Friday, March 28, 2014

Just Wondering About Radio Ads and Noah

Here are some things that stop me cold in my tracks:

I wonder why an organization devoted to round-the-clock news, WCBS Newsradio 880, airs commercials that are creepy at the least and blatantly false and misleading in the extreme. I’m referring to all the radio spots about health claims (how’s your testosterone level?) and debt relief (what’s the size of your credit card balance?) and any number of other questionable ads. Don’t they vet the claims? You’d think the standards of an all-news radio station would be higher than simple talk radio which allows shills to promote gold and silver as hedges against post-apocalyptic  times.

I’m also curious as to whom exactly these ads are targeted at and how they match up to WCBS Newsradio 880’s actual audience. I’d have thought the radio station’s listeners were above average in education and income. Yet these ads seem to appeal to the lowest common denominator. 

Treading Water: Pictures of Russell Crowe dressed as Noah in the new Darren Aronofsky film Noah startled me when I saw him wearing pants and fingerless leather work gloves. But a little research on the Web revealed that gloves go back at least to ancient Egypt (here’s a graf from 
“History has a lot of facts of using the gloves in ancient times. They were popular and served as a protection of the hands in Old Egypt. The Pharaohs wore them as s symbol of their high position and women wore them to protect the beauty of their hands (they rub their hands with honey and fragrant oils and put on thin silk gloves). In those times the gloves were made as small pockets without holes for fingers. Then they were made only with one thumb (as today's mittens). Egyptian women used these mittens to protect hands while eating or working.”)

As for trousers, they seem to have sown up (I know it should have read “shown up” but I couldn’t resist the pun) about the time horses were domesticated enough to be ridden. According to a 2009 Reuters article (, “Horses were first domesticated on the plains of northern Kazakhstan some 5,500 years ago -- 1,000 years earlier than thought -- by people who rode them and drank their milk.” 

If Bible believers are to be believed, our world is just 5,774 years old, giving Noah plenty of time to fashion himself a pair of tight fitting pants instead of trampsing about in a bulky robe.  

I’ve commented before that I’m disappointed how few books I’ve read in retirement, but one I did read was David Maine’s The Preservationist, recently re-released under a new title, The Flood. It’s a psychological exegesis of the Noah story as explained through the eyes of the arkman himself and his family. It’s like The Red Tent, imaginative story-telling to fill in the blanks the Bible chose not to include, what Jewish scholars refer to as midrash. 

Interestingly, Maine names one of Noah’s unnamed-in-the-Bible daughters-in-law Ilya. She is Cham’s wife. Aronofsky casts Emma Watson as Ila, Shem’s wife. 

One of my favorite examples of midrash on Noah comes from an early routine of Bill Cosby. He imagines Noah arguing every time God proscribes another task. Finally, in exasperation over his recalcitrant subject, God convinces Noah to stop complaining by asking, “Noah, how long can you tread water?”  

Three Letters: Speaking of the Almighty, has anybody else noticed that with the departure of Tim Tebow and the signing of Michael Vick, the NY Jets’ quarterback controversy has gone from g-o-d to d-o-g? 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How I Know Winter's Officially Over, The Joy of Spellcheck, Why I Blog

While snow was still falling this morning on eastern Long Island, the City of White Plains officially declared the end of winter. Not by proclamation, mind you, or by adherence to the astronomical calendar which placed the end of winter last Thursday. 

Rather, White Plains put action behind its conviction that no more massive storms will drop snow within our fair city’s borders. A Dept. of Public Works employee came by this morning to remove the red metal pole and flag from atop the fire hydrant in my cul de sac. There’s still an iceberg of slowly melting snow in front of the hydrant, but the city no doubt is confident its trucks will not have to plow any more flakes onto the heap.

Spellcheck Doesn’t Catch Everything: If I have one continuous fault I am willing to own up to, it is my inability to let small writing and speaking mistakes escape my correction. I particularly find “between you and I” to be highly objectionable. Are we not teaching that “between” is a preposition and that the object of a preposition can only be “me,” not “I”?

Not that I am infallible. It is très difficult to edit one’s own copy and speech, though I did have a rule on my magazine that any copy editor who changed even a comma in my manuscripts had to first run it by me for approval, or else. 

I've become a little less pedantic in my dotage, except when it comes to résumés and cover letters I review. But I still occasionally point out an error when I am amused by its presence. Such was the case in an email from Ellie earlier this week suggesting a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where she works. 

