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

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Friday, April 13, 2018

I SHALL RETURN

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (12-28-17)

     Every year we go through this same charade: Four days before Christmas, me and a bunch of other guys, say about 160 million of us, walk around the malls in America with an empty shopping cart and a vacuous look on our face.We stare straight ahead, walking stiffly around the store, narrowly missing each other in an oddly-choreographed zombie-like daze. During that time, we visit the Auto Parts section, the Home Improvement department and the Candy aisle looking for possible gifts for our wives or girlfriends. This goes EXTREMELY well. At the end of the hour we have accumulated a bunch of stuff. No, we didn't find anything for the wife or girlfriend, but we picked up a really cool five-in-one folding screwdriver and an awesome tactical flashlight that makes me want to upgrade my tactics.

     How did this go so wrong? I started out in the Women's lingerie section, where I encountered articles of clothing that are supposed to cover parts of a woman that I didn't even know existed. No wonder Victoria kept them a secret. Panty-hose in the color "nude?" Why don't you simply just not wear them? Aren't bra sizes the same as battery sizes? You have your triple-A batteries, those really tiny ones, and you have your D cells, etc. I found myself checking my tactical flashlight to make sure I had the right bra size. Would it be out of line to ask the salesgirl to try these things on- she's about my wife's size. Is this real leopard skin? Somewhere there is a leopard with no underwear on. As I'm touching this garment with the newfound concern of an animal activist, women around me are appraising me for my criminal history.

     I shuffled off sideways to the jewelry department, and things didn't go much better there. What is my wife's birthstone? Isn't it tin? Or is that for an anniversary? Everything is so damn expensive. Maybe I should try a cubic zirconium, but who wants a ring in that shape? And is zirconium a real thing? I don't remember it from school as being in the Table of the Elements, but I checked it only Periodically.

     The day after Christmas the world starts spinning backwards, as its inhabitants strive to undo most of what has been done in the previous few weeks. As I stand ruefully on the returns line at Customer Service I feel that my television should also be with me sharing the misery. Every thirty seconds it promised me those five words: "Makes a great Christmas gift!" Turns out the WeatherTech car floor mat didn't make a great Christmas gift, it only underscored how much dirt and mud a man can track into a woman's car.

     Raise your hand if you bought the Chia Pet. Hey, she is always raving about how much she loves a good salad, and I found out that chia is edible and maybe she can put the Chia Pet clippings in there if I give it a haircut. Last year they had an Obama Chia Pet, but this year, no Trump. I guess the instructions would be too abstruse- you would have to turn the Chia Trump every day in different directions in order to get the plants to grow toward the sun in the shape of the weirdest comb-over in the history of the planet.

     Did you get her a Clapper? If by some  remote chance she applauded that gift I would be plunged into darkness. On the television channel that my wife is watching in the other room a commercial shows a brand new Lexus in the driveway with a big bow on it, the whole family jumping up and down beside it.

     She said she was happy with all her gifts, and I hope she is not just being nice. So ladies, if you're out there, we tried. We really do love you, but don't underestimate the fun you can have with a good tactical flashlight.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A MANHATTAN HOME COMPANION

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (12-21-17)

     We went to see "A Prairie Home Companion" at the Town Hall in Manhattan last Saturday, as we do every year around Christmastime. It's a great excuse to get into the city, have a look at the Rockefeller Center tree and soak in some holiday cheer. I find it surprising that New York City has a "Town Hall." It makes me want to look around and see if there is a general store somewhere. There's no Main Street in Manhattan so I don't even know where I would look. Next to the livery stable, I guess.

     Garrison Kiellor retired from the show a couple years back, before any "groping" allegations started surfacing. It seems like the surface is lower than it used to be, because more and more stories of inappropriate behavior are coming out every day. I know that this is neither the time nor place to explore this serious subject, so I'll wait about 20 minutes and meet you in the dining room.

     Okay, I'm back. Now, I'm not a woman, so I only have half a perspective on this issue. I know that there are deranged people out there doing depraved things, and those are for law enforcement to sort out, celebrity-related or not. Aside from that, somewhere between casting entire lives and careers aside for momentary lapses of judgment, and brave women exposing rampant and systemic abuses of power, lies a range of interactions that require a reckoning between men and women. Some questionable behavior wasn't even questionable until we started questioning it.

