Happy Whatever

At the outset, it seemed like a simple enough task.  Stop at the pharmacy and pick up a birthday card for my brother.  Nothing fancy since we only see each other every ten or fifteen years, give or take.  The extent of our communication is occasional calls to each other, usually to explain why our Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Anniversary, or Birthday greeting card is going to arrive late.

When I select a card, I am kind of picky about the sentiment.  I mean “Yo dude, hope your birthday is sick” isn’t going to cut it.  It has to say something that I want to say.  I buy a card for the sentiment, not the picture.

When I arrived at the store, I ambled down the card aisle until I found the birthday cards.  I quickly found greetings to Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Aunts etc. Apparently, no one ever sends a card to an Uncle.  Somehow, they never seem to make the cut because I can never find a card for them and I dismiss the notion that they are so popular that they sell out immediately upon hitting the display.  I also found cards to my best friend, to my sister in law, to my neighbor, to a teacher, husband to husband and, somewhat surprisingly, to the dog.  Ultimately, I did find a couple to brother, but they were in the funny card section and, when you are turning 83, there is not a lot that is funny anymore.

Since I am easily distracted, I started to peruse other cards of a more generic nature. To nephew, niece, son, stepson, classmate, veterinarian, mailman, etc.  There were also a ton of sympathy cards, ironically, sandwiched between the birthday cards and the get well cards.  Now that’s what I call marketing.  The only thing missing was a BOGO sale.  Moving on, I looked at retirement cards, christening cards, and those cards with dates.  Happy 1st, 5th, 21st, etc,  however, once you got 50, skipped all the way to 100 and it looked like it had been there a while. It had a picture of a woman in a Victorian dress. Probably just a coincidence.   I stumbled on some “wish you were here” cards (shouldn’t they be next to the sympathy cards?) and some of those pocket cards that accept money.  I momentarily entertained sending him one of those and telling him to buy his own damn card, but quickly dismissed the thought.  I didn’t want to spend any more money on him then I had to.  I also thought about sending him a congratulations on your bar mitzvah since he is a retired Methodist minister, but suspected the humor would be lost on him.  So I finally did what I usually do.  I bought an “Across the Miles on Your Birthday”.  It’s kind of a cop out, but, hey, it was going to get there late anyway.

When I was leaving I wanted to ask the clerk if they had any “Wishing you a Happy Divorce and Good Luck with that Tibetan Monk thing, but I was afraid she would say “Yes Sir, they are right next to the ones that say “From The Cat”.



Posted in Reflection | 3 Comments

It’s All About The Neuron

Do you know what a neuron is?  I didn’t either until this morning while reading the paper.  I stumbled on an article that attempts to answer the burning question of who is smarter, a dog or a cat.  I’m sure I now have your attention because everyone has an opinion on this one.

It seems that neurons are cells that communicate via electrical charge and populate the brain and central nervous system.  They are the units that process information, and a recent study has concluded that they are the most accurate tool for judging the capacity for complex thought.

OK, enough of the scientific stuff.  Let’s cut to the chase.  It doesn’t take a neurologist to know that with cats and dogs, it’s all subjective.  The cat lovers will point to a cats independence, how they instinctively clean themselves, can be trained to a litter box, maintain primal instincts like hunting, hissing, swatting, and remaining vigilant by sharpening their claws on the sofa.  The dog lovers will mention their faithfulness, willingness to eat anything, chase sticks, ride in pickup trucks, chase cars, and their uncanny ability to lick their butt.

Over the years, my wife and I have had about 13 stray dogs and cats and each had their own strengths and foibles.  We’ve had cats that showed amazing prowess when playing with toys, then again we had one that flew into a wall because they overshot the chair they were aiming at.  On the other hand, we have had dogs that would do nothing if it required standing up while we had another that could sniff out a beer, even if I had placed it in the crook of a tree while I was mowing. My point is that none of them were giants among felines or canines, but each had their redeeming characteristics.

I must admit that I kind of lean toward dogs being smarter.  Have you ever seen a seeing eye cat, or a drug sniffing cat?  And don’t even try to tell me there was one that responded to commands.  But, as it turns out, Team Cat was the winner.  I’m not sure why other then the fact it was a very small sampling.  It apparently has something to do with how many of those neurons are in the cerebral cortex, whatever that is.

I guess, for me at least, it doesn’t make a lot of difference how smart my pets are.  They all bring something to the party and I suspect most are probably more intelligent then I. I have never had my tummy scratched by a dog, nor have I ever been fed by a cat,or had one clean my toilet.  They have all been blatantly unconcerned about what and when I eat, or whether I go out several times a day.  That should tell you something.



