"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Price of Admission

CNN ‎- 2 hours ago

The end of the calendar year is typically a time for reflection and candor (whereas the end of the fiscal year is typically a time for panic and obfuscation). In that spirit, I would like to relieve myself of the following burdens:

  • I am, and have always been, a proud heterosexual man. While this has been known among my closest friends and family for some time (although, upon hearing 28 years ago that I'd fathered a son, one of my brothers-in-law said to me, "Well, now we have proof you're not gay."), it has not been a fact I've chosen to confirm to the world at large. I would like to thank my life-partner, Carol, for her love and support throughout the years, and hope she has never taken umbrage when I shoved her out of the frame anytime someone tried to take our picture together. Not any longer, my darling - now you can come in closer... honey?
  • While this is difficult to admit, I believe society has evolved to the point where I can now proclaim my right-handedness. Years ago, such acknowledgement would have branded me with a stigma that could not be erased. However, during my lifetime there has been a shift in public acceptance of this trait and so I now make this proclamation on behalf of my right-handed brothers and sisters. Science has clearly established that right-handedness is not a "lifestyle choice", but rather something a person is born with. Now I can state I am, as our kind like to say, "right as rain". I feel an immense weight has been lifted from my shoulders; I can finally conduct myself as openly right-handed and join with the rest of my community in an effort to establish "separate but equal" sections in all establishments for the left-handed people, since their presence in our midst leads to awkward seating in restaurants and fights over armrests on airplanes. 
  • Although I have never made a secret of it, I would like to clarify for the record that my feet are not the same size. My left foot is a half-size smaller than my right. I became aware of this around age fifteen, after my final growth spurt during puberty. I learned to accept it as my burden to bear. For many years, I was forced to purchase two pairs of shoes, size 9½ for one foot and size 10 for the other, and discard the remainder from each set. However, in my lifetime came the advent of the "Internet", and through the connectivity (and anonymity) it provided, I learned there were others similarly afflicted. I am making this known today due to the recent charges leveled against me that the authorities, after impounding my computer and examining the contents of its hard drive, found evidence of shoe-sharing, with pictures of loafers, sneakers and boots along with the names and email addresses of other shoe-sharers. This is not evidence of a foot-fetish, as some have been quick to accuse, but instead is indicative of a genetic defect as I am attempting to explain to you now. How pictures of pumps and stilettos got into those folders is a mystery to me.
  • I was profoundly embarrassed by the recent pictures in the National Enquirer, taken surreptitiously and, my attorneys advise, illegally, where I am shown in a hotel room in Seattle wearing men's underwear. However, in an effort to minimize the impact of this revelation, I'd like to share some facts with everyone:
    • The preference among some males to wear men's underwear has been known to the scientific community for decades, was documented as early as the 1950s in the Kinsey Report, and later confirmed by observations from Masters and Johnson. Masters himself expressed such a preference.
    • I have occasionally used surrogates to enter storefronts and purchase men's underwear on my behalf. However, all of the funds used for these purchases came from my own personal account and were for my use and my use alone. These surrogates all volunteered for the task; none were forced against their will to make such purchases and it was never a condition of their employment or further status within our family to perform this task.
    • While not as common, there is a subset among men's underwear-wearers who prefer "tighty-whiteys", and I include myself among them. Contrary to popular belief, the wearing of such garments has no verifiable impact on sperm count. I am authorizing the release of my medical records to establish this fact. I ask only that the public evaluate this information within its proper context and appreciate if they would ignore any unrelated observations regarding my cholesterol level or penis size.
  • Finally, the time has come for me to be forthcoming about a shameful, dark secret; something I have endeavored to keep hidden even from those closest to me: I have never watched Office SpaceCaddyshack or Fight Club. I can offer no defense for these sins of omission and beg your forgiveness.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reasoned Heedings

I do not like Christmas, don't like it at all.
Won't do any shopping, won't go to the mall.

It's lost what little meaning it had to me
Amidst all the bombast and hyperbole.

White Santas, Black Santas - are any Chinese?
How do kids choose from among all of these?

Pressure to spend precious coin I don't own
Just to get a new juicer, or machine for lawn mowin'.

The rush and the pressure, the crowds and the travel
Cause what little composure I have to unravel.

They say there's a war on, but where is the battle?
I'm tired of hearing the commenters prattle.

Some are so offended if offered wrong greeting
They don't seem to realize the season is fleeting.

The New Year comes quickly, then all's back to normal.
Bonhomie is gone -- all are back to bein' horrible.

The traffic, the parties, the food and the drink
It's all just too much, pushing me to the brink.

I can't stand the music, or anything "jingle".
And yet every year there's a new Christmas single.

They cost more on iTunes than when they were plastic.
The lyrics are dopey, the rhythms are spastic.

I'm tired of Christmas - it's shallow and phony.
And once again no one has brought me a pony.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

It's Snow Trouble

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.

We are stuck in a fucking snowbank in our driveway.

Let me back up; no, wait -- that's what got us into this predicament in the first place. Our driveway at the lake house has something of a steep drop right where you pull in. Entering -- it's a gas (no pun intended). When Carol isn't in the car with me I fly-y-y down the driveway as fast as I can; it's like being on a roller coaster for a few seconds. The turn is so sharp off the dirt road threading through our community that it's easy to miss seeing the driveway altogether, which adds to our sense of privacy and seclusion even though we have neighbors just yards away.

Exiting out of the driveway, however, is a different story. If it's dry, not much of a problem -- but if it's wet from rain, or leaves are covering the entrance, or -- as we just learned -- it has recently snowed almost a foot and the guy we hired to plow the driveway has managed to pack what didn't get pushed to the sides down so tightly that it's slick, that presents a challenge and it's not as much fun, whether Carol is in the car with me or not.

After our snowy weekend visit, with the driveway cleared by the afore-mentioned plow dude, we started the drive home. I put our trusty Highlander into low gear and clicked on the "ECT SNOW" setting which, after I've read the owner's manual, I now know reduces the transmission into an even lower setting and in this case got it down to something in the crawling-on-knees-and-elbows-for-traction range. We headed up the driveway, sliding a bit, and as we reached the precipice we... stopped moving forward. Tires began spinning, so I applied the brakes and backed up a few yards to try again. Up, up, up -- but not all the way. I now thought it would be best to return to the flat area near the house where we park and take a longer, faster run at it. I backed up the car in a straight line -- which was unfortunate since the driveway has a pronounced curve. Before I realized my error, I'd managed to back too close to one edge and into a pile of snow two feet deep. Now the entire driver's side was mired in the snowbank. I tried rocking the car to break it loose - no dice. I decided I needed to shovel out the snow surrounding the tires and side of the car. I went to open my door, which budged all of two inches since I'd also managed to sidle up against a row of saplings, effectively barricading me from exiting. After Carol daintily stepped from the passenger seat, I nimbly slid over the center console, managing to only slightly herniate myself, and gallantly stumbled out of the vehicle.

