Thursday, September 10, 2015

Welcome to the Club

Date: Sometime
To: I can't quite remember
Subject: The AADD Club (I think)

Welcome to the Aged Attention Deficit Disorder Club (AADDC)! You've recently become a member of a very exclusive organization, one whose multitudinous members are unforgettable (although sometimes, they can't quite remember why).

Here's some good news (pay attention!): There are no dues, membership is for life, and there are no secret handshakes or code words (you might not remember them).

But you'll easily recognize fellow members; they're folks who are lost in thought, trying to remember why they walked into the kitchen, or where their glasses are.

There's one big benefit (stay with me!): The club never discriminates based on race, sex, or religion (it's a waste of time, trying to remember stereotypes).

I really enjoy the club (although I sometimes forget why). Maybe I'll write down the reasons while I'm thinking about them.

Now, let's see, where did I leave that pen?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Birth of the Sandwich

John Montagu's family name rings no bells today, but his title does.

The fourth Earl of Sandwich was an impatient man who loved to gamble at cards.

He was so impatient,that when he got hungry, he refused to call time out; instead, he would order a servant to bring him two slices of bread with some meat in between them. That way he could play cards with one hand, and eat with the other.

Some scholars theorize that the sandwich, simple, tasty, and quick, helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, and the growth of the British Empire.

I wonder if he ever won his card games?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

$20 Million Dollars

I was drinking my first cup of coffee, defogging my sleep-drenched brain, when I heard the radio announcer report that some young athlete had just signed a five-year, $20-million contract.

Wow! $20 million!

I ignored the "It's ridiculous to pay someone that kind of money to chase a ball around" trope.

Instead, I thought about the number. I have a hard time visualizing $100, much less $20 million, and I thought of the absurdity of anyone needing that kind of money.

How many houses? How many cars? How many...?

No one needs that much money.

But of course, money equals power, and power can be good or bad; whole libraries are full of books about the use and misuse of power.

I took another sip of coffee, and thought about the role of money in my life. I've been broke, and I've been fairly well off, but at the peak of my earnings, I never broke six figures, much less eight.

I had an interesting career: I married, and educated two children, lived in nice surroundings, ate well, dressed fashionably, drove a good car, travelled, and enjoyed myself; all without great wealth.

Did I do something wrong?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Magical Thinking

The restaurant was abuzz with dinner-hour activity, as the maitre d' led Sam and Doris to their favorite table by the picture window with its panoramic view of the river where it met the bay,

Night was falling. Out on the water a fishing boat, its running lights on, was gliding slowly back to port.

Their waiter took the drinks order and lit the candles. After he left, Sam looked around the busy dining room. He found the drone of voices at other tables, the monotone punctuated by occasional laughter, a comforting addition to the understated decor of the room.

Simply-framed nautical prints graced the pale blue walls, and the oaken tables,surrounded by captain chairs, were dressed with royal blue place mats and white linen napkins; shining goblets and sparkling cutlery completed the ensemble.

He smiled as he looked at Doris. For the thousandth time, he noticed how she pursed her lips while she studied the menu.

"What are you having tonight?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"I'm debating whether to have the pan-seared tuna, or the salmon. Do you think I should get some clams?"

"I think you should order some clams, and the salmon, slightly under-done," he said, "and I'll have some Manhattan clam chowder, and the broiled sole."

It was a little game they played. No matter what was on the menu, whenever they dined here, they always ordered the same things, but they had to dance through the pretension of making a choice.

When their drinks arrived, he ordered their meal.

"How was work today? Busy?"

She took a tiny sip of her Burgundy, before replying.

"Customers were lined up outside the store when we opened this morning. I didn't leave the cash register until the lunch break. My feet are still killing me.

"But I have to say, I'm really enjoying myself. I meet so many
different kinds of people."

Doris had retired six months ago, after thirty years of spoon-feeding American history to bored high school seniors. She'd been looking forward eagerly to retirement, but the reality of not having an imposed routine to follow every day bored her immediately; within three weeks she was looking for a job.

