Sunday, November 18, 2007

Give 'n Go Comes to

Since I'm technologically illiterate, I don't exactly know what this means.

But here goes...

Technorati Profile

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mental Health... With a Fourteen-Year-Old Daughter

Since so many blogs deal with hygiene of the mind, body and spirit it's difficult to get through even a few without being brought to the brink of self destruction by tales of obsession, compulsion, emotional angst and exasperation.

As the father of a fourteen-year-old daughter I often sink into self reflection about the meaning of life; whether life has any meaning and the most important existential question facing fathers of adolescent young ladies:

Is life too short, or is life too long?

After several years of morbid introspection I've been able to answer several questions about myself.

Obsessed? No. Compulsive? No. Overcome with angst? No.

Exasperated? Yes. A resounding and unequivocal yes.

That's why I am taking this opportunity to post my secret for a happy and angst-free coexistance with your teenaged daughter.

Say yes to everything!

This is an approach I've always believed, in theory, but have very rarely put into practice.

Case in point. Little Angel comes to me two weeks ago with a proposition:

"Dad, we'd like to give Olivia a surprise birthday party."

"Go ahead," says dad, "make yourself happy."

"But we want to have the party here, in our house."

"Absolutely not!"

Mistake. Mistake. Mistake.

I know in these instances that my no is never final. Teenaged girls believe that a "no" is simply the start of the negotiation, or trial by ordeal as it's known in my household.

"Why can't you arrange it all with Olivia's parents and have it at her house?" It seemed a reasonable query.

"Olivia is being punished, and they just finished fixing their house so they don't want it..."

"They don't want it shambalized by a horde of marauding suburban teenagers... right?"

"Uhhhh... well... yeah."

"But it's okay for you shambalize our house?"

"Uhhhh... well... yeah."

And so it went... for two solid weeks... until I finally relented, which I always do. For those of you who are looking forward to simliar episodes with your now-compliant pre-teens, understand this:

With a teenaged daughter, no always means maybe, maybe always means yes, and compromise is only one small step toward total victory.

So surrender immediately and save yourself a lot of grief.

Until modern technology advances to a state where I can personally monitor her every movement--and every thought--each moment of uncertaintly will continue to pile aggravation on top of aggravation.

So why add to the avalanche.

But there's more to it than saving yourself mental anguish and domestic turmoil.

There are practical reasons for going to immediate and unconditional surrender. Because no matter what she wants to do, if it involves the participation of one or more of her friends the chances are 999-to-1 that's it's never going to happen.

I don't know when I'll learn this lesson. Maybe now it will sink in.

Little Angel comes home yesterday to find me clearing tools and construction materials out of our family room in preparation for this Friday Night Soiree for Olivia.

"What are you doing Dad?"

"I'm clearing things out for Olivia's party."

"Oh, I meant to tell you, we're not having a party. Ya know, Olivia said blah blah to Katrina about Theresa and then Katrina told Kiara and Kiara told Theresa and now nobody is talking to Olivia so we're not having a suprise party because noboby wants to come."

Good grief. Thank heaven.

When will I ever learn?

So, am I obsessed, compulsive, angst filled?

Don't be ridiculous. There's not enough room in my psyche to be even slightly over-committed to anything, let alone obsessed.

I have a teenaged daughter, for heaven's sake!

Monday, October 15, 2007

An Open Letter to the Nobel Committee

Proving once again that Phineas T. Barnum was the most perceptive man that ever lived, the Nobel Committee has bestowed upon Albert Gore and his legion of conspirators (uh… collaborators) the prestigious Peace Prize.

This year’s award continues a long tradition of honoring nitwits, incompetents, charlatans, and murderers, including the Greatest Former President in American history, James Earl Carter and that renowned man of peace Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Arafat, it turns out, should have been awarded the Piece of the Action prize for his well-known ability to shake down gullible do-gooders and convert vast sums of cash earmarked for long-suffering Palestinians to his own account.

However, why should Prince Albert, Jimmah and Mr. Arafat be the only parasites sucking on the Nobel nipple? I’ve devoted the last several months to a research project which has uncovered a serious global phenomenon that is so critical in its scope and consequences it could mean the end of life as we know it by the middle of next year’s baseball season.

I have summarized my findings in this…

Open Letter to the Nobel Committee

Ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages,

I have been making precise calculations since June 20th of this year and I’ve uncovered incontrovertible evidence of Anthropogenic Global Darkening. According to my observations there were 15 hours and 6 minutes of daylight on June 20th. Yesterday, my instruments measured 10 hours and 16 minutes of daylight. This is due to a steady, measurable decrease in sunshine each and every day.

So do the math. If the current trend continues the Earth will be completely shrouded in darkness in precisely pretty soon. I propose that everyone on the planet who has more than I do, give everything they have to me. I will then distribute the funds to everyone on the planet who has less than me, minus a small administration fee.

The overwhelming consensus of people who think the way I do agree that this is the only way to save the Earth from the coming Dark Age.

You can do your part by liquidating your holdings and sending the cash to:

The Gullibility Foundation
P.O. BOX 1984
Chappaqua, New York

Response to this open letter has been gratifying.

D.B. of Brooklyn writes:

Let me be the first to scream “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!”

There, I did it.

Upchuck from Katonah is eager to contribute, but has a logistical question.

Since it's Sunday it’s kinda hard to liquidate all my assets. I realize the urgency of this but can I wait until the markets open tomorrow?

And do you accept Pay Pal?

Kindred from Knoxville, Tennessee points out an omission.

You forgot the zip code. And Al will be mad that you are cutting into the earnings of his global warming tax credit company he prospers from.

Sender from Possum Gulch, Arizona concurs with my findings.

That is terrifying! I too have noticed the shortening days. Also, I have been comparing the daily temperatures since July. I am seeing a worrisome trend.

Omar from the Southern Hemisphere is in Global Darkening Denial.

He writes:

Caramba, señor.

I have been taking daylight readings as well and have reached the opposite conclusion. I measured diez horas of sunshine on Junio vente y uno, and more than quince horas of sunlight yesterday. This trend can only be the result of Anthropogenic Global Brightening. In a very short time we will all be scorched and blinded by eternal sunlight.

Anyone who was tempted to contribute their hard-earned treasure to the Gullibility Foundation should instead forward all their worldly goods to:

Instituto del Estúpidos
Santiago, Chile

Snail Darter from Witch’s Elbow, Georgia has his own cause to promote.

I am sure that your fine institutions are worthy of support, and I hope you land billion-dollar grants from Soros and Greenpeace and Algore Inc., however I am not able to contribute at this time. Currently all my meager donations are being sent to the Fund to Save the Fat Three Ridged Mussel, which is in danger of extinction if the uncaring, speciesist bastards in power here in Georgia decide to favor humans and hoard the remaining water so idiot humans can drink and bathe.

These inoffensive mollusks, of the family parasitic glochidia, are quickly being decimated by anthropogenic demusseling as well as the competition for habitat from the interloping Asiatic Clam.

The clams stowaway on ships transporting skilled workers who travel here to fill high-paying jobs in sweat hops on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Once here they displace indigenous Fat Three Ridged Mussels and establish take-out restaurants, nail salons and real-estate offices.

I can’t rest until these defenseless mussels are safely lying unthinking in the mud, occasionally spewing out a bubble or some feces. I'm sure you will understand.

Clem from Walpole, New Hampshire has had his consciousness raised.

Damn those exotic Asian clams! Up with parasitic glochidia! Save the mussels! The world can't wait! Global demusseling is happening, people!

