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Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year... BUT WAIT A MINUTE!

Yogi Berra said many funny things and most conveyed common sense logic, Yogi style. My favorite:  "It ain't over 'til it's over."

While this is the perfect time for new resolutions and a clean slate, let's recognize that the new year is just a fresh start that will be largely forgotten when Dec. 31st rolls around 12 months from now. What really carries meaning in life is not how we start but how we end, do-overs and all.

Sports Illustrated columnist Steve Rushin said something very poignant in his end-of-year piece:

Soccer surely has the best ending, because the end isn't really the end at all, thanks to the stoppage time added on after 90 minutes of regulation. And who wouldn't want that at the end of life, a fourth official at your bedside, holding an electronic signboard with a lit 7, indicating seven years tacked-on to compensate for all the time wasting you did in the previous 90?

It is perhaps for the better that most of us don't receive a two-minute warning, don't really see the end coming, even though we know it's looming, a gateway to the great unknown. So we just let it arrive, both expected and yet catching us unaware, like the end of another column, at the end of another magazine, at the end of another year, beyond which lies a mystery.

I really like that.

So, let's celebrate the heck out of life... our blessing. Let's toast the future and do more this new year that is memorable... like a resolution kept, a kindness shown, a friend made, laughter shared, a burden lightened. The past is done. We've already lived that and we have those memories. But it is the future... the coming year after year where we will spend all the rest of our time. It is waiting to be lived. Let's do it better than ever! We deserve no less.

So in celebration of the past that is already fixed in our history, we sing Auld Lang Syne* written in 1788 by Scottish Poet Robert Burns:

Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind
Should all acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne

And surely you will buy your cup
And surely I'll buy mine
And we'll take a cup o'kindness yet
For auld lang syne

We too have run around the slopes
And picked the daisies fine
We've londoned many weary foot
Since auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne

We too have paddled in the stream
From morning sun to night
But the seas between us broad have roared
From auld lang syne

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne
We'll take a cup o'kindness yet
For auld langs syne

*auld lang syne loosely translated means 'for the sake of old times.'

May you all enjoy a blessed New Year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

First, out with the old:

Christmas Twister stars
Worse Christmas movie EVER: Christmas Twister, the story of a rogue tornado in the Ft. Worth area... a (believe it or not) category 6 with sustained winds above 240 mph. Yes, it's a bad one and only one government meteorologist, his assistant and a naive female intern know that conditions are perfect for the most devastating storm EVER!

Trouble is, his wife (who he loves dearly but they are having problems) works at the local TV station with a very vain weatherman who says that twister info is hogwash since it doesn't show on his outdated weather screen. Even the meteorologist's wife doesn't believe him since he tried the same thing in Chicago and was wrong... and disgraced!

So as these smaller tornadoes keep cropping up out of a clear blue sky, surprising everyone, nobody pays much attention. There are no police or ambulance sirens, not much of anything except cars blown over, trees snapped, homes ripped to shreds, people thrown about... but all OK, thank God!

Hero's daughter skips school and goes to the mall. Kid brother covers for her. Guess where the killer twister will hit?

Rush to the climax, TV weatherman decides to cover this silly little storm and as he is on-camera making fun to his viewers, in the background, the most powerful twister EVER heads right toward him. The camera man, spotting it, tries to run but, alas, a railroad car carried airborne by the twister cuts them both down. I hope that TV weatherman has learned his lesson.

The mall, and its 15 or so people (producer probably couldn't afford many extras), screaming and running around waving their hands in the air, rush, single file, into a mall shelter, led by the meteorologist's brave school-skipping daughter. What acting!

In the end, the meteorologist is a hero, school skipping girl is a hero as she pulls a trapped victim--just in time-- from underneath a sign held up by a fraying rope that is breaking, one strand at a time. Phew! Meteorologist's young son is a hero as he helps someone out of the mall,  announcer wife is a hero as she saves another life, meteorologist himself is a double hero for calming a screaming, panic-stricken young woman... and the mall is a total wreck... sort of. Well, merchandise IS scattered on the floor inside, but otherwise, no broken glass or major damage... just stuff all over the mall floor. A category 6 can't harm a mall at Christmas time. It would be unethical.

There is one EMT in the film... he appears three or four times in different scenes and different uniforms, bandaging and saving lives. What a guy.

Finally, all the mall shoppers, dazed and walking funny, emerge into the sunlight, single file, spaced about 6 feet apart. Three or four actually slump on the curb and against the building. All clothes are torn and everyone has smudges on their faces and cuts and broken arms and stuff.

The reason it is called Christmas Twister is because we see some Christmas lawn ornaments in two of the scenes. Warning: Watch out for Easter Twister, Fourth of July Twister, Arbor Day Twister, etc.

The Academy Awards people are fickle... often passing over an obvious contender, so don't be surprised. But my recommendation: See it! It's the funniest movie not starring Will Ferrel now playing. Download it at Tango if you dare!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Yes Virginia, there are many Santas

Note: this photo purposely blurred to protect the real Santa (14th from right, middle row).

Do This
Christmas traditions representing the joy of the season often touch our hearts. In the spirit of Santa Claus, enjoy this editorial, first published in The New York Sun in 1897. It was written by Francis P. Church in response to a letter sent to his newspaper by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon.

Not This

As I learned years and years ago, when you repeat Santa Claus six times real fast, it takes you back to the originator of this kind figurehead and the spirit of the season. May yours be filled with peace, love and kindness... and cause us all to remember the true reason for this blessed holiday.

Dear editor:

 I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

 Virginia O’Hanlon

 Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

 Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

 Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

 You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

 No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas all! May your new year be blessed.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Anything you can do, I can do better." Robot Robert (a.k.a. #x35n589340)

"No you can't"

"Yes I can!"

"NO! You can't!"