Now she was selling jewelry at a department store in a nearby mall. The pay was embarrassing, but the job got her out of the house, and gave her something to do five days a week.

"You probably would have preferred a job like that in the first place, instead of teaching," he said.

Sam had also retired recently from a career as an administrator for a national charity, but he was busier than ever. He'd always dreamed of becoming a writer, and hr was four-fifths of the way through finishing his first novel.

"And how was your day"? Doris asked, buttering a morsel of bread.

"Great! I'm almost finished with the first draft of the novel," he said.

"Very nice," she replied.

"Very nice! Is that all you have to say? You make it sound like I just told you that I washed the car!"

"What would you like me to say?"she asked. "I know you've been working on it for quite a while. I simply said that it's nice you're almost finished."

Sam patted his lips with his napkin, and took a deep breath.

Why was he annoyed? Nothing ever changed. No matter what he did of a positive nature, her reactions were always the same; lukewarm at best.

As usual, he was angry with himself, for expecting a different response.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Packing it in at Seventy-five

Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel said he wanted to pack it in when he turned seventy-five, in an article in The Atlantic.

It's a free country. Who am I, to disagree? As Scrooge said, it would decrease the surplus population.

He's noble to want to get out of the way; moreover, he's not telling us what to do, nor does he advocate suicide; he just wouldn't accept life-extending medical procedures.

Isn't he considerate? Only telling us what he would do? Maybe the Swedish Academy should award him a Nobel Prize for selflessness.

I turned seventy-five the other day, and I haven't decided what to do!

I think I'll have another cup of coffee. I might get a haircut tomorrow. Or, maybe not?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Believe

I believe in change.

And in theworld of creatures, great or small, change equals life.

We are born, we live, we die. The experience is shared by all, and although it may be existentially cathartic to "Cry out against the dying of the light,"  no amount of sound and fury will forestall the inevitable.

I believe in making the best of things. Whatever the particulars of a situation, while life endures, some aspects of that experience will be of interest, a reason to react, even in the face of pain or loss.

This I believe.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Fall

Seven years ago, I broke my neck.

A doctor at the local walk-in clinic confirmed my worst fears. By tripping on a carpet and falling, I had broken a cervical vertebra. A team of surgeons operated several weeks later, and shortly thereafter, I went home with a walker, legally handicapped.

I chose not to retire, and after Labor Day, returned to work.

My accident changed everything. Normal activities - from going to work, to grocery shopping - required careful planning to avoid mishaps. I feared the consequences of another fall.

I adjusted my routine to conform to physical limitations, making necessary changes as events and activities required. Most importantly, I taught myself to slow down; sudden movements were a constant challenge to my disabilities.

Fatigue was the most obvious deficit of returning to work. When I came home each night, I was exhausted, mentally and physically.

Months passed.

One sunny June day, I was sitting outside after lunch, chatting with two colleagues. One of them announced that he had put in for retirement. The other laughed, and said that he had done the same.

They went back to their offices. I thought about their news, and how tired I was every day. On the way to my office, I stopped by Human Resources and filed for retirement.

It was time.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

When Radio Was King

"Look up in the sky! It's a bird! A plane! It's Superman!"

It was the early 1940s; World War II was almost over, and radio dominated the living rooms of America.

In the mornings we ate Breakfast with Dorothy and Dick, as they discussed the upcoming day; and at noon, dropped in for Luncheon at Sardi's, where actors came by to boast about Broadway hits.

In the afternoons housewives took a break to commiserate with Stella Dallas, or cheer the triumphs or mourn the doings of One Man's Family.

In the evenings Walter Winchell rasped "Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! Let's go to press!

Chills ran up and down our spines as the creak of a door dared us to enter The Inner Sanctum; Rochester grumbled as he chauffeured his boss on The Jack Benny Show; Baby Snooks drove her father crazy; The Shadow rooted out the "evil that lurks in the hearts of men."

