Thursday, April 28, 2022

PASTA, WINE, AND A LAMBO - A Tribute to a Friend

  • I wrote this in October of 2018, after an evening at Alan Londe's home. I had known Alan since U. City high school days. Last Sunday, April 24, on what would have been Alan's 87th birthday, I attended a Celebration of His Life, roughly one month after he had died. From COVID. Alan was one of a kind, an extremely gifted physician and generous human. He loved being with friends and acquaintances, of which this story is an example.

 

PASTA, WINE, AND A LAMBO          

A friend named Alan recently invited me to his home for an evening of “hanging out with the guys.” These were friends of his whose wives were enjoying a “Girls Night Out.” Sounded like a proper thing to do, even though “girls” seems like a risky term these days.
    “You don’t know these guys,” said Alan, “but you’ll fit right in. We’ll sit around the pool, have some wine, and some pasta dishes I made for dinner.” I accepted. I had nothing else going and I liked the idea of pool, wine and pasta. He asked everyone to bring a bottle of red. Alan's rather particular about having the right wine to go with one of his meals. It's an admirable trait, one that is foreign to me since I'm not into wines. Give me a Tito's vodka or a Knob Creek bourbon and I'm happy.
    That evening I was the last one there, having stopped at Total Wine for a bottle of medium-priced rose’, a good choice for summer drinking, so I’ve been told. Besides, red wine gives me a migraine. From the moment I pulled into his driveway in my 2013 Hyundai Elantra, I knew I had no business being there. It’s that “car thing,” a big deal with guys that closely ties the size of their net worth to their car. Mine is clearly reflected by my shiny red Hyundai.
    I parked behind a 2018 white Mercedes convertible. It’s the model that grabs my attention when it passes me on the road. The Mercedes was behind a sleek new Infiniti SUV. Which was behind a new Lexus sedan and a sporty BMW or an Audi - I confuse the two. Sitting by itself, away from everyone else so it wouldn’t get scratched, was a white Lamborghini. This is a show stopper. These beauties start at $200,000 and rapidly escalate from there.
    I could own at least twenty Elantra’s for the price of one Lamborghini. Why, I wondered, would someone pay that much for a car to drive in a state where the maximum speed limit is 70 mph? The answer, of course, is because they can.
    As we sat around the pool - actually, next to it, on a patio; no one went swimming - a big, entertaining guy named named Bob asked a perfectly sun-tanned guy with a full head of beautifully-styled white hair a question I’ve never heard before. “Steve, how do you like your Lambo?”
    Lambo! At first I wasn’t sure what a Lambo was. I started to laugh but realized it was a serious question. About what, I had no idea. “What’s not to like in a “Lambo?”, I almost said, always tempted to go for the cheap laugh. Steve casually said, “It’s a lot of fun.” Two or three hundred thousand dollars worth of fun on four wheels??? I don’t know what passes for fun in a Lambo but it sure isn’t going to Home Depot for a can of Rust-Oleum.
    And so the night progressed. The group was easy to be with. Lots of laughs, a relaxing banter, jokes both good and bad, golf stories. And I felt included - except for the golf. Never touch the stuff. After a delicious dinner of four different pastas prepared by Alan and a salad and a little more banter and wine, I was the first to say goodnight. I didn’t want them to see that pitiful little car I was driving. It didn’t work. They all decided it was time to leave. So there I was, trapped in the driveway while they climbed into their chariots and began to pull out.

    Look, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to spend a pile on a vehicle. If I had the money, I’d probably go for something that gets people to stare with envy and, as Mose Allison sings it, “makes little girls talk out of their heads.” The language of cars belongs to guys. I never heard women talk about their “Caddy” or a “Jag” or especially a Lambo. Of course that may change with the changing times. Along with “girls night out.”
One thing I regret - not asking Steve if he’d take me for a ride. Even to Home Depot. It’s probably as close to riding in a Lambo I’ll ever get.

