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

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Friday, December 15, 2017

WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (08-31-17)

     Where were you when the lights went out? For two minutes and thirty-eight seconds last week, the Earth was plunged into blackness. It was thrilling, it was awesome and it was slightly darker than usual. I was in my office during the Great Eclipse of 2017, looking out my window across the Hudson River, waiting for the big show. The light dimmed a little, but it just seemed like a cloudy day with an eclipse in the middle of it. I was somewhat whelmed, but I wouldn't say that I was overwhelmed.

     If you did get a good look at this eclipse you may not be able to see the next one, since it's unhealthy to look directly at it. It could cause severe eye damage, like looking directly at a Trump press conference. You can't just throw on a pair of sunglasses and view it, because it won't be sunny out. You must purchase special glasses, certified ISO 12312-2. 

     This was bad news for me, because I have a hundred different pairs of glasses for everything. Sometimes I'm nearsighted so I have glasses for driving. I have a different pair of readers in every room of the house for looking at the paper. I have sunglasses, regular and prescription, and also reader sunglasses. I even have 3-D bifocals in case I go to a movie. So I needed prescription ISO 12312-2's, and then readers to look at the directions. Once I finally figured everything out I couldn't even see the sun because the damn moon was in the way.

     Of course, if you didn't have special glasses you could look at the eclipse with a "pinhole camera," and all you need is a small prick. Just poke a hole in a cereal box lined with white paper, and view a rendering of the sun from an opening in the other side. Another website said you could view the event through holes in a Ritz cracker, but did not mention that you might feel stupid doing so.

     According to Neil Degrasse Tyson you could look through an ordinary colander to see the eclipse. By this time I figured the scientists were just goofing on everybody- hey, I saw "Revenge of the Nerds." But it turns out that you can look directly at the sun  through a colander, as long as you don't first remove all the wet spaghetti. If you do, you have to hold it above a piece of paper, and you'll see a bunch of little eclipses projected onto it through the holes.

     Animal behavior supposedly goes haywire during an eclipse. Judging by our animals' behavior there has been an eclipse going on for the last eight years at the very least. My cat is 8 years old and still chases its tail. If I was still chasing my tail at age 58 people would think I'm an idiot, or at least idioter than I already am.

     People were bragging about their location. "Do you have totality?" They asked. "Yes, of course I have totality. I have total partiality. Anything less would be-" "You're not in the swath, are you? I can tell you don't have totality just by looking at you. You're pathetic, although for other reasons. You wish you were in Carbondale, Illinois, like me," they sneered. I never pictured myself wishing I was in Carbondale, Illinois until that moment. I was stuck here with only partial totality and not even any carbon.

     I felt a little guilty that I had not been left in the dark, and vowed to not see the light next time. The next total eclipse is coming up in 2024, which is when I will be subsisting on a diet of wet spaghetti and Ritz crackers with a hole in them. It's only seven years away, so mark it on your colander.

Friday, December 8, 2017

ADVENTURE ON THE HIGH SEAS

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (08-24-17)

     Last week my friend Dave took me and a couple other friends out for a very pleasant tour of the Long Island Sound on his boat. He has a peppy little bowrider that he tows over to the Norwalk boat launch at Veteran's Park. The term "boat launch" brought back some vivid memories of when Dave and I owned a boat together. Dave taught me everything I know about how to pilot a boat. However, no one who's boat has been hit by mine should hold that against him, since he taught me a lot more than I learned. One thing that did sink in is that a boat is not something to sink in. When properly launched, it should not go straight into the air like a rocket ship.

     Do you know why it's called the Long Island Sound? Neither do I, because whatever the Sound sounds like, I couldn't hear it over the roar of the engine once we got out of the channel. We aired that baby out to the tune of about 40 miles per hour after we cleared the no-wake zone. Do you know why they call it a "wake?" Well, we flew over a big one and went airborne for what seemed like a few minutes, and when we landed it woke me right up from a nap I was planning two days in the future. We were out of the no-wake zone, but there should be a no-fly zone posted there instead.

     We cruised around for a while and took in the sights. There are extensive oyster beds in the area, but I doubt they got a whole lot of sleep. You can tell where they are by flags that stick up above the water, which makes the place look like a golf course made up entirely of water hazards. We motored by Westport, Sherwood Island and turned around near Fairfield.

     By this time everyone was getting hungry so we taxied into shallow water near what looked like a deserted island so we could eat our lunch. "Get ready to drop the anchor," Dave called, "and try not to scratch the paint with the anchor chain." Tony grabbed the anchor while I held the chain, and through a carefully-coordinated effort we were able to scratch most of the paint off the bow, but to our credit we didn't scratch any off the anchor chain. It was a beautiful day, and we had a bite to eat, drinking in the natural beauty of the area since no one remembered to bring beer. Here the quiet was interrupted only by the chatter of the herring gull and the call of the double-crested cormorant, which I took on my cellphone. Life on the deserted island didn't look like it included dessert, which was disappointing.

     But soon the cove started filling up fast with other boaters. People jumped in the water and began floating around on inner tubes, outer tubes, inflatable floaties and paddle boards, which are the new craze. Every time I see somebody on a paddle board they look as if they mistakenly thought that they would be having way more fun than they presently are, standing around on a surfboard. One guy looked at my sandwich forlornly, and then started paddling away in the general direction of Domenick's Deli.

     If I've learned anything at all from Gilligan's Island, it's to prepare for every eventuality before you board the boat. Sure, everyone made fun of the Howells for bringing a trunkful of cash with them on an island tour, but there are no ATMs at the sand bar, and I doubt they will take a personal check. Also, that transistor radio is going to be invaluable if we get shipwrecked and the Yankees play a day game. I'm guarding that radio with my life, because if somebody busts a transistor in it I have no idea where get another one.

     As the afternoon wore on and the shadows started getting longer it was time to weigh anchor and get back to the boat launch. Dave hopped onto the bow to retrieve the anchor before Tony and I could volunteer, and we powered up and headed towards shore. It was a short ride at top speed until we got to the channel, where you can only go five miles per hour, and I was expecting the guy on the paddle board to pass us.

