Thursday, October 28, 2010

This Drink's On Me

I vividly remember the time I got totally smashed at college. It was an end of term party attended by many in the Brooklyn College Young Leadership Development Council I had joined as a second semester freshman.

When I arrived around 4 pm at the fraternity house where the party was already in full swing, I was immediately given a tall screwdriver (for those not familiar with that drink, it’s a combination of vodka and orange juice). From the first sip I could tell there was just enough OJ to give the 10 oz. glass a yellowish tinge. Before I knew it, I had downed three such drinks, all, I might add, on an empty stomach. The only thing that saved me from a fourth was my inability to swallow while prone on a couch, a position I had retreated into within an hour. I couldn’t move. I lay there for the next several hours, as every time I attempted to straighten up the room kept spinning. I didn’t throw up, as my friend Paul did, but I definitely, as they say, felt no pain. Around 10 pm I managed to stand up, stumble down three flights without falling, and slowly (stupidly) drove three miles back home.

I recalled that horribly intense and embarrassing feeling when I read earlier this week about the latest liquid craze to infiltrate college life—the consumption of a toxic mix of alcohol and caffeine. The caffeine camouflages the numbing effects of the alcohol, causing the reveler to drink more to get a buzz. More turns out to be near lethal amounts of alcohol, sending many to hospitals (

Of course college kids are going to party to excess. But that should not absolve the makers of Four Loko and other such concoctions from the consequences of their creations. They claim their product is not intended to be abused or sold to underage drinkers. But let’s be serious. What redeeming quality is there for anyone to drink a mixture that masks how smashed you become and therefore wind up drinking more?

How do they sleep at night? How do the providers of these drinks sleep without having visions of their customers lying in emergency rooms, wasted beyond comprehension?

I don’t reserve the same wrath for purveyors of soda and other sugary drinks, though the negative health consequences of consuming too much sweetened water are obvious to anyone who has paid attention to our nation’s expanding waist lines and the number of people tipping into Type II diabetes affliction. While some might decry the Bloomberg administration’s attempt to intrude into people’s life choices, I have no problem agreeing food stamps should not be used to buy sugar-based drinks. Nor do I have any problem with raising sales taxes on these products. Just as cigarette consumption declined when taxes made it too onerous to buy a pack of smokes, so too must we legislate restraint for those who cannot do it on their own.

I’m a reformed regular soda drinker. I eagerly drank Coca-Cola until I was about 45 years old. Even with our children around and impressionable, I drank Coke. Gilda would tell Dan and Ellie, “Daddy has an addiction, a bad habit.” They never developed the sugar habit. To this day they prefer water to soda.

I drank Coke until my blood sugar left me no choice but to change my ways. Diet Coke didn’t taste good at first, so I switched to Crystal Light lemonade for refreshment. Eventually I made peace with the Diet Coke taste. The point is, behavior can be taught and modified. Our children did not learn (from me) to drink soda. I overcame my addiction.

Libertarians would have government stay out of our lives, stay out of our food and drink selections. But like it or not we all pay for the excesses of others. Our insurance rates reflect the cost of obesity in others. I’m tired of paying for their mistakes, their poor life choices.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Competitive Balance

Once the World Series ends, the battle for Cliff Lee begins anew.

For those not familiar with Mr. Lee, he is among the pre-eminent pitchers in baseball. He currently hones his craft with the Texas Rangers, the team that twice beat out the NY Yankees when it comes to Lee. Last July the Seattle Mariners, Lee’s team at the beginning of the season, decided to trade him. The Yankees and Rangers pitched the Mariners various players in return for Lee. Seattle chose the Texas barbecue, not the NY strip (strike one). Texas then walloped the Yanks in the American League pennant series that concluded last Friday night in so convincing a manner it left no doubt which was the better team (that last clause was hard for a Yankee fan to write, but my journalism training impressed upon me the professional ethics of delivering all the news objectively, even when it hurts). Lee pitched just one game, a shutout gem (strike two).

