Monday, December 30, 2013

Bread Eaten in Secret is Pleasant

You've heard of “death by chocolate”? Well, I think my wife is trying to kill me with another tasty food: Homemade breads. Not the type that come out of a bread machine. Rather, crusty manna she makes from scratch. Last night it was puffy popovers like the ones you get at BLT Steak. Smothered in butter. Yum.

Those who know me and Gilda might be slightly confused. Weren't we, after all, practitioners, acolytes and advocates of the Atkins diet, the regimen that proscribes carbohydrate-laden foods like bread and pasta? True. 

Back in 1998, during our first trip to Prague, I thought Gilda was trying to kill me by suggesting I swear off bread and pastries in favor of eggs, bacon, sausage and as many other meats and proteins as I like. Carbs, she told me, just made me hungry for snacks during the day that my body would convert to sugar. A protein-packed diet would not encourage frequent stops at bakeries. Moreover, the Atkins diet would help reduce and control my cholesterol and triglycerides (don’t ask for the science behind this. It’s like a minus times a minus equals a plus.)

The first breakfast in Prague was anxiety-filled. I had not eaten a breakfast egg for several years. But there I was loading my plate with scrambled eggs, a couple of pieces of bacon and sausage and more than a little bit of wonder, wondering whether Gilda was trying to kill me. 

Some people lose wait with the Atkins diet. I didn’t have to, so I modified it by eating at least one starch, such as potatoes, with one meal. Sure enough, my weight maintained, my blood test numbers improved. But I really missed bread. So did Gilda, who also followed the Atkins diet.

A couple of years ago we started to loosen up. We’d look forward to eating bread when dining out. Gilda wanted to consume less meat, so we added more pasta dinners at home. I retrieved the bread machine we had given to Dan and Allison, but soon lost interest in making bread. Instead, once a week I was bringing home a loaf from Whole Foods for salmon and tuna fish salads.

A few weeks ago Gilda, who despite becoming a fantastic cook never considered herself an expert baker, decided to try her hand at bread. She began with a recipe for no-knead bread. It emerged from a Dutch oven a perfect circle, in the words of Mark Bittman of The New York Times, “to nearly duplicate an artisan bakery loaf, with a crackling crust, open-holed crumb, light texture, and fantastic flavor.” The bread equaled if not surpassed breads served in the best restaurants (here’s a link to the recipe—

Tonight Gilda said next week she will try baking biscuits. Is there no end to her devilish plan? And yet, as is written in the Book of Job, “Bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wolf I Did Not See

Did you see a good movie on Christmas Day? I did. American Hustle, a fictionalized account of the Abscam scandal. But that's not the film that inspired today's blog. That movie was The Wolf of Wall Street, like American Hustle, another ripped-from-the-pages-of-history flick, this one a depiction of manipulative penny stock traders. So here goes my linked-in story of Wall Street penny-ante riches.

The call to my office came out of the blue. A cold call by an eager young broker from Thomas James Associates trolling for dollars, pushing penny stocks. I knew better than to invest in these high risk shares, but he reached me at a moment of vulnerability. I had just received an unexpected windfall of several thousand dollars. With Gilda's assent, I gambled $2,000 on a company that promised big returns in the then embryonic laser eye surgery field.

It was hard to follow the stock. Penny stocks weren't usually reported in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Plus, my eager-beaver of a broker didn't call back once my check cleared. I assumed my investment was as flighty as my erstwhile broker, an assumption reinforced in my mind when six months later another cold call came from Thomas James Associates informing me my broker had departed the company and was being replaced by the gentleman now on the phone.

He wanted to know how happy I was  with my investment. I was ignorant to its value, so I casually said, “Not too much,” to which he responded, somewhat incredulously, that he had never come across anyone less enthusiastic by a tenfold return on principal. My $2,000 investment had increased to $20,000!