(NOTE: After this article ran in the Fall 2018 issue of County Living Magazine, I received an email from Steve. He offered to take me for a ride. To Costco. Fine by me. I like Costco better than Home Depot anyway.)

(FINAL NOTE: Steve never followed up on this. I never got to ride in his Lambo. Doesn't matter, though. I had spent a delightful evening with my friend Alan, and his - at the time - lady friend, Sandy. They were married a couple of years later. This approximates a happy ending to the story.)





Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Conversation with a Renegade Hen

 
The Backstory:
During the summer of 2010, a crisis hit egg lovers throughout the country. The epicenter of this hard-boiled tragedy was a group of farms in Wright County, Iowa, all owned by the same company. Many of the eggs from there caused salmonella outbreaks from coast to coast. This was nothing new for the company. It had happened several times before, causing an outbreak of sickness and death. More than 500 million eggs were recalled. Infected hens were thought to be the source. Thousands were targeted and “eliminated.

This is my tale from late that summer.
 

                    Conversation with a Renegade Hen

The road runs from Hannibal, Missouri, to St. Louis. The passing scenery offers abundant beauty. Lush, green hills; stands of oak, elm and cedar; occasional glimpses of the Big Muddy, just as Tom and Huck might have seen it.
    I had spent the night in Hannibal at a quaint B&B (aren’t they all “quaint”?), attempting while there to conjure up the spirit of Sam Clemens. I had questions for him about how to write humor. He never showed. Probably tired of writers asking him that question.
The second “B” at the B&B was excellent: scrambled eggs (farm fresh, I was told) with cheddar cheese and onions, whole wheat toast, homemade strawberry preserves, and a thick slice of country ham. I knew about the diseased eggs and asked if my scrambled specimens were from Iowa. “No, sir,” said the landlady. “Those are from right here in Hannibal. I’ve been eating them all week and feel just fine.” I believed her.
     After breakfast I looked at a map in the living room. Keokuk, on the Iowa border, is just 65 miles from Hannibal. “Pretty close,” I thought. The enemy at the gate, if you will. Seeking a little exercise before driving back home to St. Louis, I took a long walk in the woods that border the B&B. My thoughts were not on Huck and Tom but on eggs. The ones that were being recalled. Tens of millions of them, all originating in Iowa, just a stone throw from Indian Joe’s Cave.
     I was little prepared for the encounter that awaited me on my walk.
     I left the main path, worked my way through elder bushes and low-hanging pines. (I’m not sure what an elder bush looks like, but it sounds good.), and stepped into a clearing, still in morning shadows.
And there she stood. Or, rather, huddled. A chicken. Actually, a hen. Brown and russet, rather thin, scraggly feathers, eyes wide with fear. She didn't move. I approached her, moving slowly, a smile on my face, thinking loving, positive thoughts.
     She looked me right in the eye.
     “Hello, my feathered friend,” I said. “What are you doing here?” I spoke as though to a child.
     I expected silence, maybe a slight squawk. Instead she said, ‘You’re not with them, are you?”
     “Excuse me?” I said. I’m not sure what surprised me more, the sound or the suspicion.
     “I asked if you’re with them.” She looked behind me, checking for others.
    “Who is ‘them’?”
    “The guards. The keepers. The gatherers.”
    I felt a chill. “I don’t under - “
    “Don't interrupt.” Her voice became more strident. “The crooks, the handlers, the egg Nazis.”
    Suddenly it made sense. “You must be from - “
    “Iowa. Wright County. The Factory.” She spit out the words, scratched the ground like a bull about to charge.
    I sat down on the ground next to her. She backed away. In my gentlest voice, I said, “No, I'm not one of them.” I introduced myself.         “I’m Gerry. With a ‘G.’”
    “Phrances, she said. "With a ‘Ph’".
    “You’re kidding.”
    “Did I make fun of your ‘G’?”
    “Well said.” I held out my hand.
    She gave me a weak high five. Actually a high four. She hadn’t eaten in days. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a slice of wheat toast, lightly buttered. She grabbed it and quickly tore it apart with her beak. “Thanks,” she said. “It’s not cracked corn, but it’ll do.” The toast disappeared in seconds.
    “So…Phrances…tell me about it,” I said.
    She sat in silence, gathering her thoughts. I waited as the sun edged into the shade. Finally she began her story.
    “It was a nightmare. Impossible demands. Despicable living conditions. A complete lack of sanitary considerations. And don’t get me started on the manure piled in there.” I shuddered at the thought. She continued. “No exercise, no socializing, no background music.” She stopped, stared at the ground. 

