Wednesday, January 29

Gym Dandy

I began a new health insurance plan this year. Not Obama-care but Lyndon-Johnson-Care, if you know what I mean.

The plan includes membership in a gym, and after viewing the choices I selected one about 5 blocks from my apartment and took a taxi over to have a look around.

There were rows of gleaming stationery bicycles and treadmills on the first floor, but I decided to take the escalator up to the second floor to see the stair climbing machines. These too looked shiny and new and I was beginning to wonder if anyone ever used any of the equipment at all. I was just about to take the elevator down to the pool on the lower level when something in the corner caught my eye.

The apparatus looked less like something you'd see in a gym than something you'd see in the Spanish Inquisition.

I began backing away from it slowly when I heard a sepulchral voice behind me say, "Do you have any questions?"

"I renounce Satan and his minions..." I began, as I turned to see a good-natured young man in shorts, running shoes, and and a t-shirt gazing at me with a confused look.

He popped a cough drop in his mouth and said, a bit less sepulchral, "Laryngitis."

"Well, I'm just looking around to see if this gym is right for me."

"What exactly are you looking for in a Wellness Enrichment Facility?" he corrected.

"I guess I'm looking for someone who calls it a gym," I muttered.  I nodded toward a bulletin board "I notice there are some group activities. What's that all about?"

This seemed to make him uncomfortable, because he looked around furtively, to make sure no one was listening.

"Those are mostly for..." he lowered his voice as if he were about to speak an obscenity, "...the elderly."

"Ah," I said. "The elderly. We wouldn't want to get involved in that."

He looked like he was trying to decide if I was being ironic, and, if so, was I was actually one of The Elderly, or merely a Fellow Traveler.

"I love The Elderly," he said, testing me.

"Me too," I agreed. "They're so alert."

He took this a a good sign. "Yes. And clean."

"Clean as hell."

"Speaking of Hell, what were you saying about Satan and his onions?"

"Minions," I bemocked, "not onions. And I'd rather not talk about it, if it is all the same to you."

"Really?" Again the sepulchral voice echoed in the darkened chamber. He nodded toward the mystery apparatus in the corner. "Perhaps a few moments on The Cradle of Anguish will loosen your tongue..."

Saturday, January 25

Hair of the Dog

On my way back from the grocery store the other day I encountered a group of dogs patiently waiting outside a liquor store.

I assumed they had been left there by a dog-walker who was securing some sustenance for the task ahead, but they looked like they were just hanging out like anybody you might see waiting outside a liquor store.

There was the grizzled old Bulldog with the bored, knowing eyes of one who has seen it all. Twice.

There was the under-aged, nervous Greyhound constantly in motion, bobbing up and down, shifting from one foot to the other (and, quadrupedally, to the other and to the other)  on the lookout for someone to come along who would be willing to pick up a six-pack for him and some buddies.

There was the authoritarian German Shepard with the no-nonsense stare who looked like he might take anyone into custody who happened to buy a six-pack for an under-aged greyhound and his buddies.

And there was a sad eyed Bloodhound whose long, droopy face said that perhaps today life was just a bit too much to bear.

After a moment they noticed me watching them, and I thought they might start growling or barking, but most of them just yawned and went back to their vigil.

I'm not sure what this meant, but I think they figured I was just another loser with nothing better to do than hang out by a liquor store.

Tuesday, January 21


The other day I had to send a package to my younger son who had recently moved a few states away. When I got to the post office the line to the counter was quite long so I thought I might try the Self Service kiosk which sat conveniently near the end of the line.

I am not normally a big fan of Self Service but I thought "It's only postage. What could go wrong?"

I was instructed to Touch Screen To Begin which I did, although the smudges and unidentifiable residue on the screen made me wish that the postal authorities had seen fit to provide a Purell dispenser nearby.

I gingerly proceeded through a series of screens which asked me several questions about the size of my package, whether it contained any explosives or perishable items (I briefly thought of weaponized avocados), and would there be any special handling.

