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Archive for January, 2012

I love watching people. Yes, this includes you. Don’t want anyone feeling left out.

I love watching people park at the gym.

The gym parking lot is always crowded. I mean packed. When they built the place, they didn’t realize the membership was going to surpass the ability to accommodate it.

I know. Success can be a real bother sometimes.

Anyway, I get a kick out of the people who will circle and circle and circle the parking lot, looking for the perfect spot as close to the doors as possible. Keeps them from having to walk far. They will sit in the car and wait for a person to pull out of a space up front, instead of parking in one of the available spots in the back of the lot. Then, after they park, they get out of their car, hop on the treadmill, and run 20 miles. Makes me smile every time.

I love watching the people at the gym watching the TV programs while they exercise.

The sweat/workout room at the gym is huge. And there are about 13 giant, flat-screen TVs hanging way up on the wall and suspended from the ceiling, intended to entertain us couch potatoes and keep us from realizing that we are not home on the couch covered in orange cheese-doodle powder but instead are out among several hundred other couch potatoes who have spent more time than they should with their hands in a bag of deep-fried crunch and are now under the impression that exercising like a fool will somehow remove the deliciousness and desire from potato chips. Or suet.

What I enjoy most about this scenario, outside of the outfits, is the fact that the Food Network is one of the channels to which two of these TVs are tuned, every day.

I find great hilarity in watching a gravitationally challenged Ina Garten and a diabetic Paula Deen serve deep-fried whipped cream and chocolate-covered bacon as they roll around in giant tubs of tapioca while all the exercise machines work overtime on the gym floor directly below them.

See, Ina and Paula should be on this side of the kitchen counter, sweating with those of us who have made them as famous as they are.

One of life’s ironies. Makes me chuckle.

I love holding the door open for a stranger. Especially when they can’t take the time to acknowledge a voluntary act of kindness. (I usually say “You’re welcome” very loudly when I get ignored. I’m a jerk, and proud of it.) I don’t have to hold the door — especially for someone who obviously can’t afford etiquette classes from Emily Post (or a comb, soap or an iron, for that matter) but can afford $10 smokes and a box of ice cream.

I do it because I like reminding others that being nice isn’t going to kill you. Respect for my fellow humans is not beyond me. I especially like sharing kindnesses with those among us too busy frowning and mumbling under their breath about why they can’t find their teeth.

Respect. That’s what I’m all about.

I love watching drivers at the four-way stop when they have no clue how to proceed, whose turn it is, and how, basically, the whole thing works.

And it’s really simple. While you are pulling up to the intersection, you check the other three stops and see who got there first. All the cars, patiently waiting at stop signs, that were there before you, get to go before you.

One exception to the “everyone goes before me” rule that I employ is if the car directly across from me is coming straight across the intersection toward me, and I am also going straight across the intersection toward him. In this instance, I will go at the same time, whether the cars to my left and right have been waiting or not.

Their intersection is going to be blocked by my perpendicular buddy, so it won’t be any skin off their teeth if I go at the same time.

In any case, when it’s your turn to go, you have to go like you mean it. Paying attention is key.

Any hesitation can make one of the other drivers in one of the opposing lanes think they are in the wrong and then they might lurch forward. Lurching is a bad thing when it comes to the four-way stop.

Either sit there and wait your turn or floor it because it is your turn. None of this herky-jerky stuff that makes everyone else wonder if they’ve missed something.

I think this is why drivers from Massachusetts (Massholes) have such a tough time at the four-way. Do you know that there are drivers from Massachusetts (and we all know how they drive — like they’re already late and think they can get there on time) who are incapable of negotiating the four-way stop?

I’m married to a family from eastern Massachusetts, so I am aware of this driving flaw.

They can speed their way through a traffic rotary with their eyes closed (as most of them do) but they can’t figure out whose turn it is at the four-way. One reason is because there is a red hexagon on a post with a foreign word painted upon it in white. They know not what this word means, nor the action it commands.

They are also not accustomed to letting someone else go first. This seems to work on their commonwealth, among their people. Every driver in Massachusetts understands how every other driver is going to act — they all study at “the everybody all goes at once” driving academy and know what to expect.

Which is one reason New York drivers (and by New York drivers, I mean me) get swallowed up whole when they dare to clog a Massachusetts arterial. It is also why I am married to a person who has a brother and they both tell me I drive like an old lady — no lie; this has happened on more than one occasion (and they’re not nice about it when they say it) — even when I am driving near my home in New York state, among other New York state drivers.