     I have a friend who has a giant sailboat, and I can't imagine what happens if you get all the way out past the bay and the wind dies down. Well actually, I can imagine it, that happens to be my strong suit. I picture me and two other couples, drifting out from Long Island for a few days, and now we're somewhere near the Galapagos Islands. "I'm pretty sure I can get us back home, if you'll just let me generate some wind by telling a few stories about how I got kicked out of my high school math class for not baking cookies." "That's okay, I think the wind is about to pick up," they all reply, almost in unison, though weak from lack of food and water.... 

Friday, December 1, 2017

DECONSTRUCTING A DECONSTRUCTION

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (08-17-17)

     My sister Kathy got tickets at Jacob Burns Film Center for a filmed performance of Scott Freiman's "Deconstructing the Beatles." There are only two Beatles left, so he may be ahead of schedule. Mr. Freiman is a composer, musician and producer, and he's carved out quite a little side career for himself by giving lectures about the group, and how their most famous songs made the journey from inspiration to vinyl. 

     I have never been to a deconstruction before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I dissected a butterfly once in science class, but when I put it back together there were still some parts leftover, a thorax, a leg and and an antenna, although the antenna turned out to be from somebody's car.

     This presentation covered "The Beatles," more commonly known to fans as "The White Album," in some ways their most complex, in some ways their most simplistic, and in most ways their hardest to keep clean. The Beatles wanted to return from the psychedelic trip they went on with "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," where they took production and cover art to extremes they had not explored before.

     Scott Freiman explained that the Beatles longed to get back to a simpler form of songwriting, so in some ways they deconstructed themselves. They packed up and left for an ashram in India to learn how to meditate, and by the time they finally got back to recording, their manager Brian Epstein had died, George Martin briefly left, Ringo walked out, their engineer flew the coop, Yoko infiltrated the studio and basically all hell broke loose.

     But from those sessions came some of the group's most enduring music, and Freiman told the stories behind them. For instance, "Dear Prudence" was written about Mia Farrow's sister, who was also at the ashram, and meditated so assiduously that she wouldn't come out of her room. There is probably a fine line between assiduous meditation and agoraphobia, but I'm just thankful that Mia Farrow's sister wasn't named Debbie or Lulu.

     The real revelation is that as original as the Beatles were, creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum. The Beatles' influences came out on the White Album maybe more so than any other, since much of the material was written individually. Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys inspired "Back in the USSR," Donovan taught John Lennon the picking style used in "Dear Prudence," Eric Clapton provided the guitar lead for "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," a Nigerian musician lent Paul McCartney the phrase, "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" and none other than Bach donated the form Paul used in "Blackbird."

     Freiman didn't get into that whole conversation about whether Paul is dead or not, so I thought I'd pick up the ball here. Back in the '70s every Beatles album supposedly had a boatload of clues supporting the theory that McCartney had died in a car crash and was replaced in the band by a look-alike. At the time you could hear all sorts of references to his untimely demise if you listened closely. John says, "I buried Paul" at the end of "Strawberry Fields," but it's kind of hard to hear and sounds more like "I married Paul." My friends told me to play the record backwards but I couldn't reach the tonearm when I stood that way.

     There are other clues, too. On the cover of "Abbey Road," Paul walks barefoot in a funeral-like procession. It is well known that people who are dead walk barefoot. Also, on "Magical Mystery Tour" Paul is dressed as a walrus, which is a sign of death, although if you ask any walrus about it they'll say it's news to them. I've seen McCartney in an interview recently and he looks fine to me but I am no expert. Abe Vigoda was rumored to be dead many years before and after his death, and even during his death, so it's nothing new.

     Still, there are many other mysteries about the Beatles that are still unsolved, like who really was the fifth Beatle? Was it Pete Best? Was it Stu Sutcliffe? Billy Preston? George Martin? Mia Farrow's sister? That's already nine Beatles, and I can sense some controversy coming about who was the tenth Beatle. Also, 20 years ago today, when Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, why didn't he just hire people who already knew how to play? So, Mr. Freiman, if you're so smart, let's hear some answers, and while you're at it you can tell me what "Love Me Do" means.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A SHORE THING

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (08-10-17)

     Every year at around this time I head south and spend a weekend at the Jersey shore all by myself, to unwind and recharge my batteries. And when I say "by myself," I mean myself and the zillion or so other people vacationing between exits 98 and 117 on the Garden State Parkway. I like to spend a little time at the beach, check out some bands at the bars and ride my bike around.

     I hit 10th Avenue Beach on Friday when I got to Belmar. I've been to the black beaches of Santorini, the lush blue waters of Negril, Waikiki in Hawaii, and I can't think of any place I'd rather soak up some sun than the Jersey shore. I remember someone was once telling me about their dream vacation in Bora Bora: "There was not ONE SOUL on the beach!" They bragged. Is there anything more Boring Boring than that? Without big hair, small bikinis, bad tattoos and people yelling at their kids, I would be reduced to actually reading that book I brought. Later my wife asked me if I remembered to put on suntan lotion, and I said OF COURSE I remembered that I should have put on suntan lotion.

     In between waves several planes flew over the ocean towing banners with ads on them. Some were useful in reminding me what time happy hour was at the beach bar, and who was the DJ, in case we weren't already on a first name basis. Other planes flew by with some odd advertising choices, such as health insurance and radiology services. I'm at the beach and I ALMOST remembered to put on suntan lotion- I'm clearly not here for my health. One banner was advertising outlet stores at exit 100. If your house didn't come with outlets already in it, you got fleeced.

     At night I hit my favorite imbibery to see who was playing, as if I didn't know. I only come here once a year, but whenever that is, the Bruce Springsteen tribute band is always here too. I consider myself Springsteen-neutral, but I forget how many great songs he actually has, like "Growin' Up" and "I'm On Fire." But you need a singer who sounds like Bruce, and Bruce sings like he's passing a stone. It's hard to sing like that for two and-a-half hours- eventually that frog in your throat is going to croak. It might just be easier to pass a stone. You also need a glockenspiel player- a lot of Springsteen tunes have a glockenspiel in them. He was going to hire a lyre instead, but did not, due to the pants-on-fire situation.

     On Saturday I rode my bike up Ocean Avenue, and into the stiff wind my top speed was only about 5 mph. I figured at least on the way back, I wouldn't need to pedal, and may not even need the bike at all it was so breezy. I rode north about seven miles and I noticed a police car that said, "Deal Police," and I thought, wow, that is so considerate of the cops to let drug dealers know in advance what they were up to, but it turns out that Deal is the name of the town.

