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

Monday, December 28, 2015


Horses are pessimists. I guess they can't help it since they're all born neigh-sayers.

I asked for a pony for Christmas and found a 7-ounce bottle of beer under the tree. It took the edge off my disappointment.

It's inadvisable to saddle a horse with your problems. Makes for a rough ride.

Likewise, you should avoid trying to stirrup trouble, unless "Trouble" is your horse's name.

Someone asked me if I was interested in horse racing. I said of course not; certainly the horse was going to beat me every time.

A horse's teeth take up a larger amount of space in their head than their brain. Same with Donald Trump.

As many times as I've heard someone use the phrase, "She was rode hard and put away wet" -- it was never in reference to a horse.

Did you know horses love to sing? That's why you find them in a chorale.

A Jewish horse who loves to sing is called a "canter".

Horses don't believe in the institution of marriage. That's why you never see them included in a bridle party.

Every time I ask to borrow $10 from a younger horse, he says he has nothing to lend. I suppose that's because a foal and his money are soon parted.

Someone who shoes horses is called a farrier. If he overcharges for the service, he's called an unfarrier.

I've got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle. For that I was referred to an orthopedist.

I went to see a horseplay once. It was Othello, with the lead role played by a dark horse.

Wild horses couldn't drag me away. But my wife's hairdryer trips the bathroom circuit and suddenly I'm expected to jump up from the couch.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Settling the Snore

Carol woke me from a sound sleep last night, shaking my shoulder and saying in an urgent whisper, "There's someone in the house."

I leapt out of bed and headed for the closet. "Where are you going?" Carol shouted. "To hide," I responded. "The baseball bat is under your side of the mattress."

"Do you still have your earplugs in?" she asked. She then informed me she had not said, "There’s someone in the house" but instead "Your snoring is so loud." "Jee-zus..." I muttered under my breath. Well, it sounded like a mutter to me because I still had my earplugs in but she claimed I was shouting, which she did not take kindly to.

I returned to bed, where I now inferred a delineation between "her side" and "my side". I presumed Carol was upset about the shouting and that I hadn't been more aggressive in my defense of her and our home, but please keep in mind:
  1. I was sound asleep and wasn't permitted any time to process her comment, preferably while being offered coffee and a sweet roll.
  2. There was no actual threat underway.
  3. I believe men and women to be equals; therefore she could have taken the initiative to chase off the interloper. And did I mention the bat was on her side of the bed?
Adrenaline was coursing through my system as a result of the incident; that, combined with the fact Carol had quickly gone back to sleep -- and, in a cruel irony, immediately started snoring -- unsettled me to the point where I got up again and headed downstairs to watch TV until I felt calm enough to return to bed.

On my way through the kitchen in the dark I stepped in a puddle of something lukewarm and sticky, which I knew from experience was the gift of cat regurgitation. I cleaned up the mess from the floor and my bare foot and headed for the couch. I wanted to avoid bright lights at that wee hour and so was navigating around with only the glow of my cellphone to guide me. Now I needed to find the remote for the television. This is often a challenge when Carol has stayed up later than me since she has a tendency to leave it "wherever" on her way to bed. Sometimes it's on the coffee table, sometimes the ottoman, occasionally the bathroom sink, and once I found it in the refrigerator next to the water pitcher. This time I was fortunate to spy it on one of the end tables and turned on the set.

Once the cable box and television had come to life, I heard sound but saw no picture. I flipped up and down a few channels and all were sound-only. I hit the "guide" button to bring up the program display and saw a string of detail-free "Not Available"s in place of the listings. "Cable's on the fritz again," I thought to myself. "Great..." I then recalled I could perhaps watch via the cable company's app on my tablet. I stumbled back up to the bedroom to retrieve it from my bedside table. Carol was still asleep/snoring and I don't believe heard me cry out another "JEE-ZUS!" when I banged my shin on the corner of the bedframe. Tablet in hand, I banged my other shin when leaving, adding His middle and last names to my excited utterance, and gingerly hobbled back downstairs. 

I booted up and was pleased to find the app permitted me to view the entire channel array, with picture and sound intact. Since the tablet's speakers are small and tinny, I broke out my noise-cancelling headphones and plugged them in to listen with richer timbre to the snappy dialogue of a Law & Order rerun. I flicked on the headphones and heard nothing -- dead battery, urrgh. I went back into the kitchen to grab a replacement, stepping in another cat puddle on the way. After completing that clean-up I returned to the couch, swapped out the battery, placed on the headphones and returned to L&O. Except by now the episode had ended and some reality show was already in progress. In this program, a couple who may or may not be legally married, each with children from multiple prior relationships, runs an upscale boutique employing an alarming number of heavily-tattooed and oddly-coiffed men and women, some of whom appear to be "transitioning" (to and from what was not clear to me). Rather than actually working, this crew appears to stand around the shop ridiculing their co-workers and bitching about any customers who are foolish enough to wander in during the day. Not surprisingly, the business is losing money ass-over-teakettle, so some titan of industry who apparently has enough spare time on his hands to step away from his Fortune 500 company to appear on this show serves as a "consultant" to the business in an effort to stem the flow of cash going down the drain as he collects a hefty fee for his alleged services. All this while everyone quaffs from a seemingly endless supply of champagne.

I scrolled through the other channels but could only find infomercials for products I had no interest in buying or other "reality-based" programs I had no interest in watching. At this point, I decided to give up the ghost and turn everything off, thoughtfully leaving the remote behind one of the couch cushions so Carol could find it. I tip-toed upstairs once again, stepping on a suspiciously warm spot of carpeting but lacking the initiative to investigate further, and stealthily slid under the covers while putting my earplugs back in. Carol was still snoring, so I added an additional layer of soundproofing by placing a pillow sham over my head. Just as I started to doze off, our cat Miles decided to take up residence on the sham, curling his eleven pounds into a ball pressing down on the side of my face. I tossed both sham and cat toward some undefined location on the other side of the bedroom and attempted to settle back in for some much-needed sleep.

With my return to a restful state now mere breaths away, Carol's alarm went off. She rolled over, hit the snooze and, by the sound of things, immediately went back to sleep. I sighed deeply and attempted to relax again, at which point the alarm rang for the second time. After three more snooze cycles I gave up, getting out of bed for good and heading downstairs to prepare the morning pot of coffee. I skidded on a puddle of you-know-what while grabbing filters from the cabinet.

While waiting for the coffee to brew, I went to watch the morning news. Where was the remote? In my fuzzy state it took a few minutes before I recalled its placement behind the cushion. I turned on the set and went back to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of java -- of which there was none because I'd forgotten to turn on the machine. After correcting that oversight, I realized Carol was still sleeping and went upstairs to make sure she got up in time for work. I shook her shoulder and said, "There's a burglar downstairs." She didn't stir, so I leapt up on the mattress and began bouncing around, landing on the floor on her side of the bed with a thud. Startled awake, she asked what the hell was happening. I said I'd just come up to check on her and let her know the coffee was almost ready. She eyed me suspiciously, saying she'd be right down. I returned to the kitchen, smirking all the way back since I'd now exacted my revenge for a poor night's sleep. 

