Category Archives: Modern Living

The Lost Art of Raking

Gas powered leaf blowers are all the rage in my neighborhood. It’s easy to understand why people like them. Nobody thinks raking is fun, but there’s more to it than that; creating your own wind is almost godlike, even if it’s only a narrow gust that just hits your own lawn and driveway.

And what do you suppose the leaves make of these contraptions? I think they prefer being spirited away on the breeze instead of suffering a merciless manhandling at the end of a rake. That being the case, to the leaf blowing public I say exactly what a leaf might say: “Blow me.”

No, I’m not a big fan of the leaf blowers. One reason is that they are so godawful noisy. There is something about the high pitched whine of these things that’s really irksome, nothing like the low and throaty rumble of a lawnmower. And the lawn is cut just once a week; I have neighbors who get out the leaf blower every day — even twice a day, sometimes.

When did we become people who covet our lawns, treating them like an extension of the living room carpet. It’s October. A couple of leaves on your lawn is no big deal. Get over it.

Me? I have a date with my rake this weekend. It’s tedious, but there’s a simple pleasure in moving the leaves from one place to the other. It’s enjoyable, especially if you listen to a football game or music while working — and you can always turn up the volume in your headphones to drown out the leaf blowers.

STFU Man to the Rescue

I love discussing the hypothetical zombie apocalypse, especially talking about which weapons and vehicles you would use to survive. What a geek — but a close second fave is the superpowers conversation.

Here’s how that goes: if you could choose, would you want the power to fly or be invisible? Superhuman strength or blinding speed? Shapshifting or x-ray vision? All of them have their pluses and minuses.

But I believe I have now decided on what superpower I would really want: the ability to make people STFU. Here’s how it would work: you could use your telepathic power to silence the obnoxious.

The best and most obvious use would be to literally make people STFU. Boorish louts who insist on having loud phone conversations in inappropriate places. STFU. Annoying co-workers. STFU. Teenagers who do not grasp their place in your world. STFU. Movie theatres? Goes without saying. STFU.

Talk about doing something heroic!

Naturally, you would only use this power for the good of mankind, eliminating behavior that everyone finds deplorable. I suppose a costume of some sort would be needed, right? No tights, please — but a cape might be nice.

It would be even better if you could squelch things like Facebook posts — especially during this election year —  but that might be asking too much. Even superpowers have their limits.

How Planet Fitness Made Running Dangerous

I’ve been running for years — almost always before dawn and on the road. I’d never see many cars along my route, and when one did approach I turned on my headlamp so they would notice me. Some mornings, out along the road at 5am, you wouldn’t pass a single car.

Then everything changed.

Suddenly there was a steady stream of traffic between 5am ands 6am. I wondered where they all came from — but soon realized that it wasn’t where they came from, but where they were going: Planet Fitness.

The populist mega-gym moved from the other side of town to a grand new location — and brought with it a throng of early morning exercisers. Suddenly there was an influx of vehicles — not exactly like rush hour, but by 5am standards it felt like the Northway.

The interesting thing is that these people seem less mindful of a pedestrian on the side of the road. In the past almost every car would give me some leeway when they saw my light and reflective vest. Now? Not so much. These people on their way to exercise can’t be bothered with… someone exercising.

This is a great example of how a tiny change can alter traffic patterns. It’s just one more of a hundred things that have made where I live more crowded and hectic. I used to see deer and hear the turkeys off in the field before dawn. Now there are just more cars.

Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment

Some people now keep a high tech piece of equipment with their first aid supplies: an automated external defibrillator (AED). Home AEDs are becoming all the rage, but they don’t come cheap. You’ll pay at least $1100 to get the most affordable model, the Philips HeartStart Home Defibrillator, but who can put a price on living through a sudden cardiac arrest?

If you think this is a good idea, I advise you to BUY NOW because BJ’s Wholesale Club has an amazing deal: order the Phillips HeartStart and they will throw in an electric toothbrush. Yes, you read that correctly.

That may seem like an odd combo — and it certainly caught my attention — but if you think about it, it does make sense. You may never have a heart attack, but you’ll definitely need to brush your teeth. And if the defibrillator doesn’t do the trick, it couldn’t hurt to be minty fresh when they come to cart you away.