So it's come down to this, huh? In today's world, you either learn to love robots or... zap! You... or your job... is eliminated.

But. if you can't beat 'em, you could join 'em... IF you have an extra $400,000. Then you could buy a robot that scoops poop (true)... but that's not all it does. It also makes breakfast and cookies... presumably after it has washed those tiny robot hands... I hope!

Then there is something quite different... the Robotic butt (also true), no relation to Robot Poop Scooper though they must have a lot in common. Medical schools have different ways of teaching vital medical techniques such as administering a prostate exam. So instead of doing something disgustedly uncomfortable to volunteers, schools have a butt for that... or, a robutt (my most clever word). It is a realistic looking/feeling male mid-section torso bending over an examining table... and on the TV screen the doctor-to-be faces, a real image of the rest of a man so the student gets the full picture (oh joy!)... and a most realistic feeling for the task. The robutt does give feedback according to the sensors inside it. I wonder if one of the reports is "OW!" (Picture available butt... not for here. It's pretty realistic though.)

Then there is the Rubic's cube robot solver... in seconds... every time.

And the robot dart thrower that always wins the beer... and subsequently rusts to death.

There is also a robot stand-up comedian. Honest. "Did you know atoms have mass? I didn't even know they were Catholic."  Not bad... for a robot. And they say Andy Kaufman is dead.

My favorite though is the robot that plays rock-paper-scissors. It wins 100 percent of the time... and here's its secret: It cheats. It processes your throw in 1/000 or a second and counters it perfectly... every time.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot this one... you switch this robot on... it opens, a mechanical finger comes out... and it turns itself off. 
Now that's efficient function. Nice.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mirror, mirror on the wall...

EVERYONE has someone on this earth who looks exactly like them. It's nature's law of doubles.

So I was walking into my favorite coffee spot the other morning when a woman in a passing car stopped, rolled down her window and asked, "Are you Art?  You look just like him."

No, I said. "No, I'm not Art... but he must be a ruggedly handsome son-of-a-gun."

"Oh, he IS, she assured me."

So next morning, I'm already in my coffee shop enjoying my first and in walks this guy. Two people wave and one of them says "Hi Art."

Now I ask you, do we look exactly alike?


 I dunno, I just don't see it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A True (made up) Superheroine Story

Author's note (me): This is my submission to NYCMidnight that sponsors a number of writing contests annually. The assigned genre for the 30 in my group was comedy. The scenario had to be The Boardwalk and the object that had to be included was anchor...1000 words max. Comedy, I found, is a bear. It's like "OK now, be really funny." So I tried. What do you think?

The Bruise Heard 'round the World

Help! HELP!

She heard the cry. Somewhere in this city by the sea, someone was in trouble… and it sounded serious.

Atlantis City had seen its share of lawless days when gangs of hoodlums prowled the streets making life terrible for the average, law-abiding citizen. But when gambling came to town to dominate its famed Boardwalk, people came. It was thought--and promoted in every ad and commercial--that big money alone would make the place safe even for families. 

Not so.

The bad guys just saw this happy occurrence as the opening of a mile-long smorgasbord that served money, jewelry and vice every night with roast beef on weekends. Even the millions of dollars the casinos spent to protect their investments didn’t help. Crime had already made this city the vacation destination of pickpockets, con men and ‘muscle’ around the world.

If money talks, then Atlantis City was singing an opera called “Mama Mia, that’s one spicy meatball.” And all the meatballs--er, pigeons, were served nightly with neon spaghetti. But still they came. Everybody wants to get rich quick… and “What shakes in Atlantas City, awakes in Atlantas City.” Capiche?

As Yogi Berra said, “Nobody goes there anymore because it is too crowded.”

But that infamy is now all in the past… ever since Wonderful Woman came to town about three years ago. It was amazing really. One night, as a young family was being robbed at gunpoint, an occurrence that happened all to often on the Boardwalk, out of the sky came an incredible streak of light and a flash or brilliance that the city—no, the whole world—would soon know as WONDERFUL WOMAN!

She was striking in her patriotic red, white and blue skin-tight spandex costume with a big anchor symbol on its front—“To sink crime for good,” she later explained. Her flowing dark hair and tall black boots would make any average citizen and tourist take proud note… and every lawbreaker tremble in fear.

It was her second appearance to stop the beating of a ‘high-roller’ walking from one casino to another that brought her to national prominence.  “Oh my God, they’re killing me! HELP…PLEASE HELP!” Again, it was Wonderful Woman to the rescue… out of the sky to play Whack-A-Mole without having to put in a quarter.

Another time, as a con man’s shill was showing a dozen curious tourists how easy it was to find the red card on the Three-Card-Monte makeshift table, Wonderful Woman came out of the crowd to bet a pair of handcuffs. She won.  

It certainly didn’t take her long to put a serious dent in Atlantis City’s evil side. Nor did it take long for the media scramble to descend. Every newsperson wants to pluck an exclusive… and Wonderful Woman was a plum worth picking.

“Wonderful Woman… Wonderful Woman… “they shout as microphones were thrust in her beautiful face… “Who are you? Where did you come from? Why are you here? How do you fly? Are you from another planet? Are you a spy from Russia or China? Does your mom know where you are? Where did you get your boots (which drew the Women’s Wear Daily reporter boos from her colleagues), Will you marry me? Etc.”

Wonderful Woman was all “No comment, no comment, no comment,” but with a wink and a smile that melted every Clark Kent heart and frosted every Lois Lane who sought the truth… and only the truth.

Then, she raised her arm to the crowd and as they hushed, she cupped her hand behind her ear to hear a faint cry for help.

With a “Sorry folks, I gotta go,” she took to the sky and was out of sight before anyone had a chance to say “Just one more question.” It was the microphone-boy for one of the big “NETS” that summed up all of their frustrations when he sighed loudly and said “Shucks. Darn it all.”

