Friday, December 19, 2008

One of the Good Guys

There's a scene in "The Godfather" that takes place at a funeral.  Don Vito Corleone has died and there are throngs of people there to pay their respects.  But they were probably only there to be seen, not to actually pay respects.  That, plus they were plotting to kill Michael.  But the point is that you only see that many people at a funeral when someone important and well-respected has died.  And this happened early this week.

Alan Rose died early this week.  And while people die all the time, this one never should have happened.  People like Al aren't supposed to die.

You'd come up empty if you tried to find someone who didn't like him.  It really wasn't possible.  The fact that there were literally hundreds of people at the funeral speaks volumes.  The fact that the house was crammed with hundreds of mourners making a shiva call is a tribute to the impact Alan had on all of us.  I went last night and I actually couldn't find a place to park my car.  Everyone remarked on how they'd never seen anything like it.  He was constantly running in to people he knew, but that's because it seemed that he knew everyone.

"Uncle Al" lived his life the right way.  In the years I was lucky to know him, I can't ever recall him not smiling.  Every photograph I saw of him last night showed a happy, smiling man.  He was always surrounded by friends and was very close to his family.  They all vacationed together—his wife, daughters, sons in law and grandchildren.  Alan was content and after working hard his whole life, got the chance to retire and continue living the happy, active live most people covet. It's almost a cliche that Alan collapsed while playing his beloved tennis...died doing what he loved.  He lived well and, I suppose, he died well.

I admire Alan for his impossibly optimistic outlook on life.  He could find joy in everything.  And he made all the people he touched a little happier.  I would love to live my life the way Alan lived his.  The world was a better place while Alan was in it.  I said before that people like Alan aren't supposed to die.  If people continue to feel his impact the way I do, well, maybe he didn't die after all.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hockey Night!

An Islanders fan with Devils loyalties attends a Rangers game and learns that his video camera doesn't pick up sound every well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

14,611 days

I turned 40 on the 14th and my good friend Michael suggested that I document my 40th year with a series of video blogs.  Technically, it's my 41st year but let's not quibble.  Let's just see how long it takes me to find something interesting to talk about.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Do You Speak The Language?

Not all fake languages catch on.  There was Esperanto, which still hangs around amongst a few thousands weirdos, and Ubbi Dubbi, which was popularized on Zoom in the early '70s, but has any fake language been as universally embraced as Pig Latin?  

I bring this up not because I've been thinking about Pig Latin or that I even care much about it, but because I think today might be Pig Latin Day.  I took this picture at Port Authority this morning.  Come on, someone's gotta be using Pig Latin here, right?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Tribute to The Stadium

Everyone knows by now that Yankee Stadium, the Cathedral in The Bronx, The House That Ruth Built, is winding down it's final season.  

Originally opened in 1923 and renovated in 1976, the Stadium has seen some of the best baseball games and been home the best baseball players in the history of the game.  And in a few short weeks, it will be closed forever.

A new stadium is being built just outside the current stadium and while I'm happy that it will still retain the name "Yankee Stadium" as opposed to "B&H Photo Park" or something, I have to admit I have mixed feelings about the new place ("The Onion" published a list of the changes in the new stadium).  Many of my fond memories of Yankee Stadium happened with my old boss and current good friend.  We went to many games together and he always graciously gave me a ride to and from the games and paid for my food.  We played made up games and drafted an "All Ugly Team"(Paul Assenmacher is so ugly, I couldn't even find a picture of him online).  His passion for all things Yankees comes out in this ode to the Stadium.  Any true Yankee fan should read this.  

My Stadium

183rd Street…Burnside Avenue…176th Street…Mt Eden Avenue…
170th Street…167th Street…161st Street-Yankee Stadium

Just seven stops on the Number 4 train.

That’s all it took for me to get to
my stadium.
Alternatively, I could opt to save the 15 cents, for a token…and walk about 30 blocks.

And that’s what I did just about every Saturday morning in the early ‘60’s.

I had turned 10 in 1959…and in my mind, being in the double-digits earned me the right to walk the “mean streets” of the Bronx to my stadium. I’d leave my house early, about 9 A.M. That would usually allow me to reach my stadium before 10, just as the players were starting to arrive.

They’d come walking randomly down River Avenue, heading towards the Press Gate. There would be a handful of kids
(growing as the hour grew later) awaiting the chance for the elusive autograph. I was usually the youngest. But all the signature-seekers turned to me, for I had the rare and valuable talent of recognizing the Yankee heroes in their “civvies”, without their numbered uniforms. Oh sure, most could recognize Mickey and Roger and Yogi (I mean, c’mon…who couldn’t recognize Yogi!). But it was only the truly erudite student of Topps trading cards, like myself, who could recognize the faces of Kent Hadley, Elmer Valo and Eli Grba.

I got ‘em all…all the autographs. Many times over. I mean I was there EVERY Saturday. After all it was my stadium. I rarely stayed for the actual game. Too expensive. Bleacher seats were 75 cents. That’s 15 packs of baseball cards
(chalky pink gum included)!

I usually took the long return walk home…although occasionally I would tell a policeman I lost my money… and twice they drove me home
(I made sure to exit the patrol car a safe distance from my parents’ view).

But then there were those times I did actually enter my stadium. They say you never forget your first time…and it’s true. We went as a family - my Mom, Dad and older sister Ellen
(Bobby Richardson was her favorite).  From the outside it seemed colossal. I figured it could hold all of New York inside, or at least all of the Bronx. We bought a 25-cent program and made our way through the entranceway in right field, last section 31-35. That was the first time I ever saw my stadium field in person. It was a beautiful sight to behold. To this day, hundreds and hundreds of games later…no matter where my seats may be, I will always enter the field through the last section in right.

