Category Archives: Mele’s Musings

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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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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.

 

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.

Christopher Mele – the warrior who won my heart – BEFORE he runs in his second Mud Run/ Warrior Dash. The after video is worth waiting for!

Posted by Meg McGuire on Saturday, August 26, 2017

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.

Here's my (dirty) hero Christopher Mele!

Posted by Meg McGuire on Saturday, August 26, 2017

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

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!

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

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.

 

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 was hawking no-name

pharmaceuticals eyed my graying hair and called out that the store had Viagra 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.

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.

“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

 

 

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.

ade
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?

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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.

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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.

Facing the Reality That Your Parents Are Getting Older

It is hard to know when I first noticed that my parents were aging.

The closer you are to a subject, the more your perceptions are distorted and you don’t see as clearly.

For example, my mother and the mother of a childhood friend of mine both grew up in Germany.

When I would visit my friend, I was always struck by how thick his mother’s accent was so many decades after living in the states.

One day my friend remarked on how thick my mom’s German accent was, and I was like: What accent?

So too it has been in discovering that my parents have gotten older.

The revelation was most forcefully driven home after they had been traveling with a bus tour and Dad tripped in a parking lot and fell, fracturing his arm.

A trip to the emergency room and later his own doctor back at home left his arm in a convoluted sling that rendered the arm immobile and pretty much useless.

I learned that Mom had to feed Dad because his dominant arm was out of commission. He was also having difficulty sleeping because of the discomfort and pain.

When my wife and I visited a few weeks after Dad was on the mend, it was shocking to see Mom sticking a napkin under his collar while he ate with his non-dominant hand.

And a month after that, Dad fell off a chair while reaching for something on the floor while visiting us. I was in the kitchen when I heard a noise and the next thing I saw was Dad on his side on the floor.

It was quite the shock to see Dad — an authority figure who commanded respect and who I remember from childhood as being the strong guy I turned to for leadership — out of commission like that.

My reflections on all of this resurfaced after my brother-in-law’s father recently died at age 90. Ed’s dad was an energetic go-getter who unexpectedly took a bad turn after heart surgery.

And within weeks of his death, my former father-in-law, a contemporary of my Dad’s, also died years after learning he had Parkinson’s disease.

Dad has had a heart attack,  a defibrillator installed and significantly slowed down over the past six years. There have also been a couple of medical crises set off by high heat and lack of hydration.

All of that said, Dad, who will be 79 in the fall, is in good spirits and will soon have physical therapy. He is even driving again.

Mom looked a little worse for the wear immediately after all of the strain of his fall but things seem be more settled.  Though she complains about being old, there’s not much slowing her down.

They live in a retirement community that residents euphemistically call “God’s waiting room.” While there’s a bit of gallows humor about that, there is no escaping that, in the end, time claims everyone, including your parents.

Going Old School to Get Into Shape

With the encouragement of my childhood friends who make up the About Men Radio crew, I’ve decided to fully embrace the AMR Fitness Challenge.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to eat right and exercise.

I’ve been working out consistently for nearly 15 years but I would say in the past two or so, I’ve slowed down.

Instead of working out for 45 or 50 minutes a day for six days a week, I started to do 30 minutes of exercise four days a week.

And with a desk job and being in the car four hours a day, that made a difference.

My doctor recently told me she wanted me to lose 15 pounds because my body mass index was too high.

So I am using the Fitness Challenge to get back to my old better habits.

After a July filled with travel, vacations and plenty of eating and drinking (and being sidelined with a medical issue for five weeks), I’ve started August off right.

I’m going old school with my workouts — relying on tried-and-true routines, such as circuits with weights and a Crunch Cardio Boot Camp DVD that has always served me well.

DVD

Now, here is the absolutely crazy thing: The harder I’ve pushed myself by extending my workouts, the better I feel, the more energy I have, especially at night when I’m working, and the better I sleep.

When I was only working out 30 minutes a day, I did not get those benefits.

I’ve also taken up MyFitnessPal.com to help me keep track of what I’m eating. It’s really simple math: You need to burn more calories than you take in.

When I was working out 30 minutes a day, I was just drawing even with my intake or eating more than I was burning.

I’ve tried a couple of different strategies: Eating more protein. Skipping sugar with my coffee. Eating more celery, carrots and peppers as snacks, sometimes with hummus.

I’ve signed up to run in a Warrior Dash in three weeks, so there’s more than the usual motivation to get going!

I’ll keep you posted…

If you want to share your tips and ideas — or to send words of encouragement — post on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com.
Related links:

Stand Up For Good Manners

New York City’s subway system is a microcosm — or Petri dish, depending on your view — of humanity.

Nowhere was this more evident than as I made my way recently from Queens into Manhattan and observed the following all within the span of 40 minutes:

* A stranger (a man) helping a woman carry an ungainly stroller up a steep flight of stairs to a subway station.

* Two teenagers (both boys) rushing to grab the few available seats on the subway when there was clearly an older man who was eyeing a seat and certainly could have used one.

* A man entering the subway car, struggling with a stroller and awkwardly carrying his daughter, who was maybe a year old. A young woman offered her seat to the guy, who accepted it with a mixture of relief and gratitude.

Big props to the guy who helped the lady with the stroller and the woman who offered her seat to the guy with his young daughter. And a smack with a hard-cover book of manners for the two dolts who were oblivious to anybody but themselves.

It reminded me of the old Goofus and Gallant comics that were a feature of “Highlights” magazine when I was a kid. Presented with the same set of circumstances, Goofus would choose the path that was either rude or selfish and Gallant would do the thing that was chivalrous or polite.

What I am seeing increasingly in the world is too many Goofuses and too few Gallants.

I am not saying I am a perfect gentleman all the time but I think I have some sense of courtesy. Maybe it is the product of 12 years of Catholic education.

Seared in my memory is an episode from seventh-grade math class with Sister Margaret Marion.

A bunch of math equations were on the blackboard and myself and another student, Corrine Cortes, at the board to solve them. When we were done, I erased my work and handed Corrine the eraser.

In a voice that still echoes in my head, Sister Margaret boomed: “A real gentleman would have erased the board for her.”

Duly noted, sister. But being courteous is a practice that is gender-neutral.

I feel like a fossil saying this, but everyday manners seem to be as antiquated as Internet Explorer or black-and-white TV.

Gestures, such as holding the door for someone or offering a stranger a hand with their bags, seem like relics that belong in a museum for future generations to marvel at.

Maybe we are averse to interacting with strangers because the world is an unpredictable place filled with outbursts of violence.

Maybe we are too absorbed in our damn smartphones to ever look up and see a person in need.

Or maybe there is an entire generation that is too socially awkward to interact with others because it grew up spending so much time in front of computer screens.

I am not sure of the underlying causes but I do know that it costs nothing to be courteous but it can invaluable to the recipient.

So let’s see if we can all do our part, even just a little bit, to improve how we act toward others.

Please. And thank you.

You Know You Are Older Than 50 When …

An AARP columnist astutely and humorously listed 11 things you should not do when you are beyond 50.

Jell-O shots.

Trying to break a plank with your head.

Crowd surfing.

Truthfully, I am not so sure how wise any of those are at ANY age.

But it did get me thinking about getting older. So, with her column as inspiration, here are the ways I know I am north of 50:

I understand the meaning of the phrase “Film at 11…”

I recall: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”

I exercise twice as hard for half the results.

I realize how little of the world I’ve seen.

I recall well a conversation from more than 30 years ago with a veteran newsman who was probably younger than I am today.

He said to me: “Chris, newspapering is a young man’s game.” At the time, I thought, “Pshaw!” But now? Hmmmm….I think I understand what he meant.

I am more aware of mortality — mine and others.

I watch a movie and say about the actors and actresses: “Oh, he’s dead.” “Yeah, him, too.” “She’s dead…”

I am aware of how little I have saved for retirement.

Turning 70 suddenly does not seem so out of reach.

Playboy removed the photos of nude women and I didn’t notice.

I have to pee when I don’t want to, and when I want to, I can’t.

I find myself saying things like “Kids today…”

I remember when spell-check was a dictionary.

True piece of dialogue among myself, my wife and two friends:

Friends: Describing how one of their daughters watches cable television shows with strong mature content.

Me: Well you have just that one TV in your living room, right? So you could monitor what she watches. Where else is she going to watch these programs?

My wife: (Turning to me with a dose of exasperation): On her computer…?

Me: Oh, yeah. Did I tell you about the rotary phone I have?

The idea of having a doughnut for breakfast repulses me and I instead embrace a bowl of oatmeal.

I can’t read in bed because the book is too heavy.

I read nutritional labels for fiber content.

When I am filling in my date of birth on a computer form, it takes longer and longer to scroll to reach my year.

I look at old photos of my parents and realize I have already eclipsed the age they were in the pictures.

I make sure to turn out the lights in a room because I remember the energy crisis of the 1970s.

I jaywalk less.

I am more aware of my balance (or lack thereof).

A nap? Why yes! I think I will take one!

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Son of Sam Began His Murderous Spree 40 Years Ago Today

It was 40 years ago today that serial killer David Berkowitz murdered his first victim in the Bronx, the start of a yearlong reign of terror that left New Yorkers both on edge and fixated with what became known as the Son of Sam murders.

At the time I was 12 years old. A few months later I started to deliver The Daily News to apartment buildings in the Bronx.

The killings, which also came to be known as the work of the .44-Caliber Killer, because of the weapon he used, were ready-made fodder for the city tabloids and TV stations.

The serial murders came at a time that I was coming of age. I was asserting my independence – I was working and starting to ride the subways by myself.

So for me, the city was both exciting and dangerous. (Remember, New York was just coming out of its dismal fiscal crisis and crime, poverty and drugs were tearing at the fabric of its communities.)

It was against this backdrop that the Son of Sam killings gripped the city’s attention. Over the course of more than a year, he shot 13 people in cold blood, killing six.

Berkowitz, who later claimed he was acting on instructions given to him by a neighbor’s dog, played cat and mouse with the cops, taunting them with handwritten letters to Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin.

The murders were intermittent. This was not a one-time spree killer like the mass shootings now all too familiar to us today.

Instead, Berkowitz targeted young couples, often in parked cars, and frequently young attractive women with long brown hair. (This reportedly prompted many young women in the city to run to salons to get their hair dyed a different color.)

As a newspaper delivery boy, I would get stacks of The Daily News delivered outside our apartment door for me to then distribute to my customers.

That, in turn, meant I got a jump on all the latest developments in the case.

I would voraciously read the stories before I headed out on my route.

Among the headlines: “Breslin to .44 Killer: Give Up! It’s the Only Way Out!’ “Cops: .44-Caliber Killer ‘Is Taunting Us.’” “New Note: Can’t Stop Killing.” “Killer to Cops: I’ll Do It Again.”

The day after cops arrested Berkowitz – Aug. 11, 1977 – The Daily News featured this headline: “Nab Mailman as .44 Killer.”

I rushed into my parents’ bedroom and breathlessly woke my mother.

“They got him! They got the .44-Caliber Killer!” I told her.

Indeed they had.

And a 13-month reign of terror had finally come to an end.

The Kids Are All Right. Truly.

You know, as a parent, you can be wracked with self-doubt and anxiety about what kind of job you’ve done raising your kids.

Did you instill in them the right values? How do they treat others? Do they respect themselves?

Will they only remember the stupid things you did wrong when they were younger?

Did you give them enough support? Did you not give them enough?

My “boys” have just turned 23 and 18.

The older one is on his own after graduating from college last year. He’s a manager-in-training in the hospitality industry, working for a major hotel chain and making more money than his old man did right out of college.

He’s living independently, owns a car, buys his own groceries, is well-regarded by his co-workers and really enjoys his work.

The younger son just graduated from high school, has been a stellar student and an even more stellar friend to his wide circle of friends, has held a number of offices in school groups and activities and will be working four summer jobs.

So, yeah, I think the kids are all right.

And if I needed any more affirmation about whether they learned the right things, I turn for some comfort to this essay my younger son wrote last year:

Ten years ago, my family moved from the streets of New York to the wilderness of the Poconos.

With it, came many challenges such as dealing with the extreme winters. My father, being conscious of this, made a rule that my brother and I had to abide by: wear your boots to school.

After the first month of winter, wearing my boots to school every day became tiresome and uncomfortable.

Becoming irritated by the bulky footwear, I decided to do something about it.

One night, I put my Nike sneakers in a plastic bag and placed them in the backseat of my dad’s car.

The next morning, I put on my boots, as instructed, and got into my dad’s car to head to the bus stop.

In the three-minute ride from my house to the bus stop, I quietly changed from my boots to my sneakers. I then proceeded to board the bus with pride in the chicanery I just pulled off.

Later that morning, my dad found the infamous boots sitting on the floor in the backseat of his car.

Safe to say he was displeased. In the grand scheme of things, it was just one day I didn’t wear my boots.

