Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Turn Right...TURN RIGHT...Recalculating."

"Turn right...TURN RIGHT...recalculating."

I hear this a lot from my GPS system. In the old days, when you got lost, you stopped at a gas station for directions. (At least women prefer to believe they are just taking an alternate route, and that somehow, they will blunder onto their destination.) Now days, our snazzy Global Positioning System is all we need to make our way around anywhere in the world. Or is it? OK, I'll grant you, this is a technological marvel; the first time I saw it work I felt like Cro-Magnon man when he first encountered fire. I was in awe of it, although I do not profess to understand it.

According to my research, here's how GPS works in five logical steps:

1) The basis of GPS is "triangulation" from satellites. 2) To "triangulate," a GPS receiver measures distance using the travel time of radio signals. 3) To measure travel time, GPS needs very accurate timing which it achieves with some tricks. 4) Along with distance, you need to know exactly where the satellites are in space. 5) Finally you must correct for any delays the signal experiences as it travels through the atmosphere.

Got it? Me neither. I look at a GPS the way my mother looked at a VCR.

Despite its wonderfulness, there are some flaws in this baby. For example, if I can see the names of all the streets visually on my little screen, why can't the voice say "Turn right on Main Street?" Instead, it says: "In two tenths of a mile, turn right". Then, as you approach the street, it says: "Turn right. " Now in a crowded city like New York, often there are two streets in close proximity at a busy intersection. Which street do I turn right on if there is more than one? If you make the wrong turn, the edgy female voice says (in a tone that to me sounds like it came from "The Wife's 'I Told You So' Handbook" ) "Recalculating." The word "idiot" is never spoken, but it is understood.

I guess another thing I don't like is that the GPS is good, but not infallible. It sometimes gets you to your destination, but through back roads instead of more direct routes. It is vulnerable to changes in road configurations, for example, detours. We just returned from a wedding in Philadelphia, and there was a temporary detour on Route 41 South in New Jersey. Since GPS can't know this it blithely directs you to a road that is no longer there. You frantically thrash around trying to find another way until you get the annoying: "Recalculating" (idiot).

When we got to the vicinity of our hotel in Philadelphia, it seems they were doing major construction work on the Convention Center, and the block our hotel was on was closed off on both sides by police cars (unoccupied, doughnut break). Access to the hotel was impossible, but the GPS did not know this. As we circled the block, every time I passed the closed-off street, my GPS would say urgently" Turn right, turn right", and then, as I cruised by the block helplessly, "Recalculating." I came very close to hurling it out the window.

A street map may be a pain in the ass to re-fold, buy at least it doesn't talk down to you.



Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Is My Fly Open?

I notice that people are starting to treat me a little differently as I slide into my dotage. Waiters speak a little louder when they read the daily specials, if I ask a store clerk to repeat something, it takes all the restraint they have (which ain't much) to keep the eyes from rolling back in the head, and smiling young people go out of their way to hold doors open for me. Maybe I should feel insulted that I'm now viewed as a senior citizen, but actually, I think it's great. People will tolerate so much more from someone who they think is a couple of burned-out brain cells away from a permanent address at Shady Pines.

First of all I can leave the house wearing virtually anything I want. I can wear my underwear outside my pants and people will only shake their heads in that knowing way and think, " how cute, at least the old guy dressed himself today". I go through all my sons' clothing discards before they get donated to charity. Somewhere out there is a homeless person wearing a New York Rangers t-shirt that I passed up. I'm turning into my father-in-law. The few articles of clothing Ray threw away, even the homeless didn't want. One day my wife got so frustrated seeing him in a cardigan sweater held together with a safety pin that she took the sweater and started jumping up and down on it while screaming at him for even thinking of wearing it again.

Restaurants also afford good opportunities for playing the "old man" get-out-of-jail-free card. Not only do I ask that all our leftovers be doggie-bagged, but I don't hesitate to ask for a different table, to turn the air-conditioning up or down, or to play different music if I don't like what's on. My wife winces when I slip into this mode since she cares
far more than I what people might think. I pushed the envelope the other night when we were out for dinner. The couple next to us finished their meal and left nearly half a bottle of wine on the table. I reached over and filled our glasses before the waiter could get to it. My spouse berated me of course, but I noticed she drained her glass.

