America At A Crosswords

December 27, 2016

Like a lot of you, I’m scared shitless about what’s in store for our country and our politics as we move toward a new administration. I’ve tried to tune out the most disturbing details; how else to get through the day? And, I’ve also decided to avoid writing about what’s going on. After all, not everyone feels the same as I (or you) do—and the ironicman blog is not meant to be a soapbox for my political expression. As I’ve said before, we try here to be light-hearted with a just a touch of realism.search

As I’ve made this ostrich-like effort to bury my head in the sand to keep from hearing about the catastrophe taking place, I’ve been drawn to some tried and true pastimes to soothe my psyche and distract me. Which is why I find that I’m doing a lot of crossword puzzles lately. And drinking more.

Doing crossword puzzles, has long been a salvation for me.  (Doing them while drinking is even better.) Getting lost in the puzzle is as close as I get to meditation; if I’m anxious or worried, it’s the perfect escape—for the time I’m working on it, there’s nothing except me and the page I’m looking at. So, as you might expect, I’m now doing crosswords more than ever.  I do the one in the NY Times daily and of course, the one on Sunday.

I’ve done crossword puzzles, off and on, for a long time now and truthfully, I’m fairly adept. As an adjunct to doing the crossword, I follow a blog published by a master wordsmith, Rex Parker, who is one of those savants who does the puzzle in a matter of minutes.  Not infrequently, I check with Rex (after I’m done) if I haven’t been able to finish or to check myself.  Also, to see how the puzzle was rated (easy, medium or challenging) and to follow his commentary on the fill.imgres

That follow-up with Rex is all part and parcel of the ‘Nero Neil fiddling while Rome burns’ distraction that I need. The entire process takes me to a totally insulated place; probably not unlike those sensory deprivation tanks that block out the world.

About a week ago, I had just finished a weekday puzzle which included the clue for 5 Down, “Younger brother of Ivanka“. (Answer: Eric).  As I said, I often check with Rex to see his critique of the puzzle and on this day I did exactly that. I knew nothing of his politics, so you can’t possibly imagine my surprise and ecstasy when I read this commentary on that puzzle:

The NYT has to stop this gratuitous use of the near-future President’s family, and the ALT-right in general, in its puzzles. OBAMA (and MALIA) appeared a lot because his letter pattern is so grid-friendly. 60% vowels, terminal A—both useful features. And you can clue OBAMA only one way. Nowhere else to go. ERIC, however, has a near-infinity of other clues … and yet you go to this smug fascist halfwit … twice in one week!? I’m in no way saying the puzzle has a rightward tilt (that’s absurd, just as absurd as the opposite claim). I’m saying the incoming administration is repugnant on every level and casual references to them (and their Nazi, sorry, ALT-right supporters) in crossword puzzles normalizes them. It’s the most normalizing thing ever, actually. The banal neutrality of a crossword clue. Fuck all that. All of it. Also, I happen to know that in this case, the ERIC clue was an editorial decision, and one that did Not sit well with at least one of the constructors. I’d be furious too if someone rubbed that shit on my puzzle. Even if you’re trying to draw some vague connection to Mussolini’s right-hand man there at 45D: ___ Balbo, right-hand man to Mussolini (ITALO) … no.

Gotta love the reference to Mussolini’s right-hand man!

A Good Old-Fashioned Blog Post (Sigh…)

December 15, 2016
"Ahhhhhh!"

“Aaahhhhhh!”

There was an article in The Times a few weeks ago that raised my hopes about getting older.  It seems that studies show that dementia rates are dropping.  And this, even as the population ages. But in a surprise, the study found that people who were overweight had a lower risk of dementia than those who weren’t. There was no clear explanation for this.

Obviously, I wanted to figure out what this meant for me.  Well, for starters I made what seems like a logical leap to the premise that the converse may also be true; that by my being thin (for the record, I prefer the term, “lanky”) I’m essentially sending an open invitation to Dementia to come and take me out for dinner.  To confirm this theory, I need no more evidence than to note that almost all of my friends are heavier than I am and most of them haven’t shown signs of losing their marbles. Clearly, I need to do something.