I was pleased with myself right up until the moment I found hot coffee flowing all over the counter since in my exhausted haze I'd also neglected to place the pot under the drip basket. You know what they say: "You snooze, you lose." In my case, I'd lost a night's sleep, a full pot of coffee and what
little remained of my wife's and one cat's affection for me.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Goal All The Way

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. --Winston Churchill
  • No wonder Churchill was in politics, since that kind of attitude got me dismissed from several prior positions in the "real world".
The obstacle is the path. --Zen saying
  • Turn around and head back to the car. --Just saying.
Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them. --Vaibhav Shah
  • And aren't we all thankful for that?
Success? I don't know what that word means. I'm happy. But success, that goes back to what in somebody's eyes success means. For me, success is inner peace. That's a good day for me. --Denzel Washington
  • I like Denzel as much as the next guy, but he should stick to a script.
Opportunities don't happen. You create them. --Chris Grosser
  • Hence some unverifiable entries on my résumé.
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. --Eleanor Roosevelt
  • I'm more of an Us Weekly fan, but I get your point.
A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him. --David Brinkley
  • I don’t believe our local building codes permit this.
There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going. --Beverly Sills
  • Sounds like someone who should download Waze.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. --Eleanor Roosevelt
  • These affirmative consent guidelines on college campuses are really getting out of hand.
If you're going through hell, keep going. --Winston Churchill
  • Hang a left when you reach resignation and then take the exit for despair.
Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. --John D. Rockefeller
  • Rockefeller made his fortune scooping up all those abandoned goods at rock-bottom prices.
Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. --Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Break's over -- back to work.
If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. --Albert Einstein
  • Oh, I understand it perfectly -- it's my boss who's no Einstein.
There are two types of people who will tell you that you cannot make a difference in this world: those who are afraid to try and those who are afraid you will succeed. --Ray Goforth
  • There are actually three types of people but I'm afraid to tell you about the third one.
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. --Arthur Ashe
  • Canadian doubles is for sissies.
It is necessary for us to learn from others' mistakes. You will not live long enough to make them all yourself. --Hyman George Rickover
  • But, in my case, not for lack of effort.
Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better. --John Updike
  • Any activity becomes better when it includes Dewar’s and soda.
Eighty percent of success is just showing up. --Woody Allen
  • So why then is 50% of my bonus tied to productivity?
Be wiser than other people, if you can; but do not tell them so. --Philip Dormer Stanhope
  • What if I say I received "anonymous complaints" that they're all dumb as rocks?
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. --Eleanor Roosevelt
  • The present belongs to those who believe in marrying the beauty of their dreams.
One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries. --A.A. Milne
  • "Look – I found clean underwear in the bottom of the laundry pile!"
The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it. --Thucydides
  • I'm happy to be certified as second-tier brave and just go out to meet the glory.
Fortune favors the brave. –Terence
  • I'll settle for a 60/40 split since you handled all the danger stuff.
One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say. --Will Durant
  • “          .”
The speed of a runaway horse counts for nothing. --Jean Cocteau
  • Unless you're the horse.
No one ever gets far unless he accomplishes the impossible at least once a day. --L. Ron Hubbard
  • This is why Hugh Hefner is so grateful for Viagra.
Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. --Thomas Alva Edison
  • Remember he said this before indoor plumbing was in wide use.
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. --Ellen Parr
  • A fatal diagnosis if you're a cat.
All good things which exist are the fruits of originality. --John Stuart Mill
  • That’s great, since I hate vegetables.
The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. --Cecil B. DeMille
  • Unlike the elderly gentleman driving the Cadillac in front of me.
It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. --Confucius
  • Confucius – I'm going with Cecil. You can ride with Gramps in his Coupe deVille.
The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up. --Paul Valry
  • Believe me -- waking up because it's time to go to work is not a dream come true.
You'll always miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take. --Wayne Gretzky
  • Hasn't this been adopted as the motto of the NRA?
The dreadful burden of having nothing to do. --Nicolas Boileau
  • Here's something to keep you busy -- try writing complete sentences.
I learned much from my teachers, more from my books, and most from my mistakes. --Anonymous
  • Mistake #1 - forgetting to sign his name to this insight.
A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds. --Sir Francis Bacon
  • Breakfast irony: one can never make enough bacon.
Measure twice, cut once. --Craftsman's aphorism
  • Count your fingers immediately afterward.
What is harder than rock, or softer than water? Yet soft water hollows out hard rock. Persevere. --Ovid
  • And yet when you throw a hard rock into soft water, it sinks right to the bottom. Perplexing.
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. --Sir Isaac Newton
  • Admittedly, at the risk of pissing off the giants.
When in doubt, win the trick. --Edmond Hoyle
  • Is this about Bridge or prostitution?
I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow. --Woodrow Wilson
  • You weren’t using yours, anyway.
There is no disinfectant like success. --Daniel J. Boorstin
  • A co-worker keeps rubbing my nose in his success -- but come to think of it I haven't caught a cold in, like, three years.
Nothing succeeds like success. --Alexander Dumas
  • Or, apparently, disinfects.
The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven't made up their minds. --Charles "Casey" Stengel
  • Remember this before you sign up for another “Leadership Skills” workshop.
Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth. --Will Rogers
  • Nope – “Special Assistant to the CEO” is.
One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. "Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" was his response. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter." --Lewis Carroll
  • The only directions less useful than these come from Apple Maps.
A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied 10 minutes later. --George S. Patton
  • If this were true then I wouldn't have participated in so many exit interviews.
The manner in which a man chooses to gamble indicates his character or his lack of it. --William Saroyan
  • Gamble? Never. I stick to “skills-based gaming.”
Clear your mind of can't. --Solon
  • Screw you, Solon. -- Kant

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sinking Relation-ship

My wife Carol said something really sweet and profound to me the other day. I wish I'd muted the TV long enough to catch it all.

Carol starts every day by saying, "I love you." I respond by asking her who she's on the phone with.

The other evening I said I'd light some candles and suggested we take a romantic bath together. Carol said she wasn't up for a bath but would wash her hands with me. Actually, I think she said she wanted to wash her hands of me.

We introduced some role reversal into our lovemaking: Carol said she was too tired, and I said I had a headache.

One point of contention was whether the household duties were being split evenly. I said let's make a list. After I wrote everything down I said I'd done my part, so...

We have a long-standing "joke" the reason we're still together is because neither of us could get a gun permit. But there are knives all over the kitchen -- so it must be love, right?

To keep things fresh, Carol recommended a "date night" once a month. I agreed but find it irritating when the guys honk from the driveway and expect her to run out to the car. Whatever happened to manners?

You'll hear people say things like, "I married my best friend." Well, I bet you and your best friend never had a joint checking account, did you?

I looked at myself in the mirror and saw thinning gray hair, wrinkles, sagging muscles and a paunch. Appearing from behind, Carol wrapped her arms around me and said, "You've really let yourself go."

Some people start the morning by checking the obituary page to see if their name is listed. Carol and I read the letters to "Dear Abby" and ask each other, "Did you write this?"

Regardless of what we're arguing about, one rule is that we never call each other names. We rely on slang for various body parts.

Carol will tell you she married me because I make her laugh. Several years went by before I realized it's at my expense.

As I write this, Carol and I have been married for 34 years. Many of them happy.

Every so often you'll hear about a couple married for fifty, sixty, seventy-five years and when asked for the secret to their long relationship will say, "We've never argued once." I can say that's true for Carol and me as well -- we've argued many, many times.

How have we managed to stay married for so long? Well, we believe that divorce is not an option. That is, it's not an affordable option.

All you need is love. But sometimes a spare bedroom comes in handy also.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Tightening The Neuse

I was watching an old movie the other evening and heard a character describe herself as an "entrepreneuse". Never having heard the word before, along with the plummy accent the actress affected for the role, it took a moment for the term to register. Once my brain caught up with my ears, I realized how she had identified her vocation: a female entrepreneur. In today's world we strive to avoid gender-specific titles, not only to sidestep accusations of sexism but because anything a man can do, a woman can do while going backwards and wearing heels. Which, in my opinion, should prevent women from becoming Uber drivers but government regulations insist otherwise.