There are several other “commandments” that I
(and my game companions) must adhere to in my stadium. First and most critical is touching the right field foul pole before going to our seats. Many who know me will contend that I always kiss the pole…but that’s only for big games. There is also no eating of any kind before the Yankees score. And no ice cream before a Yankee home run. A Yankee shutout is no fun for starving kids. Also, when the crowd rises in rhythmic clapping hoping for a third strike…stay seated! It is bad karma to get up. And… never, ever do “the wave”!!! That might be fine for Shea, but not in my stadium.

While most of my early visits to my stadium were with friends or my entire family, I do vividly recall one time when it was just my dad and I going to a game. That was special. My dad owned a linoleum store in the Bronx and worked almost every day…and night. It was rare that we got to spend any private time together, let alone a visit to my stadium. But someone had given him tickets to see the Red Sox play the Yanks in a night game. And it would be just the two of us
boys. I had been obsessed with this major event for weeks. Finally the night arrived and my dad actually closed the store on time. As we got onto the subway (no walking 30 blocks when you’re with your dad), I could barely contain my excitement. Only thing was…it was raining. Pretty hard. We got to my stadium, walked through our right field entranceway, and found the field covered with that dreadful, dreary, death-like tarpaulin. The usher showed us to our seats and wiped them dry (yes, they actually used to do that). We waited and watched. Nothing much happened. Except the rain and more rain forming puddles on the tarp and the field. I tried not to think the unthinkable, but then the voice came. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we regret to inform you that tonight’s game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox has been postponed”. Sadder words were never heard in my stadium. As my tears mixed with the rain, I offered to my dad, with all the hope that comes with youth, “Maybe they’ll change their minds??” My dad’s perfect response was “Maybe they will.” We sat there and watched the rain pelt the tarp. And we sat. And we sat. Finally, after about 45 minutes I left my stadium holding hands with my dad.

My mom made appearances at my stadium as well. In fact, as a young lady, she used to semi-regularly attend
(the now politically incorrect) “Ladies Days”, where for half-price, she could go to a game and ogle her crush, “Scooter” Rizzuto. I have my own personal recollection of a game with my mom. It was “Mickey Mantle Day”. A day when one of the most popular players in Yankee history would be showered with gifts ranging from convertible cars to hunting dogs to washing machines. He would also be showered with thunderous applause and affection from a packed stadium crowd. And at some point during the 10 minute ovation, my always-overly-enthusiastic mom clapped her hands with such intense fervor…that she jarred the diamond from her wedding ring out of its setting! It wasn’t until an inning or two into the game, that she noticed the loss. At which point, my dad, my sister, myself and half of section 25 began a furious “treasure hunt”. After a few frantic moments of digging through Ballantine Beer cups, Crackerjack boxes and assorted ballpark flotsam, my dad emerged triumphantly with the diamond in the rough…or in this case, the mustard.

Perhaps, it’s because of my many years of my walking to my stadium…that these days I have admittedly become a “travel snob” when coming to my Stadium
(nowadays arriving from the OTHER direction – downtown Manhattan). I either drive and park directly across from my stadium (where the attendants know me and greet me with hugs), or I take a cab. But I do take the subway once a year – Opening Day. It's one more tradition. One that holds much metaphorical meaning for me. Coming from 86th Street, there is something special about being surrounded by New Yorkers of all ethnicities, all ages, all genders, all income levels…completely decked out in their Yankee paraphernalia…all eagerly anticipating the beginning of a new season. As the packed subway car makes its way through the underground tunnel…just as it approaches my stadium, it emerges from the darkness into the daylight…mirroring the onset of spring and eternal hope. In a thrilling moment we all get our first glimpse of the stadium. My stadium.

Seeing my stadium has always had a strange and powerful emotional effect on me. I believe it also imbues me with “special powers”. Case in point. The year was 1970. And like many, many others of my generation…I was in the lottery. The one conducted by Selective Service System. 156 was my number. Not good. Not “safe”. Along with the rest of the terrified 18 year olds, I began exploring ‘ways out”. After many somewhat bizarre considerations, I decided on applying for Conscientious Objector status. This precious and rare designation was customarily reserved for Quakers or sons of clergymen. Being a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx and son of a floor covering man…the odds were greatly stacked against me. But after months of applications and letters of recommendation about my peace-loving self…I found myself being interviewed by the members of my local draft board. Like a bad joke, my board was comprised of a priest, an army lieutenant and a congressman. And there I was … a trembling teen. As they fired questions at me…questioning my ethics, my principles, my sincerity…as they tried to arouse my temper and dug deep to determine if I was indeed non-violent by asking things like what would I do if someone tried to rape my grandmother
(I was thinking…you’ve never seen my grandma)…I stared out the window of my SS office on Gerard Avenue and miraculously I was able to look into my stadium! To this day I believe that I was somehow granted my CO status because I was inspired by “the great ballpark in the South Bronx”.

While seeing my stadium from the outside always begins to stir my emotions…being inside is my nirvana. Perhaps it’s because I am back home in the Bronx, sitting outdoors on a balmy summer evening or hot, sweaty afternoon and I immediately feel like I’m 12 years old again.

I’ve never had season tickets, but I attend about 30 games a year. Plus since 1975, I’ve only missed one post-season game. Where I sit…could be anywhere. During my Bronx days, the Bleachers were my usual home. More times than not I would be waiting at the front of the line to get my 75 cent tickets. As a rule, I’ve tried to stay out of the Upper Deck
(not crazy about heights)…although I did make my “greatest catch” there. Leaning over an exit-way and bare-handing a hard foul ball brought me a large and vigorous ovation…which I must say I handled rather coolly as befits someone who has caught over a dozen balls at the stadium!