I walked back toward the house to retrieve the snow shovel and began to clear the area. After 10 minutes' worth of shoveling, rocking, shoveling, rocking, shoveling and finally pushing, Carol drove the car free from its packed-snow confinement (I mean, she didn't do all of that -- I was the source of the shoveling and provided a gonad-popping push). I guided her back down the driveway and wisely opted to leave her behind the wheel as we made our latest attempt to escape. She stomped on the gas like it was my manhood and we accelerated closer and closer to the entrance... flying over that ridge like two people in an SUV in low gear when one of them is a humiliated husband.

Now, it isn't like Carol's never gotten stuck in the snow. In fact, her story is a doozy -- but I won't recount it here out of respect for her. And my remaining testicle.

Friday, December 13, 2013


Carol and I have been married for 32 years, have known each other for 36, and we've finally run out of things to talk about. Mind you, we're not complaining -- there's less arguing and it's opened up a lot of free time for Carol to pursue her new hobby of "felting", where she takes several pieces of woolen fabric and binds them together in layers and patterns by manically stabbing at them with a barbed needle. Every now and then, mid-stab, I catch her stealing a look at me but I'm trying not to read anything into it.

Anyway, we were up in Maine a few weeks ago and spent an afternoon cruising through some shops in downtown Hallowell, a lovely little town on the banks of the Kennebec River, just outside of the state capital of Augusta. lt was cold, started to get dark, and since my tolerance for shopping is limited under the best of conditions we decided it was time to get dinner at a brew pub on the main drag. This is an actual transcript of our conversation after we were seated:

ME: "I'm hungry!"

CAROL: "Me, too."

(We look at the menu for a few minutes.)

CAROL: "What are you going to have?"

ME: "Dunno - you?"

CAROL: "Not sure."

(We look at the menu for a few more minutes. Then the waitress comes over.)

WAITRESS: "Are you ready to order?"

CAROL: "Yes... (pause). Start with him."

ME: "I'll have the fish and chips."

CAROL: "Oh, I was going to order that."

ME: "In that case, I'll have a burger."

CAROL: "I'll have the fish and chips."

WAITRESS: "Good choices! I'll put this in right away and be back with some bread."

Seven minutes later...

CAROL: "Where's that bread? I'm hungry!"

ME: "Me, too."

(A different server then brings a basket of rolls, which we immediately start to eat. There's a couple at the table next to us with a toddler who lets out an ear-shattering shriek. We both flinch, and Carol gives them the stink-eye. The mother picks up the kid and walks with him around the restaurant while the husband stays seated and digs into an appetizer. About the time the mother and child sit back down, our meals arrive.)

WAITRESS: "Who ordered the fish?"

CAROL: "Right here."

(Waitress then places burger in front of me and leaves. We do not see her for the remainder of our meal.)

ME: "How's your fish?"

CAROL: "Good."

ME: "This is a good burger, cooked just right. You want a bite?"

CAROL: "Nuh-uh."

(We eat our dinner. A group of about a dozen people enter the dining room and sit at the long table on our other side. They are celebrating some family occasion, so there's much chatter among them and several toasts are offered. We continue to eat our dinner. 15 or so minutes elapse, and the waitress makes a surprise reappearance.)

WAITRESS: "Are you all set?"

CAROL: "Yes. Can you box the rest of this up?"


(She takes our plates away and returns with Carol's leftovers and the check. I leave cash, and we bundle up and leave for the car.)

As the car is warming up...

ME: "I'm glad that kid quieted down. If he screamed again I was going to ask to be moved to another table."

CAROL: "Yeah, thank GOD that little shit stopped screaming."

(We make the 20-minute drive home listening to the radio.)

Back at the house...

ME: "Back in the same day."

CAROL: "Uh-huh."

(Carol pulls out her felting materials and begins to stab. I read that week's New Yorker on my tablet.)

45 minutes later...

ME: "I'm going to bed."

CAROL: "OK. G'night." (While I give her a kiss, she continues stabbing.)

As I walk up the stairs to the bedroom...

ME: "I'm glad that kid finally shut up."

CAROL: "Oh, I know."

ME: "OK - g'night."

I sleep soundly that night, tired after our lengthy discussion about the snot-nosed brat who nearly ruined our evening out. I wake up the next morning to discover a mysterious series of pin-pricks strewn across my face and neck. I'll have to talk with Carol about that sometime.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Morning Shows & Tells

[6:59 am -- turn on TV]

Announcer: "... before they're all gone!"

[Theme music and title for "CBS This Morning"]

Charlie Rose: "I'm Charlie Rose, with Norah O'Donnell..."

[Norah smiles into the camera]

"... and Gayle King..."

[Gayle smiles into the camera]

"... who will disappear from our set for the next hour, on 'CBS This Morning'!"

Gayle King: "It's... whut?"

[7:02 am -- click]

Matt Lauer: "... exclusively on 'The Today Show', in our second half-hour. I'm here with Savannah Guthrie..."

Savannah Guthrie: "Good morning, Matt!"

Matt Lauer: "Good morning, Savannah. As always, we're joined by Natalie Morales and Mister Al Roker..."

[Natalie smiles; Al makes a pun and mugs for the camera]

Matt Lauer: "... and we're joined by other members of our 'Today' family: from my left, we have Willie Geist, Carson Daly, our good friend Meredith Viera has stopped in, Kathie Lee and Hoda, Dylan Dreyer, Erica Hill, Carl Quintanilla, and an always-welcome visit from the host of NBC's 'Meet The Press', the one and only David Gregory."

[Cut to shot of David Gregory wearing sunglasses and dancing 'Gangnam Style'.]

[7:12 am -- click]

Robin Roberts: "... makes you think. And now we turn to Josh Elliot for the rest of the morning's headlines."

[7:13 am -- click]

Chris Cuomo: "... Blitzer will join us on the couch in our next..."

[7:13:05 am -- click]

Norah O'Donnell: "... again welcome John Miller, a former New York City deputy police commissioner. John, what do your sources within the NYPD tell you about this situation?"

John Miller: "Well, Norah, the police are without question aggravated with what they see as gestapo tactics implemented by the FBI and it's a nasty and very public battle brewing between the two agencies."

Charlie Rose: "Thank you for those insights, John. Coming up next, we'll hear about the FBI's response to these allegations. We'll bring back John Miller, a former assistant director at the FBI, to explain their side of the story."

John Miller: "Uh, I have to go to the bathroom at some point."

[7:17 am -- click]

Steve Doocy: "... when Senator Ted Cruz will join us to set the record straight."

[7:17:08 am -- click]

Matt Lauer: "... on the plaza we've got Jean Chatzky, Giada DeLaurentis, Jenna Bush Hager and Jeff Rossen."

