Olivia Newton-John–She Had Me Before I Knew Her

I was in love with her before I ever saw her. It happened in 1973 when I spinning records at my first radio job out of college. The station was so crappy it didn’t have a format. We just played whatever free records came in the mail. A typical hour could include everything from Perry Como to Elvis to Gordon Lightfoot to Merle Haggard to Barry White.

One day, among the 45’s that arrived was one on the MCA label by an artist with three names—Olivia Newton-John. It was titled “Let Me Be There.” Well, I was so tired of playing the same stuff all the time I tossed it on the turntable without even listening to it first.

That’s not really smart because Olivia Newton-John could have been the pseudonym for a guy named Ferociously Fierce-Frank who sang “I Beat Iguanas” but we had no listeners except three guys who worked in the hardware store so the risk wasn’t high. Even the boss didn’t listen.

Well, from the first note of the vocal I was swooning. Hey, I was 21, making $1.85 an hour as a DJ and getting horny over an unknown singer was totally on point. As the song ended I opened the mic and actually said, to human people, “Oh Olivia..what I wouldn’t give ya!. You may already have deduced my radio career was not distinguished.

But yeah, I became fan. The 45 in the photo is one of the freebies we got in 1975– “Have You Never Been Mellow.” I was at a different station by then and by then the lovely Olivia was becoming a big star.

My wife and I scored tickets to her concert at the Syracuse War Memorial. We doubled with one of my colleagues and his wife. He thought Olivia singing romantic pop songs would be a nice touch as an anniversary present. The show was great. Olivia bounced around the stage in a pink party dress, wearing shiny, silvery boots. I guess my colleague’s wife wasn’t impressed. Within days she left him for the kids’ school bus driver.

I guess she honestly didn’t love him…anymore.

I got out of radio way back in 1979 but remained a fan of Olivia Newton-John. No, I never bought any of her records until last year. It was right after reading her memoirs. She was quite frank about her long battle with cancer. She was realistic about the prognosis but always hopeful.

Shortly after that we were in an antique mall that also sold used records. There was a beat up copy of her album that featured “Let Me Be There,” the first song I ever heard her sing when I spun it on that old turntable so many years ago and fell for that voice. I took it home and placed it on my own turntable, listened to that song replete with all the pops and clicks that come with an old vinyl platter abused by its original owner. It sounded perfect to me. It always will. Olivia, what I wouldn’t give ya…for those memories you gave me. RIP.

Retired For Six Years, It’s Time To Share The Beauty Of A Life Of Taking Chances Outside My Comfort Zone

Six years ago I swiped my Fiat Chrysler Automobiles badge for the last time, walked through the turnstile and extricated my Jeep Wrangler from the lowest level of the employee parking deck, drove home, poured myself a Jack Daniels on the rocks and told my wife I was now her slave for my remaining days.

I don’t think she was all that amused since I owned no particular skills that would benefit her aside from pushing a vacuum or unjustifiably killing spiders. But then again, I thought I could figure out whatever it is she wanted me to do in the future since I made a very nice living jumping into positions outside my comfort zone. I highly recommend it!

Here’s my long-ish story of a life totally enhanced simply by being willing to step outside my safe place—my comfort zone.

We can start with my very first shot at broadcasting. My brother and I used to make up fake radio shows using a music stand as a faux microphone and reading, singing (badly) popular songs using lyric sheets you could buy at the neighborhood candy store or newsstand. It was fun but I never thought of making it a career. Yet.

That changed when I entered college as a speech and theater major because I thought I could be an actor. Before I could audition for even one production, a month after arriving as a freshman, an upper classman decided I was funny and dragged me down to the campus radio station. He told the guy on the air at the time, “put my friend on the radio.”

He did. Gave me my own show. I was awful. I got better though and made the life-changing decision to pursue a broadcast career. That was pivot number one.

I worked in local radio in Central New York for a few years but that was a dead end. Pivot number two coming up. My wife and I decided we wanted to earn our Masters degrees, she in library science, me, in journalism because I loved news and to write and was better at it than making bad jokes as the goofy morning guy on the radio.

We planned well, quit our jobs, sold a lot of our stuff, put the rest on a moving van and hauled out to Tucson, Arizona to attend the University of Arizona and start new lives.

Single best move ever. She went to school full time, I went part-time and landed a radio job after a couple of days. It wasn’t because of my “talent.” The program director was intrigued that I typed my resume’ in blue instead of black.

