Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Addicted to Scrabble

Addicted to Scrabble

On a recent visit to my daughter, my grandson and daughter downloaded an online Scrabble game to my wife’s (formally my) iPad.

My wife has always loved Scrabble, and is quite good at it.  She always wants to play me at it, knowing she will outscore me by a considerable margin.  I have wisely declined her innocent invitation to the slaughter.

Once the game was downloaded to her iPad, she started playing with my daughter, who is no slouch when it comes to word games.

The outcome of the first ten games was pretty much a slaughter. 

Barbara gleefully reported her clever use of the tiles and the resultant lopsided scores to everyone (mostly me) who would listen. 

She was queen of the scrabblers and sought to engage other players who she anticipated slaughtering as well.  She enlarged her group to include friends and other family members including her grandson.

Around the 8th game, a serpent entered this veritable Eden.  My daughter was getting better.

At first it was just taking a coveted spot on the board before Barbara could use it.  Soon, the scores were closer together.  Barbara complained bitterly about how well my daughter was doing.  She became angry every time Ronni did well.  When Ronni finally beat her, there was little I could do to console her.

Her only solace was to take it out on the other players.

Scrabble has taken over her life.  She turns on her iPad early in the morning and continues playing until late at night.

She gets angry when players take too much time in between moves, and rails at them for taking “her spot” or forming a high scoring word.  She takes it as a personal attack when other players do well and are competitive.  She wants to win badly.

Saying she is competitive is like comparing her to the US invasion of Grenada.

Last night, I made her turn off the iPad at 11 o’clock.  She was getting upset no one was still playing with her. 

Yesterday she breathlessly reported how she had beaten our daughter on the last play by making a 52-point word combination.

“She was thoroughly demoralized,” Barbara joyfully reported.

Now Barbara loves our daughter, but….

It obviously is getting out of hand.

I am going to look for a “Scrabblers Anonymous” or licensed therapist who is familiar with this addiction. 

Perhaps there is still hope.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Elphaba comes for a Visit

Elphaba Comes for a Visit

I have a cousin, Rocky, who I have mentioned before.  I love my cousin but can’t help teasing her whenever possible. 

Recently, Barbara, my sister and I went to visit my daughter in Connecticut.   We invited Rocky, Larry her husband, her children and grandchildren to come visit us.

Rocky, her husband, her daughter, her son, his wife, and his son graciously accepted our invitation and were coming for a Barbecue.

I emailed Rocky’s daughter-in-law with directions and casually introduced the name Elphaba when referring to Rocky in the email.

For those unaware, Elphaba is the name of the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz, a somewhat fitting description at times for Rocky.

On the morning of the Barbecue, my sister and I went to the store to buy some cake, wanting it to be fresh.  I picked out a nice cake and asked the lady behind the counter to inscribe “Welcome Elphaba” on the cake. 

After spelling it out for the lady and choosing an appropriate color for the icing (green of course), she inscribed my little joke and we took the cake home.

Everyone arrived and we all sat down for the Barbecue.

My son-in-law acquitted himself grandly with the cooking, and the food was a big hit.

During the meal, Rocky showed herself to be slightly to the right of the tea party in her views.  She was especially vocal in her desire to acquire a handgun, a frightening possibility given who was asking for a gun.  Never the less we were having a very good time.

When it came time for dessert, Rocky’s daughter-in-law, Cathy was helping bring in the cakes and cookies. She stopped and came over to me and stated: “I can’t bring in that cake”.  She suppressed a smile and a giggle, looking to me to protect her from Rocky’s displeasure.

I knew she had discovered my innocent joke.  I took the burden away from her and went to the kitchen to get that particular cake.

I brought it in and presented it with some fanfare to Rocky, hereafter referred to as Elphaba.

“What is this, you moron,” she exclaimed.  We had warned her not to curse since there were 9 and 11 year olds present or her language would have been much more colorful.

“It’s for you, it suits you,” I answered. “Don’t you know who Elphaba is?” I asked.

“No, you jackass” she replied.

Just then her daughter and son said: “It’s her birthday in two days. Let’s use it as a birthday cake.”

I readily agreed and my daughter got out some birthday candles.

Rocky was incensed both about being referred to as Elphaba and the fact we might actually put all the candles needed for her age on the cake.  There were many exclamations of “moron” and “Jackass” comments aimed at me by Elphaba, some aimed in the general direction of her son and daughter for thinking this was funny, and several more mutterings under her breath directed at me which could not be said aloud in the presence of the young children.

I assured her we would only put on one symbolic candle.  After all there was a distinct danger of a fire breaking out if we used all the candles. I’m not sure why she took offense at that.

As it turned out, Emil her son, had a birthday in 4 days, so she insisted he sit by her when the candle was lit.  She then proceeded to abuse him physically (see below).

Her grandson Joe likes the name Elphaba for his grandmother and I am encouraging everyone to adopt this new name for her. 

I think it sounds so much better than just referring to her as The Wicked Witch of the West.  Don’t you?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Planned Obsolescence

Planned Obsolescence

We made our last payment on our car after 3 years. 

