RULE-BENDING

Benjamin Franklin said, “The Constitution only guarantees Americans the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”

That makes sense, but of course there are rules to be followed during the pursuit and where there are rules, there will always be rule-benders.

Those who believe that wealth is a vital ingredient of happiness become impatient with any rules that stand between them and Easy Street. There’s the pol who forgets that the donated funds are for his campaign expenses and not his champagne flights and the financial officer with his sure-fire recipe for cooking the books.

Many of these perps end up with no money worries and living in gated communities. However, the gates are locked and armed guards are posted on the walls.

We all occasionally try to circumvent an inconvenient regulation, usually on a small scale, and maybe not even involving money. A friend told me his doctor had ordered him to walk two miles every day to maintain his fitness and health . “It was pretty awful the first week,” he said. “I was out of shape and exhausted after those two-mile forced marches, but then, luckily, I found a shortcut.”

In 1938 Douglas Corrigan, a young flyer from Texas, was refused official permission for a transatlantic flight to Europe. After flying his single engine plane from California to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, he took off again, supposedly for a return flight to California, but ended up landing in Ireland instead. His excuse for the significant route change was low cloud cover that he said obscured the view of the ocean below, and his misreading of his compass. He became famous as “Wrong Way Corrigan” and never publicly changed his story. After all, the authorities must have been embarrassed. They’d said his plane wasn’t capable of a flight to Europe.

Once when I was a little kid I wanted to go to the movies, but the admission price then was ten cents and I had only one lonely nickel. I asked my older brother Jim for a loan. “I can’t help you,” he said, “but you can get in with a nickel. Just tell them you’re going to watch the movie with one eye closed.” I was only seven years old and dumb enough to think that might work.

The theater manager laughed in my face and said, “Okay, kid, but if I catch you opening the other eye during the movie I’m calling the cops and I’ll have you arrested..” I was also dumb enough to realize he was joking and I left. I’d recently seen a scary George Raft movie about Sing Sing Prison and I didn’t want to end up in the slammer. A week later I returned wearing an eye patch, but that didn’t work either.



CHRISTMAS PAST

It’s the day after Christmas,

a time to review it,

but actually though

I’d rather sleep through it.

The kids are now making a calamitous noise

shouting their claims on all the new toys.

Out in the kitchen, Mother takes pains

to come up with a plan for the turkey’s remains.

My new loud-colored tie which I said was a beauty

I’ll wear it some day, but under my hoodie.

PROMISES, PROMISES

Every year at this time I begin thinking of an unusual outfit I wrote a piece about years ago and wonder if it’s still alive and thriving. I guess it’s gone under since Google never heard of it. Apparently the Resolution Enforcement Society was the victim of its members lack of self-discipline and fear of public humiliation.

The year RES was created about four out of ten Americans made New Year’s resolutions and most of that promising group managed to achieve at least partial success during the next 12 months.

RES members would each deposit $1,000 with the Society and submit a list of New Year’s resolutions they were making to improve good habits and eliminate bad ones. There were monthly inspirational classes and opportunities to volunteer for networking to encourage fellow members during periods of overwhelming temptation. Those who proved loyal to their pledges would receive end-of-year rebates of $900 plus interest and framed certificates of achievement.

There were RES surveillance team visits and interviews and periodic weigh-ins for those who promised to diet. Repetitive backsliders were weeded out and large fines imposed to pay for ads in local newspapers with the names and photos of the flagrant defaulters for all their friends and neighbors to see and giggle at.

That’s probably the cause of the Society’s demise. It’s possible to eventually forget the loss of a few hundred dollars, but being posted on the Losers List with the resulting neighborhood giggles can leave permanent scars.

Without professional help most of us will just stumble along on our own, hoping against hope that, by some miracle, this will be the year we actually keep the New Year’s promises we’ve made to ourselves.

For some, the chances are slim. “I was reading a Saturday Evening Post article about the strong possibility of one’s moderate drinking getting out of hand,” a friend told me recently.

“So you’re giving up drinking?”

“No, I’m cancelling my Saturday Evening Post subscription.”

.

CHRISTMAS YARN

Walking in the mall one evening I came across my friend Pete, sprawled out in one of those big black massage chairs and looking completely spent. “Are you okay, Pete?” I asked.

“Christmas shopping,” he said, but there were no packages in sight so I asked him about that.

“Oh, I bought gifts for about 20 family members in a couple of hours yesterday, no problem.  I’ve been here all day hopelessly shopping for my wife’s present.  I thought it was going to be easy but, as they say, ‘the devil’s in the details.’

“I’d asked her what she wanted for Christmas and she said, ‘I really need a sweater.’  She has 32 sweaters.  I counted them before I left this morning. Still, I was happy with her choice. There are probably 6,000 sweaters on racks and tables in this mall.  I thought it would be an easy task and maybe I’d buy two.

“But then she added, ‘I don’t don’t want a cardigan. I want a pullover.’ Okay, I’m down to about 3,000 picks, still no problem. “And I just  love cashmere,’ she said. I figured on  500 or so  cashmere pullovers and it was still a reasonable spec, but then she mentioned  dolman sleeves.  Did you know there are 45 types of sleeves?  I looked it up on Google.

” She was far from finished. ‘By the way I don’t like V-necks, I prefer mock turtle.’  she said and  I really began to worry when she got into colors, ruling out practically everything in the rainbow and ending with . ‘I want a  blue sweater.’