“I just wondered through this contemporary Chinese art show, which closes April 6, and it was so good … maybe you could see this show … It's great how it's installed among the rest of the collection, rather than in a separate gallery,” she wrote.

To which I replied, in part: “Don’t take this the wrong way, that is me trying to correct you all the time, but I was tickled by a mistake you made in your note that actually makes perfect sense. You wrote, you "wondered" through the art show. You probably meant "wandered," but wondered actually conveys a real sense of discovery and joy.”

Spellcheck doesn’t work when the wrong word is spelled correctly. Sometimes, it’s for the best. BTW, Gilda and I will be going to see the exhibit next week. For those who can, take Ellie’s suggestion and see it, as well.

Preserving the Past: It is difficult to gauge how readers will react to any single post. Monday’s story about my father’s reunion in Perth, Australia, with his first love elicited some heartwarming notes of personal stories from their respective families. 

When I started this blog four and a half years ago one of my objectives was to initiate remembrances among readers through the stories of my family’s history. While I wanted to bring you into the Forseter family sphere, I would have been less than fulfilled if I did not make you reflect on your own, individual heritage.

I am not alone in trying to capture history for the next generation. The NY Times recently ran an article titled, “Preserving Family History, One Memory at a Time,” ( 

As far back as the mid-1980s my brother, sister and I videotaped our parents and their siblings. Within the last year I transferred the tapes onto DVDs, and with the help of our nephew Eric have made copies for each of our children. For Gilda’s family there’s a DVD of their early life in Saratoga Springs, NY. 

Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite fiction characters. It would not be too much of a stretch to quote his oft-repeated phrase, “Time is of the essence.” If you’re not already doing something to preserve your patrimony, get cracking. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

From Ottynia to Perth

I had fully intended to finish up my tax returns today but two early morning emails derailed that plan. By “early morning” I mean shortly after midnight, not that I was awake to read them when they descended from the cloud into my mailbox.

I got up at a reasonable hour this morning, slightly before 8. That is, my eyes opened for good, though I did not get out of bed for good for nearly another two hours. I blame email. As most of you probably do, I check email first thing in the A.M. Never know when Linda the Realtor might have an ASAP project for me to complete (which she did just past noon which deferred my writing this post until evening). 

In quick succession I read two emails that opened up links with my past. The first was from Lisa, a Denver resident searching for family roots in Ottynia, the hometown village of my father in what is now western Ukraine. She had found me several days earlier after googling Ottynia. My blog came up at the top of her Google search. As she wrote, “Now that’s optimization.”

After reading and responding to her second email this morning, we communicated the old fashioned way, by phone for half an hour. Just prior to that call I answered the other email that jolted me this morning, from a distant cousin in Minneapolis who I had last seen about 20 to 25 years ago when I was making annual visits to the Twin Cities. A year ago I wrote about his father’s surreptitious entry into the United States in the early 1920s and his subsequent flight to Minnesota to evade being picked up as an illegal alien. Like Lisa, David had read about Ottynia in my blog.

So I began reading old posts about Ottynia, thrust forward also by reports of wreckage from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 possibly being spotted some 1,500 miles west of Perth, Australia. There in one of the blogs from October 2009 was a promise to relate a story about my father and mother’s visit to Perth.

One of the hallmarks of my parents’ 53-year marriage was their open expression. In other words, they argued, sometimes in earnest, sometimes in jest. My father never let my mother forget that his first love was Dora, a woman he met in Danzig prior to World War II. Though he asked her to come with him to America in 1939, as an only child she chose to go with her parents to Australia. Sadly, within six months of arriving Down Under, her parents died. She tried to reconnect with my father, but could not. 

My father married my mother in 1942. Whenever my father would tease her about his first love, she would respond she was ready to buy him a one-way ticket to Australia. 

My father had many friends who left Poland in 1939. They were spread around the world. They agreed to meet in Israel in 1989, but one of them, a doctor in Sydney, Australia, had cataract surgery and could not travel. So my parents decided to visit him. As could be expected, before the trip they argued about something, my father mentioned Dora and my mother decided to call his bluff. Why don’t you put an ad in the Australian version of The Jewish Week and see if she responds, she suggested.