The Lone Ranger pursued desperadoes in the Old West, and Lowell Thomas painted word pictures of the jungles of Borneo and the Great Wall of China.

We were listening to the radio.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Naked Truth

I think I've reached the saturation point with graphic depictions of simulated love-making in the movies, and it has nothing to do with prudery.

I learned a long time ago that babies aren't found under cabbage leaves, and the stork doesn't bring them. People make babies. They always have, always will, and sometimes they practice, just for the fun of it.

Once upon a time, when no mention, much less the visual portrayal of heterosexual acts, was permitted, movie-goers had to use their imaginations if they were that way so disposed.

No longer.

Gratuitous sex scenes are just part of the cinematic landscape, and actors who don't participate are an endangered species.

But one of the unexpected consequences of the increasingly ubiquitous custom is the progressive desensitization of the significance of the act in the eyes of the audience.

And another by-product is the opportunity it affords for a good chuckle.

I particularly get a kick out of the frenetic stylization of an interlude: Boy meets girl; they embrace, pull back, their eyes glaze over as they stare soulfully into each other's eyes, and then, in a mad rush to the finish line, they frantically tear off their clothes; nature takes its course, and they have sex standing up, at an anatomically-impossible angle, before the scene shifts to the next problem-solving episode.

After all difficulties are resolved, the wildly ecstatic bride-to-be, and the beaming groom, stare soulfully into each  other's eyes, as the pastor proclaims them, man and wife; they kiss, and run down the aisle, out of the church, and into the car, ready and eager to live happily, ever after, as the music swells, the scene fades, and the credits start to roll.

Ain't love grand?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

On Rediscovering the Joys of Cursive Writing

I've just started writing again in cursive script.

Succeeding generations of schoolchildren had to learn to write in it in penmanship class, back in grammar school.

Recently, a number of articles have predicted "the death of cursive"; how a lot of schools aren't teaching it anymore, and how anachronistic it is in the Digital Age.

What a shame!

The use of cursive writing, as opposed to hand-printing, is like the difference between Slow Food and Fast Food; you look forward to, and savor the first, and wolf down the second, just to get it over with.

The well-learned art of cursive handwriting is like making love; part of the pleasure lies in the length of time it takes. The irony is that cursive script was developed as a more efficient, and less time-consuming activity than printing separate letters on a page.

I went back to cursive when I realized I could barely decipher my own printing. Over the years, it had become more and more rushed, and more sloppy.

One day, I began to write in a neat, legible cursive script. It was almost as if the ghost of my third grade teacher was peering over my shoulder, telling me to pay attention, and slow down.

Who knows? I might be starting a trend.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Doing Nothing

Have you ever been able to give yourself permission to say, "I'm going to spend the entire day just doing nothing?

"I'm not going to make my bed, shave, check my email, or pay bills.

"I'm going back to sleep. Later, I might eat chocolate truffles, watch old sitcoms, or stare at the wall. Or not."

Whenever I decide to do nothing, I feel like some authority figure is disapprovingly clucking their tongue, as if to say, "I really thought better of you. How can you just sit there, doing nothing?"

Giving yourself permission to do nothing is almost impossible. It means going against standards you've lived by all your life.

The old proverb says, "It's sweet to do nothing."

Why is that so hard to believe?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Icarus Effect

When U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-NJ, was indicted April 1 on multiple federal charges of fraud, I was saddened by the banality of the event.

One of the most powerful men in the Senate, Menendez had just joined a constellation of famous men from every walk of life who have been plagued by the Icarus Effect.

In Greek mythology, an artisan named Daedalus fashioned a set of wings, which he asked his son Icarus to try out. The wings, made of feathers, were glued together with wax.

Daedalus cautioned Icarus not to fly too high, for fear the sun would melt the wax, and cause the boy to fall to his death.

With the arrogance of youth, Icarus disregarded his father's advice and flew too high; the wax melted, he fell in the sea, and drowned.
By so doing, he became the prototype for the tragic hero: A man blinded by his hubris, doomed to suffer the consequences.

