Welcome Pilgrim!

September 6, 2019

I recently met a friend of Lebasi’s, S, who is visiting New York and staying at her house. S currently lives on Cape Cod where her family settled a while ago. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. While we were chatting, she blithely mentioned that her family goes back to the Mayflower’s landing on the Cape.*  Not bragging or anything —  just a piece of information. She couldn’t possibly have known . . .  but this is precisely the kind of stuff that impresses me. I know that it shouldn’t and I’m not proud that it does but, but  . . .  you have to take into account that my roots in America are shallower. By a lot. In fact, the closest I’ve ever gotten to any Mayflower is when I bought a pedestal sink from some developers just prior to the Mayflower Hotel In Manhattan being demolished about fifteen years ago.

I’m sure my fascination came as no surprise to Lebasi.  She knows that I have a misplaced value (by her measure)on this kind of stuff. As a result, she keeps her own lineage pretty close to the vest.  Oh sure, she’s taken me back five or six generations but, to date, I haven’t been able to get her to go any further back than that. Does she think I believe that her great, great grandfather just appeared fully formed from nowhere? It’s hard to explain her reluctance about this. Maybe she thinks I’m an ancestry gigilo.

I’ll be honest with you. If my forebears went back to Plymouth Rock, you’d know it within the first five minutes of meeting me.  I’d delicately weave it into our first conversation. Or you’d notice the, “Descendant of the Mayflower” tee shirt I was wearing. One way or another you’d know the I’ve been here a long time.

I’ve tried to figure out why this kind of stuff registers so with me. My bet is that there’s not a healthy explanation for it.  If I ever go back into therapy (hah!) I guess I could start with that. ‘But Doctor, I do remember a feeling I had of being the one who belonged, the entrenched one. There was a time, a long time ago, when I threw a birthday party for my business partner at the time, Isaac. Unlike I who was born here, Isaac (who was quite successful) had emigrated from Russia in the 50’s when he was nine years old. I remember remarking in my birthday toast that he acted like he was renting America from me.’  Oh . . . if only!

* In an amazing instance of serendipity or fate or the Lord moving in mysterious ways, today, September 6 is exactly 399 years to the day that the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England, in 1620. Which means that next year will be the quadricentennial of that departure. To co-opt a phrase, “Next Year In Provincetown!”

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Let’s Play Two! *

August 13, 2019

Ernie Banks

 

Very occasionally, good news arrives at my doorstep. This is what happened last week when I picked up my New York Times and came across an article that has made me positively ebullient since I read it. It concerned a study by some Harvard researchers published in the medical journal, JAMA, which has found that major league baseball players have a longer life expectancy than the general population. And not by just a little but by a whopping 24%!

The study analyzed the lifespans of ballplayers who had died between 1979 and 2013. More than 10,000 of them. You might ask — what does this have to do with Neil? Well, although I never played major league baseball, I’ve played all kinds of ball my entire life. Stickball, punchball, softball, tetherball, volleyball, paddleball . . . you name it. All that has to count for something.

But it gets even better; it seems that for some reason, middle infielders (shortstops and second basemen) have an even greater edge in life expectancy.** When I read that additional analysis I was so gleeful that I cancelled my long-term healthcare policy. Just don’t see that I’ll be needing it. Because you see, when I was in college I played shortstop for my fraternity in the intramural softball league.  True, I wasn’t very good but I was stationed in . . . in . . . in the MIDDLE INFIELD!!!  How lucky can one guy get!?

I’ve had too many aches and pains lately which has forced me to face my mortality in a way I’ve never done before.  Up until a few years ago I just assumed I’d live forever. Or more precisely, that there was so much time ahead of me that there was no urgency about . . . about . . . well, about anything. Which is an attitude that’s a little surprising considering that I’m pretty good in math.  But as I say, that changed a couple of years ago. But now, now there’s this Harvard study which kind of rights the ship for me. How I love the Ivy League!

I often wonder what gets researchers to home in on a particular group to study. What’s the calculus that determines who, what and when. Why not analyze the life expectancy of left handed CPA’s, for example. They might find that twisting one’s hand in that weird way might shave years off an accountant’s life. Or better yet, how about a study of life spans for Brooklyn tennis players (right handed) with petty decent forehands but backhands that are just eh. I’d bet a study like that could prove awfully interesting.

