the icing, which cracked under the pressure of the knife.

The knife then got stuck, holding fast in some sort of goo.

More sawing and I then hit something so firm, it could have been ham.

This whole time I’m trying to act as though the broken icing, the goo and the rock-solid cake were all perfectly normal.

I cut an American-sized slice, about 2 inches at the wide end, and put it on a plate, where it landed with a thud.

Now it was the guests turn to be aghast.

The slices were way too large.

This was what is called a Celebration Cake and is made for special occasions in England.

It consists of dense fruitcake topped with a layer of apricot jam, then a layer of marzipan and then white sugar icing that is meant to harden.

These cakes are often made months in advance and perked up at intervals with brandy before the icing goes on.

My aunt forgave me for “breaking” her cake — and turned that first slice into about 20 pieces.

***

And from yours truly:

This dates back to when my parents were newly married.

Mom (a newly arrived immigrant from Germany) and Dad (who is Italian) were hosting his sister and brother-in-law for dinner.

This was a big deal.

Mom decides to make lasagna, the recipe for which included tiny meatballs.

Mom makes a bunch of them and sets them aside in a colander.

Dad, who was not much of a hand in the kitchen, came in to “help” and started doing the dishes.

Without looking, he grabbed the colander and immersed it in the soapy water.

As he is scrubbing, he pulls up a handful of soapy meatballs and was like “What the heck?!”

Mom is distraught.

Dad, ever-resourceful, says, “No worries” and proceeds to rinse off the meatballs!

They serve the dinner and, as Dad tells the story, he leaned in close all night to see if his brother-in-law would be blowing bubbles from his mouth!

 

 

 

Do You Take Bacon Fat With Your Coffee?

I discovered recently that there are a number of ways to have your coffee.

There is, of course, black (no sugar, no milk); light and sweet (lots of sugar and milk); or some combination that excludes one or the other or substitutes sugar with an artificial sweetener or substitutes milk with cream.

But did you know that you can add bacon fat to your coffee?

Yes, yes you can.

But I sincerely do not recommend it.

Here is what happened:

My wife buys local jars of honey and uses a teaspoon every morning with her tea (and has convinced me of the virtues of using it in my coffee instead of sugar).

The jars are pretty large and when they are empty can be useful for assorted purposes, including collecting cooking fat so we don’t pour it down the drain and clog up the works.

I get in from work pretty late, often around 2:30 a.m., so when I stagger out of bed in the morning, I am looking for coffee — stat!

On this particular morning, there were two honey jars, one filled three-quarters with yummy nature’s goodness — honey — and the other coated at the bottom with congealed bacon fat.

So there is a 50-50 chance of picking the correct jar.

Not only did I pick the wrong one, but I actually had to work at it reaching deep into the jar to scrape out what I thought was honey.

Now, you may smartly ask: Given that there were two jars, and one appeared to be nearly empty, what made you think it was filled with honey?

That is a legitimate question.

The answer is: I am an idiot.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let me continue my story: I take a heaping spoon of gunk, put the spoon into my coffee and stir it.

At the breakfast table, without giving the mug a second look, I proceed to sip the coffee.

Are you familiar with the term “spit take”?

It is a comic move in which a character is drinking something and hears some news that is so shocking that they dramatically spray a mouthful of what they are drinking in a gesture of surprise.

Well, my reaction was akin to that but involved much more swearing.

When I looked at the amoeba-shaped sheen floating on the surface of the coffee, I knew in an instant what had happened.

Since this revolting experience, I have learned that other popular additives used around the world are butter, salt and cinnamon.

I haven’t tried those yet but it’s hard to imagine anything more disgusting than bacon fat.

Oh wait. Yes there is.

This happened 30 years ago. My future first wife and my future father-in-law (a big imposing figure of a man) and I were out at an Italian restaurant discussing the upcoming wedding plans.

Dessert and coffee were served and I’m so nervous about my future father-in-law, I’m not paying attention to what I’m adding to my coffee.

I thought it was sugar.

It was in the same metal container that I thought contained sugar.

It turned out it was Parmesan cheese.

You know, drinking just black coffee has become more and more appealing.

Retirement? Hahahahaha!

There is a kitchen magnet I have that boasts about drinking coffee: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Yeah, it’s a similar feeling I have about retirement. I’ll retire when I’m dead.

When you are in your 20s, retirement, pensions, 401(k) and Social Security are a foreign language.

Saving for when I’m in my 60s? Pshaw! Go on!

At the time, that seemed very, very far away and retirement seemed like an elusive No Man’s Land.

Hell, I had an entire work life ahead of me.

Well, time marches on.

Rather, time has MARCHED on, and here I am at 53 and what is supposed to be retirement age is well within sight.

It might be in sight but my bank account has not kept up with the times, however.

In this episode of About Men Radio, the full posse talks about the prospect of retirement, how well (or ill) prepared we are for it, and what retirement could look like for each of us.

In the meantime, I keep looking at the word “retire” and I try to convince myself it means putting a new wheel on my car.

Just Plain Squirrely

A recent video making the rounds on Facebook about a baby squirrel made me cheer.

If you have not already seen this clip, take a moment.

Watched it? Good.

For those who could not be bothered, let me give you a quick snapshot of what you missed.

A man is gently holding a squirrel, clasping it close to his chest in a gesture of love and affection after having rehabilitated the sick critter.

He is near a tree and talking to the squirrel and encouraging it to return to nature as the squirrel takes a few tentative spider-like shimmies upward.

A happy ending, right?

Yes, until a cat flashes into view, grabs the squirrel in its jaws and there is much screaming.

Score one for the cat I say.

I have had an enmity toward squirrels dating back years.

As a kid in the Bronx I recall digging “squirrel traps” with my friend Michael Butler.

Vietcong-like, we would dig holes, fill them with thorns from bushes and cover them with grass in the mistaken belief we would “catch” squirrels.

Why we did this I do not know. Bored boys in the Bronx is all I can suggest.

Flash-forward about 30 years and I am a first-time homeowner, complete with a shed in the backyard.

One of the first times I went in there I jumped out of my skin because a squirrel had built a nest by chewing a hole into it.

I spooked the squirrel. The squirrel spooked me. And the game was on.

I boarded up the hole.

The squirrel created a new one.

I cleaned out the nest — carefully.

The squirrel flipped me the paw.

And so it went.

Think of Bill Murray fighting the gopher in “Caddyshack” and you have some idea of what I was like.

Years later, the boys and I and my fiancée rented a two-family home that had a spacious attic. And in the attic was, you guessed it, more damn squirrels.

They chewed through the walls and left piles of sawdust everywhere like some beaver-wannabes.

But the all-time craziest encounter I had happened on a magnificent Sunday afternoon in May and we opened the inner and outer doors to the apartment to take advantage of the weather.

My fiancée and I were in the living room watching TV when we both perceived a blur of gray fly through the hallway.

We both looked at each as if to say, “Did you see that?”

Sure enough, a squirrel had bolted into the house.

It hid briefly in our bedroom, escaped into the kitchen, jumped into my lunch bag briefly before bounding upstairs and hiding in the kitchen there.

It remained a fugitive for a day as I tried to corner it with sticky traps (it left clumps of fur but otherwise escaped) and tried to lure it out with peanut butter.

We eventually opened the doors and it ushered itself out the same way it found itself in.

I just remember seeing its hind legs bounding across the street like its ass was on fire.

The cat in the video had the right idea.

Iceland: Loved Too Much?

Iceland, which bills itself as the land of fire and ice, has also become the land of foreign visitors.

I should know: My wife and I honeymooned on the island nation in July 2010 and returned for a 48-hour visit in January.

We love it there and so, apparently, do many, many others.

And therein lies the problem.

Consider that the Icelandic Tourist Board reported that 502,300 people visited in 2008.

By 2014, that number had climbed to nearly 1 million. Two years later, that number skyrocketed to 1.8 million.

That means in 2016, visitors outnumbered locals by a ratio of about 6 to 1.

The steady stream of tourists — and its consequences — has not gone unnoticed.

In March, The Financial Times quoted Paul Fontaine, news editor of the English-language The Reykjavík Grapevine: “It’s got to the point where even the tourists are complaining about too many tourists.”

There was a perceptible difference in what I observed in Reykavik during our recent visit compared with 2010.

We had walked Laugavegur, which is one of the main streets in the capital, in 2010, but when I was there in January, I was struck by how tourist-y, bordering almost on honky-tonk it had become.

The lower end of Laugavegur. As you progress along the street, the number of tourist shops increase.

Souvenir shops catering to out-of-towners and hawking sweatshirts, mugs and Nordic-themed seemed to be bountiful.

One chain retailer, cleverly called I Don’t Speak Icelandic, sells “Enjoy Our Nature” condoms with names such as “Volcanic Eruption.”

Iceland’s penis museum, technically known as the Icelandic Phallological Museum, also had a different, um, feel to it. When we visited in 2010, it was located in the small fishing village of Húsavík.

There, it had a rebellious almost cheeky vibe. Now located in downtown of Reykjavik, it felt more like a gimmicky tourist trap instead of being a genuine reflection of someone’s hobby and passion.

Even the Icelandic people who we found to be reserved but friendly in 2010 now had a certain resigned demeanor/brave face that comes from dealing with hordes of tourists.

Wherever we turned in a public setting — hotels, the city hall, stores, transit hubs — I was struck by the huge arrays of brochures touting visits to glaciers, ice caves, the Northern Lights, helicopter tours, bar crawls, various museums, etc.

As a city, Reykjavík might be accustomed to heavy foot and vehicular traffic, but what about the areas outside of the capital, such as the waterfalls, the glaciers, the farms, the beaches, etc.?

These are places that are I am sure ecologically sensitive and not ready for the stomp-stomp-stomp of thousands of LL Bean boot-wearing outsiders.

It recalls to mind when I worked in New York’s North Country. The Adirondacks, with its clean air, hiking trails, lakes and other natural attractions, were alluring for visitors.

The High Peaks, particularly Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York, were in danger of being loved to death, however.

Rare plant species and wildlife habitats were being damaged or endangered by so much foot traffic. Long holiday weekends saw a parade of cars filled with hikers.

The idea of getting away from civilization and enjoying solitude in nature became increasingly harder to achieve with so many people coming.

So it is with Iceland and its tourists. Sure, outsiders are good for the local economy, but ultimately at what price?

Cranes are a common site in the city, as new construction seems to be going on everywhere.

Related:

A Visit to the Penis Museum

Why ‘Stranger Things’ Is the Perfect Show for Middle-Age Guys

I just finished the second season of “Stranger Things” and if ever there was a perfect streaming series for middle-age guys, I don’t know what is.

For the uninitiated, “Stranger Things” is a bit of “The X-Files” meets “Stand By Me,” the coming of age movie based on the short story by Stephen King of a group of boys on an adventure to see a dead body.

For those repulsed by the premise of that plot and who wonder how boys could unite behind such a “mission,” well, I would just offer these two thoughts: You never were a boy and/or you don’t have sons.

Without giving away key plot points, “Stranger Things” tells the story of a band of preteen boys who fall into a series of supernatural adventures.

My wife recently summed up the central premise of the smash series this way: It’s boys doing stupid things.

To which I responded: Yeah! Isn’t it great?!

For guys of a certain age (read: in their 50s), this show hits all of the right buttons.

It features boys on bikes, using walkie-talkies, playing dorky games and trying find their way through school while fending off bullies and the stray supernatural occurrence.

It captures the gangly awkwardness of preteen boys and their sense of camaraderie and loyalty, even when it is punctuated with swearing at each other.

The show absolutely nails the preteen boy angst of trying to figure out girls: We don’t like them, right? Oh wait, maybe we do? But if we do, where does that leave our friendship with each other?

And then, of course, there is the whole ‘80s vibe, which no other show apart from maybe “The Americans” captures as well.

Vintage video arcade games? Check.

Gas-guzzling cars built like Abrams tanks? Check.

Sound track of music we grew up with? Check.

My wife could only shake her head at some of the reckless and bizarre situations the boys in the show get themselves into and ponder how realistic some of those moments were.

Um…let me just suggest that by my real-life standards, they were spot-on.

I mean, let me offer these true examples of acts of stupidity I engaged in with my friends:

* Building squirrel traps by digging holes in the ground, lining them with thorns from bushes and covering the holes with grass.

* Taking an air gun, squishing the muzzle into the ground to fill it with dirt and then firing the dirt balls at cars as they entered a parking garage. This was not the original intent of the rifle, which when you cocked it and pulled the trigger, made a popping noise but somehow we figured out an “adaptive use.”

* Posing my friends to appear as drug dealers or a suicidal addict prepared to jump out a third-floor window so I could create a photo essay.

Yeah, I would say that by comparison to some of my childhood adventures, the cast of the hit Netflix series might have to try harder to top some of my stranger things.

THON at Penn State Banishes Despair

It is nearly 3 in the morning on the Saturday of Presidents’ Day weekend and the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State University in State College, Pa., looks to be hosting a celebration that is a cross between a rave and Mardi Gras.

The circular corridor teems with college students wearing leis, beads or frilly tutus (guys included), brightly colored T-shirts and sporting glitter on their cheeks or the letters “FTK.”

Inside the arena, music loudly thumps and lights flash. The stands are filled with more students who gyrate and jump to the music.

Large cutout letters representing the names of various sororities and fraternities are outlined with strands of glowing Christmas lights.

I am still trying to figure out how they kept them lit without plugging into a outlet. Probably engineering students.

The arena floor is an ant hill of activity, with more students dancing, clapping and chanting.

The energy level at this hour is at a 7 and by the time the weekend finishes, it will be cranked to a 12 and the students will have torn off the dial.

Instead of heading to ski slopes or heading home for the holiday weekend or returning to their dorms after a night of drinking, these students instead dedicated themselves to a charity fundraiser known as THON.

THON is a 46-hour dance marathon and the capstone of a year’s worth of raising money and awareness in the fight against childhood cancer. It is two days of no sitting and no sleeping.

And that’s no kidding. Even spectators from the public who come to observe are expected to stand in a gesture of respect and support.

THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, involves more than 16,000 students in various capacities, and on this weekend, 707 dancers will be supported by members of 16 committees.

Some of the dancers had to raise a minimum of $2,800 to be eligible to be entered into a random drawing so they could have the privilege of being on their feet for nearly two days.

Last year alone THON raised $10 million for the Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Pa. Since 1977, it has raised more than $146 million.

Reaching that level of success is an audacious undertaking requiring enormous planning and dedication.

And it shows.

A colleague who went to Penn State told me he had a cold dead heart but that THON touched him deeply.

I can now see why.

This will sound corny, but I was immediately moved by the good will that THON represented. Maybe I was tired from the three-hour drive, but I was an emotional basket case as soon as I stepped inside.

The cheer and verve on display would melt the heart of any cynic.

Testaments to the cause were everywhere.

Of particular note were T-shirts dedicated to certain children and others that read: “One day we will dance in celebration. Until then we will dance for a cure.”

THON keeps the families of children with cancer in the forefront, with families actually attending the event and given a private setting to gather.

The logistics of pulling this off cannot be overstated.

We are talking Disney-scale behind the scenes planning for a weekend involving a core of 3,300 student volunteers who oversee everything from security to sanitation.

Dance relations committee members partner with designated dancers to see to their care and feeding, going so far as to sneak in pizza and steak dinners for those who have pledged not to sit for 46 hours.

The volunteer committee members, like my son Daniel, who is a sophomore and made the unusual catapult to the rank of captain of the public relations team, get two four-hour sleep breaks. Not that they take full advantage of the down time, of course.

Dan Mele explains things to his old man.

Daniel led us a through a backstage tour of the maze of hallways and stations that make up THON and introduced us to a number of key players along the way.

And here is the thing: To a person every single volunteer and student we met embraced the challenge of the weekend with a smile and an enthusiasm reserved for little kids on Christmas Eve.

Penn State’s school spirit is legendary, bordering on cult-like. So chalk up that cheeriness and can-do spirit to youthful energy and naïveté and maybe whatever they put in the water in Happy Valley?

Sure.

But that is the cynic’s view.

In a week scarred by the loss of 17 lives in a shooting at a Florida high school, visiting THON was a chance to renew my faith in selflessness and humanity’s desire to do good.

THON shows a cause can transcend politics, party affiliation, divisive beliefs and cultural and ethnic divides and we can rally to do something good FTK: For the Kids.

To donate, go to THON.org.

Why Do You Hate Me, Mother Nature?

Dear Mother Nature,

Why do you hate me?

I have tried to be a good steward of the Earth.

When I was a kid, I made “Do Not Litter” signs.

I led a crusade to clean up Ferry Point Park in the Bronx, spending two summer days stabbing and bagging trash by myself after getting a permit from the city’s Parks Department, which thought the “Campaign to Clean up Ferry Point Park” was an entire army of people instead of some Pollyanna 12-year-old kid.

I was a Boy Scout and learned the importance of environmentally friendly camping techniques and best campfire practices.

So why oh why do you hate me Mother Nature?

By my count, it is Mother Nature: 4, Chris: 0.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx, I thought the Bronx Botanical Gardens was the woods.

So when I moved to the Adirondacks and had a chance to see a moose — A MOOSE! — in the woods in its natural habitat, I was super excited.

Instead, not only did I miss out on seeing it once, but twice. And as I have chronicled, further moose expeditions in Maine and New Hampshire yielded similar lackluster results.

Other efforts to commune with nature were equally pitiful.

I went whale watching in Maine, saw no whales but I did get horribly sea sick.

And on the same trip to Maine we hiked through a wooded path littered with raised stones and tree roots so we could see what a brochure promised would be harbor seals.

Seals, shmeals. There was bupkus.

And now the latest indignity: A trip to Iceland primarily to see the Northern Lights, that flashing razzmatazz of a light show unique to that hemisphere during winter.

Iceland? In January?

But it will be so cool, I promised my wife. After all, we honeymooned here in the summer of 2010, toured the island, loved the country and said we would return to see the aurora borealis.

After a 45-minute bus ride, we arrived at the viewing area, a place so remote and isolated its name loosely translated in Icelandic means “like Ithaca, only colder.”

Like UFO believers, bus loads of us huddled, looking at the night sky. The ice and snow crackled and crunched beneath our feet as we shuffled to stay warm.

Our guide told us conditions had improved to see the Northern Lights, which Icelandic lore attributes to heroes fighting in the afterlife.

Among fishermen, the lights are seen as a harbinger of a good herring catch to come.

Me? If I had seen the lights I would have taken it as a sign that Mother Nature’s angry streak with me had finally come to an end.

Instead she threw shade — lots and lots of it.

And in the stillness of the night, I could hear the mocking laughter of harbor seals, moose and whales.

What I had hoped to see….

 

…and what I actually saw.

Related:

No Moose, No Peace

Another Moose Egg

Come Fly Us! No, Really. It’ll Be OK. Come Back!

I recently saw firsthand what an airliner would look like if my crew of childhood friends who make up the About Men Radio posse were running it.

The instant I laid eyes on the baggage check-in of WOW Air (a name I swear I am in no way making up), I saw flash before me the cast of my friends.

Let us just say the personnel were a diverse and motley lot.

The high polish, smart grooming and aura of “come fly with me” projected by a Virgin American or British Airways crew was absent.

In its place were younger people in uniform who almost looked liked they were playing “airline” the way the guys and I use to play cops and robbers or “house” as kids.

I have no doubt these are hard-working professionals who do their utmost to serve the public.

But it inspired me.

If this ragtag band could run something called WOW Air, then what was stopping the members of About Men Radio?

With that in mind, let me introduce “My Guys Airlines.”

Our slogan? “You really didn’t want to get there, did you?”

Let me introduce you to the MGA team because the conceit of every modern company — whether in air travel or working in McDonald’s — is everybody has a “team.”

Our pilot: Pedro “El Kaiser” Rosado. Pedro knows nothing of flying (apart from paper airplanes and telling people he does not give a “flying” fuck — which raises a peculiar question about why or how fucks could fly).

But here is the thing about Pedro. If you have ever seen him in the regalia of his alter ego, El Kaiser, you know he looks damn sharp in a uniform.

So we are going to slap him in a pilot’s uniform (yes, even with pants!), a cap and those little wing pins and I promise he will project an air of authority that will have you convinced he COULD fly an airplane.

John aka Father John O’Connell will be our lead mechanic and tinkerer in chief. He will also be in charge of giving kids a ride on the luggage tracker trains on the tarmac.

Richard “Super Dad” Rodriguez will be our point person for food and beverages. Actually just beverages. Well,  actually, just booze. OK, to be more specific, beer.

And maybe Jagermeister.

Yeah, come to think of it, we will not have food at all.

Look, if you wanted to avoid being hungry on our flights, you should have eaten before we took off. Sheesh!

Silvio “Coach Silvio” La Frossia will be in charge of advertising and security, or as we like to call it,  Promotion and Patdowns.

And me? I will be in charge of in-flight entertainment, which will consist of mostly telling hoary Catskills-era jokes and bad puns.

So buckle up, put your seat and tray in their upright positions and take a bus.

An Endless Playlist of Nonsense

You know those earworms you get when you listen to a piece of music and it sticks in your brain and plays over and over again?

My wife and I have something similar but it works a bit in reverse.

We call it our “endless playlist.”

For my wife, who is widely read and deeply versed in culture, history and literature, there are bits of songs, poetry or speeches that can spring to mind that she can recite at the drop of a dime.

Dickinson. Shakespeare. Milton. Churchill. Tolstoy.

Song lyrics from the Clancy Brothers, traditional Irish and Scottish ballads, Bob Dylan and Bonnie Raitt.

That is just a selection of what she has stored.

To hear her is a lyrical treat and wonder to behold.

I too have an endless playlist.

Mine is populated with fragments of “guy movie” dialogue, bits from old “Bugs Bunny” cartoons, television commercials and some lyrics from ’70s pop tunes.

Let’s just say that my list is lacking in some of the cultural finesse of my wife’s.

What is worse, I need little provocation to go down one of my wormholes.

For example, my wife might say, “I was looking for…”

And from the dustbin of my brain, in file folders that should really be dedicated to more important things, such as learning to change my own oil, I will dredge up the lyrics to a commercial popular when I was a kid:

“I was looking for a noodle
A different kind of noodle
That was golden right
Tastes so nice
Then I found what I was after
With the taste as light as laughter
Country Kitchen, pure egg noodle.”

And here is the thing: Once I start belting out these ditties, I have to see them to completion.

Meg says something “comes and goes,” and I launch into a rendition of Culture Club’s Boy George singing “Karma Chameleon.”

Or she begins a sentence with “they’re coming” and I will relate it to a song that aired on the old Dr. Demento radio show that went: “They’re coming to take me away ha-haaa…”

It is a bit of free association but I need no excuse to sing the entire opening theme song to “Gilligan’s Island,” which I committed to memory when I was about 12.

Alas, almost all of the selections in my endless playlist are incomplete in some way. I remember just enough to be dangerous — and in those cases where my memory lapses, I will sing or recite what I can recall and hum the rest.