But Luke Skyfreeper gets the prize for going straight to the heart of the matter.

I hereby certify that I have less than you do, so I need to get on the redistribution list. Can I just freepmail you my contact info?

And thanks for your service to mankind!

BTW: I accept PayPal.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Pay It Forward

I hesitate to tell this story because it is so terrifying it makes me shiver.

Maureen and I were involved in a rescue incident yesterday.

It was a gorgeous day, bright and clear, so we decided take the bike out for little spin along the beach. When we arrived at Jones Beach (Field 6) it was about time for our afternoon coffee. We parked the bike and went to the snack shop.

Sitting out under the bright blue sky, with the surf pounding and the wind blowing through my scalp we sort of lost ourselves in the beauty of the moment. I should have remained vigilant.

Vito Corleone reminded his son that "Women and children can afford to be careless" but he never told me.

When it was time to leave we turned toward the parking lot to discover...

I had left the lights on!

I ran as quickly as these old legs would carry me, but it was too late. The strain of keeping those lights lit was just too great, and the Little Battery That Could... suddenly... couldn't.

Being trained in crisis management I immediately sized up the situation and went directly to the Umbrella Lady. I asked her if the Park Police could provide a jump start.

Her answer chilled me to the bone.

"It's not a matter of could they," she said. "The big question is will they."

Oh, no.

Stranded here less than 100 yards from the water's edge with man-eating sharks lurking invisibly just under the surface, I was paralyzed with fear.

"It will be dark in less than four hours!" I cried.

That's when a strong and confident voice pierced through the darkness of my agony.

"Aw, quit your whining. I have jumper cables in my Cadillac."

I looked up at my rescuer, flushed with relief.

Alvin stood there, tanned and stunningly fit for his 85 years. The 1945 Navy Air Corps WWII cap perched atop his head glistened in the afternoon sunlight.

"Let's go kid" he commanded, as if he were still leading men into battle.

And go we did.

Alvin grabbed his cables from out of the trunk, hooked us up, and with one hit on the starter button... WE WERE SAVED!

When I tried to offer Alvin a gratuity, he just waved me off. "If you find someone who needs help, stop and lend a hand. AND QUIT THAT WHINING!"

With the Honda engine purring I looked at my dear wife.

"Does this mean you don't want to bike to Alaska with me next Summer? I asked.

"I don't want to bike home with you now" came her terse answer.

"Call me a cab" she ordered. I sheepishly obeyed.

Then... oh no... my cell phone battery is dead.

But that's another story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So Long Scooter

About 25 or 30 years ago I stopped in at the legendary NYC pizza joint, Pizza City, on my way to visit Mom and Dad. Inside, I discovered lights, a camera crew and Yankee great Phil Rizzuto filming a TV commercial. Phil was about 60 at the time and still looked as if he could step out onto the field and play shortstop.

When he got to the punch line he went into a pantomime baseball swing and then flashed that great Rizzuto smile straight into the camera.

As he took his phantom swing I noticed his biceps and forearms, muscles rippling. Now Phil was 5'6" and weighed 150 pounds with his pockets full of quarters, but 20 plus years after his retirement as an active player he was still ripped. You could never notice it under those baggy uniforms they wore back then. At that moment I realized why elite athletes are elite athletes.

During the breaks for lighting and camera changes, Phil talked with the customers, signed autographs and retold some of those great stories we had all heard a thousands times, yet loved to hear once again.

So long Scooter. We'll miss you.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wizards Win Waldbaum's Cup!

June 17, 2007 Stony Brook, New York

The Oceanside Wizards capped off another successful season with a 3-2 victory over the very talented Newfield Wave of Selden to win the Waldbaum's Cup Championship.

It was a hard fought match from the opening whistle. Cheyenne opened the scoring in the first half, taking a great centering pass from Ali Cassidy and slamming the volley into the back of the net for a 1 goal lead. Newfield came roaring back to tie the game at the half, and then took a 2-1 lead early in the second period.

But the Wizards kept the pressure on. Cheyenne made a lightning-quick dash down the right wing and slammed a long blast high into the far corner of the goal to tie the match.

Then, showing the toughness that has made her the team's high scorer, Ali Cassidy beat her defender in the center and went in on a breakaway.

The Newfield keeper made an aggressive play to stop her at the 18 but Ali kept her balance, chipped the ball over the keeper and then slammed it into the back of the net for THE WINNING GOAL!

The Wizards then played smart and disciplined defense and got another stellar effort from goalkeeper Devin to bring the Waldbaum's Cup to Oceanside.

Great effort. Great Game. Great season from a truly terrific group of young ladies.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Father Knows Best, Again

In celebration of Father's Day today's post is a reprint of my very first blog attempt.

December, 2006

I very rarely read New York Magazine, but a cover story caught my eye last week as I scanned the magazine rack in Dr. Zaman's waiting room.

Authentic Happiness. Now there's a concept.

The author of the article, a New Yorker, treated the subject the way the Discovery Channel describes UFO sightings. They know UFOs are fiction, dammit! Why do so many people claim to have seen them? Happiness, authentic or not, is something that most New Yorkers experience through the eyes of others. Happiness, like alien visitors from another planet, is an illusion; a construct created by delusional fools to camouflage their misery. To a practical and prudently-maladjusted New Yorker happiness is simply unfathomable.

Unhappiness? Now there's something the author could sink her teeth into. What causes unhappiness? What can we do about it? Well, since happiness is an illusion and unhappiness is reality, why would anyone want to do anything about it? More to the point, since unhappiness is the default position and therefore uncaused, why is she writing about the causes of unhappiness?

I think she's stumbled upon something here.

The lack of wealth does not cause unhappiness, she claimed. Rather, it's a relative lack of wealth that causes unhappiness. Instantly, hundreds of conversations raced through my mind. The law partner who whined to me about how tough it was trying to make ends meet on $500,000 a year. My upper-middle-class friend from an upscale town in Westchester whose 17 year old daughter sobbed because her new Lexus didn't have the performance package (a $5,000 option). It's an interesting question. New Yorkers can't help but be bombarded with evidence of conspicuous and excessive consumption. Very few of us can look around and not see thousands of things we can't have. But is this the cause of unhappiness, or simply the trigger?

My father, in addition to being a man of immense intellect and courage, is able to place almost any situation in its proper perspective. Years ago, while fishing on my small runabout in Reynolds Channel I mentioned that it would be nice to have one of those fully-decked-out sport fishing boats that were buzzing past us. He pointed to the crowd fishing on the Magnolia Street Pier and said that those guys were looking at us and thinking the same thing. I was an adult at the time but this was an Andy-and-Opie moment, one of many that we've had over the course of the decades.

"Go after what you want in life," he taught me, "and don't look into anyone else's wallet." It was a lesson I took to heart at a very early age.

Basically it all comes down to this: If I get what I want, I'm a happy guy.

"Mr. Martini..." called Dr. Zaman's nurse. I put down the magazine, smiling, and went in for my yearly echocardiagram. "You're 100%," the doctor reported. "Keep exercising, watch what you eat and STAY OFF THAT MOTORCYCLE!"

"One out of three ain't bad," I mumbled.

The next morning I played the Red Course at Eisenhower Park and shot a 40 on the front nine.

Authentic happiness.

On the back, the course having somehow discovered my true handicap, double bogey followed double bogey followed double bogey for a 49. Yet just as I descended into sleep that night a wide-screen HD image emerged: A perfect swing with my 3 iron, my second shot soaring toward the Par 5 First Green and gently coming to rest 20 feet from the pin.