Savannah Guthrie: "I'm wearing my glasses today. What do you think, Matt?"

Matt Lauer: "I'll answer that in a moment, Savannah. I neglected to mention we've also got Ann Curry back with us today as a special treat. She is, uh, I'm being told she's inside Dean & Deluca getting some coffee and a danish."

Savannah Guthrie: "Thanks for that update, Matt. So, glasses?"

Al Roker: "Actually. Matt -- Ann isn't across the street getting breakfast, she's in Denmark with a live report on a terrible tragedy that involved members of a cheese-making cult in Copenhagen."

[7:20 am -- click]

Norah O'Donnell: "... in Los Angeles. For some perspective, here's John Miller again, who was a former LAPD bureau chief and counter-terrorism expert. John, what are your sources saying about this explosion?"

Gayle King: "Why is John Miller on for the third time already this morning and I haven't even gotten out of the gate?"

Charlie Rose: "Excuse us, John... Gayle, step away from the table -- now! You'll do the 'eye-opener' in another 37 minutes and we don't want to see you before then. Capiche?"

John Miller: "Is she breaking a restraining order by being on-set this early? Because I can arrest her on the spot and have her spirited away to a secret CIA prison where even Oprah won't be able to find her."

[7:25 am -- click]

Local weather forecaster: "... percent. I'll see you again in another half-hour."

[7:25:07 am -- click]

Popeye: "That's all I can stands, and I can't stands no more. Toot-toot!"

[7:27 am - turn off TV; turn on NPR]

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Aphorism Schism

A bird in the hand means I'll not be exchanging high-fives with you any time soon.

Keep your friends close and your enemies can eliminate all of you at once.

Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat the tenth grade.

Three things can not be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and that stain on the carpet.

It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. But who can find a candle when you bang your shin on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and you put something in my coffee, didn't you?

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a dead cellphone.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and I got so fucking lost.

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you're not in front of me on the expressway.

By believing passionately in something that does not yet exist, we keep those online dating services in business.

Fortune favors the brave. I guess that's why I fear trying to balance my checkbook.

A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a step-ladder for?

Some see things as they are and ask, "Why?" I dream things that never were and ask, "Does Ambien have the same effect on you?"

Chance favors the prepared mind. What just happened?

Many people die at twenty-five and aren't buried until they're seventy-five. No wonder it's been so quiet around here.

It's not what you start in life, it's what you finish. Like that time wh

Many men go fishing their entire lives not knowing it is not fish they are after. Instead, they should have been on the lookout for double-negatives.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That's why Circuit City went out of business.

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. OK, I guess there are three ways to avoid criticism.

What we see depends on what we look for. I'm looking for trouble, and right now I see you.

I try. I fail. I try again. The day is shot.

We are what we imagine ourselves to be. What we really are is just too damn depressing to contemplate.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Spinning Out Of Control

We have a washer and dryer in the basement of our apartment; "free" for our use (we don't pay for water, but somebody's oil is heating the hot water being used and somebody's gas fires up the dryer -- I don't know if it's ours, our neighbors', or split between our feeds). It's great to have such convenient access to this necessity. Well, "convenient" isn't quite the right description -- while it beats having to stuff all the laundry in duffel bags and haul it to a coin-operated laundromat, it still requires navigating through two doorways and down several flights of stairs into a rather foreboding cellar.

Since the staircase is narrow and steep, we've gotten into the habit of taking down just one load at a time to maintain our balance, rather than peering over the top of a mountain of dirty clothes piled nose-high in a basket that's too wide to make it around the corners without being handled like a video-game controller. The machine is pretty up-to-date, technologically -- multiple buttons to regulate settings for wash/rinse temperatures, how fast it will spin, extra cycles, soil level (that's the polite industry term for "skid marks") -- all of which contribute to some algorithm run by the on-board calculator that determines the time this will take to complete. Depending on the settings, sometimes a cycle is 45 minutes, sometimes 48, sometimes 53... I click the start button, the front-loader door locks, and water begins to flow. I hike back upstairs and set the timer app on my phone for however many minutes were on display.

However, I quickly learned that the machine's timer lies. While it counts down metronomically from the start -- 53, 52, 51 -- something happens when it reaches the final minute. I'll come back down and see a green glowing "2", which shortly switches to the exclamatory "1", leading me to think there are a mere 60 seconds left before the machine stops, the washer door unlocks and I can move everything over to the dryer. But that's not the case, not at all. Time suspends at the 1-minute mark and the machine continues to exert itself for an undetermined period -- sometimes just a few extra minutes, and other times as many as eleven or twelve more. There might be an extra full rinse cycle (not programmed in at the start); it might begin to spin rapidly -- but always at what seems like the end the machine briefly stops, just long enough to fool me, and then begins a lackadaisical tossing motion, this way and that, as the laundry that's plastered to the inside of the washer drum from its centrifugal spinning is gently coaxed to peel away and pile together in an exhausted heap.

This flummoxes me -- why does the machine behave like this, seemingly of its own volition? Does it sense that there's a smidgen of smudge still stuck to the surface of my shorts? Is it trying to shake the last few nickels out from my jean pockets? Or, as I suspect -- does it sense my presence and knowing that I'm waiting for it to finish decides to just fuck with me? It excels at this mind game.

The other evening I came down when I *thought* a load of towels would be done - ha! While the "1" was already on display, the machine continued to run for five, six, seven minutes or more. The spinning ended, and then it went into tossed-salad mode. I sensed my opportunity and decided I'd extract revenge (and my laundry) by interrupting this useless step with the "pause" command, remove my towels, and then cancel the process and clear out the display. But the machine would have none of this. I hit "pause", which summoned a loud click and the machine ceased any internal motion. I went to open the door -- it remained locked. I hit the "pause" button again, which resulted in the entire display returning to its original settings, with 45 minutes on the timer. I hit "pause" once more (those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it), and water began to flow into the machine as a new wash cycle began. I quickly hit "pause" once more, stopping the flow of water -- but still I couldn't open the door. Was the machine now holding my towels for ransom? I had a glimpse of my future -- stranded in the cellar, my towels agonizingly just beyond my reach behind a tightly-secured glass door, the machine taunting me with their proximity while they slowly began to mildew. Desperate to rescue the wash and extricate myself from this Mobius strip of confusion, I took the most drastic step I could think of (well, I thought of trying to pry the door open with a crowbar, so I guess I took the second-most drastic step I could think of) -- I unplugged the washer from the electrical outlet. I had a strange sensation that the machine continued to live for a few nano-seconds after being disconnected from its power source. Had I just committed laundricide? Regardless, I was now able to open the door and remove the towels, which were of course dripping from the additional spritzing I'd subjected them to. But at least they were freed from captivity and could be placed in the dryer and brought back to their intended state of absorbency.