     I was at a bar once and this girl was wearing a really low-cut top so she could show off a tattoo, which was an entire written treatise the length of the Gettysburg Address, written across her bosom. I was curious to find out if this gal's chest had anything important to say, but it was written in like 12-point type in a difficult font, and I thought it might be insulting if I took out my magnifying readers to peer at her chest. You might find this story to be in poor taste, but it struck me as hysterical at the time, after a couple drinks, I admit. The point is that discourse between men and women is often very subjective. But now that the dialogue has begun let everyone be on notice that anything can be taken the wrong way, so let intentions be clear, and let responses be pointed. Nuance and romance may take a hit, but long live clarity of purpose.

     Anyway, the show was great but it took us a while to get there. We went to look at the tree at Rock Center, and the crowd was so voluminous that it took us about 20 minutes just to get close enough to snap a selfie. Then it took us another 10 minutes to frame a photo that did not include Minnie Mouse, The Grinch or The Hulk, because we didn't want them to gang up on us for a tip. By the way, since when is Superman only four-and-a-half feet tall? He was cowering underneath an umbrella against the falling snow, and I was a little disappointed in his lack of fortitude.

     There were so many Christmas revelers around that we got caught in a yuletide on the way over to the theater, and had to walk parallel to the traffic to get out of it. Once we made it to the theater, we were rewarded with a taste of homespun Americana and high-level musicianship led by the new host and mandolin whiz Chris Thile. If you never thought that someone could play a lead break worthy of Jimmy Page on a teensy-weensy 8-string axe, see it for yourself. The old-time radio feel is still there, and so is sound effects magician Fred Newman. It's a great show to take your kids to, and when you realize that your kids aren't sitting next to you like you thought they were, take a couple hours for yourself before you go and look for them. They're probably somewhere on 6th Avenue, caught in a human tide-pool along with Minnie Mouse and Spiderman. You'd better bring a tip if you want to get them back.
 

Friday, March 30, 2018

LIGHTS AND SIGHTS ON A DECEMBER NIGHT

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (12-14-17)

     We're having a little trouble staying current on our holiday spirit. We are just now feeling our Thanksgiving spirit after finally exorcising our Halloween spirit. So we headed over to the Somers Christmas tree lighting ceremony last Sunday to try and catch up. You could see the cheerful, dancing lights all the way from Fireman's Field where we parked, but it turned out to be a police car directing traffic and me without my glasses.

     We brought the famous Gidget-dog with us, who looks a little like a reindeer if you are not too picky. She was quite popular among the smaller set, and got manhandled by kids, which is much worse than getting manhandled by men, not that I am an expert.

     We strolled around a little and took a look at the tree. They have a ruler there in case you want to take a photo op with your kids, and see how much it has grown. The ruler didn't look one inch taller than last year, but the tree looked a little wider, join the club.

     The turnout was pretty good, but it looked like the hot cocoa was going fast. I was going to bribe one of the Girl Scouts to save me a cup, in case they were working on a merit badge for "The Way the World REALLY Works," but they were packing up before I could make a "charitable donation." I realized I'd better not pout, I'd better watch out, 'cause Santa Claus was coming out the door.

     He had been inside the Elephant Hotel, posing for photos with children. His Instagram account doesn't have as many followers as a Kim Kardashian maybe, but to his credit he never had shade thrown at him by Taylor Swift. He sauntered through, escorted by a dedicated security force and bearing candy canes. A switch was thrown and the evergreen lit up like a Christmas tree, to the delight of the crowd.

     Every year there is a new invention that threatens to revolutionize the Christmas spirit, in case a traditional Christmas tree is not high-tech enough for you. This year they came up with this device that is essentially a disco ball that sits on your front lawn and shines a storm of laser light beams onto your home in the shape of snowflakes or stars or whatever else they can think of. I had fantasy of what would happen if I bought one:

     I installed the rotating Christmas disco light near my driveway, plugged it in and let the disturbing array of designs flash upon my shingles, possibly disturbing air traffic patterns in the area. I gazed upon the display with satisfaction and holiday cheer, wishing that I had some Donna Summer records to go with it. As a migraine headache started to cloud my ability to think straight, I went inside.