He had his doctor friend place an ad, asking anyone who knows a Dora who came to Australia in 1939 to contact him. A few days later, a friend sitting in Dora’s kitchen in Perth saw the ad. When Dora’s letter reached our home, it was hard to say who was more startled. Dora had married, had two sons, but was widowed in 1955. Hardly a day goes by, she wrote, that she did not think of my father.

Suddenly, a “simple” trip to Sydney was transformed into a romantic adventure. Her bluff called, my mother had no choice but to accompany her husband on his transcontinental trip back down lover’s lane in Perth. Indeed, whenever Dora was alone with him, she wrapped her arms around my father and said she would be there for him if he ever were single again. 

Ah, but my dad’s innate conservative morals thwarted any thoughts of seduction. Dora had told him she had boyfriends after her husband’s death. His ardor cooled, he returned to America never again threatening to run off to Australia. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Lesson in DIY Plumbing

I learned another lesson in do-it-yourself plumbing this week. It cost me $144.

The lesson can be summed up in three words I never seem to master: Don't do it!

Why is it that whenever I tempt fate by trying to fix a plumbing problem I am forever stymied and must resort to Plan B, otherwise known as, call the plumber? Case in point—about a year ago the lift chain in one of our toilet tanks ended its useful life. Seemed like a simple enough repair. After all, we all have those type of metal ball chains, like the ones at the end of nail clippers, but longer, lying around in overstuffed utility drawers. Took me longer to find the replacement chain than it did to install it. Piece of cake. That is, until the replacement died shortly thereafter, much too early in its useful life, if you ask me. I dutifully replaced it with another chain, only to be disappointed again, not to mention inconvenienced by not having a working toilet. 

Rick the Plumber knew right away what I had done wrong. I was using an ordinary chain which rapidly corroded in water. I needed to use a special water-resistant plumber’s chain. Who knew? 

Anyway, back to the current problem. The hot water lever in the master bathroom sink leaked. Last week I googled “how to fix a leaky sink faucet” and was rewarded with several easy to follow instructional Web sites. It would be a simple job. I merely had to remove the cylinder inside the faucet casing, take it to a plumbing supply shop to buy a similar unit, and return home to install it. 

I fathomed they knew what they were describing because their first step said to turn the water off at the shutoff valve under the sink. Seems like a no-brainer, but early in my home-owning career I tried to fix a leaking toilet with a repair kit Gilda bought in a local hardware store. The step-by-step instructions left out the all-important shut-the-water-off step, so it should not surprise you that I uncorked a gusher when I removed the plunger from the toilet valve.  

Water turned off this time, I took the decorative cap off the top of the faucet lever. I removed the exposed screw holding down the casing but could not budge it. As I didn’t want to break the casing, I reassembled the faucet and waited for the plumber to come later that day to install a basement hose hook-up for Gilda’s indoor winter  garden (FYI, she loves the new hose). He assured me the sink repair was an easy one to do, that I just had to more vigorously jiggle off the casing. 

So Monday I amassed the tools as per the Internet. Confident I wouldn’t break the casing I yanked it hard and off it came, exposing the top of the cylinder I needed to extract and replace. Only it wouldn’t cooperate. Indeed, by the time I decided to throw in the towel, I had chipped off part of the top, the part that keeps the lever from arcing too far. In other words, if the lever wasn’t lined up exactly, water would run. I called the plumber.

He came the next day (in itself, a small victory). Quickly it became apparent that my collection of all the tools necessary for the job had been insufficient. After being frustrated with tools similar to mine, Rick produced wrenches and outsized pliers only the most dedicated DIYer would have hanging from his pegboard. It reminded me of the time I tried to change the hoses for the washing machine shortly after we moved into our current home. I could not get them to budge. Neither could Jody the Plumber, for that matter. He had to use a blow torch to release them. Trust me, no normal Jewish homeowner possesses a blow torch!

Rick the Plumber finally extracted the cylinder and after returning from the supply store installed a new one. We’ve since been drip free, and $144 lighter.

The moral of the story for me: If you think you can do it, don’t! If you see a video or Web site that tells you you can do it, don’t believe it! If it tells you all you need are x,y,z tools, don’t be fooled, you’ll need a,b,c tools, as well! 

My bottom line is, I truly am handy—I write good checks. None of them ever bounce!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Driving to Work Down Park Avenue

Normally, Gilda drives down Fifth Avenue after exiting the Harlem River Drive on her way to Mt. Sinai Hospital. Her office is at 102nd  Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues. Traffic has been slow recently on Fifth, so Wednesday morning she took Park Avenue south alongside the Metro North tracks, down past 116th Street.