It is such a pointless talent yet I cannot shake it.

Ask me to recite the opening lines to “Macbeth” or to quote a passage from “Paradise Lost,” and I will be the one who is lost.

But if you need to know about clips from Bugs Bunny (“I want an Easter egg! I want an Easter egg!”), I am your man.

I blame my father, who has a huge depository of stories, pieces of jokes, songs and cultural references that will randomly surface in conversation.

Some story or memory will trigger another and he will link the two with the preface, “It’s like the time that…”

I guess it must be in the genes, though notably neither of my sisters is afflicted with this Rain Man-like talent.

I consider it part of my idiot savant — minus the savant.

Putting Fitness Back on Our Menu

Let’s be honest:

Our attempt in 2016 to launch the About Men Radio Fitness Challenge — in which members of the posse pledged to improve our eating and exercise habits — collapsed quicker than a football handled by Tom Brady.

But wait!

Brady recently came up in a conversation between Chris and Pedro, and it was nothing related to the 2015 deflategate controversy.

Instead, we got to talking about Brady’s regimented, disciplined (over the top) eating habits: For instance, he drinks 25 glasses of water — a day.

But it’s a new year and we’re ready to tackle the challenges of fitness and eating right anew.

In this episode of About Men Radio, Chris and Pedro talk about recommitting themselves to fitness, why it’s so hard (they were talking about working out, you pervert!) and what challenges stand in the way.

It’s a show that every man (and woman) can relate to.

So put down that fork, pour yourself a glass of water (or 25) and give a listen!

Related

Weighting For the Moment of Truth

 

 

 

Memories of Snowstorms in the Bronx

The storm battering New York City and much of the East Coast today is exactly the kind of snowstorm I yearned for as a kid growing up in the Bronx.

We didn’t get a lot of snow often, but when we did, it was cause for jubilation.

The Cross-Bronx Expressway came to a standstill and motorists were stranded during a blizzard in 1978.

I had gotten a Red Flyer wooden sled with metal blades  (with a wooden arm to steer!) from my cousins when they moved from New York to Germany in the late 1960s and this thing was my beloved Rosebud.

I would go to the steepest  hill in Parkchester, which was near the playground in the East and several stairways removed from the back of Oval Drug.

I would get there early, ahead of the other kids.

Dressed in long johns, snowpants when I was younger and later jeans (or dungarees as they were known then), rubber boots pulled over shoes with Wonder Bread plastic bags over them (the bags helped make getting the shoes on easier), hat, a green scarf made by my cousin and gloves, and I would lose myself in the endless traipsing up and down the hill.

Now the trick was not to kill yourself.

Parkchester had these metal poles that connected chains to mark off grassy areas where you were not permitted. During snowstorms, Parkchester security turned a blind eye to the sledders.

But if you went tearing down the hill like I did, you wanted to make damn sure you did not go head-first into one of the poles or lift your head up and get garroted by the chains.

Yikes!

The chains in Parkchester marked off where the grass was off limits. Buses and cars got suck in this blizzard circa 1978.

I was the envy of the other kids, most of whom had the plastic “flying saucers” that were coming into vogue or relied on flattened large cardboard boxes they would get from the supermarket.

I’d leave after about three hours because the hill would be getting too crowded and icy.

I’d carry my sled home, undress just inside the doorway, my ass and legs pink and tingly from the cold and snow, and would then chow down on hot Farina mom would make.

When I had my paper route, I used the sled to deliver the papers. I’d wrap them in a bundle encased in plastic, strap them to the sled and drag it behind me to make my rounds.

As I got older, the snow was a different cause for excitement: the possibility of schools being closed! (It seldom happened in the 1970s. Maybe three times in total?)

But when it did, my friend John and I would go around, walking in the streets, which were deserted, and look for stranded drivers.

This was back in the day of rear-wheel drive cars, and John and I would listen for the telltale sound of tires spinning in the snow and go and lean into the back of the car to help push it out, getting a spray full of snow in our faces in the process!

The drivers were always appreciative and it was a fun way to spend the time in the outdoors.

Top middle photo was from East Tremont Avenue and lower right photo is John O’Connell atop a huge manmade snow mound across from St. Helena’s Church.

The snow also had a unique quieting effect on the busy cacophony that was the Bronx.

As the snow would fall, especially at night, it would muffle the noise and traffic would slow.

The quiet would be punctuated only by the ching-clang-ching sound of the chains on the tires of the sanitation trucks and police cars and in the morning, the scraping of the shovels of the porters clearing the sidewalks.

“The Last Jedi” Was Fine

Big bold disclaimer here: IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN THE MOVIE, DO NOT READ THIS!

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was perfectly fine, which is a passive-aggressive way of saying I liked it but did not love it.

It was certainly no “The Force Awakens,” which in my book still ranks as the best of the bunch so far. (I’ve seen it nine times.)

Other the other hand, TLJ but did not sink to the depths of ickiness of the first two prequels. (For the record, I thought the third prequel was pretty good.)

So what is it about “The Last Jedi” that has me feeling like a stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder?

Let us count the ways:

* Princess Leia floating through space like Mary Poppins without an umbrella? What was that all about? I thought for a moment that she legitimately died early in the movie. A devastating loss? For sure, but one with a major dramatic impact.

But then they simply retrieve her body and bring her to sick bay. Um, what?

And speaking of near-death experiences, it looked like Finn was going to die a hero’s death and then he gets saved at the last minute. It made for a pent-up dramatic moment but felt a little like a cheap cop-out.

* The porgs? OK, yeah, cute. But did we really need crystal foxes, fathiers and caretakers that look oddly like nuns? Felt like Disney was making a merchandising grab here.

* “The Force Awakens” had some surprisingly well-timed comedic touches. They were spread out and clever enough not to wear out their welcome.

Somehow “TLJ” overdoes it with the jokes, especially given the dire circumstances facing the Resistance.

The oddly placed sight gags and asides feel almost disrespectful given the enormous stakes and death and destruction going on.

Luke taking the light saber from Rey and tossing it over his shoulder like a discarded banana peel? Hard for me to buy.

Finn walking around in a leaky medical get-up? Funny for the first three seconds but it felt like the sight gag lasted a few beats too long.

The standoff between General Hux and Poe in a “can you hear me now?” moment? Um…OK.

* Did we need to see Kylo Ren walking around shirtless? What the hell was that all about? As Rey asked: Shouldn’t he be wearing a towel or something?

* Gripping opening scene but the movie loses steam and could have done with a 15-minute trim. That whole casino scene? Overdone and drawn out.

* Really, we come all this way to find out nothing about Rey’s parents?

OK, sure, maybe Kylo is lying (he is, after all, a cold-blooded murderer so lying would be well within his skill sets) but it still felt like a letdown, especially after there are hints earlier in the movie that her lineage would be revealed.

* And Supreme Leader Snokes? Still no greater insight into who he was though was good to see him brought to life as a fleshed-out (albeit scarred) character.

* The palace chamber throwdown with the imperial guards and the light sabers? Gotta say, I thought that was the weakest light saber fight I’ve seen since Yoda took on Count Dooku in “Attack of the Clones.”

The choreography in TLJ just seemed too transparent, like I could hear the actors counting the beats until their next moves.

* Some of the visual effects and sets seemed less than what I expect from a “Star Wars” franchise movie. A couple of times, like during scenes with the X-Wing fighters in their hangar, I felt like, yep, I’m looking at a large Hollywood set.

* There is a hint that Luke and Kylo will duke it out in the end, mano a mano, and that does not really live up to its billing.

* On the plus side, some of the battle sequences are terrific; I loved the new character Rose (more of her please!) and I will never tire of hearing the opening strains of John Williams’s brilliant score.

Look, I have been a “Star Wars” fanboy for 40 years, always have been, always will be.

I guess my feeling is this movie was not quite ready to graduate from the Jedi Academy.

 

Men, We Face Our Reckoning Post-Harvey Weinstein

How many times did Pedro and I *think* we were ready to record a show addressing the issue spawned by revelations of how movie mogul Harvey Weinstein treated women?

Probably at least five times, I would say.

And at every turn, when we would get our schedules lined up and prepare…Boom!

There would come another revelation of another celebrity, media personality or bold-face name, making headlines for behavior that included but was not limited to sexual harassment, groping, indecent exposure, sexual assault and rape.

The list of offenders was like a who’s who of household names: Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., to name but a few.

I don’t use the word “gobsmacked” often but it aptly described my reaction — and Pedro’s too — to what we were reading.

The past few weeks have amounted to a reckoning of historic proportions for men, regardless of their wealth, stature or profession — so much so that for the first time in some 60-odd episodes of About Men Radio, Pedro and I thoroughly talked through in advance what we wanted to say.

For this one episode, we shelved our usual free-wheeling, spontaneous and juvenile joke-telling format.

That is an explicit recognition of how powerfully charged this issue is.

We felt like a football player charging the field against a line of defensemen but instead of carrying a ball, we were running with a grenade minus the pin.

In this episode, I don’t think we solved any of the world’s problems (in fact, I’m confident we didn’t) but we did have an authentic conversation about what we agreed is a volatile topic that leaves us confused, angry — and gobsmacked.

Give a listen and offer your feedback on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com

Photos and a Winged Visitor Help Reconnect With a Lost Loved One

Every other photo of Carla, my fiancée who died 11 years ago today, shows her with some kind of animal.

This is no exaggeration.

Carla with a horse.

Carla with a cow.

Carla with a cat.

Carla with a camel.

Carla with a llama.

Carla (and I am not making this up) sitting on a bench with a lion cub. She was a young girl and the photo was taken somewhere when she was traveling overseas.

 

And then there are two Polaroid photos — taken years apart — of Carla that might be my favorites of all.

In one of them, taken before we met, she has a pixie haircut and round, Harry Potter-like sunglasses.

Those glasses are somehow appropriate because, like Harry Potter, who had an owl named Hedwig, Carla is holding an owl.

It has big black round eyes that nicely complement her sunglasses.

Flash forward a number of years to 2000, and here is another photo of Carla with another owl – this one taller and even more regal looking than the other.

The photo was taken at the Great American Weekend Fourth of July festivities in Goshen, N.Y.

The owl has talons like hooks of steel and a beak to match.

What I remember most about this photo was Carla saying how the owl liked her.

It reaaaallly liked her.

It moved its body so it was pressed right up against her cheek.

I remember her saying to me later that the owl’s sheer size and sharp talons made her careful not to move suddenly.

You can see she is smiling just a tad uncomfortably as she looks into the camera.

That same day in 2000 a Polaroid of me (with my own round-shaped glasses) was snapped with a hawk perched on my leather-gloved hand.

These photos were stowed away long ago and largely forgotten about — that is until recently when I was clearing out many files and drawers in preparation for a major house project.

Here’s the weird part: I found these photos a day after spotting a hawk perched outside our window.

We’ve lived in the woods of the Poconos for nearly 13 years and have seen every kind of wildlife: Bears, deer, possum, skunks, fox, wild turkeys, etc.

But this was the first time ever that I saw a hawk so close, much less in a tree branch right outside of our window.

Carla was a strong-willed person who had a way of making her presence known and felt.

Maybe this hawk visitor was her spirit animal checking up on me.

Maybe it was her way of signaling to me that she’s OK.

Maybe this was simply a coincidence – seeing the hawk and then the next day finding the photos after 17 years.

Whatever the explanation, the back-to-back discoveries brought me a measure of comfort.

Related:

More Than Just A Hat: A Story of Loss

Man in Mourning: Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?

Remembering My Late Fiancee and Her Crazy Made-Up Vocabulary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Who’s a True New Yawker? We Put Ourselves to the Test

In this episode of About Men Radio, Chris and Pedro debate the finer points of country vs. city living.

The discussion is not exactly the opening credits of “Green Acres,” but let’s just say that Chris was more the Eddie Albert character in this talk and Pedro identified more strongly with Eva Gabor.

(Well, that’s also because he looks better in a dress than Chris does, but that’s a conversation for another time…)

This was all set into motion when Chris wrote a blog post about how he eschewed his once native Bronx ways and embraced life in the woods.

I Am Happy to Be an Inmate in the Green Prison

Pedro took umbrage to this — his exact words were “I take umbrage to this!” — and off to the races they went.

If you are a native New Yawker, a wannabe native, a visitor to the city or never ever been here, you will enjoy the banter.

Listen to the quiz Chris gives Pedro to test his bona fides as a true New Yorker.

And just remember: I’m walkin’ he-ayah!

 

Do I Swear at Work? Damn Straight!

I read recently of a former CNN employee, a devout Christian, who filed a discrimination lawsuit alleging, among other things, that his co-workers frequently used profane language.

Profanity in a newsroom?! I am shocked! Shocked I say!

Pardon me while I wipe tears from laughing so hard.

Newsrooms are among the few remaining workplaces that I know where swearing is not only routine but tolerated.

Any attempt to curb foul language in such a work setting is a fool’s errand.

Memorably, the editor of The York Daily Record in York, Pa., not long ago circulated a memo reminding workers that cursing is not appropriate in the workplace.

“I know that newspapers have had a salty history and culture,” the memo said. “And I know that we all will slip from time to time. Still, I believe we can express ourselves adequately without the use of profanity.”

In a pressure-cooker environment that demands intense concentration and highly detailed work under deadline, the only better outlet for the frustrations that bubble up than swearing would be to have an indoor firing range.

I recall well my first newspaper job at a tiny newsroom in a community near the Canadian border in New York’s Adirondack Mountains and the day my editor got word that the newspaper had prevailed in a libel lawsuit.

“We beat those bastards!” my boss shouted triumphantly, slamming the phone down.

His exclamation was truly G-rated compared to some of the other expletive-laden outbursts I have heard (and yes, that I myself have led) in newsrooms.

I recall one day as a doe-eyed intern at the Manhattan offices of New York Newsday.

A Metro editor, the late Hap Hairston, sat at his desk, rubbing and clapping his hands and shouting jubilantly to no one in particular: “I love this (F-bomb) story! I love this (F-bomb) story!”

I recall being stunned that an editor would use such language and so loudly. And yet no one — I mean absolutely no one — looked up or gave Hap a second thought.

In a way, he served as a role model for me going forward.

As executive editor of The Pocono Record, I was, well, um, colorful in my vocabulary.

I found that some of my phrases (many learned from my dad and vestiges of growing up in the Bronx) were welcome stress-relievers.

It is a habit that I have carried on, to my chagrin at times.

Late one night in the middle of a breaking news story (a vintage World War II plane had crashed in the Hudson River), I was on the phone with a reporter who proceeded to tell me that the name of the dead pilot given to us hours earlier by the police — and posted online — was incorrect.

“Are you (f-bomb) kidding me?! Oh (f-bomb) me where I sit!” I exclaimed.

Hours later, a senior editor came to my desk and said: “That was quite the animated conversation you had earlier.”

In a cavernous newsroom in the stillness of the night, my voice carried — far.

While that was embarrassing, I am even more mortified that my sons have taken to cursing up a blue streak with abandon.

Damn kids. I do not know where they get it from. I swear.

Why the Fuck Is “Fuck” So Overused Today?

Weaving a Tapestry of Obscenity

Clean Living — Is It Worth It?

I had my annual physical and all was well.

Except that my blood pressure was a little high.

And my blood sugar was borderline.

Oh, yes, I had gained 10 pounds, which the doctor wants me to lose.

No problem. I kind of expected those results.

But then she lowered the boom and said she wanted me to increase my daily workouts to 60 minutes from 30.

That hurt.

I just turned 53, did my second mud run in August and work out regularly four to five days a week.

Not bad for a middle-aged guy with a sedentary job.

But her directive to work out more frosted my rage cake.

C’mon! You want me fit and healthy even if it kills me!

I have no delusions that I am going to grace the cover of “Men’s Health” magazine anytime soon and that’s OK.

For my age and lifestyle, I have worked hard at beating back — with some success — the inevitable physical effects that come with reaching your 50s.

But the doctor’s order underscored a peculiar balance you start to confront at a particular age: Do you sacrifice certain things now to prolong your life later?

For instance, do I extend my workouts by 30 minutes, cutting into time I might be doing other things, like spending time with my wife, so that I can live into my 80s, when my quality of life would undoubtedly be less?

It feels like a shoddy tradeoff.

As it is, I do not smoke, I drink in moderation, have stopped taking sugar in my coffee and have given up on my Frisbee-sized weekly cookies from my favorite diner.

I also spurn fast food, try to eat a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables and “clean” proteins like chicken and fish.

And if that is all not enough, the doctor wants me to exercise more? What a killjoy!

I understand the importance of staving off diabetes and heart disease to have a better quality of life. I get it. But I want to enjoy my food and drink now, not 30 years from now when it will be puréed baby food.

The struggle to behave and eat right is difficult given the stresses of daily life and the bonanza of temptations out there.

I do like my dark chocolate, coffee, wine, vodka and tonics, margaritas and indulgent dessert once in a while.

But if comes to moderation vs. deprivation, I will almost always go with the former.

At some point, you just have to pick your spots and assign a value to the things that you enjoy that may not be good for you and the things that are good for you that you may not enjoy.

As my old man used to tell me:

“OK, Chris, now remember about clean living: No booze, no smoking and no carousing with loose women. It’s clean but is it living?!”

On a Haunted Hayride, A-Shrieking I Will Go

If it’s Halloween time, it must mean it’s time for Chris to show the bravery of Sir Robin from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

You remember him, right? He was not exactly brave but pretended to be.

Well, in the spirit of Sir Robin, Chris went on a haunted hayride at Woodloch Resort in the Poconos.

He figured it would be fun.

He figured he could show one of his nephews how brave he is.

He figured wrong.

We all know what happened the last time he went to a haunted Halloween attraction.

Thankfully for you, dear listener, he did not learn his lesson.

The results of this latest venture are captured in this show, in which Chris narrates the ride and his resulting hysteria.

Related content:

Me? Afraid? You Betcha!

AMR 29: Happy Halloween Edition

I Am Happy to Be an Inmate in the Green Prison

When people ask how long my commute is to New York City from the Poconos and I tell them it’s two hours one way, they look at me horrified.

“Two hours?!” they say. “That’s crazy!”

No, I will tell you what is crazy:

Paying rent for a postage stamp-sized apartment in New York City that is twice the amount or more than I do for my spacious house in the Poconos.

Or how about dealing with the traffic and congestion of city life?

The sidewalks on 8th Avenue in Manhattan are so crowded that I regularly walk in the street.

Then, of course, there is the city’s “wildlife.” I’m not talking about squirrels or pigeons — I’m talking about rats.

At night, they come up out of the sewer grates and swarm the garbage that is left curbside to be picked up in the morning.

I am not ashamed to admit that near one particular hive of rat activity, I hug the wall to be as far away from the trash as I can.

Then I run — and silently scream.

In Pike County, I can live in the woods with “real” wildlife: Bears, deer, raccoons, skunks, eagles, chipmunks, fox and humming birds, for instance.

The number of cars that pass my street on a single day I can count on one hand. The noisiest it gets is when the garbage truck comes by once a week.

In the city, the incessant wail of sirens of ambulances or fire trucks stuck in traffic pierces your brain like an ice pick driven into your ears.

Before you paint me as some kind of country hayseed, understand that I grew up in the Bronx in what were the very unglamorous ’70s.

I was a city kid through and through.

I recall making an overnight visit to a former Bronx neighbor who had moved to Long Island and not being able to sleep because it was too quiet.

And when I first moved out of the Bronx to a community in the Adirondack Mountains, I regularly visited the city as often as I could to take in its distinct aroma.

But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate the peace and quiet and privacy that comes with living in “the sticks.”

I’m not alone.

Nearby Monroe County, Pa., ranked among the top 10 extreme commutes in the country, according to a 2013 study by the Census Bureau. Just look at how many people take the commuter buses into Manhattan.

Those people have decided that the quality and affordability of life, schools and housing in Northeast Pennsylvania make the long commute worth the while.

Of course nothing can match New York City for its cultural offerings, food choices and diversity. And yes, areas of the Poconos have been hard hit with foreclosures, skyrocketing school taxes and a lack of high-paying jobs.

But it’s all a tradeoff.

I’ve heard the Poconos referred to as the “green prison” because of its woodlands, isolation and long winters.

That’s OK.

I’d rather live in a green prison than a concrete jungle.

 

A White Guy and a Puerto Rican Talk About Racism

In this episode of About Men Radio, Pedro and I discuss the thorny intractable issue of racism and how we’ve experienced it.

It’s a white dude (me) and a Puerto Rican (Pedro), who both grew up in the Bronx, talking about a topic that in many ways is the third rail of polite conversation.

I came of age in New York City when our neighborhood in the Bronx was in the bull’s eye of white flight.

I can recall the housing complex where we lived, Parkchester, being derisively called “Darkchester” by those who viewed newcomers with suspicion and hostility.

My young adulthood in New York City was punctuated with headline-grabbing incidents with race at the center stage:

The so-called Subway Vigilante, Bernie Goetz, shooting three black youths who accosted him and even more notably, the death of a black youth who was being chased by white teenagers in Howard Beach, Brooklyn.

He ran into the street and was struck by a car and killed.

When I was in my early teens, I delivered supermarket flyers to mailboxes in various neighborhoods. Our crew leader would load up our big canvas bags, drop us off and collect us as at a designated time and place.

One time, a classmate and co-worker, Paul Richards, and I were working a section of the Bronx called Edgewater.

It was a mostly working poor housing in bungalows converted to year-round housing. It had a reputation for being insular.

I don’t recall all the particulars, but I do remember Paul, who is black, and I being chased by a gang of white kids. As I remember it, they were shouting “nigger” at him and screaming at me for being a “nigger lover.”

We ran for our lives.

We made good our escape and vowed never to serve that neighborhood again.

The whole confrontation left me scared and angry.

Thankfully, I was raised color blind.

My dad was the first in our building to welcome the first black family to move into our high-rise. In fact, my mother was a babysitter for the family’s two sons, who were playmates for me growing up.

I recall how my family and I once visited the Bowery and I recounted the visit to my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Wallace. I relayed how I had seen a black man panhandling from drivers at an intersection.

“Now, tell me the story again,” she said, “but this time don’t tell me what color he was.”

I was 10 years old.

Then, and today, it serves as a valuable lasting lesson to look beyond a person’s race and see them instead as a human being.

Yoga Is a Four-Letter Word

The comedian George Carlin said he had a rule: He would not eat any food that had a “y” and a “g” in its name.

I have a similar rule as it applies to exercises.

The way Carlin felt about yogurt is the way I feel about yoga.

Before all you yoga practitioners get all downward dog in my face, let me acknowledge the following:

* I know it is a form of exercise and meditation that dates back centuries.

* I know it is supposed to bring about inner peace and mindfulness.

* And I know it is a great way to improve your flexibility and shape your body.

But what no one tells you is how tedious and slow-moving it is!

I guess that is part of the point, but look, I am a Type A personality.

I want a workout that matches my personality, something that is going to rev me up, move at the pace of a New Yorker catching a train and leave me in a puddle of sweat.

