Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pining for Christmas

Christmas 2014 walked up to me this morning and tapped me on the shoulder and said hello.

And I said hello back.

At 5:30 a.m., as I was taking Parker for his daily stroll, I walked by our neighborhood firehouse. The lawn was full of Christmas trees for sale; stiff and straight, branches held with twine like closed umbrellas, they leaned against yellow sawhorses, waiting for eager purchasers.

It wasn't so much the sight of them that started to stir my Christmas spirit. It was the scent of them, the musky, green smell of fresh needles and sticky sap.

As a youngster, I don't remember buying the family Christmas tree, mostly because we weren't privy to that particular piece of the holiday magic. See, when we were kids, Santa brought everything: presents, trains, decorations and yes, even the tree.

My brothers and I would go to bed Christmas Eve with exactly two things in place in the house, our stockings and the creche. 

When we awoke Christmas morning, St. Nick had not only fulfilled our every wish, but he had festooned every corner of the living room with spangly, sparkly specialness.

As I got older, I was let in more on the behind-the-scenes prep, and Dad would take us to the local fire station and buy a tree there.

Our tradition of putting the tree on a platform, with a ring of trains around the base, made purchase a bit difficult. We could not manage the seven-foot behemoths that were dazzling to the eye. I can still hear Dad saying, "Eight-foot ceilings minus three feet for the platform means no bigger than a five foot tree." It's a mantra I still employ when we shop for our own tree now.

When my older brother was in high school, he was part of a volunteer crew that worked at a nearby special-needs school. As a fundraiser, the school sold trees every year, and in return for donating his time, he and the other students got their "pick of the litter" when it came to Tannenbaums. He would bring home the most picture-perfect trees I have ever seen.

The tradition of obtaining a tree morphed as the years went on. When Eileen and I moved to Montgomery County, we were very near a tree farm that enabled cutting our own. Mom and Dad would accompany us, and we finished the day with a hearty lunch. These outings were eventually accompanied by grandchildren. Dad and I often teased about how little we paid for our trees; "Mine was only $10," he would joke.

"Wow," I'd counter. "Mine was $12, but I got it drilled and baled for nothing."

"Hmm. You drive a hard bargain." **wink**

Welcome Christmas. You're beginning to stir my heart once more.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Rite of passage for our family this past weekend.

In turning 18 in September, Claire had one request for her birthday. She wanted concert tickets. Having never been to a mass-audience, big-scale, arena-type night of music, she wanted to go.

We bought her tickets to Demi Lovato at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa.

The logistics were daunting. I would have to take a half-day vacation to leave enough time for arrival before the 7:30 show. And then, because I had 0 interest in attending the concert itself, I would cool my heels in the parking lot for the intervening hours until the show was over.

I wasn't looking forward to it but was willing to make the sacrifice.

We pulled into the Giant Center somewhere before 7 p.m., and I sent Claire and her giggly-with-excitement friends inside.

Within 10 minutes, nature called. 

I banked on the fact that I could get into at least the lobby of the Giant Center without a ticket to use the bathroom. No soap.

I walked toward the adjacent Hersheypark, which looked dark in the distance. Between the Giant Center and the park was a public bathroom, and I made that destination my immediate priority.

Afterward, I decided to keep walking toward the park, just to stretch my legs.

When I arrived at the gate, it was bustling with people. Hersheypark was holding a Halloween-themed opening, advertising the rides and shows as a "Park in the Dark" experience.

I thought about how to fill the next four hours and decided immediately to buy a ticket. The price was a little hefty ($38), but the boredom relief made it worth the expense.

I entered amid an array of Halloween-themed decorations and troops of toddlers in costumes. The carousel was ablaze in lights (and swamped with riders), but I was happy to hear that the carny-like music was Halloween tunes (ala, "Purple People Eater"), set to an oompa beat.

I wandered a bit, just to see what was open and running and what was not. The coasters were in full operation. The waterpark was not. 

I love rollercoasters. But at age 51 (almost 52), I am now a little more hesitant than I used to be. The last time we were in Disney, I rode both Rock-n-Rollercoaster and Expedition Everest, and each time, just prior to launch, I sat there and looked at the teenagers I was sharing the ride with and thought, "What the heck am I doing here?"

But the thoughts were always short-lived, as we rocketed forward.

