Ithaca Blog

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Reading at Buffalo Street Books, Tuesday 24 June, 6 PM

I will be acting as a sort of fancy check-it-out guy at Buffalo Street Books, one week from tonight

Boy of Summer: Ithaca's Burke Reflects on Brooklyn Upbringing - Ithaca Times : Arts & Entertainment

Why Hillary Won't Win: Iraq

In 2002, as senator from New York, Hillary Clinton voted to authorize George Bush's war on Iraq. So did New York's other senator, Charles Schumer. I wrote to both of them at the time and said, you represent millions of New Yorkers who know this war is phony and illegal. You know it is, too. But you're not willing to say it. It might complicate your career. You voted for it as the politically expedient thing to do.

But (I wrote), maybe it's not. I know that personally I will never vote for either of you for anything again, no matter the circumstances. I'll write somebody in, as a protest vote. I hope and trust there are millions of people like me, and you have earned the ends of your political careers with this acquiescence to lies and slaughter.

In 2008, Clinton lost her campaign for the presidency to Barack Obama, who had opposed the war on Iraq. With the new upheaval in Iraq, the war remains an issue, as it should. And Clinton's complicity haunts her, as it should. It should haunt more than just her campaign.

As it did in 2008, it opens the door for less conservative challengers. Elizabeth Warren says she doesn't want to run, but we hope she's thinking about it now.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Yes, Pittsburgh

Ithaca is paradise in the summer, but if you want someplace to go on a quick summer vacation, with some urban excitement? There is always NYC, a place we dearly love, and will visit at hat's drop. But if you want something a little less known, a bit farther afield, and to make a discovery, go in the opposite direction, west instead of east, and visit Pittsburgh.

Yes, Pittsburgh. We visited Pittsburgh for the first time 6 years ago. We were going to a conference, and staying with friends. We had good, particular reasons to go: the conference (paying us), and those friends. But we found that Pittsburgh has attributes, as a city, of its own.

Its image is of a smokey, smolten steel town. Of course, this is no longer true. The city, to its enormous credit, did not die with the death of its first industry. Instead it recreated itself, as a center of education, and a home to health care and insurance businesses. It stayed economically strong.

Emerging from the transition was the physical beauty of the place. It got clean, and its three rivers, in their mighty confluence ("confluence" is a commonly-heard word in Pittsburgh) became prominent in their loveliness, recreational capacities, and interesting, cool-to-think-about, geographic and historical importance.

Also physically lovely about Pittsburgh are its hills. The hills are above those rivers. (That's where the water runs from.) Pittsburgh's hills reminded us of San Francisco, a place we have visited many times, and love. But San Fran's hills don't run with water, like Pittsburgh's. And they don't have trams running up them for thrilling views, as Pittsburgh's do.

Pittsburgh has also become a culinary center. There are great food people working there, running the range from farmer's markets and inventive food trucks, to fancy, splashy joints. When we were there, we talked to our restaurant host/chef, after a fantastic meal (at an expensive place, let's be clear - we like to spend money on such evenings pretty nicely, once in a while - though we can tell you, it was maybe only 60% NYC expensive), who told us he chose Pittsburgh over Brooklyn, as a place to ply his trade in comfort and calm, at a reasonable rent, to appreciative clientele. We can tell you he was doing it to great results.

The other thing, for summer, is that Pittsburgh has a major league baseball team. They play in a park that is regarded as perhaps the loveliest in the nation. (San Francisco's is its rival - there's that comparison, again - but tickets in Pittsburgh are about half the price of S.F.'s.)

As restaurateurs do, at least one bookstore has chosen to be in Pittsburgh rather than New York. It's called Amazing Books. It is a great shop and is run by a guy from the Bronx who married a woman from Pittsburgh and settled there. He has invited us to do a reading of our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York," at his place, and we are sure doing it. It is scheduled for Sunday 29 June, at 11 a.m. The New York Mets are in town that day to play the Bucs. Our plan is to do our reading first and then go as a group to the game. If any of this interests you to the point of involement? Let us know, and we'll see what's doing.