It was now ours and we were free of auto debt.

In the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and even the 80’s that would have meant we would be out shopping for a new model. 

Everyone “knew” that the car manufacturers designed their cars to fail after three years so you would have to trade it in and get a new one.

My father, and everyone I knew traded in their cars every three years because of this and because the models actually changed year to year.

Now, manufacturers supposedly make cars with longer lasting components, better warranties, and models that hardly changed year to year, or at least not so you’d notice.

I was planning on keeping this car for at least 10 years, since that was when my warranty ran out.

Since Barbara and I no longer work, we don’t put on a lot of mileage and this car has low miles and no problems.

Or so we thought.

Just a month after the last payment was made, we went to the gym, stowed Barbara’s pocketbook in the trunk and went inside to work out.  We returned to the car, opened and closed the trunk, having retrieved Barbara’s pocketbook, and got in the car.

Barbara opened the glove compartment, put her workout gloves (that’s why it’s called the glove compartment) into the glove compartment and tried to close the compartment door.

It wouldn’t close.

It sounded like something jammed in there preventing the glove compartment from closing.

We emptied out the glove compartment, but still couldn’t close it.

We drove home with the idea that I would try to see what was blocking the closing and see it I could remove the block.

Try as I might, I could not locate anything blocking the closing of the glove compartment door.

In addition, the light in the glove compartment would not turn off, leaving open the possibility of draining the battery if I couldn’t get the door closed or the light off.

I pushed various buttons and tried to locate the sensor for the light, all to no avail.

Still wearing my workout clothes, sweaty though they were, I drove to the dealer.

One of the service writers came over and I explained my problem.

He looked at me, maybe sniffed a little, and properly determined I wasn’t fit company for others waiting in the waiting room. He then stated he would only be a minute to fix the problem, took my keys and left me there.

Usually that meant an hour’s wait.

Lo and behold, he appeared after 10 minutes and told me the problem was fixed.  The cabin filter, located behind the glove box had fallen down, preventing the glove box from closing.  They had dropped the glove box down, resecured the filter and closed the glove box.

I was happy and amazed.  They weren’t going to charge me; I gave the guy a twenty for working so quickly, and left.

I had lost about an hour between driving back and forth to the dealer and waiting the 10 minutes to get it fixed, but I considered it time well spent.

The next morning, I drove over to my friend’s home to play golf.  Our intention was to drive over to a golf course, play a round and then go for breakfast, the real reason for playing.

I pulled in front of his house and pulled the lever that opened the trunk. 

I didn’t hear it open but figured the radio was on and the music was blocking the noise of the release.

My friend knocked on the window and informed me the trunk hadn’t opened. 

I tried the lever again and felt no tension in it.  I got out of the car and tried to use my key fob to open the trunk.

No effect.

I next looked for a key lock I could open manually.  This car didn’t have one.

We looked at each other.

I hadn’t opened the trunk since Barbara got her pocketbook out at the gym.  I keep my clubs in the trunk unless I need the room.

Now, I’m thinking what could I have done yesterday, that first the glove compartment, and now the trunk wouldn’t work. 

Was I cursed?

No, that would be crazy.

Son of a Bitch, I knew what it was.  Planned Obsolescence.

The car was designed to self-destruct slowly after 3 years to get me to buy a new one.  It must have a hidden sensor or means of communication with the dealers to inform them when my car was either paid off or more than three years old.

I suddenly remembered salesmen approaching me every time I took the car in for routine service, trying to get me to trade it in and get a new one.  I pictured the many advertisements I got urging me to trade in my car and get a new one without “increasing” my monthly payments. (I know it’s BS, they know it’s BS, but they still try to get you).

I envisioned a long list of seemingly minor problems that would begin to crop up until finally, I would be so frustrated by them, I would acquiesce and buy a new car.

My friend offered to accompany me back to the dealer and so we set off.

I arrived at the dealership prepared to complain bitterly about the beginnings of what I saw as a long line of problems.

I was also resentful that the trunk hadn’t malfunctioned yesterday so I could have gotten it fixed when they fixed the glove compartment. 

Or was that part of the plan???

As I drove into the service area, a young lady service writer approached me and inquired what was wrong.

“It’s the damn trunk,” I said. “It won’t open.  I was here yesterday getting the glove box fixed and now the trunk won’t open.  What is going on here?”

“When was the last time you opened the trunk?” she said.

“Yesterday, before I brought the car here”, I answered.

“Hmmm,” she replied.  “Let’s look in the glove compartment to see if the secret trunk lock button was pushed”.

“Secret trunk lock button?” I exclaimed.  “What the hell is that?”

“That’s a button in the glove compartment that you push when you valet the car.  It prevents the valet from opening the trunk,” she explained.

I opened the glove box, and she showed me the secret button.  I pushed it, pulled the trunk lever and it worked. I must have pushed it thinking it was a sensor for the light in the glove box.

“Why didn’t anyone ever tell me about it before?” I asked.

“This car has so many little wonderful features it’s impossible for us to tell the customer about all of them,” she replied smiling.  “Didn’t you study the manual when you got the car?” she inquired sweetly.

