Sunday, December 31, 2006

Merry Jewsmas?

This time of year, articles pop up bemoaning the growing lack of religion in Christmas. "Keep Christ in Christmas" is the rallying cry of many Christians who hate how commercial Christmas has become. Even Charlie Brown thinks commercialism has gone too far (but he's always complaining, isn't he?). But it's that lack of Christ in Christmas which is drawing a ton of notice less for its effect on Christians, but for its effect on a growing number of Jews.

I've posted in the past about Jews celebrating Christmas or celebrating what has become the holiday season as opposed to any religious holiday. Last week, the Sunday New York Times (12/24/06) posted two different columns about this; one woman remembers her family trying to absorb the trappings of the Christmas holiday and another about a woman being so enamored with the materialism that she can't wait to incorporate it. (You may need a New York Times Internet subscription to access these articles)

Articles like these always angered me, not so much for the way Jews are assimilating themselves so easily, but for the way Jews have rationalized how okay it is. Growing up in a secular society I've accepted how strong the Christmas trappings can be, especially when Channukah moves around. Just recently, Hanukkah came and went before Christmas shopping was even done. So as a kid, it was always tough being around all of my non-Jewish friends who expected me to get 8 presents when the final days were pretty lame. And they all got their major loot all at one time. But for me, I liked the difference. I was always very jealous but I had something that set me apart from everyone else (besides my big nose and my funny hair). I continued that feeling into college, where the closest thing I could find resembling a Chanukah decoration was some dusty wrapping paper. But as pretty as the lights around campus were, I didn't join in. I wasn't protesting. I was just celebrating my holiday the way I was supposed to celebrate it.

It's true that Christmas loses more and more of it's religious significance every year. There are many reasons for this but one of them is not stores saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas." That little chestnut from last year was one of the more ridiculous things I had ever heard. The so-called "war on Christmas" Bill O'Reilly and his minions decried was nothing more than an attempt to recognize that while Christianity is a strong majority in the United States, there are other cultures with other traditions. So rather than ignore this fact, it was very nice to hear something that encompassed everything instead of just one thing. I was never offended by hearing "merry Christmas" and I got the intent of the message, I never saw anything wrong with the message that included everyone.

The reality is that there is no Christmas anymore; not to millions of Americans, anyway. The New York Times articles deal with Jewish families embracing all the trappings of the holiday season, despite the fact that the lights are Christmas lights and the trees are Christmas trees. Their argument is that they symbolize the holiday season more than Christmas alone. And while that rationalization used to infuriate me as an excuse from the lazy, I suddenly understand where they're coming from. I still don't agree with them but I get it. What does Channukkah offer the observant Jew? Some candles, some lights if you have an electric menorah. But music? Nothing really great and mostly in Hebrew. Nothing that will ever be included on a radio station's playlist. Christmas has become so mainstream as to lose its religious significance while Hannukah remains the same old thing.

Jews want to assimilate into American society. That's fine. But does that have to mean celebrating the majority's holidays as well? When will these Jewish families who have Christmas trees and make gingerbread houses start coloring Easter eggs, hiding them at the Passover seder instead of the afikoman? Can't we enjoy the lights and the traditions of our neighbors without having to copy them?

Is being a Jew really that bad?

Here's what I suggest: since most people seem to look upon this time of the year as the "holiday season", then let's start a new holiday. It'll last for 6 weeks, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. It'll encompass all of the major holidays like Christmas and Channukah. It'll include Kwaanza and Festivus. Maybe we'll extend it into January to include Three Kings Day. I mean the Muslims have Ramadan, which last for a month (?). There's a 10-day period of reflection between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The concept of a large block of time to celebrate something isn't foreign. So let's get Hallmark involved in printing up some cards and let's get ready to celebrate Seasons of Joy (or whatever) 2007. Everyone can still celebrate their own religious holiday but marketers get to sell different colored lights and different decorations. As long as we're out there picking and choosing bits of everyone's holiday but still saying we're just enjoying the fun of the season, let's call the season something else.

Maybe then everyone will stop complaining.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Back To Normal?

Today is Christmas Day, 2006 or, as my people call it: Monday the 25th. And now that the sun has set on another Christmas (on the east coast, anyway), I wonder how long it will be before human behavior returns to normal. The holiday season is always wonderful for one major thing: people are nicer to each other. But it's usually disingenuous and shrouded in the umbrella of "hey, it's Christmas" but still, it's nice while it lasts.

Of course, some people use this shroud to excuse their boorish behavior. If I was in a movie theater and asked someone to stop talking, I'd be met with "relax, it's Christmas." So while you can enjoy the extra friendliness this time of year, you're not allowed to show any emotion other than wide-eyed love of your fellow man.

This can be nauseating to some but rest assured that the behavior does not last. People being who they are, they will soon revert to their selfish, angry ways as soon as it is socially acceptable. Is that now? Is it until after the new year? Maybe I sound like a grinch but let's be honest: how long did the warm glow of brotherhood last after 9/11? How long did all of those American flags stay up? How long did everyone actually care for New York City residents? It's just the way people are. And it's a shame.

Will I revert to my old ways? Some would say that I never got nicer. Screw you. Okay, just kidding. This season was harder than previous ones. So let me offer up some resolutions and apologies. The resolutions are a few days early and the apologies are a couple of months late (I missed my Yom Kippur window) but the intent is there. Let's just try to be nicer and see what happens.

1) I've been really good at controlling my road rage and this will continue. There are a lot of stupid, annoying drivers out there but every once in awhile, you might find one who has a reason. You never know when that'll happen.

2) I'm going to stop being so judgemental. It's fun to sit on a bench and people-watch and make up stories about them. But I tend to get mean-spirited and that should stop. Again, everyone has their own mishugas to deal with. The jackass walking too slowly in front of me may be having a bad morning.

3) I'm going to deal with my wife's driving. She's a good driver. Better than me in many regards. So I'm going to keep my mouth shut and stop stepping on the imaginary brake in front of me; or the imaginary gas pedal when she goes to stop at a yellow light.

4) I'm going to keep my opinions to myself. Too often, I open my mouth about something I disagree with but it's not to offer up a contrtadicting opinion in the spirit of derbate. It's to make the other person realize that my opinion is the right opinion. I'm too much of an idiot to have everyone agree with me.

5) I'm sorry to the people who may have been on the wrong side of my bad moods. My moods aren't your problem.

6) I'm sorry for not returning your calls. I'm better at returning e-mails.

7) I want to be a better friend, father, husband, coworker, person. I'll try.

8) Looking back at #4, doing that would prevent me from this blog. So I'll keep my opinions in check. How's that?

9) I'm going to ignore the looks I get from others. Sometimes they're real, sometimes it's just paranoia. But I see rolled eyes and hear exasperated sighs in my direction from time to time and I've decided to ignore them. I'm trying to live my life. I don't have time to customize it to suit others.

So in the spirit of the holidays, I hope you all have a happy new year. And come mid-January, when the glow has worn off, I still want you to have a happy 2007.

But I can't vouch for February.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

There Is A God!

There's a lot of injustice in the world. But in our litigious society where people get money for slipping on ice, spilling coffee or just falling down, the tides seem to be turning. Perhaps we're seeing a trend personal responsibility is more important than placing blame.

When the movie "Borat: Cultural Leanings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" came out, millions of people were amused. This style of movie or reporting is nothing new. People are just amused when stupid people are ambushed and revealed to be the morons they really are. But not the two fraternity brothers from the University of South Carolina who sued everyone connected with the film because they looked like a couple of racist rednecks. And they don't want their scenes to appear in the DVD release of the film.

Well you know what the court said? I'm just paraphrasing here but the other day, the court said, "too fucking bad." Thank God.

We all wish we could take back things we've said. We've all hidden behind the "I was drunk at the time" shield. But in this age of You Tube and My Space, where the smallest of infractions can immediately be broadcast to millions of people, we need to be careful.

If you haven't seen the film, these three fraternity brothers (only 2 of them chose to sue) get drunk and talk about reinstituting slavery and disrespecting women and stuff like that. According to their lawyer, the scene cost one of the frat boys a job at a large corporation and the other one lost a choice internship. They've also been subjected to humiliation and ridicule. So why agree to appear on camera? They signed releases, right? Yes they did, but they thought that they were appearing in a foreign documentary that would not be screened in the United States.