Before I could reach for my putter, I was fast asleep.

Happy Father's Day to all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ich Bin Ein New Yorker?

You can't blame Illinois-ans for feeling a burdensome sense of inferiority these days.

The White Sox are languishing around the .500 level. The Blackhawks and the Bulls are playing golf again during the playoff season.

Even the most rabid Cubs fans are wondering why their team is still in the Majors. If this was the European Premiereship League the Cubs would have been relegated to Serie "F" in 1909, never to return. A T-shirt seen at Wrigley Field recently stated: "Hey, every team has a bad century once in awhile."

Okay, so the White Sox clobbered the Yankees last night, but that doesn't count. Everybody beats the vaunted Bronx Bombers.

I won't even pile on and mention the pathetic performance by Dah Bears last January.

A short-lived sense of euporia lifted Illinois residents for a short time when they found themselves with the two front runners in the Democratic race for the presidential nomination.

This should have come as no surprise since Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, has a long and storied (some say bizarre) political tradition.

Illinois, after all, is the only state in the Union that has three senators and was able, without the slightest giggle, to report that JFK received 160% of the vote in Cook County.

So why is it that the good citizens of Illinois in general and Chicago in particular still feel this underwhelming sense of inferiority vis-a-vis their big brother to the east.

Maybe a recent story in the New York Post has something to do with it.

While campaigning through the Empire State Senator Barack Hussein Obama declared himself a New Yorker to an adoring crowd of admirers. His rationale, curiously, was the fact that he attended Columbia University more than two decades ago. Am I nitpicking? I think not. Not until I hear him declare himself Hawaiian--or Indonesian for that matter--will I believe that his identification with NYC is anything less than evidence of the deeply-held sense of inferiority experienced by most, if not all, citizens of the Second City.

Gadzooks! Even the self-applied nickname is an affront. They could have called themselves The Big Shoulders Comedy Troupe, The Windy City Comedy Troupe. Jeez-Louise, even the Hog Butchers Comedy Troupe is better than Second City.

Tell me, do you know any New Yorker who attended... let's say... Union College of Barbourville, Kentucky who would declare to the world: "I am an Appalachian"?

No! New Yorkers are New Yorkers down to the bone and will tell you so at every opportunity.

Yes, I tell people that I graduated from UCLA (University on the Corner of Lexington Avenue) but that's a joke.

My own senator, Ms. Rob-Em Clinton, considers herself multi-lingual because of her ability to slide between Brooklyn-ese, Arkansas drawl and Midwestern nasal twang within the same sentence. Curious? Not if you understand her history. But then again, enlightened people should maintain expansive and inclusive definitions of both multi and lingual.

Just ask Rosie O'Donnell. I understand that she recently told a joke in the obscure Chinese dialect spoken only in the remote region of Ching-Chong. Talk about inferiority, here's a pathetic blob of protoplasm who tells everyone that her hard edge comes from growing up in New York, when she spent her formative years in a remote ex-urbian outpost known as Commack, Long Island.

I'll bet Commack-ians are busting their buttons over this dubious honor.

Sort of like Chappaqua being famous as the adopted hometown of Bill and Hillary. But then again, Chappaqua has long been known as the bedroom community of choice for every low-life dirtbag lawyer in New York, so what's new.

But back to the main topic. Why do Barack and Hitlery have this compulsive desire to be Noo Yawkers? I think it's the inborn sense of optimism and confidence that native New Yorkers radiate. By growing up in the most densely populated and frenetic community in America, one develops a hard-shell patina as a means of protection. But, by the same token, New Yorkers instinctively understand that a collective personality inclined toward tolerance, grudging courtesy and mutual respect for each other's space is essential for peaceful coexistence. Outsiders may believe that New Yorkers are cold and distant. I believe that we're incredibly good natured given the circumstances. But, you'll just have take our word for that.

When the burly truck driver in the diner bellows: "Hey Mack! I said pass the sugar!" as one did to me yesterday, we know that he means it lovingly. It's kind of like baseball signals or what Bible scholars call a shibboleth: language meant to be understood by a close knit community. And that's what we are; eight million plus neighbors who understand each other perfectly. Interlopers may chomp on a knish in front of the TV cameras then retreat to their gated compounds, but they will never understand what it means to be a New Yorker.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner" and his words resonated throughout the world because he was affirming solidarity with people who had suffered isolation from friends and neighbors, brothers, sisters and cousins. When today's politicians proclaim that they are New Yorkers because they spent a four hour layover at La Guardia, to quote John Cleese, it is something completely different.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

How Do You Fix a Problem Like... Sha-Ria?

Just in case anyone this side of the kook border had any doubts that multi-cultural tolerance and "reasonable accommodation" have reached ridiculous proportions, here's a story that's guaranteed to warm your hearts.

A regular reader of this esteemed blog, The Warbasse Warlord, happened into his friendly neighborhood supermarket last week to stock up on sale items. Wow! Boar's Head Deluxe Ham for $5.99 a pound. As that great American philosopher, Stymie, once said: "Isthmus be my lucky day!" And from there it only got better as special offer after special offer for the Memorial Day Weekend jumped out at him shouting: "Buy me! Buy me!

So after filling his cart with low-cost goodies, including a $3.99 watermelon, buy-one-get-two-free Snapple, and a pound of Boar's Head Dead Pig (sliced thin), off he went to the checkout.

That's when he made a giant leap, unknowingly, out of the serene republic of Brooklyn and into...

The Twilight Zone.

Suddenly, the bagboy began speaking to the cashier in a very agitated tone.

"What's the matter?" asked the Warlord.

"Do you have meat in any of your packages?" she asked.

"Yeah, we're coming up on a big barbecue weekend," he answered.

"Well... uhh... Hassan can't touch any meat that's not Halal," came the explanation.

Call me intolerant, but bagboy at a non-kosher supermarket was probably NOT the best career choice for this pluralist American in training.

My good friend and legal counsel, Oliver Wendall McMansion, had a similar situation a few years back. On a Monday he hired an associate; a seemingly well-adjusted young lady who had graduated from a respected law school. On Tuesday she informed her new boss that she could not work in the cubicle that had been assigned to her because she suffered from adult ADD and needed a private office to screen out the distractions. This particular suite of offices consisted of one private office (belonging to the boss) and a large open area divided with cubicles. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act Oliver W. could either give up his sanctum, build her a private office, or face an ADA lawsuit.

One day on the job and this new employee orders him to "accommodate" her disability or incur the wrath of legions of angry Washington bureaucrats.

Here in New York, where cabbies are not allowed to refuse service to people who look as if they just stepped out of a dumpster, there are constant stories about Muslim hacks who refuse to pick up young women who are dressed inappropriately. It almost makes me want to get behind the wheel to pick up the crumbs these guys leave.

So what's a multi-cultural society to do? Reasonable accommodation makes sense to a reasonable person. It's just that "reasonable" is another of those elastic terms that members of the American Left interpret in the most ludicrous ways to justify the most idiotic policy decisions.

And every time we think it can't get any dumber the headlines shriek out about a woman in Florida who wants to take her driver's license picture with just her eyes showing behind a Casper the Friendly Ghost veil or a federal judge says that a youth sports league has to allow a teenage girl to play soccer with a table cloth wrapped around her face.

While we're at it, why not provide a driver's license exemption for members of that legendary southern civic group.

It just gets goofier and goofier.

Does an employer have to provide flex time for a worker who's not a "morning person."

Do our courts need special procedures to accommodate killers who come from cultures where honor killing has a long and glorious tradition?

