Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow Day, Part II

Seven inches at 7 am. Not too bad, but the heavy, wet snow took its toll, knocking down one of the pine trees in our side yard and dangerously loading up half a dozen others. For the next half hour I swatted snow off tree limbs, freeing them to rise back close to their natural level, beyond my reach with an eight foot pole. I thought I had done a decent job, but once inside, when I looked out on the back yard, I noticed a large limb had broken off from one of our tallest pines. I had been standing under it just 10 minutes earlier. I shuddered remembering yesterday a man died in Central Park after a limb weighted down with snow fell on him.

When I was young, a child, this was the texture of snowfall we prayed for. Snow easily rounded into balls, easily shaped into forts. Temperature in the mid to high 30s, warm enough to stay outside for hours. This type of snow is heartbreakingly wasted on an adult, at least one that doesn’t have a child or grandchild at home to take to the park for sledding. Dan, Ellie and I used to go to Maple Moor Golf Course and see who could slide closest to the Hutchinson River. One time I failed to notice that someone had built a slight bump into the hill. Going over it wasn’t the problem. Landing was. My coccyx bone hurt for three months.

Even with a snowblower this snowfall was difficult to clear. The chute kept clogging, the motor kept stalling out.

Two trees are precariously leaning toward the kitchen. Water has collected near their bases, making their roots less than sturdy. Same condition as the tree that toppled. I called Allstate to determine if we were covered for the downed tree. Not exactly. If your tree falls on your property without damaging a structure, you’re not covered. If it does some damage (I’m still not sure if the tree damaged a fence), insurance will pay for the repair, minus deductible, and for tree removal up to $500, minus deductible. Our deductible is $500.

The only good news about trees this morning was that one had fallen across the train tracks between White Plains and Hartsdale, knocking out service, thus giving Gilda a legitimate reason to declare a snow day.

Speaking of Gilda, she wanted me to correct any impression you might have that she did not try to raise the heat in my sister’s house last week. She didn’t succeed because she did not know the thermostat’s switch had been shifted to the “off” position.

Client Nine: Finally got around to viewing the Feb. 19 first episode of the new season of Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. I won’t go into the political discussions (which were entertaining and informative) but I will note that one of his guest panelists was Eliot Spitzer. The disgraced former NY governor is hard on the comeback trail, submitting Op-Ed pieces and making appearances on various programs. He is a formidable commentator. Given all that has transpired in men-behaving-badly mode since Spitzer resigned, he’s looking and sounding a lot less tawdry these days. Still it is hard to ignore the number 9 that seemingly rests on his receding hairline.

Teary-eyed: I’ll admit it. I was very moved by the gutsy skating performances of Joannie Rochette of Canada just days after her mother died suddenly of a heart attack. My eyes welled up as she skated both her short and long programs. Nearly all the skaters shed tears at the end of their respective programs, but none produced the emotional attachment Rochette generated.

Even with all their tears, none of their eye makeup ran (I don’t wear mascara, so don’t bother asking me if mine ran). Kudos to Max Factor or whichever brand supplies the no-run makeup.

Health Care Summit: Viewing TV news coverage of the health care summit, I was struck by an image showing President Obama standing with John Boehner, the GOP House leader. At least from my television, I couldn’t tell which of them had the darker skin, a president of bi-racial genetics or a congressman from Ohio who obviously hasn’t kept up with news reports that tanning lights are bad for your health.

Buy American: Courtesy of my friend Jay, here’s a musical parody from the Capitol Steps group you might enjoy:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snow Days

Weathermen have been all agog at the latest snow emergency to hit the NY metro area. Throughout Thursday they exhilarated in the pending white out, forecasting as much as two feet of snow for some areas by the time all the flakes made their way to the ground.

Up in White Plains, by 9 pm it was pretty much a snow dud. Not even half an inch had accumulated. Not that I’m complaining (long time readers already are aware of my antipathy toward snow). But giving the weathermen their due respect, and with snow still coming down, I casually suggested to Gilda that perhaps she might take a snow day Friday.

No way, she fired back. She wasn’t going to waste a day off on some rinky-dink snow job. It would take a real blizzard to keep her home.

