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

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Friday, September 15, 2017

THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUM

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (06-01-17)

     My friends Jamie and Ana invited me along to a drum circle in Katonah that they had come across on Facebook. It's diversion that has become popular due to the simple joy that people experience when they hit something that is disinclined to hit them back.

     I pictured a bunch of dudes playing the drum solo from Moby Dick on bongos, all starting at a slightly different time. But it wasn't like that at all. This group employs a West African tradition called djembe, which translates to "gather in peace." Makes total sense except for all that racket from people banging on drums.

     Our instructor Matt taught us about them. In West Africa the bongo is an antelope, not a drum. These drums are made of cherry or aspen wood, and covered with goatskin. Here's a word of caution: goatskin sounds great, but wait until it is stretched over a drum before testing it out. I tried doing paradiddles on a goat at a petting zoo, and the damn thing chased me all over the place and I had to hide under a llama. If you ARE a goat, consider leaving your skin to a drum maker upon your death, and give back to the community.

     While we're on the subject, I signed an organ donor card, but I want to make clear that not all of me should be used upon my death. Most of my organs are holding up okay, but my eyes are quirky, my knees are a disaster and you might want to stay away from my brain. If anyone wants to stretch my skin over a drum I think I'd be okay with that. While I'm alive, I don't think I'll be donating a kidney or anything, because it would be just like me to develop a kidney problem the week after I donate one, and then I will have to ring on somebody's doorbell and ask for it back with a sheepish look on my face. I do have an electric organ that I'm trying to learn how to play, and my wife has offered to donate that as soon as possible.

     Anyway, Matt taught us some simple phrases to play, using the three different sounds, a bass sound hitting the middle of the head, a tone that produces the tuned pitch of the drum, and a slap that fills in beats by hitting towards the rim.

     In Mali culture, the drums are used ceremonially, and not for communication, which was good news for me. I pictured myself drumming something entirely inappropriate, such as your daughter needs braces, and having a tribe elder come by and hit me over the head with a kudu antler or something.

     Some of us, and I'm not mentioning any names here (Rick Melén) had trouble remembering the rhythms, and so Matt had a saying: "If you can say it, you can play it." Meaning, just come up with a simple phrase to help you feel the beat. In this case, he chanted, "Please pass the chicken sandwich," and we all played along perfectly. Except that then I couldn't remember if he said "chicken salad sandwich," and then I started thinking how great chicken parmesan would be for dinner. After everyone else ended I had about 13 extra beats while I straightened out the menu. Never play the drums on an empty stomach.

     What about people who can't keep a beat? I knew a gal who used the rhythm method of birth control and she had six kids. But Matt said that everyone has a sense of rhythm at its most basic form: your heartbeat. If you can't get THAT together, you're probably not going to live long enough to pass the chicken sandwich.

Friday, September 8, 2017

A DOG DAY AFTERNOON

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (05-25-17)

     Two weeks ago Gidget and I attended the 12th Annual Dog Walk and Pet Fair at FDR Park in Yorktown. The event was billed as a fund-raising event for dogs of all shapes and sizes, but most of the participants were dog-shaped. Gidget is the feisty, impertinent, gorgeous, 45-pound, natural redheaded actress that I've been seen around town with. You can see her in her starring role in "Gidget Gets a Package" on YouTube.

     We arrived a little late, and fell into the procession of canines and their friends strolling the perimeter of the park. As we were walking the parade route I noticed that a fire hydrant along the way was running. It was running as fast as it could, and the last I saw of it it was headed towards the Taconic Parkway.

     We made it to the main tents and sponsor area, where there were many vendors and booths. There were people selling dog accessories, dog tattoos (not sure if the tattoos were for you or the dog), "dog sports and training (not sure if the training was for you or the dog)," and all kinds of treats (these were for the dog, I found out the hard way).

     There was a real estate booth there, I'm not sure why, but if you get home and find that your dog has entered into contract on your house, at least you'll know how it happened.

