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

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Friday, June 23, 2017

THE COLD SHOULDER

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (03-16-17)

     My shoulder has been giving me problems lately. It's really just one problem, IT HURTS. It's not the sort of injury I would need a first responder for- a second or third responder could handle it. If you were an ambulance driver, and you were watching "Dateline," and they were investigating the wife's disappearance, and the husband was helping with the search and crying during the press conference, I would tell you my shoulder is not such an emergency that you couldn't wait until the police circle back to the husband, who probably did it for the insurance money.

     My question is, how did this shoulder get injured in the first place? I didn't fall, or try to break down a door or try to throw a block during a running play or anything. It's not my tennis-serving shoulder, I already had that one fixed. This particular shoulder sits around all day doing nothing, except to help me get up from a sitting position, or put on my jacket. When I tried to explain to my doctor that I might have hurt my shoulder putting on my jacket, he looked at me like he thought I might be talking about a straight jacket.

     The surgeon was a little more understanding. Surgeons know how fragile the human body can be, and it makes them slightly giddy. He looked at me from top to bottom, and it was obvious he could pick out five or six things to operate on right off the bat.

     He sent me over for an MRI, and the technician made take everything out of my pockets, like I was going to a Yankee game. He asked me if I was claustrophobic, and I assured him that I am not. He mentioned it a few more times, to make sure I don't have a fear of enclosed spaces. By the time I was inside that thing, I felt absolutely sure that I was claustrophobic. Luckily I was able to go right to sleep, because the loud banging noises reminded me a little bit of my old Datsun B-210, which I loved.

     Looking over the MRI films, the doctor said I have a bone spur that is digging into my rotator cuff, and that he was going to have to shave it down. I told him that I don't care if there's a little hair on it, maybe just give it a Brazilian wax and let's call it a day. I waxed my car last weekend and there's not a hair on the thing.

     This made him even more determined. He pulled out a model of the shoulder area, and showed me exactly what he was going to do. A couple pieces fell off and landed on the floor, and I hope he washes them off before he sticks them back in my body. He said if he didn't like the looks of my rotator cuff, he was going to snip it and re-attach it. I've had rotator cuff surgery before, and I didn't like it much, so I said no thanks to that. I told him if he gets bored he can open up my cerebral cortex and fix whatever the reason is that I suck at math. He didn't laugh at that, but he made a note for the billing department that I can't add very well.

     Down at the billing department I tried to get a straight answer about how much this little setback was going to set me back. The doctor's office referred me to the surgery center, which referred me to the anesthesiologist's office, which referred me back to the doctor's office. As I was trying to figure it all out I realized that the deductible on my car insurance was much less than on my health insurance. I wondered if maybe I could park my car on a small incline, put it in neutral, climb out and gently run over my shoulder. But I knowing me, I would sprain my knee jumping out of the car.

Friday, June 16, 2017

SEVENTY-FIVE DOWN

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (03-02-17)
 
     In February of 1942, a scant couple months after Pearl Harbor, the world was a scary place, even scarier than it is now, if you can believe it. The New York Times was a serious newspaper covering serious stories, but people needed a diversion. It was time for the Times to publish what it had previously considered a "sinful waste" of time.

     Last month marked the 75th anniversary of the New York Times crossword puzzle, and I have to say, completing the puzzle each week saved me. It saved me from cleaning the garage, it saved me from doing the dishes and it saved me from mowing the lawn. It also saved me from sudoku. I don't know if you would call sudoku a mathematical puzzle, but the damn thing is filled with nothing but numbers. It's the equivalent of water-boarding for someone who got a 425 on their math SAT, only much more addicting.

     I had always thought that crossword puzzles were silly, the way I think that everything I can't do is silly, like surfing or neurosurgery. But when my wife found out that I was filling in the wrong answers to her puzzles, we started completing them together so that she could keep an eye on me. As a team, my wife and I are a formidable puzzle-solving machine. She handles all the clues about geography, current events, art, culture, languages and literature. If a question comes up about "F Troop," that's when I spring into action. Picture if you will (I wouldn't if I were you), the symbiotic relationship between the sea anemone and the clownfish, where the clownfish knows a lot of commercial jingles and game shows from four decades ago.

     I convince myself that the puzzles are educational, and that I am warding off Alzheimer's disease with every answer I fill in. I have learned who Brian Eno is, why Mel Ott was so great, and a lot of names relating to rare birds. I now know what an ern is, and an ani and a nene. When I am 95 years old, muttering random three letter words etched into my memory, it isn't going to help convince people that I DON'T have Alzheimer's.