“Who types in blue?” he asked. “I figured you had to be fun and different.” Whatever you say. I did morning drive until the program director quit and his replacement wanted my slot. I stayed for two more weeks.

Pivot number three. While I was working at the radio station I saw a notice on the wall in the UA journalism building the local ABC affiliate was looking for a weekend weather guy. Ha. Never did the weather, knew nothing about the weather, wanted the job.

I called the number, the news director granted me an audition and I took a couple of weather books from the library, cramming like it was finals to get just enough weather stuff in my head so I could fake it.

Worked out. Got the job. Now I was a weather guy…but I really wanted to be a reporter, so the assignment editor tossed some stories my way. One night the news director called me up and told me to meet him at a neighborhood bar in an hour. Over a couple of Olympias he told me one reporter quit and another got fired, so if I wanted a reporter job it was mine. I accepted without taking another sip.

It just gets better. About 18 months later our newscast producer with 20 years experience suddenly jumped to a station in Phoenix. News director calls me in. I’ll give you a six grand raise to ditch reporting and start producing.

I don’t know why he chose me but when you’re in the 82nd market six grand is a treasure so I took it. First night producing, President Reagan gets shot. The show didn’t crash. I didn’t get fired.

Six months later I get a tip CNN was starting a new network, what eventually became Headline News. Called the number I was given, flown out to Atlanta and got the job. They didn’t know I had only been producing newscasts for a few months but the boss liked my resume’ reel so I guess I fooled ’em.

Suddenly this green kid just in from Tucson is tossed into a 24-hour network newsroom tasked with producing big time broadcasts under massive time pressures and constantly changing conditions. Out of my comfort zone into an inferno. Didn’t get burned. Was promoted to the main network.

I still aspired to be a full-time reporter. Again, a sympathetic assignment editor came through, giving me stories during weekends. Bosses were happy. Gave me a full-time correspondent job out of the Southeast bureau based in Atlanta.

Ready for more? One day I see the anchor schedule on the bulletin board. I always looked there because I still produced occasionally and wanted to know who was anchoring my shows. Ha! I see my own name up there for the late night, west coast show. Well..I’d never anchored a full newscast in my life and now I was going to solo anchor a network show that included a live interview and audience call-ins.

So…okay! This comfort zone thing just seemed to have no boundaries. I guess I did well enough that they kept scheduling me to anchor. Until things changed again.

Not only did I prefer reporting but I aspired to be a bureau chief. I got wind the Detroit Bureau chief was being transferred overseas to Rome. I applied. Got it. Great job because you were both the BC and the correspondent and the team there was terrific.

All well and fine for the next 12 years until the disastrous merger between CNN and AOL. They ended up closing some small bureaus, including Detroit, laying off about 1,000 people. I was one of them.

Shit. Local stations wouldn’t hire me because I’m not really Mr. TV in terms of looks or flamboyance. Once local news director told me “not looking for journalists. We want street characters like you see in New York.”

Major comfort zone move. At the least I knew I was a good reporter and could write. Eternal thanks to Ed Lapham at Automotive News who made me a deal. He’d give me some stories to write on a freelance basis. If I passed the test, when a job opened I’d have a strong shot at it. Deal. Wrote a few, they like the stories, but there weren’t any available jobs.

Fair enough. The Associated Press chief of Detroit Bureau Charles Hill saw my resume on JournalismJobs.com. He needed a national auto write. We had a couple of lunches where he tried to figure out my real story and decide if an old TV guy could write for the wire. I didn’t enough know if I could write for the wire but boy, what an honor it would be to write for the AP knowing its reputation and exposure my stuff would get. I took a writing test and that, plus my performance at the lunches convinced him TV boy could do it.

Compared to a TV reporter package a wire story seems VERY LONG. So many words! I was allowed to use bigger ones too! But bless my editor Randy Berris who was extremely patient and instructive and turned me into a wire reporter.

Must have been OK. About 14 months after I started at the AP the auto editor at The Detroit News approached me about taking over the General Motors beat. I never worked at a newspaper but I was intrigued with the opportunity. During my interview lunch I mentioned that to the assistant managing editor. He said, “you write great stories. I’ll worry about how it actually gets into the paper.”

Suddenly I was a newspaper guy. I loved it—the opportunity to take a few days to work on and craft stories and build relationships. But three years later my comfort zone was challenged again.