Okay, I get it now. It was okay to say what they said because no one in the US would be seeing it. But since it was seen by millions in the US, the drunks must sue! In an increasingly smaller world, it is not beyond reason that this "foreign documentary" could be seen by any potential employer. Maybe a relative of an employer saw this thing on foreign TV and called his cousin to check it out. What I'm saying is that these boys are only suing because they got duped and they looked stupid at the same time. It was fine when it was foreign. Now that bad things have happened as a result, they want to blame others for the misfortune. Too fucking bad. You're a couple of redneck hicks whose beliefs don't jibe with many people anymore.

I just LOVE justice, don't you?

Monday, December 18, 2006

There's Been A Horrible Accid....Oh, It's Just Santa Claus

Maybe it's a regional thing or a cultural thing but I've never experienced holidays quite the way I've experienced them since I moved to New Jersey. They really take their holidays seriously around here. Perhaps things have changed out on Long Island as time has passed. I don't know. I do know that decorating doesn't begin and end with Christmas around here. But since it is the Christmas season (okay, holiday season), let's focus on that.

If you were in the vicinity of Lincoln Park, New Jersey, on Saturday the 16th and you needed emergency assistance, your call to 911 may have gone something like this:

Operator: Season greetings and thank you for calling 911. All operators are busy assisting other customers. Please hold and your call will be accepted by the next available operator.
You: (ex
asperated sigh followed by 2 choruses of "Silent Night.")
Operator: Th
ank you for holding, this is Liz. How may I...
You: I've
been in an accident! I need help!
Operator: Okay, no need to interrupt me. It is the holiday season, you know.
You: I'm bleeding! I need an ambulance!
Operator: Ooh, I'm sorry. All of our ambulances are out at the moment.

You: They're out?
Operator: Yup! Fire trucks, too! They're at Shop Rite. Santa's in town!
You: So?
Operator: So? We have to tell everyone! So we've dispatched all of our emergency vehicles to the parking lot of a shopping center so people and meet and greet Saint Nick.
You: What am I supposed to do?
Operator: I'm not the one who decided to have an accident on the day Santa came to Shop Rite.

And so on.

These crappy pictures don't do justice to the scene I witnessed last Saturday night (they looked so good on my camera phone). There were enough flashing lights and emergency vehicles to make one think that a major catastrophe had just occurred. But no such luck. No, it was just the town's way of bringing Santa Claus to town.
Maybe this happens near you as well. Fire trucks slowly drive through neighborhoods, sirens blaring. You run to the window to see if someone's been hurt or if some misfortune has befallen one of your neighbors. But what you see is some guy dressed as Santa Claus waving to the houses.

I suppose one benefit of living in the suburbs is the lack of multiple emergencies. So it must be okay to use a fire truck to chauffeur Santa around town. I've got to assume that there's at least one piece of emergency equipment in the garage for, you, just in case. But Lincoln Park is a small small that they use the high school from a neighboring town. There had to be 3 fire trucks and 4 ambulances blocking the Shop Rite parking lot. Hey, it doesn't bother me. I'm being neither a Grinch nor a Scrooge about it. But it just seems a bit excessive, doesn't it?

If you or someone you know was badly burned and in need of emergency assistance on Saturday evening, let me know. I'm not going to do anything about it. I'm just curious.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Holiday Tradition

It's 10:12 pm, Saturday, December 16th. I'm watching NBC's stranglehold on "It's A Wonderful Life." Mr. Potter just told George that he's worth more dead that alive and I've decided to repost my August commentary on this Capra classic. It's as true tonight as it was 4 months ago.

Click on the title above to read, or reread, my true feelings of George Bailey.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What's In A Name?

It's time once again for homes and offices and parking lots and landscapes of ever shape and size to be adorned with Christmas lights. Where I stand on this usually depends on my mood when you ask. Those of you who know my moods know that my opinion could change daily.

Overall, I really don't care about lights. I don't care until someone else tries to make an issue out of them. And because that issue is usually pretty stupid, I get angry and the stupidity of people and how easily it is to hide behind the curtain of "it's Christmas, be nice."

As I said, I really don't care about lights. I live in a secular society that is predominantly Christian so I've come to accept years ago that I will be surrounded by Christmas lights. Most of the time, they're actually quite nice. Then some time when I was in high school, the issue of lights and trees on government property became a big thing. Jews were demanding equal time and I suddenly had an opinion. But I only had that opinion if the request for a menorah (actually, a Hanukkiah to be precise) was denied. I couldn't see the reason for putting up Christmas trees and wreaths and garlands and stuff but not plugging in a little menorah. And then came the big rationalization:

"It's not a Christmas tree, it's a holiday tree."

Holy fucking crap, you have got to be kidding me. This symbol of
Christmas which has been around for centuries suddenly lost it's identity? Sorry, no way. You'll never convince me that for the sake of convenience, you can just change the name of it and make everything kosher. This is done often. Remember when Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC in order to keep the public from focusing on the word "fried"? Jeez, I do. So now I'm supposed to believe that these evergreen trees with lights all over them are actually holiday lights? It's almost insulting.

This transformation of names and symbols has grown steadily over the years and I've accepted it with a roll of the eyes or tongue firmly planted in cheek. I only get angry when, without a hint of irony, someone refers to the symbols as sign s of the season. If you take a large tree, put colored lights all over it and show it to 100 people, 100 people will say it's a Christmas tree. Let's not pretend we're all PC and everything. Most of the songs you hear this time of the year have no religious base at all. "Jingle Bells" and the like are just cheesy songs. But they're cheesy Christmas songs. Yes, they don't mention Christmas at all (as far as I know. I don't know every verse). But they've taken on the identity of a Christmas song.

Why am I angry? Hanukkah songs suck. The only decent ones are parodies like the Adam Sandler Hanukkah Song which has gone from funny take on Jews to annoying musical interlude. But I digress.

Maybe more people believe in this euphemism that I think. The proliferation of plain white lights that look like icicles are hung on many houses in order to celebrate the season. But I still don't buy it. If they were just winter lights or something, you'd have them up for the whole season, not just in December. What really gets me is Jews who have a Christmas tree because "it's pretty" or "it's not religious". Here's the thing: while it's not religious in nature, it's a symbol of a religious celebration. So make up your minds. You can't have it both ways.

Again, I accept my place in society and ask for equal time when it seems necessary. A recent event in Seattle has awakened (awoke?) my anger at the stupidity of some people. You've probably heard the one about the airport in the Northwest which took down a bunch of Christmas trees instead of putting up a menorah.

The story goes that SeaTac International Airport has always had a hallway with between 9 and 15 Christmas trees (depending on which newspaper you read). Back in October, a local rabbi. Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, asked that an 8-foot menorah be placed there as well. Instead of agreeing or at least looking into it, The Port Authority of Seattle removed all the trees claiming that an agreement could not be reached in time (according to a Port spokeswoman named Rachel Garson). And the area went nuts. While the rabbi said that he never intended for the trees to be taken down (thus giving people another reason to hate Jews), the Seattle Times called it a "war on Christmas". Bill O'Reilly would be proud.

At first, I was embarrassed to be a Jew. I figured people were going to start getting angry once the request for a menorah was made. But then I learned that the request was made in October. And there were no discussions about it. But then came the icing on the latke. Terri-Ann Betancourt, a spokeswoman for SeaTac, said that a religious object like a menorah could not be displayed amongst all of the "holiday trees." So now these trees that have been in the airport every year are actually holiday trees? Or are they holiday trees because someone is making some noise about it?

Other moronic comments include one from an airport employee named Jim who said that those trees or not Christmas trees. Nor are they holiday trees. Washington is the evergreen state so it shouldn't be offensive to put lights on them. Hey Jim? First of all you mouth-breathing jackass, no one is offended by Christmas trees. They just want equal time. Secondly, are you actually claiming that this display of trees which appears around Christmastime every year is actually a celebration of Washington State?

So while skimming the Washington newspapers, I decided to check out a readers' forum to see what the public thought. And amongst the intelligent comments were several postings from people claiming this is part of some Jewish conspiracy. One poster wondered when the Jews would start oppressing Americans in the same way they oppress Palestinians. There should be an IQ test that has to be passed before idiots can use the Internet. It's too easy for stupidity to make it to the public.

Well, as of a couple of days ago, the trees have been replaced at the airport. Apologies have been made. The Port Authority promises to look into the issue for next year. No lawsuits will be filed. And several commissioners openly admitted that they overreacted to the whole thing. It looks like the Christmas, or Holiday, spirit lives on.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Anyone Seen My Testicles?

