Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Never much of a handyman around the house—like most Jewish men I know, my handiwork encompasses writing checks that don’t bounce—I’ve been honing my DIY (do-it-yourself) skills of late. Today, for example, using my jig saw and new cordless drill, I built a slanted foot stand on which to stretch my Achilles tendons. Total cost: $14.07. Not bad, considering that physical therapy over the last month has cost almost $300 per session! I also power-sprayed part of our slate patio. Amazing how much dirt can accumulate over 25 years!!!

Today’s successes notwithstanding, I’m in no rush to proclaim myself the next incarnation of Bob Vila. Back in September 1978, I learned the hard way to be humble when it comes to home repairs.

We had just moved into our first house, a 1932 three bedroom Tudor. Gilda was eight months pregnant with Dan. One Sunday evening, while she painted and wallpapered his bedroom (oh, stop rolling your eyes and shaking your head at the thought of her standing on a ladder. We wanted the job done right, after all), I occupied myself with more ground level tasks. I changed the cylinder on the garage door. I fixed the door on the washing machine. I was on a roll. It was now time to tackle the leaky flush ball in the basement toilet. Gilda had bought a repair kit. I simply had to follow the instructions.

I took the top off the tank. I removed the faulty plug from the valve assembly and immediately set off a gusher of cold water. It splashed off the ceiling, drenched me and would not stop. I screamed for Gilda. From two flights above she heard me, raced downstairs and feared she would become a widow from all the water bouncing off the light fixture above me. You idiot, she basically said. Why didn’t you shut the water off? I countered that I followed every instruction provided by the kit she bought. Nowhere, nowhere, did it say, SHUT THE WATER OFF BEFORE YOU START, DUMMY!!!

OK, all I had to do was shut the water off. Modern toilets generally have a shut-off valve below the tank. Did I mention that this house was built in 1932? Back then, at least for this toilet, the plumber didn’t think an exterior shut-off valve was necessary. I tried stuffing towels into the open valve to stem the flow, but like BP and the rest of the world are finding out, it’s not that easy stopping a liquid under pressure that wants to escape. Water was already several inches deep in the bathroom. The only consolation was we already were in the basement and no damage could be done to our living quarters.

We were about to call an emergency plumber when we remembered that during the recent inspection prior to purchasing our home, the inspector pointed out the main water pipe. Now if we could only remember where he said it was. It took several more wet minutes but we located it and managed to turn the water off. I re-inserted the plug, turned the water back on and asked Gilda to call a plumber Monday morning.

Jodie showed up the next day, cheerfully telling Gilda these old toilets are tricky, that if you’re not careful you could easily crack a pipe, which he promptly did. By the time he finished we were hundreds of dollars poorer, but richer in that we had a whole new toilet assembly, with an exterior shut-off valve.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Catching Up

Just back from four nights in Finley-land. It’s a lot easier being a grandparent than a parent. I’m sure all grandparents adore their grandkids, but I must say, had our children been as “easy” as Finley, Gilda and I definitely would not have stopped at two.

As babies, Dan and Ellie resisted going to bed early, and when they did finally succumb they wouldn’t let Gilda sleep more than two hours in any one stretch, even into their toddling years (for those wondering why Gilda suffered and I didn’t, as much, it’s because she was breastfeeding them). Finley, on the other hand, adheres to a schedule. Most nights, without complaint, he’s put to bed around 7 and doesn’t wake up until 3ish, then it’s back to bed till around 7. He takes two hour naps in the morning and afternoon. He smiles a lot, plays by himself, doesn’t require constant holding. He even enjoys the solid, or rather mush, food he’s getting—peaches, peas, bananas and, his favorite, apple sauce. His “dessert” treat is a few swigs of water through a double handled tippy-cup.

Sorry if I’m gushing like a proud granddad. Can’t help it. (For more on the wunderkid, plus pictures, visit

Being with Finley finally triggered my decision to pick GM as my grandparent name. I had previously rejected GM (Grandpa Murray) in deference to my nephew-in-law’s prior employment with the Ford Motor Co. But the more I thought about it, including my recent blog reminder about Henry Ford’s anti-semitism, the less inclined I was to honor that decision. So GM it is, along with GG for Grandma Gilda.

Fearless Prediction 1: My last political prediction was that President Obama would pick Hillary Clinton to succeed John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court as a means of diffusing partisan debate on the nomination and also to remove any possibility that she would consider running for president in 2012. I also thought it was important to have at least one Protestant on the court (

Well, unless Elena Kagan really muffs it as she begins today her Senate confirmation process, my fearless prediction will have to wait until another vacancy arises (hopefully on the Conservative—hard to call it simply Republican—side of the bench).

It was no comfort to read Noah Feldman’s Op/Ed piece in today’s NY Times that six Catholics and three Jews on the Supreme Court would be a good thing ( Feldman may be a law professor at Harvard, but I believe he is wrong. The strength of this country lies in its diversity and acceptance of different cultures. Yes, it’s wonderful that White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) no longer have a stranglehold on power. But it is equally important their views and heritage be incorporated into the deliberations of our highest (not necessarily the best) legal minds.

Fearless Prediction 2: The McChrystal debate raged on in Mamaroneck yesterday. Was the four-star general shrewd or not in venting before a Rolling Stone reporter? I’m not going to relate the arguments put forward at the afternoon get-together. But I will go on the record with my next fearless political prediction:

Stanley McChrystal will be touted as a 2012 Republican presidential candidate. Never mind that he doesn’t have any elective office background. Forget that he disregarded the chain of command, that he dissed the president, the vice president and countless other civilian officials. All those “negatives” will be viewed as positives by Republicans, especially Tea Partiers.

Like McClellan during the Civil War and MacArthur during the Korean War, he’s a military man who will seek the White House, or at the very least be sought after as the GOP savior-warrior. Maybe it’s the “Mic” sound at the start of their names that hotwires all these generals to go rogue and defy their commanders-in-chief.

Can you really trust someone who eats just one meal a day? Sounds very Bin Ladenish to me.

Fearless Observation: My observation that Eliot Spitzer was riding high and hard on the rehabilitation trail ( proved accurate with the announcement last Wednesday that he will co-host a new CNN prime time talk show beginning in the fall. Seems hardly a week goes by without some politician or public figure being ensnared in a sex scandal. The public’s ability to keep track of all the dirty linen would be sorely tested if not for all of the celebrity gossip shows, YouTube videos and our overall fascination with sleeze.

The more I learn about our nation’s history the more I am coming to understand this fixation is not new, that the Internet, TV and gossip magazines are mere instruments of our sexual hangups and curiosity. As far back as Dolley Madison, if not earlier, politicians and pundits wondered if the presidency was sullied, even obtained, by sexual favors.