I stammered some explanation for my passivity. He then confronted me with a challenge. What did I want to do with my $20,000?  We agreed to cash out half of it and invest the rest in a different penny stock, Holiday RV, as in recreational vehicles. Baby boomers like me would be taking to the open road in land cruisers once they retired, he pitched. Now would be a good time to get in on the ground floor. 

What the heck? Let's spin the wheel a second time. Oy! This time it ended in a crash. I got out after losing half the pot. The rest went in some other speculative investments. All in all, I netted $8,000 and a lesson in the risky business of penny stocks. One more thing. Thomas James Associates wound up being sued for fraud. I seem to recall receiving a small sum from a class action lawsuit against the firm and its successor, but nowhere near the value of the education I learned to stay away from penny stocks.

PS—Christmas Eve dinner was Chinese. We ate Indian after the movie Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tonight, Will It Be Chinese or Indian?

The oft repeated joke is that Jews spend Christmas Eve enjoying a dinner of Chinese food.

Guilty, though our family sometimes substitutes Indian cuisine. When I speak of family, I mean the one Gilda and I created together. When I grew up in Brooklyn, we spent Christmas Eve at home, eating a regular home cooked meal. It was, after all, just an ordinary evening. If Christmas fell on a weekday, as it does this year, it meant the evening before was simply the evening before a school day, with homework to be done. My Hebrew elementary school held classes Christmas Week so as not to confuse us about, or give credence to, the holiday of another religion. My Hebrew high school was more liberating. It freed us from school during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I suspect it had to do with the secular studies teachers who taught in public high schools and were off that week.

Anyway, returning to Christmas Eve, Gilda, the kids and I also enjoyed riding around looking at Christmas decorations. Which brings me to one of my favorite stories about the innocence of children.

A little more than 25 years ago our friends Michael and Sandy were preparing to move from their co-op in Eastchester to White Plains. A few days before the relocation they bundled their two young boys in the car to look at their new residence. At first enthusiastic to make the move, the older boy, Aaron, burst out in tears when they drove by their soon to be home. He was inconsolable.

It took prolonged prodding but the cause of Aaron's tantrum finally revealed itself. Seems a holly wreath hung from the front door of the house. Four- or five-year-old Aaron was upset because he presumed he and his family could no longer be Jewish if they wanted to live behind that door. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lockerbie: An Example of Why I Write This Blog

Since I started writing this blog four years ago, I’ve tried to tie historical and current events to incidents and people in my own life. Today is no exception. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the skies of Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the 259 passengers who perished aboard that fateful airplane was one of my cousins, Mark Alan Rein (another 11 Scottish innocents died on the ground).

Alan, as he was commonly known, was the treasurer of Salomon Bros., the Wall Street firm. A 1965 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, my cousin was just 44 years old, married, the father of two children, Nicole, 12, and Alexander, 9. He was returning from a trip to England before going on a vacation with his wife, Denice, to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.

In truth, though Alan was just five years older, I have few memories of him. His father, Moe, was my father’s first cousin. I recall going to Alan’s bar mitzvah, but our families rarely socialized. One memory I have is visiting their apartment, as Alan’s mother suffered from multiple sclerosis. I also remember being proud I had a cousin attending Annapolis.

Alan’s funeral was held at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. It was the first and only time I have been inside this edifice, considered the largest and one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world. Almost all of its 2,500 seats were occupied. Alan’s older brother, Bert, delivered a eulogy. Bert is a well-connected Washington lawyer who frequently appears before the U.S. Supreme Court representing conservative and business interests.

I am forever amazed at the single degree of separation I have to many events and people in the news. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Screw It: My Sister Tried to Get Me a Date and a Job

It's not uncommon for friends and relatives to help out when you're looking for a job. Or someone to love. It's also not uncommon for their best laid plans to backfire.

My sister Lee twice misfired when it came to helping me.

Before I started dating Gilda I was not seeing anyone. Always the considerate older sister, Lee thought she had stumbled across the perfect person for me to call, a girl whom I had gone out with in summer camp when we were both all of 13.