Hey how was your weekend? What did you do? Whenever I go to work on Monday, people inevitably ask that question. And I rarely have anything interesting to say. I spent sizable chunks of the summer and the fall complaining about the lack of free time I had. I would work all week and then spend each weekend doing lawn stuff. Mowing, pruning, raking, bagging. Sweating. Well, the sweating happens all the time anyway. But that's a story for another blog.

Most of the leaves had fallen by Thanksgiving and it was looking like I would finally have my weekends free to stare at the TV or spend time with my kids staring at the TV. But I could no longer avoid the monument to wrinkled clothing that had been forming in my bedroom for at least 7 or 8 months. There was a laundry basket filled with clothes that needed to be ironed. My wife can't iron for shit, which is either true or just a ploy to get me to do all the ironing. Either way, this basket just sits there. I move it into a closet twice a month so the cleaning lady can vacuum around it. So last Saturday night, I started ironing. Yes, the hot evening plans in suburbia involved ironing.

I started at 7:45 pm, having moved the ironing board down into the den so I could watch some TV and avoid the temptation of lying down in my bed. By 2 am, I had completed 43 items of clothing. The basket still looked full to me but 43 items? That's around 7 items per hour. Not bad! And I had also been doing 6 loads of laundry.

By the time Sunday evening arrived, I had seen something I hadn't since early in 2006: the bottom of the laundry basket. All told, I had ironed 80 items, did 6 loads of laundry and sewed two sweaters. Yeah, I sew. And come Monday, when people filled awkward silences in the elevators pretended to care what I did over the weekend, I still had nothing cool to say. In fact, my weekend activities were more pathetic than ever. So if you're looking for me this weekend, I'll probably be on my knees waxing the floor. Or scraping applesauce off the ceiling. Yeah, that part is true. I don't want to talk about it right now.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Driving Me Crazy!!

When I moved to New Jersey 10 years ago (holy crap, has it been 10 years?), I had to get a new driver's license. I was moving from New York so I figured all I'd need is a pen to sign the papers. No, I had to take the written test. Right there and then. And I failed. Twice. Humiliating, to be sure. I mean, all the missus had to do was smile and say her name. She was still in the system.

The written test was harder that I thought it would be. Here's a sample. Yeah, there's the basics but there's stuff on there that only a 17-year old new driver should have to know. How far should I park from a hydrant? When the curb isn't yellow, I'll park. Who cares how many feet it is?

I've been hit by a bus. I fell asleep and crashed into a telephone pole. I've done property damage. I hit a fire hydrant. The night that I got my first photo license, I got hit by my friend Craig Jacobs. Basically, what I'm saying is that I'm the last person who should be critiquing other drivers. But despite my shortfalls, I'm still a better driver than most of the people out there. I'm a genius driver. I must be because the people with whom I share the road can't seem to grasp the simplest of tasks.

This isn't only a New Jersey phenomenon (although we do have the stupidest drivers). I was just in a van for 25 hours driving to and from North Carolina and saw my share of morons. But maybe I should lighten up. I'm not perfect. I can see how people can screw up.

The turn signal. This is a pretty hard thing to master. It has one function: to tell people where you're going. And because you're not the only one on the road, it helps avoid accidents. You're basically saying, "excuse me 1974 Pinto, but I'm planning on coming into your lane." But extending the left pinkie out a tad and using this lever is apparently too hard for many people. Are they busy doing something else? Certainly not putting on their seat belt.

The seat belt. Yeah, this is another toughie. I don't know why I care about this one. It doesn't effect me at all. But the excuses I hear for not wearing one are pretty lame. One person I know won't wear one in case he drives into a lake. He's read about people who can't escape because the seat belt jammed. Put it on. You'll forget it's even there. And you won't end up with a face full of glass.

The cigarette butt. I had a more valid complaint when car makers stopped putting ashtrays in cars. I love zooming down the road and seeing a still-burning cigarette flying at my car. It's not a safety thing. I know my car isn't going to explode. But you have a number of other places to store your butt. Why are you flinging it out on the road? Do you fling other garbage out on the road? Yeah, you probably do. My favorite excuse was from someone who said they didn't use the ashtray because it smelled up the car. Huh.

The speed limit. I drive too fast. I admit it. And I can't be angry at someone who is obeying the speed limit. But on highways, there are special lanes for you. Move out of the way for the people who want to break some laws. Because you're not G-d, you don't get to regulate traffic by driving 65 in the fast lane. If anything, you're causing road rage. I have a friend who's philosophy is that people should leave themselves plenty of time to get where they're going so they won't have to speed. Fine. Stick to your standards from the slow part of the highway.

Have you ever been a passenger in a car with a slow driver? Maddening, right?

And don't get me started on pedestrians. Man, some of you out there walk the same way you drive. And you're fucking killing me.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Yeah, Real Classy

There are some places we go to where, without having any code posted or any signs or anything, we automatically know how to behave. We know how to dress. Sometimes it's based on the amount of money we spend or how special the event is. Now, these places are almost always theaters and restuarants. I mean, we spend a lot to fly yet when I go to an airport, I still see some of those horrible nylon warm up outfits I used to see years ago.

If we have to drive for an hour to get there, we dress up. I mean, where are we going over an hour away if we're not dressing up? You don't get in the car and cross a bridge and pay a toll if you're just going for a slice of pizza. It's an interesting sociological event. We as a society just know how to dress and behave in certain places. I attended some ballets and NY Philharmonic concerts over the past couple of years and there were even unwritten rules on how and when to applaud. Amazing.

I went with my wife and some friends to see Barenaked Ladies perform at Radio City Music Hall last week. We didn't dress up but we were more than presentable. But there was a dilemma here: rock concert, sure. You don't dress up for a rock concert. But Radio City. It's one of the nicer theaters in the City, if not the world. It has history. It has some amazing art deco styling. So somehow, it demands a better wardrobe selection. And I found that most people agreed with me (of course, the crowd was also filled primarily with people around my age). But then there were the morons a few rows in front of me who had to yell, "let's go Rangers!!!"

You've got to be kidding me. We weren't at a movie theater or a bowling alley. We weren't at Madison Square Garden or at a hockey game. We were at Radio City Music Hall. The tickets were around $75 a piece. So what makes someone yell, "let's go Rangers"? Even worse, what makes the jackasses in the mezzanine reply in kind? Is this some kind of cultural shift that I missed?

Every generation goes through these shifts. No one knows exactly when they happened. When you look at footage of baseball games in the 40s and 50s, all the men were wearing suits and hats. There was actually a time when a guy would put on a suit before going to a baseball game. Sixty years later, those same guys would be shirtless and have letters painted on their chests (well, not the same guys but you get the idea). And hats? Someone told me once that all men wore hats everywhere until JFK's inauguration. He didn't wear a top hat with his tux and he never really wore hats at all. So okay, you can point to when hats went out of style. But who was the first guy to go to Yankee Stadium wearing jeans and a t-shirt? Maybe society is going through one of those shifts right now. Maybe the time of getting dressed up for an evening at the theater is long gone. We've become a casual society and that applies to everything.

But does it really apply to everything? Styles change. Fine. But the guy in front of me at the concert emitted some kind of smell which couldn't just be a fart. This smelled like the guy literally cut some cheese. My wife and I actually had to step out into the aisle to get away from it. So wear your t-shirts if you want. Cheer for the Rangers in the middle of Tavern on the Green. But for the love of G-d, don't fart on me. We've already banned smoking from public places. Do we really need to ban farting? Can't we, as a civilized society, police ourselves there? Or is that the next acceptability trend?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Yes, I Can Hear You. Now Shut The F*&% Up!

The evolution of the cellular telephone, show here through the magic of stock photography.

In 1951, an American named Walter O'Reilly was the clerk of a MASH unit in Korea. Any communications between Corporal O'Reilly and Sparky at ICorps was conducted via a crude telephone unit which had to be cranked up and screamed into.

In 1987, then-Wall Street power mogul Gordon Gekko summoned greedy protege Bud Fox at sunrise from the shores of eastern Long Island. He was using a phone the size of a shoe box.

In 2006, the jackass sitting behind me on the 194 bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to the Wayne Park and Ride is firming up his plans for the evening and speaking loud enough for the entire bus to hear him.