“No,” I replied, inferring that guys didn’t do that, we didn’t have to read manuals.

Besides her belittling comment about manuals, I was very happy and relieved.  I thanked her profusely and drove away.  Mollified for the time being that the “planned obsolescence” was at least delayed.

Now we had to decide if we should go back to his place, retrieve his clubs and play a round. Or skip golf and go straight to breakfast.

We looked at each other and headed for the diner.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Having Fun at the Supermarket

Having Fun at the Supermarket

I like going to the supermarket.  It gives me a chance to talk with people and often, have a little fun.

My wife, Barbara does not generally share my views about trips to the supermarket and generally cringes when I talk with people.

I ask for opinions on different brands, ask the fruit guys what’s good today, will graciously offer my opinion on different brands to other customers, and never fail to speak with the person offering free samples about their product.

At the checkout counter, I will often ask for “an exact change discount”.  Often, I am told, very seriously that the store doesn’t offer that. Sometimes I get a smile or a “wish I could, honey” out of an older female cashier, and once in a great while I actually get a penny or two from a greatly amused, older, female cashier.

I find the older female cashiers like my sense of humor.  They are doing their job and find my “antics” to be a break from their routine.

I have gotten them to give me discounts (once $5), credit me for coupons I didn’t have, but mostly when I innocently ask if it is “double coupon day” I get “sorry that was yesterday, if only you’d been here” from them.  

They’re the best.

The younger cashiers don’t seem to get it.  They take my inquiries seriously or look at me blankly when I innocently ask them for these whimsical things.

If there is a young cashier and a bagger, I will occasionally ask them if they wish to play “The price is right”.  I explain that the person who guesses the closest to how much everything costs in my basket will win the chance to pay. 

They usually agree to the game and if they win they laugh it off.  Once a young girl won and actually took it seriously. 

I magnanimously let her out of her obligation.  I actually felt bad about that. But how gullible was she?

My wife rolls her eyes, pretends she’s not with me, or tries to apologize and hustle me out of the store.

I am not above pulling her into my little attempts at humor.

I often pretend not to know her, or insist she pay, or she should promise me some unspecified reward for paying for “her” groceries.  I play the “put upon role” as if she was” dictator for life” of our marriage.

Once, after witnessing our little charade, an older bagger asked how come she (Barbara) hadn’t killed me yet. 

Barbara told him “It’s coming”.

Today, we were out shopping, and we were heading to the checkout.  I turned into the checkout line, and Barbara was nowhere to be seen. 

She had fallen behind and lost sight of me. 

I spotted her looking around for me

I told the cashier I was going to hide and hunkered down.

Barbara finally spotted me and came over.

By that time the cashier had started ringing up our stuff.

I asked Barbara if she was going to pay.

She said ”no”.

I asked her to help with the bagging.

She said “no”.

I asked what she was going to do.

She said, “pay with your credit card”.

I asked if she was going to sign my name, which would have been forgery.

She didn’t answer, but the cashier agreed it would be forgery.

We finally finished up and as we were leaving the cashier (an older female one), gave us a big smile and said: “Have another fun day as always”.

After thinking about it for a second, we laughed all the way to the car.

Some people get us.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Update on Retirement

Update on Retirement

Having stopped working in February, I have to say life is good.

Barbara and I go to the gym 2 or three times a week, get up when we want, do what we want, and try to have fun every day.  We usually do.

Barbara is still addicted to the news channels and follows every political, criminal and scandal story.  I still like old movies.  This gives us our “quality time”, which we spend apart.

We are about to start on visits to places we have discovered through “Weird Florida”, a book we bought and a TV special we watched.  The places sound interesting and we love “weird”.  After all, anyone who knows us thinks we are “weird” too (Barbara claims just me, but I know better).

I still play golf once a week with my older friends and shoot for the early bird breakfast instead of low score.

We recently had a visit from our daughter and her family along with our niece and her husband and new baby.  It made for a loud, crowded and happy time.

We still have my son here with his family and we try to see friends and family often.

Our new hobby, cooking, is going well. 

I watch the Barefoot Contessa and Giada when I am home in the afternoons and by the time they are over (at 5), I am starving and we rush to the kitchen to try out new recipes.  I can’t help it, the shows make me hungry.

We (me) have applied to the food network for a show called “Cooking with Bobbi and Shelly” but astonishingly, have not heard back from them.  We would be sensational as newbie cooks trying out their recipes. We are charming and likeable, at least Barbara is, and would be very popular.  Are you listening Food Network??

Barbara, not so enthusiastic, and somewhat shyer than I, has asked me to provide a stand in for her if we actually get a call back.  I refuse; it wouldn’t be the same without her.  We often seem like an “I Love Lucy” episode, as the following incident will illustrate.

Yesterday we attempted a shrimp Parmesan recipe and nearly burned down the house.

As per the recipe, we had 2 skillets and a pot going at the same time.

We were frying the breaded shrimp in one skillet, prior to putting them in the other skillet, which was simmering with the sauce.  At the same time the pasta was boiling away next to the other two skillets.  Steam, some smoke and aromas permeated the air.  We had the vent fan on full over the stove.

