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Friday, September 30, 2016



     Last Saturday a little piece of Woodstock came to Westchester, via the 12th annual Pleasantville Music Festival. Thousands of people showed up in spite of the iffy weather, and I was there at a booth for the Tarrytown Music Hall, where I volunteer as an usher from time to time. My shirt said "VOLUNTEER" on it, and a lady who thought I was with the festival came up to me and asked where the ladies room was and if there was a lost-and-found. I gave out a lot of misinformation, so I don't know where she went to the bathroom, but hopefully she'll turn up in the lost-and-found, wherever that is.

     There were still vestiges of the hippie culture in evidence. There was a girl dancing with two small Hula Hoops. From far away I thought they were the biggest earrings I had ever seen, but when I got closer, she had a whole routine going- half rhythmic gymnastics, half Harlem Globetrotters. She was way too young to remember Woodstock, and most who did would have had a tough time fitting one of those things around their waist. If you're going to ask her to slow dance you should plan to spot her about twelve feet.

     There was also a beach ball batting around up by the stage, I think one of the savings banks was giving them away at their vendor booth. The next time I turned around there were about 40 of them flying overhead. It was like a huge game of dodge-ball, and even K.T. Turnstall had to be quick on her feet, since if you get hit in dodge-ball, you're OUT.

     And for those of you who thought the tie-dye look was tie-dead, guess again! There were some people there who looked like they might start to cry if I happened to mention I heard that the Fillmore West had closed.

     There was a "beer garden" section to the south of the main stage, although the sky was so overcast I doubted whether any beer would actually grow there. It was fenced off to keep minors out, but instead created illusion of keeping all the alcoholics contained in one area. Some of them did not look as if they could negotiate their way back out even if they wanted to.

     Parents were scrambling to find the most time-consuming thing they could get their children interested in, so that they could enjoy a brief moment in time when it wasn't glaringly obvious that their kids were learning way more in school than they presently knew. They made plentiful stops to all the vendor booths that were handing out free stuff, the face-painting area, and the bouncy castle.

     I was once asked to man the face-painting booth at the Music Hall Family Day, which seemed like fun. When I suggested that we use an exterior grade alkyd paint I got re-assigned to the parking lot detail.

     By the way pre-teenagers will take anything you're handing out, if it's free. They're basically living on a fixed income, so they have a tight budget. They cleaned us out of key chains, so now they all have a place to keep their car keys. It doubles as a bottle opener, so in 12 years or so if they can remember where they put it, they can open a bottle of beer.

     No one lit their guitar on fire the way Jimi Hendrix did, which was a slight disappointment for the fire department. I was never convinced he did it on purpose, anyway- you smoke that many cigarettes and you're bound to light something on fire sooner or later.

     The weather held out pretty nicely until the last act took the stage. Their name was Guster, so when the wind picked up it was perfect symmetry. The crowd was still hanging around, still moving, still dancing. Sure, it may be a couple hip replacements since Woodstock, but that didn't slow people down any more than the knee replacements did. I hope that when I get my knee replacement, they replace my knee with someone's who danced a whole lot better than I can.

Friday, September 23, 2016



     The backstroke, of course. But the spate of recent bear sightings in upper Westchester is no joke. I consider myself something of an expert on ursine behavior, having watched nothing but television cartoons for about 14 years of my life. What I have learned is that they are frisky, adventurous, playful and speak perfect English. But they can also be dangerous if provoked or engaged close by their young.

     They feel understandably angry because their habitat has been breached and shrunk by Trump real estate ventures. They are also peeved about being portrayed in television commercials as disproportionately obsessed with toilet paper and underwear. So they may be more prone than ever to lash out at humans and human-related targets.

     It is best to avoid contact with bears whenever possible. The first rule is, don't leave anything near your house that a bear could construe as edible. That means food left on a barbecue, easily accessible bird feeders, garbage not properly secured or pet food bowls outside the home.

     For instance, my wife kept noticing a mysterious wild black cat hanging around our house for weeks, looking hungry and forlorn. She left a bowl of cat chow for it, and every once in a while we would see it out there taking a quick bite. One day we were at the neighbor's house and there was the cat, sitting on the couch, looking at us like we were idiots. Barbara told us how they hardly ever fed the cat, it was "living off the land."

     Anyone should be suspicious of a cat "living off the land." These are weird, delusional animals that kill a mole not to eat, but to play with. It's not as much fun to play with a dead mole, but at least you can remember where you left it. If a cat wants food, it's going to go home and make a grilled cheese sandwich or something.

     We once camped in a yurt at Yosemite Park, and they were very strict about the storage of anything that a bear might be interested in eating. We were told to lock these items in special bear-proof containers. The only thing we were able to keep with us was a batch of my homemade biscuits I had brought along, which I think are great but my wife says should only be used as fishing-line sinkers.

