Cork Screwed

Note: This post is dedicated to my friend Gregg, who actually knows a thing or two about wine, and was nice enough to pay the wine tab at a recent dinner in NYC where the wine was more expensive than the dinner.

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you. You go out for dinner with a group of friends. One member of your group considers him/herself to be a descendant of the Rothschild wine family, and picks the wine for the table to enjoy. You actually prefer beer, vodka, scotch, etc., to wine, and enjoy one or two drinks, while the rest of your table slurps down on their “oh my, this is such a nice bottle” of wine.

Now comes the fun part…the bill arrives. The bottle or two or three that a few folks enjoyed is actually more than the food. Your one or two drinks is about $20 but somehow you get stuck paying for your share of wine, which can often double the cost of the total per person charge. Does Baron Rothschild offer to pick up the tab for the wine or split it with his drinking buddies, Ernest and Julio? No. You get stuck with your share of the wine bill and the taste of sour grapes in your mouth.

Here’s the issue I have with many wine drinkers. They think you drink wine to get drunk. Well kids, I have news for you – that’s not the purpose of wine. Wine (and many beers for that matter) is supposed to compliment your meal, not deaden your taste buds so that you can’t tell the difference between a porterhouse and a big mac. You wanna get your buzz on? Start with the hard stuff and get a nice moderately priced bottle of wine to go with your meal. That’s what a true wine expert will tell you.

Unfortunately for us non-wine drinkers, many so called wine connoisseurs are all air and no substance, just like the wines they drink. You know you are in trouble when the dinner conversation somehow turns to wine: Who has the biggest wine cellar, or who just bought and/or sold the most expensive case of wine, or who just had this fabulous bottle of  ” ’69 Old Sour Grapes French CabofrÁnc” and it was only $500. These folks just love to hear themselves talk. The problem is most of the time they talk with a cork screw shoved up their arses but seldom with their wallets.

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Runs Like A Girl Daze

During the Super Bowl, there was an ad for Always Feminine Products entitled “Run Like A Girl.” If you didn’t see it,  here’s a link to the 60 second version:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJou3cPN-NA

Runs like a girl. Once my daughter Allie became an athlete, I learned to really dislike that expression. As a young child, Allie was not all that athletically gifted. She couldn’t do a cartwheel like some girls, she basically walked out of a ski school class one day because she kept falling, soccer games were spent chatting with friends at midfield. Unfortunately, when it came to athletics, Allie got her mother’s genes. As I like to say about my wife, in elementary school when they were choosing sides for kickball, it came down to Linda and one other girl. Linda usually was the 2nd to last one picked because at least she was cute (and I’d be totally un PC if I described the other girl).

But if you know Allie, once she sets her mind to do something, look out. At about 10 years old, she decided becoming a better athlete was going to be a priority. She made the decision to switch from a nice Jewish sleep-away camp in the Poconos, where athletics were not the highest priority, and made the move to Camp Lenox in the Berkshires. It’s not only Syracuse where my children followed in their parents footsteps, as I also spent many happy summers on that Berkshire mountainside.  And guess what? Their logo is an Orange torch!

At Lenox, where the emphasis is on athletics and instruction, Allie became an athlete. By freshman year in high school, she had honed her skills playing club lacrosse (which she started playing in elementary school) and made the freshman field hockey team, winning defensive player of the year. It was at a field hockey game where my dislike for the expression “runs like a girl” became a reality.

Watching a game one day, one of Allie’s teammate’s father said, “Look at them. They run like girls.” My very quick and terse response was, “Your daughter may run like a girl but my daughter runs like an athlete.” I’m sure the expression on my face matched the tone of my response, so Linda tugged at my sleeve and backed me up a few steps. I quickly calmed down but, to this day, I still think I should have decked that guy. Or better yet, I think Allie should have decked that guy.

