POCKETS vs ROCKETS

While agriculture gave civilization a big boost and the wheel gave it speed, the advancement that shaped mankind’s development even more dramatically was the invention of pockets which greatly outrank rockets and their potential for mass destruction.

This little acclaimed leap forward gave man the equivalent of a third arm. It is diffficult to imagine how some of history’s great moments would have come to pass without the benefits of pockets and how some, in pre-pocket times, ended tragically.

If Washington’s troops were pocketless, they would have had to carry their musket flints, pipes and tobacco in one hand while rowing across the Delaware with the other, making it a much longer crossing and jeopardizing the surprise element needed to defeat the Hessians at the historic Battle of Trenton.

It is inconceivable that Teddy Roosevelt would have had to call out, “Hold this stuff, Sergeant Smedley, I’m going to charge up San Juan Hill and I’ll need a free hand for my sword!”

The ladies, God bless them, have always shunned pockets and they are still fighting for their well deserved equal rights. Could there be a connection? They have been anti-pockets apparently because the resultant bulges would disrupt the current fashionable silhouette. Thus, they have burdened themselves with cumbersome purses, useful at times as weapons, but otherwise depriving them of the advantage of a one-two punch.

The pocket has always been a stimulus to the imaginations of young boys. No one, not parents, teachers or playmates can easily violate its sanctity without a search warrent or a suitable threat. Boys use the pocket as a testing lab to find the approximate melting point of Hershey bars, the durability of frogs and to discover it’s storage capacity for smooth stones, marbles, pea shooters and kazoos.

And no little boy would learn the pride and joy of possessing actual money quite as well without having a pocket in which to jingle his current coin collection.

Men, who are after all, just tall little boys, cherish the ownership of pockets. To them, it is unthinkable that they would ever be deprived of them. They are essential to a livable life. A man dressed in a suit and an overcoat is in charge of a minimum of 12 pockets. All are quite necessary and most are usually carrying maximum cargo.

The cavemaen were pocketless and they are gone. The armored knights lacked pockets in their steel trousers and have likewise disappeared. Think about it, if Julius Caesar had a hidden dagger for defense on that fateful Ides of March morning, the world might be quite a different place today. But, alas, the Roman togas had no pockets.

A TALL STORY

I spotted an old friend sitting in the diner behind a huge chocolate sundae yesterday. I hadn’t seen him in years, but I recognized him immediately. He still resembled Dom LeLuise, the late comedian, but there was something different about him, his expression or his posture…..something.

“Al, old man,” I said. “Where the heck have you been?” He looked embarrassed and mumbled something about working on a project. “Apparently, a long term project, Al. Something in your line? You’re a chemist, right?”

“Yes, but I’ve branched out. It’s a combination of chemistry, endocrinology and gymnastics. It’s quite a long story.”

“I’ve got plenty of time, Al. I’ll buy you another dessert and you can tell me your long story.” I slid into the booth across from him.

“Actually I’ve wanted to tell it to someone who might believe it. It started with a visit to my wisecracking doctor. I’d gone for advice about my obesity problem and he said I could either start dieting seriously or get tall enough where my weight would be appropriate for my height. He checked a chart and said, ‘That’d be about seven feet.’ And then he laughed raucously at his little joke. It was a very hurtful remark to make to a desperate patient. I got up and left , ignoring his shouted apology.

“I realized then I was on my own. I tried all the diet and exercise clubs, but I lacked the resolve and eventually dropped out of their boring meetings and painful calisthenic classes. Then one day I remembered my doctor’s insensitive joke and began to understand it was my last resort.”

“You mean about getting taller? Al, that’s not possible at your age.”

“I discovered it is possible. There are medications to fire up our pituitary glands and human growth hormones, banned in some professional sports because they provide unfair physical advantages. Stretching yoga exercises can actually lengthen our spines. I’m working on a pineal gland idea that may also be a source of added growth.”

Al was getting worked up and customers were beginning to look our way. I tried to add some humor to calm him down. “Don’t forget the medieval rack, Al. That can add a few inches to your length.”

“I haven’t forgotten it, at all,” he growled. “I’ve got a painless version on my drawing board now.” He was leaving in a huff. He started to get up….and up ….and up. He had to stoop to clear a chandelier and get through the diner’s door. I watched out the window as he drove away in an SUV. I knew that was him because his head was sticking out of the sun roof.


FIFTY AIN’T NIFTY

There’s a certain age that a man reaches which he considers sadly significant, a dividing line between youth and senior citizenship. Becoming a semicentennial can have an effect on a man’s ego. In ancient times a Roman nearing the age of 50 was said to be “Going to L”.

There isn’t a lot of sympathy out there for a man approaching this milestone. “Oh yes, fifty is an awful age,” an old codger will tell him. “I’m so glad I’m not 50 anymore.”

And a curious grandson isn’t helping by asking, “How old are you Grandpa?” You try to beg the question by replying, “I’m middle-aged.” and he gets excited. “Oh, Grandpa, we’re studying about that now. What was it like in the Middle Ages? I’ll ask my teacher if you can come and tell the class all about it.”

Your acquired appliances keep reminding you of your impending geezerhood. With the contacts, the bridgework, and the new knee , you realize you’re going bionic.

Stairs get steeper and your bowling ball feels like it’s gained weight. Speaking of that, you’re beginning to realize everything you eat now seems to turn into YOU and energetic exercises, like tying your shoes, aren’t helping to stem the growth of your girth.

If you concentrate, you’re now able to detect pain in some body part. There are morning back aches and post lunch acidity followed by various twinges and gripes in the evening. A galloping Charlie horse often interrupts your sleep.

When you complain about this to an unsympathetic whippersnapper, he’ll probably try to console you by explaining it’s nature’s way of making approaching death seem inviting.

