RICKSTER IS THE COLUMNIST FOR THE WEEKLY PUBLICATION, "THE SOMERS RECORD"

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Friday, February 23, 2018

WHEN IT RAINS IT POURS

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (11-09-17)

     Remember when it used to rain "cats and dogs," and you might step into a poodle? Well, those days are over. It never just rains anymore. Instead we have "weather events," which make them sound like something fun that you could show up to with a folding chair, a pair of binoculars and some potato chips. I don't know whether this is due to climate change or the rampant hyperbole of our times, but you can't leave your house anymore during a rainstorm, because torrential downpours, gusting winds and severe conditions are out to get you. If you do chance it, don't stand next to anything that looks remotely unstable, and that includes Charlie Sheen.
     We had a rainstorm last Monday, and it blew down trees, utility poles and knocked out power all around Somers and elsewhere. Don't just stand around and wait for things to blow over, because the thing that blows over might be YOU. The next day if you turn on your TV you'll see pictures of oak trees that fell through peoples' attics and cars sitting in the middle of flooding in the street. The good news is that you won't see any of that if a tree fell on your TV.
     And then there is lightning. The odds of you being struck by lightning in your lifetime are approximately one in 3,000, but if you ARE struck the odds just went up dramatically. People are always saying that whatever dumb thing they're trying to get you to do has less of a chance of hurting you than being hit by lightning. And after you've signed that disclaimer and the bungee cord snaps over the ravine and you go plunging toward the raging river, you have the comfort of knowing that at least you weren't hit by lightning.
     Lightning is a little like nature's short circuit. Negatively charged particles that form by movement and cooling within clouds are attracted to positively charged objects on Earth, and a release of electrostatic energy occurs in the form of lightning. You may be charged yourself, but you can just put it on PayPal like I did.
     There are some facts and fallacies about lightning. Wearing rubber shoes will not protect you from lightning, nor will they protect you from being looked down upon by people with more stylish footwear. People talking on landline telephone are the most likely to get hit by an indoor lightning strike. If you have caller ID make sure the call isn't coming from a rain cloud.
     People performing outdoor chores such as mowing the lawn are also at greater risk. That's why if you hear thunder within 30 seconds of seeing lightning you should head indoors. For the sake of safety I stop mowing the lawn just before I start in case I can't hear the thunder. Those involved with organized sports should be prepared to take cover sooner in the event of an electrical storm. Those involved with disorganized sports should be prepared for just about anything.
     All of this is making it hard for romance to blossom during inclement weather, as it once did. Remember that song "Laughter in the Rain" by Neil Sedaka? Neither do I because I'm way too young, of course. But if he wrote it today he would be singing the popular refrain, "Ooh, I hear laughter in the weather event, walking hand in hand during a wind advisory." Do you know how many words rhyme with "wind advisory?" Enough for Neil Sedaka to have a flourishing career at Home Depot.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE?

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (11-02-17)

     I get that question every Halloween because I refuse to go the lazy route and just buy a costume from the store. So I make my own, and the vision I have in my head does not necessarily translate to reality. "What are you supposed to be?" To that I answer, a little more well-adjusted, better at math and probably too old for this kind of thing.

     This year I went as "Hurricane Maria." I already had a dress for the occasion from past costumes, although it did seem a little fuller in the bosom this year, make of that what you will. I accessorized with some fiberfill "clouds," and I used a battery-operated fan and a plant sprayer to simulate actual hurricane conditions as a maelstrom of detritus and debris rotated above me. As weather systems go, if a qualified meteorologist had evaluated me I would have been downgraded from a "category 5" to a category somewhere near "personality disorder."

     The costume party was at a really nice house on the Island, all decked out for the occasion with cobwebs and spiders all over the place. I realize now that my garage celebrates Halloween all year round. My wife told me there was a huge spider in the basement, and that I had to deal with it. Don't kill the spiders, I said, they eat all the bugs. She insists that a spider IS a bug, only bigger and stronger from eating a bunch of bugs. How big could this thing really be? I went down there with a Kleenex to flush it down the toilet. Turns out this spider was GINORMOUS, and it looked like a tarantula with hairy legs and everything. Might need some heavier artillery, perhaps an anti-tank gun or something. All I had was a newspaper, and it wasn't even the Sunday section. I was sheltering in place behind the pool table until I could figure out what to do, and I ended up pleading with it to spare our lives and leave us in peace, or at least shave its legs now and then.