I thought that was the end of her story. There was more.
    “I’m a good layer. I know I don’t look like much now. That’s what six days on the run will do to you. But I dropped a lot of eggs, Gerry. Even got a Happy Egger award last month. But you think they care?? Not one wit. You drop three today, they want four tomorrow.”
    “My lord,” I said, unable to help myself. I reached over and scratched her head.
    “You can’t imagine the conditions there. Nobody writes about ‘em. I saw rats. They ran along the walls, scurried between the cages. I still have nightmares where I see their beady red eyes and wet twitching noses, probing between the bars.” She shuddered at the memory. “And the rain. There were holes in the roof. Besides the lightning and thunder, water dripped on us. Not on me. I was caged in a dry spot. But so many of the others…” She stopped, engulfed by memories of lost friends, most likely.
    “You don’t have to go on,” I said.
    “Do you have anything to drink?”
    I pulled the half-full Evian bottle from my pocked. “There. As much as you want.” I tilted the bottle so the water dropped into her open mouth. She smacked her beak. “You don’t have any coffee by chance, do you?”
    “Coffee?” She had to be kidding.
    “They gave us coffee. Black. Strong. To keep us awake, increased production. I’m kind of addicted to it now. I get these headaches…”
    I laughed. “I’ll take you to Starbuck’s.”
    “What’s that?”
    “Never mind. Go on with your story, Phrances. Please.”
    She took a deep breath and ruffled her frayed feathers. “We had one guard, a sadistic sonofabitch. Skinny, pock marks, tiny black eyes like a weasel. He’d walk up and down the aisle, bang on our cages with a baseball bat. Shout ‘Drop ‘em, ladies, drop ‘em’ in a high-pitched voice. He got off on scaring us, hearing all the racket we’d make. You can imagine what thousands of hens sound like when they’re frightened.”
    “Thousands!!! How big - ?”
    “Tens of thousands, mon ami. This camp was huge. Thousands and thousands of us, squashed side by side, as far as the eye could see.”
    The day had grown cold inside of me. The story became clear as she talked. Over a half billion eggs from the Iowa farm recalled. More than a thousand cases of salmonella poisoning across the country. An egg operation involving as many as half a million hens. Each cage holding four or five birds in an area no larger than an 8x10 sheet of paper. But the cruelest deception had yet to be spoken.
    “You know, the name of this place I was at is the Wright County Egg Company. It’s run by a ruthless profiteer named Mortenson. He’s had run-ins with health officials before, but he keeps on doing business. And here’s the ball buster, Gerry.” She stopped and looked around. I could tell our time together was growing short. “Listen to this. You know how they sold their eggs? Not as Wright County. Oh, no, that’s too corporate. They packaged their eggs under names like Mountain Dairy. Hallandale. Shoreline. Sunshine. And, my personal favorite, Dutch Farms. Seriously, if eggs or any kind of food comes from Dutch Farms, you just know it’s gotta be healthy. Right? Talk about massive deception.”
    “I never knew,” I said.
    “Who knew? You go into a Ralph’s or Albertson or Kroger, you expect an honest egg. If they had been honest, the cartons would’ve been named Alcatraz Eggs, Sing Sing, Attica. Even Abu Ghraib. You like that? ‘Mr. Grocer, could I have a dozen Alcatraz eggs?’ Not in your lifetime, that’s for sure.”
    “Look, is there anything I can do for you?”
    She drew herself up, shook off the dust, trying her best to regain her former beauty, a hint of dignity. “Yes Gerry with a G, yes, there is. Tell people what went on. Let them know what we hens have been through, just how evil those people are. Above all else, don’t let us be forgotten.”
    I felt a tear form in the corner of my eye, a lump in my throat. I reached out and stroked her lovingly under her beak. “I promise.” I held my hand there. "But what about you?”
    “I’ll be fine, she said. “I have relatives in central Missouri. They live on a farm. Nobody cares how many eggs they lay, as long as the owners have their beer. And they don’t like fried chicken either.” She let out a loud cackle, possibly a laugh, and began to walk towards the woods. “It’s paradise, Gerry. Just remember your promise to me.”
    “Safe travel, Phrances,” I shouted as she disappeared into the undergrowth of elder bush. “I’ll keep my promise.”
    And she was gone.