I was approached about managing a new blog Jason Vines, the head of communications at then DaimlerChrysler was starting. This was 2005. Blogging was still fairly news and the term “social media” wasn’t yet in common use. Blackberrys were considered state of the art. Smartphones weren’t yet born.

Sure, why not? It was a big decision to jump from news to PR but this seemed like a chance to get in on an emerging communications mode and I had thought for a long time about working at one of the automakers I had covered for so many years.

I not only got to launch and manage Jason’s blog which was unlike any other. It wasn’t open to just anyone. He wanted to admit only “working media” so he could use the blog to comment on published stories and plant ideas for new stories. It was pretty controversial.

Of course I had zero experience blogging but again, out of the comfort zone and into the fire of cutting edge corporate communications. A year later things went so well, a new team was created around me because they never had anyone on staff before who had worked in virtually every corner of the media world. The new team was DaimlerChrysler Electronic Media. We later updated the name to Digital Media.

Our new team would handle broadcast media relations, the media website and social media. We soon added video production and pioneered the concept of “corporate journalism” creating owned media telling the company’s stories in a journalistic style.

I loved my team not only because they were good humans and talented and creative people but they were always game to try something new.

It’s with them I spent my final 11 years in the full-time workforce before retiring at the end of July, 2016.

Yes, this was a long story but one I hope convinces you to have the confidence in yourself and your skills to have the courage to jump out of your comfort zone in the event your current job suddenly ends or an unexpected opportunity presents itself that had never before been under consideration for you.

It can be scary to find yourself in a new work environment, expected to complete tasks with which you have scant, or no, experience, alongside co-workers with habits and sensitivities very different from those of your former colleagues.

But it’s also the most wonderful feeling in the world to discover your core skills and experiences are absolutely transferable opening doors to opportunities that will enrich your life and frankly, your finances.

Oh sure, I officially “retired” six years ago, but I can’t conceive of not continuing to create and learn, which is why I’ve taken on part-time freelance positions writing autos and mobility stories for Forbes.com and as an integrated media consultant for Franco.

I guess you could say working out of my comfort zone is completely within my comfort zone because the one thing I’m most comfortable with is growing. Try it. Yup..it’s a bit of a tightrope but you don’t need a net, because the only thing to fear is by not taking a risk you may miss the best opportunity you didn’t know you would love.

July 4th Memories: Footballs, Fireworks, Road Flares Falling Underwear, 2022 Update

july4thbbqFourth of July always meant two things back in Glen Oaks Village, where I grew up in eastern Queen, New York: a glorious barbecue behind the apartments with our four closest neighbors, and foolish decisions regarding fireworks.

First the barbecue. Glen Oaks is a community so large it has its own zip code and is home to about 50-thousand residents. Built in the 1940’s and written up in national magazines, it remains a showplace.

We shared a common backyard that contained a long clothesline for all to use and expanses of soft grass.  The neighbors set up long aluminum tables end to end in the backyard and each family had its own grill. Ours was a dinky thing we received as a free gift from the now defunct Bayside Federal Bank for opening up an account. It was just large enough, though, to cook a few hot dogs and burgers for my brother and me and our parents. Those big Weber grills hadn’t yet been invented.

One of our neighbors, the guy we always suspected was in the Mafia, had the best grill. It was about a yard in diameter on a fancy stand and he cooked Italian sausage. We always wondered what truck it fell off.

Another neighbor sounded like that old actor Peter Lorre and just as sinister. When he asked for another hot dog you could always imagine the next thing he’d say was, “or I’ll kill you.” Turns out he was very mild mannered. He just sounded like an assassin.

After eating we’d invariably start tossing around a football, which, in turn, always seemed to knock someone’s clean underwear drying on the clothesline onto the ground. That action sparked the owner of the drying underwear to stick their head out their back window overlooking the yard and shout things that directed all of us to burn in a very warm deep, underground place. This only sparked us to start aiming for other items drying on the line and if you could dump a fitted sheet you won the admiration of all, and the raising ire of the the sheet’s owner who would call the cops on us only to be told, “sorry, but we’ve got four cases of wet socks ahead of you.”

fireworksNow the fireworks. Our dads would score some firecrackers or more powerful ashcans from the docks in lower Manhattan and we’d pretty much shoot them off with no incident, although it was always entertaining to slip a few lit ones through someone’s mail slot.