Urinetown

I take a shortcut through a walkway in downtown Albany that takes me below the steps in front of the Times Union Center.

When I started walking this way, I noticed that every single morning there was a guy out here with a bucket and mop cleaning all around the dark nooks and crannies. Wow! They do an amazing job of keeping this place tidy, I thought. It smells like bleach — which to me is the odor of CLEAN.

Then one day the bucket and mop guy wasn’t there — and the entire area reeked of urine. Ackkkk! Apparently, this is Albany’s favorite spot to urinate, which makes perfect sense. There are a couple of bars nearby and lots of street people — not to mention all the beer drinking at the arena — so the urinating is understandable.

Because I always have to go to the bathroom, I find this interesting — but just for the record, I do my best to find a bathroom.

I think the mayor should stop down here and have a look; if we clean up around Albany as if people are peeing everywhere, it would surely be a better place. And the mayor could stop worrying about Alex Trebek dissing the city.

Simcoe Island

The only way you can get to Simcoe Island, Ontario is to take this cable ferry. Except in the winter — then you might drive across the ice if you are brave enough.

There’s a lighthouse at the tip of Simcoe, and fifteen years ago you could sit next to it and look out on the vast horizon of Lake Ontario. Today there are signs everywhere warning you to keep out. How times have changed.

The Lost Art of Calling in Your Children

When I was a boy, the late afternoon air would be split by the sound of someone — a mother, usually — hollering out the name of her child. It was just like in this classic commercial, except in the suburbs:

I haven’t heard that in probably more than ten years, when the woman across the street would stand on the stoop and call out for her son. “Matthew! Matthew!” She had amazing pipes.

Today this has gone the way of sending your kid to the store to buy you a carton of cigarettes. It’s just something that’s not done anymore.

Why is that?

Mobile phones are certainly one of the culprits. Now you just call or text the little buggers to summon them home. It could be that they’re sitting on the couch instead of tooling around the neighborhood — or at least that’s what the media keeps telling us.

Either way, it’s another one of those things swept away by changing times, once so commonplace, now just a memory.

Voices in the Orchard

Sour cherries: one hour after picking, one hour before eating.

At Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, the trees are heavy with cherries and the bushes full of blueberries. If you don’t watch where you’re walking, you’ll step on something good to eat.

We spent a few hours there over the weekend, filling our baskets with fruit and picking vegetables. It’s quiet on the farm, but besides the hum of bees and chirping birds there was an interesting sound: a mix of languages from across the globe.

All around were people speaking in the native tongues of the Far East, India, Eastern Europe, and Russia. They outnumbered those speaking English by two to one. Children raced around between the trees as their parents filled big containers with cherries — and some families found a shady spot to picnic.

One group was harvesting huge bundles of greens in the cucumber patch. I have no idea what they were gathering, but what looked like weeds to me is probably delicious prepared in the right kitchen.

This is something I’ve seen during every visit to Samascott. While I hate to draw conclusions from such flimsy evidence, it seems to say something about our relationship with what we eat.

Do we care less about where our food comes from than people who have roots in other cultures? Judging by the international crowd filling the orchards and fields, I wonder if they know something that we’ve forgotten.

Muzak for Churches

We were in a church tower, high above a square in Sibiu, Transylvania when the bells began to toll. Loud? You bet — but it was the perfect way to experience them ringing. At close range you don’t just hear the bells, but the sound beneath the sound, the percussive strike of the clapper.

Bells in the Evangelical Cathedral Sibiu Romania

It’s sort of like a well hit nail. In the distance you listen to the pounding, but right in the room there’s the ring of metal on metal.

Forty-five hundred miles away I was standing outside a local church when the bells sounded — or more accurately, when they played. I say played because these bells are a recording that blares out over the neighborhood through speakers.

The taped bells may seem the same from far away, but up close, like many things that are artificial, they are unmistakably phony — almost to the point of being laughable. Who’s idea was this to use a recording of bells instead installing the real thing? In 1962, taped bells must have seemed very modern.

It probably doesn’t matter to most people, and you might think it petty to have such a strong opinion on something so trivial. This is the digital age. Why should we we care how the sound of a bell is created?

After all, bells are heavy and expensive and require maintenance.They are occasionally imperfect and have even been know to crack. Besides, flipping a switch is so much easier. And more often than not, nobody will know the difference.