     Will Shortz has been the Times Crossword Puzzle editor for decades now, and I picture him sequestered in a dark, candle-lit room in the top floor of a castle, maliciously devising new ways to make me seem stupider than usual. Thursday and Sunday he embeds some sort of trick into the puzzle, as he laughs a sinister laugh: "MWA HAHAHAHAHA!"

     Whenever I feel like I don't have a clue, I open up the Times, and the crossword has dozens of them. What's a four-letter word for Will Shortz? Next time I see him I'll let him know. I actually have met Will Shortz, because he owns a ping pong club in Pleasantville. I only use the term "ping pong" because I know he would hate that I didn't call it "table tennis," and he has it coming to him. He's wasted more of my time than my personal trainer, who has never trained me to do anything but a bunch of dumb exercises. I'd like to say more bad things about Will Shortz, except that he was actually quite fun and friendly, and I couldn't think of a cross word for him.


 

Friday, June 9, 2017

THE DOG DAYS OF WINTER

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (03-02-17)

     You may have been too wrapped up in the President's Day festivities to notice, but there was a dog show going on last weekend. A dog show is exactly like a car show or a boat show, if cars and boats could lick themselves. And don't laugh, because we already have self-driving cars.

     I'm going to flip all the cards and just tell you that the German Shepherd named Rumor won Best in Show this year. If a German Shepherd wants to win a trophy, and you happen to have one, just hand him the damn thing and get the hell out of there. When you compare an old English sheepdog to a German shepherd, you get the idea that German sheep are not nearly as polite as they look.

     The main event is the promenade in the ring during the Best in Show competition. The handler is looking for obedience and smooth execution. The judges are looking for distinctive characteristics of the breed. The dog is looking for anything that smells gross.

     The handler pirouettes around the floor in an unnatural prance, as if a swarm of hungry butterflies is chasing her. She holds the dog leash with her thumb and forefinger way up in the air, as if she was holding a teacup filled with gossip from the Hamptons. Smiling at the audience and drinking in the applause and attention, the handler fails to notice that the dog pulled off the track at a diner 15 minutes ago.This year three new breeds were admitted into the show: The pumi, the sloughi and the American hairless terrier. The pumi looks like a Brillo pad with a tail, the sloughi can hunt game as big as a gazelle (no one has a gazelle to test out this boast), and the American hairless is described as allergy-friendly, like myself. I have a close personal relationship with just about every allergy there is, and believe me, that's nothing to sneeze at.

     The dog show recently added an agility contest for those dogs who have "a great personality," and I think you know what I mean. I don't know if this qualifies as agility, but my dog Gidget can run around the dining room table 3,000 times in a row. If you happen to be having a dinner party, you have to time the seating just right or you could be seriously injured. She's also great with a tennis ball, and if I can teach her to play she will have two backhands, two forehands and an occiput.

     My dog is called a Eurasier, and it's a beautiful breed, look it up. It's not recognized by the AKC, but that's only because they don't have their glasses on. She's about 45 pounds. Anything smaller than that I consider to be a Yorkie. Every time I see a Yorkie I sneer imperiously, as if to impugn the owner's masculinity, especially if the owner is a woman.

     If for some reason the winner of the dog show is unable to fulfill its duties, Gidget is willing to step in. She is intelligent, clean and is a great watch dog. If a burglar broke into my house right now and stole all our belongings, Gidget would watch the whole thing. She loves people, and she would sit next to you and lick your hand for a length of time that is very uncomfortable for everyone, and eventually could result in a restraining order.

Friday, May 26, 2017

THE RESONANCE OF PAST PRESIDENTS

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (02-23-17)

     As we celebrate the birthdays of two of our most important and influential presidents, 2017 seems like a good time to ask: who was the WORST president? Some say it was Richard Nixon, whose rampant paranoia during his reelection campaign compelled him to authorize a break-in of the Democratic National Committee's offices housed at the Watergate Hotel.

     Now, every scandal that occurs in America has the word "gate" attached to it, as if the word is a synonym for wrongdoing. If a cover-up happened there today it would be referred to as "Watergate-gate." In Florida I once wandered onto a nude beach, and I remember thinking that Nixon would have been hailed a hero if he had ordered a cover-up there. Using electronic eavesdropping to gain compromising information that could be used for political gain is something that, thankfully, could never happen today.