                                                #

  

Friday, April 8, 2022

A Literary Event of Sorts: My New Book

A few select words to introduce you to "Selected Writings"

 The first short story I ever wrote featured a roach trying to climb up steep, white porcelain walls. Except you didn’t know it was a roach because I wrote it from the roach’s point-of-view. He was in a bathroom sink and I was in junior high school at the time, loved science-fiction, found my mind exploring strange and wonderful worlds. I might be another Ray Bradbury, I thought, a Poet of the Possible. I also liked “funny,” as in Max Schulman, S. J. Perelman, Art Buchwald and Mad comic books. This was another genre that appealed to me. Although at the time, I didn’t even know what a “genre” was.


Now, many words, many stories, many years later,
I have a respectable collection  of writings. All kinds. They are in my book which has just been published. “GERRY MANDEL SELECTED WRITINGS.”  I wanted them to be permanently accessible in a real book printed on paper. Much of what I have written are in digital files, which will disappear someday when the electromagnetic storm engulfs Earth and wipes out all files. Or the technology will change, making the stories inaccessible. Plus I just like the idea of being able to hold a book in my hands, feel its weight, its texture, and say, “Yep. This is my book.”

Looking back over this collection, I realize just how many of them almost wrote themselves, how they were just lying in wait to be released from somewhere in my imagination. Occasionally I’ll read one of my old stories and have no memory of having written it. Like being in the zone. It’s a little scary, but also very exciting and revealing about how the creative mind works.

Writing is something most writers are compelled to do. “Not writing” is not an option. I’ve occasionally gone days without writing, and grow increasingly irritable. Something is missing. Until I sit down at my computer - used to be “at my typewriter” - or with a pen and pad, the mood hangs in there. It’s been said that being a writer is a blessing and a curse. True.

A writer/friend who has read my book, asked me if I had a favorite story. I can honestly say I like them all, some a little more than others, but believe I did what I set out to do - tell an interesting story that finds its audience and pleases them. Two are high on my list of favorites. One is an essay about my mother, called “Piano Sonata in Four Movements: L’Adieu.” The other is a humor piece, fictional, called “Renegade Chicken.” Highly recommended.

The book also holds the first five chapters of my novel, “Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin.” Also a novelette which, until now, resided only on Amazon Kindle. It’s “The Negro in the Basement.” I am still moved by the memory of how this came to be, a story of values, attitudes, guilt, and changing times.

“Selected Writings” is not a finale. My writing continues weekly if not daily. A new novel about Chaplin making “The Great Dictator,” how he faced incredible pressure and risk during a tumultuous time in America. Also, the true story of a man who has lived with ALS for nine years. He says he has been “time stamped.” And, of course, my Random Musings column in County Living Magazine. Publisher Todd Abrams has been extremely supportive of my efforts here. Like many writers, I need deadlines. Todd gives me those deadlines, along with the freedom to pick the subjects. Thanks, Todd.

Here comes the commercial.  To order my book, send me an email, to 503spidermandel@gmail.com. I’ll mail you a copy, signed if you insist.
Or mail a check to 503 Taylor Young Drive, Kirkwood MO 63122.
Cost is $22, plus $4 mailing. A bargain for such literary enjoyment.