Yoga does none of those things for me.

In fact, almost always after I have finished a yoga session, I feel like I have wasted a workout and I come away feeling tired and cranky.

So much for quieting your mind.

My wife and doctor have a theory that my allergic response to yoga is a gigantic signal that I need to be doing more of it.

Oh, so the more I dislike doing something, the more I should do it because it is good for me? My native New Yorker response is something like: I’ve got your inner peace right he-yah!

I have got rebar where my calf muscles should be and have about as much flexibility as the Tin Man in a rainstorm. Why do I want to torture (and embarrass) myself by getting into unnatural poses?

Recently I have seen videos of people doing yoga with goats and yoga with cats. That’s cute and I guess the furry critters are there to keep boredom at bay and to keep your mind off the discomfort of the positions.

There has got to be a better way to get those endorphins released and get that mental high. Oh yeah, I know what it is: cardio and weight training done in a tempo that leaves you breathless.

Some exercise routines I do, in fact, have yoga poses, particularly in the warm-ups.

If my wife is in the room watching, she’ll point and say emphatically: “yoga.” My response is suddenly to have an itchy neck that requires me to scratch it with four fingers moving under my chin in her direction.

I respect that people get something out of yoga, but please don’t push it on me like some potential convert: “Have you accepted Warrior One as your exercise savior?”

I think Carlin, a comic genius who was known for his list of seven words you can’t say on television, was right about yogurt – and by extension, yoga.

It’s a four-letter word.

My Wake-Up Call About Caffeine

It’s a ritual at my annual physical: My doctor asks how many cups of coffee I drink a day.

Three or four, I say, and she gives me the thumbs down, indicating she disapproves and wants me to reduce my caffeine intake.

And I am always like, c’mon! It’s just coffee! Where’s the harm?

Heck, some studies have found coffee to have beneficial effects, such as lifting your mood, protecting your heart and reducing your risk of diabetes.

But after doing a little reading – and experimenting — I’m starting to appreciate why she gives me a hard time.

I wrote recently about grappling with fractured or deprived sleep and it got me to thinking about the ways I stay caffeinated.

We live in a 24/7 culture where constantly being “on” has become part of our nature, so we reach for what’s going to keep us going.

I’ve long enjoyed the social nature of coffee and the wakeful buzz it can deliver. I proudly own a refrigerator magnet that says “Coffee! You can sleep when you’re dead!”

A reader recommended Death Wish coffee, which bills itself as the “world’s strongest coffee.” To drive home the point, its logo features a skull and crossbones.

But then I read about Black Insomnia coffee, which also bills itself as the world’s strongest.

According to the website caffeineinformer, Death Wish has 728 mg of caffeine per 12 fluid ounce cup, a level it labels as dangerous.

And Black Insomnia? 702 mg, and also dangerous, according to the website.

The hyper-caffeinated coffee industry has adopted a certain hyperbole to outdo each other. Among the other brand names being promoted: Banned, Shock and Biohazard.

Typically, I am good for one cup of coffee at home (95 mg), a large Dunkin’ Donuts when I get to work (300 mg) and maybe a Red Bull (80 mg) or another cup of coffee (95 mg).

To put those numbers in perspective, findings recently published in Food and Chemical Toxicology backed up current guidelines that recommend no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day.

So my daily average intake of caffeine by coffee is about 500 mg, or 100 more than what is recommended.

After my work shift changed recently, forcing me to wake up at 3 a.m. and be on the road by 4 a.m., I decided to try Death Wish and Black Insomnia – not together, I hasten to add!

I’ve had Death Wish coffee about five times. I find it gives me a nice pick-me-up as the first cup of coffee in the day and keeps me cruising for several hours.

Black Insomnia, though it reportedly has less caffeine, sure does deliver a jolt but it also took me about five hours to come down to levels of consciousness that felt normal.

I had this weird low-grade headache and what I can only describe as an out-of-body experience.

Researchers from the nonprofit foundation International Life Sciences Institute North America wrote that having too much caffeine on a consistent basis can lead to headaches, tremors, hyperventilation, dizziness, anxiety and agitation — and those are on the “milder end of the spectrum”!

Some deaths related to caffeine consumption have been documented, particularly in those with certain medical conditions.

The bottom line is, no matter how much you need to stay awake, exercise some level of moderation in your caffeine intake.

Otherwise, you might risk damaging your body, or worse, you can, as the refrigerator magnet says, sleep when you’re dead.

Related links:

Sleep-Deprived As a Way of Life

Work, Drive, Sleep, Rinse and Repeat

Heavy on Coffee and Light on Sleep

I Worship at the Church of Dunkin’ Donuts

I Spent Six Nights at AirBnBs and This Is What I Learned

I am a Luddite Lite when it comes to advances in technology and the digital economy: I embrace some of it and am confused or skeptical about the rest.

I am a dedicated Facebook poster but use Twitter occasionally. I don’t really understand SnapChat, Instagram and Reddit, and therefore don’t use them.

I am fine with ordering stuff online but I don’t get the attraction of Uber. What is wrong with hailing a cab?

So it was with a bit of trepidation that my wife coaxed me into using Airbnb for the first time — for six nights in a row.

For those unfamiliar with Airbnb, it is a digital service in which you book a stay at a stranger’s home.

You can arrange for one or multiple nights and you pay a charge that varies by location, amenities, etc.

You show up and then hope you do not wake up in a bathtub full of ice and missing a kidney!

Haha! Just kidding (mostly) about that last part.

Really, it’s more like a one-night stand minus the sex.

My argument against staying at Airbnbs was: What’s wrong with staying at hotels? You know, those places with fresh towels, privacy and a bathroom you don’t have to share with other guests?

But being the adventurous sort (read: Meg convinced me this would be a good idea), I agreed.

It was a little weird.

In five of the six places we stayed, the hosts were there to greet us and engage us in happy conversation. It was like we had a babysitter.

I felt a little creepy like we were peeking at how people live, how they decorate and what they stock in their refrigerators and pantries.

It’s roughly the equivalent of a party guest snooping in your medicine cabinet but in this case there is some expectation that, as an Airbnb host, parts of your life will be on display.

As a dutiful guest, you make sure you clean your dishes, tidy the bed and leave things in good order.

There is an incentive to make sure you do: You write a review about where you stayed and the hosts review you – all of which is shared on the website.

It is a bit like having your school report card made public.

The hosts were warm, engaging and very accommodating.

But when I told a friend about our trip, he was stunned that most of the hosts were there during our stays. He thought they cleared out in advance of our arrival.

When I told him they wanted to engage us in conversation, he said: “No way. I don’t like people. I don’t want to talk to them. This is not a making friends tour.”

To some degree, I have to agree. The benefit of a hotel is you don’t have to worry about being social, you can come and go and not fear disturbing other guests and the mess you leave is the responsibility of housekeeping.

I would score the Airbnb experience as different but as with any trip away, I’ve got to say there’s no place like home.

 

Being a Fire Buff Goes Beyond Trucks and Sirens

Maybe it is a case of “boys and their toys,” or some kind of wish fulfillment, but I have been a fire buff every since I was a kid.

(To clarify: Being a fire buff does not mean being a pyromaniac or arsonist. It generally describes people who support or admire firefighters and firefighting.)

I recall from a very young age seeing two “working fires” in my neighborhood in which firefighters attacked blazes in the upper stories of apartment buildings.

The bravery and precision in which they sized up the situation and ran toward a scene that others were fleeing left a lasting impression on me.

As a kid, I would race down the stairs from our third-floor apartment at the sound of approaching fire trucks. (I learned to discern the difference between fire, ambulance and police sirens.)

I would insist that my dad take me to the New York City Fire Museum, which was in a former firehouse and filled with exhibits, paintings, equipment, apparatus and photos.

It was there that I learned this apocryphal story: Before they were made of brass, poles in firehouses were supposedly made of wood, which led to this saying: “As you slide the down the pole of life, may all the splinters be facing in the right direction.”

In my first full-time job as a reporter in Saranac Lake, N.Y., I learned to interpret the fire sirens. Morse Code-like, the series of blasts alerted volunteers to the location of the fire, including the street and house number.

As a father, I shared my admiration for firefighting, taking my sons to fire museums and the FDNY Fire Zone in Midtown Manhattan, which has a state-of-the-art simulator to learn about fire safety.

You can also climb into cab of a fire truck and listen to an FDNY radio. The Fire Zone is designed with kids in mind, but somewhere there is a photo of me  sitting behind the wheel in that truck!

I am nowhere near as hardcore a buff as others. Though I do belong to several Facebook pages dedicated to fire apparatus, I cannot recite the specifications and capacities the way some can.

I have two FDNY sweatshirts – one is dark blue with an official FDNY patch and the other is red, with FDNY on the front and “Keep Back 200 Ft.” on the back.

When I wear them, I am often asked if I am a firefighter. I make it clear I am not — I am merely a buff.

Does that make me a wannabe? I don’t know, though at some point I’d like to volunteer in whatever way I can.

With 9/11 coming up, I cannot help but think about the incredible bravery and selflessness those firefighters displayed in trying to rescue others. Some of my former high school classmates in the Bronx were among those FDNY firefighters (and police officers) who gave their lives that day.

Beyond the flashing lights and bright red trucks, I am drawn to the esprit de corps, discipline and sense of duty and community that the firefighting services embody.

Finding Meaning in the Mud

When I was about 12 and at a weeklong Boy Scout summer camp, I recall walking through the woods with a bunch of my fellow Scouts on our way to an outdoor Sunday Mass.

Paul Naehle, who was one of the senior scouts and had a booming voice, called out:  “C’mon, Mele! You’re bringing up the rear!”

Lo these many years later, this was memorable for two reasons:

One, I remember feeling embarrassed that I was the caboose in this line of Scouts (aka the slowpoke).

And two, Paul’s voice thundered through the woods. But it turned out we were much closer to the site of the Mass than we realized, so when we got to where everyone had gathered, they turned around, wondering what Paul was shouting about, and, no doubt, who was this guy Mele.

Well, Paul, some 40 years later, I can proudly tell you I’m no longer bringing up the rear.

I just finished my second mud run – the Warrior Dash at Pocono Raceway – and I held up my end admirably.

For a guy pushing 53, I finished the 3.3-mile course, which includes 12 crazy obstacles, in 53 minutes. (I’m hoping that my finish time and age don’t continue to coincide as I get older.)

The obstacles struck me as much more challenging than last year.

Maybe last year I had the advantage of being a newbie and not knowing any better, or maybe I’m a year older and the body parts don’t move and pivot the way they once did.

I won’t lie: I did struggle more with some of the obstacles and I did stumble. Anything that called on me to use significant upper-body strength or balance I had trouble with.

Crawl through trenches of mud with barbed wire inches above my head? No problem.

Use ropes to climb a steep vertical incline to a great height and then swinging your leg around at the apex to make it back down a ladder-like lattice on the other side?

Hmmmm….That was trickier.

And getting through the “Pipeline,” heavy rope netting shaped like a cylinder, was particularly frustrating. My foot kept get caught in the gaps and there was not much room to work with.

Still, I am happy to say that I ran more of the course than I did in 2016 – even if at the end, my knees and legs were barking at me.

The thing that was most remarkable though was the turnout: People of all ages, shapes and sizes, and of all levels of fitness.

Some guys had the bodies of Greek gods and others of repeat visitors to Greek diners. (As for me, wearing tight-fitting leggings, I felt like a human sausage.)

Regardless of their body types, strangers were friendly and courteous to each other.

They took turns at the obstacle courses. They cheered or applauded encouragement for others. They lent a hand when needed.

And they did this all for charity – to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

In the end, what I discovered is it isn’t how fast you finished or whether you look like you can grace the cover of Men’s Health magazine.

Challenging yourself, being in the community of others, and having fun for a good cause – that’s what it’s all about.

Related:

Some Final Thoughts Before My First Mud Run

What I Discovered in Conquering the Warrior Dash

Training for the Warrior Dash!

Stomp On RompHims

OK guys, it is time we had a serious conversation about some men’s fashion trends and choices that simply must die.

I ordinarily do not pay much attention to men’s “style” because I am not one to run with the crowd.

I also just find these things to be silly.

However, a new wrinkle has appeared that compels me to speak up to save men from themselves and preserve what is left of our dignity.

I am talking, of course, about RompHims.

For those unfamiliar with these crimes of infantilism, picture a loose-fitting shirt and shorts as a jumpsuit you climb into — almost like a baby’s onesie minus the snaps at the crotch.

Pictured it? Yeah, sorry about that. Some things cannot be unseen.

These outfits have gained headlines in recent weeks as their creators try to raise money to mass produce them, to which I will quote Nancy Reagan: “Just say no.”

These things are emasculating and disturbing to look at.

Who thinks they look anything but silly on guys?

Who would buy — much less wear — one of these outfits?

And is there a more stupid name than “RompHims”?

This is the latest example of stupidity in the name of style that men have inflicted on themselves.

There are others that are equally disturbing that need to be burned with fire:

  • Sunglasses perched on the back of your head: Unless you have eyes there, your sunglasses have no place being there. Knock it off!
  • Man buns: I know much has been said about these but I swear to God, every time I see one, I just want to pull on it like the tag on one of my old GI Joe Talking Commander dolls and hear him say “The Adventure Team is needed in Africa!”
  • Skinny jeans: Does more need to be said about this?
  • Sandals: I don’t care if you wear them without socks. They went out of style during biblical times.
  • Flip-flops: See above.
  • Guys with beer bellies and their belts cinched below their waist so their gut spills over: Either lose the weight or wear stretchy pants with elastic waists and leave the belt at home.
  • Velour: Soft, plush and neon-colored should describe your favorite stuffed animal, not your shirts.
  • Beaded necklaces and wristbands: Are you a surfer dude? Do you live in Hawaii or California? If you answered no to either, leave them in a drawer.
  • Spandex or yoga pants: Unless you are participating in a bike race — and even then I am not so convinced — leave the tight-fitting outfits to elite athletes and ballet stars.

I realize that I might not be in the best position to complain about less-than-manly aesthetics considering that I used to play with dolls when I was a kid.

But with phrases like “This is going to be rough. Can you handle it?” my dolls were still more macho than these hideous trends.

 

Duck and Cover? Not Me

Not since the days that Ronald Reagan was in office have I paid as much attention to the potential of nuclear war as I do now.

In the ’80s, the thermostat on the Cold War was set at below zero and headlines were filled with talk of a “Star Wars” missile defense project and a railroad-based ICBM launch system.

It was also a time of heightened activism supporting nuclear disarmament and the television movie “The Day After” depicting the horrors of nuclear war.

But it all felt unreal and remote to me then.

Not now.

Consider the headlines about North Korea and its numerous test-fired missiles, which now appear to be within reach of Chicago and other major U.S. cities.

The Doomsday Clock is set at two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest the world has been to calamity since 1953.

All of this has given rise to a growing interest in ways to survive a nuclear war, to which I can only ask: Are you serious or delirious?

The idea of surviving a nuclear holocaust – or more accurately, the desire to want to survive one – is pure folly.

Think about it: You would live in a confined space, eat canned rations and be unsure when it would be safe to surface.

That is certainly not living. It’s barely surviving. And for what?

So you can face victims of radiation poisoning and burns, the catastrophic loss of life, the destruction of cities and an end to civilization as we know it?

It’s not an unfounded worry. There’s plenty of firepower to blow us all to kingdom come: Nine countries collectively have 14,900 nuclear weapons, the vast majority in the hands of the United States and Russia, according to Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing nuclear threats.

According to the website NukeMap, if the “Tsar Bomba,” the largest Russian bomb tested, was dropped on New York City, it could kill 7.6 million people and injure 4.2 million. The fallout could affect millions more.

Not to be too cavalier and macabre about it, but I’d rather be right at ground zero and annihilated in the first seconds of a blast than be among those left to try to pick up the pieces.

The thinking about surviving a nuclear blast dates back to right after World War II. A website called Old Pics Archive has a collection of photos of bomb shelters from yesteryear, including one with a happy couple on their honeymoon!

I’m reading a fascinating book called “Raven Rock: The Story Of The U.S. Government’sSecret Plan To Save Itself — While The Rest Of Us Die.”

It examines the elaborate plans to ensure the continuity of government in the event of nuclear war.

The plans include numerous secret bunkers to house the president and other leaders and, among other things, a stash of $2 billion in cash, much of it in $2 bills, because, well, you know, I guess money will still have value after the landscape is vaporized.

More recently, CNN reports that Rising S Company, which makes doomsday bunkers, said 2016 sales for its custom-made underground bunkers increased 700 percent from 2015, and overall sales increased 300 percent since the presidential election in November.

Those investing in these doomsday bunkers have more hope about life after death (and destruction) than I do.

Related:

The End of the World Starts Here

 

 

I’m a Turtle on a Roller Coaster

What would summer be without a visit to an amusement park and a trip on a roller coaster or similar thrill ride?

I’ll tell you what it would be: a helluva lot better.

Miss out on the vertigo-inducing stomach-churning “fun” of feeling weightless on the Toss-a-Hurl or the Vertical Death Drop From Hell?

Yeah, no thanks.

My idea of fun has nothing to do with being strapped to a seat and flung sideways and upside down as if I were doing aerial acrobatics with the Blue Angels.

Gravity and I have a very special relationship: I don’t test it and in return, it keeps my feet on the ground.

I am petrified of heights and get wobbly in the knees just looking at photos from atop skyscrapers or the towers of bridges.

Ferris wheels and gondola rides, for instance, terrify me because they are up so high and they move so slowly, which just prolongs the agony.

Now, lest you think I am a killjoy, let me say that I have in fact tried a number of thrill rides, always against my better judgment.

I am not talking about the most extreme rides like the Skyrush at Hersheypark (five Gs at the base of the first drop alone), Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., (a 418-foot drop) or Intimidator 305 at Kings Dominion in Virginia (90 mph with hairpin turns).

My adventures would be seen almost tame by comparison.

In most cases, I have been silly enough to look at the rides from the ground and think “Oh, how bad could that be?”

Such was the case when my wife and I took the boys to Disney World. We were in what would be considered the tamer kiddie-ride section.

One of the rides was a roller coaster called the Barnstormer featuring the character Goofy. The “Thrill Level” on the ride’s description says “Small drops.”

Ha!

I cast a wary eye as I watched the cars hug the curved tracks and listened to the metallic clanking as they zipped past.

But from where I stood, the tracks looked pretty low and Meg convinced me it would be harmless fun.

Here’s the thing I should have recalled from my high school physics class – an object going that fast must have picked up momentum from some place.

And that some place, it turns out, was from atop of a very high peak.

As Meg tells it, as the roller coaster began its steep climb, I became like a turtle withdrawing into its shell.

I hunched my shoulders and bowed my head as if it were retracting into my neck.

And then I did what any rational adult in these circumstances would do: I closed my eyes. And swore. Very loudly.

The precipitous plunge was punctuated by my wailing and extending the vowel sound in a word that sounds duck.

That was the final time I was on a roller coaster. This turtle is not coming out of its shell again.

Related:

Taking Fear to New Heights

Heavy on Coffee and Light on Sleep

Sleep but not nearly enough.

Wake.

Drink coffee.

Drink more coffee.

In fact, just pour the pot over your head to wake up.

Rinse and repeat.

If this sounds familiar, welcome to the crowd.

Some of us might rise, but we won’t shine.

As a society, we’re chronically not getting enough sleep and let’s face it, when you reach a certain age, (*cough — your 50s — cough*), your body does not spring back quite the way it once did.

In this episode of About Men Radio, Pedro and Chris discuss their sleep habits, the virtues of caffeine and coffee and the importance of finding the right balance between the two.

For kicks, if you want to determine the best time to get to sleep based on what time you need to rise, check out this sleep calculator.

Give the show a listen and tell your friends about us. We could be the best cure for insomnia!

Sweet dreams!

Related:

Perchance to (Please!) Sleep

Work, Drive, Sleep, Rinse and Repeat

Coming of Age in the Summer of 1977

In the summer of 1977, I had a paper route delivering The Daily News in the Bronx to almost 100 customers, many of them older.

One of them was Mr. Norton, a tough-talking grizzled New Yorker who frequently sent me to the deli to get him a six-pack of beer.

He was a shut-in and an avid reader of The News, so when the papers started to pile up outside his door, I grew alarmed.

It took a while, but I finally got the attention of the security service that patrolled our buildings and was there when the officers broke into his apartment.

In what was an appalling lack of discretion, the officers asked me – a 12-year-old — to come inside and identify his dead body.

Mr. Norton was on his back on the floor, his face a frozen grimace.

I remember it distinctly to this day.

That was one of several events that summer that yanked me from my protected cocoon of school and home and forced me to confront the realities of death, violence and the ugly side of human nature.

Up to that time my exposure to death was fleeting. I had lost a grandmother and a grandfather, neither of whom I knew very well.

But that summer taught me that death could be immediate and unpredictable.

It saw the continuation of the reign of terror of the Son of Sam, a serial killer who used a .44-caliber handgun over a year to kill six and wound seven.

I was too young to date or drive (he targeted young couples in cars) but the idea that some madman was killing people at random was hard to comprehend.

Even more disturbing was a young couple on my paper route who had a toddler son. Outwardly nothing seemed amiss but one day the husband apparently snapped and killed his wife, their son and himself with a large knife.

The brutality shocked me but I was even more upset by the disconnect between how I perceived him and the reality of what must have been going on behind closed doors.

And then there was the citywide blackout of July 13–14, 1977.

Plenty of neighbors helped each other and people banded together during the crisis but that kind of altruism was eclipsed by arson and looting that felt like something out of an apocalyptic movie.

Though my neighborhood was spared the worst of that property damage, I recall feeling disappointed and confused that people could act that way.

Coming of age – when you cross from childhood into young adulthood and your worldview is reshaped – conjures up movies such as “The Breakfast Club” (1985) or “Stand By Me” (1986).

But my coming of age did not happen in after-school detention or with a bunch of buddies on a trek to see a dead body.

Real life – not Hollywood – burst my insulated bubble that summer 40 years ago.

My Pollyannaish ways became a thing of the past.

 

 

Here’s a New (More Realistic) Line of Ken Dolls

Stunning news out of the toy world: Ken, the doll who was Barbie’s original blue-eyed chiseled boyfriend, is undergoing a huge makeover.

If, like me, you grew up with GI Joe action figures or your sister played with Barbie and Ken dolls, this is a major development.

(Notice, by the way, GI Joe was called an “action figure” while Barbie and Ken were “dolls.” No gender stereotyping here…)

The toy maker Mattel is introducing 15 new looks for Ken, including different skin tones, body shapes and hair styles, The Associated Press reported.

He’s going to be sold in three body shapes: “slim,” “broad” and “original.” He’ll have man buns (ick!), come in seven skin tones and sport new fashions, such as skinny ties, plaid shirts and graphic T-shirts.

No word on whether Mattel is going to update his manly bits and finally make him anatomically correct.