After a few seconds a screen popped up with three buttons to choose from:

  • Priority Mail Express - $38.10
  • Priority Mail 2 Day      $16.25
  • Other Options      

Not wanting to spend more than $10 I selected Other Options which brought up another series of questions:
  • Is the recipient someone you know personally [YES] [NO]
Thinking this must have something to do with National Security, I touched [YES]
  • Is the recipient a relative? [YES] [NO]
Well, that seemed a bit intrusive, but still, National Security and all...[YES]
  • Is it your Son?
These machines are certainly intuitive...[YES]
  • So you are unwilling to spend a measly $16.25 to see to it that your son receives his package in 2 days?
That seems unfair.  It's not like I sending anything critical...[NOT SURE]
  • Just how long do you expect him to wait?
Um, well, I don't know...[SIX DAYS]
At this point there was an unsettling pause.
  • What kind of father are you?
I thought I was doing okay, but now...[NOT SURE]
  • Why don't you just press [BACK] and go to previous screen and think about what you are about to do.

At this point it occurred to me that perhaps the line to the counter was not so long after all so I took my place behind a woman pushing a double-stroller the size of a small SUV.

Forty-five minutes later I was summoned by the small woman at window 7. I handed her the package. "I just want to send this as cheaply as possible."

She looked at the package, then looked at me and inquired, "Is the recipient someone you know personally?"

Sunday, January 19

The Ole Man Goes A Shoppin'

Although I don't see it myself, evidently I am beginning to appear to others as if I am getting – How shall I put it? -- old. This was brought home to me the other day when I was in the checkout lane at my local supermarket buying a quart of milk. As I approached the clerk, a young woman in her twenties, looked up at me, paused a moment, and asked, “Are you a Senior?”

Somewhat confused I replied “A Senior what?” As far as I know I haven't been a Senior anything since I graduated from college, so I wasn't quite sure what she was getting at.

She gave me a concerned look and said, “On Tuesdays there is a ten percent discount for Seniors.”

“Ah,” I said. “Is it Tuesday already?”

“Yes,” she perked, then went on slowly and carefully, “Today is Tuesday.”

Speaking equally slowly and carefully I replied, “So that would make tomorrow Wednesday then.”

“Right,” she said, like a Kindergarten teacher speaking to her prize pupil. Fortunately she did not make me name the rest of the days of the week, and pleasantly gave me twelve cents off my milk.

A couple of weeks later it was Tuesday again so I headed over to the market for some more milk and maybe a loaf of bread. I got to the checkout where a different clerk, a young man, stood.

"I'm a Senior," I said modestly.

"And?" he inquired.

"Um, well, you know...The discount..."

"Oh, yeah. That. Well, they changed that so you don't get the discount unless you spend twenty dollars."

"Oh. Well, okay then." I handed him a five and waited for my change.

"Sorry about the discount," he said as he handed me the two dollars and thirty-seven cents. "But, you know, you don't really look old enough for the senor discount anyway."

Even though I didn't get the discount, I somehow found my self smiling for the rest of the day.

Thursday, January 16

Adventures in Pizza

Since my darling wife does not care for cheese, it is common practice for us to order a pizza with regular cheese on one half and light cheese on the other.  I suspect that if she thought she could get away with it we'd order a pizza with regular cheese on one half and no cheese on the other, but then it really wouldn't be a pizza, would it?

But that is a discussion for another day.

The other night she was working late and I was tasked with picking up a pizza for dinner. Normally I try to avoid errands of this sort because they never go well for me. "It's just a pizza. What could go wrong?" she said when I voiced my concern. What could go wrong, indeed, I thought.

As I approached our favorite pizza establishment I noticed that our regular person, Juarez, was not standing comfortably behind the counter like he usually is. He had been replaced by a rather surly looking lad who's name tag hung crookedly on his stained apron and identified him as "Cork".

"Hello, Cork," I said. "Where is Juarez tonight?"

"Not here," he said. "Married."

"He's not here because he's married?" I wondered.

"Getting married."

I made a mental note to get a card for Juarez. Once you find a good pizza man you want to cultivate the relationship carefully,

I could see that Cork was a man of few words, so I tried to make my order a simple as possible.

"I'd like a medium cheese pizza with regular cheese on one side and light cheese on the other."

"We don't do half and half," said Cork.

"Yes you do. Juarez makes it for me all the time."

"Juarez is getting married."