     On Saturday night The Nerds were playing. Those guys have been around forever it seems. They didn't over-geek their act, they were just a good solid band. The meek may yet inherit the Earth. The keyboard player seemed extra nerdy, and I tried to shout out a question about how to get my printer driver working, but he didn't hear me. They performed some crowd favorites, like "Shout!" Which has a part where everyone crouches down, while the band plays quietly. Then the chorus comes and everyone pops back up except for me, who did not have a round-trip ticket. They played that song, "I Like Big Butts!" A lot of women were pretty enthusiastic about that one, for obvious reasons.

     By the time Sunday rolled around, I hurt all over from that long bicycle ride, I was sunburned, hungover and I had a headache. I needed the kind of prolonged rest that only three hours on the Garden State Parkway can provide.

Friday, November 17, 2017

SEEING THE SEAPORT

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (08-03-17)

     We spent a couple days at Mystic Seaport last week, had a great time and learned a lot about the shipbuilding, fishing and whaling industries that kept New England afloat for a few  centuries or so. The little village is a working museum consisting of many period buildings from the heyday of maritime dominance, some in their original locations, many moved from other towns.

     The whaling industry is on full display here, especially with the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan, the second oldest commercial ship still in the water. I was able to break a long-standing record by hitting my head on every single surface of the vessel. Tall ships aren't necessarily for tall people. On board the ship was evidence of all the other industry that went on in the town.

     You don't hear much about wooden barrels anymore, at least since the invention of Tupperware, but back in the 1800s the cooper who made the barrels was one of the most important people in the village. If you were going on a sea voyage you needed enough provisions to last the trip. It's not like you could pull into a rest stop, gas up,

     hit the loo and get a cup of coffee. Everything had to be taken on board. When it came to making these vessels to take on your vessel, the cooper really had you over a barrel. The one at Mystic was working on so many projects, he should have a plaque at Cooperstown. He cooped 'til he was pooped. He told us how the staves of the barrel were fitted together using whale oil, which made the seal tight. I didn't even know seals drank.

     The whaling industry was dangerous, hard work and not for the squeamish. That's why so few whales wanted to get into it. We learned about the small whaleboats the crew used to harpoon the giant mammal and deliver it back to the ship. Until now most of my contact with whales was centered around the "Fudgy the Whale" cake from Carvel.

     Whale oil itself was like a miracle product back then. I assumed they used whale oil to keep the whales from making those screechy sounds that they make underwater, like the saying, "the squeaky whale gets the grease." But in fact it was used for soap, lubrication, textile processing, and mostly, to burn in lamps. It's surprising that the whales didn't think of using it for all that themselves. I began to wonder where baby oil comes from, proving that you can think about things too long.

     At the Thompson Exhibition Building the tales of some adventurous seafarers are on display along with artifacts from their journeys, such as scrimshaw, which are meticulously etched pieces of whale teeth. The detail in this art is impressive, and even more so if they forgot to take the teeth out of the whale beforehand. You can see the tusk of a narwhal here, a whale with a bony protrusion coming out of its head, like a "unicorn of the sea." Why they call it a unicorn I don't know, it's not like it has an ear of corn coming out of its head.

     The nautical instruments shop sold navigational tools, compasses and other items for fixing your position at sea. I say if your position ain't broke, don't fix it. They had sextants, which I'm too much of a lady to go into here. I'm not sure exactly what a sextant does, but suffice it to say that everything had to be done manually back then. They also had many antique clocks, and we had to get out of there before 12 o'clock noon hit and all the chimes went off.

     The chandler sold items and provisions for the trip, and the blacksmith forged a personal relationship with the ship's captains by making all kinds of ironwork, from gaffs to anchors. The ropehouse is by far the longest building there, because a ropemaker would actually have to walk a straight line carrying the entire length of the rope behind him, weaving the strands together. The original building was four times the length of this 250-foot structure. Could just anyone do this work? I think knot.

     Many of these disciplines are flourishing again as the Mystic shipbuilders refurbish the Mayflower II, a replica of the original on hand from Plymouth, Mass. The Mayflower carried the pilgrims from the original "Brexit." Now that they see what's going on in America, they may want to go back. As I strolled the grounds of Mystic and talked with the artisans there and learned how much goes into it all, I will never again complain about "shipping and handling" charges. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

I HAVE A BEEF

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (07-27-17)

     There are plenty of reasons that you may not want to go out to dinner with me, so the following is not an exhaustive list. For one thing, it's like going to dinner with a 4th grader. I'm not going to like anything remotely sophisticated, I just basically want a cheeseburger. So after tennis with George and Pam we decided to check out a fairly new burger place in the area. I would expect to sit down, order the cheeseburger, and move on to harder subjects, like 4th grade Social Studies. Ordering a cheeseburger should be the easiest thing you do all day. But I soon learned that NOTHING is easy anymore.

     This is the kind of place where they bring you what looks like a wine bottle, and you didn't even order wine, and you get all excited, but it's only water. I pretend to sniff the cork and ask, "What year is this?" The waitress looks at me like she can't believe I don't know what year this is. The water is locally sourced, because I can see the tap from my seat.

     I looked over the complicated mine field of a menu so I can order this cheeseburger using the process of elimination, and I couldn't believe all the stuff I had to eliminate. One burger had "smoke sauce," and I didn't want to get charged for that- I could just hold the sauce under my car's exhaust pipe, or order it with second-hand smoke sauce. There was something called "wham bam" sauce, which I wanted to order just so I could say "Thank you, ma'am" when the waitress brought it. You could get a salad with pickled onions. I wanted to ask if I could get onioned pickles instead, but I was afraid that once I got started I wouldn't be able to shut up.

     There was Black Forest bacon available. I don't know about you, but I've been in a lot of forests and I never once saw any bacon. There were buckwheat groats, which I'm sure to most people are self-explanatory, and there was ancient grain tabbouleh, which sounds like it was dug up in an archaeological expedition.

     The mission statement of the place assures me that all the animals that I am about to enjoy were free-range, pasture-raised and humanely cared for right up until the time that I impolitely ate them. Instead of encouraging me, this thought kind of bummed me out, because I started thinking about my cow, and what its life was like. How ironic that it lived its life on a free range, and then ended it on a really expensive one.

     The baby kale was the saddest story on the menu. Still a little green, this poor kale was cut down in the bloom of its youth, before it even had a chance to know what life was about. Was it martyred for some culinary masterpiece at Nobu? No, it was sacrificed to be a garnish somebody's hamburger (not mine). At those prices it also garnished their salary.