I am all for modernizing and updating a beloved franchise, but let’s be realistic here: Ken is 56 years old.

These upgrades are such a distortion and in no way reflect the accurate ways Ken really should be portrayed.

So, dear Mattel, let me propose to you a line of truer-to-life Ken dolls:

Low testosterone Ken: He is balding, paunchy and has a diminished sex drive.

Divorced Ken: Lives alone in a small apartment and looks for companionship on Tinder but soon realizes most of the women on this app are young enough to be his daughter.

Gym Rat Ken: He likes to wear his baseball cap backward and sport sleeveless T-shirts to show off his guns. But keeping that muscle mass means shooting up with steroids. (Syringes are an optional accessory.)

Too-Young-to-Retire-to-Old-to-Start-a-New-Career Ken: Comes with an empty savings account, 401(k) with too little in it and a stack of bills. Bottle of Maalox sold separately.

Extreme commuter Ken: This doll is perpetually pale because it never sees the sun. He leaves the house before dawn and returns home after sunset. Comes with bags under his eyes.

Midlife Crisis Ken: Includes a red sports car, huge alimony payments and a Barbie with breast implants who is 23 years younger than he is.

Clueless Ken: Thinks he is all that with his sunglasses and slicked back hair and earbuds plugged into his iPhone. In reality, he looks like a doofus trying to look cool.

Guilt-Ridden Ken: This model has stooped shoulders and a faraway look in his eyes. He feels he has not done enough for his kids and his mother is always complaining that he never calls.

Nostalgia Ken: Clings to the past, repeatedly tells stories of his high school escapades and only listens to music from the 80s. (His buddy, Baby Boomer Ken, is sold separately.)

Cranky Ken: When you press a button on his chest, he yells: “Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!”

Out-of-Work Ken: Comes with video consoles and streaming Netflix service to fill his days with meaning.

Gender-Questioning Ken: You would be too if you lacked any genitalia.

Related:

Action Figures of the 60s and 70s: Where Are They Now?

 

 

 

 

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Each generation shares some moments in history that leave an indelible mark, and everyone alive at the time can recount where they were and what they were doing.

Where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot? When the space shuttle Challenger blew up? During 9/11?

For me, one of those moments was: Where were you when the lights went out?

I am not talking about the blackout of 1965, or the one in August 2003, in which some 50 million people in Southeast Canada and eight Northeastern states were without power for as much as two days in what turned out to be the biggest blackout in North American history.

While that was terrible — 11 people died and there was a reported $6 billion in damages – the blackout that stayed with me the most happened 40 years ago this week.

It was the evening of July 13, 1977, and New York City was enveloped in oppressive heat and humidity.

Our third-floor apartment was like the inside of a brick oven.

We had no air-conditioning. The fans did little more than loudly move the hot air around.

I was getting out of the shower when the lights went out. I thought we had blown a fuse.

It turned out the entire city blew a fuse — a really, really big one.

It was bad enough that there was no power to keep the fans – as ineffective as they were – blowing, but we soon discovered we were out of water too.

Our building in the Bronx had a tower at the top. Water would be pumped to the tower and gravity-fed to the apartments.

No power, no pump.

No pump, no water.

People lined up at open hydrants and formed bucket brigades, filling pails and carrying them back home to “flush” toilets.

I checked on my older customers on my newspaper route to make sure they were OK.

That meant in some cases walking up 10 or more flights of stairs with buckets of water. (I was a lot younger then.)

Hallways and stairwells were as dark as midnight in a coal mine.

They lacked windows so no natural light got in. On some stairwells, small candles were lit like votives in a church.

I recall listening to WINS news radio with its signature theme music.

(“You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world,” the announcer would say as the rapid fire teletype music would play, conveying a sense of urgency.)

We gathered around my sister’s Toot-A-Loop, a Panasonic doughnut-shaped radio, and heard the updates about the violence, looting and arson racking the city.

Fires consumed city blocks. In the end, more than 1,600 stores were damaged and more than 3,700 people were locked up.

The city was at a nadir, having gone through a fiscal crisis that saw its public services slashed and quality of life eroded.

For a city that was already down on the canvas, the blackout was a kick in the mouth.

But you know what? As bad as it was — and don’t get me wrong, it was bad — there was also an esprit de corps that emerged among New Yorkers.

They rallied in a time of crisis.

Strangers helped strangers as they had during blizzards and the way they would 24 years later during the Sept. 11 attacks.

Civilians took to intersections to direct traffic where signal lights were out, freeing up cops to do more important duties.

Mr. Diamond, the owner of the Carvel ice cream store across the street, gave away ice cream.

Neighbors checked on each other and offered flashlights and batteries.

The blackout brought out the worst — and some of the best — in people.

In the heat of the summer of 1977, the mettle of New Yorkers was tested and it was strong.

 

 

 

Drivers Who Frost My Rage Cake

There are some behaviors on the road that drive me crazy.

And clearly I am not alone.

I read a report recently by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health that cited the results of a random telephone survey of more than 2,400 licensed drivers that asked them about road rage.

The results from the 2004 survey showed that 17 percent of respondents reported they made obscene gestures at other drivers, 9 percent said they aggressively followed other drivers and 3.5 percent admitted to doing both.

I read those numbers and could only shake my head because, based on my experience, they felt way, way too low.

Here are some of the characters behind the wheel you may recognize, almost all of them guaranteed to provoke road rage:

Betty Bumper: This driver appears to have a magnet in the front of her car that is drawn to be connected with your rear fender. She’s driving so close you could help her with the eyeliner she’s applying as she crawls up your tailpipe.

Speed Racer: You can spot this driver from a half mile away just from the speed at which the headlights are zooming toward you. You can just tell he’s going to zip right up to you before he bobs and weaves between cars with just thismuch room to spare.

Shifty: This no-lane-is-good-enough driver reminds me of an entry in a book that I once had called “How To Drive Like A Crazy Bastard.” The first rule was: Do not signal. It’s nobody’s business where you are going.

Lefty the Lost: I understand if you don’t want to speed to go with the flow of traffic. I get it. But for crying out loud, that’s what the right lane is for. Get out of the left lane before you cause a crash.

Shortstop: If you have ever felt what it is like for your heart to stop for a second, you no doubt have encountered one of these drivers. You are on a main road and there is a road off to your right or left that connects at a T with a stop sign at the corner.

You can see a car zooming toward the intersection and you swear you are not really sure if the person is going to stop.

Harry Headlights: This driver might be my all-time most detested. He’s either got a grill full of lights by which you could land a 747 or thinks nothing of riding with his high beams on behind you or coming at you in the opposite lane.

Distracted Debbie: You can see this driver ahead of you, arms flailing, hands gesturing or a cellphone glued to her ear. She’s so animated in conversation with her passenger or with the person on the other end of the phone, you’re not sure she’s knows she’s supposed to be driving.

Perfectionist Pete: This is the guy who thinks his driving is without sin and who is quick to criticize everyone else and…Hey! Wait a minute!

Does ‘Wonder Woman’ Signal a Culture Shift in Hollywood?

One of the best movies this summer far and away has been “Wonder Woman.”

The movie stars Gal Gadot, who is not just a pretty face.

She’s got poise, comic sensibilities, acrobatic fight moves and a presence that really lights up a screen.

And a special bonus:  The movie is now the highest-grossing live-action film to be directed by a woman.

The superhero adventure eclipsed the $609.8 million racked up by “Mamma Mia!,” the Abba musical that was directed by Phyllida Lloyd,  Variety reports.

“Wonder Woman” was directed by Patty Jenkins, who previously oversaw the Oscar-winning “Monster.”

So what’s not to like?

Well, for those misogynistic knuckle-draggers out there who don’t want to see women succeed — in Hollywood or anywhere else — there is lots to complain about.

In this episode, Pedro and Chris sing the praises of “Wonder Woman” and explore whether it marks a turning point in movie-making’s male-dominated culture or whether this was merely a one-off occurrence.

They also push back against at the groundless criticism of the movie, especially by one guy who objected to an all-female screening at a theater in Austin, Tex.

Give a listen and tell us what you think.  Express yourself on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com.

No superhero skills required.

What I Learned From the “S-Town” Podcast

The highly acclaimed podcast “S-town” reinforces two notions I’ve tried to follow in my professional and personal lives: Every lunatic caller deserves 10 minutes of your time and so does every person – lunatic or otherwise – you meet.

For those not familiar with “S-town,” it is the real-life story set in a tiny Alabama town where the show’s host, Brian Reed, is called on to investigate a possible murder.

As if that is not weird enough, the person who invites Reed, a guy named John B. McLemore, is, well, a bit eccentric.

McLemore is a Renaissance man of the highest order. He is erudite and articulate, his speech sweetened with a Southern twang.

In one of their first conversations, McLemore tells Reed that as a teenager he was into “the astrolabe, sundials, projective geometry, new wave music, climate change and how to solve Rubik’s cubes.”

McLemore also delivers long, lucid and hilarious profane-filled rants about his crummy little town (hence the podcast’s title).

It reminded me of something that I frequently preached (and practiced) in my work as a newsman: Every lunatic caller deserves at least 10 minutes.

Newsrooms are a magnet for people to call or email with tips about alleged corruption or consumer rip-offs, promote their inventions or weave tales of government oppression.

Some of them are crackpots or conspiracy theorists. Some have legitimate gripes that don’t rise to a news story. And then there are some where your news sense begins to tingle as they talk.

Such was the case when a woman called me with a story of how she had been married to a mobster, they had kids, he divorced her and the feds were interfering with her child support payments because the ex-mobster was now in the Witness Security Program.

Not only did the story check out and she had reams of documentation to back it up, but it led to a detail-rich narrative.

But my first inclination was to think that this was a prank phone call.

I can only imagine what that first call from McLemore to Reed was like and how the podcast journalist must have reacted. And yet Reed stuck with the story, making visits, doing interviews, gathering material for three years, leading  “S-town” to become a smash hit.

And it all started with an email and meandering conversations that would lead an ordinary listener to ask: Does your train of thought have a caboose?

Outside of newsrooms, Reed’s patience and openness offers another valuable lesson, and that is not to be quick to judge others.

I had some guy approach me outside of Penn Station with a hard-luck story of how he had just gotten out of prison and needed train fare to get to his brother’s place.

I listened as he showed me his prison ID and I recognized the institution, which led to more conversation. I gave him five bucks, shook his hand and wished him well.

I could have easily chalked him up as some panhandler unworthy of my time and been on my way, but I felt better for offering a few minutes of interaction.

Have I been burned by other encounters? Of course.

But I would still rather continue listening with my heart than my nitpicking brain.

 

Despite Their Flaws, Fathers Still Find Success

A funny thing happened on my way to Father’s Day 2017.

I became a grandfather thanks to my stepson and his wife.

The thing about becoming a grandfather is that it brings you sharply back to when you were a first-time parent.

That moment is filled with an overpowering brew of emotions, among them anticipation, hope, fear and pride.

I recall well holding my first son 24 years ago, bringing him to the window of the hospital suite and telling him about the trees and the clouds in the sky.

But from the moment you take your newborn in your arms, you are destined to screw things up.

You’re human, so you’re fallible and flawed. That your parenting will be less than perfect is inevitable.

But here’s the thing: No one tells you that as you begin your journey as a dad.

You start out in a state of high expectations.

You think you are going to be the embodiment of all the best TV  fathers — some combination of Andy Taylor (“The Andy Griffith Show”), Ward Cleaver (“Father Knows Best”) and Howard Cunningham (“Happy Days”).

And then expectations meet reality: As a parent, you can feel sapped of time, energy and money, which can bring on guilt, doubts and feelings of inadequacy.

Am I doing a good job? Do I spend enough time with my kids? Are they socially engaged with others? Do I do enough to stimulate their curiosity? Am I setting a good example?

This is especially reinforced when you start comparing yourself to other dads.

“Well look at him,” you think. “He’s a soccer coach and Boy Scout volunteer and he takes his son camping and and and…”

It becomes a vicious cycle: The more doubtful or guilty you feel, the greater the sense of inadequacy. And so it goes to the point where you feel farther and farther away from the parenting utopia you think you should reach.

I can’t speak for all dads, but I know to this day I harbor so many wouldas, shouldas, couldas about raising my sons.

I look back and think I should have given more of my time but I either was too busy with work, not getting enough sleep or feeling the strain of my first marriage disintegrating.

So, like with everything else in life, you do the best you can. You fall down, get up and put one foot in front of the other.

And do you make mistakes – some of them awful and regretful? Yes. Yes you do.

But here’s the thing, despite your shortcomings and through some combination of grace, luck and gargantuan support from family (in my case, my second wife), things turn out well.

My “boys,” who just turned 24 and 19, are well regarded by others and valued at their jobs. They’re funny and caring and hard-working.

Sure, they have hang-ups and flaws — would it kill them to take out the garbage? — but they have grown into impressive young men.

So on this Father’s Day, hats off to dads everywhere.

You might not be perfect but if you’ve worked hard and tried your best, chances are the kids are all right.

Related content:

The World According to My Dad

On Father’s Day, Recalling a Son Growing Up

A Father’s Day Poem

We Swear, Cussing Is a Way of Life

There is just something so primal about cussing and swearing that it’s difficult for us guys to suppress.

Hey! Asshole! Are you paying attention to what I’m sayin’ here?!

See what I mean?

Whether used to vent (“I can’t fucking believe it!), to make an assertion (“That is fucked up”) or to beg a question (What the fuck?), vulgarities play an important role in our daily vocabulary.

In this episode of About Men Radio, Pedro and Chris explore – in colorful language – why we curse, when we started and what our influences are in our choice of language.

C’mon! Swear along! You know the words!

Related content:

Weaving a Tapestry of Obscenity

Why the Fuck Is “Fuck” So Overused Today?

The Need to Digitally Detox

If it is true that the eyes are the window to the soul, I am convinced we live in a soul-less society.

When was the last time you were in a mall, elevator, bus depot or train station and you could see someone’s eyes?

Yeah, me neither.

It is because everyone has their faces buried in their damn smartphones.

I am amazed at the number of people who gaze lovingly into their phones or at the number of people who cannot go more than 10 seconds without looking at them.

Even more amazing are the knuckleheads who stare into their phones while WALKING – other pedestrians and motorists be damned.

And forget about people who DRIVE and look at their smartphones. They are candidates for a Darwin Award.

I mention all of this because of Levi Felix, who died recently at the age of 32.

Perhaps, like me, you never heard of him. He was the founder of something called Digital Detox whose mission was “to create more mindful, meaningful and balanced lives, both online and off.”

The organization sponsored Camp Grounded, a summer camp for adults to get unplugged from technology. Attendees turned in their electronic devices and were expected – gasp – to have conversations with others in real life, or IRL as they say in digital parlance.

Campers also had choices of activities, such as crafts, archery, swimming and capture-the-flag.

Felix said he wanted to see “more people taking more time to reflect and experience what they’re doing instead of sharing it or Instagramming it or posting it on the internet.”

There was something so simple and profound about what he preached; it really resonated with me.

For my generation, the electronic devil was the “Boob Tube,” aka television, which we were warned would turn our brains to Jell-O if we watched too much of it.

I grant you there was a lot of bad television I watched as a kid but we also had a rule when I was growing up: No TV at dinner. That was a time reserved to be together as a family. Period.

Today, if you go to a restaurant, it is stunning to see how many people are seated around a table and they are all looking at their smartphones! It’s like they are allergic to talking to one another.

I know I am guilty of spending too much time on my phone, but being a newsman, it is an occupational hazard.

For others, it is an addiction in which they get a little shot of dopamine to their brains every time a notification comes from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or someone texts. (Does anyone actually even use their smartphones to call anyone anymore anyway?)

At a time when we face deep cultural, racial and political divisions, it feels like the need to have civil face-to-face conversations is more important than ever.

If I can paraphrase a popular ‘60s expression, I think it’s time we turn off our electronic devices, drop our screens and tune into each other.

 

Celebrating 40 Years of ‘Star Wars’

Today marks the 40th (!) anniversary of the release of the first “Star Wars” movie in 1977.

To celebrate, we here at About Men Radio present a round-up of some of the best blog posts we’ve had about the movie and its culture.

Enjoy! And be careful where you point that blaster!

“Star Wars” Destroyed My Childhood Bed

A “Star Wars” Fan’s Dream Comes True!

An Appreciation of Carrie Fisher

The New ‘Star Wars’ Trailer is Here And it is Glorious

“Rogue One” Was Good, But …

Work, Drive, Sleep, Rinse and Repeat

Based on my new work schedule, I now qualify to be two out of the Seven Dwarfs: Sleepy and Dopey.

The start of my work day recently shifted from 5 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

For someone like me who is naturally a morning person, this was great but the change put sand in my gears – and felt like in my eyes as well.

I have always been an early riser, dating to when I was 13 and delivering The Daily News in the Bronx.

I was thrilled to get a jumpstart on the day and watch the city transition from slumber to wakefulness.

That all changed 2.5 years ago, when I started a job in New York City that required me to work nights.

Instead of getting to bed at 10:30 p.m., I was leaving the office by then or much later, like 12:30 a.m.

The whiplash meant resetting my natural body clock.

On the plus side, commuting home was easy because you could fire a cannon on the highway and not hit anything.

The downside was that in the mornings I would sleepuntil 10 a.m. (if I was successful at fighting the urge not to wake up earlier), and I would almost always feel like I was merely waiting to leave for work in the afternoon.

I felt too restless or time-constrained to get anything useful done.

I no sooner got (somewhat) adjusted to my late hours than my schedule shifted to a 6:30 a.m. start time.

So now instead of getting to bed at 3 a.m., I get up at that hour.

Doing that kind of yo-yoing with your sleep does weird things to your body.

For instance, I am ready to slam back a Red Bull by 9:30 in the morning and by 10:30, I am ready for lunch.

It is also weird that as noon draws near, and most people are getting ready for lunch, I am looking ahead to soon leaving.

It is great that I get to be home with my wife for dinner but now I get to bed around 8:30 p.m., my bedtime when my age was in the single digits!

At my age (closing in on 53), these kinds of adjustments do not come easily. I have as much capacity to bounce back as a deflated basketball.

I lose track of what day it is, time becomes a blur and focusing on details on the job requires even more concentration, which, you guessed it, makes me even more tired.

I need a steady flow of coffee to keep me from face-planting into my keyboard.

I know from friends who pull long days or shifts in the middle of the night the challenges of being sleep-deprived.

I appreciate the importance of sleep for your mental health, regulating blood sugar, rebooting your brain and other functions, but what can you do when this is what your job or life requires?

I’d like to hear your stories of a fractured sleep-work cycle and what happens to you when you get too little sleep. How do you cope? Any insights or remedies to offer?

Write me at amr@aboutmenshow.com.

While I await your emails, I have to wake up and inhale the coffee.

Related content:

Sleep-Deprived As a Way of Life

 

Fine-Dining Disasters

A recent article in The New York Times reported on an emerging trend that I support: Some high-end restaurants are discontinuing the practice of asking customers to taste wine and approve of the selection.

Instead, the article said, these restaurants are relying on the sommelier (French for “grape guru”) to do the sampling for you.

As the article noted:

“Wine is intimidating enough without saddling it with pointless rigmarole. Of all the anxiety-producing moments faced by consumers who simply want to drink some wine, the age-old restaurant ritual of tasting a bottle before it is served may be the most awkward. The purpose is not always clear, yet the pressure is high. Even for those well schooled in the formalities of restaurant wine service, performance anxiety may set in.”

I applaud this shift because “tasting a bottle” sounds like you are licking the glass container and “performance anxiety” is not something any guy wants to hear.

But mostly I support this because my experiences with high-end fine dining, while limited, have not gone very well.

Two memorable ones: I was about 18 and treated my then-girlfriend to a fancy restaurant in Manhattan. When it came time to order wine, the sommelier poured a thimbleful in my glass and stood off to the side and waited.

My reactions were twofold: First, geez, could you spare it? And two, you can go away now.

Instead, my girlfriend hissed at me that I was supposed to taste and approve of the wine.

Oh right! I got it!

So I sipped it, swished it like mouth wash and maybe even gargled before I pronounced it to be “fine” and, by the way, could I just get a glass of Coke instead anyway?

A few years later, I was invited by my boss to a Park Avenue restaurant for lunch along with several co-workers.

The menu was largely indecipherable to me, but I could make out what looked like soup so I told the waiter I would have beef “consume.”  Without missing a beat, he scribbled on his pad and said (correctly): “Beef consommé? Very good, sir.”

I take solace though in knowing that I am not alone in these fine-dining disasters.

When my wife was a college freshman in Manhattan, she had a boyfriend who took her to an elegant Japanese restaurant.

She had not seen, let alone used, chopsticks before but that was not going to stop her. She decided to have a go at a pile of rice shaped into a ball. She poked at it with her chopsticks. It resisted her subtle moves, so she redoubled her efforts.

The ball rolled out of its shallow bowl, across the table, onto the floor and continued until it nearly reached the stocking foot of a diner. The maître d’ wordlessly swooped in with a napkin, scooped up the renegade rice ball mid-roll and the diner was none the wiser.

Another time, Meg was on a first date with a guy who got tripped up on the spelling of Welsh rarebit (rabbit). Thinking he was more advanced and sophisticated than his years, he ordered it.

When the somewhat soupy, pale glop arrived in a bowl, he poked at it with a fork, lifted up the slice of bread in the center, called the waiter over with an imperious forefinger and asked: “Where’s the rabbit?”

Welsh rabbit is a concoction of melted cheese and other ingredients and served with toast.

There was no rabbit harmed in the making of that dinner.

The only thing hurt might have been his ego.

 

What It Is Like to Feel Like ‘Other’

I recently had, for perhaps the first time in my life, experienced what it is like to be “other.”

As a white middle-class man, I have been fortunate to live a largely privileged life, free of discrimination (at least as far as I know) and to mostly feel I was part of the mainstream.

It was not until I visited Mexico for the first time that I felt like an outsider, as someone who was apart from the majority – and hence, accepted — population.

Given the sensitivities and recent headlines about U.S.-Mexican relations, I want to be clear that nothing untoward happened to me, my wife or our friend when we visited Nogales, Mexico.

We did not encounter any “bad hombres” – or bad anyone else for that matter.

Quite the contrary.

The owner of the cafe where we had lunch could not have been more friendly and locals either smiled at us or simply went about their business.

The locals were obviously accustomed to American tourists as they peppered us with offers for taxi cab rides, invited us to shop in their stores or to take a photo (for $2) with a burro.

The worst thing that happened was that some guy hawking no-name pharmaceuticals eyed my graying hair and called out that the store had a certain blue pill for sale.

How rude!

My sense of being an outsider was brought on by own perceptions and not anything that anyone said or did.

I had a heightened awareness that I did not speak the language and I was unfamiliar with the culture and food.

I felt like I did not fit in, kind of like a hamburger at a vegan picnic.

Consider too that my international travels have been limited to Germany and Iceland, two very white homogeneous countries.