Some comments from astute readers:
 

“Gerry Mandel writes with a wit, charm, and irony that walks with us through the outer layers of our sensibilities before it opens the door to the spirit of the human heart. An authentic voice.”
              
    - Dennis Fleming, author, “The Girl Who Had No Enemies

   …a compelling collection of prose, dynamic fiction, non-fiction, humorous tales, and diverse topics. Mandel notes the power in words, music, and song to heal, strengthen, and awaken…impressive writing that leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction.”
            - Linda O’Connell, writer, author, teacher

“Gerry Mandel approaches life with close observation, a wry smile and a sense of wonder and discovery. He has that acute sense of knowing how to make a story important.”
            - Dwight Bitikofer,  poet, community newspaper publisher

“If you want a peek inside one of the most critical and humorous minds in this age and time, this is a treasure. Gerry Mandel sees the ordinary stuff we see but then rattles it around in that exquisite brain of his until it comes our as a polished gem of observation and wit. Trust me, you’ll like what you see.”
            - Harry Weber, internationally known sculptor, artist

 




Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Big Doings in New York City. Down Beat #2

 There was a column in each issue of Down Beat called Strictly Ad Lib. Stringers from up to a dozen cities, in the U.S. and Europe, submitted news and bookings about jazz in their cities. I covered St. Louis, and there was always something going on to keep me busy. The issue I refer to here is September 12, 1963.

First, however, to give you a taste of some of the musicians and vocalists that personified jazz in the U.S. during the early 60’s, here’s who were mentioned in the New York item, both as playing in NY or were leaving or arriving from gigs in other parts of the world.

Cannonball Adderley returned from Japan. His sextet was unforgettable: Brother Nat, Lateef, Zawinul, Sam Jones, Hayes. Count Basie left for a tour of Scandinavia. Art Taylor departed for Paris. In NY, you could hear Randy Weston & his 12-piece band; Machito and his 16-piece band; Horace Silver with Blue Mitchell, Junior Cook, Gene Taylor, Roy Brooks, Sonny Red, Chick Corea. Wow!! At the Village Gate: Herbie Mann, Roland Kirk, Lambert-Hendricks-Bavan, the Coleman Hawkins quartet. Charlie Mingus. Nina Simone. Odetta. Around town, there were Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, the Gerry Mulligan quartet (w/Bob Brookmeyer, Bill Crow, Dave Bailey). Bill Evans with Gary Peacock at the Village Vanguard. (I spent a lot of nights at the Vanguard on my frequent business trips to NY. Especially on Monday nights for the big band. The place was always jammed).



Okay. Enough about New York.

But you’ve got to admit, it’s a who’s who of the jazz world and jazz history. Following NY in the column came DENMARK, then TORONTO. 

Then a rundown of jazz in ST. LOUIS. 

Nancy Wilson packed them in at a new downtown club, Jazz Villa. Jorge Martinez ran the place, booked the acts. Scheduled to follow were Junior Mance, Joe Williams, Gerry Mulligan. The big names in town quickly give way to local names, some incredibly good musicians that called St. Louis home. Dave Venn, piano. Lee Hyde, trumpet. Ralph DeRousse, bass. Harry Stone, drums. Also Tommy Strode, John Mixon, Gene Gammage, Herb Kaufman. Jim Bolen.  Singleton Palmer, keeper of the New Orleans flame.

A couple of news items deserve mention here. First, a West Coast bassist,


Curtis Counce, died at the age of 37, of a heart attack. Curtis was born in Kansas City and became one of the few Black musicians to play with Shorty Rogers Giants. The other news item announced the closing of two well-known jazz clubs: Nick’s, the Dixieland spot in New York’s Greenwich Village; and the Black Hawk in San Francisco.