I used to think the same way. As a reporter back in Connecticut nearly 40 years ago, I felt obligated to get out and observe how snow transformed people’s lives. When I started working in Manhattan for a restaurant trade newspaper, I carried with me that same machismo. Thus, in January 1978, after a 20-inch snowstorm, I trudged down Hamilton Avenue from our Lake Street apartment to the White Plains Metro North train station. I got there in plenty time for my normal 8:18 am transport. The train obliged by arriving on time. I sat down for the usual 35 minute commute. Four hours later, the train pooped out in the tunnel beneath Park Avenue. Snow had fallen through the grates, blocking all trains from entering Grand Central Terminal.

We couldn’t move forward or back up. Metro North decided our only exit was vertical. They directed all on board to carefully climb down onto the tracks and ascend one of the emergency staircases, taking us up to Park Avenue and 72nd Street. From there I walked 15 blocks to my office building at 425 Park Avenue, only to discover that the office was closed. After a few minutes to thaw out, I was back on the street, mushing my way down to Grand Central, 13 blocks to the south, all the way hoping there would be a train back to White Plains.

I was lucky. Double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Four hours later it pulled into White Plains. I had spent more than nine hours commuting in the snow. I vowed to be more circumspect in future snowstorms.

I had my chance two weeks later when another 20-inch storm struck. This time I sought assurance that our office would be open. I called our VP administration who, by coincidence, commuted on my same train each day. He daily drove down to White Plains from Ridgefield, Conn. If anyone would be a no-show, Mike surely would lead the pack. But his wife cheerfully reported that Mike had set off for work. I reasoned I had better show up, as well.

Once again, I trudged down Hamilton Avenue from our Lake Street apartment to the White Plains Metro North train station. I got there in plenty time for my normal 8:18 am transport. The train obliged by, once again, arriving on time. I sat down for the usual 35 minute commute. Once again, four hours later, the train came to a stop. This time, it had made it all the way into Grand Central. I engaged a pay telephone (this was pre-cell phone days), called the office and discovered it was, once again, closed!

Once again, I was lucky. Double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Once again, four hours later it pulled into White Plains. Once again, I had spent more than a full day commuting in the snow. This time, I came to the realization that snow was God’s way of telling me to slow down, that work could be done at home just as easily as in the office. I soon garnered a well-deserved reputation for taking a snow day for anything more than a dusting.

If Gilda wants to be a trooper and go to work, God bless her. As for me, I no longer go to work, but I still relish snow days.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Return to Civilization

Let’s see, now. Black, brown or grey? Which color socks should I wear today?

Return to civilization, East Coast-style, from Los Angeles, means a return to a climate still not no-socks-needed-anymore friendly. I’m back to covering up my footsies.

To be honest, I indulged in some quality sock time in Los Angeles this past week. Though middle of the day temperatures hovered in the 70s most of the time, the rest of the day could be quite chilly, especially indoors. My sister had warned me layers were the key. It was downright frigid inside her home. What she didn’t tell me until after she came home from her trip to Europe with her daughter was to simply raise the heat in the house. Now, don’t go thinking Gilda and I were idiots not to figure this out by ourselves. You see, her husband was home all this time; it was natural to assume that he would put the heat up if it were truly unbearable.

Oh well, not the worst hardship to have endured.

The birds, the birds that have come to rely on my feeding them, they endured days of deprivation. Somewhere I remember learning that you should feed your livestock before yourself. I don’t have cattle or chickens, but I do have blue jays, cardinals and other feathered friends, plus squirrels, to keep fed. They had stripped the cupboard bare of the food I had left them before we traveled west. Before I could settle in for breakfast I put on snow boots and refilled their five feeding stations. They were back feasting before I removed my boots.

Squirrels are different in Los Angeles. I noticed LA squirrels clacked and chattered quite loudly. And they stayed in the same place for minutes on end.

I’ve been to Los Angeles at least 30 times, probably closer to 50, but only in the last year have I started to really enjoy the city and its surroundings. Sure, the first time nearly 35 years ago, Gilda and I did the touristy things, like visit Disneyland. Most of my subsequent trips were business-related, though I did squeeze in visits to my sister and her family. Even brought Gilda and our kids along when possible.