Though I grew up in the Bronx, in what a diverse neighborhood and schools, my adult life has been largely spent in suburban or rural white areas.

A mere mile or so inside the border of another country for a few hours does not give me a license to speak with authority about Mexico or Mexicans, but it did help me see me the world a little more clearly, or at least differently.

We are all products of our upbringings and families.

But it helps to get outside of our “filter bubble” — a phrase made popular after the November election to describe our individual and highly personalized world view.

The trip gave me pause to consider the experience of others — whether it is a Syrian refugee, gay teenager, black man, older woman, etc. and think about how they are treated as “other” – as outsiders in the human race because they are different.

The visit to Mexico was a journey — both physical and metaphysical — to places previously unknown to me.

Chris and Pedro Come Clean About Housework

So after three years of doing this podcast, Chris and Pedro decided to go where fools rush in and angels fear to tread and that is an honest man-to-man conversation about chores and housework.

What is revealed is as about as pretty as balled-up sweaty socks turned inside out.

I’m not sure we know the business end of a mop or a broom.

It’s not that we are total knuckle-draggers in our views of domestic work (Pedro, for example, does not mind cleaning the bathroom and Chris is happy to do dishes).

It’s just that, well, when we examine the totality of the division of labor on the home front, let’s just say that we come up short.

One of the things we address is our perceived inability (read: copout) to meet our wives’ high standards for getting certain things done just right.

And oh yeah, completely unrelated but just as important, we talk about why music from the ‘80s was so influential and how it remains important in our lives.

We celebrate so-called New Wave radio stations like Long Island’s WLIR and discuss why radio stations today largely suck.

So yeah, give a listen.

And whatever hate mail you send will go straight in the trash – which Pedro never takes out anyway.

 

What’s All the Fuss About Podcasts?

You may have heard about the latest podcast to make a splash, “S-town,” which, not to give too much away, tells the story about a man in the Deep South and the community he lives in.

It has gained widespread attention the way “Serial” did a few years ago.

So what is all the fuss about podcasts?

If you commute for 30 minutes or more, they will make a big difference in your life.

For the uninitiated, think of podcasts as radio in its heyday when families gathered to listen to “Little Orphan Annie,” “The Shadow” or Jack Benny.

Unlike radio, the programming for which can vary by location and time of day, podcasts are like the Netflix of audio: You can listen when you want and where you want.

There are thousands to choose from, but here are some of my favorites:

News and General Interest

“The Daily”: The New York Times started this 20-minute daily news digest. High production values and packed with news and insight.

“This American Life”: A granddaddy of story-telling shows, often with surprising twists.

If You Want to Cry

“Heavyweight”: The premise is the host revisits a decision – be it trivial or consequential but often tinged with regret — and explores how it changed a person’s life. It is well done and spot-on about life and human nature.

“Terrible, Thanks for Asking”: Heartache and tragedy abound in this show but not in a way that is at all maudlin.

The British Invasion

“No Such Thing as a Fish”: Ignore the title and listen. This is a gathering of smart Brits talking about the most interesting facts they’ve learned in the past week. Fascinating, fun learning on everything from history to biology and culture.

“Answer Me This!”: Fun show in which the three British hosts answer questions from listeners. It is light-hearted, rude and informative.

True Crime

“In the Dark”: A hard-hitting report that examines the kidnapping and unsolved murder of a boy and deeply explores how the police investigation was so botched. I was slack-jawed listening to almost every episode.

“Casefile True Crime”: This is hosted by an Australian and the accent takes a few minutes to get accustomed to but wow are these episodes deeply researched and they tell stories I’ve never heard before.

“Crimetown”: Offers an amazing historical glimpse into the mob’s control of Providence, R.I., and its crooked mayor. The interviews and recordings from years ago are fascinating. They are worth listening to for the New England accents alone.

“Sword and Scale”: Warning! This is not for the faint of heart. The stories are of some of the most grisly true crimes, replete with original 911 calls, court testimony and court records. Best to take in small doses.

Fiction
“The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified”: This is a hilarious send-up of radio shows of old, complete with sound effects, snappy writing and cliffhanger endings. Safe for the kids and good fun for the adults.

“Homecoming”: This takes a little while to catch fire but once it does, you are left wondering what’s coming next. Very intriguing plot that is well paced and performed.

For the guys

“The Modern Mann”: Hosted by Olly Mann, this is for and about guys, but with a British twist. Lightning-quick humor and entertaining.

“About Men Radio”: Featuring yours truly and a friend of 40 years, Pedro, and a cast of other childhood chums. It’s not about all men, just us men, but in telling specific stories about ourselves, I think we reveal, through humor, introspection and crude jokes, some larger universal truths about men.

 

 

The End of the World Starts Here

​For an idea of where the end of the world might start, visit the Titan II Missile Museum in Sahuarita, Az.

The site is a former missile silo, complete with a disarmed Titan II still intact, 35 feet below ground in a steel-and-concrete-reinforced bunker.

It is a sobering reminder of the destructive power of man and how MAD — as in Mutually Assured Destruction — those Cold War days were.

I was born two years after the Cuban missile crisis and did not grow up with those “duck-and-cover” films about what to do if a thermonuclear bomb went off.

But I do recall drills where we gathered in the hallways in school and sat with our backs to the wall.

And I remember distinctly the school basement and many of the basements of the Bronx apartment buildings in my neighborhood displaying the three upside-down yellow triangles against a black circle that indicated the location of a fallout shelter.

I remember not knowing what a fallout shelter was but it was clear it was something important and official.

Fast-forward to when I was in high school and college and Ronald Reagan was president. It felt like we were on the brink of nuclear war as we (America) and our longtime nemesis, the USSR, were locked in an arms race that would have no winner.

This was a time when nuclear war was brought vividly to life with the 1983 television movie “The Day After.”  It was also a time when I read nuclear holocaust books like “On the Beach” and “Hiroshima.”

It was after the breakup ​of the USSR that I felt some of that threat recede. But the visit to the museum brought those chilling thoughts right back.

The museum had the authenticity and seriousness of the movie “Fail-Safe” and absolutely nothing of the dark humor of “Dr. Strangelove.”

And this was certainly no Hollywood set.

The artifacts include​d​ consoles with buttons, dials and lights and stenciled signs warning that certain areas were “no lone zones,” meaning it was mandatory that two airmen (or women) be present to ensure that someone was always watching out for the other person.

The museum’s website paints a picture of the mission:

“The Titan II was capable of launching from its underground silo in 58 seconds and could deliver a nine-megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 6,300 miles (10,000 km) away in less than 30 minutes.

“For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood ‘on alert’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.”

While the museum ​tour guides preached strength through deterrence a bit too much for my liking, there was no denying the impressive engineering and discipline that went into building and maintaining silos like these across the country.

Still, it was unsettling to consider one of these missiles being used, much less dozens. Thinking today about rogue nations test-firing missiles or building an arsenal is even more unsettling.

When we left the museum, we drove 20 miles to the San Xavier Mission Church Del Bac, which was built in the 1700s. It boasts of being the oldest intact European structure in Arizona and continues its mission of ministering to the needs of its parishioners.

Maybe I can draw comfort in that a 300-year-old church continues its mission of charity, while the silo’s mission of war has been retired.​

 

‘My Own Particular Aesthetic’

​With clarity and conciseness, my older son coined a slogan that epitomizes the don’t-give-a-crap attitude that makes guys great.

I am convinced his insight belongs on coffee mugs, T-shirts and the business cards of men everywhere.

Here is the backstory: No. 1 son broke the toilet seat in the downstairs bathroom and set about replacing it. The toilet, though, has an odd shape. It is mostly oval but with a tapered front, making an off-the-shelf replacement pretty much impossible to find.

The last one my wife ordered from Amazon.

Undeterred, Mike went to Wal-Mart and got a replacement seat, only it does not fit properly.

The lip of the cover overhangs the bowl by at least half an inch, the effect of which is almost comedic. It is a bit like a toddler wearing his dad’s shoes.

When my wife confronted Mike about the misaligned replacement, Mike (who is 23) came back with: “I have my own particular aesthetic.”

​​I am copyrighting that because Mike crystallized the guy ethic toward getting things done, sometimes with less than perfect results.

It encompasses a blend of this-is-all-the-craps-I-give (which is to say zero), an attitude of “Hey, it’s fixed, isn’t it?” and I-am-comfortable-doing-things-my-own-way-even-if-it-is-unconventional.

Take for instance my beloved childhood friend John.

John (aka MacGyver) is a tinkerer who can jury-rig solutions that would make Rube Goldberg envious.

The one time I laughed so hard I actually clutched my sides and fell to the pavement came when John, myself and our buddy Pedro were walking along Westchester Avenue in the Bronx.

Pedro had plastic frame glasses that were perpetually breaking, with the lens coming loose or popping out.

John’s solution?

He had the cap of a Bic pen he tried to melt with a lighter, hoping the plastic would fall into place and forge the frames. The problem was Pedro had to hold the frames as John carried out the repairs.

The results were about what you would expect:

Melting plastic falling on Pedro’s hands and fingers, Pedro screaming and cursing at John, who insisted on trying again, and me on my knees, laughing so hard that the only thing that drowned out the commotion we were making was the subway on the El above us.

This attitude of why-strive-for-perfection-when-you-can-achieve-practicality abounds.

Me, for instance, I don’t fret about making hospital corners when I make the bed. So long as the sheets don’t come loose, I’m good.

And my friend Rich wrote: “Repaired my son’s truck bumper with duct tape, plastic bottle, broken pieces of the bumper and some epoxy glue. Lasted about a year.”

This approach goes back to prehistoric times: Consider those crude cave drawings of woolly mammoths.

Clearly a guy’s handiwork.

I am certain he was in a rush to finish the drawings so he could spend more time inventing fire. And duct tape.

MacGyver and Other Tales of Improvised Engineering

 

Arizona or Bust? I’ll Take Bust Please!

As soon as you mention you are visiting Arizona, you know what people say.

C’mon, you know. You have said it yourself: “Oh, it’s a dry heat.”

Yes, yes it is. So is sticking your head in an oven door and closing it.

The people who inhabit the great state of Arizona are made of sturdier stock than I ever will be. Or maybe they have had their brains broiled by the searing heat and do not know enough to move.

Before you criticize me as being an Arizona-basher, let me say that I traveled a fair portion of the state during a recent visit and was struck by its rich history, interesting attractions, great dining and excellent universities.

It is just that the conditions there are not for me. I am more of a four-season New England weather kind of guy. I subscribe to the idea that it easier to add layers to stay warm than it is to strip away layers to stay cool.

Take for example the heat in Arizona. When we were there in mid-March, the temps in some parts were in the high 80s or low 90s. That was in March for crying out loud!

During the summer, it is regularly triple-digit temperatures. The only thing that should reach triple-digit temperatures is my grilled hamburger.

But here is the other crazy thing: We did not once sweat during the entire trip. We had the early stages of heat stroke yes, but not once did we sweat no matter how much water we drank.

It was unnatural.

The terrain was surreal, going from mountain to desert to cliffs and back again.

For someone like me who lives in the woods and is accustomed to seeing nothing but trees and limited horizons, it was an odd experience.

We learned that Arizona is much like Pennsylvania in that it has wildlife like bears, foxes, deer and coyotes.

I almost felt at home hearing that.

And then we saw a sign that said “Watch for rattlesnakes” – on a public sidewalk at a museum.

Oh, and did I mention that there are scorpions? That come into people’s houses?

Fuhgedaboutit. I’m outta here.

The state is also prone to outbreaks of dust storms known as haboobs. These can kick up with little warning and bring visibility on the road to nil.

Apparently if you are caught driving in one of these, the recommended response is to pull over (makes sense) and turn off all of your lights (hmmmm….) because if you keep them on someone might think you are moving and attempt to follow you (ahhh…OK), except of course sitting on the side of the road in a dust storm with no lights on to signal your presence means you run the risk of being struck. (What?!)

The day we left Arizona, it was sunny and about 90 degrees.

When we returned, it was 18 degrees and there were dire forecasts for a blizzard and two-plus feet of snow.

I was happy to be home.

 

Clothing With A Message

Clothes may make the man, but I also believe they can be fun and make a statement.

I’m all in favor of dressing appropriately for work and, as the product of 12 years of Catholic schools, I have felt compelled to wear a tie to work every day for nearly my entire career.

But it doesn’t mean the ties all have to be boring.

They can be a way to convey my mood or subtly send a message.

For instance, I have a tie given to me by one of my sisters of Edvard Munch’s famous painting “The Scream.”

I tend to wear it the newsroom on election nights because those nights are filled with torment and chaos. (More accurately, the nights are filled with hours of the tedium of waiting for results followed by a few minutes of stark terror to make deadline.)

For the openings of each of the new “Star Wars” movies, I wear a distinctive “Star Wars” tie featuring Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Princess Leia.

And when I feel playful or want to channel my inner child, I have ties featuring Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse and even Crayola crayons.

My most expressive clothing however is in my collection of T-shirts, or what my dad would refer to as my “knock-around clothes.”

I have three shirts with Dunkin’ Donuts themes, all in the same font and orange and pink lettering of my favorite coffee chain.

One reads “Dungeons and Dragons,” another says “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks” and another says “Drunkin’ Grownups.”

As someone who pretends to be a grown-up, I like wearing these. I often get laughs or nods of approval from passers-by who appreciate the play on words.

Also coffee-themed is a T-shirt with a sign that says “Out of Coffee” with the caption “Life Is Crap.”

Some T-shirts reflect my inner silliness, allowing me to fly my freak flag.

Take for example the ones that say: “Plays well with self,” “I’m smiling because they haven’t found the bodies yet” and one that says “Problem Child” with “Child” crossed out and written over it in red is “Adult.”

And then there are those that are, for me, irresistible, like the one of a black bear holding a potted flower with the caption “Hairy Potter.” (Yes, I know, grrrrroooan!)

I’ve recently discovered that socks are another way I can send secret sartorial signals.

Instead of the monochromatic socks I customarily wear, I’ve discovered some with very specific messages.

One set of socks, given to me by my older son, you can bet will be worn a lot.

Here’s why:

The socks depict a man furiously chopping at a tree with an ax and the caption, which I will loosely translate, rhymes with “Duck this sit!”

Hmmmm…maybe that message is not so subtle after all!

 

Restoring Nudes to Playboy? I’m Still Canceling

Now might seem like an odd time for me to give up my subscription to Playboy magazine – considering that it is restoring nude models to its pages.

As you might recall, the men’s magazine surprised many when it announced a year ago that it would discontinue its decades-long practice of featuring naked women.

Instead, it filled its glossy pages with models in various states of undress but gone was the full-frontal nudity of the past.

Well, that idea apparently flopped like a rabbit’s ear because the company recently announced it was reversing course.

Cooper Hefner, a son of the Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, said on Twitter that the way the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, “but removing it entirely was a mistake.”

Hefner, the company’s chief creative officer, said in an interview with Business Insider that he thought the choice made no sense.

“When you have a company, and the founder is responsible for kick-starting the sexual revolution, and then you pluck out that aspect of the company’s DNA by removing the nudity, it makes a lot of people, including me, sit and say, ‘What the hell is the company doing?’” he said.

What the hell is the company doing, indeed, is what I say.

When Playboy revamped the magazine, it lost some of its playfulness, smarts and voice, in my opinion.

It expanded the size of the pages, reduced the point size of the print (and for us oldsters who actually do read the articles, that makes a big difference), got rid of some favorite features and began feeling more like a general circulation news magazine.

With a metamorphosis like that, why would I want to keep subscribing — even at the heavily discounted rates it offered?

Consider, for example, the Playboy Advisor column.

The advisor answered reader questions about drinks, food and sex as well as travel and etiquette.

For a side-by-side comparison, I consulted the July/August 2015 edition (pre-redesign) and the July/August 2016 edition (post-redesign).

In the old Playboy, the column spread across two pages and answered 11 questions with a blend of wit and useful information.

In the new-and-improved version, it answered a single question and I found the writing to be meh.

Gone from the new version were the playful cartoons. Reduced was content about movies and television, which I enjoyed reading.

Sure, the models were pretty and all, but for crying out loud, I’m now old enough to be their father and some of them were born after I started my professional career.

But I did still enjoy the opinion pieces, the smart journalism and the interviews. Somehow with its revamp, it tinkered too much with those appealing elements and it lost me as a reader.

To be fair to the magazine, though, I have come to this realization: My reading material has evolved as I’ve aged.

I started with Highlights magazine.

Then I advanced to Boy’s Life.

Then came Mad, Cracked and National Lampoon.

From there it was onto Maxim and Playboy.

So maybe I’ve just naturally aged out of the publication that branded itself as “Entertainment for Men.”

Up next: AARP magazine — in big print.

Why I Won’t Miss the Photos of Naked Women in Playboy

 

Body-Shamers, Have You No Shame?

Like millions of other Americans, I watched the Super Bowl halftime show last week.

I tuned in specifically to watch Lady Gaga, who I had seen twice in concert. I think she is extraordinarily talented, energetic and gives everything for her audience.

I thought she delivered a stunning halftime show.

Replete with a Peter Pan-like entrance, a dance troupe that seamlessly blended in and with a spectacular fireworks backdrop, the performance I thought deserved nothing but praise.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a story that critics were taking shots at Lady Gaga for her “gut” or her “belly.” (The criticism came after she had several costume changes, some that revealed her midriff.)

One example from Twitter: “Tried to enjoy @ladygaga’s performance, was distracted by the flab on her stomach swinging around.”
Are you kidding me?! She is in fantastic shape and burned more calories in that turbo-charged performance than I do in five workouts.

For crying out loud, I know guys who would do anything to have her flat stomach.

Where do people (mostly men it appeared) get off engaging in that kind of body shaming?

I am sure the men who cast those stones were just the very picture of Adonis themselves and not some middle-aged dudes who are paunchy in the poochie and could stand to shed 20 pounds.

Lady Gaga, who has been a champion of all stripes and walks of humanity and has advanced the cause of the LGBT community, graciously responded on Instagram: “I heard my body is a topic of conversation so I wanted to say I’m proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too. No matter who you are or what you do.”

This episode speaks to a larger issue my wife brings to my attention repeatedly: the double standard that exists for men and women, and especially for actresses and female celebrities.

Men can be sought in roles well into their 60s or 70s no matter how craggy their faces or saggy their guts.

Somehow Hollywood and society are more forgiving of that than actresses who have the temerity (gasp!) to get older.

My wife contends that many actresses somewhere around their 30s are no longer cast in starring roles after they have been judged to no longer be pretty and young.

The late Carrie Fisher endured similar criticisms when she appeared in “The Force Awakens.”

Her response is worth repeating:  “Please stop debating about whether or not I have aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all three of my feelings. My BODY hasn’t aged as well as I have.”

This attitude extends beyond celebrities to everyday people, in which we judge others by their physical appearances.

Maybe I have a heightened sensitivity to this because I had severe acne as a teenager that defied medical treatment for years and I was judged harshly as a result. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way as a culture in 40 years.

It’s time to look beyond the surface of the skin and find a connection with the person inside.

Shame on the body-shamers.

Lost Podcast Is in the Wild!

We found it!

Pedro and I recorded an episode a few weeks ago that fell somewhere into the couch cushions but fear not, we’ve dusted it off and it’s as good as new.

Well, almost.

We do discuss (belatedly for you dear listeners) our sense of loss at the death of our beloved Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leia from “Star Wars.”

We share in the sorrow of fans everywhere and marvel at her achievements.

May she long be remembered for her literary contributions and her help in removing the stigma of mental illness.

And on a more cheerful note, Pedro and I celebrate 40 years of friendship and recount how we first met lo those many years ago.

It’s a pretty funny story, one told in a blog post a while back.

Yes, 40 years we have been together.

Convicted killers do less time in prison, but like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in “The Defiant Ones,” we are chained together for life!

Give the show a listen!

“I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty…”

At the risk of getting my Man Card revoked, shredded and incinerated, its ashes buried in some unmarked grave, let me make the following confession:

I have taken to using “product.”

You know, “product.”

The euphemistic term used by and among men to describe the various unguents (a fancier way of saying ointments, instead of my preferred synonym: “goo”) that they use on their face, body and hair.

Lest you think this is some passing fad, consider this: Spending on men’s grooming was estimated to generate $21 billion in 2016.

To put that number in context: That’s a lot of unguents.

The Independent reported that 2013 was the first year men spent more money on male-specific toiletries than on shaving products, and the market was growing.

I have contributed to those statistics but I was not always like this.

In fact, I once openly mocked those guys who spent as much time on their skin care as some do buffing their cars.

Once upon a time, my idea of a beauty treatment was spritzing on some Brut or Old Spice aftershave or Canoe cologne.

And then I’d squeeze into my Jordache jeans, and I’d be prepared to take the world by storm. (Hey! Don’t judge. It was the ‘80s. Everyone was doing it.)

Fast-forward decades, and there was a cable television show called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

The premise: Five openly gay men offer tips on fashion and beauty for straight guys.

I found the show entertaining but I strongly resisted the pull to become a “metrosexual.”

Go to a salon for a haircut and shave? No thanks. I’ll just go to a barber.

Dye my graying hair? Are you kidding me?

Use fancy shower gels? I’ll just stick to my bar of Irish Spring.

But over time I’ve given greater consideration to taking better care of my skin and hair. I’ve been exercising regularly for 15 years, so maybe this naturally follows?

Maybe my newfound vanity also comes from turning 52 and realizing that Yoda is the only one who looks good with wrinkles.

And then there’s the pressure of the young folks: My younger son (who is 18) and even one of my nephews (10) have so many hair products, they could open their own salon.

So, slowly I’ve been changing my habits:

Out with the bars of soap, and in with “refreshing” shower gels.

Out with mere water after I shave, and in with a soothing balm.

And most recently – gulp – I dropped 100 bucks on things like (and I swear I am not making these up):

Black tea age-delay eye concentrate, rose deep hydration face cream, black tea firming corset cream (with goji fruit extract!) and, my favorite: Umbrian clay mattifying face exfolliant.

I truly am not sure what any of these things are doing for me, and maybe it’s just a placebo effect, but I do, in fact, dance around the house singing like Maria from “West Side Story”:

“I feel pretty/Oh, so pretty…”

Now, what the heck did I do with my loofah?

Being Directionally Challenged Means Always Seeing Someplace New

My wife and I have a simple rule when we travel to parts unknown by car: I drive and she navigates.

The reason for this is twofold:

I am a lousy passenger who turns green riding shotgun and I have a sense of direction worthy of Christopher Columbus. (Dude was headed to the Far East and landed in the West Indies. Truly a man I can relate to.)

I am, to be charitable, directionally challenged.

That might play into the male stereotype of guys who get lost and then never ask for directions.

That is not me.

I am unafraid to ask for directions. Where I run afoul is in following them.

My internal compass is like a pinwheel in a hurricane.

I recall having to earn a patch as a Cub Scout and one of the assignments was to give directions to various landmarks, including a hospital.

I recall telling my mother that the patient would be dead by the time I would be done giving directions.