Our dads were, if anything, both smart and devious. Two cases in point. First, was when they could only come up with sparklers instead of firecrackers or ashcans. C’mon, sparklers? No noise, no nothin’. Sparklers were for wimps or kids whose dads worked in the suburbs. But my dad was especially resourceful. After all, he was a World War II hero, winning medals for capturing a house of Germans by shouting orders in Yiddish, which sounds like Germans to exit the house and the idiots complied. So he knew a thing or two about misdirection.

“Look, you’re doing it wrong with the sparklers by just holding them,” he explained. “When they’re halfway done throw them in the air as high as you can and they become Roman Candles!” Crap! We had Roman Candles in our hands all this time and didn’t know it! Yes, sometimes kids were as gullible as wartime Germans. We totally bought it, and except for when a lit sparkler landed in someone’s garden igniting their pansies it was a damn good ruse.

Speaking of ruses, when our dads came up totally short they caucused in desperation and pulled out a couple of road flares and lit them. “We call them ground-level displays!” one would say. Ah..dads can be such good bullshitters. That’s why we love them.

Then there was the time the brother of one of our friends was on leave from the Navy. He thought it would be cool to wrap up some .22 caliber bullets in an envelope, stuff it in a drainpipe, light it up and run like hell. Guess what? Bullets are faster than idiotic Navy guys on leave.  The dumb guy spent the rest of the Fourth, and a good deal of the 5th through 8th in the hospital healing from his awesome stunt.

At least he didn’t shoot down anyone’s drying BVDs.

A Father’s Day, Juneteenth Tribute To Helping Each Other

It’s Father’s Day and Juneteenth. That unusual confluence has me thinking about a professional underground railroad of sorts that kept my father, mostly, employed, and my family with a very modest roof over its head and a lifelong appreciation for opportunity, kindness and in today’s terms, a damn good network.

My father grew up without, as he would say, two nickels to rub together. After serving in World War II where he was a decorated hero for capturing a house of 32 Germans, he used his aptitude for math to become a draftsman, then chemical engineer. He soon became well-known in the trade in the New York City area but that didn’t mean job security.

For most of his life he didn’t work directly for a firm, but rather as what was known back then as a “job shopper,” basically a freelancer. Competition was fierce for those jobs which paid well but last only as long as the project. The key was to land the next gig before the current one ended. To wait too long meant missing out on a limited number of openings.

Knowing that, my father and his most trusted fellow job shoppers formed their own secret network decades before the internet and sites like Linkedin changed the game.

We knew a job was near its end when our phone would start ringing more than usual in the evening and the calls were for my dad or he grabbed the phone and started dialing. The conversations were short and serious. The jobshopper network was deep in its mission, trading information on when projects were believed to be ending and where the next ones were starting and staffing.

It was a tenuous way to make a living. Sometimes the network’s information was a little off the mark or too late and spots were filled. While it served my father fairly well over the years, there was a time it didn’t and he was forced to sell air conditioners at Sears for a short time to earn a paycheck.

Oh, while on an engineering job, my father made good money but we never moved from our 440 square foot garden apartment in Queens. We’d go out to Long Island and march through model homes, my mother would fall in love with some and hopes were high we’d finally move to an actual “private house” as we called them back then.

Didn’t happen. My father was spooked by the poverty in which he grew up and the whole Sears salesman experience and feared another period when engineering jobs dried up, making it too risky to get tied up in a 30-year mortgage.

So we stayed in that apartment with its balky heat and crappy circuits that died when we attempted to use window air conditioning units in the heat of summer.

But the jobshoppers network kept at its work. My father never actually had a lull again, working steadily until he finally landed an on-roll position at an engineering firm for the final decade of his career, after a tip from the network.

Only after he retired and my brother and I were gone and married did he feel confident enough to buy a home in Florida where he and my mother enjoyed the final 20 years of their lives. In the end the jobshoppers network completed its mission.

So here’s the epilogue.

While I was in college and seeking summer employment the network showed it never forgot a favor. One of the members named Colin who had opened his own engineering firm called my father. He said, “Dick, you helped me all through my career and I want to repay you in some way. I know you’re not looking but maybe one of your sons needs a summer job. I have an opening for a clerk.”

It was a great job. Paid well and I learned a ton about how the piping in a nuclear power plant is created and how the plants operated.

The next summer I was in need of a job again. I went calling on Colin to see if he could use some help. At first he frowned, saying he now had a full time clerk and I thanked him for his time. Before I could leave his office he called after me.

