Dinosaurs

I wonder how the last dinosaurs died. Did they sense that their era was over and mindlessly, like ten ton lemmings, march directly to the tar pits?

Did the last dinosaurs see the advancing glacier and bravely attack in hope of saving their doomed world? Or was the last brontosaurus peacefully sleeping while the world around him came to a sudden end (sort of a prehistoric Ronald Reagan)? We may never know.

We do know, however, that if the last dinosaur was alive today, he would write a book and spend his last moments of life plugging it on Geraldo and Donahue. I know this because I saw a distant cousin of his on TV this morning.

On the TODAY show, Bryant Gumble interviewed Ralph Nader. Now before you get mad at me, I loved Ralph Nader in the sixties. Everyone, well almost everyone, did. I was very fond of him in the seventies. But by the early eighties I grew weary of Ralph and his inability to move forward. Today is October 1, 1990 and Ralph is pushing his newest book, Winning The Insurance Game. This book is supposed to be the final word for the general public about insurance. You can almost hear Ed McMahon say: “Everything you need to know about insurance is in THIS BOOK. Everything.

The interview began with Ralph earnestly telling Bryant how his new book will protect consumers from insurance companies and their agents. Some people will read the book cover to cover and become insurance experts, trained and prepared to educate the masses. Some people will simply check the book when they are about to make a purchase. When asked about those consumers who might not want to tackle Mr. Nader’s newest tome, Ralph advised that smart consumers would do well by simply placing the book on the table when discussing insurance with an agent. Like garlic and a cross, Ralph’s book might protect you from vampire insurance agents. Oh come on, Ralph.

Bryant managed to keep a straight face and asked Mr. Nader for some specifics. Could Ralph quickly name some super savers? Trap set! The last dinosaur reached deep inside himself and came up empty. “If you own a car that is seven years old, you might not need collision insurance anymore.” Gee Ralph, my twelve year old knows that. What other nugget can we recover from your empty mine?

Should we spend $25.95 to be advised to read contracts before we sign and to look both ways before we cross the street? When pressed about life insurance, Ralph endorsed both cash value and term policies. In five minutes, Ralph Nader exhausted a lifetime supply of common sense and, flogging the obvious, common knowledge. The pioneering author of Unsafe At Any Speed had become just one more guy with a word processor for a palette but no ribbon left in the printer.

The interview ended and as the TODAY show faded into commercial, I knew that Mr. Nader had a busy day ahead. Sally, Oprah, Phil and Geraldo would all squeeze him in between the daily mix of Siamese sextuplets and “men who kick their dogs and the women who love them”.

I wonder if Ralph can hear the tar pits calling.

Feeling Used and Abused

I was feeling used. Once again I was forced to stand on principle, a polite way to say that I was absolutely, positively, alone. Oh, theoretically I was right but “couldn’t we make an exception just this time?” How many times had I heard those words? I’d lost count. I knew that no matter how I answered, it would be wrong and that I would be in this same position again sometime soon.

You are never truly divorced until your youngest child marries. At that time you can finally sever contact from someone with whom you couldn’t wait to share your life and later couldn’t escape from soon enough. It is more that genetics that binds us. School plays. Bar Mitzvahs, Communions, Saturday morning soccer games….every activity has the potential to grate and frustrate like ten long fingernails upon a classroom chalkboard. Moments of rest and peace are but the natural retrenching of vast armies. R&R for the troops. But the war is far from over.

Wart hogs find other wart hogs desirable. Divorced parents tend to attract other single parents. Wonderful. Now you have you, your kids, your ex, your new friend, more children and another ex all simmering in the same stew.

As the emotions boil over and spill onto all of the rest of your life, you are comforted by the free advice of your parents. “This would all be fine if you all acted like adults, especially your ex that lousy Bitch (or SOB)! Just don’t screw up the children.”

Thanks. I needed a little guilt to go with the pain.

Of course there are alternatives.

(1) THE DOOR-MAT APPROACH….Under this solution you simply give your ex everything he/she wants. No conflict (inner conflict doesn’t count). No fighting.
Count the days till the kids become adults and resign yourself that you will have a life, dignity, and self-respect before Willard Scott announces your name on the Today Show.