I placed the sodden clump of towels into the dryer and set the dial to "more", figuring some additional time and effort would be necessary to remove the excess moisture. The dryer runs on a sensor; while there is no time display, it runs only as long as necessary to remove the dampness and leave its cargo dry and fluffy. I twisted the start knob and trudged back upstairs to await the soft, warm outcome. I poured a double Maker's Mark with trembling hands, sinking into the couch cushions and slowly sipping my drink while savoring my triumph over the malevolent Maytag. I'd estimated the time required for the drying cycle, and when alerted by the phone app I labored up and headed back into the dungeon, feeling a sense of victory tinged with relief that the ordeal would be over. The dryer had already stopped running so I opened the door, ready to remove and fold the towels and bring them upstairs to tuck snugly back into their home in the linen closet. I reached in and pulled out the first of the towels -- finding a cold and sodden wad of Egyptian cotton in various stripes and colors. The dryer had tumbled -- it was turning as I'd gone back upstairs -- but failed in its core mission of providing the warmth I, and the towels, had been counting upon. Damn it! I reset the dryer, starting it again and waiting a few moments to make sure the heat fired up, which this time it did. I turned and was resigned to yet another wait and trips up and down and up again. As I spun toward the stairs I walked past the washer and noticed a quick flicker from its display panel -- all those green glowing lights for the various settings. I thought for a moment I'd accidentally brushed against the machine and set something off -- and then noticed that it was still unplugged. It had become self-aware, and pulling the plug didn't shut it down. It had already communicated with the dryer as part of its effort to eliminate me as an enemy.

I can always buy new towels...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Linguine Franca

There are certain phrases that occasionally pop up in conversation, or I've read in a book, that I think I know what they mean but find out later that I don't or have misunderstood their proper usage. "Lingua franca" is one such phrase - I always thought it meant "mother tongue", but that's astray from its actual meaning of "common language". One example often given is that English is the "lingua franca" of air travel - pilots and air traffic controllers communicate with one another in English around the world, regardless of their native language.

"Hoi polloi" is another one, although this is one phrase I understood correctly to mean "the common people". I read somewhere that people are incorrect in saying "the hoi polloi", since that translates as "the the common people". It's like when you receive an invitation that says "Please R.S.V.P."; it's redundant: "Please respond if you please." But I don't worry about the redundancy since I wasn't planning to attend anyway, open bar or not.

Not all the phrases and idioms that flummox are based in other languages - "moot point" comes to mind. It's commonly used to mean an idea rendered irrelevant due to some other action. Grammarians (and some Lutherans) argue about the meaning, with many taking the tack (or is that "tact"?) that the actual meaning is an idea that is debatable; one with room for discussion. However, over time the agreed-upon meaning has settled on "It's been decided so shut up, already". I used to work for a boss who always used the phrase, "It's a mute point". Believe me, I wished he would've shut up, preferably before opening his mouth.

Here are a few other phrases I've found that are commonly misused or misunderstood, or at least I wish they were:
  • Au courant -- contains raisins
  • Carte blanche -- to exceed one's credit limit; alternatively, to drive one's aunt to the store
  • Cum laude -- a vociferous expression of sexual pleasure
  • De rigueur -- a dead person; related to femme fatale; a deceased woman
  • Ex cathedra -- someone who no longer attends church
  • Faux pas -- my step-father
  • Good Samaritan -- a person offering assistance (vs. a "Bad Samaritan", who is someone when asked to assist another replies, "I’d love to help but can’t because of my neuralgia.")
  • "He doesn't know his ass from his elbow" -- someone who has difficulty shopping for pants
  • In his cups -- a man wearing a brassiere
  • In loco parentis – commonly used by teenagers to express, "My parents are crazy!"
  • Je ne sais quoi -- literally, "This is the extent of my French."
  • Klatuu barada nikto – “I think I am a robot, therefore I am a robot.”
  • Mano a mano -- man-to-man; the feminine is "Chica to Cheek"
  • Mi casa es su casa -- from the Spanish for "empty refrigerator"
  • Voulez vous coucher avec moi – “I didn't realize I asked you to sleep with me; I was just singing along with the radio.”
  • Persona non grata -- someone who doesn't like hard cheeses
  • Quid pro quo – from the Latin and thought to be the first tongue-twister (say it 3x fast)
  • Robbing Peter to pay Paul -- willing to risk a misdemeanor to avoid a felony
  • Shoulda, coulda, woulda -- filled with remorse and too lazy to form a complete sentence to express such a feeling
  • Sic transit gloria mundi -- becoming nauseated whenever utilizing public transportation, anywhere in the world, esp. w/someone named "Gloria"
  • Veni, vidi, vici­ – attributed to Julius Caesar, who was the first to mispronounce the phrase
  • Zeitgeist -- a hard cookie offered to teething babies.
While English has most of its roots in Latin, over time the language has embraced a panoply (from the Greek for playing multiple rounds of Monopoly) of expressions shanghai'd from other languages. German chocolate cake, French's mustard, Swiss Miss cocoa, Spanish peanuts, and Hawaiian Punch are all examples of such influences on the vernacular. The public transportation system in Chicago is known as the El, which is Spanish for "the". Therefore, Chicagoans move around the city riding "the The". That's hard to say, so residents wrapped their mother tongues around the more easily-pronounced nickname "the El", which was in common use within the local Chicano (from the Spanish for "Chicago") community.

Speaking of Chicago -- I once attended a business meeting where the discussion centered around the particulars of a government contract with the state of Illinois. While most of the services would be offered for workers in Chicago, there was a component required for Springfield employees as well. A confused look crossed the face of one of the attendees, who asked aloud, with representatives from the state on the conference line, "Why the hell do we need to offer the service to anyone in Springfield?" I leaned over and quietly said that Springfield was the state capital of Illinois, hence... I believe, at that moment, my co-worker wished he had made a mute point.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sick Of It All

The other afternoon I ran into a co-worker taking a break in our employee cafeteria. He was reading a book and said it was so interesting he didn't want to stop to go back to work. I suggested he should call out "engrossed" the next day so he could finish it.

