Wednesday, December 24, 2008


My wife says the holidays feel shorter this year because Thanksgiving came relatively late in November. To me the holidays feel longer this year because they started on November 4th, when I waited almost an hour and a half to vote. I’ve voted at the same polling station for nineteen years and the longest I’ve ever waited was fifteen minutes, max. Never have I waited on such a jolly line, full of smiles and amiable chat. Some voters had brought books and magazines. I stood with a friend and his eighteen year old son, who was proudly voting for the first time. A couple of neighbors said hello to me on their way out; one leaned in as she passed and warned me to be on the lookout for dual Republican inspectors minding the District 21 voting machine. “There’s supposed to be one Republican and one Democrat, not two Republicans. We reported it,” she said.
I am aware that the world outlook has, by most measures, deteriorated since Nov. 4th. The economy continues to collapse; violence and uncertainty dominate the international stage; the Knicks continue to suck, albeit now in a more up-tempo way.
But the light at the end of the tunnel shines on. Even now, during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year with its countless opportunities for soul-flaying introspection, the thrill isn’t gone. Hope is still in the air. Any day, the words “tectonic shift” will start appearing on the Op Ed page like toadstools after a rainstorm. For the record, I want to stately clearly that no one is shifting more tectonically than I.
For example, we’ve had our living room painted – for the first time since the Clinton years. This was not an easy change to undertake, even though the living room walls had seen better days, having withstood well over a decade’s worth of fingerprints, exploding champagne bottles, projectile vomiting and people who talk with their mouths full. Still, the ambience was wonderful: comfortably bohemian, chicly shabby, unfussily inviting and many other jolly terms designed to defuse my wife’s urges toward home improvement. Long, elegant curls of dried paint – at least I thought they were elegant – hung from the ceiling, reminders of the Great Leak of 2002. The leak was repaired, but the paint dangled on. No more, and that’s a good thing, especially now that the painters have left. With luck, that will be the last paint job I’ll ever have to cope with in my lifetime, and I don’t mean that in a morbid way.
Even the dog has found the new zeitgeist, and no one has ever called George a quick learner. George is a small terrier whose immense charm can be easily derailed by other dogs sniffing him at the wrong moment, or people coming too close when the light isn’t right, or black garbage bags wafting ominously, or taunting squirrels or a whole lot of other creatures and things great and small. When fussed, George lunges at offenders and barks in a surprisingly scary way for a fifteen pound dog. This can be a real drag on the atmosphere, especially when the object of George’s (let’s-not-call-it) bloodlust is, say, a school kid who wants to pet him.
It would be nice if George channeled Obama’s forgiving, hold-no-grudges-even-against-Lieberman attitude, but that is not George’s Way. Instead, George has honed his aggressive impulses. No more school children, no more dogs his own size. George’s irritants these days are big, beefy beasts wearing prong collars who have unknowingly trespassed onto what George considers his terroir. The morning of November 5th, George and I were walking in Prospect Park and passed a dog and person we see several times a week. The other gent and I nodded and smiled to each other and the dogs seemed to do what they usually do, ignore each other. The other dog looks to be about 150 heavily muscled pounds; he sports a collar with studs in it and a scrotum the size of a grapefruit. George abruptly went into his heavy-breathing, pre-attack crouch. Then he was snarling, growling, baring his teeth – everything except, you know, actually touching the other dog. To my immense relief, the big dog did not seem to notice George’s throwdown and George soon grew bored and pranced off proudly to cadge treats from his usual vendors among the morning walkers, as if he knew he was the dog he was waiting for.
Preparing for our bright new day has not been easy. Like many fellow citizens, I’ve found the last eight years a strain, and in order to keep my blood pressure from elevating dangerously every time the 6:30 news rolled around, I cultivated defense mechanisms – storing up nasty jokes about W and his unindicted co-conspirators, tearing off angry letters to my congressfolk, etc.
Now it looks like I won’t be needing these mechanisms much longer, and while I’m looking forward to a president who won’t embarrass the nation every time he opens his mouth, it’s a tough adjustment to make because, as any student of Freud knows, defense mechanisms can be, well, defensive. That is to say, they react with violence when their necessity comes into question.
So it has been with me. My defense mechanisms realized that by January 20th they’d be out of a job and in response they attacked me – my head, to be specific. Within days of Obama’s victory, I developed an enormous toothache, which hurt like hell and caused the side of my jaw to bulge like one of Brando’s jowls in The Godfather. Then I got a nasty eye infection, which was a recurrence of an eye infection that had last occurred in 1988. It waited all this time. Then I started sneezing and coughing and it turned out not to be a cold, instead an allergic reaction. To what? Don’t ask me, my allergies cleared up when I was twelve. Until now.
Then my son badly sprained his ankle playing pick-up basketball – just in time for the holiday. Then my wife caught something – milder than flu but much worse than a cold, very hard to shake to boot. And we’ve both noticed that a disturbing number of friends and acquaintances are suddenly coming down with something or other too. And we’ve noticed too that a disturbing number of these sniffling friends and acquaintances voted for Obama.
You do the math.
Please understand, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I never thought fluoridation was a communist plot and I do not believe the government is reading my mind through my dental work. But can there be any doubt that this welter of discomforts and inconveniences is the parting shot of a fading administration? I’m not accusing, I’m just saying that my view of the matter has shifted, though not yet tectonically.