Today, my California girl surfs, is a cross fit junkie, and has even been known to play on her company’s co-ed softball and football teams. If you ever get the chance to catch her working out on an elliptical trainer, it is a face of raw determination. Yes, Allie runs like a girl. A girl who is an athlete…and that’s the way she runs.

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You’re The Best

This past Thursday was my birthday. My oh so wonderful daughter posted this on facebook: Happy Birthday to the coolest dad (source: var.), the man, the myth, the legend. She went on to add some very nice things, which she should, being that I am “the coolest dad” (where’s my sarcasm font when I need it?).

OK, admittedly, I am a cool dad. Sometimes I think I’m a bit too cool…but let’s not get into that right now. On any given day, you can log-on to facebook to see wonderful birthday wishes for someone you are “friends” with. Most likely they are the greatest _________ (fill in the blank) ever. The greatest dad, mom, son, daughter, and the list goes on. I hate to tell you but all of you people cannot be the greatest fill in the blanks ever. I know I’m not. I’m not the world’s greatest dad. Would be hard to be the coolest dad and the greatest dad at the same time (again….sarcasm).

I find these exclamations of greatness more than a bit trite, way overdone and most are bullshit. Because I suffer from a severe case of Peter Pan Syndrome, and because I’m pretty good at communicating with young adults, they like to talk to me. Without mentioning any names, I can honestly tell you kids have complained to me about their parents one day, and proclaimed their mom or dad the greatest ever the next. Some of those kids are now in therapy due to parental issues, and I know a few more who should be in therapy instead of talking to me!

When your birthday comes and you log-on to facebook to see yourself proclaimed the greatest fill in the blank ever, just remember that the social media world is filled with millions just like you, and the reality is you are probably not the greatest fill in the blank ever. Hopefully, you are a pretty good fill in the blank. The only thing for sure is you are not the coolest the dad. That title is already taken.

 

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No More Rosebud

This week in New Jersey, we had the great Fizzard (that’s a blizzard that fizzles) of 2015. Everyone and their meteorologist mother was predicting the great snowpocalypse and all we got was 6 to 8 inches. Just enough to break out the snow-blower.

When you’ve got that much snow, schools are cancelled and that can only mean on thing….it’s sledding time. Sure enough, the hills of South Mountain Reservation were filled with kids and their parents.

As I drove past this sea of sledding humanity, I couldn’t help but think of the joy I had growing up, going sledding with my friends. Unfortunately, this is a joy some children will have a hard time experiencing. Much like the Orson Welles title character in the movie Citizen Kane, whose final word before his death is “rosebud,” the name of his childhood sled, it appears that there are some folks who want to deprive us of simple joy of sledding down a hill.

Take the city of DuBuque in Iowa, where sledding has been outlawed in most of their city parks. Why would they ban sledding? Did you ever hear the one about 1000 lawyers on a boat at the bottom of the ocean? (And to one of my most loyal readers in Houston…sorry).

The answer is simple. In 2 recent cases, a person injured while sledding was awarded a multi-million judgement when they sued the city they were injured in. Doesn’t common sense tell you there’s an inherent risk when you put your body on a piece of wood or plastic, and go zooming down a snow and ice covered hill? There’s bumps, there’s trees, there’s other people, and there’s a good chance someone is going to get hurt. According to what I’ve read, some 20,000 injuries from sledding are treated each year at hospitals throughout our country.

If you read the articles about the paralyzed little girl or the man with the spinal cord injury, both suffered while sledding, you want to feel bad for them. Than you read they sued the cities they live in, those suits paid out over $2,000,000 per case to settle and you don’t really want to feel that bad for them. The victims and their lawyers have taken the fun out of one of life’s great joys – flying down a hill with the wind in your face, not a care in the world.  Except now you might get sued if you hit another person on the hill. I’m sorry you got hurt but you, your families and your lawyers are just another reason why the joy of childhood ain’t what it used to be.