     I was in the middle of dinner when outside the window there arose such a clatter, I threw up the sash to see what was the matter. I've never thrown up a sash before, and don't recall even eating one. I didn't see anything amiss, so I went out to have a look. All up and down the front of my house, every housecat in the neighborhood was climbing and jumping, chasing those stupid laser dots all over the place. "Get OFF the house, you idiots!" I yelled, calling attention to myself and the unfortunate fact that I was still holding half a tunafish sandwich. I had three seconds to dash inside, barricade the front door and lock myself in the bathroom, and I stayed there until New Year's Eve.

Friday, March 23, 2018

DO NOT OPEN ‘TIL CHRISTMAS

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (12-07-17)

      Honey, if you're reading this, don't read this. Skip over to the Tuskers' sports scores, because I need some advice on how to shop for your Christmas present. Back in the olden days I used to drive over to Macy's at the mall, full of vigor and holiday spirit. Since there was no available parking within a 10-mile radius I would have to drive slowly around the lot, following a random guy and his kids who are carrying packages, hoping they will lead me to his space. Other people have the same idea so I have to follow at a distance of a couple feet so no one pulls in ahead of me. When the kids turn around I pretend I am reading the paper. Then the family starts to run and scatter to try and lose me, but I follow Dad since he has the keys.

      I have thoughts that it might be worth it to run myself over with the car, not a lot, just a little, to slightly maim myself and get myself a handicapped space. I can use one of the new self-maiming cars. Then I could race around the food court in an electric scooter, only to find that it's just as hard to park INSIDE the mall. Plus it wouldn't be fair to those people who are legitimately handicapped, possibly from doing something just as dumb.

      But this is the age of the internet, and I don't have to deal with inconveniences like helpful sales people and personal attention. So I will try to navigate the dangerous mine field of gift-giving from the comfort of my own home.

      I wanted to get my wife a jacket, and as I browsed the vast universe of the internet I uncovered more questions than answers. I found a nice cargo jacket that would be perfect for her, since she comes with a lot of baggage, especially after shopping. The jacket comes in "dusty olive." I had no idea what color that was, so I left an olive on the counter for three weeks, hoping that it would collect some dust, but instead it shriveled up and turned an unflattering color for a jacket. It also comes in "true indigo," "which may rub off onto fabrics, leather, and upholstery." I didn't like the sound of that, but it's easier than buying a lot of true indigo upholstery and waiting for it to rub off onto the jacket.

      The jacket has a Mandarin collar, which is interesting news. "Mandarin" is either a dialect of the Chinese language or a type of orange. I'm not sure how either relates to a jacket collar, and I hope I never find out. Ironically, the jacket doesn't come in orange, but maybe the collar does.

      It's made of  lyocell. This sounds to me like something that could possibly explode if left in an unventilated area. To make sure it was safe, I did some research. Lyocell is a type of rayon containing cellulose fiber made from dissolving pulp using dry jet-wet spinning. This certainly reassured me, but I'll tell her to keep a window open just in case. If this goes wrong I may have to jump out of it.

      Pretty soon I was an educated consumer. I checked the customer reviews, and the jacket got four-and-a-half stars. One user gave it one star, but she sounded like a complete idiot. I would give that user two stars if I had to rate her, just based on her sense of narrative style alone. Her knowledge of the facts was also lacking. She wouldn't know an A-line from an A-bomb. She wouldn't know a princess seam if it jumped out of the Royal Palace and bit her on the nose.

      I was starting to get post-traumatic shopping disorder. When you show up at a real store, after a couple hours you get tired and you want to go home, so you buy something. This online exercise in futility is the gift that keeps on getting given. I was still in front of that screen long after I started to get carpal tunnel syndrome and a bunion on my buns. The one thing I do know is that I am not going to do all my shopping from the comfort of my own home unless I can find a more comfortable chair.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A LITTLE VERSE FOR BETTER OR WORSE

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (11-30-17)

     Sadly, as of last Saturday our next door neighbor has finally run out of marriageable children, so we're going to have to find something else to do with our time other than going to their weddings. A wedding is the perfect opportunity to get dolled up, show off your dancing moves, have a nice dinner and see some people that you haven't seen in a long time, perhaps because they preferred it that way.