And at the end, I loved those coasters. So the opinion of what other riders thought of me didn't really matter.

Some of that feeling still followed me to Hershey, so I hesitated a bit.

Coasters remain one of the only "boardwalk"-style rides I can do anymore. I have never liked anything spinning, even as a kid. So now, a half-century behind me, they are absolutely out of the question. But for some reason, coasters -- even those that flip riders upside down -- are still within my comfort zone.

Eventually, the call of a wooden racing coaster was too difficult to avoid. I figured it was a good starting point and that I would make a decision on what else I was willing to try after successfully tackling one of the older models.

I strapped myself in. It was a great ride; as if this old, slatted beauty was saying, "I may be retro, but I can still give a kick."

Boy, could she ever.

Having delighted in one, I couldn't resist the call of the others. The finally tally for the night was five: Three wild wooden ones and two high-tech steel ones.

The Hershey event ended at 10 p.m., and as the crowds made their way to the exit at the end of the night, I walked away with my pulse still pounding from the thrills of the night.

Demi Lovato... Two thumbs up for the night of entertainment you provided.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

As Thumbs Go, Decidedly NOT Green

My hands are currently an itchy mess.

They're also caked with a pink salve that is supposed to stop the itching and heal the soreness.

Last weekend, I was back in the garden.

Major mistake.

First a little history: I hate gardening. I hate everything about it: The back-breaking work, the sweat, the swarm of gnats that tries to push itself up my nostrils as I'm working. The existential conundrum that tells me that as soon as I pass over a patch of lawn with a mower, that those persistent little grass shoots start growing all over again. Same with the weeds that I yank out of the soil. It's the nightmare of the Myth of Sassafrasyphus.

I'm not even thrilled with the results. Not a big fan of sculpted hedgerows or rose bushes clipped into the form of swans.

Our home has a bed out front that runs just about the entire length of the house.

Over the years we've owned the home, this has become a battleground. Our builder had a few plantings in there, mostly to boost curb appeal. But over time, none have proven very hearty. We swapped a bush here for a ground-covering plant there, but nothing that would get us the cover of House and Garden.

We've gone nuclear in there as well: Yanking out every formerly green thing in the bed and "starting over." I remember a weekend spent dragging out the cloth weed barrier that the builder put in. It was like wrenching an ancient carpet that had been permanently glued to a hardwood floor

And then there was what our girls now refer to as "Mulch Day." We would get a Mount Everest delivery of mulch and spend a Saturday spreading it everywhere. The girls would "help," which meant sprinkling chips with their out-of-season plastic snow shovels, but at the end of the day, it was usually just me... out there... alone... and miserable.

I've weeded, seeded, watered and worried. 

And after a while, I've given up. 

Mind you, it's not exactly in my genetic code to care that much about green things. As a kid, lawn-cutting duties were passed from my dad to my older brother, from him to the middle brother, and from him to me.

To whom I was able to pass off onto... exactly nobody!

So I soon began to resent my time behind the mower. Delving into home-ownership for myself didn't mitigate the pain.

We reached a point where we would pay someone to care for the bed for us, and I would watch with a mixture of understanding sympathy and barely contained glee as a crew attacked our weeds and overgrown bushes. I marveled when, as they finished, the front of our home no longer looked like 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

But this luxury was swept away by budgetary crunches. The past few summers, we weren't even mulching, in an attempt to keep finances under control.

This year, however, there was sufficient room to purchase a few bags of mulch. And last Saturday, after Eileen expressed utter disgust at what the bed had become (a weed-a-torium!), I rolled up my sleeves, donned some gardening gloves and dug in.

Several hours later, with the beginnings of a backache nagging, I was finished. And I'll admit it looks better. But now, I arrive home and give a glance and think: If I see one friggin clover pop its ugly head above that mulch, I'm attacking it with a shotgun!

Thus far, the clover and other weeds are keeping a low profile.

But they have had their revenge. I know what poison ivy looks like (thank you, Mom Cub Scout Den Mother). And I did wear gloves by working. But somehow...



Thursday, August 21, 2014

Time Capsule

The idea that this blog could potentially sit here in cyberspace for decades intrigues me.

A lot.

I think of my grandkids reading it.

How cool is that? The ability to read family history first-hand?

How I would have loved for my ancestors to have had this ability.

My father's father was a master at telling stories, but so many of them now are blurry in my memory.