Over the last year, my three trips (two with Gilda) have turned into cultural excursions. All in all, I’ve been able to walk both parts of the Getty Museum, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, the LA County Museum of Art, the Disney Concert Hall, the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage and the Hart Ranch and Museum. I’ve also enjoyed biking along the beach between Venice and Santa Monica, visiting downtown old Pasadena, driving through Hancock Park, traversing the USC campus. LA is far from the cultural wasteland it was said to be years ago.

Oh, by the way, I wore blue socks today.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Nap Time

I haven’t lost the knack. The knack of falling asleep on an airplane even before the plane leaves the jetway.

When I flew about 60 times a year, I nearly always slumbered through most of the flights. “Groggy” would be a nice way of describing my up-in-the-air state of mind. But since my retirement I’ve flown just eight times. If my recent experience riding the train into the city was any indicator, my ability to sleep might well be compromised by being out of practice. With a cross-country flight scheduled for last week, I was a little concerned.

Apparently without cause. Two weeks ago I traveled via Atlanta to San Antonio as part of my still revenue-neutral consulting business. Scheduled to leave the gate at LaGuardia at 1 pm, I lost consciousness sometime around 12:45 and didn’t regain my senses for at least an hour. In the past, time delays on the ground often encompassed my total nap time, but not this trip, thankfully. During the four legs of the two-day trip we took off on time each time. I slept at least 50% of the time. I can’t say I was refreshed at the end of each flight, but it sure made the trip go faster. On our trip out to Los Angeles last Sunday I dozed off before takeoff as well.

Napping, on the plane or at home (and even at my desk—more about that later), can be an acquired trait or an inherited ability. I taught Gilda the joys and art of afternoon napping. I, on the other hand, inherited the skill from my father. Some days at his factory in lower Manhattan, he’d open up a folding, plastic chaise lounge and fall asleep to the staccato bursts of Merrow sewing machines stitching up lingerie or casual shirts. After dinner most evenings he’d retire to his bedroom for a one hour nap before enjoying coffee and cake and some TV.

On weekends, after driving from Brooklyn to Long Island to bring us to one of our mother’s sister’s families, he’d vanish for an hour for another nap. There was a time when this behavior was considered rude; in truth, Dad did not fully appreciate our maternal relatives, so the sanctuary of a bedroom was a relief for him in more than just energy regeneration. I’ve come to appreciate that his demanding physical work schedule, coupled with his philanthropic activities, left him tired, especially after driving an hour or more to our aunts’ respective homes. But I’d be hard-pressed to emulate that behavior and get away with it.

In previous blogs I related how I slept on most train rides to and from work, with little concern about missing my stop. I was more worried about bothering my fellow passengers either by snoring or by drooping over into their space. Either situation could be embarrassing, but not as bad as falling asleep at work.

Since I never developed a coffee habit, and the caffeine in cola drinks never gave me a buzz, I found myself nodding off many an afternoon as I peered into my computer screen. I positioned the screen so I faced the inner sanctum of my office. That way passersby could not tell if my eyes were closed or open. Hardly a good defense against falling asleep, but at least one that minimized the risk of embarrassment. My right hand involuntarily jerking on the mouse was the only true alarm that kept me from enjoying 40 winks. If you’re wondering, closing my office door was not a workable strategy. The president of our company liked nothing better than opening any closed door he came upon.

In the last year or two I finally gave in. Two or three times a week, around 3 pm, I opted for a cup of hazelnut java from our corporate Keurig coffee machine, a great value at 25 cents. No reason to spend five to ten times that amount at a coffee bar when I really don’t like the taste. The effect usually was immediate, but short-lived.

I have a “condition.” It seems that any forum wherein I am not an active speaker, I become narcoleptic. Try as I might to concentrate on a presentation, my eyes glaze over and I’m out within a few minutes. I float just above deep REM sleep and just below consciousness. My head bobs. Usually, the soft gurgle of a snore startles me awake, though Gilda often has to elbow me during the rabbi’s sermon at temple. Of course, nearly 20 years ago when I served on our temple’s executive committee and had to sit on the altar during the rabbi’s sermon, I had to really work at staying awake. I self-inflicted deep shark bites, digging my nails sharply into my thighs (editor’s aside—Mark, I hope this fulfills your wish for some temple talk).