     Of course the SPCA was sponsoring adoptions of many fantastic animals. Many people there had taken in dogs, from the SPCA or other shelters and rescue operations, which is certainly commendable. I was turned down when I even tried to adopt a highway, since I told them I wanted to keep it in my garage and use it to avoid traffic at the shore.

     Everyone loved Gidget and we made a lot of friends. A cold nose in your rear end on a chilly day once would be startling enough to cause you to jump two feet into the air. When it happened 20 times in a row, the other dogs assumed Gidget was a kangaroo and gave up. It even happened to me once, I didn't turn around but I'm guessing it was a dog.

     This may offend some dogs, hopefully only small ones that I'm not as scared of: I consider every dog that is smaller than mine to be a Yorkie. I don't care much for Yorkies.
"Well, this is not a Yorkie," you say. "It's a scnipperschnoodle. It's half Schipperke, half Pekingese, half schnauzer and half noodle."
"What about the other half?"
"The other half is a cheese Danish."
"What's that in the back?"
"Trailer hitch."
"It sounds like a mutt."
"It's not- It cost $3,000 and I had it designed specifically for my needs using a questionnaire from the internet, and produced with a 3-D printer. I had to pay for it with bitcoin."
"Well, where is the origin of the breed?"
"DuPont Laboratories in Tonawanda. So it's part lab."
"It looks sturdy."
"It has on-demand 4-wheel drive, so it's great in the snow. You attach a sled to this dog and I guarantee you you'll never see either the dog or the sled again."
"How's its disposition?"
"Dreadful. You have kids? Your kids won't even know it has a horrible disposition if they're not old enough to know what a disposition is. They'll just think it has an awful personality, and you're good to go. By the way, my mother-in-law has one, too."
"A scnipperschnoodle?"
"No, an awful personality."

Friday, September 1, 2017

SOMETHING MY MOM BROUGHT UP

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (05-18-17)

     I was just thinking of something my Mom once brought up: ME! I consider it one of her greatest achievements, not because of how I turned out, but because in spite of it, people who knew her thought the world of her. Everyone has a story like that, and last Sunday we got a chance to remember them. Without Mother's Day, would any of the other Days have been born?

     Let me tell you what my Mom had to put up with: Quite a bit. She was the one standing in between me and my father, who usually wanted to slap me for something I did. My Mom usually wanted to slap me for something else I did, and it must have cost her plenty to defend me so often.

     Not every mom would put up with a kid who played the drums. I would practice in the basement, and if she needed to get my attention she would turn off the basement lights. I wondered if she would use the same technique if I was practicing axe juggling.

     Parent-teacher night was another shame she had to endure. I discovered early in my academic pursuits that the academia that I was trying to pursue was moving quite a bit faster than I did. The teachers always tried to convince her that I had a lot of untapped potential as a student, but she finally had to admit that maybe they might have been mistaken on that one.

     I used to try to thank her with a Mother's Day gift, but even though I am great at giving gifts, I will admit that I am horrible at picking them out. I would get her a box of my favorite candy, and if she was on a diet, I could make the gift even more valuable by taking it with me when I left.

     Sometimes we would take her out to dinner, and once we went to a ritzy restaurant in Chappaqua. My Mom lived through the Great Depression, when they ate dust bunnies as a snack. We are not fancy people. So when the waiter tooktwenty minutes just to seat us, refold our napkins, move our silverware around and re-style our hair, we were already in a precarious state. Then my Mom's dinner finally arrived, and the waiter uncovered it with a giddy flourish, and it resembled a hot dog, and we realized we may be in a Martin Short skit.

     My Mom eventually said that she didn't need a gift, she just wanted to spend a little time with me. I thought the perfect thing might be for us to mow my lawn together. But I realized that even though I wanted to spend a little time with my Mom, I didn't want to spend ANY time with my lawn, and if you've ever met my lawn you'd know why.

     It was only after my Mother died that I realized I'd been shortchanged in my inheritance. I have five siblings and I jealously wondered if they received more than I did. I'm not talking about money, I'm not talking about things. I'm talking about DNA. I could use a little bit more of what she had: patience, gentleness, friendliness, empathy and the ability to smile through just about anything. If I were half the woman she was I'd be two-foot eight, look better in a skirt and be a little bit more well-adjusted.

