Happy Spring!

April 17th, 2015

I’ve been to kindergarten. I know the deal.  I learned my lessons well, in fact that year in kindergarten in Chatham’s Fish and Game Club across from Fairmount Avenue School was probably the finest hour in my entire 51-year life in public schools.

I learned to take my humble place in a line – even if I am not the leader.  I learned to skip (kind-of) and I learned to share, although life has taken me down the dark path of confused contradiction when it comes to sharing lamb chops.

I can share a space – on the highway, if someone passes me, that’s O.K. If someone even cuts in front of me, I can slow down and share the road. I await my proper turn at a 4-way stop. In the words of George II, I’m a helluvaguy. In enclosed spaces, I move over to allow others to share my territory, yet because of those lamb chops, I do admit I take more than a normal share of space.

So recently, with the advent of spring, sharing space around our house has become a challenge for some who also claim it as home. Inside the house, my God-given instinctive sense of extending my personal space is limited. I cannot get away with expanding my territory with used bits of clothing strewn about. Lovie sees to that.

But outside on our deck, next to our grill, there is another challenge.

My trusty gas Weber is on the edge of our deck, in close proximity to a pine tree.  The grill has been there for years, ever since I saved up the lucrative earnings from my stint as a twelve-dollar-a-week columnist for the local daily (note to aspiring writers: “Don’t give up your day job”).  It took many weeks to earn that $600 grill so I do not take it lightly.

That pine, once a sapling, is now about ten-feet tall, making it head-high for me on our elevated deck. This tree’s presence has invited George and Martha Robin to set up a maternity ward to serve their immediate and future needs. Now here’s the problem…I am willing to share the space but George and Martha ARE NOT willing.

I’ve tried to be diplomatic. I have gone out there with my late afternoon medicinal beverage in hand, sat upon on a molded plastic chair and tried to talk with them. I used a calm voice, even a little sing-song-y. They took immediate exception to my presence, flying away and scolding me from a safe distance!  I took out a few painstakingly collected earthworms as a peace offering. Even then, they did not trust my intentions and angrily stayed away. Such ingrates they are!

Now, their nest is in the plastering stage.  George is busy flying back and forth with his beak full of mud, getting the ward ready for Martha’s offerings.  Martha sits on a branch nearby, observing George’s gallant efforts and sensing the growing eggs in her birdie lady parts, anticipating the blessed event.

What’s a guy to do?  I cannot upset the forces of nature – me being the omnivore and testosterone-driven master of the backyard grill versus the very basis of existence for these birds – their primal need to procreate. So who’s to prevail?

It is going to be an interesting summer.

My Poor Achy-Breaky Heart!

March 23rd, 2015

Well, boys and girls. After only two weeks, it happened.  New identities and new interests have come out of the first sessions of the line dancing class at the senior center.

“Lovie-Lou” and “Audrey-Sue” announced to me, “We’re a-goin tah mosey on down ta the Union Hall tah-nite tah practice our 8-step ‘l’ecteric slide!”

“Ya-all can string along if yew wish but it’s a-gonna be a late one.”

I looked up from the spring training baseball game on TV, wiped the drool from my chin, “This isn’t, you know, Wednesday…Ladies’ night…just want to warn you.  Heads will turn when you walk-in.”

Lovie-Lou smiled, and in her newly affected accent said, don’t yew worry about a thing, sweet darlin’…we don’t need no stinkin’ ladies’ night! We are women!  Hear us roar!!”

I thought it’d be a passing fancy but Noooo! They just signed up for the next follow-up series.

New ride, a 14-yr. old rusty-red pickup – A.M. radio that gets only one station on its coat-hanger antenna, new “duds” (as they call ‘em) plaid western-cut shirts, bandanas, pointy leather boots, waddya-call-them – skinny jeans?,  spurs that go jingle-jangle when they “saunter” around the “bunkhouse” and the “inside chuck wagon,” are all part of the scene.

It continues with a more than subtle drawl from binge-watching Hee Haw reruns, hats – Stetson.  Big Stetsons and then there are the belt buckles – the size of manhole covers that might have been designed by Liberace.

I’m going to stay home and rustle-up some grub for when they come back. My God, what’s happening here?  …at least I don’t have to pour her beer into a glass anymore…

The Curse of the Line Dancing Class

March 10th, 2015

Lovie’s never been interested in cars.  When asked, “What kind of car do you have?” she’d answer, “a white one.” So now, in her third week of Line Dancing class at the Senior Centre she caught me by surprise.

“Let’s go out for breakfast! You can pick the place!”  Too dumb to know something is up, I agreed since I have been pining away for the Belt Buster Special at the Arterial Sclerosis Café (“ASC”) on the edge of town.

As I was finishing up my second pork chop and mopping up the last of the maple syrup on my plate with the end of my cinnamon roll, she suggested, “Let’s drop by the Chevy dealer out on the highway!” Huh???

Aesthetically, this was instantly bothersome since I have avoided American-made cars ever since our infamous 1977 green Plymouth van debacle.

Chevy dealer?

We drove into the parking lot and instantly, a well-dressed man ran over and helped us out of the car.  Holding the door open for her, another guy waited for me to get out and got into our car, “I’ll park it for you.”

I glanced back and he was unscrewing its license plates!

“A little sure of himself,” I surmised.

In the showroom, I started walking toward a nice Malibu sedan but Lovie grabbed my arm and led me over to the Silverado – a massive bright red pickup with crew cab, and 4×4 painted on its side. This is the kind of vehicle shown during commercial breaks on virtually all sports shows on TV; manly voiceover, rugged, flannel-shirts, lumberjacks, red meat and beer all to the backdrop of some guy who sounds severely constipated shrieking some obnoxious song about freedom.

With her newly affected southern drawl, Lovie said, “This is the one!!”

Looking at this truck, I felt a very strange sensation, one that had been absent in recent decades.  From some mysterious forgotten place, out of the depths of my being came a surge of testosterone rushing to my brain.  I immediately had to remove my hat and hold it in front of me. The salesman understood and quietly stepped aside while I regained my composure.

The driver’s door was opened and quickly, Lovie brushed me aside and climbed into the driver’s seat.  From her purse she took out a CD and slipped it into the slot on the dash.  She turned the key to “accessory” and from the 16 Bose speakers in the cab I heard:

“Don’t break my heart, my achy-breaky-heart!”

I thought the boots and the leather vest we got last week would end it but no, it was the curse of the line dancing class striking its biggest blow yet and claiming another victim.

Traffic, Groceries and Technology

March 7th, 2015

The middle of the intersection of Main Street and Passaic Avenue was marked by a large circle – painted white. Chatham, NJ, c. 1947.  The circle was either for the benefit of the DeSotos and Packards driving through it or it was for the benefit of Traffic Officer Blatt who stood in its midst, waving the cars with his white gloves. The circle told him where to stand and told the motorists to respect that space of his.

The circle was replaced by stop signs, not the red ones we now see but these were  yellow with black lettering and studded with white reflectors.  Now, the intersection is controlled by electric traffic lights. The Officer Blatts of these days roam around in their patrol cars or walk an occasional beat around the downtown or hang out in the donut shop, next to the Maytag repairmen, waiting for a call. Digital red light cameras and self-braking, speed regulating and self-parking cars are here and self-driving cars are coming our way. Can’t wait to see how that impacts NASCAR.

The downtown Chatham A&P, only a half-block away, had shelves and displays stocked by hand and each item was individually marked (by an actual wage-earning person) with its price.  That made it hard to change the prices higher until the lower priced items had been sold. We still have shelf/display stockers but they have no connection to pricing items.

The butcher counter featured burly nine-fingered men clad in “whites” or “reds” depending on time of day. They’d custom cut and wrap each of their offerings – that is where the terms, “butcher”, “butcher paper” and “butcher string” come from. Cleavers and big hacksaws hung from the ceiling above the heavy maple butcher block. Aromas of fresh and not so fresh meat and damp sawdust filled the air.

Then it was off to the produce department where the clerk would weigh each item, place it into a small brown bag and, with a fat dark crayon, scribble the related cost.

The non-perishables were stacked high on shelves and a clerk would use a long-reach grabber to grab or flip the requested item and catch it ala Willie Mayes in the center field of the Polo Grounds before handing it to the shopper.

The checkout counter in front was the final stop. It smelled good there. It was the alluring combination of Evening in Paris worn by white-apron-clad Betty, the checkout clerk and the fresh ground Bokar coffee from the machine at the end of the counter. Betty’d check the remaining items from the shopper’s basket and, with a soft lead pencil, scribble each item’s price on the brown paper bag.  Then the list would be added the old fashioned way, remember arithmetic?  Actual cash – dollars and coins – would be transferred from the hand of the customer into the clerk’s hand and drawer that pulled out from under the countertop.

Dairy and bakery products were delivered to your door by separate companies. The milkman and a bakery truck would come by a few times per week.

The A&P’s crayons and pencils were soon replaced by electronic scales, prepackaging and a cash register. The clerk would have to punch in each item and the machine would add it all up. A bell would ring and the cash drawer would pop open to allow completion of the transaction. Now we have self-scanners and barcodes while the unemployed clerks sit home worrying about their unemployment benefits and pensions being cut. An entire Aldi grocery store can easily be run these days with four employees per shift.

Are we at the nirvana of grocery shopping yet? Not too fast little Bucko, smart phone scanning, entire shopping cart scanning (like the metal detectors used at airports) are on their way and will be interfaced with electronic funds transfer.  No clerk, no fuss, no jobs for retail employees.

At one time we pushed the technology but now it is pushing us. Perhaps that has contributed to the reactionary political regression movement.

How to Kill a Newspaper

March 6th, 2015

To the editor:

It all began a while ago when local owners sold to absentee owners.  Then those absentee owners sold the paper to other absentee owners.  Each company buys up local papers, pares them down in publication days and content to less than one in which a fish can be wrapped. Then, ostensibly due to lack of profit from abandoning advertisers, it ultimately ceases to publish hard copy.

“The only reason I still subscribe is for the obituaries,” is a comment often heard about town. Others liked the puzzles, the comics and the few dwindling local features.  But it is inevitable that someday soon, the only sources for local news will be for folks to stare at their miniscule phone screens and try to wade their way through the incessant, irritating pop-up ads. Hollanders who choose to not have smartphones or computers will have to rely on rumor, announcements from the pulpit and coffee shop banter.

The braintrust of the Sentinel, operating under direct order from corporate headquarters are solely interested in bottom line, and I guess that is what business is all about. The mandated demise of local content has led to less staff at 54 W. 8th Street and that increases or at least maintains some level of profitability – at least for a while.

Printing and distribution costs are the highest costs remaining after personnel is cut to the bone. Once it goes entirely digital (and it will), a few computer nerds can churn out daily content of an erstwhile “newspaper” from their kitchen tables while still wearing their PJs. The recent removing of more local content, paring down the pages, and adding only syndicated material is a smokescreen for what is to come. What we need is a locally owned paper with local content.

-        Jack Hyde, Park Twp.

Acts of Nobility

March 4th, 2015

I have probably learned as much or even more from children than I ever have from adults. I was called a teacher but I really was the student. An entire book could be written about that…and was.

Even now in retirement, learning from children has continued.  Tutoring fourth and fifth graders in reading provided more such opportunities.

A year ago, I met fifth grader, Isiah.  He is a very bright, capable young man and really doesn’t need my assistance but he was part of the class I was assigned and we did not want him to feel left out.  He is creative in an artistic way and academically ahead of the curve in all areas. Recently I noted his hair is getting longer and longer. I asked, “How long are you going to let your hair grow?”

He answered, “Halfway down my back.”

“Are you going to tie it back? Pony tail?”

He responded matter-of-factly, “No, they will cut it off for kids with cancer.”

Nobility from an eleven-year-old. – Not much more to say about it than that one word.

Last week, church choir was accompanied by two young musicians.  Erin on violin and Julia on cello.  They are both freshmen in high school. With a violin or cello, one does not just pick it up and start playing at a level suitable to accompany anyone.  Their levels of playing result from years of lessons and hundreds of hours of practice.  But that is just the tip of the iceberg. They might not understand this now but their dedication over this prolonged period of time combined with the support of their parents is the continuation of our culture and preservation of our musical heritage. This cannot be done with an iPhone, an XBOX or a tablet. One cannot do this with the push of a button or the swallowing of a pill.  There are no shortcuts. It is more nobility from children.

Erin’s mom was a college music major and is now a professional interpreter for the deaf.  Her father was in college choir and is a medical lab technician. Erin’s younger brother, Kyle, also takes violin lessons. The legacy of honoring music added to the dedication, and the discipline of practice continues in this family.


Sooo tired!

February 28th, 2015

Boy am I tired!  It’s been such a busy week already.  First I drove Lovie and friend Audrey to Tai Chi class, dropped them off and I sat in the coffee shop to wait for them.  They wanted to sign up for a Line Dancing class but we had to go out for the starter set of required gear; cowboy hats, big belt buckles and a copy of the CD featuring “Achy-Breaky Heart”.  At Travis Grit’s Emporium of Western Wear and Gun Shop out on the highway, I waited in the car for a whole hour! Luckily, cowboy boots are not required until the Advanced Line Dancing class begins in the fall. When class starts, I’ll get to spend more time in the town library.

Then we schlepped to the Dollar Store and I read my fitness book in the car while they perused all the bargains.

Back home it’s, “Please get out of your chair so I can vacuum under your feet!”  And later, “Would you kindly leave the kitchen so I can empty the dishwasher?”  So I close the refrigerator door, even though my search and grab mission is incomplete and I waddle back down to my mancave. It is unrelenting! Sooo tired!

I am disturbed from my self-pitying when Lovie asks me to put gas in the snow blower so she can clear the driveway.  I got her a really nice one, easy to start so her arm is not made longer with all the pulling on that starter cord. I hardly have time for my nap!

Recipe for a Reunion

February 25th, 2015

In the last few years, this space has provided some benefits.  First and foremost, it has been preventative in nature. It has held a state of possible insanity just beyond reach. How?  It is a relief valve and performs like the controlled release of kinetic energy that builds up behind a great dam like the Hoover.  It lets a little out at a time and, thereby, my mind is clear to do other things necessary for the continuation of life itself and marital bliss such as picking up my laundry from the floor, being patient while all labels are read and compared in the aisles of the supermarket.

But another benefit of this space for me occurred recently in the form of a reunion.  Through the magic of the internet, two former classmates found me. I wasn’t hiding, but like so many in this world of mobility, while we all began in the same place, time took us elsewhere.

In our 14th year on this earth we were in the same high school cafeteria in New Jersey, then the Big Bang of life happened and like the planets exploding into different orbits, they ended up in Florida and I ended up in Michigan. I am now in my 70th year but, to protect their privacy, I won’t mention what year they are currently enjoying. We met for lunch along the shore of the inland waterway down south.

So what were the ingredients in this re-connecting?

  1. Curiosity seasoned with a little mystery is the backdrop.  Having never attended a formally organized class reunion (for a variety of reasons) this was a unique experience shrouded in just a little mystery.  What has transpired in the past 57 years of life?  How has that changed us? I know am the same (just bigger and better)…but what about them?
  2. Character lines are in different places.  In 1959, they were called wrinkles and were in my shirts that I hastily picked off the floor when getting ready for school in the morning. Now they are “character lines” badges of honor from survival of life’s adventures and not so easily covered with a sweater.
  3. Hair.  It’s all about location. The peach fuzz was on my face and the hair was on my head. Over the decades, they have traded places.  Now it is peach fuzz on my head and “bush-face” (as they termed it) on my cheeks and chin.
  4. Body mass – let me put it this way – there is more of me to love.  Way more. Twice as much. Them?  Like all good women of a disciplined life, they have fared exceedingly well in this department.
  5. Common interests?  At age 14, one’s interests are a little more focused and intense.  I cannot speak for them but mine were certainly driven by hormones and a sense of curiosity that was only occasionally satisfied by perusing my grandfather’s copies of National Geographic. At age 70, some questions have been answered but others keep cropping up to keep life interesting.

At precisely 1 P.M., Lovie and I parked our car and began walking toward the restaurant a few hundred feet away.  Were we being watched?  Would they see me, shriek and run out the back door? As we approached the entrance, two ladies appeared just inside. They stood and watched.  That was a good sign since there was no indication of flight.

We got closer, greeted with hugs and smiles, had a delightful lunch and tried to fill in the gaps that nearly six decades had formed. It was good.

A “Walk” in the Park – Epcot -

February 16th, 2015

From the beginning I have never been a great fan of The (Disney corporate) Mouse but there have been five exceptions.  One was the ability of Peter Pan to fly and the other four were equally divided beneath two mid-1950s T-shirts, each sporting developing projections just under the names of “Annette” and “Doreen”. Other than that, I was suspicious of all the Disneyesque morality plays and squeaky-cleanliness. My cartoon preferences were strong in another direction; the Looney Tunes and the Crusader Rabbit group.  In those world views, the bad guys could also be heroes and at the same time, be much more entertaining.

When the Disney World megacomplex in Florida came into my stream of consciousness, it was probably 20 years after its 1971 grand opening. Even then, in my early forties, I still clutched close to my heart, the cynicism of Holden Caufield, who I’d first met in high school English class.

I told Lovie, “If I want to experience other cultures, we’ll go to those places! I don’t want any sanitized, Mickey Mouse version of what some right-leaning-cartoon-producing corporation thinks it should be.”

As Holden might say, “Ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of phonies!” We didn’t go.

We did actually travel and experience a few different places where the cars were different, the smells, sounds and look of the street litter were extraordinary to my senses. We spent time in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Mexico, Canada and even 2 hours in de Gaulle airport for a layover where I bought Lovie a French fashion… (A T-shirt, probably made in China – I am sooo international!). Our travels have been self-limited to western cultures. I’ve clearly remained too insecure to venture into other places where even my dear German/Austrian Liebkins cannot translate the menus for me.

My inner Holden Caufield remained the strongly protected sentinel of my worldview.

But then things changed.  Our first born and her husband moved to Florida, an hour’s drive from the three-fingered giant mouse. So with my Holden-O-Meter set on orange alert, we planned a visit that included a 2-day stay at Epcot. (I still don’t know where they came up with that name, I have yet to Google it).

We drove the 38 miles on the black ice of a Michigan February to the Grand Rapids airport, flew to Atlanta, changed from one airplane to another that seemed so far from plane #1 that we might have been back at our point of origin, and then into Melbourne, FL.  On board amenities? …the .42-oz. bag of peanuts was delicious!  Holden sighed with pleasure.

With daughter and hubby, we began a great visit and then took off for our 20 hours at Disney World. Holden quickly took to the back seat of my mind as we pulled into a parking lot the size of Connecticut. The tram into the park was handy and welcome.  My rental of an electric cart was a blessing and necessitated the quotes in the title of this piece.

With our first steps out of the car, we “walked” in with the smartphones measuring the steps of the electricartless in our party of four.

Day one – we did the science and technology sites.

In some ways it reminded me of a Casino – no clocks prominently displayed.  There was a white noise of buoyant music played throughout the park (like the intentional hum of the machines in casino). My cynicism was fed with that discovery and a big black checkmark went onto my mental clipboard. I smirked as Holden might have done. “Gotcha on that one!”

Yet the commercial kiosks and shops were not as “in your face” as they are in other theme parks. The cross-section of cultures among visitors – middle class and above – from around the world were good to see and overhear. The corporate logos and their related alpha-male chest pounding tactics were much lower-keyed than I anticipated.  Holden was shrinking.

Night fell and Epcot took on an entirely new personality.  The lighting effect against the very accurately reproduced architecture was impressive.  The night air cooled to just about cold, the fireworks and light show over the lake began.  Holden awakened suddenly with the voice-over narration of the show that was accompanied by new age music and Amy Grant-style vocals yet the visual displays held Holden at bay.

The hike back to the tram/parking lot at closing told us it’d been 10 miles of walking that day.  I smiled and parked my electric cart.

Day 2 – Around the world as we’d like it to be. The International village around a lake was impressive.  Holden trembled as I began to buy into it all.  The United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, Norway, China each had appeal.  The workers – even the clean-up people were veritable green-card carrying citizens of the places they represented.  Each enclave featured a significant glimpse into its history and current-day culture along with a small museum, detailed architectural renderings of their traditional structures, “gifts,” music and food offerings.  Even though each area was sanitized, (there were no street urchin-pocket-picking hustlers, blaring sirens and finger-flipping cab drivers one might encounter in the real places), each place represented the idealized vision of what it is striving to be.  Even though it lacked perhaps some of the visually gritty, aromatic soul of its true existence – I could hold that on the back burner, relax and enjoy.

Who am I to judge?  I and where I come from are certainly not perfik and neither are other people and places.

If I had to put a sports-score tally on the board about this visit, it would be,

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse – 22

J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caufield – 2

Sausage Making, Old Country method

February 12th, 2015

The Official Bratislavian Guide to Sausage Making

1. Get the meat. What ever happens to wander into your yard, be ready.  Four legged critters seem to work best.  Have your handy Grabyz (wooden club) clutched in your hand and swing hard as if it is the bottom of the last inning in the world series.  “Thwack!!” Aim for the Cabeza (head).

And again and perhaps a few more times. “Thwack!!! Thwack!!”  Get the idea?  Approach the animal with caution, an incomplete job may make it less than congenial and rather uncooperative.

2. Decide which cuts are best for your purpose.

Caution: in case you encounter parts such as hooves, they are best for gelatins, lamp ornaments and gag gifts.

3. Render the desired parts into  “Tijnzczy Pjzjkoi” (tiny pieces). A standard Krumpfzt (meat grinder) is handy for this.

4. Mix up in a bowl with secret family recipie of eleven herbs and spices and perhaps some ketchup and mustard.

5. Get some sausage casing from, oh, I dunno, wherever that stuff can be had. Avoid the cheap latex variety found in most drugstores.

6. Extrude the mixture through a Hermatijzk (sausage stuffing press) if you can find one in a thrift shop or flea market. Oh you don’t have one?? Too bad for you!

7. Go to the Meatjczk (butcher shop) and buy some sausage and enjoy!  Be sure to cook it first because they could be putting anything in there.

8. Dessert – After dinner mints work well – particularly the American –made product called “Tums”.