It's been 20 years since the world's richest men had to use two hands to talk on a portable phone. Technology has improved astronomically. Just about everyone in the world has a cell phone and those phones range in size from tiny to minuscule Yet while the phones have become more sophisticated the people using them haven't. And while I don't plan on ranting about the downfall of common decency, I do have to wonder when privacy became as unimportant as the appendix.

Remember when eavesdropping was considered to be rude? I mean, if it were widely accepted, we wouldn't need any spies. I guess when it's thrust upon you so as to make it unavoidable, it's okay. If I were to turn around and stare at a loud-cellphone-talker, I'd probably get punched for making my point. Yet these people, having embraced the technology of wireless communication, haven't grasped that it is no longer necessary to scream as if you're trying to get the local gossip from Mabel the Town Operator.

Here's the thing: I don't care what you're doing tonight. I don't care what you want for dinner. I don't care who you ran into today. You'll be home soon so unless you're on fire, shut the f*&% up. And one more thing: wait hang on, my phone is ringing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Who The Hell Cares? Chapter 1

According to an article in the October 13th issue of "The Week", researchers have not only discovered the identity of the Mona Lisa, but they've also determined that she was pregnant when she posed for Leonardo DaVinci.

Who the hell cares?

Apparently, French and Canadian researchers used lasers to determine that the subject was wearing a "thin gauze veil of a type worn in Florence by new or expectant mothers." The Mona Lisa is actually Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine merchant and mother of five.

Who the hell cares?

This is already the most famous painting in the world. Zillions of people flock to the Louvre each year to see it. It's been the subject of books and one movie which pissed off an entire religion. Is this new insight going to do anything else for the reputation of DaVinci's painting? No!

Lisa Gherardini was pregnant with her 6th child. Who the hell cares?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Interview With Gordon Sims

Joining the staff here at Greetings From Suburbia is a guy who goes by the alias of Gordon Sims. Gordon is a writer in his own right and has made appearances as a roving reporter on the Buckley & Potfry Experiment and will be bringing his unique look at the world to you from time to time at Gordon Sims Sez with occasional sightings on the very funny The Nose On Your Face. I recently had the chance to sit down with Mr. Sims to get his thoughts on this new venture.

Me: Hi Gordon. Welcome to Greetings From Suburbia.

Gordon: Yeah, thanks.

Me: Why Gordon Sims?

Gordon: It's Venus Flytrap's real name. Remember WKRP in Cincinnati? Good stuff. But I don't know why I chose that name. I'm not black. He wasn't my favorite character.

Me: The current blog here is all about observations and annoyances in and around suburban life. What can readers expect from your musings?

Gordon: Well, where you make fun of the people and things that are taken way too seriously, I do a similar thing with the news.

Me: Is it funny?

Gordon: No, it sucks. That's why I'm doing it. Of course it's funny.

Me: Who are your inspirations?

Gordon: I've always liked satire so I love The Onion or shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Let's be honest: there isn't much out there that is safe from satire. I mean, say what you will about the current political climate, but it's provided a lot of news for people like me to joke about and has probably spawned thousands of parody websites.

Me: I'm sorry, were you talking just now?

Gordon: Great. Just tell your readers to check me out at Gordon Sims Sez from time to time.

Me: I will. Thanks for coming by and good luck.

Gordon: You talk to yourself much?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Where Is Everybody?

October 2, 2006. 10 Tishrei, 5767.

Today is Yom Kippur, a solemn day which Jews celebrate by fasting and atoning for a year's worth of sins. And everyone else celebrates with closed schools, easier commutes, ample parking and less crowded diners during lunch time.

You're welcome.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Who Am I Today?

Okay, you may notice that I have dropped the Gordon Simms name and went back to my real name. Or a nickname, anyway. In a true sign that I may be developing a split personality, I've decided to use this space for my usual wry commentary on the annoyances of suburban life and will use the Gordon Simms alias for my new Onion-style posts about current events and the world around us. You may be able to view Gordon Simms's stories on Buckley and Potfry's always hilarious blog, The Nose On Your Face. Or you may be able to view them at an address to be announced later. Or maybe both. I can't decide right now. I have to go to the bathroom.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Pretty Fly For A White Guy

This week is Advertising Week, one of the biggest self-congratulatory weeks ever created. I read about a seminar dealing with how to get kids to listen to your ads. I'm always looking for a way to become even more of an advertising genius so I corralled my good friend Michael and we headed to the seminar, all the way downtown, to Tribeca Cinemas. Closer to New Jersey than to my office.

We took the E train to Canal Street and I was feeling pretty confident about getting to the seminar on time. I'm an idiot when it comes to directions but Michael is not only a world traveler, he lives just a few blocks north of here. Yet there we were, literally standing in the middle of, uh, I think it was Lipsenard Street in Manhattan's trendy TriBeCa section. Standing here, I don't see what's trendy about it. Maybe that's what makes it trendy...the fact that no one thinks it's trendy. Beyond the TriBeCa Film Festival (thanks, Robert DeNiro!) and some art galleries, it looks like a part of Manhattan where the effects of gentrification have yet to reach.

Okay, I'm white. I admit it. And I'm not just white in skin color. I have a pretty white personality as well. Sure, I have a black iPod but my Bose speaker is white. I like classic rock, but mostly the white bands. And I like Barry Manilow. I'm a "fanilow". And Michael, while decidedly hipper, is pretty white-looking himself. So we're both actually standing in the middle of the road, turning in circles and looking at a map. We couldn't look more like tourists if we were wearing plaid shorts and black socks.

So what's my point? I'm getting there. Michael and I made our way to a corner when we were approached by 2 black teens. One of them actually had a boom box, which made me wonder if I had crossed into 1983 or something. And one of them says, "hey, you know where the graffiti store is?" The what? "You know, where they sell markers and shit?" Well, we had to apologize for not being able to help them out. I mentioned to Michael that it's probably aiding and abetting if we tell someone where to get the markers they'll use to deface some sort of property.

But always the optimist, Michael said we should be impressed that these two guys actually thought we would know. And he's absolutely right! Despite looking lost and white, we must have been giving off some kind of cool vibe that said, "hey world, we bad. Dat's right. We real bad."

It's good to be relevant again. Peace out.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Rockin' The Suburbs, part 2

I forget when I conquered my fear of insects. I'm not sure I ever really had one, even thought I saw the 1954 Oscar-nominated classic Them! Giant, irradiated ants terrorizing the Arizona desert. Or something. It's been a long time. I was one of those kinds who loved killing bugs and yet there was always this feeling that, if a giant, irradiated ant ever really existed, it would come for me first.

Loyal readers (all 4 of you) may recall my argument with some bees trying to nest inside my retaining wall. Or my problem with the underground bees. Well in my ongoing quest to conquer the insect world around my own private suburbia, I may have finally met my match.

Ants. Flying ants.

Flying insects are icky enough, but I've always been able to keep ahead of them because, for the most part, they don't fly that fast. Except for houseflies. But that's another story. If you're patient enough to wait for the moth or Japanese beetle to land, you can usually stomp or swat them with a satisfying crunch. It's the swarms that get me. And these ants have found my Achilles heel. They found it by landing on my leg and crawling into my sock.

I'm mowing the lawn the other day and taking another in a series of extended breaks. Which is why it takes me so long to mow my lawn. From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something floating. And I followed that something to the swarm of winged ants gathered on the snowblower cover. And on the ground. And along the side of the house. Regular ants are one thing but ants with wings? It's like they mutated to some form of super ant. So I go to the arsenal of canned chemicals: what's left of a can of carpenter ant killer and 2 cans of Raid Ant Spray and made quick work of the little ant insurrection.

Satisfied that the ant horde has been vanquished and having quelled by wife's desire to call an exterminator, I continued mowing the lawn. The yard slants at, like, a 75 degree angle so it's a bit of a challenge but hey, I just killed who knows how many winged, mutant ants? But I keep thinking I see more flying around. And sure enough, one of my plants (I don't know any plant names) has a bunch of the little buggers (ha!!!!) all over it. So I retrieve my Raid and spray away. I lift the plant a little and find more. And I spray. And I conquer.

But as if I'm Porky Pig being mocked by a bunch of termites he can't kill, I spot two more piles of these things. And they're just randomly placed on the lawn. I spray but I soon run out. Okay varmints!!!! You win!!!!! Honey? Call the exterminator!!!! Take that, you three-sectioned demons from below.

Uh oh, is that a bee I see flying around up there???