     Every man, woman and beast has a story about their mom. Even a horse remembers that his mom was a nag, and used to scold, "Don't be a foal!" and "Cut out that horseplay!" How many sons received that warning, "Get down from there, you'll break your neck!" How many daughters heard those words, "If they told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do that, too?" Or, "I'm doing this for your own good." It's only decades later that we found out she was usually right. So to all the moms out there, thank you again for all that you do. And to the idiot who didn't get down from there, and DID break his neck, thanks for ruining it for the rest of us.

Friday, August 25, 2017

LOOKING FOR MISS WRIGHT

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (05-11-17)
 
     Last Saturday we stopped by the Somers Library to help mark the 50th anniversary of the bequeathment of the farmstead that became Reis Park. If you're unfamiliar with bequeathments, my advice is to swallow first before saying it out loud. Some informal  booths were set up to help celebrate the event and the town. The Friends of the Somers Library were there; they sponsor various programs and performances. I am a Friend of the Library and we're going out for cocktails on Friday, and we may gossip, just in case anything gets back to you.

     There were some local authors in attendance, a folk-rock duo, some games for the kids and a face painting booth. For my particular face they suggested vinyl siding instead of paint. All of this took place on land given to the town of Somers by lifelong resident Caroline Wright Reis upon her death in 1967.

     We walked through the back of the park up to her house, now a museum opened on this day for visitors. Even though Caroline Wright Reis lived her entire life there, the early American period furnishings have been restored to the grounds. If they wanted a museum with 1967-era decor, the house I grew up in had plenty of linoleum and wood paneling, and historians are still trying to explain why.

     Caroline Wright was an orphan at the age of 12, a fact that possibly explains how she became a leading figure in the community. She graduated from Pratt Institute at a time when college-educated women were relatively scarce. After that she ran her farm as a successful businesswoman, her new husband away much of the time. Walter Reis was a button salesman, and if he didn't travel to support the business, sales fell, not to mention everyone's pants.

     She was active in local politics as a member of the Civic Club, and in her later years became a philanthropist who donated substantially to local causes. She was an artist, and her works hang on the homestead walls. She never had children, but she pictured herself with a family, literally. A self-portrait of her rocking a cradle sits on an easel behind the very same cradle, unless that was the cat's cradle.

     A rare and impressive contraption called a megalethoscope is displayed on the second floor. Through it, specially prepared photographs play tricks of light and perspective that are unlike anything digital photography can produce. Do not miss it.

     Caroline Wright Reis seemed to have no use for conventions and gender confinements. A photograph depicts her with her bicycle, and back then it was considered un-ladylike to ride one. I STILL consider it un-ladylike to ride a bicycle, especially if I haven't shaved. Caroline Wright Reis may have been an early feminist without even knowing it.

     To see the material connections to her life spread before you is to put yourself in her shoes for a short moment, which is as much as I can take since I wear a size 11. That's what museums do, and in this case, as in all others, you can imagine life in history's continuum and notice that the trappings are different, but the people are the same.

     By the way, if I die, and I'm planning not to, and if I decide to leave my land to the town of Somers, they are going to take one look at my lawn and say "Thanks, but no, thanks." They might even skip right to the "No, thanks."

Friday, August 18, 2017

I HEAR A SYMPHONY

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (04-27-17)

     A few weeks ago we attended a performance by the Westchester Philharmonic at Purchase College, an experience I recommend highly. It's a slowly dying art. Not the playing of classical music, which is carrying on as strong as ever, but the listening to it, which requires you to get up out of your soft, comfortable chair, turn off that re-run of Columbo that you have seen at least three times (the one with Robert Vaughn) and get into your car without spilling your coffee.

     The orchestra is not going to come to you, you have to attend the performance of the philharmonic in order to hear all those instruments playing in philharmony. It's a whole lot different than going to see a a concert today, where a pop-goddess lip-syncs an entire performance while dancing an extensive broadway-style choreography with a snake, wearing hot pants and a bra top (the singer, not the snake), writhing around completely naked (the snake, not the singer), all that trouble for a very mediocre song.

