Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Resolutions 2018

The dawning of a new year is an opportune time to pause and reflect on my life and how I can live it with more purpose, peace and enjoyment. But due to the hectic nature of the holiday season, my profound reflections are often pre-empted by thoughts like “Can I just get everyone moist towelettes this year?” and “Mmmm . . . cocoa brownie balls.”   That being the case, here’s the best resolutions could come up with under such challenging circumstances.

Resolution # 1: I will find the time to go back to doing what it is I do best: teaching inner city kids to yodel.

Resolution # 2:  I will develop an alternative to the Internet called "The Infobahn." It will have only a fraction of the content but will be 10 times faster.

Resolution # 3: I will make plans to throw a big party sometime. (Wait, did I say "big party"? I meant "discussion group with light refreshments.")

Resolution # 4: I will work day and night to put together the Leno/McCartney reunion concert that the world yearns for. (I just can’t help shake the feeling that the concept is fundamentally flawed. Must talk to Jay and Paul’s people about their interest levels.)

Resolution # 5: I will lose 35 lbs. on The Chicken Pot Pie and Low-Fat Fudgesicle Diet and inspire millions to do the same by appearing in a series of national ads using my old pants as a parasail while being pulled over the ocean by a powerboat.

Resolution # 6: I will become utterly absorbed in a new and greater reality while still maintaining my availability to participate in happy hours, barbecues, card games and other traditional, old-reality activities.

Resolution # 7: I will only LOL when I find something LOL funny, which won’t be nearly as often as a lot of LOL people who will LOL without any provocation whatsoever. (Example #1: Just bought two cans of diced tomatoes, lol.” Example # 2: “Thought today was the 24th, not the 23rd, lol.” Example # 3: One of these days I’ll get to Wyoming, lol.) I hope that gratuitous LOL people everywhere will follow my lead and stop the insanity. LMAO (but not really).

Resolution # 8: I will finally learn my lesson and stop listening to TV weather people who give advice like “good day to hit that street fair downtown.” Instead, if they predict ‘no rain’ for the day, I’ll make it a point to load up on DVDs and wait for the torrential downpour.

Resolution # 9: I will do some serious soul searching and decide whether I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond, a small fish in a big pond, or a fish special on a menu of diverse offerings that may include Seared Peppered Scallops with Orange-Soy Glaze, Moroccan Chicken with Eggplant and Almonds, and Blackened Red Snapper with Creole Sauce. (SPOILER ALERT: The smart money’s on “big fish, small pond.”)

Resolution # 10: I will express my “inner werewolf” by not showering or shaving for weeks on end and throwing my head back whenever I get the urge and letting loose with a hearty “Aw, Aw – Awwwwooooo!!”

Happy 2018 everyone! Greet each day as a gift, enjoy the journey, and don’t forget to stop and smell the cocoa brownie balls. Oh yeah, and one last thing: “Aw, Aw – Awwwwooooo!!”

Friday, September 22, 2017

Power Mad

Post-storm power outages are different in Florida. Sure, they begin with the familiar crackle, pop and plunge into darkness. In other parts of the country this would be a signal to light that nice candle your aunt Adelaide gave you for Christmas. In Florida – there’s no sense in sugar coating it – the power going out is a signal to kiss life as you know it goodbye and prepare yourself for a slow but steady descent into madness.

First, you will have to renounce all worldly possessions and creature comforts – even the small ones like clean underwear and cornflakes with milk. Then, you will be forced out of your home and onto the streets where you will join other disaster zombies forming lines the length of several football fields for a bag of ice, a tank of gas or a flight to San Diego. I was once on a line so long, I kept a journal of it.

Dear Diary,

It’s day three and we seem to lack the forward motion one hopes to experience on a line. I suspect it has stopped completely or is even moving backwards. I’ve made a commitment to follow this through to the end, but if it’s going backwards is the end really the end, or is it the beginning of a line I’ve lived through on my way to yesterday?