Performers such as Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman are today referred to as "comedians" rather than "comediennes". When I was growing up, variety programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were popular on TV. Each week's installment was likely to feature a woman introduced as a "comedienne": Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields, Joan Rivers. While Diller and Fields are long gone, Joan Rivers’ career lasted right up until her untimely death in 2014, by which time she was called just a "plastic surgery nightmare" -- every bit the equal of men like Kenny Rogers or Carrot Top.

I racked my brain to come up with all the other "-euse" words I could recall: 
  • Chanteuse:  A woman who really can't sing yet appears in a nightclub where smoking is still permitted. Historically, the term is most closely associated with French performer Édith Pilaf, an international sensation best known for her timeless hit, "La Vie en Arroz".
  • Chartreuse: A truly hideous color unless your wife is wearing something featuring it, in which case it's best acknowledged as "retro".
  • Pampleneuse: A female grapefruit
Perhaps I didn't so much rack my brain as give it a gentle squeeze.

The movie I was watching was The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, released in 1939 and starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The Castles were essentially the Astaire and Rogers of their day: a husband and wife team who introduced the tango, among other dances, to European and American audiences. The couple was popular before the advent of movies as we know them, so they gained fame performing in ballroom settings and theater stages. Their signature dance was known as the "Castle Walk", which was recreated in the movie and can best be described as a man and woman, both named "Castle", walking around the perimeter of the dance floor. Occasionally they would break into a sideways skip before bringing it down a notch and returning to walking. Inexplicably, this became an international sensation, with society-types quickly adopting the dance because it relieved them from anything requiring coordination or rhythm or the need to actually, you know -- dance. But back in 1910s the Castles were a big freaking deal, becoming superstars not only for their routines but also lending their names to dance studios, nightclubs (where maybe they met a chanteuse or teu), footwear and other fashionable clothing items. Irene was also the Jennifer Aniston of her times; she got a short trim that came to be known as the "Castle Bob" and women across the country flocked to hair salons to have their tresses so coiffed, coming home to show off the style to spouses who, just as today, didn’t notice anything different.

The film ended on a tragic note, which at first I thought was dramatized for cinematic input but learned was true -- Vernon Castle, who was English by birth, enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps during WWI (receiving the Croix de Guerre for his actions in combat) and died in a plane crash in 1918 while serving as a flight instructor. He essentially sacrificed himself because he always insisted on taking the front seat in a Jenny biplane's cockpit so his trainees would be safer sitting in the rear. To avoid a mid-air collision with another cadet's plane, he stalled while attempting a steep climb and crashed, killing him but leaving his rear-seat student with only minor injuries. While I'm sure this was tragic in real life, the cinematic version was made unintentionally hilarious due to the flying recreations using then-state of the art special effects; i.e., model planes "flying" via the use of hidden sticks and the dramatic "crash" looking as though the model was dropped into one of those dioramas you'd make for elementary school projects.

The movie came to a rapid conclusion after Vernon's/Astaire's demise, even though Irene lived on and had a pretty interesting second act -- briefly continuing her showbiz career, remarrying several times and eventually becoming an animal rights activist -- until her death at age 75 in 1969. The Hollywood version of their lives skipped over lots of other interesting tidbits: the Castles toured with an all-black orchestra; their long-time personal assistant (played in the movie by the inestimable, and very white, Walter Brennan) was also a black man; their manager (the "entrepreneuse" mentioned earlier) was reportedly a lesbian – although the movie hinted at this since the character met the Castles while she was travelling through Europe with a female companion. Of course, two women can travel though Europe and share a hotel room and that doesn't necessarily mean they are gay. Whereas if two dudes were to do that, the odds change dramatically. In fact, that story was made into a movie a few years ago -- J. Edgar.

The Castles' story strikes me as a film begging for a modern-day remake, a la Moulin Rouge! as directed by Baz Luhmann. Their lives contain so many elements of dramatic and societal significance: the nature of fame, the impact of war, issues involving race, class distinctions and sexual identity, animal rights -- all wrapped up in romance and with plenty of opportunities for big production numbers where populations of entire cities break out in vigorous walking. And when the scene is recreated -- where the entrepreneuse first meets the dancing couple -- she can stand tall and proudly proclaim her modern-day identity:" I... AM... A... MOMAGER!"

Oh, sorry -- that dialogue is from another script under development: The Story of the Kardashian Clan -- Episode 1: What A Bunch Of Entrepre-losers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

We're Not In Kansas Anymore

Carol and I were sitting on the couch the other evening, both of us reading quietly. I reached over to give her an affectionate rub on the shoulder and asked, "Do you love me?" Without looking up her immediate reply was, "What do you want?" I was stunned by her response to my sweet, gentle question and decided to ditch my follow-up query regarding her willingness to get up and bring me a bowl of ice cream.

Lately we find ourselves in the midst of a mild "failure to communicate," mostly about mundane issues but pushing us just enough off-track to lead to some occasional friction. A few weeks ago we were heading out for dinner; I was ready and cooling my heels while waiting for Carol to get dressed. "How about this?" she solicited. Since I'm familiar with her wardrobe I didn't need to look before replying, "Adorable. Let's go." She stared at me and muttered, "... asshole..." under her breath before heading back to her closet. I was offended by her accusation. Well, I feigned offense but that’s pretty much the same response, isn't it?

I was assembling a piece of furniture and was flummoxed (as I often am) by a set of unhelpful instructions. I made a series of false starts and mis-steps, and each time as I recognized the latest snafu I exclaimed, "Oh my GOD!" in frustration. Carol kept asking if she could help me. After her sixth or seventh offer of assistance, I again replied "No" and added, "Please don't ask, 'Can I help you?' every time you hear me say in exasperation, 'Oh my GOD!'" I returned to my task, then paused and added, "Conversely -- if you hear me ask, 'Can you help me?' please don't reply with an exasperated 'Oh my GOD!'" I don't think she embraced my clarification in the spirit with which it was intended.

We were in the car, headed for a destination Carol was familiar with but I wasn't. Since I was behind the wheel I asked her to provide navigation. As we drove along one stretch of road, Carol said something about a sign up ahead which may have implied an imminent change in direction, but since I was passionately singing along to "Carry On Wayward Son" on the radio I wasn't paying attention to her at that moment (a more considerate person would have provided guidance during one of the numerous instrumental interludes). She then began to shout and gesture frantically as I nearly sped past where we needed to bear left. I slammed on the brakes, spinning the wheel and fishtailing in a manner reminiscent of Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Once I'd corrected course and returned to my side of the road, I reminded her of my preference for timely directions offered in advance rather than this tumultuous last-second, arm-waving, shouting-laden approach. While I initially thought she was quietly contemplating my observation before offering an apology, I was distressed when her silence continued for the rest of our drive and in fact the remainder of the day. How ironic there was no peace when we were done with our trip.

Of course there are guidelines couples should follow to ensure effective communication. We are acquainted with them but sometimes find ourselves just not up to making the proactive effort required, falling back on bad habits and then suffering through the consequences as a result. When Carol fails to express herself appropriately, I gently admonish her and then thoughtfully point out what she should have said differently. Lately, however, Carol isn't embracing these as "teachable moments" and instead seems to feel I'm being chauvinistic and condescending toward her, while portraying myself as beyond reproach. Well, I really can't control how she chooses to respond (another guideline for effective communication between partners), so I've learned to give her the space she needs regardless of how much it wounds my soul. While it's proving to be a tiresome burden it's one I bear with minimal complaint since -- at their core -- these contretemps are transitory and insignificant and in no way interfere with our deep and abiding love for one another.

