Thursday, September 29

The Jagged Edge

Nelson, my nemesis, caught me filing my thumbnail at work the other day. I had jammed my thumb while reaching for a soy crisp that was falling off my desk and created a painfully jagged nail. I was smoothing it out with an emery board when Nelson stuck his head in the doorway of my office.

“How about some lunch… Hey, what’s the matter? Broke a nail?”

“No, I didn’t break a nail. I jammed my thumb reaching for a…” I didn’t want to admit liking soy crisps to Nelson so I said, “…beef jerky.”

“And you broke a nail doing that?”

“It just cracked a little. It needs to be smoothed out is all.”

“What you got there, Jim? Emery board? I could see how that would handle a lady's nails, but I’d think a man would need something stronger. Just goes to show you.”

Although the emery board had done a fine job smoothing the edge of my thumbnail (and buffed it to a very attractive sheen, I might add) I couldn’t let his comment go unchallenged.

“This is just an emergency fix. When I get home I’ll have to go over it with a..., uh..., belt sander or something.”

"You know, if your nails are fragile..."

"They are NOT fragile! I just..."

" should try getting more calcium in your diet. Quit eating that beef jerky all the time."

"What should I eat, then?"

"Oh, lots of foods have calcium. Hey, I know! You ever heard of soy crisps?"

Monday, September 26

Dental Records

I was at the dentist the other day undergoing a root canal. These things seem to take forever so I was daydreaming about dentistry and what I knew about it. Being a bit on the morbid side, the one thing that came to mind was that dental records are often used to identify a body that has either been burned so badly it is Burned Beyond Recognition or been dead so long it is – I guess Dead Beyond Recognition.

As I lay there idly looking at my dentist's nose, I wondered if he ever had to use dental records to identify anybody. Since my mouth was filled with what felt like a soldering iron and a couple of crescent wrenches I couldn’t ask him, but I tried to picture what it must be like. You never see the actual identification on TV or in the movies. Just a cop or coroner or lawyer informing the audience that the victim had to be identified from their teeth because “that’s all that was left worth identifying.”

"Dr. Freely, I'm Detective Wilson. I have some x-rays here I'd like to see if the belong to a patient of yours."

"Certainly, Detective. What is the patient's name?"

"A Mr. Lazlo. First name Victor."

"Oh, yes. I remember Mr. Lazlo. Terrible overbite. Still owes me three hundred dollars."

"Well, I wouldn't count on collecting that any time soon, Doctor."

"Why is that?"

"He was Burned Beyond Recognition."

"These x-rays are terrible. Look at all those black marks. He can't have had that many cavities."

"That may be soot..."

My reverie was interrupted by my dentist's command to rinse and spit. As he gently removed the bib from beneath my chin I had to discretely inquire.

"Hey, doc, ever had to identify a body from the teeth?"

"Not really. There are experts that do that. I did provide dental records once, though, to identfy some bite marks in an assault and battery case."

"Don't you mean 'assault and bitery'?"

For some reason he rushed me out of the office after that.

Tuesday, September 20


I see that Prince Harry – that’s the Prince from England – has apologized again for dressing up like a Storm Trooper. His official statement was “I'm very sorry if I offended anybody”.

We get this kind of apology quite often these days – “If I’ve hurt anyone…”, “If anyone is disturbed…”, “ To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility”. I think of these as non-apology apologies. It’s like saying “If someone is so thin-skinned that they are upset by my boorish actions, I feel sorry for them.”

When I was a kid I don’t think my mother would have accepted this type of apology.

“Mom, if anyone is offended by the baseball that went through the window, I am truly regretful.” “Well,” I can imagine her saying, “If anyone is offended by going to his room for the next week, I am truly regretful too.”

Are people too proud - or have they just forgotten how - to present a real apology? Whatever happened to “I screwed up. I’m sorry I did it. I’ll try not to do it again.”?

To the extent that people refuse to take responsibility for their mistakes, I am truly regretful.

Wednesday, September 14

Comme ci, comme ça

I was riding in an elevator in a Manhattan office building with two young French women.

"How was your weekend?" said one in a lovely Parisian accent.

"Comme ci, comme ça," said the other dismissively.

"No-no-no-no-no," scolded the first. "This is America. Don't say 'comme ci, comme ça'. They say 'Awesome'. Always say 'Awesome'."