But the photogs had their front-page pictures, thanks to their new high-speed cameras. And tomorrow, all the world will know what we know… which is not much really. But, thank goodness that doesn’t stop today’s media. Who needs all the facts when you have juicy?

Diligently on the job again and again, Wonderful Woman later zeros in on a very worried old lady yelling for help. She must be found and removed from whatever danger faces her. As Wonderful Woman peers down from the sky between the tall buildings, she can feel the dramatic tension and then sees her damsel in distress.

“Wonderful Woman! Thank goodness you are here. My cat is stuck in that tree and only you, Wonderful Woman, can rescue her.”

Wonderful Woman looks at the frightened helpless feline high in the tree and unashamedly wipes a tear from her eye… “Oh! A kitty! Poor, poor kitty. Be calm, I’ll rescue you, sweet thing.

“Her name is Princess.”

“Of course. Oh Princess. Hold on sweet darling, Wonderful Woman is coming.

She leaps into the air and… WHAM! She suddenly flies into the side of a building…

“Oh no,” Margaret said as she woke with a start to find herself on the floor, jostled immediately awake. Her side and arm hurt from the fall. It is only then that she realized she was having her Wonderful Woman dream … again, when she rolled off her bed and against the wall. She shook her head as she recalled her dream… and she smiled, grateful that this time, the only damage was an enormous bruise ‘from here to Hong Kong.’

“Tomorrow night,” Margaret said to herself… “Tomorrow night Wonderful Woman will rescue that kitty.”

Friday, October 25, 2013


I thought I lost my left hand ring fingertip a few days ago. No exaggeration.

You remember the guy who got his arm stuck in a rock crevasse almost 10 years ago? His name is Aron Ralston. He was 27 at the time and while exploring a rock canyon on his own, an 800-pound stone fell, trapping his hand in an inescapable position. After five days alone and dying, he realized he had to cut off his arm to survive. So he did.

I had major empathy for him... as did most everyone else. It was hard to imagine what that must have been like because almost none of us have ever been in a situation like that before... at least, not been in an impossible situation and lived to tell about it.

Well, I kind of was. Oh, I didn't languish. I didn't have to drink my own urine to survive like he did. My wife was there and she could have brought me ice tea while I awaited almost sure death.

But the fact is, I was totally trapped and couldn't free myself. That was a very odd feeling... something totally unexpected that happened in a fraction of a second. Oh sure, you may say... a fingertip? HEY! I really did think I would loose my fingertip.

I was retracting the awning of our small RV into its traveling position when one of the side rails didn't fit correctly into its housing. So I placed my left hand behind it to force the inner piece in place. I was so successful that the tip of my finger became wedged between the two pieces which had now snapped into its full retracted position... with me trapped. My hand was stuck on one side of the rails, pinned against the RV's side... and my finger was solidly caught on the other--with the tip curled back like a hook--stuck tight. The awning was now locked in a non-retractable, closed position holding my fingertip as hostage with me out of reach of any object that might be of help.The strap which could help open it had rolled up into the folds of the awning, out of reach.

After just a few painful moments, I quickly realized that I was in that impossible situation and had no way to get loose... at least none that I had examined as my life passed before me in those fleeting moments. I really was stuck... and in pretty good pain.

Then I quickly and calmly thought, "Hey, I can holler for my wife to help. So I did. And we both had to puzzle through a solution. It took about 10 minutes to evaluate how to get my finger out at any cost. She quickly found a rod and managed to pry the two pieces apart... just enough for my finger to come loose.

My poor finger was flat... really flat at the tip and numb, with my fingernail a Halloween greyish-purpl, sporting a large blood blister underneath. It took about an hour for me to realize that the finger was regaining its form and I had a good chance at a full, non-amputated recovery over time. Three days later, at the time of the photo, it is still one painful puppy but, like Aron Ralston, I can now appear on all the talk shows and write a book (like Between a Rock and a Hard Place )  if anyone would ask. I think I'll title it Don't touch me there... ever, or I'll kill you.

"Honey, I will have that ice tea now."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bring back old fashioned diners!

In your dreams
If you want fun... if you want decor... if you want grease... if you want food that is sinfully tasty, find a good, old fashioned diner like we did just a few days ago.

My wife and I were in Natural Tunnel State Park Virginia (Virginia State Parks are rated tops in the nation) and found the Red Stone Drive In just outside the entrance to the park. It had a counter with stools and six tables. Breakfast is available all day... as is lunch and dinner.

Curb-side service, short orders, banana splits
We just couldn't pass it up. And we were not disappointed. When a first timer (like us) ordered the shrimp, he was advised to "Be careful... it is very hot and you could burn your lips [pointing] like that guy over there."

The guy 'over there,' a regular, responded, "That's why they call me hot lips." Everyone in the place (all eight of us) laughed and that was just the warm-up.

That's another thing about diners... the waitresses (always female) seem to be natural comediennes and know instinctively how to 'work their audience.'

"What do you have for dessert?"

"I don't think we have any dessert." Minutes later... "Well, we have ice cream." Minutes later... "We have pie too... lots of pie. What do you want?"

"I pass."

"That will cost you a bigger tip."

They have the "Love Meter."

'Love Meter" answers: "2 hot 2 handle," "Lover boy,"
"No pep," "Sex Machine," "Huggable" and "Frigidaire."

My score: I think that because of all the kids reading, I will keep this private, but is "wow!" a good clue? "Betty's never
 wrong," the waitress says, and you don't argue with the waitress.

Fun signs fill the walls:
"In case of emergency, pay your bill and RUN!"

"Drink coffee and do stupid things faster and with more energy."

"If our food isn't up to your standards, please change your standards."

"Either you love bacon or you are wrong!"

There were a few more, but some were a little too filled with double entendres.