(2) THE ATTORNEY FROM HELL APPROACH….Essentially this is the other side of option (1). Someone is going to wipe their feet on the doormat. Why not you? Shouldn’t it be your lawyer demanding child support, vacation time and clothing allowance for the family dachshund? Certainly! You deserve it. This option works well as long as the children don’t decide as adults that you abused their mother/father when they were kids.

(3) THE BLACK AND WHITE METHOD….As A.T. & T. says, “Get it in writing.” With this option, every contingency is clearly spelled out after extensive negotiation. Who has the kids for Valentine’s Day 1996? No sweat. The answer is on page 47 of the last agreement. Of course, you, your ex and each of the children are required to have a copy of the agreement with them at all times. This could be a real problem at the beach.

(4) THE LINE IN THE SAND OPTION….In this system you determine what’s really important to you. There you draw the line. Your ex and the kids can pretty much do whatever they want as long as they don’t cross the line. This plan only works if you have the guts to “blast them out of the water” if they cross the line. Dan Quayle need not apply.

There are probably plenty of other options and all of them have an equal chance of success or failure. But in those dark hours when you wonder what else could happen to you, just remember, it could be worse. You could still be married to that lousy….

The Long and Winding Road

Don called me on Monday morning with two extra tickets for Friday night’s McCartney concert. $60! Oh well. When would I get a chance to see a Beatle again?

Friday was my last day of work before two weeks of much needed vacation. I had been hoping for a quiet day of paper shuffling. Instead the day exploded with undelivered mail, lost checks, and problems that would need six days to solve when I had but six hours to offer.

By 5:30 I was wired. I had convinced Don of the need to get downtown early for the concert. Six of us settled for dinner at the food court in the Galleria. Now I admit that the Chinese restaurant there is very good, but if I’m going to spend big bucks for concert tickets, I want to eat dinner in a place that takes reservations and serves your dinner on China not styrofoam.

By the time we got to our seats, box seats with a view partially obstructed by a bank of speakers, I had enough. I was in no mood to be there and the fact that I couldn’t see half the stage wasn’t helping.

I was settling into a well-deserved funk as the sun set and the concert began with an eleven minute montage of the last twenty-seven (yes twenty-seven) years of McCartney’s musical career and the world events his music reflected. There were huge screens on each side of the stage as well as one behind the performers. By the second song of the clip, I was calmed and ready to be entertained.

Paul McCartney bounded onto the stage with that same boyish grin that won over a world so long ago. Here was a man who loved to perform. It is no secret that he doesn’t need the cash. He feasted on the adulation. He mugged. He bowed. One could even say that at certain points in the concert he milked it. But he returned an equal measure to his fans. This was a live, sweat poring off the bodies, performance. Two and a half hours of music played by a tight band that was an equal to the material. When Paul’s microphone failed during the Long and Winding road, he joked that we should “talk amongst ourselves.” After the mike was replaced, they picked the song up in the middle and finished it without a hitch. You won’t see that at one of those tape/lip synched affairs.

The audience sang without inhibition throughout most of the concert. Before one song Paul talked for a moment and ended his remarks saying that we might want to join him at the end of the song. Don’s twenty-four year old future brother-in-law turned to me and asked what McCartney had just said. I told him that “Hey Jude” would be the next song. He asked how I knew.

As the song started I found myself sitting in Taft Junior High School, eighth grade, Canton, Ohio. Mr. Spitz was teaching art. Spitz was a free-spirit who once got on stage during a school sock hop and sang “I’ve Got A Line On You” with the band. He had shoulder-length brown hair and an attitude. As we drew our balloon lettered posters and abstract pictures, Mr. Spitz played “Hey Jude” over and over and over again. Everyday for weeks on end we absorbed “Hey Jude”. At first it was a novelty. Then it became tiresome. Finally the message sunk in and we realized what both McCartney and Spitz were trying to say.

Na Na Na Nananana Nananana, Hey Jude

A stadium filled to capacity joined in the chorus. The tears streamed from my eyes as I found myself back at the concert swaying in time to the music. It had been years since I had thought about Spitz or eighth grade. The experience was wonderful.