“Ed! You start Monday! There’s plenty of work for two clerks and you did a good job last summer…besides, it’s the least I can do after all your dad did for me.”

A tribute to my wonderful dad…and his network. Always appreciate your father. Always cultivate your network.

My Answer To “Do You Have Enough Money For Retirement?”

It doesn’t matter who or what you believe is responsible for creating the universe but among many screw ups in the process including famine, pestilence, war, poverty, violence and TikTok, I would suggest one that’s been gnawing at me since I reached “that age.”

You know, that age where you’re pestered with emails and snail mails asking the unanswerable question, “do you have enough money to last through your retirement?” The short answer is another question, how the hell should I know?

I posit I WOULD know if I had enough money to last my retirement if I knew how long I would be retired, meaning how long until I no longer need money, which is the day I actually retire, from life.

My wife and I started preparing for retirement almost as soon as we got married back in 1973. We didn’t actually have much money to save because I worked as a radio DJ in a little town in upstate New York. The station’s finances were so precarious the general manager had to borrow money from his mother to pay us one time.

A few years later came the welcome introduction of Individual Retirement Accounts—IRAs. This was good because little radio stations did not offer pensions or 401 (k)s since they knew there would be a high staffing turnover and mainly because they are notoriously cheap.

We hopped on the IRA train right away and stayed with it. As my career progressed and I worked for bigger companies our retirement savings options grew. By the time I walked out of my last full-time job into retirement in 2016 we were in good shape to weather the rainy days for which we saved.

Unlike weather forecasts using scientific instruments, balloons and satellites to predict when the rain will start and stop, figuring out how long you’ll be around enough to need money is a crap shoot. Oh sure, there are insurance and actuarial tables that attempt to predict a person’s life span based on age, health, lifestyle and genetics but really, would you base your personal planning on those?

“Hmm..well dear, no vacation this year because the insurance table says I’m outta here by May, so I’m gonna spend like crazy till then because I’ll only need money for two more months. Good to know! I’m off to the Lamborghini dealer.”

So you spend six figures on a new Lambo and ha! You’re not dead in two months and now you’re broke. Wellllll…..I guess that means you did NOT have enough money to last your entire retirement. Who knew?

Which brings me back to my original point. It would have been helpful if the generic Creator could have included some sort of countdown meter when putting together the human race.

It would be helpful to know how much time you have for so many things: How long to complete that bucket list, whether or not to renew your library books, deciding you don’t have enough time on the clock to sit through “The English Patient,” urgency to cut off someone telling a long, boring story and yes, how much longer you’re going to need money in the piggy bank to get you through your entire run.

Think of how easy this would make things. You’re feeling good, living life, you check your internal countdown clock, notice your savings is looking a little low and realize, crap, I have to feed the meter! Time to grab an orange apron for that part-time job at Home Depot. You’re back in the game. Hell..there may even be an app for that. It all makes sense to me.

Not Springing or Falling. Introducing My Personal Time Zone

I’m not doing it. I’m not springing ahead, falling back, standing on my head or manipulating my many clocks, watches and other time-displaying devices in any way. Everything is staying the same.

Welcome to EdST—no, not Eastern Standard Time. I now live on Ed Standard Time. You can too. It’s easy. Even use your own name.

People in Arizona actually already live on EdST because that state’s government was smart enough to legislate it. They never change. Half the year they’re on Mountain Standard Time and when everyone else falls back an hour the fine folks in the Grand Canyon State are on Pacific Standard Time.

I lived in Arizona for three years and had no trouble with this. Now I’m adopting it from my home in Michigan which is nominally on Eastern time.

Here’s how it works. I just make believe I’m traveling. My base time is what everyone else calls Daylight Saving Time because I like it lighter later. When folks elsewhere fall back an hour into Standard time, they’re an hour behind me…just like folks in Central time, except those in Central time are now two hours behind me. When they revert to Daylight Saving time in the spring, they’re back to being an hour behind me.

It’s not that hard to keep track of the changes. Just make believe you’re on vacation in another time zone and do the math. So if I have an appointment scheduled for 10am EST in November, that’s just 11am EdST because I haven’t “fallen back.” In the spring when everyone else “springs ahead” I’m already there so it’s 10am for all. Easy, right?