There was some tale he loved to tell about taking the train to the Jersey Shore and departing for home on the same railway, toting a bag of live crabs caught in the bay. Apparently, the bag wasn't secured, and the crustaceans escaped, crawling among the passengers with clicky-clacky indifference to the mayhem they created.

It wasn't Snakes on a Plane but, rather, Crabs on a Train. Coming soon to a theater near you.

But the details are gone, taken with him.

Same with his story about getting a ticket down the shore for appearing on the beach without a shirt on.

And his recollection of the common practice of renting a bathing suit when he'd go on a day trip. Not only was hygiene not much of a consideration then, but neither, apparently, was comfort. I remember him telling us these suits were wool and that they never quite dried out from the swimming activities of the prior occupant.


But the thing I find cool is that unless this whole interwebs thing collapses in a heap of 3G junk, my words will stretch forward into history.

An electronic message in a bottle.

So hello, Weckerly grandkids. Enjoy the year 2050. I'll be 87, Lord willing. I may ramble with my stories by then. Or I may be gone altogether. But they'll be here. Waiting for you. Stop by and listen to my voice.

Before you hop in your flying car.

...lucky stiffs!


Monday, July 21, 2014

Title, Please

Movie-geek hat is on again today, folks.

I love a movie that will grab me from the very titles. If a filmmaker has taken the time and expended the artistry to come up with a memorable title sequence, I'm all in.

Here are some of my favorites:

One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I think this was the opening of my eyes to what a title sequence could be. The marriage of imagery and content (colorists' names are brought on with a wash of color, etc.) was first brought home to me here, and I've been paying attention ever since.

Pink Panther series' titles were also clever and funny.

One of my dad's favorite films of all time was the mega-comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. The credits are terrific. Thank you, Saul Bass.


Beetlejuice has the advantage of a great Danny Elfman score playing underneath. The spider gag at the conclusion surprised and delighted me when I first saw it.

Speaking of great themes to accompany a movie's opening, I've always loved the Mancini score to Charade. Again, take a bow, Mr. Saul Bass.

 A clip does not seem to exist on YouTube, but The Adventures of Tintin have a sequence something like that for One Hundred and One Dalmatians. I like the John Williams score, too.

Here's a recent favorite, The Adventures of Tintin.

And last, for pure laughs, here's The Naked Gun 33 1/3, The Final Insult. Artful silliness.

And as far as end credits go, The Incredibles takes the cake.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Decade of Destiny

I'm almost through the six episodes of CNN's The Sixties, finding it an incredible trip through a watershed decade that I barely remember.

Having been born in late 1962 (very late, December 27), my recollections are understandably fuzzy. I was in the crib when JFK was assassinated and only heard the stories of that day from my mother, who reportedly wept at the ironing board as she watched the wall-to-wall coverage.

Vietnam was played out for me more in 1970s color than 1960s B&W, with Walter Cronkite telling my parents just how bad it really was.

And as far as civil unrest, I remember seeing coverage of what I've come to learn was the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. As a five year old, the sight of fire hoses and teeth-baring dogs was frighteningly beyond my understanding.

The CNN retrospective, however, has filled in a lot of gaps. The details of Dallas were known to me, especially after I visited Dealey Plaza on a business trip, and found it an amazingly small crucible for such a sea change in America. (Side note: The Texas School Book Depository Museum, however, is highly recommended.) But somehow, seeing the reports of that weekend strung together in an unbroken thread of disbelief made the impact more palpable, especially when insult met injury in the killing of Oswald.

I'd also obviously studied the civil rights movement and again benefited from the first-hand experience, having visited Memphis, again on a business trip. The preserved room of the Lorraine Motel and the attached National Civil Rights Museum told me a lot about the struggle. But the CNN coverage underlined the violence and hatred and reminded me that the quest for freedom almost always involves the payment of a huge price.

The remainder of The Sixties involved the British Invasion (which, passed me by, too, as I remember more of the druggy Beatles than the moptop Beatles) and television, which did catch, for obvious reasons, in my consciousness. Lost in Space, Batman, I Dream of Jeannie, My Three Sons, and others of their ilk are common threads in my childhood, either first-run or in syndication.