So let the pols play on. It diverts our attention from such pressing matters as immigration reform, energy policy, peace in the Mideast and any number of other issues that cloud the national debate on whether Al and Tipper or Bill and Hillary are representative of marriage today.

Return of the Wasps: Notwithstanding my earlier comment about the need for more WASPs on the Supreme Court, I was surprised this afternoon by the return of a wasp to my master bathroom. Over the years wasps have filtered down from the attic through the fan vent above the shower. Curiously, this year the fly-ins rarely occurred. I wondered if wasps were suffering the same vanishing fate as bees.

As much as I dislike, even fear, wasps, they do provide a service, eating up other insects. But my tolerance has its limits. Invade my living quarters, and you no longer enjoy my hospitality, as this afternoon’s wasp found out.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Finley Principle

Trust. The first two definitions in the Merriam-Webster dictionary are: 1a) assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; 2b) one in which confidence is placed.

They’ve trusted me with Finley this morning. Dan went off to work. After putting Finley down for his morning nap, Allison drove off to her former classroom to clean out her belongings. She’s changing jobs in the fall, so it’s time to retrieve all her possessions from the Cabot School where she spent the last seven years.

Someone had to watch Finley. That’s what retired grandparents are for, n’est pas?

Last time I soloed with Finley he was but a few weeks old and it was supposed to be just a few moments while he slept and Allison dashed out to the cleaners. Finley was sleeping in the Beco carrier I was wearing when he woke up unexpectantly and discharged an unmistakable sound. I hadn’t changed a diaper in more than a quarter century (Ellie had toilet trained at 17 months!!!) but I wasn’t going to let him wallow in poop until mom came home. It’s a good thing I didn’t. A few moments turned into more than a quarter hour from poop time because a traffic tie-up forced Allison to take a detour home.

The now 7-month-old Finley started his nap a little after 9 am. Dan called to check in at 10:30, waking me from my nap. Allison called around 11. Ditto result. Finley finally woke up around 11:20, let me change, dress and place him in the car seat in Dan’s Subaru (we had switched cars because my Toyota didn’t have the proper baby seat anchoring system) and patiently awaited our trip to the Cabot School. I reversed down the driveway, adhered to Lady Garmin’s direction to drive “the highlighted route” and then heard a grinding noise come from the rear of the car. It was not coming from Finley. I stopped, got out out and found the rear right tire...flat!

Allison rushed home, AAA changed the tire, but the principle had been set in my mind. I now trust in the Finley Principle—if something can go wrong while I babysit, it will.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Day in the Life

Went to see The A-Team today on the recommendation of two friends, who shall continue to be friends despite having sentenced me to an eternal loss of two-plus hours of my life. But not all is lost. I did get another installment of my life juxtaposed with reality. It’s stranger than fiction, believe me...

Sitting in the darkened theater waiting for the feature to begin, I watched a commercial for Hershey Park and thought back to the time in June 1972 when Gilda and I were in that area of Pennsylvania and barely escaped with our lives. In researching the details, turns out our brush with danger happened on this exact day, June 22. Eerie.

As explained in a previous blog (, after graduating with an MA in journalism I traveled to many newspapers searching for that elusive first job. Gilda and I packed up my Buick Skylark for a trip to Delaware, Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania. Riding through northern Delaware we drove in and out of torrential downpours so thick that sometimes we had to stop the car under an overpass because we couldn’t see out the windshield. After each cloudburst, the sky would brighten.

We plied on, heading towards Harrisburg. It was late in the afternoon when we hit Hershey. We stopped at the Hershey Inn, but the price of a room was way too high for a not yet employed reporter. Everywhere else we looked, however, had no vacancies. We were about to swallow our pride and budget and go back to the Hershey Inn when we came across a motel built like an old Victorian home. It had a room, in the basement, next to a steep driveway. Though she was currently renting a basement apartment in Brooklyn, Gilda had no desire to spend the night underground, so we pushed on, fortuitously discovering the newly opened Milton Motel sitting on a slight bluff less than half a mile away. We took a room, ate dinner at a nearby restaurant, went to bed and slept right through Hurricane Agnes which at the time was considered to have caused the worst flooding in U.S. history (

On both sides of the Milton Motel roads were impassable beyond half a mile, and remained that way for more than a day. We weren’t too inconvenienced. We played cards. As the motel still had power, we watched some TV. And we had our choice of restaurants, a fast food hamburger joint to the right of the motel, a fried chicken place to the left. Only one thing kept us from fully enjoying the experience. Within our arc of comfort lay the Victorian-style motel, now submerged in water up to the second floor! Not being a swimmer, I shuttered to think what I would have done if water had gushed into our basement room.

In recent days, floods have killed scores of people worldwide. Had it not been for Gilda’s reluctance to spend another night below grade, I, we, might not be here today, 38 years later.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day Present, and Past

For Father’s Day, my daughter Ellie gave me a present that reminded me of my mother.

Ellie spent Saturday night preparing kreplach and chicken soup with lots of thick, sweet carrots and thin lokshen (noodles). Kreplach are Jewish wontons. Jewish meat ravioli. Jewish stuffed dumplings. Triangular in shape, at least the way my mother used to make them and Ellie did as well, kreplach are among my favorite foods. Alas, they are also among the foods I rarely get to enjoy, as they are labor intensive and messy to make.

One of the most enduring memories of childhood in Brooklyn is my mother cooking for the holidays. Each Jewish holiday brought different treats. For the night before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the signature culinary delight were kreplach. Mom would painstakingly hand-shred well-cooked brisket. With flour dusting up the kitchen and adjacent dinette, she’d roll dough until wafer thin, cut it into squares, place a dollop of shredded meat in the center and fold the edges over into perfectly shaped right angle triangles. Like a general preparing troops for battle, mom would array the boiled kreplach in lines worthy of military precision on the dinette table. It was my job to deliver some of her handiwork to the neighbors. I hated that job, not because as a young boy I’d be embarrassed. Rather, it pained me to part with any of my favorite food.

Ellie’s kreplach easily were two, or even three, times the size of my mother’s, and just as tasty. When I ate them Sunday afternoon in her apartment in Brooklyn I was instantly transported back to the 1950s and 1960s. We couldn’t finish them all, so naturally I took home the leftovers for lunch today. And that’s when the kreplach shifted my memories back to my father.

In keeping with the nostalgia moment, during lunch I turned on I love Lucy. The episodes I watched (yes, episodes; watching I Love Lucy is like eating potato chips—you can’t watch just one) conveyed the continuing story of Little Ricky getting a dog despite Lucy and Ricky’s objections and the Ricardos’ decision to move to the suburbs, to Westport, Conn.