By not screwing with the clock my circadian rhythms aren’t upset, I can sleep better and I’ve saved myself from the bother and time-wasting chore of turning my clocks forwards and backwards twice a year. I don’t turn my clocks. I turn my cheek from this needless chronology manipulation.

While I’ve amused myself by creating my own time zone I’d truly rather not go through the exercise since it would makes so much more sense to just join Arizona in letting time stand still.

Yeah, yeah, be hypertechnical and point out a portion of the northeast corner of the state still does the “fall back, spring ahead two-step.” The Navajo reservation observes Daylight Saving Time, the Hopi reservation which it surrounds does not. So if you drive from outside the reservations through both and out again you have to adjust the clock in your car four times! Makes one yearn for universal use of the sundial which cannot be adjusted, but is useless at night. Then again a sundial doesn’t blink idiotically when the power goes out.

The truth is, all this falling and springing is a nuisance that not only wastes time but is patently unhealthy. But I’m over it. I’m making time stand still on Ed Standard Time…and not losing, or gaining, any sleep over it.

Me and the Queen’s Shared Milestone

Hear ye, hear ye! It is hereby noted on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th anniversary of her reign, it is noted her ascension to the throne occurred just two days before the birth of a short little shlub in Woodbury, New Jersey whose parents mercifully moved back to their native New York City just six months later, thereby avoiding any memory whatsoever for their infant son of his Garden State origins.

Indeed, many years later when registering to vote after moving to Tucson, Arizona, he stated his place of birth as New York City which prompted a laugh from his wife who took joy in correcting him while the elections official smirked.

Though his years have paralleled the monarch’s reign their lives took wildly divergent paths. She has sat upon a throne in royal majesty. He has done so in almost daily episodes of, ahem, blessed relief.

While the matriarch of the House of Windsor has ruled as the Queen of her Castle, the knish-noshing 1965 Bar Mitzvah boy has been steadfast as Master of His Domain.

As monarch of the United Kingdom and its affiliated kipper cafe’s she and her late husband spawned offspring of which only only one, Prince Edward, obviously named after this writer, actually works for a living. Princess Anne was once an accomplished horsewoman as opposed to her eldest brother and heir to the throne Prince Charlie, who is simply a horse’s ass. Prince Andrew is a persona non grata after making a poor choice of friends in the late Jeffrey Epstein and who, by the way, lives with his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson whom he divorced in 1996.

This writer has been married almost 49 years to an obviously patient and tolerant saint of Irish descent who has dutifully learned key Yiddish phrases such as “I’m schvitzing!” “Oy vey is mir!” and developed a taste for pastrami and matzoh farfel, while he never allows the supply of Jamesons to run dry.

They have two grown eventual replacements…a man and woman both in their 30’s who provide much joy as well as themselves as convenient heirs but no grandchildren which is good because neither this writer nor his amazing spouse who remain youthful in appearance and bearing will accept being called “grandma” or “grandpa.” We do, however, accept senior discounts.

In comparing this writer’s accomplishments with the Queen’s, there’s really no comparison. She got right to work in 1952, waving demurely with that little wrist pivot, and mostly made her subjects happy while providing a lucrative tourist attraction for her country.

He mainly played stick ball, came close to failing math three times and played in two garage bands—the Scenics and Purple Perception, both of which promptly went from the garage to the scrap heap, before landing his first job as CIT at a day camp for the princely sum of $25 plus tips for the summer, moving on to a part-time job during high school as a linens and domestics stock boy at a local department store which provided an apt foundation for his eventual career as a journalist.

Somehow he took a turn to the “dark side” doing PR for a car company that couldn’t hang onto an owner starting as DaimlerChrysler then Chrysler LLC then Fiat Chrysler and now they’re hooked up with the French and sporting a corporate name that sounds more like a treatment for eczema. He mercifully retired in 2016, several years before this latest metamorphosis.

Yes, seven decades is a considerable amount of time and leads to episodes of reflection and napping. I give Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II heartfelt congratulations on her ability to remain alive…and myself cudos for remaining… awake.

The Ex-University of Michigan President’s Lurid Use of My Favorite Food

I have no connection with the University of Michigan but I do have a strong tie to one of the elements of the story of the firing of its flirty president. You see, I’m an avid advocate, indeed, defender and consumer of the unfortunate third party in this affair.

If you’ve been following this story at all, you know of which I speak. If not, here’s what now-ex U of M President Mark Schlissel improperly emailed a subordinate in hopes of luring her to a rendezvous: “[I] can lure you to visit with the promise of a knish?”