     If you do come into contact with a bear, it's important that you keep your wits about you and know what to do. First, of course, take a selfie if you have time. Be sure to check your hair and makeup before you enter the forest. To make yourself appear larger, open your coat and stretch it open. This will make you appear larger than you actually are. You should also brag about your 401K.

     Do not try to run away. Bears look like they haven't hit the gym in quite a while, but they can decisively outrun a human on any terrain. You should back away slowly, talking to it so that it knows you are human. Don't mention anything about toilet paper or underwear, or the size of its nose.

     If you are an avid camper you should have a canister of pepper spray with you at all times in case of a bear attack, and to keep the kids out of your stuff. I keep one handy myself. I'm not a camper, but it's easier than using the pepper grinder.

Friday, September 16, 2016



     Nothing makes you prouder to be an American than to see Old Glory swaying in the breeze on the Fourth of July. Regardless of what you thought Old Glory is, it's the flag.

     It's one of the symbols Americans cling to while they argue with each other about whether we should elect an annoying president, or an idiotic president. But Independence Day is a time to set all that aside and take pride in everything it means to be an American.

     Most people believe that Betsy Ross designed the first version of the flag, which  vexillologists have questioned. Most people also believe that there is no way I would ever be able to spell  "vexillologist." Apparently the whole Betsy Ross story was started when her grandson presented a paper to the Philadelphia Historical Society relating a meeting with her husband's uncle George Ross, Robert Morris and Colonel George Washington at her upholstery shop.

     According to his account passed down through family folklore, they delivered to her the design of the flag with the stars in a circle. There were 13 of them, just a star-smattered banner, not yet fully spangled. The story goes that she suggested the stars be five-pointed instead of six, because they are easier for a seamstress to make. Her point was well taken, and she was commissioned to sew as many flags as she could manufacture, which kept her busy for the rest of her life.

     But the flag is not our only national symbol. Did you know that America has a National Mammal? I would have thought that the National Mammal was the President's Seal. But it's not, it's the North American bison. They don't call it a buffalo, I guess to avoid confusing it with that place where you have to dig your car out of six feet of snow in the middle of June. I would have lobbied for a smaller National Mammal, something the Secretary of State could pack into a briefcase, like a mongoose maybe, and let it out when negotiations start to break down.

     Our National Bird is the bald eagle, which, although aptly named, would look funny with hair on its head instead of feathers. It may have been chosen because it has kind of an angry look on its face, as though someone jumped into the express checkout line in front of it with more than 10 items. For comparison purposes, the National Bird of the island Republic of Mauritius is the dodo, which has been extinct for 300 years.

     My wife made fun of me for trying to deliver the "Pledge of Allegiance," which I cannot do without putting my hand over my heart for some reason. If a person my age stands around for that long with a hand over his heart somebody usually starts to administer CPR. I started out on the wrong foot when I recited, "I pledge of allegiance to the flag..." Apparently the "of" is only in the title. Then when I got to the part with the word "indivisible" in it I started shaking. EVERYTHING is indivisible to me, since the last time my math skills were on even a 5th grade level was when I was in the 7th grade.

     At one point there was a big hubub about whether the words "under God" should be excised from the pledge, because six year-olds who were devout atheists didn't care for it. At that age I remember being much more focused on whether or not I could tie my shoe. Do they still make kids recite it in grade school? I have no idea. We did, I guess so they could root out the communist tots who might try to share their lunch with the proletariat.

Monday, September 12, 2016


This song still brings back every emotion I felt when I wrote it on September 12th, 2001, especially the ending.


"This Morning"

Friday, September 9, 2016



     When I was just a young lad my Dad used to take the whole family on a vacation to Atlantic City every year for a week of sun and surf. What's surprising is that he didn't book the trip during the winter when the hotels were cheaper.

     There were no casinos there back then, but just getting there alive was a gamble. We had four to six kids in a Mercury station wagon and two parents in the front seat with a shorter fuse and longer arms than you would think possible. The car seemed enormous at the time- it had a huge front seat, a huge back seat and two smaller seats that popped up out of the cargo area. It had wood paneling on the side, which was great camouflage if driving in our basement, which had the same paneling. When the kids in the back were small enough, you could fold them down with the pop-up seats and travel in relative quiet.

     It was slow going through the tolls on the Garden State before the days of EZ Pass. If you had a exact change you could "speed" through the exchange at about two miles an hour, TWICE the speed of the poor suckers who only had paper money. My Dad would toss the two dimes and a nickel into this thing that looked like a urinal, and if he missed, one of us would have to get out and retrieve the coins. His shooting skills were not great, but luckily our rebounding was excellent.

     My parents were desperate to keep some semblance of order on the trip, so they would try to get us involved with games like spotting license plates from different states. I'm still angry that no one from Hawaii will bother to drive to New Jersey. We would play things like "20 Questions," where I would try to guess what word my sister was thinking of, using "yes or no" questions. Why wouldn't she just tell me what the word was and save us all some time? I'll never know since that's not a "yes or no" question.