Most people (me included) are troopers for a few days. We help neighbors, join the hunt for food and water, pull old books and board games out of retirement to fill the powerless hours. But there comes a point, even for the best of us, when our built-in, shock-proof stress detector calculates that we’ve endured way more than our fair share of hardship.

 “I can’t believe those condos out at the beach have power and we don’t,” I grumble to my wife, insinuating conspiracies at the highest levels.

 “They’re on a different power grid,” Sherry explains sketchily, no doubt conserving energy.

 I’m tired of conserving energy. I’m ready to storm the palace gates.

 “Can someone explain to me how we can live in the richest, most technologically-advanced society in the history of the world and still be without power seven days after a storm?”

“It is starting to get aggravating,” Sherry concedes, hinting that her limitless patience may have an expiration date after all.

For the record, my patience ended three days before when we reheated two cold turkey franks over some sterno and pronounced then “dinner.” (In a blind taste test, Sherry and I both picked a flashlight over the turkey franks as having superior flavor and visual appeal.)

 Somewhere along the line, when I least expected it, something revitalizing happened. I discovered how resourceful, unselfish and compassionate I could be – a real leader of the masses in times of adversity. Had you been by my side during those difficult days, you would have heard me say this:

“Here’s another 60 gallons of bottled water Mrs. Obermann. I’ll have fresh batteries for your portable TV within the hour – I make them myself from a kit I got off the Internet.”

And this:

“Out of gas, Sean? You drive, I’ll push – there’s a station about a mile up the road.”

 And this:

 "Hey Tommy, stop crying. Climb up on my shoulders and let’s see if we can get you closer to that breeze that’s passing through.”

Around the same time – give or take an hour – I also discovered how cranky, self-pitying and sarcastic I can be: the Child King with a craving for pizza rolls and cable TV.

Had you been there in my weaker moments, you would have heard me say this:

 “Are air conditioners, TVs, stereos and household appliances now simply novelty items to be enjoyed on those rare occasions when the Power & Light gods are feeling benevolent?”

 And this:

 “Who’s going to reimburse me for the episodes of ‘Hollywood Game Nights,’ and ‘American Ninja Warrior’ I’ve missed?”

 And this:

  “I’ll start shaving and bathing again when this neighborhood is lit up like a Vegas casino!”

 Like I’ve been saying, prolonged power outages are a uniquely transforming experience. They bring out the best and the worst in people – often simultaneously. As for me, I’d much rather turn on a light than curse the darkness. In Florida after a storm, your best bet is to reach for the flashlight first. I keep mine handy next to the turkey franks.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Passion of the Crust

“Bread is dead,” the headline screamed. The shock of it caused me to cough violently, launching a chunk of partially-chewed Pepperidge Farm Honey Wheat on a short and tragic flight to the floor below.

The demise of bread was a crummy prospect indeed. Take away bread and, in my view, you risk the collapse of civilization itself. Remove bread from the equation and you usher in an irreversible breakdown of the very fiber of existence. And for what? The chance to lose 15 pounds in six weeks so you can gain 30 six months later? People of Planet Earth, I implore you. Is this how you want it all to end – not with a bun, but a whimper?

My life had been a journey driven and nurtured by bread, a quest enriched by bread as a daily symbol of sustenance and stability. Bread, in all its glorious varieties added to me, defined me, made me more than I would otherwise be. I lived for bread, and my life is a testimony to bread’s splendor.

Feeding Young Minds. Studies have shown that empty stomachs lead to poor concentration and a harder time learning in school. What studies have not confirmed, but what my personal experience proves without a doubt, is that getting the nutrition kids need to learn, grow and succeed every day in school is greatly enhanced by eating a seedless Kaiser roll with breakfast. I’m absolutely certain of this due to the dramatic improvement in my grades from the time my father started bringing seedless Kaisers home with the paper in the morning. Before the Kaisers, I was flunking math and scrapping by in geography. After the Kaisers, my math grades soared to solid “B’s,” and my grasp of geography impressed my teacher enough to write on my report card “Alan thinks globally, acts locally, and smells of cream cheese.”