So once again, I’ve embarked on a regimen to gain some weight.  In a hurry.  To that end, I am now eating enormous quantities of KOZYSHACK™ chocolate pudding. Which is fabulous. I can’t put into words how much I love this stuff.  And on top of that, it has no artificial preservatives, is kosher and . . .  and yes, it’s gluten-free!  This just could be the perfect food.  I figure if I really apply myself, I’ll be able to put on enough weight in only about a month or so to move myself into that category of folks who are more dementia resistant. This is exactly the kind of preventative medical care that the Affordable Care Act should be emphasizing.

Of course, I try to take these scientific studies with a grain of salt.  After all, researchers often find that their initial findings were in error. In fact, just the other day, I was reading the Science Times and there was a report of another scientific study that suggested that, contrary to what we’ve been told for decades, whole milk may be more healthful and less fattening than low-fat milk. Jeez . . . as I think about it, if the experts can be so wrong about that, it’s not hard to imagine that in four or five years a new study could come along that finds a strong correlation between Dementia and chocolate pudding.

But luckily, KOZYSHACK™ also makes a fabulous rice pudding. Which again has no artificial preservatives and is kosher and gluten-free.  Sure, it’s made with low-fat milk but that’s a small price to pay to make sure I don’t spend most of my time looking for my keys.

Make America Grate Again

November 30, 2016
Not sure...is this what they mean by

Not sure…is this what they mean by               “conflict of interest”?

A Trump voter from West Virginia:  “I don’t think he can ever fulfill all the promises he made even in four or eight years, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.  He wants to make America great again.”

It’s been three weeks that I’ve been living in a nightmare that there’s no waking up from. In fact, the nightmare is getting worse.  And it’s not just my nightmare.

Almost everyone I talk to is having the same bad dream. It’s all everyone I know talks about. The upside . . . if there is an upside, is that there are a lot of people talking to each other who would otherwise be strangers. One feels no reserve in joining a conversation upon hearing a phrase like, “I can’t believe it!” or, “Isn’t Canada awfully cold?” It’s kind of like sneezing–everyone feels that they can chime in with a “bless you” whether you’re in a store, the subway or on the street. Anywhere. For that moment, it’s like living in a small town where everyone knows one another. Kindred spirits so to speak. But nowadays, instead of “achoo” I’m sneezing, “Fuck Trump!”.  And guess what— I  still get lots of  “Bless you’s”.

In some ways, this situation reminds me of the divide, the grating that occurred in the country during the Vietnam War Era. But this feels different. As rancorous as that period was, it was mostly about a chasm in the country over policy.  I never felt the Republic was in jeopardy; this Trump mess has me and many others feeling like the country is at the edge of an abyss with a hollow, rootless, avaricious demagogue ready to push it over the edge.

Unfortunately, with Democrats being out of power in Congress, the brake (remember “checks and balances”–that quaint notion) on this guy rests with the Republicans. Don’t count on it.  If you want evidence that these people are not patriotic (in fact, they’re whatever the opposite of patriotic is) just look to Mitch McConnell and his cohorts’ vow (made on the day of Obama’s first election) to do whatever they could to make sure that Obama’s presidency failed so voters would be disillusioned and that they, the Republicans, could increase their numbers in the House and Senate in the mid-term elections.  In other words, formulate a plan to screw the country just for the sake of the Republican party.  This is who we have to count on to do the right thing.

You should know . . . we here at the blog factory would rather not be writing about politics.  We’d much prefer the light, frothy, frivolous and sometimes ironic stories which have been our hallmark.  But this is a very grave period we’re living through so it might seem almost careless to write about something like an obituary I saw today of a man, Mark Taimanov, who had been a Russian chess champion and a virtuoso pianist who died at age 90. The part of his story I would have liked to write about was that he fathered twins (a boy and a girl) at age 78 with his fourth wife.  I would have quoted the end of the obit because it had a fact that I would have been too tired to figure  out:  “The twins were 57 years younger than his first child and 27 years younger than his granddaughter, although they were aunt and uncle.” Makes perfect sense, no?