In contrast to the far-reaches of the Bleachers…I have also sat in what are ostensibly "the best seats in the house." Those belonging to a fellow named George Steinbrenner, you may have heard of him. How’d that happen?? One weekday afternoon in the late ‘70’s, I decided to call in sick and head to my stadium. To abet me in my “crime”, I recruited my girlfriend
(soon to be wife) and her friend. Both ladies were rather attractive and, when decked out in their somewhat-too-tight Yankee T-Shirts, always served as good “bait” to attract the ballplayers…(to whom I would immediately introduce myself). Anyway, as we stood by the players’ parking lot, awaiting the players’ arrival…I spotted a familiar turtle-necked figure hurriedly walking towards the Executive Offices. While I myself would never be so bold as to approach him…I did send “the girls” over to remind him that we “met” him during Spring Training in Fort Lauderdale (along with thousands of others I’m sure). The Boss assured the ladies that “of course” he remembered them (sure…), and inquired if we had tickets for the game. When my girlfriend responded that we were just about to purchase them, he insisted that WE (I was immediately added to the equation) accept his complimentary tickets. Moments later his chauffeur cum manservant handed us three tickets, which I immediately identified as “pretty good seats”. We entered my stadium (through the right field entrance), touched the foul pole and headed towards the designated seats. As we got closer and closer to home plate and closer and closer to the field itself, the seats began to look better and better. Finally we went where few have gone before, stopped only by a linked metal chain and an imposing security guard. When I told him we, in fact, had tickets for the secured area…he smirked and smugly informed us that “No one has those tickets”. Politely, I presented him with the ducats I held in my hand…and suddenly his demeanor changed. “I’m very sorry Sir” (Sir??? Me???)…he showed us to the three seats directly adjacent to the Yankee dugout, (you know, the ones where Mayor Rudy or Bruce Springsteen usually sit). During the game, Yankee player after player checked out the VIP’s (or maybe just the T-Shirts) who were sitting in the Boss’ box.

I don’t always get to sit in the Boss’s seats. But truth be told, I have always been able to get extremely good seats for the 30something games I attend each year. How? Customarily, I select my games a few months before the season begins
(it’s amazing how many “memorable games” I am able to select randomly). About 30 years ago, I anxiously ripped open the envelope containing my season’s allotment…and I was disappointed. They were merely “OK seats”. So I figured it wouldn’t hurt to write a note to the head of ticket sales to see if he could do any better. And, oh yeah…I copied George S. I guess I wrote a pretty persuasive letter because in a matter of days I got a phone call from a Mr. Dick Kraft…from Mr. Steinbrenner’s office. He apologized. (To me???? A 27-year-old nobody????). He told me he would personally speak to the head of ticket sales on my behalf. A few hours later I received my second call. “Hello Mr. Skollar…this is Frank Swaine head of ticket sales for the New York Yankees. I have been asked to call you by Mr. Steinbrenner. I’m very sorry that you are unhappy with your tickets for this season. If you would like to come up to the Stadium, I’m sure we will be able to accommodate your requests”. Wow! I immediately went up to my stadium. Got tickets in the first row in short right field…plus…Mr. Swaine said, “Next time call me before the season and we’ll take care of you”. Double wow!! Obviously Mr. Swaine thought I was somebody who “counted” with the Boss. Fast forward: for the past thirty years I have contacted the gracious Mr. Swaine and have gotten excellent seats. (Note: Mr. Swaine retired this year…uh oh). Moral of the story…you don’t ask, you don’t get.

While we’re on the subject of my stadium’s seats…I should tell you that I do occasionally sport shiny blue cuff links that are made from the actual seats from the “old stadium” (Nice anniversary gift!). And one of those original seats happens to be currently located in my den! I won it in 1977 at a Sports Illustrated party where there was a Yankee trivia contest. I tied with two other people for the best score …my wife and my friend (who copied my answers). It came down to a playoff with each of us on stage. No copying now. When they asked the number of games in Lou Gehrig’s consecutive streak I easily answered 2130. I won the chair…AND…a prized photo with several of the ’77 Yanks (I magnanimously let my wife join me in the photo).

Speaking of my wife
(an ex-hometown Detroit Tiger fan)…after dating her for 10 years, I finally decided to make the commitment in 1979. After that length of courtship, I figured the proposal had to be something special. I had just the thing. I called the office at my stadium and asked if there was any way that I could propose on the JumboTron. In 1979, the answer was a swift, Sorry. If we do it for you, we’d have to do it for everybody. Hmmm, I guess they had a change of heart. Now in-game proposals are as much a part of the festivities as “Disco Stu” and the ground crew doing their YMCA routine.

By attending so many games over the years
(plus spring training) and always being among the first eager fans to enter my stadium on game nights, I actually had a chance to meet…and yes, befriend, several of the Yankees. My wife and I were on a first name basis with Gene “The Stick” Michael, Ellie Hendricks, Cliff Johnson, Goose Gossage and became very good friends with Fred “Chicken” Stanley and Sparky Lyle.

Besides my wife and I actually attending Sparky’s wedding
(with all the other Yankees)…my best Sparky story came one night after leaving my stadium. I was with a few friends, and shunning the subway, as was my wont, walked up to the Grand Concourse to try to hail a cab to take us back to Manhattan. Suddenly from across the street, I heard someone calling to me from his car. I saw it was some mustachioed guy in an over-sized straw hat, as I got closer the Pancho Villa look-alike, was none other than the current Cy Young award-winner himself. Sparky was heading downtown for some post-game “refreshments”,..and graciously chauffeured the 4 of us. Pretty cool, huh?