     Back in MY day, no one would stand for that kind of crap at a concert. You went to hear the MUSIC, and if Alice Cooper happened to bite the head off of a chicken and spit it into the audience, well I can't be held responsible for that. I don't know if the chicken was real, I don't even know if the audience was real, but certainly the music was.

     Kids, if you're listening out there, I don't want to sound like your Dad, so go find your own Dad to give you this speech. Wake him up- he's probably in the den right now taking a nap, or out mowing the lawn while listening to Beyoncé on his iPhone. By the way, it wouldn't kill YOU to mow the lawn once in a while.

     Anyway, the performance featured the formidable talents of one of classical's premier trios, Jaime Laredo on violin, Joseph Kalichstein on piano and Sharon Robinson playing the cello. The orchestra presented very accessible works by Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, whom you may have heard of. Mozart was a child prodigy. I know what a burden that is, because I was considered a child prodigy when I was 40, and everyone was amazed at how advanced I was for a 12 year-old.

     Beethoven was completely deaf for the last ten to fifteen years of his life, when he wrote some of his most important works. He was even more deaf when his wife asked him to take the garbage out. Because he was deaf Beethoven's other senses heightened, and for instance he smelled really, really good.

     There was no maestro for this performance, so everyone was on the honor system to play only their own notes, and it looked like everyone was conducting themselves appropriately. But pay closer attention the next time you go to the symphony: the bass violin player is over there looking at the piccolo player with palpable disdain. He has to haul around an instrument the size of a Chevrolet Silverado, and the piccolo player produces a tiny flute the size of a magic marker from his dress shirt pocket, and starts prancing about the place doing somersaults.

     And the first violin player, whom the soloists faun over as they pass by, stands up at the end of the performance. Did you ever look at the second violinist while all that is going on? Her face tells you that she thinks SHE should be standing at the end, or at least slightly stooped over.

     All of them want to beat up the triangle player, who gets paid a full share for playing one note in the middle of the performance that sounds like someone passing you on their bicycle- he doesn't even have to know anything about music, just a little geometry. Why, excuse me, but isn't that an isosceles triangle you have there? If there was a conductor there he wouldn't put up with ANY of it, and if you don't like it you can just make other arrangements.

Friday, August 4, 2017

ITS A JUNGLE UP THERE

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (04-27-17)

     There are people who refuse to fly in an airplane because a thousand things that could go wrong play in an endless loop inside their heads. But there is always room for one more disaster. Or two or three. Last week a United Airlines passenger was forcibly dragged from an overbooked plane as horrified passengers looked on. The fallout from the incident has left a Chernobyl-sized wake throughout social media.

     The CEO for United had one of those public relations roller coaster rides where the car gets stuck on the rails and sits there for several hours until someone comes in a crane to rescue it. At first he said the passenger, who is a doctor, was a jerk who deserved to get kicked off the plane. That didn't fly any better than a DC-10 with a runny nose cone. About every hour or so he gave another press conference to send up a trial balloon that came crashing down through the Twitter-sphere. By the end of the day he was hailing the guy as a modern-day hero. That's how you go from CEO to "embattled CEO" in a few easy lessons.

     The executive, Oscar Munoz, assured everyone that he had "reached out" to the doctor, probably to try and drag him back onto a plane, since he has said he is now too terrified to fly. New company guidelines for dealing with overbooked flights hastily been issued. First, the flight staff is to cast a fishing line down the aisle with a $1000 dollar bill attached to it, and slowly reel it out the hatch to see if anyone follows it. If that doesn't work, they are authorized to toss a few expensive-looking carry-ons down the emergency chute. Under NO circumstances is the crew allowed to drag anyone from their seat kicking and screaming. They MUST wait until they are asleep, then curl them into a ball and roll them out.