I had been at both clubs over the years. Nick’s was a hangout for Eddie Condon’s fabulous Dixieland group. I was there one night when a guy sat down next to me at the bar. We started talking during the break and he told stories about growing up in the music world. It was Max Kaminsky, the Dixieland trumpet player. He had just written a book, happened to have copies at the club there, I bought one, he signed it…and I still have it.

Now about the Black Hawk. I moved to San Francisco in 1960, following two years in the Army. The Black Hawk was part of my routine and I heard some great jazz there. The ones I remember are Cal Tjader, Stan Getz, Shelly Manne, Horace Silver. And, I think, Dave Brubeck. Oh, to be able to go back to those days, to those clubs, to hear those giants.

One more tidbit from that issue: the Blindfold Test, featuring bassist Ray Brown. He struggled a bit, trying to name the groups.

But I love this comment about jazz in general: 

“…I would go and listen to Charlie Parker or Lester Young, and I would retain a certain amount of what they played - I would wake up the next morning and be able to play it on my bass - plus the fact that rarely did Bird play a whole lots of, like 25, choruses. Those guys said what they had to say, and that was it.”

I love that. Talk about attitude. I saw Ray two or three times with Oscar Peterson and the trio. In fact, I have Ray’s autograph in an autobiography of Oscar. Never got Oscar’s though.

That ends this set. Stay safe, be well. See you next time. Sadie and I will be expecting you.








Friday, January 28, 2022

The Young Man From Down Beat - Part 1

 There was jazz in St. Louis. Lots of jazz. I was a 28-year-old neophyte copywriter at a small ad agency. I had been in love with jazz ever since I got my first 33 1/3 LP…back in the vinyl days…Benny Goodman and the 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert on Columbia Records. I still know every note, every drum break, the next song. The music is still magic for me. And I have the album cover, framed and on my wall.

St. Louis had several jazz clubs, ranging from elegant down to  seedy. I liked the seedy clubs. Where people talked in low voices, occasionally laughed loudly, clinked their ice cubes in their watered-down drinks, smoked cigarettes and even cigars. Never saw a pipe, though. But it didn’t matter where I was as long as there were jazz musicians on the stand.


Most of the clubs had a low cover charge. I was short on money. I thought if I tell them I’m stringing for Down Beat I’d get in for nothing. It worked. And I would give them a good mention in my column. I was a king maker, like Walter Winchell or Earl Wilson (look those names up; they’re part of American cultural history).



This is Part 1 of a 3-parter, pulled from the pages of my March 28, 1963 Down Beat which I keep in an envelope in the basement. This happened to be the 7th Annual Percussion Issue, with a “Spotlight on Drums: Elvin Jones. Chico Hamilton. Barry Miles. Kenny Clarke.” 

There’s a full-page ad on page 1 for Ludwig Drum Company, with a terrific picture of Joe Morello. He was the incredible drummer for the Dave Brubeck Quartet for many years. Next time you listen to Dave and Paul, listen closely for what Joe is doing. 

There are ads in there for Horace Silver, Ahmad Jamal (the cat still plays!), Ellington, Roach and Mingus together, and a Blindfold Test with Shelly Manne. That’s where the cat tries to guess what artist he’s listening to. Shelly didn’t do well on the test, but he laid out an interesting quote: “I like to listen to music, not only with my ears and my brain and my eyes, but I have to listen with my heart too.”

 

 

Now I’ll tell you about St. Louis. My contribution was placed between Philadelphia and Chicago. It starts off like this:


“Name jazz in this area is currently headquartered at Gino’s, a west-end club open since Thanksgiving. The attractions have included Sonny Stitt, Dakota Staton, The Three Sounds, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, and Herbie Mann. Sonny Rollins is scheduled next….Buddy Moreno did a guest stint for a march of Dimes telethon that included Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Bracken, and Virginia Graham…The Dark Side led off the new policy with King Pleasure…Harry Frost, KADY radio, did an unprecedented two-hour interview-with-music with Stan Getz.”