But oh my GOD if Carol doesn't bring me a bowl of ice cream one evening soon I am going to lay my weary head to rest.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Quote Vadis

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing. That’s why we recommend it daily." -- Zig Ziglar
  • Those who ignore the bathing recommendation will be seated in the Engineering section.

"It costs $0.00 to be a decent human being." -- Unknown
  • Did you catch that, Donald Trump?

"It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do." -- Steve Jobs
  • And yet my requests for mo’ money go unheeded.

"Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say." -- Andy Staley
  • Leaders who have nothing to say will eventually be surrounded by reporters when they announce their entry into politics.

"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything." -- Mark Twain
  • I didn't have a brain fart; I was just being "truthful".

"If serving someone is beneath you, then leadership is above you." -- Unknown
  • And yet our CEO sends an admin out to fetch his coffee.

"Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is too high." -- Reed Hastings
  • Do like most companies do – promote them into “Internal Consultant” positions.

"Without data you're just another person with an opinion." -- W. Edwards Deming
  • So you say.

"Any success that happens at the expense of your health, your family or your character is not real success." -- Unknown
  • Well, I already sacrificed my character to get this job in the first place, so we’re really just down to the first two.

"At the end of the day it's not about what you have or even what you've accomplished... It's about who you've lifted up, who you've made better. It's about what you've given back." -- Denzel Washington
  • My calendar is swamped; can we try for next week?

"Getting the right people in the right jobs is a lot more important than developing a strategy." -- Jack Welch
  • Uh, people who are willing to work for a company without a strategy are the “wrong” people by default.

“The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena.” -- Tim Cook
  • Isn't the arena where they release the lions who then maul you to death?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cause For Alarm

Carol and I were just about to step out of the house to head for a Sunday morning hike when the smoke alarm went off. In between a series of 85-decibel warning shrieks the downstairs unit frantically shouted "FIRE!! FIRE!!" just in case we didn't get the point. With no apparent signs of smoke I pushed a button to trigger the "hush" feature, which is there in case I've merely burned the toast or decided to take up smoking cigars indoors. We have three inter-connected units and by now the other two had taken up the war cry, so I dashed around the house to get them all to shut the       £#¢k up. Presuming the source has been contained within ten minutes, the system will then reset and remain silent. During that time, I checked to make sure all the appliances were off (they were) and then wedged myself into the crawl space under the house to see if the oil burner was engulfed in flames (it wasn't). Finding no apparent source of concern I came back inside, expecting the incident to become a distant if unsettling memory. Presuming this had been just an anomalous outburst, we picked up our hiking supplies and headed again for the door.

Right at the ten-minute mark: "SHRIEK - SHRIEK - SHRIEK!!" "FIRE!! FIRE!!" "SHRIEK - SHRIEK - SHRIEK - SHRIEK!!" "WARNING!! CARBON MONOXIDE!!" That was a new wrinkle -- invisible, deadly gas was now potentially introduced into the alleged calamity. I mashed the hush buttons again but none of the units would stop screaming. Besides the two of us going deaf, the poor cats were completely freaked out and ran around the house seeking refuge from the noise. I opened the door to the electrical panel and flipped off the breaker controlling the alarms. That didn't faze them since there is also a 9-volt battery in each unit as a backup. I popped open the door to the battery compartments to completely disconnect the power. Even then, the system made a gasp with its last breath, sounding like someone in the midst of an asthma attack gasping in a hoarse whisper for an inhaler just out of reach. "Shriek!... shriek... fi..re!"

By now we were thoroughly rattled and decided to put off our departure until we could get the alarms to calm down permanently. I dug out the user's guide and spent a solid fifteen minutes trying to make sense of it. With a collapsed size the same as a deck of playing cards, and seemingly contrary to the dictum that no piece of paper can be folded in half more than seven times, the fully expanded guide ended up hanging over the edges of our dining room table. I finally found the troubleshooting section after trying to read type set with a font size of "neutrino". Here I was instructed to remove the units from their wall mounts and give them a thorough vacuuming to remove any dust. I did so, then remounted them and flipped on the breaker. While this effort seemed to soothe the upstairs hallway alarm, the other two immediately resumed their overlapping hyperbole, creating a ping-ponging echo between upstairs and down: "WARNING!!NING!! CARBONBON MONOXIDE!!NOXIDE!!" Now we were convinced the alarms were dysfunctional and so left for our stroll with the breaker shut off, batteries disconnected... and windows open. Just in case.

Every few months there's a story on the news about an electrical fire where overheated wiring buried in a wall smolders for hours before finally combusting. The unsuspecting family returns home several hours later to find their house engulfed in flames and all their belongings reduced to ash.

That's not at all what happened to us -- but I had you there for a moment, didn't I? The house was intact and the cats were roaming around, still suffering with tinnitus but conscious and alert -- so no fire and no gas leak. I replaced the units the next day, opting to go with a system that was not interconnected. So far we haven't been startled by any further digitized warning cries. Or tripped over any dead cats. Everything is back to normal and we're again tripping over the cats only when they're sleeping on the stairs. I guess the next thing I need to install is a "lack of motion" detector in order to avoid a completely different kind of cat-tastrophe.

I hope that feeble pun didn't alarm you.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Speaker Of The House

Cruising through one of the big warehouse stores while waiting for the missus to decide on a pair of glasses, I spied a wireless TV soundbar on markdown. "I've got to have that," I convinced myself. I had a $10 gift card burning a hole in my wallet, making it an even more appealing deal, so when we walked out of the store my wife held a receipt for the promise of her new glasses in three weeks while I had a brand new toy to play with that very afternoon. I won.

Until I got home and unpacked my purchase. I'm not sure how "wireless" made it into the product description since the first step in the instructions was to plug the speaker into an outlet. I'm no electrician, but I believe that requirement exposed the "wireless" designation as a bald-faced lie. Step 2 was to establish the "wireless" connection between the soundbar and TV set. O... K... I guess that's what they were referring to on the package description. The soundbar and our TV were from the same manufacturer and the instructions indicated that any set produced by the company since 2012 had this feature built in to facilitate such a set up. I'd purchased our set in late 2013, right after we'd moved into our lake house, so I figured I was good to go. I figured wrong. 

The TV did not have the "Sound Connect" feature as part of its array. Now I had to default to an alternate installation option, which specified the use of an "AUX Cable (not supplied)." Are you freaking KIDDING ME? After briefly flipping out, I noticed there was an optic cable included with the speaker which could be used as an alternate to the alternate. Huzzah.

Now all that was left to do was place the battery in the remote control (another remote control to add to my already impressive collection) and turn this sucker on. I pressed the power button and nothing happened. I continued to press the button, adding the "extend arm toward the device, using the elbow" motion as if I just needed to give the infrared impulse a little push to get it close enough to be recognized by the unit. Still no luck. I thought perhaps the battery was dead. Luckily I happened to have the same kind of pancake-shaped power source in my odds and ends box, so I swapped it out and tried again. Same outcome as Nixon's assessment of the results of the ten-year air campaign during the Vietnam War: "Zilch." I walked over and pressed the manual power switch I found on the front of the console; the display lit up and a few seconds later sound issued from the speaker. Utilizing my acute knowledge of home sound system manufacturing processes I deduced the remote was defective. Crap.