     Anyway, the party was fun, they had a band, a food table and an open bar. I like seeing people exercise their imaginations, especially people with fat and out of shape imaginations that haven't seen any exercise in a while. There were pirates, priests, witches, superheroes, monsters and ogres, all acting as if everything was perfectly normal. It was like a joint session of Congress. There were people dancing with the devil, cats were cavorting with mice, Freddie was chatting with Jason.

     As I looked behind me I noticed that I was hemorrhaging little pieces of fluffy fiberfill all over this guy's house. Incidents like this are precisely the reason I don't store any data on the cloud. I had a ping pong ball shaped like an eyeball that I got off the internet sitting at the top of my costume, but it almost dropped into the baked ziti. On the floor were feathers, body parts, colored hair and bits of clothing. As the evening wore on it started to look less like a party and more like a crime scene. I was starting to get some blowback because of the plant sprayer. I thought it might be time for this hurricane to make landfall at home before the cops roped the place off with yellow tape.

     I realize Halloween is just an excuse for adults to be something or someone else for a day. Maybe you've always wanted to be an astronaut. Perhaps you've always wanted a tail. Does this Grim Reaper sickle make me look fat? Yes, last Saturday I wore a lovely gown, but I wouldn't read too much into it. It's not like I had a Louis Vuitton bag to go with it or anything. That being said, Christmas is coming up and I wear a size 16 dress, just mentioning it.

Friday, February 9, 2018

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S A FRYER

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (10-26-17)

     We stopped by the Somers Fire Department Annual Open House last Saturday to check in with our local fire-fighting professionals who keep us safe day after day, and sometimes at night. After making sure I didn't park in front of a hydrant or anything, we got out of the car and immediately noticed some smoke coming from the rear of the firehouse. My wife asked one of the fire-fighters if he knew there was a fire in the back of the building. "Yes, we started it!" He exclaimed as he rushed by toward the smoke.

     He didn't seem at all embarrassed, and I told my wife that it was probably a brush fire started by a hairbrush placed too close to a hairdryer or something. Bravely, I continued on into the firehouse to check in with Jody, the Somers Fire Chief. He informed me that one of the things they do during Open House is a controlled burn in a specially constructed house designed to demonstrate how fires start, where they start and how quickly they spread.

     Chief Jody is also the Fire Inspector. He told me that you should have a smoke detector within 10 feet of all sleeping areas. I'm pretty sure that includes the conference room at work where I get most of my REM sleep. He went on to say that soon smoke alarms will have a lithium-ion battery in them that lasts 10 years. When the battery is about to die, it beeps and you just throw it out and get a new one. If it contains the same lithium-ion battery that bursts into flames in hover-boards and e-cigarettes, it will certainly cut out the middle-man, but I'm sure they'll get that straightened out.

     At Open House they touch on other fire safety subjects, too. For instance, you should have your chimney cleaned regularly by a qualified professional. We had ours cleaned a while back, and I was expecting a British bloke with a top hat who could sing and dance. Instead this really tiny guy appeared, who looked like he might have been nesting there all along. In case he wanted to break into a couple numbers, I started him off with a little "Chim Chim Cher-ee," but he just asked where the bathroom was in a language I couldn't understand, possibly English.

     Did I ever tell you about the time I burnt down our kitchen? I was living at home with my parents after college, and I was cooking some frozen French fries on the stove. Now, I don't know how they do things over there in France, but my technique was to let the oil pre-heat for a while, say, approximately until just before the house burns down. Luckily, something told me to drop what I was doing and check back in on the pre-heating process, which had progressed all the way to the conflagration stage. That something was my Dad, yelling at me to call the fire department and get the extinguishers.