     After dinner the waitress came around with a portable credit card machine and settled the bill right at our table. You can press a button that figures out her tip automatically, which removes the possibility of me leaving my customary 16 and three-quarters percent tip. Which is because of my 4th grade math- sometimes I remember to carry the 1, and other times I leave it to find its own method of transportation.

     I should probably note that after all was said and medium-well-done, we had a great meal. I was assured that all the ingredients were locally harvested, and asked in advance whether they wanted to participate in my cheeseburger. Finally I told them to just bring me an entire elk and a Phillips head screwdriver, and I'll farm-to-table the damn thing myself. And bring me a plate of glutens, it was the only thing on the menu that was free.

Friday, November 3, 2017

JUST A STAGE I’M GOING THROUGH

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (07-20-17)

     This year's Pleasantville Music Festival was held on July 8th, and it ran quite smoothly, in spite of the fact that I was a volunteer on the Stage Crew. In order to keep things flowing onstage, we first had to assemble it. The crew chief from the rental company backed a large panel truck out onto the field, and some burly union guys attached a ramp and started unloading a bunch of risers. The word "riser" is a bit of a misnomer, since while I was waiting for them to rise, the crew was busy bolting them together. Good thing the guys knew how all the pieces fit, because I imagined myself trying to figure it out by reading the directions, misspelled in English, Spanish, French but not Chinese. Once I ordered a beach chair from Amazon and it took me an hour to figure out how to put it together.

     I finally learned what "stage right" and "stage left" mean. For instance, stage right is the place opposite of where I went when they told me to go there. When they said, "Stage left!" I told them no it didn't, it was right behind me! Union guys don't have a whole lot of time for people like me.

     We finally constructed all the stages and showtime rolled around. I checked out various bands and concession booths until it was time to load one band off and the next act on. I was walking around with all the swagger of someone who has earned his blue-and-white wrist band. I was free to drift in and out of the backstage area where the food was. I dished myself out some chicken piccata, although it might have been beef and peppers, I didn't bring any test equipment.

     They were pretty serious about recycling this year, and they had several different containers to separate the trash into. They had one for plastics, one for metals, one for compostable foodstuffs and one for nuclear waste. There was a lady guarding the area who was pretty serious about which bin you threw stuff out in, and she may have been armed. I had a disposable plate that looked like paper but felt like plastic, and she was watching me like a hawk to see which can I would put it in. If I made the wrong choice she looked like she might brain me with a soup ladle, file it in the plastics bin and toss me out with the compostables.

     I asked her, what if I was throwing out a Guns n' Roses record? The band is heavy metal, the record itself is plastic and the roses are compostable. She reached for her walkie-talkie, and I didn't want any of this to get back to Guns n' Roses so I just backed up to the tray tables and put more food on my plate so I wouldn't have to throw it out.

     The rain couldn't stay away, but the sun came out just in time for nightfall. The weather had not dampened anyone's spirits, although it had dampened their lawn chairs. I checked out Living Colour and Blues Traveler and a lot of other great acts. The band Ripe was fun, there were about seven of them stomping around over on the Party Stage, and I was yelling out at them to take it easy in case we forgot a bolt or something, but nobody heard me.

     Soon enough it was all over, and we were loading Blues Traveler's equipment into a truck. With all that gear it's a wonder they traveled anywhere at all. As we broke down the platform I remembered Shakespeare once said, "All the world's a stage!" Thank god he was wrong, because I never noticed Shakespeare offering to bolt it together. So here is a warning to anyone who has aspirations to take the stage: It's heavy as hell!

Friday, October 27, 2017

KICKING AND SCREAMING

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (07-13-17)

      Is there any better idea than playing a family-friendly game of kickball on a beautiful, sunny Fourth of July afternoon? What I mean to say is that ANYTHING is a better idea than playing a family-friendly game of kickball on a beautiful, sunny Fourth of July afternoon. That is, if you are over the age of 50 and have any pride at all.

      Our friends Pete and Jenn had a lovely neighborhood Independence Day party and thought it would be fun to let the adults and kids play in backyard game of kickball. A great opportunity for us grownups to get out on the field, show the youngsters that we still have what it takes, and then get together afterwards for an MRI.

      By arriving late I spared myself the indignity of being picked last to be on the team. Traditionally, the team captain picks his or her squad out of the available pool of players based on athletic prowess. I'm used to being picked last, usually at some point after the game is over. I suggest that from now on that the teams be chosen alphabetically, starting in the middle. Sometimes I am selected as Equipment Manager or Head of Groundskeeping, which are positions of leadership far more important than actually participating on the field.

      Kickball rules are similar to those of baseball, with a couple differences. One is that if you hit a baserunner with the ball while in between bases, the runner is out. This rule is called "Indian rubber," which is either politically incorrect or completely nonsensical, depending on which Indians are involved. Either way, it's simply an excuse for little kids to throw things as hard as they can at adults, who are slower and larger targets. You'd better have good aim if you attempt it, because several throws ended up in the vegetable garden. We had to improvise a new rule involving zucchini, but I don't have time to go into that here. There were some trees on the field of play. The crabapple was foul and the fir was fair. If you kicked it into a tree you could wait for it to come down and catch it for an out, if you had the time.

      I thought I would be a little faster on the basepaths than I was. Little kids who seemed barely out of the embryo stage were zooming around me all over the place. I have long strides and I did get to first base using much fewer steps, when I got there at all. If that's not a legitimate statistic it should be.

      I managed to kick into a double play, and failed to get on base until I bunted by mistake, which brought forth jeers and catcalls, even from cats. I couldn't seem to get to third base, even though I had it punched into my GPS. It seemed even more difficult to get to third base now than it was in high school.

      On defense it didn't go any better. One ball bounced off my face before I was able to catch it (the ball, not my face). Another time I ran into a little kid as we were both trying to make the play, him with his hands and me with my face again. Then a ball bounced off the head of a statue that sat in the woods beyond center field and caromed back onto the field, where the second basegirl stepped on the bag to record an out, and I was forced to consider the possibility that inanimate objects were making better plays in the field than I was.

      We played for a while, paused for the seventh inning stretcher, to collect those fallen in the line of duty, then played some more. It's hard to outlast kids. Eventually the cheeseburgers started to come off the grill and food won the war of attrition. The last thing I wanted was to make an error at the plate.