That got me thinking about some excuses we could start beta testing since "I'm sick" has been done to death (no pun intended). Let me know if any of the suggestions below work for you:

  • "My cat is pregnant and I'm her doula."
  • "I'm binge-watching The Sopranos and will be in as soon as I see who walks into the diner."
  • "I'm in the hospital. Well, I'm in the hospital gift shop."
  • "I finished all my work yesterday. What -- there's more?"
  • "I'm waiting to get my mojo back."
  • "I've got 'Do You Believe' by Cher stuck in my head and really shouldn't come in until it works its way back out."
  • "I'm on a medication that advises against operating heavy machinery, and I really don't know how much my computer weighs."
  • "I got my mojo back but it turned out to be somebody else's… Still waiting for mine."
  • "I ran out of pre-tax transportation credits and have to wait for the next pay period before I can reload my transit pass."
  • "Our CEO told me over drinks last night I could take the rest of the week off."
  • "My car died and I'm in mourning."
  • "When I left yesterday I said, 'See you tomorrow' and you said 'Not if I see you first', so I thought we were playing 'Hide-and-Seek' today."
  • "I've lost interest in what we do. But please call me if anything new comes up."
  • "I had such a productive day yesterday that any effort I might make today would only pale by comparison."
  • "My work-life balance is out of whack and I'll be away from the office until equilibrium is restored."
  • "Instead of coming in and waiting to get paid, I'd prefer to get paid first and then I'll think about coming in."
  • "I see nothing to be gained by returning to that hellhole. I think the real question is why you still work there."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Balance Doom

It’s been quite a run of financial snafus recently. We’ve had issues with:
  • Cable bill
  • Car rental
  • Mortgage payment
  • Insurance refunds
As well as a vending machine that took my dollar bill and delivered a package of Starbursts that had decomposed into a gooey slime.

Cable: I’ve already documented the earlier stages of the cable bill fiasco. The latest updates to that tale are:
  • Third and fourth contacts (the last being “executive escalation”) required to resolve issue.
  • Was charged penalty fees for late payments (when money was in their clutches the whole time), service disconnects (that were promised not to happen) and service reconnects (to re-establish the services that weren’t supposed to be disconnected in the first place).
  • All payments to the old account were transferred to the new account – including the one for the closing balance on the old account, which required me to offer up even more $$$ while waiting for confirmation of the extreme ($600+) credit balance on the new account.
I ended up using a profane expression (“This is bullshit”) out of frustration in one of my chat sessions with a cable rep. As soon as I hit “send” I typed my apology and told her she could go ahead and disconnect my chat session since I’d used a profanity. Sure enough, she launched a template response admonishing me for my use of such language and asking me to keep a civil tone. I typed back saying I’d already authorized the disconnect so why threaten me with that action? It’s like saying, "You can't quit -- I'm firing you!" She disconnected the chat session.

Car: I won’t mention the name of the car rental company since technically I’m one of their employees, albeit in another division. The rental car was A VISion of sleek styling and ran well during a weekend trip. I returned it early Monday morning and, after many keystrokes and mouse clicks, the desk clerk was able to print out a receipt with a final balance due of $79 and change. So imagine my surprise when I logged into my bank account and saw a pending authorization for $3,948.28 (actual figure). That generated a hold against my available credit that was more than the average annual income in some countries. I called the rental company and asked their help in getting the pending auth removed from my card. The agent apologized, recognizing it was a massive error, and offered to set up a three-way call with the bank right on the spot. She put me on hold while dialing the bank and navigating through its phone system to reach customer service. She brought me on the line after confirming my account information, when the call suddenly disconnected. I wasn’t on with either the rental company or the bank – just dead air. I expected the rental agent to call back. I waited… and waited… No return call, no email notification, no follow-up – nuttin’. Why is it in situations like this you don’t get the option of submitting a satisfaction survey?

Mortgage: The mortgage payment is auto-debited from our checking account the first of each month. It was time for the October payment, and the mortgage company is very good about sending out an email a few days in advance to remind you to check your available balance. We were all set – until I saw that there were TWO mortgage payments being processed at the same time. I went to the mortgage company’s website and was greeted with a message – “We are currently experiencing technical issues with loan payments. We appreciate your patience while we are working to resolve these issues.” Why do I have this sickening feeling that an excessive sum is going to be removed “accidentally” from my checking account and it will take 3 – 7 business days to replace it? Just long enough for our rent check to bounce in the interim?
  • [Since I first wrote the above paragraph, here's what's happened: the double-payment resulted in an overdraft fee with our bank. The overdraft was charged when our balance dropped below $0 due to the duplicate mortgage payment being processed. The bank immediately refunded that fee upon my request, due to the circumstances. The mortgage company then returned the funds for BOTH mortgage payments to our account balance and has yet to again withdraw for the current month's payment. I'm waiting to see if I'm now dinged for "missing" a payment or have been given a gift.]
Insurance: On the day we moved this summer, I realized I’d never contacted the insurance company to have our renters' policy transferred to the new address. Since I was already in a sitting position due to heat stroke (you may recall it was 99 degrees on the day we moved), I called and got a very nice young man who would handle the transfer. He noticed we also had auto insurance with the company and mentioned there might be a “slight” increase in the premium based on our new address. That “slight” increase turned out to be in excess of $500. After emailing our agent to ask for his suggestions to reduce the premium -- and not getting a response after three days – I decided “Flo” of TV fame might be able to help. I got a much better quote from the new insurance company and submitted all the required documentation to get the renters' and auto policies moved over immediately. The new company said they would contact the old company about the pro-rated refund of our cancelled policy's premium. Three weeks later I got a check with a sizable portion of the anticipated amount deducted for the “increase” due to the move to the higher-risk zipcode. For a car that had been covered by them in that new, more-dangerous neighborhood… for three days. Lesson learned – when the insurance company gives you lemons, reject their offer of lemonade because they'll just continue to put the squeeze on you.

Please don't think we're crying poverty or hard times here -- we're quite fortunate to be solidly middle-class, generally prudent with our money. We drive a ten-year-old car, shop at discount clothing stores, wait for sales for most big-ticket purchases, and limit our indulgences to extra pizza toppings. Compared to all the folks who are currently trying to make it through the government shutdown with no pay at all and must be truly worried about making ends meet, our complaints are transitory and ephemeral and will soon melt away -- just as my package of Starbursts did, so let me get started on my letter of outrage to the president of the vending machine company about that bullshit.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Artistic Lozenge

I recently became a patron of one of Boston’s leading art museums. I will admit to misunderstanding the terms of membership; I thought in exchange for my donation I’d be allowed to exhibit art works of my own making. However, I was mistaken and the very nice security guard explained it all to me as I was being taken away in handcuffs.

Some weeks after joining, I received an emailed invitation to the opening of a new exhibition. I was hoping this would be performance art and therefore involve some degree of nudity, but alas – the exhibition was largely comprised of paintings and drawings along with works in other media. While I believe many of the abstract figures were portrayed as nude or nearly so, it didn't have quite the sense of... accessibility I was anticipating. Regardless, the art work could best be described as... well, rather than my fumbling for words, here's a quote from the curator's catalog notes regarding one assemblage of multiple images:
  • "Taken together, they form an oblique and inconclusive narrative."
I wrote that down -- "an oblique and inconclusive narrative". If being oblique and inconclusive are considered artistic qualities, then I am at least 90% of the way to setting foot back in that museum with no need for handcuffs to make a further appearance. Except as part of my "performance piece".