     The ninth president, William Henry Harrison, might have been one of the worst presidents in history. Then again, he might have been one of the best. He only lasted 32 days in office, then dropped dead of complications from pneumonia. As a writer, I can tell you that the most complicated thing about pneumonia is how to spell it. His grandson was Benjamin Harrison, who spent about 45 times as long in the White House. Luckily, a presidential term influenced by pneumonia is something that could never happen today.

     Many historians think that Ulysses S. Grant was one of the worst presidents. His storied military career was succeeded by a term marred by corruption and abuse during the reconstruction era following the Civil War. Although Grant was not implicated, graft was so rampant during his during his watch, it's a wonder they didn't steal his watch. Due to laws prohibiting conflicts of interest, there is no way this type of malfeasance could happen today.

     Even the worst presidents did something good every once in a while, even if it was by mistake. Grant expanded the Indian Reservation system, flawed as it is, and Nixon opened up long dormant relations with China. I even heard a rumor that the current president is looking to buy a large parcel of land at the top of Mount Rushmore, who knows, maybe to preserve it as a natural habitat.

     So take the day off, maybe do some shopping. these days a President's Day sale means something entirely different. It means that as a taxpayer, you are eligible to pay substantially inflated rates for Secret Service agents to stay at wonderful properties all around the world. These hotels will be carefully selected by the new administration, and they will be the best, absolutely the best. You can trust me on this.

     After the shopping, look into a mirror so that you can reflect on some important things that presidents have said in the past that resonate more than ever today. As George Washington once said, "It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one." Abraham Lincoln asked, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" Or, in the words of President Donald J. Trump in 2014, "Tiny children are not horses." Happy President's Day!

Friday, May 19, 2017

A GAGA HOOPLA

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (02-16-17)

     Last Sunday America sat in disbelief, wondering how in the world it came to be that what we all thought was going to happen, did not happen. America has been doing this a lot lately, and it's exhausting. I was so completely flabbergasted that I ran out of flabbergas and had to go get some more. It was a nerve-wracking football game that kept interrupting all the festivities and wasting everyone's time.

     It cut short a performance of the National Anthem by country star Luke Bryan, I'm not sure which country. Did you know that the Star Spangled Banner has four verses? After the bombs finish bursting in air, the song goes on and on, to foe's haughty host, foul footstep's pollution, the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave. We didn't get to hear any of that.

     The owner of the Atlanta Falcons, who is a tyrant and an ogre, jinxed himself by forcing his employees to attend the Super Bowl in person, thereby depriving them of the chance to watch the Super Bowl commercials on television, which are the best part.

     Lady Gaga performed at halftime. It started out quite badly, because she apparently could not find the entrance to the stadium, and had to jump in from the roof. First though, she sang "God Bless America" while brightly lit unmanned craft flew above the Houston skyline. They flew around for a while, delivered some stuff for Amazon, took out some enemy targets, then formed an American flag. Already amazing was the fact that Lady Gaga convinced a bunch of drones to all do the same thing, which is essentially the opposite of Congress.

     She pretended to fall from an opening in the roof onto a stage in the middle of the field. She was suspended by wires in midair for about two minutes, and she looked like she was having so much fun she didn't want to come back down to Earth. Her suspension was much shorter than Tom Brady's, but she used the time much more wisely, flying around and doing backflips.

     Then she pretended to sing, peeling off an article of clothing after each song. I once saw a similar act in New Orleans, but the singing wasn't as good. Some body shamers came out of the woodwork on Twitter, because Lady Gaga had a piece of skin that wasn't accounted for, peeking out of her bikini space suit. Let me say that there are so many out-of-shape body shamers on Twitter that they had to expand the woodwork over there. Let's see how THEY look in a space bikini. I'm not sure what beach Lady Gaga was on her way to, possibly the Sea of Tranquility, but I bet there was hardly any traffic.

     There was a posse of dancers behind her, and one of them came up behind her and picked her up, possibly carrying her to the trunk of his car. From above, the camera showed a crowd of people carrying lights and forming what looked like a map of my Verizon phone coverage. There were a lot of pyrotechnics, and many things blowing up, most notably, the Atlanta defense.

     Then Lady Gaga caught what looked to be a severely under-inflated football, and then fell to her death, unless somebody had the foresight to put an air mattress under her, hopefully she's okay. Football is a dangerous sport, but it's nothing compared to halftime.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A PARALLEL UNIVERSE

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (02-09-17)

     Like many Somers residents I am interested in what's going on in the universe, so I tuned in the Miss Universe beauty pageant, and now I feel better informed. I watched with my wife and I didn't want to seem shallow, so I made sure to critique only the contestants' outfits, and whether the girls had nice personalities. During the swimsuit competition, their personalities were peaking to an all-time high, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

     Trump used to own the Miss Universe pageant, but sold it because he knew that when he was inevitably elected the leader of the free world, he'd never be able to host the pageant in America. Due to the travel bans, immigration bans and other policies, the only people left to compete in the Miss Universe pageant would be angry, unemployed white men. With good personalities, though.