“I am pretty sure you make a right at the dry cleaners. Or is it a left? You will see the Carvel on the corner. Oh. You know what? That’s now a burger joint…Say, have you thought about maybe just calling an ambulance?”

Before the introduction of GPS devices, I would get even more epically lost than I do now.

I would print out the directions from MapQuest, confident in my route.

But one of two things would happen:

1. I would be driving at night and unable to properly read the directions without turning on the overhead lamp and blinding myself.

2. I would have to peer over my glasses (which I need for driving) in order to properly read the text and I would be unable to do more than just take a glimpse at a time because I was driving, which, in turn, would mean I would miss my turn or exit.

What is this concept of “coordinated” you speak of?

On more than one occasion I would call Meg and ask her to consult directions online and help me untangle the travel knot I had tied myself into.

It would be routine for me to have hourlong trips take 90 minutes or more.

I fare better on mass transit, particularly New York City’s subway system, but once I emerge above ground, it’s like I have been blindfolded and spun around.

My dad, who knew the city like his own name, would give directions like: “You want to proceed west on 44th Street and then we will meet at the southeast corner of…”

I lost him as soon as he said “proceed west.”

I am much more a visual learner. Tell me that if I suddenly get to the East River that I have gone the wrong way, and I will understand.

But directions? Utterly meaningless.

Thanks to the introduction of smartphones, and improvements in the way apps deliver real-time traffic information and directions, I am slowly better about getting from here to there.

Without the GPS or smartphone, I’d be lost.

Come to think of it, I AM lost.

Can someone tell me how to get to New York from Cuba?

An Appreciation of Carrie Fisher

In the constellation of stars who died in 2016, the one that I was heartsick over the most was Carrie Fisher.

When I first saw her in “Star Wars,” the special effects and droids got more of my 12-year-old’s attention than her signature character, Leia Organa, the blaster-toting, tough-talking, take-charge princess.

By the time “The Empire Strikes Back” came out in 1980, the romantic tension between her character and Han Solo got my notice. And when “Return of the Jedi” premiered and I was 18, well, let’s just say that her appearance in that golden bikini left a lasting impression.

But as I got older, the appeal of her roles in the “Star Wars” franchise took a backseat to her plainspoken and brutally honest conversations about her struggles with mental illness and addiction.

I was horrified the first time I read about Fisher going into rehab.

The image of my beloved baby-faced star was shattered, replaced with an upsetting notion of an unstable celebrity who was following the familiar Hollywood path of drugs and booze.

Over time though, I came to appreciate — and admire — her willingness to forthrightly discuss her experiences and her treatment for bipolar disorder.

“I am mentally ill. I can say that,” Fisher said. “I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”

She was a role model for so many people, me included.

Fisher – among others — inspired me to seek help for my depression. If Carrie Fisher could tackle these issues head-on and in public, what was stopping me?

Fisher’s death also struck me forcefully because she reminded me of my late fiancée, Carla, who had battled her own addictions.

Fisher was open (some called it over-sharing) about her stints in rehab. Carla was similarly open and channeled her experiences into helping others in recovery.

Fisher was a high-profile inspiration for others. Carla was also a source of inspiration but on a grassroots level. I saw this repeatedly as she connected with people individually and offered to give them a boost.

When Carla was fired as a domestic-abuse counselor, her enraged clients broke into the office in the dead of night to find her home phone number. Carla saw it as a victory because the women felt empowered and took control.

Fisher and Carla also had an ability to poke fun at – and sometimes even celebrate – themselves at their worst moments.

Some of Carla’s stories were funny, like the time she was drunk behind the wheel and rear-ended a police car, and some were terrifying, like when she was confronted by a guy who pointed a gun at her and her friend and demanded their drug stash.

Russell Crowe recalled a moment with Fisher in 2000. On Twitter he wrote that she grabbed his butt and said “You would have loved me when I was on Xanax.”

An appreciation of Fisher that appeared in The New York Times noted there were better ways to honor her than rewatching “Star Wars.”

“Read her books,” wrote Lawrence Downes. “They are works where misery and brilliance commingle with wit, the creations of an actual person who had many layers and is worth getting to know, as opposed to Princess Leia, who has none and is not.”

I agree but I think there is an even better way to honor her memory:

Don’t judge them if they have a mental illness or are now or have been an addict.

Offer to help in what ways you can.

Carrie – and Carla — would approve.

Related links:

An Open Letter of Apology to Carrie Fisher

 

 

“Rogue One” Was Good, But …

“Star Wars” fans have waited nearly 40 years to find out how and why there was such a fatal flaw in the first Death Star.

“Rogue One,” which debuted last month, lays out the events leading up to “Star Wars: A New Hope.” That’s the first movie that came out in 1977 labeled Episode IV.

“Rogue One” provides the story line for how the rebel alliance came to possess the detailed plans that ultimately allowed Luke Skywalker to blow up the Death Star.

As a fan of “Star Wars” from when it first premiered, I liked “Rogue One,” but I’ve got to vent about a couple of things. (For those who have not seen the movie, spoilers abound, so see it first and then come back and read this.)

* That hologram soliloquy by Jyn Erso’s dad…I know it’s there to drive the narrative forward but for heaven’s sake, the planet is crumbling around their ears and this message is droning on and on. It’s like a voice mail from a caller who does not know when to shut up.

* Can anyone tell me what Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrerra, was doing in this movie? He saves young Jyn. Hurray! And then years later he is some radical rebel even feared by other rebels? What? I was confused.

* I cannot help it but there is one scene where Gerrerra takes a deep inhalation from his oxygen mask that just so takes me back to the crazy character Otto played by Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda,” in which Kline’s character deeply sniffs his own armpit.

* The villain, Orsen Krennic, was not villainous enough. I mean, yes, he comes across as half-crazed when during a test-run of the Death Star he watches the destruction from afar and declares “It’s beautiful!” But overall he seemed more whiny than evil.

* Did Darth Vader go on a diet? The actor, Spencer Wilding, who is 6 feet 7 inches tall, somehow looked smaller in frame and about 30 pounds lighter than the original actor, David Prowse, who was 6 feet, 6 inches.

When Krennic enters Vader’s chamber and Vader starts walking toward him, I swear he sashays down the ramp. Yes, sashays. Not good. Not intimidating. What is he doing moving his hips like that?!

* Maybe my hearing is going, but I had a hard time understanding some of the dialogue because of the actors’ different accents.

* The scene where the shuttle pilot is brought before Gerrerra, and then subjected to some kind of mind meld with a slimy creature to see if he was lying was reminiscent to me of the Ceti eel scene in which one of the larvae makes its way into the ears of characters in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”

* What exactly made Capt. Casian Andor not go ahead with the assassination of Galen Erso?

* Felicity Jones was OK but I don’t think she holds a light saber to Daisy Ridley, who played Rey in last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

OK, now on the plus side:

* I thought K-2SO was great and pretty much stole the movie. Ditto Donnie Yen.

* The movie did not have many light moments but the ones it did were well-timed and genuinely funny.

* The final battle scene was glorious, particularly the strategy to ram the two star destroyers into one another. Totally bad-ass!

* Speaking of bad-ass, the climactic ending with Vader taking on the rebels was vicious and no-holds-barred in its violence.

* The movie depicted war in the most realistic way of the “Star Wars” franchises so far.

* I know there have been a number of critics who have complained about the CG return of Grand Moff Tarkin (played in the first movie by Peter Cushing, who died in 1994) and a young Princess Leia (the late Carrie Fisher).

One of my friends said the appearances took him right out of the movie. I was fine with the recreated characters. I thought they were a neat surprise that did not detract from the movie.

I have also heard some critics say that “Rogue One” was the best in the “Star Wars” franchise and was better than “The Force Awakens.”

I could not disagree more.

And to those who think that way, I can only say you are a half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerfherder.

Related:

A “Star Wars” Fan’s Dream Comes True!

We Need Your Opinon: Which “Star Wars” Movie Is the Best of the Seven?

“Star Wars” Destroyed My Childhood Bed

“Manopause” and Having a Midlife Crisis

A midlife crisis makes for good movie fodder: There is the wayward husband who suddenly wants to take up with a younger woman or the guy who believes that getting a bright shiny sports car will make him youthful.

The truth is having a midlife crisis is not just the stuff of fiction. It is a very real and sometimes powerful emotional force that can reshape a man’s perception about himself and the world.

It can contribute to feelings of restlessness — that there is little left to achieve — and concerns about physical appearances. It can lead to depression, heavier drinking and a loss of interest in sex.

The cousin to having a midlife crisis is “manopause.”

This catch-all term is used to describe the effects of the drop in a guy’s testosterone. Manopause can bring on physical changes, like a loss of muscle, as well as moodiness and fatigue.

In this episode of About Men Radio, Pedro and Chris discuss which of these (or both) that they have experienced and how they have coped with the changes that come with being men of a certain age. Give it a listen!

Childhood Memories Built of Legos

As Christmas approaches, it stirs memories of one of my favorite childhood toys: Legos.

I was an avid collector of the tiny bricks that snapped together but Legos in the 1970s were a lot different.

Back then, they did not have as many little figurines and cool components as they do today.

The sets were much more simple and largely consisted of the little plastic rectangles and a set of instructions.

If the kit was really high-end, it might have some moving parts, like wheels, and maybe a sticker!

Whoo-hoo!

The weeks before Christmas were a time of high anticipation for me, and not just because Santa was coming.

My aunt and uncle in Germany would ship a huge package of chocolate, candy, gifts and, most important to me, a Lego set that you could only find in Europe.

From gas stations to firehouses to a lunar lander, these kits were absolutely the bomb!

I lacked the patience and aptitude to glue tiny pieces together and to follow what felt like endless instructions so I was not a builder of traditional models of planes or ships.

But Legos were democratic that way.

There was something so satisfying about following the illustration-only Lego instructions (no text) and coming away with a completed project.

I can remember getting small models at the Macy’s in the Bronx for 50 cents and I could hardly wait to get home to build them.

I had quite a collection of the assembled sets, which I arranged into dioramas of cities, harbors and lunar landings.

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My family made trips to Germany when I was 6 and 13, and both times we made a bus trip to the Legoland amusement park in Billund, Denmark. The park, which opened in 1968, was the only Legoland in the world at the time. (Today, there are seven, with another one planned for New York.)

Getting to the one in Denmark was a three-hour bus ride from where we were in Germany, but it was worth every minute.

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I was agog.

Everywhere were these intricate models of zoo animals, cities and airports made of Legos.

On the second visit, the park had expanded and featured a replica of Mount Rushmore made out of 1.5 million Legos!

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The news that a $500 million Legoland amusement park could be opening in Goshen, N.Y., within an hour’s drive of the Poconos, has me giddy with excitement.

The developers hope to open it by 2019, though the project has drawn considerable opposition over issues like traffic.

I don’t know if it will happen or not, but it would be a way to tap into one my favorite childhood pastimes.

You can take the boy out of the Legos but you cannot take the Legos out of the boy!

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What’s In a Name, Bro?

Among my guy friends, we do not often call each other by our first names.

“Dude,” “bro,” “hermano,” “brother from another mother” and “yo” are popular favorites, especially in social media postings.

Even when we get close to using our names, it still is not quite right.

Many of my friends call me “Mele,” often as a way to underscore some misstep of mine, as in: “Nice going, Mele.”

It’s also a moniker I use at work, a practice dating back many years when I worked in a newsroom and there were four reporters named Chris.

Anytime someone called “Chris,” we all poked our heads up from our cubicles like prairie dogs.

Among my childhood chums, there are also bastardized names.

Pedro goes by his middle name, Rafael, which gets translated to Ralph, a practice that dates back decades to avoid confusion with his older brother and father, who are also named Pedro.

Silvio gets called “Sliv,” John is “Juanito,” “Father John,” (for his pious ways and strong faith) or “Mannix,” when we want to pass judgment on his driving.

And Rich generally gets referred to as “Super Dad” because he is a committed, all-in kind of father.

Even my younger son has not escaped this convention among my friends.

Years ago, Pedro (aka Ralph) was having a hard time recalling Daniel’s name and took to calling him “Brian.”

That stuck, and after a while, Dan became known as “AKA” as in “also known as” Brian.

Even here at home, my wife and I will refer to him as “YMD” for “Young Master Daniel.”

This was a practice we extended even to our dads, calling them Mr. M, Mr. O, Mr. R, and so forth.

It is a peculiar practice among men, if you think about it.

I mean, I can approach a gas station attendant, a ticket-taker, a cabbie – just about any male stranger — in a public setting and call him “buddy,” “chief,” or “boss” and feel 100 percent comfortable with it.

In fact, I do it pretty often without even thinking about it.

Now could you imagine a woman doing that to another woman?

Somehow, I don’t think so.

My friends and I will on occasion refer to each other by our first names when we are discussing something more intimate.

It is a way to verbally signal a shift in the conversation into a space reserved to keep the serious and the silly separate.

By using the other handles we do, it is a way to keep things light and to hold things at a distance. In other words, the use of the nicknames makes the conversation informal, impersonal and ultimately more comfortable.

Remembering My Late Fiancee and Her Crazy Made-Up Vocabulary

Note: Today marks 10 years ago that Christopher Mele’s fiancee, Carla Carlson, died.

Those who knew her celebrated the larger-than-life character she was. For those who never met her, this tribute — in the form of a Carla-to-English dictionary — will give you a better sense of who she was and why she was unique.

Rest in peace ODB. You are missed.

English was a second language for Carla. Her primary language is something I call “Carlaese” or “Carlaspeak.”

She had a shorthand expression for so many things. Here’s a glossary of some:

Earchs: Ears, or sometimes referring to her hearing aids

Moo: Milk

Mock milk: My skim milk

Pussycat list: Her favorite actors who were hunks or sexy, as in: Sam Waterson is on her pussycat list

Leguns: Legs

Bunnies: Butt, behind. As in “Nice bunnies.”

Put my eyeballs on: Put on her eye glasses

Pray to St. Yolanda Vega:  Her homage to the woman who picks the winning Lotto numbers in the hopes that she would pick Carla’s numbers

Boogeritis: A runny nose, a bad cold

Frowzy: To be in a state of disarray or unkempt, as in: When he woke up, he was all frowzy looking.

Scrunch: To get a rub or massage, as in: Can you give my shoulder a scrunch?

Gripper pads: Usually referring to the cats’ padded paws, sometimes referring to devices with Velcro

Eggie wegs: The plastic Easter eggs the cats like to play with

Gum snapper: A term generally applied to a young, inept cashier or receptionist, as in: Some gum snapper couldn’t find the price of the carrots.

Belly warmer: A reference to a young girl, generally in her late teens or early 20s, often in a relationship with an older man, as in: Yeah, that college professor was seen having coffee with some belly warmer. Derived, I think, from the notion that if they were together that she’d be on laying on top and keeping his “belly warm.”

Forshnoricated, to forshnoricate: To get organized, to tidy up, as in: Before we go on vacation, I need to get the bills forshnoricated. This is one of my all-time favorites.

Handyman: A reference to the handicapped sign to hang on the rearview mirror of her truck so she could park in a disabled person’s parking spot

Glom: To steal, to take without asking

Gonif: A thief, or someone crooked not to be trusted

Fish eye/Godzilla eye: To be looked at sideways; at a glance; with one eye open and one closed; to be viewed with disdain or distrust, as in: Yeah, she was giving me the fish eye from across the room.

Pike off: Spy on; check out; snoop

Dirt alert: Juicy bit of gossip, high-priority dish

PUD file: Potentially Useful Dirt, something to tuck away for a rainy day

Amies: A reference to animals, as in: We are going to the zoo to look at all the amies.

Hidey hole: Some secret spot for stashing things

Hide in plain sight: Usually referring to something that went missing that was right in front of her

Perp chirp: A reference to my First Responder pager, which would sound a little chirp with bulletins about police activity, hence Perp chirp

Whoziwhatsis: Her all-purpose term for an item the name of which she could not remember, but somehow I would always understand what she was talking about.

Walking sideways: To be a crab, or to be in a crabby mood, as in: I can tell you had a bad day at work because when you got home, you were walking sideways.

Lit up like a whorehouse on a Saturday night: A house with lots and lots of lights on

As Irish as Patty’s pig: Um, I guess this one is self-explanatory. I never quite got it.

As bold as brass: Again, self-explanatory. Usually reserved for when the cats got caught doing something bad, like jumping up on the table, and then denying that they had done anything wrong

Poooooor: An expression of sympathy, sometimes in a mocking way, but again usually reserved for the cats, especially if they’ve not been fed yet, as in: Pooooor baby. Nobody fed you yet?

The hairless ones: A reference to the boys as pre-teens who were sans body hair

EBS: What the cats suffered when they had not been fed: Empty Bowl Syndrome.

The Man/Daddy: Talking about me in the third person to the cats, as in: Are you glad Daddy is home? Did the Man feed you?

Keeplock: A term from her days in correctional services, meaning to put the cats in solitary confinement, as in: When I serve the turkey, the cats are going into keeplock.

Big Perch: When she got her new bedroom set years ago, the queen-sized bed became Molly’s “big perch” where she liked to stay during the day and sleep. The name sort of stuck and the house in Lords Valley, with its viewshed, also became “The Big Perch.”

MBC: Might Bitey Cat, a reference to Misha, who likes to gnaw on feet and toes.

Tumbleweeds: To brawl or fight; to roll around in the street in a fight, as in: If she makes one more snide comment, we’re gonna be tumbleweeds.

…or know the reason why: This usually came at the end of some kind of question or statement, as in: I’m going to find that bank statement or know the reason why. Never quite grasped this one either.

Lemonsucker: A sourpuss, someone who thought they were high and mighty or uppity, as in: That priest was a real lemonsucker.

Looked like a bum in a fit: I don’t know the origins of this, but it means to look disheveled, unkempt; see “frowzy.” Also could be used interchangeably with: “Looked like the “ ‘Wreck of the Hesperus.’ ” (After a poem by Longfellow.)

Slit-eyed: Tired; eyes like slits from not being able to open them

Garb: Garbage

Rags: Her beloved rags, The National Enquirer, The Globe, The National Examiner, Star. Fridays were “Rag Day,” because that’s the day they hit the newsstands. And woe unto you if you forgot to bring home the rags.

Fershstunken: Stinks, smells bad, as in: I need to take a shower to get rid of the fershstunken.

Whoopin’ it up: Partying and drinking pretty hard

Price of rice: To set someone straight, as in: I’m going to tell him about the price of rice

Purpsi: Her favorite soft drink: Pepsi

Guzzoline: Gasoline

The Disease Store: Her name for the local supermarket, which is called Mr. Z’s.

Sunday goin’ to meetin’ clothes: Your finest threads; dressed up for special occasion

No big whoop: No sweat, no big deal; also No biggie

Clutching their pearls/Getting a case of the vapors: Sort of evocative of Victorian upper society and being offended at something relatively small and feeling faint or light-headed over it; think the straight lady in a Marx Bros. Movie, as in: When I cracked that joke at the meeting, the chairwoman was sitting there clutching her pearls.

Crazy hour: Not any particular time or not even an hour long, but it referred to that point of the night (usually the night) when the cats would be so hyper and frisky, jumping around, springing backward, etc.

Whimwhams: Feelings of anxiety, butterflies; insecurities

Don’t touch my shit: One of her golden rules. Just leave her stuff alone and no one gets hurt.

Since Hector was a pup: I have no godly idea where this comes from. It is used to refer to a significant passage of time, or age, as in: That store has been there since Hector was a pup.

Knee-high to a kitten: Again, another measure of age, usually referring to kids who have now grown up, as in: I remember him when he was knee-high to a kitten.

Growth experiences are a bitch: Sort of a variant of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This one is a Band-Aid to get you through a tough time by making you laugh and reminding you that you will get through it.

Shit happens: A bit of a variation of no big whoop. A general dispensation and way of addressing something big or small that has gone awry, especially if it’s out of your control, as in: Yeah, it sucks that the tree limb fell on the car, but you know, shit happens.

Plo-plos: Pillows. Especially used if she was switching from the dayside decorative pillows to the nighttime ones, as in: Can you get the plo-plos out of the closet?

Smokin’ dope: To express disbelief or something absurd, as in: I looked at the prices for steak at Mr. Z’s. Forget it, they were smokin’ dope.

Beams: Indoor lights, as in: Why are all these beams on?

When the student is willing, the master/teacher will appear: Very Zen like. More or less that when you are ready to change or to learn, an opportunity will present itself for you to grow or change.

Ambiance: Yes, this of course is a legitimate word, but she would draw out the ‘a’ so it was “Aaaaambiance” but it would refer to her desire to have the lights turned off and candles lit in the room.

White trash tables: Folding snack tray tables, the white trash reference comes from the notion that white trash uses them as everyday dining ware.

Appropriate: Here it is a verb, as in to appropriate something, which in Carla’s case, meant taking it, usually on the sly. Not exactly stealing but not exactly kosher either. As in, I needed to appropriate some office supplies from the jail.

Dipseydoodle: Flim-flam, to con, to get away with something, as in: I had the cashier so dipseydoodled that she forgot to charge me for the bread.

Parlay: Just one of those words she liked to use as in, I parlayed my coupons.

Three thousand nine hundred ninety nine: Again, one of those words she used a lot. For some stupid reason, this one grated on me. Maybe because she never used a different number, ever. Example: We have 3,999 rolls of toilet paper in the closet but none in the bathrooms.

Babies: The deer. Again with the elongated pronunciation: “Baaaaabies.”

Hurty: To hurt, to ache

Clicker: TV remote control

Heaterarator: The heating elements, the baseboard heat.

Nappy: Nap, sleep, as in: The cats and I are going to take a little nappy.

Ching chow: Chinese food

Wontonton: Wonton soup

Poofy: Her way of describing swelling, as in: My feet are all poofy.

Firin’ around: To be running around, especially doing chores or work; sort of implies an aimlessness to the effort

Sue my ass and get a fart: Especially popular expression when it came to bill collectors

Go scratch your ass with a broken bottle: An all-purpose insult

Eat shit and bay at the moon: See above

Snout: Shout, the washing pre-treatment

Greedy Gus: Someone who wants a lot, takes a lot

Friends in low places: We like these people, such as clerks and secretaries

Better to be lost than found: Sometimes it’s better to keep a low profile

Pataki cigarettes: When the governor signed legislation mandating that cigarettes flame out quickly if they’ve not been puffed on as a fire safety measure, Carla went nuts because her smokes kept snuffing out, hence her hatred for “Pataki cigarettes.”

Gussied up: To be all dressed up, spiffed up, could be implied to be in a slutty kind of way

Naked cats: When the cat is without its collar, it is naked

Cut from the cheek of his/her ass: Someone who is very much alike someone else, as in: Michael is cut from the cheek of his dad’s ass.

Slam’s Club: Sam’s Club

Wrinchkey: To tear, mangle, break; to make more difficult; or sometimes to twist, turn, remove as in: I need you to wrinchkey this bolt off or Don’t wrinchkey the envelope, use an opener.