Seeking a replacement, I called the manufacturer's toll-free customer service number and connected with a live representative after a shockingly minimal amount of menu navigation. The agent was very pleasant, empathizing with my issue and assuring me she could help resolve the matter quickly. She told me to remove the battery and then repeatedly press as many buttons on the remote as I could. I responded by assuring her I felt confident I could press all of the buttons -- no technical novice was I. After doing so, she told me to reinsert the battery. Then she asked if I had a camera nearby -- ??? Or did my smartphone have a camera built in -- ??? Confused, I said my phone had a camera, whereupon she told me to point the remote at the phone while in camera mode and then press the power button. Ah, now I understood -- this was a way for me to see if it was working without being blinded by whatever kind of pulse emanated from the device. I confirmed I saw flashing via the camera display, which pleased the rep. "Great!" she exclaimed. "Now we have confirmed that your remote is functioning properly. This means the receptor on your soundbar is defective. You can return it to our service center to have it repaired." I replied since I'd purchased the unit mere hours before I would instead return it to the store for an exchange. Annoying, but quicker and easier than repackaging the unit, mailing it back to the company and waiting weeks for its return.

Carol had been seated at the computer this whole time, close enough to hear the troubleshooting discussion. Once I'd hung up the phone and expressed my dismay at having purchased a bum speaker, she got up without a word and walked over to where I'd set it up in front of the TV. Giving it a quick once-over, she lifted the speaker and rotated it 90 degrees on its horizontal axis before setting it back down. "Try the remote again," she commanded. Shaking my head to imply "Whatever..." I pressed the button and the speaker immediately lit up. Speaking the words I was too dumbstruck to voice myself, Carol clarified I'd placed the speaker with its grill facing down rather than facing out from the TV (the manual controls were now displayed on the top, rather than the front, of the unit). Once the grill was in the correct alignment the sensor was exposed, and everything worked as it should. 

Except, of course, for my brain. That unit remains defective and, sadly, is long out of warranty.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Blue Genius

Well, they've just announced the 2015 MacArthur Fellows -- i.e., the "genius grants" -- and again my name is nowhere to be found on the list. I checked, twice. Honestly, I'm not sure how much longer I can sustain this level of brilliance without the appropriate recognition. Inspiration is fleeting.

This year's honorees each receive a stipend of $625,000, payable in quarterly installments over 5 years. While I'm not quite sure what a "stipend" is, my disappointment isn't all about the money. Yes, it's largely about the money but there's also the component of being acknowledged for what I've done creatively and what I could do in the future with $625K burning a hole in my pocket. The foundation website mentions the award permits recipients "the flexibility to pursue their own artistic, intellectual, and professional activities in the absence of specific obligations or reporting requirements." That is really a perfect set-up for me at the moment -- I've just been laid off from my job after 7+ years with the company and am completely without specific obligations. There are some reporting requirements, but those are at the behest of the Department of Unemployment Insurance. Once the grant payments start rolling in, I'll set aside being on the dole and can always reopen my claim once the stipend runs out.

"Stipend" -- it seems to be built around the word "spend", so maybe it has something to do with how I'm required to distribute the money to support the local economy? I'm just spit-balling here -- once I see the cash deposited in my account, I'll allocate some of my intellectual activity into further researching the meaning.

Again this year the recipients come from a wide variety of backgrounds -- scientists, community activists, artists. Well, they seem to cast a pretty broad net for "artists"; I see a tap dancer and a puppeteer among the winners. I bet right now the puppeteer is berating himself for not tap dancing while dangling his marionettes, thinking he could have doubled his award. Another of the winners is a playwright. Now, this inspires me: I'm going to write a play about my quest to be nominated for a MacArthur grant. If When I win, that'll be so meta.

Maybe "stipend" is another word for a wire transfer? Or cashier's check? I hope the money comes soon so I can start to really dig into this.

There is a poet in this year's group, and part of why she was honored was because, in her latest work, she "abandons all punctuation." That seems like a pretty low bar that I could easily meet if not exceed with minimal effort dedication to my craft and without working up much of a sweat its good to have an aspirational goal still within reach

Well, as Shakespeare (who never won a genius grant, and his grasp of punctuation was pretty shaky) wrote: "What's past is prologue." While I'm not sure what that means, either, cutting and pasting it here has led to a moment of even greater creative inspiration: tap-dancing marionettes performing The Tempest. I just need to stage it in a suitably gritty, contemporary setting while working the themes of climate change and displaced peoples into the production. Sounds like a sure-fire 2016 winner to me!

I'll need a little help getting this underway so one of the anonymous MacArthur people can see my brilliant creativity in person. If you'd like to stipend me (am I saying that correctly?) I promise to reimburse you right after I'm featured in next year's announcement, especially since with this approach I'm likely to at least triple, if not quadruple, the usual payout. Talk about genius...

Saturday, September 19, 2015


When I was in junior high I was in a band for about fifteen minutes. My friend Jim (who later became a very fine professional musician; owned his own recording studio and has put out CDs) played guitar; a big kid named Matty played bass, and our drummer's name escapes me but he looked a lot like Justin Bieber circa age twelve. We rehearsed in my living room twice, once without the drummer and once without Matty, in preparation for our first (and only) paying gig at a church youth group dance.

We had a repertoire of exactly four songs:

  1. Tuesday Afternoon
  2. Your Momma Don't Dance (And Your Daddy Don't Rock and Roll)
  3. Ohio
  4. After Midnight
Based on our set list, you can see we struck that delicate balance between being pop-oriented and socially conscious.

It took us about eighteen minutes to run through everything we knew how to play together, so we reprised Nos. 2 and 4 to stretch out our set to the contractually-obligated thirty minutes. For this, the four of us were paid $10. Not per person, but for the group. We'd agreed at one of our two band meetings that Jim's friend Chip, who was our manager (he landed us the church gig and then I believe was indicted for tax fraud, as all first managers end up being) and also our sound tech, would keep the $10 to use toward the awesome custom sound system he was going to build for us. I remember how adamant Chip was that it would be "double-mono" versus a stereo system. I guess that meant that we would sound equally bad emanating from both the left and right speaker columns. We never played another gig nor saw the ten-spot again (see earlier reference to "tax fraud").

I don't recall the band name we decided upon, or at least how we billed ourselves for that one illustrious evening. Among names under consideration were "Band of Gold" and "Cracker Jack and the Shasternasters" (that last one was my suggestion). We may have gone with "The Grateful Bread" that night, or perhaps "The Rolling Clones". As I reflect, I think it should have been "A-Band-Done".

Jim sang lead along with axe duties. Matty plunked his bass in a key and time signature that didn't necessarily sync up with what we were playing. When we threw to the drummer for his big solo, he hollered at us to all stop playing before he could get started. I played piano and it was enough for me to focus on setting the correct tempo as I played intros to each tune; although I was a decent singer as a youth I didn't contribute any vocals for this quartet outside of my part in "Ohio", where it was my responsibility to call out "Four!" and "How many more?"