I’ve already chronicled our father’s antipathy to the two dogs we had, each for one year (

Around the time I joined our family in March 1949, we moved from an apartment on Tehama Street in Brooklyn to an attached two-floor row house on Avenue W in the Sheepshead Bay section. “Modest” would be a kind description of its architecture, layout and, most cuttingly, interior decoration, considering the resources available to our father and mother. Yet, I was content there. I think my brother was, as well. Our sister was not. She lobbied long and hard for a move to the suburbs, a move to Long Island. Her friend Pauline’s family moved to Woodmere, if memory serves, right after they both graduated from elementary school. It was the perfect time to transplant the family, right before she would be starting high school, Lee said. Pauline’s dad was no more successful than ours, so why couldn’t we move as well, Lee argued.

Dad had no desire to play the game of “keeping up with the Joneses” (in this case, the Lipsons). He continuously resisted our mother’s entreaties to shed his Buicks and buy a Cadillac (he did so once, then reverted back to form). He had no desire to ride the rails to his factory in downtown Manhattan, and since commuting by car from Long Island had less appeal than hearing Lee kvetch and moan, he chose to stay put, no doubt reasoning that Lee’s tenure at home was maybe four or eight years more, but a move to the suburbs was a life sentence.

So we stayed at 1810 Avenue W, building up memories that to this day can be evoked by the aroma and taste of simple foods made with love by a younger generation, and eaten, maybe, with a tear forming in the corner of an eye.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

One year, or as the song “Seasons of Love,” from Rent put it, “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes...”

A year ago, as publisher and group editorial director of Chain Store Age, I ran a mid-to-high-single-digit million-dollar enterprise encompassing a monthly magazine, a Web site, e-newsletters and several conferences. Today, I run errands. A year ago I supervised two dozen associates. Today, I plan activities for one.

My last commute to the office at 425 Park Avenue took place a year ago today, June 18, 2009. It was a trip I made for more than 32 years, driving to the White Plains Transcenter parking garage, riding Metro North into Grand Central Terminal, walking up Park Avenue to 55th Street, taking the elevator to the 6th floor.

Forced retirement, even if welcomed, as it was by me, has confronted many of my demographic cohorts. The number of unemployed age 55 and over increased 331% between January 2000 and December 2009, going from 490,000 to 2,114,000, according to AARP. To paraphrase a lyric from the song “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof, “It’s no great honor being a statistic.”

Yet, please don’t read this and wonder if I am depressed. I am not. I have no regrets about what happened. The economy tanked. Publishing tanked. Our area of coverage—retailing, specifically capital spending by retailers—tanked. We made cutbacks, within my group and within the whole company. They weren’t enough. The role of any manager is to prepare the next generation of management. I did my job well. Two associates were ready to take on my responsibilities. Sure, I would have liked to continue, but the prudent corporate move was to reduce overhead. I was treated fairly.

I’m often asked if I’d like to work full-time again. No, not really. I’ve paid my dues. Publishing is an especially brutal business these days. Not that it ever was a 9 to 5 job, but the Internet has made it even more of a round-the-clock profession. I do miss the recognition. Last week I participated in a retail industry panel discussion and was humbled to hear the other panelist describe how he followed my commentary over the years. For three decades I was the voice of Chain Store Age. Nothing, nothing was published without my seal of approval. But Chain Store Age was not mine to hand down to my family. It was my job, not my equity. In return for value received, I produced value. Call it rationalization, if you will, but I’ve come to the belief that at some point one has to say, “I have enough. Enough to do what I want to do. Enough to live the rest of my life in comfort. Enough to hopefully leave something to my children.” Each person will determine their level of “enough.” Hopefully, I’ve calculated correctly.

I enjoy most days. That’s no different than when I was working. Occasionally I do wish Gilda or some of my friends were already retired so we could have play dates. But even when I was employed my closest work-friends already had left the company. For most of my working life I ate lunch in restaurants with one or more of them. During the last few years I ate too many meals at my desk. Few things were as lonely as eating lunch by oneself. For some reason, it’s not as lonely in retirement.

In case you’re wondering, I keep fairly busy. I don’t sleep late. I usually get up within 30 minutes of Gilda’s departure for work sometime between 7 and 7:30. I rarely nap during the day. I don’t watch much television—usually a DVR’ed tape of the prior night’s Daily Show and maybe The Colbert Report during lunch, and perhaps an old movie. I write several hours most days (these blogs don’t show up mysteriously, you know). I do a little consulting work for a few companies. I exercise, mostly walking in the neighborhood. I run errands, do the shopping midweek to avoid weekend crowds. Once a week I deliver meals to homebound seniors. I don’t nosh—I weigh a few pounds less than a year ago. I play sous-chef for Gilda, prepping salad and other foods for her return from work—as I might have previously written, during our marriage we have divided the chores thusly: Gilda cooks (really well), we both eat (sumptuously), I clean. I am content.

I actually have one regret. I had hoped to read a book a week in retirement. Not even close. I won’t embarrass myself by detailing my paltry output, or should that be input? Whatever.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


To some degree, to a very small degree, I know how Robert Green feels. He’s the goalkeeper of England’s World Cup soccer team who muffed a seemingly easy save, allowing the United States to secure a 1-1 tie in their first round match on Saturday.

I never played goalie, but in college I headed a ball past a keeper. Too bad he was protecting my team’s net. Ouch. Had it been the deciding goal in the intramural game, I would possibly be scarred for life. But my Brooklyn College house plan (like a fraternity but without national affiliation or dormitory privileges) had already given up too many scores to win the game when a high kick came soaring towards our goal. Playing fullback, one of the defensemen, I retreated towards the net, positioning myself where I thought the ball would land. I miscalculated. Instead of hitting my head square, the ball skidded off the back of my crown. Right past our goalie. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!

I never really liked soccer. Like most yuppie parents I brought our son Dan to soccer tryouts when he turned 7. Dan really wasn’t too enthusiastic a player back then, even when he “made” our city’s traveling all-star team two years later. Everyone “made” the team. The better players went onto the A team. Dan was placed on the B team. He played fullback, like his dad, only Dan turned out to be the politest of defenders. If a ball rolled between him and an opponent, Dan exhibited his own brand of sportsmanship by not interfering with that player’s forward motion. It was frustrating to watch, especially since schlepping him to practices was quite inconvenient. On a positive note, Dan was no worse a player than most of the others on the team.