Friday, September 15, 2006

Still A Million Dollars Short Of Being A Millionaire

I had intended today's post to be about my experience auditioning for the Pop Culture Week edition of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." I was going to talk about the fact that I was the oldest person on line or about the intense security to get into the ABC cafeteria or the Peter Jennings table tents or the weirdos sitting and the table with me. I had something to say about the jerk across from me who, after finishing the 10 minute, 30 question test looked at all of us and said, "well that was easy." I was going to talk about the interview process and everything. But I can't.

At 5:00, the introductions started. We filled out our little Scantron sheets (remember those things?) and were reminded how to fill in the tiny rectangles. The tests were computer graded on the spot. And I failed. By 5:20, I was on my way to Port Authority to catch a bus home. It all happened so fast.

Well, I do have to say that my intensive knowledge of popular culture is limited to older, more obscure stuff. There was a question about "Desperate Housewives", which I don't watch, and some celebrity questions about Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher and Tom Cruise and stuff. And I really don't care about them so I haven't been paying attention. So I blew my chance at $1,000,000.

Oh well. At least I got to keep the official "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" pencil. How sweet is that?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

White Girlz On The Block

I live in a relatively affluent township in northern New Jersey. We're not rich (well, not all of us) but we do have some nice amenities. For instance, we have a great Community Park which includes a terrific playground. Now you should know that I really like little kids, and not in a creepy, call the police kind of way. There is nothing like the smile on the faces of little kids when they run around a playground, climbing, swinging, yelling, get the idea. My kids love going there. So I was wondering what was going on when, on a recent trip to the park, my son was yelling something about riding on the hooters train. Hooters the restaurant? Maybe. I took him there for his 4th birthday. But it turns out he was talking about some graffito he saw.

Here's the thing: I've never been a fan of graffiti. I never understood the point of it and I never saw it as art. To me, calling graffiti art is one of the biggest rationalizations out there. If you're drawing or painting on something that isn't yours, that's vandalism. But all that aside,
this was in a playground. A harmless, pure place where kids get to run around and just be kids, far away from TV and traffic and anything bad. So what goes through a person's mind when they feel that, of all the public surfaces in the town, he/she chooses a child's play train as the choice to write "hooters", complete with nipples in the 'O's? Are these angry teens who resent kids having a place to play? Nah, there's a rec center right down the hill. Does this playground have bad memories for them? Nope, it's too new. It wasn't around when they were young enough to use a playground.

Okay, I moved on from the train and followed my young daughter up the stairs to the rocket slide. That's what I call it, anyway. Someone else said it's a silo, due to the far
m theme of the whole place. She's probably right. Anyway, at the top was a whole bunch of things written into the wood in marker or pen. None of it was really offensive, beyond the really clever one that read "Penis DeMilo" (who says kids aren't getting an art education?). But what angered me was the idea that some people came up to this haven for kids and decided to deface it.

I'm sure I acted differently when I was a teen. I'm sure I thought things were a riot then that I don't think are funny now. There was a time when I was hanging outside the Red Lobster where I worked with a bunch of other guys. It was late and two guys decided to climb the movie theater marquis to rearrange some titles. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" became "Who Framed Roger Rabbi." Well, that one's kind of funny. It also tells you how long ago this was. There was another movie title but I forget what it was. The point is that I grew up. So maybe these playground vandals aren't really vandals at all. They're just teens out having a good time. Maybe. But it's the permanence that leads me to believe that this was the work of some pretty stupid kids. I mean, they wrote their full names in some places. Jeez.

Being in advertising, I know the importance of getting your message out there. But there has to be a better way to let people know that Mitch Cramer known as the local Ferris Bueller. Perhaps the person saying hi to "cunt face" could have used a personal ad instead of a child's slide. But what do I know? I'm just an old man compared to these young Hemmingways.

I once read that if you put a bunch of monkeys in a room with a bunch of typewriters, you'd eventually get Shakespeare. In case anyone wants to try it, there are a few monkeys loitering in my town.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bye Bye Potfry!

As some of you already know, one of the funniest bloggers around will be joining forces with one of the other funniest bloggers. Potfry has been blogging for several years, starting with his observations about the New York Yankees and the greater sports world and moving on to the absurd world around us.

Starting, um, sometime soon, Potfry will be joining forces with Buckley on The Nose On Your Face. Buckley and Potfry also do an internet radio show on Wide Awakes Radio on Saturday mornings from 8am to 10am. Yeah, it's early. But it's funny and I call in every once in awhile as roving reporter Gordon Simms.

All of Potfry's classic postings can be found at The Nose On Your Face.

Good luck Potfry from all of us at Greetings From Suburbia.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

What A Schmuck

Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends. Just beware of freeloading, deadbeat family members.

There are two things I used to be able to count on every holiday season: reeducating the gentiles on the meaning of Hannukah, and multiple viewings of the 1946 classic, "It's A Wonderful Life." There was a time when you could watch this classic piece of sentimental cheese on as many as 3 local channels at the same time, and I did. I used to be able to recite entire sections of dialogue. I marveled at the sighting of Alfalfa from The Little Rascals being cut out of a dance with Mary Hatch by a randy George Bailey. I rolled my eyes when George got excited by the prospect of making a whopping $20,000 working for Mr. Potter (because 44 years later, I was making the less than that at my first job out of college). I laughed at the cab driver/cop combo named Ernie and Bert, 22 years before "Sesame Street." And then things started going wrong. First, it was colorized. Then NBC bought the rights and suddenly, the world was robbed of a holiday tradition. One, maybe two, viewings was all we were allowed. So I bought it on DVD. But it just wasn't the same.

For a fun, :30 reenactment of the film done by bunnies, click

On to the subject at hand. I've watched this film enough to be something of an expert. I've analyzed and scrutinized every scene and every character. And I've come to one important conclusion: George Bailey is the biggest schmuck in history, fictional or otherwise.

Thanks to a wingless guardian angel named Clarence (AS2), George is allowed to see what the world would have been like without him. He was, in one way or another, responsible for the happiness of dozens of families and the lives of hundreds of others. Joan of Arc was a selfish bitch compared to George. Not one person in his life wanted for anything. And 99% of the time this was at his own expense, emotionally and financially. He risked bankruptcy for his friends, prison for his family, and this all led him to a suicide attempt. But the folks of Bedford Falls were, for the most part, grateful. Sure there was Tom, who wanted all of his money out of the Savings and Loan when the Great Depression hit; and Sam Wainwright, who didn't need George's help because he knew about the value of plastics long before Benjamin Braddock in "The Graduate." But there was one person who selfishly took advantage of all of George's generosity more than anyone else: his brother Harry Bailey.

As of the end of the movie, Harry Bailey had a truly wonderful life. Good looks, High School All American, college sports star, war hero, pretty wife, good job. All this for a guy who should have died when he was 9. George dove into freezing water and lost the hearing in one ear to save his brother's life. And the total lack of justice goes on from there:

Fact: When it was time for George to go off to college after paying his dues at the "dusty old Building and Loan", his dad dies and George's sense of duty leads him to take over the business, sending Harry to college. And George is stuck in Bedford Falls.

Fact: When it was time for Harry to come home from college to take over the B&L, he brings a wife ("Ruth Dakin Bailey, if you don't mind) and a job prospect. And George is stuck in Bedford Falls.

Fact: When war breaks out, Harry gets to do all the traveling George always dreamed of, becoming a war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. All while George is stuck in Bedford Falls.

We all know what happened next. A liquor-soaked Uncle Billy misplaces $8000, sending George into a tailspin. He runs from Mr. Potter and Mr. Carter, the bank examiner (who wants to spend the holidays in Elmira), he yells at his family, screams at Zuzu's teacher Mrs. Welch, threatens and then gets punched out by Mr. Welch, drives drunk and plows his jalopy into a tree (owned by the one guy in Bedford Falls who seemingly doesn't know who George is), and contemplates suicide. Meanwhile, the whole town is looking for him.

Bear with me, I'm getting to my point.