Our conversation was short, awkward and embarrassing, at least on my end when I called her. When I asked what she was up to these days, she said she was to be married in a few weeks. A quick mazel tov ended the conversation, followed by another call to my sister remonstrating her that the next time she thinks to set me up with a girl it might be wise to first check the young lady's ring finger.

Not content to try to improve my love life, Lee next tried to help me find a journalism job. In the early 1970s, she was a social worker at New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare in lower Manhattan. With two co-workers she went to lunch one day. Seated next to their table were two men in their  30s. They started talking. She remembered one had long hair. He said he was a publisher of a magazine. 

Saying her brother recently graduated with a masters degree in journalism, she wondered if he might have a job for me. Maybe, he answered. She asked him the name of his magazine. He gave her his business card—Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw. Lee had no idea what Screw was. I did. “ARE YOUR CRAZY? I'm not going to work for a f-ing pornographic magazine,” I screamed at her when she excitedly told me about her referral.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

From Dilbert to Gainsharing to a Bonsai Tree

Last Wednesday while driving around Yonkers delivering food to the elderly I heard part of a Leonard Lopate public radio interview with Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip which lampoons corporate America. Adams chided managements that religiously bring in consultants to improve productivity and workplace environment. They are hired in an almost flavor-of-the-month ritual.

Which got me to thinking how my former employer practiced a similar wistful approach. My memory was honed by the recent passing of the vice president recruited to handle our strategic planning and other management enhancement practices. The charming reality of it all was that Harry was hired to be our in-house expert after our president attended one of his strategic planning seminars in Pittsburgh, I believe. That had to be the ultimate consultant’s dream: Impress someone in your audience so much they offer you a full-time gig.

Not that Harry didn't do a bang-up job getting us to focus more on strengths and weaknesses as we prepared to tackle the future. It's just that sometimes we wound up doing some pretty absurd and contradictory things.

We were always looking for ways to grow the company while also reducing expenses. To that end, we were given a book whose actual title eludes me but sounded something like “A Zap to the Side of the Head.” It advocated gainsharing, the concept of rewarding staff members for ideas and actions that contributed to a thicker bottom line. 

I embraced the idea. Actually, I had already been practicing it by giving editors more money for writing special reports and supplements, many of which they had created and helped pitch to sponsors. These were $60,000-$100,000 projects during a time when our average account spent about $30,000 a year. I thought  it right to reward the editors with extra funds considering that without their input we usually would not have sold the projects which they then had to write on top of their regular assignments. Yet, I was continually questioned about the wisdom of paying the editors more money. I'd reply, to mostly deaf ears, that “Zap” advocated gainsharing.

I was tapped to be part of a Big Idea committee. We were charged with rewarding suggestions to generate more revenue, with a top prize of $25,000. For expense-saving ideas, the award would be 10% of first-year savings. Ideas poured in. The most enticing was to start a new magazine. We handed out the $25,000 but never launched the book. Somehow, in formalizing the Big Idea rules, senior management forgot to include the requirement that the idea be put into practice.

A little while later corporate thinking channeled along the lines of a “string of pearls.” Consultant Janice sold us the notion that monetary rewards were not what employees wanted. Instead, they preferred small rewards, no more than $25 in value, that showed we cared about them as individuals. To that end, everyone had to fill out lists of what they liked, such as a diet soda or cafe latte or a dozen roses. Each time a worker would receive a reward it would be like adding a pearl to a necklace they were wearing around their neck, Janice explained.

A few weeks later all managers met to hear Janice extol the program. She described how a production department staffer devised a new system to print business cards that would save the company $10,000 in the first year. Checking the worker’s list of rewards, her manager discovered she liked plants, so a $25 desk plant was presented to her. Janice was beside herself, she was so happy.