My behavior in theaters has become so bad that she refuses to go to the movies with me anymore. Excuse me for living, but when I pay to see a movie, I'd like to be able to hear it! In today's very small mini-theaters, the patron noise problem is worse than ever. I always get seated in front of the moron who laughs so loud and long at the obvious jokes that you miss the two subtle ones that follow. Another favorite is the kid who kicks the back of my seat for the entire performance while his cow of a mother buries her face in the family-sized bucket of popcorn, oblivious to what her devil-spawn is doing. I'll shush them once or twice to be polite, and when that doesn't work (and it never does with these people) I'll bring out the colorful adjectives I learned on the stoop in Brooklyn.

As the old saying goes: "Age has its privileges". After 67 years, I'm tired of tolerating a**holes. How will they know they're a**holes unless somebody tells them? Fair warning to the parents who sit there placidly in church while their child screams so loud that you can't hear the sermon (although that's not always a bad thing); to the woman in front of me at the theater ticket window inquiring about seats for every performance between now and Christmas; to the guy who tries to cut into a line of cars patiently waiting to exit the parkway; to the deli clerk with the bad haircut who acts as if waiting on you was a big favor; and last, but not least, the jerks on bikes who ride recklessly on pedestrian walking paths, this old man is mad as hell and not taking it anymore.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


Monday, August 17, 2009

"Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, Wherever You Are"

I took my regular power walk this morning in Great Kills Park. For me, that means walking just fast enough to avoid falling down. I listen to music while I walk, and this morning the first tune in my I Pod mix was Jimmy Durante singing "I'll Be Seeing You in All the Old Familiar Places". It made me smile and think of my father, Tony Boots, because he was a big Durante fan. We always watched Jimmy's variety show when it was on back in the sixties. They looked alike Jimmy and Tony...bald, big schnoze, and always ready with a joke.

My father was in his element at parties, especially weddings. He never stayed at his assigned table, but instead worked the room like a Borscht Belt comic. He told the same jokes over and over, his audience often speaking the punch lines with him because they'd heard them at every family wedding held before. That didn't keep them from laughing all over again because Tony enjoyed telling the jokes so much that they enjoyed watching him more than the jokes. He would always give you a little elbow in the ribs as he hit the punch line, as if to get your attention in case you had drifted off.

He had a famous routine that took place on the dance floor. After a few Fleishman's and sodas, Tony would remove his jacket and tie it around his waist while he danced his version of the hula to any upbeat music the band would be playing. If the music was not to his liking, he would flash a five-dollar bill at the bandleader and ask for a song he could dance to. I never saw the five actually change hands; Tony worked too hard for his money. As the evening wore on, if the music was too dull, someone would yell out: "Show him the five, Tony", and my father would rise slowly, like a celebrity reluctant to take a bow after being introduced by the master of ceremonies.

I've written before in this blog about some of the things I remember about my father...teaching me to ride a two-wheeler bike; taking me to my first Yankee game; seeing me off at the subway station when I left for the army; and spending a lot more than he could afford to buy me a Rawlings baseball glove. Tony was a good father who taught me how to be a man by his example. Nothing fancy, no parenting books or physiological child rearing theories, just a smack on the ass when I needed it, and that not very often because he never had the energy to chase me.

I look back today and wish I could rewind life to re-live those special moments with my father, focus on every single detail about them so that I could remember them even better than I do. I know that's not possible and I have to be content with the memories I have, which are enough. It's always nice to be reminded of him by a simple thing like a Jimmy Durante song. My eyes may fill up, but I am always smiling as if I can feel him poking me in the ribs to underscore the punch line of the joke. So long for now Tony, and "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are".


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS:Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Day at the Races

The Marx Brothers had a hit movie in 1937 with "A Day at the Races". I loved Groucho Marx, but was not a big Marx Brothers fan. It seems to me like they made the same movie over and over, just with different settings. Harpo is a one-joke character and Chico, as a skirt-chasing, Italian-accented buffoon, I don't get at all. They were right about one thing though...a day at the races can be great fun.

We love to visit Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, New Jersey. We started going there years ago when we needed something inexpensive to do on a day trip with the kids. Now you may think that taking young children to the track is not the most wholesome of activities, but you'd be dead wrong. Monmouth is a family-oriented track in a beautiful, horse-country setting. They have many shaded picnic tables where families can bring lunch and not have to put a big dent in the family budget, unlike going to a "wholesome activity like a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. You need someone to co-sign for a loan at those concession stands, and that's after spending $100 to $200 on tickets. Admission to Monmouth is two bucks for adults and kids are free.