I would have continued that part of his story reminds me of one of the few records in my house when I was growing up.  It was a novelty song by Jimmy Durante called, “I’m my own grandpa”.   The lyrics include a convoluted family tree full of marriages and divorces that culminates with Durante figuring out that he’s his own . . . well, you get it.

Anyway, that’s the stuff I wish I was writing about.

The Electoral Community College

November 15, 2016

Like many of you I was devastated by the election results last week. I mean really devastated.  I am just now uncurling from the fetal position I’ve been in.  I’m regrouping and trying to make the best of a horrible circumstance. Trying to make lemonade from lemons, water from watermelons and peanut butter from peanuts.  It’s not easy but I may have found one positive element to extract from this disaster.

I’ve decided to swear off all of the political shows I had been watching in a not so healthy way. I am now living in a politics-free zone. No more MSNBC, no CNN, no nothin’. This frees up an enormous amount of time which I can now devote to . . . to . . . ah yes, that’s the dilemma I now face.  Certainly, I’m going to start reading again; and probably writing more blog posts. My gain, your loss. The perfect illustration of one man’s ceiling being another man’s floor.imgres

This election has reinforced in me the notion that America is indeed, a wonderful country.  One in which, as we like to tell our children, anyone can become President regardless of their background or to whom they are born.  (Except if you’re a Jew or a woman—or worse yet, a Jewish woman).  And now, I find that America is even greater than I had thought. Because it seems that you can also become President despite being a sexist, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, draft-dodging, amoral ignoramus incapable of putting two sentences together. Apparently, there are no restrictions whatsoever in America for entry to the White House. Evidence for sure that we are a land of freedom and opportunity. Is it any wonder we’re a beacon to oppressed people across the world? Unfortunately, they now have a less than zero chance of making it to our shores

So many interesting facts have come out about this election.  One that has completely absorbed me is that according to exit polls something like 25% of the people who voted for Trump thought he was unsuited to be President. 25%! Unfit for the freakin’ job. Remarkable! Did they think he was running for dog catcher!?? Which leads me to an exit poll I conducted of myself.  I overwhelmingly came to the conclusion that 100% of those people were morons and unfit to vote.

I wrote to a few friends that one of the saddest ironies about what has happened is that we will now have a president who doesn’t pay taxes. And proud of it.  Almost all thought that was one of the lesser calamities that has befallen us.  I agree . . . but in terms of irony and a definitive example of the kind of person who will become the leader of the free world, it speaks more than volumes. It speaks entire libraries.

Now that all the votes have been counted, we find this interesting anomaly: Hillary won the popular vote, more people voted for Democratic Senators than Republicans and the total vote count for House members was overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats.  Yet, we now have a wholly Republican government. In another country, this would be called a coup—in ours, we call it the electoral college and gerrymandering.

A long time ago,there was a season of Dallas in which they killed off Bobby Ewing only to have him reappear the next year.  The explanation given to us viewers (yes, I admit I was one) was that the entire Season 9 had been Pam Ewing’s dream—that it hadn’t actually happened.  Well, each day since last Tuesday, I wake up hoping that I’ve been living in Sean Hannity’s dream and that the 2016 election hasn’t really taken place. But unfortunately, this isn’t a network drama I’ve been watching.  It’s reality TV at its very worse. God help us.

 

From The Gipper To The Groper

November 10, 2016

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God help us.

“Five From New York, It’s . . .!”

October 25, 2016

Life is so full of coincidences and symmetries. For example, just last week MetLife announced that it was abandoning its association with Snoopy and the Peanuts family.  Just like that. For decades Snoopy et al have been the soft side of life insurance.  Now, no more beagle, Charlie Brown or Lucy.