Schlissel had apparently received a box of knishes as a gift and decided, apparently, the quickest way to a woman’s heart was through the promise of a potato pastry. The romantic beast!

Along with disgust for the overall behavior of the horny pedagogue preying on a subordinate I take offense at placing one of my favorite foods in the entire world in the middle of this scandal.

I don’t just like knishes, I chase them, capture them, cook them and devour them. It started during my upbringing in NYC where a hot, fresh knish filled with either potato, kasha, or a combination of potato and meat could bought from a street vendor in Manhattan.

The vendor wrap the knish in wax paper and, if you wished, I didn’t, would be happy to squirt mustard on it. Cost a quarter. The combination of the wonderful smell from his charcoal heater and the intoxicating fragrance of the hot pastry did what much more expensive edibles from you neighborhood dispensary can only partially achieve.

Whether in Manhattan or in Queens, where I actually lived, you could walk up to the takeout window of your neighborhood kosher deli. The window was strategically placed next to the grill so you could smell the Hebrew National frankfurters, not hot dogs, and knishes cooking as you fruitlessly attempted to just walk by.

A moment later, you had just coughed up a buck for a frank, knish and a Dr. Brown’s cream soda.

When my wife and I moved out of New York State to Tucson, Arizona we were hard pressed to find a kosher deli, let alone knishes. But not far from the University of Arizona there was, indeed, such a place.

My wife, who is not Jewish, and doesn’t look it either, went there one day to buy our Passover foods, including knishes. She used the proper pronunciation—kuh-NISH. The person behind the counter who may also not have been of the Tribe thought she made a mistake and attempted to correct my wife with, “Oh honey…it’s not kuh-NISH…it’s NISH! You know, the KN combo like Knife.”

To this day we laugh about that and sometimes just call them NISHES for the fun of it. We have a low bar for “fun.”

We’ve now lived in Michigan in suburban Detroit for 33 years where there’s a large and active Jewish population. You would think it would be easy to find knishes here. It used to be pretty easy. You could find decent frozen knishes in the grocery store, but no more.

For several years we would go across town to a kosher food store in Oak Park, an enclave of orthodox Jewish folks. You could find a box of a dozen small knishes for about $11. Not bad, except the knishes were these little round hockey-puck sized things with an armor-like crust and tasteless filling. But any knish in a sturm so we’d suffer with those.

At a gourmet food store you could find what looked like excellent knishes but 3 for $17? Oy! The kosher-style delis around town would sell you a pretty good knish for $4 or $5 apiece, but that still seemed a bit high if you’re just looking to stock up on a few to eat later.

We looked into buying knishes online. The initial price was fine but the shipping was as much as 30 bucks because they had to be packed in dry ice.

I finally found what amounts to a sort of traditional knish at a combo produce and food store—four knishes for about $7. Still more than the bargain box from across down. They’re not as big as those I enjoyed from New Yawk street vendors but the crust is just right, the potato filling is tasty and the store is only 15 minutes from my house.

I don’t know what brand knish was gifted ex-U of M prez Schlissel but I’d have to imagine if he was attempting to lure a potential paramour with a potato pastry he was pretty confident it was a winner.

But honestly, that’s pretty icky. Can you imagine believing you could score a date with the offer of spuds in a crust? “That’s all I got!. What, you wanna a frankfurter too?”

Hmm..well, it’s kept our marriage going for almost 50 years. There’s gotta be something to it, but I’m not one to knish and tell.

The Sour Saga of the Disappearing Diet Soda

Dr. Pepper zero flavors Credit: Dr. Pepper

I don’t often drink soda (I’m originally from NYC and that’s what I will ALWAYS call it), but when I do it’s always the kind that doesn’t make you fat, but can kill you via its cancer-causing sugar substitutes. I’m determined to leave this world no wider than a 34-inch waist. Who knows? The gatekeepers in Heaven may be former tailors standing at the Pearly Gates with a tape measure.

Just as millions of other like-minded soda drinkers who prefer the no-calorie variety of this awful liquid, I search the grocery store aisle for the “diet” version. Diet Coke! Diet Pepsi! Diet Dr. Pepper! I honestly don’t care. I like ’em all because my taste buds have been forever neutralized from years of drinking this dreck. I drink ’em cause they’re cold and mostly caffeinated.