They have activities aimed at kids like pony rides, playgrounds, and a workout ring where they can get up close and personal with the magnificent thoroughbreds. We would let the kids take turns picking the horses we would bet on since their choices were as good as ours. We then took the kids down to the benches right near the finish line, and watched the excitement on their faces as their horses passed by. We could only afford to bet two dollars on each race, but that didn't was the thrill of watching them fly by in a blur of muscular horses and colorful jockey silks.

After the races, if we had a few bucks to spare, it was off to Pizza Hut for dinner. On a good day we would eat at the Rustler Steak House near the Woodbridge Mall. It sounds so silly today to be talking about going to dinner at these places, but money was tight and we really appreciated eating out in a restaurant. We loved the salad bar and the idea of unlimited trips. The kids seemed to enjoy it, and if they sat still for an hour, that was all we asked.

Together time for families is important, especially when the children are young. Whether its doing things together or even just sitting down to a meal each night, that time is so precious. When kids get older they want to be with their friends, and we need to make the most of those formative years to program their little brains. Once they're on their own, it comes down to trust. We try our best to be good parents to our children. I know we made mistakes, but when I look at my daughter and two sons today, I know we did a lot right, and that includes introducing them to my father's favorite pastime and the "sport of kings", horse racing.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS:Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Nightmare

If you've seen any of the Town Hall meetings that Senators and Congressmen have been hosting in the last week, you are seeing Americans rise up in anger over the proposed health care plan from the Obama administration. It's one thing to extend some type of basic health care to people who have no coverage, but this plan goes much further. It seeks to move toward nationalized health care, a disastrous strategy that would diminish the quality of health care for Americans and bankrupt us to boot.

Some of the more alarming provisions that are getting citizens to turn out in large numbers to express their opposition are:

Pg 50 Section 152 in HEALTH CARE bill - HEALTH CARE will be provided to ALL non US citizens, illegal or otherwise. (Have we lost our minds; instead of providing free health care, we should be sending illegals back where they came from.)
  • Pg 59 HEALTH CARE Bill lines 21-24 Government will have direct access to your bank accounts for electronic funds transfer. (Why? If we are giving free health care away, why are my assets open to scrutiny?

Pg 84 Sec 203 HEALTH CARE bill - Government mandates ALL benefit packages for private Health Care plans in the Exchange. (If I am paying for private health care, why should the government be dictating benefit packages.)

Pg 427 Lines 15-24 Government mandates program for orders for end of life. The Government now has a say in how your life ends. (This is just plain creepy.)

The American people are getting steamrolled and they don't like it. Why the rush to push this plan down our throats without sufficient dialog and fine tuning? The plan itself is over 1,000 pages long! Why does it take 1,000 pages to explain a health care plan? Is it because by its length people will be intimidated and not bother to read it? I think the answer is a resounding YES. Here is an excerpt of the plan highlights developed by AARP. AARP Online Community: National Healthcare Policy

Here are some common sense guidelines the Obama team should think about if they want Americans to accept their plan and pay the bill through their taxes:

1) Get rid of any provision for free health care for illegal aliens. Nobody in their right mind wants it. The concept is so ridiculous that I can't fathom who would even put it on the table.

2) Keep the plan simple. If people can afford their own plans, let them stay on them and don't try to restrict the benefits or treatments they get. They pay, they pick.

3) Keep government involvement minimal. Provide VERY BASIC coverage for people who can't afford to pay. Don't reward people who are already drags on the system by giving them the same benefits I pay for with my hard-earned money.

4) Look at other countries with national health care and see how well that's working out. Waiting times for surgeries; treatments refused if not authorized; exorbitant taxes to pay for it all. Stay far away from a nationalized health care system; the government will only screw it up.

Obama strategists are regrouping to deal with the outpouring of public opposition on this issue. At a New Jersey Town Hall meeting, one questioner asked his congressman, who was advocating the President's plan: "If this plan is so good, I want you to pledge here and now that you will put yourself and your family on it". Silence. These politicians are perfectly willing to put our families at risk, but as for their own, no thank you. I think you can draw your own conclusion on this issue.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

JP 8/11/9

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Four score and seven years ago...."

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." On the train ride to Gettysburg, Lincoln scribbled that powerful opening line of a speech he was scheduled to deliver at the dedication of a 17-acre cemetery to bury many of the 50,000 casualties on both sides who fell during the momentous battle that was fought there. Lincoln kept his remarks simple, knowing that the keynote address would be Mr. Edward Everett's, a politician with a formidable reputation as a lecturer and orator. After Mr. Everett had spoken for nearly two hours, the President stepped forward to share the words he had written. It took him just 2 minutes, and received only sporadic and scattered applause. Afterwards he whispered to an aide, "That speech went sour."