 

* Famously said by Ernie Banks, the Hall Of Fame shortstop for the Chicago Cubs upon arriving at the stadium for a doubleheader. The full quote: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two today!” Banks died in 2015 at the age of 83.

** The researchers also found that catchers had the worst life expectancy of ballplayers. Probably all that crouching behind home plate.  More good news for me though— I caught only one inning of one stickball game in 1957.  That was it.

Pappy Hour

July 9, 2019

 

Most weeks, my dear friend and I go out for dinner.  (I could disguise X‘s identity by spelling his name backwards, upside down or even inside out but given the nature of this story, it might still be too risky for him to be “outed” So best to call him X.) We usually go to the same bar/restaurant each week where we are now considered “regulars”.

Ordinarily, we have the same wait-person, Ervin. Our assumption is that Ervin and the rest of the staff think we’re an older gay couple who have been together decades. (What else is new!?) To that point, X told me that one time when he showed up at the restaurant with his wife, he was sure he overheard some remarks coming from the bar that suggested he was cheating on me. Nerve!

In any event, last week we met for dinner as usual.  But on this particular evening, Ervin was nowhere to be found. Instead, our wait-person was a cute young woman who was filling in for him. Which is why we have this story.

X and I had gotten into the habit of ordering the same drink each week — me, vodka on ice and X, more often than not, the happy hour-priced  wine. Ervin knew this. But our new wait-person — the cute young woman — didn’t. So naturally, she asked what we were drinking,  I gave her my vodka order and followed up by asking her what the “early bird special” wine was. After I let out a yelp, he quickly corrected himself by asking about the “happy hour” wine.  But, the truth is, there’s really no recovering from something like that. Might just as well whip out some pictures of the grandkids at that point. However, If there was one saving grace to this episode, it was that we were seated at a high barstool table . . . so it was a lot easier for me to hide under the table so as to be associated with the “early bird” comment.

Eventually, I came out from hiding, X and I had a good laugh and continued our evening talking about the Mets and Nietzsche —  you know, the usual stuff. Obviously, we can’t go back to that place again, so now I’m on the lookout for some new restaurant for us to frequent. Ideally one that has a happy hour or one that, in a perfect world, has a grandpappy hour.

Johnny (Howie) I Hardly Knew Ya

May 29, 2019

Several times a year a Brooklyn College alumni magazine is mailed to me. I usually get around to reading it after I’ve run out of other ways to waste my time. Each time I go through an issue, the first place I look is the, “In Memoriam” section. Just to see who I’ve outlived. The listing of the departed is broken down by graduating year and that’s the year where my attention is keenly focussed. I scan the names to see who I may have known or had been friends with. Ninety percent of the names listed are some form of “Howard Kaplan” or “Barbara Levine” (if you get my drift) and I begin to think I may have been friends with all of them. But the truth is, not one of the names has ever jumped off the page to remind me of times spent together.

About a week ago the latest issue arrived in the mail. When I got around to checking to see which friends from my graduating year I may have lost, there was a list of a dozen or so names. That really scared me — that’s a lot of people to have died between issues.  True, my class had a gazillion, maybe two gazillion graduates but still . . .   Then it dawned on me that the list was cumulative. As it may have just dawned on you that your favorite blogger is a boob. At any rate, I felt greatly relieved to realize that my class was not exactly dropping like flies.

The only other part of the magazine that I pay any attention to is the listing of various accomplishments of alumni, again laid out by graduating year. This I do to feed my envy; which it turns out, eats almost anything.  No dietary restrictions of any kind. To date, I haven’t made my way into either of these two categories. Mostly, that’s good news; actually, despite my not gaining any notoriety it’s really good news.

After my last go-around with the magazine, I started wondering how the association gets wind of someone’s passing. Each year has a “class correspondent” who seems to be the repository of all things related to that class. So I guess it would fall to one of my survivors to let her know that I wouldn’t be showing up for any more reunions. I’ll have to remember to add that little bit to my will. But while that info may be passed on (much like me) it’s more than likely whomever would come across my name would probably have the same reaction that I do — “Neil Stein”, just another version of “Michael Goldberg” — “sounds very familiar but I really don’t remember him.”