And the food is... greasy of course but hey, the napkins are very absorbent...  and our food was really, really tasty. Be careful though, because the shrimp is very hot and you could burn your lips.

Our cost: The very hot shrimp plate with LOTS of perfectly done deep fried shrimp, vegetable soup, a hamburger on toasted bun, French fries a little soggy, endless good coffee and a great hush puppy sampler. $10.85, tax included, water free. And while that price may not be found everywhere, you have to understand, they don't take credit cards. A twenty covered it nicely. Call it entertainment tax.

...Or, you could go to McDonald's.

As we left, the staff lined up at the door to say goodbye

Thursday, October 10, 2013

If the world isn't going to the dogs, it should.


This is Abby, our six-year-old yellow Lab. She makes people happy.


This is Tess, our seven-year-old golden. She also makes people happy.

They are both HOPE dogs and they do marvelous things. My wife Kathy and I belong to a volunteer organization known as HOPE AACR (Animal Assisted Crisis Response) which does just that.  The animals are our pets and this is our avocation.

Early on, HOPE was at 9-11 when a handful of dogs and handlers brought comfort and some sense of emotional relief to those first responders and families of the many who lost loved ones there. HOPE dogs have been at Virgina Tech, Hurricane Katrina,  TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors... of the military fallen), wildfires, train disasters, shelters of hurricane, tornado and flood victims around the country and so many more places where people have serious need for comfort. We work with The Red Cross and other organizations as part of a large network of assistance where there is need. There are about 160 HOPE person/dog teams in 24 states and that number is growing.

And for anyone who has not experienced what comfort dogs can bring, the enormous response and gravitation to the dogs in traumatic situations is unbelievable. I'm convinced God put these animals here for this greater purpose.

A few weeks back, we and Tess were among those HOPE dog teams that were requested by the Navy to help bring needed comfort to all at the Washington Navy Yard. The shootings there on Sept. 16th took 12 lives (plus the shooter) and brought trauma, fear and heartbreak to all the military, staff and contractors on the base. It was enormous to those who were in building 197, the site of the tragedy. We worked under the Navy team of experts and psychologists responsible for the personnel recovery program.

We were there with our dogs for three days. There were five and six dog/handler teams per day at the Navy Yard over a two week period right after the shootings. We are second responders. The need was great and the response to the dogs had to be see to be believed. As the teams visited building after building, some off-site as well, we were often met by welcoming committees who cheered. We visited desk to desk in most cases, and if it was a secured building, we had an escort... but we tried to miss no one. One woman, seeing us from a third floor widow, rushed down to ask us to please come to her building.

We worked the Yard and were present where those directly affected by the shootings returned for the first time to claim their belonging as they were brought from the crime scene. It was most emotional. We were stopped by everyone from Navy Brass to the security teams, contractors, staff and anyone on the base. We heard stories and shared tears. What we heard most is, "Thank you for your service." Unbelievable that this should come to us when it is so much the other way around.

One could never imagine the scenario unless it happened to them. It was so moving... and also stressful for us and our animals too. It brought the enormity of what happened more clearly into our focus... something that just doesn't come across any other way.

All of the HOPE dogs and owner/handlers go through a training and education process to reach this level. Our animals are certified working dogs who do their magic as second nature to what dogs do. And the dogs know their job well.

When one of the Navy officers asked us what our dogs do, the answer was, "They make you smile," if only to put you in another place and give respite and calm, even for an instant.  Check it out. Dogs make a difference in lives in so many ways.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

There is no God save one, and Darwin is his name. The natural order of things takes care of each one of us until death… and that’s all there is, unless…

This is a short story I wrote for an on line writing competition. My assigned genre was Ghost Story and the primary scenario was to be a hotel room. The assigned object that had to be in the story was a tricycle. I found this a difficult task--to make it not sound like The Shining or any other like it... and the story came out ok... just ok. But here it is for you to judge. Thanks.


Ring-ring-ring. That damn ringing in my head is driving me crazy.

I live. I die. That’s all. And I can prove it.

Darwin—now there’s my god. He was first to show how evolution brought us all to today. To see otherwise is to believe in Penn & Teller, Houdini and David Copperfield. Now where did that skyscraper go? It’s a trick… and that, you can believe.

It makes life so simple. I live in this grand hotel that provides me with all I could want… a clean suite--just like magic, food and services whenever and whatever I desire, magnificent landscaping and artwork, location, location, location--and respect, especially if you tip as I do.

My belief is to lead a good and moral life because I have the means to do so—self-made, I tell you. And yes, I have loved and I have lost. I have lived a full life and when I am finally at peace of mind, I will have won.

Death is nature’s way of telling me to take it easy. Life is hard. When the body begins to show wear, when life becomes more difficult than pleasurable, when you reach your tipping point and when peace of mind eludes you, it’s time to go. Maybe that’s why naps are so welcome… they are very good practice.

I love naps because they are my respite from the pressures of the day and the weariness of the heart. The older one gets, the more weariness there seems to be. Naps are my escape from the dregs on my mind… especially that damn ring-ring-ringing in the background of my head most waking hours, most of my life. And the days get lonelier and harder to bear.

The best doctors tell me the ring-ring-ringing is tinnitus, but it is not. And that definitive conclusion has cost me thousands. Next best guess—I’m going crazy. But that’s not it either, though some will beg to differ. And let me tell you, psychiatrists cost more than audiologists. It all wears a body down so.

I take several naps a day, some days—especially when the ring-ring-ringing tells me to, like now! Mercifully, I usually wake with a clear head, until the day’s momentum catches up.

Good grief! I’ve overslept. I was supposed to be at the Waldorf to receive the Goodman Humanitarian of the Year award and that was an hour ago. I’ve never overslept before, or missed anything important, for that matter.

How come I didn’t get a phone call? How come it’s still light outside? Is my clock wrong? I’ve got to splash some water on my face to…

Ouch! Damn. What the hell? A tricycle. What is this doing in my apartment and how did it get here?