Before my team’s ignominious defeat, I was indifferent, even slightly opposed, to the idea of spending Steinbrenner millions to sign Lee to a multi-year contract after he becomes a free agent when the World Series with the San Francisco Giants concludes. I reasoned that while I like to see New York win, I prefer they do it in competitive contests, not one-sided acclimations. It would be much more gratifying to win if the other team had a pitcher like Cliff Lee on its staff, as the Philadelphia Phillies did last year when they lost to the Yankees. How sweet that victory was.

But now that the Bronx Bummers looked so futile, scoring just 19 runs to Texas’s 38 during their six game series, I’m all for opening the coffers to buy Lee’s services. I believe baseball demands such action in the name of competitive balance. Let’s face it—without Lee pitching for the Yankees it is hard to imagine them winning another trip to the World Series in the foreseeable future. Derek, A-Rod, Mo, Andy and Jorge are not getting any younger. They still have lots of fingers with no rings to wear (A-Rod, especially, has four more empty fingers than the others to adorn). The Yankees need Lee and his shut down pitching because they just ain’t winning by scoring 1 or 2 runs a game in the post-season as once they face any team except the Minneapolis Twins, Yankee hurlers are serving up meatballs other teams are devouring.

This is not just a Yankee fan’s rant. Baseball needs New York in the World Series, and by NY I don’t mean the Mets. The Yanks bring out the passion in their fans and in the Yankee haters around the league. Other teams and their fans find it much more enjoyable and rewarding if they beat the Yanks, than say, the Cleveland Indians, or the Tampa Bay Rays. No team’s loss provides the imprimatur of victory more so than the Yankees.

So for the sake of competitive balance, the Yanks must sign Lee or winter’s chill will come to the Bronx while the calendar still says October for the next few years.

Of course, Lee might decide to stay in Texas where he is idolized, has a younger, hungrier team surrounding him, is closer to his hometown of Benton, Ark., is recognized as the ace of the pitching staff and wouldn’t have to compete in New York with his friend C.C. Sabathia for that honorific. If he chooses to stay with the Rangers, that would be strike three. In shutting out the Yanks on two hits last week, Lee struck out 13. It don’t look good.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Day of Remembrances

Today’s the anniversary of the perfection of the carbonized cotton filament incandescent light bulb by Thomas Alva Edison in 1879. His light bulb lasted for 13-1/2 hours of continuous running time.

There’s no record of when a father first shouted in frustration to his children, “Shut the lights out when you’re not in the room. Do you think I’m made of money?” Mothers were more sarcastic in their reprimands, demanding to know if the children thought the family had a money tree growing in the garden.

At least that’s the way it was growing up in my household.

Ordinarily, I’d look with slight interest at an article in today’s NY Times about efforts by the Guggenheim Museum to build a permanent food kiosk outside its entrance on Fifth Avenue and E. 89th St. The request, incidentally, was rejected by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (

By serendipitous coincidence I discovered before I perused The Times this morning that today is the anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim at its current location. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the museum opened in 1959.

Today’s another anniversary, at least according to the Gregorian calendar. On this day in 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. He landed on San Salvador Island. We, of course, celebrate October 12 as Columbus Day because the Admiral, as he later came to be called, sailed under the Julian calendar. Ninety years later, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII promulgated his version of the daily grind, eventually adopted by most cultures, even ones not disposed to Catholic doctrine.

I mentioned yesterday our son Dan will be competing in the North American ultimate frisbee championship tournament next week. His team is Boston Ironside. Turns out today marks the anniversary of the 1797 launching of the USS Constitution in Boston harbor. The frigate earned the nickname Old Ironsides during the War of 1812. A good omen, I hope.

My sister advises I write too much about sports, especially baseball. Perhaps. If she was annoyed by yesterday’s homage to Bob Sheppard and Mickey Mantle, she probably won’t like to know that today is the 82nd birthday of Whitey Ford, one of the all-time great Yankee pitchers.

Today also is Gilda’s sister’s birthday. I won’t tell you how old Barbara is.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Birthday Bash

The NY Yankees handed out some birthday presents today.

In bashing the Texas Rangers 7-2 to avoid an embarrassing elimination game at Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers honored two of their greats.

October 20 would have been the 100th birthday of Bob Sheppard, the longtime public address announcer at the Stadium whose stentorian voice can still be heard introducing Derek Jeter every time he comes to the plate during home games. Sheppard died July 11.

