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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sonny the Cat

Goodbye to a faithful friend of seventeen years. Remembering Sonny the Cat, aka "Porkchop," a gentle and affable companion to R & R, Cookie, Susie, Holly, Olive and Gidget.

Friday, January 22, 2016



On December 2nd somebody flipped a switch and 45,000 LEDs illuminated a 78-foot Norwegian Spruce perched in the center of Rockefeller Center. This year my wife and I visited, and I compared the tree to the ones we used to decorate when I was a kid growing up in Chappaqua. I did a comprehensive qualitative survey using all the tools afforded to someone who got a 425 score on his math SAT. The result of my complicated analysis is that the two are statistically identical, once you adjust for several factors.

First of all, they have a bigger budget over there at the plaza. The Head Gardener for Rockefeller Center scouts the trees by helicopter, as far away as Canada. When the helicopter crashes into one, it is deemed tall enough. My parents used to purchase our tree at the parking lot of our church, god-forsaken by definition and from a genus of conifer known as nevergreen. It was slightly larger than one of those pine tree air fresheners that hangs from peoples' mirrors who engage in a lot of smelly behavior in their cars. By the way, if I had known that there was such a thing as a "Head Gardener," my hair would look a lot better.

We would drop an aspirin in the water at the base of the tree to keep what little greenery there was from dropping off whenever somebody created a breeze by opening the door. If you even yawned you could get a mouthful of needles. And good luck even finding an aspirin in my house (I have 5 brothers and sisters).

The Rockefeller Center tree is supported by four discreetly placed wires and a steel spike in its base. Our tree was supported by a red and green tree stand with a few thumb screws in it. But how long would our tree stand stand? About ten minutes tops, until the cat, amazed by the fact that a full-sized tree had suddenly sprouted in our living room, seized the opportunity to escape from the lunatic asylum by scaling the trunk in a matter of microseconds.

Climbing toward the heavens, he reached the top of the tree and discovered that it was only a fake star, scraping along the ceiling at a 90-degree angle because we failed to account for the height of the base when measuring the tree. The cat masked its disappointment in a number of ways, including knocking off the ornaments and batting them into the kitchen, and making odd sounds from behind the couch after digesting a spaghetti dinner made out of strands of silver tinsel.

I love the smell of a fire on Christmas morning. And since we plugged about 15 light strings into the same electrical outlet, one was just about guaranteed. Just in case that failed, we set up the tree about a foot away from the fireplace.

My wife and I stood on 49th Street and appraised the lighting draped on the tree's branches. Sure, it looks great now, but what happens when one bulb burns out and takes half the string with it? Every year we put up the tree, we had more and more strings of Christmas lights with fewer and fewer bulbs that worked. And even though you couldn't swear to it, it seemed like every time you turned around different bulbs were dead than the last time you looked.

Admiring the majesty of the huge specimen, the Christmas spirit was easy to catch. So was a headcold, since there were thousands of people in the square with their kids doing the same thing we were. We were run over by baby strollers, harangued by disco dancing Salvation Army volunteers, whacked by selfie sticks, harassed by people selling anything they could think of and poked by Spongebob's square pants. We were sucked into an eddy of humanity, swirled around Rockefeller Center twice and spit out into a tidepool on 6th Avenue. We looked at each other and said, "Wow- that was annoying and borderline dangerous. Let's do it again next year." 

Friday, January 15, 2016



     Black Friday is a colloquial term that describes the chaos and mayhem that ensues when stores across this country open their doors and allow bargain-starved maniacs to storm their inventory. I survived Black Friday by sitting in a very comfortable chair, turning on the television and eating my twelfth turkey sandwich. Incidentally, the safest place to be on Black Friday is anyplace that sells turkey sandwiches. If you stand any place else in the continental United States on the Friday after Thanksgiving, you are likely to be stampeded, or used as a human battering ram.

     No one is sure how Black Friday got its name, but one theory suggests that businesses that operated at a loss, or "in the red," for most of the year enjoyed so much success the day after Thanksgiving that it put them "in the black." My own theory suggests that if you wear black on that day and I happen to get trampled to death standing outside of a Walmart, you will be properly dressed for my funeral.

     Now that Black Friday begins on Thanksgiving Thursday, the people infiltrating the stores are now both crazy AND hungry, making the situation even more potentially dangerous.

     Walking into a department store is scary enough on a normal day. I feel my blood pressure rising so I follow it up on the escalator. When I get to the top floor, dizzy from lack of oxygen, I go over to the Information Desk so they can tell me how to get back out of the store.

"Where can I get garden hose?" I inquire. "Would that be in Hosiery?"
"If it's for inside it would be in Housewares, if it's for outside it would be in Hosewares, and if it's for your basement it would be in Underwares."
"I was unaware that there even was an Underwares. So I can basically get a hose Anywares?"

     But on Black Friday the experience is ramped up to a fever pitch because of the sales. I pick up a fondue set, for instance. I HATE fondue, but the damn thing was 70% OFF! At the clothing department, a pair of pants was half-off, so it was just one pant. I get a lot of stuff that I don't need which doesn't fit, but the bargains were incredible. Plus it was an extra 20% off when I signed up for the store credit card, and by the time they added everything up they owed me about a hundred and twenty bucks.

     I prefer to do my shopping away from the crowds, but some things you need to see in person, or to try on for size. For instance, does this video game controller make me look fat? Is this pair of pants a regular 36-inch waist, or a Walmart 36-inch waist, where they add a few extra inches to the number "36" to make you feel better about whatever you overate on Thanksgiving?

     If I'm buying a television, I like to see what the picture looks like in real life, assuming I have a real life. Plus, since I am too cheap to get Showtime, I binge-watch the first two seasons of Homeland at Best Buy.