Posted in Reflection | 3 Comments


If you were to ask Mr Webster the meaning of the word ‘secret’, he would tell you that it means “Kept from knowledge or view…Marked by the habit of discretion.  Perhaps that was true in his day and time (and to some degree, mine) but not any more.   If I was asked to define the meaning of ‘secret’ today, I would probably say “Something that has been distributed via electronic media which you have not yet had a chance to share with all your ‘friends’.

I can remember as a kid my Mom saying “can you keep a secret” and of course I always said yes, and frequently, I did.  It was kind of an honor thing.  I had been trusted with something that others hadn’t and it made me feel kind of special.  Then again, if I thought it was something that my brother may not know, all bets were off.

I have had a Facebook and Twitter account for probably six or seven years.  I have yet to use the Twitter account at all.  The Facebook account is almost purely incoming, and it is  because of that incoming data that I will probably never change.  As did everyone else, I started with a few ‘friends’ (sorry Mr Webster, it’s not what you think) who, in short order, begat additional friends who, well, you know.  Soon, my group of friends was larger then my graduating class and I knew about as many.  And then it began.  With the exception of a few relatives and real friends (i.e. people that I really know) I was suddenly deluged with more issues then you would find in a country western song.  I  became a confident to peoples divorces, surgeries, birthdays, protests, rants, rumors, and yes, disclosures of a rather personal nature.  There is a woman who  ‘updates her profile’  virtually every day and gives a whole new meaning to the word depressed.  She could suck the air out of a balloon.    I am sure there is a way to unfriend someone, and when I figure it out, she is toast. And if she see’s that, she will probably be even more upset.  Not because I dropped her, but because I affected her body count.  It all puts me in mind of the old saying ‘it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, then to say something and prove it’.

I guess I am just from another generation.  One that believes that there are things you don’t share and subjects that you don’t discuss.  Things were a little more personal back then, unless of course your phone was on a party line.  My mother, when hanging out the wash, always hung the underwear on the inside clotheslines  and the sheets on either side.  And although the threats of washing my mouth out with soap never came to fruition, I learned early that there were words I did not use and things that I did not repeat.  My folks even went so far as to talk in ‘pig Latin’ if there was something they did not want us to hear.

One thing I have learned from observing all this electronic interface is that people don’t really care what I say or think.  They are not out there to share my day.  They are out there to share theirs.  I’ve been around long enough to remember when you took pictures of other people.  Go figure.

It’s probably just as well that I don’t relate a lot of what I am thinking anyway.  It would probably make me about as welcome as a hair in a biscuit.  And, Mr Webster, if you are ever having trouble finding room to add a word, let me suggest that you could eliminate the word ‘discretion’.




Posted in Reflection | 1 Comment

Sharing The Wealth

I think  almost everyone observes some sort of tradition, and probably more then one.   Many are an attempt to resurrect a fond memory or experience while others are more mundane, driven by necessity more then desire.  Such is one of the traditions in our house which I refer to as the “Closet Cleansing”.  Living in an area where the seasonal changes are dramatic, we embark on the process twice a year.   Once in the Spring and again in the Fall when we purge our closets of all the stuff we have been wearing to exchange it for all the stuff we will be.  Sounds simple enough until you realize that you always seem to have more stuff then storage.  This I suspect is because we tend to, shall we say, suspend the life span of garments that should be relegated to an afterlife.

This having been an unusually warm Fall, the inevitable was delayed until just recently when I was advised by the COB (Chairman of the Board) that my closet was a mess and I should do something about it beyond moving things. I found this a little surprising since, if I don’t make a trip to Goodwill every week, they call to see if I am OK.  Well, they don’t always call.  Sometimes they send a card.  But, in the interest of marital bliss, I decided to take a stab at analyzing the inventory and identifying candidates for recycling.  How hard could that be. After all, I got rid of my bell bottoms and Nehru jackets at least two years ago.

Before progressing further, you have to understand that I have a knack for taking something of relatively little effort and turning it into a project of some proportion and this turned out not to be an exception.  Looking first at my shirts, I separated the short sleeved from the long sleeved and then again by dress, sport, and casual.  The short sleeve wasn’t too bad because I mostly wear polo shirts and tees in the summer.  The difficulty came when I divided them between those that are acceptable beyond the confines of the house and the real jewels that I wear in the yard or the shop, the issue being how many paint stains are too many.  After much careful consideration (i.e. which paint stains were of a color most compatible with my pants), I reluctantly threw away two.