October 20 would have been the 79th birthday of Mickey Mantle. The Mick died August 13, 1995. Mantle’s legacy always shines bright with Yankee fans and is enjoying a current spotlight because of a new biography by Jane Leavy, The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood.

October 20 also is the birthday of Daniel Alexander Forseter. The 32-year-old ultimate frisbee player (his team came in 5th in the world last summer and will be competing for the North American championship next week) is a big Yankee fan (as is his wife, Allison). He has remained a loyal pinstripe fan even after living for the last 13 years in the heart of Red Sox nation. Perhaps it’s because he was born in 1978, a magical year for the Yanks who came back from 14 games behind the Red Sox to force a one game playoff which they won, in Boston, on Bucky Dent’s dramatic three run homer. They then defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second straight year in the World Series in six games. Dan was born three days later.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Mad Men World

For the foreseeable future, Sunday nights will be a little less interesting now that Mad Men has finished its fourth season. Series creator Matthew Weiner talked with the NY Times about the show. You might have read the article in today’s paper. Here’s a more elaborate version posted on the paper’s web site:

I bring this to your attention because of a section deep down in the interview. Here it is:

Q. We’re now well into 1965 on the show, and there are no major black characters, no characters who are any kind of racial minority.

A. Do Jews count as racial minorities? Because there have been a lot of Jews on the show.

Q. I don’t think so. But is that its own commentary on the reality of the world these characters occupy?

A.That is the world they move in. It’s like saying, well, you’re telling a story about baseball, where’s Jackie Robinson? I’m like, Jackie Robinson is Jackie Robinson because he was one person, and this story is not taking place in that other universe. I’ve tried to show, obviously, as time goes on, this is going to change. By the way, it changes socially. It does not change in advertising. It still has not changed. And I will go to the mat on this thing. I defy any of these companies outside of their corporate retreat photos to show me people of color in positions of power. And those people who are out there, who have positions of power, who are of color, I have been in contact with and none of them think there should be more black faces in that office.

What was true for the early to mid 1960s remains true in the first decade of the 21st century, not just in the advertising field but in most consumer goods and retail companies. Walk any retail trade show or conference and you will be startled by the blandness, the white-bread sameness of the participants, both on the supplier and retailer sides. If not for foreign delegates, you easily might not see a person of color, a sorrowful reality in an industry where so many of its workers are minorities.

About 10 years ago, during the conference my magazine produced, I was asked, softly in an aside, by a first timer attendee, a PR flak of one of our exhibitors, why there were but a handful of blacks among the 1,200 attendees. I could not provide a cogent response.

I still could not.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Scary Headline

Now here’s a scary headline:

“Taking Early Retirement May Retire Memory, Too”

As if I didn’t have enough trouble justifying my retirement to Gilda, other family members and friends, the NY Times had to send up caution signals for the world to see (

I could simply ignore the issue. Or maybe joke my way through it. But let’s be serious, for a moment. I am open to working again. Just not the typical 9-to-5-or-longer job I had for nearly four decades. I’m especially not interested in working “for” somebody. That’s one reason I didn’t go to work for my father way back when. I don’t respond too well to authority. I’m more the collaborative type. The big picture type. I can sweat the details if necessary, but I prefer the creative process and working with a team to implement it. That strategy worked before. No reason to think it wouldn’t work again.

Speaking of work, had a meeting today with an old colleague. Perhaps we’ll collaborate on some new projects he is launching. Except on rare occasions, I wouldn’t have to wear socks...

Party Time: I consider myself to be a relatively astute political consumer. I generally know the significant issues and the major candidates from each party running in an election. What galls me this election, and to be honest, for several years now, is the reluctance of candidates from both major parties to identify their campaign messages with their respective party affiliations.

Lawn signs, mailers, radio spots and TV ads—all are in patriotic red, white and blue, with no clue as to party allegiance. Seemingly from dog catcher all the way up to president of the United States, no candidate has the consideration to inform. Or perhaps they are just too scared to openly align themselves, lest voters tar them with contempt they have for the national, regional or local party.

Time to Man Up: Perhaps it’s because I live in an area where Tea Party meshugaas (that’s Yiddish for craziness) is not so prevalent, but I am wondering how it is that presumably sane Democratic candidates for office have not exposed Tea Party nominees and their regular Republican brethren for the reactionary suits they are? Are Democrats not running ads detailing the political agenda of the right wing?