Menendez's implication of wrongdoing, to all charges of which he pleaded not guilty, is ironic; his career was launched more than two decades ago, when he testified at the trial of his mentor, former New Jersey State Senator William "Billy" Musto, who was found guilty of charges of racketeering, fraud and extortion. Musto served three years in federal prison.

In the wake of the trial, Menendez's star rose ever higher, culminating in his appointment to the unexpired U.S. Senate seat of Gov. Jon Corzine, and his subsequent election to a full six-year term.

The Icarus Effect has dogged and brought down innumerable men who have sought to achieve greatness, from presidents to mob bosses, from CEOs to scam artists.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Good Old Days

Seti poured himself a beer, just as the sun was starting to set beyond the Nile.

Seti stretched and smiled. It was good to be retired; he'd worked long enough.

His thoughts flashed back to the good old days, when he was a mere lad, and first went to work at the quarry as a laborer, hauling huge blocks of stone for the building of the Pharaoh's pyramid.

He was strong of body then, and full of ambition. Amun-Ra be praised, he had worked hard, and risen to be one of the foremen at the building site.

Now, younger foremen were in charge of the thousands of slaves who toiled beneath the cruel sun, as the pyramid neared completion.

Seti gazed admiringly at the lush fields of wheat, shimmering and golden, near the river's edge. Mother Nile had been astonishingly generous with the rich gift of topsoil she left behind, after overflowing her banks last spring.

The gods were kind. All went well in the land of Egypt, except - Seti worried about his son. Unlike him, the boy rebelled against tradition. He wore outlandish clothes, drank too much beer and wine, and took guilty pleasures with slave girls.

What would the future bring? What would become of his son? What was happening to the old values?

When would his son settle down, and acknowledge that the old ways were best?

Seti sighed. Things were so much better in the good old days, when he was young.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring is Here

A burst of birdsong fills the air.

At first the melody is tentative, than sure, promising gentle days to come, much as a glass of ice-cold beer slakes a thirst on a torrid summer's day.

Soon, other birds begin to warble, chorusing a paean of praise to spring.

Winter has gone. As she slunk off, her narrow face pinched in a frigid scowl, her icy hands were still clutching at us, but her grasp was getting weaker.

Spring is shy. I know she's back, there are signs: It's slowly getting warmer; workmen outside are trading good-natured insults; a chainsaw is growling as dead branches are being cut down; children playing hopscotch squeal and laugh out on the sidewalk.

In flower beds here and there, crocuses are peering up after their long sleep, and a neighbor's dog barks furiously at an oblivious squirrel digging for long-buried nuts.

The days are growing longer, and the aroma of hamburgers sizzling on a grill floats on the breeze. A sense of expectation fills the air.

Spring is here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Darkness and Light

When the Soviet Empire imploded in the late 90's, I puzzled over what sort of paradigm we would create to fill the power vacuum.

The Manichean dichotomies of Light and Dark, Good and Evil, were the poles between which we measured our policies through the latter half of the twentieth century.

There was a kind of familiar comfort in the Cold War policy of containment; it almost seemed a shame to bid it farewell. The failed realization of Karl Marx's theory of economics as it played out under the heavy-fisted hegemony of Soviet imperialism was a clear and stalwart enemy of western democracy; how, and why would we wish to replace it?

On September 11, 2001, I began to get my answer.

The horrific sneak attack by a band of Muslim fanatics on the World Trade Center, and the resultant deaths of nearly 3,000 innocents, was a stark harbinger of things to come. Marx and Lenin's secular religion, only recently interred, started to attain the status of a fond memory, in sharp contrast to the seemingly intractable divisions between the democratic West and the autocratic Middle East.

Whatever the putative reasons for the United States' invasion of Iraq, and our de facto involvement in the region, the results were ominously reminiscent of the Crusades.

Capitalism, and its handmaiden, democracy, trumped communism. Can they prevail over, or reach an accommodation with the Arab world?

I wonder.