Should we make a reasonable accommodation for immigrants from regions in Africa where the phrase "Having our neighbors for dinner" has a completely different meaning than it does here?

And what about me? I'm lazy and undisciplined. Why should I have to compete against people who are focused, ambitious and persistent?

Where's the justice... where's the reasonable accommodation... for those unlucky masses who suffer from my disability?

Why should I lose out to those who are the winners in life's lottery?

Why indeed?

Sha-Ria... say it loud and there's music playing. Say it soft, and it's almost like preying.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Kind of Loser Would Want My Identity?

I've been trying for two weeks, without success, to come up with a humorous angle on this story so bear with me.

Yes, my identity was stolen.

Yes, the consequences have been relatively minor.

Yes, I'm pissed as hell and want to have the guy strung up by his scrotum in a junkyard filled with hungry, snarling Rottweilers.

And I would prescribe a more torturous fate for the long line of bureaucrats and political flunkies who could have helped at any point along the line, but chose to do nothing other than suggest that I "pay the two dollars."

Well, it's not two dollars. And while $750 may represent small potatoes to New York City's esteemed billionare-in-chief... THEY'RE MY POTATOES!!!

In case you're wondering, Mayor Mikey is one of the political flunkies who chose to do nothing, along with Betsy (uggghhh) Gotbaum, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Parking Violations Bureau and the City Marshall, one particularly heinous dirtbag named Richard Capuano.

So let's begin at the beginning.

It all started with the tribulations of a very old and tired 1990 Mazda 626. As jalopies go, this one would have long ago been rolled off a cliff by Wally Cleaver and Lumpy Rutherford, but it was perfect for ferrying fishing gear and gardening supplies and those periodic trips to the town dump. Then, in June of 2005, it reached the tipping point, as the Global Warming kooks like to say.

Like the old hermit living in the Arizona desert spitting out teeth as he walked, Ol' Mazie was dropping parts along the street at an alarming rate. When the brakes failed to slow its momentum at 5 MPH, it was time to put her to sleep. Even driving to the junkyard less than a mile away was more risk than I was willing to take, so I called Stevie the Junk Man and he showed up ten minutes later with his flatbed. Off came the plates and away went the car. Good riddance, you say, but I still wiped away a tear as it disappeared around the bend.

Like a good little boy I went to DMV and surrendered the plates. I love that expression. Imagine crawling up to the DMV dimwit waving a white flag with one hand and sheepishly "surrendering" the plates with the other. Then, with my receipt in hand, I returned home confident that I had fulfilled my civic duty. My thoroughness was rewarded a few weeks later when I received a refund check from the Comptroller of the State of New York for the unused balance of my registration fee.

What a windfall!

Then, in September of 2005 I received a cordial letter from the NYC Parking Violations Bureau informing me that I had failed to pay a parking ticket that was issued in August, 2005.

The summons was issued at the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and 94th Avenue in Jamaica.

Now, it's not that I have anything against Sutphin Boulevard or Jamaica. It's just that since Gertz, Robert Hall and the Valencia Theater closed more than thirty years ago, I have no reason at all to go there. Yes, I did take my father-in-law to the ER in Jamaica Hospital. I remember the incident because one of the "patients" took the ER nurse hostage at knifepoint. But that was still many years ago.

A quick phone call, I thought, would resolve the issue. WRONG!

The genius on the other end of the line suggested that I pay the fine and be done with it.

"Yes," I answered, "but it will never end because whoever is doing this will continue doing it." And continue he did. A letter to the mayor's office resulted in zero action, not even a reply telling me how busy Hizzoner is. At least Senator Moynihan had the decency to tell me he couldn't be bothered with my petty problem. He had a book to finish. Mind you, my petty problem was that my wife and child were stranded in a third-world country in the middle of a terrorist war, but the senator was busy writing his tenth book in his tenth year in the Senate. That's the ticket, become a United States Senator, cure writer's block (and banish those pesky rejection letters).

So on and on it went. I wrote to the Public Advocate (HAH!!!) explaining my problem: tickets on a car I no longer own. Two weeks later I get a phone call from Ms. James of the Public Advocate's office. I explained my problem again: tickets on a car I no longer own. Two weeks after that Ms. James calls back and says she's very sorry, but there's nothing her office can do.

"Do you know you have parking tickets?", she queried.

Excuse me, Ms. James. I have to scrape the top of my skull off the ceiling because MY HEAD JUST EXPLODED!

More phone calls. More letters. And still no action, until the fines, penalties, and ultimately the towing charges reached $750. Yes, I said towing charges. The Missus came out of school two weeks ago to find "our car had been stolen." A quick check confirmed that rather than car theft, this identity theft resulted in the towing and impoundment of my cherished 1995 BMW, a car that has a completely clean record.

Would that I were so lucky.

The next day, armed with all the relevant documentation I trudged down to the NYC Department of Finance/Parking Violations Bureau, curiously located on 94th Avenue just off Sutphin Boulevard. I should have recognized this as a clue, but I shrugged it off as a coincidence. More bureacratic mumbo jumbo. More gov-speak.

"Do you have documentary evidence?" asked the Senior Judge.

I showed him the receipt for the plates. "Anything else?" he continued. I showed him the stub from the refund check issued by the Comptroller of the State of New York. "That's still not enough. How about a letter from your insurance company indicating that you terminated the insurance on this car?"

Quick as a flash I got on the cell phone. The rep from GEICO printed the letter and faxed it to a nearby Kinko's. Breathlessly I submitted the final document to the Senior Judge.

"What about the bill of sale from the junkyard?"

The inferno roaring from my ears set off every smoke alarm in the building.

Several images began floating through my mind giving me the premonition that this episode would not have a happy ending. That's when I paid the $750, went to the Marshall's office in Rego Park, got the release, and then traveled to Whitestone to get my car out of hock.

My interaction with the fat bastard wearing the Yankee cap behind the bullet-proof glass in the Marshall's office I'll leave for a subsequent blog.

So, what had happened? Simple.

One hour of amateur sleuthing on my part revealed that a gentlemen living in close proximity to Stevie's Junkyard saw the Mazda sitting out front and offered to buy it, as is. He then put a set of stolen plates on the car and drove it for another year without registration or insurance. Then he registered the car in his own name and drove it for yet another year, racking up nine additional unpaid parking tickets. Since the car was not registered for a year the geniuses who wrote the tickets simply entered the VIN and let the computer do the rest of the work.

Apparently the computers at the DMV do not speak to the computers at the PVB which do not speak to the computers in the New York State Comptrollers office. Never did any of them take notice that the car and the plates did not match.

My only solace is that this fraud was committed by a corrupt slug, not an illegal immigrant from Yemen who stuffed it full of fertilizer and heating oil. Rather than paying to get my car out of the pound, I'd now be reading the Koran at Gitmo.

And what about the Sutphin Boulevard connection? Not only is the perpetrator of this fraud an investigator for the law firm that represents the Department of Motor Vehicles, this guy has the castagnas to go to PVB in Jamaica (94th and Sutphin) and contest the tickets while posing as me... and then he gets another ticket while he's there!!!

I have to show my photo ID to buy beer at the self checkout at Stop 'n Shop, but this guy has a formal hearing in front of a government magistrate and never has to show any proof that he is who he says he is.

This, of course, fills me with confidence in this post 9-11 world.

Especially when I see the livery drivers out every morning switching plates from one Crown Victoria to another.