As the upheaval of the 1960s was fully dawning on me in my teen years, I remember asking my mother: "With all the horrible things going on, the assassination of President Kennedy, of Martin Luther King Jr., of Bobby Kennedy; with the seemingly non-sensical war in Vietnam; with the race riots and burning cities... how did you hold it together? How did you not go running into the streets screaming?"

I'll never forget her response:

"Many of us did."


Friday, June 20, 2014

All Comes Out in the Wash

I recently had the pleasure -- and by pleasure, I mean responsibility, and by responsibility, I mean soul-crushing duty -- of needing the services of a laundromat.

Our dryer went on strike. The drum would still tumble, but the motion was accompanied by a metallic shriek that echoed through the entire house and scared the dog.

Thinking that discretion was the better part of valor, we pulled the plug.

But in a house with three girls who can't seem to wear an outfit for more than 10 minutes without tossing it into the wash, and a Labrador Retriever who has an affinity for slopping into rain puddles, causing a steady rotation of towels through the laundry, doing without was not an option.

And for some reason, my idea to string a clothes line across the backyard and let Old Sol do the heavy work was met with equal measures of scorn and laughter.

Go green my eye!

So for about two weeks, the drill was to send the clothes through the washer (still operational, thank you), load the damp output into laundry baskets and shlepp it to the laundromat for the industrial-sized dryers there.

I am not unfamiliar with the charm of the local laundromat, unfortunately.

About a year ago, our washer went on the fritz, and for the same reasons noted above, deferring laundry for any length of time had to be avoided at all costs. So armed with a fistful of quarters taken from my coin-saving jar (which always seems to get raided, despite my assertions to the family that it is to be used only to collect coins that we will someday redeem on a trip to Walt Disney World), I entered the magical world of do-it-yourself commercial clothes cleaning.

It's a weird place, especially for a male. I got a lot of stares. And side-glances. And smiles from women I didn't know or want to know. Kids were bouncing around, and I was reminded about what a lousy place a laundromat is for kids.

A claim I make from experience.

You see, beyond my recent exposure, I've got history with laundromats.

Back in the Stone Age, when our family vacation consisted of two weeks in a crackerbox of an apartment in Ocean City, NJ, Mom would schedule one day -- and one day only -- for a trip to the laundromat. Among the amenities our seaside palatial estate did not have (air conditioning, post-1953 furniture, more than one bathroom), laundry facilities were one of the most dearly missed. We were promised year after year by our landlord that they were "...coming next year for sure!" But they never arrived.

So the jaunt to the laundromat at the shore was a yearly ritual.

It was also hell on earth.

And why I was roped into this particular chore, I'm not really sure. Without fail, the designated day sported outside temperatures and humidity levels in the triple digits. So entering a cramped room where dozens of hot air dryers were humming in unison made comfort impossible.

Mom would stake her claim, and I remember a lot of jostling and elbows, getting two machines next to each other. She'd fill the drum, jam in her change, toss in soap and shoot the slot home.

My recollection is that the machinery was spacious, but achingly slow. Processing a week's worth of laundry for a family of five took the better part of an entire morning. I remember being placated by the purchase of a few comic books from a grocery store next door, but not even that pacifier was really sufficient, as the stock seemed to comprise nothing but that wimpy Richie Rich brat.

 Dump. Sort. Wash. Dry. Fold. Repeat.

It was dull at the shore.

And it's even duller at home, where there was no promise of "hitting the beach" when finished.

Luckily, our dryer at home has been repaired, thanks to an able fix-it guy who replaced a melted ball bearing. 

So we're now back in fluffy operation under our own roof.

And my change-jar is again safe.

Unless, of course, I get a sudden urge to revisit Richie Rich comic books.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Faithing Tough Questions

Cradle-Catholic here.

Born and raised in the faith. Somewhere between the GOD IS WATCHING YOUR EVERY MOVE, READY TO DAMN YOU TO HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY of the 1950s and the HEY, MAN, GOD'S COOL vibe of the 1970s.

And so, in the name of all things midlife-crises, I'm questioning everything.

No, it's not along the lines of Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen to Good People... I get it. Parents die. So do pets. And it sucks for a while, but then the memories turn more sweet than stinging and the tears subside.

I'm currently struggling with God's love.

I'm told over and over that God loves me. But the concept is hard to grasp. Love. Love is a human emotion. God's not human; He's superhuman. So is He capable of human emotion, given that he's not human? And can He exhibit a feeling that he was powerful enough to create?