I’ve even “napped” when in charge of a meeting. When my magazine would get imposed, I would designate which articles or ads be placed on each page. As my staff would be writing down each two-page spread, it would not be unusual for me to drop into a narcoleptic state. Five or 10 seconds of hallucinatory sleep. I’d be aware it was happening but unable to stave off the experience. They’d finish writing, I’d miraculously wake up, tell them the next spread and fall back to sleep. No way they didn’t see my impersonation of a bobble head doll. They were kind enough never to call me out on it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Brainwashed at a Young Age

My parents shipped me (and my older brother and sister) off to eight weeks of sleepaway summer camp just four months passed my seventh birthday.

I just found out it was all part of a wide ranging plot by Jewish parents and the directors of Camp Massad to turn unsuspecting children into raging Zionists.

To be sure, anyone with half a brain (your faithful correspondent included, despite what you may personally believe) could figure out we were being indoctrinated into a society 5,700 miles away as we sat under the summer skies singing Israeli songs and speaking Hebrew even as we played softball, soccer, punchball and dodgeball.

The tail end of the winter normally would not be a time to reminisce about summer camp, but by a serendipitous turn of events (I told you a few days ago that I believed in serendipity), I found myself in Los Angeles this week just when the University of Southern California’s Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life was sponsoring a lecture by professor Dan Lanier-Vos. His topic: “Making a Mini-Israel in the Poconos: Constructing National Identity Among Strangers in a Jewish-American Summer Camp.”

I won’t burden you with details of his 45-minute talk Wednesday evening. The main thrust was that during Massad’s 40 years, from 1941 to 1981, the 20,000 or so campers who summered in Massad Aleph and Bet lived a simulated Israeli experience and developed a shared relationship, even a mutual identity, with the residents of the Israeli state.

It was a subtle brainwashing. My siblings and I went to Massad for five years beginning in 1956. We would not admit to brainwashing. Speaking Hebrew was the main differentiator between Massad and other camps (Dellwood, Columbia, HiLi, Kfar Masada) we subsequently attended. Hebrew speaking, while a burden, helped us during the academic year at our Jewish day schools.

Nor could I ascribe our parents’ decision to Zionistic motives, though they were supporters of Israel. They chose Massad because several of their friends sent their children to the camp. Our parents were enthusiastic about being empty nesters for July and August, but as they told us of their plans one day as we were riding in the back seat of our 1955 Buick, we shrieked disapproval. No way were we going to leave them for eight weeks. No way we were going to a camp where we had to speak Hebrew all the time. Aside from threatening to pull over and stop the car if we didn’t start behaving immediately, our parents just let us stew.

It is approaching 54 years since I got on the bus in Manhattan, scrawny and scared, knowing no one but my sister and brother and not being sure I would see them all too often at camp. They, after all, had boarded different buses with their respective bunkmates. I remember sitting far back, on the right hand side of the bus, fighting nausea during the two-hour ride to Tannersville, Pa., to the base of Mount Pocono where the camp lay.

From 1956 through 1971, I spent each summer (except for 1966 when I went to Israel, Italy and France) as either a camper or counselor. Those collective 30 months contributed most of the memorable moments of my formative years. I learned how to play different sports (though never learned to swim). I learned how to be competitive but always show good sportsmanship. I learned leadership skills. I learned how to be independent. I learned about young love. And yes, I probably learned to care more about Israel and Zionism.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Undercover Boss

Thirty-eight million people—38,000,000—watched the first episode of Undercover Boss, a new CBS reality series that tries to humanize CEOs by placing them on the front lines of their companies to learn how everyday workers cope with the dogma that gets filtered down from the executive suite.

Thirty-eight million. It helped that Undercover Boss debuted after the Super Bowl, the most watched TV show ever. Thirty-eight million. I was not one of them.

I’m not into so-called reality shows. I’m no survivor, not a bachelor, have no need to lose a ton of weight, and am not from the Jersey Shore (sorry, Marianne, couldn’t resist).

There’s nothing wrong with a CEO wanting to gain a better understanding of his workers’ lot. But I question the long-term value of these exercises. Unless these “reality” shows are total whitewashes, the honest and alert CEOs will soon discover that many of their employees earn less than a living wage, toil far harder than the “suits” do for less money, and struggle to provide adequate shelter, proper health care, quality education and upward mobility for their families.