     I have five or six suits, so that part is no problem. One is purple, and it's only a matter of time before the eighties come back, so I'm saving that one. Two others are double-breasted, three-piece numbers, which I have been told are out of style. Unfortunately, I was told that about a decade after they went out of style. Out of all of them, only one suit has a pair of pants that still zip all the way up, and they only fit up to and during the wedding ceremony itself, as long as I don't sit, breathe or look down. If I happen to ingest a communion wafer on purpose or by mistake all bets are off. Anyway, my goal is not to look so good that I upstage the bride.

     Once the service starts and everyone else sits down, there are a couple of readings from the Bible. The apostle Paul's letter to the Corinthians is a staple of many weddings I have been to. I'm not sure which Corinthian in particular Paul had it in for, but he speaks of the power of love, and to paraphrase, you had better get your act together or you'll sound like a clanging cymbal. I'm a drummer and I'm clanging cymbals all the time, so I don't take it as personally as the Corinthians probably did. By the way, nobody mentions the fact that reading other peoples' mail is a federal offense.

     The ceremony goes splendidly, the bride kisses the groom and we all clap based on the degree of difficulty. We say hello to everybody on the receiving line and look around to see if anyone is going to throw anything at the bride and groom. It turns out that nobody throws rice anymore because it gets caught in birds' throats and gives them agita. People tried throwing birdseed at weddings and it turned the happy day into a scene from a Hitchcock movie, so now we just blow a few kisses.

     At the cocktail hour, the hors d'oeuvres are sometimes better than the main meal. My wife was literally stalking the waiter who came around with the fried shrimp-on-a-stick, and he was this close to taking out a restraining order on her. I was partial to the fried chicken-on-a-stick with sesame seeds. As far as I'm concerned you could take some carburetor parts from my car, deep-fry them, sprinkle them with sesame seeds, skewer them on a stick and I probably wouldn't know the difference until I tried to start my car.

     Once the reception begins to hit its stride you better keep your camera ready because you never know when something newsworthy is going to happen. The volatile mixture of high emotion, high fashion and an open bar can lead to many different types of misdemeanors or crimes against humanity. At my own wedding we asked that no videotape be used, thinking that there might be less evidence to be possibly subpoenaed. But opportunities for photojournalism and/or blackmail are there for the taking.

     If you didn't happen to bring your camera, they had a photo booth set up to commemorate that fact that my pants had not spontaneously combusted quite yet. There were some hats and props on hand, but I couldn't figure out when the shutter was going to snap, so I have six pictures of me preparing to do something clever.

     At this reception there was also a fire-eater, a limber lass with a lot of fishy-looking tattoos and no eyelashes. As she pranced around swinging blazing torches she swigged prodigious mouthfuls of what looked like J├Ągermeister. She spit out half of it in a ball of flame; I'm not sure what happened to the other half but I have my suspicions. The fire-eating looked like fun, actually, and I would have tried it myself but I just had dessert. The fire marshal had posted a sign that listed the maximum occupancy of the place, but I doubt he factored in that one of them was a fire-eater.

Friday, March 9, 2018

GIVING MY ALL

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (11-23-17)

     My wife had been involved in volunteering for many years when she asked me if I might be interested in it myself. Of course I want to give back to the community. I want to be a part of something that benefits something other than myself, and in doing so, possibly benefit myself.

     Some volunteering options were out of the question. For instance, volunteering as a "big brother" would probably be a bad choice for me, since I have some lingering anger issues left over from being a "little brother." In my house, if you got on the bad side of my brother you could expect him to turn on the washing machine while you were taking a shower, resulting in storm conditions caused by freezing rain. What about working with older people? Turns out that I AM older people, and people should be over here working with ME.

     I became a volunteer usher at the Tarrytown Music Hall about eight years ago, and it has been a great choice. It combines my interests in history, music and being involved in somebody else's community. I wouldn't say that I'm now a full-fledged do-gooder, but it's been a rewarding foray into the field of do-gooding. I was already an experienced usher, since I've been in a few wedding parties. This has gone even smoother, since I don't have to dance with any bridesmaids, possibly injuring them.