There was another ballplayer story that was something other than “cool”. We had befriended a Yankee rookie named Del Alston. We spoke with him before every game, and once
(a la Lou Gehrig) he promised to hit a home run for us…and DAMN he did!! (May have been his only one of the year). Anyway, one day after speaking with him pre-game, my stadium JumboTron flashed a message that young Del had been sent down to the minors. We were broken-hearted. We had mixed emotions as we watched the Yankees winning the game. Suddenly…Del shows up in his “civvies” to sit with us. We offered whatever non-professional counseling and advice we could. After all, it was expected of us in my stadium.

There were also those times when my stadium actually welcomed me onto its field.

Being an advertising guy, I tried to incorporate baseball into as many commercials as made sense
(and some even that didn’t). So I shot a print ad for Fruit of The Loom underwear on the field and in the locker room; I was on the field with my son, as Joe Torre “pitched” for American General insurance; and I presented an over-sized check on behalf of Barilla pasta to Wade Boggs.

And then there were the games themselves. As I mentioned above, I had a knack for picking out the most dramatic games of the year. So I was there in 1976 when Chris Chambliss’s HR sent the Yanks back to the World Series for the first time in 12 years
(true story, I passed out!); I was there for Reggie’s 3 homers against the Dodgers (the first one brushed off my fingers); I was there with the whole family for David Wells’ perfect game; and for Doc Gooden’s no-hitter (my son and I were shown hugging on the JumboTron); and I was there for my favorite moment - (Aaron Boone’s defeat of the hated Bosox); and my worst - Boston’s comeback in 2003, (I still deny it ever happened).

One of the coolest game memories at my stadium was a seemingly “ordinary” game in August 1996. I was sitting in the first row in left field. Darryl Strawberry
(rescued from the Mets) was playing directly in front of me. As is my duty in my stadium, I began shouting encouragement to “the Strawman”. From the first inning on, I began…Darryl! This is your night!! Two dingers for you! I feel it! Two HR’s. I wasn’t sure if he heard me, but certainly everyone else in my section did. So sure enough, Darryl’s first time up…GONE!!! Deep to right field bleachers. The crowd in my section acknowledged me. And when Darryl returned to left field, I reminded him…Told you Darryl! You got one more coming! Next time up…BOOM!!! OUTTA HERE!!! Now I received cheers from my section almost as loud as Strawberry’s. When he trotted out to left field, he pointed right at me and smiled. Great story, huh? Not over yet. Third time up…CRACK! THIRD HR!!!. With the crowd chanting “Darryl! Darryl! Darryl!", Strawberry takes his position in leftfield…looks right at me at laughs…I respond…OK that one was yours! Crowd goes wild!

But not all of my memories from my stadium were filled with joy…

One of my best friends, Sam called me one afternoon. After many years of sadness and angst, he decided to end his marriage. He had told his wife just that very morning and now, while relieved, he was feeling very down. I told him I had the remedy…let’s get together some of the boys and head up to my stadium. I was certain the Bombers, a few sausages and a beer or four could take one’s mind off of anything. We even scored a great parking spot across from the Bronx County Courthouse just two blocks from my stadium!!

But still, at first, my theory proved wrong. Try as we might, the boys couldn’t get Sam going. But then some “gallows humor”, a couple of hot female fans in the row in front of us and a stirring Yankee comeback…had Sam back to his old self as the outrageous center of attention. As we exited my stadium and walked towards Sam’s car…we were laughing and cheering and far away from any marital discord. But then…as we walked up and down the rows of cars, we couldn’t find Sam’s. Up and down the same block, maybe 20 times. But no Sam-mobile. It was stolen. The police came. Sam filled out lengthy reports. We took the subway home. Talk about blowing a game….

Anyone who worked for me over the years knew that the results of a Yankees game would be a big part of how they would be treated the next day at work. Soon, they all became pretty big Yankee fans. Every summer, we would have a group outing to…my stadium, of course. This one night in 1995, our entire group was there. We were even welcomed on the scoreboard. Some of my guys and gals, who hadn’t ever attended a game in their lives, were now screaming their heads off like the most ardent of die-hards. And…we won.  When I arrived home, I was on a high. Good game, good group. I opened the door and my wife met me with an ashen face. She said “I tried to reach you at the stadium. Your mom had a heart attack
(as my parents were vacationing in San Francisco)” I took 5 minutes to pack. I boarded the plane in less than an hour. And endured the longest flight of my life. When I got there, the doctor told me they didn’t think she would make it through the night. She did. She survived a coma. And the “miracle woman” lived for 3 more years. But she was never the same.

I was returning from a business trip in Chicago. Somehow
(through careful planning), I was able to schedule my meetings just when the Yankees happened to be visiting the White Sox. So I spent my two nights in Chi-town at someone else’s stadium…Comiskey. The Yanks won…and the Chicago fans hated me and my cheering. Arriving back at LaGuardia the next afternoon, I was ready to be home. I jumped into a cab, welcoming the air-conditioning on a hot August day…when I heard it. The radio voiced the incomprehensible… "And repeating our top story, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson has been killed in a plane crash”. The air seeped out of the cab. The breath from my body. Impossible. The toughest of the Yankees. Our captain.  I had tickets for the game the next night. I thought to myself, there was no way I could go. In fact, this tragedy forced me to look at the “big picture” and honestly, at that moment, I couldn’t imagine going to my stadium for the rest of the year…or ever again. But the next night I was there. With tears in my eyes I stared at the area around home plate. When the Yankees took the field…the catcher’s position was left empty. 50,000 people cried together. Then the game started. Life goes on.