What are the bosses going to do? Immediately raise worker salaries? Improve benefits? Hardly realistic to expect during a time when efficiencies—that’s corporate speak for making workers do more for less—is the corporate mantra. Hardly realistic to expect even during times of economic success.

Retail and restaurant companies have a history of promoting from within, of naming CEOs who began in the stockroom or as hamburger flippers. Rare is the CEO who remembers the poverty of his (they’re mostly men, so forgive the gender bias of the prose) youth, how difficult it was to make ends meet on minimum wage or slightly higher salaries. They seem to relish their bootstrap provenance, in some honest but callous way believing that if they could rise from the challenge, any of their workers could as well, if they just applied themselves.

That’s why CEOs like Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Jim Sinegal of Costco are exceptions, leaders who made a commitment to provide health care benefits even to part-time staffers despite pressure from Wall Street, and other retailers, that their bottom lines would improve immediately if they implemented standard industry compensation practices.

Undercover Boss might mean well, but it’s a sugar-coated picture of reality. Rather than help their workers, CEOs willing to go on the show are usually looking for positive PR ( For a more accurate portrait of life on the minimum wage “assembly line,” I again recommend to you Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich (

Escapist TV fare is okay, but not at the expense of the reality too many of our fellow citizens have to endure.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside. Not

When Gilda and I woke up Sunday morning it was 26 degrees outside. When we stepped off the plane in Los Angeles around noon local time it was 75.

The forecast for LA this week is for temperatures doubling the expected highs for White Plains. Though LA has endured a fair share of precipitation recently, it’s the kind that rolls off your back, not slushes up your walkway. Mostly sunny skies are expected in Los Angeles this week; snow is expected again back east on Tuesday.

I shouldn’t get too cocky. Long range forecast for White Plains is for snow next week on the day we return and the day after. But today we’ve already luxuriated in no socks needed anymore weather, strolling in rolled up sleeves in a soft breeze. It’s delightful to have to wear a hat to guard against the sunshine and not to stay warm.

For the record—I removed my socks shortly after deplaning.

Ice Cold: So, do you think this winter’s been colder than normal in the NY metro area? I don’t think so, at least not according to my admittedly non-scientific but perceptive field study.

I keep two water bottles in my car. In years past, the water would freeze up, thaw out, refreeze throughout the winter. This year? Not one ice cube. Unless Poland Spring is adding anti-freeze to it water bottles, Mother Nature has not throttled us with a sustained cold blast.

Olympic Gold: I’m not into the Winter Olympics. Perhaps because I don’t ski, ice skate, snowboard and definitely don’t luge, I have a hard time relating to the daredevils of these sub-zero (centigrade) sports.

But I do marvel at Olympic accomplishments, especially from non-athletes.

Back in 1998, Nagano, Japan, hosted the Winter Games. As part of the coverage, The Washington Post’s Kevin Sullivan did a piece on how the upper crust endured life at the Olympics, going from party to party, all in the name of advancing world peace, mind you, at least according to Masato Mizuno, president of the Mizuno sporting goods corporation, whose company spent $16 million to be an official Olympic sponsor.

But Sullivan also reported on a more plebian approach to Olympic enjoyment, what he called the “Eric Plan.” I’ve reproduced the part of the article that describes my nephew’s exploits (for those wanting to read the full article, here’s the link:

For those without royal blood or imperial purses, there's always the Eric Plan.

Eric Forseter, 22, from Rockville, (MD), is spending a year bumming around Australia as he prepares for law school next year. He bought a cheap plane ticket from Sydney to Tokyo plus a Japanese rail pass, and made his way to Nagano with about $400 in his pocket.

Forseter found lodging at a hostel, where he spends about $30 a night to sleep on a tatami mat on the floor in a room with 10 strangers. He had to go out and buy a towel, and he's living on orange juice and croissants from the convenience store. He said his accommodations are relatively spacious, though, compared with the 15 or 20 George Washington University students crammed into another room.

On his first day in town, Forseter met another young man who had bummed two tickets to the high-profile Canada-Sweden men's hockey game from one of the players. They sat in great seats right behind the goal, then moved to seats directly behind the team benches. They collected a couple of stray pucks and even a broken stick from the Swedish team.