The other day, CBS News reported the GOP candidate in West Virginia running in a special election for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Robert Byrd wants to abolish the minimum wage. How could any non-salaried worker in West Virginia be tempted to vote for him? Is the Democrat candidate not blasting that message home every day?

Tea Party/GOP candidates also want to abolish Medicare, dismantle Social Security; they rail against the government bailout of the automobile and banking industries. It is easy to challenge programs that cost billions of dollars. Democrats have been ineffectual in explaining the benefits of these programs. They have but 18 more days to man up and defend their record.

Last Sunday I saw a profile of Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author of the Millennium Trilogy, the books and movies that have enthralled the public (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest). Larsson died before his books became must-reads.

In the middle of the TV piece, I hit the pause button to note to Gilda with more than a degree of irony that Stieg Larsson’s after-death fame paralleled that of Jonathan Larson, the creator of Rent, the rock musical. Jonathan Larson died the night before Rent opened off-Broadway. It shortly thereafter moved to Broadway where it played for 12 years.

I’m not the first person to recognize the similarity of their last names and their deaths before success. But in case you weren’t aware of it, there it is.

Coincidence? Hardly: I can’t remember a time in our near-38 years of marriage when we didn’t have half a dozen or so 8 oz. Pyrex monkey dishes. Gilda broke one a couple of weeks ago, so she asked me to look for some more in the store. I found a set of four slightly smaller dishes, not Pyrex, but more or less the same, with the added benefit of removable plastic tops.

End of story? Not really, given my belief that inanimate objects have a mind of their own. They always know when you have a little extra cash on hand, or when you’re going to replace them. They send messages. They seek revenge (

So I wasn’t too surprised earlier this week when another Pyrex dish shattered as I was trying to balance it atop papers I was carrying in from the TV room.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ethnic Pride and Shame

Ethnic pride is a powerful cultural marker. What Italian didn’t feel his chest swell when Rocky Marciano won the heavyweight boxing title? Or when Luciano Pavarotti hit a high C note? When rap stars dominate the music business, when the NBA and most Division I college basketball teams feature Afro-Americans, when Barack Obama took the oath of office, how could people of color not be proud?

When I was growing up, my parents always pointed out prominent Jewish actors, playwrights, politicians, physicians, even sportsmen, especially when their names might not have given away their pedigree. Kirk Douglas. Tony Curtis. John Garfield. Arthur Miller. Jacob Javits. Jonas Salk. Sandy Koufax—how proud we were when he declined to play in a World Series game on Yom Kippur (how disappointed I was when Ike Davis of the Mets chose to play a meaningless game on this year’s Yom Kippur).

I wound up doing the same not so subtle identification process for my children.

But just as coins have two sides, ethnic pride is but the positive side of ethnic shame. Here are two prominent residents on my list of shame:

Bernard Madoff
Pamela Geller

Madoff is obvious. Beyond swindling money, helped along, let’s be honest, by the greed of many of his clients, was his total disregard for the impact his illegal activity would have on the numerous social and charitable organizations that blindly invested with him. Sad as it is that many individuals lost their savings, it is far worse that he bankrupted or weakened entities whose sole purpose was to help their fellow human.

If you are not already familiar with Pamela Geller, here’s a link to a profile from Sunday’s NY Times:

To reject radical forms of Islam that have morphed into violence is not shameful. But Geller has transformed the perception of Islam from a major religion into an extremist movement. She incites hatred, intolerance, bigotry.

It is true. Some Muslims want to kill all “non-believers.” Nothing new here. Religions often are brutally intolerant—Israelites wanted to eradicate all inhabitants of Canaan; Christians killed non-believers during their conquests of the New World; Catholics and Protestants killed each other; New Believers and Old Believers fought for supremacy of the Russian Orthodox Church. Shiites and Sunnis kill each other in the name of Allah. It’s hard to find any religion without blood on its hands, as God always seems to be “on their side.”