She'll Be Missed

She’ll Be Missed

But in a twist that makes me almost believe there are surreal forces at work, Lucy has been replaced.  You see, my daughter, Onnaoj and her husband, Hsoj, had a baby girl last week–named, Lucy.  Yes, the world is full of mysteries.

This, for me, is grandchild number five and as my friend, Retep#2 likes to remind me, I now have enough for a basketball team. Of course, my team doesn’t have a lot of experience . . . the oldest is only six. And the truth is, they’re rather short.  For example, my starting center, Julian, is only 4′ 0″; and it’s downhill from there.

As I’ve written before, all this grandfatherness has all happened rather suddenly. And honestly, I don’t think I’ve fiscally prepared for it very well.  You see, when the first was born I started giving what I consider a very sizable cash gift on each birthday.  I continued this with each grandkid.  I had never considered that there would be this many birthdays.  Now, I’m starting to think I may have to reconsider this entire ret . . . retirem . . .retirement thing.

But there are saving graces and advantages (beyond the obvious pleasures) to having all these grandkids. As you may know, I’ve had an ongoing commitment to try to maintain as much of my mental acuity as I can. Doing crosswords, walking on cobblestones, supplements–the works.  But I don’t think any of these do as much for me as trying to keep track of five new birthdays. Can you imagine??  Of course, I use all kinds of memory aids and mnemonic devices but this just more of the kind of brain cell activity I relish.

And then . . . and then, just when I think I’ve stimulated all of those cells that have just been lying around doing nothing for years, I realize I get to try and keep track of a whole new bunch of middle names.  Let’s see . . . there’s Damian—-or is it Damien; there’s Shepherd— or is it Shephard. And all those others. Wow, how great is this!

My Starting Point Guard

My Starting Point Guard

 

 

Fantasy Goofball

October 10, 2016

I was having a conversation with my friend, Nod, the other day and mentioned that I had gone somewhere on my own recently.  He asked kiddingly if anyone had “hit’ on me.  Which, of course, no one had.  But it led to a conversation that we’ve had off and on about how as we’re getting older, we often feel that we’re invisible to women. What I mean by “invisible”, is the lack of any recognition by random women that there is a sexual human being under all that gray, white, thinning or missing hair.

I’ve had this conversation with any number of my friends.  Many, unlike me, have been married for a long time and have not been “in the market”, so to speak.  Which means that for many of them, when a woman pays some attention, it’s an opportunity to flirt; usually this is limited to some harmless patter with waitresses.  I exempt myself somewhat from this paucity of flirting because for periods of time over the last number of years, I’ve taken part in not-so-harmless patter while dating. I’ve found that if you meet someone for a drink, occasionally she will look at you as if you’re a card-carrying member of the opposite sex. And if you go all in with dinner, well . . .

For some men who want to re-live the glory days of their youth, there exists a number of opportunities. One of these is the availability of fantasy baseball camps.  The idea behind this is that a bunch of aging men who regard themselves as athletes go south to some facility to play baseball for a week or so.  The key to the success of these camps is that former major leaguers are embedded in the teams; so, you or I can go to the New York Mets fantasy camp and live out our childhood dreams of being a Major League Baseball Player and become temporary teammates with players such as Eddie Kranepool, Ron Swoboda, Mookie Wilson, et al.  Sounds like it’s probably a lot of fun.

SATCH.COM?

SATCH.COM?

It occurred to me when Nod and I had our conversation (remember . . . in the first paragraph?) that a similar contrivance could be used to allow us, and others like us, to re-experience the frisson of some harmless flirting. So I suggested to Nod that we create our own fantasy “camp”.  Rent out a bar or two; hire some women to make believe that they see the “campers” as interesting, attractive and virile men. In much the same way that Eddie Kranepool high fives some old guy for making  what would otherwise be considered a routine play, some woman might act utterly charmed by someone like Nod. Or me, for that matter.