Obviously my stadium is part of my life. It always has been. My dad was almost as Yankee crazy as I am. At 87, the status of the Yanks is still the first topic of conversation of our phone calls. My son and daughter have inherited the beloved obsession. They each visited my stadium before their first birthdays. And still come with me today.

On Old Timers day several years ago, my son Adam was featured prominently on the JumboTron holding a sign that read
“Scooter, my Grandpa thinks you’re great”. He made his return to the big screen just last year holding signs that read “StAy-Rod” (pleading for Alex NOT to opt out) and the TBS network zoomed in on "Torre Better Stay". In fact the latter sign was used as the final video visual at the end of the game…and featured on the Yankees website.

A few years ago, when my son was searching for a topic for his college application essay…it didn’t take him long. He wrote about three generations of men- my dad, myself and my son - finding a way to bridge the ages and communicate.
He wrote a touching story about three men sharing as they sat at a ballgame in my stadium.

One final anecdote. Several years ago my friends threw me a surprise birthday party. It warmed my heart to enter the room and see all the familiar faces. Work friends, school friends, family. And as I scanned all these faces…there was one more familiar one. He held a painted sign and an old dented pan. It was Freddy
(Shulman) the omnipresent, pan-clanging denizen of my stadium. A unique “gift” from a knowing friend. My stadium is never far from me.

While there will be countless stories, tributes, paeans, homages, recollections written about the Stadium…I contend no one has my personal life-inspiring, mood-affecting, memory-filling chronicle of my stadium. I will miss my stadium terribly…and for the record, I am not happy about the new state-of-the art doppelganger stadium across the street.
Will I be there next year on opening day? For sure.
Will I touch the right field foul pole? Of course
(if I am able to reach it).
Will I still make my 30-40 games a year? Yes
(as long as I can afford the king’s ransom).

Will it become
my new stadium? Only time will tell.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Worst Storm far

It's gotta be tough when it's the beginning of something new.  You have to be careful with your superlatives.  How many times is a movie released in January touted as "the best movie of the year"?  You don't want anything happening on Tuesday to be "the best of the week".  That just sets it up for failure.  I suppose that's why Mondays get such a bad rap.  Nothing at the beginning of the week can be good.  Maybe it's to save the "best ever" label for hindsight.  It's smarter to look back and judge something when you can compare it to everything else that has happened.  I mean, remember WWI?  Me neither, but I do know that it was originally called "the war to end all wars".  By the time that ended, there were still 82 years left in the century to say nothing of how much time is left in the history of the world.  It was pretty ballsy for someone to make a statement like that so early.  I know it wasn't called "World War I" back then but people called it "The Great War" and that seemed fine.  The War To End All Wars?  I suppose it's better than, "Wow, What A Battle" or "Hoo Boy, I'd Hate For THAT To Happen Again".  

This leap to the extreme is most often seen in local weather reporting.  Seeing how weather reporting is a fairly inexact science, you'd think the reporters would be reluctant to use such strong labels.  Yet every winter, people in the northern US are sure to encounter at least one "Storm of the Century".  This is especially amusing when the storm "took an unexpected turn" and we end up with 2 inches.  Regardless, we haven't even gotten through the first decade of the 21st century and there have already been numerous events that were "of the century".  That makes me fear for the rest of the century.  

The most recent example of this is the hoopla over Hurricane Gustav.  This storm has been heading for New Orleans for about a week now and since before it hit Cuba, it was being called the storm of the century.  New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagrin, reviving an extreme superlative from back during the first Gulf War, called Gustav "the mother of all hurricanes".  I guess you can't blame him.  New Orleans really messed up after Katrina and he was probably 
being overly cautious.  Good for him.  But now that Gustav is only a category 3 storm, this seems a bit extreme.  Katrina was a category 5 just before it hit New Orleans and it could be argued that she was more of a mother than Gustav.  Don't hurricanes have enough pressure as it is? Actually, hurricanes have very low pressure and that's what makes them dangerous but don't overthink the point I'm making, whatever it is.  The most dangerous Hurricanes have their names retired into a kind of Hall of Infamy.  There will never be another Hurricane Andrew, Michelle or Hattie (and that's a shame.  Hurricane Hattie?  It'd make a great cartoon).  So be careful when jumping to the extremes when talking about hurricanes.  

Hey I just noticed something.  This was one of my longest blog posts ever.  

Saturday, August 30, 2008

If a tree falls in the forest...

I have a full beard.  Well, I had one until last Saturday.  I trimmed it back down to a goatee.  Or van dyke.  Whatever.  I keep going back and forth.  I had one in my profile photo.  Then I grew it out when I got fired.  But the point is that no one noticed.  Not my in laws who are visiting this week.  Not my parents, who I saw a few days ago. Not my kids.  Not my wife.  


And The Fat Just Get Fatter

Much has been said about the obesity epidemic in the United States. And many fingers have been pointed in many directions.  Too much TV?  Not enough activity in schools?  Kids becoming more and more sedentary?  I don't know if it can really be called an epidemic, despite the numerous stock images of fat kids we see on the news all the time.  I see just as many fat kids today as I did when I was a kid.  I recently spend a couple of days at the Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos, had a great time, and saw the standard number of boys with boobs and fat little girls with their fat parents.  Epidemic?  I don't know.