As many modern artists now seem to do, this one branched beyond her original mode of expression to create in other formats. Among the newer works were several animations made on a iPhone or iPad using a drawing program. What a co-ink-ee-dink! I have also made animations -- mine on a pad of Post-It notes -- usually sketches of an ever-enlarging part of the human anatomy that convey a brooding sense of eroticism and immaturity. Working in pencil, ballpoint or Sharpie, when viewed as part of a collection these images form a narrative that is neither oblique nor inconclusive -- they are clearly a penis getting bigger and bigger. The fact that this expansiveness requires the use of "flipping", the use of the viewer's hands to manipulate and display, is a clever commentary on the concept of auto-eroticism in our overtly-sexualized society, as well as indicative of the fact that I don't have enough to do at work.

I like contemporary art, I really do. We've been to shows that were absolutely thrilling at this same museum, along with MassMOCA, Dia:Beacon, the Hirschhorn and other galleries. While I may not have admired the craft, inspiration or intent of this artist's work as deeply as others I have seen, I surely was impressed with the cold beer and cheese board offered at the reception. And who knows? Maybe the alcohol and dairy products were artistic expressions utilizing yet more new media which, when taken together, formed another oblique and inconclusive narrative.

Or, in my case, intestinal bloating.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

To Xfinity And Beyond!

Cable companies are such easy targets, aren't they?

Scene 1:
We move during the summer. I call Xfinity/Comcast/KableTown (whatever they're calling themselves these days) regarding a special "move-in" offer. A very nice guy gives us a great deal on re-establishing our services (nearly 50% less than what we had been paying). We just need to pretend this is a "new" account, so now the cable will be under Carol's name rather than mine. He says he'll take care of everything to "transfer" the account, and even arranges to have the installer come the day after we move. Fantastic!

Scene 2:
The move was... harrowing, as described in other blog posts and email updates. Beastly hot, too much stuff in way smaller place, boxes and clutter everywhere, general exhaustion. The installation is rescheduled several times and finally takes place about three weeks after we move.

Scene 3:
Cable charges come as e-bill via our bank, as expected. Bill includes charge for installation, not as expected since the nice guy said there would be no charge for that. Lengthy online chat with Xfinity leads to a credit being applied, reluctantly. I pay the "true" amount. The next month's e-bill comes through with the correct amount and I schedule the payment pronto.

Scene 4:
While on vacation, I get a call from Xfinity asking about our "old" account, the one at the address we moved from. They have no record of us requesting a disconnect, and the new tenant in our old apartment can't have cable installed until I indicate we're done with the service there. Hmm, I say -- that nice guy I spoke to several months ago said he'd take care of all of that. We are long-gone from the old place and old service. The very nice woman says she'll update her records and oh! by the way -- you're entitled to a sizable refund for overpaying on your old account. Gee, how'd that happen? I wonder...

Scene 5:
We come home from vacation and sort through the mail. Comcast (not Xfinity? I'm confused) sends a Final Notice of Disconnection, stating we owe for 2 months' service and need to submit the past due balance no later than... 3 days ago. We still have cable and internet on in the apartment (and somewhere in there is also phone service that we never use; how are these "bundles" cheaper when you add something you have no use for?), so I decide to follow up the next day.

Scene 6:
Turns out our services weren't transferred -- a new account was established with a new account number, which I failed to notice and therefore didn't update the online bill payment settings. When I now compare the two, both start with the same six digits, so I likely glossed right over that when the first "new" bill came through. Payments for our new services have been applied to our old account -- the one that apparently was never closed after we moved. I provide the agent with whom I'm chatting a bunch of information regarding the payment history, including the serial numbers on the currency I'd deposited into our checking account to cover the balances due. In response, she tells me there will be an "investigation", I'll get a call from the "Investigations Unit" within a day or two, and as a result the payments will be redirected to the correct account. (Not sure what they're going to investigate since the outcome of said investigation seems to be staring us all in the face.) I specifically ask the agent if our current services will be interrupted at all due to this snafu; she assures me that the new account will not be interrupted. I keep a transcript of the chat.

Scene 7:
We come home after a long day at work and grocery shopping, prepare a quick dinner, and sit down in front of the TV for a little relaxation. Cable service has been interrupted. Message on screen advises to call, and recording on the line asks us to pay up, pronto. Chat Session #2 goes over much of the same territory as Chat Session #1 the previous day. This very nice person (gender unknown; name and chat vocabulary are both asexual) says s/he will make sure the account is re-established immediately, while the investigation allegedly launched the day before will now be re-launched right after this chat session. Cable should be restored in 30-45 minutes.

Scene 8:
Two hours later, I am entrenched in Chat Session #3 since the only thing I see on the TV is a floating message saying "No Signal". Very nice tech sends three reset signals of varying magnitude (one of them turns on our toaster), and finally I am watching "The Big Bang Theory" on TBS, which is what we wanted to do hours before. Carol has since gone to bed, but not before our mounting exasperation with the situation leads to a few terse exchanges between us -- I snap at her, she tells me to drop dead, and finally we shake hands and retire to neutral corners. We're good like that; 32 years married and we know when to ignore each other's invective.

Scene 9 (staging TBD):
What will happen next? Will we see the credit transferred to the correct account? Will the Investigations Unit ever call, or will two men in black suits looking suspiciously like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones show up at our front door and flash that thingy in our faces so we forget all about this fubar? And what about the mysterious call this afternoon from yet another department at Ex-fun-ity asking me to call back and discuss a "third-party email" used to attempt access to our account? What were the first- and second-parties and why wasn't any booze served?

Tune in tomorrow for our next chapter of: "TO XFINITY... AND BEYOND"!!!

Clowns In My Coffee

I'm always surprised when someone says they don't drink coffee. "I don't like the taste," "It's too bitter," "Caffeine makes me jumpy," and the worst excuse is, "I drink tea, it's better for you." The medicinal benefits of coffee are well-documented; primarily, it helps you stay awake late at night while you Google the symptoms of whatever is keeping you from getting to sleep.

We all know someone who is an indiscriminate coffee drinker; usually a guy (if only because this supposition makes subsequent pronoun selection easier) who will drink the most vile brew without any standards whatsoever: re-heated; sat around for hours and is now burned/cold; uses powdered creamer; drinks flavored coffee (coffee already comes in a flavor, it's "coffee-flavored"), and the most egregious offense -- he drinks coffee from Dunkin' Donuts.

I won't get into the whole Starbucks vs. DD debate. Both places have their supporters and detractors. I'll say only Dunkin' Donuts is aptly named because even a fresh cup tastes like someone already stuck a cruller in it.

My friend Bert introduced us to the joys of hyper-caffeination. For years we served him coffee that we thought was at least adequate, and he never complained. During one of his visits, I had to run an errand in the morning and when I got back, he and Carol were having breakfast. "BERT MADE ME A CUP OF COFFEE!!!" Carol explained. "HE USED FOUR SCOOPS FOR ONE CUP!!!" Ever since then, we brew it strong so Carol won't have to go through detox.