Never one to let sleeping dogs lie, I’m more likely to blurt out the emperor is walking around nude. So, naturally I couldn't take it any longer. I rose and said words to the effect, “Let me understand this. A year ago, when we had the Big Idea committee, she would have received 10% of the savings, or $1,000. Now, she gets a $25 plant. What would she get if she saved us $50,000? A bonsai tree?”

For a moment there was silence. Then laughter erupted throughout the room. From everyone save Janice and Harry. They were not happy, not with everyone’s reaction to my comment and especially not with me. In that second moment I wondered what my fate would be, but to my good fortune and surprise, the senior vice president of the company, Jim, a person with whom I did not share any values, came to my defense. 

Janice lasted another year or two as a consultant to our company. I stayed another 19 years until my retirement. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Abilene, The End of the Chisholm Trail

After driving at speeds as high as 80 mph through Kansas on my way to catch a plane back to New York, I almost got a speeding ticket for going 25 miles per hour in a 15 mph zone at the Wichita International Airport. It’s the airport Terry Loewen allegedly wanted to blow up, for which he was arrested last week. Our run-ins with the authorities were separated by three decades, but the convergence of activity there provides reason to recall travel to Kansas.

A mostly flat state with rolling hills in the eastern portion near Wichita, Kansas was “dry” back then. That meant you couldn’t buy liquor for on-premises consumption in any restaurant. There were no saloons, either. Drinking was a purely social affair, done either in your home or country club. Or, in the case of executives from Duckwall-ALCO, a chain of variety and discount stores based in Abilene, in the friendly confines of the chief executive officer’s office.

I had gone to Abilene to do some off-the-record training, to learn some of the hands-on details of retailing. After visiting with several vice presidents during the day, my last interview was with Bob Soelter, the CEO. Bob was among the nicest gentlemen I ever met during my retail reporting career. In fact, the whole executive team were friendly, good people. Our meeting lasted a little past 5 pm when in walked the rest of the executive team. It was time for their daily “shoot.” One of them opened the door of a cabinet and took out a bottle of whiskey. For the next 30 minutes they casually discussed the day’s events, both internal and external news. 

Abilene, they told me, was once a big-time town. When the railroad came there after the Civil War, it was the destination point for Texas cattle drives. Red River, the 1948 western directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, dramatized the first of those epic endeavors from south Texas along the Chisholm Trail. But Abilene, Kansas, soon lost its attraction to Texas cattlemen. As the railroad pushed deeper into Texas, the ranchers found in their own state a shorter transit point to eastern and northern markets. It was meant as a compliment, but the new railroad junction that stunted the growth of Abilene, Kansas, was named Abilene, as well. 

Abilene, Kansas, has one other historic footnote in our nation’s history. Dwight D. Eisenhower lived in Abilene from the time he was two until he graduated high school in 1909. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene is the burial site of President Eisenhower, his wife, Mamie, and their first-born son, Doud Dwight.

Having had a warm and educational experience during my training exercise, I sent one of my new writers there for retail indoctrination the following year. Charlie Humphrey looked like a gnome. Short, wiry, with a full, bushy, reddish blond beard, Charlie was soft-spoken and at first meeting, quite shy. Another point of interest about Charlie was that he and his then wife, Deirdre, had been featured in a magazine article about couples who were the same size and thus able to share androgynous clothing.

The last thing Charlie wanted was to draw attention to himself, but as he arrived at Duckwall-ALCO’s headquarters he saw that was not going to be possible. Outside the main entrance a huge billboard announced, “Welcome Charlie Humphrey, Chain Store Age.” He gingerly entered the front office, not wanting to call attention to himself, but the excitement of his visit preceded him. As soon as he told the receptionist who he was, she shouted to any and all within earshot that Charlie Humphrey had arrived. That brought out several vice presidents, including the head of personnel who told him matter of factly that the group had already assembled and all they’d need was about 20 minutes of his thoughts on the state of retailing.

