Thursday, April 30, 2015

Soda Jerk, Double Dipping and a History Lesson

My personal, in-house nutrition guru—aka Gilda—has advised me that ingesting real sugar is better for my health than absorbing artificial sweeteners like Splenda or Equal. Seems recent scientific studies have shown humans react the same to pseudo sweeteners as they do to sugar, so why risk the introduction of unnecessary chemicals into one’s body. 

As a lifelong Coca-Cola drinker who had a hard time acclimating my taste buds to Diet Coke once I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, I was all for a return to the Real Thing. But a funny thing happened on my way back to Coke. Turns out Diet Coke tastes better.

I’ve actually cut back on my soda drinking. When I do indulge with a meal at home I opt for an 8-oz. glass bottle of Diet Coke or a 7.5-oz. can (glass being the preferred vessel as we’re trying to cut back on plastic or metal containers). I don’t think of myself as being part of a major trend, but soda consumption of all types is decreasing for more than a decade, with diet versions dropping even more precipitously, no doubt plunging ever more rapidly as new studies on health risks emerge.

Double Dipping: Speaking of health risks, you’ve probably heard about the Listeria scares associated with such foods as Blue Bell ice cream and Sabra Hummus. Product recalls have been initiated, one of which unfolded before my very eyes at a local Costco. 

A customer directly before me brought back for a refund an almost fully eaten tub of original Sabra Hummus. He received his money but after he walked far enough away so he wouldn’t hear me I couldn’t resist noting to the cashier that the mostly consumed hummus obviously had not harmed him. I guess he felt as long as money had been set aside for the recall he might as well take advantage of it even if he had not been inconvenienced by Sabra or Costco. Voilá: another form of double-dipping!

History Lesson: For the moment, our troubled (illegal) immigration policy has been shunted off the front pages and airwaves as the country deals with the horrific and seemingly unending assault by police officers on unarmed men of color. 

The other day, however, I was intrigued by a comment from Drew Holcomb I heard on the radio (Holcomb, for those of you like me who have no idea who he is) is the lead singer/songwriter of Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors). 

As the story was told, one of Holcomb’s Los Angeles friends was complaining about the influx of Hispanics to his city. To which Holcomb replied, “What was the name of the city you live in?,” immediately calling attention to the Hispanic origins of Los Angeles. 

I don’t know where Holcomb attended elementary school but if it was anything like my Brooklyn school the history of European settlement of America was concentrated on the original 13 colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. Spanish holdings in Florida were largely ignored despite the fact that St. Augustine was the first European settlement in the continental United States. Indeed, Spain’s contribution to the Americas mostly was related in terms of its conquistadors, their pursuit of gold alongside subjugation and often violent religious conversion of Native Americans. 

Spain and then Mexico governed most of the Southwest. It was the “gringo” who was the unwanted intruder in land eventually taken by force, first in Texas and then in points further west. 

I don’t have a solution to the immigration crisis. But I do know that too many people forget we are a nation of immigrants and the forefathers of the first Europeans who settled here spoke Spanish, not English, not French, not Italian, not German, not Russian nor any other European language. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Democrats vs. Demonizers

And so it begins, or should I say continues, the demonization of Hillary Clinton and her husband, the ex-president Bill. Character assassination that in some quarters might be compared to gang rape in its viciousness and virulency. 

It has transformed the nascent 2016 presidential selection process into a contest of Dems vs. Dems—Democrats vs. Demonizers. 

The most recent attacks on her character center on financial gain at the alleged expense of independent and objective stewardship of the affairs of state while she was U.S. secretary of state. Outside of the Washington Beltway, I suspect these attacks are fodder for the 40% of the public who watch Fox News and despise her from the get-go while being balderdash to the 40% who view MSNBC and would support her even if she were a confirmed witch being burned at the stake. 

My take on all this in my increasingly cynical mode is that all politicians play loose with the financial benefits that come across their desks when they are in or recently out of office. Of course they are trading on their influence. They have few other assets to market. 

I’m not condoning influence peddling. But I am more concerned with policy. Where do candidates stand on issues.

Do they favor a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy? Or do they support onerous rules that make a decision difficult to reach and execute?

Do they favor extending the right to vote to as many qualified citizens as possible, or do they support rules that would place undue burdens on the young, the elderly, or the disadvantaged in the alleged interest of thwarting voter fraud when no such fraud has historically been proven?

Do they favor a higher minimum wage or do they believe in tricky down economics (that should be “trickle” down economics but Apple Pages self-corrected it to tricky down, which I thought was a nicely comical transposition)?

Do they accept the science of global warming and our need to slow its advance, or are they blind and deaf to the realities of climate change?

Do they accept evolution, or are they bound by Scripture in a belief the world is less than 6,000 years old and that man walked with dinosaurs?

Do they believe government can be an instrument for good, or is it all evil, particularly agencies that help the poor, regulate drugs and food, civil rights and education? 