Now, in the interest of full disclosure I should say I was part of -- but didn't actually play in -- another band some years later. My then-piano teacher Mr. Chambers formed the Chambers School of Music Rock and Roll Ensemble (we were not nearly as good as that name promised, and only slightly less pretentious). I was supposed to play organ in the line-up, but at that group's one and only gig my instrument shorted out as we took the stage and I ended up miming all of my parts. It proved to be quite liberating. Rather than having to focus on playing the right notes, I was able to adopt an unencumbered stage persona and bounce around with slick moves copped from Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. I jumped up onto my bench; I pounded the keyboard with my foot; I made wild, sweeping glissandos that were never off-key since I wasn't producing any sound at all. As a result of my "performance" I was, for the first and only time in my life and for all of five minutes, perceived as cool. Mr. Chambers had booked us as part of an assembly at a local Catholic girl's school -- no doubt his co-producer was Chip, who seemed to have an in for these kinds of gigs -- and I knew one girl at that school, named Christine. She came up to the stage afterwards with several of her alluring classmates in tow and seemed to take some pride in introducing me to them. This is why most guys play in bands, right? To meet girls. Catholic school girls. In uniforms! It was a true rock 'n' roll fantasy, and now it was becoming my reality. But as I just mentioned, my moment of cool ended quickly -- Christine and her posse quickly passed over the chubby, bespectacled and blushing keyboardist in favor of our two long-haired guitarists. Both guys were really ugly as sin -- but they: 1) played guitar and 2) had long hair, so game over for me. Plus I'm sure the undercurrent of the "sin" element had something to do with their allure in this particular environment.

Despite many years of piano lessons I never really mastered the instrument. On those rare occasions where I'm near a keyboard, I can still eke out most of "The Spinning Song". I suppose if I shook off the rust I could get into one of those older guy bands like you see playing at town fairs and grocery store openings. And if I could track down Chip, maybe we'd get booked at a local convent and once I whipped out my electrifying version of "The Spinning Song", I'd have to beat the nuns off with a stick. They wouldn't have to know I'm Jewish.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


"If you take care of your people your people will take care of your customers and your business will take care of itself."
  • That's why we're laying off all our back office staff.

"The remarkable thing is, we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day."
  • For the foreseeable future I'll choose to embrace a negative attitude.

"It's easier to do a job right than explain why you didn't."
  • But the lady at the unemployment office isn't really interested in your explanation.

"There's a way to do it better. Find it."
  • While you're doing that, I'll be sitting back and letting my business take care of itself.

"If everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow."
  • Like, I just learned what the "subjunctive mood" is!

"Believe you can and you're halfway there."
  • Believe you can't and you can skip the trip altogether.

"Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star."
  • NASA vehemently disagrees.

"Don't watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going."
  • 3:30 already? Bye -- see you tomorrow!

"A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others."
  • I was motivated to beat others and HR said I had to attend an anger management seminar, which I have no desire to.

"Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground."
  • But maybe first move out from the middle of the sidewalk.

"It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."
  • That's why, despite the publisher's urging, there was no Moby Dick 2: Ahab's Back!

"Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."
  • But it's better to start the stroll with a fat wallet, no?

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
  • For example, Trump's lead in the polls.

"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone."
  • Guess I better put on another pot of coffee.

"A real entrepreneur is somebody who has no safety net underneath them."
  • Killer idea: personal safety nets!

"The number one reason people fail in life is because they listen to their friends, family, and neighbors."
  • Who does that leave to listen to, exactly? 

"You've got to get up every morning with determination if you're going to go to bed with satisfaction."
  • You've got to go to bed with Cialis if you've going to get it up every morning.

"Fortune sides with him who dares."
  • I dare whoever came alongside me and stole my fortune to give it back.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


We were idly watching TV while sipping our weekend morning coffee; a "Law & Order" rerun was on. Carol wanted to hop in the shower and asked me if I remembered how this one ended. I said, "Sure - with a verdict." She looked at me for a long, long time and finally said, "I don't know why you aren't slapped more often."

I get a lot of those kinds of stony silences from her; often with an implied if not overt threat of physical violence. I think her tolerance for my peculiar brand of humor (peculiar in her eyes, since virtually none of it strikes her as humorous) has dissipated. Perhaps that's yet another consequence of global warming -- the oceans are evaporating and sucking up all my funny with them.

Of course, I've just dated myself by using that outmoded term; we now refer to "climate change" so Ann Coulter can't point out the window while it's snowing and tell all the liberals, environmentalists and other sane people we're full of shit. My son had an elementary school teacher (this would be 20 years ago) who scoffed at the idea of "global warming," viewing it as some kind of left-wing conspiracy that would lead to the confiscation of guns while also draining the Christ out of Christmas. From this last sentence you can infer that was from when we lived in South Carolina.

I use humor to put myself at ease, particularly when I'm in a work meeting where I'm: A) intimidated by the corporate leadership in attendance or B) bored out of my mind. Much of the time it's A and B. I also use humor in the workplace to ingratiate myself with my professional peers while diverting them from any in-depth review of my credentials. I recall heading out with a bevy of co-workers one evening where I started cracking wise and only managed to amuse myself. The more I made myself laugh, the less coherent my train of thought became to everyone else and eventually I got to the point where I was just making random sounds and finding them hilarious as I sat alone. Alcohol may have been involved.

As Freud famously noted, "There is no such thing as a joke." At least, not the way I tell them. I prefer to think of myself as a raconteur, which I believe to be someone who tells amusing anecdotes in a skillful manner, but to the people for whom I am relating the tale may be perceived as someone telling a pointless story for entirely too long. I was on another work outing (this may be why I've changed jobs so often) and launched into a lengthy narrative that had a smashing punchline at the end of it. I had numerous peers surrounding me as I embraced my moment in the spotlight -- adopting accents, using illustrative hand gestures and body language, bringing others into my play-acting. After advancing for what was easily ten minutes toward the ne plus ultra of my story, I faced my audience with arms spread wide to deliver the payoff and... forgot the ending to the joke. My convivial grin froze painfully into a rictus; people eventually sensed my despair and shuffled away. Unfortunately, this took place on a boat and they couldn't shuffle very far. Alcohol may have again been involved.

Due to experiences like these, I've come to rely almost exclusively on a compact assortment of humorous asides which I know like the back of my hand. I keep careful track of the audiences who I've exposed to my canon and attempt not to repeat myself. I know I need to move on when I say, "Stop me if you've heard this one before..." and there is no pause before a chorus cries out "STOP!"

Last night we were preparing to sit down to dinner. Carol said, "We're out of napkins, if you'll get some more from the cabinet." To which I replied, "And if I don't, does that mean we're not out of napkins?"

I don't know why I'm not slapped more often.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Step Aside

Friends came for a recent visit with their two adorable daughters, ages 3 and 1.5, in tow. The kids were bright, energetic, charming and maddening -- usually all at once. While Carol and I are creeping up on our 60s (well, I am -- Carol appears to be holding steady at 35), we have a number of friends we consider "young marrieds," many of whom have children who are at or below kindergarten age. We love being referred to as "Aunt Carol" and "Uncle John" (if our friends weren't flattering us by encouraging the kids to call us by those titles, "Grandma Carol" and "Pa-Pa John" would be more accurate) and do our best to be the kind of up-for-anything and cuddly faux-relatives all youngsters should have in their lives.

Except when the kids do something to piss us off. Then the laughter and popsicles and gentle sing-song voices quickly disappear and we become crotchety and irritable. Books being read from are snapped shut. Smiles turn to scowls. Fun and games becomes "Law & Order." We try very hard to refrain from getting involved in disciplining other people's children -- that's their parents' job, and our various friends really do have a great handle on raising their kids with the right mix of encouragement, boundary setting and age-appropriate discipline. But sometimes something happens and we just... can't... help ourselves. Carol is big on table manners: "Don't play with your food," "No dessert until you eat your vegetables," that kind of thing. I exercised restraint during several parent-and-child standoffs until I ducked barefoot into our bathroom after coming in from the lake and stepped on some little person's turd.