The following day Edward Everett wrote to the President. "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours," he wrote, "as you did in two minutes." President Lincoln replied, "In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make a short address, nor I a long one. I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure." Abe was a master of understatement. The Gettysburg Address has come down through history as one of the greatest speeches ever written, while Edward Everett is best remembered as the man who spoke before Lincoln on that sad day.

The Civil War was a terrible test for a relatively new country divided against itself over the issue of preserving the Union and the difficult issue of slavery. The Union and the Confederacy each believed its way was best, and spilled the blood of around 650,000 men before the smoke cleared. The war should have been a short one except that the South was blessed with gifted fighting generals like Lee, Jackson, Longstreet and Stuart whose audacious strategies nearly defeated the Union, while the North was saddled with cautious, clueless generals like George Mc Clellan whose high opinion of himself and stubborn refusal to fight frustrated President Lincoln at every turn, until fighting generals like Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and Kearney turned the tide of battle and eventually took key Southern cities like Richmond and Vicksburg.

The period following the war was another test for the country. When Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, Grant showed him and his men great respect as he knew Lee's reputation and what his armies had accomplished on the battlefield despite overwhelming odds. Confederate soldiers were allowed to keep their horses, an important concession since many of them had farms and needed the animals for work. When Lee mentioned that his men had been without rations for several days, the Union commander arranged for 25,000 rations to be sent to the hungry Confederates. The Gentleman's Agreement: Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Lincoln was determined to treat the South fairly after the war, but his assassination put an end to that.

This period in our country's history was an extremely difficult one...maybe the hardest time in the history of America for any President. Few men could have endured the pressures from the press, the politicians and the people to end the war. Other wars fought by America were against foreign adversaries, but the Civil War pitted brother against brother, and there could be no real winner. One has only to look at pictures of Lincoln before and after the war to know the terrible toll it must have taken on him. How sad that just when the terrible conflict had come to an end, and the country had begun the healing process, that a fanatic like John Wilkes Booth could take from the American people the best President we would ever have.

When I look at the political scene today, what with the scandals, corruption and greed, I can only wonder whether there is any politician out there worthy of polishing Lincoln's boots. His integrity, intelligence, empathy, wit and statesmanship put him in a class of one. George Washington was another great President, but even he did not have to preside over the country at a time when Americans fought each other. I'm no historian, but my short list of other great Presidents includes Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. America is not perfect, but in my view it is still the best place in the world. We deserve great leaders, and must use our right to vote responsibly to elect them. Here's what a great leader sounds like: Lincoln's Gettysburg Address


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JP 8/8/9

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Who Is Antonio Meucci?

Every school child knows that Antonio Meucci invented the telephone. Oh wait, that was Alexander Graham Bell, at least that's what the history books would have you believe. Meucci, a gifted Florentine scientist and inventor, filed a patent "Caveat" with the U.S. Patent Office in 1871 for his telephone invention. The law required the Caveat to be renewed every year for a fee of $10.00. In 1874, a penniless Meucci failed to renew the Caveat for lack of funds. Twenty days later Bell applied for his patent. A friend of Meucci's contacted the Patent Office in Washington, only to learn that all the documents relevant to the "Talking Telegraph" filed in Meucci's Caveat had been "lost." Later investigation produced evidence of illegal relationships linking certain employees of the Patent Office and officials of Bell's company. Click for more on Antonio Meucci: ANTONIO MEUCCI.

I'm not saying Bell was not a brilliant man, just that another man, Antonio Meucci, discovered and demonstrated his telephone invention years ahead of Bell, but got very little for his trouble. Here was Bell, a Scot whose family had money and was well-connected, and Meucci, an Italian who spoke no English. Who do you think the WASP aristocracy would favor in this controversy? Meucci filed numerous other patents, but died in obscurity without the fame and wealth that should have been his, but went to Bell instead. I learned all this today after visiting the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum in Staten Island.