As I think about all this, it occurs to  me that there’s a real possibility that the “in Memoriam” list is, like some resorts, not all-inclusive. There have to be classmates of mine who have passed on who, for one reason or another, haven’t been accounted for. That might be something for me to look into. But then again, it’s also likely that there’s a host of accomplishments that have been overlooked and unreported. That wouldn’t be so good. Maybe it’s best that I just leave well enough alone.

 

I Am Who I Don’t Pretend To Be *

April 28, 2019

 

 

This story is so very hard to write about. No, no . . .  don’t get me wrong; not because it’s emotionally draining but rather because the chronology is very disjointed.

So I’ll just present some facts which will be helpful as we go along.

About forty years ago, I bought a bungalow colony with the intention of converting it into a housing cooperative.  This, I did and as a result there are more than fifty families summering in an idyllic location in the western Catskills at the Lake Huntington Summer Community (Inc.).  Well before that, when I was a kid, I fell off my bike and landed on my head which left me with a life-long bump on the right side of my forehead. (This was before bike helmets were de rigueur; in fact, it was just a few years after bicycles had been invented.) Oh yes, another thing . . . I have a bluish scar on my shoulder, the genesis of which is a mystery to me.

And lastly, just about a month ago, as a birthday present, Lebasi decided to covertly make a photo essay book of real estate projects I have been involved with. As part of her effort, she’d taken photos of various buildings in Brownstone Brooklyn and had also gotten photos on-line of some bungalows at LHSC.

Now to the fun part. Prior to giving me my present, Lebasi asked me to sit down because she had something very important to discuss with me. She began by earnestly telling me that I had had a very serious accident as a toddler which apparently, I don’t remember or had neglected to tell her about. She went on to explain that in order to get the bungalow colony photos she had googled, “Neil Stein bungalow colony”. Evidently, one of the results of that search was an entry of a lawsuit between a man with my father’s name and a taxi cab driver. The lawsuit alleged that the cab driver had run over his son, Neil Stein, at a bungalow colony in the summer of 1948. The accident had left him (me?) with some serious injuries including head trauma and . . .  and, according to the lawsuit, a “bluish scar on his torso.”

On hearing all this, I was more confused than usual but insisted that I’ve never been hit by a taxi cab.  Also, I told Lebasi that,  although I’d spent one summer at a bungalow colony, it wasn’t until I was twelve years old.  Because she assumed that I’d been so traumatized by the event, Lebasi wasn’t trusting my recollections. So I asked to look at the on-line entry of the lawsuit to see the particulars. This proved to be revealing. For starters, the plaintive was Samuel Stein — not  Sam Stein which was my father’s name.  No uel.  Also the little boy, Neil, was only 19 months old in the summer of 1948. I was three.  Sure, I’m always looking for ways to be younger but even I’m not desperate enough to assume that kid’s identity just to shave my age by a measly year and a half. I have standards.

There were a few other glaring inconsistencies. The bungalow colony where the accident took place was in Beacon, New York. You’ll have to take my word for it . . . but it is virtually impossible that my father (who was beyond famous for getting lost) could have ever found the way to Beacon. Inconceivable. In fact, if the people in the lawsuit were indeed us, and we were planning a summer at that bungalow colony, we wouldn’t have arrived until the fall of 1948.  At the earliest.

And lastly, although the suit does correctly mention that Neil had an older sister (as I do), those appear to be the only kids that Samuel Stein had.  So where does that leave my older brother, Evets? Kind of in no mans boys land, no?  I’ll let you break the news to him.

Lebasi finally came around to agreeing that the little boy who had been hit wasn’t me. And that that trauma wasn’t mine. Which was a great relief to both of us. As for my namesake, I hope he recovered fully, and has had a wonderful life.  Maybe he even has his own blog.  Wouldn’t that be . . . be . . . what’s the word?  Ironic?

 

 

* Philip Roth’s response on being asked what kind of writer he is.

 

 

 

 

 

Grace Notes

April 12, 2019

 

About a week ago, I took a trip with Lebasi to Montgomery, Alabama to visit her oranges origins and also to see her daughter, who is currently working there.  Even though Lebasi has a lot of extended family still living there, we opted to stay at a bed & breakfast located downtown, the Red Hill Cottage.