Now the concierge won’t answer. Someone is supposed to be on duty 24/7. ANSWER THE DAMN PHONE!

Look at this little trike… pink with a white seat, streamers sprouting from the rubber grips and a bell on the handlebar. I just can’t figure this out. I’ll bet Helen was on duty and she brought it up… but why?

That’s odd. The emergency light is blinking. What’s going on?

“Hold it. HOLD IT! What are you doing? What are all of you doing rushing into my apartment? What’s happening? ANSWER ME! Why is the Emergency Squad here? There is no emergency and you don’t need a gurney.

Oh my God! That’s me on the couch. I’m still sleeping. No, NO, THAT CAN’T BE. I’M HERE.

“Helen? HELEN! WHAT’S GOING ON? HELEN!” She can’t hear me.

There are three of them frantically working to revive me and Helen, wringing her hands, is looking on anxiously, with tears in her eyes. I try to shake them but they don’t feel my touch. I’M DEAD! I’m dead.

I shouldn’t be here then. What’s the deal? I… wait a minute. WAIT A MINUTE!

The bell on the bike…[ring-ring-ring!]  It’s my bell. IT’S MY BELL… all my life it has been with me… it’s my bell.

“That’s my bike Daddy… you bought it for me a long time ago. Remember? I ring my bell every time I  think of you. Mommy and I have been waiting a long time. Oh daddy, I have missed you so.”

Jenny… my little Jenny… AND MOLLY… oh my god! OH MY GOD! (I know now you can cry tears of joy when you are dead.)

“Hello my darling,” she beckons with an angelic smile and radiating warmth.  “Welcome home.”

But… but 63 years ago you and Jenny were killed by that drunk driver… my life ended. There was nothing else to live for. I had lost everything that ever mattered when you were taken from me. God I knew, was a myth. THERE IS NO GOD!

“Come, see for yourself, silly man. We are together again, forever, my love. Forever.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

So tell me I'm nuts, but...

Stan Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy

... don't you think that Pope Francis and Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy are the same person? (Hey, it's a miracle! And a pope only needs three--not counting card tricks--to be considered for sainthood.)

Pope Francis (aka Stan Laurel, I think)
It's no wonder that the world loves Pope Francis.

After he was selected as the next pope, his first order of business was to personally pay his hotel bill and move into a more modest Vatican guest house instead of the opulent and sprawling papal apartment.

He said helping the poor will be a central focus of his priesthood... and he asked priests and nuns not to drive flashy cars. He drives a Ford Focus (though not the one with the Domino's Pizza delivery sign on top).

He also said, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"

The Catholic Church, he says, has been too focused on abortion, gay marriage and contraception and seeks to find a "new balance" to deliver the message.

This pope has even made phone calls to common people, of all things. "Hi Bill, this is Pope Francis but you can call me Frank. How's it goin'?" (I totally made that up, but he did make a call or two... unheard of in the strict order of the office.)

Of course, six months does not make a Popedom, but people like this guy.

All of which begs the question: Is the Pope Catholic?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Note: This essay was written for an Olive Garden 50-250 word contest to the theme: How would you help to fight hunger in your community for anyone in grades 1-12 with winners for each grade level. I really believe should be the third grade winner for three very obvious reasons: 1) It is well written and to the point; 2) The bright young writer makes her Papa very happy and proud--and I know that first hand; 3) Today is her first double-digit birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY RIO! 

by Rio, 3rd grade

In 2012, I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cars passed our house regularly and the only animals around were squirrels. Eating dinner one night, my six-year-old brother asked innocently, “Wouldn’t it be gross if meat actually came from cows?”  Since then, I’ve moved from a place of not understanding where meat comes from to Middletown, Maryland where I live on a 21 acre farm with ten chickens, two guinea hens, and a dog.
As my farm grows and changes, I grow and change. I’ve learned about the ways of nature and food. When a visiting dog killed my favorite chicken, Phoebe, I learned to appreciate nature when you have it, then let it go when it’s gone. As we fill my mom’s office with seedlings and chicks, I’ve learned how life begins so small, then ends up as a blooming accomplishment.
 I want everyone to know about food and nature as I do. To create this knowledge I will have groups of children come to my farm to plant their own meals, and work with the animals on the farm. I will ask other farmers in my community to help. I hope this experience will inspire people to waste less food because they know someone worked hard to make it, or because an animal suffered for its production. When children learn that meat comes from cows, and noodles from wheat, they learn about nutrition. With better nutrition, less waste, and new knowledge to create food, we will reduce hunger.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Smart vs. Dumb

In 1946 Dick Tracy wore a wrist radio ... and it only took 67 years for the real world to catch up! Samsung, Sony and reportedly Apple and everyone else will be marketing smart watches, or as Apple might say, iWrists. (Teaser alert: But that wasn't the very first smart watch. I'll tell you the story of the very first smart watch at the end of this post.)

Sure, Tracy could communicate just by talking to his wrist. "Calling squad 8. T.V. Wiggles headed for unloading shaft at Steel St. and the River. SHOOT TO KILL!" (Actual fake wrist-to-Chief alert by Dick himself.)

Now, we can do that too... and lots, lots more. With our new devices, we can check email ("What is email?" asks Tracy), talk, text, take pictures, search the web and (gasp!) tell time. No more will be have to look at our phones 20 times an hour... we can just count down, minute by minute and everyone will think we are just punctually challenged.

Most consumers say the first introduction of the smart wrist watch does not actually tell time... it just counts down to the introduction of Apple's iWatch.
Smart in a one-on-one with the Chief

Actually, the first Smart phone really was invented in 1986 by Maxwell Smart... get it...  Maxwell SMART?  (Never mind.) He had a cleverly designed phone that actually looked like a size 12 shoe that would also fire bullets when he dialed 117. Smart also had The Cone of Silence in several forms that eliminated eavesdropping and many other clever devices to stifle crime. 