Eventually, George decides he wants to live and he runs home. Waiting for him is the town of Bedford Falls, literally throwing money at him. George needs help? The town remembers all George has done for them and they chip in to the "Keep George Out Of Jail" fund. Annie the housekeeper adds in her divorce money ("in case I ever get a husband"). Mr. Martini "breaks-a open the juke-a box". Even Mr. Carter and the sheriff donate money. Then the climax of the film. War hero Harry Bailey shows up with Bert, the accordion-playing cop. And he offers up a toast, "to my big brother George Bailey. The richest man in town." Yeah? No thanks to him! Watch this scene again. How much money does war hero world traveler college athlete Harry Bailey donate to the cause? NOTHING!!!! He mooches some hooch and makes a toast. Hey Harry? It's pronounced "thank you." Your brother's life sucks and it's your fault. I wonder how long Harry hangs around before he goes back to Rochester or wherever his wife's family lives.

George Bailey. Nice guy. Biggest schmuck ever.

An angel gets his wings and a nice guy gets a lifetime of this.

Monday, August 21, 2006

That's Hypocrisy!!!!

The world is filled with things that are done in the name of political correctness or government regulations or just trying to please all the people all the time. Rarely do these things ever make much sense. So welcome to the first installment of:

That's Hypocrisy!!!!!

You ever try to watch your favorite movie on regular TV? There's the usual editing for time and squeezing in commercials and stuff. And language. You gotta take out all the offensive language. There are some things that we all can agree are offensive (the usual four-letter words) and some which are subjective (some networks won't let you take the Lord's name in vain). Then there's the case of the 1974 Mel Brooks classic, "Blazing Saddles."

Now, this is one movie which is so hilarious that it's still amusing even when butchered by network Standards & Practices. But my gripe is with the familiar "Beans around the campfire" scene.

I don't remember how old I was when I first saw this movie but here's the thing: no matter how old you are, farting is always funny. And multiple farts are that much funnier. So I'm watching "Blazing Saddles" for the millionth time and it's on some local channel and we come to this classic scene. And the men are eating the beans and each one stands up and I hear a horse whinnying. A horse whinnying? Bizarre, yeah, but when did farting become so offensive that it can't be broadcast? And not even the word...the sound effect!

Okay, but here comes the hypocrisy. Whoever is in charge of editing for broadcast determined that farting sounds have to go but the word "nigger"? That's all over the place. So we've finally come to a point in society where insulting an entire race of people is okay but hearing the sounds of people breaking wind is just too offensive for sensitive ears. In my opinion, that's hypocrisy!!!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Like Piña Coladas?

I listen to a lot of music and I tend to overanalyze lyrics. So from time to time, I'll use this forum to rant about one song or another. Like the 1979 Rupert Holmes hit, "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)". This karaoke classic has the unique distinction of being the last #1 Billboard hit of 1979 and the first #1 Billboard hit of 1980. Or, to be more dramatic, the last of the '70s and the first of the '80s. Is there anyone who is unfamiliar with the lyrics? Click on the title above.

"Escape" did nothing when it was first released, but that was because no one knew it was called "Escape." Once it was renamed "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)", it started shooting up the charts. It tells the story of a guy who is bored with his current relationship. "I was tired of my lady. We'd been together too long." Too long? I wonder what "too long" is to this ADD case. And who is this person? Girlfriend? Wife? It's unclear in the opening line, "I was tired of my lady." In the third verse, the narrator refers to her as, "lady" and then, "my old lady" so maybe that means she's his wife. By the 5th verse, she's been downgraded to "my lovely lady." '70s songs always referred to women as "ladies." "Babe" was used a lot as well but "lady" was a biggie. But I digress. When the song starts, this guy is in bed with his lady. She's right there sleeping next to him. And he's so bored that he decides to look for another lady right in front of her. He opens up a newspaper (making sure not to wake her up, I hope), reads the personals (jdate being many years away) and his eyes fix upon one ad which is not only very suggestive, but it rhymes as well! You all know it. Sing it with me:

"If you like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain,
if you're not into yoga, if you have have a brain,
if you'd like making love at midnight in the dunes on the Cape,
I'm the love that you've looked for.

Write to me and escape."
(or maybe it's "write to me at Escape", like that's the name to whom he should respond.)

First of all, what's wrong with yoga? I know it's not for everybody but in 1979? I get the sense that yoga was very big in the late 70s but I don't know why.

So this chick (it's 2006, not 1979) is looking for someone very specific. He has to like tropical rum drinks and getting wet. He has to shun relaxation and be relatively intelligent. And he has to want to make love (because no one had sex in 70s songs, they made love) on a beach at night. So that last part pertains to, like, every guy reading the ad. No one's looking at that ad and thinking, "well I hate yoga and I like getting wet but the making love in the sand part? Yuck!"

Our hero decides he's the guy for this woman. And Mr. Thoughtful, who has started looking for a new lady less than 4 inches from his current lady sings, "I didn't think about my lady. I know that sounds kind of mean." Kind of mean? When he kicks her out of bed, will he put pillows on the floor to cushion the fall? But he explains himself: " and my old lady had fallen into the same old dull routine." Oh, well then. I didn't know that you were bored. I thought you were just a jackass.

And this narcissistic schmuck thinks that his response to the ad "wasn't half bad." He probably would have called it "friggin' awesome" but that didn't rhyme with the line, "took out a personal ad." So it turns out that he likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. He doesn't mention anything about yoga or intelligence but he's "not much into health food. [He is] into champagne." He also likes green eggs and ham (okay, I made that up). And things are so bad with his current relationship that he's "got to meet you by tomorrow noon." Where is this ad being published? In an age before internet and fax machines, he's got to write out the ad, call it into the paper and wait for it to be printed. Tomorrow noon? Maybe he's doing all this scheming in the morning.

Well, tomorrow comes in the 5th verse. He's gone to O'Malley's as requested in his ad. I'll chalk up the fact that this must be the only bar in town because he didn't leave an address to poetic license. So he's waiting and then she "walked in the place." And who was this perfect match? "It was my own lovely lady." Huh? His wife/girlfriend/whatever is the one who wrote the ad in the first place? And her response to seeing him there? "Oh, it's you." Even in a song you can hear the disappointment in her voice. But they laugh about it and all is well.

Now hold on just a minute. According to Wikipedia,
"the song ends on an upbeat note, showing that the two lovers have more in common than they suspected, and that they may not have to look any further than each other for what they seek in a relationship."

I don't buy it. These two schmucks deserve each other. First of all, the guy thinks he's so smooth looking for a new lady and all. But it turns out his current love was more bored than he was! She wrote the ad in the first place! So instead of, I don't know, having a conversation or something, they take out personal ads looking for something better. And in the end, they learn there is nothing better. They're stuck with each other. What if the guy didn't read and answer the ad? Would the woman have gone off with someone else? Is that where the tragedy lies; that this seemingly perfect couple could have broken up if fate hadn't lent a hand? I hope these two skip having laughs over a quick drink and head straight for a marriage counselor. These two...jeez, they make me sick.

But you have to admit, it's a catchy tune.

Stay tuned for my next rant. It'll be about Frank Capra's, "It's A Wonderful Life."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rockin' The Suburbs

Before I moved into my current Xanadu in Towaco, NJ, I lived in a townhouse a mere 4 miles south of here. There was a slight bee problem once. I saw some bees flying into the attic from the outside of the house so I took it upon myself to check it out. And it was hunched over in this hot, sweaty attic that I saw the top of a beehive and about 7 or 8 hornets. Or yellowjackets. Maybe they were wasps. So armed with a flashlight and a can of some bee killer which sprays over 25 feet, I destroyed the apian menace.

A couple of weeks ago, I was mowing the lawn in the backyard and noticed some bees (I'll be using the ter
m "bees" as a catchall term to represent the yellow and black striped things flying around) floating over one particular part of the lawn. I got up close and saw them landing and crawling underground. Underground bees? Never heard of such a thing. So I went to the garage and dug through my suburban assault kit for some bee killer. Two cans of ant spray, some Yard Guard, mosquito repellant, weed killer....ah! Some Ortho bee spray. I aimed where the bees were landing but instead of spraying them with a powerful liquid jet, I unleased an expanding foam. It looked like someone dumped Marshmallow Fluff on my lawn. It wasn't very effective because I couldn't see the nest so I grabbed a shovel and started digging. The part of my brain that should have been telling me not to dig at a beehive with a shovel wasn't working right then but nothing happened. The bees were gone.

Yesterday I noticed some bees flying around the new retaining wall, right in the cor
ner by the garage. I love when they're bunched together. They're easier to kill. They kept swarming in from somewhere behind me and landing in about the same spot. I grabbed that can of foam and unleashed hell on the mini swarm. Again, I couldn't see the nest so this was more amusing to the bees than anything else.