     Chief Jody told me that's about the dumbest thing you can do, trying to fight anything more than a little flare-up with a fire extinguisher. Just get out, he said, get your loved ones out, and let the fire-fighters do their job. I can think of something even dumber, which is a specialty of mine: fighting fire with fire. Whose bright idea was that? Thank god the fire extinguisher manufacturers didn't buy into that idea.

     The most important safety feature that there is is common sense. There is a goofy scene in the movie "Gravity" where George Clooney propels himself through space using a fire extinguisher. It's just the sort of thing Clooney would do. Thank god that when I was busy not using common sense and leaving something unattended on a heated stove, that George Clooney hadn't made off with our fire extinguishers to go gallivanting around in the solar system.

Friday, February 2, 2018

SHOW ME A SIGN

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (10-19-17)

     My sister Kathy is taking an advanced class in American Sign Language. She has no plans to become an interpreter, so I assume she is doing it so that she can talk behind peoples' backs without asking them to turn around. She says that for now she is better at talking in the language than she is at listening, but it seems like most people have that problem right now, hearing impaired or not.

     People have been communicating without words since the dawn of man, and ASL dates back to the 1800s. It uses an alphabet composed of hand symbols and motions, as well as movements called "classifiers," which in some cases are similar to pantomimes. The signs usually use only the hands, but other parts of the body may also come into play. And to make things more confusing, sign language can differ in other countries just as much as written language.

     I'm familiar with the usual hand gestures, like "check please!" where you sign a little imaginary restaurant bill with a little imaginary pen, or "A-OK!" where you make a little circle with your first two fingers and hold the rest up like a rooster's comb, or the sexist comment, "dangerous curves," where you wave two arcs in the air with both hands, three if she also has a thorax. And, of course, the one-finger-in-the-air signal I got the other day when I ACCIDENTALLY cut someone off in traffic, which I assume means, "I was here first."

     We're all getting older here, and I wish my senses would come to their senses. My eyes are temperamental, and after fifty years of playing in rock bands, I have to admit my ears are not what they used to be, and maybe they never were. My wife thinks I need a seeing-eye dog and a hearing-ear dog. I wish that I could have my entire life closed-captioned so that I would know what's going on. I mistook the words "dress pants" for " trespass" once and it got me into a lot of trouble. I don't know if there will be a hearing regarding the incident but I haven't heard anything.

     People use sign language all the time without even thinking about it. I was watching the Supremes on an old Ed Sullivan Show with the sound muted, and I could ascertain that I should stop in the name of love before I broke their hearts without even hearing the music. Then I noticed that Diana Ross made the sign for "pass interference" and then "illegal use of hands," so just be aware that the Supremes may be difficult to please.

     Politicians usually have interpreters for the deaf at press conferences now, and it's hard to concentrate on what the speaker is saying with all the dramatics that go on in the corner of the television screen. Some of these people look like they are trying out for a part in Swan Lake, a part somewhere near the deep end of the lake where it's hard to swim.

     Like everything else these days there is a lot of fine-tuning that comes with a better understanding of the subject. Some who were born without hearing prefer the term "deaf" to "hearing-impaired," which might be more accurate for people who experienced hearing loss later in life. Some identify with a "Deaf Culture" unique to their set of challenges and beliefs, while others prefer to assimilate fully into a mainstream culture and let adaptation on both sides happen organically.

     So let me just sum things up by saying that I probably didn't hear what you just said. That being possibly said, actions speak louder than words, so when all is said and done, no one will hear you if you didn't do anything.

Friday, January 26, 2018

FOOTBALL IS IN THE AIR

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (10-12-17)

     One thing I like about living in the Northeast is the change of seasons. You have baseball season, basketball season, tennis season and, if things get a little too quiet around the house, football season. I've already had "The Talk" with all the pets: Sunday afternoons are going to get a little difficult for the next 16 weeks, and if there is a lot of yelling and a wee bit of violence, it is not necessarily directed towards you.