Whoa! Charlie had been on staff for all of a week, and though he had previously covered the automotive aftermarket, he hardly considered himself an expert on retailing. He had, after all, traveled to Abilene to learn, not teach. There was, however, no way to get out of this command performance in front of newly promoted assistant store managers from across the chain. 

After he returned to New York Charlie told me he did his best to recall some of the trends he had read in a few of the recent issues of Chain Store Age. He did not embarrass himself, the magazine or our company. Charlie would eventually be named my executive editor and then chief editor of one of our company’s other books before becoming a key executive at Ziff and CMP Media. Unlike many other variety and discount store retailers, Duckwall-ALCO, now known simply as ALCO Stores, continues to operate, with more than 200 stores in 23 states, mostly in the Midwest.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Biting My Tongue and Making Me Handsome, Again

So there I was in the waiting room of a Mohs surgeon late Thursday morning. Two elderly ladies (and that’s coming from a 64-1/2 year old) were sitting at a table across the room. One was filling out Christmas cards when she turned to the other, apparently a nun because the nurses kept referring to her as Sister Mary, and asked her to pick between two Christmas cards to send to a mixed marriage family with a Jewish father. She refused to compromise and get a Happy Holidays card. The nun scrutinized the cards and said neither would be appropriate. I resisted offering my advice.

They continued talking. The card bearer said the husband was a wonderful man. Sister Mary responded that Jewish people are nice, it's just that they stopped believing in the most wonderful person their religion produced. Again, I bit my tongue. She did, after all, acknowledge that Jesus was Jewish. Too many people don't realize this.

They talked a little longer about the couple’s child, a seventh grader in a Catholic school in Manhattan, a very bright girl who receives three hours of homework every night, six hours over the weekend. The girl was being pressed to take some SAT courses and she's just in seventh grade, but I say nothing, the card lady said. To the nun, however, she worried that all that work might turn the girl off from school.

They retreated into silence. I kept quiet. I’m not sure which was more of a challenge, staying silent or sitting through four and a half hours of Mohs surgery, enduring progressive slicing into my nose. Three times. 

The procedure wasn't painful. Indeed, the total time under the scalpel was probably less than five minutes. The rest of the ordeal was waiting for each slice to be analyzed to determine if any more basal cells resided in my schnozzle. When no more offensive corpuscles showed their colors, the surgeon said it was time to “make you look handsome again.” I thanked him for using the word “again.” 

At Gilda’s prodding I took a selfie of my nose, pre-surgery. I took another after the bandage was put on, along with another bandage in the area between my left ear and sideburn where the doctor nipped off a piece of skin for a graft for my nose. Be thankful the policy of this blog is not to include pictures.

More Medical News: Didn’t tell you about this last week, but I’ve apparently pulled a muscle in my left leg. As I don’t exercise, and didn’t play tennis last Wednesday, I really cannot tell you how I did this. Only thing I know is that after driving into the city last Friday and parking the car, I felt a sharp pain in my left calf within two blocks of walking. After that, until even today, I have been limping along.

In temple on Saturday, concerned congregants (mis)diagnosed me. Do I take statins?, they asked. Yes. Then for sure you have a condition called myopathy and need to take Coenzyme Q10. As I had a previously scheduled appointment with my internist on Wednesday I resisted following any of their advice. 

My internist diagnosed the leg pain as a plantaris muscle strain or pull. There’s dispute about how important the plantaris muscle is, but one thing’s for sure, he said—injury is not related to taking statins.

On another note, daughter-in-law Allison reminded me that not everyone should ingest nuts. Those with allergies, such as OUR GRANDSON FINLEY, should avoid all things nutty. Yeah, I forgot to update y’all that his allergy tests revealed he’s allergic to nuts. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nuts to You

Tonight’s poker game at my house has been postponed because of the snow and late scheduling conflicts by three players who previously committed to show up. If I were a vindictive man, I’d name names. But in this time of Mandela inspired forgiveness, I’ll follow Madiba’s example and not hold a grudge.