I met Stan Getz one night, with his young son, Steve, who had accompanied him on this trip. I thought the two of them would enjoy seeing some of St. Louis, so I suggested to Stan that he and I and his son go to the zoo. The next day, that’s exactly what we did. A magical day, for me and I think for them. We had dinner, pizza I think. And, I hope I’m not imagining this, stopped at Ted Drewes. Happy to say, Stan and I remained friends for the rest of his life. I saw him in Malibu, many years later, when his cancer was in remission. He wanted me to go swimming with him in the cold Pacific water, said it was good for his health. I declined, not particularly fond of swimming in really cold water. Now, looking back from three decades, I wish I had plowed into the waves with him, cold or not. Sometimes you just have to grab it when you can. Stan died about a year later.


So that’s jazz ala Down Beat for March of 1963. I’ll be back with more. Stay cool. As Duke would say, “Love you madly.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Take Your Good Intentions and Shove Them

 I've been cleaning out files. At least attempting to. But it's difficult to avoid getting caught up in reading some of the stuff I've written over the years. Make that "over the decades." I came across this one, written in 2010. I share it now with you. Remember, I'm 12 years older now, but the sentiment still holds. Probably  more emphatically.

....GOOD INTENTIONS....

I've reached that time of my life when I'm a little sensitive about my age. Granted, I can't do anything about how old I am, but I can do something about how I'm treated by young people. So, if you're under fifty - that's young - and you're a waiter or salesperson or someone I meet, here's what you should know.   When you look at me, I know what's going through your mind. You're thinking, "You're old." You're thinking, "I've gotta wait on this old fart and make him feel good."

Well, I can't help what you're thinking, but I can tell you what not to say or do. First of all, when I'm waiting to be helped at a store, don't say "How can I help you, young man?" That just reeks of bs. It tells me you see an old man standing in front of you. We both know you mean, "How can I help you, you confused old fool?" And don't look down at my fly to see if it's zipped up. I'm not at that stage yet, when I walk around with the breeze blowing between my legs.

Another thing: If I'm standing on a bus or the subway, and you're sitting, don't offer me your seat. If I was able to walk to the bus stop or the station and could step up to get on, I'm sure able to stand here for a few stops. And if you're staring at my fly as you sit there, and it's open, I'm not forgetful. I'm just airing it out. My choice.

Let's talk about food. If you're waiting on me at Denny's or IHOP, just hand me the menu, tell me about your specials, then leave me alone while I decide. Don't turn the menu over and point out the Senior Specials. That just makes me want to puke. When I order two eggs over easy, a side of bacon, a short stack of pancakes, and coffee, resist the urge to tell me I can order the Senior Slam or the Golden Platter for only $4.99 and I get hashed browns with it. Between you and me,, pal, I hate your greasy hashed browns. Even a 20-year-old stud or beauty like yourself would be hard pressed to digest that mess.   

And what I said about Senior Special goes double for the Early Bird Special. When I eat at 4:30, I call that lunch.

Another thing. When I'm in the cereal aisle at the supermarket, trying to decide between Cheerios and bite-sized Shredded Wheat, don't point out that high fiber crap to me. I know fiber is good for you. Unless you're Rip Van Winkle, there's no way anyone can escape the benefits of fiber. If I have trouble with my bowels, I'll go to Steak 'n Shake for a bowl of chili and a chocolate shake. That takes care of my problem and I can still enjoy my Cheerios and Shredded Wheat.

When I need a new pair of pants - not jeans, but big-boy pants - I'll probably go to Macy's or Target and look for something pretty sharp. Please, I beg of you, don't ever suggest I try on a pair of Sansabelt pants. Who do I look like, Ed McMahon? The only reason he wears Sansabelt is because he gets paid to.

Here's what you need to understand. There's a difference between being old and getting older. As soon as a little baby is born, he or she is getting older. You're getting older even as you sit there. You'd better hope you keep getting older for as long as you can, because when you stop getting older, it's all over. I don't think of myself as being old. I'm just getting older. A little slower perhaps, a little hard of hearing, takes longer to get up from sitting on the floor. But am I an old man? No Way!