I've studied Bert's method and this is how he brews the "perfect cup":

Step 1: Grind whole beans just when you are ready to use them.
Step 2: For a pot of coffee, use an entire bag of beans.
Step 3: While waiting for the pot to finish, drive down to the coffee shop at the corner and order a double-espresso to tide you over.
Step 4: Repeat.

Once I was so amped up after drinking coffee with Bert I went to the driving range and hit a golf ball 148 yards. That may not sound impressive until I mention I was using a putter.

A few years ago Carol and I went camping for the first and thank God only time, meeting up with her brother's family and friends of theirs in an upstate New York park. Other than us, they were all experienced campers and carried a plethora of specialized equipment to provide most of the comforts of home while stuck in the woods. Foremost among them was a massive kitchen set-up that unfolded from a container the size of a briefcase into an area large enough to hold a full contingent of pots and pans, cooking utensils, an electrical outlet, a stovetop and maybe even a convection oven. Starting early in the morning, it took quite awhile to set up. It began raining in the midst of the task, so a covering was required to protect it. Brother-in-law and his friend wrestled with a massive tarp while the rest of us stood idle and watched. As the hours ticked by, I politely asked my sister-in-law if she was able to get some coffee going while the effort continued. She said that was possible and 15 minutes later Carol and I were enjoying our java. When we were finished, she asked how we liked it and we said "very much". She smiled and said, "Good! I bet you couldn't tell it was decaf, could you?" Without another word we excused ourselves, got in our car, left the campground and raced twenty minutes to the nearest McDonald's for a jolt of caffeine, pulling into the drive-thru just as the dreaded withdrawal headache began pounding at our temples. I love my sister-in-law but at that moment I wanted to drive back to the campground, dig a hole, throw her in it, and bury her underneath several cubic yards of freshly-ground decaffeinated coffee.

Since it's usually just the two of us most mornings, I make coffee for Carol and myself using the pour-over method favored by the most pretentious of the neighborhood gourmet coffee bars. Using freshly-ground beans, unbleached paper filters, a cone, and a Japanese water pot I splurged on so I can "control the pour", it's a labor-intensive, time-consuming process that is made worthwhile by the clear moral superiority of the outcome. It was particularly time-consuming once when I knocked over the cone, scattering the grounds all over the counter -- and then did exactly the same thing a second time after grinding more $15-a-pound beans. I finally got everything properly measured and aligned and poured, enabling me to fill my mug with the rich, aromatic, velvety brew. Then I knocked that one over as well, spilling steaming hot coffee all over the counter and most of my torso. Carol, surely feeling the effects of caffeine-deprivation, found this hilarious. I evened the score after cleaning up -- I made her a mug of coffee after surreptitiously changing the setting on the grinder, placing it on a fineness of "7" rather than the usual "6", which tipped it from "Auto-Drip" to "Espresso". Revenge is a drink best served bold. She sipped from her cup, completely unaware of my treachery. Sighing contentedly, she smiled at me and said, "THANKS FOR THE COFFEE, HONEY!!!"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Marriage Wows

We've just attended the wedding of our closest friends -- my best friend Bert married my wife's best friend Marsha. We introduced them 11 years ago and their passion for one another ignited like wet cardboard. However, a couple of years back they were again in the same place at the same time in our company (as much as we'd like to believe that last factor was essential, it probably wasn't); drier conditions prevailed and FWOOSH! their situation suddenly became combustible.

The wedding was beautiful -- a perfect late-summer day; the ceremony staged outdoors at a charming cottage in downtown Greenville, South Carolina overlooking a lovely park; a small audience of family and dear friends; an excellent meal, and to cap it off the DJ played the most profound of all disco songs -- Kool and the Gang's "Get Down On It", which features this chorus:

"Get down on it, get down on it, get down on it, get down on it,
Get down on it, get down on it, get down on it, get down on it!"

Whenever I hear this song, I picture Kool hunched over a legal pad, pencil in hand, with half-empty cans of Diet Coke and smoldering cigarettes and beer bottles strewn about the recording studio. Kool looks tired and disheveled, and barely notices when the rest of the Gang walks in. "Whuzzup, K?" one Gang-member asks. "Did you finish that dope tune you were working on yesterday?" "Naw, man. I'm stuck... can't come up with a last line for it." "Read us what you've got so far and maybe all of us working together can bring on the funk." "Sure, sure," Kool replies, and proceeds to recite the seven lines he's scribbled so far. "... and that's where I'm lost, fellahs." The rest of the Gang start to think out loud, one tapping on piano keys, another absent-mindedly strumming a guitar, a third looking into space. Several suggestions are offered but quickly dismissed as being "too wordy", "doesn't flow", or "changes the narrative point of view". But after awhile one Gang-ster (which one is lost to history, and the ensuing court battles over authorship and publishing rights eventually break up the band. But at this very moment their collective creative quest still unites them in musical brotherhood) looks up and says, "Hey, what about..." and the now-completed song goes on to assume its place in dance floor history.

Our friends expressly prohibited the d.j. (who goes by the name "DJ Skid" -- can you tell he's a white guy?) from playing any of the group-dance songs that one normally hears at a wedding -- "Y.M.C.A", the Electric Slide, others of that ilk. They're our age, second marriage for both, and those kinds of tunes just didn't fit into the tenor of the event. But when "Born To Run" came on, the groom leapt onto the dance floor, resplendent in his Brooks Brothers suit, and began to thrash with abandon. His choreography mimicked that of the two "wild and crazy guys" of SNL fame, with all the finger-pointing, heel-wiggling, and hip-gyrating they displayed while walking to answer the door when they thought "American foxes" had rung the bell.

Going to a wedding inevitably leads to comparisons with other weddings you've attended (and of course your own). While Bert and Marsha organized an elegant and tasteful affair, it spurred thoughts of other nuptials we've been to that were somewhat less impressive:
  • An open bar every other hour.
  • A polka band attempting "Black Magic Woman", with a trumpet taking the lead guitar part.
  • A rabbi who paused mid-ceremony and yelled at the photographer to stop taking pictures.
  • A reception where the groom's father engaged in "dirty dancing" with his son's new wife.
  • Another reception where the dessert was JELL-O.
We've been invited to the wedding but not the reception; the reception but not the wedding; "provisionally" to the wedding "if enough people decline so there's room for you", and once we were invited to the same wedding twice and the groom backed out both times. The explanation the first time was "jitters"; the explanation the second time was the soap opera subplot that he'd fathered a child with another woman and was going to marry her instead. Even more tragically, the jilted bride didn't return any of the wedding presents.