That night they rolled into the Pink Elephant bar and had beers with NHL stars Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick, who play for the U.S. team. The next day, Forseter bagged tickets for the Finland-Russia hockey game. Scalpers wanted more than $400, but a nice man invited Forseter to sit with him for free. Turns out the man is the father of NHL star Teemu Selanne, who plays for Finland. Forseter sat at center ice and chatted with Pat LaFontaine of the U.S. men's hockey team and the parents of NHL'ers Pavel Bure and Chris Chelios, who were sitting nearby.

Sunday night, with somebody's extra ticket, Forseter saw figure skating, one of the Games' premier events, for $4 — the cost of a shuttle bus. In total, Forseter figures he's spent about $300 and had about $3,000 worth of fun.

"I'm on a roll," he said.

Eric’s parents are going to Vancouver later this week for some Olympic fun of their own. Doubtful their experience will be as eventful.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Ultimate Serendipity

I’m a big believer in serendipity, what the dictionary defines as “an apparent aptitude for making discoveries accidentally.”

Let me illustrate.

My email inbox gets crammed with many retail industry newsletters, a carryover from my working days. Most of the time I just review the headlines, clicking deeper only when a story seems particularly unusual or about someone or something I have an interest in. One of my favorite newsletters is because it not only reports the news but also provides commentary from its knowledgeable and irreverent editor, Kevin Coupe. Still, it’s not every day that I read through his blog.

As I was looking at his story lineup today, I saw one listed as “RIP” (Rest in Peace) and was drawn to know which industry stalwart had passed on. Instead, what I found was this item:

“Fred Morrison died Tuesday at age 90. His contribution to the culture? Morrison invented the Frisbee.

Little known fact: Morrison hated the name “Frisbee,” which was given to his invention by the Wham-O Manufacturing Co. when it licensed what Morrison called the "Whirlo-Way" and "Pluto Platter” in 1957.”

Now, until a dozen years ago, to me a frisbee was just another piece of sports equipment that revealed a chink in my athletic armor ability. But when Dan was preparing to begin Tufts, he stunned (and disappointed) me by saying he would not try out for the soccer team (he had been the high school varsity team goalie); instead he wanted to play Ultimate Frisbee.

Consternation does not begin to explain my reaction. I thought playing with a frisbee was just recreation for the long-haired, or something to do with your dog, before taking a drag and soaring higher than the disc. I had no idea there was an actual “game” involving players, teams, rules and tournaments.

Gilda and I soon discovered the aura of Ultimate Frisbee. We watched Dan play in a tournament at Rutgers and became hooked. Since his freshman year Dan’s life has seemingly revolved around Ultimate Frisbee. As a sophomore, he became co-captain of the Tufts team. In his junior year, he helped lead Tufts’ return for the first time in 10 years to the the national championships where the top 16 college teams compete. The tournament took place in Boise, Idaho, with Gilda, Ellie and me there to cheer Dan and his teammates on.

I’d like to tell you the team won the national championship, but the truth is, they came in 11th. The Tufts women, on the other hand, came in 5th in the nation that year. One of the players on that team was Allison Hawthorne Mixter. It was at that tournament that Dan and Allison began their courtship. Their marriage in July 2006 had to be arranged around Dan’s frisbee schedule. After graduation, Dan joined a club frisbee team. He also coaches the Tufts team.

Two years ago Dan’s club team played for the national championship, losing a heartbreaker to a team they had beaten earlier in the tournament. This past October they came in third in the country. In July, Dan, accompanied by Allison and their son Finley, will travel to Prague to compete in the world championships.

Serendipity. I believe in it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Job


Instead of being able to walk barefoot in the sand (which I really hate to do), I am half a foot deep in the Big Muddy, oops, I mean the Big Snowy (which I hate even more).

The storm of the year really wasn’t so bad here in White Plains, but it was enough to frighten Virgin America into canceling my flight out west this morning. The earliest I can get to Los Angeles is Sunday. Meantime, my trusted gas snowblower made pretty swift work of the heavy white stuff.

