Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Day in the Life

I'm retired and my wife works every Tuesday and Thursday, so I try to schedule solo activities like golf for those days so as not to take away from our time together. In any given week I will usually do a lot of the same things. Here are some observations from my typical week:

For exercise I walk in Great Kills Park when I can, or at the mall when the weather is lousy. Because I go at pretty much the same time every day, I usually run into the same people. Most will nod or smile 'Good Morning', but there are a few who won't even make eye contact. What is it in people that will not allow them to acknowledge a fellow human being in the slightest way? I know some people are shy, but I'll settle for even a small nod of the head. This evasion is not accidental; you can see them make a conscious effort to look away a few yards before your paths cross. Is my fly open? Do I have a piece of spinach in my teeth? I look on these people as challenges. I have turned some around, but others still elude my overtures. I will persevere.

Then there are the folks at the Post Office. Years ago, as you know if you ever entered a Post Office back then, postal workers were as surly as could be. They had perfected the art of each transaction lasting as long as humanly possible while they attended to everything else except helping you. Now that Post Office profits are plummeting due to email and package carriers like Fed Ex taking away their business, some top postal executive must have initiated one of these "customer friendly" training programs for all employees. Their people are much nicer now, but you can tell they are behaving civilly only under duress and for fear of losing their cushy jobs. Their smiles are pathologically fixed, and you know the words: "I'm on my break" are being forcibly suppressed in their tiny brains.

The gas station is a regular stop, usually in New Jersey where gas is around 50 cents a gallon cheaper than on Staten Island. For reasons unknown to me, New Jersey will not allow people to pump their own gas. Instead we have to sit in the car and wait for the 'cheery' attendant to come to us. This process could take a while since they were trained by the same folks who taught post office workers. You need to beware of what I call the delayed change syndrome or DCS. After waiting so long to get your tank filled, you'll notice that if you pay cash, your change is very slow in coming. If you have, for example, $13.00 in change owed you, they will first give you the three singles and then slowly reach into another pocket for the ten, hoping your impatience will cause you to speed away. Nice try boys.

And then there's the store where I buy lottery tickets. Even though I have nowhere to go and nothing better to do, I despise waiting in lines. That goes double when the wait is lengthened by pinheads who have no clue that there are people waiting in line behind them. They arrive at the counter to buy their tickets with no forethought as to what they want! They will stand there musing, and this is what I'll hear: "Mmmm, I have no luck with Take Five, how about Cashword? Is that a good game? OK, give me one of those. How much is Megamillions this week? Really, $200 million. OK, a quick pick on that. And I'll take a Pick Four; maybe I'll play my birthday. Give me 1122 Tony, that's the day I was born. (And this is the day you're gonna die if you don't move your fat ass!)

I know, my week sounds dull and unexciting, but I like it that way. As I get older, like most retirees, I suffer with a condition known as CRS. I find routine to be my friend because it can help me remember S. Oops, 2:50 pm...time to go collect the mail. See ya.  


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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where Am I?

Let's play "Where Am I". I am a beautiful, 478-acre park opened in 1838. Within my boundaries reside some of the most famous and infamous people who ever walked the earth. While some of my dwellings are grand edifices overlooking charming ponds stocked with goldfish, many others are extremely humble. Within my walls lie sculpted works of art and architecture, twittering birds sing from tree branches of every shape and kind, and flowers galore dot my landscape; I am an oasis of peace and dignity surrounded by concrete and cacophony. I am all these things and more. (Give up?) I am Greenwood Cemetery.

We have done several tours of Greenwood and the experience is always an interesting one. You have to be able to walk the hilly terrain if you sign up for the walking tours, but they also have trolley tours to take you around the property. The guides are well informed and enthusiastic about their subjects. This past Sunday we did The Eminent Irish of Greenwood tour that turned out to be a fascinating 3 hour walk and lecture. Some of the other tours offered on the residents of Greenwood include: Scamps, Scallywags and Murderers; RMS Titanic and Greenwood; Great Women: Mother's Day Walking Tour, and many others. Also, being at the highest point in Brooklyn, the views of Manhattan are spectacular. Bring good walking shoes and a bottle of water; you'll need them.

Green-Wood is a Revolutionary War historic site (the Battle of Long Island was fought in 1776 across what is now its grounds), and a designated site on the Civil War Discovery Trail. In August of 2002, The Green-Wood Historic Fund rededicated New York City’s Civil War Soldiers Monument after a year of restoration. It was originally dedicated in 1876 on the Cemetery’s Battle Hill. The Historic Fund’s Civil War Project, an effort to identify and remember Civil War veterans buried at Green-Wood, was born of the enthusiasm felt at the rededication ceremony. The Civil War has always been a topic of great interest for me so I volunteered to join the ongoing effort to research, identify and memorialize unknown soldiers from both sides whose remains are buried at Greenwood.

The famous and infamous have continued to come to Green-Wood for over a century and a half now, bringing their lively stories and dark secrets with them. Green-Wood has more than 560,000 permanent residents, including Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Charles Ebbets, Henry Ward Beecher, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Horace Greeley, baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers, gangsters, inventors, and Civil War generals and other veterans. As The New York Times succinctly put it it 1866, “It is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the [Central] Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood.” 

It might sound a little creepy to hang around cemeteries for fun, but I can assure you that your days will be well spent. Read more and plan a visit. 


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

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I'm Puttin' on My Top Hat...