But as I’m thinking about this plan, it’s starting to sound awfully pathetic. And creepy. I’d probably be better off finding my old mitt and check out flights to Florida. The truth is, I’ve always thought Art Shamsky and I would get along really well.

Note:  If you have an interest in the political season check out this youtube done by my friend boB:

V-J Day

September 16, 2016

Sadly, Greta Friedman died last week at the age of 92.  My connection to her was tenuous, at best.  I’ll explain:

Greta was most famous for being the nurse captured in the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photograph taken in Times Square on V-J Day.  In it, she is being held and kissed by a sailor she didn’t know.  But I knew him. Kind of.

Ankles Aweigh My Boy

Ankles Aweigh My Boy!

The sailor in the photo was a former girlfriend’s uncle–Uncle Carl.  Some years ago, probably marking the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Uncle Carl was making the rounds on TV as the avatar of the sailor in the photo.  Unfortunately, a number of other men also claimed that they were, in fact, that sailor. Though having met neither them nor Uncle Carl, I have maintained throughout that he was certainly the man in the photo. Further evidence that my claims to fame are very few and sometimes very strained.  I’ve used this connection whenever it seemed appropriate (witness here) and sometimes when the randomness of it can seem quite sad.

One of the things I like most about that photograph is how it harkens to a simpler, more innocent time. In the more cynical and jaded times we live in, moments of such genuine exuberance and joy are in very short supply.  And yet, when I read Greta’s obituary, it seems that even this icon of a charming, ideal portrait of the United States at that moment has come under attack as an example of a sexual assault by modern standards.  Jeez!  Based on that calculation, I’d be doing hard time by now.

But more to the point . . . where does that leave Uncle Carl?  And even more to the point–where does that leave me?  An admirer and relation (of sorts) to a molester?  No, thank you!

Fortunately, Ms. Friedman is on record as saying that., “it was just someone celebrating.  It wasn’t a romantic event.”  She didn’t view it as an assault in any way.

From what I read in her obituary, it seems that she lived a good life. I also read that there are a number of other women who claim to be the nurse in the photo.  Which means that there may be more obituary notices covering that photo in the future.  Which means that I’ll . . . well, I guess you can figure the rest out.

“I Coulda Been A Contender . . .”

September 8, 2016

It’s beginning to dawn on me that my chances for glory are gradually and inexorably diminishing.  I’m not talking about fame or fortune; or even “making my mark” professionally.  More along the lines of a distinguishing, permanent record of some kind of achievement or accomplishment that I’ve been part of.

Game, Set, Match!

Game, Set, Match!

This point was hammered home to me while on vacation this summer in UnSag Harbor.  One day, I decided to take a bike ride over to an East Hampton tennis club, Green Hollow, that I had joined for the summer about thirty years ago. At the end of the season, the club ran a member tournament that I entered. I made my way into the finals and in what (sadly) remains a highlight of my tennis life, I won. Not only won, but beat the perennial champion, a guy named Ken Trell.

Without boring you too much (just a little) the match went like this:  I lost the first set badly and was trailing in the second set.  A handful of people were watching.  But then somehow I came back and won the second set. Apparently, word spread at the club and a lot of members started appearing to see the third set.  As we played in the third and deciding set, an interesting thing happened; even though Ken (who I was friendly with) was a very nice and well-liked guy, I started to feel like the crowd was rooting for me.  Maybe they just wanted a change. (This, by the way, is probably why W. won against Al Gore.  Despite the Clinton years of prosperity and relative peace, voters wanted change for change sake. Which may also be the reason Hillary is having such a problem with that moron.  But that’s a story for another time. Told by someone else.)  In any event, unexpectedly, I managed to win a tight last set in front of a crowd that had swelled to about fifty onlookers.

As thrilled as I was to win, I was even more elated to know that a plaque with my name as the club champion would be displayed on the clubhouse wall for time eternal.  Which is why I decided to bike over (remember the bike ride in the first paragraph?) a few weeks ago. I hadn’t been there in decades and things looked a little different.  I sought out the manager and explained that I had won the club championship in the 1980’s and wanted to see the wall where the plaques were displayed.  Sheepishly, he told me that the club had changed hands a few years ago and he had no idea what had happened to any of the club’s memorabilia.  And there went one of my few opportunities for an enduring marker.