Antonio Meucci came to America in 1850 and lived in Staten Island in a home that now houses the museum. He befriended Giuseppi Garibaldi, "the George Washington of Italy" when Garibaldi fled to America after failing in his initial attempt to unify Italy's Papal states and gain independence from France. Garibaldi lived on Staten Island for about six months, and eventually returned to Italy and achieved success in the second war for Italian reunification. Ironically, the town in which Garibaldi was born, Nizza, then part of Italy, was ceded to France and is now the beautiful coastal resort of Nice. Click for more on Giuseppi Garibaldi. -Giuseppe Garibaldi -

One of the sad realities we as Italians face today is the gradual but steady decline of interest in our culture and heritage by the younger generations. If you asked any Italian- American high school kid to name a famous Italian, you might hear "Christopher Columbus", but even Columbus has come under attack by those who teach "revisionist history". It's fashionable today for guilt-ridden white liberals to attack the achievements of Western Europeans in an effort to aggrandize the achievements of other races and cultures. I'm not against recognizing and celebrating any one's accomplishments, but to do it by tearing down the genuine deeds of great explorers, scientists, writers and artists is plain criminal and a disservice to our children.

We had a nice conversation today with John Dabbene, President of the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, who just happened to encounter us touring the facility. He spoke enthusiastically about their outreach efforts with schools and other organizations to help keep Italian culture alive. He also spoke of how many organizations, founded ostensibly to promote the cultivation of Italian culture, are diverting their donations to other worthy causes, making fundraising more difficult than ever. The museum relies heavily on unpaid volunteers who share a passion for keeping this work alive.

The bottom line is that if you are an Italian-American who cherishes the rich history and culture of Italy, the land of our ancestors, it will fall to YOU to pass this interest on to your children. Honor the traditions you grew up with and share them with your family. Find out something of where your family came from and pass the information along to your kids and grand kids. My son has had some success contacting possible family members still living in Italy on Facebook of all places. Immigration records kept by Ellis Island are amazingly complete and detailed, and their data base is free and easy to search. Ellis Island - FREE Port of New York Passenger Records Search

Be proud of your Italian heritage. The next time someone mentions Alexander Graham Bell and what a great inventor he was, be sure to point out, in your best imitation of tough guy Robert DiNiro, that he stole his ideas from Antonio Meucci. "Are you talkin' to me!"


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JP: 8/4/9

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Nothing Could Be Finer...."

....than a breakfast in a diner in the mo-o-o-r-ning. If you're like me, breakfast in a real diner is the way to start the weekend. I'm not talking about the chrome spaceships that pass for diners today, but the neighborhood places with the Greek owner and the breakfast specials. We are lucky in Staten Island with a number of such diners to choose from, although as each one gets old and then renovates, they open with fancy fixtures and higher prices. We had a legendary example of this American institution called the Victory Diner on Staten Island for many years. It was closed recently, and plans call for it to be re-opened, but I'm skeptical. Staten Island's Once-iconic Victory Diner

Another great Diner was the Market Diner on Manhattan's West Side. This was your basic, no-frills establishment whose only claim to fame was fast service and great food, things many of today's diners lack. For many years this was our go-to place after family visits to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. We would drag the kids out of bed, bundle them up and pile into Uncle Arthur's van, and stand in the cold watching the balloons go by. Over the years the parade got too crowded (see "How The Yuppies Spoiled Thanksgiving" View ) and sadly, the Market Diner closed.

Whenever we ended a date, it seems like no matter where we were, we would wind up at a diner on Sunrise Highway in Lynbrook that I thought was called the Sunrise Diner, but I can't find it listed anywhere except in Wantaugh, and I know it wasn't that far out on the Island. There is a Lynbrook Diner; maybe it was re-named. No matter, this was our after-date place to hang out. It was open all hours, and no matter that you had just eaten, there was always room for a cheeseburger platter. The movie "Diner" was an uncannily real recreation of this time in my life.

Don't ask me why, but when I was a young man, my buddies and I hung around airports for a time. That's how we found the Airline Diner, Astoria Blvd. and 70th Street in Astoria. Recognizable to moviegoers from its appearance in Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas", the Airline was built in 1952. It features classic chrome and pink booths, overhead fans, vintage Coke and gum machines and old signage. If you get the right seat, you can watch airplane after airplane landing at LaGuardia. After a night prowling LaGuardia Airport, sausage and eggs at the Airline was a must.

Great diners were a part of everybody's youth. Breakfast always included homefries (very well done please), big, fat sausages, not the sissy links they serve today, pancakes the size of Frisbees, and coffee that made your hair stand up. The waitresses were all named Flo and never got an order wrong. They always smiled wearily at your lame jokes that they'd heard a million times before, and re-filled your cup without being asked. Late night meant burgers, fries and Cokes or shakes. I'm sure my arteries would be much clearer today were it not for diners, but you know, it was damn well worth it.

LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

JP: 8/1/9