The Battle for the Biscuit.  For as far back as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. No cards, no gifts, just say “grace” and begin the gluttony. While my mother would awake at some absurdly early hour to prepare a feast that would make a pilgrim weep with gratitude, my two brothers and I were interested in only one thing. The biscuits. When loading our plates with food, we each left ample room for the flaky golden delicacies, begrudgingly adhering to the one-at-a-time rule my parents had established after the “Biscuit Blitzkrieg of ’81.” On that infamous Thanksgiving Day, 90 percent of the biscuits landed in two of the five mouths at the table, and the battle for the last biscuit was fierce and vindictive. I can still hear my mother say, “there, now neither of you gets it,” as she extracted it from the combined clutches of my brother Bob and I and devoured it in two lusty, unladylike bites.

A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine. When I got married, my relationship with bread achieved even greater significance, as the preparation of meals took on a new prominence in my life. Conversations like the following became a daily ritual.

Me: “Any thoughts on dinner tonight?”
My Wife: “How about grilled cheese?”
Me: “What kind of bread should we use?”
My Wife: “The Publix Sour Dough Plus Five grills up good.”
Me: “True. But their Country Rye is a larger loaf size and holds the melted cheese in place better.”
My Wife: “What about the sauerkraut rye we used to get?
Me: “That was at Winn-Dixie, and they stopped making it. I’ve been boycotting them ever since, which explains their recent downsizing.”
My Wife: “Then just pick out what looks good to you and surprise me.

This, of course, was music to my ears, as visions of a steaming loaf of Basil Parmesan Sun-Dried Tomato Foccacia stirred my expectations for a night of hot buttered bliss.  

Call me a fanatic, but for those who claim that bread’s final expiration date is here, I strongly disagree. Bread is not dead. Bread will rise again. Bread is reborn! Crust is King! Long live bread!

Now are you going to back away from that last biscuit or are we going to have a problem here?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dinner With The Babe

I'd serve a lot of hot dogs,
buns and beans and beer.
There's never too much food around
when Mr. Ruth is here.

He'd come fresh from the ballpark,
in unifrom and cleats.
We'd talk about his batting stance,
and broads and booze and eats.

I'd say, "You're such a hero,"
he'd say, "I'm just a man."
And as he'd shovel down the beans
I'd fetch another can.

He'd throw back a mighty mouthful,
then a hefty swig of brew.
He would hold his fork just like a bat
and take a swing or two.

"What's it like to be a legend?"
I would ask and watch him smile -
"Oh it's the next best thing to sex
to hit a ball a country mile."

Now I've dined with rich and famous,
and I've broken bread with kings.
Had sloppy joes with Elvis,
and grits and onion rings.

But if you want my real opinion,
just call me Honest Abe.
For hearty chow and chatter,
I'll take dinner with The Babe.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Lost Years

If you see my face on a missing person flyer any time soon, don’t be alarmed.  It’s not that I’ve been kidnapped. It’s just my lousy sense of direction leading me away from wherever I’m suppose to be.

At this point in my life, I’d venture to guess that my frequent navigational goofs have added up to a total of five solid years spent completely and hopelessly lost. And that’s just while driving. If you factor in false steps on foot, you’re up to seven years or 70,000 miles, whichever comes first.

The two years squandered getting lost on foot I can live with. After all, the average adult spends two years of their life just waiting for the guy ahead of them at the post office to pick between the American flag stamps or the Legends of Boogie-Woogie stamps.

It’s the five years lost in my car that makes me melancholy. After countless misguided journeys left me older but no wiser, I decided to keep a travel journal to chronicle trips of various durations, monitor driving patterns and – hopefully – learn from my mistakes.

Submitted for your amazement and pity are a couple of excerpts from that journal.

Orlando, August 2008. While driving from our hotel to a nearby attraction called Church Street Station, my wife and I become lost. What makes this unremarkable event remarkable is that once off the highway we actually see Church Street Station. In fact, we see it several times at close range as we drive from block to block. The problem is that a series of one-way streets keeps us from making the turns we want to make and soon Church Street Station disappears into the night.

Just when it appears things can't get worse, the lighted, paved road we are on turns into an unlighted, dirt road and dead-ends abruptly at a metal gate by some rundown warehouses on the outskirts of the city. My wife, who has been uncommonly quiet for the last few minutes of our descent into oblivion, turns and says: “Is this the part where we stumble onto a drug deal going down and are shot gangland style and left to die?” She’s such a kidder.

New Jersey, October 2011. While back in my home state for a cousin’s wedding, I decide to show my wife some of my old stomping grounds. Things so pretty well at first as I successfully find my way back to my first apartment, the office I worked at right out of college, and the state park were I use to hike. But heading back to the hotel it all unravels. It seems that some of my “old stomping grounds” were stomped on by other people in the years since I left. Their overzealous and gratuitous stomping resulted in new roads, new scenery, and more opportunities for me to get spectacularly, irreversibly lost.

Soon, we find ourselves in a gritty, bars-on-the-windows kind of town with the gas gauge almost on empty, darkness falling fast, and the sound of broken glass crunching under our tires as we stop for a red light. My wife, who has been uncommonly quiet for the last few minutes of our plunge into purgatory, turns and says: “Is this the part where we run out of gas, are taken hostage at knifepoint by a sociopath named “Skunk” and are featured in a story on Dateline intitled “Last Exit to Horror Cabin.” I’m telling you, she’s such a joker.

So what have I learned about my horribly deformed sense of direction from my travel journal experiment?

I’ve learned that when I come to an intersection and confidently go left, I should have gone so far to the right it would make a conservative republican proud. I’ve learned that when I decisively go straight ahead, I should have turned 20 miles back while there were still useful landmarks like buildings and living people. And I’ve learned that I can continue to count on being an accidental tourist paying tolls on roads I shouldn’t have been on and asking directions at gas stations so far removed from where I’m going that the name of my destination is “a new one” on the locals.          

Just last night, coming home from work, I got detoured into an unfamiliar neighborhood and lost my bearings. As I circled the same streets for the third time, I could almost hear my wife say “Is this the part where we decide to buy a home here and start life fresh instead of trying to find our way back out to the main road?”

My wife. She sure makes a lot of sense sometimes.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Eve In West Milford

It always snowed on Christmas Eve when I was growing up. Or at least that’s the way I remember it. Snow falling down. Relatives falling down. Snow letting up. Relatives getting up. Me, standing at the picture window, a little too entertained by the ice capades in the driveway as my aunts and uncles arrived and made the delicate journey to the front door.

Some did better than others. My Uncle Allan, an athlete in his younger years, glided gracefully from car to house, steadying my Aunt Jean with his free hand. Uncle Sam, an avid golfer, had trouble with his short game in the poorly lit driveway, often taking up a big divot where his rump rammed into the ice. Par for the course for him, I’m afraid.

They came from the suburbs and cities, my relatives, making the trek to the mountaintop home my dad called the Ponderosa and where my parents hosted Christmas Eve dinner each year. We lived in a rural New Jersey town called West Milford, about 40 miles northwest of New York City. To many in the family, it was a place to enjoy the fresh air and wide open spaces of the country. Or, on Christmas Eve, to squeeze into our cramped 1,000 square foot ranch house and hope that the deviled eggs my mother prepared wouldn’t trigger a man-made greenhouse effect of lethal gases.   

As tradition had it, the kids were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. It was your tough luck if that turned out to be socks or pajamas. Before you took a moment to sulk, you were expected to hold up the socks or pajamas, wave them excitedly in the air, and yell across the room, “Wow, thanks, grandma – they’re just what I wanted!”

The adults would exchange gifts, too, often relaying a colorful story to underscore the specialness of their selection.

“I stopped at six stores to find that snow globe,” someone would announce heroically. “They don’t make that one anymore.” Maybe that’s for a good reason, I would think.

Sometimes a hot new toy would grab the spotlight, like the year my brothers Bob and Jim got some Matchbox cars and a ten foot long strip of plastic racetrack. Again and again, they would perch their miniature cars at the top of the elevated plastic track and watch them scurry along on their predictable journey to the end of the coffee table. Though they are grown men now and would deny it vehemently, in the heat of their Matchbox mania they could be heard to yell things like “Wicked!” and “Wow – Cool!” and even “In your face, herk-a-merk!” (I have no memory of the origins of the term “herk-a-merk” but knowing the banter of brothers I have no doubt that it was meant to be hurtful.)

My Aunt Sue would often bring a date to the festivities. A Stan. Or a Glen. Or a Byron. There would be the inevitable whispered comparisons to the previous year’s date, with comments like “Glen’s no Stan,” or “When did she break up with Byron?” or (cruelly) “What a total herk-a-merk.”

Surveying the proceedings from the sidelines were the revered elders of the tribe, Grandpa Herman from my mother’s side, and Grandma Bessie from my father’s side.

Grandpa Herman would sit silently for long stretches of time, sipping his Pabst Blue Ribbon and smiling softly at the commotion going on around him. Lulled by his Zen-like stillness, at some point in the evening I would slide into the next seat, greeting him with a casual, “How you doing, Grandpa?” In response, he would grab my knee in a vise-like grip, his eyes gleaming wickedly as he squeezed until all feeling left my leg and I lost consciousness.

“You’re his favorite, you know,” my mother would say later, after they revived me and packed my leg in ice.

“I know,” I’d say. “It’s when he stops crushing my knee caps that I’ll worry.”

Grandma Bessie was also content to watch from the periphery of things, a piece of pie or a slab of cake at her disposal. I’d slide into the seat next to her, hungry for her wisdom and inquisitive nature.

“Do you think your parents would mind if I took my girdle off?” she would ask me, shifting uneasily on her creaking folding chair.

“You mean right here?” I blurted.

“No, no. I meant in the bathroom.”

“I don’t think they’d care,” I ventured. “But there’s a line for the bathroom and the estimated waiting time is 35 minutes.”

“What if I do it behind the pile of coats in the bedroom?”

“Go for it,” I urged supportively. “I’ll save your seat.”

Actually, as I look back with nostalgia at those Christmas Eves of my boyhood, in my mind I’m still saving a seat for everyone. For Grandma Bessie and Grandpa Herman. For Aunt Sue. For Uncle Allan and Aunt Jean. For Uncle Bobby and Aunt Gail. For Aunt Shirley and Uncle Sam. For Aunt Janet. For Cousins Allan and Dawn. For Cousins Jenn and Diane. For my brothers, Bob and Jim. And most of all, for my parents, Al and Marge, who made the West Milford Christmas Eves a holiday tradition that will warm my heart and burn bright in my memory for as long as I live.

And some day, when my turn comes again to open just one Christmas Eve present, I will hold my socks or pajamas high, wave them gleefully in the air, and yell with joy and gratitude...

“Wow, thanks everyone – it’s just what I wanted!”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Throwback: Battle For The Biscuit

For as far back as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday. No cards, no gifts, just say “grace” and begin the gluttony.

While my mother would awake at some absurdly early hour to prepare a feast that would make a pilgrim weep with gratitude, my two brothers and I were interested in only one thing. The biscuits.

When loading our plates with food, we each left ample room for the flaky golden delicacies, begrudgingly adhering to the one-at-a-time rule my parents had established after the “Biscuit Blitzkrieg of ’81.” On that infamous Thanksgiving Day, 90 percent of the biscuits landed in two of the five mouths at the table, and the battle for the last biscuit was fierce and vindictive.

I can still hear my mother say, “There, now neither of you gets it,” as she extracted it from the combined clutches of my brother Bob and I and devoured it in two lusty, unladylike bites.

Today, I still covet the biscuits at Thanksgiving dinner. Especially the last one. In fact, I’ve been known to fight for it. So, to my tablemates present and future, the question I must ask you is this:
“Are you going to step away from the bread basket,
or are we going to have a problem here?”
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. And just to show that there’s no hard feelings, please help yourself to my share of the candied yams.