I miss getting dressed up. After forty years of wearing a suit to work pretty much every day, you think I'd be tired of that routine. The thing is I was tired of it when I retired, but now that some time has passed, I want to shine my shoes, pick out a nice tie, and get the suit out again. Except for the occasional wedding or dinner dance, I don't get that chance any more. Our culture has decided that jackets and ties are passe for men. When I watch shows like "Mad Men", I'm reminded that in the work place, the uniform of the day was pin striped suits, (seersucker in the summer), white shirts, snappy rep ties, and wing-tip shoes. Now guys go to the office dressed like messenger boys.

When you look at old newsreel footage of how people dressed in the Forties and Fifties, there is a noticeable difference compared to modern dress. Even scenes of old baseball games show men in the bleachers wearing suits, ties and fedora hats as they rooted on their team. I think in those days, how you dressed was equated with success. Every man who could wore a suit as a status symbol; it was a sign that he didn't work as a laborer but was smart enough to work in an office. My first job was as a bank clerk, and even though we worked out of sight of the public, we were expected to dress professionally for work. As I walked home after getting off the subway, I could see the change in attitude on the part of the old men on the block who used to chase and curse me if I came into their yard to get a stray ball. They now looked at me with grudging respect.

Even more that a suit, I love putting on a tux. In the latter part of my career I was required to attend many black tie business functions. Some guys hated putting on a tux, but I looked forward to it. There's was nothing like walking into the main ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, your lovely wife dressed to the nines and you in a traditional, well-cut tuxedo...if that doesn't make you feel special, you're hopeless. After a while I bought my first tux, courtesy of my employer. I convinced them that the cost was equal to three rentals, and then I would own it with no further expense. I have since bought two more tuxes of different styles, one double-breasted and one with rounded lapels. I'm still on the B list for invitations to company-sponsored black-tie affairs and I jump at every one I get.

I don't care what kind of mutt you are, when you put on a suit, or better yet a tux, you just feel different. Was there ever anybody cooler than Sean Connery as James Bond, standing in that dimly lit bar wearing a tux and sipping that Martini (shaken, not stirred). He got admiring glances from every woman in that room, while the men could only look on, green with envy. Do you think any guy could command that kind of attention in a heavy metal t-shirt and flip flops? Casual dress is fine if you have the flair and sense of style to pull it off. Just walk into any wine bar in Italy and you'll understand what I mean. Why shouldn't men care as much about clothes as women do. 

Too many men think that because they are getting older there is no need to care about how they look. They give up and wear shapeless sweatsuits thinking that old guys are past worrying about appearances. For them I have two words: Cary Grant. No matter your age, you'll always look better by dressing with some thought to what you wear. Even casual clothes should be chosen carefully with an eye to quality; better to have fewer well-made clothes than a closet full of K-mart stuff. And please, dress you age. Those velour track suits went out with Paulie Walnuts. If you have no sense of fashion, ask your wife, girlfriend or even the store clerk for help. You'll be surprised at the difference it makes.

Clothes do make the man, so come on bubbie, channel your inner Cary Grant.


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

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hey, Quiet Over There!

I have never liked loud people. This might stem from when I was a kid and certain of my Dad's relatives would visit. They didn't really speak, they hollered. It usually took a few drinks to loosen them up, but once it started, the yelling never stopped. My sister and I would hide under the table trying to find a safe haven from the pandemonium. Everybody would talk at once, each trying to outshout the other. They weren't usually angry exchanges, just loud. We always dreaded visiting these relatives at their homes because then it was worse. It was like a home game for them, and I guess they felt compelled to be even louder. I remember hiding under the coats piled up on the bed to muffle the noise.

This dislike of loud people even extends to characters I see on television or at the movies too. Jackie Gleason used to play a loudmouth named Charlie Bratton on his variety show. Charlie was a backslapper and a joke teller who made it his business to torment his quiet friend, Clem Finch, played by Art Carney. I loved Gleason and all his characters, but when Bratton came on, I had to leave the room. Same goes for sportsmen. I like the quiet guys like Derek Jeter who let their games speak for them, I root hard against big mouths like Ricky Henderson and Deion Sanders, liking nothing better than when they fail spectacularly. 

Loudmouths are everywhere, showering us with their opinions and shouting everybody else down. We've all been on a crowded elevator when one of these jerks starts spouting off. They all think their remarks are funny, but usually they're just stupid and sometimes hurtful. I think one of my least favorite places to encounter them is on the golf course. The reason for this is that golf is a game for gentlemen, and 99% of the people who play it fit that description. Once in a great while you encounter the oaf who sticks out like a sore thumb. He's usually smoking a smelly cigar (a habit I connect with loudmouths) and his clothes scream: give me your full attention.

I worked in sales for a time, and it was a trial of sorts because salesmen are naturally outgoing and gregarious, and it isn't much of a stretch for them to cross the line to obnoxious. They easily morph into the guy with the lampshade on his head trying to get everybody at the party to play naked Twister. Alcohol is the loudmouth's enabler, and emboldens them to be even more annoying than they are naturally. I try to stay away from people like this because I can no longer suffer them in silence. The older I get, the more they put my teeth on edge, and the more I am likely to say what I think of them. My loving wife usually spots the eruption coming and steers me away from trouble.

I'm sure there have been times in my life when I acted like a jerk. I try not to make a habit of it though. Loud people, on the other hand, seem to work hard at it. Their laughs are usually at someone's expense; their practical jokes tend to be in bad taste; and it's almost as if they have to tear someone down to build themselves up. If I was inclined to analyze, I'd say their boorish behavior is meant to mask massive insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. (Thank you, doctor.) My heroes tend to be people who let their actions speak for them. My mother and my wife are two examples of great strength of character concealed in soft-spoken packages. They are the kind of quiet role models that families can be built around. 


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