Friday, October 20, 2017

HOLDING FOURTH

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (07-06-17)

     I would like to congratulate the town of Somers and the Lions Club for hosting another fun-filled Independence Day fireworks extravaganza this year at Reis Park. Watching fireworks is one of the few things that the internet has failed to improve upon, i.e., ruin. You can't watch them on a two-inch iphone screen and get anything out of the experience. Just for the record, the same is true for music, television, movies and newspapers, but I don't have time to go into that right now. You need to show up to behold the random patterns of exploding light, feel the power of the report hanging in the air. That reminds me, I have a report hanging in the air that I forgot to finish in the fifth grade, I wonder if it's too late to hand it in.

     Andrea was there again this year with her band, playing some classic rock. Classic rock means anything that actually has a guitar in it. She had a bunch of little girls helping her out by dancing around onstage. When the band broke into "I Want Candy," the girls seemed genuinely disappointed that there was no actual candy. The music stopped abruptly when someone reported a missing child, but resumed just as abruptly when it was discovered that the missing child was one of the girls dancing around onstage, and she had not missed anything.

     There was a drone hovering over the proceedings for a while, which was slightly creepy, and we were pointing it out to others. It was a "Superman moment," like when the townspeople, in a confounded frenzy, glanced skyward and cried, "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!" People who are that easily stupefied by birds and planes could cause a panic at a magic show.

     I don't know what the drone was there for, I assume to take pictures of the fireworks, although it could have been carrying out some sort of reconnaissance mission to try to find a Dunkin' Donuts or something.

     When I was a kid we used to light sparklers on the 4th of July and wave them around indiscriminately next to flammable objects, for fun. I don't see them much anymore, so I guess they were outlawed. Probably some kid lit his hair on fire, and because of him, now NONE of us can light our hair on fire, regardless of whether it would be an improvement or not. It was probably the smoke from his hair that violated the park's no-smoking policy. Instead, they sell these LED spinning light whirligigs and geegaws that look like little UFOs. They don't seem dangerous, but I bet they could louse up your cellphone service.

     I listened to the fireworks with my eyes closed and imagined Francis Scott Key writing about the only thing he could hear, confined in his jail cell: the bombs bursting in air. Hey, I'm a songwriter, too. If it had been me in that situation writing the Star Spangled Banner, I like to think I would have done the same thing, but I doubt if I could hear anything over the sound of my constant sneezing in that musty prison air. My National Anthem would have included a couple patriotic lines about dust motes.

     I was drinking water all day since I didn't see anything stronger available, and it was taking its toll. I didn't know if it was ethical to use the handicapped port-a-potty. My knee would certainly qualify as handicapped, but that's not the part that had to go, so I figured we should angle over towards the parking lot and slip out during the "grand finale" to beat the rush. Next year, I propose that they fire off the grand finale first so I don't miss it. I got caught in the traffic anyway, since the police make you wait until the shuttle buses are filled so you don't run over a bunch of kids on your way out. By the way, these are the same kids who almost ran ME over a hundred times before the fireworks even started.

Friday, October 13, 2017

SINGING A FEW BARS BEHIND BARS

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (06-29-17)

     I'm one of those guys who thinks that too much exposure to Broadway show tunes can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, inflammation, stomach pain and blotchy skin. Please use only as directed, by a qualified stage director. Last Thursday was different. I was privileged to be among a select audience invited to hear a recital of songs performed by inmates of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. The roles were reversed, and we were the captive audience. I was curious to see if music could survive there, on a diet of frozen meatloaf and spaghetti.

     The place is a maximum security prison, so first we had to wait on line to be processed. That means we empty everything out of our pockets, and store our cellphones in a locker. Mine is still in there, but it's up for parole in six months.

     They waved us with those metal detector wands. I remember when security guards used to search you manually, and I almost got myself taken down plenty of times when I got too fidgety during the pat down. It would be so ironic to get tased for being ticklish, when there are so many other good reasons to tase me. There was no cavity search, but I had just been to the dentist the week before. After I was processed I felt a little better, like cheese but without the holier than thou attitude.

     Then it was showtime. The songs were presented in a cafe setting, which the inmates had painted and decorated themselves. They offered a sentence or two about the artist or the songwriter, and "sentence" is not a word to toss around lightly here. They belted out songs by Carole King, Johnny Cash and Leonard Bernstein. They covered "The Lion King," "Wicked" and "The Color Purple." They poked a little fun at themselves with "Ain't Misbehavin'," and provided some situationally-updated lyrics for "If I Were a Rich Girl."

     The girls were fantastic. All of them could carry a tune, although some carried it quite a bit farther than others. Judging by some of their reactions, some of the songs hit close to home, especially those about children, family and time lost. Led by Broadway veteran Anne Twomey Lloyd and ably accompanied by arranger/composer Michael Minard, they all shared a heartfelt enthusiasm, and a genuine feeling that special moments in life are found wherever you make them.

     Prison is a pretty regimented place. Every note that is sung there has to fall in line and play by the rules. You can't have quarter notes wandering around where only half notes are allowed, and you can't have a rest in the middle of a measure unless it is approved in advance. And yet even in a highly regulated environment, music rose from the auditorium. What probably seemed like growing a tree on the dark side of the moon when they started, blossomed into a magnolia by showtime.

     The program was made possible by Rehabilitation Through the Arts, a non-profit organization that runs programs in New York prisons through which inmates can express themselves through the arts and transform their lives from outwardly-based to inwardly-based.

     These are women who have done bad things in their lives, and there are those who would question why we should point resources in their direction, when so many other sectors of society go without. It's a good question, as austerity sucks the arts out of school and community budgets. The answer lies in the fact that most prison inmates eventually return to a life outside these walls. And while they are inside them, they can either learn skills that will make them better at what they did before, or they can learn self-discovery and self-worth. That choice is mostly up to us.

     If music follows these women around for the rest of their lives, it has been proven more likely that that the police will follow someone else. I'd like to thank them for an enjoyable evening, and I'd also like to thank them for not singing "Tomorrow," because you can bet your bottom dollar that I'd be singing that damn thing until somebody locks ME up and throws away the key.