However, in that same day I did learn that Nike sneakers do not have favorable insulation. In fact, I did not wear my sneakers again until the following March.

The clunkiness of the boots was worth the warmth they gave me. I was fortunate to learn from this situation at a young age that I am not always right.

It was at that moment I realized that there are people who know me better than I know myself — and those people are my parents.   

Read related links:

From Boys to Men

On Being a Dad and Facing an Empty Nest

Another Moose Egg

Early in July, my wife and I set out for a vacation to New Hampshire and Maine, part of which included plans to go on a moose expedition.

As you may recall, I have been on a 30-year odyssey to see a moose in the wild.

Three previous attempts – two with a wildlife biologist in New York and one with an outdoors guide in Maine – were fruitless.

Ditto our impromptu efforts driving the highways and byways of places called “Moose Alley” and crisscrossing Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.

Seeing a bear on our way out of town at our local Dunkin’ Donuts in the Poconos struck me as a good omen.

The bear was foraging for food in the parking lot dumpster and lingered for so long that a crowd gathered to shoot photos and videos.

Surely, I thought, the wildlife gods were signaling me that my quest to see a moose would be successful.

We trekked to Lincoln, N.H., for a night tour of the “wallows” – hot spots where moose gather near the roadside to forage for vegetation or lap up the sodium-rich road salt left over from winter.

Our intrepid guides, Larry and Tony, boasted of a 97 percent moose sighting rate over 18 years.

Ninety-seven percent!

Plus, with their native New Hampshire accents (“wicked smaht”), I felt like we were in the hands of true moose whisperers.

Granted, the night before, their excursion only saw two moose, but hell, that would be two more than I’ve seen in the wild.

I was undaunted.

About 30 of us piled into a small but comfortable bus and we left at 9 p.m. for a three-hour tour.

Our guides emphasized that moose are not animatronic characters who perform on command like the animals at Disney World attractions.

That said, they said they would work hard to find moose – and that they did.

Using spotlights, our guides scanned the roadside places where moose were known to congregate.

The vibe in the bus early in the trip was upbeat and jovial as they cracked hokey jokes. About 90 minutes into the trip, we stopped at a general store for a bathroom break and some sweet treats.

No moose.

No problem, they said. The night before they did not see one until after the break.

But as the night wore on, and our stops became more frequent and less fruitful, the mood grew more quiet and less cheery.

Thankfully we were sitting on the right side of the bus to catch a glimpse of the face of a young moose cow. But that was it – a glimpse – after three and a half hours.

It is hardly what I would consider a full-fledged moose sighting but it did technically break my 30-year drought.

Still, it was a bit like being promised a hamburger from Shake Shack and getting one from White Castle instead.

Related links:

No Moose, No Peace

 

 

A July Fourth Wedding: Happy Un-Independence Day!

Today marks my sixth “Un-Independence Day.”

I got married on July 4, 2010, to Meg, who is gorgeous, tall and fiercely, fiercely bright.

I was then and continue now to be one lucky guy. Talk about marrying up…

The wedding itself was a relatively easy event compared to getting engaged.

Meg loves waterfalls and what better setting than in the Poconos of Pennsylvania to find a waterfall where I could propose?

Ring? Got it.

Knowing what I was going to say? Pretty well rehearsed.

Finding a waterfall. The Poconos is dotted with them, so I figured this all should be easy-peasy.

But our route to getting engaged had a few detours along the way.

My plan was for Meg and I to go exploring the countryside for a “unique” waterfall, that is, one that we had not visited together or one that we had not seen in some time.

Meg recalled a waterfall at the estate of Marie Zimmermann, who was famous for her metal works and jewelry design and who had a home and farm in what is now the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in the Poconos.

Great!

We can head there and then I can pop the question. And how perfect that Zimmermann was known for jewelry and I have a ring to offer.

Surely this was a good sign, right?

Except that Meg could not recall where exactly the Zimmermann estate was. She had been there many years earlier with a friend.

Maybe it was this way.

No. Wait.

Maybe it was in the other direction.

Or maybe …

Of course, we were in West Nowhere and there was no cell service to be had so looking something up on our smartphones was not an option.

Throughout though, Meg was carefree and enjoying the pretty scenery and pleasant drive.

As for me, I was getting a major case of flop sweat from nervousness about popping the question and anxiety about finding a waterfall.

This went on for the better part of an hour.

By this point, I was ready to pull over, get on bended knee, use a watering can for a waterfall and declare mission accomplished.

We pressed on if for no other reason than we both were now motivated — for different reasons — to find a waterfall, damnit!

We visited a waterfall familiar to us, the one at Raymondskill Falls.

It has a clearing where you can look out at the waterfall but there were some people hogging the spot where I wanted to be.

Hello! People! Man on a mission over here!

They finally moved. Meg was busy admiring the falls, which was my cue.

I got on bended knee, and when she turned around, I held her hand and asked: “Will you spend the rest of your life with me?”

“Yes, yes, with all my heart, yes,” she replied.

And thus plans for a Happy Un-Independence Day were born!

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Brexit, Trump and the Best Insults Ever

Say what you want about the Brexit vote and about Donald Trump (and let’s face it, there’s a lot to say about both) but the most important development to arise from the intersection of these two newsmakers was the hilariously inventive invective streamed at Trump during his post-Brexit visit to Scotland.

A quick refresher:

British voters decided in a referendum that they were going to quit the European Union, a decision that deeply divided Britain along political, economic and demographic lines.

The day after the vote, Trump visited a golf course he owns in Scotland and offered this on Twitter:

“Just arrived in Scotland. Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!”

Just one problem: Scotland voted overwhelmingly to REMAIN with the EU.

And thus it began on Twitter: The most brilliant insults the likes of which the world has not seen since the Insulting Frenchman on “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” (Recall: “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”)

Some of these are so superb that I am going to have to incorporate them into my daily swearing vocabulary:

Twitter users referred to Trump as a “mangled apricot hellbeast”; a “weapons-grade plum”; “clueless numpty” and “bloviating flesh bag.”

Then of course, are those super-excellent ones that are the nuclear option for when you really want to call someone out, such as:

And..

But what this underscores to me is something I have long suspected, that is, anything the British, Scottish or Irish say sounds so much smarter and better than Americans.

In fairness, the Brits do have William Shakespeare on their side and he was known to toss off a good insult or two.

Consider: “lump of foul deformity”; “a fusty nut with no kernel” and “beetle-headed, flap-ear’d knave.”

I mean c’mon. The best I could do in matching wits with someone like that would be to go: “Oh yeah?! Well, you’re mother dresses you funny.”

It just doesn’t have the same panache.

But this also reminds me that the Brits, Scots and Irish almost speak the same language as we do.

I have a dear friend who is from Ireland and when we first started to work together she would drop phrases that I often had to ask her to interpret, such as “a month of Sundays,” a “bull’s look” and “wouldn’t touch that with a barge pole.”

My wife, Meg, lived in England for 10 years and often sprinkles Britishisms into conversation that give me pause, such as referring to the car’s “windscreen” or “bonnet” or traveling to “collect” someone.

Meg’s dad was Scottish. A few years ago we met four of her Scottish cousins who came to New York City for a visit. We spent a summer Sunday afternoon exploring Manhattan.

We had a great time. But with their thick burrs, I understood about 40 percent of what they said.

No matter.

After the way the Scots told off Donald Trump and after Brexit, I’m proposing a referendum to make Scotland our 51st state.

 

Getting a Little Bit Fit With My FitBit

I got a FitBit for Father’s Day, so I am hoping to get a bit fit.

For the six of you who have not heard of this electronic geegaw, it is the latest example of better living through technology.

It straps to your wrist, and like a watch, it will display the time, but it also tracks your heart rate, number of steps you take, stairs you climb, calories burned and miles walked.

My younger son was so in love with his FitBit and I was equally impressed, so I asked for one for Father’s Day.

What I have found so far is that as a middle-aged guy, it is yet another way for me to discover how I don’t measure up.

Fitness experts recommend you walk at least 10,000 steps a day. If I break about 6,000, that is a good day.

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My first time breaking 10,000 steps! Hurray!

As someone who spends four-plus hours in the car five days a week, getting to that goal would be a challenge, unless of course I drove a Fred Flintstone-type car where you pedal furiously with your feet to get started.

But I am finding that I am making adjustments in light of the FitBit. For instance, today I walked an extra block out of my way just so I could rack up extra steps toward my total.

I also make it a point to take the stairs instead of an escalator when I have the option. With its attractive graphics, FitBit gives me encouragement for climbing more flights of stairs.

The one feature I am fascinated with — and at the same time a bit creeped out by — is the one that tells me how much I have slept.

FitBit is like Santa Claus that way: It knows when you are sleeping. If it starts telling me whether I have been naughty or nice, it’s coming off my wrist.

I have also been using an app called MyFitnessPal in which you track what you are eating, total calories consumed and your exercise.

You set a weight loss goal and it gives you an ideal daily caloric intake based on your height, weight and time you have set to lose the weight.

You enter your food and it keeps diligent track of your progress.

This too has been unnerving and eye-opening.

You mean my medium hot Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with milk and sugar is 112 calories?

Fine.

Out goes the sugar. Milk only from now on with my coffee. A net savings of 77 calories. I feel thinner already.

What I have discovered is that calories are a lot like time and money: Once you have consumed them, there is no getting them back so it is important to be judicious

FitBit and MyFitnessPal are merely tools to help keep me on track toward a healthy, balanced me. Of course, they are no substitute for sensible eating, exercise and a good night’s sleep.

But if FitBit wanted to be really helpful, it could give me a low dose of electric current, like a cattle prod, every time I reach for a cookie.

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Related links:

Battle of the Bulge: The Struggle to Eat Right and Exercise

About Exercise: Never Too Old To Bring It

A New Me

Celebrating 14 Years of My ‘Exercise Sobriety’

 

The World According to My Dad

For Father’s Day, I thought I would share some of my father’s sayings and pearls of wisdom.

As the oldest child, I have been exposed to these the longest of my siblings and thus they are part of my DNA.

What follows is a blend of Borscht Belt kitsch and Old World philosophy.

Think of it as the World According to My Dad.

About his mental health:

I’m not well you know.

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Bad jokes:

You know why electricity is cheaper in Lower Manhattan? It’s near the Battery.

When I die, there will be a sign outside our building and do you know what that sign will say? Apartment for rent!

I got called for a Charles Atlas ad. They want me to be the model for the “before” look.

You heard about the couple that planned to elope? The girl called it off at the last minute. You know how the guy knew? She threw a cantaloupe out the window.

If I go bald, I’ll just comb my eyebrows back.

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How can you tell the bride is pregnant at a wedding? The guests throw puffed rice.

(My mom emigrated from Germany in the 1960s): Winnie was sent here by her government to marry the smartest man in America. She failed in her mission.

I’m going bald because my brains are making my head grow.

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You look good. Who’s your undertaker?

How tall are you? Wow, I didn’t know they piled shit that high!

Italian 

Con la rosa arriva le spine. (With the rose comes the thorns.)

Basta! (Enough!)

Don’t be a scooch! (Pest/pain in the butt.)

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Ah, bah-fungoo!

It was really skeevatz. (Disgusting)

Stop being a gavone! (A pig/someone who is greedy about food.)

About food:

Are you going to eat that?

Are you going to finish that?

Let me just have a little taste.

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If you go home hungry, it’s your own fault. (Said after hosting a big holiday spread of food.)

Let me taste it first to make sure it’s not poison.

It would be a sin to let that go to waste.

What did you have to eat?

Just a touch…Whoa! That’s good.

Discipline:

(After giving me a smack in the head): That was for nothing. Imagine if you did something!

Reliving his Navy days:

Attention on deck!

All hands on deck.

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Philosophy:

I want you to have a clean living: No cigarettes, no booze and no women: It’s clean, but is it living?

The older I get, the less use I have for people.

You know what they say about marriage: The first 30 years are the roughest.

Tomorrow is another day.

Rome was not built in a day.

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You’re my favorite horse even if you’ve never won a race.

I like to keep a low-profile — by remaining horizontal.

What sins did you commit that you have to work here?

Remember, always shoot for 200 percent, this way if you fall 100 short, you will still have a hundred.

Getting old sucks. I don’t recommend it.

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My all-time favorite Christmas morning photo of my old man and one of my sisters, Lorraine.

Working in a job you don’t like is like taking sandpaper to your soul.

You know if I were not this crazy, your life would be boring.

And finally…

I’m proud of you buddy. Keep up the good work. Love you.

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Men Who Are Miserable, Join the Fight Against Shopping!

An Instagram account called “miserable_men” documents the silent suffering that is the scourge of all men: Shadowing their wives or girlfriends as they go shopping.

You know the scene I am talking about, or perhaps you have lived this nightmare yourself.