Moving on to my winter wardrobe was not quite so easy.  I seem to possess a rather large collection of flannel and fleece shirts, sweaters, sweatshirts, and other assorted pullovers, all of which by the way, fit, meaning there are no clunkers in the lot.   Why would I want to get rid of them?  The answer apparently, according to the COB is “you don’t wear them and someone else could”.  It’s hard to argue with logic.  So again, I sorted through the pile and selected a  couple that admittedly I haven’t worn since, hummm, we lived in Texas?  That can’t be right.  We left Texas in ’73’.  Oh well, in my world, age takes second place to quality.

After several grueling hours of painful contemplation and a degree of separation anxiety, I finally had a small pile of clothes that were suitable to be donated.  I quickly put them in the Goodwill box before my efforts could be reviewed, and stuffed the keepers in my closet, arranging them to give the appearance of space.  A couple of days later, I moved the box to my car for their trip to the charity.  Lifting one of the flaps, I gave one last wistful look at my old friends.  Hey, is that my black high top sneakers and what is that?  My penny loafers with the torn stitching.  This is insanity.  They are practically brand new.

Posted in Reflection | 5 Comments

Enjoying A Fine Whine

Man, it’s chilly this morning.  I heard the strong winds last night.  I’ll bet the power is off.   No real surprise there.  When you live around this many trees, it is almost a given that after a storm, someone has lost their power.  This time, it was our turn.  But, we are made of pretty sturdy stock up here.  You live in Maine, you gotta be ready for  this.

I roll out of bed and run to the bathroom to get things moving, so to speak and, after I flush the toilet, I remember that the water pump does not work.  Bummer.  Need to get dressed and go start the generator.  After flipping the switch to the closet, and it remains dark, I grope around for some jeans and a sweatshirt and head downstairs.  I drag the generator out onto the driveway and  check the fuel.  It says 1/4 tank.  Not a problem.  I have two 5 gallon gas cans at the ready for just such an emergency.  However, it seems one is empty and the other is almost.  I use up what I have left and crank up the generator.  Once it is running, we have power to our furnace, refrigerator, water pump, several lights and assorted outlets throughout the house.  My wife says we are lucky.  I say it is all part of being a Mainer.

I prepare to leave and get the gas cans filled.  Note to self:  You can push that button all you want, and the garage door is not going to go up.  Of course not.  I knew that.  So I pull the release handle and raise the door manually and find it won’t stay up by itself.  Fortunately, I have an extendable pole  and it is in the garage, somewhere.  I wish to hell I had some light so I could see what I am doing.  Ah, there it is.  Once installed, I am able to escape, pleased by my quick thinking.

When I return home, my wife says “the water is just a trickle”.  Then I remember I flushed the toilet and we ran the water to make coffee.  I will have to restart the pump.  I have had this happen before and a pump guy showed me how to do it, about 7 years ago.  I grab a flashlight and retreat to the basement.  As I recall, I take the cover off that little thingy there and there is a little bar that you push to make the points contact and you hold it until they pop open by themselves.  Yes, after a few tries, it works.  We now have water.   I jump on the computer to see how bad the storm was, but of course, the computer in not on one of the outlets that are now powered.  So again, I rely on my extensive survival instincts and drag a long orange extension cord through the bonus room and into our master bath, plugging it in next to the sink.  Problem solved, once again due to my Yankee ingenuity.

So, how much of my town is in the dark.  A few keystrokes and I find it is ‘all of it’.  Further investigation reveals that it is actually about two thirds of the state, far worse then the ice storm of the 90’s where people lost their power for over three weeks.  First I panic, then I rationalize.  It is a lot harder to repair power lines in ice and snow and surely technology has improved since then.  We’re going to be OK.  A few hours without power is a small price to pay for the privilege of living here. A little inconvenience, but nothing a Mainer can’t handle.  We’ll just hunker down and since the TV is on one of the good outlets, we can still entertain ourselves.  Hmmm,  I’m not getting a picture.  Oh no, the cable is out.  Now what?  My wife reminds me that we have a small TV in her sewing room that will work enough to get the three local channels so I go down and get it and set it up in the living room.  Not exactly ideal.  It is an eight inch screen.  From where I sit, I can tell it is on only because I hear noise.  It is like watching a radio.