Suddenly there was a marked increase in the amount of smoke and my eyes starting stinging.  I was sautéing the shrimp, watching the skillet with the sauce and trying to keep track of the pasta. 

The smoke increased and now a burnt smell could be detected. 

Barbara and I looked around to see what was burning.  Everything seemed ok, except for the smell and smoke.

A lot of smoke now poured out of the microwave over the stove.

We were puzzled at first.  We weren’t using the microwave as far as I knew.   I stood there stupidly while Barbara reacted and tried to stop the microwave.  She finally cleared it, and I pulled the door open.  Smoke poured out from within filling the kitchen and den.

“What is going on?” I asked.

“It’s my fault”, said Barbara.

Barbara had mistakenly used the microwave as a timer for the pasta.  What she actually did was start the microwave.

Unfortunately, Barbara was using the microwave as a breadbox and had some blueberry muffins in a plastic container stored within.  They were the items on fire. They had melted and burned.

We opened the windows and kept the vent on high and the smoke soon cleared.  We didn’t have to use the fire extinguisher or call the fire department.  A near miss.

Unfortunately, the burnt smell has lingered even after cleaning out the microwave and we are trying to get rid of it.

Barbara and I find this episode funny. Barbara more than I.  She constantly laughs about it. I can just see Lucy running around trying to put out the fire while trying to keep the dinner going.

It is reminiscent of the times (twice) Barbara has caused a fire in microwaves cooking popcorn.  As a preventative, our children don’t let her cook popcorn any more.

The important part is the shrimp dinner was delicious and we will try to do it again without burning the house down.

Too bad we weren’t filming; this would have made a great episode for the Food Network.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Better Chance of Converting to Islam Than...

Better Chance of Converting to Islam Than…

The Law of Unintended Consequences reared its ugly head recently.

We had gone on a 3 week trip to Europe, and while in Paris, one of the people we were with ran over to a sidewalk table on the Rue St Germaine to say hello to the Barefoot Contessa.

Barbara, who didn’t even know there was a food channel, had no idea who she was; and I knew who she was but had never watched her show or any other food show.  We haven’t seriously cooked, except for holidays, for at least 30 years, so there was no incentive to watch.

I was impressed that our friend could pick out the Barefoot Contessa from the crowd at the restaurant we were casually passing.  Maybe she was worth a look.

Once we got home, I watched her show a couple of times.

She made it seem so easy.  I figured I could do that.  How hard could it be?  She did it effortlessly.

I resolved to investigate further.

I watched Giada (another show) and she made it seem easy also (She must only eat what is on the show and nothing else all day.  That is the only explanation for how skinny she stays compared to the other people I subsequently saw on the food shows.).

I definitely could do this.

But first, I had noticed that both women used a food processor to make things easier. 

I decided I needed one to add to my collection of food related tools.  After all we did have a blender (30 years old sitting in a cabinet somewhere), a crock pot (which is still in its original box somewhere at the bottom of the linen closet) along with an ice cream maker only used once from when my son was a cub scout (at least I think we still have it).  

I told Barbara of my idea to cook more at home.  She thought it was a good idea if we did it together.  I agreed.

On my birthday, we went looking for Food Processors and other necessary equipment such as a Grilling Pan for a Gas Stove. 

Yes the same stove that was immaculate because Barbara was afraid to get it dirty and ruin its pristine appearance.  Times were a changing (Sorry Bob Dylan).

We set out to shop, but couldn’t find what we were looking for at a reasonable price. 

We also looked at something for me for my birthday. 

Barbara had a wonderful gift in mind.  She bought a purse at the Coach outlet store as my present, and since I had no use for it, she magnanimously decided to keep it. 

When I complained to my daughter about this, she told me it was a wonderful idea and why wasn’t she getting one too.  One of our friends also gave a similar reply. 

There is no justice!

I returned home, consulted with our cooking friend who advised me to forsake the cheap food processors, and bought a large Cuisinart  on line at a good price.  I also started looking for recipes that looked both easy and tasty.

I downloaded some recipes and Barbara and I decided on a few to start.

Our children were very skeptical of our intentions and felt we had bought the food processor in order to have an attractive cooking tool on the counter top to give the appearance of cooking (it is true Barbara made me buy a black one to match the granite).  They had little hope of us actually using it, much like the crock pot, etc.

My sister was staying over that weekend and we showed her the recipes we had chosen to start with.  We started to make a list of ingredients to purchase versus what we had at home. 

My sister, who is a good cook, opined that many of the ingredients we had at home had probably expired or lost their freshness. 

I was frankly amazed she would say that.

20 year old condiments are outdated?  Chicken broth from 1987 is too old?  Does no one make quality products any longer?  At least ketchup and frozen chicken can last a year, right?

She seemed to disagree and insisted on going to the store with me to get “fresh” ingredients.

We returned from the store and Barbara and I resolved to make our first dish, Lime Tequila Chicken.

In the meantime, I had called our friends from Paris and told them of our plans.  They said they would be happy to come to dinner to try out the Lime Chicken.  I readily agreed, confident in my cooking prowess.