Which brings me to the real reason behind this post, inspired by the time a few years ago during another hosting of my group’s poker games when a friend got up to get a beer and was stunned by the vast quantity of nuts arrayed across the second shelf of the refrigerator. He joked about our house being inhabited by squirrels. 

Truth is, on that second shelf we have regular almonds and dry roasted almonds, slithered almonds, cashews, pecans, shelled and unshelled pistachios, pine nuts, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, chocolate covered peanuts, and trail mix packs. A true squirrel heaven. We have such a wide array of nuts because most mornings my breakfast consists of almonds and cashews combined with assorted fruit, all smothered in whipped cream. Gilda usually takes dry roasted almonds, brazil nuts and some pecans for snacking during the day. 

You might be scratching your head wondering if we’re eating the wrong stuff, but you wouldn’t be if you read Jane Brody’s column in Tuesday’s NY Times ( Once considered bad for you, nuts are now a first line of defense against such illnesses as cancer, heart and respiratory disease. 

Despite their high fat content nuts are said to reduce bad cholesterol. They also can lower triglycerides. Unfortunately, I started my nut regimen way after my triglycerides topped the four digit level. They’re under control now, most notably from a changed diet along with a supercharged omega-3 fish oil capsule, Lovaza. You have to be careful with Lovaza, or any fish oil capsule, for that matter. If one of the pills leaks, the others in the bottle are infused with an overwhelming fish smell. That apparently happened with my most recent Lovaza prescription. I couldn’t get the fish oil smell off my hands despite repeated washings with soap and water and a spritz of Purel. It got so bad I had to call the mail order pharmacy to complain. I suspect I wasn’t the first to do so as the pharmacist was quite apologetic and accommodating, agreeing to send out a replacement order ASAP.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Transformative Week: Person of the Year and 50 Years of Mustang

Who would you pick as the Person of the Year? Before you start to rack your brain for a worthy choice, here is Time magazine’s 10 finalists for the declaration it will make Wednesday. Listed alphabetically, they are:

Bashar Assad, President of Syria;
Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder;
Ted Cruz, Texas Senator;
Miley Cyrus, Singer;
Pope Francis, Leader of the Catholic Church;
Barack Obama, President of the United States;
Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran;
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services;
Edward Snowden, N.S.A. Leaker;
Edith Windsor, Gay rights activist.

Keep in mind that to be the Person of the Year a candidate need not be a do-gooder. Evil can win as well, and I’m not referring to Barack Obama in the eyes of too many deranged-thinking folks.

Hands down, in my opinion, the winner will be Pope Francis. I’m not a Catholic, but he has transformed in his short reign the way the Catholic Church is perceived, or should be perceived. True, he retains some of the more rigid dogmas, such as being anti-abortion and against women as priests. But he has instilled a renewed sense of purpose to aid the needy and not be overly materialistic. His influence travels well beyond his papacy. 

My second choice would be Jeff Bezos. Retailing, one of my mentors (David Mahler) taught me, has been a continual evolution in streamlining the distribution of goods, from the individual shop to the five and dime to the mail order house to the department store to the discount store, the specialty store, the shopping mall, the category killer store, to the Internet. With, Bezos has set the gold standard for Web retailing. Amazon won’t destroy store retailing, much as Wal-Mart did not wipe all other stores off the retail landscape. But Bezos has been a transformational thinker in the way product is distributed, not just in the United States but abroad, as well. 

All the others on the list, except for Obama, are temporary figures on the scene of current events. 

Only Mustang Makes It Happen: Back in 1968, I drove a fire engine red Mustang. It was a 1966 model, but I identified with the snappy advertising lyric hyping the current year model:

Only Mustang makes it happen,
Only Mustang makes life great!
Mustang warms you, and transforms you.
Mustang, Mustang, '68!

The car that transformed the Ford Motor Company under Lee Iacocca will be 50 years old Thursday. Last April I wrote about my red Mustang, so I’ll just provide a link ( and instead tell you about the last time I drove a Mustang, an aquamarine convertible rental on the island of Maui, some 20-plus years ago. 