That disappointment got me thinking about some of my missed chances for exactly the kind of superficial (read: plaque on a wall) evidence of accomplishment I’m looking for.  Probably my biggest error was my shortsightedness in the name I chose for a bungalow colony I converted to a co-op around 1980.  I had bought what had been Sharon Bungalow Colony (named for the owner’s daughter) and for marketing purposes decided to call it, Lake Huntington Summer Community, Inc.  Catchy . . . no?

Now, all these years later, it’s a thriving community of some fifty odd families who spend their summers in an idyll.  Had I known then what I know now,  those people would be going to the pool or playing tennis at, Neil’s Place.  Or maybe, Stein’s Vacation Cottages.  Or better yet,  Neil Stein-you know, that guy who won that Green Hollow tennis tournament-‘s Summer Colony.

(Ein) Stein On The Beach *

August 19, 2016

For much of this month I’ve been vacationing in Sag Harbor.  This place used to be called the unHampton . . . meaning that it was less ritzy than the other Hamptons.  More downtown than uptown. Well, that sensibility has gone the way of pleated pants.  One can almost no longer say with the same holier than thou attitude that he/she is staying in “Sag”.  I say “almost” because if you saw the place that I had rented you would understand why I have no trouble maintaining that endearing quality I have of being above it all.  I am, in fact, staying in the unSag Harbor.

Aaaahhh!

Aaaah!

Because it’s been so hot and so damn sunny, I’ve been going to the beach more than I have in many years. Occasionally, B and I biked on a lovely road to an ocean beach a half-dozen miles away. As I’ve sometimes done in years past, I strapped a chair on my back and attached a beach umbrella to the frame of the bike. All went well until we got to the parking lot at the beach and it was time for me to get off my bike. Because of various joint problems too dismal to go into, dismounting my bike has become a bit of an adventure.  Having the umbrella extending beyond the rear wheel made it virtually impossible for me to get off my bike in the conventional way.  So the only choice I had was to lift my leg over the cross-bar in the front of the seat.  I was a few inches shy of clearing the bar and sadly . . . very sadly, B had to grab my foot and guide it over the bar to the safety of land.  After that episode, I don’t think she’ll ever have sex with me again.  And who could blame her?

Once on the beach, I put the chair down and set out to plant the umbrella.  Somehow or other, I have become an expert in placing my umbrella in such a way, that it’s sure to get blown away.  This is not nearly as bad as it sounds; it’s a great way to meet people. They’re usually grateful they didn’t get impaled and it gives us something to talk about. Of course, if things go badly, it can also be a not-so-great way to meet their lawyers.

After several hours of me making believe I was reading and B actually reading, it was time to go.  But not before I got a chance to use my other great way of making friends at the beach. You see, for some reason my beach chair ordinarily won’t close. So I have to struggle with it by trying every which way to get it to fold. This, it turns out, is very entertaining to the people around me watching the show.  And often, they come over with suggestions and will sometimes even give it a try. This bonding experience usually leads to drinks, dinner and the formation of life-long friendships.  (Well . . . maybe not.)  I usually end the performance by trying to rapidly close the damn thing sixty or seventy time and then —voila!— it closes.  The only thing missing is a drum roll.

Finally, after feeling totally enervated from being at the beach, it’s back on the bikes for a ride that seems twice as long going back. As we arrived home, I so wanted to get off my bike.  But, given the dismounting problem,  I also so wanted not to have to get off my bike.  The classic approach/avoid conflict. Boy, life’s a beach!

*Einstein on the Beach is an opera in four acts (framed and connected by five “knee plays” or intermezzos), composed byPhilip Glass and directed by theatrical producer Robert Wilson. Not to be confused (as I often do) with: Kafka on the Shore, a 2002 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.