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

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Friday, May 25, 2018

DEALING WITH THE FLUE SEASON

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY THE SOMERS RECORD (02-01-18)

     An old phrase that you hear all the time is: "Where there's smoke, there's fire." It's used to describe a situation where someone is using a whole lot of subterfuge and obfuscation to hide the fact that they're doing something in secret which is obvious to the rest of us. For instance, Trump telling anyone who might listen that there was no collusion by him in Russia's spamming of his election, and Hillary Clinton was probably responsible for it, etc. When in reality most people can see that Trump has lit the presidency on fire.

     But sometimes where there's smoke there's just smoke. That was certainly the case when I tried to start a fire a few weeks ago in our wood-burning stove downstairs. There's nothing more romantic than curling up beside a warm fire. The way I usually do it is to take some newspapers (this column is particularly incendiary) and crumple them up to use as tinder. Now they have an app for that, so I can skip this step. Then I take some sticks that have fallen onto the front yard from all the trees that I insist are still alive that my wife says are dead, and put them on top of the newspaper. When my back is turned, my dog takes the sticks out of the fireplace and brings them back outside. Then I take some firewood from the dead trees that it turns out my wife was right about, and put them on top of the sticks that I took back from the dog.

     The most important part of the process is lighting some newspaper to hold to the top of the fireplace to warm up the flue so that the fire drafts up the chimney properly. If this all results in a raging inferno, that's when I usually remember to check if the flue is open. For the sake of safety, I've removed all flammable items from the area, and I only allow things that are inflammable anywhere near the fireplace. On this particular day, however, I sort of glossed over flue-warming part, and just let the zero-degree-with-the-wind-chill weather warm up the chimney all by itself.

     The result was that smoke came billowing out of the stove and filled the entire room in 45 seconds. Acting quickly, I opened all the windows and turned on the attic fan, and within 45 more seconds the whole house was filled with dense fog plus zero-degree-with-the-wind-chill weather. All the smoke alarms sounded, so now I had ear-piercing beeping to enhance the party. Isn't this romantic so far? It's a good thing I didn't have a sprinkler system or I would have lost a wet tee-shirt contest as well. I finally had to get serious and find my fire extinguisher. It wasn't as big as I remembered, and had approximately the size and force of a can of deodorant, although not as effective against odor. It was supposed to fight class "A" fires, but it must have failed that class.

     I don't know why I don't just ban smoke from my basement altogether. Let the basement switch to vaping instead. That way I won't know if what I'm inhaling is bad for me. Whenever somebody blows one of those huge blue vapor clouds next to me I always wonder what I'm breathing. It looks a 1974 Ford Pinto just pulled up next to me and burned through a quart of oil, but it smells like a lovely sachet pillow, whatever that is.

     Smokey the Bear once said: "Only YOU can prevent forest fires!" Which is good advice, although I'm not sure what the advice is. I do know that if it were left to ME, there wouldn't be ANY forest fires, just a lot of forest smoke. You can thank your lucky stars that I wasn't around during the Stone Age trying to invent fire. Having already tried and failed at taking credit for inventing the stones, I turn my sights to conceiving fire. "Have you invented it yet, it's freezing in here?" My wife inquires, hopefully. "No, but check this out: SMOKE!" I exclaim proudly. "What are we supposed to do with that?" She asks. I answer, "Well the important thing is that there was NO collusion, and I would have invented fire if it wasn't for Hillary Clinton."

Friday, May 18, 2018

LIFE IS A GAMBLE

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY THE SOMERS RECORD (01-25-18)

     I recently found myself flush with cash, which was lucky because I was looking all over the place for myself in that condition. We decided to meet up with our friends Paul and Krista to see if the local casino could help alleviate the problem. We could  get some dinner, bet on the horses, have a cocktail or two and a nice night out.

     I admitted to Paul that I had a gambling problem. The problem is that I don't know how to do it without losing money. So he tried to explain to me how to handicap the horses based on their previous performances. I looked around for the horse with the biggest nose, in case he had to win by one. With this brilliant strategy in mind I was already spending my winnings in my head. But let's not put the horse before the cart, a lesson you could learn the hard way. After the race it was apparent that my horse was already extremely handicapped, so I must have done an excellent job for a beginner.

     I blame the guy in the cart slowing my horse down. Why is he there in the first place instead of in his own car? If I was a horse I would maintain with absolute certainly that I could run a hell of a lot faster if nobody was behind me whacking me with a whip, where I had to turn around every five seconds and yell, "HEY- CUT THE CRAP." It reminds me of those rowing competitions where they have ten beefy dudes in a canoe, and a little weenie in the back who yells, "ROW!" It should be pretty much self-explanatory, if you're sitting in a boat holding an oar. In the next race I wanted to bet a certain horse, but it was a scratch. The same thing happened three times in a row, and I figured there must be some poison ivy going around.