But there's more to this story, because I'm not letting this one go.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Orfeo ed Euridice... or... I've Just Gone Through Hell for This Chick and She Still Won't Do What I Tell Her!

Proving once again that there's nothing new under the Sun, the Metropolitan Opera wound down its 2006/2007 season with a spectacular production of Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Orpheus myth, here's a quick synopsis:

Orfeo is mourning the death of his young wife, Euridice. But he sends everyone away because his grief is so overwhelming even their sincere and heartfelt support sinks him deeper into despair.

Then along comes Cupid, yeah Cupid, suspended from a wire no less, who tells him that all he has to do is follow his beloved's spirit into the underworld and bring her back.

But, she orders, he cannot look at her, or tell her why he can't look at her, until they're back home or she will die. And this time, for keepsies.

Yada, yada, yada... he descends into Hell, gets past the Furies, finds his wife and they start home.

"But why won't you look at me?," she asks, "Am I no longer beautiful?"

"Just shut up and follow me." implores Orfeo, but she's relentless.

"Is it because this dress makes me look fat?"

"Have you found someone else? It's that little tart from Thessalonika, isn't it?"

At this point the Missus turned to me and said "What a wimp. Why doesn't he just grab her by the scruff of the neck, tell to STFU and drag her out of there?"

Why not indeed? But this is an opera.

Finally, when he can't take her nagging anymore, he turns and looks her straight in the eyes and she promptly drops dead... again.

At that point poor Orfeo collapses to his knees and wails: "Che faro senza Euridice" (what shall I do without Euridice). Well lets see... for starters I'll play golf, go fishing and drink as much beer as I want anytime I want.

But no.

All Orfeo has to do is threaten suicide and Cupid returns to snatch the dagger from his hand. Touched by his devotion Cupid brings Euridice back to life and she immediately starts nagging him to finish mowing the lawn. What oh what shall I do without Euridice? What oh what shall any of us do?

Well, they live happily every after, have five kids and Orfeo gets a job playing in the house band at Euridice's father's catering hall. They are Greek, after all.

And we can only speculate as to how Orfeo's life would have turned out if he had passed on Cupid's "descend into Hell" offer and just looked around for a younger woman. After a respectable mourning period, of course.

But this is pure fiction. For the happily married among us, thankfully, Orfeo's tragedy is a prospect that few of us (gentlemen) will have to confront. All you have to do is glance at the obituary page or take a walk past your local assisted living center to recognize that we're not going to outlive our wives. It brings back memories of the old Alan King routine, "Survived by his wife." In fact, I'm sure that if we followed the Orpheus legend to its conclusion we'd find Euridice sitting in a beach chair in Boca Raton cashing Orfeo's pension checks from the Amalgamated Greek Lyre Players Union.

Face it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So when you're tempted to blurt out, "Why can't you do what I tell for once?", understand that this is a male/female dynamic that's been going on since there have been males and females. Just swallow those words before they jump out and get you into trouble because the odds that she'll do what you say are roughly equivalent to the chances that Alex Rodriguez will hit a bases-loaded homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the World Series while still wearing a Yankee uniform.

It ain't happenin'.

Next week: Wotan, the King of the Gods, chides his teenage daughter Brunnhilde for her disobediance. "You're grounded, young lady!", he shouts. Then he places her on a rock surrounded by a ring of fire for all eternity. Would that it were...

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The Bully's Best Friend

Several years ago my wife and I attended the back-to-school festivities at my son's elementary school. This is the yearly exercise where hapless parents learn about all the new and wondrous miracle strategies that the public education system has cooked up to benefit "the children."

The evening was winding down, finally, when we bumped into the principal in the hallway. Although I tried my best to avert my eyes and hurry toward the exit, he corralled us and asked if we had any questions.

"Well," I said, "there is one thing I'd like to discuss. My son continues to be bullied by the same gang of four or five delinquents. We've told his teachers, we've informed your assistant, but it has continued now for almost a year."

"You do know that we have a full-time psychological social worker on staff," he replied.

The look in my eyes obviously betrayed a combination of puzzlement and contempt, but this genius continued anyway.

"Matt can schedule an appointment to come and talk. It will help him resolve his feelings."

"Matt has resolved his feelings," I informed him. "He hates their guts and wants them to be carried off by flying monkeys."

I went home that evening, my faith in the public education establishment reaffirmed, and had a long conversation with my son. It was reminiscent of conversations I had with my father when he told me it was always best to avoid a fight, but "when push comes to shove," he insisted, "you have to defend yourself."

These motivational encounters are seared into my memory because they were almost always followed by terrible beatings at the hands of the thugs in my old neighborhood. Defending yourself doesn't guarantee that you'll be victorious. In my case it invariably led to ignominious defeat and liberal applications of Mercurochrome.

"But Dad," Matt protested, "I'll get in trouble."

"Look, you may get in trouble with your teachers and you may get in trouble with your mother, but" I assured him, "you will never get in trouble with me if you defend yourself."

Unlike his skinny father, Matt's a big powerful kid who can do a lot of damage if he has a mind to.

He had always been told to avoid fights; to just walk away. This time he couldn't. They harassed him. They pushed him. And then, the unthinkable happened. A little girl he had known since pre-school jumped in and screamed at them to stop. When one of these sixth grade suburban gangstas pushed her aside Matt popped him. Just once. That's all that was needed. Matt got a reprimand from the school, but after a few weeks it was clear that the bullying had stopped. I felt very proud of my son and pleased with myself.

But did the bullying really stop?

Of course not.

They just went on to bully someone else's son.

My job is to see to it that my children don't get bullied. I did my job.

But it's the school's job to see to it that nobody's children get bullied, not to make them feel good about getting beat up every day during recess.

They weren't doing their job then, and they're not doing their job now.

Today, schools promote anti-bullying strategies which encourage the goons to talk to their victims. They attach no blame to the perpetrators. Predictably, they are failing, according to the British children's charity Kidscape.

Using this strategy the school forces the victim to provide a written statement describing how distressed he feels about the way he's been treated. He is then expected to read the statement to the good little boys who have derived pleasure from inflicting pain. This approach gives the thugs all the information they need to torture their victims even more.

One exasperated mother described the dismal results:

"They found out about my son's weaknesses, his feelings and his lack of confidence and had a field day bullying him and telling others. The bullying increased because the bullies knew he would not tell again after this devastating result."

In another instance a school principal refused to exclude a boy who had set fire to a young girl's hair. He was reluctant, he said, to single out a youngster who had "problems." Describing this junior arsonist as a youngster with problems is like saying that Jeffrey Dahmer had an eating disorder.

Maybe the girl with the flaming hair can resolve her feelings about being set on fire. Would anyone like to suggest that she talk to the psychological social worker?

Not me.

Because until and unless school officials get over their aversion to placing blame on kids with "problems", this cycle will repeat, and repeat and repeat. And for generations to come, children with problems will continue to be problem children.

For now, you'll have to excuse me. I have a therapy appointment. I'm working to resolve my feelings about elementary school principals.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Master of None

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a hater.

This world is full of things I HATE!

I hate SUVs.

I hate cell phones.

I hate Blackberrys!

Not the sweet and juicy kind that grow on vines.

No, I'm referring to the ubiquitous annoying kind that are attached to the hands of self-important biz nerds.

These are people SO critical to the success of their respective enterprises they can't be out of communication range for even one second.

Curiously, this phenomenon is most evident among the job descriptions whose decisions are the least vital and the most subjective.

Are you listening all you ad agency geeks?