But Geller, who went to Hebrew school, should have learned that Jews flourished in the early Middle Ages under Islam. Indeed, Spain was a model of religious tolerance when Muslims ruled there, allowing Jews to rise to the highest levels of government, commerce and the arts. Either through ignorance or intent, Geller turns her back on history to paint an entire religion as evil. Her depictions of Islam are as cruel as any anti-Semitic canard. She is a demagogue empowered by the Internet and cable TV. I shutter to think anyone might think she represents the Jewish community.

Texas Massacre: If you’re a liberal and a New York sports fan, this was a great weekend. First, the Texas Rangers lost two home playoff games to the Tampa Bay Rays. Both teams will travel to Florida for the deciding fifth game of their series to determine who will play the Yankees beginning Friday night for the American League pennant.

Second, the NY Football Giants beat up the Houston Texans, 34-10.

Third, the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Tennessee Titans, 34-27.

Few states bring out the nasty in me as does Texas. For the most part I enjoyed my visits there (I probably traveled to Texas close to 100 times). But I can’t separate the state’s regressive politics (and George W. Bush) from their sports teams. I was delighted the Rangers, Texans and Cowboys lost.

Oh, by the way, Target dodged a boycott bullet as the Yanks defeated the Minnesota Twins at Target Field (and Yankee Stadium).

Have a Seat: Perhaps you saw the Op-Ed piece last Thursday in the NY Times from John Edgar Wideman. He’s a a professor of Africana studies and literary arts at Brown University. At least twice a week he rides the Acela from New York City to Providence, RI, and back, discovering along the way that he rarely has to share a double seat with anybody. Why? He presumes because he is a man of color. (

From more than 30 years commuting on Metro North, I can tell you he is 100% correct. As I never wanted to stand, I sat next to everyone and anyone, even if it meant taking the dreaded middle seat of a three-seat bench. My only bias was not to be wedged in between two portly passengers. If I sat at one end of a three-seater and a person of color sat at the other end, it was usually a given no one would take the middle seat, regardless of how crowded the train was.

Metro North is not like the subway where races mix, if not easily, at least commonly. Few Afro-Americans commute on Metro North. They are largely avoided. I am not alone in my convictions. Here’s how some other readers responded to Wideman in letters to the editor:

??? For VP: Just as the baseball playoffs got under way, official, and unofficial, Washington entered its fall season with incessant speculation President Obama will shake up his team, switching the positions of Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For the record, the White House denied any such move is contemplated.

As long ago as March 4, I opined Biden would conveniently and diplomatically be replaced on the 2012 ticket. I didn’t think it would be by Hillary. I picked former Indiana senator Evan Bayh, 55, a moderate young enough to give Democrats a good shot at holding the presidency in 2016 if Obama wins re-election.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Retail Stories

Got my Target shopping in Tuesday. No telling how I’ll feel later this week if things don’t go too well for the Yankees at Target Field Wednesday and Thursday nights in their first round playoff games against the Minnesota Twins.

Despite what Gilda might tell you, I’m not a really rabid fan. I don’t get too ballistic when my team loses. I usually get over it in a day or two. There are lots of fans, however, more crazed than I, so I’m wondering, if the Twins beat up on the Yanks, will New York fans take out their frustration and disappointment on Target and boycott its stores? At least until the Twins are eliminated?

Anything’s possible...

As long as we’re on the subject of retailing, some people think the appearance of in-store Christmas decorations signals the arrival of the holiday selling season. To me, the harbinger is the frequency of newspaper, magazine and TV news articles on retailing.

Saturday’s NY Times provided a case in point—a page one article on Macy’s efforts to rev up sales by tailoring assortments to local markets and a front page of the business section story on Toys “R” Us’ plan to revive F.A.O. Schwarz by placing boutiques of the specialty retailer inside the mass market TRU stores.

Macy’s and Toys “R” Us...hmmm. Now, the good people at The Times editorial desk would deny any ulterior motives, but what a coincidence that two of the newspaper’s key advertising clients wound up with mostly flattering articles?

Perhaps I’m being too cynical (it goes with the territory of being a journalist, even a retired journalist). Let’s give The Times the benefit of the doubt that the Chinese wall between editorial and sales still exists with no holes in it and end with a nice retailing story.