"WHO WAS JUST IN THE BATHROOM?? WHO USED THE TOILET LAST??" I calmly inquired as I strode out, using just the heel of one foot. My questions were met by startled expressions and silence. "WHO WAS IN THERE BEFORE ME??" I rephrased. "I STEPPED ON A PIECE OF SHI... er, there was POOP ON THE FLOOR!!" If neither of the children had gone Number Two previously, they surely had a strong urge to now.

The younger one is still in diapers, so the only viable suspects were her older sister or one of our cats. The cats spent most of our friends' visit hiding under the beds upstairs, preferring to remain as far from the strangers in their house as the floor plan would allow. It was entirely possible one of the cats might have dragged a "deposit" from the litter box to another location. However, as a long-time cat owner, I have a pretty discriminating eye and can distinguish between human and feline scat. This was people-poop stuck to the arch of my right foot.

Inexplicably, both girls began to cry as though they'd been subjected to a grueling interrogation rather than simply asked to confirm their recent presence in the loo. Carol gave me her "See what you've done?" look while their parents exchanged embarrassed glances and rushed to check for soiled diapers and underwear along with any other evidence of errant excretions. While I felt my response had been quite temperate under the circumstances (hey -- do you speak in calm and measured tones after stepping in shit?), I tried to reset the tone by shouting merrily above the resulting fray, "WHO'S READY FOR SOME ICE CREAM?!"

Just that quickly, I'd stepped in it again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kayak-ity Yak

Carol's brother Chris came for a long-awaited visit earlier this month, bringing along his lovely girlfriend Colleen and a stunning amount of booze. Chris and Colleen left after a few days and we remember them fondly each time we sip another craft beer or savor a dram of Glenmorangie (which he gifted in several varieties: port cask, sherry cask, sauterne cask, original and extra-crispy).

Our elevated blood alcohol levels may have led to an incident involving the kayaks. Now, mind you -- we did not drink and paddle; no one wanted to be pulled over by the game warden on boat patrol and fail a Breathalyzer test. But the drinking may have interfered with my normal sleep pattern, leading me to awaken one morning with a thick head and fuzzy perception and likely contributing to an awkward attempt to carry Colleen and myself across the lake in a two-person inflatable kayak. Having only one paddle to use, I placed her unburdened in the front seat (known nautically as, "You sit here"), while I provided 1/3rd horsepower from the back seat (known nautically as, "I'll sit there"). We settled in and I began to propel us away from the shore.

Carol and Chris each took off in a solo craft and so sliced quickly through the water. The inflatable isn't as aero- (hydro-?) dynamic as the singles, so Colleen and I moved at a more stately pace. Since Colleen is tall we gave her plenty of legroom, which placed her center of gravity roughly mid-ship. Therefore with my more... compact self settled toward the aft we were riding with the bow a bit elevated. That really shouldn't have created any issues but as I paddled I kept struggling to keep us heading in the direction I wanted to go. Particularly when the wind picked up, strokes that I thought would keep us on a leeward tack resulted in us spinning slowly but relentlessly in the opposite direction. Our destination was the island in the middle of the lake, normally a fifteen-minute trip. We found ourselves several hundred yards from shore before Carol, who was well ahead of us by then, spun around and determined the dilemma: in my sluggish mindset I'd placed the seats in backwards and was poking along with the stern of the kayak leading us. Considering the stern has two small rudders to maintain direction and stability, and they were now sitting out of the water and at the wrong end of the boat, I was, in nautical terms, still "three sheets to the wind". We were too far out to head back to fix it, and neither of us was willing to dive into the lake to switch the seats around and then struggle to get back in from a submerged position. Therefore, the suggestion was made to paddle backwards. That, however, really didn't help matters -- the rudders were still out of the water and the unnatural motion was tough on my shoulders and biceps. For those of you who have never kayaked on a relatively still body of water, know that the level of athleticism and strength normally required is only slightly more than what's necessary to get off a soft couch. Going backwards was something else entirely.

After what felt like an hour and a half, Colleen and I finally made it to the near shore of the island, where it was shallow enough for us to step out and rectify the seating arrangement. We re-boarded and now, properly aligned, had a much more pleasant remainder of our trip around the lake. We still lagged behind Chris and Carol, but we were in no hurry and enjoyed our leisurely excursion. This was the first time I'd met Colleen, so in between my occasional narrative regarding birds seen and points of reference along the shore, the two of us shared insights into our respective partner's personalities that I won't repeat here. I will say only that Carol and Chris kept turning around in their kayaks to ask, "What are the two of you laughing at?"

It was truly a spectacular day, with bright skies, temperature in the low 80s and a gentle cooling breeze. We spent several hours out on the water and came back clear-headed, refreshed and invigorated by the experience. Then, of course, we got back to the consumption of the beer, wine, scotch, vodka, rum...

Talk about going backwards.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bang The Gravel

We live off a private dirt road and so are part of an association that collects fees from each property owner to cover the costs of yearly maintenance -- primarily the work required to keep the road clear in the winter. Plowing, grading and sanding are all necessary, along with the occasional need to address a pothole or clear out a blocked culvert to permit proper drainage.

So far, this sounds like the most tedious subject one could imagine to expound upon. But wait...

We typically gather one Saturday in July to do the kinds of things associations do -- call the meeting to order, nibble on cookies, read the minutes from last year, review the finances, bitch about people who speed on the road, discuss new business, elect officers, share gossip about some neighbor not in attendance, set the date for next year's get-together and adjourn.

Amazingly, I've made this subject seem even more tedious. But wait...

The association President hosted this year's meeting in his back yard. There were all of thirteen residents attending, representing just half of the homes along the road. It was a lively session, with these highlights:

  • One resident storming out mid-meeting after being insulted in front of the group by the President.
  • The President accused of various acts of duplicity, neglect, profligate spending and malfeasance, mostly by the Treasurer.
  • The President then accusing said Treasurer of "illegal activity".
  • The subsequent resignation on the spot of said Treasurer.
  • Several attendees finding it necessary to stand, shout and/or finger-point at one another.
  • The sound of nearby gunshots that did not manage to interrupt any of the shouting.
  • Airing of old grudges dating back to 2008, and before that 1999 (documented), and from decades previous (hazily recalled).
  • Airing of a freshly-minted grudge resulting from one resident recently calling the police on the President after accusing him of stealing some of the gravel used for road maintenance.
  • The Secretary offering a motion that she be absolved from continuing to take the meeting minutes in light of all the activity above.
  • The election of a largely new slate of officers, with the accused/resigned Treasurer somehow receiving absolution in the waning minutes of the meeting and being returned to the post.
  • A motion passed that any future association expenditure in excess of $500 requires review by the board members and not just authorization by the President.
  • Surprisingly, no profanity.
  • Disappointingly, no cookies.
See -- wasn't that worth hanging in there for?

Your humble narrator was nominated to serve as one of three board members, all of whom were elected unanimously. (For those of you keeping count, that's six officers elected out of the thirteen twelve remaining people present.) Responsibilities of the position were conferred immediately after the votes were cast, whereupon I proposed that new board members receive an honorarium in the amount of $499 and requested fast-track approval. It was seconded (by one of the other new board members who sensed the same opportunity), but amidst the chaos the motion was never voted upon. This will come up at next year's meeting as "Unfinished Business".

The Treasurer was re-elected even after admitting it was "too much trouble" to take the checks we send for annual dues and actually, you know -- deposit them in the bank. During the meeting several residents pointed out this played havoc with keeping their checking accounts balanced; I can only imagine the impact it has on keeping the Association's accounts balanced. Perhaps that is why we returned this person to the post -- only she is able to make sense of the balance sheet.