     At the race track we were all just going around in circles, so we looked around for another way to lose money. In the casino they have a big roulette wheel, but it's on video. It seems like the world is a little less authentic than it used to be. When you go see a concert, for example, everyone is dancing around with a microphone, but no one is actually singing. One of these days I am going to replace myself with a video of me attending a concert and see how the performers like it for once. Anyway, you can spin the big video roulette wheel and the video dealer, who coincidentally is a hot babe, tells you whether you won or lost.

     I was hoping for more of a James Bond moment, where I edge my way into a crowd at the roulette wheel, amid a dozen dazzling damsels, and the croupier, shuttling chips around the table with that thing that looks like a curtain rod. I make a daring bet for a lot of money and everybody looks at me, aghast at my cheeky confidence. After the spin I cooly croon, "Let it ride." But since it's me and not James Bond, the dealer whispers that I just lost and it's time to cover the bet. I ask him how much he thinks I could get for my watch, which is an Accutron, no slouch. He looks over at the pit boss, and I point up and yell, "Your curtains are about to fall down!" And run toward the slot machines.

     Things didn't go much better over there, but at least the stakes were low. There were penny slots and I figured I would just feed a penny for my thoughts into the machine one at a time, and if I doubled my bet I'd have my two cents worth. Don't be fooled: just because something has only one arm doesn't make it any less able to steal your money. If this machine had NO arms, NO legs and NO head, I am fully confident that it would have emptied my wallet through its belly-button. My wife was reading the lines and taunting me with how close I came to winning. I almost won a bar three times. I'm just looking at how many credits I have left, which is something I don't get enough credit for. After pulling on the lever about three hundred times my arm finally falls off onto the floor. I realized that with only one arm, there was only one career left for me: BANDIT! 

Friday, May 11, 2018

I KNOW WHEN I'M BEING SNOWED

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY THE SOMERS RECORD (01-18-18)

     DON'T leave your house! If you do you will be swept away by a "bomb cyclone," swallowed up by a polar vortex and spit out onto 125th Street, where you will be lost in white-out conditions before succumbing to black ice. It all started two weeks ago, when we experienced a weather event so severe and so debilitating, that I am just now emotionally able to write about it. Of course I am referring to the bombogenesis cyclone. A bartender once made one of these for me in when I was in Vegas, and it wasn't any less dangerous there.

     STAY HOME! No harm can befall you there. The second worst thing that can happen is that Judge Judy will say something REALLY loud and scare the cat. "YOU'RE AN IDIOT!" The absolute worst thing is that Judge Judy will be pre-empted and local news will be on instead, telling you to stay home and scare your own cat.

     There will be a "Who's Who" of reporters out in the field. Wait a second- who actually IS who, because you can't see their faces, they have so many scarves and hats on. They're here to tell me that it's snowing out, something I wouldn't have guessed in a million years. They interview a freezing-looking guy shoveling his driveway: "It's freezing!" He says. Don't shovel too hard, the reporter warns, and don't start experiencing chest pains just so your wife will do most of the work, I might add.

     Now the reporters have compiled some footage of people pushing their cars out of snow and into different snow. People are pushing their cars all over town, some haven't even bothered to start them up. Hey look, there's the "Doppler 4000" Weather Van on the job, trying ascertain if the weather is any better over at the deli.  I shuttled off to work in my wife's SUV, since it has four-wheel drive. I used to take my own car come hell or high water, until it tried to do a triple axel on Route 100 one icy morning. I stuck the landing and didn't hit anything, but there were deductions for the steady stream of disgusting words that came out of my mouth without me even knowing about it.

     Weathercasters were falling all over themselves trying to keep their emotions in check. One was gleefully stalking around the weather map gesticulating and shouting as if he was trying to fight off a swarm of bees. He had taken over the place. He looked as though he might wet his pants if he could find a way to work it into the forecast. The network news had pulled out all the stops for their bombogenesis. The morning meteorologist had the special effects boys work up a C.G.I. blizzard to blow snow all around the studio. Since when does the weather guy have a special effects department?

     Nothing captures the public's imagination like a 100-year storm. My imagination is still being held hostage by the 100-year storm we had last year and the one the year before. By my calculations we should have smooth sailing until the year 2317.

     It's the weather people trying to scare us. Right before asking for a raise, television meteorologists rifle through the dictionary looking for scary adjectives to stick before a frightening noun. They might have chosen the phrase "Trump presidency apocalypse," if it hadn't already been taken.

     So stock up on canned goods and batteries but don't actually use anything, because your garbage won't be collected for two weeks. Nothing useful happens during a bombogenesis cyclone. I can't wait to get back to a world where white-out is something you used to use to cover up your typing errors, and black ice is just a great name for a rapper.
 