Monday, October 27, 2008


My sister bought it on eBay and had the seller send it directly to me from Eugene, Oregon, where I know no one, hence my puzzlement at the parcel from those parts. Certainly, it is a charming reminder of both my left-handedness and deep-seated affection for Georg Jensen, whose tiny and all but illegible hallmark may be seen on the back of the spoon. Who knew? It's true that I, like Leonardo da Vinci and the Babe, am left-handed. Furthermore, I was a Georg Jensen fan as a kid. I loved the ads for fancy glass and silverware and I really was astounded that "Georg" had no final g. If I had been more sensitive and introspective, I would've remembered it all and realized that it came from my sis. Refurbishment of my character continues.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Disappearing Dog Waste Station
At first I thought it was an old-school mailbox, sturdy and peak-roofed, mounted on a thick post stuck in the ground on the edge of the Long Meadow in Prospect Park, not far from the Garfield Place entrance to the park, through which George and I usually pass at the start of our morning constitutional.
Then I wondered why there would be a mailbox on the edge of the Long Meadow in Prospect Park, not far from the Garfield Place entrance, etc.
Then I noticed that the long blue streamer flying from a hole above the mail slot was a length of plastic doggy bags, and the mail slot was not a slot at all, rather a hinged flap opening inward.
The dog waste station offered free bags and a place to put them after use, a useful convenience for bagless dog people or those too dim to realize the nearby garbage can also accepts properly packaged dog waste, and even that which is not. I have never met such dog people, but I’m sure they exist.
Less than a week after I first noticed it, the dog waste station is gone, leaving only a hole in the dry earth. Did somebody steal it? Who would want to steal a dog waste station? Even considering its camp value? Or was the removal order from the highest reaches of the Prospect Park bureaucracy, a tacit acknowledgment by the responsible parties of the dog waste station’s stupendous ugliness?
One doesn’t expect one will ever know.

Friday, August 15, 2008


As a teen dilettante during the sixties, I loved Esquire, the other men’s magazine, the you really did buy “for the articles” as boobs were not reliable parts of its editorial lineup. I vividlly recall turning the huge gorgeous pages of one issue and coming upon L. Rust Hills' quietly hilarious “How to Do Four Dumb Tricks with a Pack of Camels.” It was just perfectly funny, both measured and ridiculous. Then I started noticing Hills' pieces in other magazine and I have long cherished my hardback copy of his first collection, How to Do Things Right: The Revelations of a Fussy Man.

I didn't know before reading Hills' obituary that he nurtured and edited many of the terrific writers Esquire published in the 60's, but I still abide by a strategy he advanced in “How to Eat an Ice-Cream Cone:” When you're with a group of people who're getting ice cream cones, get chocolate chip. Chances are no one will ask you for a taste.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Received a left-handed spoon in the mail Friday. I didn’t buy it online or win it on eBay. It just came in the mail, carefully enfolded in patterned tissue paper, tucked into a baggie, swathed in several layers of bubble wrap and stuffed into a small manila envelope. It’s about six and a half inches long and looks streamlined, reminds me a bit of a 50s-era Pontiac hood ornament.
According to the envelope's return address, the spoon comes from someone named McCarthy in Eugene, Oregon.