I knew going in that we would be spending our evenings with Lebasi’s family. I had already met a number of them in New York and had fun being with them. Our first evening, we went to Lebasi’s cousin’s home for dinner.  Five or six of us were talking in the living room and then we were called in to sit at the dining table.  I was all ready to dig in when someone grabbed my hand and before I knew what was happening, someone else was “saying grace.”  I was somewhat startled but if you were to have seen how effortlessly  I handled this turn, you would have thunk I was raised a religious Catholic. Kudos to me!

This was part of each our meals including a lovely dinner we had in a fancy restaurant where, presumably, my rabbi would be able to see me. Still (and surprisingly), I didn’t feel any slight at my inculcation into this new Tribe. I analogized it to seeing a gentile wearing a yarmulke (skullcap for you non-New Yorkers) as a sign of respect when visiting a synagogue. True, that gentile is usually running for office but still . . .

The morning after that first dinner, we headed for breakfast at Red Hill.  But first, let me say something about our “hosts”, Steve and Bonnie, who we had met when we had arrived the prior afternoon. I’ve never seen the movie, Psycho, but I’d bet the Bates’ had nothing on these folks. Which is to say, I was already pretty scared when we went to breakfast.

And sure enough, just as I was about to get to my eggs, boom!, Steve pops up and grabs my hand and starts saying grace. A lengthy one, at that.  This was starting to feel a bit like a conspiracy but I don’t think Lebasi’s family know these folks.  If there was good news, it was that as part of Steve’s thanks to Our Lord there was also a request that his guests have good weather and not too much traffic in their travels.  Who could argue with that?

Lebasi and I discussed this turn of events and agreed that there was a vast difference between saying grace with her family and a stranger imposing his religion on me (us).  In fact, when I looked up during the prayer I had seen a number of other guests also rolling their eyes  . . . just not as fast as I was.

I went to breakfast the next morning steeling myself for what I knew was to come.  (To paraphrase Woody Allen in Annie Hall, “I needed the eggs”).  And after all, I still wanted good weather and light traffic, so . . .  And Steve did not disappoint. We held hands, I had my eyes rolling like pinwheels and good weather was to be mine! But on the next morning — our last, I just couldn’t go through it again so I asked Lebasi to make an excuse for me not being at breakfast. I suggested she should tell Bonnie and Steve that I had gone to shul.

After that last missed meal, it was time  for us to pack up and leave the South.  But one strange thing happened before we left the room. I was in the bathroom and somehow or other I dropped my cellphone in the toilet.  I’ve never dropped my phone anywhere and now, the toilet!  Maybe it’s true, the Lord does move in mysterious ways.

1099-MISC

March 20, 2019

 

As some of you may know, I’ve been publishing a collection of each year’s blog posts in the form of a small book for the last ten years.  Years nine and ten had to be combined because either year alone would have been thin enough to use as a napkin.  And the way things are going it looks like the next publication may include years eleven through well . . . it’s anyone’s guess.  You may also recall that as part of my un-marketing campaign, over the years I would pay, if not handsomely, reasonably, to have you — my readers— take these books off my hands. Thank you once again.

A number of years ago, in a complete reversal, I decided to take a chance at actually selling one issue on-line.  I created an e-book of Volume V and lo and behold with some diligence you can find it on Amazon. Somewhat sadly, I’ll admit that the last time I checked, sales were . . . were . . .how should I say, sluggish.

But recently, right around my birthday, I received a notice from Lulu Press (the outfit with whom I self-publish) that sales have been booming. This took the form of a tax document 1099-Misc which includes the amount of my royalty income that is being reported to the IRS.  Based on what my share of each sale is, it looks like more than 300 “volumes” have been sold.  Extraordinary!

At least, that’s what I thought.  A couple of things made me suspicious. Firstly, I’ve never received a dime from Lulu. The truth is, any upsettedness I have about that would be more than eclipsed by the elation of having a readership reaching into the hundreds.  But when I checked into my account with Lulu a wholly different sales story unfolded.  Apart from the books I have “bought” and the ones that Lebasi kindly downloaded, sales have been very scant, to say the least.