So this time, I grabbed a small tennis raquet-like object and started swinging. I discovered a killer backhand! Actually, I should say that my backhand was stunning. Standing in the doorway of the garage, I'd wait for one to fly nearby and swing, waiting for that satisfying "thwack" of a bee hitting the strings. Then I'd look on the ground and stomp on my stunned victim. Mwah ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!!!!! It was delightful!!!!!! But they still kept coming.

So I bought that spray I used in the townhouse. I don't know if it was working because, yes, I couldn't see the nest. But I unloaded the entire can in the spaces between the bricks. And then I started hitting them with the raquet again. And they still kept coming. Time for the big guns. Time for the hose.

I'm sure there was a time in my life when I was told not to annoy bees with a garden hose. But the
temptation was there so I did it anyway. And it felt great. Occasionally, one would fly nearby but it was unable to penetrate my watery defenses. Plus, I had a paddleball raquet. And then I got stung.

The tools of ignorance.

Yeah, I had it coming. I deserved it. But I don't remember bee stings hurting this much. To make matters worse, I dropped the hose when I got stung and it landed right on the handle so the water kept spraying. Right at me. If bees could laugh, they were doing it now. Hey bees, know what? Your stupid friend is dead! And it didn't hurt me that much. And my clothes will dry!

When I first moved to the townhouse in 1996, there were some issues with the new construction. And after everything finally settled, the contractor asked if everything was okay. As I joke, I said there were a lot of bugs around. He made a snide comment about city boys like me (?) needing to realize that there are bugs in the suburbs. What a douche bag! I was 28 at the time and for all but 2 years, I had lived in suburbia, killing moths and caterpillars and ants and stuff. I'll never get them all, but as long as there's a chemical in a can, I'll be there spraying away.

Hey you. Chipmunk. Don't think I didn't see you there. Digging in the mulch.
Yeah, by the tree. You're next buddy.

I think I'm channeling Carl Spackler...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

If your Oddish is up against your Vileplume and your Raiku has attacked your Corphish and if you have any idea what I’m talking about, then Tuesday, August 8th was a day for you. It was Pokémon Day in Bryant Park. This New York park located on 6th Avenue between 41st and 42nd Street was partially closed off to allow the fine folks at Pokémon to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Holy crap, has it been 10 years? Feels like 50 years. Actually, that’s how long it felt to be there with my son, Aaron, and his friend, Dominick. But I really shouldn’t complain. I volunteered for this gig.

Treeko, Aaron, Torchic, Dominick

Enter the park at the northwest corner; push though some of the crowd and you see Pikachu (an electric-type Pokémon for those of you keeping score). And not just a statue of Pikachu or a creepy man in a suit. It’s the giant balloon from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade soaring overhead, locked down to the Bryant Park lawn but watching over the strategically placed statues of other, lesser-known Pokémon. One song says there are “at least 150 or more to see” but that song was written a long time ago. There are actually closer to 400. But it's kind of like the periodic table of elements ( There are the ones everyone knows. And then there are the newer, man-made ones which are just a bunch of bull.

And what festival in a park would be complete without lots of lines? The odd thing is that a lot of these lines were just so you could watch people play with Pokémon. We can watch kids play video games and trade Pokémon cards. I’m starting to think I can do this at home and it’ll be air-conditioned. Anyway, we’re in a line to get select Pokémon downloaded into Game Boys. Not a bad deal, actually. Hand over your Game Boy and choose 2 Pokémon to be downloaded. But after almost an hour, they cheerily announce that kids can only choose 1 because the line is too long. And Aaron and Dominick are okay with this! Maybe there’s some kind of magic in the world of Pokémon after all.

And then I freak out. We get to the front of the line and I’m herded out of the way so the kids can approach the table for downloading. Something is taking Aaron a long time. He’s really upset. Apparently, he’s in the wrong place. Oh he’s at the right place at the table. But in the game, he has to be at Pokémon City or something like that. And he has to free up space. This means less to me than it does to him. And the jackasses at the downloading table don’t know either. Or they don’t care. Aaron is stressed and he starts crying. And the yutzes are just staring at him.

People who know me know that I embarrass easily. I have a painfully low threshold for making a scene. But my kid is hysterical. And suddenly I’m reliving every uncomfortable moment of my childhood (paging Dr. Duquette...). It’s times like this when you discover who you really are. And me? I’m willing to make a scene for my kid! And I do. And I’m directed to a large, black, security guard-type who ends up helping Aaron. I never thought I had it in me, although I remember a time many years ago when I started a fight with a homeless guy on the A train when she was giving my mom a hard time.

So here’s where we stand. One hour on line, Aaron gets an Alakazam (a psychic Pokémon). Dominick gets a Latias (a dragon/psychic Pokémon). After a circuit around the park, we end up back on line to get more. This time, 90 minutes went by before Aaron got a Moltres (a fire/flying Pokémon). Dominick said he was going to get a Latios (another dragon/psychic Pokémon) but I don’t know if he did.

I can’t believe I’ve come this far in my story and not told you that I saw none other than Hulk Hogan! The Hulkster! I wasn’t aware that he was relevant to this crowd but whatever. He’s up there on the main stage, reading the proclamation from Mayor Mike Bloomberg that today is Pokémon Day in NYC (thanks, Mayor Mike) and helping introduce the group of finalists for the National Pokémon Video Game Championships. And he keeps on pronouncing it “Poké Man.” He also looks kind of thin. Aaron and Dominick don’t notice this at all. They’re too busy talking to other kids on the line and sharing video game tips.

The whole day would have been charming if it weren’t for the adults. I don’t mean the adults like myself who were there chaperoning kids. No, there were actual “grown ups” who were there to get free Pokémon swag and to trade war stories. Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would have done really well here. I overheard one guy telling another guy that he got a rare Pokemon from his girlfriend in Pittsburgh. Like this guy has a girlfriend anywhere, let alone Pittsburgh.


Dominick sharing tips with a kid. Cool!

Aaron sharing tips with a grown up. Creepy!

The guy on the left has the "girlfriend" in Pittsburgh.

These happy folks are off to the Video Game Finals.

They're being led by this woman. She's on stilts.

No shortage of creepy adults!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

La Revedere, Bucharest!

Day Fourteen: July 31, 2006
Departure Day

ADDENDUM: I neglected to follow up on the pencil sharpener search. It came to no real surprise to me that super AD Benita Allen had one in her bag. She even offered to let me borrow it for the duration of the shoot. I used it and gave it back to her because I don’t want the responsibility of holding on to the only pencil sharpener in Romania.

Did last night really happen? Was I really awake just a couple of hours ago? This will come back to kick my ass at some point later in the day. But for now, I need to pack. Fortunately, I had some laundry done at the hotel and for those of you who have done the same thing; you know that your stuff comes back folded in a way that no human could fold it. And slid nicely into plastic bags. So this helps in the packing process. And I didn’t have a lot of time to buy stuff so I don’t have as much cramming to do.

I went downstairs to have breakfast. I really didn’t want to eat alone (I hate eating alone) but I really doubted anyone else was going to be awake, especially since the call time for today is 1 pm. I’m the only one leaving today. So I sit down by myself and bring my laptop so I can at least look busy. I never know what to do when I’m at a table by myself. It’s like when you stand up and don’t know what to do with your hands. Do I cross my arms? Put my hands in my pockets? So I have the laptop and a breakfast buffet. And…pancakes!! Loyal readers remember my difficulties getting pancakes at the buffet so there you go. But now that I’m by myself, I feel awkward going up more than once. It’s okay in a group because no one notices the individuals. But all alone, I feel like people are noticing how much I’m eating.

I must remember to call my therapist.

Adding to my awkwardness, Tom and Tim (the famous Australian DP who looks eerily like Tim Mellors, Grey’s executive CD) have showed up. They said hello and Tom said something smarmy but I forgot what it was. Then they sat somewhere else but close enough that I couldn’t relax anymore, even with the harpist playing some Mozart music, which is used in a Baby Einstein VHS that Aaron used to have. So now I have those creepy images on toys moving by themselves stuck in my head.