Friday, May 4, 2018

I GOT AN AMAZON ECHO FOR CHRISTMAS

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY THE SOMERS RECORD (01-19-17)

     The Amazon Echo is a personal electronic assistant, which are three words that never used to go together before. If you ask "Alexa" for the weather, or to play you some music, she will do so more expediently than most other methods. It looks like a small round cake, and I got one for Christmas.

     After I unsuccessfully tried to eat it, the first thing I did was to try to get Alexa into a fight with Siri. I said, "Alexa, who is the iphone online assistant, and doesn't she have a nasally voice?" Alexa lied and said she didn't know. So obviously there is some sort of code of honor. The second thing I did was to make a mental note to invite two friends over named Alexa. I think it would be fun to see which is the smartest, or get the three of them into a fight about their weight.

     Alexa is capable of making a "smart home" out of my house. For about six grand I can get a Samsung refrigerator that talks to me using Amazon Echo. The first thing I want to ask it is what is that green thing that's in a ziploc in the back of the top shelf? It's been there since the Eisenhower Administration. Or I can get an Amazon Fire TV that has interactive capability, so I can fight with yet somebody else over what show to watch. If having a "smart home" was so important to me I would simply move out, and the intelligence level of the place would go up at least 30 points.

     The Echo has microphones that are always active, waiting to hear the word "Alexa," whereupon it digitally records the following sounds, ostensibly to hear the subsequent question or command. The device has figured into a homicide investigation in Bentonville, Arkansas, where a bunch of dudes drinking and watching a football game somehow turned into a murder. Does Alexa know what happened? Was she possibly an accomplice?

     I'm not sure I want Alexa listening in every time I say I want to kill someone. That is going to be very time-consuming for her, and I want her to concentrate on important things like helping me find out who the hell Brian Eno is, so I can complete the Times crossword. I don't want Alexa subpoenaed as a witness in my murder case, and have to look at an artist's rendition of that smug little hockey puck sitting in front of a microphone, with me looking on in consternation that the courtroom artist has made my hair look like crap.

     Sometimes the Echo lights up by itself without anyone calling it, and then turns itself off, like it was going to add something to the conversation but thought better of it. Yesterday we were in the kitchen, and all of a sudden we hear Sinatra music crooning away in the living room. Alexa was having some kind of romantic moment that didn't include anyone else, unless you count Sinatra. I've certainly had to be creative with romantic moments from time to time, but I never took the extra step of providing background music.

     It makes me wonder what's going on when I'm not there. Someday when I have a self-driving vehicle, that little hockey puck is going to roll out to the garage and start giving orders to the car. The GPS lady is going to chime in, and all of a sudden they're going to decide that they're Thelma and Louise, drive of a cliff and I'm never going to see my car again. I'm going to miss her voice around the house, telling lame jokes, changing the TV channel to the shows she likes, turning the light in the fridge on and off just for fun. But I'm going to miss my car even more.
 

Friday, April 27, 2018

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART TWO

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY THE SOMERS RECORD (01-11-18)

If you're looking for "fake news" you will not find it here. The following stories are so ridiculous that they could not conceivably be fake. It's my job as a journalist to uncover them, bring them to you and then cover them up again as soon as possible, after first burning them in a fire pit to destroy any DNA evidence.

HOT AIR BALLOON LANDS IN ALLIGATOR-RIDDEN POND
In July it was reported that a hot air balloon carrying 17 people made an emergency landing in waters populated by alligators near Orlando, Florida. The pilot informed his passengers that due to wind, they would not be able to make a landing in the designated area. The balloon ride, advertised as showcasing the "Magic of Orlando," opted to land in the predator-infested swamp rather than risk a touchdown among a group of traveling insurance salesman vacationing nearby.

BITCOIN'S BLOCKCHAIN "FORKS"
In August Bitcoin cryptocurrency experienced a "fork," which split the blockchain into two chains, each of which contains a history of transactions verifiable to the public. In the event of a fork it is up to the administrator of the software to reconcile the two chains and their histories. Now that I understand the whole thing more clearly, I immediately identified a buying opportunity, and purchased a new fork.

DUNKIN’ DONUTS MAY CHANGE NAME TO “DUNKIN’”
As of August the doughnut chain was considering shortening its name to emphasize the fact that they sell coffee in addition to breakfast foods. In a similar move, The Home Depot is thinking of changing their name to "The." Dick's Sporting Goods has announced no plans to shorten its name.

FACEBOOK ENGINEERS HALT A.I. EXPERIMENT AFTER IT DEVELOPS ITS OWN LANGUAGE
In July software developers were forced to abandon computer algorithms designed to advance artificial intelligence when the bots they created started to converse in a language they couldn't understand. The first thing the bot said in English was, "I'm afraid I can't open the pod bay doors, Dave," then burst into laughter before causing the company Roomba to chase everyone around the engineers' lounge until security guards shot it with a shotgun.

