Category Archives: Modern Living

Snooze You Can Use

My kids say that I like Facebook because I’m old. Ok, whatever, what can I say? I enjoy finding out what people are up to and seeing pictures of their dogs and whatnot. What I don’t like are people who post ridiculous political shit or push their crazy ass ideas about things like vaccinations.

Fortunately, Facebook has a great way to make people go away, but not forever. The feature, commonly called the “Snooze button,” allows you to stop seeing a person, page, or group for 30 days.

It’s like saying, “I like you and I care about you, and I want to be friends, but I’m a little sick of your crap and I need a break.” Even better? They never know they’ve been snoozed, so no feelings, like when you unfollow a friend.

A guy I know pointed out that he’s found himself having to snooze the same people every 30 days. It’s true. I’ve got one person who’s become the Rip Van Winkle of Facebook friends.

Ah, modern living — but you know what we really need? An easy way to snooze people in real life. That would be useful.

Hindsight is 20/20

It’s very satisfying to look back on the year and know that you successfully fulfilled your New Year’s resolution. Mine for 2019? Eat more beans.

Yes, beans. I can’t tell you how many cans of beans I’ve popped open over the past twelve months, but this was clearly the year of the legume. Black beans, kidney beans, cannellini, pinto beans. I didn’t eat them right out of the can, like a hobo, but the prep was always rather spartan. Mostly for lunch, always drained and rinsed, mixed with a little salsa, leftover chicken, or whatever I could throw in there.

Today, I bid farewell to the year with kidney beans with some rotisserie turkey breast from Hannaford.

What else about the year, besides the beans?

I’ve grown more grateful of how blessed I am to have a beautiful family who love me – and sometimes my feelings toward those I care about bubble up in surprising ways. I’ve had to assure more than one person on the receiving end that I’m not dying or in the midst of a crisis.

A laser-like focus on what’s really important in my life caused me to set some things aside that were not a productive use of my time. Fewer tweets. Not much blogging. Hardly any local talk radio. Less and less TV. And I don’t feel that I’m missing anything.

I’ve remained relatively healthy for a man my age. I attribute this to a heightened awareness that the grim reaper is lurking behind every tree. I still run, but I’ve also added weight lifting to the mix, something I’ve never done in all my years. It’s humbling to discover how weak you are, but the slow and steady progress is rewarding.

Also of note, this year did not seem to zip by like so many others. Is it possible that time is slowing down? Let’s hope so.

Owly McBeal

Finally, a word about the ailing barred owl I rescued off the street in Albany. We originally called her Hoota, but I later decided that Owly McBeal is a better name. She spent two months in rehab at a local vet’s office, but they never exactly figured out what was wrong with her. They think Owly may have hit the side of a building, but maybe she was just weary. Perhaps owls get worn down by the day-to-day humdrum of owlhood, the way life grinds away at us sometimes. It could be she just needed a new perspective, a shot in the arm (wing?) to help her see her life and the world with a fresh eye.

Either way, she’s off somewhere in the wild now. When I stand on my back porch at night, I can hear barred owls calling from the woods. Maybe Owly McBeal is there, peering out into the darkness, ready to fly into another year.

Blackout

So, Governor Ralph Northam’s of Virginia had a tough couple of days.

Interesting, because it brought back memories of painting my own face on Halloween. Wore a robe once, too. As a matter of fact, painted the face and wore a robe on the same day.

But unlike with Governor Northam, my face was painted white and my robe was black.

The getup was supposed to be some sort of phantom druid or something, who the hell knows. What do you expect from a weird teenager who’d seen too many 60s British horror movies.

But it’s easy to remember doing it — and that’s why this Ralph Northam thing’s so strange. It seems to me that you’d recall wearing blackface or a Klan robe on Halloween when you were in college.

Fast forward to 1986. The Mets had just won the World Series, and the legendary Mookie Wilson/Bill Buckner play in Game 6 was a very big deal. So this guy — a friend of mine — showed up at work on Halloween in his Mookie jersey and his face painted as black as coal.

Think about that, walking into work in blackface. Pretty crazy. And I don’t think the boss did anything about it, except maybe tell him not to go see any clients dressed that way. He was in sales, and God forbid his Mookie costume cost the TV station some money.

Today he’d be fired on the spot.

Halloween’s a funny thing.  How far is too far when it comes to costumes? Or is Halloween like stand-up comedy, where anything goes and no topic is taboo or too offensive?

Either way, it’s a different world out there. If pictures of me in whiteface emerge, I could be in hot water with the phantom druids.

Anthrax Shed

Back in my TV days, it always worried me that the station could be targeted by a nut. We kept the place locked down pretty well, but now and then somebody would show up in the lobby with a messy folder stuffed with paper and demand to see a reporter. The receptionist had a panic button to push in case of trouble, but honestly I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one sitting out there.

I don’t remember anything like this:

Bomb threats are usually bullshit, right? But today, our president is telling his nutjob followers that the media is the enemy of the people — and some of these nutjobs are listening closely.

In 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, there was a spate of incidents where media outlets and politicians started receiving letters containing anthrax. This was no prank; people died and businesses were disrupted as their contaminated buildings were cleaned up. The best defense against an anthrax letter was to keep it isolated and away from the facility.

That’s when we got the anthrax shed.

It sat at the edge of the parking lot and looked like the shed behind your house, but this was where the mail would be sorted and opened before coming inside. Was it some highly trained specialist checking the incoming letters? Nah, they just gave the maintenance guy some dust masks and a letter opener and wished him good luck. Nice.