One time, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, my father took my sisters and me sledding at a hill on Community Drive in Manhasset. Another sledder came down the hill and smashed right into my leg.  There was some blood, a bruise and more than a few tears but no lawsuit. In those days, you picked yourself up and went back up the hill. The funny thing about that hill is that it’s now part of North Shore Hospital.

I’m not comparing my bruised leg to that little girl but I do think something needs to be done to a system that allows for these types of lawsuits. Instead of using children’s toys as firewood, maybe it’s the books in which these laws are written that need to be burned to ashes.

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Raise The Gas Tax

Drive down Millburn Avenue, make a right hand turn on to Vaux Hall Road to head into Union and you know what you will find? One pathetic piece of NJ roadway. It’s not very long but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in it’s utter lack of quality.  How about JFK Parkway, not too far The Mall at Short Hills, one of the more high-end retail centers in our country. Drive down that road and you are sure to feel a bounce or two. As a matter of fact, driver down almost any road in NJ and you are bound to see potholes. These daze, potholes come in all sizes, just like clothes – small, medium, large, all the way up to XXXXXL….and beyonds. Highways, byways, local roads, residential streets, avenues, lanes, boulevards…doesn’t matter what you call them.

Here in New Jersey we have potholes, lots of them. Now, these potholes are not something new. They have been there for months, some spots have had the same potholes for years. You can actually find sizable chunks of asphalt laying alongside some roads, right next to the hubcaps that get destroyed everytime a car finds it’s way into one of the many cavernous potholes that seem to be swallowing up New Jersey’s roadways.

Why haven’t they been fixed? I can’t say for sure but it might have something to do with the fact that the State of New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund is broke, busted, dazed and confused. For the past several years that fund has been looted by our elected officials to cover the shortfalls of our state budget. What is supposed to be a dedicated fund, used for the sole purpose of maintaining our state’s infrastructure is used but that.

At 14.5¢ per gallon, NJ currently has one of the lowest gasoline tax rates in the country. With gas prices lower than they’ve been in years, you’d think maybe now would be the time to raise that rate to replenish the fund that repairs and maintains the state’s crumbling infrastructure but nooooooo! A recent poll finds 60% of all surveyed opposed to raising the gas tax. So when presented with driving on our state’s shitty roadways in their current shitty condition or raising the gas tax to fix, NJ residents would rather leave things the way they are.

My first thought was these people must be morons! My second thought was “did the person who asked you the question explain about how low the gas tax rate is in NJ? That the transportation fund is broke? That the roads will probably get much, much worse if we don’t so something and soon?”

Common sense (and you know how much I love common sense) says if you have a problem that requires money to be fixed, but the money that’s supposed to be used to fix that problem is used for other purposes, you need to find another source for that money. So why don’t we?

Let’s start at the top…our “no new taxes” governor who has done a good a job as anyone looting the state coffers and leaving NJ high and dry. As for the legislature…please. Whether they are in Trenton or Washington DC, politicians suck at everything except getting themselves re-elected and screwing their constituents.  Not to be forgotten, are the residents of the Garden State, who don’t really want to pay a penny more for gas, especially now that it has dropped over a dollar per gallon in just the past few months. Listen, I like cheap gas as much as the next guy but I also like safe roads and not running the risk of gashing a tire or losing a hubcap everytime I go out the door.

I honestly don’t know what we are waiting for. It will probably take some sort of disaster for everyone to realize the fact that our infrastructure is getting older every day and crumbling right before our eyes. Next time you are driving, see how long it takes before you see a pothole, a hubcap or a whole car seemingly swallowed by what you’d think would be a smooth, nicely paved roadway. Maybe when you have to pay $200 for a new tire, hundreds of dollars more for a new rim, thousands of dollars to fix whatever else breaks, even tens of thousands of dollars for a new car, you’ll realize that a few cents for a gallon of gas isn’t so bad after all. In this case, common cents makes common sense.