It has certainly driven some companies to jump into action.  Corporations have launched numerous programs designed to get kids more active and do some good in their communities. Kudos to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network on that front.  Other corporations have caved to public and government pressure and decided to stop marketing junk foods to kids.  Perhaps the biggest boom has been seen by the publishing industry.  A search of the term "childhood obesity" on reveals over 3300 books.  One of the most popular books is the 2007 "Dangerous Book for Boys".  This book was released to much acclaim as it sought to return boys to the active, adventurous little moppets they were before cable TV and 
handheld video games.  It was so popular that there are updated 
versions and kits for both boys and girls.  Has it worked?  Well, the book is still very popular but any gains it may have made are sure to be erased by something I saw the other day.  This book, designed to get kids out of the house and into the woods making 
their own fun is now available as a CD Audiobook.  So stay indoors, kids!  Put on your headphones and listen to people tell you about what you could be doing instead of reading about it, you fat, lazy bastards.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Don't Tease Me!

My new place has this great kitchen area which is always a great place to scavenge for food leftover from a meeting.  This morning, there was a box of Dunkin Donuts and a plate of some kind of sticky pastry available to everyone because some morning meeting was canceled.  By the time I got there, the donuts were gone so I went for the sticky pastry.


Few things are as much of a letdown as free food that isn't prepared to your liking.  You ever see a tray of sandwiches but all that's left is the veggie wrap?  Or leftover pizza but the only thing available is the thing with ham and pineapple?  Man, this day had better improve fast!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Love Stupid Signs

Spotted on a broken door at the Starbucks on 42nd Street, across from Grand Central:

I love stuff like this.

Maybe It's Not So Stupid After All

There are lots of things I used to sneer at as ridiculous.  But then I had kids and suddenly, stuff started to make more sense.  Oh I still sneer at them but they make more sense to me.  Giving kids trophies just for showing up was one of them.  It seemed silly and didn’t really teach the kid about working hard to achieve a goal.  But if you’ve ever seen the look of disappointment on the face a kid who tried his best but still failed, you realize that some lessons just don’t matter.  ADHD was another one.  Before becoming a parent, I thought ADHD was just something parents hid behind to explain away their inability to control their kids.  Then I experienced it first hand and praise the medication that’s out there.  And I’ve lost patience for any parent who says, “oh I’d never medicate my child.”  Yes you would if it would make his life easier.

The latest thing is the preschool graduation.  It’s taken me awhile to come around on this one because it just seemed silly and unnecessary.  Making parents to take time off for some totally invented occasion felt a little Hallmarkish, you know?  And Hallmark sells preschool graduation cards.  I know because we got one for my daughter.  I was right there in the middle of the throng of smiling parents and videocameras with a goofy grin on my face as my little girl walked down the aisle with her classmates, sat down and sang a song from “Seussical”.  And as I fought back the tears I felt coming on as the ceremony wrapped up, I realized that as ridiculous as the whole thing was, there was nowhere else I would rather have been.  

I Really Like Free Candy

I work with a guy who has diabetes.  He has a gumball machine in his office and he keeps it filled with jellybeans and other assorted candies, presumably in case of emergency.  He’s been on vacation for the past couple of weeks but his office has been unlocked and I’ve been going in, using a penny from the dish on his desk, and getting some candy.  Stealing candy from a diabetic.  Is that wrong?

The Branch That Broke The Camel's Back

I’m cheap.  Most people would agree with this self-evaluation despite the fact that I never seem to have any money.  The reality is that I’m cheap when it comes to things I need.  I’ll throw away smaller amounts on little things like songs on iTunes or a $10 pair of sunglasses.  But I hate spending more than $40 on sneakers or jeans.  That explains my lame, outdated wardrobe.

Being a suburban homeowner has made it hard to be so miserly.  Fellow homeowners know that anything that needs to be fixed in a house will cost some major coin.  Just this year, the dishwasher and the hot water heater died.  I’m pretty sure either the fridge or the dryer is getting ready to go.  And I don’t venture out on my deck without shoes.  It’s because of all this that I’ve held off on having my trees pruned.  I bought one of those things that have a sharp saw at the end of a 16-foot pole and I’ve balanced precariously at the top of a ladder in order to do some of my own pruning.  But every time there’s a big rainstorm or some wind, I find huge limbs all over the driveway, the front yard, the back yard.  I’ve actually been hoping to avoid paying a tree service thousands of dollars because I figured all the dead branches would just fall off by themselves.

Then this happened.  

What you’re looking at it the latest limb to fall from my trees.  I’ve seen them standing up out of the ground before.  But this one is at least 12 feet long.  It took a lot of work getting it out if the ground because it had planted itself a few inches in.  Well, if branches that big are falling from the sky, it’s time to protect my family, my car, my house and the house of my neighbor (one of the trees looks like it was going to land on it).  And now I’m $2500 poorer.  But there are still several trees remaining, which is great because I’m going to need them to hand the clothesline once the dryer dies.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

#100!! The dark side of the street

Welcome to my hundredth blog entry.  That number should be a lot higher but you just can't fight laziness, you know?

According to some actor friends of mine, a true rite of passage is appearing in an episode of "Law & Order".  It's actually not that hard to do.  The franchise has been on the air since 1990 and they all shoot in New York, so appearing in some form or another on one of these shows is just something everyone around here gets to do.  And, much like the excitement a Jersey resident got when he'd see a familiar location on "The Sopranos", it's kind of fun seeing someone you know eating a slice of pizza in the background on L&O.

What was disturbing was seeing familiar faces from my childhood.  After the familiar DUM DUM sound effect, a man and his son are seen walking through the woods in Central Park.  The son is giving his dad a hard time as the father picks up trash and comes upon a dead body.  But the dad is none other than Roscoe Orman—Gordon on Sesame Street.  He's been Gordon since 1973.  Now he's picking up trash and getting sh*t from his son on L&O?  Are things that bad on the Street?