Power is still out.  Time to start the generator again.  It ran about 16 hours yesterday.  Today I will shut it down for a while during the afternoon and we will sit there in the dim light of day and concentrate on our cell phones and tablets.  In my case, it will be my tablet because yesterday  I plugged my cell phone into a, yep, outlet that did not work. I check the power companies website and find that they have estimates of when power will be returned, right down to specific streets.  Let’s see.  There we are.  We should have power back before 10 P.M. Saturday!!! Saturday!!!    That’s four days from now.  What are we supposed to do in the interim. Just put our life on hold.  Sit around singing Kumbaya?  I don’t think these guys are really trying.   My wife suggests that I do something constructive and get the butane portable camp stove out of the basement and she will cook me an epicurean feast of fried Spam and left over mashed potatoes and gravy.   It sure beats cheese and crackers.  The one bright spot of my day comes when I discover that the Amazon fire stick on the TV will allow us to watch Netflix.  Well, I guess this isn’t so bad after all, if you are prepared, like I am.  It’s all in remaining rational  and thinking things through.

Damn, another chilly morning.  I can hear the neighbors generator running.  When the hell are we going to get our power back?  Doesn’t anyone know we are stuck out here?  I know that recovery will take some time, but damn, they have had two days.  They must be getting close.  I crank up the generator, again, and throw the two now empty gas cans in the car and check the computer for any updates.  They now say we should be up and running by 5 P.M. Friday. Thanks a lot. I’m beginning to feel like I’m living in Puerto Rico.  I wonder if there is a local telephone number for FEMA.  I mean, I am a reasonable man, but this is getting serious.

Still no power.  I am considering painting an SOS on my lawn.  I keep hearing that there are over 1800 repairmen working overtime and that they are coming in from several other states and Quebec.  So, where are they.  I don’t see any trucks. I don’t hear any activity.  Probably all down in the high rent districts.  My wife reminds me that those neighborhoods all have permanently installed whole house generators.  They probably don’t even know the power is off.  All I know is, I’m still in the dark and it’s getting a little old.  I went looking for my gray sweatshirt this morning and found it in the clothes hamper where I threw it, oh, I don’t know, last Sunday because Mondays are wash days.  But not this week.  Oh no. We can’t even do that.  Instead they would have us walking around in dirty clothes.  They don’t care.  Not their problem.  Well, it is mine and this is becoming a hardship.  I’m getting tired of just sitting here waiting.  I wonder if the Red Cross can help.  Maybe I’ll finish up the Spam with some eggs and watch Netflix.

Thursday Evening
About 6:30 my wife says she thinks we have power because the clocks on the range and the microwave are blinking.  Well, hallelujah, they finally came through.  And none too soon.   After all I have been through, I finally see the light.  Sometimes I guess it pays to be  patient and reasonable through these things.  Oh, I may get a little peckish from time to time, but I don’t really let it bother me.  I just take one day at time, like any old Mainer would.  

My wife just told me the cable is still out.  What the hell are those guys doing.  They have had four days to fix this.  Now they are messing with me.   Just because they are the only cable company in town doesn’t mean I have to stand for this.  There’s always Dish.  I could drop them like a hot horseshoe. It’s a good thing I’m not the kind of guy to complain and just suffer in silence.  We Mainers are like that.






Posted in Reflection | 9 Comments

Purse-uing The Truth

Admittedly, I don’t know anything about cows, or not much anyway.  To me, farm is just another four letter word.  Oh sure,  I know what they look like and I think I can tell the difference between a cow and a bull. At least, I hope so.  I know they come in assorted shades of brown, black, white, etc and that some are dairy cows and others are bred for their meat.  I also know that their hides are frequently used in the clothing and fashion industry.  But, beyond that, not so much. 

I never gave any of this much thought until the other day when my better half was watching one of the shopping channels and they were hawking purses.  Now, I have to admit, I know about as much about purses as I do cows, and care as much about either one, which is not at all.  But one thing about the presentation did grab my attention.  It seems that these purses were made of leather.  Not just any leather however, but Italian leather.  Apparently, if I am to believe the presenter, and I know they would not lie to me, that is a good thing, because she kept reminding us over and over.

Now, here is the thing that bothers me.  How do you tell an Italian cow from an American cow?  I mean, if you were talking to a farmer and asked what kind of cows the had, and he said Italian, would you know if he was telling the truth.  I sure wouldn’t.  Because I’ll bet those cows don’t look any different then American cows.  And while we are on it, what about German and Spanish and Greek cows.  Do you ever hear anyone talking about them.  Have you ever read a label that said 100% genuine Irish leather.  No?  Me neither.