Your significant other wants you to go shopping at the mall, which means you sit at the edge of a raised display stand, sharing what little space you have with a mannequin, as she peruses the racks of clothes.

If you are really, really lucky, there is a bench somewhere you can park yourself and people-watch to kill time.

But to complete the humiliation, you are asked to hold the purse or handbag of your wife/girlfriend/partner while she ducks into a dressing room to “just try on a few things.”

Time passes as slowly as a turtle on Quaaludes. All the while you are trying not to make eye contact with your fellow man.

But members of our tribe will not judge you harshly. They will look at you and silently say a prayer of thanksgiving: “Dude, better you than me.”

I am relieved to say that my wife has not once ever asked me to go shopping with her for clothes. She is content to make a marathon solo bid for what she is looking for. She will make a strategic strike at a particular department store, scoop up dozens of outfits to try in one swoop and then get out.

And in further proof that she is a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Patience, she has gone shopping for clothes not only with me but with my two sons as well.

My late fiancée, on the other hand, was a shopper extraordinaire. A visit to the mall was like a hobby to her. She would eye the latest styles, check the feel of fabrics, look for sales and then bring an envelope full of coupons to the register.

I recall one time we were at the mall for eight straight hours. Yes, eight hours. Elephant pregnancies take less time.

Too many men are afflicted with SAD, Shopping Adjustment Disorder, as captured in the miserable_men Instagram account.

A report in The New York Daily News summed it up: “The feed features miserable men of all shapes and sizes — despondent dads, bummed-out boyfriends and even a couple of gloomy granddads — painstakingly waiting to escape from the insufferable purgatory that is the mall.”

This is why today I am founding an organization called CRITICAL MASS: Coalition of Responsible Individuals Taking Into Consideration Always Leading Men Against Superfluous Shopping.

We need to demand that outlet malls truly have outlets for men: Wet bars. Big TVs. Arcade games. Nap rooms.

Think of it as a daddy daycare where men could be dropped off for hours at a time.

Join with me and together we can raise our voices to ask the question that is burning on the lips of all men who are made to endure trips to the mall:

“Does this handbag I have to hold make me look fat?”

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Got Passion?

A scene in the movie “London Has Fallen” features the president and his trusted Secret Service agent, whose wife is pregnant with their first child.

The agent asks the president for advice about fatherhood and parenting.

You just need to keep two things in mind, the president replies: Teach your kid the Golden Rule and encourage them to pursue their passions in life.

That latter part really resonated with me.

When I was growing up, if I heard from my dad once, I heard a thousand times:

Follow your passions in life. Don’t be like your old man. A man who loves his job never works a day in his life.

And my favorite: “If you are happy diapering piss clams, diaper piss clams.” Forty years later I still have NO IDEA what he was talking about but I got his drift.

From about the time that I was 8 or 9, I wanted to be a newsman.

I had an avid interest in current affairs, a love for writing and a curiosity about the world.

I routinely would race down three flights of stairs from our apartment in the Bronx if I heard the fire trucks turning onto our street.

I’d write mock scripts, relying on accounts from the newspapers, and then tape myself on my cassette recorder pretending to be a television newscaster.

And when I got my very own camera — well! That opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. I took photos of crashes, blizzards and crime scenes.

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On one memorable occasion when I was about 11, my buddy told me there had been a shooting the night before about 20 minutes from where we lived.

We furiously biked to the scene, where we learned the car had been towed to our local police station.

We got to the station, and there it was in the garage: A blue car with bullet holes in the windshield and bloody bandages still on its hood.

I snapped a bunch of photos, which I still have.

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I never gave up on my pursuit of news as a career. Every opportunity I had to write, to learn or to network, I seized with both hands.

I earned a degree in journalism at New York University, and got an internship at what was then New York Newsday, working with some of the sharpest reporting minds of the time.

I mention all of this because of a 9-year-old girl in Selinsgrove, Pa., named Hilde Kate Lysiak. She publishes and reports for her own homegrown neighborhood newspaper and website, The Orange Street News.

She became a media sensation when she broke the news of a murder in her neighborhood and then responded to critics who questioned what a 9-year-old girl was doing covering killings.

In her video rebuttal, Hilde pointedly spoke back at those who suggested she should be playing with dolls or having tea parties instead.

What came across so strongly was that Hilde was passionately dedicated to her work.

She reminded me of myself at her age.

And 30 years into my career, I can say that passion has paid off.

I’ve come full circle in a way because I was able to write a story about Hilde as a staff reporter at The New York Times.

So you go, Hilde! Take it from me, whatever your passion is, never give up on it.

Microwaved Coffee and Other Food Fails

A sign in our kitchen reads: “If it walks out of the refrigerator, let it go.”

I cannot for the life of me imagine why that sign is there.

Ahem.

Ever since my wife and I first got together, my cooking and eating habits (lack thereof and abundance of, in that order) have been the source of rich commentary.

For instance, my wife was horrified — absolutely horrified — when she discovered that I would brew a pot of coffee and then each subsequent morning pour myself a mug of Joe and microwave it.

Within days, she had gotten a plastic coffee filter holder and filters to fit so that I could brew a fresh cup of coffee each morning.

See, the thing with me is that when it comes to food I want to avoid fuss — a four-letter word that begins with F-U and is just as profane.

For quite a while I lived by a recipe book — a term I will use generously — called “A Can, a Man, a Plan.”

It was put out by the same publishers as Men’s Health magazine and offered to simplify healthy meals.

For example, boil up some pasta, open a can of tuna fish, pour onto the pasta, sprinkle it with tomato sauce and shredded cheese and nuke in the microwave.

Presto!

Instructions so simple that even I could follow them. Plus, the meal hardly required much preparation and it was relatively nutritious.

I admire people who are adept in the kitchen and can follow recipes and cook up a storm.

Me?

I will bring into work 3-day-old salad that is seriously past its prime. When my wife Meg protests, I will usually just say with a dismissive wave of the hand, “Oh, it’s fine.”

Leftovers.

Food with freezer burn.

Food that is beyond its expiration (except for meat).

It’s all pretty much fair game for me.

If it passes the sniff test, I’m good.

So you can imagine how grateful and blessed I am to have Meg in my life. Among her abundance of fine qualities, she is an amazingly adept and adventurous cook. My dinners are flavorful and complex and never boring.

Of course, when she is away and I am left to my own devices, I will revert to my sorry ways and fix a bowl of oatmeal for dinner.

I recently bought a low-grade of turkey from the supermarket deli and when I tried to defend it as being equal to a brand name, such as Boar’s Head, Meg said to me: “I love you, but you are no judge.”

She’s right of course.

Well, now if you will excuse me, I have a cup of coffee to microwave.

A Visit to the Penis Museum

There has not been this much news coverage and public conversation about penises since Anthony Weiner’s campaign for New York City mayor flamed out over some too-revealing selfies.

Donald Trump’s allusion to his manhood — in no less a setting than a Republican presidential debate — and Hulk Hogan’s recently concluded trial against Gawker (“Hulk Hogan lied about his penis size”) propelled penises into people’s living rooms and into water cooler chatter.

So I feel it is my current-events duty to tell you about our visit to what is billed as the world’s only penis museum.

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I say “our” because my wife and I visited.

During our honeymoon.

Yeah, I know, I’m just a hopeless romantic.

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My wife Meg checking out the goods.

Here’s the background:

About 30 miles from the Arctic Circle in the fishing village of Húsavik (population 2,200) is the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

It is housed in a non-descript two-story building. There is no hint about what is inside except for perhaps the giant wooden phallus standing sentry outside.

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The museum has a collection of more than 200 penises and “penile parts” (ouch!) that belonged to almost all of the land and sea mammals found on Iceland.

Among those on display are ones from a polar bear, seals, walrus and 17 different kinds of whales.

I’ve got to say that I’ve never given much thought to the male anatomy of mammals but this was truly eye-opening.

And let’s just say that some mammals are quite, um, gifted.

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Sure, the museum is a bit of gimmick (I’ll leave it to your imagination about the souvenirs on sale) but still, it was genuinely informative and certainly unique.

Years after our visit there in 2010, I heard of a documentary called “The Final Member” about the museum curator’s quest for a donation from a homo sapien.

The movie took some peculiar turns.

For instance, there were two donors vying for bragging rights to be the first to have their member enshrined in the museum, including an American who named his “Elmo.”

The other donor was a 90-plus-year-old Icelandic man who went so far as to have a mold made of his privates.

Let’s just say that was painful to watch.

The museum’s curator, a guy named Sigurour “Siggi” Hjartarson, had two requirements for the donation of a human specimen: A legal document (letter of donation) signed by three witnesses, and proof that the penis was of “legal length” — at least 5 inches.

He based the minimum length requirement on an Icelandic folk tale called “A Legal Length,” in which a woman requested a divorce from her husband because his penis was less than 5 inches long.

The documentary does, unfortunately, perpetuate a myth of masculinity that links the length of a guy’s member with his character and standing in society.

To which I say, don’t confuse the measure of a man with the size of his penis: A leading presidential candidate is proof of that.

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The Verizon Strike, Men and Job Insecurity

Seeing Verizon workers on strike picketing outside company offices made me think about 1971.

My dad was working for what was then New York Telephone Company (this was years before the breakup of AT&T into the “Baby Bells”) and the union he belonged to, the Communications Workers of America, went on strike.

It ended up dragging on for seven months.

I was 7 at the time but I can recall well the feeling of stress in the household over making ends meet. Dad collected picket duty pay from the union, and after nine weeks, he got unemployment benefits and qualified for food stamps, but even then, things were financially squeaky.

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Me with a picket sign.

Dad hustled whatever odd jobs he could — cleaning windows, for instance — and Mom was already babysitting kids in our Bronx building.

It’s bad enough to face job insecurity when you are young and have a family. What I have discovered though is that it’s even worse to face that kind of unpredictable future when guys hit middle age.

I recall in the mid-1990s reading news accounts of layoffs at IBM in New York and stories quoting guys who had been with the company for 25 years who wondered where they were going to get a job now that they were in their 50s.

I was not quite yet 30 and I remember thinking: What could possibly be so bad? How tough could this be?

Now that I am 51, I have a deeper appreciation and understanding for the stresses and worries of job insecurity. I work in news, an industry that is undergoing titanic changes and is shedding jobs faster than cat hair.

Like many men, I have equated my career with my life. But beyond that is the overwhelmingly sense of responsibility imbued in us to be the breadwinner. (Yeah, I know it’s an antiquated term but it’s one I grew up with.)

So many guys my age that I personally know have either lost jobs, faced the prospect of losing their job, been demoted or lived in the fear of any one of those things happening.

I asked a friend, Joe McNulty, who is a Verizon worker now on strike, to share his thoughts on job insecurity. This is what he wrote:

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Joe McNulty on the picket line.

Today I walked approximately six miles around a tight picket line in front of a Verizon Wireless store in Portchester, N.Y. At 51 years of age and 20 years on the job, I am not the senior man or close to it. I am better off than most in that my wife has a good-paying job, we live in a modest apartment in the Bronx and have no children. Still, I am anxious.

During the Great Recession, the stories on the nightly news that always tugged at my heart strings were the middle-aged workers who ended up out of work after years at one job and not a clue what to do next. There was no way I could find a job with the same pay and benefits, not to mention the thought of leaving my dear co-workers.

Working for the phone company gave me an identity. I was the phone guy. Whenever family or friends need something phone-related, they call me. Now I’m thinking those poor middle-aged workers on the nightly news were also victims of a kind of identity theft. How awful to be asked 10 years before retirement, “So, what do you do?” and have to start your reply with “I was….”

This strike will end and I will continue to be a phone man. Everyone walking the line knows that technology can make us obsolete at any moment. We just want to be the last dinosaurs to die a natural death before the mass extinction.

(For a related post about the tension and frustration of searching for a job after you’ve been downsized in middle age, check out http://aboutmenshow.com/is-it-worth-finding-and-keeping-a-job/)

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Escape Room Escapades

I recently tried one of those newly popular “escape room” attractions and let’s just say Houdini I am not.

If you enjoy puzzles, thinking on your feet and working with others under pressure, you will have a thrilling time.

With its hidden clues and riddles to solve, being in an escape room is like playing a real-life version of “Scooby-Doo,” except at the end you are not unmasking the caretaker as the villain who dressed up as a ghost to scare those damn meddling kids away.

For those unfamiliar with escape rooms, here’s the  concept: You are locked in a room with your teammates (in my case, three friends) filled with props, decorations and furniture.

You scour the room for clues, which can take the form of scraps of paper with numbers or words, which in turn send you to other clues, and so on.

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I don’t want to give too much away about the specifics since it would spoil some of the fun, but the room where we played in Orlando, Fla., featured several locked cabinets and trunks.

Finding the key (or the combinations for the locks) required using math, looking at messages that could only be seen under a black light, and relying on our smarts to solve problems.