“Why did you stop at that oddly shaped red sign? You drive like an old lady.” My family.

Respect. It grows on family trees.

I love watching people who, in general, have no clue how to go first.

I have a theory that I routinely practice. If you and I meet in a situation that involves one of us having to gesture to the other that you should go first, I believe the first person who is told to go first should go first. None of this: “After you;” “no, after you;” “no, after you;” baloney.

If I wave you on, you should go. If you wave me on, I will go. If I wave you on and then you wave me on, you lose. I’m going. You get one shot. Use it. If someone is being polite to you, it is not polite to mimic their gesture. It’s polite to accept their gesture, and then throw a “thank you” wave (using all fingers in unison) as you skirt past.

We’ll all get where we’re going a lot faster and with a lot less lurching if we would just do as we’re told.

You’re welcome.

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I bet one reason snow is hated so by right-thinking people who agree with me is that, as an adult, the opportunities to play with it are far out-numbered by the amount of time spent just dealing with it.

Not unlike marriage.

When I was a kid, I longed for days like this past Thursday morning: one ear glued to the radio, waiting for those magic words from Don Weeks: “In Columbia County …”

Here it comes …

“Chatham Central schools …”

Where’s my hat with the ear flaps and my mittens with the clip that clips them together and my giant “I can’t put my arms down” snowsuit and my scarf and my boots and my sled and …

“… are running one hour late.”

Aaaaaaaach. One hour late? What is that?

“Mahhhhhhh. It’s only one hour laaaaate.”

“Don’t worry, my sweet darling snow angel, they might still close. There’s time. Mommy loves you.” Mom always had the right thing to say in the midst of the most unfathomable of crises. A one-hour school delay is worthless to a child. It is one hour of time wasted that will never be given back.

Can’t go out and play; gotta get ready for school. Can’t go back to bed; too wired about the snow. So, while mom listened to the radio, the only thing left to do was watch the rest of “Captain Kangaroo.” And pray for Don Weeks to come through.

The one hour late thing was a mind boggler for a young mind already suffering from an abundance of boggle. I can honestly remember only once in the seemingly endless string of years I was forced to go through that whole “school” thing — where you sit with the same people all facing the same direction day after day, year after year, and do nothing but crack jokes, ignore homework, and somehow skate through by the skin of your teeth — when the school day was delayed by an hour, thanks to the weather.

I think they (the unseen magic people on high who held the fortunes of the entire adolescent snow-worshiping community in the palms of their hands as they decided, yes or no, if it was going to be a school day or a snow day) preferred to close the school instead of figuring out how to slice up the day — which was already rigidly and with loud bells sliced up into specific time quadrants.

If we bring them in an hour later, do we just lop off the first hour of the day and pick up where the schedule would normally land after an hour? Or, do we get out our protractors and figure out how to divide the hour into the number of periods, deduct that amount of time from every class, reset the bell system so that it rings eight minutes earlier for each class, all day and and and …

I bet that’s why school was closed more frequently than it was delayed — the unseen magic people on high couldn’t do the math.

Heck with it. This is too hard. Let’s just close school.

And forget the two-hour delay — which was the delay du jour with this past Thursday’s storm. Seemed like every school district listed on the first scroll across the bottom of the morning news broadcasts had opted for the two-hour delay.

The two-hour delay must really mess with the class schedule and the bell system. By the time the kids get to school it’s time to ship them off to lunch, gym, study hall, and home again.

(“In Emerald City County, Oz Central School, two hours late.” We get up at 12 and go to work at 1. Take an hour for lunch and then at 2 we’re done.)

I am sure there were occasions during my schooling days when classes started two hours late, but I don’t remember them. I only remember the snow days.

“… And in Columbia County, Chatham Central schools are now closed.”

Those magical words that, more than most others, decided the direction of a young, round human being’s entire day.

Today, those words have no effect on me whatsoever. For one reason, Don Weeks retired. And with him, seemingly, went the countless number of hours the radio folks spent reading the list of closings. With the invention of television, and its much hipper cousin, the Internets, the radio seems to have gotten out of the school closings business and passed the work off to technology. We didn’t have technology when I was a kid. We had WGY.

Snow days are there for others to enjoy. I can only sit here, look out my giant window, past the giant shrubbery covered with snow, out toward the stand of trees, the branches upon which are now dancing under the weight of the season’s first memorable accumulation, thinking about sledding and snowmen and snow forts and snow balls and snowshoes.