Sleept: To have slept

Grade Z movie: Really, really bad movie. A stinker but possibly fun anyway.

Kidney killer: The muscle-enhancing supplement creatine that Garth would take

God squad: A holy roller, someone who is very religious or preachy

Cat’s paw: Someone who is being manipulated to do something on behalf of someone else, as in: Danny will sometimes unwittingly be Michael’s cat’s paw.

How you doin?/Whatya doin?/What’s shakin’ baby?/What’s on your agenda today?: All different ways of asking what’s going on.

Check please! Meant to convey a desire to get out of there, to remove oneself from a tight spot, as in: When I saw security coming for me and Arl at the mall, I was like check please!

Fleabagus: What she would call the cats if she saw them scratching

‘She’ is the cat’s mother: I don’t know the origins of this and it was not cited too often, but it would come out if one of the boys used the pronoun ‘she’ in some context where it was no clear who she was.

Dead: As in empty, broken or flat, usually referring to her cans of Pepsi which might have been left open for some time, as in: This one is dead. Can you get me a new one?

Bird bath/whore’s bath: To get scrubbed up just using a washcloth and water in the sink. It’s a quick bath to get ready vs. a full-fledged shower.

Hire the handicapped week: Usually said in connection with shopping at ShopRite where the baggers or the cashiers were slow-witted, or in some cases, outright retarded

Getting a bath: When the cats would lick her hand or arm

One toke over the line: A person who is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. They are just a little more crazy than the average person. Someone who is a bit of a burnout.

Cocksuckers from hell: This is an all-time fave of mine. Used only in the most extreme of stress and anger, especially if she was trying to fix something and it would not work or if something broke, spilled or if she was scared badly enough from one of my practical jokes.

Ease into the day: To lounge in PJs in bed, reading the paper or watching TV until about noon or so; the idea being not to act too rashly by jumping into the daily chores (just the opposite of me!)

Sidewalk superintendent act: Someone who watches from the sidelines but does no work

Farfel mouth: I don’t know the origins of this one, but it was a reference to the cats meowing

Would you jump in my grave as fast? Usually reserved for someone who cut in front of her on line

Muscular spiders: Big spiders that needed the exterminator’s attention

I’d rather clothe him than feed him: A big kid

..could put a saddle on him: Usually a reference to a big dog

Scuffs: Slippers

Kicks: Sneakers

Felony fliers: Expensive sneakers

Lounge wear: Comfortable pajamas

Fuck me where I sit: An exclamation of agitation

Didn’t even get kissed first: The notion that she was getting screwed over without the benefit of a kiss first

Case of the ass: Someone who is a state of disagreement or unhappiness; pissed off

Drunkin Doorknobs: Her nickname for Dunkin’ Donuts

Marlboro miles: Someone who looked like they had been around the block a few times and had the wrinkles to prove it

Fellow traveler: A member of AA, a recovering alcoholic

If I were president, there would be one brand of toilet paper: One of her soapbox speeches. Always made me laugh

Tapdance on your eyelids: What she would threaten to do to you if she got pissed off and angry

Staring at the inside of my eyeballs: To sleep

Valley of Fatigue: Getting sleepy

I’m getting in the car: Her oft-repeated threat that, if carried out, meant she was getting in the car and headed to do harm to someone. This one was especially used in the direction of Pat, who pissed her off to no end. So I would often have to talk Carla out of the treetops and convince her that it would NOT be a good idea to go to Pat’s doorstep and shoot her.

Paying for the sins of others: Her lament that other people were causing her discomfort. For instance, because Oxycotin has been so widely abused, it was that much more difficult  for her to get her legitimate scrips filled in a timely way. Or the docs would hem and haw about giving it to her. Because “others” had abused the drugs, she was now paying for their sins.

Tut!: What she’d shout at the cats to get their attention and to reprimand them for doing something they should not be doing. Also worked well on sons and significant others.

Jailin’ it: If someone’s pants were droopy or falling down, they were jailin’ it, a la gangbangers or inmates who would dress that way for fashion

Beat it biscuit lips: What she would say to the cats if they were trying to beg for food, or to the kids if they were eavesdropping somewhere they should not be.

Arthur-it is: Referring to arthritis, especially with Molly

Fart smella: Her play on words. Instead of saying “smart fella” someone would be a “fart smella”

In addition to her shorthand expressions, she also had a nickname for many people:

St. Josephite

The Maje

Big Gay Al (BGA)

The Oompas

Bugman

Weepster

Roger Dodger

Miss Saigon

The Skipper

Pute

Itchy

Icky

Kevin Bibi

Officer Special

The Padre

MS

Wonka

The Boy

The Ungrateful One

Frowzy

JT

HFB

The Kid

His Nibs

Her Nibs

YMD

The Divine Miss M.

Pops

Little Kruchev

Little Pute

JJ

Sue B.

The Crow Lady

The Bear Man

Kip

Plumer the Plumber

Hizzoner

MP

Pipster

Mary Mac

The Rat Bastard

Muscleman

Fig

Beardsley

Mondo Video

CM2

Related links:

More Than Just A Hat: A Story of Loss

Man in Mourning: Where Do You Put the Pepsi and the Pain?

R.I.P. These Political Phrases — Please!

Now that the election is finally over, it’s time we came together as a country, united by a single purpose.

I think we can agree – regardless of your political persuasion or how you feel about the election’s outcome – that it’s time to purge from our vocabulary the hackneyed expressions overused by political pundits and reporters everywhere.

Words are my life. But some words can lose their meaning, especially when they are worn out from repeated use in the context of elections.

Hereby be it resolved that effective on Inauguration Day, we can bury these phrases:

Walks or walked back: For instance, you saw it in headlines like “Giuliani walks back suggestion FBI insiders leaked to him.”

How about “takes back” or “reverses himself”? “Walk back” just sounds ridiculous and worthy only of John Cleese and Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks sketch.

Unpack: This is a truly egregious one. I know it is a shortcut for “trying to make sense out of this” or “this thing is a bit of a Russian nesting doll” but please let’s reserve “unpack” for something you do to luggage after a long trip.

You saw it in headlines like this: “There’s a lot to unpack in just one of Donald Trump’s answers about energy policy.”

Path to victory/Path to the White House:  This might rank as my all-time least favorite (read: most hated) overused phrase of the campaign.

Headlines like “Election Update: Yes, Donald Trump Has A Path to Victory” surfaced like earthworms after a heavy rain. How about simply “has a way to win”?

Optics: This is another one that drove me nuts. “King talks importance of campaign optics” was the headline on one story.

“Optics” became this all-inclusive word to mean appearances or what things look like.

I am pretty sure it had nothing to do with the dictionary definition as in “the scientific study of sight and the behavior of light.”

I will poke myself in the eye if I hear another misuse of “optics.”

Pivot: How about “shifted”? Could we just use that please?

Filter bubble: “The ‘Filter Bubble’ Explains Why Trump Won and You Didn’t See It Coming,” read one headline.

It’s a term used to describe how our highly personalized intake of news and information shuts us off from seeing any other perspectives.

I get the filter part and I get the bubble part but combining them somehow sounds silly, like a bubble has a filter? This one can die quickly as far I’m concerned. It’s right up there with “echo chamber.”

Dumpster fire: You know, the first 200 times I read and heard it, it was kind of cute. Now it just feels like time to extinguish it.

Firewall: Used to mean a candidate’s bulwark against losing as in “Hillary Clinton’s Swing State Firewall Explained,” or the collection of states a candidate could count on to sweep and thus win the election.

You might as well have used the word “drawbridge.”

*Journalists preparing for the 2020 campaign furiously scribble notes.*

Wait! Forget I said that!

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Celebrating 30 Years as a Newsman

This is a time of year when we pause to give thanks for our blessings.

This is also a significant time of year for me because today – the Monday before Thanksgiving — marks my first day as a full-time reporter.

It is what I consider the official start of my professional career as a newsman.

It was 30 years ago today that a 22-year-old newcomer from the Bronx walked through the doors of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake, N.Y.

I have many cherished memories from my two years there.

When I started, I had no concept of the Adirondacks, small-town politics or municipal government.

I did not know a village board from an ironing board.

I benefited from a number of people who were generous guides. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, let me offer my gratitude to:

* The circulation manager, Jimmy Bishop, who broke my chops for showing up on my first day wearing a tie.

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My very first story in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in 1986 made the front page: “No opposition expressed to bond issue at hearing.”

* Pressman Rick Burman aka Moose for having the patience and fortitude to teach me how to drive a stick shift — in the middle of an Adirondack winter.

* The librarian and assistant to the publisher and mom to us all, Bea Drutz, may she rest in peace, for being a force for calm in the chaos and for ALWAYS being able to find a clip file when I needed it.

* The Carols: Carol Bruce, my city editor, who helped break me in, dusted me off when I fell and gave me the encouragement to keep going; Carol Baker, one of the design paste-up technicians who always had a good word for me (and choice news tips!); and photographer Carol Sawyer, may she rest in peace, who had a tough exterior and scared me at times (!) but who showed great patience in showing me how to work a camera and improve my photos.

* Dave Munn, who walked every morning from his house near North Country Community College and would be the first one at the newsroom in the morning. He’d say he always checked the obituaries first to make sure he was not listed.

* Editor and publisher Bill Doolittle, a delightfully incurable gossip and veteran newsman to whom I owe a deep debt of thanks for teaching me so much about reporting. Working at the ADE was like a journalistic boot camp minus the calisthenics.

* To the folks in advertising, such as Sharon Branch, Cathy Moore and Debbie McDonnell, who cheerfully took calls for me and kept me clued in about what was happening in the community I was learning to cover.

* The Saranac Lake Village Manager Dick DePuy, who, despite his gruff exterior and military buzz cut that telegraphed he did not suffer fools gladly, found endless hours to teach me about infrastructure, politics and how things worked.

* Village Clerk Marilyn Clement, who put up with my pestering questions about budgets, resolutions, meetings, etc. with cheer and took the time to help me make sense of it all.

* David MacDowell, the community development director; Ernest Hohmeyer, the head of the Adirondack Economic Development Corp.; Tom Tobin, the head of the Adirondack North Country Association, and Jim McKenna, the director of the Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau, for being good sports, keeping me flush with stories and helping me adjust to my newly adopted home.

* My fellow reporters, especially Nancy DeLong, with whom I covered the fire at the Mirror Lake Inn; Liza Frenette, a former ADE reporter who worked at The Press-Republican and who kept me on my toes, and WCAX-TV reporter Jack LaDuke, with whom I shared many uproarious jokes, news tips and time at news scenes waiting for something to happen.

Today I am a reporter at The New York Times, a job unthinkable to me 30 years ago. While that is a crowning achievement, I have never lost sight of my formative experiences at The Enterprise — and all the people who helped make them.

There Is No Expiration Date on Gratitude

For nearly four years, this large plastic jar stood sentry on our kitchen counter.

At the start of 2013, I was inspired to take an empty container of my whey protein powder and scribble in black marker on the side: “Good Things That Happened in 2013 For Which We Are Grateful.”

The premise was simple: I encouraged all of the family — Meg and Dan (who was still living at home at the time) — to take pieces of paper, write down what happened that they were grateful for, put the papers in the container and we would open and read the slips in a year’s time.

2014 came and went.

So did 2015.

And so did almost all of 2016.

Any number of times, Meg and I said we should pause to open the container but something else always took priority.

I would see the jar every morning on the breakfast bar and wonder if I was taking my blessings for granted.

The thing that I try to emphasize in our life is that while we might not be rolling in money, we are rich in other ways: We have our family, friends and health.

We are more fortunate than many others, who struggle with addictions or with putting a roof over their heads or food on the table.

While we might not have all we want, we certainly have all that we need and for that, I’m grateful.

Finally, last month – about two months before Thanksgiving — we spilled out the contents of the jar.

The folded pieces of paper featured Meg’s looping penmanship, Dan’s neat lettering and my scrawl in different colors – a reflection of whatever marker or pen I had handy at the time.

The things were thankful for ranged from the mundane…

That our tag sale was so successful.

Got to see eight movies in one week!

Getting good grades.

For spending time with friends in Lancaster. Fun!

To things related to health…

Opa is healthy after his heart surgery.

Dan was OK after a fall down the stairs.

Pat completes her cancer treatments.

 Doc gave me a clean bill of health.

To truly life and death…

Gratitude beyond telling: Everyone is fine after a crazy car crash.

That Dan’s friends helped him get through his shock and grief.

Friends and family can support each other when a friend passes.

That we go to see and interact with Uncle Andrew as much as we did before he died.

I am not a big believer in God or a Supreme Being so it puts me in an odd position of not being able to offer thanks to something or someone. But that does not mean I cannot be grateful for the grace in our lives.

Opening that jar and reading its content was like opening a time capsule.

It served as a useful way to remind us of the good things that happened in the past, to remain grateful for those things in the present and to remember that being thankful has no expiration date.

 

Covering Up Cosmo? Stop the Double-Standard!

I was reading a story about the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan who was being promoted to Hearst magazines’ chief content officer after four years.

The editor, Joanna Coles, was quoted as saying: “I love Cosmo, but I gave it everything I had. I just didn’t have another sex position in me.”

That comment was a humorous nod to the magazine’s well-earned reputation for having every issue tout some kind of sex move or position or strategy on its cover.

Some of the headlines on covers and inside stories for a couple of issues I found from 2015 include: “Hot Sex Tonight: The No. 1 Way to Bring You Closer.” “The Sex Move He Will Worship You For.” “I Hired a Hooker With My Husband.”

Cosmopolitan has such a reputation that some vendors have taken to putting covers over its covers so as to not offend the shopping public or scar young impressionable minds.

Slate.com reported: “But for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE), formerly known as Morality in Media, Cosmopolitan is porn. The NCSE is behind a successful push — hardly the first of its kind — to place the magazine behind blinders in stores owned by two major chains, RiteAid and Delhaize America (which owns Hannaford Stores and Food Lion).”

I’m calling shenanigans – and a double standard – on that.

As my old man would say: “Are you serious or delirious?”

Let’s start with Men’s Health, a magazine I read fairly regularly.

Among the teases on covers of its magazines in my stockpile: “Set off fireworks in the bedroom!” and “Naughty sex: She wants it bad.”

But I don’t read about anyone clutching their pearls over men’s magazine covers.

Nope.

How about this one? “Best. Sex. Ever! We show you how.”

Guess where that one appeared?

Cosmopolitan? Men’s Health? Glamour?

Nope.

That was on the cover of the August/September issue of AARP magazine last year.

I am no prude by a long shot but I am no Larry Flynt either.

It is true that Cosmopolitan’s covers are probably steamier than those of the newly revamped Playboy, which eliminated nude pictorials, redesigned its content and whose tamed covers now share more in common with bodice-ripper romance novels sold at Barnes & Noble.

But the idea of putting Cosmopolitan magazines behind blinders is laughable.

To begin with, hiding them will only pique more curiosity about what’s on the covers in the first place.

Second, you openly hawk in racks at the checkout lines the drivel that makes up the supermarket tabloids like The National Enquirer (“Celebrity Celluloid!” “Obama Cloned by Space Aliens!”) and not bat an eyelash?!

Third, given the backseat that print is taking and the continuing ascension of digital content, shouldn’t we be more worried about what is available at the click of a mouse or a swipe on our smartphones?

Let’s get our priorities straight.

Before we go putting blinders on Cosmopolitan magazine, let’s take ours off first.

Me? Afraid? You Betcha!

OK, I will admit it: I am a scaredy cat just minus the whiskers and tail.

The “Creature Feature” movies that would appear on TV when I was a kid, horror flicks, slasher films with gore, things that go bump in the night?

Nope. No thank you. I will just sit over here and watch “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” and even then I am not sure if I might not get spooked.

Yet despite my aversion to all things horror, I somehow have surrounded myself in my life with loved ones who worship at the altar of fright flicks.

My late fiancée was an aficionado, with a collection of VHS tapes that, after she died, I sorted through, picking up each box as if it were a dead rat I was holding by its tail.

Among the titles in her collection were such classics as “Basket Case,” “Bloodsucking Freaks” and “Pumpkinhead.” For Carla, a collection of such movies was as normal as having a set of encyclopedias at home.

She even once convinced me (OK, maybe pressured is a more accurate verb) to go to the movies and sit in the front row to watch the zombie apocalypse movie “28 Days Later.”

What I saw of it through the spaces between my fingers was pretty scary.

So having established by bona fides as a chicken that would make Colonel Sanders envious, let me tell you about two other loved ones who are committed hardcore horror fans: childhood friends Rich and Silvio.

These guys are more twisted than a pretzel doing yoga.

They have long joked/threatened that they would lock me in a room, prop open my eyeballs a la Malcolm McDowell in “A Clockwork Orange,” strap me into a chair and force me to watch the movies that make them giddy and make me squeal and squirm.

giphy clock

Because, you know, what are friends for?

So it was that in advance of Halloween during a rare get-together of all of my childhood friends that they subjected me to a movie called “The Descent,” about a group of female spelunkers who go exploring a cave system they shouldn’t and what happens to them.

It was — spoiler alert! — filled with jump scares and frights.

Descent image

I have to say that I think I held up pretty well and did not shriek. Much.

Certainly it was nothing compared to our visit last year to a haunted house in New Jersey where I f-bombed my way through the attraction, all the while pushing a friend, John, to move faster through the creep-filled hallways.

Having survived all of that terror last year and the viewing of “The Descent,” I believe I deserve to celebrate this Halloween in a style more in keeping with my aversion to horror.

I’ll have a bowl of Count Chocula cereal while watching Casper on TV.

With the lights on.

Make That Call Today While You Can

I recently listened to an extraordinary episode of the radio show/podcast called “This American Life.”

I am a regular listener and you may be too. But for those unfamiliar with it, the show each week picks a theme and tells stories built around that theme.

The reporting is impressive and the story-telling more so.

Part of the episode I heard told the story of those who survived the tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, killing thousands, and leaving thousands more homeless and mourning the loss of their loved ones.

A survivor, bereft of his cousin, set up a telephone booth in his garden. It had a black rotary phone sitting on a shelf that was not connected to anything.

No wires, no cables, not even a recording of a dial tone.

He would visit the booth to talk to his dead cousin. It was his way of coping with the loss.

Pretty soon word spread and strangers who also had lost loved ones started to flock to what the narrator of the story referred to as his “wind telephone.”

The idea was that the wind would carry callers’ messages to their loved ones in the afterlife.

“This American Life” featured audio of the visitors talking into the phone.

Some would break down crying. Others would share the day-to-day happenings in their lives. Some would be silent for stretches.

The recordings were heart wrenching.

Notable among them was how some callers would tell their dead family members how they loved them — an expression of emotion and affection largely unheard of in Japanese culture.

I heard this show at something of a painful time of year for me.

Next month marks 10 years since my fiancée died.

I recall how she would be up during the night and leave her dirty soup bowl in the sink, unwashed, and how I would be irritated to wake up to it in the morning.

After she died I would have given anything to have her dirty soup bowl in the sink.

When my current wife and I first moved in together, I noticed she had this crazy irritating habit of leaving the cabinet doors open in the kitchen.

Now I see the cabinet doors open and I close them, smile and give quiet thanks that she is with me to leave them open.

I try to appreciate the big things (our time together) and to not let small moments go unremarked on.

As I have entered my 50s, I have gained an appreciation for the adage about life being too short.

Seize the moment today to express your affection and love to the people you care about.

Don’t wait until you have to rely on a wind telephone to say it.

When Words Collide: Fun With Mangled English

As writers and editors, my wife and I have an appreciation for language.

That is especially true when we mangle English or misinterpret something.

I often quip “words are my life,” especially after I have made a dog’s dinner (a Britishism for a real mess) out of something I was trying to articulate.

For supposedly educated people, we can sometimes misread things, often with hilarious results.

For instance, Meg was recently in Bethlehem, Pa., and visited a favorite Irish tea room.

She was surprised to see the place was now featuring a bar and patio and had been renamed “Paddy Os.” She was puzzled. She wondered if the new name was derived from the manager or owner.

It was not until she was sitting at one of the tables and reading about the place that the penny dropped and she realized it was a play on words.

Paddy Os. Patio. Get it? She finally did.

Similarly, one time we pulled into a parking lot for an Outback Steakhouse and she saw a window marked with a “To Go” sign, that is, a place for customers to pick up their takeout orders.

But the way it was lettered, it read more like “ToGo,” prompting Meg to wonder what was a “togo” (pronounced toga with an “o” at the end).

But hands down, the all-time champion story for mangling and misreading things belongs to me.

I was a newcomer to a newspaper in the Hudson Valley, The Times Herald-Record, in 1992, and I was suddenly thrust into covering the police after the longtime police reporter got fired after a row with the bosses.

I had covered cops before but I now had a multitude of so-called cop shops, and it included the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department.

Every morning I would meet with Lt. Detective Anthony Suarez, a wiry guy who enjoyed his job but not paperwork.

More than once when he would pull a case file and give me information on an arrest and I would ask for some basic details, like an arrestee’s date of birth, the lieutenant would not find it, stub out his cigarette in a gesture of frustration and leave his office muttering “I’m going to chew me some deputy ass!”

Anyway, he was very obliging with my endless questions.

Some mornings I would have to wait at the front counter and I would kill time looking at the notices and posters plastered on the bulletin board.

One day, curiosity got the better of me, and I asked Suarez: “You know, I’ve seen this one notice on the bulletin board for ages. Did you guys ever catch this guy Bolo?”

In that moment, as soon as I asked, I had an Edith Bunker-like epiphany and realized, of course, the guy’s name was NOT Bolo, but it was cop-speak for Be On The Lookout, as in BOLO.

The detective laughed, shook his head and forgave me.

Not quite sure they ever did get their man, but in that embarrassing moment it was clearly time for me togo.

You Might Be a Guy If…

You might be a guy if…

You feel it is against the laws of nature to make more than one trip into the house from the car after a trip to the supermarket. Gather up all of those plastic shopping bags into two clenched tomato-red fists and get them into the house in one trip or die trying.

You spear a piece of food from your plate and hold it up to your wife and ask: “Do I eat this?”

You can recite from memory most if not all of the lines from “Airplane!”

You can be immobilized by a head cold and need round-the-clock care but if you fell six feet off a ladder and hit your noggin, you would tell your wife, “Oh, I’m fine.”

A bowl of cereal counts as dinner.

You have a beloved sweatshirt from 23 years ago you wear regularly but still have new shirts with tags on them stowed in your closet.

You see nothing wrong with picking up food that fell to the floor and eating it. Dropped a fork? Wipe it off on a napkin — or your pants — and keep going.

You see belching not as a sign that you ate too fast and swallowed too much air, but as opportunity to see if you can recite the alphabet while burping.

You see a well-timed joke that causes a buddy to laugh so hard that he snorts soda or tequila out his nose as a job well done.

Among friends, you announce ahead of time when you are going to fart. And when you do, they score it like judges at the Olympics.