You have to think creatively – and fast.

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There are different themes for each room. In my case, my friends and I played “Classified.” The room had a Middle Eastern feel to the décor.

(My wife and younger son and I recently played at a different escape room in the Poconos and in that one the premise was we awoke to find ourselves locked in a cabin in the woods. That room featured a bearskin rug and deer’s head on the wall.)

In the “Classified” room, the orientation video described our team as being covertly inserted into hostile territory. We had 60 minutes to deduce the time, date and place of a terrorist attack.

Failure on our part meant the terrorist would win.

We had three “free” clues, that is, clues that would be given to us and not count against our time. For every additional clue given, we would have minutes added to our time.

If you ever played the highly addictive computer game “Myst” from years ago, you will have an idea of how immersed you can get into an escape room. Secret passageways, enticing clues and cryptic messages were all there.

And much like the hit TV series “24,” there was a monitor with a countdown clock showing how much time we had left.

As we progressed and the time ticked away, we grew more frenetic.

“Go over there!”

“Where is the flashlight?!”

“What was that clue again?!”

We had three of the four elements solved: The date, the place and the hour of the attack but we could not determine the minutes after the hour.

My heart was pounding. The mission was at stake!

In the end, we came really, really close but we failed.

Jack Bauer would have disowned us, but we had a helluva good time!

 

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On Being a Dad and Facing an Empty Nest

There is a memorable story told about my late fiancée and her son that goes like this:

Garth was in his 20s and headed out for a night on the town.

He was primping himself in front of a mirror.

His mother, (my late fiancée), Carla said something to him and he cracked wise or sarcastic.

She came up behind him and smacked him in the back of the head — even though he had about five inches on her.

Garth wheeled around and angrily asked: “Whatdidja do that for?!”

Her reply?

“You will never be too old or too big that I’m not your mother!”

It remains a memorable story because it speaks to Carla’s spirit (let’s just say she did not take guff from anyone) but it also embodies an important lesson I am learning as a dad who will soon face an empty nest.

Our younger son is a high school senior and will be in college by the late summer.

He has his own car, a wide circle of friends and is active in numerous extracurricular activities.

Translation: My wife and I don’t see too much of him. When we do, we try to make the most of the time together.

Our older son graduated from college in the spring, landed a job 10 days before graduation and has been on his own and out of state since last July.

The days of us having to hand-hold or ferry “the boys” around to different school events or social engagements are over.

And in many ways, at least right now, I miss that.

As a dad, being there for them and being the one who looked out for them day-to-day was my raison d’être.

The core missions of looking out for the lads’ well-being, care, feeding and upbringing defined my role as a parent for two decades.

Now, suddenly — poof!

It feels as if I am wearing a pair of those “beer goggles” they give kids in driver’s education to mimic the feel of drunken driving: My view of reality has been twisted and distorted.

So it came as something of a relief (and a sense of still being needed) when No. 1 son recently called and emailed about a low-level emergency after being locked out of his first apartment.

Much to his credit, he was collected and clear-headed and was merely looking for some advice about navigating the situation with his landlord. (It turned out that the lock was installed incorrectly and malfunctioned.)

I recall once when I was standing on line at a supermarket with the boys when they were about 12 and 7.

A veteran parent ahead of me struck up a conversation.

I recall well what she said: “The older kids get, the more complicated and more expensive the problems become.”

Yes, that is certainly true.

But what I’m also learning is that they’ll never get too old or too big that I’ll ever stop being their dad.

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“I Am Dead”

Arleen’s finger was aimed straight out.

She held it somewhere around her cheek to emphasize her point.

“You know if you don’t do this, she will come back and haunt you every day of your life.”

We were in a waiting room at Horton Hospital in Middletown, N.Y., and my fiancée Carla had fallen into what doctors were telling us was an irreversible coma related to complications from Hepatitis C.

Arleen was talking to me and Carla’s son, Garth.

Arleen was Carla’s best friend.

And she was speaking the truth.

And Garth and I both knew it.

She was warning us to make the right choice about a decision that no one should have to confront: Should we sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order, directing doctors NOT to take any extraordinary measures to keep Carla alive?

The decision legally fell to Garth as Carla’s next of kin, but we had teamed up and convinced ourselves that Carla would pull through and therefore we would not sign the DNR. We felt there was still hope.

Done with our little caucus, Garth and I returned to the waiting room and told Arleen of our decision.

And that’s when she warned us about keeping in mind Carla’s wishes. We knew in our bones that Carla would not have wanted to be kept alive artificially.

But here was the problem: Carla never filed any medical directives with explicit instructions about what to do in a circumstance like this.

Had such a document existed, it would have relieved Garth and me of the enormous burden of making that decision.

We ultimately told the doctors not to take any extraordinary measures, and Carla died a few days later.

As if grieving her loss was not overwhelming enough, I then discovered that Carla had no will! In the aftermath of her death, I tried the best I could to tie up the loose ends of her estate.

It was a heavy, heavy lift.

The experience left an indelible impression on me, and I set about right away to get my own medical directive organized as well as a will.

When I got married in 2010, my wife Meg and I talked often of the need to get our will done. We finally did and it was a HUGE relief.

I’ve gone even further and organized detailed information about all of my finances, my wishes for my funeral and a prewritten obituary and collected it all in a huge file labeled “I Am Dead.”

Meg and I recently reviewed it in detail, right down to the music I want to have played at my funeral. (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” cover by the late Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’Ole.)

We sat on the couch going over the file, playing that song and crying. The experience “drove a truck through the heart of my soul,” Meg said.

Yes it did, but I would not want my loved ones to go through what I did.

No one gets out of here alive. If you haven’t organized your will and/or your medical directives, do it now.

Do it for yourself.

Do it for your family.

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What Is Wrong With This Picture?

What is wrong with this picture?

As far as I can tell, nothing.

But try telling that to some of the trolls who came out and criticized the photo — specifically how actor Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler were posed.

According to mic.com, the photo, which appeared in Vanity Fair, prompted comments like these:

“What kind of pose is this?”

“I was wondering about his hand on dudes head…what’s that  about?”

“The demasculation continues. I hate this pic!!”

In this podcast, we discuss how we are mystified at comments like these and talk about the odd reactions people seem to have when men display any kind of affection for each other.

Also, in what we’re billing as a “Current Events” show, Pedro rants about the darkness of Twitter.

Lastly, because the presidential campaign season is in full schwing, we naturally talk about penises.

Give the show a listen.

It might not change your life, but it will certainly give you something to think about.

Or it will scar you.

But how will you know if you don’t listen?

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A New Me

A refrain in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” has Judy Garland singing wistfully: “Why, oh why can’t I?”

It is something that I hear in my own head (minus the singing) when I confront self-image issues related to my workouts.

For the past 14 years, I have been a dedicated exerciser, working out an average of four to five times a week.

It has taken all forms: Cardio, running, weight-lifting, circuit training, and for the past seven years, a devotion to the various P90X workouts led by Tony Horton.

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But it seems no matter how much dedication and drive I invest in my exercise, I cannot get the body I’m looking for.

So, why oh why can’t I have a broad chest?

Ripped abs?

Biceps the size of my thighs?

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When I look at celebrities like Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the X-Men series, or Daniel Craig, who is currently playing James Bond, or Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper,” I am immediately plunged into a vat of molten envy that, when it cools, hardens around my brain.

I mean, look at those guys!

They are in incredible shape.

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It’s not like I have not put in the time and commitment to getting fit, so why oh why can’t I look like them?

Well, there might be the fact that they have professional trainers who put these actors through their paces for grueling hours a day whereas my exercise routine is a DIY system at home for 30 to 45 minutes.

And they likely have gourmet-cooked, high-protein, nutrient-rich meals prepared for them around the clock, with snacks properly proportioned served to them by personal chefs.

Me? I eat as cleanly as I can but I am a slave to cookies and prone to indulging in sugary snacks when I’m anxious.

Nonetheless, I fight the nagging internal voice that says I am not pushing myself hard enough.

See that woman in the exercise video? She’s doing more push-ups than you, you panty-waist wuss!

As a working stiff who has a family and a job, there is only so much time and energy I can dedicate to exercising before I overtrain and risk getting hurt or burning myself out.

It was not until I heard Tony Horton’s first law of fitness that I started to gain some acceptance for my limitations.

“Do your best and forget the rest,” he says.

In other words, show up and do what you can on any given day.

That could be four push-ups or 40, or a multiple of that if you’ve really got something in the tank that day.

But you’ve got to chase away those mental couldas and shouldas that get in the way.

This is the time of year when we’re all looking to start the slate clean: A new year, a new you, right?

Before you start worrying about fixing your body, think about getting your mind right first.

So in 2016, I’m going to change my tune and find a new anthem.

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The AMR Posse Reunites in Florida!

The About Men Radio posse recently got together for the first time as a group since 1985.

Thankfully, the intervening decades have not changed us: Stupid jokes, endless ball-busting and side-splitting laughing were all the rage for our get-together.

Here then is an array of the photos from our get-together, with my snarky captions.

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Rich is like: “Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout Willis?!”
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Manly men in Silvio’s backyard.
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Do these headphones make my head look fat?
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Be the Buddha!
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Do not mess with these Sith Lord Dads.
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Is that a pink drink Pedro has? Why yes. Yes, I think it is.
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Just pucker your lips and whistle.
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Before we set out on a Florida fan boat ride through an alligator-infested lake.
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And if you don’t survive, tip your captain overboard.
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Our ride.
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Holy crap. They were not kidding about the gators.
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The ear protection is so I cannot hear myself screaming.
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Pedro evidently had something in his eye.
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Good friends and good times!

Do You See a Pattern…Zzzzzzz

We love About Men Radio posse member John O’Connell, aka Father John.

For the 40-plus years that I’ve known John, he has always been a night owl, not a morning lark.

As kids, he would be getting to bed at a time that I would be into my fifth hour of sleep.

As an adult, John likes to catch catnaps.

And we, loving, ball-busting friends that we are, like to catch him catching catnaps.

Behold, at a barbecue at my house in August 2014. (Note a guest in the background who was probably talking when John nodded off.)

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More recently, during our get-together as a group in Florida, John was hardly off the plane 30 minutes before he had nodded out in Silvio’s car.

Note the look of disgust on Silvio’s face. *sad trombone*

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But the one that absolutely is John’s crowing achievement came when we went on an airboat ride on a Florida lake.

Do you have any idea of how loud an airboat ride is? We’re talking 80 to 90-plus decibels loud.

It is the equivalent of standing on a subway platform and falling asleep above all that din.

Well, you guessed it:

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And no, he was not just *resting his eyes.*

Now I’ve gotta take a nap!

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How Lord Grantham Is a Guy’s Guy

Say what you want about Robert Crawley (aka Lord Grantham on “Downton Abbey”), but for all of his formal wear and and fussy lifestyle, he’s at heart a guy’s guy.

I can hear a collective “Say what!?” But hear me out.

For so long, the concept of a “guy’s guy” has been seen as someone whose sole interests are guzzling beer and spending time in a man cave watching sports on TV or porn online.

I think there is nothing wrong with any of those activities, but it misses the larger — more complex — makeup of what men are about.

For that reason, if you look beyond Robert’s dinner jacket, you will be surprised to see how much of his character aligns with being a guy’s guy.

He is prideful and has a frail ego: A veteran of the Boer War, Robert has hurt feelings when he is not called up to active duty on the front lines in World War I. He is instead relegated to wearing a uniform to serve merely as “a mascot,” he says, back at home.

He is loyal: Robert demonstrates his loyalty any number of times and ways: In hiring Bates and in finding it in his heart to keep Barrows on staff after his suicide attempt. When William Mason, a footman, is confronted by protesters who give him a white feather for allegedly being a coward for not serving in WW I, Robert throws them out of the house.

He knows how to keep confidences: He gets wise to the connection between Edith and Marigold but he knows how to acknowledge it with his wife and daughter but at the same time keep it within the family. Among men, exercising discretion and keeping  information under wraps is a trait that is highly valued.

He has foibles: Robert dabbled in a dalliance with a lady’s maid. Robert is not without his shortcomings but he demonstrates that over the long haul, his set point is to be someone with a good heart.

He likes his drink: Hey, who does not like to have a good adult beverage once in a while?

He is crappy about taking care of his health: Not saying necessarily that this is an admirable trait. It is just one that a lot of guys share in common. (Bonus points: Robert  is also a lousy patient. I can relate to that.)

He loves his family: Through any number of trials and tribulations, he has gone to lengths to help his daughters. Look at the way he softened his heart to welcome Tom into the family after first bristling at the idea of him as his son-in-law.

He’s willing to throw down when the moment calls for it: Robert got white-hot jealous (though turns out with justification) over the undue interest that an art collector showed in Cora. When Robert finds the collector, Robert Bricker, and his wife in their boudoir, he proceeded to sock it to the guy.