I bought the snowblower last winter after years of shoveling and arguing. The shoveling I did by myself. The arguing I did with Gilda. She wasn’t too keen on my replacing muscle power with engine power. You see, 20 years ago I gave my Toro power snow shovel to my brother and replaced it with a small electric snowblower. Big mistake. It not only lacked power, but the long electric cord also made clearing the snow difficult. I kept getting tangled up trying not to run over the cord. So I got rid of the electric snowblower, prompting Gilda to accuse me of being wasteful. She was right, of course, but I figured that after 20 years of rejecting my entreaties to buy a gas powered blower she would relent without too much risk to the marriage when the forecast called for a big storm last January. She wasn’t happy when she saw it, but after the first time I used it she came to accept its practicality.

Obtaining snow removal equipment 25 years ago this month got me in trouble at work for chastising, in print, a regional home center chain and its local store manager for their arrogance and disregard for customers. Rather than name the retailer involved, a retailer no longer in business, for good reason, but not wanting to repeat the mistake I made a quarter of a century ago, let me quickly relate the circumstances without naming names.

Before The Home Depot came to Westchester, one snowy Saturday afternoon in early February 1985, I picked out a power snow shovel at the home center store but was thwarted in my attempt to pay for it. The manager had let half his cashiers take a break, leaving patrons waiting 10 deep for service at three lines. When we complained, an off-duty Greenburgh policeman serving as a store security guard threatened to arrest us. I promptly dropped the shovel, went to a nearby Caldor and bought a similar model without hassle. I got my revenge through my March editorial. The retailer complained to our management. I ran an apology in May for singling out and criticizing the company for an incident in one store.

History proved my initial analysis to be correct. The chain was without merit, existing only in the absence of real competition. It went out of business shortly after The Home Depot arrived in the NY metro area.

Still, I should have been a little more restrained. We live today in a world of free-wheeling journalism, or what passes for journalism. Gossip TV shows. A radio station that promote its “daily sleeze” report. Blogs that deal in innuendo, slanted news. Cable news shows that are anything but fair and honest.

When you’re held accountable for what you put in print or say, you learn to appreciate the power of the press.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Emergency

The forecast calls for a major snowstorm in the NY metro area beginning tonight. It’s one day too soon for me, threatening to wreak havoc with a planned Wednesday morning trip to Los Angeles and my return to a no socks needed anymore environment.

Of course, a flight delay would be a small inconvenience compared to what my brother is going through after last week’s storm blew up the East Coast.

While not one flake made its way to White Plains, some 30 inches landed on his property in Rockville, Md., outside Washington, DC. Shortly after 11:30 Friday night, he lost power. When Bernie and wife Annette woke Saturday morning, they discovered 250,000 of their immediate neighbors shared their power shortage. The snow was too high for their snowblower to be effective. Their cul de sac street would be among the last to be plowed, they suspected, so they could not expect a private contractor to extricate them. They were isolated.

Somehow, one of their close friends about half a mile away was an island of power. They strapped on snowshoes and trundled over for the night. Sunday afternoon their house remained without power, though they managed to have their driveway plowed (the street remained unplowed). They came home to open faucets to prevent frozen pipes. Temperature hovered below 50 degrees inside the house. The evening forecast called for wind chills in the teens.

They arranged to stay at a Marriott Sunday night, but before they checked in they were alerted that it, too, had lost power. Instead they stayed at a different friend’s home.

On Monday they trekked back to their powerless home and started throwing out food. They loaded frozen meats on a plastic sledding disc, rigged up a harness, and mushed their way to the first friend’s house and freezer. Their son’s nearby townhouse regained power, so they stayed with him and his family Monday night.

Washington area forecast is for another foot of snow from the new storm. Forecast for power restoration, if it doesn’t happen by today, is Friday at the earliest.

Schadenfreude: Dictionaries define this German term as “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.” It partly explains why people relish celebrity gossip. During football season, I take comfort when the Giants lose if the Redskins, my brother's team, lose as well. But this is different. Though I’ve kidded him about his snow predicament, there is little joy in what he and a quarter of a million others in the Maryland suburbs alone are going through.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Turning Point

What was the turning point of Super Bowl XLIV?

Was it the successful onside kick New Orleans executed at the beginning of the second half? Not in my opinion.

Was it the 73-yard touchdown interception by New Orleans’ Tracy Porter that sealed the victory? Nope.