The balance of the concert had a potential to be anticlimactic, but it wasn’t. For some the lasers and special effects of “Live and Let Die” was the highlight. Other may have found the touching tribute to John Lennon as the most special moment of the show. I’m sure that everyone loved the encore. Paul played “Yesterday” on acoustic guitar and finished with the last cuts from Abbey Road the Beatles final album. He even proved that he could play a mean lead guitar. Me? I danced. I sang. And mostly I just stood there basking in the afterglow like a couple sleeping in each other’s arms after passionately making love.

A banner hanging from the upper deck read “John Is Here”. He was. I saw him sitting next to Mr. Spitz in the front row.

Advance Warning

The red Ford Pick-up came around the curve at about 40 miles per hour. As soon as I was sure he could see me, I flicked my brights on and off. He waved as he went by and I could see him tap his brakes in my rear view mirror.

“Why did you do that,” my companion asked with obvious disgust.

“Didn’t you see the cop with the radar gun back there?”

“You shouldn’t do that” she said as if I had just been caught shoplifting. “It’s wrong. It’s against the law.”

Oh here we go again. Black and white. Heaven and hell. Good vs. evil. Right and wrong. The world as seen by an absolutist. The next ten minutes will be filled with the cultural differences between us. It could be her religious background. Who knows?

My views are different. I believe that locked doors keep honest people honest. Trust everyone, but count your change. These are words to live by. I always flick my lights to advise other drivers of an upcoming speed trap. To me, it makes sense.

First of all, I believe that the policeman’s function is to keep us safe, not to dispense speeding tickets. I drive through a section of the Metroparks everyday on the way to my office. On a sunny weekday morning in April the road is empty, dry and a wonderful challenge. I’ve been known to run my Mazda through the park like Paul Newman through Le Mans.

The summer is different. Only dogs and joggers run in front of more cars than eight year olds. And the park is full of all of them. Driving through the park is a series of starts and stops with occasional stretches of open road perfect for sightseeing. The ever-present Metropark patrolman sets up shop at one of three spots. Having never talked with him, I don’t know how he views his mission, but, if he’s busy ticketing someone going 34 in a 30 zone, he’s not going to slow the driver buzzing by at 45. That’s the way it works. Properly warned, most drivers will maintain the speed limit through the park. Safety achieved, even if no ticket is written.

I flicked my lights at the upcoming cars. The old man in the beige skylark stared at me blankly. The lady driving the station wagon filled with little leaguers smiled and waved. And Heaven and Hell moved just a smidgeon closer together.

Same Ol’…Same Ol

It’s Tuesday. Tomorrow morning the big blue truck will stop in front of my house again. Every week the trash man comes. Usually on Wednesday. Sometimes, when there is a holiday, Thursday. As I dragged the heavy plastic cans to the curb, I realized that I had just done this last week. I was not pleased.

Some people like the way life falls into predictable patterns. Monday you do this. Tuesday you do that. I don’t. I want to do something. Do it well. And be done.

I remember when I bought my house in South Euclid. I went to the store and bought a lawnmower. I bought a good lawnmower. I mowed the lawn. I did a great job. Who knew six days later the grass would need cutting again? I had done a good job. That should have been it. But no, I have a new hobby. Once a week, from May 1 to September 30, my lawn demands my attention. I mow, but it keeps growing back.

I am a big believer in the precept “Work smarter not harder.” That of course, does not apply to mowing your lawn. Even if through practice and training you become the world’s greatest mower, you will still be out there a week later pushing the Toro. And ignoring it doesn’t work, either. I’ve left town for a couple of weeks, not once thinking about my yard while I was gone, and the grass still grew in my absence.

One day my children will drag the cans to the curb and mow the lawn. They know this. That is why were all counting on modern technology to come to our rescue. One Tuesday, hopefully not too many years from now, I will carry my trash cans to the curb for the last time. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll push the mower there, too.

Thirtysomething update: Since last we looked in on Hollywood’s version of us, much has happened. Melissa has realized that even though she dresses like an eighteen year old, she really can’t live like one. Elliot continues his rapid maturity. One wonders if some TV researcher has determined the “EL” needed to be reworked. Hope, apparently ready to deliver triplets and suffering mood swings Sam Kenison would be proud of, came perilously close to having an affair. Speaking of affairs, Ellen is still pretty messed up. Gary might get tenure. And Michael has great shot at sainthood if he would only convert. Don’t worry. If anything unusual occurs, I’ll keep you posted.