Friday, October 6, 2017

LOFTY VIEWS ON A RIVER CRUISE

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (06-22-17)

     I've never gone on a cruise before because I've had recurring nightmares about all the things that could go wrong. In one nightmare I board the ship, and notice that the other passengers are wearing legionnaire's hats, there are legions of them and they all have runny noses and a persistent cough. In another the captain announces that we'll be experiencing some rough weather due to the confluence of a hurricane, monsoon and tornado occurring directly above the ship. In a third, I am singled out of the audience during the staff show and forced to wear a blonde wig and dance with a French woman to the song, "Barbie Girl."

     But I finally went, on a river cruise up the Rhine, and thank goodness none of those nightmares came true. Except the last one. And now I'm appearing in the nightmares of others. I expected to be forced to walk the plank sometime on the third day.

     I'm too cheap to travel first class, so we were in a small berth, more like a child berth, on a low level probably in between the boiler room and the cargo hold. We did have a nice big window, but it was right at sea level. You'd be surprised how many angry ducks there are on the Rhine river. We passed castle after castle, but we could only see into the basement. I could make out a dungeon, with a lot of torture devices, but it could have been a home gym.

     The castles were lovely but I don't see why they were built at all. If the Normans, for instance, came over from Norm or wherever they're from, and wanted to conquer our house, first they would complain about the driveway. Then they would raid the fridge, turn on the TV and ask, "Why does this couch smell like cat pee?"

     We boarded the boat in Strasbourg, which is the biggest city in the Alsace region of France. An Alsatian is the same as a German shephard, and that applies to all dogs and some humans. The next day we stopped in the wonderful little town of Rudesheim, overseen by the statue of Germania, which represents the unification of Germany. If you take the gondola up to the pedestal the views are breathtaking, although that might be the altitude.

     We proceeded on up the Rhine, our cameras working overtime, along with our barmaids. Greg, one of the only other Americans on the boat, noted, "Castle, church, village. Repeat as necessary."

     On the fifth day we reached our destination, Amsterdam. If you've ever been to this lovely city, and all went right, you probably don't remember a thing about it. Or so you allege. There are so many ways to get yourself killed in Amsterdam, and all of them involve crossing the street. If you can maneuver in between the bicycles and pedestrians, cars and buses, the tram suddenly appears out of nowhere and you have to dive for cover. Don't dive into the canal, because the traffic there is worse.

     Then we were off on the train to Berlin. We traveled the country of Hamburg and Frankfurt, and I got to thinking how nice it would be to get back to the States and get myself a hamburger of frankfurter. I dreamt of a REAL American breakfast. And by that I mean a Belgian waffle, French toast, a cheese Danish and an English muffin.
 

Friday, September 29, 2017

AN ELEPHANT NEVER FORGOTTEN

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (06-15-17)

  Last month the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus gave its swan song performance. Who would have bet that it all might have begun with an elephant in Stephentown (later to become Somers), New York, known as Old Bet? Certainly not Old Bet, walking along carrying a full trunk, quietly thinking, "Dude, I'm not that old."

     Her owner, Hachaliah Bailey, was a farmer who heard about the elephant while he was at a bar. Perhaps you heard of it too: two elephants walk into a bar, with a priest, a rabbi and a parrot. I haven't got time to explain it all, but take my word for it, the parrot has the best line of the story. Anyway, Hachaliah bought the elephant for $1,000, so the story goes, not the one with the parrot, thinking that it would do twice the work of an ox on his farm. As it turned out, the elephant became such a sensation that he ended up exhibiting the animal for money, and purchased other exotic beasts, possibly monkeys and bears, to add to his collection.

     Together they formed a touring "menagerie," and these menageries became very popular in the 1800s. They were the precursor to the modern circus, and Somers became thought of as the "Cradle of the American Circus." It would have been nice to be called the "Birthplace of the American Circus," but another city took that name first. They also took "Jungle Gym of the American Circus" and "Diaper Bag of the American Circus."

     Although Barnum and Bailey circus impresario James Bailey wasn't related to Hachaliah, his name was. James was an orphan who was given a job by Hachaliah's nephew, and eventually took his name, probably when he wasn't looking. The circus grew into an American institution, with many facets and incarnations. But the public's fascination with elephants never wavered.

     When the time came that tastes changed and people became concerned for the welfare of circus animals, revenue dropped. The circus' days were numbered, and now that number is up, after 146 years.

     Imagine the types of skills that are now available to be re-assimilated into the work force. What jeweler wouldn't want a ringmaster in his shop? Sure, he already has guys who know about rings, but have they MASTERED them? What about hiring a contortionist for your business? You can stick him inside a box, and he'll let you know if you are thinking outside of it. If you're running a local fire department, get yourself a fire eater and don't feed him for a couple of days. A fourth grade teacher in the New York City public school system with experience as a lion tamer could prove invaluable.

     And then there are the clowns. I was a class clown for many years, but never pursued it as a profession. Many people did, and now clowning is not a career path anymore. Specifically WHERE will these people clown, or will they just clown around? Will there be an overabundance of circus performers at children's parties, or will they simply run for Congress?

     Closing the circus is also a game changer for people running away from home. To have no circus to run away to is the worst news for any kid who doesn't live in a mobile home. If you run away from a mobile home, a potential embarrassment awaits you if you find it parked next to you 20 minutes later.

     I once ran away from home, although I didn't actually run, I sort of moseyed away from home. I packed up my belongings in case my parents wanted to rent out my room the next day. I did it to take a stand- my father wanted to cut my hair. You may think that a haircut is not much of a reason to leave home, but you haven't seen my father's haircuts.

     So let's raise a glass to the sword swallowers, the jugglers the trapezers, the knife throwers, and the original fat lady, Old Bet. The fat lady has sung. And now if you'll excuse me I have to go work out with my trainer. She's teaching me to balance a ball on my nose.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

DANCING AROUND THE TRUTH

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (06-08-17)

     Once every month a Somers eatery transforms itself into a drinkery AND dancery- It's Disco Night! I try to attend if at all possible. The turnout is good, and I can at least expect to see a few other poor souls there born under the Eisenhower administration, and even some from the Roosevelt administration. If anyone in my rock band knew I secretly like disco music I'd be kicked out in two seconds, so keep it under your hat.

     Dancing itself has a point of diminishing returns. You want to be competent enough not to hurt other people, but sometimes it looks like people are trying too hard to impress, instead of just flowing with the music. I was watching this one gal, and she was so fluid and effortless. I was thinking that she had great punctuation; she knew where to put a comma and she knew where to put an exclamation point, and sometimes she just shook her asterisk.