I can write a book. But can I be a book?

And if God is capable of the human emotion of love, is He capable of other human emotions?

Can He hate? Can he be bored? Depressed? Manic? 

We're told our God is a jealous God. Jealousy is another emotion. In fact, jealousy is a vice, isn't it? So God is capable of some green-eyed envy?

Isn't that weird? Do we want a God who is jealous?

"Hey, Mohammad, I wish I had half your followers. Dang."

"Geez, Christians, look at all the folks into Buddha. <kicks a stray planet with His toe> Wish I had some of that..."

Heaven is another puzzle to me. God created us. He loves us. He wants us to be with him for all eternity, having created a place for us. Which always sounded like the prizes on The Newleywed Game, whose announcer always informed winning couples that they'd been chosen "...just for you."

But to get the "prize," you need to approach God for judgment, where He'll assess your life and either reward your steadfastness against sin or send you down the chute to live in the basement.

Meanwhile, the world sets up so many obstacles that sin seems inevitable. And when God created us Himself, he made us weak in constitution and prone to temptation.

Not exactly worthy tools with which to combat our way into Heaven, are they?

So it all comes off to me like this: Stripped naked, we're set before a forest of brambles. And the challenge is this: Run through it without getting a single nick on your skin. Ready? GO. And if you emerge from the other side with just one scratch -- just one! -- you're through. So solly Cholly.

I know we're reliant on His mercy. But it still seems so... poorly thought out.

I end up picturing heaven as either full of people I know. Or completely devoid of people I know.

Heaven also seems, forgive me, boring. I'm worried about heaven being dull. No chance for an invigorating bike ride. No scrumbling a dog's coat with my fingers. No chance to drink from a long, tall glass of iced tea that is so cool, the moisture on the outside of the glass dribbles to the bottom. No gorgeous sunsets to see. No bracing swim in the ocean.

Just the "bliss" of looking into the face of God all day.


What if he's cranky that day?


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Humor Me

I am, I believe, the beneficiary of a sense of humor honed by both sets of parents. My mother, ever-proud of her Irish heritage, had the gift of Blarney and instilled in me a sense of how to tell a story.

She was also a voracious reader and a deep lover of words. She taught me all about puns and double meanings and wordplay.

My dad. half-Irish, had an extremely dry sense of humor. He was, by nature, quieter (the other half of his genealogical cocktail was German), but he had a large, infectious laugh and could cut a room in half with a quick observation.

His comedic viewpoint was shaped by the movies. Dad loved W.C. Fields (master of the withering remark), The Marx Brothers, and the Blake Edwards Panther films involving Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. He adored It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and A Christmas Story, and there was not a time they appeared on television that he didn't tune in.

So my first exposure to funny was seen through those lenses. I remember cutting my teeth on the knockabout comedy of the Stooges and the silliness of the Little Rascals, both on a steady rotation of weekday UHF channels. Bugs Bunny emerged as a sort of animated Groucho Marx, and the multiple layers of those Warner Bros. shorts began to reveal themselves. As did the sophisticated humor of Rocky and Bullwinkle (The Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam, anyone?).

I migrated to Abbott and Costello and still enjoy their routines, even when they get tired. The 1940s vibe of their filmography appeals, and their best work, to me, is in Who Done It?

Guilty pleasures:

  • SCTV, which, in its heyday, was funnier to me than SNL. The problem became when the series exploded in popularity and, IMHO, lost its edge (I don't think it ever really recovered from the S2 loss of Harold Ramis [RIP]). 
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway? I've found this show funny since its first appearance on our shores from its home in Great Britain (Clive Anderson host). Drew Carey almost killed it, thinking that he was as funny as his cast -- he wasn't -- but it somehow survived. And it's back.
 I'm now surfing comedy on the Interwebs. The YouTube series Kid Snippets has had me in stitches most recently, but I'm finding a point of diminishing returns, where overexposure is lessening comedic impact.

Anyway, as a sampling, here are some of my comedy favorites from across the ages of funnydom:

Monday, March 31, 2014


I know it's curmudgeonly of me, but I've got a major gripe regarding the Younger Generation in general.

Or maybe it's just my kids specifically.

But what is it with them being picked up in the car?