Awesome well expresses the Can-Do attitude that we Americans are known for around the world. How can we be anything but Can-Do with so much awesomeness surrounding us? When you expect something awesome around every corner, you can't wait to get around every corner to experience it.

The way things have been going lately in the world, though, I'm afraid it's difficult to see much to get awesomed about. Depress-somed is more like it, at least for an old-timer like me.

Some of my contemporaries tell me they think "awesome" is overused, but I would much rather hear "awesome" than "comme ci, comme ça" from the young people I know. "That was an awesome game last night." "This burger is awesome." "You are an awesome dad."

All right, I don't hear that last one too often. But when I do,it's...well, you know.

Monday, September 12

See how they run

Even for a city as fast-paced as New York, I'm amazed at how many people I see running every day.

First of all there is the hoard of joggers who stampede along the local streets like the bulls of Pamplona. What I find interesting about joggers (not being one myself) is how they have to keep running even when they are not running. The other day I was waiting for a red light when a jogger loped up next to me, then continued running in place while waiting for the traffic to clear. "Can't rest while you're waiting?" I asked. "Gotta stay warmed up", he gasped. "Don't want to pull anything." Then off he ran through the traffic, like the Titanic through a field of icebergs. He should worry less about pulling something and more about a hit and run.

At least joggers are running by choice. I also encounter many normal, everyday people like you or me, in street clothes and non-athletic shoes, running as if their lives depended on it. People run for buses and taxicabs. They run to get across the street before the light turns red. They also run to get across the street after the light turns red. There is running to get money from the ATM followed by running to spend money from the ATM.

I doubt there are many cities that engender as much non-voluntary running as New York does.

Why? Because if you don't keep up you might be left behind. And that just wouldn't do, now would it?

Friday, September 9

A Visit To The Library

I had to go to the library the other day to return an overdue book. I don't know if it has to do with age or lack of free time but it takes me longer and longer to finish a book these days. This was just a thin book of short stories by James Salter but it seemed to take forever to get through it. Don't get me wrong, they were wonderful tales; but after each one I ended up spending as much time thinking about the theme and characters as I did reading the story. This is probably the sign of a good book, but I think it also means that as I get older I'm looking for more from a book than just what's on the page.

In any case, I took off for the library at lunchtime knowing that my book was two days overdue. When the librarian scanned the book and said "twenty cents" I took a dollar out of my pocket and handed it to her, amazed that the fine for an overdue book was still so modest. If this had been the video store I'd have been out several dollars.

She looked at my dollar bill warily. "Do you have anything smaller?" she said.

"Smaller than a one?" I asked, a smile in my voice.

She opened a the desk drawer to reveal a cash register tray containing no bills, a few quarters, two dimes, and a nickel. I half expected a moth to fly out.

There was no cash register, mind you, just the tray stuck in the desk drawer. I guess they couldn't afford a cash register. That may explain why the library is the last place in America where a single is a big bill.

I was about to tell her to keep the dollar (that's me, Mr. Big Spender) when the gentleman standing next to me said, "I've got twenty cents." He pulled out a handful of change, carefully plucked out two dimes, and gave them to the librarian.

"Hey, thanks," I called to him as he returned two books and quickly left.

"That was really nice," said the librarian. She carefully placed her treasure in the tray and closed the drawer.

"We all love the library," I said. "Someday maybe I'll get a chance to pay somebody else's fine."

"Maybe you will," she smiled and I headed for the door.

On my way out I picked up a "Donate To Your Local Library" envelope. I'll be sending in a contribution.

And you can be sure it will be more than twenty cents.

Wednesday, September 7

New Orleans Le Show

If you are weary of hearing about the tragedy of New Orleans I recommend you listen to Harry Shearer's celebration of New Orleans on the latest Le Show. I listen via podcast, but you can hear it online here.

It is a wonderful tribute, and some great music too.

Tuesday, September 6

Hey, Don't Give Away The Ending

I’m getting just a little bit sick and tired of movie previews that give away the whole movie. The other night at the theater my wife and I had to sit through 20 minutes of previews, some of which were quite long and detailed. After watching these "coming attractions" it feels like you've already seen the movie.

Previews didn't used to be like this.

In 1941 you didn't see this preview for Citizen Kane : “In a world where a rich publisher dies, the last word he utters,'Rosebud', refers to the sled he had as a child. That's right, even though he's old and rich he still yearns for the simple days of his childhood when he played with his sled, 'Rosebud'. That's 'Rosebud'. The sled."