There was another episode where a young boy was accused of murder.  They found him living 
with his grandfather, played by Emilio Delgado!  Luis has been working in the Fix It Shop since 1971!  Now he's harboring murderers?  My childhood memories are crumbling.  All I need now is to see Bob holding hostages on an episode of "Dexter".

Gina the vet (Alison Bartlett) has been on as well but she's after my time.  And I think she played a judge.  Not the same thing.  

Monday, April 07, 2008

Where have you been all my life?

I have found traveling nirvana and it's located in Newburgh. No more will I deal with the chaos of LaGuardia, the parking expense of Newark or the Third-World experience of Kennedy. Back in the day, I flew in and out of Islip. Small, manageable, close to home. I even made an ass out of myself in front of a woman who I thought was deaf but wasn't. But the last 20 years or so have been filled with one bad experience after another at a major metropolitan airport. Until this time.

The parking wasn't perfect but it was fine nevertheless. It will cost $40 for the week, as opposed to $30 a day at Newark. It took less than an hour to get there. The people were both friendly and helpful, almost to the point of being too helpful. There were no loud annoucements. No crowds of harried flyers banging into each other. No rude car service drivers hogging up all the luggage carts.

The airline staff (go AirTran!!!!) was also friendly. They didn't look at the passengers like we were in their way. It was affordable. We got XM radio. And we didn't feel like we were "getting what we paid for". This is definitely an experience I'll try to repeat.

Of course, I haven't flown back yet. I probably jinxed myself. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 04, 2008

I gotta pay attention

Know what look alike?  A bottle of Shout Advanced Action gel and a bottle of Pledge Multi Surface Clean & Dust.  I was treating a mystery stain on my kid's white shirt and noticed a bottle of the aforementioned Shout in the closet behind me.  So I located the stain, then turned around to reach for the bottle and sprayed away.  It was pretty liquidy and I was expecting something thicker.  Well, I at least know that the shirt will be streak-free.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The times, they are a changin'

I had  Pop•Tarts® this morning.  It's been years since I had one.  You'd think having kids would force to to fill my cupboards with boxes of the flaky pastries but no.  My son is a cereal and frozen pancake freak.  My daughter likes that as well, but she eats her cereal without milk.  Odd.

Anyway, I went shopping the other day and I had a coupon so I figured I'd get some.  Now when I was a kid, the flavor choices were limited.  Strawberry.  Brown sugar & cinnamon (those two are always linked, aren't they?).  Oh, and there was probably a Dutch Apple.  And you could get any of these in frosted or unfrosted.  The strawberry variety had frosting with little colored sugar sprinkles.  And that was my favorite.  The unfrosted ones were just too dry and I wasn't going near the other flavors.  And it had to be toasted.

Many years have passed and I find that the Pop Tarts family has expanded.  My beloved strawberry is still there and it's now available in Multi Grain to make the whiny parents coalitions happy.  I bought that for myself.  The frosting was reduced to some white swirls, ostensibly to cut back on the calorie content, but they were still good.  So what would my kids want?  I see they've added chocolate to the menu.  But they've also added Pop Tarts Splitz (anyone working in kid marketing for as long as I did knows that changing the "s" to a "z" gives you instant street cred).  These are toaster treats with two flavors side by side.  I got the chocolate/strawberry and the chocolate/vanilla (they were 3 for $5).

So what's my point with all this?  I wonder what was going on in the 70s when I was roaming the cereal aisles of Long Island.  Allow me to lapse into my grumpy old man voice: we didn't have Splitz when I was a boy.  We had one flavor!  And sometimes we toasted them and you'd bite into it and the filling would burn your lips and you'd cry "boo hoo, the delicious strawberry filling is burning my lips" but we liked it that way!

Two flavors in one Pop Tart?   I guess what I'm trying to determine is whether or not we were stupid in the 70s.  Clothing and music notwithstanding, no one ever thought to combine the flavors.  It's not a particularly genius idea.  Was the technology not available back then?  Or were we, as human beings, not evolved to the point of this discovery?  Perhaps our minds weren't capable of conceiving things of this magnitude.  I mean after all,  no one in my generation ever had any drink that was blue and look at the shelves now!

The future looks bright.  Or at least tasty.


For parents with small children, here's a helpful hint: if you're wearing your sunglasses with one of the arms tucked inside your collar, don't let your kid climb up the front of your body.  Her foot WILL hit the glasses.  And it WILL hurt.  And you won't be able to yell out because you'll be dropping off your kid at preschool.  At least I will...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Change In Plans

I had planned on documenting my recent attempt to deal with ADHD.  The first day was fine but I couldn't tell if anything was any different.  I did blog more often than I had all year but was that the Ritalin?  Well for now, we won't know.  I was laid off today.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, it's kind of like someone punching you in the stomach.  But unlike really getting punched in the stomach, you never really get your breath back.  In 5 hours, I had to pack up everything and say goodbye to 17 years of service.  And while I'm sure everyone who told me it's for the better is right, for now I feel completely stunned and more than a little scared.  So screw the ADHD.  I have bigger problems right now.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Cube World

After around 15 years of having and office of one size or another, I was downgraded to a cubicle.  This happened to the whole department, not just me.   People who already work in cubicles will have very little sympathy for me but these aren't the cooler, more modern cubicles with high walls and a doorway.  I sit in a section of 8 cubes, each one with walls no higher than 4 feet.  In a sitting position, I can still see everyone around me.  The lack of privacy is hard to get used to but I cope.  Most of the people around me work in pharma so I get to overhear conversations that include terms like "unscheduled bleeding".  