     Usually it's four or five girls dancing together, and some poor sap will try to infiltrate the perimeter. I think to myself (since it's inconvenient to think to others), good luck dude- I've been married 30 years and it's hard enough to please one person, let alone five. Even if one of the girls kind of likes you, the other four are going to shame her out of it, unless you look like Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear.

     The night wears on and everyone's latent alcoholism kicks in. Women have been drinking bright green drinks that look a lot like anti-freeze, and they're ready to go for a higher degree of difficulty. That's when I have to make sure nobody makes a dangerous dance class maneuver anywhere near my one good knee. It's never a plus-sized gal dancing out of control, or even a  multiplication-sized gal, they usually have everything moving in the same direction. It's the athletic girl who wouldn't be able to put one foot in front of the other ten times if she was asked to by a cop with a flashlight, who tries for a triple axel so close to my face.

     The DJ was pretty good, at least sometimes he played a whole song. Peoples' attention spans are so short now that they seemingly cannot sustain an entire song anymore. You don't even need a lead guitarist these days, because the DJ is going to be moving on right after the first chorus. And if you're a lead guitarist, don't give me that long face, because we don't really have time for it. You're going to have to shorten your face.

     Anyway, the DJ played that Rihanna song that I like where she finds "love in a homeless place. "Hey dopey, it's 'hopeless place!'" My wife said- I can never remember lyrics too well. If it's "hopeless place" I assume Rihanna is referring to our garage.

     Let's see... he played that "Get your sexy on" tune. I was going to do exactly that, but once I get my sexy on it's hard to get it back off again. Then the DJ took the mike and started chanting along with the song, but his diction wasn't that great and it sounded like he was singing, "I got chicken hands!"

     He played that Robin Thicke song, which consists of two chords. There are only TWO chords in the entire song, and he had to collaborate with the guy who wears the Smokey the Bear hat to write it. TWO CHORDS, and he was successfully sued for STEALING THE SONG! Did he write one chord and the guy with the Smokey the Bear hat wrote the other one?

     All through the night the waitresses are shuttling in and out, they are super efficient, really cute and all under five feet tall. There's a whole society going on down there that I know nothing about. If these girls were in charge of the government, when all was said and done, a lot more would get done.

     Then they played Sinatra's "New York, New York," and I knew that either the enchanted evening was over, or the Yankees won. When you hear that song you have to slip out quickly before somebody turns on the lights and exposes those mysteries that are better left untold.

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.

Friday, July 21, 2017

SEASON'S TEASINGS

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (04-13-17)

     I know that spring officially begins on March 20th, but I always think that Easter marks the true start of the season. Even so, the way things have been going, you never know when a nor'easter is going to screw up your Easter. Usually by this time at least five Yankees are mired in atrocious slumps, the buds are on the plants, even the hydroponic ones, and three weekends worth of plans have been rained out, so I hereby proclaim that spring has sprung.

     When New Yorkers say that they love the change of seasons, the one they love to see change the most is winter. Now that the snow has melted I can see that the snowplow guy has taken out every single driveway light. In the fall I had driven some reflector posts into the ground next to each light so that he would know exactly where to aim.

     But all that is behind me now, and the arrival of spring has made me gay. I see a rabbit near the garage and I call out, "Hello, Mr. Bunny, if you were made of chocolate I would have eaten your ears off by now, and you wouldn't hear I word I'm saying." I just meant gay in the happy sense, but I still have to wonder why I love the Carpenters so much.

     When I was a young lad my sisters and brother used to get together the night before Easter for some old-fashioned egg decorating. We put the hard-boiled eggs in water that contained different colored dyes that were so weak you could wait until the Fourth of July for your Easter egg. Even our language was more colorful. The eggs were dying for so long that they were definitely dead when we got through with them. When we went to sleep my Mom would hide them around the house for us to find the next day. My Mom had limited powers of recall, and sometimes a few weeks hence a malodorous smell would waft its way out from the fireplace area, and we knew we hadn't located all of the eggs, causing a Cinco de Stinko around May fifth or so.

     They used to have a big Easter egg hunt at the Mount Kisco Country Club that my parents took us to each year. I spent the whole time hiding behind a tree, in case the eggs came to hunt me down- I didn't know if they were armed or not. I saw a bunch of golf balls and almost jumped out of my skin.

     In Washington at the White House they traditionally host an egg roll. Thousands of people show up, so they better get more than just one, unless it's huge. And don't forget the soy sauce. It's a chance for the president to let his hair down and show that he is human, if either are possible.

     The tradition started with First Lady Dolley Madison back in 1814. In 1878 during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes, the festivities moved to the White House lawns after an act of Congress forbade children from playing on the grounds of the Capitol. During the Nixon administration, a staffer dressed in a rabbit suit was introduced as the Easter Bunny. He wandered around greeting children and possibly surveilling them. George W. Bush's Easter Bunny was none other than Sean Spicer. So if you are near the White House on the Monday after Easter, don't stand at the bottom of any hills, or you'll be walking on eggshells the whole day.

Friday, July 14, 2017

NO PAIN, NO GAIN, NO FUN

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (04-06-17)

      It's been a few weeks since my shoulder surgery, and I'm doing just fine. I'm already operating heavy machinery- our blender weighs a ton and I need a cocktail. I'm in physical therapy now, and my shoulder is definitely coming along, since I didn't want to leave it at home.

      When I walked into the clinic there were five or six other people there, one was shrugging her shoulders 30 times in a row, another was standing on one foot throwing a ball against a net and another was pushing against the wall, seemingly trying to hold it up. It was like I was in a loony bin. Which I suppose is not a politically correct term- I should have said "nut house."

      The assistant started by putting a heat pack on my shoulder for 10 minutes, then he put an ice pack on me for another 10 minutes. If a low pressure system had blown through the room there would have been a hailstorm. Then the physical therapist took my arm and bent my shoulder into an acute angle. I winced in pain, she smiled a little, and while she had me in this position she got my credit card information, including the expiration date and the three-digit code. I started to confess some things that I am not proud of, and then I made up some things I didn't even do, but am not proud that I thought of.

      After I stopped weeping she tried to make it up to me by massaging the bones in my neck and shoulder area, but since I'm unbearably ticklish, I start giggling uncontrollably. I laughed, I cried, I was hot, I was cold. It was like going through menopause while watching "The Notebook" at the same time.

