Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Curse of the Lottery Lifted, Cultural Literacy, Kutsher's Revisited

I checked my lottery tickets Tuesday. Won $2 on Mega Ball which I promptly parlayed into a Power Ball ticket for Wednesday night. Hey, you never know, and the next Power Ball prize is a cool $152 million. 

Even better, new research has lifted the veil of doom and gloom previously thought to have engulfed jackpot winners.  According to an article in Tuesday’s NY Times, the “curse” of the lottery has been debunked. Winners no more are assumed to end up “divorced, depressed destitute or dead,” in the short term, at least (

Several studies found the stress levels of winners declined over two years while positive feelings increased. 

All I can say is, come on 4, 5, 35, 43, 49 and PB 35!

Uh, Oh, I’ve been exposed. Outed. No, not in a sexual orientation way, but rather in the context of cultural literacy. 

“Faking cultural literacy” was an article in the Sunday Review section of The Times. The subhead suggested “social media lets us pretend to know something about everything,” to which I’d say that my more than casual knowledge of grammar tells me that “social media” is a plural (media is the plural form of medium), so the correct verb would be “let” not “lets.” Tsk, Tsk, NY Times copy editor (

But seriously, I’m a typical reporter at heart, a jack of all trades, master of none. Which means I’m glib and opinionated. But am I knowledgeable? Am I intelligent, or merely informed (note I wrote informed, not well-informed)?

My aversion to traditional-learning began during my teenage years. I hardly ever read an assigned book in high school. Like the author of the essay, I found Cliff Notes or the Hollywood version of the classics more than adequate to slide through classes. My feel for American history derived more from movies such as Drums Along the Mohawk, Allegheny Uprising and The Last of the Mohicans than any textbook. Still, I scored a 98% on the American History Regents, highest in my grade (I maintain I should have earned a 100% but the teacher took off two points because he did not know one of the facts I included in my essay. He dismissed the proof I showed him, saying I should be content with a 98.)

Seven years later, as a novice newspaper reporter, I found being the silent observer an inscrutable way of not revealing my intelligence level. Any subject I was not familiar with I would casually inquire of another journalist. I recall at my first Board of Selectmen’s meeting in Seymour, Conn., being stumped when the discussion turned to “mill rates.” Journalism school had never touched on mill rates, which turned out to be the basis of all local taxation in the Nutmeg State, as a kindly, grandmotherly reporter from The Ansonia Sentinel enlightened me. We might have been competitors but we were part of the same “family” of scribes.

 I can’t say I am more culturally attuned these days. Whenever I watch shows like Entertainment Tonight or Fashion Police I am in the dark about most of the celebs profiled. Good thing my iPhone is at hand to google whatever or whoever confounds me so I can pretend to know what I’m talking about. 

Borscht-Belted, Again: Wednesday morning I heard a WCBS Sports Radio commentary by Boomer Esiason about the pending demolition of Kutsher’s, the Catskills resort. Kutsher’s attracted professional ball players to hobnob with its mostly Jewish clientele. Wilt Chamberlain worked there as a bellboy before becoming a professional basketball player.

I never stayed at Kutsher’s but I did accompany my parents to many of the other Catskills hotels. Gilda, on the other hand, never experienced the Catskills. She was intent on doing so when our children were young and not home. For an encore report on our visit to Kutsher’s, read on:

In 1988, when our son, Dan, was 9, he went to sleepaway camp for the first time for eight weeks. With the assistance of a neighbor who agreed to watch the then 6-1/2 year old Ellie, Gilda planned a romantic weekend getaway for us. Having never experienced a Catskills resort when growing up, Gilda craved the experience. She had seen an article in The Times describing a renovation of Kutsher’s in Monticello. She made a reservation and sent a $50 deposit.

Now, I had accompanied my parents to many Catskills hotels when growing up. They were generally pleasant, but by 1988 I had been exposed to, shall we say, a more refined world. I traveled across the country for my job, staying in many first class hotels and resorts. Gilda had often shared the resort trips with me as they centered around conferences where the presence of a spouse was a definite advantage in meeting and mingling with sources. Despite Kutsher’s renovations as described in The Times, I was less than enthusiastic about trekking off to the Catskills. Having just mastered riding a bicycle at age 39 (a subject of a future blog), I was happy to learn Kutsher’s had it own bike trail around its lake and provided bikes free of charge.

The fateful weekend in early July came. I admit I did not muster much enthusiasm. Gilda was rightfully upset with my attitude. As we pulled onto the hotel driveway, the same canopy depicted in the picture in last Friday’s paper appeared. It was not the equal to the Del Coronado outside San Diego. Or the Boca Raton Country Club. Or the Arizona Biltmore, the Scottsdale Princess or the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, all hotels Gilda and I, often with our children, had enjoyed. I sensed her trepidation as we entered the small registration desk just inside the front door.

She wanted to see the room before we officially checked in. The registration clerk asked why. Just to be sure. We didn’t want a room with double beds. Reluctantly she agreed to show us the room. As we walked across the lobby, I detected a strange odor. It reminded me of a used kitty litter box. I suggested perhaps the carpet was mildewed and was immediately rebuffed. It was new flooring, I was told. New or old, I said, the carpet smelled.

I glanced out the picture window and saw the “lake” with the bike path surrounding it. It appeared to be about a half acre in size. Yes, bikes were available, but they couldn’t be ridden anywhere off the paved path around the lake. So much for any biking expedition.

We arrived at our room and stepped into the 1950s. It had separate beds; the carpeting was a long shag of deep orange. We demanded a different room. Reluctantly Kutsher’s agreed. We asked to see it. Again the clerk was less than enthusiastic. The second room had a single bed and decent carpeting. But its only window was higher than six feet from the ground. Standing on the bed I could see out the window. If I craned my neck I could see part of the pool. But most visible was the building next door. Had I wanted to see a building when I looked out the window, I told the clerk, I would have stayed in Brooklyn.

Gilda was now convinced Kutsher’s was not going to be part of our weekend escape. We were prepared to forfeit the $50 deposit, but amazingly Kutsher’s refunded it. We weren’t ready to return home, so we decided to check out the Concord in Kiamesha Lake. Before registering, however, we opted to scope out the hotel. It seemed acceptable until we came upon a yoga class in progress. How can I say this delicately? The yoga instructor could be a contestant on the show,The Biggest Loser. No way, Gilda said, was she staying in a hotel that disrespected its clientele with such an instructor.

Disappointed, we headed homeward till I remembered about the Inn at Lake Waramaug in Litchfield County, Conn. It’s a beautiful setting, with individual cottages. No TVs. No phones. Just the opportunity to commune with nature. That is, unless it’s pouring rain, which started to fall right after we arrived and kept coming down well into Saturday morning, by which time we decided that White Plains wasn’t too bad a place to spend a romantic weekend by ourselves, with Ellie down the street playing with Issa and her mother, Angeles.

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