We have Google Glasses so that means that if we have an iWatch (or whatever), we could actually see ourselves checking our email while checking our email while checking our email... very Escher-esq. Meanwhile, we are so cool, no one would notice.

While we get smarter and smarter 'stuff,' why is it we seem to get dumber and dumber? I know... the robots made us do it.

Now, as promised, the real story of the very first smart watch:  

A guy rushing for his train in Grand Central Station in NYC is running late. He stops a stoop-shouldered, bedraggled little man huffing and puffing as he struggles to carry two enormous suitcases.
"Hey friend," asks our commuter, "can you tell me what time it is?"
The man stops, grateful to be able to put his monstrously heavy suitcases on the floor and rest. As he wipes sweat from his brow, he looks as his watch and tells the harried commuter, "It is exactly 5:17.26 1/2 pm on the 365,276th day, 4th hour, 38th minute and 52 1/2 second past the birth of Christ, a Thursday in leap year 0, when the sun warmed the day to 82 degrees fahrenheit or 27.777778 celcius."
"Wow!" said the commuter who was literally stopped in his tracks. "Your watch told you all of that?"
"Oh," says the watch owner, "my watch will tell you anything you would ever want to know. Is Elvis alive? Is O.J. Simpson the real killer? When will the Cubs win the pennant? Anything, really.
 "WOW! I've GOT to have one! Where can I buy a watch like that?"
"You can't," says the little man. "You see, I invented this watch and it knows EVERYTHING... but it is one of a kind and it is mine."
"But I'll give you anything for that watch," says the commuter.  "ANYTHING! I must have that watch."
After 5 minutes of intense haggling, the commuter convinces the watch inventor--with the help of $2 million dollars--to sell him the watch. Happily, he straps it on his wrist, says "Thank you so much," and starts to run in hopes of catching his train.
"Wait... WAIT," hollers the watchmaker, pointing to the enormous suitcases sitting on the floor, "Don't you want the batteries?"

Friday, August 30, 2013

Announcing the First Annual JOKEFEST: The Brits vs The Colonists

The ten best jokes in this year's Fringe Festival in Scotland have just been announced. The headline in the British newspaper read "... these are the best jokes, bar none." Oh yeah? The jokes are so lame that I am challenging them to see which side of the pond has the funniest jokes. You be the judge.

Number 10

Theirs: The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you basically get it back immediately. (As Groucho Marx used to say: "Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.)
Ours: I was in Rome recently and wanted to say "Hi" to the Pope, so I looked up his number in the phone book. It was et cum spirtu-tuo. (OK, so maybe you have to be Catholic, but it was funny in third grade... and beats the pants off their joke.)  Score: 1-0 USA

Number 9

Theirs: I was adopted at birth and have never met my mum. That makes it very difficult to enjoy any lap dance.
Ours: What songs do cows like to dance to? Any kind of mooosic will do. (A simple kid joke wins again!)  2-0 USA

Number 8

Theirs: The Universe implodes. No matter.
Ours: Chuck Norris counted to infinity--twice! (Cha-ching!) 3-0 USA

Number 7

Theirs: You know you are fat when you hug a child and it gets lost. (No!)
Ours: What does a snail say when he is riding on a turtle's back? Weeeee!! (Another kid joke is all it takes.) 4-0 USA

Number 6

Theirs: The Pope is a lot like Dr. Who. He never dies, just keeps being replaced by white men.
Ours: The Vatican announced it will begin selling its ceremonial incense mixtures that were previously only used in worship services.  The first scent will be Popepourri. (Now that's funny!)
5-0 USA

Number 5

Theirs: I can give you the cause of anaphylactic (sic) shock in a nutshell.
Ours: What happened when the monster ate the electric company? He was in shock for a month. (Kid jokes are better.)  6-0 USA

Number 4

Theirs: My friend told me he was going to a fancy dress party as an Italian island. I said to him "Don't be Sicily." (Their best attempt yet. Awkward but cute.)
Ours: Q: Did you hear about the Italian chef that died? A: He pasta way. (We really would have won but I'm giving them this one for sentimental reasons... I'm Italian.)  6-1 USA

Number 3

Theirs: I'm in a same sex marriage... the sex is always the same.
Ours: Take my wife... please! (Ta dah!)  7-1 USA

Number 2

Theirs: I used to work in a shoe-recycling shop. It was sole-destroying.
Ours: Man finds a shoe repair claim ticket in an old suit he hadn't worn for 12 years. Thinking he would play a joke on the shoe repairman, he presented his ticket with a straight face. The repairman, showing no emotion, checked in the back room then hollered, "They'll be ready Thursday."  8-1 USA

And the Number 1 British winner

Theirs: I heard a rumour (Britspeak) that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa. (Really? Is that the best you've got?)
Ours: The doctor sadly tells the patient, "Sorry but you have only one month to live." The patient, crestfallen, grabs the doctor by his lab coat lapels and desperately asks "Isn't there something... anything I can do?!" The doctor pauses, then says, "Well... you could take two mud baths a day... " Hopeful, the distraught patient says, "Oh, thank you doctor... will this cure me?" Doctor shakes his head, "No... but it will get you used to the dirt." (Always save the best for last, right?)

Final score: USA 9, Great Britain 1
The elegant solid gold Knee-Slapper Trophy goes to America for the first year in a row!

Now don't you all go rioting like this is a football (really soccer) game... just be graceful and give us a "Jolly good, old chap" ... and send more episodes of Downton Abbey.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This one's for me.

August 24th--would have been my mom's 100th birthday.   She died 18 months ago at 98.