And getting the snow fort dug out and the snowballs made so we can bombard the snowplow as it goes by. (Playing army in the snow added a whole ’nother dimension to playing army. The plows were the tanks. They didn’t stand a chance.) I digress.

But I’ll not complain, I have told myself, about any of the snow we get this winter. Because we have come this far surrounded by barren, brown, lifeless earth and leafless, dead-looking trees.

We should all be thankful that global warming is just a stupid thing smart people talk about and not something that is really happening. If it was real, it would melt the snow before I had to shovel it.

I could not imagine being a 10-year-old roly-poly snow-loving dweeb, like I once was, and having to deal with the winter we have thus far experienced. What a gyp. On the other hand, I am ecstatic that it wasn’t until Jan. 12 that I had to brush the snow off the car in the morning for the first time.

But then, I probably should have thought to start the snow blower before the middle of January to make sure it would operate when finally needed.

On the other hand, thank goodness the snow was so heavy the snow blower couldn’t move it.

But then, the snow too heavy for the snow blower had to be shoveled. The problem with the shovel is that it works whether or not it’s been tuned up for the season. And there are few things less enjoyable about snow than having to move it when it’s the heavy stuff.

The amount of snow in the driveway Thursday morning was just past the threshold I use to determine if it’s going to be ignored or removed. If the weatherman says we’re only getting a couple of inches before it turns over to rain, that can be a cue to a lazy boy that perhaps it would be best to wait and see what the rain does to the driveway in terms of melting it before spending all that time shoveling. I’m not one to needlessly place an abundance of wear and tear on a shovel if nature’s plan is to lend me a hand.

Especially when there are forts to build and snowballs to make. Never know when the plow might come back through.

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A new year brings with it a couple of random thoughts.

I have to admit I don’t understand the thought process behind people who smoke while pumping gasoline.

This is not a knock against smoking or smokers. If that’s your thing, then whatever. Please keep it away from me because it doesn’t smell very good and it kills people. It didn’t seem to, as much, when I used to do it, but it does now. Funny how that works. One of many smoking oddities.

Note to gentle readers: Please don’t tell me smoking is bad. I know it is. Everyone in the world knows it is. It’s been in all the papers. I am not condoning it. Smoking is stupid. But I am not so far into myself that I believe it’s my duty to tell others they shouldn’t smoke. Of course no one should smoke. Everyone already knows that. But if they do smoke, and they keep it to themselves, then it’s none of my business. (Unless, by way of proximity, it becomes my business.) I will not be publishing letters to the editor saying I shouldn’t have told everyone to go buy lots of cigarettes and smoke them all the time everywhere. Yum yum.

Not gonna do it. Merely setting a stage here.

I was driving home from work the other day when I passed a gasoline-and-junk-food store. Guy got out of his car, which he parked at the gas pumps, and he had a giant lit cigarette hanging from his lips. I use the work “giant” because it wasn’t a stubby little thing about to be tossed to the ground and snuffed under a tattered sneaker.

(Another amazing feature, I have always found, that comes with the practice of smoking is the fact that when smoking is finished, littering statues are suspended for the length of time it takes to flick from a car window or drop to the surface of a parking lot a spit-covered cotton wad of poison, still on fire. Welp, done smoking. Time to litter. Again, this was never an issue when I was guilty of it. It’s only been since then, it seems.)

Anyway, this guy at the gas pumps drew my attention because the cigarette was so long. Which mean he had just lit it, within seconds before getting out of the car. Which means he made a conscious decision to set fire to dried leaves compacted into a paper tube dangling in front of his face mere moments before placing his head — which, I would suggest, could be classified as being “in the danger zone” — within inches of the opening of his gas tank and the nozzle from which he was about to squeeze one of the most flammable liquids we regular humans are allowed to handle.

I need gas. Better light a cigarette.

I’ll be right home, honey. Gotta hold fire in front of my head while surrounding it with gas fumes.

Sometimes the cortex has a mind of its own.

So then I finished driving home because I didn’t want to keep the cat waiting.

It has been so long — more than three decades — since I have had a young cat in my life that I have forgotten just how weird they are.

There have been a total of five cats in my life. Growing up, my sister had a cat named Morgan, who was young when I was young and by the time I started remembering things, he was all grown up and had already developed his beliefs and strategies. I wasn’t yet using my entire brain when he was a kitten, performing kitten responsibilities, and I have no recollection of what he did after growing to full size while still being young.

