Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My Book (Thank You, John Lennon)

I have written a book about the Brooklyn of old - my childhood - and it is a very good and funny book.

The thing is, it is not a very straightforward narrative and its chapters are almost like poems.

I can't blame anyone except maybe John Lennon. He wrote a book in 1964 called "In His Own Write" which showed me how to write not only good, but different. He wrote beautifully, but strangely. He wrote very short items you couldn't really call stories. It was just writing.

His was the first book I ever bought. I was just a little kid. I loved the music of the Beatles, especially appreciating Lennon's part in it. I knew he was wordy, funny, tough, and a little crazy, and all of that resonated with me. Once I knew he wrote a book, I bought it right away. (Did you ever buy a book, before in your teens, with your own money?)

Lennon, and his book, changed my life, as an avid, aspiring writer, aged 12, only.

The book was an amazement to me: of humor, imagination, intellect, and fun. I read it over and over and realized I had something, too, that he had, a love of word-play, and a love of stories.

What I didn't realize as a kid was our (mutual) debt to Lewis Carroll. And, next, James Joyce. Lennon is surely a successor of them both. I realize it now. Did he? Probably not. Despite his rock star status, he was essentially a regular guy. He used to decry his lack of education. I'm sorry that saddened or mattered to him. To so many of us, it didn't.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"How Old Would You Be, If You Didn't Know How Old You Was?"

My best friend from high school just sent me a last e-mail from work. Ever. We are 56 (each), and he is retiring. From a job with the government, where he has worked since his twenties.

Apparently, you can do that (retire), working for the government. A lot of my life I worked for myself, and retirement seems like a far-off thing, if not a complete fantasy.

Financially, to be sure, but also physically and mentally. I told my friend Chris, good for you, but ain't you too young to be laying down?

I think maybe, as people are living longer these days, the word "retirement" itself should in some cases, like his, be retired. Chris, I said, maybe it's more like "graduation" for you.

In my case, the word "retirement" will equal the word "funeral." But that's okay with me. I don't have anything more to graduate from. I want to work till I drop, like John Henry, Pete Seeger, or Satchel Paige.

Let's talk about Satchel Paige, who once said (and always showed) something great about age.

Satchel Paige was the greatest baseball pitcher of all time. He was a star in the professional Negro Leagues, from the 1920's into the 40's. He was kept from the major leagues until the color line was broken, in 1947. He was signed soon after, despite his advanced age. He was at least a decade older than most players. He was great yet. But the age difference was obvious, a guy in his mid- or late forties in a game where 35 was old. Despite entreaties, he would never discuss nor disclose his age.

The story goes that, one night in a bar, a reporter friend asked Paige to please, please do what he had never done: specify his age. Tell it. Can it be true, in a game where you're done well before 40, you're still in here, maybe 45? 46? 47? How old are you? Really?

Paige looked at the guy (goes the tale). He said he would answer as a friend. But he would answer the question with a question.

"How old would you be," said Satchel Paige, "if you didn't know how old you was?" That's how old Satchel Paige was. Me, too. You, too, I hope.

A Lot Of Our Stuff Is Now In The Ithaca Times, Bi-Weekly

Check it, beloved Ithaca Blog fans: our local weekly newspaper, the Ithaca Times, now prints our Ithaca Blog-type stuff twice a month, a couple of items at a time. So we are writing a lot less here now.

Please give a look at the paper for it. If you are out of town, the paper has a wonderfully nice website name, www.ithaca.com. Unfortunately, right now, the format of the online edition is not as tight as the name. Our stuff, particularly, is not easy to find. "I type in your name and get nothing," we are told often, and it is true. You have to hit the menu for "Opinion" and then for "Columnists" to find us.

We're grateful if you look us up. We're glad that you read us, and we hope we please you as much as you do us.

Friday, August 15, 2014

B-Mets Make the Post-season

Here's our column from this week's Ithaca Times, about the Binghamton Mets. The B-Mets qualify for post-season play this year for the Eastern League championship.

Take Me Out to the B-Mets - Ithaca Times : Opinion

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Message To A Friend Who Once Worked With Robin Williams

This is a message I sent last night to my friend Lori Balton, a macher in the movies, who got a big break early, in 1988 or so, scouting locations on the east coast for a pretty big Hollywood picture called Dead Poets Society.

Lori, I remember the DPS wrap party, in Wilmington DE, which you so kindly invited me to, when I was living in near-by Maryland, and you & I were not too long out of Cornell, you starting your career in the movies. It was a great, fun night. I remember you telling me, "These kids will be stars some day," and how great this one star, Robin Williams, was to work with, generous and fun, a mensch and pro. You had the idea the film might be a hit.

Tonight must be very sad for you. Of course, it is sad for the whole world. I was working tonight when the word spread. People cried. It is, at least, a reminder - or a lesson - about mental illness. That is the cause of his death. Mental illness is not a choice, any more than physical illness. Our misunderstanding of it actually makes it the more painful of the two. - Rest in peace, funnyman, great artist, giver, beautiful guy, Robin Williams.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Consumer Tips From An Outsider

I am aptly suited to give consumer advice because I am a real good non-consumer. Like, you don't want diet tips from a big heavy guy, do you?

Here's my credentials. I've never been in Wal-Mart in my life. Not to get off track with politics, here, but let's say that Wal-Mart is not a good civic nor global neighbor. Their meager payroll is supplemented by government infusions to the workers they underpay. That's where their corporate billions come from. That, and the slave labor in China they foster. So I don't visit them.

Anyway. I want to talk on a lesser scale here. I simply don't shop much. How much does a guy in his fifties who lives alone need? I already got, as the blues song says, everything I need, almost. Tables, chairs, lighting, bedding, shelving, window treatments, an ottoman. So I shop for food, and the occasional wardrobe update (to stay in the game, so to speak), and that's about it. Beyond Wal-Mart, I am hardly ever in a place like Target, either.

I mean, for consumer needs, you have to replace your shower curtain, every nine years or so, but you can do that at Wegman's. (Strictly speaking, what does a guy who lives alone, and rents, actually need with shower curtains? What do I care if the floor gets wet ? There's no one coming up behind me here to ask who did this. After my shower, the bathroom is closed for the day. The floor will be dry by the time I'm home from work. And, as I say, I rent, so what do I care about floor maintenance?)

(I do, however, care about landlord relationship, so let me point out to mine, hey, M. & C., I'm a JOKER! I have, and use, a rain-room curtain!)

(Hey, readers, too: just kidding. A guy needs fresh shower curtains and bath towels at all times: for that game, if nothing else.)

As a non-consumer, I never look at those big flyers that come in the mail and with the weekend Journal. They look junky and I need no junk. But this weekend I succumbed, because my microwave oven died on me, and I thought, if enticed, I would replace it.

So: here is where my experience comes in. I flipped through a Target insert, and wow, saw a microwave advertised for $39. I forget what brand, but I recognized it. And it was marked down $20.95. Beautiful.

So I figure I am going to Target. No big deal, I go to Planet Fitness up there in mall-land, I'll make a quick side-trip. Let me see if there's anything else in this flyer I can use.

There is. Target advertises a mirror that hangs over a door for $4.95. The only mirror I have, outside the bathroom, sits on an antique (i.e., old) dresser I have, and makes me look worse than I do, I think. So, a new one, for $4.95? To help me show up my old one? Great.

I go to Target tonight after the gym. There is a shelf in the housewares department for microwave ovens. There are a lot of them. But not the big-sale one. Its shelf-talker is there. But it is out of stock. There are, however, a lot of other m.o.'s, for a lot more money.

Forget that, of course. I go on to the mirror section. The one I saw in the ad is in stock. However, it does not include apparatus to hang it over a door. It was advertised as a mirror that hangs over a door. And, apparently, it is, if you have things to make it do that. What they are actually selling is a mirror that stands on the floor. But I guess this is not a strong selling point.

"Caveat emptor" is probably the oldest consumer tip there is. It remains pertinent. I would add, don't bother looking at newspaper flyers. They will rob you of time, at very least.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Saving Grace For Rold Gold (A Bit More About Pretzels)

A few weeks ago, we wrote about 300 words here on Paul Newman brand pretzels. This is probably too few, but go back and judge for yourself.

There is probably less to say about Rold Gold pretzels, although if anyone can push it, it is us.

I got a bag of Rold Gold pretzels at Wegman's. They probably have Paul Newman brand, but segregate it over in the natural foods section, which somehow doesn't seem kosher to me, plus it can be a little wearying in Wegman's after a while (we love Wegman's, but sometimes in the way we love the gym, that we are happiest leaving).

Rold Gold makes a fine pretzel, but talk about wearying, check their on-bag salesmanship. They try too hard.

Their pretzels are "utterly chompable." They take you "straight from the big crunch to great taste," which I hadn't really noticed, and still don't. I would prefer not to have to. They "are made to satisfy even the most discriminating pretzel lover," which actually puts me off, if Rold Gold thinks I go around thinking of myself as a discriminating pretzel lover as part of my psychic identity. I don't.

A big knock against Rold Gold, in our booklet, is that they are part of Frito-Lay, Inc. We didn't know that. We always think of pretzel companies as small, independent enterprises from places a lot of Germans used to live. Somehow it makes us feel fat eating anything by Frito-Lay, even though you can eat an entire bag of pretzels and get only 1,300 calories. Something about that red-and-yellow Frito-Lay logo on the bag makes you feel you eat from convenience stores.

But here is a saving grace for Rold Gold. We have been aware of their product a long time. But it never occurred to us before: there is no such word as "rold."

We like it when someone can toss a linguistic curve like that past us. Of course, maybe they simply can't spell. But they've been around since 1917. You think someone would have noticed by now.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Thought Too Short For The Ithaca Times

As noted here in our last post, the Ithaca Times has started publishing our Ithaca Blog-type writings in a column. Some of our thoughts are too short for them; or maybe even for here. Such as this one we had recently: there are two industries we're glad we never invested in: address books, and ashtrays.

Too-Early Birds/GrassRoots Fest News

Along with the occasional feature and review, we have started writing a column for The Ithaca Times. Called, for now, "Ithaca Notes," it will appear every few weeks. This first installment appeared this week:

rIthaca Notes: Early Bird, Grass Roots - Ithaca Times : Opinion