     The theater itself is the oldest in Westchester, and will remain so until someone builds one that is older. It is on the National Register for Historic Places, built in 1885 to stage flower shows, which were popular at the time. I've seen a lot of flowers in my day, and they never did anything besides just sit there, so I can't imagine that the shows involved much complicated choreography. During this golden era, millionaires such as Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller attended extravagant cotillions there. These were powerful men and they had big balls. After falling into disrepair and closing in the 1970s, today the theater is run as a nonprofit organization and remains a flourishing asset to the community

     I have worked many shows, and seen some great performances. Olivia Newton-John took a sip out of a glass and said "Cheers!" after each song. I don't know what was in the glass but she seemed cheerful. When the Psychedelic Furs played, the line to the bar went all the way across the balcony and down the stairs. Blood, Sweat and Tears were just as I remembered them, even though not one performer was in the original band.

     Last Saturday night I worked a performance of comedian Jackie Mason. No one knows his exact age, but the carbon dating process puts his birth somewhere in the Mesozoic Era. So I was not expecting a rowdy crowd, but we did have some drama when one patron claimed that he couldn't get into his seat. We were finally able to accommodate him, but I am much more concerned with people who can't get OUT of their seat. So I keep a pair of tire irons and a set of jumper cables handy just in case.

     I hope to see you at the show, you can look for me in the balcony. And for anyone out there thinking of volunteering, giving back is its own reward. That being said, community, if you're out there, please remember that I gave back to you, and when April 15th rolls around, I hope you'll be a little more understanding than you were last year.
 

Friday, March 2, 2018

THE CHOICE IS CLEAR

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (11-16-17)

     There is nothing more peaceful than the second week of November. The busy summer is over, the leaves are mostly off the trees and most importantly, election day has come and gone. I take a deep breath, a long, hot shower and weep a little  for our ineffective political system.

     Grown men and women debase each other and themselves in television ads for an embarrassing four months leading up to election day and expect us to feel good about them afterward. I first got wind of the situation somewhere around July. Candidate Blue was planning to RAISE my taxes! I couldn't believe the news. I'm a hard-working guy and I pay my taxes religiously, meaning that I pray that they will someday be lower. I don't mind paying taxes, I just don't want my money to go towards something stupid, like paying the salaries of people who want to raise my taxes. I would rather somebody hit me over the head with a ball peen hammer than raise my taxes.

     I didn't want any part of that, so I made my decision to vote for Candidate Red. THEN I heard that Candidate Red was planning to actually hit me over the head with a ball peen hammer. AND he was involved in political cronyism. That made me angry, and even angrier once I found out what a political cronyism was.

     Then I found out that Candidate Blue was planning to take away my Second Amendment rights. I don't remember which one that is but it could be my right of free assembly. I remember that assembly was the best day of the school year, and you could get out early after it was over. And I do recall that it was free. So I say NO to that.

     Candidate Red is preventing immigrants from coming into the country! Who's going to take care of my lawn? Before you say "kids from the neighborhood," please be aware that I can't even get "kids from the neighborhood," to show up on Halloween for free candy! And what does Candidate Blue have in mind? He's planning to let a bunch of immigrants into the country! Gang members, no less! And do you think anyone in the gang owns a lawn mower? I say NO!

     I don't really care about all the other stuff, what I really want is a candidate who is great at shaking hands and talking to old people. And suddenly, there he was on the TV! Candidate Blue! But every time Candidate Red came on, he had nice music playing, and when Candidate Blue appeared he had depressing piano music in the background.

     I've thought about running for office, since I've always wanted a better relationship with oligarchs. But I know the campaign is going to be brutal. That awful picture of me, worse than my driver's license photo, that showed up on Facebook that I did NOT authorize the use of is going to be plastered all over the place. Then they're going to scour my records for evidence of misdealings in my finances, but I know they won't find any. They might find the misdealings but they won't find the finances.

     YES I admit to a conflict of interest: I love the Giants and own articles of clothing on every part of my body with their logo, except for underwear, where the word "Giant" does not seem humble. Yet after every game I want to hit them over the head with a ball peen hammer. It's eventually going to come out that my campaign was heavily influenced by early exposure to "F Troop" and "Get Smart." I'm surprised more people don't consider running FROM office.