What I remember of Morgan was the delight my grandfather used to achieve by hand-wrestling with the cat and afterward showing us all the blood and scratches on his hand when he was done. Gramp would laugh like heck as the cat tore the flesh from the back of his hand.

Oh, what fun.

Morgan was also responsible for introducing me to the small dead animal and nature’s pecking order. He was an indoor cat during the day but did his business outside. And at night, he was sent outside to fend for himself while the rest of us took shelter under blankets in warm bedrooms.

In the morning, when Morgan was allowed back in to defrost, eat real cat food, then carve his name in the back of Gramp’s other hand, on the mat on the front porch we would find a mouse or bird carcass. Taking seriously — and literally — his role on the graveyard shift.

My Morgan memories are of a cat all grown up and holding down a successful career.

Cat No. 2 was Woodstock, who was never friendly to anyone and possessed no redeeming qualities.

Cat No. 3 was cool. She came into my life as a barn kitten, survived the birth of two children, the end of a marriage, a subsequent courtship and beginning of a final — I mean second — marriage, and turned out to be a pretty great friend.

I remember her favorite toy being a wadded up piece of paper thrown behind a chair and her favorite game being fetch that paper wad. I also remember her toppling the Christmas tree. And tearing the heck out of the furniture with the claws.

Never dawned on me to save Gramp’s hand.

I have already spoken lovingly and at great length about the cat we just buried in August — cat No. 4 — so, we don’t need to go there again.

But this new cat — No. 5, Karen’s birthday present cat — has added a whole new layer to the cat experience. Perhaps it’s because I’m older now and paying more attention to things as they happen because I know that very soon I will forget them, but this little guy — whom we have been told is about 1 year old — is bringing the funny.

And the affection. Never known a cat to be this interested in being on you or next to you or in your face. Should have named him goiter.

Walking through the house has become somewhat of a challenge, with him constantly between the feet. He’ll run ahead and flop over sideways right in your path. Wants his belly rubbed (can’t blame him there). But then he won’t move. He stays until you’re forced to step over him, which is when he gets up and positions himself right under foot. There’s a lot of stumbling and sidestepping and accidental cat kicking involved in the once simple task of getting from the living room to the fridge and back. It’s like walking with a third sneaker tied to my ankle.

And forget trying to maneuver through the house in the pitch dark before the sun comes up. Between the cat toys, which magically position themselves into the passing lanes while we sleep, and the actual living cat, it’s an obstacle course.

And a problem I wouldn’t trade for the world. Between his playfulness and love for us both, No. 5 (whose real name is Martin and whose namesake’s birthday we celebrate this month) has been one of the best ideas I ever had. And I can count them all.

He also keeps us on our toes. Literally.

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If there is one thing the end of the year is good for, besides calendar sales, it’s lists.

Also, dips. So many end-of-the-year foods are accompanied by the dips into which they are supposed to be plunged. Meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, fruit, bread, your entire snack group — they all have dips. What a glorious thing, dip.

Dip may very well be my No. 1 favorite unnecessary food.

Which brings me back to the original point.

Being a news dork — well, a dork in general, but a news dork specifically — few things grab my attention and hold it longer than the lists that start popping up at the end of a year.

Top 10 news stories, top 10 songs, top 10 famous deaths, top 10 sports stories, top 10 celebrity breakups. If someone out there has an opinion and can express it in the form of a numbered list, like a moth to a porch light, I will probably slam into it hundreds of times before realizing this accomplishes nothing.

But it sure is fun.

When I was a kid, I was even more of a dork than I am now. Every Sunday, I would sit next to the radio while Casey Kasem counted down the American Top 40 and I would write down each song and artist and what number they were that week because that was interesting to me. I have no idea what I did with those lists because they would be old news and highly useless as soon as the ink was dry.

And at the end of the year, when Casey counted down the Top 100, that’s when I broke out the color Bic Banana ink crayons and really went to town. I think WTRY used to have a contest for us dorks who did the best and prettiest job of charting the year’s Top 100. I never won, but not because I didn’t try.

Today, the list of top songs contains words I can’t comprehend, words spelled incorrectly because it’s funny and cute to be stupid, singers with names that make no earthly sense whatsoever, and song titles and band names that use backward numbers and other things that aren’t letters in place of letters. I’m still stuck on the classic rock, so the majority of popular music is just a bunch of stuff bouncing off my ear drums and shattering on the floor. Some of it is listenable; most of it is foreign to me.