First off, it's constant. Amanda, our eldest, is driving, so she's pretty much off our radar. Claire, our middle-button, just got her license (causing me to almost wear out my rosary while teaching her), but she has limited access to wheels, so she's still in I-need-to-be-driven mode.

And then there's Kristin, the 13 year-old, who pretty much needs to be ferried to/from everywhere.

I know I'm speaking prehistorically, but when I was 13, I was either on my bike or hoofing it to whatever activities I needed to attend. But that was pre-Stranger Danger days when kids could dare leave their front doors and not immediately be swept away by a drug-addled molester and never seen again except on the side of a milk carton.

And I recognize those days are over. Our neighborhood is pretty isolated, and the roadways nearby are choked with traffic and drivers who aren't paying attention. Frankly, I'd worry about any of my kids commuting on them on bicycles or on foot. I know how dangerous they can be just from walking Parker twice daily. Just this morning, a pinhead driver blew by me going at least 45 in a 25 zone. God forbid one of these pea-brains behind the wheel is under the influence of alcohol, email, texts, Facebook or Google.

But when I did need to be picked up, back in the day, the rules were quite simple: If mom or dad was coming at 2 p.m. to get me, I darned well better be waiting at the corner (or outside the store, or sitting on the stoop or whatever) of the designated spot. As Dad would say, "You wait for me. I don't wait for you."

The implication was clear: Be late and be warned. Dad's leaving without you. Find your own way home, Tommy Tardy.

Part of it comes from being raised by a Navy man. Early for Dad was on time. And on time for Dad was late. And that maxim held for doctor appointments, church start-times, baseball practices, dinners, and party invitations.

So we were never late for a pickup. Never!

The cellphone has changed all of that. "Text me when you get here," is ubiquitous in our house, meaning that a study session or playdate need not end until the phone jangles the signal that the young'uns' ride is awaiting.

There's just something a little too Princess Cinderella about all that for me: "Oh, M'lady. Your carriage awaits..." "Thank you, Mr. Footman. We shall depart for the ball posthaste, I take it?"


So I've started pre-loading the conversation. When I leave for an appointed pickup, I will text the passenger: "I'm on my way."

And once again when I arrive: "I'm here."

The trouble is, the warnings are ignored, and I'm left at the curbside, flashers blinking, traffic angrily sliding around me, while my blood pressure builds.

The worst part is that none of my passengers seem to get the reason for my displeasure: "What's the big deal, Dad? I wasn't ready..."



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Uncle Oscar

Watched the Academy Awards Sunday night.

For the 38th time in my life, I watched the entire broadcast. From jokey opening to final envelope.

My earliest memories of the Oscar telecast are from 1976, seeing Rocky take the statuette. Actually, I did see a lot of the year prior's ceremonies (1975, when One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest won best pix), but this was a clandestine viewing, not sanctioned by my parents. At the time, my bedroom was across the hall from theirs, where our one-and-only television set was. If I leaned out of bed and propped myself up by anchoring my left hand flat on the floor and locking my elbow, I could see the screen.

That's how I ended up watching a lot of Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher picking up awards.

Mom and Dad were both "into" movies. Mom loved those sappy MGM musicals and the Rogers and Hammerstein mega-hits. Dad loved comedies, from the Marx Brothers to It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. So I inherited a lot of this interest.

I always admired how, on Oscar night, when the camera panned the audience, they could call out: "There's Cary Grant." "There's Richard Burton." "Ooh, look at Lee Grant." "Doesn't Olivia DeHavilland look terrific?"

They'd do the same thing watching those compilation films like That's Entertainment: Howard Keel. Lena Horne. Cyd Charisse. Bobby Van. Margaret Dumont. Spencer Tracy. Joan Crawford. Mickey Rooney. Roddy McDowall. Ann Miller. Even Asta, the dog from the Thin Man films.

And so I went to school on old-time Hollywood. Until I, too, could identify Jack Lemmon or Shirley Booth on sight.

And so Oscar Night became my Super Bowl. I looked forward to it ahead of time. Jittered my way through school (or later, work) that day (remember, it used to be a Monday night, until the 1999 move), took the phone off the hook, and glued myself in place.

There were terrific moments (Jack Palance's one-armed pushups, 1992) and dumb moments (Rob Lowe/Snow White, 1989) and hilarious moments (Billy Crystal's yearly sung overture) and moments of unbridled joy (Roberto Benigni climbing over the seats, 1999).