I am in no way suggesting Hillary Clinton is a perfect candidate. But I trust her to appoint federal judges who would be progressive, not regressive. Based on the fact that during Bill’s and Barack’s presidencies the economy has been more robust than during Republican administrations, I trust her to oversee greater economic growth. Given the repressive actions in states controlled by GOP governors and state houses, I fear the direction this country would take if a Republican, even a moderate Republican, if there still is such a person, would be elected president. 

Yes, there might be gridlock in Washington. Republicans might even try to impeach a Clinton, again. They’ll have more select committees investigating “wrongs” than standing committees. But the alternative is much more dire. 

If I sound pessimistic let me seek comfort by identifying with Jon Stewart, the soon to be departing host of The Daily Show. Wednesday night, in conversation with Dana Perino, former press secretary to George W. Bush and currently a co-host of Fox News’ The Five, Stewart identified himself as an “optimistic idealist.” 

As for his outbursts against politicians, he said, “This is anguish, not pessimism.” 

I will be saddened when he leaves The Daily Show anchor seat August 6. But I think his decision is a good one. Of late, I’ve been seeing too much of Howard Beale in him. Beale, you might recall, was a news anchor in the 1976 film Network who encouraged his viewers to shout out of their windows, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Stewart hasn’t gone that far (yet), but he seems to be more liberated in his diatribes recently now that his tenure is finite. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Play Ball

I knocked in the go-ahead winning run in our temple’s season opening softball game Sunday, striking another blow for almost-over-the-hill ballplayers. 

To be truthful, I shouldn’t really categorize my effort as a “blow.” And “knocking in” conveys the image of a powerful drive. What really happened is I came to bat with one out and runners at the corners (that’s first and third for those who don’t know baseball parlance). The circumstance called for situational hitting, so, being a decent switch hitter, I batted lefty as a ball hit to the right side has more of a chance of scoring the runner from third. 

I took a mighty swing (that part is true). The ball dribbled just to the right of the pitcher’s mound. In my youth, I might have run fast enough to beat the throw to first. Or at least make the play close. At 66, I made it about a third of the way down the line before giving up. I was out but the runner on third scored, the second of our runs in a 4-1 victory. 

Between innings the umpire mentioned he considered calling me out for an illegal swinging bunt. He didn’t. Perhaps he had pity on me. I was, after all, older than him. 

Now that the major league baseball season has started I am back to my normal after-dinner cleanup routine. Normal, that is, when the NY Yankees are playing night games. As I wash the pots and pans I listen to the game on television.

Last Friday the Yanks were tailing the Boston Red Sox 3-0 early. I turned off the TV. Gilda asked why. I said I was not into self-inflicted torture, which watching the Yankees this year seems to be almost a certainty. Before going to bed around 11 I checked my iPhone to see the score. It was 3-2, the Yanks coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth. As Gilda was trying to go to sleep I put the set on mute and watched the futility until, until, until Chase Headley hit a game-tying home run to send the game into extra innings. 

I wasn’t tired so I kept watching, and watching and watching as inning after inning prolonged the contest. I stayed up through a 15 minute power failure at Yankee Stadium. In the 16th inning David Ortiz hit a solo home run for Boston. In the bottom of the 16th Mark Teixeira tied it with a home run. Gilda woke up, saw the TV was still on, asked what was happening, and went back to sleep. She woke up again after the 18th inning to learn Boston had once again gone ahead by a run and the Yankees had tied it up for a third time in their half of the inning. 

In the 19th inning Boston scored again while the Yanks did not. A game I had turned off around 8 pm Friday had lasted until 2:16 am Saturday. I had watched the last three hours and 16 minutes in silence. And self-inflicted torture.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Classic Old Century Baseball Fun

If you believe the calendar and not the actual weather, it is spring, time for baseball (the temple softball league starts this weekend) and tag/yard sales. I should have a bumper sticker on my car proclaiming “I brake for tag sales.” Or, “I turn around for tag sales.”

If you’re a parent or grandparent of small children, how could you not indulge in impulse purchases for the kiddies, particularly when you come across a toy or replica of one that provided countless hours of enjoyment when you wore knickers?

Last fall, as Gilda and I were on our way for a promenade in one of the ritzier ’hoods of Harrison, we passed a sign for a tag sale. I turned around, parked and entered a window of my childhood. What caught my eye was not an antique but rather a reproduction of a Classic Old Century Baseball Pinball Style Game. It was all wood. The tabletop game came with two steel ball bearings that are pitched by a spring. The batter swings a flipper, sending the ball bearing toward preset holes in the ballpark field representing hits or outs. For those interested in seeing a picture of the game, google “classic old century baseball game” 

For a mere $10 the game was mine. That’s mine, not Finley’s or Dagny’s or now Cecilia’s. My interest was pure nostalgia. I didn’t own one of these games as a kid. My best friend Lenny Dorfman did. Lenny lived five houses down, a corner house on Avenue W and East 19th Street in Brooklyn. Ten families lived in attached row houses on our side of the block. Lenny lived on one end, our friend Richie Posner lived at the 18th Street end. My family was in the middle. We always played together. My earliest memories have us playing dump truck in the dirt at the edge of my front lawn, or combining our Lionel trains in Richie’s second floor bedroom when the weather was lousy outside, or playing Classic Baseball on the backyard porch of Lenny’s house.