Squeeky Clean

I love to cook. I’ve even gotten to the point where I don’t mind cleaning up. Still, some things leave me baffled.

I’ve yet to come to terms with “seasoning” your pots. I can’t help it. I always wash the pots and pans after I use them. I grew up in a home where you washed your hands if you thought about taking out the garbage. I could see trying to tell my mother about this.

Dave: See Mom. The eggs are enhanced by the flavor of the salami I fried
yesterday.
Mom: You’ve got a job? You’ve got money? Today’s eggs should be flavored with
today’s salami. What kind of germs are growing in this pot, anyhow?

I bought my first wok about thirteen years ago. I read the instructions twice. I thought they were kidding. I called a couple of friends and asked them about “seasoning”. They had no idea what I was talking about. Totally frustrated, I called Higbee’s house wares department and asked for the woman who had sold me the wok. She explained the concept but then assured me that if I chose I could still wash the wok normally. Praise the Lord.

In the years since, I’ve seen my fair share of cast iron pots, perhaps as much as ½ inch of something lining the cooking surface, sitting atop the stoves of otherwise clean kitchens. I admit that I don’t rush to eat in these homes. Oh these people appear healthy. But who really knows for sure?

I have three books from Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet. One of them is autographed. He clearly advises to wash your pans in soapy water when you first bring them home and then to properly season them. “Never put soap in your frying pan again”, he writes. One more house to avoid at dinner time.

One day I’ll adjust. I’ll come to terms with seasoning pots. Of course with my luck, that will be the day they begin seasoning forks and plates.

Getting Fat

I may be getting fat. Oh, not obese or anything like that. I’ve not outgrown my suits or clothes. But, I have gained a few extra pounds.

You notice your own extra weight at the most inopportune times. It might happen during a pick-up basketball game when you realize that maybe you should be on the team that keeps their shirts on. Or you might be sitting, as I was, at an Amy Joy Donut Shop about to indulge in your favorite snack, a toasted coconut cake doughnut, when it hits you. Just what the doctor ordered: 500 calories and a side–order of guilt.

I was a skinny kid. When I graduated from high school, fifty pounds ago, my ribs were visible from across the room. Neither my best friend, also named Dave, nor I could gain any weight if our lives depended on it. My ex-wife has a picture of Dave and I when we were twenty-one. We look like the smiling “Before” picture from an advertisement from an anorexia clinic. Dave and I would drink malted milkshakes and could out eat all of our friends. Pinstripes, in fact any vertical stripes, had to be avoided. Our mothers were constantly told by their friends to feed us.

Somewhere around age twenty-five my metabolism finally slowed. I’ll never forget how excited I was when I finally hit 200 pounds. Clothing was easier to buy. My face filled out. The first twenty-five pounds were fabulous. I was improving with age.

Then I quit smoking. Two packs of cigarettes a day, a pipe or two of tobacco and a cigar to nothing. Cold turkey. Actually a lot of turkey. But mostly pretzels, potato chips and anything else I could get my hands on. My oral fixation netted me another twenty-five pounds and that’s where I am today.

Earlier this morning, Deborah Norville interviewed a doctor about the dangers of rapid weight loss. Another doctor, representing a nationwide diet-center company, was there to defend some programs while attacking others. I heard them mention gallbladder problems and heart problems and other problems and I decided that the one thing I really don’t have….is a problem. At least not yet.

I have decided that I am going to do more than just feel guilty about this. I sprang into action. I didn’t order an egg roll with my Kung Po Chicken at lunch today. And if that’s not enough, I’ve gotten a commitment from my office partner, Bill to walk 18 holes every Thursday afternoon this summer. My friend Lou wants to play tennis on Tuesday afternoons as soon as it’s nice outside. And I may skip playing softball this year (two hours sitting on a pine bench) and instead do something more strenuous.

I don’t want to be skinny again, nor even thin. I just want to go into Amy Joy’s and not feel guilty.

Children, Anyone?

Some of you have children. Don’t deny it. I read the personals. You aren’t all twenty-three year old virgins looking for Mr. Right. Some of you met and married Miss Close enough or Mr. Sorta Right and are now divorced. Some of you were even there that Thursday night a few weeks ago when my son’s elementary school saluted Black History Month.