Gilda and I traveled to Maui for the annual convention of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Normally, just one editor from my staff, Marianne, covered the event, which alternated between Hawaii and Palm Beach. We’d already been to Palm Beach, but not Maui, so I asserted some executive privilege and we accompanied Marianne. The NACDS, at that time under the direction of Ron Ziegler, President Richard Nixon’s former press secretary, spent lots of money on their annual get-together. The convention feature appearances by William Safire of The New York Times, Benizar Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Liza Minnelli and Bob Hope.

But I didn’t need a car to see them. The Mustang was to get around the island, especially to drive up the road to Hāna, known for spectacular waterfalls along the 52 mile highway, and beyond Hāna to visit the gravesite of Charles Lindbergh. The climb to Hāna passes through tropical rainforest. Its mostly a switchback single-lane road, with some 620 curves. Without traffic it takes almost three hours to get to Hāna.

Our trip turned out to be an excursion to hell and back. On the way up the mountain we got stuck behind slow moving cars we could not pass because of the numerous curves. Maui had been suffering from a drought. Ergo, there were no waterfalls to behold. There also were no restaurants along the way, no rest stops to relieve ourselves. We finally arrived in Hāna a few minutes before 2 pm. We had hoped to eat lunch in the only sit-down restaurant in Hāna, but discovered it closed sharply at 2. The only open food shop was a greasy spoon shack we reluctantly patronized. 

We had to get back to our hotel for the conference evening event so we had to forego visiting Lindbergh’s grave. On the way down the mountain, Gilda and Marianne got car sick from all the sharp turns mixing with our greasy lunch. On numerous occasions they opted out of the car to walk a half mile or so in the mist that was now swooping in off the coast. We didn’t get stuck behind any cars or trucks, but our pace going down was significantly slower than when we went up to Hāna. Happiness was reaching the straightaway at the bottom of the road and opening up the throttle of the Mustang to whisk us back to our hotel. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Front Row Seating and a Farewell to Cano

I showered twice Saturday, once of my own choosing, once not. My morning shower was part of my daily ablutions. Nothing unusual about that.

My second shower took place shortly after 8 pm as I sat in the first row of the Playwrights Horizons main stage theater on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Last week, you may recall, I recounted one of the hazards of front row theater seats when Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern, slipped off the stage onto my lap during a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Saturday night I was initiated into another peril of Row A seating. One of the actors was particularly energetic in his vocalizations. He projected more than just words. I was shocked the first time he appeared before me and sprayed forth from the lip of the stage. I was more or less ready the next time he stood before me. I cowered in my seat to reduce my exposure.

Fortunately, he next chose to deliver a long, excitable monologue from the center of the edge of the stage, affording me a profile scan of his features and an arced view of his projectile strength. To those sitting before him it must have felt as if they had a front row seat at Sea World without the benefit of plastic raincoats to protect them from Shamu’s exuberance.

It's an unfortunate byproduct of elocution for some actors. Indeed, in one scene where the sprayer and another thespian held drinks as they stood face to face, I observed the second actor place his right hand across the mouth of his glass to shield it from any more liquid enhancing his drink.

All in all, just another night at the theater.

It was a New York Yankees baseball cap like many others, different only in that it was a promotional hat embroidered with the name of the sponsor—Canon—across the center of the back. Its potential struck me immediately. I gifted the hat to our daughter-in-law Allison who realized right away that with a little deft unstitching she could change the Canon hat into an homage to her favorite Yankee, Robinson Cano. 

Despite living in the Boston area for the last 16 years, Allison remains a die-hard Yankees fan. I tried to text or call whenever Cano made a highlight reel play, in the field or at bat, that contributed to a Yankees win. There won’t be anymore of those calls now that Cano has opted to sign a free agency deal with the Seattle Mariners for 10 years and a reported $240 million. 