Was it the missed field goal by Matt Stover of the Colts at the beginning of the fourth quarter when his team was leading 17-16? Not by a wide margin.

Was it the failure of the Colts to gain a first down at the end of the first half, thus giving the Saints another chance to kick a field goal, which they did? Close, but no cigar.

The turning point, in my humble analysis, came in the second quarter, with Indianapolis ahead 10-3 and seemingly driving at will through the Saints defense. They had scored the first two times they possessed the ball. On their third drive, their first in the second quarter, the Colts faced a third down and four yards to go from their 28-yard line. Peyton Manning arched a perfect pass to Pierre Garcon, hitting him in stride as he diagonally crossed the field at the Colts 45-yard line.

“If he catches this it’s a footrace around the corner,” said CBS analyst Phil Simms, meaning that it could have been another score for Indianapolis, or at least a sizable gain. “If he catches.” “Could have been.” Phrases that convey a missed opportunity, for Garcon, the Haitian hero of the AFC title game two weeks earlier, dropped the ball.

“That’s a momentum changer, perhaps,” said announcer Jim Nantz, as prescient a call as any I’ve heard.

The Colts were forced to punt, and though the Saints at first failed to score despite getting down to the Colts 1-yard line (they eventually kicked a field goal to end the first half down 10-6), the game’s momentum indeed had shifted. In the second half, the Saints had the ball four times, producing two touchdowns and field goal. The Colts had the ball four times. They scored one touchdown, but also gave up Porter’s TD interception.

From my turning point in the game, The Saints outscored the Colts 28-7.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Holding in her fingertips the telltale evidence she had plucked from the shower drain, Gilda smirked ever so slightly as she informed me I was losing my hair.

It’s a good thing Yul Brynner was one of her heartthrobs, or my days as her loving companion might be limited by my follicle longevity.

I had been noticing small clumps of hair for weeks now. Stoically, in denial, I reasoned they must be Gilda’s, even as I realized the strands were too short and too dark to be hers.

Still, I wasn’t panicking. After all, my brother had been teasing me for four decades that my hairline was receding. Yet, anyone who looks at my picture to the right of this writing can see I retain a full head of hair, with little if any grey on my dome, but lots of white in my beard.

It’s not as if I should be unprepared for the topless look—I closely resemble my father and he was bald by the time he reached 30. I’ve more than doubled his hairy output.

One theory posits baldness is inherited from your mother’s father. In that case, I’m doomed. Grandpa Louis Gerson’s head resembled one of the globes in front of an old pawn shop. He had less hair than my father!

Calm, must stay calm. Wikipedia says “severe stress may cause a hair loss condition known as telogen effluvium.” Sounds ominous. But I don’t think that’s the cause as I’m under less stress these days than when I wore socks every day to work.

Looks like this will be a long-term theme to monitor. But don’t look for updated pictures. I kind of like the way I look in my current photo.

Zombiecrats: Here’s a quick, 24-second YouTube video that combines politics with the current fascination with zombies:

The Worst Name: I’ve always found that buying or leasing a car is one of the more agonizing experiences in life. No matter how easy the transaction is portrayed in ads, invariably a problem surfaces. So I was more than slightly amused to hear a radio ad promising no hassles when you buy or lease a new BMW from...Hassel Motors. Was there ever a worse name for a car dealership?

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Everyone seems to agree that before the country will be able to extricate itself from the current economic catastrophe, more jobs need to be created. Following the State of the Union address, the National Retail Federation underscored its position that sales would not rebound until more Americans are working.

“President Obama’s focus on the economy and job creation needs to be Washington’s highest priority,” said NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin.

I share that sentiment but found it more than a little disconcerting that on the very same Web site ( where I read the NRF’s statement, there were articles about Macy’s cutting 1,500 jobs, The Home Depot slashing 1,000 jobs, and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club division eliminating 11,000 jobs, though many of the Sam’s Club unfortunates might be hired by an outside firm to conduct the same in-store sampling activities Wal-Mart had paid them to perform.

The message from retailers is not encouraging: Sales won’t get better till more people have jobs, and in the interim, we’re going to lay people off.

I know why they’re doing it. But it just underscores the severity and intractability of this Great Recession.