Phillip’s school is either very early or very late. We were a smidgeon early for his class’s Greek program a few months ago and ended up totally alone in the school for almost an hour. As Pete Townsend wrote, “We won’t get fooled again.” Phillip was to be at the school by ten after seven for the 7:30 program and I was determined to not be there a moment sooner.

Every single parking spot had long been filled when I pulled into the school’s lot at 7:07 that evening. Guessed wrong. So did the school. The custodian was still bringing out chairs ten minutes after the program was to have started. The gym was packed. Parents. Grandparents. When I reached twelve, I stopped counting the camcorders. They were everywhere. A few of the technologically deprived took snap shots. The sound and light of the flash seemed strangely quaint and intrusive. The children pretended not to notice. The video buffs adjusted their lenses with a quiet air of superiority.

The program was long, very long. Each presentation was enhanced by props prepared by the students and one group was choreographed by Justin Dennis of the Karamu Theater. The performers were children from the third, fourth and sixth grades of an elementary school in South Euclid. “Getting to Know You” was like a coming out party for blacks in American history. Scenes depicted the lives and successes of Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas and other black leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. Black and white children, mostly white, took their turns singing and reciting their lines. Black children portrayed both whites and blacks. White children portrayed both blacks and whites. Martin Luther king was played quite capably by a little white boy – not Phillip.

What struck me was how successful the program was. The little brothers and sisters of the performers played and fidgeted together, seemingly unaware of any differences in race or religion. I looked through the stands and saw adults of both races equally enthralled and bored. The ultimate equality is to have the right to sit on a bleacher in a stuffy gym for an hour for the privilege of seeing you kid recite two lines.

The assembly ended with two ladies leading all of us in the inspirational song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” In the movies, several hundred strangers stand up and sing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We achieved an unparalleled level of mediocrity. Luckily there was a really talented tenor standing in the next row to balance my feeble attempt.

As Phil and I entered our home, he turned to me and said “Gee Dad, I wish we had a camcorder!”

A Shot In The Dark

It was about 10:30. Suddenly, I had this vision that I was a 6’4” tit. Just me and 10 million other tits around the country were sitting on our couches being manipulated – at first a gentle massage, now more forcefully – as Thirtysomething milked us and Nancy’s cancer like a sixteen year old boy reaching second base for the first time. Cancer. The Big C.

Prime time Tuesday night. All the hopes and fears of an entire generation were getting their weekly airing. Only Thirtysomething was up to the task of fleshing out cancer. Michael, Elliot, Hope, and Nancy wouldn’t trivialize a mosquito bite. No, this was a milestone, something worthy of the eternal whine they do so well.

Each scene was carefully set. Stark white sub-titles set in a field of black foretold each step Nancy took. NANCY MISSES HER KIDS. NANCY GOES OUT. Her angst. Her pain. Her loneliness. In case we were too dumb or unfeeling to know Nancy’s emotions, the show’s producers, Zwick and Herskovitz, prepared us. Each vignette led us, usually by the nose, towards the next revelation of Nancy’s condition. Director Peter Horton who also portrays Gary on the show, managed to skip a couple of close-ups in the beginning of the broadcast, but by the end of the hour, his baser instincts had overcome him.

There was a slight chance that even with all of the darkness we might not be appropriately spent by the time the show concluded. So when we saw Gary, Tuesday night, he was with Michael. Hope, and Melissa, instead of his new baby. And Nancy’s older sister, the nurse, referred to cancer as the Big C as opposed to the more commonly used medical term, ca. That is, of course, when she wasn’t fighting with her mother. And we got a different look at Elliot. We saw Elliot as helper. Elliot as loving husband. He cried. He loved. In two episodes he was transformed from Peter Pan to Alan Alda.

As the show draws to a close we find the Westons in the bedroom. The lights are low. The box of pizza is on the bed. An old Robin Hood movie is on the television. Son Ethan is overdosing on violence and junk food. Daughter Brittany climbs on her daddy and then, as usual, disappears. Elliot reaches over to his wife and kisses her. The show ends with the two of them contentedly snuggling, their eyes gazing into future episodes.

As the picture faded, I absent mindedly reached for a cigarette forgetting that I had quit six years ago.