When I proudly told Barbara about having company to share our first “cooked meal”, I got “The Look”.

“You can’t do that,” she declared.

“Why not?” I naively asked.

“You can’t try out an unproven recipe on people,” she stated.

“But they know its my first time at this and are willing to try. That’s what they are expecting,” I countered.

“Forget it, make something you know how to make. Make Brisket”

“Brisket?  They expect Tequila lime chicken!”

“You’re making Brisket.  Don’t argue about it”

“Should we tell them it’s not going to be Chicken?” I asked.

“No, let’s let it be a surprise.” Barbara said.

I cooked the Brisket that day and put it in the refrigerator for use 3 days later.  Its always better to let the meat stay in the gravy (I make it like a Pot roast with Potatoes) at least one to two days or longer (sometimes a week, but don’t tell my children).  Barbara would make Matzoh Ball soup to go along with it.

The day of the dinner arrived.  I put the Brisket in the oven to finish cooking it and Barbara made her soup.

Our friends arrived.

The first thing they said was “Where’s the mess from cooking?  Everything looks so neat and clean.”

“Yes,” I responded, “we clean as we cook so there is no mess”.

A bald faced lie, but since I had done the actual cooking 3 days before, I could say it and the condition of the kitchen before them seemed to agree.

They were impressed.

We sat down to eat.

Barbara served the soup.  Her Matzoh Ball soup is very good even if it is from the Manichevitz box.

Now to the main course. 

I collected the plates and brought them into the kitchen and put the Brisket on the plates away from prying eyes.

I brought them in and put them in front of everyone.

Before they could say anything, I said “funny thing, I followed the recipe but I think it tastes like Brisket.”

We all laughed.

I explained why they were getting Brisket instead of the chicken.

The Brisket was a hit.  I do make a good Brisket.

Two days later, we made the Tequila Lime Chicken.

It was “ok”.  It didn’t have enough taste and we thought about how to make it better the next time and came up with some good ideas.

We texted our friends telling them they were better off with the Brisket.

We next tried a recipe for Potato Soup. It was delicious and satisfying.  So much so, we had it for two days as a main course (we haven’t tried to cut down on the measurements yet and everything is for 6-8 servings).

Now we started to brag about our accomplishments and our friends were quite amazed at us.  Our reputation was we never cooked.  In fact the new kitchen had never been used, much less the new stove.

One of our friends stated “I thought there was a better chance of you converting to Islam than you ever cooking”.  A sentiment shared by all who know us.
Nevertheless, we have continued to cook and at least right now enjoy it.

We recently made Baked Artichoke Chicken with a side dish of Kasha Varnishkas.  It was very good.

I felt the need to text our friends, who are at least partially responsible for our cooking, about this last meal.  I told them how well it had come out, added at the end, “No food poisoning as yet, but it has only been an hour”.

She answered back “Give it time.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How I Spent My European Vacation

How I Spent My European Vacation

We decided to spend our children’s inheritance on a European Vacation.

Since I was planning on being a burden to them all along, I figured we could splurge.

We found a great cruise that took us to Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey over 12 days with only 2 days at sea.  We would get to see Florence, Rome, Venice, Athens, Istanbul, Naples, Mykonos, Toulon (Aix en Provence), Barcelona and Ephesus.  We booked the cruise in November for Mid April sailing and settled back to see what kind of excursions we could take.

While looking over our choices, we decided that since we were already in Europe, we should see more of Rome and continue onto Paris.  We convinced two of our friends to meet us after the cruise in Rome and go with us to Paris.

I joined a discussion group on Cruise Critic which had people going on the same cruise as we were.  Everyone was sharing experiences and wanted to share side trips.

On previous cruises we usually met on the initial day of sailing as a group to get acquainted. I stupidly asked if anyone was organizing such a get together and was amazed when several people appointed me as the coordinator.  I did not volunteer!

I contacted the cruise company’s group coordinator and asked for a meeting place on the day of sailing.  They replied they would have an “official” cruise critic meeting on the 5th day and would that be all right.

No, I said, it would not.  We wanted to meet on the first day so we could meet the people we would be sharing small private excursions with.  The fifth day would be too late.

They then offered the 2nd day at 10 AM.  Since we would already be off the ship on our first excursion by then, it seemed like a bad idea.

The ship’s reasoning for those days was on sail away day, the officers wouldn’t be available to meet with us.  I didn’t care about meeting the officers and asked for a meeting place for an “unofficial” meeting of our own.

They suggested a bar off the lobby.  I agreed and posted on the discussion board asking for names and numbers so we could tell how many people wanted to attend.

We got 64 people to sign up.  When I told the group coordinator she told me the bar they had suggested was too small and offered another bar near the casino.  I agreed and asked for at least a bartender to be present.

I posted the new location and time, plus the time and location of the “official” Cruise Critic meeting so people could attend both,  printed up name tags and waited.

In the meantime, we had booked both ship tours and private tours.  We posted the private tours on the discussion boards and got other couples to join us so the cost per couple was way less.