The other day I needed a replacement knob for a floor lamp. I walked into a local lighting store, the type that looks and feels like an old hardware store where they are more attuned to repairs than to selling new throwaway lights. Sitting at a table was an elderly gentleman I recognized as the proprietor. He was wearing a travel photographer’s vest, you know, the type with multiple pockets in front and back. I told him what I needed, he said, “OK.” He reached into one of his vest pockets and fished out a knob. When I asked what else he had in there, he said, “Everything. No charge.” Now that’s what I call service. I left the store smiling.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Heads Up; Throw Strikes; Weekdays with Maury

Heads Up: The National Football League, and all other football organizations, are rightfully concerned about the number of concussions sustained by players. Many come from helmet to helmet butts, almost all of which are intentional. The NFL tries to eliminate the head crashes by invoking a 15 yard penalty. But the practice persists.

My solution? For a first offense, a team flagged for a helmet to helmet tackle should be penalized 15 yards. AND, the offending player should be required to sit on the bench until the next change of possession. Furthermore, his name should be added to an ongoing list of transgressors. If he locks helmets with a player again, aside from the mandatory 15 yard penalty, he would receive an immediate suspension for that game and the following game. If he does it again when he returns to the field in two weeks, his suspension would involve four games.

One more proviso—if a helmet to helmet tackle injures an opponent, the offending player would sit out as long as the injured player cannot return to the field, be it that game or subsequent games.

Only through pressure from coaches and teammates will a player stop behaving badly. When a player realizes he is hurting his team’s chances, only then will he control his actions.

Throw Strikes: Baseball playoffs begin Wednesday. At stadiums across the land, in taverns and homes, you can be assured of hearing a common cry: “Throw Strikes!”

It’s one of the most frustrating plays in baseball—the unintentional walk.

How is it a professional pitcher cannot simply throw the ball over the plate. Let ‘em hit it. Statistically, more often than not the batter will make out, so why give a free pass? Make him earn his way on. The Minnesota Twins pitch to this philosophy; they are frequent championship contenders. Indeed, they are hosting the Yankees in the first game as the winners of the American League’s Central Division.

I’m as frustrated as the next fan when I see A.J. Burnett or some other Yankee walk someone. The frustration level rises geometrically when another unintentional walk follows. But as a former pitcher (fast pitch softball league), I’m here to tell you it’s not as easy as you may think.

“Throw strikes,” I’d hear Howard scream from the outfield. What did he think, I wasn’t trying?

Over 25 years on the mound I was pretty good at limiting walks. Occasional bouts of wildness did surface. More often than not, when the count was 3-0, and with a walk seemingly in the offing with the next pitch, under no pressure I’d fire in two quick strikes. The sixth pitch, however, usually wobbled in outside. Or high. Or bounced to the plate. Pressure would get to me. Of course, I wasn’t being paid millions to toss a ball over the plate. Major league pitchers are trained to rise above pressure, to simulate repetitive motions so they are subconsciously controlling their body to perform flawlessly.

The great pitchers can tune out the pressure, the noise of the stadium. For the rest of us (and I include myself in their number), not throwing strikes is as frustrating and bewildering as to those watching.

Weekdays with Maury: Growing up in Brooklyn, mine was a New York Post family. Not the Rupert Murdoch right-wing tabloid screed of today. No, we bought the Post of Dorothy Schiff, the liberal daily led by James Wechsler whose column about The Front Page propelled me toward a career in journalism. It was a NY Post of progressive thinkers, with columnists like Max Lerner, Murray Kempton and Mary McGrory.

Plus, it was a NY Post of outstanding sports writers—Milton Gross, Larry Merchant, Vic Ziegel, and Maury Allen. It was from these canny observers of the playing fields that I, along with countless others, ingested the lore of sports. We learned to appreciate the stories behind the numbers, behind the statistics of each game.

Maury Allen died Sunday. He was 78. He wrote for the Post from 1961 to 1988. I stopped reading the Post after Murdoch bought it in 1976 and changed its bent. But I still managed to get a serving now and then of Maury Allen. He was a contributor to the Journal News, the Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties newspaper.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Handwriting on the Wall

I’ve got a handwriting problem. I can’t always read notes I’ve written down for blog entries.