One last thought: If you're a doctor and I'm in intensive care, and the priest is waiting to give me final rites - and I realize just how serious it is because I'm not even Catholic - don't come into my room in your white coat and stethoscope and gung-ho smile and say, "We'll have you up and running in no time." I'm not a Lexus. I'm a Chevy with a lot of miles, and I never ran well to begin with.

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

THE DREADED CURSE OF IMPULSE BUYING

     They know how to sell us stuff we neither want nor need, but we buy anyway. It’s there, all spread out for us like a garden of delights. The trap is set. We have to pass by it. Or, worse, stand next to it while waiting our turn. 

     You probably know I’m talking about check-out lanes at just about any store. The disease they’ve learned to profit from is “impulse buying.” It happens so easily, attracts us so effortlessly. 

      Recently I was standing in line at Ace Hardware. I held a 2-pack of halogen light bulbs and a jar of gopher and mole poison pellets, “Guaranteed to rid my yard” of these burrowing creatures. Two people stood in front of me, so I kept my proper social distance. Next to me was an assortment of hard and soft candy in bars and bags, salty snacks, colorful bracelets, action figures with little or no action, small plastic animals, insulated cups…the variety was impressive. Like a mini-Woolworth’s. Remember, this was a  hardware store. Nails and screws and pliers I would have understood, but this was far out of the category of hardware.

     I’ve got to confess here. I am a sucker for temptation, a victim of suggestion, a consumer of the unnecessary. It usually manifests itself with a sudden need for sugar or salt or something crunchy or chewy.  Even an occasional gadget that I didn’t realize how badly I needed it until I saw it was “New, Tested, Guaranteed, and Essential.” Guaranteed for what, it didn’t say. Those people have my number.

 
     So I bought a bag of licorice tidbits at Ace, “soft, chewy, delicious.” They were made in New Zealand or somewhere not usually associated with licorice. Switzer’s I would’ve understood. I ate three pieces in the car, then pitched the bag into the trash can when I got home. I probably should have given them to the gophers and moles in my yard. That would have speeded them along to a soft, chewy death.


     The good people who design floor plans for retail stores most certainly keep a psychiatrist or two on staff. They have read us like a book, know what our weak spots are, and probably have a list of categories with projections of sales and inventory turnover. These are most certainly connected to the type of retail outlet in which they’ve been installed. Ace Hardware has different customer profiles from Best Buy, which are different from Schnuck’s and Walgreen’s and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Maybe those impulse items are what “Beyond” means. Further, they all seem to feature a wide variety of gum. Ever notice that? Every configuration of gum is displayed in this impulse purgatory. If you need to chew, you’ll find it here.


     Possibly the most fascinating category for me is the magazines. I have learned things about public figures I never see in the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Just put me in a slow-moving line at checkout and I’ll be up-to-date on who’s getting a divorce or has a drug problem or is pregnant or has been messing around. I’m tired of reading about Prince Harry and Meghan and George Clooney and J. Lo and Ben and even Elvis. People I’ve never heard of fascinate me. Usually young celebrities who have gone viral for some unbelievable reason. It’s really hard not to read this stuff. Maybe that’s part of the reason reality TV shows are so popular. And I would know nothing about them if it weren’t for their accessibility at a vulnerable time. We’ve become a TikTok nation.     

     Impulse purchases are not relegated to just the checkout line, of course. If you go food shopping without a carved-in-stone shopping list, you’re guaranteed to put a few extra items in your cart. Recently I went to get a half-gallon of 2% milk. I got it, along with a half-gallon of Oatmeal milk (“Made with organic oats”) and a half-gallon of chocolate milk (“Omega-3 Supports Brain Health”). That sounded pretty good, but there’s no way I can drink them all before they expire. I will finish the chocolate milk however.

                             This column was published in the current issue of                                                     County Living Magazine (Fall 2021)