Amazingly, all this drama played out in barely more than an hour. After we adjourned, one of the board members called for a brief leadership meeting. We gathered our folding chairs into a small circle and agreed it was important to meet soon to address the unresolved issues from this year's meeting as well as determine a way to introduce a level of civility into next year's proceeding.

That seems like a promising start for the new regime -- particularly in light of the Maine legislature's recent legalization of "concealed carry" permits. Perhaps it's a good thing the police already know where to find us.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


For Mother's Day weekend I'd put together a nice plan where Carol and I would take a leisurely drive through Maine and New Hampshire, across the White Mountains and into the quaint little town of Plymouth. There we would have dinner and cap off the evening by attending a Todd Rundgren concert (our undying love for TR has already been documented here and here). However, Carol decided this plan did not incorporate sufficient (i.e., any) time with her son Josh -- so she suggested a slight modification to the plan. The impact was minimal, requiring only that we get up at the crack of dawn and drive an additional six-plus hours and several hundred miles in addition to the original path so precisely mapped via the Google.

[Brief aside: I call Josh "her" son at this point to emphasize the mother/child connection; he is of course "our" son. Shortly after we moved to Boston, Josh came into town for a weekend visit. After he left, Carol saw one of our apartment complex neighbors who asked, "Did I see you had company over the weekend?" When Carol replied in the affirmative, our neighbor then said, "He looked just like your husband -- was it his brother?" No, Carol replied -- that was "my son". "Oh, from your first marriage?" our neighbor inquired. "No, from my current marriage to John." "Ah -- but you were married before." "No, I've only been married once." "Yes. So, your husband was married previously." "No, no -- we have both only been married one time, to each other." I think our neighbor walked away clear in the knowledge that we were a committed couple and also under the impression we'd adopted a child years ago who had developed an uncanny resemblance to me.]

Carol has dedicated much time and effort since last fall to become a certified yoga instructor. As a result of that process, she has a heightened interest in many aspects of the mind/body relationship. Therefore, when she heard about a "mindfulness" seminar, which one of her yoga instructor classmates was co-facilitating, she was extremely interested in attending and thought it would be an ideal outing for the whole family. Somewhat surprisingly, Josh readily agreed and since it was going to be "mother's day", I also feigned interest and enthusiasm, making only occasional references to the distance, timing, additional expense, anxiety, coordination and foolishness of the enterprise.

We got up très early that Saturday morning. I'd told Carol in order to get to the seminar on time, we needed to leave no later than 7:15am. Therefore, we were underway under dark skies and moderate rainfall at precisely 7:40. We picked up Josh as we passed through Boston, where it was fortunately much brighter, and pulled into the parking lot of the seminar's location the other side of town with two minutes to spare before the scheduled start. Pam, a friend and former co-worker of Carol's, was also attending and she pulled in all of twenty seconds after we'd parked and gotten out of the car. We walked into the meeting room and registered, with the clock now showing exactly 11:00. Mindful of the agenda and showing respect for the attendees' valuable time, the session got underway at precisely 11:27. Hmm...

There were four co-facilitators; a group of women with impressive credentials and a very deep understanding of various mind/body practices -- meditation, breathing, chanting, yoga, massage, Reiki, stress reduction, Qigong (like Tai Chi, but harder to pronounce). They were all experienced teachers and leaders but this was their first time working as a quartet -- there were a few timing and progression hiccups, understandably, but largely the flow of the day went smoothly.

Except for lunch. Scheduled to start at 1:00pm, we broke for lunch closer to 1:25. We'd been told to brown-bag it and that we'd be "eating mindfully". Just in case any of us weren't familiar with the concept (good hunch, that), one of the instructors said she'd give us a "five-minute overview". Fifteen minutes later, we began to eat mindfully -- stopping to put down our food between bites, chewing slowly so we could experience all the tastes and textures, thinking about the origin of the meal (the field where the grain was grown; the farm where the beef was raised; the supermarket where we stood in line at the deli for, like, twenty minutes waiting for our number to be called). Also, we were not supposed to speak. Well, there went Carol and Pam's opportunity to catch up during the break. Every few minutes during the meal one of the instructors kept reminding us to be mindful (that's pretty meta), breaking our concentration and the peaceful silence with verbal prodding to remain focused and quiet. Oh irony, thy name is "hoagie".

We completed an arts and crafts-based activity after lunch and then did more yoga poses along with some stretching, breathing, deep thinking and, surprisingly, binge-watching the final season of "Mad Men". Scheduled to conclude at 3:00pm, you will not be surprised to learn we were still going on with "just one more last thing" at 3:45.

Despite my somewhat callous description of the program and general aversion to what the non-mindful would describe as a "touchy-feely" kind of event, once we arrived I left my reservations at the door along with my shoes and was very happy that Carol, Josh and I were all together and having this experience in common. One of the first exercises involved sitting on the floor back-to-back with a partner (we were encouraged to pair up with someone we didn't know, so our family spread out among the others in attendance) and breathe deeply. At first our focus was on our own breath, the difference between inhaling and exhaling; we then focused on our partner's breath, and finally were guided to tune into the interplay between our combined respirations. We kept at this for some time, maybe twenty minutes, and after a while I found myself... tearful. Not sobbing, not howling, not getting all snot-nosed, but just consumed by the sense of something larger than myself and a genuine feeling of "connectedness" to someone who, mere moments ago, was a complete stranger to me. When we concluded the activity my partner and I stood up and exchanged smiles and a warm, genuine hug. I complimented her by saying she'd obviously breathed before and was quite expert at it. I can beat the snark down but can't kill it.

Other than the overall timing and lunch-consumption issues, there was really only one significant distraction throughout the day, courtesy of one of the other participants. Several people had previous experience with yoga, and this woman told us she did as well -- also transcendental meditation, massage therapy, and I think she may have mentioned fly casting. Anyway, some of the folks came in yoga attire and brought mats with them, as did this lady. We were encouraged to assume a comfortable posture during the lecture portions of the seminar, whether sitting on a folding chair, on the floor/mat, standing or walking -- whatever we felt best suited us at the moment. This woman decided her preferred posture was to run through an endless series of stretches. She was constantly in motion: folded up, fully extended, rolling from side to side, bent in half, reaching skyward... It was impossible not to glance at her throughout the course of the day to see what pose she'd most recently assumed. It put me in mind of those soft-core porn movies you find on cable at three in the morning, where people engage in sex while putting their tingly parts together in multiple positions - standing, sitting, crouching, hanging from the ceiling, on top of and then underneath the coffee table.

(Please note I mentioned soft-core porn movies that you find on cable; when I'm up in the wee hours I watch reruns of "Charlie Rose".)

When the seminar (finally) ended, we said some hasty good-byes to fellow attendees and Carol's instructor friend. We jumped back in the car, quickly dropping off Josh, and then hustled to get to New Hampshire. We had just enough time to check in to our motel before dashing over to the club for our appointment with another healer, Todd R. We had a great time at the show and then spent a largely sleepless night in our motel room. I think both of us were over-stimulated from the holistic insights gleaned from the seminar and their contrast with the amazing burst of energy directed our way during the Todd concert -- pulsating music, non-stop dancing and a dazzling light show.

After a lovely breakfast at an old-fashioned diner in town we started back toward home, returning on the route I'd first mapped out and enjoying the mountain and lake views along the way. I drove and was so entranced by the scenery I may have occasionally wandered into the other lane. When/if I did that, Carol practiced mindfulness by telling me she preferred to remain alive in the here and now, regardless of my apparent intent to move into another astral plane. And when that comment didn't bring me back to the present, she snapped me in my tingly parts. Talk about being tearful while breathing...