People whose decisions have real and substantial consequences understand that their attention is critical to the decision-making process. But for those whose decisions are limited to "the blue backdrop or the purple drapes, shrimp cocktail or lobster rolls" the myth of multi-tasking seems to be inextricably linked to their own inflated sense of self worth.

How many times have you tried to complete a conversation with someone who's checking emails or answering the cell phone?

"What is that? The kitchen is on fire?


Now, what that you were...


Ugghhh... it's a madhouse. Now what was that again?... Fire?... Where?"

The bottom line: If you're not focused on being excellent at what you're doing-- right now--you cannot excel at anything.

The most successful people I've known have had the unique ability to do several tasks in rapid succession and give each of them their undivided attention. To the casual observer it may appear that they're doing five things at once, but they're not. They are paying close attention, making decisions, resolving problems and moving along.

You can accomplish a lot by simply paying attention. And you can do a lot of damage by trying to do everything at once.

Last week, during an ice storm, I was sitting at a stop light minding my own business. In my rear view mirror I was horrified to see a suburban armored personnel carrier, AKA a Cadillac Escalade, with 20-something driver yacking on the cell phone.

Closer... closer... closer... SPLAT!

Smack into the rear bumper of my magnificent 1995 525i. My cherished car has given me unconditional devotion and impeccable service for more than a decade, and it will be celebrating its 12th birthday next week in Bob's Collision Shop.

Okay, these things happen. Let's get out and exchange documents.

"What? No licence? No registration? But you remembered to take your cell phone!"

With that she burst into tears. I'm cooked. She slams into me, sends my spare tire into my back seat and she's crying. Luckily, daddy showed up in a few minutes and assured me that he would take care of the damages. He has three kids of driving age and runs an open tab at Bob's.

Okay, so I'm overreacting. A little damage to an old car isn't the end of the world.

But last month Westschester EMTs removed a corpse from a wrecked car that had careened off the highway. Stuck in the eye of this unfortunate accident victim they found a mascara applicator. That is the end of the world. The only positive anyone could extract from this tragedy is that it was a single-vehicle accident.

In the business world I've come across dozens, if not hundreds, of "Busy Bees" whose work days consisted of attending to 100 insignificant crises simultaneously. Not coincidentally, these crises were all manufactured to create a veil of busy activity masking a total vacuum of real importance.

To make matters worse, these busybodies invariably agonized over decisions that did not make one whit of difference one way or another.

Then, when finally confronted with a decision that carried some real consequences, they would throw their hands in the air and shout:

"I can't deal with this now!"

Of course not. You can't be expected to worry about the fire in the kitchen when you have to decide whether to put Mrs. Kolmeister and Mrs. Minciotti at the same table while choosing between gladiolas or gardenias for the centerpieces.

Uggghh... it's a madhouse.

As a clever motivational poster I saw recently stated: "When you earnestly believe that you can compensate for a lack of skill by redoubling your effort, there's no limit to the damage you can cause."

The moral of the story: Don't mistake busy for productive and never confuse activity with action.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Fascist Alliance

I once told an old friend, a New York liberal, that I would never vote for Pat Buchanan because he was a socialist. He shot back immediately that Buchanan was a fascist. That's when I offered to pay him a nickel if he could explain the difference. It's been more than fifteen years and I'm still waiting for an answer.

We had been traveling extensively during that period and had the misfortune to find ourselves in the middle of two terrorist wars motivated by socialist ideology and instigated by fascist thugs. In Guatemala the war was winding down. There were still random attacks, but travel in the countryside was relatively safe.

In Peru the Sendero Luminoso held the countryside in the grip of fear.

Up to five million campesinos had left the highlands and moved into a series of barrios that ringed the capital city of Lima. The Senderos followed them and by 1990 Lima had been declared a Red Zone. Pundits at the time described the Shining Path and their leader, former college professor Abimael Guzman, as Maoists and went to great lengths to describe the dramatic distinctions between these cut-throats and the wide variety of cut-throats in other parts of the world. "Yes, they're brutal and ruthless," the analysts admitted, "but we have to understand the unique nuances of their world view."

In the highlands, Shining Path guerrillas would enter a town, round up ten or fifteen men at random, cut off their heads and hang them from a tree in the town square.

The Sendero Christmas Tree ceremony was designed to show everyone in the region who was the boss. In Lima, car bombs and indiscriminate grenade attacks were daily occurrences. And Guzman, AKA Presidente Gonzalo, declared in his manifesto that he would transform Peru into an agrarian utopia "only after crossing a river of blood."

How's that for nuance?

Because they controlled much of Peru's vast coca crop, the Sendero Luminoso were financially self reliant. Unlike today's fascists, their income was not subject to the vagaries of worldwide commodity prices, distribution deals with the grandchildren of Joseph P. Kennedy or fund-raising cocktail parties on the Upper West of Manhattan. The cash flowed unabated and unencumbered courtesy of doctors, lawyers and stockbrokers throughout the free world, while the IRA, Tamil Tigers, Brigate Rosso, Baader Meinhof, Fatah and others needed to form fundraising networks and stickup convenience stores.

Shining Path thugs still formed loose alliances with terrorist organizations throughout the world, but they remained fiercely independent because they could afford to. If an American grand jury had been convened to consider conspiracy charges against the Sendero Luminoso and their terrorist colleagues, they could never bring an indictment. No hard evidence.

Before RICO, American law enforcement was virtually powerless in their fight against the MAFIA. Connecting the dots with enough hard evidence to gain a conviction was near impossible.

As Willie Cicci testified to the U.S. Senate Committee:

"Yeah, buf-fas. The Corleone Family got lotsa buf-fas."

Finally, the legal system caught up with the thugs and simply being associated with the MAFIA became a crime. Carmine (The Snake) Persico, in an early post-RICO MAFIA trial asked furtively, "So I'm in the MAFIA. Is that a crime?"

"Yes, it is." answered the judge and sentenced him to a long prison term.

Was Saddam Hussein responsible for 911? Chris Matthews loves this question. The answer of course is no. Was Saddam Hussein part of a worldwide alliance of fascists? Yes. Was Saddam Hussein providing material support for terrorists who were killing thousands of innocent civilians? Yes.

Could anyone go into an American court and prove conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt? By pre-RICO standards probably not. But today, just being a member of Ba'ath, Hamas, FARC, ELN, Sinn Fein, al Qaeda is more than sufficient.

And it doesn't matter whether they're masquerading as downtrodden campesinos, idealistic intellectuals, or freckled-faced bartenders who speak with charming brogues.

A fascist is a fascist is a fascist.

In my humble opinion, whether the economic elites usurp government authority, the government elites usurp economic authority, or intellectual and political elites seize authority over everything, the results are always the same and that authority, eventually and inevitably, is enforced at gunpoint.

Fascist or socialist?

The difference is in the details. Minor details. Insignificant details. Extraneous details.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Surge in the Gender War

A contributor to another blog page ( written by a long time soon-to-be-ex friend, chastised me for my failure to recognize the historical significance of Hillary's ascent to the White House. To demonstrate how much more sensitive, caring and intelligent women are, she closed her criticism by referring to me and another dissenting contributor as "dumb f**ks."

So goes the gender war, a spectator sport played out in newspapers, television shows, saloons and across kitchen tables. At the center of this battle lies the question: Can a woman better lead America than a man?

In a book entitled "Closing the Leadership Gap" author Marie Wilson wrote that America "has been steered by male leadership who tend to lead from a self-centered, self-preservation perspective. In contrast women... are inclined to lead, their families and nations, from an other-centered perspective."