And a whole lot of overblown production numbers, boring tributes, sketchy montages, political statements, egos run amok, dreadful best song slogs and truly touching "In Memoriam" segments.

What killed me about watching in the east was the timeframe. Oscar telecast kicked off at around 8 p.m. Which meant that at around 10:45, we could count on the whole ride grinding to a halt for a large-scale production number that would stretch on interminably. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present our tribute to the film reel!" "Join us, ladies and gentlemen, as we salute the concession stand popcorn man!" "Tune up that orchestra, Bill Cont; it's time for a song-and-dance retrospective of famous movies featuring clothespins."


This year's broadcast was... okay. Ellen pushed rather hard, I thought, and gags went on too long. Selfies and pizza were funny for a while, but she didn't seem to know when to move it along. I thought the only out-of-the-park laugh she had was appearing as Glinda the Good Witch, albeit late for the Pink rendition of "Over the Rainbow."

Speeches were fine. Nobody was outlandishly dressed (Cher!). And then there was John Travolta.

I thought, like other years, that the whole evening could have used an extra dash of class (but it was certainly an improvement over last year with Seth McFarlane). Proposal: Academy rules are changed so that Julie Andrews presents every Best Picture winner from here on out.

Nothing classier, in my book, than a dose of Julie Andrews.

So there's another notch in my Oscar-watching belt. I guess when it comes to this yearly overblown tribute to the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, there's only one thing I can truly say:

I like it. I really, really like it.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Walking the Walk

In the realm of pet ownership, there are dog walkers.

And there are dog-pottyers.

Dog walkers are out there every day -- often multiple times per day -- exercising their dogs and allowing them to attend to bathroom issues.

Dog pottyers either have fenced-in yards or other means of sending the dog out to attend to nature's call and then return inside. Exercise is handled via other means.

I don't judge. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

But me? I'm a dog walker.

The habit may actually be genetic: My Dad was a devoted dog walker. He and his Basset Hound, Murphy, used a time-tested route through the neighborhood, and Murph was so accustomed to it, he would not vary it. Not one step. Which my grandmother found out when she tried to shorten it one day, and Murph protested by plopping on the sidewalk and refusing to budge.

Dad had to go rescue her after she failed to return about an hour after her departure (this was in the pre-cellphone dark ages).

So when we got Wesley, our Black Lab, he and I walked. Mornings. Evenings. For more than 10 years.

And when Parker came along in Wesley's wake, I maintained the same routine.

It's just the way I handle dog ownership. I've said more than once that if we had a fenced yard and I let Parker out, hopeful that he would do what he needed to do, he'd merely stand there and stare at the glass.

"Dad... Dad? Hey, Dad! What am I doing out here while you're in there?!?"

For the most part, I don't mind these walks at all. In the mornings, it's a terrific chance for me to just.... think. Quietly walk. Sift through some of the issues of the day prior. Brainstorm. Pray. Spend some time in peace. I do an awful lot of "writing" during these walks. Thinking up blog topics for example. Or rolling around ideas for work projects. They're a great time to fashion headlines, I've found.

This winter, however, walking Parker is a challenge.

For one, we've lost almost all our sidewalks to snowpack. That means he and I are in the streets, a dangerous place to be when the sun's not even up (No worries, though: He wears a lighted collar and I carry a high-powered flashlight). Or when we do manage to find a cleared sidewalk, I'll encounter the "snowblown path to nowhere," which is a homeowner who will clear his/her own walk, but not one square inch of snow off a neighbor's walk. So the path leads to a solid wall of nowhereville. Leaving me to tromp through the drifts and get back in the street.

Bad form, Mr. Snowblow. Can't you at least clear to a nearby driveway, where pedestrians and dog walkers can exit to the street without climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro?

My nadir was about three weeks ago, when the morning was dark and dreary and a cold rain was soaking the roadways. Within seconds, my jeans were wet, and a bitter wind was causing the denim to freeze to my thighs. Insult was added to injury when a car roared by us, spraying me with salty, mucky, slush that hit my cheeks, slid down my neck and ended up somewhere between my sweatshirt and my skin.

Parker, for what it's worth, didn't seem to mind any of this at all. In fact, the cold and snow don't bother him in the least. He loves romping through the drifts: "C'mon, Dad. C'mon. c'mon. c'mon, c'mon!!!"