Now here's why she was so special: 

In the car and, unable to find her seatbelt clip, she would hold the belt against her thigh and say, "This is fine. Let's go." I would look at her and she at me, then we would both laugh.

She would complete a crossword puzzle and leave it on the table to get me a cup of coffee when I dropped in one or two mornings a week. "Nice going on the crossword mom," I'd tell her. Then I'd look at the puzzle and see that some squares were just filled with random letters. "Mom," I'd say, "that's not right." She would tell me, " I didn't say it was right. I just said it was done."

Lots of years ago, after I left the house as a youngster, she and dad tore my room down to make their master bedroom somewhat bigger. They put the old knotty pine boards that made my wall, into the garage. My dad died 48 years ago and those boards remained in the middle of the garage floor.  One day many years back, a guy driving passed the house spotted them through the open garage door. He stopped and asked if he could buy them. "Congratulations!" I told her. " It's about time you got rid of those boards." "Oh," she said, "I didn't sell them" "Why not!" "He offered me $50 right away so I figured they must be worth a lot more." After she moved to an assisted living facility, I thought of that story as I threw those old, rotting boards Into the dumpster cleaning out her overcrowded garage  that never saw a car.

Once when I visited, I saw a camera on the kitchen table that was her desk... her hangout. "Where did this come from?" I asked. "Someone left it at McDonalds last week." "Why didn't you leave it with the manager?" "Are you kidding," she said, "It would have disappeared In a minute." I looked at her and said "Well?"

She tried to return it but no one had reported a lost camera so she ran an ad in the paper. When that didn't work, she developed the film (remember film?) so sure that a photo or two  would offer a clue... and we laughed at out-of-focus pictures of cows and pigs taken from a moving car. I threw that camera out years later too.

Her house was always 'pig-sty' neat with burnt-orange living room drapes that just turned 50 (really) because she liked them. A grey Electrolux vacuum cleaner-- its classic art deco style, shaped like a coast-to-coast Santa Fe Zephyr of the 1950s with sleds runners instead of wheels--was a permanent fixture in her living room... and it actually made an indelible indentation in the " older than the drapes" carpet. Its hose was as auspicious as a dead snake coming out of the sweeper's behind. Whenever one of us kids put the darned thing in the closet (when she wasn't looking), it would always reappear next time we visited... in exactly the same spot... and the carpet never looked cleaner.

Her classic dining room table--with all extensions to seat 12 comfortably... was invisible under its pile of old magazines and papers, tools, sewing paraphernalia, old 78 rpm vinyl records and everything else you could imagine.

Her favorite chair, broken down and threadbare, was her throne, like an island among a sea of week-old newspapers and clippings. Her 17 inch 20-year old TV sat alone on a stand in front of her throne.

She took up golfing and working and benevolent volunteering after my father died and she was always reliable, always slow and always appreciated.

She was like that... not a hoarder at all, but what she treasured, she kept. She was a little ditzy and clean and joyful... not someone you would call a neat-nik, but so very liked by all. She would talk to anyone who looked her way and she had a place for everyone in her head. Remarkably, she remembered most of the names of people she met, even in her last years. She had a big heart and was deeply religious. That paints a picture of a wonderfully-charactered widow the last 48 years of her life.

Her favorite poem, which she would recite at the drop of a hat was Trees by Joyce Kilmer:

I THINK that I shall never see   
A poem lovely as a tree.   
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest   
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;   
A tree that looks at God all day,           
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;   
A tree that may in summer wear   
A nest of robins in her hair;   
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;   
Who intimately lives with rain.     
Poems are made by fools like me,   
But only God can make a tree.   

Whenever something bad happened to her--like shingles, broken bones, broken heart--she would shrug her shoulders and say, "Into each life a little rain must fall."

She was seldom angry and bragged about how full her live had been. "I've traveled the world (she had been to Europe--once on a tour, Hawaii and California) and had two wonderful children who love me. What more could I want?"

My sis and I ask the same question... What more could we want?

She was a nice lady who died peacefully in my sister's arms. Happy "almost made it a century" Birthday mom.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Yin and Yang of it all

Tess, our golden retriever, Abby our yellow lab

Tess and Abby, our two beautiful living yin-yang interpreters of the traditional ancient Taoist symbol (called the taigi) of life and existence.

Yin-yan, in Eastern thought, are two complementary forces that make up all aspects and phenomena of life. Yin is a symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, passivity, and absorption. It is present in even numbers, in valleys and streams, and is represented by the tiger, the colour orange. Let Tess be ying.

Yang is conceived of as heaven, maleness, light, activity, and penetration. It is present in odd numbers, in mountains, and is represented by the dragon, the color azure. That would be Abby.

The two are both said to proceed from the Great Ultimate (taiji), their interplay on one another (as one increases the other decreases) being a description of the actual process of the universe and all that is in it. In harmony, the two are depicted as the light and dark halves of a circle.

The black and white halves of the Yin-Yang symbol are similar to the two sides of a coin. They are different, and distinct, yet one could not exist without the other. It is what the two sides have in common - what makes them "the same."

This idea is illustrated in Shih-tou's poem:

The Identity Of Relative And Absolute

Within light there is darkness,
but do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light,
but do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair,
like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.
Each thing has its own intrinsic value
and is related to everything else in function and position.
Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid.
The absolute works together with the relative,
like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Well, I hope we have all learned something today... and this all started when I noticed how our dogs sometimes sleep.

About Tess and Abby... Tess has just turned 7 and Abby, half-past 6. They are both therapy dogs bringing comfort, ease and calming to victims of floods, fires, shootings and other disasters, natural and otherwise. They regularly go to hospitals, nursing homes and hospice houses and, like all the superheros, try to be where they are needed. They are the greatest.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Dope testing ices fisherpeople... and other improbable scenarios

No, they are not testing to see if they can find ice fishers who ARE dopes, they are testing to see if they are on dope. Also no, beer does not count.