      When she left the room I looked around at the other inmates and said in a loud whisper, "Don't you people see what's going on here? They're TORTURING us! Didn't you ever see "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? We've got to get out of here!" They just kept shrugging their shoulders and throwing their balls around.

      I was about to make a break for it when the physical therapist returned and hooked me up to this machine that delivers little shocks to the affected area to stimulate it electrically. She asked me some questions, like, "How are you doing so far," and "Do you think you would recommend our program to others?" And depending on my answer, I got a bigger or smaller shock.

      I don't have one of these machines at home, so I improvised by trying to shock my shoulder with spurious allegations that I am wire-tapping it. At the physical therapist's there are electrodes hanging all over it, so the allegations may actually be true. My shoulder and I have discussed the whole wire-tapping thing. Why would anyone waste their time wire-tapping Trump Tower? This is someone who broadcasts even his dopiest thoughts to millions of people on an hourly, even minutely basis.

      There is a bird who tweets nonstop right outside my window at home. It tweets about 50 times a minute, every minute of the day, every bird-brained idea that it has, and rarely has it said anything useful. Certainly the same could be said about me, but I beat you to it, didn't I?
 

Friday, July 7, 2017

BLUE GENES

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (03-30-17)

     My wife got tickets to the Blue Man Group, which we had never seen and sounded like a fun and farcical evening. Beforehand we ate at a restaurant next door to the theater, I think the place is owned by Robert De Niro. I mentioned it to my wife and she says that every time we go to a restaurant I say that I think it's owned by Robert De Niro.

     All the waitresses there look like runway models, which means they are super tall and they have to bend way down to take my order. My waitress talks so low I can't hear anything come out of her mouth, but I can see her lips move. It looks like she says, "I love you," although she might have said, "veal cordon bleu." I started to wonder how many times in my past that people I thought loved me actually loved veal.

     Some of the tall models look like they could be transgender, and I silently thank god I don't have to go on dates anymore, because it's a whole different world out there. It doesn't seem like good form to ask someone you just started dating if they are transgender, it's like asking someone if they are pregnant. There are questions you simply shouldn't ask unless you already know the answer. I used to say the same thing to my math teacher in high school.

     At the end of the meal we argue over the dessert menu. I tell her that chocolate is a "super food," and my wife says it's not. Well what about a chocolate napoleon? Didn't Napoleon conquer Rome? Well it turns out he didn't, but I argued that nothing beats a Twix bar, so it should be a "super food."

     Next door the show was starting. The Blue Men are a lovely shade of royal blue, the same color I get if I try to blow up too many balloons before a birthday party. I don't know how they got that way, or if they came from some faraway place, like Ulster County. They maintain an emotionless expression the whole time, which is good, because if they got envious and mad at the same time, what color they would become?

     They got right down to business, playing a three-part drum solo while spraying the drums with colored liquids from squeeze bottles. They made such a shambles of the place I could see why they don't let you bring liquids onto an airplane. From there they did some audience participation gags involving oozing gunk, and at the end encouraged people to unroll massive amounts of toilet paper into the crowd. It doesn't hurt to be prepared I guess.

     I don't want to give the plot away since I was planning to charge you for it, but suffice it to say that there was none. It had the flavor of being back in kindergarten, where the best fun you could have was to make the biggest mess and the most noise. Most people eventually outgrow this type of behavior, and if not they run for Congress. But once in a while you just need some mindless mayhem. After they were done the theater looked like my office on a Friday.

     I think the take-away from all this was that no matter what color you are, whether you are black, brown, blue, magenta, or burnt sienna, you can make a mess and have fun with toilet paper. Even if you are an orange person in a White House, lighten up now and then!

Friday, June 30, 2017

LIFE IN THE ARCTIC

SPECIAL TO THE SOMERS RECORD (03-23-17)
 
     A couple weeks ago, spring was in the air. It was growing from the ground, it was singing from the pond next door. The crocuses were blooming and the frogs were squawking their furious mating calls. A week later the crocuses had croaked and the croakers, probably the same. Their betrothed, who were ribbited a week earlier were now croaking, "Dude, what the hell?" The arrival of spring was Fake News, and we fell for it yet again. It was a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese and hacked by the Russians.

     The blizzard of 2017 was here. I took the day off, and when I turned on the television the propaganda machine was in full swing. You couldn't see them because of the snow, but reporters were on the street to report that it was snowing. Back in the studio meteorologists were plying their meteorology. Accumulations were predicted to be somewhere between seven inches and the End of Civilization. We were told not to leave the house for any reason, and if possible hide under the bed until June.

     All the airports were closed, and not one person entered the country. The president immediately took credit for solving the immigration problem. "Forget the wall. We're going to build a blizzard, a great, great blizzard, a wonderful blizzard. It will be the greatest blizzard in history!"

     It didn't used to be like this. Back in the old days, Mr. G would come on the air and tell you the weather. You never heard words like "polar vortex" or "cold advection;" the guy wouldn't even tell you the other letters in his name.    

Cheap as I am, my wife finally convinced me to hire a snowplow guy. But as a compromise measure, I went out and bought an electric snow blower, which plugs into an outlet in the garage via a huge extension cord. This device is not exceedingly powerful, but I figured it could handle the smaller snowfalls of about a quarter inch or less.

     Tuesday's accumulation was so voluminous, that I thought it would be a good idea to crank up the electric snow blower and try to get a jump on things before the plow guy came. It was the equivalent of emptying the lower Mississippi River into the upper Mississippi River a teaspoon at a time. The wind was gusting so hard that it blew the snow back inside the snow blower, and the snow blower blew it back out again. It was nature's way of saying, well I can't print exactly what it was nature's way of saying, but I wish nature had phrased it a little differently. Every time I use the snow blower with the huge extension cord I am amazed that I am not electrocuted. I will continue to be amazed by this until such a time as I am electrocuted.

     After all that, the power went out. It was still light out, and I thought it might be kind of nice to go old school- start a fire in the wood-burning fireplace, heat up some leftover pizza on top of it and curl up with a good book. I forgot to heat up the flue first, and smoke billowed out of the stove and filled up the room. I had to open up the outside door to clear the smoke, so it was freezing inside. Then, all of a sudden the power came back on. Thank god, because first of all, it was almost time for Judge Judy, and second, I don't know how to curl up a book.

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.