According to Billboard, the only source needed for the most important information, the year’s Top 10 songs were:

1. Rolling in the Deep — Adele (This young woman is one of the good ones. No complaints here.)

2. Party Rock Anthem — LMFAO featuring Lauren Bennett and GoonRock (See what I mean?)

3. Firework — Katy Perry

4. E.T. — Katy Perry

5. Give Me Everything — Pitbull, featuring Ne-Yo, AfroJack and Nayer (See what I’m saying? AfroJack? Is that a cheese? Is there dip?)

6. Grenade — Bruno Mars

7. (Forget You) — Cee Lo Green (This song actually has a different name, but you’ll not be learning it here.)

8. Super Bass — Nicki Manaj

9. Moves Like Jagger — Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera

10. Just Can’t Get Enough — The Black Eyed Peas

According to Nielsen, the only source for important television lists, the Top 10 prime time TV programs were:

1. American Idol, Wednesday

2. American Idol, Thursday

3. NBC Sunday Night Football

4. Dancing with the Stars

5. Dancing with the Stars results

6. Sunday Night NFL pre-kick

7. NCIS

8. NFL regular reason (ESPN)

9. The OT (again, football)

10. NCIS: Los Angeles

What a yawner. I can remember decades ago when real TV shows like “Gunskmoke” and “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H” made this list. Now it’s dominated by reality stuff that doesn’t come with a script or a single brain cell.

Being in the news biz, as I am (we never call it “the biz,” by the way), I always find most intriguing The Associated Press’s annual list of the year’s top news stories, as voted upon by us industry dorks. This year’s list, all of which is arguably accurate but with which I don’t entirely agree, is:

1. The killing of Osama bin Laden

2. Japan’s earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis

3. Arab Spring

4. European Union’s fiscal crisis

5. U.S. economy

6. Penn State sex abuse scandal

7. The toppling and death of Moammar Gadhafi

8. Fiscal showdowns in Congress

9. Occupy Wall Street protests

10. Gabriel Giffords shot

If I was making my own news list, I would swap numbers 1 and 2. Not trying to down play the importance of popping Osama, but it was less of a surprise to me, personally, than the horrific mess that slammed Japan.

Also, I would have tried to find room on the list for the weather. A lot of people were wiped out by Mother Nature this year, in all facets of her charms.

I am always amazed at how many famous people die in a year. Being famous must be a lot more dangerous than most people realize. Every year, they drop like flies.

Even more amazing to me is how many of them I reacted to when they died and a few short months later have completely forgotten about. My reaction is most often: “He died? Oh, yeah.” Second most frequent personal celebrity death reaction: “He wasn’t already dead?”

Here are the year’s most popular dead people, categorized for your convenience:

Newsmakers: Osama bin Laden, Steve Jobs, Moammar Gadhafi, Kim Jong Il, Vaclav Havel, Jack Kevorkian, Jack LaLanne.

Politics: Geraldine Ferraro, Lawrence Eagelberger, Warren Christopher, Sargent Shriver, Betty Ford.

Sports: Joe Frazier, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Al Davis, Grete Waitz, Duke Snider, Harmon Killebrew, Matty Alou, Bubba Smith.

Music: Nick Ashford, Clarence Clemons, Heavy D, Gerry Rafferty, Dobie Gray, Phoebe Snow, Roger Williams, Amy Winehouse, Teena Marie, Don Kirschner.

TV/Film: Elizabeth Taylor, Harry Morgan, James Arness, Jackie Cooper, Susannah York, Michael Sarrazin, Peter Falk, Anne Francis, Dolores Hope, David Nelson, Pete Postlethwaite, Cliff Robertson, Andy Rooney, Jane Russell.

Arts and literature: Bil Keane (Family Circus), Tom Wilson (Ziggy).

And finally, of equal, if not substantially greater, interest, to me, anyway, and not solely because I have obviously found the comma button, “Facebook” was the term most frequently searched for by American Internet users in 2011, according to a random report from an Internet search I happened upon, which gives the following total credibility.

The full list looks like this:

1. facebook

2. youtube

3. facebook login

4. craigslist

5. facebook.com

6. yahoo

7. ebay

8. http://www.facebook.com

9. mapquest

10. yahoo.com

11. mattisonsavenue

I added that last one there. Didn’t want you to think I was giving you the biz.

Happy new year, all.

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