“Okay, I thought, I’ll just ask to see blue pullover cashmeres with mock turtle collars and dolman sleeves.  Every store must have a dozen or so, but then she added a footnote. ‘ It should be a certain delicate pale blue,’she said, ‘like the morning sky in the east a few minutes before sunrise. Can you picture that?’ “

“So there I was, after seven futile hours of searching,  walking into a place called  ‘The Knit-Pickers Shoppe’, a pricey botique.  and telling yet another saleslady I’d like to see pale sky blue cashmere pullovers with mock turtle collars and dolman sleeves. I was surprised to see she wasn’t fazed like all the others who’d sent me packing.

” ‘What size?’ she asked.  Rats! I had no idea, ‘Just normal,’ I blurted out. ‘Do you think she’d wear my size?’ she asked, trying to be helpful.This saleslady was generously proportioned.  I’d say quite close to a heavyweight contender. 

” ‘Oh my goodness, no. About half your size,’ I  replied and immediately bit my tongue.  I could tell she took  this personally. 

” ‘We can’t help you,’ she sniffed.   I was desperate and asked to see the manager, but she replied that she was the manager and said I should leave. I refused and there was an argument that got very loud.  Well, who would have thought that an upscale  ladieswear shop in this day and age would have a bouncer?  He tore my hoodie, my New York Mets hoodie!  By the way that’s what I’m getting my wife for Christmas, even if it doesn’t come in pale blue.”

FANCIFUL PHRASES

Idioms: Who created these strange sayings?  Are they called idioms because the authors were idiots?  I don’t think so.  Most of these colorful expressions are useful and efficient, using a minimum of words. Sitting Duck is so much more efficient than “being in a hopelessly indefensible position”.  If someone was urging me to hit the road  because I was in danger, “You’re a sitting duck!” would be a much more effective message.

It doesn’t take long for anyone fluent in English to grasp the meanings of dozens of idioms, but newcomers to our language can find these sometimes bizarre phrases confusing. I was once an ESL volunteer. My student and I were making good progress, but Nick was impatient with our pace. “Slow down, ” I told him, :You’re learning fast enough, but you’ve got ants in your pants.”

Nick looked startled. “Insects? You see insects on my trousers?” That was the day I decided to get idioms into the curriculum.  However, I stumbled again when Nick was about to graduate.  “Nick, they say you’ll have to make a short speech at the ceremony.  I hope that won’t be a kick in the pants for you.”

   “Again with the trousers!” he moaned. “A kick in the pants?  Is that part of the ceremony?  My family will be there and that would be very humiliating.” I apologized and explained that a kick in the pants means only an unexpected and unappreciated turn of events.

That’s almost almost all I have to say in this post and you might think i’m ending up in the air. but I’m running out of gas  so I think I’ll hit the hay  and catch a few Z’s.  I’ll be busy tomorrow with a lot on my plate and I don’t want to be caught asleep at the switch.  The few idioms in this piece are only a drop in the bucket. Others have animal references: Dog in the manger; Cat’s got your tongue; Sleeping Tiger’; The elephant in the room; Monkeying around and A fish out of water.

Here’s one I invented about a boring conversationalist: “He’s fluent in Spamish.”  For someone who’s reckless and accident prone, there’s “He’s always jumping to contusions.”  Experiencing a temporary mental lapse could be “Having a bug in my hard drive.

Have I missed the boat by not including your favorites ?  What are they? Can you make some up?  Go out on a limb and give it a shot.

TWO GUYS AND A TURKEY

About 30 years ago I wrote about my pal Nick and I taking over  the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner to show our wives it really isn’t that much of a big deal, even if 14 family members and guests would be sitting at the festive table.

When I volunteered for the task, I said to  my wife,”It can’t be that much of a project.  There’s just the turkey, dressing, a few vegetables and a dessert. Nick and I can handle that easily.”

“Okay, so do it, Dear, or take us out to a restaurant,” she replied. Nick said he’d received the same ultimatum.   We accepted the challenge, thinking it would be fun. Hah!

I drove to Nick’s on Thanksgiving Eve with a boxful of ingredients and a Betty Crocker cookbook, determined to turn out a feast which, if not exactly delectable, would be at least presentable and hopefully digestible.

Nick took charge of the huge turkey. He was an excellent barbecue cook, although some of his Hungarian dishes were exotic, or even strange. One concoction consisting of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, pork fat and butter was something my palate remembers fondly.  My gall bladder is still undecided. 

As I was cutting up the turnips, yams, potatoes, carrots and my left index finger, I noticed Nick was rubbing down the turkey with a crimson paste. He explained it was an ancient Transylvanian paprika recipe for pork belly that he was adapting for our 22-pound bird.

We’d started at 8 p.m. and figured we’d be done preparing by 11, but it was well past midnight when I slid two apple pies into the oven. They looked like patchwork quilts. I’d had trouble transferring the rolled out dough from the counter to the pie pans. Betty Crocker had warned that overworked dough could result in a tough crust. We were in for a couple of steel-belted pies.

Nick prepared three kinds of stuffing to satisfy the varying tastes of 14 diners. One had a cornbread base, another used the giblets and the third was a combination of commercial brands which he called “Stove Bottom”. During dinner the next day I asked my daughter to pass the stuffing platter and she replied, “I can’t, Dad. It’s too heavy.”

We were up and busy at dawn with the oven, stove and microwave going full blast.  The guests arrived at noon as we were into the finishing touches, delumping the gravy and trying to get the turkey out of the oven.  It had swelled up and was wedged in.  Fortunately the Transylvania marinade made it very slippery.

Everyone ate heartily and there were compliments to the chefs.  We didn’t say, “Shucks, it was nothing.”  because it had been backbreaking work. But we’d managed to preserve the tradition of a homecooked Thanksgiving dinner and even added a new twist. The carver didn’t have to ask “White meat or dark?”  Everyone had red.