I walk around with a pad and pen in my back pocket to jot down notes, even to longhand full stories, whenever the muse hits me. Trouble is, my scribble is so hasty that unless I sit down to transcribe it right away I often have a hard time discerning what I wrote.

It was always this way. My illegible handwriting drove my parents crazy, so much so that when I received an “A” in penmanship in fourth grade my father made my mother go up to the teacher to complain her standards were too low. She explained she based the grade on the penmanship of homework reports she assigned. Knowing that, I painstakingly toiled to make these reports works of cursive art. Even at the tender age of eight I knew how to game the system.

I think I might qualify to be a banking executive. Today’s New York Times showcased troubles with the mortgage foreclosure process. One problem involved the signature of an assistant vice president of American Home Mortgage Servicing assigning a mortgage to another bank. As shown in a photo of three documents, the AVP’s signature differs widely in each instance. The clear inference is that three different people signed the paperwork, meaning at least two were forgeries.

That’s the logical conclusion, but if American Home Mortgage Servicing needs an expert witness on its behalf, I’m available. You see, I, too, have multiple signatures, and I’ll be darned if I can remember which one I’ve used for, say, the safety deposit box form, my regular checking account or any other official paper that requires a John Hancock.

It’s always a crap shoot wondering which way to sign and if the people scrutinizing my chicken scratchings will ask for further proof of who I am. When they don’t I silently say, “Fooled them again,” but then I begin to wonder how safe my money and identity are if I am not questioned when my signature clearly does not match the official record.

Does God need a better GPS? It might appear so after last Friday’s weather.

On Thursday, Jews all over the world prayed for rain, part of the annual fall holiday of Shemini Azeret. They were praying for rain in Israel, which, by the way, is enduring a years long drought. Instead, God sent torrential rain up and down the East Coast, with more rain expected this week. In Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, meanwhile, it’s been nice and sunny.

Perhaps God was confused because there might be as many Jews living on the East Coast as there are in Israel, especially when you consider the number of Israelis who have moved here.

Driving home from Queens the other day, two things occurred to me. First, too often there’s no music I like playing on any of my 12 preset FM radio stations. I don’t do enough driving to invest in satellite radio so I’m stuck with FM fare. Oh well...

Second, why is it during a traffic jam whenever I switch lanes my new lane almost always comes to a standstill and my old lane starts moving faster?

At his town hall meeting at Washington, D.C.’s, Newseum two weeks ago President Obama got an earful about the stalled economy and shattered dreams. One poignant moment came when a woman, a supporter of his, asked, "My husband and I thought we were beyond the hot dog and beans (stage) of our lives. ... Is this my new reality?"

Funny thing, Gilda and I like the occasional franks and beans dinner. But it’s easy to understand why a constant diet of franks and beans would be disheartening. If Obama and the Democrats hope to keep their majority influence in Washington they have just four weeks to convince voters that a Republican/Tea Party victory would guarantee many more franks and beans meals.

Compassionate Conservative is never mentioned these days. Instead, the candidates on the right hammer home a message of lower government spending which can only mean less assistance for the needy. And more tax breaks for the wealthy.

Incidentally, on your next visit to Washington, take time to visit the Newseum. Set aside several hours. There’s lots to see and absorb there.

The regular baseball season ended with Boston denied a post-season slot but gaining some measure of satisfaction by denying the Yankees a first-place finish in their division, though the New Yorkers still qualified for the playoffs as a wild-card entry. It's too early to say if the Red Sox did the Yanks a favor by making them play the Minnesota Twins, and not the Texas Rangers, in the first round.

Over the weekend the Yankee announcers were reminiscing about the 1978 playoff game between Boston and New York, won by Bucky Dent's dramatic three-run home run off Boston's Mike Torrez. They wondered why they had been home to watch the one-game playoff to determine the winner of the American League East crown (this was before the wild card option). They speculated they played hookey from school that Monday, Oct. 2, 1978.

I, on the other hand, easily remember why I wasn't at work. It was the first day of Rosh Hashanah. After we returned from my parents' synagogue and ate lunch, we retired to the TV room to watch the Yankees begin a wonderful year for our extended family, capped by the birth of my son Dan, my sister's son Ari and my brother's daughter Karen. And, oh yes, the Yanks won the World Series that year.