I’ll miss seeing Cano turn double plays with seemingly little effort, race into short right field with his back to the diamond to basket catch a fly ball as it dropped over his shoulder, range far to his right to snare a hot shot up the middle and accurately cannonball a throw to first base to deny a batter a base hit. I’ll miss how easily he could flick his bat and deposit a single or double to left field, or when the team really needed it, pull a pitch into the right field seats for a home run. I wish him success, though not when he’s facing the Yankees.   

I can’t blame him for turning down the New York proposal of seven years for $175 million. Nor can I fault the Yankees for not matching the Mariners’ offer. Baseball is a business. Cano is a superstar. But even before Cano was a superstar, before he made his first million-dollar-a-year salary, Cano revealed the true measure of his impact as a human being. Cano bought an ambulance for his impoverished home town in the Dominican Republic. He has since donated eight ambulances, medical supplies, paramedic crew training and children's toys and has plans to finance and build a hospital. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Exorcised Over Slimming Down

I was lying in bed one morning last week (I’m really not a morning person; I can lounge in bed for hours after I wake, though this morning, feeling guilty for all the great food I ingested over the weekend, I pushed the covers aside, got up and reluctantly exercised for 30 minutes, though it turned out I hadn’t gained an ounce). Anyway, as I lay in bed last week the phone rang. 

I didn’t recognize the caller ID number. Often, I’ll disdain answering, fearing another robo-calling telemarketer sales come-on, despite our number being on the so-called “Do Not Call Registry,” which seems to have lost its efficacy this past year. Anyway (second time I’ve used that term), I answered and was rewarded with a call from a former business partner with whom my magazine produced several conferences. Though he knew I had retired from the publication several years ago, he was seeking answers. Why, he wanted to know, had his most recent issue floated down to his desk when dropped instead of making the thud it would previously generate from freefall?

It was a painful discussion, details of which I will not catalog for you. Instead, I refer you to the front page of Monday’s New York Times for an article on the decision of New York magazine to reduce the frequency of its publishing cycle( And when Gilda came home tonight, she lamented how thin Country Living and her other magazines had become. I tell you, it’s not a pleasant time to be a print journalist. I get exorcised over the forced reduction in size—page-wise and staff-wise—that has afflicted my profession.

As if I didn’t need anything more to discourage me, Thanksgiving weekend shopping proved to be lackluster. I’m still a student of retailing, so the shortfall did not please me, though I will admit I am not a fan of stores that chose to open on the Thursday holiday. Nor am I a fan of Black Friday doorbuster sales that reduce our collective dignity. Yet, when you read or hear about fast-food and retail workers who have difficulty providing for their families based on their low hourly wages, it is easy to understand why many are desperate to work these hours and why others in similar financial straits are eager to grab these “bargains.” 

It also makes you supportive of the $15 an hour wage fast-food workers are seeking. I’ve written before that it is a red herring argument to assert restaurants would close down or lay off workers if the minimum wage is raised. Yes, prices may have to rise, but only by a few pennies. Wouldn’t it be worth it to be able to look a counter worker in the eyes when ordering a Big Mac and fries?

Our country has evolved into a service-oriented economy. We cannot afford to let the service class fall into a state of servitude. For more on this issue, read Paul Krugman’s column (

Monday’s mail brought a flyer for a new production of Tom Stoppard’s first smash play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. As I wrote back in 2011 when Stoppard was a guest of Leonard Lopate of NPR, I had a special moment when I saw the play in the summer of 1968. On a day off from summer camp, my friends and I scored front row seats to a matinee.

Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern?, fell into my lap during the performance. They were standing near the edge of the stage apron bantering their Stoppard lines when all of a sudden Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern?, lost his footing and tumbled towards me. My reflexes were only 19-years-old at the time so I managed to thrust out my arms to cushion his fall, and save myself, and the actor, from agony. I quickly pushed him back on stage, without so much as a thank you from Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern?