Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Worst Travel Day of the Year

Now that Sammi is living and working in Virginia, this is the first Thanksgiving that she has to travel a great distance to come home. As it is a seven-to-eight hour drive and she had to work yesterday, we were concerned about her making it alone.

Initially, there were two friends in the Washington area who were going to hitch a ride with her, which would have broken up the trip a bit. However, those plans fell through and so I decided to fly down to Richmond and drive back with her.

On paper, it all looked easy. There is a 12:35 flight from JFK to Richmond, arriving at 2:15. Since Sammi had a shortened day and was done at 1:00, it fit perfectly into the schedule. And would have worked quite well had the plane actually departed.
Half the passengers were already on board when they decided there was a "mechanical situation" and sent us all back to the terminal. (I actually never made it to the plane; I was halfway down the gangway when I was confronted with my fellow fliers coming in the opposite direction.)
Eventually, they decided they were replacing our plane with a different one and we finally boarded (or re-boarded, as the case may be) at 1:45. The plane did not actually leave the ground until 2:40. And so, we arrived in Richmond at 4:00, where Sammi was waiting in the terminal.

And so we headed off on what turned out to be an eight-hour second part of my round-trip.
The trip was not without its amusing sidelights, however...
I had packed a lunch -- a wrap and a banana -- and had it in my bag when I went through the security check at the airport. My bag was stopped inside the x-ray machine and the inspector called her supervisor over and said, "What do you think that could be?"
"It's a banana!" replied the supervisor.
And my bag continued through the machine.

While I was sitting in the terminal, the mother of a small boy sat a few seats away. She and her husband were taking turns following their son around as he explored. (He was particularly fascinated by the high stools in the bar and kept running back in there.) Eventually, they steered him back to the seat to get him to eat some lunch. Though his parents offered him the seat between them, he decided to sit on the other side of his father and next to me.
I said hello to him and asked him his name. He said his name was Teddy and then said, "What's your name?"
"My name is Bob."
"Hello, Bob," he said.
Then he said to his father, "Say hello to Bob."
And his father said hello.
Then Teddy said to his mother, "Say hello to Bob."
And his mother said hello.
Teddy took another bite of his sandwich and was off and roaming again, with his father right behind him.
After awhile, as our stay in the terminal dragged on, Teddy's mother got up and went off in search of father and son, and another couple took the seats.
A few minutes later, all three returned, sharing a giant cookie they had purchased (at the Giant Airport Cookies Bakery, no doubt). Teddy, holding a chunk of cookie in his hand, climbed into the seat next to me and said, "Hello, Bob. I came back." Then he pointed to his cookie and said, "I have a cookie. Do you want a cookie?"
I told him no, thank you, so he turned to the woman on the other side of him and asked her if she wanted a cookie. I don't think she understood what he was asking, so she said yes. His mother then broke off a piece of the cookie and told Teddy that he should give it to the woman. Instead, he stuck it in his mouth.
His mother told him that he had offered her a cookie and that that was sharing. She broke off another piece and said that he had to give it to the woman. This time, he got the idea and handed it over. And then he was off and running again, with both parents on his heels.
When we finally did board, I was seated in the back of the plane and Teddy and his parents were in the middle. They had waited and were among the last to board; Teddy seemed pretty tuckered out when his mother carried him in, so I'm pretty sure he had a nice nap. (So did I, for that matter.)
When we arrived in Richmond, I passed Teddy and his mother as we were disembarking. I stopped to say goodbye. His mother told me that when they were getting on board, Teddy kept asking, "Where's Bob?" and they had to assure him I was on the plane. She said that they saw where I was sitting and pointed me out to him.
I was heading on my way and Teddy said to his mother, "Where is Bob going?"
"He has to go home," said his mother.
Teddy seemed disappointed, but he said, "Goodbye, Bob." And told his mother, "Say goodbye to Bob."
Which she did.
I can only presume that he told his father afterwards that he didn't say goodbye to me.

Sammi has a GPS device in her car that she calls "Bernice." For the most part, Bernice functions just fine, advising you when a turn is approaching, cautioning you when you go over the speed limit, etc.
But Bernice has a problem if you have choose a different route from hers.
Though Bernice plotted a route up I-95 for us, taking us past Washington DC and Baltimore, I prefer crossing the Bay Bridge and heading up through eastern Maryland and Delaware. (Most of that route is the one I take to CTY in Chestertown, so I'm quite familiar with it.) Well, once we veered from her intended path, Bernice kept telling up to turn around.
In fact, for each of about ten exits as we approached the Bay Bridge, she kept devising alternate paths that would take us back the way she wanted us to go.
When we were about halfway across the bridge, she suddenly started telling us to make a u-turn! Sammi was on the phone with Chuck at the time and he could not figure out who was telling us to turn around. (While Bernice's seeming "nervous breakdown" and directions could have led to disaster, I did eventually figure out why she was so insistent. The Bay Bridge has two separate spans, one eastbound and one westbound. However, to ease traffic flow, they will often reverse the direction of cars on one lane of a span. We were in the reverse-traffic lane, driving east on the westbound span, which Bernice interpreted as our driving the wrong way up a one-way street.)
Once we were across the bridge, however, Bernice tried a few more times to get us to go back to her original route (which would have included going back across the bridge) before finally recalculating and coming up with the route I had been following all along.

We finally got home a few minutes past midnight.

Talking Turkey

Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey has been my task for the past thirty-some years, dating back to the third time Laurie and I hosted the holiday for our families.

Why the third time, you might wonder? Well, for our first Thanksgiving, Laurie did all the cooking, including the bird. But, going for that Norman Rockwell moment, I did the carving. Laurie had left the neck inside the carcass and the plastic bag containing the liver, et al, under the "front flap" so there were these surprises when I started cutting. I pointed out that these were supposed to be removed and she agreed.

The next year, as she was prepping the bird, I asked if she had removed the neck and the plastic bag and she told me that she had indeed done so. Imagine my surprise when the bird was done and I went to carve it and found that she had not. "I'm not sticking my hand inside there!" she proclaimed.

And so, I started doing it for our third Thanksgiving.

For many years, I would get up at 4:00 in the morning on Thanksgiving Day to put the turkey in the oven. (More than once, I had been awakened by a phone call from Angelo at Ronalds Printing, the folks that printed all of DC's comics, with a problem that had to be addressed. It is not Thanksgiving in Canada, so it was a regular workday there and, since they run the presses 24/7, there were also problems at any time of the day or night.)

I believe the last time I actually cooked the turkey on Thanksgiving was the year that it took longer than it was supposed to. That was also the year I almost used the electric knife to carve
my father-in-law as well as the turkey.
You have to understand that my father-in-law had his "rules" about eating meals. If dinner was at 5:45, you had better be eating at 5:45. He once ate an uncooked hamburger because it was 5:45. When he arrived for Thanksgiving dinner at 3:00, he expected to start eating at 3:00. (One year I handed him his bowl of fruit salad as he walked in the door because they were a couple of minutes late.)
Anyway, since the turkey was not done, we were running seriously behind schedule that year. When it finally was, I started carving, with my father-in-law standing right next to me and grabbing slices of turkey as I was cutting them. I finally had to have Laurie remove him from the kitchen before he lost a finger.
That was also the year that he and my mother-in-law left before dessert, much to my mother-in-law's dismay. The allotted Thanksgiving visit time was used up and they had to go. (To be fair, in the early years they used to have to go home "to make sure the dog was okay." In later years, however, after the pooch had gone to doggy heaven, they continued to depart on schedule. We used to say that they were going home to make sure the dog was still dead.)

In order to avoid another delayed turkey fiasco, I've started cooking the bird on Wednesday. (This has also freed up the oven on T'Day for stuffing, yams, and all other assorted foods.) I stay up until it is finished, carve it in the wee hours, and then have it ready for warming at dinner time on Thanksgiving Day.
In recent years, as the number of family and friends who join us has increased, we've added a turkey breast (or two) to the mix. Those get cooked on Tuesday night!

And I always remove the neck and the plastic bags beforehand.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

...and Out Again

For those of you who might be planning to watch the AMC version of "The Prisoner," consider this a Spoiler Warning. While I don't know if they are planning to run it again in the near future, last night's finale included an announcement that you can advance-order it from Amazon for delivery in March of next year. My advice: Don't bother.

Though this hodge-podge included bits and pieces of the original -- people saying "Be seeing you," Rover the bouncing balloon, the shopkeeper providing maps of the Village -- and the episodes could claim to be "inspired" by ones from the McGoohan series, it was no more "The Prisoner" than I am an Olympic volleyball player.

From the beginning, I felt that there was far too much focus on Number 2 (or just "2" since this version opted to drop the "Number" from the names), his comatose wife, and his son. In the original, each episode had a new Number 2, replacing another who had failed to break Number 6 and learn why he had resigned. It was obvious that whoever was running the Village did not tolerate failure. As it turned out, in the new version there was an important reason for all the emphasis on "2" and Mrs. "2" because the Village existed in her head.

Remember "St. Elsewhere"? The series ended its run revealing that everything had been a fantasy in the head of an autistic child. Presumably, no one knew about it but the boy. With the exception of his father and grandfather, who he recast as doctors in his "movie of the mind," the rest of the characters did not exist.

In "The Prisoner," however, all the people in the Village are somehow transported inside the dream world of Mrs. "2" and, based on what we see of "6," are existing in both places at the same time. It is not clear, however, where they physically are in our world while leading their idyllic lives in the Village.

Unlike Patrick McGoohan's Number 6, a secret agent who quits being a spy, this "6" resigns from a job in some kind of "Big Brother is Watching" operation. And rather than wanting to know why he resigned, the goal of "2" seems to be to lure "6" back so he can be in charge of the operation after the Village is moved into the mind of his new-found girlfriend.

Which, by the way, he succeeds in doing. So, unlike the original, this version is a number and is not a free man!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"In the Village..."

One summer Saturday evening forty-plus years ago, the first episode of a British import TV series debuted on CBS. It starred Patrick McGoohan, who we American audiences knew as John Drake from the program "Secret Agent." It was, of course, "The Prisoner," and from the opening sequence with its pounding theme to the end of that initial hour, it was captivating.

A secret agent resigns and is spirited away to The Village, where he, who we fans thought of as John Drake, was called Number 6. Each week, a succession of men and women known only as Number 2 try all sorts of physical and mental tricks to get him to explain why he resigned. In the end, Number 6 does escape, but the ending was just a puzzling as the beginning.

As you probably have guessed, I was an instant fan and, since these were the days before VCRs and TIVO and DVD sets, I would not go out on a Saturday night until after "The Prisoner" was over.

In the decades that followed, the program reappeared a couple of times and I was happy to see it again. I taped it sometime in the early 80s and then got the DVD collection a few years ago. I still enjoy watching it every few years.


Jump to 2009 and AMC's remake of the program. Despite the far-from-glowing reviews I'd read, I wanted to view it with an open mind. Unfortunately, I can't watch it without thinking about how it doesn't compare.

The whimsical little Village of the original has been replaced by a Levittown in the middle of the desert, but it also seems to be more a city than a village. Instead of a place filled only with adults, there are children and entire families in this version, and they even have barbecues in their little Levittown backyards.

Rather than the succession of Numbers 2 that the original had, making us aware that whoever was in charge did not tolerate the failure of the various people who filled the seat to break Number 6, this new version has a 2 who seems more concerned with his own family problems than getting any information from 6. And while Ian McKellan could hold his own against Leo McKern as the Village leader, Jim Caviezel is no Patrick McGoohan.

The program continues over the next two nights with a total of six episodes. I'll reserve my final opinion until after I see them all, but, so far, I am underwhelmed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Romemoe & Curliet

Some blogs back, I told about my 4th grade writing career -- turning the week's spelling words into stories about Silly Billy -- and hinted about something else I'd written then. It took me some time to unearth it, but in a box of very old mementos, I found the one-and-only copy of the script for "Romemoe and Curliet."

Fifty years later, a lot of the back story has been forgotten, but I can tell you this:
* I was a big fan of the Three Stooges.
* My brothers and I got hand puppets of Moe, Larry, and Curly for Christmas -- one for each of us.
* My two closest friends in 4th grade were John Cataldi and Ricky Margaroli.
* It's a safe bet I had not read Romeo and Juliet at the time and had only the vaguest idea of the plot.

One day, John and Ricky (who were also Three Stooges fans) and I were talking about what it might be like if Moe, Larry and Curly performed one of Shakespeare's plays. [It's likely that the only one we knew of was Romeo and Juliet, so I doubt that we would have hit on doing "Moebeth" or "A Midsummer Night's Curly."] I mentioned that we had the three puppets and that led to the idea of doing a puppet show.

Initially, the three of us were going to collaborate on the script. I had access to a typewriter at home and was on my way to mastering my skills as a four-fingered typist, so I would be the one to type it up. The collaborative process proved to be a problem, as we spent a great deal of time discussing what I was going to put on paper. Since there was no Wite-Out in those days, whatever I typed was going to be a permanent part of the script.

Needless to say, when the guys had to go home for dinner, the only thing that had been written was the preface to the script that explained why we were creating the play. (We wanted to "give something back to Elmont Road School.")

But I was on a roll. Over the next couple of days I pecked away at the typewriter, producing the script about the two families -- the Practical Jokers and the Montagooses -- and the star-crossed lovers, Romemoe and Curliet. (Larry had a smaller role as Larrybalt, but then, he always seemed to be the odd man out in the Stooges films too.) In fact, it was mostly a collection of slapstick and corny jokes.

William Shakespeare was probably spinning in his grave, but I was sure I had written a great masterpiece. John and Ricky, who I was afraid would be upset that we didn't collaborate on the script, turned out to be quite happy to be getting their names on something they didn't have to write.
So we took it to our teacher, Mrs. Fox, to ask if we could perform it as a puppet show for the class. Mrs. Fox went us one better; she took the script to Mrs. Carlson, the principal, to suggest that we perform it for the entire school! As you may have guessed, Mrs. Carlson thought it was a wonderful idea.

I do remember having a meeting with Mrs. Carlson about the script. She asked for a couple of changes. At one point in the script, one of the characters explains how he knows what is going to happen and he tells the king it is because he read it in a comic book. There follows a half-page of dialogue about which comic books he and the king enjoy reading. (In fact, it is the list of comic books that I enjoyed reading!) Mrs. Carlson suggested that we did not need this sequence and the script has her pencil note that we should omit it.
Her other request was a name change. I had called one of the characters Jeezy Jinx Jokeson, going for alliteration, obviously. And while I might have come up with a better name afterwards, this is what was typed into the script. Anyway, Mrs. Carlson thought the name Jeezy sounded too much like Jesus and suggested we call him Cheesy instead. Well, I certainly wasn't going to argue with the principal so, though no change was made on the script, we called him Cheesy in the performance.

Now that we were headed for the big stage, we had to assemble a cast -- both puppets and puppeteers. I persuaded my brothers to allow me to borrow Larry and Curly for the show. (We glued a wad of yellow yarn to Curly's head to turn him into Curliet. We also put some rouge and lipstick on the puppet's face; much to my brother Jimmy's annoyance, we could never get it off.) Then we gathered up whatever puppets we had to fill out the cast.
Initially, we were planning to have other kids in the class performing the various secondary characters. This proved unwieldy because there were times when we would have had half a dozen or more people behind our little puppet stage -- all trying to read from the single copy of the script -- so all the parts were divided among John, Ricky and me.
The stage was actually a cafeteria table with some pieces of cardboard propped on it to hold up the curtain. Whatever set we had was made up of dollhouse furniture.

I do not recall much about the actual performance. I remember standing on the stage with John and Ricky, reading the preface to the audience of students and teachers. And that it was tricky behind the table making the puppets move around while trying to speak into the microphone which was lying on the table in front of us. I can't say whether the show was well-received; I'm sure the classes applauded when it was over, but who knows whether they actually liked or even understood it.

In any case, it was the first time I had written something that was performed for an audience. It was far from the only time... but those are stories for other days.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Think that voting in an "off-year election" doesn't matter? Consider the following from our district...

Nassau Legislature-District 14 -- 57 of 57 precincts reporting (100%) District 14
Joseph Belesi (R,C) - 7,184 - 50%
David Mejias* (D,I,WF) - 7,156 - 50%

At the moment, Mr. Belesi has won the seat by 18 votes. It's a safe bet that we will be following the lead set last year in Minnesota by Norm Coleman and Al Franken as they count, recount, and re-recount the votes, especially the absentee ballots.

Meanwhile, on the county-wide level...

County Executive - Nassau
1,142 of 1,142 precincts reporting (100%)
Thomas Suozzi* Dem - 118,111 - 48%
Edward Mangano, Rep - 117,874 - 48%
Steven Hansen, Con - 9,552 - 4%

Mr. Suozzi has won by 335 votes. However, both sides are proclaiming victory based on "favorable results of the pending recount."

As far as I know, we have no opportunity to have "hanging chads" and "dimpled chads" in our elections.


By the way, should Mr. Belesi prevail -- he is one of the candidates who campaigned with the "Tax Revolt" signs I mentioned in my previous posting -- I will look forward to seeing my property taxes slashed.

Or maybe we're all just going to throw tea in the Oyster Bay harbor.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.'' — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Now that Election Day has passed, the campaign signs that have been on lawns and fences for the past two months will finally start to disappear and the mailbox will be empty of the seemingly endless flow of cards and fliers promoting and/or excoriating the candidates.

While most of the campaign signs have been a very patriotic red, white and blue, a couple of local candidates did theirs in green and purple and emblazoned them with the words "Tax Revolt." (For those comic book fans among you, the green and purple they chose are remarkably similar to the colors of the "battle suit" Lex Luthor had in the 70s and 80s. And about as ugly.) These candidates encouraged voters to join them and rebel against the incumbent leaders and the taxes we pay.

As I write this, those two races are too close to call, so we don't know whether we will have a "tax revolt" or not. Well, actually, we do know. Despite all the claims of all the candidates that have ever run for office that they are going to reduce ( or "slash" as many like to say)government spending and cut taxes, it never happens. Whoever gets into office recognizes that the only way the government can function is by collecting taxes. The more things people want or need, the more it costs.

But let's suppose there really was a major cut in spending on the local level so that property taxes could be reduced. What would people be willing to give up?
* Sorry, no more twice-a-week garbage collection; please bring your trash to the dump on the third Thursday of the month between 8:00 and 11:00.
* Oh, there's pothole in the road? Maybe you can get out a shovel and throw some dirt in it.
* We got a foot of snow on Friday night? Sorry, no overtime for the plow drivers, but they'll be out on Monday for eight hours. Maybe they can get to your street then.
Also, we didn't buy any salt or sand this year, so please be really careful if you go driving on the ice.
And maybe Spring will come early this year.
* We'll be closing the school buildings promptly at 3:00 every day. Perhaps you would be willing to host a meeting of the Honor Society or a Glee Club rehearsal in your basement?
Also, to save on energy costs, we'll only be heating the schools to 60 degrees. Please have your children dress warmly.
* The library will be open every Wednesday from 2:00 to 6:00. If you have any books, DVDs, or recent magazines you would like to share, please bring them in.
* "You've reached police headquarters. I'm out right now, so please leave a message. If this is an emergency, try yelling for help to attract the attention of your neighbors or passersby."
* Oh, and by the way, we've laid off a lot of people in order to make these cuts. Some of them will be your neighbors or people you know or perhaps a member of your own family. But look at the bright side; if there's no income coming in, there's no income tax! (They'll still have to pay property taxes, though. Unless, of course, they lose their house.)

And that is just on the local level.

Think we don't need someone to maintain the highways, bridges and tunnels?
How about having the armed forces to protect us?
And someone inspecting the food we buy?
Social Security and Medicare? (Would everyone who gets Medicare and is against universal health care either stop collecting or please shut up.) (And those people who complain that taxes are too high and also that Social Security benefits are not getting their annual increase in January, you too!)
Unemployment insurance?
Mail delivery?

Is there waste in the government? Of course there is.
There is also waste in every business, large and small, in this country.
And in every household.

Politicians can claim they will reduce the waste and make those tax cuts, but let's be real.
It's about as likely as the company you work for making sure that you are working every minute you are on the job. (By the way, if you're reading this on company time...)
Or you making sure to fix that leaky faucet as soon as you see the first drip, turning off the lights every time you leave a room, and getting every last drop of ketchup out of the bottle before you throw it away.

So let's stop pretending that anyone who is elected is actually going to lead a "tax revolt." Because no matter how much it saves, we can't afford it.