It was a few minutes after 7:30 am when she rolled by the Spanish Christian Church, the epicenter of tragic destruction barely two hours later. At least eight people died in an apparent natural gas line explosion that leveled two five-story buildings including the one housing the church with apartments above the ground floor. Three more souls are unaccounted for. 

Last night, when she told me of her route to work, both of our skins went cold with the thought of what might have been. A momentary chill, and then on to another subject. 

But the thought lingered with me as I listened and read Thursday more reports on the devastation. How fragile our lives are, how dependent on the vagaries of fortune and misfortune. A plane from Malaysia disappears “Lost”-like, but several would-be passengers who missed the flight remain with us. A Metro North train passed by 116th Street just seconds before the explosion. Children trudge off to school every day with no expectation an Adam Lanza will show up at their classroom door. 

There are those who say live your life as if every day will be your last or that of your loved ones. Hug them and kiss them goodbye each time you part. How depressing! How utterly fatalistic to think that way. 

Yes, by all means caress and kiss, but do so because you truly love them, not because you think it might be your last joint contact. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

65 And Happy For It

I turned 65 today. No cause for concern, though I will admit I stayed under the covers till well past 9 am. By a stroke of work scheduling good fortune, Gilda had off today. She lay under the covers with me. Couldn't ask for a better start to my birthday.

I think my 65th birthday has had a greater impact on my sister. She called this morning to say she's okay with being two years older but it's the thought of having a younger brother who is 65 that is truly mind-rattling.

No deep meanings or messages intended today. No thoughts for eternity. Just an appreciation that life is good. No need to rush to acquire more. And then again more.

Just an enjoyment of little serendipities. I took Gilda's car to the Splash car wash this morning. As I was about to hand over my charge card I noticed a sign proclaiming car washes are free on one’s birthday.

We ate lunch at Harvest on Hudson along the Hudson River in Hastings. Under a bright sun the river sparkled. Did you know, at that point in the river, ice flows north at a fairly rapid clip? I indulged in a dessert because it was my birthday, I told the waiter. It took a long time for the dessert to arrive, but when it did we understood why. The pastry chef had inscribed Happy Birthday in chocolate script across the top of the plate.

The rest of the day we spent shopping. Those who know me well know that's one of my favorite pastimes. I was lucky to work for a magazine on retailing that allowed me to infuse my avocation with my vocation.

The morning I turned 35 I awoke to a pain in my right hip. It lasted several hours, never to return. Perhaps just a subliminal message that I had reached a milestone in my life, no longer young, not yet old. Hard to believe our son Dan is 35. 

Lately, my lower back has bothered me. Gilda says it’s because I don't stretch enough. Guilty. And my feet suffer from peripheral neuropathy, making wearing shoes highly uncomfortable. Today, neither my back nor feet bothered me. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

A favorite movie of mine is The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! Regretably, I haven’t seen it in years, though I have a videotape copy I just came across. Perhaps I’ll pop it into the VCR in the next few days. But really, who needs to view a comedy about a mythical Cold War invasion of America by Russians when we have the real thing going on half a world away in Ukraine? 

But seriously, people, there is some humor to be found in this Cold War throwback. For instance, Russian president Vladimir Putin has justified the takeover of Crimea by his troops as simply a defensive move to protect Russians who live in the Ukrainian peninsula that belonged to Russia until 1954 when it was peacefully transferred to Ukraine. Which makes me wonder, if there are some Alaskans who can trace their roots back to the time when Russia owned that frozen state (okay, this winter Alaskan weather has been milder than temperatures in the Lower 48, but we’re talking historical records here, so give me a break), could Putin justify an invasion of Alaska if any of them feel insecure (even if that insecurity comes from worrying about Russia being just across the Bering Strait)? Does it make you feel any safer knowing Sarah Palin is on watch? Remember, she can see those Russkies from her window. 

I’d be worried if I were New York City mayor Bill  de Blasio. Could we possibly see a Russian submarine surface off the coast of Brighton Beach if police crack down too hard on the Russian Mafia reputedly at large at the southern tip of Brooklyn?  

It was also quite comical to hear Secretary of State John Kerry admonish Putin thusly: “It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of a gun dictate what you are trying to achieve.” Comical that similar sympathies were not expressed and voted accordingly, by then-senator Kerry and his colleagues, when President George W. Bush sought and won Senate approval to invade Iraq in 2003.