Early October 1987 proved to be pivotal in Dan’s athletic development. His team was playing a four-game weekend tournament in Yonkers. It was a pitiful showing, made all the more gloomy by torrential rains (unlike baseball, soccer is played in the rain). His team lost the first game something like 11-3, the second game 10-2, the third game 13-4. As he waited to play the final game, Dan asked me if he could be goalie. I told him to ask the coach, who quickly said, no, he was still trying to evaluate the team’s goalie. Near the end of a 10-0 rout, the coach relented and allowed Dan to play the last five minutes in goal. Now, with no one except himself as the last line of defense, something inside Dan clicked. He attacked the forwards charging at him. He dove in the mud to make saves. The coach took notice. From that mucky, yucky finish, Dan became the team’s starting goalie, a position he didn’t relinquish even after elevation to the A team and through high school varsity.

I loved watching Dan in goal. He was decisive. Athletic. Demanding of himself and his teammates. He played hurt. One tournament he played four games before the coach realized he had fractured his wrist. White Plains won all four of those games.

I didn’t get to see any of Dan’s high school varsity games because of work. So I made a point of getting to the state sectional match against Mamaroneck in Dan’s senior year. I arrived at Mamaroneck’s field during half-time of a 0-0 game, found a seat in the bleachers and waited for the teams to emerge. Dan didn’t come out. Someone else was in goal. Turns out, Dan had injured his leg thwarting a breakaway. My disappointment, as well as Dan’s, was made even more palpable by a 1-0 overtime loss.

To my knowledge, that was the last organized soccer game Dan played. He shifted his athletic allegiance to Ultimate Frisbee, first at college and then at the club level ( In a little less than three weeks his Boston-based frisbee team will travel to Prague to compete in the world championships. The tournament won’t get the same international attention the World Cup is generating from South Africa, except, that is, among Ultimate’s fanatical base of players and supporters.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Flora, Fauna and Betty White

Gilda and I went on an after-dinner stroll last Friday night. About a block from home, an Eastern coyote crossed the street some 50 yards ahead. Gilda wasn’t sure it was a coyote, but the next day our neighborhood association left a flyer in the mailbox warning about “recent coyote sightings,” describing the Eastern coyote as looking “like a medium-sized German shepherd dog, with long thick fur. The tail is full and bushy, usually carried pointed down. Ears are erect and pointed. Coyotes are usually 4 to 5 feet in length (including tail) and weigh 35 to 45 pounds.”

That sure fit what I saw meandering through our subdivision. With Saxon Woods Park just a block away, it doesn’t surprise me we’re prime stomping grounds for the scavenging critters. It’s not uncommon for us to see deer and wild turkeys on our property (and a few years ago I swear I saw a bear walking in the park in early spring).

Coyotes on the prowl could explain a few other occurrences, or non-occurrences. First, the latter—Gilda says her garden is doing better than in years’ past. Her explanation: fewer rabbits, which usually made a cozy home on our homestead. Fewer rabbits means her plants aren’t being eaten. My explanation: the rabbits have been turned into food themselves by wily coyote. Score one for the coyote.

I’ve also noticed feathers on our lawn and patio near the bird feeding stations. We’ve still got a sizable bird population flocking in, but I have no doubt the number has been culled by a few, shall we say, less fortunate flyers. Coyotes are attracted to bird feeding areas, so I might have to cut back on the goodies, at least until the predator stops lurking in the shadows. Subtract one from the coyote’s score.

One thing I haven’t noticed this spring are hummingbirds. I’ve tried two different hummingbird feeders with no luck seeing any of the long distance aviators, though one portion of their liquid diet did get consumed a few weeks ago, without any sightings. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a hummingbird blight in the Northeast, much like the inexplicable loss of millions of bees and bats. I stopped by the local Wild Birds Unlimited store and found out the hummingbirds took off from South America for northern climes two weeks late and our trees bloomed two weeks early, making for a very disappointing showing. Perhaps they’ll be more visible on their way back to the southern hemisphere. They should be back in White Plains mid-August.

Trifolium repens: One blight I am sure has befallen almost every landowner is an infestation of Trifolium repens, otherwise known as white clover. It’s a white flowered, creeping perennial weed with stems that root at nodes. It is said to be relatively easy to control, but my gardeners, and apparently everyone else’s as well, seem to be powerless to plow under the creeping tide.

White clover is better than yellow dandelions, but not by much. Plus, white clover is said to attract bees, which in my no socks mode is not an incentive to go prancing about the lawn.

I Should Live So Long: One or two sprigs are visible on the nine-foot stump-of-a-tree left by our “friendly” neighbor just off our common property line (

I’m figuring the tree will reach out with meaningful branches some time in the next 20 years. I’m 61. You do the math. Not that I’m planning any early exit, but I do hope I will be able to enjoy, physically and mentally, some of the beauty this tree previously provided.

Of course, the initial sprigs are facing the tree Gilda and I planted a few weeks ago, so if our neighbor’s tree limbs encroach on our baby, I just might have to fire up the old chain saw. Oops, forgot I gave that away years ago. I’ll just have to prune it back manually (for those who can’t figure out what that means, that’s code for I’ll pay someone).

Betty Not So White: Seemingly no one can say a bad word about Betty White, the 88-year-old actress/comedienne who recently did a star turn hosting Saturday Night Live and who also is co-starring in a new TV Land situation comedy debuting Wednesday night. Called Hot in Cleveland, the show also features Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick as three Los Angelinos who wind up renting a house in Cleveland from Betty White. It’s a retro Sex and the City/Golden Girls combo.

So I’m watching Jon Stewart interview Betty during Monday night’s Daily Show and he’s all gaga over her, lauding her for “drawing the line” on some offensive material. “I won’t do drug jokes,” said White. “Every once in a while they write something like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if the old ladies all smoked pot, or they did something like this.’ I just don’t think drugs are funny and I don’t like to make jokes about them.” (She also draws the line at “any unkindness to animals.”)

I was feeling pretty good about her code of ethics when Stewart cut away for a commercial, a promo for Hot in Cleveland featuring the following dialogue:

Jane Leeves character: Does anyone else smell pot?
Betty White character: What are you, a cop?
JL: No.
BW: Then what’s it to you?

Either Betty White doesn’t know pot is a drug and still illegal in most jurisdictions or she has established her own drug culture rules.

D-Day Hero Update: Commemorating D-Day’s 66th anniversary prompted Herb Bilus to try to reconnect with the skipper of his Landing Craft Infantry #96 ( He googled Marshall, only to sadly discover this hero of D-Day died April 12.

Once before, in 1984, Herb actually reached Marshall on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. But Marshall put off seeing him then as he was preparing to travel for business to Japan the following day for two weeks.

Herb asked that he call when he returned, so they could “go out and have a drink together. That was '84. Okay, I'm still waiting for that drink. I don't know if he is still alive. He never called. But anyhow, I guess he wasn't interested in seeing anybody, which is okay,” Herb related in an oral history he gave to Rutgers University, his alma mater (

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Bosch Affair

For how many years did Helen Thomas harbor an antipathy—let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and not call it a prejudice—toward Jews? A dedicated UPI reporter for 57 years upholding the profession’s ideal of objectivity, Thomas at long last was free, more or less, to say what she really felt as a columnist for Hearst during the last 10 years. She weighed in against George Bush, Dick Cheney and Israel, among others. Controversial comments were no stranger to her dialogue.

The soon to be 90-year-old daughter of Lebanese Christian immigrants, Thomas’ anti-Israel and anti-Jewish remarks may be explained away, but not condoned, as an outgrowth of her background. She wouldn’t be the first person to expose long dormant and repressed true colors given the opportunity.

I’ve got my own narrow-minded prejudices that express themselves in unusual ways. Take, for instance, my patchwork prejudice against anything German. Like many post-World War II Jews, I avoided buying German products, especially German autos, even though Israel welcomed Mercedes Benz cars and many of my friends drive them. I opted for Japanese cars. My avoidance of anything overtly German was sketchy, at best: I wouldn’t buy a Krups coffee maker, but Braun made its way into our household. At least one of our china patterns came from Germany. Overall, my prejudice against anything German had no rational design.

My biased-based boycott extended beyond German automakers. Henry Ford’s well-known anti-semitism prompted me to studiously avoid Fords as well, that is, after two years behind the wheel of a 1965 fire-engine red Mustang during my college years.

Ten years ago when we were remodeling our kitchen, Gilda wanted Bosch dishwashers (we were getting two). They were highly rated, among the quietest units on the market because of their steel interiors. I vetoed the idea. No way was I going to put a German name so prominently in our kitchen. Gilda was caught off guard. I explained that during World War I a nickname for the German army was “the Bosch.” Of course, during WWI, Germany did not persecute Jews. Indeed, Jews fought proudly for "Der Fatherland." That didn’t matter to me—my bias was set. We “settled” on steel-lined KitchenAid dishwashers.

Time now to replace our washing machine and dryer. The salesman at the local appliance store touted Bosch as the best value. I wasn’t up for another argument. I steered Gilda toward the Bosch units. To the rescue rode that All-American company, Sears. Its Kenmore brand washer and dryer rated better than Bosch, according to Consumer Reports (let’s not dwell on the fact that LG, a Korean company, makes the Kenmore appliances. I already expressed my leanings toward Asian manufacturing).

I’ll never know if I could have gone through with it, seeing Bosch-next-to-Bosch every day in the mud room leading in from the garage. The new washer and dryer arrived Friday. Kenmore sure does make a good product. Gilda loves them. So do I, for reasons beyond their cleaning power.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Presidential Wave

Helen Thomas, the now retired-in-disgrace White House correspondent, spent 50 years in the White House press room. I spent half a day there, at the end of which I was rewarded with a presidential wave intended for me and me alone.

While in graduate school at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, I did a paper on pack journalism. Prompted by coverage of the recent inmate uprising at Attica State Prison in upstate New York, the general thesis was that too often reporters pursued the same storyline en masse, usually at the expense of doing individual legwork on different angles of a story. A secondary aspect of the paper was research on whether the presence of a large press contingent altered events, inducing participants to play to the camera.

I chose to focus on presidential press coverage. This was pre-Watergate. February 1972. I secured visitor’s privileges from the White House press secretary’s office, traveled down to Washington through a snowstorm, stayed overnight with my brother and his wife in Silver Spring, Md., and arrived at the White House gate on Pennsylvania Avenue around noon. The West Wing of the White House contains the press room and the executive offices. When approached from Pennsylvania Avenue, the West Wing is on the right side of the White House.

Inside the press room, at the time a pretty dingy ground floor location with cramped desk space, I interviewed Peter Lisagor of the Chicago Daily News, Robert Pierpoint of CBS Radio and a few other names known to me then, but a distant memory now. Press Secretary Ron Ziegler pawned me off to one of his assistants, though he did stop by for a “nice-to-meet-you” chat (I reminded him of our casual first meeting some 20 years later when he was head of the chain drug store association and I was associate publisher and editor of a retail industry magazine).

My interviews complete, I left the White House the way I came in, walking along the circular driveway towards Pennsylvania Avenue. It was around 4 pm, I was the only one in the area when I heard running footsteps to my left, coming from the space between the White House and the Executive Office Building. There he was, Richard Nixon, wearing just a suit, no overcoat on this wintry day, walking back to the White House from the EOB, his Secret Service escort jogging alongside him.

Most people I knew back then, even before Watergate, loathed him. As did I. As our paths crossed some 30 yards apart, he waved to me.

I waved back, a full five-finger wave.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Make Room for Another Co-Pilot

Seems I’m not the only person with an Airplane! moment.

Here’s Richard Greenfield’s “somewhat similar, small plane story of my own that your post reminded me of--

“A number of years ago, I was invited, with a business associate from NYC, to go out to Nebraska to visit with a livestock grower that was trying to develop a market for a breed-specific beef program (he was raising a French breed called "Limousin"). We wound up at his ranch somewhere near Grand Island, NE, and had to get from there to Denver for a flight back to NYC.

“We took a small 9-seat Cessna from a cow pasture and I was seated next to the pilot. I distinctly remember thinking about the movie Airplane! and wondering if I could take over. Being the perverse person I am, I also thought that if he began to deflate I'd grab the wheel but not the air fill hose. Anyway, all was well until we got put into a holding pattern over the old Denver airport, in the dark, in an ever-increasing snow storm.

“After circling for about a half hour, the pilot turned to me and said, 'We’re getting a bit low on fuel. I think we're going to have to land someplace and refuel.' This news did not make me feel very good. We diverted to a small airport (and I mean small—1 runway, no lights and a shack at the end of the runway with a pay phone) in Akron, CO.

“When we taxied up to the shack, everyone got out to stretch their legs. The fuel pump was padlocked and there was a note on it that said, 'If you land and no one's home, call Clem,' with Clem's phone number. The pilot went to the pay phone (this was pre-cell phone) and called Clem. About an hour later, a pick-up truck came down the road and Clem unlocked the pump.

"At which point, we found out that the 'airline' had no credit at this 'airport' and the pilot had to charge the fuel on his personal credit card. Unfortunately, his credit limit was insufficient to pay for more than a half a tank. Much to my shock, the other passengers were OK with this. I was not and neither was my traveling companion from New York. I whipped out my AmEx card and said, 'There is no way I'm getting back on that plane and circling for God knows how long in a snowstorm without a full tank of gas! Fill it up on me!' And they did.

“I'm a profligate spender.”

OMG, I'm Your Co-Pilot

Have you seen the film clip of the crash landing of a small FAA plane in Ft. Worth, TX, last week? In case you didn’t, here’s a link— Chilling, but fortunately, no injuries.

I’ve always fantasized what I’d do if I found myself aboard a plane with no pilot able to fly the aircraft. Probably came from watching too many Grade B movies, or seeing Airplane! one too many times.

My opportunity to be ready and able at a moment’s notice came some 30 years ago, right after Airplane! hit the theaters. It happened during my first trip to Wal-Mart headquarters for its annual meeting weekend, the latest of which took place last Friday and Saturday.

I flew into Tulsa on a Thursday, to be picked up with nine Wall Street analysts for the one hour plane ride to Bentonville in northwest Arkansas. We’d be ferried in one of Wal-Mart’s five planes. Even back then, when Wal-Mart sales reached only $1.2 billion from 276 U.S. stores (today sales exceed $405 billion from more than 8,400 stores in 15 countries), Wal-Mart was known as an innovator, a company with its own air force.

Company founder Sam Walton was pilot #1. He’d fly out most days to survey site locations from the air and land almost anywhere to visit stores. You never knew where or when Sam would drop in on you.

I didn’t expect Sam to be our pilot that day.

Nor did I expect the plane would be an 11-seat prop. As the last one to board, I took the only vacant spot, the seat to the right of the pilot. Oh My God! I was in the co-pilot’s seat. I was both anxious and exhilarated. I masked my emotions, joking with the pilot I was ready to take over if needed. I was determined to study his every move, just in case.

And then it happened—in the middle of our conversation his voice went soft and he was talking with the tower. We slowly started taxiing. Wait a minute. I didn’t see him touch anything. His hands weren’t on the yoke. How could he be talking and moving the plane so...effortlessly? We just rolled to the top of the runway and zoomed into the air.

It was then I gave up any hope of being Ted Striker talked through a landing by Capt. Rex Kramer (those are Airplane! references, for the record).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day Heroes

Surrounded by two of his three daughters and their husbands, three of his six grandchildren, two great grandchildren, a grandson-in-law and a couple of friends of the family, Herb Bilus had steak for dinner Sunday evening. Sixty-six years ago to the day, June 6, 1944, Herb enjoyed another steak off the shores of Normandy after his Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) #96 delivered its first load of soldiers to Utah Beach as part of the greatest invasion in history.

Hard to believe Ensign Bilus and his cohorts would stop for a hearty meal while the fighting raged, but his commander had promised steak for all officers if they came through their first mission successfully, and so the officers, perhaps even the total crew of 22 Coast Guard sailors, celebrated their good fortune before going back to secure another load of 120 4th Army infantrymen bound for the beaches of France. Herb’s LCI was part of Flotilla 4, a group of 24 LCI ships. They made their initial drop during the sixth wave, roughly six hours after D-Day landings began. By the end of the day, four of their ships were lost off Omaha Beach.

It was off Omaha Beach Herb witnessed true courage, and fear, under fire. It was the task of each LCI to deliver its precious cargo of fighting men as close to the beach as possible, close enough so they could wade ashore without being sucked under by the weight of their packs. Anyone who has seen the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan may remember scenes of GI’s dropped off too soon. As they hit the too-deep water, they sunk to the bottom, drowned before firing a shot. Saving Private Ryan was closer to D-Day reality than any other movie, says Herb.

On one of their runs at Omaha Beach, under heavy incoming fire, a high ranking Navy officer ordered Herb’s ship commander, a Coast Guard lieutenant, to lower his ramps to drop off troops. The lieutenant disobeyed the direct order, arguing the water was too deep. While the Navy man dropped off his load to a watery death, Herb’s skipper steered his ship closer to the beach, giving his soldiers a chance to get to shore “safely,” if such a term can be used to describe any landing that day.

The lieutenant, Marshall was his first name (Herb recalls his last name but I’m going to leave it out for what will be evident shortly), was unusual for a couple of reasons. Jewish by birth, Marshall refused to use his last name. It was too ethnic. Even when a telegram came for him under his full name, he would not acknowledge it.

Herb also suspects Marshall was gay. He was a real dandy, going off by himself during shore leave, wearing felt gloves and carrying a swagger stick. An artist, Marshall painted a mural about Flotilla 4 in the English estate house provided to them in Dartmouth by the author Agatha Christie.

The lived in close quarters aboard LCI #96. Herb has trouble reconciling current opposition to lifting the ban on allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces.

In a few weeks, Herb will be 89. He’s considered a youngster at his independent living residence in downtown White Plains. They don’t start counting your years until you’ve completed nine decades. Herb’s full of life and stories. Those interested in reading more about Herb’s exploits can do so by linking to an oral history he provided Rutgers University:

For those who don’t know, Herb’s daughters are Jane Gould, Pat Lager and Fran Bilus Feldman.

A Tall Basketball Story

John Wooden died Friday. He was 99. Wooden was the legendary coach of the UCLA basketball team. His teams won seven consecutive NCAA national championships, 10 in 12 years. He was called the Wizard of Westwood, Westwood being the section of Los Angeles UCLA calls home.

He was a great coach, made more unstoppable by the procession of great high school players who chose his college program. Dominant among them all was Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In the mid-1960s, Alcindor played for Power Memorial High School in Manhattan. All of his games drew frenzied crowds. Everyone wanted to watch the seven-footer play. Power Memorial had a hard time finding quality scrimmage opponents, an even harder time finding neutral courts that wouldn’t turn every practice into a media event.

Enter Bernie Kirsner, coach of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Falcons, but more importantly, for this story at least, also coach of the Erasmus High School Dutchmen, a basketball powerhouse in its own right, city champions in 1965 and second in 1966. Kirsner had a keen eye for talent. It was he who cut short my basketball career, not even granting me a spot on Flatbush’s junior varsity squad. He saw right away I couldn’t dribble and drive to the basket. In all truthfulness, my jump shot wasn’t too dependable back then, either.

Kirsner arranged for Power Memorial to play Erasmus on an undisclosed date on a neutral court—the gym of Yeshivah of Flatbush. The afternoon of the game only Flatbush students could gain entry into the gym. My classmates even shared the locker room with Alcindor as he dressed for the game. They said he was “really big,” in more ways than one, if you get what I mean. They said the game was great fun to watch, really competitive.

They said a lot more, but as you’ve probably noticed by now, I keep deferring to what my friends said rather than giving my own version of the event. That’s because I wasn’t there—I cut school that day. Wasn’t sick. Just cut school. Who knew that I would choose to cut school the one day I could have watched Lew Alcindor up close and for free?

Years later, Gilda and I watched the now Abdul-Jabbar play the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. After the game we saw him walking on Seventh Avenue. Gilda remarked how tall he was (7’2”), that she could probably walk through his legs without hitting her head. Recalling what my friends said some 10 years earlier, I suggested that probably couldn’t happen.

Friday, June 4, 2010

News and Views

Stay, Mr. President: President Obama is going to Louisiana today to get another first hand look at the oil spill catastrophe. My advice—stay there until the gusher (it’s ludicrous to call it a leak) is plugged.

Though Obama and his aides profess his total engagement in this crisis, and late yesterday announced postponement of a planned trip to Asia this month, nothing will convey his attachment as much as his physical presence in the Gulf Region throughout the rest of this disaster. Yes, it’s a PR ploy, but this is not just about governance. It’s about politics and perception; the populace often is swayed by visuals. FDR’s fireside chats. JFK’s press conferences. Clinton at Oklahoma City. Bush II’s bullhorn moment at Ground Zero. Obama needs to show he is on the case, literally and figuratively. He needs to take charge of the narrative. He needs to emote more, to connect with people whose way of life, whose livelihood, have been tarnished, possibly forever.

It’s not as if the business of government would come to a standstill if he sojourned in Louisiana. Wherever a president travels or vacations the White House goes with him. He would be tethered to any government agency, here or abroad, through modern communications. Anyone who has to meet with him can travel to Louisiana. Obama needs to stop burnishing his image with photo ops like the one for Paul McCartney Wednesday night and have more pictures taken with workers cleaning up the BP mess. How much better would it have been if McCartney had received his Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song at a ceremony in New Orleans and later sang for a group of workers engaged in the cleanup instead of a select White House audience?

So prepare to stay for the duration, Barack. Order up some gumbo. Some beignets from Café du Monde. If you feel too confined in Bobby Jindal’s back yard, mosey over to Alabama or the Florida panhandle. Just stay in the Gulf. Your Gulf War is with BP. Let’s win this one faster than it’s taken to master that other war half a world away.

Summer Intern: News that a Dutchman, Joran van der Sloot, is in custody in connection with the murder of a Peruvian woman in Lima, Peru, hit home. Van der Sloot was a prime suspect in the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama teenager, vacationing in Aruba in 2005. Holloway is presumed dead, her body never found.

Two or three years ago I was reviewing résumés of potential summer interns. Among the three or four I found interesting was one from a young woman from the South. I googled her name, a common reference practice. Up popped stories about Natalee Holloway. Turned out she was one of Natalee’s friends, with her on that ill-fated trip to Aruba, and one of the last people to see her alive.

I didn’t bring her in for an interview, choosing instead to go with a more local candidate.

Jefferson High: The chairman/CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, grew up in East New York, one of the toughest neighborhoods of Brooklyn, a few blocks from where Gilda lived from the time she was eight till 14. Once a bedrock Jewish community, the neighborhood rapidly devolved in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Gilda escaped to upper Ocean Parkway just as she was entering high school. Instead of attending East New York’s Thomas Jefferson High School, Gilda went to Erasmus, one of the borough’s best.

Nearly six years younger than Gilda, Blankfein went to Jefferson. By then the community had become even more depressed. He was valedictorian of his 1971 class. No disrespect, but even I might have been able to be valedictorian of that school at that time.

Summer Camp: Heard a radio ad for an upscale summer sleep-away camp on the radio the other day—seven weeks for $10,000. Wow!

When I started shipping out to sleep-away camp in 1956, my parents paid $600 for an eight-week season. Camp Massad wasn’t upscale—no horseback riding or other exotic features. Not even a swimming pool, just a lake. Today, that $600 price point would translate to an inflation-adjusted $4,683.37.

We sent Dan and Ellie to Camp Laurelwood in Madison, Conn. It wasn’t upscale, either, but the kids really liked it. For seven weeks, Laurelwood today costs $5,500.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Double Standards

The loss of any innocent life is to be regretted, but two concurrent protests against the use of force by U.S. and Israeli military forces raise some troubling double standard questions. Actually, it’s a double-standard squared problem, as I will explain.

I am all for democratic countries waging war under “civilized” principles that include safeguarding civilian populations and never knowingly setting out to harm non combatants. It’s a standard all too often ignored by their foes. But one reason we believe America and Israel engage in “just wars” is the manner in which they are prosecuted. Both countries try to avoid civilian casualties.

The U.S., according to CBS News sources, has killed more than 500 terrorists in Pakistan over the last two years. They include the third-ranking Al Qaeda leader, killed in the last week. All died without the loss of a single U.S. serviceman, thanks to the technological efforts of our increasingly sophisticated unmanned drone air force. But in killing those terrorists, 30 civilians also died, CBS reported. Scores of civilians have died in Afghanistan from drone attacks, as well. A United Nations report claims drone strikes “amount to a license to kill” without being held accountable since neither the U.S. nor the Pakistani governments acknowledge the drones are operating over Pakistani soil. Further, the rise in drone warfare could lead to its adoption by other countries that would not be as discriminating in its use, the U.N. said (

The death of nine activists aboard a ship trying to pierce the blockade of the the Gaza Strip has once again raised voices protesting Israel’s right to defend itself. Hardly a whimper is heard when North Korea sinks a South Korean vessel, or when one Muslim faction blows up innocents praying at a mosque. But when Israel justifiably tries to determine if contraband and explosives are part of cargo bound for an enemy that has vowed its destruction, the world seems to awaken from its lethargy. Even the United States seems ready to castigate a reliable partner in the war on terror.

And yet, and here’s where the double-standard squared part comes in, read through the remarks made by a U.S. official justifying the drone attacks: “The United States has an inherent right to protect itself and will not refrain from doing so based on someone else’s exceptionally narrow—if not faulty—definition of self-defense.” Perhaps someone in the Obama administration needs to put that statement, substituting Israel for the United States, in front of the president and every other world leader and their respective staffs. No government in a state of war, as Israel is with Hamas, should be expected to sit by idly while its enemy arms itself with weapons that could penetrate major population centers. Hamas already has shown it does not wage “civilized” war. It purposely fires missiles into civilian areas.

I regret the loss of life on the Mavi Marmara. I regret Israel’s military precision failed to secure its objective without the loss of life. But I most regret the absence of a single, civilized standard adhered to by all combatants and the failure of the American government’s understanding that Israel has no room for slight miscalculations, that its existence depends on eternal vigilance. As candidate Barack Obama said during a visit to Sderot on the border of the Gaza Strip, "If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that."

Recognizing Perfection

It’s in the “best interests of baseball” for Commissioner Bud Selig to declare last nights’ effort by Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga “a perfect game.” He should do so quickly and unequivocally.

For those unaware of the circumstances, a perfect game is when a pitcher retires 27 consecutive outs over nine innings, not allowing any batter to reach base through a hit, a walk, an error or by being hit by a pitch. Twenty-seven up, 27 down. In baseball history, it’s happened just 20 times in 135 years, though interestingly twice already this season. With the help of his fielders, especially centerfielder Austin Jackson who made a sensational catch in the 9th and last inning to preserve the perfect game opportunity, Galarraga stood on the threshold of baseball history. With just one more out to go for a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians, he induced a ground ball from Jason Donald. It was a tough play. Hit between the first and second basemen, the ball was picked up by first baseman Miguel Cabrera. He threw to first base where Galarraga caught what he thought was the final out of his masterpiece, a moment before Donald touched the base. His celebration was cut short by umpire Jim Joyce’s signal that Donald had beaten the throw, that he was safe. Galarraga was stunned, but kept his composure enough to get the next batter, Trevor Crowe, to ground out to end the game, now officially recorded as a one-hitter. After the game Joyce viewed a replay of the call and admitted he made a mistake. It should have been a perfect game.

Of course there’s no precedent for Selig to change the call to award perfect game status. That’s what setting a precedent means. It’s a first-time event, and this incident has all the variables in the exact, perfect position so that it will not become a constant reference point. Because it should have been the last out of the game, and the next batter made out, the flow of the game was not changed. Every batter got up in the exact inning and spot he would have throughout the game. That would not have happened had the blown call occurred in, say, the fifth inning. By happening to the 27th batter, who should have been the last batter, the mistake is reversible with little consequence. The only changes required would be denying a hit to Donald and removing a failed at bat from Crowe’s career statistics.

Selig used his commissioner’s powers a few years ago to stop an all-star game. Now he needs to use those same powers to right a grievous wrong that can have economic fallout for Galarraga. No doubt the pitcher will receive publicity and some reward for his performance. But it no doubt will be less than he’d have received from having pitched a perfect game.

Even with two other perfect games this season, perfection on the diamond is rarely observed. It should not be denied because another person, an umpire in plain sight of millions, maybe even billions watching video replays, was less than perfect (here’s a link if you haven’t seen it:

Justice and fair play demand swift and immediate action by Selig, if for no other reason than 20 years from now it will make a fun trivia question—who was the only pitcher to record 28 outs in a perfect game? Or, alternatively, who made the 28th out in a perfect game? Either way, it's a perfect question.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No Time for Pets

Finley & Co. (in other words, his parents) spent the Memorial Day weekend with us. The little fellow is six and a half months old. That is to say, he’s reached the stage where personality and physical prowess have matured enough to make a baby pass from cute, lovable blob to actual person. He smiled, a lot. He played with objects. He rolled over. He made adorable sounds. He let Gilda and me feed him a bottle. He ate some solid food. He hardly ever cried, even when stuck in traffic in his car seat for hours during a failed attempt to introduce him to the joys of Coney Island. He even slept through the night. Almost. Way better than his father and Aunt Ellie did at that age.

Finley went home Monday to a quieter house, if you can actually ascribe noise to a rabbit. The rabbit in question, Peanut, was shipped out last Thursday, the most current casualty in the Forseter Family’s continuous struggle to balance bringing up children with taking care of pets. Peanut, along with Fluff who regrettably died a couple of years ago, enjoyed several years as Dan and Allison’s pet. He had his own room, more or less, off the kitchen. In the evening, Peanut often roamed freely in the living room. But rabbits really aren’t all that playful. Cuddly, yes. Playful, not so much. They are low maintenance. Hardly make any sound. Yet Peanut still required attention, and as Finley required more attention, the competition for time simply did not favor the grey hare. After a search for a suitable new home, Dan and Allison gave Peanut away to what is hoped will be a more fulfilling life.

Growing up, my brother Bernie, sister Lee and I had two dogs. Each lasted a year with us. I was about four years old when we got Cookie, about five when our parents gave the small white dog away. I vaguely recall accompanying Cookie on his going-away ride. I remember a row house on a street with a black iron fence. I suspect Cookie’s fate was sealed when our mother decided to go back to work in our father’s business around the time I started elementary school.

I was 11 when we took Dusty home in June 1960, 12 and at sleep-away camp with my brother and sister the following summer when our parents gave him away. We got Dusty during our father’s round-the-world trip and just before we went off to camp for eight weeks. Dusty became Mom’s dog during her time alone. Dad wasn’t too happy finding a dog upon his return home, but he tolerated Dusty until the following summer. To this day we grieve about losing Dusty. We couldn’t accept our parents’ rationale, that their work schedule did not mesh with the needs of a growing dog. A border collie, though I suspect he also had some golden retriever in him, Dusty was a little more than a year old. He already had grown into a size capable of dragging me down a street against my will, not that it was too difficult a feat considering I was a 60-lb weakling at the time. I won’t bore you with Dusty stories now. Look for them another day. Just keep in mind today’s theme of children vs. pets and the decisions parents make.

Fast forward 21 years, to 1982. Married, I had six other mouths to feed—Gilda’s, Dan’s, Ellie’s and our three cats, Walter, Leonard and Snowflake. Against my judgment, Gilda had brought the cats home while in nursing school some eight years earlier, to keep her company when I was working the night shift at the newspaper. I didn’t want them because I knew I’d get attached to them. Naturally, I loved them. They returned the love, always running up to me when I came home.

Shortly after Ellie was born, I took three-year-old Dan to Los Angeles. Back a week later, I was in the middle of telling Gilda about our trip when I commented that Walter and Leonard had not yet come by to welcome me home. Gilda started giggling. Immediately I knew she had given them away (as it turned out, to her brother). Indeed, had I been delayed by 15 minutes she would have disposed of Snowflake as well, to a neighbor. I quickly quashed that idea, despite Gilda’s protests that with two young children she didn’t have the time or energy to care for a cat as well. I couldn’t imagine repeating my parents’ actions. Snowflake stayed with us another 14 years.

Of course, not every parent chooses to give up a pet. When moving into their then new home, my cousin Linda carefully conveyed her daughter Jessica’s pet guinea pig to the new house. Fearing Sammy might escape in the hubbub of the move, she placed him in the downstairs bathroom and closed the door. Days later, we’re not sure how many, but definitely more than a few days later, Jessica opened the door and freaked out. As Linda now recalls, Sammy was flatter than a pancake, dehydrated and definitely not better off than Peanut, Cookie, Dusty, Walter or Leonard.