In a strange way, it was a more innocent time. The pain and trauma of 9/11 was still fresh, and the fear was very real. And we all felt something that today is all but forgotten. We stood together.

Who’s This?

I’m 56-years-old and I don’t know my phone number.

Yes, I know — but let me explain.

We moved two years ago, and after some deliberation, we decided to keep a landline. I don’t exactly remember why, but I know this: in two years, I haven’t given out that landline phone number even once. The phone rarely rings, and if it does, it’s never anyone I’m interested in talking to.

Of course I have the number — just not in my head.

Anyway, I may be too feeble to remember my phone number, but I do remember when the phone hanging on the wall was kind of a big deal. It would ring and we’d all run to answer it if we were expecting a call, sometimes fighting off a sibling who was also waiting to hear from someone.

Occasionally, it would be one of my aunts on the phone. You’d know this because when you picked up, they’d say “Who’s this?”

Not “Hello,” not, “Hi, this is your Aunt So-and-So,” but “Who’s this?” What? You called here — who the fu*k is this?

So, here’s an idea: Maybe the next time the damn house phone rings, I’ll just answer it that way. “Who’s this?” Who’s this and why are you calling and who gave you this number. Now have a nice day.

Button Pushers

I was riding upstairs with the elevator repairman, so I asked a question that needed to be asked.

“So, these door close buttons — do they actually do anything?”

He laughed.

“No, they don’t work unless you have the key and you’re running the elevator manually, like in an emergency. The doors are timed . Push the button all you want, it won’t speed things up.”

It was the Americans With Disabilities Act that disabled the door close button, in an effort to make sure those with crutches or wheelchairs could load safely.

But people like to push that button — and since the door closes soon anyway, it creates the illusion that they made it happen.

In a world where we have so little control over so many things, believing that you can make the elevator door close qualifies as a minor victory.

There, now you know the secret. What will you do with this information?

It’s best to just look on quietly when you see people push the door close button. It’s a harmless thing — and an elevator is not the best place to come off as a know-it-all.

Tickaphobe

There are a special pair of pants I pull on when working around the yard. They’re made of a quick-drying fabric and have lots of pockets for all my crap, but that’s not what makes them special. The great attribute these pants have is something I added: a heavy coating of permethrin spray that literally stops ticks in their tracks.

Yes, ticks freak me out.

This time of year, I try to avoid areas likely to be infested and obsessively check myself after working outdoors. Even after all that, it may not matter: I’m convinced that the tick who gets me will leap off one of the dogs and onto me as I sleep.

Now there’s another risk, one that in some ways is worse than Lyme disease: a tick-born sugar molecule called alpha-gal that may cause you to become allergic to red meat.

Right. Not a virus, not a bacteria, but a sugar molecule. And it makes your body revolt against itself.

The carrier is the lone star tick, a variety that’s been working its way north and in recent years started showing up in New York. I’d heard of the tick and this alarming condition before, but it was  this episode of Radiolab on public radio really got me worried.

Someday they’ll figure out a way to get this tick thing under control.

Won’t they?

Until then just spray and pray and hope the ticks don’t get you. How ironic that in a world of big risks, something so tiny may be our undoing.

To Thine Own Selfie Be True

How long was it since my last visit to Albany’s Tulip Festival?

Not long enough.

Yes, this sounds like the rambling of an increasingly crotchety old man, but hear me out.

If you’ve been to the festival, you know that the area around the Moses statue is tulip central, the best spot to take in a riotous assortment of blooms like you’ve never seen. Sure, there’s fair food and music and craft booths all over Washington Park, but this is the shit. It’s called the Tulip Festival, for a reason and here are the tulips.

Naturally, this area was mobbed, but oddly, nobody seemed to be paying attention to the tulips, they were paying attention to themselves. Albany had a bad case of the selfies.

Everywhere you looked, people stood with their arms in the air snapping away. If you wanted to take a picture of the tulips it would have been impossible to do it without seeing someone taking a selfie in the background.

It was… bizarre.

It used to be that you’d go somewhere and walk around and take in the sights. Now you go and take pictures of yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that everyone now has a pretty good camera in their pocket. It’s never been easier to to take pictures and share them with friends and family, and that’s a big positive. But what does it say when we’re so obsessed with the selfies? Look at what I saw has turned into look at me.

We fled the festival and headed for Thacher Park, where we saw not a single tulip and not one person taking a selfie.

Still Waiting

How many people woke up to Carl Kasell? To public radio nerds, like me, Kassel was royalty, not just because of his years doing the news on Morning Edition, but for his quirky turn as announcer on Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me.

Years ago, I appeared as a contestant on Wait Wait — so long ago that WAMC didn’t even air the show at the time. It was 2001, and though streaming was still a crude and unreliable technology, I’d manage to hear the show online. Anyway, I called the toll free number and within a few weeks I was playing Bluff the Listener.

The show aired that weekend. My segment was heavily edited — which I managed not to take personally — and like most contestants, I won.

The story of not collecting on the prize, Carl Kasell’s voice on my answering machine message, is more complicated.

As it happened, this episode of Wait Wait aired on the weekend right before September 11. Most of us were stunned by that day, and in a lot of cases, trivial things suddenly seemed a lot less important. Getting my prize just fell off the radar.

It’s a tiny thing, of course, but interesting how the shock and horror of that day affected people.

It felt like that was the week when news stopped being funny, but thank God we were all wrong. Wait Wait and other shows help us deal with difficult times, now more than ever.

I like to think that Carl Kassel may be standing next to St. Peter when (if?) I make it upstairs. He’ll offer up a wry remark in that sonorous voice of his, and maybe I can still get him to record my voice mail message.