The guy behind me has a tickle in his throat.  He's had it for some time.  But unlike the tickle where you can clear your throat and be done with it, this guy's tickle requires futile throat noises that border on animal-like.  It's a constant thing and really quite annoying.  It got even more annoying when I overheard him telling the woman next to him that he wasn't too keen on taking medication for it.  Thanks, buddy!

The Grand Experiment

The thing about working on pharmaceutical advertising is the false feeling that you have whatever you're selling.  At any given time, I believed I had diabetes, erectile dysfunction and an enlarged prostate.  But then I started working on ADHD.  Everyone at some time or another thinks they have it and they use it as an excuse for almost everything.  The symptoms are common enough: distraction, disorganization, struggling to focus.  Who amongst us hasn't had that?  But having it for years and years...that's the clincher.  And there are a number of self tests you can take to make sure.  I did and according to my doctor, I definitely had it based on one test and was borderline based on another.  I doubt anyone who knows me is surprised by this.  My mom, who helped me answer questions about my childhood, was completely expecting the positive diagnosis.

So should I get treated?  I was thinking about Strattera, which is a more gradual approach to getting relief.  Who needs something as drastic as a stimulant? But my doctor wanted to try something that wouldn't take too long to get out of my system in case there were and problems.  So he recommended Ritalin to start.

Will this help me?  Will I finally stop putting off all those things I've always wanted to do, like write more often or be able to sit through a meeting without needing to get up and walk around?  Will I stop staring out the window all the time?  And what about my untapped potential?  Is it possible that I could be much better than I've ever been once I'm more focused?  That would be exciting.

So I'm starting today, March 10th.  Stay tuned.  Let's see what happens.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Let's Look In On The Resolutions!

It's a tradition for millions of people every January: the New Year's Resolutions.  We all pick one or more things we're going to really work at in order to make our personal lives a little better.  This leads to another tradition for millions of people: the breaking of the New Year's Resolutions.  So on this first day of Daylight Savings Time, I decided to see where I stand with my list.

I joined the majority and resolved to lose weight.  I'd had a few false starts on Weight Watchers after one very successful run where I lost 40 pounds.  But I got cocky and haven't been able to stick with it.  But this time, it would be different.  No it won't.  I've been getting larger by the minute and am starting to have a hard time fitting into my jeans.

I was going to improve my job situation.  As of today, I've done very little to that end.

Writing.  I was going to blog more often.  So far, I'm averaging one blog entry per month.  I was also going to finally get started on that screenplay or sitcom or short film.  Aside from a couple of good ideas I have, there has been no progress in that direction.  I do carry my laptop around in case I get inspired.  Sometimes I even carry around a small notebook that a very cool creative director bought for me.  That book has one page written on.

I was going to communicate more and stop making people guess how I'm feeling.  Maybe stop being so stubborn and argumentative with certain people.  If those people read this blog, they could attest to the fact that this hasn't happened.

I didn't resolve to find out why I can seem to stick to anything.  But I have done something towards that end.  I've decided to start taking Ritalin.  Time will tell if that's going to be helpful.

Aside from all that, the first quarter of 2008 will draw to a close with one thing for sure: I suck.

Friday, February 08, 2008

What Does It Mean To You?

I was doing homework with my son the other day. One of his math questions had something to do with a bunch of colored marbles in a bag. There were, like, 15 green ones, 10 red ones, 8, yellow ones and 3 black ones. Or something like that. The question asked which was the rarest marble. and my son said the green ones. Okay. So I asked him what "rare" meant. He said it was something that was really great. I have no idea where he got that from so I did the parent thing and made him look it up in his dictionary. He has "Webster's Dictionary for Students". According to the cover, it was developed especially for students.

He looks up the word and reads, "not thick or compact". Huh? So I tell him there has to be another definition. There was. He reads, "cooked so that the inside is still red". Wait a minute. None of these definitions have anything to do with his homework or the definition I think most people would come up with when pressed for an answer. I snatched the book from his hands and pored over the definitions. Not until you come to "rarely" do you get "not often". A closer look finds "very uncommon" as the third definition of "rare" after "not thick or compact" and "very fine".

I don't know what my point was in writing this. And that's pretty rare.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Last week, I was walking up 2nd Avenue with a couple of work friends when I ran into a former colleague. We shoot hands briefly as he continued to walk in the opposite direction. It was one of those quick moments that doesn't hit you until after it happens.

I saw the same guy this evening right outside my office building. He was walking down 3rd Avenue. He pointed at me and smiled and we had a quick and amazingly awkward conversation.

This is a guy with whom I had worked for many years. So why the tension? Truth be told, I had no idea what to say. I mean, what do you say to a guy who was just released from prison?

Yes, prison.

I thought I'd go through my entire life without knowing someone who had been to the slammer. The details of the crime are unimportant for the purpose of this blog. But as a writer, I'm rarely at a loss for words. Unfortunately, I tend to say many inappropriate things much to the amusement of my friends. So what do you sat to someone who has just gotten out of prison?

He told me I look great. I said so do you. It's true. He looks good...for a guy who has recently been in prison. See, I couldn't get that out of my head. It's like that phrase hung at the end of any thought I had.

So, how are you doing? I mean, now that you're out of prison.
Where are you working now? I mean, is anyone going to hire you since you were just in prison?

It's really great to see you. When did you get out?
Wanna go get a cup of prison? I mean, coffee?

The truth is, while it was great to see him, I want to know what it was like being in prison. But the corner of 3rd and 49th didn't seem like the place. I was on my way home, so it wasn;t the time either.

What would you say to someone you hadn't seen in 5 years because he was in prison?