I’ve got to think that there is something special about the Italian cow that distinguishes it from any other nationality.  It can’t be their intelligence or they wouldn’t be a purse.  I suspect they eat the same things and graze like any other cow.  They must be about the same size or the manufacturers would be making wallets instead of coats.  No, it’s got to be something else.

Since I have a proclivity for unearthing the underlying facts for burning issues like this one, I spent a lot of time “thinking on it” and I have finally come to a conclusion. It has nothing to do with the cows at all.  It is all about the Italians.  They have a much better marketing, public relations, and advertising network then we do. They would have you believe that their BS is better then ours. Think about it.  You never hear about a genuine 100% American leather purse being sold in Naples.  Because to us, our cows are, well, just that, cows.  We have never learned to hype them.  And don’t even get me started on Italian gold.

But here is the question that I have yet been unable to answer.  If the Italian leather is soooo good, and therefore worth more moolah (pun intended), how come all the purses and coats are made in China.  Why wouldn’t they have caught on by now and started to use there own cows.  Or hey, maybe they are.  Would you know??  Just askin.

Posted in Reflection | 4 Comments

Kicking The Tires

I don’t know how many cars I have owned over the years, but it has been quite a few.  Most of the early ones were clunkers purchased via private sales and I am sure the sellers were glad to see me coming.  But as the years progressed and I became slightly more financially stable (definition: was able to swing another bill and still eat at least twice a day) I moved up to buying my cars from dealerships.  Up until that time, I thought everything had a price and if you wanted it, that’s what you paid.  Can you say “lamb to the slaughter boys and girls”?  I did not know that cars sold for whatever they could wring out of you and I, at that time, didn’t even know how to spell ‘negotiate’, much less invoke it.

I remember my first experience.  I was wandering around a used car lot when I was approached by a rather large man who handed me his card which read “the round man with the square deal”.  I should have known I was dead meat, but I continued to look at several vehicles, secretly wishing I was somewhere else.  It wasn’t until he said “you know, I’m not going to let you leave without buying a car” that I got really nervous.  I thought I was never going to see my wife again, I had visions of physical restraints,  and suddenly I had to pee very badly.  That in itself turned out to be a Godsend.  I asked if they had a restroom and he said there was one over in the new car showroom.  So I trotted over there and was twice relieved, so to speak, because I was able to sneak out the other door and circle around until I reached my car.  Probably the only time that I at least broke even.

I never believed in magic until I observed a car which I had negotiated down to $22500 suddenly become $25900 once the deal was committed to paper. I have always harbored a sense of trepidation when I stepped onto a lot, and that is one of the reasons why.  Lesson 1) The guy with the big smile and the firm handshake is not, repeat, is not your friend.  He/she is under a lot of pressure from their sales manager to sell cars and rest assured  they are going to reapply that pressure to you.

Over the years, I have come to realize that car buying is a contact sport and you need to train for it just as you would for any competition.  So I try to incorporate as much savvy as I can manage.  I do a lot of homework on the web before I begin to shop and it makes a big difference.  I was buying a Camry once and after establishing a price, to include tax, title, and plates, I visited the dealership to see and test drive the car.  I then asked for the quote in writing so I could review it with my wife.  I later returned with my wife and a cashiers check, made out to the dealership, in the amount we had established.  This surprised the salesman as I had not stated that this would be a cash deal.  In fact, they had already drawn up papers to include proposed finance charges.  That’s when he uttered the now all too familiar words “I’ll have to run this by my sales manager”.  Shortly, he returned with the manager who advised that I needed to buy the extended warranty.  I said I didn’t want it and pointed to a poster touting Toyota’s high industry ratings for maintenance and safety.  After a lot of haggling, he finally said “well I can’t sell you the car for this amount”.  So I  stood up and in an elevated voice said “fine, if you won’t honor a written agreement, we will buy our car somewhere that will”.  Several heads in the showroom turned, and this of course horrified my wife.  I took her arm and we left. While we were walking to the car she asked me what we were going to do.  I said “we won’t get off the lot”.  Sure enough, as we got in our car, our salesman came toward us waving his arms.  He said they had decided to take my offer and, after a short display of indigence, we allowed him to escort us back inside where we finalized the deal.  Boy, that felt good.  For once, I was the round man with the square deal.




Posted in Reflection | 1 Comment