He is a good boss: While a clear hierarchy exists between servants and those served, Robert does not treat the staff as merely the hired help. He’s reserved around them perhaps but he does treat them well and with compassion. Look at what he did for Miss Patmore for her nephew, who was a deserter in World War I. While Robert did not include the nephew in the main war memorial, he did commission a separate plaque honoring his service and sacrifice. It was a touching and moving gesture.

He loves his dogs: Look at the way he mourned the death of Isis and then melted when his mother left him with a new puppy that Robert named Tiaa.

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Taking Fear to New Heights

For me, fear is an invisible emotional or mental “weakness” that I have historically refused myself permission to give in to.

My attitude has long been that it’s an effort of will: You can push through fear and pretend it’s not really there.

But I learned something recently that turned that line of thinking on its head.

Here is my story:

I have had a lifetime fear of heights, with many a social engagement marred by my acrophobia

It’s one reason why, for instance, I can barely watch a trailer for “The Walk” about Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, much less think about seeing the entire movie.

The very first Broadway play I saw was “Deathtrap” at the Music Box Theater in the late ’70s with my mom. I was very excited until we got there and I realized we had mezzanine seats.

I was OK when the lights went out and we could focus on the play but when the lights were back on and I could see where we were, well, to borrow a phrase from my younger son: I think I threw up a little in my mouth.

Same thing when I bought tickets for a Cirque du Soleil show at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. When we got there, I discovered the seats were so high and on such a steep pitch that I could not stay.

My wife and son watched the show as I climbed the stairs — almost on all fours — and waited in the hallway for the performance to finish.

So when my wife was planning a visit to Big Sur in California along the Pacific Coast Highway, she emphasized that she wanted me to be OK with the heights and narrow, curving roads.

I watched a YouTube video of a drive along the road and thought: “Yeah, I can handle this. I don’t want to be a party pooper on our trip and she is excited to show this to me.”

You can figure out the rest.

About an hour into the drive, we reached the serpentine cliffs. I was white-knuckled, my palms sweaty.

The low point came when we crossed the narrow Bixby Bridge, which seems to levitate over this canyon. I wanted to kiss the pavement when we made it to the other side.

I never relinquish the wheel because I am a lousy passenger — I get car sick easily.

So when we headed out for another two hours on these steep, cliffside roads, my wife knew I was in trouble when I abruptly pulled over and asked her to drive.

I could not go on. And here’s the thing: I did not stop being afraid just because I stopped driving.

I was curled up in the back seat, my face buried into my shoulder, one hand gripping the door handle until I had no feeling in my fingers and rhythmically praying.

I’ve long resisted limitations – either of my own doing or outside forces — being placed on my ability to get things done.

You’re talking about a guy whose signature phrase is “It’s fine” or “I’ll be fine” when confronted with an illness, a physical injury, lack of sleep or some kind of emotional hurt.

My act of bravery here was having the confidence to give into my fear instead of trying to pretend I could persevere.

What I learned was that it’s sometimes OK not to “man up” but to instead ask for help.

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Life After “Downton Abbey” For Its Characters

The series finale of “Downton Abbey” is Sunday night but that does not mean the characters do not carry on with their lives.

Here is a glimpse of what happened with some of the major players post-DA:

Mrs. Patmore: Moved to Nevada where brothels are legal, and opened her own house of ill repute, Patmore’s Playpen.

Mr. Carson: Became an eyebrow transplant donor.

Mrs. Hughes: Was acquitted of assault after beating Carson within an inch of his life with a spatula after he complained one too many times about her cooking.

Anna and Mr. Bates: They lived happily ever after. No, seriously. Really.

Mary: Underwent heart transplant surgery to install the one she did not have.

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Cora: Successfully underwent surgery to have more than one facial expression.

Mr. Barrows: Joined a punk goth band. (Tell me you can’t see it…)

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Edith: Founded an app dating service called Losr that connects people who are destined to be in ruined relationships.

Lord Grantham: Known for his financial acumen, Robert became homeless after investing with Bernie Madoff.

Mr. Molesly: Became a rugby player after deciding it was less of a contact sport than teaching the children from the village.

Marigold: Pressed stalking charges against her mother.

Tom: Presidential campaign manager for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders.

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Spratt: Moved to the United States where he started a successful advice column under the nom de plume “Ann Landers.”

Denker: Joined Darth Vader’s Imperial forces as a stormtrooper and was killed in her first battle. No one misses her.

The Dowager: Became chief ruthlessness officer in the Nixon White House.

Dr. Clarkson: Exasperated and frustrated, he decided humans were way too much of a pain to deal with and became a veterinarian.

Daisy: Became a double O agent for MI6, with 34 confirmed kills.

Lady Rosamund: Runs a home for wayward single mothers.

Isobel: Created a line of bobble head dolls that say “I told you so.”

Baxter: Is still sewing.

Getting by With a Little Help From Our Friends

It is not every day that the entire About Men Radio posse gets together.

In fact, it took a bit of carbon-dating to determine that the last time Silvio, Rich,  Pedro, John and I were all in the same room together was 1985!

It is almost hard to believe that it has been that long and that so much time has gone by in what feels like an instant.

To celebrate the occasion, we got together and memorialized our thoughts about our enduring friendship and its origins in a free-wheeling but sincere conversation presented to you here in this podcast.

The talk was revealing in how much Silvio can remember from yesteryear, how tenderly we feel about each other (please read that carefully as I did NOT say we felt each other tenderly) and what these connections mean to us as middle-aged men looking down the long barrel of families, careers and other pressures.

What the conversation underscores is the importance of having and maintaining these kinds of connections into male adulthood.

What are your friendships like and what do you do to nurture them? Tell us your story in our comments section on our website, on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com

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Friends Fill a 14-Year Void in My Life

Men, how many of you have male friends?

I mean close friends — not just co-workers, a brother-in-law or virtual friends on Facebook. And I don’t mean your “bros” with whom you might watch a game once in a while.

I mean flesh-and-blood friends whose numbers you have programmed on your phone and who you could call and rely on to help you out of a jam at 2:30 in the morning?

I bet that most of you can count on one hand – or less — the number of friends who truly qualify.

A recent story in The Telegraph from the UK reported that 11 percent of single men said they had no friends to turn to in a “serious situation” and that figure rose to 15 percent among married men.

Those numbers came from research conducted by the Movember Foundation, which is raising awareness of mental health issues among men.

It’s a stunning statistic but one that I can readily attest to.

I had about a 14-year stretch where my friends from my childhood — truly my only friends — were out of my life.

It was, to borrow a cliché, “just one of those things.”

I had gotten married and moved 300 miles away, and then when I moved closer to my friends, so much time had passed that it felt difficult to pick up their trail. Plus, I was busy raising a family, advancing my career, etc.

You get the picture.

I would pick up morsels of news from my mother, who was still living in my old neighborhood and remained plugged in about whose parents had died, who was working where, etc.

I pined to reconnect but somehow just could not get out of my own way to make it happen.

Then a crazy thing happened: Unbeknownst to me, my then-fiancée connected with Pedro and John by email and arranged for them to make a surprise visit at home.

The night of their arrival, she was acting all kinds of peculiar. I wanted to go to bed early and, she was like: “Don’t you dare! Stay up!”

Meanwhile, she would leave the room and have these furtive phone conversations with the guys, who in keeping with a time-honored tradition, were lost and late.

If memory serves, I think they were supposed to arrive at around 8:30 p.m. and instead showed up at 10:30 p.m.

It could have been 2:30 in the morning and I would have been just as thrilled.

In the years since, my circle of friends and I have made it a point to be in contact and to get together regularly. One of the side benefits of the About Men Radio podcast and website is that it bonds us and allows us to share our feelings for one another in a way that is funny and genuine.

A photo that Carla took of me the night of their surprise visit captured the absolute shock and joy I felt at seeing them as they came up the stairs.

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Doing my best to be an impromptu host, I got out the grill and whipped up barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs, all the while Pedro busted my stones: “What? We come to your house at 10:30 at night and there’s no lobster and filet mignon?”

It was as if nothing had changed and I knew then that a great hole in my life had been filled.

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Busting Balls as an Art Form

Among my buddies busting chops is an art.

While these exchanges are teasing in nature, they do not take the form of malicious putdowns or “snaps” such as  “Your mother is so dumb, she takes an hour to make minute rice.”

No, our repartee has roots in the expression: “Do a good job and you won’t hear a thing, but screw up once and you will never hear the end of it!”

Such are the ways with us. It’s a harmless method for us to bond and show affection but to also have fun — at each other’s expense, of course.

There is the chop-buster and the bustee, the person who is on the receiving end of getting his shoes squeezed.

For instance, my friend John has a home in the Poconos where we have crashed many weekends and engaged in our customary goofy antics.

On one of our very first visits, the house was sparsely furnished but a kitchen cabinet was brimming with boxes and boxes of Gevalia gourmet coffee.

At some point, I asked for a cup of coffee, and John busted out a jar of some cruddy freeze-dried instant grinds.

Well, not one to let a fertile moment go by, the No. 1 horn-breaker in our group, Pedro, seized it. He mockingly berated John for making us feel unworthy of his quality stash.

The whole weekend, the leitmotif became: “Gee, I really could use a cup up of coffee.” Or: “Wow, I would love some Gevalia. Do you know John where I might get some?”

bust bakks

There are a bounty of moments like these that get dusted off and replayed. We are equal-opportunity in our teasing. There are no sacred cows.

And all it takes is one event – just one – for a chop-busting theme to take hold. There is no statute of limitations.

Just ask my dad.

Sixty years ago when he was in the Navy, he was put in charge of showing a movie to the crew one night and installed the reels in the incorrect order, forever earning him the moniker “Wrong Reel.”

For John, it might be about the coffee, or his lead foot driving, which has earned him the title of “Mannix,” or his many DIY talents with a soldering gun and duct tape, leading to his “MacGyver” nickname.

For Pedro, there is fodder in his Casanova-like ways of flirting with waitresses. Rich and Silvio find way too much pleasure in horror and gore movies – Rich especially, who, disturbingly to us, has been known to laugh through most slasher flicks.

And me?

Well, let’s just say I have a well-earned reputation for being a fraidy-cat of horror movies and scary haunted Halloween attractions.

So naturally, to show they love me, horror meisters Rich and Silvio want to lock me in a room for three days, strap me in a chair, pry open my eyeballs “A Clockwork Orange”-style and subject me to the worst horror films imaginable.

After all, what are friends for?

giphy clock

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“Remember, Thou Art Mortal”

My wife and I talk often about life and how, in an instant, it can be randomly snuffed out.

A driver blows through a red light and runs into another car.

An undiagnosed medical condition takes the life of a young man.

A freak accident at home kills an infant.

Maybe it’s because Meg and I have decades-long backgrounds in news that our exposure to the unpredictability of death ranks above average. We also have both experienced the loss of someone close to us.

It certainly makes for grim dinnertime conversation, but it also serves as a reminder to appreciate what we have in our lives.

No matter how much wealth, material possessions or professional success we amass, it’s all immaterial in the end.

It is said that during Roman times, a slave stood behind a triumphant returning general or emperor and whispered in his ear: “Remember, thou art mortal.”

This comes to mind because tomorrow marks three years since Meg and I and my son Daniel were driving back from visiting Skytop Lodge in the Poconos.

As we got on Route 390, it began to snow. The road was covered quickly and there was not yet a chance for the plows to get out.

I was driving about 35 mph when I saw a car coming around a curve in the opposite direction way too fast – fishtailing like mad – and making a beeline right for us.

To avoid a head-on crash, I pulled over to the side of the road as far as I could.

It wasn’t enough.

I found myself screaming: “Brace for impact!” (Yes, for real.)

With that, the other car slammed into our driver’s side with a teeth-rattling, body-jolting impact. I can still hear the noise.

Both driver’s-side doors were pushed forcefully shut and we could not escape from the passenger side because the car was now wedged tightly against a rock.

Thankfully, passers-by and rescuers got a door open and we escaped – unharmed.

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It was scary how close that came to being a head-on collision.

There it was: We randomly happened to be there when this knucklehead (who was ticketed BTW) was driving way too fast for the road conditions.

Any one of us could have been killed or seriously injured.

More recently, Meg emailed me while she was running errands in Middletown, N.Y.:

“I was driving on 211 — just left the mall and passed a giant collection of cop cars and ambulance, etc, just at the turn I would make to go into the strip mall where Starbucks is.

A minute or two earlier and I would have been one of those vehicles. I thought ‘Thank God’ and then of how many near misses there are in our lives that we don’t even know about.

Then I knew that I wanted to tell you that I love you — and I want you to save this one if ever there’s a time when I can’t say it — know that it’s in my heart always.”

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Action Figures of the 60s and 70s: Where Are They Now?