I know no one named McCarthy from Eugene, Oregon.

I am grateful but puzzled. I am left-handed, so the spoon is not wholly inappropriate, but I have never felt the need or desire for left-handed cutlery. Still, it’s a pretty object, much prettier than the other left-handed spoons I found online, of which there are many: Jonathan’s Lazy Spoon comes in left and right-handed versions, as do a variety of Homecraft Roylan’s therapeutic and rehabilitative implements, also Kitchen Carver’s hand-hewn wooden pointed spoons, draining spoons, soup dippers, sauce spoons, jelly spoons, spatulas, spatula spoons and spoontulas (The differences between spatula spoons and spoontulas I leave to others.).

At Anything Left-handed, the left version of their jar spoon is six centimeters longer than the right-handed version. I’m not asking why; I assume that a righty who shops at an outfit called Anything Left-handed likes to live dangerously.

Mr. or Ms. McCarthy of Eugene, Oregon, I think of you now as Eugene McCarthy, which isn’t unfitting, as I’m sure only a fundamentally decent and really smart person, like Gene was, would send me a good-looking left-handed spoon out of the clear blue.

So many, many thanks. Who are you and why'd you send me a spoon?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Trolling for typos, grammatical errors and bad writing in the NYT is a big part of my morning newspaper ritual. You would think after Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, the soft-core stylings of the sports columnists, William Kristol and whatever-happened-to-Maureen Dowd, the Grey Lady’s gold standard-esque authority would be in tatters. But I still expect the Grey Lady to be, if not perfect, at least staid, decorous, conservative (only grammatically, of course). Instead, the Grey Lady inclines toward the loopy and you have to wonder who’s minding the prose.

Take this sentence from an article about Mayor Bloomberg’s Spanish tutor in Aug. 5th’s Metro section: “The tutor, Luis Cardozo, wore a suit — thin white stripes slicing light gray fabric that matched his yellow tie.”

Say what?

More in sadness than in anger, I must point out that gray fabric cannot match a yellow tie. Maybe it could comlement it, but that would depend on the particular gray and yellow in question.

Catching infelicities like that is a whole lot less disturbing than detecting new NYT tics and trends of language which tend to make me feel that the center is not holding, which is exactly how I felt when I noticed that the Times had used the word three times this week already, and it’s only Wednesday.

1. On August 4th, a front page article about a senate race in New Hampshire: “The maverick voters of New Hampshire love to keep politicians guessing. But this state, famous for its libertarian mojo, has shifted so hard toward the Democrats...” – Whoa, maverick and mojo in one paragraph. Talk about an embarrassment of vernacular vitality.

2. Elsewhere in section A was this: “Mr. Obama awoke in St. Petersburg, Fla., ready to talk about an ailing economy and saw this newspaper headline: ‘IT’S A RECESSION.’ The mojo should feel good.” – Hmmm, sounds like Barack's mojo is working, in case anyone was wondering.

3. The third mention was in Tuesday’s business section: “Dish appears to have lost its mojo when it comes to attracting new customers.” This happens to be a Reuters piece, so if the image of a satellite television provider even having a mojo, let alone losing it, makes your fillings ache, blame does not rest entirely with the NYT, but still.

Maverick is a word we’re all used to hearing more than we'd ever though possible or advisable, and we will until McCain, aka Senator “I-hate-to-talk-about-my-wartime-experiences” McMaverick, leaves the national stage. But mojo? When did “mojo” enter the national conversation? The NYT archive lists about twenty uses of mojo in its pages in just the last week. And what are they using it to mean? Not what Muddy Waters meant, I’d hazard.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Alternate side of the street parking regulations went back into effect in Joy Buzzer's Brooklyn neighborhood today, three months after the regs were suspended to facilitate the posting of new signs throughout the nabe. The event has been reported endlessly, including a lengthy piece in today's NYT. The great fear here was that outlanders would park their cars more or less permanently on our streets, while we locals would wander the streets in our cars like so many exhaust-spewing Flying Dutchmen -- crusing Dutchman, actually -- searching endlessly and fruitlessly for parking spots. The situation never got that bad, but we area residents are certainly glad to see the end of what we are sure were hundreds, possibly thousands, of vehicular squatters from Bensonhurst, Dyker Heights and Nebraska. Happy motoring and good riddance.