You believe mozzarella sticks are a major food group.

You use your keys to slice open the tape on packages because getting scissors is too much bother.

You use a wet paper towel to stanch the bleeding from a gash on your hand but a paper cut on your finger requires gauze and a Band-Aid.

You see “jury-rig” not as pejorative verb but as a misunderstood craft.

You can readily sing the lyrics to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song or “Bohemian Rhapsody” but have to think pretty hard to recall your kids’ birthdays.

If you are unsure if food in the fridge is still good, you open the lid, sniff it and declare it to be fine. You do this every single time regardless of how long it’s been in there.

You believe in only making right-hand turns out of parking lots.

When it comes to gifts, you use more tape than wrapping paper.

You have at least once said after making a repair: “Well, it works now, doesn’t it?”

You have singed your eyebrows either playing with fire or barbecuing.

Your idea of drying a dish is to wave it around. Better yet: Leave it in the drying rack until it is ready to be used again.

You appreciate the Three Stooges as high art.

You have said to your friends: “Hey! Watch this…!” (Cue “Lone Ranger” theme music.)

Weighting For the Moment of Truth

This is the latest installment in the About Men Radio Fitness Challenge in which members of the AMR posse have pledged to eat better and adopt a healthier lifestyle in order to lose weight. Chris Mele has this update:

My moment of truth arrives on Monday.

I go back to see the doctor, who when I last visited, said she wanted me to drop 15 pounds.

So after doubling down on my workouts for the past two months (after being sidelined with an illness for a month), after cranking up the intensity of my exercise, curbing my sugar intake and tracking my calories with an online app, I stepped on the scale today and…

I GAINED two pounds.

To borrow a line from “Blazing Saddles”: “What in the Wide World of Sports is going on here?!”

I mean, c’mon!

I have extended my workouts to nearly an hour and six days a week.

I really have tried to keep track of my food, entering the calories on the conservative side and being honest about my unhealthy snacking, namely the Frisbee-sized cookies I get from the Jefferson Diner in New Jersey.

But there was the readout on the scale, unblinking: 203.7.

Of course, when I get to the doctor, her scale will say something worse because it always does.

I was aiming to lose 15 and gained two.

Once upon a time, 15 years ago, I dropped 40 pounds but I did it by eating scant calories (mostly carbs) and doing only industrial-strength cardio (cardio videos, running, biking, etc.)

The result though was I looked bony and unhealthy. Plus I was cold all the time.

I’ve been doing a bit more weight lifting and taking in more protein.

I do have to say I feel like I’m filling out a little bit (and not in a paunchy in the poochy kind of way either).

My wife says I have dents in my torso (I guess to match the ones in my head!) and my clothes do feel like they fit better.

So I guess I am doing something right.

Maybe weight is not the final arbiter of whether you’re healthy.

In this case, I feel like the doctor has put her thumb on the scale and made me more concerned with hitting a number than with how I’m doing overall.

Will see what she says on Monday.

Related blog posts:

Going Old School to Get Into Shape

Battle of the Bulge: The Struggle to Eat Right and Exercise

 

Can My Doctor Just STFU About My BMI Please?

 

 

 

A New Perspective On Guns

When I was growing up in the Bronx, my friends and I would regularly play “guns.”

It was a catchall name for playing Army or cops and robbers.

I had at various times a cap gun, a gold-colored pistol that was supposed to shoot little pellets but never really did and a plastic Tommy gun that I bought at Woolworth’s for 99 cents.

When we would “fire” at somebody in our imaginary play, we would make the appropriate noises of “pew pew pew” or something rapid fire like “pppppdddddd.”

In determining whether a person was shot or was missed was based on the honor system between shooter and target: Was the target ambushed? Had they taken cover? Did they return fire?

Of course, real life gunplay has no referee to say whether you are wounded or dead.

This all became clear when the members of the About Men Radio crew recently piled into the Dingmans Shooting Range in Dingmans Ferry on a rainy Saturday afternoon as part of a long-planned outing.

Of the four of us, I probably had the most experience with weapons — and that’s not saying much.

firing range 2.0 rich and sliv with tagrets

As a kid, I shot a rifle at tin cans with my uncle in his backyard and an M1, bolt-action, single-shot rifle at Boy Scout summer camp; and went to a range in the Poconos with my late fiancée about a dozen years ago and fired three different handguns.

Two years ago at Drive A Tank in Minnesota, I shot a Sten machine gun, a 1919 belt-fed machine gun and an M4.

Those occasions were fun. I had looked forward to this day at the range as an opportunity for male bonding but something about this visit was less exhilarating.

Unlike my previous shooting experiences, this one felt fraught with the heaviness of the superheated debate about gun control and the drumbeat of news about mass shootings and other gun violence.

There was something profoundly unsettling about the power and responsibility that rested in my hands.

A wrong move or a lapse of attention and I could hurt – or kill — myself or others.

I felt hypervigilant.

To its credit, the range emphasized safety, including an extended safety video and patient, attentive instructors.

Maybe I was feeling overwhelmed by the small space (six shooting lanes), the crowd, the noise, the smell of gunpowder and spent shells popping everywhere.

target-1

It got me to thinking about police officers in the middle of pitched gun battles, the likes of which we saw in Dallas, where five officers were assassinated. I, for one, would not be able to keep a clear head in the chaos of a situation like that.

A number of people at the range were gun owners and/or enthusiasts who had a good time.

As for me, I was glad to hang up my ear protection and get outside. My palms were sweaty and my heart was beating through my chest.

The experience left me with an even deeper respect for law enforcers and reinforced that, unlike my pretend gunfire as a kid, handling a weapon was no mere child’s play.

 

 

How Antidepressants Changed My Life

Back at Christmastime, I had a chance to play “Pie Face” with two of my nephews.

The game borrows a concept from other games of my childhood like “Don’t Break the Ice” and “Don’t Spill the Beans.”

If you are not familiar with “Pie Face,” here is how it works:

You stick your face into an oval cardboard cutout and rest your chin on a plastic stand. Facing you is a plastic hand that can hold a glob of whipped cream.

On either side of your face are two knobs that you crank.

You turn the knobs a designated number of times depending on what number comes up on a spinner.

With each turn of the knob, the catapult of cream may or may not be released into your kisser. It’s like Russian Roulette but without the potentially fatal consequences.

Playing the game struck me as a good metaphor for coping with anxiety and depression.

Before you accuse of me of being a party pooper for equating a kids’ game with mental illnesses, hear me out.

Anxiety, like the game, fills you with a certain dread of anticipation, a rising sense that with every crank (or turn in life) something bad could happen.

More than a year ago I wrote of my trials with depression and after having thought I had it “under control,” found myself in a trough of it starting in December.

Maybe it was the buildup to the holidays.

Maybe because it was the start of the darker days, with less sunlight.

Maybe it was because I was overextended on a project for work.

Whatever the cause(s), my wife saw signs of my disconnect from the world.

I cannot speak for others, but when I am like this, everything is turned inward and I’m fixated on my “gottas” and “shouldas.”

It reaches a point where I am not easily accessible to others.

My wife had to “knock” to make sure I was still around.

Which brings me to my doctor’s visit:

I finally resolved to get some kind of pharmaceutical treatment because December, right up to Christmas Day, was just a bouillabaisse of darkness and anxiety.

For 15 years (at least) I had been trying to beat this on my own. I figured through regular exercise and just powering through it that it would subside.

All of December proved me wrong.

I have never tried mood-altering drugs of any kind. While I am quick to applaud those who have sought medical treatment, I was reluctant to seek “better living through chemistry.”

But I am glad that I did. From the very first dose, I could feel an immediate difference. I also attended regular talk therapy sessions.

It has been several months since I started the drugs, and I feel like the medicine, a low dosage antidepressant, has “evened” me out.

I am not prone to anxious thoughts and feel more clear-headed.

For those of you who seem to be enveloped in sadness, or feel on the brink of crying often or who cannot find joy in things that have in the past brought you happiness, go to your doctor.

Get help. Seriously. You will be glad you did.

Related link:

How I Dealt with My Depression

Hey You Kids! Get Off My Lawn!

I think I have reached the official “hey-kids-get-off-my-lawn” age.

I do not think of myself as being a curmudgeon but I am starting to embrace being curmudgeonly. I revel in the things that annoy me and enjoy being self-righteous about it.

So in the best spirit of the late Andy Rooney from “60 Minutes,” here is the list of things that irk me:

Movies that insult my intelligence.

People with earbuds on the subway who play their music so loudly I can dance to it.

When Siri malfunctions on my iPhone, which feels like all the time.

“Siri, what is the weather in New York City today.”

“Hmmmm…Let me think about that. Here is a recipe for matzo ball soup.”

People who walk on the sidewalk without paying attention because they have their noses in their smartphones.

People who crowd the sidewalk by walking too slowly, two abreast or at a full stop with luggage. Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way!

The manbun, especially the ones tied at the top of the head. Please. I just want to pull on those things like the strings of my former talking G.I. Joe action figures to see what happens.

The use of “guyses.” I do not know where this started but I swear I have heard it more than once. The most cringe worthy moment came in a conference call when a company executive used it to be plural possessive. And yes, he was in the communications field. (Side note: Not my current employer.)

People who carry on cellphone conversations without a care for who can hear them. I have recently heard conversations going on in the stalls of a public men’s room. I so wish I were kidding.

Lukewarm coffee.

Those ridiculous “Happy Birthday” chants you hear in chain restaurants. Stop it.

Catcallers on the summer sidewalks of New York City. Dude on the corner, do you really think saying “Thank you, beautiful” to the woman walking by you is meaningful conversation?

Texting and social media shorthand that mangles the English language. And I am not taking about shorthand such as BRB for Be Right Back, BTW for By The Way or even SMH for Shaking My Head.

No, I am talking about “words” like “prolly” for probably and “tryna” for “trying to” and “tho” for “though.”

People who carry umbrellas and poke you with them. Put them away and just get wet.

Drivers who use their high beams for no good reason.

People who drive recklessly, tailgate, switch lanes without signaling and never get pulled over by the police.

Trying to find a terrestrial radio station that will keep its signal while I am traveling AND have worthwhile programming.

Man spreading. That is guys who sit on the subway with a wide stance, making it all but impossible to take the seat next to them.

People who gripe.

Marking Labor Day by Recalling the Worst Job in the World

A recent survey listed the worst job in the country, and for the third year in a row, newspaper reporter was at the top — or the bottom, depending on your view — of the list.

As someone who has been in that career for 30 years, I take that kind of news personally.

Yes, the industry has been battered by layoffs and eroding readership and swamped by technological advances, but worst job? No way!

No, that particular title goes to a job I had in high school working for Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips in the Bronx.

I was a fry cook, dining room clean-up staffer and eventually a manager.

There was nothing quite like working with superheated peanut oil, splattered batter and garbage to teach you lessons in humility — and a career path to stay away from!

I would go home at midnight on Fridays — our busiest day of the week — with the stench of oil in my nostrils and a combination of oil and batter matted to my hair. Wearing the cap as part of the uniform did nothing to help.

At the end of each shift, we would run the used oil through a contraption that was part vacuum and part filtering machine.

You would line up the machine beneath the frying vat, open a valve, and the oil, which was still hot, would gush into a holding tank, go through various filters and be discharged through a hose back into the vat.

Peanut oil was very expensive, the owner would constantly remind us, so you would try to extend its life by filtering out the fried crud.

One night as I was running the machine, I felt something burning my toes.

My right shoe was positioned beneath the big metal box of the machine that held the oil.

I looked down and the corner of the box had sprung a small leak, allowing the oil to dribble onto my shoes, burn through them and onto my foot!

That was bad but dealing with the garbage was the worst.

If you worked the shift before the garbage was collected, it meant you had to drag the heavy, dripping, smelly bags to the curb.

And that meant you had to enter a room – yes, a room about the size of a small bedroom – filled floor to ceiling with garbage accumulated over the week.

The room was not vented, but for a drain on the floor. It attracted roaches and waterbugs the size of the ants in “Them!”

I would be so skeeved out!

Clearing the room was easy to start since you could grab the bags closest to the door, but then as the pile thinned, you had to step deeper and deeper into the room.

I would hold my breath and dash in to get the remaining bags.

Ugh.

But you know, upon reflection, I look around me and see jobs that are far worse. Take for instance the sites in New York City.

There are those people who stand with signs or pamphleting for tour buses and nightclubs in all kinds of miserable heat and cold. Or people who work in sewers.

Yikes!

What was the worst job you had? Share your stories.

Write me at amr@aboutmenshow.com and let’s be miserable together.

Related posts:

Hush Puppies Are Up!

A Bank Job: My Work as a Teller in the Bronx

Summer Jobs: Give Me One With Everything

Strangest Summer Jobs: Part One

What I Discovered in Conquering the Warrior Dash

It was about 10 minutes after leaving the starting line at the Warrior Dash at Pocono Raceway – keeping pace with the top third of my wave of fellow dashers – that I really, really wished I had had a second cup of coffee.

I knew there would be a dozen obstacles that included climbing through channels of mud and through pits of mud and wading through muddy water with barbed wire inches above your head, but this running thing?

That was going to get old quickly.

Notably, though, within about 15 minutes after starting, participants were not running like they were in a marathon.

Instead, they were walking and talking with each other and enjoying the experience.

What I learned was that this “race” was not really a race at all.

The competition was inside your head.

Could you clamber up the side of a tall barn-shaped structure and climb down the other side?

Could you walk across a narrow board spanning a pool of muddy water and not lose your balance?

Could you take a rope and climb a steep incline and then use a rope to get yourself down? (I felt like Batman and Robin from the 1960s television series where they scale the side of a building.)

batman

I truly was not sure how I would perform until I got out there.

Each obstacle was marked with a sign that read “Danger: Obstacle Ahead.”

“Danger”?

Holy crap. That was intimidating.

Reading the fine print on the waiver I signed was also not exactly reassuring.

It said that I understood the dash was a test of my physical and mental limits and “an inherently dangerous activity” that included extreme obstacles of fire, mud pits, barbed wire, cargo nets, heights, climbing and jumping into water, among other feats of derring-do.

It went on to say that the course might include plants, insects and wild animals.

It even mentioned death three times for crying out loud!

I will say though that the course was infused with a sense of humor. The obstacles were dotted with signs like “Yes, we wish you had trained too” and “If your ex could see you now.”

The thing that I came to appreciate as I climbed and crawled was that if you kept your mind focused on the fun, you could have a good time.

Yes, I had poured myself into some tight-fitting bike shorts that made me feel like a sausage. There were plenty of muscled shirtless guys who easily lapped me.

But you know what?

There were also people of every shape and size and a few guys of a certain age like me out there giving it their all.

Driving home I was a bit sore, hungry and had some muddy grit in my ears even after showering.

Still, I was elated because:

a.) I made it.

b.) The median age of the participants had to be like 27.

c.) And I got through the course in respectable time.

Maybe as A.A. Milne said: “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem…”

Can My Doctor Just STFU About My BMI Please?

 

I recently had my annual physical and I was like pffffft….I’ve got this thing in the bag.

Heart? Sounded A-OK.

Lungs? All clear.

Yes, I wear my safety belt. I drink alcohol in moderation. And no, I don’t smoke.

I was sailing toward a bill of health cleaner than my mother’s kitchen when…

The doctor looked over my paperwork and saw my weight. Hmmmm, she said, for your height and weight, your BMI is high and you are very close to being obese.

For those of you who are not familiar with BMI, or body mass index, it is a conspiracy cooked up by health professionals to figure out new ways to guilt you into losing weight.

It takes into account your height and weight and then comes up with a score to determine if you are like porridge in a Goldilocks fairy tale: Underweight, overweight or just right.

But even at the news about my BMI, I was not fazed.

Then I raised the question that I should have left unasked.

So, doctor, how much weight do I need to lose? (I figured five pounds would be a reasonable answer.)

“Fifteen pounds” came her reply.

The room started to spin.

My righteous indignation started to rise.

Protests began to form on my lips.

Fifteen pounds! Now look here, I work out religiously four to five days a week, at least 30 minutes of hardcore exercise each time.

She acknowledged that was good but said the issue was probably my food intake.

Oh. That.

You mean my beloved cookies the size of Frisbees that I get at the Jefferson Diner in New Jersey?

IMG_1729

You mean the processed snack bars that are promoted as healthy but are still loaded with a bit too much sugar and carbs? Or my less-than-optimal daily intake of vegetables?

In the Supreme Court of Calories, I want to strike a plea bargain.

BMI is an imperfect measure of body fat that was originally intended to assess the obesity rates of a population of people. Applied to individuals, one size does not fit all.

Further, it does not differentiate between fat and muscle, so if you work out with weights (which I do) you could be penalized.

An article in Men’s Health magazine makes the point that you know if you are overweight.

How do your clothes fit? Do you have trouble making it up a flight of stairs? What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Now, it is true that what you eat matters more in some ways than how much you exercise. That is an area where I do have room to improve.

So I’m resolving to try to cut back on my sweets and maybe watch my portion control a little more closely. And maybe extend my workouts a bit each day.

I figure what I have got to lose — except 15 pounds.

Read more blog posts at www.aboutmenradio.com and at http://aboutmenradio.net

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Have a question or a comment? Write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com

 

 

Some Final Thoughts Before My First Mud Run

I’ve got this.

I do.

Right. Right?

It’s the day before I “participate” (read: run, fall down, scrape my knees, get wet, get muddy and fall down some more) in a so-called mud run, this one the Warrior Dash at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.

For those not familiar with these races, they feature a series of obstacles, including rope tunnels to climb through, large inclined ramps to scale and mud pits with names like Chaotic Cargo and Deadman’s Drop.

And, oh yeah, this is for fun and charity. It benefits the St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

I had signed up for my first Warrior Dash last year but ultimately had to be a no-show because I could not get off the time from work.

But this year I have no such excuse.

The crazy thing is I’ve not run in a competitive event since I was a freshman in high school which was … (*takes out abacus, calculator and counts on his fingers and toes*) … a long time ago.

Further, you’re talking about a guy who did not like gym class in high school because I would sweat too much. (By contrast, however, as a kid, I would spend afternoons running around the neighborhood, playing “army,” climbing rocks and rolling around in the grass. So go figure.)

My wife has asked me several times in the past week or so if I was growing nervous as race day approached.

No, I said with a shrug. I’ve been working out regularly and even though I am nearly 52, I’m pretty sure I can hack this.

But her questions have prompted me to look more closely at the race course.

A dozen obstacles consisting of mud, fire, rope nets, climbing, balancing on a board and crawling under barbed wire.

That’s scary enough but even scarier is that I will be impersonating an athlete, pouring my body into one of those forming-fitting biker shorts, which will accent my muffin-top (you’re welcome for that image), shorts and one of those sleek shirt tops.

So come tomorrow, after an hour, I will emerge muddy, sweaty, bloodied but victorious.

I got this. Right?

I guess I will find out tomorrow.

A Bittersweet Farewell to My Younger Son

The younger son left for the start of college Friday morning, making us officially an empty nest.

No. 1 son graduated and moved out last year.

With the departure of No. 2 son, it means we no longer have to worry about:

  • Lights needlessly being left on in rooms, especially when no one is there.
  • Turning down the thermostat in his room during the winter. I swear, tropical plants were thriving in there.
  • Overflowing garbage.
  • The boy spores he left in the shower.
  • The hair products, colognes and various cleansers that crowded the bathroom sink.
  • Finding empty boxes of food left behind in cabinets.
  • Staying up late at night waiting for him to return home.
  • Trying to figure out when he will be home for dinner so we can eat together as a family.
  • Seeing empty bottles of water pile up in his room like some weird modern art exhibit.

But guess what? I’m going to miss him not being around.

I will miss:

  • Learning a thing or three about colorful cussing.
  • His endlessly entertaining, richly detailed, hilarious accounts about his encounters working with the public. What a story-teller!
  • Watching up-close as he interacted with his wide circle of friends, supporting them, enjoying their company and being there for them.
  • His snarky sense of humor. When I complained that he blocked me from following him on Twitter, I was told: “I block with love, padre.”
  • That he calls me “padre.”
  • Watching him grow into his independence as he worked two jobs, got a car and successfully sought scholarships for school.

Godspeed at school, son. Do good. You already have.

Love,

Dad (Padre)

 

 

Related posts:

The Kids Are All Right. Truly.

On Being a Dad and Facing an Empty Nest

 

 

What to REALLY Expect When You’re Expecting: The Straight Dope

Quite soon, my stepson and his wife are expecting their first baby. (Spoiler alert: It’s either a girl or a boy.)

I’m so over-the-moon excited for them.

It harkens me back to the days leading up to the arrival of my first son more than 20 years ago. It was a time filled with excitement and anxiety.

To help Garth and Krista prepare for their new arrival, I offer this collection of advice that I call “What to REALLY to Expect When You’re Expecting: The Straight Dope.”

Lesson No. 1: It’s very important that you come up with a name for the baby but here is one way NOT to handle it:

My then-wife and I were returning from a party in New Jersey and had about a two-hour car ride home. She was in her first trimester and, um, a little cranky.

I cheerfully (read: blissfully stupidly) suggested we spend the two hours going through the alphabet to explore names, like “A is for Adam, Anthony, etc.”

This went relatively smoothly until we were just about to pull into the driveway. We were near the end of our name search and I was pressing for possible suggestions for the letter “Z”: Zachary, Zachariah, etc.

At this point, she was having none of it.

She wheeled on me Linda Blair “Exorcist”-style and growled: “Why don’t we just name him a****** after the father?!”

Lesson No. 2: I recall Garth’s mother, my late fiancée, telling me of a panicked phone call she made to the doctor’s office when she was convinced that Garth was hemorrhaging internally because she changed a diaper filled with purple poop.

Diagnosis: She had fed him blueberries.

Lesson No. 3: Do not be fooled by an infant’s size. The amount of poop that a baby can produce and propel with ferocity defies laws of physics. Those cute onesies or pajamas with feet? They are merely vessels for containing the discharge, which you will find up the baby’s back, down his legs –- pretty much everywhere.

Lesson No. 4: It cannot be emphasized enough the amount of sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn.

I say this with authority because we filled an entire hard-covered marble notebook after our first son was born. In it, we chronicled every burp, nap, diaper change, feeding, bath, etc.

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Among the notable entries was this one from 3:15 a.m. on July 4, 1993 – when Michael was not quite a month old:

“Mommy sleeps…Daddy thinks he hears weird noises downstairs. Michael bravely goes with Daddy. They find nothing. All secure. 3:45 a.m. back to sleep.”

New entry: “And the hallucinations continue, with Daddy thinking he saw a moth in the room.”

(I had taken the notebook, swatting at this “moth,” and pirouetted around the room until I got so dizzy, I fell.)

New entry, this one in the handwriting of Michael’s mother:

“Poor Daddy, he scared Mommy when she woke up and saw him on the floor (I thought he had Michael in his arms.) Thank goodness he did not! By the way, we never did find the moth…”

The lessons here: Beware of blueberries. And phantom moths.