Actually, it's not fair to imply ice fishers are dopes. some are, of course... presumably, most aren't. Though I have never ice fished, there is some implied merit in cooling one's heels every once in a while.

All this is because ice fishing is trying to become an official Winter Olympic event--really. Makes sense though. After all that money goes into building a majestic rink for figure skating, there must be other uses for the venue to justify its cost. Though how good the fishing is under the rink ice is still up for speculation.

And ice fishing is not the only fringe sport that has gone to drug testing. Competitors in darts, miniature golf, chess and tug of war were all recently tested. And before you laugh, two miniature golfers (no, not dwarfs or little people) recently tested positive according to the World Anti-Doping Agency. And so did two bowlers, eight roller sporters and one tug-of-war puller.

Rumor has it that one miniature golfer became suspect after a few of his 'drives' on the competition put-put course went loop-the-loop, through the windmill, into the clown's mouth and well over 300 yards.

Personally, I can hardly wait to see the heated competition on the next Wide World of Sports. Where
is Jim McKay when we need him most? Oh, dead.

Speaking of sports, did you know that in 37 states, the highest paid public employee is a sports coach? Take that, college professors. Have we got our priorities right or what?

My wife, bless her heart, was in an auto accident a short while back. While she was exiting a parking lot, someone pulling out of a parking stall and backed into her rear door. When that lady and my wife met out of the collided cars, the lady shrugged her shoulders and said to my wife, "I don't know how they are going to call this one."

Well, police figured it out real fast, of course... but that's not the point of this story.

The damage was minor (by comparison)--just $2,300 worth. No hair was mussed on either head, no back injury or stiff neck, and neither car was going above 5 miles per hour. The other insurance company was absolutely great in facilitating repair as painlessly as possible, bless them. The point is, within the next two weeks, we received seven letters from local attorneys--most on very heavy, fancy stationery, saying mostly the same thing:

We understand that you have been involved in an accident. Your decisions over the next few days may be critical to your recovery. Since 1982 we have helped answer thousands of questions for thousands of clients just like you... We can help by offering a free consultation where we can explain the law and how it affects your case. We can also help you find the right doctor, help you with insurance questions, help answer questions concerning your car... We won't promise we'll take your case, but we certainly can answer questions and help ut you at ease. And it's FREE (caps theirs) advice. There's no down payment. We only get paid if you do... CALL NOW! A NEW LAW MAY AFFECT YOUR CASE! (again, caps theirs.)

 There is a term for this type of solicitation... Ambulance chasing, I think they call it.  Well, it's a living, I suppose.

Sadly two deaths to report:

Chuck Foley, co-creator of the popular party game, Twister--originally called Pretzel, died at age 82.

Like that, just a few years back, this obit: With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote "The Hokey Pokey." He died peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in. And then the trouble started.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hypothetical questions...

You know... like "How much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?" Or better yet, "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

The obvious answer to the angels question: it doesn't matter... if angels are smart enough to dance on the head of a pin instead of the other end, that's good enough for me.

Best hypothetical question yet: "Who would win a fight between MacGyver and Chuck Norris? (Obviously, Chuck Norris because: There used to be a street named Chuck Norris but they had to change it since nobody crosses Chuck Norris... or, Chuck Norris has a grizzly bear rug in his den. The bear isn't dead, it is just afraid to move... or, Chuck Norris has been dead 20 years. Death just hasn't had the courage to tell him... or, Chuck Norris counted to infinity--twice!)

But sometimes... like I'm about to tell you, questions that sound hypothetical aren't at all. I'm currently listening to Bill Bryson's *A Short History of Nearly Everything (which I bought at Seattle's Half-Price Books, incidentally... for two bucks!) and it really is amazing. I previously bought this as a book--twice... and couldn't get through it as a read--too many names and too much data-- but as a listener in short or long drive snippets in the car, it really is a highly recommended way to go for this one. (Bet you can't find it like I did for $2 though.)

Example of a hypothetical question that isn't: How many atoms can hide behind a single human hair?  Factual answer: A half-million atoms, lined width-wise 'shoulder-to-shoulder,' could easily hide behind a human hair.

How about this one: If Mt. St. Helens erupted (as it did in1980) and the side of the caldera blew out, how much mud and ash would it release down the mountain in the first few minutes?  The now known answer: enough, rushing downward at 150 miles per hour, to bury all of Manhattan to a depth of 400 feet!

Or: Where is the biggest known volcano in the world now located? We didn't know this one until about 20 years ago. Hint: Completely within its caldera is 200,000 acre Yellowstone National Park. More awsome than that... it remains today an active volcano! Oh, don't worry... it has only erupted three known times in the past 180 centuries... usually on 60,000 year intervals. The first eruption was 240 times bigger than Mt. St. Helens and it would have spewed enough mud, ash and lava to cover New York state to a depth of 600 feet. The last one occured... oh, oh... 60,000 years ago.

Actually, Bryson's book covers all of the sciences so it includes piddling little stuff like... the universe as we know it, with its billions of solar systems like our Milky Way, is 13.5 million light years across and it is growing rapidly as we breathe. Now contrast that info with the size of 500,000 atoms 'shoulder-to-shoulder ' and you have a scale of impressive proportions.

The book covers so much of the physical world's sciences and discoveries... with so many names and relationships... that it could blow your mind if you are of a mind to be blown. Caution, however... it is not for dummies... like the guy who was stuck in a low end job in the Swiss Patent Office and was turned down several times in his request for a one-step up promotion until "... he mastered machine technology." That hapless individual was named Albert Einstein who played a most impressive role in a good chunk of what Bryson talks about.

It is a good listen and you will come away with lots of very interesting cocktail talk tidbits to impress your friends and family until they get sick of you... like: Chuck Norris heard Einstein's Theory of Relativity and ruled it irrelevant.