With the news today that Mattel is updating its line of Barbie dolls to be more diverse and realistically representative of the population at large, I bring you these updates on popular boys’ action figures from yesteryear:

* Action Jackson: Now in his late 60s, AJ ain’t getting any action without the help of a little blue pill. But he still makes the ladies swoon in his one-piece jump suit.

* Big Jim: The epitome of a hunk, Jim was muscle-bound, ripped and had a full head of hair. Today, Jim is divorced, beer-bellied and balding. He still answers fan mail, however.

* Six Million Dollar Man: His bionic eye developed cataracts and his bionic leg short-circuited, giving him cramps. The special effects sounds you heard and saw of Steve Austin moving in slow motion when he was doing superhuman feats is the way he is now all the time: In slow motion.

* Planet of the Apes: Cornelius left Zira for an ape 20 years his junior and went on to have offspring who refer to Cornelius as “gramps.” Zira became a millionaire marketing frozen bananas on a stick.

*GI Joe With Kung Fu Grip: Sidelined with arthritis, GIJWKFG opened a pottery shop.

*Stretch Armstrong: Became homeless and an alcoholic after being repeatedly mistaken and abused as a substitution for Silly Putty.

* Major Matt Mason the Man in Space: Following budget cutbacks at NASA, he retired and is now working as a guest services representative at Disney’s World of Tomorrow.

* Evel Knievel: Went on to write his autobiography, “Bag of Bones.”

* Ben Kenobi: After watching the “Star Wars” prequels, was arrested after threatening to “go all Death Star on George Lucas’s ass.”

* GI Joe: After valiantly serving his country, still trying to collect proper veterans’ benefits for the government.

* Ken doll: Lacking any male genitalia, was divorced by Barbie and later underwent reconstructive surgery and now goes by “Kenya.”

Why ‘The Revenant’ Is Not Worthy of an Oscar

Maybe by now you’ve heard of this movie called “The Revenant.”

It’s gained a fair amount of notice after being nominated for 12 Oscars (including best picture, best actor and best director) and after it won three awards at the Golden Globes.

“The Revenant” – a reference to a person who has returned, especially from the dead – depicts Leonardo DiCaprio as a top-notch frontiersman leading a troupe of trappers.

They confront Indian attacks, ferocious weather and each other in a tale of survival, greed and revenge.

Think “Death Wish” meets “Dances With Wolves.”

DiCaprio’s character, after being viciously mauled in a grizzly bear attack, is left for dead by his fellow travelers, particularly one who is expertly depicted by Tom Hardy.

(Hardy, in my opinion, was the best performance of the movie and justifiably got an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.)

Given the considerable buzz about “The Revenant,” I was looking forward to being swept off my feet the way I was in watching “Spotlight” or “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Alas, what I was treated to was two-plus hours of pretty scenery, a computer-generated bear attack and a depiction of brutal living conditions in the woods.

I thought the movie was solid but just not worthy of Oscar contention.

Much has been made about how the cast, DiCaprio in particular, subjected themselves to extremes for the sake of the film: Wading into icy rivers and coping with temperatures well below zero.

Well bully for them, I say.

But the movie felt like one giant stunt after another meant to call attention to how difficult it was to shoot. For that reason, I found it rather self-indulgent.

How did what the “The Revenant” cast and crew put up with in the Canadian Rockies and in Argentina any different than the extremes the cast and crew of “Mad Max” endured in the south African desert?

Don’t misunderstand me: From a technical point of view, the natural beauty and visuals in “The Revenant” are stunning. But I could get those in a calendar. And stunning visuals do not an Oscar contender make.

My real gripe about the movie is that I was not emotionally invested in the story or DiCaprio’s character. I found myself not caring what happened to him.

I was a big fan of “The Revenant” director A.G. Iñárritu, whose “Birdman” last year was, I thought, masterful and original.

Yes, “The Revenant” had some memorable scenes, such as the well-publicized bear attack, which I had hard time believing DiCaprio’s character would truly be able to survive.

For an idea of how detached I felt from the movie consider this: The very final scene is of DiCaprio, bearded, bedraggled and bloodied. He looks right into the camera and all I could think of was how it reminded me of Michael Palin’s bearded man delivering the opening of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

Bottom line: “The Revenant” struck me as the product of extraordinary movie-making simply for the sake of extraordinary movie-making.

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An Open Letter of Apology to Carrie Fisher

Dear Ms. Fisher:

I feel I owe you an apology. And while I say this speaking strictly for myself, I suspect there is a wider swath of men who might feel the way I do.

You recently came under attack by social media trolls who criticized you for — gasp! — having the temerity to look older since the last time you appeared in a “Star Wars” movie.

The shaming you were subjected to came after your appearances as General Leia Organa in “The Force Awakens.”

Some of the comments, which I read on Twitter, were vitriolic. I was stunned at how base some people were.

But then again, I should have known better: That’s because I’m guilty of contributing to this kind of mentality.

There’s a generation of us men who grew up unenlightened about women. In our childhood and adolescence, we knew Hollywood actresses only to be young and pretty.

I’m thinking here of an age of “Charlie’s Angels” or “Wonder Woman,” for example.

I suppose Hollywood has always placed a premium on youth and good looks, with the scales unfairly tilted against actresses.

My wife and I have had this discussion numerous times, with her pointing out that beyond a certain age, the opportunities for an actress shrink as her perceived value (read good looks) fades.

For a long time I argued – in a Pollyannaish way – that was not the case. I realize, of course, that is very much the reality and that guys like me have contributed to that ethos.

It is a culture that the comedian Amy Schumer so perfectly skewed in a sketch on her show that parodied “Twelve Angry Men.” The all-male jury’s deliberations focused on whether Schumer was “hot enough” to have her own show.

While the sketch was brilliantly subversive and spot-on hilarious, it also exposed an uncomfortable truth:

Terms like “objectify” are not part of the cultural vocabulary of many men when it comes to women. Instead, we use descriptions like “hot,” “cute,” “babe” or worse.

I’ve been a fan of yours since “Star Wars” came out in 1977 and, yes, as an 18-year-old when “Return of the Jedi” was released, lusted after you when you appeared in that bikini outfit.

But that’s a long time ago and it’s belatedly clear to me that women in general and particularly in Hollywood are held to a different set of standards that are linked almost exclusively to their appearances.

Your response to the social media trolls struck a nerve with me:

“Please stop debating about whether or not [I] aged well. Unfortunately it hurts all 3 of my feelings. My body hasn’t aged as well as I have. Blow us.”

Those comments were an epiphany.

I sensed a genuine hurt beneath the layer of sarcasm. Also, there’s something about the fact that I grew up with you, my admiration for your forthright public battle with mental illness and addictions and the head-on way you addressed the trolls that spoke to me.

On screen, you’ve played a princess and a general and in real life you are a mother, daughter, author and actress.

To me, though, you’re smart and brave.

Thank you for that.

Sincerely yours,

Christopher Mele

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No Moose, No Peace

Captain Ahab had Moby Dick.

Wile E. Coyote had the Road Runner.

And Elmer Fudd had that wascally wabbit.

My quarry for 25 years has been a moose.

Not one in particular, just ANY moose. And for the record, not to spear, eat or shoot, but to merely glimpse one of these magnificent creatures in the wild.

It is an obsession that took root when I was a reporter in the Adirondacks in 1990 and participated in a search with wildlife biologists for a moose nicknamed Big Richard (more on that in a minute).

Since then I have been to Maine (three times, including to Moosehead Lake twice, most recently this summer), gone on a moose-spotting adventure tour and traveled to Vermont and New Hampshire (including to a section of roadway known as “Moose Alley”).

Do you think that in all of those trips to places heavily populated by members of the deer family that I have spotted a single one?

Nope. Every time, they have flipped me the hoof.

IMG_0185
In Moose Alley and yes, I am wearing a moose T-shirt.

My enthusiasm for moose started when I was a reporter at the Press-Republican, a newspaper based in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

I was invited by a wildlife biologist from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to tag along with a contingent of researchers who were tracking a moose to change the battery on its radio collar.

As a kid who grew up in the Bronx, my experiences with wildlife were limited to squirrels and pigeons, animals I saw at the Bronx Zoo and whatever I encountered on the subway.

IMG_2595
My collection of moose friends at home.

So when the chance arose to observe a moose in the woods, I seized it.

I felt like Marlin Perkins minus the safari jacket.

My first revelation was about the name of our quarry.

When I asked the researchers why he was called Big Richard, they gave me a look that conveyed “Are you that naive?”

And in that moment I had an Edith Bunker epiphany and went “Oooooohhhhh! OH! OH! NOW I get it!”

IMG_2594
Yes, this is a bona fide moose antler that I bought at a taxidermy shop in the Adirondacks.
FullSizeRender
Yeah, right. Didn’t see a single moose, much less crash into one.

A contingent of researchers trailed by reporters tromped through the thick woods in a tropical downpour. We were soaked, having taken on more water than the Titanic.

Nonetheless, we trudged on as radio signals indicated we were getting closer to Richard.

But at that point I had to break off from the search since my wife at the time needed to get to her graduate class in Plattsburgh, and we only had one car.

Of course, after I left, the search party spotted Richard. The researcher raised his tranquilizer rifle, aimed and fired. The shot went wide. Richard, spooked by the noise, took off.

A second search for him that I joined weeks later was equally fruitless. Alas, his remains were found about a year later, apparently having succumbed to natural causes.

Despite my absolute dismal record for finding moose, I remain fascinated by these creatures and as interested as ever in seeing one in the wild.

When the rut is on, they are quite active and can travel vast distances in search of a mate.

My no-fail plan?

Hitting the woods during the mating season, bathed in Eau de Mrs. Bullwinkle.

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Confessions of the Directionally Challenged

My wife and I have a simple rule when we travel 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 East Indies and landed in the Bahamas. 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 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 badge 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 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 because I was driving, which, in turn, would mean I would miss my turn or exit.

On more than one occasion I have called Meg and asked her to consult directions online and help me untangle the travel knot I had tied myself into.

It was not uncommon for 60-minute trips to last 90.

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 to me.

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.

Certainly without a GPS or smartphone, I’d be lost.

Come to think of it, I AM lost.

I am somewhere in Columbus, the city named after the patron saint of the directionally challenged.

Can someone tell me how to get home?

 

We Need Your Opinon: Which “Star Wars” Movie Is the Best of the Seven?

The debate is on and we need your input!

All of the members of the About Men Radio posse have now seen the latest installment in the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Force Awakens,” but there are shades of disagreement about how TFA ranks compared to the previous six installments.

As you will hear in in this episode of the podcast, Pedro and I rank TFA as No. 1 among the seven episodes.

I’ve now seen it four times and I am more in love with it with each viewing.

Rich and Silvio, while deeply impressed with the new movie, rank it as No. 3 in the pecking order of all things “Star Wars” and John merely thought it was good but not mind-blowing.

How do you rank TFA?

For hardcore fans who were around in the 70s and 80s, “The Empire Strikes Back” holds a special place in the No. 1 slot.

But recently having viewed “Empire” (as well as the rest of the preceding movies), I just don’t think they hold up as well TFA.

What do you think? Share your thoughts and reasoning on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com.

We’ll publish a roundup of opinions. Who knows? Maybe you will change some minds — but no Jedi mind tricks allowed!

collection

 

Are You Ready to Take Our “The Force Awakens” Quiz?

How hardcore a “Star Wars” fan are you?

Well, if – and only IF – you have seen the newest SW Episode VII movie, “The Force Awakens,” should you take this quiz. (There are spoilers ahead…)

Let’s see if you are a Jedi master or merely a scruffy nerf heder.

For answers, scroll all the way to the bottom.

  1. Rey is the daughter of …?
  1. Who was Max Von Syndow’s character?
  1. Why did Luke Skywalker going into hiding?
  1. Finn’s parents are…?
  1. How did Kylo Ren get Darth Vader’s mask?

 

 

 

 

ANSWERS

  1. Damned if we know!
  1. You mean the Obi-Wan-wannbe? Shrug.
  1. Unpaid landspeeder tickets?
  1. Hell, we thought YOU knew the answer!
  1. We got answer “D.” What did you get?

I guess we have to wait for Episode VIII to find out the true answers! May the Force be with you!

“The Force Awakens” Is a Source of Great Comfort

I wish I could say I was blown away by “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Instead I was — and this is going to sound odd — delighted with it.

You know that feeling you get putting on a favorite pair of broken-in jeans or when you look forward to a favorite cousin or uncle coming over a visit? Or maybe the sensation you get when you catch the scent of your mom’s cooking or baking?

That’s what my experience was like watching TFA in a Times Square theater in the wee hours of Friday morning with about 20 other fans.

It was that feeling of excitement and comfort to see the shimmering Lucasfilm logo appear and “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and to hear the familiar chords of the “Star Wars” overtures we have come to know and love.

TFA did better than blow me away the way “Mad Max: Fury Road” did.