"Yes, I understand, but when he's not getting married he will normally make a pizza with half regular cheese and half light cheese."

"We don't do half and half."

"Look," I said, getting frustrated, "it's not like I want half pepperoni and half sausage or half olive and half, um, lemon..." I don't know why I said lemon. It just came out. I knew it sounded stupid. Lemon? My God.

"We don't do lemon," confirmed Cork.

I began speaking slowly, the way I do when I'm about to lose my temper. "All-you-have-to-do-is-put-light-cheese-on-one-half." I tried to put on a friendly smile, but I'm afraid it may have been more like an homicidal sneer.

"We-don't-do-half-and-half," he said, equally slowly.

This could go on all night, I thought. Clearly it was time for intimidation.

"Look," I said, rather more sharply than I intended. "You don't treat a long-time, loyal customer this way." I pulled out my Frequent Pie Buyer Club card which had eight holes punched in it indicating that merely two more holes stood between me and a free pie.

I slid it across the counter.

"Do you know what this means?" I demanded.

He looked at it as if it were something the health department would close them for if it turned up during an inspection.

"No, I don't. But I do know one thing."

"What's that?"

"We don't do half and half."


You know, sometimes Chinese food is just what you want for dinner because, you know, no cheese...

Tuesday, January 14

Adventures in Golfing

I recently gave up my car because I had to face the fact that it was an unjustifiable expense to keep a car in Manhattan. Growing up in California I had absorbed the “Car Culture” mentality that equates automobile ownership with freedom, well being, and generally all the good things that happen in the world. But in New York City, where the price of a monthly parking place would cover the rent on a small apartment in most places, it finally became clear that the car had to go.

After a few days of my car-free life I thought I'd go to the driving range and hit a bucket of balls. The driving range is on an island in the middle of the East River and is a bit far to walk (assuming someone would be foolhardy enough to walk on the Triboro Bridge) but fortunately there is a bus that goes from Manhattan across the bridge and stops just a few dozen yards from the driving range so I hoisted my Sunday bag on my back and headed for the bus stop. What I had failed to note is that this same island also was the site of the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. It is not technically on the island of Manhattan but apparently it has identity issues.

In any case when I hopped on the bus with my bag of woods and irons I couldn't help but notice that I appeared to be the only golfer on the bus. Not that the bus wasn't full. No, it was jam packed with people. People headed for the nut-house - I mean the Psychiatric Center.

It would be unfair to say that everyone on the bus appeared to be an escaped mental patient because the bus was actually heading toward The Center and an escaped mental patient would have to be crazy to...Okay, strike that.

I took an aisle seat next to a disheveled older gentleman who was staring blankly into the distance, seeing things that only he could see. I scooted toward the aisle a bit until I was hanging off the edge of the seat.

The bus bounced along uneventfully until it reached the stop for the driving range, which was a mile or so short of the psych unit. I got up and, awkwardly lugging my clubs, “excuse me”-ed my way down the aisle toward the rear door. As I stepped off with great relief I heard from behind me “Hey, fellow, you dropped this.”

It was the disheveled older gentleman. He was holding the cover for my 3-wood, which was in the shape of a rather startled looking kitten and had been given me as a birthday present by my niece.

I thanked him and gently placed it over the spoon, next to the lamby-kins (which covered the 5-wood) and the driver's Mr. Bunny.

“What do you shoot?” he asked as he joined me on my walk toward the entrance to the driving range parking lot.

“Oh, I can usually break a hundred”, I said modestly as I picked up my pace. He seemed to have no trouble keeping up. Just to be polite, I asked “Do you play?”

“Well, I used to be a scratch golfer, but lately I'm a 3 handicap”, he said. He must have noticed the surprised look on my face, because he added, “I'm the pro here.”

“Ah,” I said. “Well, nice to meet you. I'm just here to hit a bucket of balls, myself.”

“I figured you weren't going to the nut-house”, he said, nodding toward my clubs. “Can I give you a tip?”

“Sure”, I said. Any golfer is ready for a tip.

“Before you even take out a club, before you get to the range even, try to visualize your swing. Just look off in the distance and see yourself swinging and hitting the ball. Works every time.”

“Well, thanks,” I said. “I'll give that a try”.

Just not on the bus to the nut-house.