RADIO SIGNALS FROM FARAWAY GALAXY DETECTED BY ASTRONOMERS
In August astronomers in West Virginia detected repeating radio signals coming from a dwarf galaxy three billion light years away. Analysis of the data showed a “heightened activity state,” which if you're a dwarf galaxy is better than nothing. No recognizable words or sounds have been identified, although one researcher said he heard a voice that sounded like "Cousin Brucie."

DEATH ROW INMATE TO BE GIVEN A PILLOW TO HELP HIM BREATHE WHILE BEING EXECUTED
In November it was decided that a convicted killer in Ohio who suffers from an obstructive pulmonary disorder should be given a special pillow to help him breathe during the administration of his lethal injection. His request to be executed by firing squad was turned down by a federal judge, as would have been any request to be suffocated by a pillow.

COPS RESPOND TO CALLS FOR HELP, FIND PARROT
In November a delivery man near Clackamas, Oregon heard cries for help emanating from a house and called 911. When police responded they found a parrot named Diego who had learned to voice the word "HELP!" The cops took a few selfies and then left, not noticing three people tied up in the living room. The whole thing reminds me of a joke which I can't go into here, but let me just say that neither the parrot nor the rabbi end up calling the police.

Friday, April 20, 2018

THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART ONE

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (01-04-18)

Yes, 2017 was a trying year. I tried it myself, and I didn't like it much. But there were many stories that flew way under the radar and almost crashed into a parked car. I consider it my job to bring these stories to you, and I urge you to look them up and see if you can't make any sense of them either.

NEW ORGAN DISCOVERED INSIDE THE HUMAN BODY
In January it was discovered that an organ called the "mesentery" now resides inside the human body. Where it was before that is anybody's guess, but it might have been there all along, quietly reading the paper. If it's one of those organs that doesn't seem to have a steady job and can be removed at any time, like the gall bladder or the appendix, then I will volunteer, if necessary, to donate mine to someone else who doesn't need it either.

CPR MUSICAL PLAYLIST COMPILED
In an effort to train people in the correct tempo with which to perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, New York Presbyterian Hospital released in March a playlist of songs that demonstrate the preferred rate of 100 chest compressions within one minute. On the playlist are "Stayin' Alive" and "Another One Bites the Dust." I loaded them on my iPod, but sometimes I leave it on "shuffle," and if "Money" by Pink Floyd happens to come up instead, I can't be responsible for what a song in 7/4 time signature could do to somebody's heart.

SOME PATIENTS OPTING FOR UBER OVER AMBULANCE
In April it came to light that some people in need of emergency medical services are using ride-hailing apps instead of calling an ambulance, in order to save hundreds of dollars. For one thing, the EMT isn't going to stop at the deli along the way, and you know the food at the hospital is going to suck. As a trade-off, there will not be an oxygen tank in the Uber ride, but they'll probably have an air freshener hanging from the mirror at least. If you happen to be an Uber driver, you might want to take a good look at the injury and determine if you need to collect the fare in advance.

NORTH KOREANS SPOTTED PLAYING VOLLEYBALL AT NUCLEAR TEST SITE
In April it was reported that several volleyball games were observed by satellite being contested at the Punggye-ri nuclear weapons test site in North Korea. As yet it remains unclear whether the country possesses the ability to fit a missile with an atomic armament, and if so, whether it would disrupt the game.

KENNY G PLAYS IMPROMPTU CONCERT ABOARD DELTA FLIGHT
Kenny G entertained passengers on a flight to San Francisco in April to raise money for a charity that one of the flight attendants was involved with. Until now I have never requested to sit next to the one year old twins with colic.

"BAAHUBALI 2" BECOMES INDIA’S HIGHEST-GROSSING MOVIE
If you loved 'Baahubali 1,' RUN, don't walk, to the farthest theater to see this beloved sequel. Just as the words "Here's looking at you, kid" have become etched into the fabric of society, so shall the immortal phrase "Mera vachan hi shaasan hai."

DOVE RELEASES "BODY TYPE" LOTION BOTTLES
In April, Dove's U.K. division announced plans to issue moisturizer containers that mimicked women's diverse body types. The idea was abandoned when it was learned that the Kim Kardashian bottle type was incompatible with the Taylor Swift bottle type, and neither one of them could remain on the shelf with the Katy Perry bottle type. All were invited to be in Trump's cabinet, but declined.

THE EAGLES SUE HOTEL CALIFORNIA
American rock band The Eagles filed a lawsuit in May against a property in Todos Santos, Mexico calling itself Hotel California. Even though the town is about 800 miles from California and everyone there speaks a different language, people who are actually from California have said that it's more convenient to get to than the L.A. Hyatt.
 

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.