     Things have changed since I first became a football fan. There is currently a lot more concern for the physical well-being of the players than there used to be. This is possibly directly proportional to how much money a team has invested in them. In the old days, after a violent tackle a player was shown down on the ground with a pulse that you could barely waltz to, and the announcer would say that he was "shaken up," as if he was a frozen margarita. It didn't matter if the guy was dropping body parts like a '57 Chevy, they always said he was "shaken up."

     Now there are concussion protocols, a series of medical tests the player must pass before being allowed to continue in the event of a blow to the head. In the '70s sometimes a player got hit hard, and his helmet went flying ten yards down the field. If his head was still in it, he was taken off the field in an embarrassing golf cart shaped like a football helmet. If not, he was asked what two plus two was. If he didn't know, it was assumed that everything was normal and he was pointed back in the general direction of the huddle.

     Another thing I never thought I'd see was a football game airing on Amazon. I remember the days when your cable might be on the fritz and you could go down to the appliance store and catch the game on 20 television sets. You could watch someone intercept a Giants pass 20 times, 40 if they showed a replay. This year on Amazon I saw the Packers beat the Bears 35 to 7. The game was so bad that afterward I immediately upgraded to Amazon Prime, hoping for something better next week.

     A phenomenon called fantasy football has people rooting for teams they would never care about if money were not involved. They pore over stats, records and probably court documents to prepare their line-ups. As far as I'm concerned there is enough misery on my own team to last me for an entire week. And I may be a fantasy purist, but if I'm going to assemble a fantasy line-up I doubt that any football players will be on it.

     Something else I'm not used to is watching American football being played in other countries. I'm going to have to learn a whole new lexicon of curse words in foreign languages, which may actually come in handy on the subway. There was a game this year played in London, for example, and I couldn't understand a word anyone was saying.

     In other ways not much has changed. Last week the Chiefs defeated the Redskins, same as they did in 1467. Also, I still throw the same things at the TV as I watch the Giants game. I start with any food in the area, dinner rolls are optimal, and when I run out of those I might lob a rolled up newspaper or a Kleenex box.
     And my dog still has to dodge out of the way. I believe that dogs are smarter than we think they are, and when my dog sees me throwing my slippers as hard as I can at the TV I know what he's thinking: "Humans are definitely not as smart as they think they are. Do they REALLY believe that you can run on first down EVERY SINGLE TIME with NO blocking?"

Friday, January 19, 2018

PRINCE ALBERT IN A CAN

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (10-05-17)

     Last Saturday something weird happened at my house: the doorbell rang. We have a very polite doorbell that doesn't like to intrude. When depressed, it whispers, "Excuse me, I hate to make a fuss, but ding-dong, if you don't mind me saying so." My wife and I looked at each other as if to say, "Did you hear something?" and "Not really." Then we both looked at the dog, who only responds to doorbells that are rung on television, and her look said, "Me neither, but I think your doorbell is
depressed." So I didn't think anything of it, which is my usual thought pattern.

     But our doorbell rings so seldom at our house that it got my attention, even though I didn't hear it. This occurred in the evening, so I knew it was not the Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm not religious in any way, except on days that I could possibly finagle a day off from work because of a religious holiday. And if I see a Jehovah's Witness by the front door I hide under the couch, unless I am subpoenaed.

     But I thought I should take a look outside to make sure that I wasn't not hearing things. I took my dog with me, just in case. She is an attack dog, if you are a burglar that happens to be shaped like a rasher of bacon. She has the menacing features of a hand muff with a pointy nose and a tail. She has a strong motto, like the Marines. Her motto is, "if you can't lick 'em, then what good are they?" But we did a quick patrol of our property out of an over-abundance of caution, and an under-abundance of common sense. We quickly established a perimeter and my dog licked me, unwittingly providing me with a DNA sample. I thought I heard something in the bushes, but it turned out to be a squirrel. I reported back to my wife that we had a possible squirrel who possibly rang our doorbell type-of-situation.

     Some minutes later we left to go out to dinner, and down our street at the lights of the car a group of pre-teens scattered like leaves. I realized that they were either very short census takers or kids on a doorbell-ringing campaign. I got out of the car and yelled after them to keep running because we had called the cops.