With breakfast behind me, it’s time for my traditional walking aimlessly through the city. I really haven’t had the opportunity to check out Bucharest and I have some time before I need to leave for the airport. And since I’m on my own, I have no one to thwart my indecisiveness. So I wander through the hotel shops, looking for some crap I can buy. But this stuff is way too expensive. So I hit the streets and find…nothing. The liquor store is closed on Mondays. The place that looked like a hi tech game store was actually a small gambling salon. I even wandered into a supermarket, which was laid out remarkably like the Associated on 2nd Avenue and 48th Street. I wonder if supermarkets have sister stores in other countries. Anyway, I still haven’t purchased anything because I keep thinking I’ll find something better in the next place I go. This decision will come back to bite me in the ass later on.

Running low on time, I head back to the hotel to finish packing. I look one more time for my headphones and my contact lenses. No luck on either front. By the way, if any of you out there are heading for Toronto any time soon, please let me know. I’d love to get another set of those headphones. They were perfect and cheap and now they’re gone. I check out and my driver is waiting for me with yet another bizarre interpretation of my name. But this time, Liebowitz is spelled correctly. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being in Eastern Europe. But my first name was spelled “Michke.” Close enough,

So here’s the weird thing: this guy is dressed like he’s some hot property. Italian shoes with no socks. Light colored, lightweight pants. A blazer over a silk shirt. He’s right off of the cover of GQ if that GQ issue was from 1987. And he’s driving a Mercedes, but it’s a really crappy one. So I get in the car and as we’re leaving the hotel, the driver asks me, “Are you going to Tel Aviv?” What the hell? Do look that Jewish? Is it that scene from Annie Hall again where, to this guy, I look like and Orthodox rabbi? Wagner, Max. Wagner. I’m surprised he didn’t ask, “Jew going to Tel Aviv?” Not “are you going” but “Jew.” After some silence, he asks me what me name is. Odd, considering he was just holding a sign with my name on it, albeit spelled wrong. So I tell him and then there’s more silence. See, that question is usually followed by “oh, my name is…” So I ask him what his name is. Dolph. Figures, right? So I say, “nice to meet you, Dolph.” To which he responds, “Dolph Lundgren.” So I make a joke about wondering where he’s been since Rocky IV. I’m more amazed that he chose to reference a D-level action actor from the 80s. I guess he could have said Dolph Sweet from “Gimme a Break” which would have been funnier, but creepier.

Now Dolph is angling for a tip. I had every intention of tipping the guy but maybe he thinks I won’t tip or I’ll leave a crappy tip. The car is already paid for and I have some lei ready to give him. But first he tells me how little the average Romanian makes. It’s barely enough to get by. According to Dolph, he makes $200 a month. Then he tells me he makes $10 a day. Besides the fact that the math doesn’t add up, a guy dressing like him doesn’t make $200 a month. Unless he’s forced to wear these 80s castoffs because he makes $200 a month. Anyway, as if on cue, his phone rings. After he hangs up, he tells me it was his wife with new about his mom. Is she okay? I ask stupidly. Oh, she’s in the hospital. And so much money goes to the doctors taking care of him. Fine! Here’s your tip. Now go away!

90 minutes until departure. Time to blow all my lei. I start to look for something to eat and pass a vending machine that sells beer. Beer from a vending machine!!! Now that’s progress! As I follow the signs for food, I pass the arrivals and departures monitors. I notice that all the flights leave within 20 minutes of each other. That explains why the airport was so empty when we landed. They seem to have an afternoon rush and an evening rush. Going through security is going to be a bitch.

If I know it’s going to be a bitch, why have I waited for the last possible moment to try to go through? I have a leisurely lunch: Pizza Quattro Formaggio (and one of the cheeses is Bleu. Yuck.) and some water (with gas! Big gas!!!). I don’t board until 2 so what’s the rush? This is so unlike me. I’m usually the guy who sits around by the gate when I have hours to spare.

Meanwhile, I hear various PA announcements in various versions of English. Except the guy announcing an American Airlines flight to Italy sounds like Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine character. A male version. Weird. And the tones that precede these announcements? The familiar 5 tones from “Close Encounters.” That pretty much sums up the whole experience.

So I casually pay the check and stroll down to the security area. And there’s a mob scene. It’s a zoo. And it’s worse past the customs officials. It’s like when you sit in traffic at the George Washington Bridge. There are 15 lanes of cars which all have to merge into 4 lanes of traffic. It’s 2:05 and I have a 2:35 flight. Is there anything quite as exhilarating as the refreshing blast of adrenaline that comes with the realization that you may miss a flight? I’m really starting to sweat. It’s dripping off of me and I’m trying hard to look relaxed so I don’t get singled out on the security line. But I’m running out of time. And instead of asking someone if I can skip through the line, I stand there like some moist idiot who would rather miss a flight than cause a scene. I finally see a passenger run through with an airline employee. So I follow and latch on to whatever’s going on here. This passenger is on my flight. Okay, we get through security and as we run through the terminal, I see all of these shops where I should have been doing that last minute shopping I wanted to do. It’s not like I’ve never been to an airport before. I think I had this preconceived notion that there was nothing to do in this airport so I stayed by the food for too long.

Well, I make the flight. I have my business class seat and…what’s this? Oh come on, another delayed departure? This time it’s because they can’t get the luggage compartment closed. They have to call some Ionescu or another with a screwdriver. And we wait. And wait. And I’m starting to wonder about my connection in Frankfurt. Come on, I need to buy stuff!!! I have cash! Don’t take a check!

It’s 4:15 Germany time and making this connection is in serious doubt. However, we’re in a holding pattern over the airport due to weather and this is affecting all aircraft. So maybe. But now they announce that busses will be taking us to the terminals. And there are special busses for New York and Chicago. But I’m going to Newark. So I work up the nerve to ask a flight attendant to clear this up for me. I say “Newark.” She says “yes, New York.” Great.

So I fish around for my ticket. I’m not leaving at 4:30 like I thought. I’m leaving at 5:15. So there’s time to buy some last-minute stuff. Isn’t there? Well, we have to land. The bus has to load and drive us over to the terminal. I dodge the throngs of people to run up a flight of escalator stairs only to be met at the top of the escalator by two security guards waving their arms and speaking German (what did I expect? I’m in Germany). After resisting the urge to crap myself, I turn back to see if any of the other passengers are behind me. The eventually catch up and I’m able to slide through security. Time to shop? No, I need to find my gate. But to get to my gate, I have to take a shuttle to another terminal. And when I finally get there, the plane is boarding. I do a quick scan of the shops in the area and have no interest in surplus World Cup merchandise. So I board. And guess what? We’re delayed! G-d hates me.

I will say one thing for the bathroom on this plane: it has a window. I won’t go into the details of the image in my mind right now but picture it for yourself. Breathtaking.

I just turned off my phone because the flight attendant announced that we had to. And you know what? It was easy. I pushed a button and the phone shut off. So why is it so hard for others to do the same? They know they’re doing something wrong because their hunched into themselves, whispering as if they’re hiding from the Gestapo which, given our current location, may be true. Hey Heinz! Turn off the phone!

Welcome to Newark. So long Romania. So long Germany. Hello American immigration. It’s been a long 2 weeks. So what have we learned?

• Just because the calendar says it’s 2006, it doesn’t mean it’s true all over the world. There are parts of the world where it’s still 1990 or even earlier.
• You’re never as funny as you think you are.
• Alcohol is the great equalizer.
• Everything is funny when you’re tired.
• Romania is a great place to shoot. Just not yet. Maybe in 5 years or so.
• You truly don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I hate Starbucks but I could really go for a frappucino right now.
• A country that has so much meat makes a lousy hamburger.
• The nationalistic pride, which filled Europe in the early 20th century and led to World War I is non-existent in Romania. Communism fell 16 years ago and the country doesn’t know what to do with themselves.
• Capitalism is addicting. The hypermarkets here are very popular.

If you’re thinking of moving here, there are some things you shouldn’t bother opening:
1) A brassiere store. You won’t sell a thing.
2) A Judaica shop. When I left, the Jewish population plummeted.
3) A Cadillac dealership. Cars over 4 feet in length are rare in these parts.
4) A Smokenders' Franchise. They’re not interested.
5) A Fair Tourism Center. They don’t look at us as people willing to contribute to their economy. They look at as like fresh meat.
6) A place that sells maps to the stars’ homes.
7) A center for safe driving. If these people actually paid attention to what they were doing, accidents would increase. Somehow, being oblivious works for them.
8) An Alternative Uniform store. In Romania, there are the blue coveralls and the green coveralls.
9) An unsharpened pencil store. Unless you plan on selling pencil sharpeners as well, you’re going to piss off a lot of former communists who just want to do the daily Jumble or something.