     When we arrived in Atlantic City my Dad would only pay for one room at the hotel, and there were six of us, so he would have two extra cots brought up while we hid in the bathroom. For some reason this all seemed fun at the time, the way a short-term prison sentence is fun. In the morning we all got up at the crack of dawn to bicycle on the Boardwalk. No matter which way we went we always seemed to be riding against the wind. We had to stop and pose for a picture, and it took a half-hour to make it look like we weren't posing.

     In the afternoon we would walk up to the Steel Pier. For ONE LOW ADMISSION price you could get into every attraction. If my Dad had his way we would have spent 16 hours on that pier so we could get our money's worth. If lion wrestling was included in the admission price, as god is my witness, the king of the jungle would have had me in a half-nelson, with my Dad snapping photos, telling us to look more "candid." We would do the best we can, but you can't hide your lion eyes.

     Then it was time to file into the grandstands for an aquatic spectacle presented by the "Diving Collegians," part circus, part clownery. The performance was capped off by the famous "Diving Horse." It was a bit of a stretch to insist that the horse actually dove; it wasn't like a swan dive or anything. The horse and rider would file up a long ramp to the top of a platform, and the bottom would kind of fall out. The horse would basically plummet into this huge tank, and emerge with sort of a surprised look on his face, like maybe they should get the top of that platform fixed.

     I know my brother and sisters remember those days as fondly as I do; when for one fleeting moment we seemed like a normal family. Every year we return to the shore as adults, and it's a trip down Memory Lane. And since I can't remember as much as I used to, the traffic on Memory Lane is much better than on the Garden State.

Friday, September 2, 2016



     "So guys, where should we go for dinner? Let's go out for Chinese food!" Those words are music to my ears. By the way, my ears would be the only place I would expect anything to be music to. Anyway, going out for Chinese is just the thing if you don't feel like something too fancy. And it's so convenient, much more so now that you don't have to drive all the way to China. There's a place five minutes away! So we went out with our friends Bob & Cathy on a Sunday night.
     I like to have a little fun with the waitress, chat her up a bit, tell some jokes. Have you heard the penguin joke? It's about 20 minutes long, but totally worth it. "The penguin is driving around in his car, see, and all of a sudden"- BOOM- our waitress is all the way over on the other side of the room THAT QUICKLY before the penguin has barely driven two feet. Penguins can be an acquired taste, I understand that.
     It usually takes me a while to figure out what to order. There are so many different sauces and vegetables. My wife's Mom used to cook Chinese food all the time, and she introduced me to all kinds of things. Tree ears are a kind of edible fungus, for instance. I never heard of them, but possibly my ears are not as good as theirs. Bamboo shoots- turns out they're not only used for torture. Water chestnuts are these little doohickeys that don't taste like much by themselves, but they're good mixed in with all the other stuff.
     Halfway down the menu, they announce that General Tso's chicken! This is not the kind of thing I would want to get out, if I were General Tso. And if this guy is such a military genius, how come nobody can agree on how his name is spelled? It's different on every menu.
     The waitress comes back to pour the water, and looks like she wants to pour mine over my head.... "So," I continue, "the penguin's car breaks down, and he notices there's a service station, and-" POW- she's taking someone else's order three tables down.
     So we take another look at the menu- there are so many choices. You could put just about any adjective before the word "chicken" and order it at a Chinese restaurant. Try it! What's the weirdest adjective you can think of? "Perpendicular?" "I'll have the perpendicular chicken. Only NO mushrooms." She takes everyone's order before they have finished saying it and immediately vaporizes. I yell after her, "AND COULD YOU BRING EXTRA-" She yells "OK!"
     There's crispy chicken, curry chicken, orange chicken. I saw an orange chicken once at a petting zoo, so maybe it was one of those. They have chicken with snow peas, chicken with broccoli, chicken with eggplant and chicken with baby shrimp. You have to eat that one quickly because the lifespan of shrimp is very short to begin with.
     The meal is good, and I feel like some coffee, but at Chinese restaurants they usually only have tea. I ask anyway, because a lot has changed in China in the age of the internet. "While I have you here, the penguin goes to the service station to ask about his car, see, and-" "No coffee, just tea!" She says, from where I don't know because I can only hear her, not see her.
     After the meal they sometimes bring an orange, supposedly to cleanse the palate. A nice tradition, even if nobody ever eats the orange. Americans would probably just spray some palate cleanser down their gullet and hope for the best. Then it's time to open the fortune cookie. It's pretty obvious that I get someone else's fortune by mistake, like, "Wealth awaits you today." So far all I have is the cookie, not the fortune.
     The waitress flies by and grabs the credit card slip just as I am dotting my i leaving a big line across the top of my signature. She yells out "Thank you!" before I even have a chance to finish the penguin joke. Write me and I'll tell it to you.