Never one to let a goofy theory go unexploited the aspiring Dungeon Master in Chief claimed that research "shows the presence of women raises the standards of ethical behavior and lowers corruption." The implication, of course, is that honesty and civility are traits possessed in huge quantities by women in general and Hillary in particular.

Let's look at the record: "Vast right-wing conspiracy. That'll teach them to f**k with us. I've been a life-long Yankee fan." And my personal favorite, "I was named after Sir Edmund Hillary."

Never mind that Her Heinous was born in 1947 and Sir Edmund scaled Everest in 1953.

In an earlier column I detailed that slimy minimum-wage deal finagled by Madame Speaker on behalf of Star-Kist Tuna; a little legislative sleight of hand worth millions to Mr. and Ms. Pelosi. But these gals are politicians and that's what politicos do. What about your average everyday woman on the street?

Last week a new York City cabbie spent several hours trying to find a woman who had left his cab earlier in the day. It turns out that she had given him a 30 cent tip for an $11 ride, but that's not why he sought her out, foregoing an afternoon's worth of fares in the process.

Rather, it seems she was so pre-occupied with stiffing this guy that she had forgotten to take a bag full of diamonds when she left. When the cabbie found her purse and the bag of diamonds, he tracked her down and returned the gems.

The driver didn't want a reward, but thought it would be nice if she reimbursed him for his lost fares. On the evening news I saw the video of her handing him $100. She was in severe pain as she forked over the cash. It was as if she was giving him a body part.

What a dumb f**k!

This episode reminded me of another encounter I had years ago at John Jay Park in Manhattan. My wife was attending a small gathering of college friends and I took Matt, my son, to the playground.

There I was, a man alone with a three-year-old boy on Sunday.

Get the picture?

Soon I found myself in a small group of fathers, also alone, all watching their kids and bitching to each other about their ex-wives.

One of them noticed that I was wearing a wedding ring.

"Have you re-married?" he asked.

"No, once is enough," I answered.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw Matt get decked by an angel-faced little girl. He had the ball. She wanted the ball. She knocked him down and took the ball. Sitting there on his can he did a perfect Oliver Hardy slow burn, leaped to his feet and made a full-force charge toward this little fem-fascist. Quick as a flash I jumped out and intercepted him.

"You never hit a girl! I don't care what she did!"

What you are about to read is true. The names have been omitted because I don't know them.

From nowhere came a shrill: "How dare you say that to him?"

I looked up and saw the little girl's mother, an EarthMom with all the trimmings--wire-rimmed glasses, peasant dress, paisley headband and Birkenstocks.

"That's how little boys grow up to be male chauvinists!"

I tried my best to explain that this was MY son. That he will grow up to be a male chauvinist is a foregone conclusion.

The only question is: "Would you like him to be a male chauvinist who beats up women, or one who doesn't beat up women?"

She didn't call me a "dumb f**k" but she hurled every other cliched epithet she could think of at me. I didn't realize it at the time, but her response was a perfect example of an "other-centered" perspective. She wanted me (the other in this conflict) to die, on the spot, in a very painful manner.

Speaker Pelosi, along with the Clinontistas, have demonstrated repeatedly that they lead from an "other-centered" perspective. They pass legislation that affects others, meaning us. They impose rules that restrict the freedoms of others, meaning us. Not coincidentally, these are laws and rules that they themselves are free to ignore. And increasingly they expand their power to regulate us out of business and tax us into the poorhouse while limiting or eliminating our freedom to speak in opposition.

More on "Campaign Finance Reform" soon.

By the way, does anyone think that Hillary will be using the "Buy-One-Get-One-Free" campaign offer anytime soon? I'm sure that she has "other" plans. Namely, a steel cot stashed away in the sub-basement with "Big Creep" engraved on it.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Unexamined Life

I make it a point to re-read Man's Search for Meaning by Dr. Viktor Frankl every five years or so. The late Dr. Frankl had an extraordinary gift for observation combined with a talent for communicating clearly and persuasively.

His recollections of life in a concentration camp reveal humanity at its best and at its most vile. In 1965 they had a profound impact on a skinny high school freshman who was just beginning to experience life outside of his small circle of friends and family.

Like Socrates, Santayana and Bishop Sheen, Dr. Frankl believed that the greatest dangers facing contemporary society were isolation and the inevitable loss of purpose that isolation brings. Even while he was confined in the most horrendous conditions, the Nazis could not strip him of his dignity because throughout his ordeal he retained his sense of purpose.

His mission: To help his camp mates get through their ordeal while retaining at least a small shred of humanity; to heal their bodies and help sustain their spirits.

He examined his purpose every day and reminded himself every moment that his life had meaning in spite of all the efforts to strip it away.

His was a life worth living.

Socrates didn't say that the unexamined life was "not so good" or "less satisfying."

No. To Socrates a life without daily reflection on the purpose and meaning of what it takes to be human was "not worth living."

In today's world we face the same dangers that Socrates warned of more than two millennia ago. What pretends to be serious discussion is just argument. Blind anger passes for passion. Indifference is justified as realism. And feeble attempts at humor mask shallow thinking and, many times, inner rage. As David Ivor St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap once said:

"There's a fine line between clever and stupid."

Socrates himself recognized this. He warned that dialecticism must not degenerate into mere contradiction, because mere contradiction inevitably leads to cynicism, sophistry and nihilism. Augustine saw this phenomenon in his students and at one point suggested that dialecticism be abandoned. The risks, for him, were just too great.

Periodically, I find myself agreeing with Augustine. Since modern man is shallow beyond all reclamation, the risks of dialecticism are just too great. Worse, I sometimes even begin to think that Freud was right, and that "the moment one inquires about the sense or value of life, one is sick."

Then something happens that jolts me out my cynicism or I meet someone who reaffirms my faith. It doesn't take much.

About five years ago I was riding on the "F" train reading Man's Search for Meaning. A young woman was sitting across from me and I committed the cardinal sin of New York Subway riders: I made eye contact. She smiled. I smiled back, wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.

And then she said: "It's a wonderful book, isn't it?"

Every day millions ride in that same subway system.

Every day millions look straight ahead never making eye contact.

Yet, last month while standing on the subway platform with his daughters, holding their hands tightly, a courageous man let go of his daughters' hands and jumped down onto the subway tracks to save the life of a young man he had never met.

Yes, there is hope.

And that dusty old paperback left over from high school is calling to me once again.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

You Missed the Funny Part, Leo

Anyone who spends more than ten seconds reflecting on life can usually recall dozens, if not hundreds of people who have had positive effects on their thoughts, opinions and outlook. Among the hundreds of people I've learned from over the years, two came to mind recently as I was watching A Thousand Clowns for the four hundred and eightieth time. Herb Gardner, the playwright, and Barbara Sproul, Chairman of the Religion Department at Hunter College.

I never met Herb Gardner. Like everyone else, I knew him through his work. But during my years at NBC I met people who had known him, as well as the director of A Thousand Clowns, Fred Coe. Through their recollections I felt as if I had known him personally. I was lucky enough to know and admire Barbara Sproul when I was a student at Hunter College.

Gardner created a richly-textured and moving collection of work that included the aforementioned Jason Robards classic, as well as I'm Not Rappaport, Thieves, Conversations with my Father and a cartoon series called The Nebbishes, which was The Simpsons of its era. His plays like his characters were unique and timeless. In a world of shallowness he saw complexity. In a show biz milieu dominated by tired and predictable old gags, his humor worked so beautifully because you could never see the punchlines until they were long gone.

Most importantly, Herb Gardner saw humanity everywhere.