Staying with the Bush Administration, how funny was it to hear Dick Cheney lambaste the Obama Administration for proposing a 5.9% reduction in size for the Army on budget grounds when Cheney, as secretary of defense in 1991, proposed a 25% cut in military forces as a means of balancing the budget? 

How not funny is it that the regular news media did not provide the context for that last fact. It came from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Last Week's World News Close to Home

A cruise. Seemed like just the right way for Gilda and me to celebrate our respective 65th birthdays (mine’s on Thursday, Gilda’s 11 days later). Gilda found a summer cruise that would incorporate a new region of the world for us to explore with the type of land tours that combine history and heritage, in our case, Black Sea ports with Jewish legacies. 

Cities like Odessa. Sevastopol. Yalta. For those not completely familiar with those cities, they are in Ukraine. Yes, that Ukraine, the one dominating most foreign news reports these days. They’re in Crimea, the peninsula of Ukraine where a sizable number of residents have Russian ancestry. Three other stops on the cruise would be in Turkey, another hot spot. We’d also visit Sochi, which by then, with the Russian Olympics long over, presumably would not be high on the Chechen separatists’ hit list. 

Last week our tour operator bit the bullet and cancelled the trip. Ah, well, maybe next year.

Salt of the Earth: The New York metro area mostly dodged a snow bullet Monday, though the streets, no doubt, were treated with salt to prevent icing from the dusting that did manage to trickle down. The availability of salt has been a major storyline this winter as municipalities have exhausted their normal supply and budget lines. 

When I attended graduate school at Syracuse University, I kept hearing the town referred to as Salt City. Until my last week there I assumed the nickname came from the liberal spreading of salt on city streets to clear the average 115.6 inches of snow every year (the year I was there it snowed 133.7 inches.) The nickname actually derived from the nearby salt mines at Onondaga Lake, to which I was oblivious.

The importance of salt as a life-sustaining commodity was impressed on me recently by Big History, a TV mini-series on the History 2 channel. It seems early mankind chose to inhabit locations not just because fresh water was available but also because there was ready access to salt. 

Our family visited a salt mine in Krakow, Poland, in 2008. The Poles have turned part of it into a museum, with salt sculptures depicting religious and national events. It is truly amazing what goes on underground. You might also find this clip from a CBS News broadcast last week enlightening and entertaining:

Deathaholics: Wall Street and banking firms are trying to induce young workers to take weekends off, this after a London-based Bank of America go-getter intern may have died from exhaustion after pulling three all-nighters last summer.  

When our family visited Japan back in 1991, we heard about “karoshi.” The Japanese economy was booming. Workers paid the price. They labored long hours. It was not unusual for workers to die in their tracks, while walking or driving to work. Passersby would simply shake their heads from side to side and whisper knowingly, “Ah, karoshi.” Simply translated it means, death from overwork.

Slave Labor: 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar as the best picture of the last year. The historical drama of Solomon Northup’s tenure as a slave in Louisiana still has bearing today. 

Consider U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu’s re-election campaign in the Bayou State. Though she is given high marks for working in the best interests of her state’s economic vitality, voters are upset the Democrat supported Obamacare. Here’s how one of her constituents explained his position to an NPR reporter:

"I don't vote for black people, lady. No, ma'am. I don't vote for black people. They got their place, I got my place. That's the way I was raised."

Here’s something to ponder about the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman confrontation, which commemorated its second anniversary last week: Where was Zimmerman’s gun during their fight?

During a WNYC interview last week, Lisa Bloom, NBC legal analyst and author of Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It, sharply criticized the prosecution for, among many points, not questioning how Martin knew about Zimmerman’s gun.

According to Zimmerman’s testimony, he was lying on his back while Martin pounded away at his face. He said he shot Martin only after the youth allegedly saw the gun and said he was going to kill him. But, said Bloom, Zimmerman’s gun was in a holster tucked inside the back of his pants. Only if Martin had X-ray vision and could see through Zimmerman’s portly body could he have known about the gun, she said. Prosecutors never asked Zimmerman to explain this dilemma, she lamented. 

I assumed the gun was holstered on his hip, in clear view. I never thought Martin was guilty of anything but being in the wrong place at the wrong time when an overzealous, possibly bigoted, Zimmerman defied police orders to back off. The more you hear about this case, and others reported by Bloom, the more injustice cries out.