We also booked our hotels in Venice, Rome and Paris.  Booked the train from Venice to Rome and a plane from Rome to Paris.  We also booked a private tour of the Vatican to avoid the crowds. (money was no object since technically it was our children’s)

We flew to Barcelona.  Loved the city, had one day there to sightsee.  The next day boarded the ship.

Barbara and I went to the bar early to set up for the “unofficial” meeting.  We had our name tags set up for everyone and even had some blanks for people showing up without telling us.

There was no bartender.

I went to the next bar and convinced the manager there to send over some waiters.  We were gong to have 64 people at the bar, how could they lose.  He agreed.

The get together was a success; everyone appreciated the nametags so they could find the people they were sharing trips with.  Some people didn’t make the party so they would have to be found later.  It turned out one of the people we were sharing a trip with were our next door neighbors on the cruise.  A happy coincidence.

The cruise started.

Every day we had to get up at 6:30 or 7 to make our excursions.  We would spend all day out, come back exhausted from all the walking, climbing, shopping, and be in bed by 11.

We saw wonderful things. Met great people.

Despite being warned (you can guess who said that) not to speak with anyone, I managed to talk with people on every trip. Also all the Cruise Critic people recognized me from the get together and knew who I was since I had given out the nametags.  I felt like the Mayor of the Cruise.  Even some of the Officers knew who I was because of the meeting and would say hello to me by name. Barbara just kept rolling her eyes at me.  I can’t help it if I was popular.

Barbara and I decided since we were going to Venice, Rome and Paris after the cruise we would not eat in the specialty restaurants.  After the second night, the hostesses recognized us and gave us window seat tables every night.

On the first sea day, the “official” cruise critic meeting took place.  30 plus people showed up.  The ship had set up coffee, cake and tables for us.  The officers arrived and were impressed to see so many people.  I was later told that the normal number who show up was 10.  The officers introduced themselves and left.  Kind of a let down after the buildup to the meeting the ship’s group coordinator had given me.

In the meantime, Barbara and I had been getting hors d’ourves and chocolate covered strawberries every night.  I assumed everyone was getting the same.  I was wrong. Only us.  I never did find out why, just ate them.  We had so many at one point we gave some to our neighbor.

The cruise was great; we had a good time and saw amazing things.

As usual, things just happened to me.  Entirely not my fault.

In Venice, we got dropped off by the water taxi and were told our hotel was just down the next street.  It was raining and we couldn’t find the street.  After a while I asked a policeman and he gave me a landmark to turn at.  Turns out the “alleyway” I kept passing was the street.  We were soaked by the time we got there.  Fortunately the rain stopped and we could enjoy the rest of the day in Venice.

Barbara is very good at lots of things.  Taking pictures is not one of them.  She can’t see any images in the LCD screen and consequently most of the pictures of me are headless.

Several times she was so hapless (she actually pointed the lens at herself at one point) that people noticed her difficulty, took pity on her, and took the picture for her.  Thank God or I wouldn’t be in any pictures from the cruise.  Our friends took my picture in Rome and Paris.

In Ephesus, we met Rick Steves, the travel writer who was making a new show on Ephesus.  When we told other cruise mates they were jealous.

In Venice, I met an artist in the Jewish Quarter.  She told me she had an office in the US.  When I asked her “where,” she told me Florida.  I inquired further and she told me “somewhere in Sunrise Lakes”.

For those of you who don’t know, it is a retirement community 10 minutes from my house.  Her “office” was a woman in a condo taking orders. What are the odds??

At the Louvre, I met a young lady who could be a double for Cameron Diaz.  Of course I had to ask her for a picture with me so I could send it to my children as the real Cameron Diaz.  Once again I got the “look” from Barbara.

I took a picture of Barbara eating Gelato that made her appear angry (she wasn’t) and I didn’t realize it did.  When I sent it to the kids and family everyone asked each other “What did he do now to piss her off so much?”  We had a hard time convincing them everything was ok.

In Paris, our friend who was with us, recognized the Barefoot Contessa and went over to say hello.  Barbara didn’t recognize the name or even know there was a food channel.  As an aside, while eating in the dining room of the ship, Barbara said to me, “I could get used to this, not cooking I mean.”

I nearly gagged on my food.

Barbara and I usually like to dance.  We were listening to a piano player play and sing some Elton John songs.  I asked her to dance.  She refused on the grounds we would be the only ones dancing.  I turned to a man sitting next to us and asked him to dance with his wife so we wouldn’t be the only ones dancing.  Despite not speaking English, he got what I said and they began to dance.  Barbara had no choice but to follow.  People applauded (I may have been a little vocal in my attempt to get Barbara to dance), and then the piano player took a break.  Bad timing.

In Ephesus and in Istanbul, we saw signs that said “Genuine Fake Watches”.  I love truth in Advertising.

My usually conservative friend made me buy dice with pictures of Karma Sutra positions on them.  The night we were too tired to go out to dinner, I told him we had been playing with the dice and were exhausted from duplicating the positions on them.  He was proud of us.

What higher praise could there be for 2, 60 somethings?