In 1950 you didn't see this Sunset Boulevard trailer: "Even though he's dead, he is still the narrator! That's right, he talks and talks even though he's laying face down in a swimming pool with three slugs in his back. The narrator. He's dead."

In 1960 you would not expect to hear these words coming at you from the screen: "You'll be shocked when the main character gets stabbed to death about 20 minutes into the picture by the motel owner who dresses up like his dead mother whose dried up body is sitting in a swivel chair in the basement. If anybody turns that swivel chair, hoo-ha are they going to be in for a shock. Because she's dead. In a swivel chair." Could you still appreciate Psycho as much after that?

Alright, I admit that previews today aren't quite that bad. And I also admit that current movies don't quite come up to the level of the classics. But for crying out loud,
at least have the common decency to try to retain some of the mystery, damn it! The movie going public deserves it.

Sorry if I seem overly preoccupied with this. I'm still pretty upset by that recent preview I saw.

It simply ruined The Dukes Of Hazzard for me.

Thursday, September 1


Ever since 9/11 I have had to produce an identification card with my picture on it in order to be granted access to my place of business. I don’t know how effective this is in the war on terror, but it seems to make the building management company feel better so I’m happy to comply. I carry my ID in my wallet, which has a clear plastic window so I can flash it like an FBI agent. If I’m going to be inconvenienced I might as well have some fun with it.

I usually do this to the morning security guard, a young man who is very dedicated to his work and rarely smiles. He displays an assiduous adherence to protocol. To him any job worth doing is worth doing well.

This was never demonstrated more clearly than on the day I accidentally left my wallet at home. As I approached the security desk my heart sank when I reached for my wallet and felt a disturbing emptiness in the rear pocket of my pants. I patted all my other pockets to verify that it was not in any of them, then re-checked my rear pocket just in case I had missed it the first time. I had not.

I recovered quickly, however. After all, the young guard (what was his name?) had seen me come into work every day for many months. Surely he must recognize me. “Morning”, I said cheerfully as I strode boldly past the desk and headed for the elevator bank that would whisk me to the sanctuary of my office.

I was extending my finger to press the call button when I heard him say “Just a moment, sir” in that polite tone I imagine the police use before beating a confession out of some perp. “I’ll need to see some identification.”

I turned to face him, my finger still pointing in frustration. “Ah, identification”, I said as if it were a concept I had not fully incorporated into my being.

“Yes, sir. Picture identification. Either a building pass or a governmentally issued evidence of identity.”

“Well”, I squinted at his nametag. His name was written on it in a very elegant and entirely unreadable script. “Well, Jilly" - I swear, it looked like Jilly - "I have worked here for quite some time. Surely you must recognize me.” I smiled my friendly smile, which was undercut by the fact that my finger was still pointing at him. A sudden vision of Bill Clinton passed through my mind.

He did not smile. He glanced down at his nametag. “It’s William, and I’m required to verify the identity of anyone who enters this building.”

“Well, the thing is William, I seem to have left my wallet at home today so I don’t really have any identification with me.”

I heard a disgruntled shuffling behind me and turned to see a small queue had formed. In each person’s hand glowed a card with his or her name and picture on it. How I envied them.

“Please step aside, sir, so I can process the others”, said William. Process? I didn't like the way he used that word. I wondered how he was going to process me.

After he casually glanced at each person's building pass or governmentally issued evidence of identity, he turned his attention back to me. "So you don't have any form of identification at all?"

"Nope." I smiled my rueful smile.

My rue was wasted on him. He shook his head regretfully, as if I had told him I was suffering from a terminal illness. "That's bad," he sighed. I half expected him to pull out a gun and put me out of my misery.

We both looked down at the floor and digested the situation. Then I thought of something.

"I've got this", I said, rummaging in my briefcase for an expired student body card from an adult learning center where I had once taken a Creative Writing Course. The picture on it was not particularly good, but it did resemble me in a washed out, poorly lit kind of way.

I gave it to him and he turned it over in his hands. I guess he was trying to decide if it was a forgery. I took a small step out of the overhead light, trying to look a little more washed out. Finally he nodded and said, "Okay, but you'll have to sign in."

I gratefully added my name to the sheet on his desk - prudently noting that I was there to visit myself - and almost ran to the elevator. When I reached my floor I felt such relief it took a moment for me to realize one other thing.

I didn't have a card-key to open my office.