It instead stirred deep inside me the emotions and memories of a 12-year-old boy turned middle-age man.

In many, many ways, TFA represents a passage of time and of the torch (or should I say light saber?) to a new generation of actors and fans.

Seeing Harrison Ford (73!) and Carrie Fisher (59!) with their wrinkles and hearing their throaty not-so-young voices was a reminder that I am not a kid myself anymore.

But God! There was such a great joy in seeing them!

(Having just watched “Return of the Jedi” and Fisher’s infamous slave girl bikini scene, it is hard to believe it’s the same person! Carrie’s has had a hard go of it but I’m still carrying a torch for her.)

So, yeah. I cried at some parts.

And laughed out loud at others.

And jumped in my seat at yet others.

J.J. Abrams delivered the anti-prequels. TFA is, to borrow a phrase from a one-time leading “Star Wars” character: “Impressive. Most impressive.”

Without giving anything away, I must say that Harrison Ford is flawless and I think turns in his best Han Solo performance ever. And the lead actors — largely unknowns — were enthralling. The movie’s sense of humor was a wonderful, unexpected touch.

TFA is filled throughout with nods to its predecessors (prequels excluded). For “Star Wars” cognoscenti, there are ample callbacks to the first three movies that my generation grew up with.

And that is not a criticism. Abrams did not do that as cheat or a crutch. Instead he expertly renews past known relationships and builds new ones.

“The Force Awakens” is a stirring movie-going experience that harkens to familiar themes while introducing a host of new characters.

And for this 12-year-old boy in a 51-year-old man’s body, I could not ask for anything better.

“Star Wars” Destroyed My Childhood Bed

Since it debuted not quite 40 years ago, “Star Wars” has held a special place in my childhood-stunted heart.

I can remember my mother, who was not exactly what you would call an avid fan of pop culture much less science fiction, telling me that she heard of this movie that I might like to go see.

I was 12.

I had grown up watching TV shows like “Thunderbirds,” “U.F.O.” and “Lost in Space.”

For a kid of the ‘60s and ‘70s, these shows represented the best that Hollywood had to offer in the way of production values and special effects.

So when I saw a clip of “Star Wars” on the morning news in 1977, I was gobsmacked.

The blasters! The droids! The Millennium Falcon!

My mom took me to the Loews movie theater on East 86th Street in Manhattan to see it.

I was mesmerized.

As childhood milestones go, seeing “Star Wars” for the first time ranked up there with getting a G.I. Joe Mobile Support Unit when I was 8.

In other words, this was a really, really big deal.

Overnight, I became a “Star Wars” geek.

Original movie program?

Got it.

Trading cards from both Topps AND Wonder Bread?

Yeah, got those too.

And posters?

About those posters…

I had many, many posters and I was hellbent to display all of them except that I quickly ran out of wall space on my side of the room, which I shared with my two sisters. And there was no convincing my sisters to part with some of their precious wall space.

But then inspiration struck.

My bed had a headboard. It was attached to the bed frame by two wooden uprights and the headboard itself was large, white and padded.

This headboard took up valuable real estate, aka wall space. So obviously, it had to go to make way for my “Star Wars” posters.

One night – I think my parents were out – I did what any enterprising 12-year-old would do: I got out a hand saw and cut the headboard off.

Voila! More wall space! Problem solved!

Except, of course, what I did not anticipate was that the headboard was, in fact, keeping the entire bed frame together.

Without it, the mattress rested on the equivalent of two stilts.

(I “solved” this problem by taking reams of rope and tying what remained of the two uprights together to keep the bed from rattling like a scene from “The Exorcist.”)

All of this comes to mind as “The Force Awakens” – the much-anticipated seventh installment in the “Star Wars” franchise – opens this week.

I am so stoked.

I’ve already bought my tickets in advance. I’ve got my “Star Wars” tie ready to wear and I’m looking to buy movie memorabilia and merchandise.

Pretty soon the house will be overrun with all kinds of “Star Wars” goodness.

Hmmm…

You know, the bedroom set I have now has a wooden headboard.

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A “Star Wars” Fan’s Dream Comes True!

When I read that a former colleague of mine, Germain Lussier, had interviewed Harrison Ford – among other leading lights from the new “Star Wars” movie – I could not think of a more worthy person to celebrate such a professional milestone.

Germain Lussier and Harrison Ford
Germain Lussier and Harrison Ford (Used with permission)

I knew Germain from my time as an editor at The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y. I was a news editor and he was an entertainment/features reporter.

He was quiet, diligent and dedicated. And above all, he was passionate about his craft and the beat he covered.

He pulled up stakes from his native New York to California for what he thought would be a career at a national magazine.

As you will read below, things took a different turn.

Germain graciously agreed to this Q/A for About Men Radio.

Apart from sharing in his reflective glory of rubbing elbows with Harrison friggin’ Ford (!), I wanted to tell his story because it is an excellent reminder to us all to pursue our passions with all our might.

There’s no telling the places you’ll go or the people you will meet.

Work does not have to be drudgery.

It can be a labor of love – something that Germain exemplifies here.

— Chris Mele

Tell readers a little about yourself: Where you grew up and a little
about your career path.

I grew up in Monroe, N.Y.

And from as early as I can remember, I wanted to be a movie critic. I thought getting paid to watch movies would be the best job in the world.

As I got older, I realized that there were other ways to do that too. So I went to New York University and majored in Cinema Studies, where I just studied, analyzed and wrote about film and film history.

That led me to internships with magazines such as Premiere, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly.

Eventually, I got a job as an entertainment reporter at my local newspaper, The Times Herald-Record. I worked there for six years before deciding I wanted to move away from where I grew up.

So I moved to Los Angeles and found a niche working on movie blogs.

For five years I worked on a site called Slashfilm and was able to write about movie news every single day, visit the sets of films like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” “Anchorman 2,” “Ender’s Game” and so many more.

It was a dream come true.

After a few years though, I got an offer to move to a bigger site, io9.com, and that’s where I am now.

GLussier
Germain Lussier

Tell us about your passion for films: What are its roots and what is it about movies that fascinates you?

Honestly, I don’t know where my love for film comes from.

Neither of my parents love movies that much, but somehow by the age of 8 or so I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Now though, the passion comes from so many places.

First, the ability to go into a dark theater and be transported somewhere else emotionally never ever gets old.

Also, when you write about movies you have something new and exciting to look forward to every single week.

There are always new movies. Of course some are more highly anticipated than others but there’s always something exciting on the horizon.

Tell us about your current position at io9.com: How long have you been there, your title and duties.

I moved to California in June of 2009.

I started working at Slashfilm in September of 2010 and I started at io9 in June of 2015.

On the site, I’m the primary entertainment reporter, meaning if there’s news or an assignment having to do with movies or TV, I usually get first crack at it.

On a daily basis, I’m expected to write however many news stories are necessary and develop longer feature stories, which can be about almost anything.

Tell us about what led up to securing one-on-one interviews with the leading players connected to “The Force Awakens,” including Harrison Ford: How did that come about?

Everything lead up to it. Seriously.

I’ve been a “Star Wars” freak for as long as I can remember.

It was anticipation of Episode I that led me into the depths of the Internet and familiarized me with the websites that would become my livelihood a decade later.

It was those “Star Wars” websites that gave me my first opportunities as a college student to get a glimpse of the life of a Hollywood journalist.

As a college student, I interviewed the cast of the first two “Harry Potter” movies, as well as John Travolta, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Hugh Jackman for “Swordfish.”

My college graduation was in May 2002, the day Episode II was released in theaters and on that day, I set a goal for myself to be working somewhere I’d be able to write about the next movie, Episode III.

That happened in 2005 at The Times Herald-Record.

And ever since 2012, when Disney bought Lucasfilm and Star Wars, I had been developing relationships with people at that studio and in the industry not ONLY to prime myself for this event, but it was always on my mind.

So, as we got close to the release of the movie and I was invited to cover the press junket, I requested interviews with every single actor and filmmaker available.

I expected to maybe get one or two and I knew Harrison Ford was a long shot.

But, those relationships and my unrelenting passion for the franchise got me not just one interview, but five (four on the day as one got cancelled), including Ford.

And talking to Ford was a dream come true.

As long as I’ve been a “Star Wars” fan, I’ve been a bigger Han Solo fan. I also love Indiana Jones, so he’s always been my favorite actor and kind of an idol.

Plus, I collect Han Solo stuff so Harrison Ford is never too far from my face.

So actually getting to sit down with him was kind of a culmination of everything both in my personal and professional life, stuffed into eight short minutes.

Describe the interviews themselves. You openly expressed a certain disbelief that they were happening/did happen. What were those moments like for you?

These interviews are always extremely weird.

They take place in very sterile environments (hotels, offices, etc.) and are kind of an assembly line as a star sits in a room and then a string of journalists just walk in, talk to them, and leave.

For “Star Wars,” it was even odder as we were at a massive convention center and the interview rooms were bigger than most houses.

So you’d wait outside, walk in, sit on a white couch and talk for 8-10 minutes. And even more odd, with “Star Wars,” it’s the first press junket I’ve ever done without seeing the movie.

Sometimes there are “long lead” days where a company will show you a few minutes of a movie and then you do interviews but a week away from release, you always see the movie so you have something to talk to the actors about.

With “Star Wars,” you hadn’t seen anything and they were unable to talk about anything directly related to the movie.

It made for an interesting challenge.

Thankfully, I’ve been following this film since the second it was announced — literally — and I had plenty of questions for the likes of J.J. Abrams, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie and Mr. Ford.

Things only got weird on a few occasions with Isaac and Christie when they told me they weren’t allowed to answer a few questions.

I think my disbelief at being there was just kind of the resonance of feeling that so much of my life had led to this.

I’d finally arrived.

You have posted video of how you turned over your apartment to just about every piece of “Star Wars” memorabilia you own. As such a diehard fan and as a film critic, what are your expectations and hopes for the new movie?

My hopes are for something that makes me feel the way I do when I still watch the originals.

Those are my expectations too. I just want it to be something that’s worthy of “Star Wars,” that spawns conversation and answers questions I’ve had for decades about what happens next.

I mean I was ULTRA excited for the prequels.

I saw “The Phantom Menace” nine times in the theater I was so hyped for it. But with those movies, ultimately, you knew how they had to end.

Anakin becomes Darth Vader and his kids get separated.

But now, finally, after 32 years, we finally are going to find out what happens after “Return of the Jedi.”

We don’t know how it’s going to end, who the characters are, etc.

It’s all a mystery.

And that infinite possibility just gives me goosebumps.

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Remembering the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings in Newtown

Note: Today marks the fourth anniversary of the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., which took 27 lives. 

I wrote this column when I was executive editor at the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa. It appeared in the paper on Dec. 27, 2012.

Weeks before the mass murders made Newtown, Conn., a household name, we had planned to spend Christmas Day with a friend there.

She had recently finished months of chemotherapy and radiation and we thought it a good idea to visit. Then the shootings happened and suddenly our plans to go to Connecticut took on a different meaning.

The visit became more of a mission trip: I had a calling to do something since we would be within five minutes of Sandy Hook.

My wife, son Daniel and I brought the makings of a hearty kale soup, dessert and pick-ons and spent a relaxing, affable afternoon with our friend and her cat, Joey.

I had packed a small tin of homemade cookies that I had decided I would give to whatever poor flatfoot had to work sentry duty on Christmas Day in downtown Sandy Hook.

Against the enormity of what had happened there, this would be the merest of gestures. But it felt like a tangible offering that might say something to a stranger for a moment.

After we left our friend’s, we stopped at a makeshift shrine/memorial housed in a large white tent off I-84’s Exit 10.

Just across from the Newtown Diner, the memorial was unmistakably marked by a huge American flag hanging from a bucket truck.

Meg opted to stay in the car with Dan.

I went in. I was tentative.

A friendly young man wearing an ID tag around his neck assured me it was OK to go in, that it was a place to meditate, to pray or just observe.

Inside, piled high were collections of flowers and stuffed animals. Large white posters were available to sign. A wave of grief struck me with such ferocity, it literally left me breathless.

I signed a card and scanned the displays, my eyes looking but not really seeing.

We then drove into downtown Sandy Hook. There were few Christmas lights in Newtown, but only a mile down the road, we came on an oasis of light.

Candles, notes, stuffed animals, cards and flowers over-filled the width and length of sidewalks of Sandy Hook’s downtown.

I had not seen anything like it or felt anything as powerful since a visit to Ground Zero on Sept. 25, 2001.

Live Christmas music filled the quiet street. A young man, oblivious to the cold, played a piano perched outside a storefront.

It was a scene both surreal and comforting.

And there they were: Two cops bundled against the cold wearing reflective vests, keeping an eye on traffic and visitors.

Overwhelmed, Meg opted again to stay in the car. To my admiration, my 14-year-old son flanked me, carrying the tin of cookies, as we approached the cops.