Ah, the eternal cheeriness of the Labrador Retriever.

It's hard to fault him for it.

But I somehow start thinking it would be easier to take at 10:30 a.m. on a 75-degree day in May.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cold Hearted

Eileen gave me a chocolate Reece's Peanut Butter Heart for Valentine's Day.

And a card.

I immediately put the heart in the freezer.

You see, I do like chocolate. I'm not over-the-top crazy about it, but I do enjoy the taste.

But for me, it's enhanced when cold. Especially anything from Reece's, where the cocoa and peanut butter marry into something truly decadent when they're brittle-hard.

My family teases me about this. A lot. They wonder if this is a holdover from my childhood; that perhaps I got in trouble at some point for making some kind of chocolatey mess with a dessert. Messy Marvin-style.

I'm not sure... I don't remember any trauma resulting from punishment for a face smeared with the remnants of a Three Musketeers.

But I suppose it is possible.

I do remember being dragged to my older brother's football games and, in an effort to placate my whining, being given a Styrofoam cup of cocoa. But I don't think I knew it was cocoa; I think I thought it was merely chocolate milk.

And I can still recall the bitter feel of a burnt tongue, which was not at all mitigated by the sweet contents of the hot chocolate.

I do, therefore, have an iffy relationship with melty, gooey chocolate.

Two years running, I tried to make Eileen a lava cake for her birthday. She's a dyed-in-the-cocoa-bean chocoholic who I knew would appreciate a serving of soft, fudgy cake, centered with a gush of warm, molten chocolate in the center.

Trouble is, I am 0 for 2 in trying to pull this off. Mine was edible, but more like a hockey puck filled with a soft Hershey kiss.

Maybe it's a general feeling of meh when it comes to chocolate things in general. I'm not a big brownie guy, even though my family will dicker over a pan of uncut brownies, choosing either a "middle" or a "corner" as the best cut. And hot fudge leaves me kind of cold. As far as candy goes, I like other flavors mixed in with my chocolate, rather than just chocolate alone. So Reece's is a favorite. As are Peppermint Patties. And chocolate-covered strawberries.

But all in all, I'd rather have a good slice of cheesecake, thank you.

Still, when it comes to desserts, there is one thing that I enjoy being soft and mushy.

Ice cream.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Nobody Home!

I think I was raised on a too-steady diet of Disney entertainment.

It has affected my worldview.

In short, I think I anthropomorphize too much. I ascribe human attributes to things that don't necessarily deserve or require them.

Parker for example. I worry about him being bored during the day. Despite knowing that he probably slumbers the hours away in a state of snoring bliss.

Abandoned houses also resonate with me.

I'm fascinated by them, actually. 

How does that happen? I know that fortunes can change overnight, often for the worse, and families have been known to creep out of their residences just ahead of creditors.

But still.

It's a house. You lived there. You loved there.

And what stays behind? I see structures left to the elements and wonder. What happened to all the happy Christmases there? The babies that were brought across the threshold. The family parties. I think about the cutting of the lawn, the repairs to a leaky faucet, the repainting of the dining room walls.

How does someone walk away from all that?

And what's left in the wake? Dilapidation. Ruin. Weeds in the floorboards. Shingles askew. Windows that have been shattered by too many teenagers with too many rocks and too much time on their hands.

It depresses me. So I tend not to dwell on it. 

But when I see a hulking edifice that sits alone on a property, being gradually erased by the passage of time, I sigh a deep sigh.

I suppose some of my reaction is that my own roots go so deep. When my parents moved out of the house we three boys were raised in, it was harder on us than them! Dad saw liberation from shoveling snow and hammering down loose shingles on the roof.

I saw a goodbye to the staircase in the basement, where, if you were on the kitchen phone with a girl, was the only place for some privacy, thanks to an extra-long stretchy cord. Which I think we over-stretched until it eventually snapped and needed replacement.

I saw a farewell to the windows that used to hold fans in the brutal summers, providing some (but not much) relief from the stifling stillness of a July night.

I saw a kitchen that would no longer smell of Mom's pies. Or contain the sound of Dad humming while he dried the dishes.

Confession here:

I still drive by the old house. I'd love to stop and ring the bell and ask to look around, but that would be creepy. So it's enough for me to just drive by slowly.

And remember.

Be happy, house. As happy as you made us.