     When my wife goes shopping, I notice that she approaches clothing items she is interested in and touches each one, sometimes pets them like a dog. Come to think of it, she used the same technique when she shopped for our dog.

Monday, January 11, 2016



     What would Thanksgiving be without a beautifully carved turkey, a table overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, fine wine in abundance and a crackling fire in the background? Well, to tell you the truth, it would be a lot like Thanksgiving at my house. Many of our finest holiday traditions were passed down through the years like a hand-me-down pair of shoes: a little ratty and ill-fitting, but they're ours.

     We used to have a turkey with all of the fixins, but there are so few of us in the area now we're down to about one fixin. Cranberry sauce of course, but if it isn't served in the perfect shape of a can what good is it?

     Stuffing comes out of a box- if it was good at stuffing the box, it ought to do just as well in the turkey. I don't eat stuffing myself because I think it's kind of weird to hollow out animals and fill them up with something else. I believe it would be better to just follow the turkey around, and wait until it eats a whole bunch of cubed breadcrumbs and celery and onions, and as soon as it says, "Wow- I am STUFFED!" Bingo- right into the oven.

     The parts that you removed from your bird in order to stuff in the stuffing are called the giblets. These may sound adorable, like little pets that run around on an exercise wheel, but in fact they are kind of gross. They consist of the inner organs and the gizzards. Things that even Jed Clampett would think twice about eating. But wouldn't you know, there are recipes for these innards for people who have to devour everything in the world, people who would cook and eat the spare tire from your car.

     I remember when I was young, sitting by the fireplace and thinking that nothing is better than the smell of smoke on Thanksgiving. When I realized that there was nothing in the fireplace and that the smoke was coming from the kitchen, I knew that my mom had reached her limit of three whiskey sours, and that we all had to pretend that we didn't notice that the carrots were burning in the bottom of the pan for about fifteen minutes.

     Instead of a Norman Rockwell painting with a cornucopia of fresh vegetables, we just heat up frozen corn from a bag, and I used to feel self-conscious about that. But then I read that frozen corn actually has more nutrients in it than fresh corn does. Now I'm trying to convince my wife that since ice cream is ALWAYS frozen, the amount of nutrients in it must be EPIC. I'm working on it.

     The bird is ready and out of the oven. The idea of "carving" a turkey makes it sound like you're some kind of a craftsman, whittling one out of wood. In reality it's kind of barbaric, chopping off body parts one at a time. I can't even do it, so my brother-in-law takes care of things. My dad used to cut it up with this electric knife that seemed like a miniature chain saw. Only a few short weeks after Halloween, it had a bit of a macabre tinge to it. I feel like the turkey didn't even see this kind of torture coming- I would at least water-board it a little first.

     Finally it's time to eat. We express our gratitude and say a couple words of remembrance for those who can't be here to argue with us. After all, a beautiful meal served with your whole family is something to be thankful for. Because when everyone is eating, they usually aren't talking. And when the dinner is over, alcohol and counseling are also good things to be thankful for.

Monday, January 4, 2016



     Did you know that Somers is the Acorn Capitol of the World? Well if you looked outside your house, you probably did. Apparently, this is a bumper crop year for the pesky oak nuts. They're all over the place- the lawn, the patio, the driveway. I was using the leaf blower a week ago, and it's like I was armed with nature's Uzi. Neighbors were diving for cover as the little projectiles fired in all directions. I keep running over them with the car, which results in acorn squash. And don't tell me that the acorn never falls far from the tree, because that is an old chestnut. They still figure out a way to roll into my garage.

     Experts have acknowledged that this is a "mast year," meaning that there were as many as five to ten times as many acorns produced as usual. As for why there were so many this year, those same experts have said, if I may paraphrase, "Beats the hell out of me." People sometimes attribute the increase to weather conditions or global warming. But the oak produces fruit on a two-year cycle, so that 2014's weather means this year's completely nuts. Plus the weather could be vastly different over a large geographic area, and yet you still have gluts of nuts.

     Another theory has nature providing some sort of chemical signal that causes oaks to produce more acorns. I wonder what the reason for this might be? There were about fifty thousand acorns on my lawn this year. Does nature think I need fifty thousand oak trees? Nature seems really out of touch with my needs. Has there ever been a mast year for anything useful, like Baby Ruth bars?

     It's probably like the human reproductive cycle, where it takes a two hundred million sperm to fertilize one egg. About a hundred million of them split off to follow the loud, annoying, brash-talking sperm with what looks like fake hair and an angry-looking pouty-face, and head off immediately in the direction of North Dakota. Another 50 million or so use GPS directions and end up somewhere near the duodenum, wherever that is. Most of the rest are completely unmotivated, and hang around playing video games and streaming on Netflix. That leaves one sperm that arrives pretty much by luck.

     But this is exactly the type of anomaly that throws off the whole food chain. An unusually large acorn production will eventually mean more deer, which eat the acorns. This in turn will mean an increase in the deer's natural predator, the front fender of my car. Do I really need a car with more front fenders?

     If you want to cut the line and get into the food chain yourself, I found a recipe for acorn pancakes. First, you have to remove the bitter tannins from the acorns using a process called leaching. Then you have to remove the leeches from the acorns, since I misread the instructions. Then you grind up the acorns, make a flour out of them, and stir them into the pancake batter. If you use syrup made from maple trees, you never have to leave the forest, at least until it's time for Judge Judy.

     I was just foraging some more acorns from the driveway, and I looked up and there was a squirrel, obviously overweight, and I don't mean to body-shame squirrels or anything, and the look in his eyes said, "Seriously? Acorns? When we're in a mast year for lasagna?"