I tried to talk but, overcome by emotion, my voice cracked like a boy going through puberty.

They at first demurred when we offered the cookies, but when we said we had come from Pennsylvania, one of their faces lit up.

Where in Pennsylvania, one asked. The Poconos. Oh, he said, beautiful country. I ran a marathon there this summer and golfed there.

They graciously accepted our humble offerings, his partner taking the tin to a nearby patrol car.

Taking off his glove, the Pocono marathoner offered a warm handshake and wished us a Merry Christmas.

Maybe those cops were not exactly the shepherds tending their flock, and we were not exactly the three kings bringing gifts, but in the overwhelming darkness that had befallen us all, Sandy Hook on Christmas night offered me a glimmer of light and the promise of hope.

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A-Hunting I Will Go…

I am invisible.

You cannot see me.

You cannot smell me.

And, apart from my growling stomach, you cannot hear me.

I am dressed in camouflage, covered in scent-killing spray, perched about 17 feet off the ground in a tree stand near the Delaware State Forest in the Poconos woods of Pennsylvania.

It’s late October and my guide to all things deer hunting is Mike Kuhns, sports editor for the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa., and a lifelong sportsman.

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I am an urban urchin who grew up in New York City. My outdoors experiences were limited to visits to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, a few overnight campouts with the Boy Scouts and one memorable camping trip 30 years ago with my About Men Radio crewmates.

I am a mere Padawan to Mike, a Master Jedi of the outdoors.

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On this day, Mike is hunting deer with a compound bow. Me? I am armed with a smartphone and a recorder.

This time of year is the beginning of the “chase” season. It’s the prequel to the full-on, raging-hormone-fueled rut in which male deer will range for miles seeking a one-night stand.

Before we set out, Mike inventories various noise-making devices, including a bundle of sticks in a bag that he rubs between his palms. The noise, which mimics the sound of two bucks banging antlers for territory, is designed to arouse their curiosity and draw them closer.

As Mike outfits me in a camo jacket, he explains that he washes his hunting gear in special fragrant-free detergent. He sprays us, including the bottom of our boots, with a scent-killing spray.

“The key to deer hunting is beating their nose,” he says.

The sounds of our feet kicking through fallen leaves and the sight of our breath, illuminated by our headlamps, are the only things disturbing the predawn stillness of the forest.

We stop and Mike takes out a long cord called a drag rope. At its end are thick strands that he dips into a small bottle of pungent deer estrus.

I drag the rope behind me to mask our scent and leave an inviting, c’mere-big-boy smell for bucks. The aroma of doe pheromone faintly clings to my clothes.

I learn a lot about deer habits from Mike. It’s all very “Wildlife: CSI.”

He points to telltale signs of deer activity that I walked right past: a clearing where bucks scraped away leaves and dirt and urinated to mark their territory or where one rubbed his antlers against a tree, stripping away some of the bark.

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We’re in our perches by 6:22 a.m., a solid hour before sunrise. Although we are above the sight and scent lines of the deer, “it doesn’t mean you can sing and dance up there,” Mike says.

So I try to remain as still as possible. Hunting is not for the fidgety.

I hear the thrum of traffic from nearby Route 402. I also swear that several times I hear the heavy movement of leaves, as if something was approaching, but nothing ever appears in my line of sight.

Mike tells me later that with the way sound travels in the stillness of the woods, a deer or bear a distance away could have been passing through and it would have sounded like it was over my shoulder.

After about three hours of sighting nothing but chipmunks and squirrels, we head back.

But Mike is brimming with enthusiasm about the morning’s outing.

Hunting is not always about the kill, he says. (What he does successfully hunt goes to the butcher. Some he keeps and some he donates to Hunters Sharing the Harvest.)

Hunting is about being out in nature, he says. It’s about the chance to hear owls talking to one another, or seeing a bear or watching a fawn get milk from its mother.

Indeed, the experience is extraordinary.

The stars fade to pinpricks of light as the black sky gives way to a bluish hue and the outlines of the trees become more pronounced.

As I take it all in, I have a deeper appreciation for the grandeur of nature and the wonders of the universe.

Yes, I am invisible as I sit in the tree stand. But watching the changing sky, I am also infinitesimal.

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

It was nine years ago today that my fiancée Carla died.

The weeks immediately after her death were a blend of profound sorrow and emptiness.

Carla, who led a colorful and sometimes pain-filled life, used to joke: “Growth experiences are a bitch.”

Yeah, that about described it.

Looking back on those early months after her death opens a window unto my state of mind and how I was coping. Below is an excerpt from an email I wrote a little less than four months after she died.

I think of it as a meditation on a man in mourning.

March 18, 2007

Mom and Dad came up to help me go through Carla’s footwear (Imelda Marcos was such a rank amateur), coats, jackets, pants, sweaters, tops and her bling.

Mom also ably went through what we used to refer to as the “foofoo bathroom,” the one upstairs that I ceded to Carla and that she promptly turned into a “girlie” bathroom with all the perfumes, sprays, lotions and other female-y stuff to match.

Mom was able to fill something like nine black garbage bags with clothes and shoes to donate to charity. Wow, did Carla have good taste – albeit a bit weird at times — in clothes and accessories. Of course, that would match her taste in men! LOL

I came back to the house today after dropping Mom and Dad off at my sister’s and went into the foofoo bathroom. Sure, it’s the same but it is something less now.

Carla’s crazy, chaotic style of stocking the shelves has been replaced with organized groupings of stuff that’s worth keeping.

Her dresser, once a hodge-podge of décor is now a bunch of jewelry boxes, stacked.

And the closet? Devoid of her nutty, weirdly stylish array of clothes.

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The sense of loss came back as if you were at the beach and had your back turned to the ocean and a wave crashes over you and knocks you down. You suddenly are below water, and then break through, cursing and wondering what the hell just happened.

And then it came back again: How dare she leave me and the boys? Who the hell did she think she was, not taking care of herself like that? Why didn’t she get to the doctor sooner?

So much for forward momentum.

And then came this: Come home from grocery shopping with the boys. Stowing the food and came across an open bag of her beloved Sun Chips. And with audible apologies to her, I took it and tossed it in the trash.

But then came time for Mike to help me put away cans of my soda.

And there they were: Two 12 packs of her goddamned Pepsi, squirreled away in a narrow little cabinet by the stove. The Pepsi that I was in charge of stocking in the fridge, the Pepsi that she would start the day off with a “pffffft” as she pulled back the can’s tab, the Pepsis she carried EVERY-friggin’-WHERE with her – doctor’s offices, fairs, shopping, you name it.

And so Mike asked such a simple, but profound question at that moment: What are we going to do with the Pepsi?

Damned Mike if I know.

Much in the same way I still have the cooler that was packed with her Pepsi on Nov. 6 – the day we headed to the doc’s and then the hospital – still sitting in the truck, untouched, unopened.

So, yeah, where do you put the Pepsi and the pain?

The answer I think lies in not mourning Carla’s death but continuing to celebrate her life.

She had no use for the pity pot and would probably kick my ass from here to next Tuesday if she thought I was wallowing in self-pity.

Doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, but there it is.

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No One Gets Out of Here Alive

The older you get, the closer your mortality appears to be gaining on you in your rear-view mirror.

Once you cross the threshold of 50, you’ve lived enough of life to have experienced some losses personally, seen others who have suffered them or just simply are more aware that no one gets out of here alive.

I recall as a kid my dad watching old movies, and when certain actors and actresses would appear on screen, he would run through a check list aloud:

“Oh, he’s dead.” “Yeah, she’s dead.” “Oh, wow, he’s gone, too.”

(As an aside, for those concerned about the actor Abe Vigoda, who has been prematurely declared dead, there’s a website dedicated to keeping tabs on his breathing: http://www.abevigoda.com/)

Hollywood stars aside, I’ve mulled over the question of how long I want to live in a previous blog post.

And in a recent conversation, my mom lamented aging as being a pointless process of biding your time. There again, my folks live in a retirement community that they not-so-euphemistically call “God’s Waiting Room.”

In this latest podcast of About Men Radio, Pedro and I explore the question of death, dying, facing our mortality and what, as grown-ups, we should do about preparing for it in terms of wills, medical directives and other cheery stuff like that.

Don’t shuffle off this mortal coil without giving it a listen.

I Worship at the Church of Dunkin’ Donuts

Having spent a week in May in the San Francisco Bay area, I have these observations to report:

* The weather is consistently cool and comfortable.
* The locals are unfailingly polite and helpful.
* Colorful flowers grow easily and in abundance.
* The restaurants are diverse and the food is fresh and flavorful.
* It has accessible, far-reaching mass transit.

There is not a Dunkin’ Donuts in sight.

I’ve never visited a place so inhospitable.

For me, DD is the purveyor of chalices of liquid gold.

Even my wife knows to refer to the familiar pink-and-orange logo as “the holy of holies.”

Indeed, coffee for me is not merely a hot, caffeinated beverage, it is a religion.

I worship at the Church of DD where the first commandment is “Thou shalt have no other coffee before DD; thou shall not brew for yourself any false coffee.”

My wife is dedicated to drinking Starbucks, which I find pretentious and foo-foo. (The coffee, not her.)

She even goes as far as to ascribe certain qualities to Starbucks patrons.

On a recent afternoon, for instance, she was driving and was waiting to make a turn when a considerate motorist yielded so that she could turn.

“Oh,” my wife said. “You are such a nice person. You must be going to Starbucks.”

Sure enough, that is exactly where this driver was headed.

I love my wife but we have a real divergence of opinions when it comes to DD vs. Starbucks.

For me, I do not want any artisanal, free-range coffee beans collected by white-gloved hipsters wearing skinny jeans who put the beans into a satin-line burlap bag and then grind them by hand.

I also do not want my coffee orders to sound like some form of pig Latin: “I’ll have a veni, vidi, vici grande soy latte with a half gainer and a twist.”

Yes, I do in fact own — and proudly wear — a T-shirt that reads “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks.”

DD shirt

I tend to be pretty proletariat about coffee.

It is a commodity for the masses and rightly ought to be treated and marketed as such.

Coffee is too important to the public well-being to be treated as some upscale elixir that only coffee cognisanti can order.

Recent news coverage affirming once and for all that coffee is not harmful to your health and can actually be beneficial was cause for rejoicing.

So for the sake of your health, and to demonstrate you have good taste, raise a cup of DD coffee to your lips.

If you really must drink Starbucks, treat it as you would a wine tasting: Sip. Swish. Spit.

And then keep on spitting until you’ve reached a Dunkin’ Donuts.

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I Crack Myself Up

I remember the date well because I still have the hospital discharge paperwork.

My first wife and I were living in Saranac Lake in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. She was a teacher and we became good friends with her school principal and his girlfriend (later to be wife).

Christine was an artist who lived in a small upstairs apartment on the village’s Main Street. She had a pair of saw horses and resting atop them was a large rectangular piece of glass that had come from a New York City bus shelter.

(How she came into possession of New York City Transit Authority property, I am still not sure.)

The glass on the saw horses served as a flat space for Christine, who would paint and draw. She was moving in with Dan and he asked if I could help carry the glass to a van.

Sure, I said. What could possibly go wrong?

It was summer, and even though we were in the mountains, it was sweltering hot. I sized up the glass and swallowed hard but was confident we could do the job.

Leading to Christine’s walk-up was a very narrow, serpentine staircase.

Dan and I grunted and carefully maneuvered the big pane (that should more appropriately read “big pain”) down the stairs, sweating bullets the whole time.

We got out the downstairs doorway — home free! — and made our way to the van. Dan was closer to the van’s rear doors.

Nearly done!

First I heard the noise. It sounded something less than a gunshot but more than a firecracker.

And then my eyes fixed on what caused it: thousands of bits of glass, like flecks of Styrofoam, blanketed the van, the street and the sidewalk.

Somehow we must’ve just tapped the edge of the glass against the van with the right amount of harmonic convergence to cause it to explode.

The noise and the mess were so great that people literally stopped in their tracks.

My forearms were pockmarked with blood as tiny glass meteorites shot into my flesh. But Christine’s arm was a full rivulet of blood as the glass had cut her more deeply.

Dan, who incredibly escaped largely unscathed, took one look at us and whisked us to his car and headed pedal-to-the-metal to the hospital ER.

My problem was not that I was bleeding out but was almost PASSING out from the sight of my own blood.

My face looked like it had been bleached.

Yes, truly.

In the end, the doctor elevated my feet, got me some Band-Aids for my boo-boos and gauzed up Christine like the second coming of the Mummy.

This all came to mind recently when my wife and I had to take a large broken mirror to our garbage center and the attendant there saw what I was doing and said to me: “Don’t cut yourself.”

Don’t worry, pal.

Been there, done that and have the mental scars to prove it!

cracked mirror

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