These data points (as we investigative journalists now say) got me looking more closely at “my” 1099.  And sure enough, on closer scrutiny I saw that the Social Security No. for the payee — one, “Neil Stein” — was not mine; that obviously, I was sent the form in error and someone else had earned those royalties. So there’s a chance that sometime last week you heard a giant “whoosh” sound across Brooklyn.  That was the air coming from my burst balloon. But here’s an opportunity, if we all pitch in, for us collectively, working as a team (as i know we can) to inflate a new balloon.  All each of has to do is visit: https://www.amazon.com/Iron-ic-man-Triathlon-V-ebook/dp/B00KVURTYO/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?keywords=Neil+Stein+ironicman+ebook&qid=1553106257&s=gateway&sr=8-2-fkmr0

And next year, who knows . . . maybe I’ll get a 1009-MISC that actually belongs to me. What a nice birthday present that would make!

My first redaction! Very exciting….

Ooh It’s a Holiday . . .

March 1, 2019

It was like Christmas, Kwanzaa, Eld al-Fitr, and Purim all rolled into one. I’m referring, of course, to this past Wednesday’s televised testimony given by Michael Cohen to the Oversight Committee of the U.S. Congress. What a day! My one regret is that I don’t have a job. It would have been a perfect day to call in sick.

Certainly, I watched too much of the hearing but who could blame me.  Where else would I be able to have a front row seat to a psychodrama of such national import.  Some people involved even went so far as to say that the hearing would be something remembered hundreds of years from now.  That seems a bit hyperbolic but still, it did seem like it had the possibility of loosening the stranglehold on the truth that’s been central to our politics of the last number of years.

The hearing was a mixture of heavy drama along with a healthy dose of tedium. But there was just enough of those boring times to be able to fix a snack and go to the bathroom; clearly the producers of the show had me in mind when they arranged the lineup of the inquisitors of Mr. Cohen. Nicely done!

Of course, at times I found myself screaming at my TV. There were any number of questions or smart-alecky remarks I would have added had I been on the Committee.  But sadly, I never ran for Congress so my legislating mostly takes place from my couch. Something I may change in my next life.

But had I been there, I would have said to the Republicans who acted as if it was an insult to have a convicted liar testifying before them, “I understand your concern, but try as we might, we couldn’t find any associates of the President to testify who haven’t been convicted of lying.”  And when they expressed their greatest umbrage at having someone who had pled guilty to lying to Congress (about when the Trump Moscow Hotel talks had ended) testifying back in front of them yet again, I might have mentioned that the lie to Congress that got Mr. Cohen in trouble was the identical lie that their Dear Leader has been telling for quite some time. And not just to Congress but to the entire country.

I expect there will be some more public hearings in the near future.  But honestly, for my equanimity I think it’s best for me to move on to other important things.  Didn’t spring training just start?  Oh yes!  Let’s Go Mets!!

 

 

 

Be Careful What You Fish For

February 7, 2019

 

For anyone who has been following this blog, you know that practically every third posting has something to do with my ongoing battle upstate with the mice who think that my Miata is an all-inclusive vacation resort. Well, I have news to report on the Mouse War, the second longest war in the history of Ulster County. (See Note)

Sometime last spring, I bought the car a 25th birthday present — a major tune up.  When I picked the Miata up, the mechanic regaled me with stories of finding mice nests in the carburetor, the air filter and some other places that I can’t remember. Having removed those sanctuaries, I resolved, at that point, to spare no effort in keeping the car rodent free. So now, as the car sits in my barn it looks much like a patient at a dentist’s office with all sorts of gizmos going into various parts of the car.  I have ultrasound machines attached with extension cords inserted in the passenger compartment that are “guaranteed” to keep vermin away; I have beeping machines in the engine compartment and the trunk which are “guaranteed” to keep vermin away; and I have a strobe light going which is  . . . well you know the rest.

These measures came with some interesting unimagined consequences. The first few times that I went into the barn to look in on the Miata, the high-pitched beeping noises I heard made me think that I had suddenly developed tinnitus in the one ear that had, up until then, been tinnitus free. What a relief to realize that the racket in my left ear was from nurture, not nature.  And, of course, the strobe light transported me back to the 60’s with such vividness that it was all I could do not to run to the house, find some bell bottoms and head back to the barn to smoke a joint.