There were no good guys, no bad guys, no easy targets.

In contrast with what passes for satire today, there was no anger in his humor. Every Gardner creation reveals insights from a wide variety of perspectives.

Just when you think that Albert is an irredeemable bad guy or that Arnie has sold his soul for success, they come back with soliloquies that reveal extraordinary depth of character.

And while I'm still trying to think of a redeeming quality in Leo the Chipper Munk, I even felt a twinge of sorrow for him. He was a professional comic with no sense of humor. And he knew it.

When Murray and Nick do their impression of Jefferson and Hamilton, Leo screams:

"You can't do an impression of Jefferson and Hamilton. Nobody knows what they sound like."

"That's what's funny" says Nick.

"You missed the funny part, Leo" adds Murray.

At Hunter College I was a bit of a curiosity. I was older. Already married and already with a fairly good job; the kind of job that most of my colleagues in the Theater Department craved. As a theater major with a minor in philosophy I loved every course. Unlike my early academic career, which I merely endured, this was great stuff and I enjoyed it thoroughly. My instructors were successful playwrights, directors, designers... authors and activists, philosophers and theologians... and Barbara Sproul.

She was an extraordinary teacher and a persuasive writer. She was also a serious, clear-minded thinker who was able to communicate complex ideas in ways that young minds full of mush could readily apprehend.

And she was a tireless activist, traveling the world on behalf of Amnesty International and as an outspoken opponent of capital punishment.

We had lively discussions. I was, of course, absolutely certain about everything and she was more patient with me than I deserved. In a very gentle and intelligent manner she steered my thinking, allowing me to arrive at conclusions on my own.

It's a rare gift.

What I learned from Herb Gardner and Barbara Sproul is that we should never let our current pattern of thinking get in the way of discovering what's new and beautiful in the world. And we should never let temporary setbacks color our disposition.

Unlike Leo, we should not miss the funny parts.

Herb Gardner died a few years ago. As I read through the accounts of his life in the New York Times obituary I could hear Murray Burns hollering at me: "Everybody on stage for the Hawaiian number!" and "I want to see a better class of garbage out there!" And then, at the very end, I read the closing line: "Mr. Gardner is survived by his wife, Barbara Sproul, Chairman of the Religion Department at Hunter College, and their two sons."

Merciful heavens. Can you imagine the dinnertime conversations in that home?

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Preemption Paradox

Every decision we make involves risks and benefits. On the world stage, the upside of preemption is that we don't have to live through the consequences of appeasement.

The downside is the endless chattering and speculation of politicians and pundits because preemption assures that we'll never know what those consequences might have been.

For parents of teenagers the analogy is obvious. We're confronted every day with conflicts that require parental judgment and the judicious application of authority. When my sixteen year old son asks if he can get on the subway and go to a video-game show in the city, I'm forced to say yes even though I know that it's going to turn out badly. He and his suburban friends will get lost, wind up in the bowels of Brooklyn and be calling me to pick them up. Worse, it will be on the way back rather than on the way in so the call will come at 11PM just as the wind-chill factor reaches -21.

But I say yes anyway. The consequences of this misadventure are far outweighed by the lessons learned from going out into the world to stumble about on his own--to find his own way--always with the lifeline of having me at the other end of the cell phone.

On the other hand, what if he wants to spend the weekend with Herman and his family at their vacation house in the Adirondacks? The answer is a swift, unequivocal and preemptive: "NO!" And there's no debate. I know that Herman's father drinks a bit and has a habit of leaving his loaded hunting rifles scattered about the house unattended. The consequences of appeasing my son here could be horrifying, but we'll never know because he's never going. The art and craft lie in the delicate balance known as "picking your spots."

For example, what would have happened if the world had said no to Hitler?

What if the Allies preemptively bombed the German glider clubs before they developed into the Luftwaffe?

What if there were preemptive raids on German forces before they became strong enough to mount Blitzkrieg against Poland and do an end run around the Maginot Line into France?

The American isolationists would have called FDR a war monger and defeated his re-election bid. Chamberlain, hailed as a great hero, would have led Britain for the next twenty years.

My father would have graduated from Pratt Institute in 1944. In the summer of that year, rather than driving his tank off of an LST and onto the beach at Normandy, he would have traveled to Paris to continue his art studies. And while there he would have met and fallen in love with Elsie Glicksman, another art student from a small town in Bavaria called Dachau. They would have married, had children and lived long and productive lives without ever imagining that their world might have been very different.

But none of this ever happened because young men were forced to fight a war that could have been averted and millions were killed by monsters that could have and should have been preemptively destroyed.

Today, we can't imagine what would have happened had the Israeli Air Force not conducted a preemptive bombing raid on the Osirak reactor. But when Arab leaders proclaim their vision of a world without Jews and pledge to wipe Israel off the map we can be thankful that we don't have to experience the consequences of appeasement firsthand.

A current world leader has pledged that he will kill one million Jews with a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv. "They", he says, "will retaliate and kill ten million Muslims. In the end we will win because there are more of us." Yet Jacques Chirac announced last week that the world may have to get accustomed to a nuclear-armed Iran.

No problem for him. At the first sign of trouble he'll simply surrender to Germany.

In facing today's tyrants, we don't have to speculate about their intentions. Like those that preceded them, they continue to tell us what their intentions are time and time again.

In years to come will our children experience the consequences of appeasement?

Let's pray that they merely have to endure the chattering speculations of politicians and pundits.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Real Men Cook Mexican

"Come on," she said, "it'll be fun." Whether it's fun or not we have teenagers in the house so any excuse to get away will have a palliative effect on my disposition.

So off we went to Rosa Mexicano for a Saturday morning adult education session entitled:

Real Men Cook Mexican.

And fun it was. The merriment started when I stepped to the breakfast buffet to discover that one of the attendees, a woman who looked like Mammy Yokum's grandmother, had left her upper plate on the buffet table next to the pitcher of pineapple juice.

No thank you.

I'm not that thirsty.

Then we all settled in for the demonstration. More fun. Looking around I could see that this cooking lesson for "Real Men" was filled with women, save for three poor souls who had been trundled off to this high-energy event by their wives. If any of the eligible young women in attendance thought that this would be a good way to meet eligible young men, they were grossly mis-informed.

Roberto, the executive chef, is a friendly and articulate gentleman who truly has a passion for food and an extensive knowledge of food history. His presentation was very engaging and even I started to develop an interest, not an easy task. After all, on this beautiful 50-degree day I might have been wasting my time playing golf, fishing, riding my motorcycle... rather than learning how to make scrambled eggs mixed with crumbled tortilla chips. Yummy.

To think that I have been satisfied with bacon... ham... corned beef hash... biscuits and gravy... for all these years and missing out on THIS.

The cooking lesson, which focused on Mexican-style tidbits perfect for a Super Bowl party, was followed by a lunch made up of dishes featured in the lesson. Grandma Yokum found her teeth and we all went to the dining room to feast on these newly-crafted delicacies.

"This will be great," chimed the Mrs., "we can make some of these next Sunday."

Lots-a-luck. Granted, the lunch tasted a bit better after two or three Pomegranate Margaritas, but for a football crowd? No en esta vida.

So the crowds at Hooters will not be any smaller this year and the guys at New Park Pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken have nothing to worry about.

They'll be getting their regular yearly call from the Martini home at about 7:30PM EST.

But first, excuse me; I have to get back to work.

I'm knocking off early today because we're going to a wine tasting at the Marriott Marquis.

"Come on," she said, "it'll be fun."