Truth in Advertising

Me and you know who before the guards took me away

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A College Freshman's Dream

 A College Freshman’s Dream

I was in my second semester of college at Queens College in New York. 

I received a phone call from my high school buddy who had gone to Florida State University.

He told me that his girlfriend, who was on the Florida State Drill Team would be coming to New York the next week with her drill team to be on a TV show called Hullabaloo.  He requested I get take care of her and her 14 teammates.  He wanted me to show them around the city and make sure they had a good time.  He gave me her name, the name of the hotel the team was staying at, and the date and approximate time they would be arriving.

Of course I agreed. Visions of tall, beautiful, southern belles filled my head.

My next problem was arranging for 14 other guys to go with me.

I had joined a House Plan at Queens; it was like a fraternity but without the rules and affiliations.  There were plenty of candidates for the Drill Team dates.

That Monday, I went to school and got a group of guys together for the expected date that Saturday night.  Needless to say, I was very popular that week and somewhat of a hero in the House Plan.

On Thursday, the girls arrived in New York City.  I called the hotel and was put through to my friend’s girlfriend.  She was expecting my call.  

She had told her teammates about me and they had agreed to go out with my friends on Saturday night after the TV show.  I told them I would arrange to pick them up at 10PM at their hotel in Manhattan.  We would have 5 or 6 cars so they would have to break up into groups.

I prepped my group. We consisted of freshmen like me on up to seniors. We made tactical plans of who would go with who based on who had cars and where we lived.

Saturday night came. We assembled at a rallying point and proceeded to Manhattan.  We parked the cars and went into the hotel.  We went up to the floor where the girls were and knocked on the door of the room my friend’s girlfriend was in.

She opened the door and was exactly what I expected.  Her friends were the same.

We piled into the room, and after some short small talk, divided up and went down to the cars.

The group I was with, went to Greenwich Village and into a popular coffee house where we saw a show and had some drinks (they only served soft drinks because they didn’t have a liquor license) and French fries.  We went to Chinatown next and then Little Italy for dessert.  We had a good time, they were fun to be with, and seemed to enjoy being shown around Manhattan.  We brought them back to the hotel around 4AM and went home.

Various groups did different things and I never did get the whole story about what happened, but all my friends were very happy on Monday and I remained popular if not a legend (perhaps in my own mind only) on campus.

I spoke with my friend at Florida State and he told me the girls had a good time and his reputation benefited from the “fix up” he had arranged.

I often wondered what these girls thought of us. 

Queens College was mostly Jewish, and all the guys I took with me were Jewish.  I was sure the girls were not.  I have no idea if they even knew we were Jewish or what that meant (I was sure there were no Jews at Florida State).

Maybe this was my small contribution to bridging the religious gap in the South. 

Or maybe I give myself too much credit.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The iPad Dessert

                                                            The IPad Dessert

When IPads first came out, I thought they were a waste of money.  After all, I had a computer and a smart phone, so what did I need the IPad for?

 Over time, I came to view them with avarice and wanting.

As I got older I can read my emails and go to web pages with greater and greater difficulty on my iPhone.  The images and fonts are too small and I “don’t need” glasses.  Therefore the answer is a larger screen, hence the conversion to seeking an IPad or tablet.

This past holiday season, I began looking at the IPads and the Android Tablets to see if I really wanted one and how much were they going to cost.

I watched the ads, went to the stores and was still undecided by the time Chanukah came around.

My wife watched me go over these things and sweetly decided she would get me one.

She and my daughter-in-law went to Brandsmart (an electronics and appliance store) to purchase tablets for me and our daughter-in-law’s parents.

Since they didn’t know very much about the tablets, they asked a salesgirl for advice. Unfortunately, the salesgirl either didn’t know anything or was told to sell a particular tablet to neophytes.  This particular tablet is an off, off brand, but it is inexpensive.

Based on the salesgirl’s advice, they bought two 10” tablets.

A few days later, my wife presented me with the tablet.

I set it up and tried it out.  It was horrible.  It could get emails but didn’t have the memory to run the web browser or do much of anything.  In addition it had a battery life of 2 hours! 

Over the next few days I played with it to see if I could get it to work better.  It didn’t.

I packed it up and brought it back to Brandsmart where I was told I only had 5 days to  return it and this was the 6th day.  I had never heard of this policy at this store and had a spirited conversation with the return manager.  The outcome was they refused to take it back and directed me to the manufacturer for relief.

I tried contacting the manufacturer.  As per their web page I tried to email them using their form.  It refused to take my complaint.  I called the 800 number and was told I had to email them or fax them to file a complaint or ask a question.  The 800 number was strictly for sales.

I faxed them my questions about improving the performance of the tablet as per their instructions and lo and behold they have never answered.  A wonderful company to be sure.  In case you are wondering it is called Tivax.

I resigned myself to just using it for emails when I was away from my home or country.

I recently went to visit my daughter out of state.  My wife and I told her of our difficulties with the tablet.  She immediately determined I needed an IPad like her husband and son had.  She proceeded to investigate pricing and specs on the various models.