I can report that all these measures seem to be working — the car appears to be mouse-free.  But (and I can’t write that “But” large enough) there’s been an unforeseen downside to my success in the barn. Having been turned away at the border of the car, It appears that the mice are now seeking asylum in my house. Yes that’s right . . . Mickey, Minnie and a lot of their friends have breached my foundation walls and seem to have made themselves very much at home in . . . in  . . well, MY home!!

Oh … if only!

Lebasi and I discovered this last week when we arrived for a weekend away. Not to gross you out, but we very quickly became woke to mouse droppings throughout what heretofore has been a very welcoming and cozy respite. After recovering from mouse-shock, we remembered that there were some mouse traps and repellent in the basement and we began to plot our counter attack.

I was a bit more ruthless than Lebasi and focussed my attention on the mouse traps which were unlike any I had ever seen. They were essentially small electric chairs powered by some AAA batteries; just without the chair. By luring the mouse into the trap with peanut butter, Mickey’s friend would wind up standing on a metal plate that would . . .  well, use your imagination.  I put a few of these out over night and in the morning found that one of the traps had done its job. I went to empty it and quickly realized I wasn’t cut out for that kind of work. That this was not what my mother had raised me for. Not by a long shot.

I made a plaintive call to a local exterminator, Steve, who arrived later that day. He explained his modus operandi which included the initial visit during which he would clog holes and lay down assorted bait traps.  He appeared even more ruthless than I was. Steve explained that he would return in two weeks to collect his bounty and re-bait his traps. Unfortunately, I heard “re-bait” as rebate and got really excited. It was only after he left that Lebasi straightened that out for me.

So, even though I’ve reduced the Misis caliphate in the barn to almost nothing, the Mouse War continues . . .  with neither a rebate nor an end in sight.

 

Note: The Revolutionary War was longer by one year and several months.  No mice were involved.

Breaking News: Basketball Team Dissolves Before First Game!

January 9, 2019

In the course of writing the blog, I know that I’ve covered some topics numerous times.  But I never really know exactly how many times.  But this time I know . . . it’s the sixth time. Because, you see, my son Essej recently announced to me that he and my daughter-in-law, Fets, are having another kid, their fourth.  So now it’s six grandchildren.

Of course, I’m thrilled for them. But for me, it presents some real challenges. That’s because I’ve only recently been able to figure out a mnemonic to help me remember the existing birth dates of my grandkids.  Along with that, I’m well on my way to committing four of the five middle names to memory; I even frequently get the right middle name with the right kid.  But now . . . now all that work is at risk of being upended by this turn of events.

In a perfect world, one in which I could use my brain cells for some higher purpose, the new baby would be born on the same date as one of the other ones. But the due date is in June and as best as I can remember, there are no other June babies. Add to that, I assume he will have a different first and middle name than all the others. New names, new birthday — Jeez!  It’s at times like this that I think George Foreman was on to something by naming each of his five sons, “George.”

Just to show you that I’m not totally narcissistic, before I started worrying about how this affects me, I worried first about how Essej was going to fit all these kids into his apartment.  I know that he and Fets have been feeling a bit squeezed and looking to move anyway so I asked him if he now felt a sense of urgency.  He looked at me quizzically and wondered what I was talking about.  When I pointed out that they were already running out of room and in June things were going to get even more crowded, he calmly explained that my oldest grandson, Julian, would be going to camp this summer. I didn’t see how that solved the problem since presumably Julian will be coming back. If not, someone should have a talk with him. A long one.

But back to me.  I think I’ve shown a lot of flexibility as it’s been raining grandkids over the last several years. When the fourth came, I easily gave up the notion of a three person horseshoe team and was all set to oversee some interesting tennis doubles. And then when the fifth came I totally abandoned the tennis gig and moved on to a basketball team. Seemingly, that idea has gone the way of pleated pants. I’m not sure, but I think a volleyball team may consist of six players. Maybe ice hockey, as well. Given the outfitting for hockey, I think volleyball makes the most sense for my team of the future. So now, it looks like I’ll have to bone up on both the coarser and finer points of the game. Of course, that’s assuming I don’t get another call and have to take a crash course in ultimate frisbee.