     The evening featured a full schedule of events, including swimwear and evening gown competitions, a "Final Question" and "Final Look," which sound like they should be held at a funeral parlor. Steve Harvey hosted again, poking plenty of fun at himself for last year's debacle, when he mistakenly named the wrong winner at the end of the contest, only to have to correct himself, leaving two countries furious at him. "Body activist" Ashley Graham was the backstage host. I have always wanted to be a "body activist," but I have a hard time activating it.

     The swimsuit competition demonstrated how women would look if they wore high heels to the beach. It appeared that some of the ladies had extensive work done, and one looked like she contained more plastic than my local recycling center. The musical performer was Boyz II Men, aged to something more like Men II Old Men.

     There was a final question at the end, and all three women asked for an interpreter. My wife pointed out that it was a ploy so that they can have more time to formulate an answer even dumber than the one they first thought of. If it was me I would have answered every other word in English and the rest in my native language, and see if I could make smoke come out of the translator's ear. It looked to me like the translator was adding some stuff on his own, and I thought I heard some disparaging remarks in Italian about the craft services table.

     The winner was Miss France, Iris Mittenaere, but runner up Miss Haiti was ready to run up and yank the crown out of her hand at a moment's notice if Harvey botched it again. When it was clear that he didn't, she had the same look on her face that I did on November ninth.

     What will the Miss Universe pageant of the future look like? The use of artificial intelligence might make the Final Question easier to bear, as would the use of any intelligence. To prove that the contestants are beautiful inside AND out, maybe they will make an M.R.I. available. Perhaps someday there will only be virtual contestants. Siri, Alexa and my GPS lady might be in it, who knows? And when Steve Harvey asks the interview question at the end, they'll probably answer pretty much as they do today: "I am sorry, I am unable to understand the question."

Friday, May 5, 2017

A NARRATION OF AN INAUGURATION

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

     Last Friday millions, possibly thousands, looked on as America installed its 45th president. With all the pomp and circumstance Washington could muster, a full day of activities highlighted a peaceful transfer of power in the world's premier democracy.

     Clerics from several different faiths offered words of prayer, but they all said pretty much the same thing: "God help us." A chorus performed an inspiring original piece. Then Senator Chuck Schumer offered some historical insights. When he found out the oath of office had to be administered before noon, he started to filibuster by backing up the history lesson to Adam and Eve. Finally, the new president was sworn in, using two bibles in case one was not enough. I did some swearing myself.

     Was Trump's speech unifying? That's what all the television commentators wanted to know. Some said it was unifying, and others said it was not unifying. They were not unified as to whether the address was unifying, so I guess it was not, which violates the "One America" policy.

     Melania Trump looked graceful and radiant, buttoned up in a stylish blue outfit that appeared to be designed to ward off any possibility of air. I don't know a whole lot about her, but she is reputed to be highly intelligent and can speak seven languages. I'm guessing she knows the word "miserable" in all of them.

     She has that same look on her face that my mother did when people would ask her what Rick was working on in the basement, and she replied that I got a chemistry set for my 14th birthday. I might be working on a cure for cancer, but more than likely I was down there trying to figure out ways to blow stuff up. Melania looks like she was wishing it was only a chemistry set that Donald had got his hands on.

     Former President Obama sat watching the inaugural address as Trump excoriated just about everyone within a three hundred-foot radius, and looked like he sat on a thumbtack.

     The day after the inauguration, President Trump was angry that the crowd assembled for the inauguration was not as big as Obama's, and he lashed out at the media for gleefully pointing it out. It's possible that many people showed up at the National Mall expecting that there would be a food court there, with a Chipotle's or at least a Banana Republic, and left when they found out that there wasn't.

     Newly inaugurated President Trump has already been able to fulfill the most important of the short-term goals on his agenda, which is to be the president with the most tweets. On his first day in office he amassed more tweets than all of his predecessors put together. This should have made him happy, but quite the opposite seems to be true; he has ended all of his messages with the word, "SAD!" Perhaps if he added a smiley face he wouldn't be so glum.

     All of them could take a lesson from presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway, who flaunts the mien of a patient undergoing root canal treatments, and is yet enjoying it thoroughly. Since she does smile a lot, the root canal treatments were worth it.