     On a different United flight the same day a scorpion dropped from an overhead bin and landed on a man's lap. The crew immediately charged the man a fee for bringing a pet on board. Then they billed the scorpion for changing seats. They quickly assessed the arachnid another fee for the in-flight snack. Once they had its credit card information they hit it with a shoe and flushed it down the toilet. Which went so smoothly that United Airlines added it as a fourth option to the above procedures. Meanwhile the passenger was not stung, but as a precaution the flight staff called for any doctor who hadn't been forcibly dragged off the plane.

     A day later it came to light that a couple on their way to their wedding was tossed off a United flight for trying to upgrade into seats that didn't have someone already occupying them. They were expelled from the aircraft, thankfully before it had taken off. And since it was a destination wedding, they simply changed the destination to the tarmac. The wedding was really nice, with the word "United" emblazoned all around them, and an open bar with really, really tiny bottles of booze.

     Following these incidents, the company stock fell precipitously. But these and other fiascos could have been more deftly handled by a better public relations staff. There are some qualified people who are now becoming available, such as Chris Christie, Bill O'Reilly and possibly even Sean Spicer. From a promotional standpoint, you should have a specific direction in mind that you want to take the conversation to. If that direction is straight down, so much the easier. By the way, if you don't think that this column makes that much sense, it's because content may have shifted during flight. Please leave your seat belt fastened.

Friday, July 28, 2017

THE JUNK IN YOUR TRUNK

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (04-20-17)
 
     This Saturday the 22nd, my friends Margaret and Judy will be volunteering at the
third annual E-Waste Recycling Day at the Somers Intermediate School, along with Mike from City Carting. I will be there, personally overseeing the Easter candy recycling project. You don't need all those calories lying around your house, and besides, those chocolate eggs are wrapped in foil that may contain stronthnesium, a metal so deadly that I might have made it up. So bring the candy over to the school and I will see that it is disposed of properly.

     By the way, if you do have too much junk in the trunk, this is your lucky day, since it will only cost you five dollars to dispose of all the e-waste and scrap metal you can fit into it. Keyboards, monitors, appliances, electronics items, computers and televisions are welcomed. Even old washers and dryers will also be accepted. Take all the wet socks out of them first so that you don't air your dirty laundry all over town. Grief counselors will be on hand for those bidding a final farewell to their beloved CD players and VCRs. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone whose flip-phone's usefulness was taken way too soon. I thought the "E" in E-waste stood for "Electronic," but it actually stands for "EverythreemonthsApplecomesoutwithanewphoneandnowImstuckwiththisuselessthing."

     But how did we get to this point? In 1998 I was sitting pretty, with my 386 computer and a 20 MEG HARD DRIVE! How could anyone ever need more than that? Now a computer practically has an expiration date, and your laptop might start to go bad even before whatever used to be in that Tupperware in the back of your fridge.

     Don't just toss these items in the trash- Mike and his staff are professionals. There may be elements inside them that are dangerous, possibly criminal elements. Barium, for instance, is a metallic substance that becomes highly unstable when it comes into contact with air. I've known at least two guitarists with exactly the same properties, and they were hard to get rid of. We can help you with any other questions that you have, like whether or not you should recycle a tricycle more than three times.

     Your five dollar donation will benefit the Somers PTA fund, so it's an investment in our youth. I guess we'll have to wait several years to see if it was a great investment, but I spent a whole lot more than five dollars on Rite-Aid stock, which is tanking big-time at the moment. By the way, a few years ago on a whim I went to visit my own elementary school in Chappaqua, and all the chairs and desks seemed ridiculously small. When I was a kid going to school there, all the furniture was normal sized. I don't know why everything shrank so much, but maybe the PTA will look into it.

     So stop by the Intermediate School from 9:00AM to 2:00PM and say hello to Mike, Margaret and Judy. I'll be there at around 11:00, rummaging through your stuff and making fun of you for buying a Tandy computer. Gidget, the recycling watch dog, will be ready for anyone getting rid of tennis balls. I am even told that Rick Morrissey might be there, the Somers Town Supervisor. Which is good because I should not be running around unsupervised.