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Better Business Bureau Daze

Earlier today I received a phone from the Better Business Bureau looking to “verify some information about Monarch.” I’m actually very cautious when it comes to these types of calls and try to end them as quickly as possible, but it was the BBB so I gave the person the benefit of the doubt.

Took a couple of minutes but I soon realized that this was not a verification call at all but a sales call wanting me to sign up for their online business service. I quickly verified that fact when I asked point blank was “is this call going to cost me something?”

“No” was the initial response. “This is only to inform you of the additional services we offer.”

Services they offer for a fee. At that point I almost said to the person “I’d like to speak with someone in your customer relations department, as I ‘d like to lodge a formal complaint about a business that I feel uses subversive tactics to sell their services to unsuspecting customers.” Boy, that would have been so much fun. Afterall, isn’t that what the BBB is known for? Taking on complaints and resolving disputes? That’s what I have used them for.

In the end, I decided it was just not worth the time. I very politely told the person I wasn’t interested, which of course made them very unhappy. I wonder if she complained to the Better Business Bureau about me?

 

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The Poland Imperative

In June of 1985, Linda and I got married, and spent our honeymoon in Italy. If you had told me it would 29+ years later before I would set foot in Europe again and the next visit there would be to Poland, well….I don’t know what I would have said to that. But last month, that is exactly where we found ourselves.

Our trip to Poland was wonderful. The people were friendly, the food was much better than expected, loved the history of the country, would love to go back someday. Unfortunately, no trip to that part of the world is totally complete without visiting one of the concentration camps. On Saturday of our trip we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau.

For a little bit of family perspective, I’m half Polish. My mother’s parents were both Polish. My grandfather Irving, who I’m named after, had 12 siblings and lived in Warsaw. Only he and his brother Phillip made it to America. What happened to my other 11 great aunts and uncles? No one really knows but after our trip to Auschwitz and learning the history of what happened to Poland and it’s people in WW II, it’s not hard to imagine.

The day was cold, outside and inside. I don’t think there are any words to describe what it is like to walk through this place where so much misery and death occurred.

Prior to being a concentration camp, Auschwitz was a Polish army barrack. From the outside, that’s a pretty good description. Walking through the first few buildings of our tour, I didn’t really feel much. It wasn’t until we walked into a room with a 40 to 50 foot glass enclosed area where there was hair, actually human hair, that I got that feeling of dread. Human hair that was taken from the corpses and sold for multiple uses. Than there are displays of clothes, luggage with names on them, pans and utensils, personal hygiene items, and more.

The "death wall" at Auschwitz.

The “death wall” at Auschwitz.

I could go on but the thought of that place still sends chills down to the bottom of my soul. A chill that I felt so deep that when I went to sleep that night, my feet were still cold. This was several hours later, after a hot shower, dinner and lots of walking around Krakow. It was as if my body were holding onto the ghosts of all the lives lost at Auschwitz and throughout Europe. I felt as though my family, my lost family, was somehow taking my body’s warmth from me. Warmth that I gladly gave them so that I could feel the utter coldness of their lives.

I’m going to admit something I haven’t told anyone about that day…not even Linda. The last building you go into before departing Auschwitz is the gas chamber where so many lives were ended. As I stood there silently, imagining the possibility that a member of my own family could have been one of the thousands of lives that were lost in this very place, I closed my eyes and whispered the words of Kaddish – the Jewish prayer of mourning. I will also admit that I did a better job of holding back the tears there than I am right now sitting in my nice warm office in NJ.

I titled this post “The Poland Imperative” because I believe that every person who lives in a free society has a moral obligation to visit a concentration camp. To learn about the crimes against all humanity that were committed. Not just to Poles, not just to Jews but to scholars who were considered a threat, religious leaders of all denominations, other minorities, the sick and those unable to work who were considered expendable, to any person who did not fit the Nazi ideal. We all must go so that this type of genocide can never occur again. That the millions who died will never be forgotten. That their memories will forever be a blessing to all who mourn them now and forever.

 

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