     In reality, although I am not in favor of people coming to our home and causing undue stress to our alarm system, I was secretly impressed that these kids would actually leave their house and DO something, instead of just hanging around playing video games by themselves. There has been so much change in the world that it was oddly comforting to know that after all these years, kids could still go around ringing doorbells and get the same charge out of it as they did in the 1950s.

     Maybe somebody will call me on the phone and say, "Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Well, you'd better let him out!" Maybe they'll call and say, "Is your refrigerator running? Well, you'd better go catch it!" Maybe they'll call and ask if I am Amada Hugenkiss.

     Everyone who has had a childhood has known mischief. In my case we were on a first name basis. I certainly admit to my share of tomfoolery, shenanigans and monkeyshines, but I am proud to say that I never engaged in any hijinks, or worse, nutty hijinks. I spent some time in the principal's office at school, which I must say had much more comfortable furniture. I remember thinking that if anything, the principal should get detention, since he spent even more time in the principal's office than I did.

     So kids, if you're out there, we don't have Prince Albert in a can, our refrigerator is running, and I am NOT Amanda Huggenkiss, unless you take me to dinner first. And don't ring our doorbell, especially if you are shaped like a rasher of bacon.

Friday, January 12, 2018

FINAL TOUR OF THE GOLDEN SHORE

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (09-28-17)

     We spent last weekend in the Hamptons with our friends Laurie and Mark. It was our last hurrah for the summer before we fold up our folding chairs for good. The weather was so nice I actually said "hurrah" several times, and when I said it the last time I knew summer was over.

     I always come back from the Hamptons reeking of suntan lotion and over-privilege. I feel a little guilty that I'm having such a nice time while there are so many bad things going on in the world, and I make a mental note to look into adopting some children from a country whose name I can't pronounce, like Angelina Jolie. Then I consider the child's feelings, and I realize it's a bad idea. But I think me and Angie (I call her Angie) would make great parents together. We hand the kid some brochures to pick out a private school to go to, while we argue about who's hair is better (she's entitled to her opinion). Gotta go now, we're on our way to walk the red carpet for yet ANOTHER award for our mantelpiece: Columnist of the Year!

     On our way to the beach I'm checking out the homes along the way, which are so large that my entire house could fit into the wine cellar. That might be a slight exaggeration, but if not it would save us a trip to the liquor store. Everyone has a rich neighbor it seems, although no one will admit to being rich themselves. I can only clearly identify those who are NOT rich, though I have a few things percolating over in Nigeria that I'm hopeful about.\

     I keep my eyes out for celebrities, who stand out like a sore thumb wearing sunglasses and a really ugly hat. WOW is that hedge fund manager Phil Falcone??? Everyone has a hedge out here so he must be literally raking it in, with an actual rake. False alarm, it wasn't him, it was only one of the Baldwin brothers.

     We get out to the beach and the water was so choppy because there was a hurricane out there somewhere. Even though it was sunny and didn't look like anything was going on, there was a tragedy at the beach. So this seems like a good time to remind people that if you do get sucked away from the beach by an undertow, don't try to fight your way back in. Just keep swimming parallel to the shore until you are out of the current. I went over it with my wife just in case, and she said, "You know what's parallel to the shore during a hurricane? Route 27."

     This time of year the temperature drops about ten degrees each time the sun goes behind a cloud, so you have to keep a sweatshirt handy. But I have a solid and loyal base tan, and I don't want to do anything that won't appeal to my base. I ventured into the water on the bay side, and it's bad form to make a fuss about how cold the water is. "Wow it's SO refreshing!" I exult. "You've been in there a long time!" They reply. Yes, I'm actually looking for one of my fingers which froze and broke off.

     There was a guy with a metal detector at the beach, but this time the guy was actually in the water dredging around, which I never saw before. I wonder what kind of riches he was after in there- who knows, maybe the goldfish in Westhampton really are made of gold. If he's looking for a silverfish I saw one in my garage. I told him if he finds my finger to let me know, because I'm planning to give it to the next guy who cuts me off on the LIE on the way home.