Baseball was the sport of choice back then. We collected, traded and flipped baseball cards. We played Cadaco’s All-Star Baseball, a game that could be considered the forerunner to today’s fantasy league programs, only All-Star Baseball included current and past players, their tendencies to hit safely determined by a spin of a pointer positioned over an individual player’s historic batting record. Each player had to employ strategy, first in picking a team then setting up a batting order and deciding when to insert pinch hitters. Of course, a lot depended on luck, or maybe some skill, in getting the spinner to land on a hit and avoid pointing to an out.

The Classic Old Century Baseball game has sat on our living room coffee table for some six months. I rarely have pulled back the spring to launch a pitch down the shoot. Gilda has patiently allowed me to indulge my nostalgia. Maybe she senses that as we age we long for traces of our youth. After all, she had me go up to the attic a few months ago to scrounge around for a box of her teenage papers. 

We aren’t trying to relive our past. Our present is quite good, thank you. Yet, it is comforting to reminisce about what our memories tell us were sweet times, simpler times, when we had few concerns and our fortunes—no misfortunes—awaited our journey over the horizon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Baby Freedom Is Now Cecilia Jane

Pity the poor expectant mother who goes through an ordinary labor—she will have nothing to share with friends or family about the travails of her delivery. Ellie, on the other hand, no doubt will have plenty to tell about the birth Tuesday of her and Donny's daughter, Cecilia Jane Novak, their first offspring, Gilda's and my third grandchild.

I'm under strict restrictions not to reveal details but I can tell you that CJ, formerly known as Baby Freedom (conceived on the 4th of July and born during the festival of Passover, the liberation of the Hebrews from hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt), belied her nickname by staying inside the womb a week longer than forecast. She was riding high inside Ellie when last we saw her after the second seder Saturday night.

Contractions started Monday morning but Ellie didn't go to the hospital until after midnight. CJ made her entrance  at 10:38 am Tuesday.

I don't mean to suggest extended delivery is harder on grandparents than parents but it is rather difficult just waiting around for news. As type-A personalities Gilda and I are not the best bystanders. The no-news-is-good-news mantra just doesn't cut it when waiting for a grandchild to show up.

But all is cobetzedek now that Cecilia Jane has arrived and everyone—mother, father, child and grandparents, in New York and Omaha—is resting comfortably.

(For those who might wonder, cobetzedek is derived from the Hebrew words hacol bestedek which translates to "everything is all right.")

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Recalling a Painful Experience

Spent Thursday morning at the endodontist, a fancy name for a root canal specialist. Two hours late I emerged with lingering pain and a regimen of medicines that should make life tolerable for the next few days. Still not certain if the molar is salvageable or a candidate for extraction. Perhaps I’ll find out next week.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d recall one of my more memorable and excruciating visits to the dentist some 20 years ago.

My dentist at the time was located in Yonkers, on North Broadway not far from the Executive Boulevard exit of the Saw Mill River Parkway. When my early morning appointment to replace a filling ended, I drove back to White Plains to park in the commuter garage and board the 10:05 train to Grand Central Terminal. In Manhattan I started walking up Park Avenue to my office, but before I even exited the east walkway of the Helmsley Building I felt a twinge where the Novocain had started to wear off. Not a good sign, so I did a quick about-face and caught the first train back to White Plains, which, fortuitously, left within five minutes. 

By the time I arrived in White Plains 35 minutes later all the Novocain had worn off, leaving me in piercing pain. I hot-rodded it down the parkway, alternating between singing at the top of my lungs and screaming. I extended my left leg as far as I could, lifting my buttocks out of the seat. I howled my distress. It took about 12 minutes to get from White Plains to North Broadway in Yonkers. Like a madman I ran into the dentist’s office, demanding IMMEDIATE attention. The other patients must have thought I was crazed, and indeed I was. But the dentist quickly shot me up again and did some more work on my tooth. 

It was now too late to go to work, so I drove back to White Plains and decided to do some shopping in a Pergament Home Center. As I bent down to reach an item on the bottom shelf, I felt another twinge. I knew right away what that meant, but I wasn’t fast enough. I was howling again down the Saw Mill River Parkway. Once more I appeared in front of a different set of startled patients as crazed. 

The net result was the start of a root canal procedure which went smoothly. Since that time I am always alert to the slightest twinge whenever I visit the dentist. 

You might be wondering if I stayed with that dentist. I did, until his untimely death from cancer. He was a good dentist, as well as a friend.