But now, suddenly, I cannot find my favored diet soda. Oh, I’m told, it’s there, but sporting new labels without the word “diet”. These diet sodas are now branded “Zero Sugar,” or “No Sugar” but should more properly be labeled “Too Woke But Can Still Make You Croak.”

I was recently informed by a millennial in my family that the word “diet” is frowned upon as a form of body shaming those who might actually benefit from losing a few lbs by ingesting more diet stuff instead of stuffing themselves.

“Younger people just don’t like the word ‘diet,” said Greg Lyons, chief marketing officer at PepsiCo Beverages North America, in a recent CNN.com story. “No Gen Z wants to be on a diet these days,” he continued.

Oh sure, they don’t want to be on diets but they’re still actually dieting even though they can’t stomach the word for it. What else would you call it? “Fat food intake reduction?” “Putrid-system?” “Body Freight Watchers?”

There’s really no stigma to the word diet. Does anyone take umbrage at the profession of dietitian? These are highly skilled professionals who help folks eat healthier..by improving their diets…so maybe they don’t have to go… on diets. It’s a perfectly proper term!

Here’s the other thing. The soda now branded as zero or no sugar is the same exact swill as previously labeled diet soda. Who ya foolin’ here? Now don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to be “on a diet” to drink diet soda. Maybe you just want to reduce your sugar intake or are attempting to prevent your teeth from prematurely disintegrating. Really hard to whistle without choppers.

I know there are much more important subjects to rail on but I’m weary of this steady diet of this no-sugar nonsense. It’s just left a sour taste in my mouth.

Check…Please!

I’m afraid I caused quite a ruckus the other day at the eyeglass place. When it came time to pay for my new frames and lenses I whipped out a check. You would have thought I had presented the optician/cashier a hold up note.

But no, I simply chose to pay for my new glasses using a piece of paper with pretty colors on it and places in which to inscribe important information including how much money the eyeglass place would get in return for providing me with the optical appliance necessary for me to read my exorbitant bill or to avoid bumping into utility poles or street urchins.

Here’s how it went down. The optician presents me with my bill. I present her with a check for required amount. Couldn’t be easier. But oh, it could. Her once confident demeanor crumbled into total doubt. Her eyes darted then settled on her computer monitor as she furiously started tapping keys.

“I’m gonna see if I can log into the check system. We haven’t used it, like, ever,” she informed me. “OK…it’s….just….churning.”

Starting to panic she asked her colleague at the next station for help.

“Your customer is paying by check?” the colleague asked with a look of total incredulity. “Who pays by check?” she continued as her voice rose. “Let me try.”

Same deal. Now I’ve got two optician/cashiers with workstations churning and rumbling and refusing to perform any task related to entering my payment by check. I’m actually kind of enjoying this because I know where it’s going.

I figured I’d toss a lifeline. “Wanna use my credit card?” I offered with a goofy smile.

“Too late,” my original optician/cashier said. “Once the process has begun you can’t undo it.”

Oh. Seemed like the “process” was not actually proceeding.

Then she suddenly ran away for a few minutes finally returning with a printout and a relieved look.

“OK…we did it. Needed a supervisor to do her magic. It’s done,” she said, obviously thankful her dealings with a, shall we say, “traditionalist” Boomer were almost complete.

Just a few weeks earlier, when I presented a check to pay for service to my car, the guy at the dealership whines to me, “you know how much extra work you’re causing me paying by check?” Poor snowflake! Here’s my license, do the thing!

When I told my millennial daughter about these episodes she was not sympathetic.

“What is wrong with you? No one pays by check, or even with money! Do it on your phone like normal people. Or at least use a credit card!” she scolded me.

My wife and I find it extremely easy to keep our records straight using them, you can’t hack paper and our information is never lost or compromised. Plus, the ones we ordered have pretty colors and we ordered a million of ’em so we’re pretty committed to paying by check for a good, long time. And yes, we do use credit cards…and pay our bill by check.

Now don’t peg us as old fart Luddites. We use all the latest technology as it suits us. Smartphones, computers, tablets, Bluetooth, big ass LCD TV, online reservations and purchases…. everything…but we stick with our check for some things.

Oh, we’re not alone. Here’s the kicker. There was a guy of similar, um, vintage to me sitting at the next station at the eyeglass place. Just as my challenging transaction was wrapping up, the man was given his total.

“Oh, sure. Who do I make out the check to?” he asked. I smiled the whole way home.