Now, Apple doesn’t allow discounting on its various models, a practice I think is illegal based on the Sherman Anti Trust Act, but what do I know.  However, some stores have “open box” units available (units used for demos) and also refurbished units, as does Apple on its website.

I suggested we try BestBuy as a source of “open box” units since I had bought an IMac that way there.

We went to her local BestBuy and spoke with a salesperson.  He assured us he had “open box” units and even units that were about to “expire” which was better for us since we could get a 15% discount on a combination of open box and “expiring”.  Expiring meant that the unit had been in the store too long and was about to cost the store interest.

I agreed to take one of these units and the salesman went to get one.

After a short period of time, he returned with two units which were open box, but not what I wanted and more expensive than we had agreed on.  He said he didn’t have any others and never had any expired units, despite having assured us he had plenty.

We left the store and tried another BestBuy, a Target, a Walmart, and an Office Depot.

We returned home without an IPad.

We then went to the Apple site to see what they were offering. 

My daughter found a refurbished unit with more memory for a discounted price.  I bought it and had it shipped to her house since that’s where we were.

A few days later, the unit showed up.

I set it up and went to get a drink.  By the time I got back, the unit was gone. 

My wife had taken it; and she and my grandson were busy downloading games.

Even as I am writing this, she is playing various games and downloading others.  The tablet is now called: “Barbie’s” and Siri directs her comments to my wife.

It occurs to me that this is our “dessert” thing all over again.

She doesn’t want one (dessert or tablet), but once I have one, she takes at least half, or in this case whole.

I’m going to have to keep my reading glasses with me.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Joining the Gym

Joining the Gym

Now that Barbara and I have more time at home, we decided to join a Gym.

There is a big gym near us and it is a member of the Silver Sneakers network (hard to believe we qualify).  We went over to see what the deal was.  It turns out that our Medical Insurance supplement pays for our membership in full so we went ahead to register.

We sat down with a counselor who asked us a series of questions about what our goals were, etc. 

Not being able to help myself I told him Barbara’s goal was to get in shape for her second husband to be.  She didn’t deny it!

After thinking about that, he said most of the women were getting in shape for their first husbands to be.  I thought that was pretty funny and true.

I signed Barbara up for a personal trainer for 3 sessions, since she had never been in a gym before and was unfamiliar with the various machines and exercises.  I asked for a “drill sergeant type”, but Barbara, rolling her eyes in familiar way, vetoed that idea.

We got a tour of the gym.  It’s very nice, with an indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, steam room, racket ball court, basketball court and lots of machines and weight stations.

We then proceeded to the most important phase of joining: buying snazzy workout outfits for Barbara.

My daughter had already given Barbara a list of items to purchase and where to get them, Target.  So off we went.

$150 later, Barbara was suitably outfitted and we were prepared to start.

Our free membership had now cost $280 dollars including the personal trainer for Barbara.

That Monday, we went for out first sessions.  The personal trainer had called to make sure Barbara was coming and met us at 10AM.

I went off on my own and would catch glimpses of Barbara with the trainer during the hour.

At the end of the hour, we met up in the front.  Before leaving, we went over to the scale and weighed ourselves.

Barbara went first.

“The scales wrong,” she promptly declared. “It’s off by 6 pounds. The scale at Publix (our local supermarket) doesn’t say I weigh this much”.

“Really,” I said, “let me see what my weight is.”

The scale seemed to be 3 pounds off.

The Publix scale has been wrong in the past, usually under-reporting in an attempt to get people to buy more fattening food.

A woman who had been standing behind us spoke up.

“Let me on the scale, I weigh myself all the time here,” she said.

“Sure,” I said.

She got on the scale, adjusted it and declared it accurate, much to our chagrin.

Maybe she was a plant from the gym to get us sign up for some diet program.  No such luck, she left without saying a word other than “see ya”.

Barbara and I looked at each other. 

“I might have gained a little,” Barbara said, “but my clothes fit”.

“Yeah maybe its all the cake, cookies and chocolate,” I offered as an excuse.

At any rate, we seemed to have our work cut out for us.

We went home and Barbara “rested” for the rest of the day.

On Wednesday we returned to the gym and split up to go our separate ways.

Looking around, I realized that 65% of the people there were our age or older.  The Silver Sneakers were much in evidence.

We returned home and Barbara again felt the need to “rest”.

On Friday, we went again and once more Barbara felt the need to “rest” afterward.

She seems to like going and doing the exercises. However, she is not prepared to do anything afterward. 

This coming Monday, she has a doctors appointment in the afternoon and has told me she isn’t going to the gym on Monday morning, because she will be too tired to go to the doctor in the afternoon.

I’m hoping this isn’t a repeat of the “Bike” fiasco, where she rode her new “Barbie Bike” once and hasn’t ridden it in 2 years. To be fair, I only rode my new bike twice.

It really is a “Barbie Bike”, hot pink in color, 1950’s look to it, wide tires, rear brakes, no gears.  We found it already assembled at Kmart at the end of an aisle, with a spotlight on it (no, really).  We had to buy it.

I am hoping for a change in pattern, Wednesday will be the telling point.