We lived in the South for many years and were always amused when guests would come to a wedding wearing t-shirts and shorts. These were indoor ceremonies, in churches, and sometimes a full Catholic Mass. That always flummoxed the Southern Baptists, who were expecting a 15-minute service, some cake and punch, and to be back home in an hour. Usually they'd just leave the kids in front of the TV to save on a baby sitter. The concept of R.S.V.P. was also foreign to these folks, who would respond to a follow-up inquiry whether they were planning to attend with, "We'll sure try."

Carol and I had a mixed ceremony, with a priest and rabbi officiating. We had a hard time finding a rabbi who would participate, as most of them declined while still encouraging us to join their congregations after we were married. We finally found a retired rabbi who would serve jointly with a priest, but then due to schedule conflicts we needed to start the search for Jewish representation anew. Yet another rabbi declined, and when I mentioned the name of the other rabbi who would have performed the service except for the scheduling conflict, this rabbi laughed dismissively and said, "You know, he has a reputation as a 'Marrying Sam'." The whole experience contributed to my decision to renounce organized religion, largely in favor of disorganized hedonism. We ended up tweaking our schedule so the retired rebbe could step in. Bert and Marsha's minister was also retired, which got me thinking -- would you want a surgeon to come out of retirement to operate on you? "Nurse, bring me a bottle of chloroform and a container of leeches - stat!"

Anyway, we're so pleased how everything turned out for our friends and they are just radiant with happiness. As they start their new life together, another poignant Kool and the Gang lyric comes to mind; from "Fresh":

"She's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh,
She's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh,
She's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh,
She's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh,
She's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh, she's so fresh."

I couldn't have said it better myself, especially that last part.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Time Travail

We are close friends with several couples who have young children. We love to visit and play with the kids, enjoying all the baby/toddler games like "Peek-A-Boo", "Hide and Seek", and "Who Made A Stinky?" (I often win at that last one.) We relate our friends' experiences as parents and their children's development back to when our son was little, and from there dig deep into the memory banks in an effort to recall what our own experiences were as little ones. "If only we could go back in time..." we lament.

I suddenly recalled that such a trip was in fact possible! I'd forgotten all about the time machine I'd purchased several years ago. It had been sitting in the original shipping container, unopened, since delivery. I remember finding it on eBay and how excited I was at that moment, but by the time it arrived we’d moved on to our Groupon phase so it seemed we were going out for 2-for-1 dinners, or skydiving, or getting mani-pedis every week for months and I never gave the time machine another thought. 

I dug the packaging out from the back of the closet, behind the Christmas decorations and my golf bag (another rarely-utilized item), and pulled out the instructions. Typical of the stuff that's manufactured overseas, they were written in that peculiar dialect I call "Not-Quite English". Examples: "When remove the Time Machine from it's original packaging, be sure to keep the Machine upright upon all times to insure safety and stableness." "Not recommend for use by Children under the age seven." "WARNING: Manufacturer makes no warranties, either express or implied, whether in tort, contract, by statute or otherwise. And particularly makes no warranty of merchantability or fitness for any particular purpose whatsoever, in regard to anyu products sold by Hatsuhana Time Machine Company (Hong Kong), LLC." (By the way, other than the name of the company, that last one is copied verbatim from an actual warranty.)

Two Coke Zeros, a lot of swearing and a beer later, I had the thing put together. The instructions clearly stated that two people were required for operation, but I was anxious to try it out and didn't want to wait for Carol to return from her hair appointment (Christ, she's gone all day when she gets her hair done - what is UP with that?), so I decided I could handle it by myself and set the controls back to when I was age three. I flipped the switch, then hustled inside the chamber and bolted the hatch closed. Based on all the sci-fi movies I'd seen where time travel was an element, I was expecting a rugged ride, with flashing lights and loud pops and at the end I'd be thrown out from some height down to the ground, disoriented and possibly with a nose bleed. However, the "trip" was nothing like that -- I sat quietly inside the dark chamber for what seemed at most a minute or so. Then a buzzer went off and I was able to unlock the hatch from the inside. I stepped out into the backyard of the row house in Baltimore where my family lived when I was three years old -- there was the jungle gym where my mom had to sit on one swing so the frame wouldn't rise out of the ground while I played on the other swing. In fact, there was my mother -- sitting in that very spot -- and there was little me, swinging and calling to her: "Lookit! Look, Mommy! I'm high up in space!" She was reading a magazine and looked up just long enough to say, "That's nice,” then went back to her reading.

I was then aware of feeling “merged” with my younger version – I began to feel what little Johnny was experiencing, right down to the rush of wind on my face and floppy feeling in my stomach as I swung to and fro, while still maintaining some semblance of my 56-year-old cognition in terms of understanding what was happening. Physically, I was limited to my three-year-old self and therefore only able to crib these quick notes in chalk and crayon regarding my trip back in time:
·      Swing is FUN! Going to leap off NOW… NOW… NOW… maybe not yet. I need some meclizine first.
·      “Mommy, can I have a snack? I’d like some cheesy crackers and a glass of Prosecco.”
·      Furniture is IMMENSE. I could fall into cracks between couch cushions and disappear from sight. Oh, look -- raisins! Yum-um-um…
·      “I don’t wanna take a nap! Will you read me a story if I do? OK – read me Thomas Friedman’s column from today’s Times.”
·      Bedroom larger than I remember. Mattress could be better – memory foam with pocketed coils would be much more comfortazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
·      “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home! Daddy, did you bring me a present? Oh, a balsa wood rubber band airplane… I really would have preferred an iPhone 5S.”
·      Can’t find MSNBC on the television, only 3 broadcast channels and something fuzzy called “UHF”.
·      “Mommy, are you and Daddy gonna give me a baby sister? If you do, would you please transfer your assets into a living trust so I can assume ownership of this house without having to do battle with her in probate court?”
·      Mother’s home cooking brought back so many memories. Pot roast, salt potatoes, peas and carrots, blueberry cobbler – so delicious! My tummy is full... Oops, I made a stinky.

After my father gave me a bath and put me to bed I started to wonder how I would ever return to the present day. As soon as my thoughts went back to the life I’d left behind, I found myself within the time travel chamber. After another few moments of darkness, the hatch opened and I was back in the apartment, tools strewn on the floor, with seemingly no time elapsed since I’d first stepped into the machine. At that very moment Carol walked through the door, her hair freshly styled from the salon, not at all aware of what I had been through. I started to explain but realized it was too fantastic for anyone else to comprehend – plus she had brought home two immense lobster rolls and a pint of chowder for dinner. I was suddenly famished – time travel takes more out of you than you might think. As we enjoyed our meal, I thought back on my experience and realized “you can’t go home again” – we can’t relive the past but can call upon it to enrich our perspectives about the present. Rather than feeling wistful for my childhood, I should focus on the joy of being with our friends and their children and build new memories from those adventures. As I came to that realization, I was quickly overwhelmed with a sensation that seemed to emanate from my very soul and course through my entire being...

Oops, I made a stinky. That lobster was rich.