In spite of all this you are not yet a senior citizen, but you’re not a freshman either and you still must continue to bring home the bacon which has now become harder to chew and gives you indigestion.

You still like to watch pretty women walk by, but now when they get closer, you have to switch lenses. And if you tell a little fib to try to impress your wife, it probably won’t work.

“A young lady in the supermarket tried to pick me up today, Dear.”

“Oh, did you fall down, Honey? You really should be more careful. You’re not a young man anymore.”

WORST AID

I was about three years old when I discovered people had blood inside them. It was quite a shock. I’d pierced my foot on a piece of glass at the beach and half expected something like sugar and spice or maybe snips and snails to come out, but instead this red stuff started dripping onto the sand. What a disgusting arrangement! I still feel the same way.

Eventually I was happy to learn most grownups could calmly deal with minor lacerations and punctures. I hoped I would have the same attitude and talent when I grew up, but it never happened. The sight of escaping blood, my own or anybody’s, still gives me feelings of uneasiness, apprehension and, okay, panic.

I can’t avoid thinking during these dramatic situations that the victim is losing a life-sustaining fluid with only a few quarts available. Something must be done immediately! In the meantime I’m fighting off a fainting spell and running in circles.

I was fortunate enough as I grew up to have normal people on hand during these critical moments, but then I advanced into fatherhood and sometimes found I was the only blood-stopper available when one was needed.

“Daddy gave me worst aid,” my little son reported to my wife when she returned from a shopping trip one day. He proudly displayed his tiny arm swathed in a great bulging mass of gauze and adhesive tape.

“Oh dear,” my wife gasped. “Maybe we should take him to the emergency room!”

“No,” I replied. “It’s not much of a cut. I got a little carried away and I never learned how to tear gauze, so I used the entire roll.”

“Does your arm hurt much, Stevie?” she asked.

“No, Mommy, but it’s very tired. The bandage is heavy. It’s only a little cut, Mommy. Do you want to look at it?”

“No, Dear. I don’t think we should disturb the bandage now.”

“We don’t have to, Mommy. The cut is on the other arm. I tried to tell Daddy, but he was so excited.”

Fortunately, my kids are self-sealing and over the years they became better medics than me, not even bothering to report every minor wound. They knew I had a tendency to overreact and my nosebleed treatment, while quite effective, had the unpleasant possible side effect of asphyxiation.

In spite of this constitutional weakness, I’ve been able to lead a fairly normal life as long as no one around me springs a life-threatening leak. Surprisingly I’ve also managed to be a blood donor and found it’s quite a painless, fulfilling method of doing something for mankind and also lose a little weight in the bargain. The blood test and the blood-letting takes only about a half hour and I’ve found it’s quite easy to keep my eyes shut for that short time.


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COUPONS: CLICKING vs CLIPPING

I once had a wonderful fantasy where I’m at the supermarket, my pockets bulging with valid discount coupons on a triple-coupon-credit day. As I roll into the check-out line, my cart overloaded with groceries, meats, desserts, soaps, soups and sundries, I hand over an inch-high stack of carefully clipped valid coupons.

The cashier begins to pass my purchases past the electric eye as it tallies the total cost and then proceeds to tripley deduct the amounts on my coupons. Glancing at the screen, she says, “Sir, it looks like we owe you $35.43. Do you have change for a fifty?

I had that fantasy about 40 years ago, and it still has some relevance. However, I wish that all of us, buyers and sellers, would have matured more in the interval, but discount clipping continues to mangle our newspapers and magazines. As a former journalist I resent the practice.

If this were a newspaper page instead of a blog, it might have been rendered unreadable by the removal of a coupon on the reverse side and the vitally important news of an incoming killer comet would have been rendered unreadable by the removal of a discount coupon for organic potato chips.

There are very good signs that digital coupons may save our newspapers from clipper-mangling. One shoppers’ website predicts digital coupon redemptions will top $90 billion in 2022. But clicking has not yet completely replaced clipping. This is especially true for us old fogies. Another site reports $476 billion in paper coupons were offered in 2019 and only $3.6 billion were redeemed. We seniors are not that quick on the clip anymore.

Unfortunately, with inflation on the rise, more and more shoppers will become clippers or clickers and coupons might begin to cover a wider range of products and services, beyond supermarkets, pizza stores and home improvements.

Just yesterday I spotted a 50 percent-off coupon for tattoos. It was printed on the forehead of a young fellow getting off a Harley Road King. I guess he’s got a lifetime deal.

THE (LAST) MINUTE MEN

‘Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the mall

frantic shoppers were stirring.

It resembled a brawl.

We members of the Yuletide Procrastination Society (YPS) hold our annual survival exercises on December 24 in malls across the nation where we push and jostle one another in good natured holiday camaraderie.

Merchants spend millions urging us to Christmas shop early. Brightly ornamented evergreens begin to spring up in the stores around Labor Day. But YPS members, the great tardy majority, continue to insist on those time-honored elements of excitement and panic which we feel are vital ingredients of a Christmas shopping adventure. We consider Black Friday to be a Little League contest and quite contrary to the holiday spirit.

To be a YPS member in good standing it is only necessary to delay the purchase of two or three critical presents until the last few hours or, for our championship medal, the last few minutes. Last year our Golden Sales Slip Award went to Josh Smedley of Staten Island whose overcoat was torn in half by Macy’s automatic doors as they closed late Christmas eve.

Successful last minute shopping is our goal. Therefore attendence at jolly Christmas eve office parties is frowned upon. These tend to deaden the instincts of the shopper and sometimes the entire Christmas bonus check must be used to finance a bail bond.

The typical male YPS shopper arrives at the mall in the evening of December 24. He wastes a half hour seeking a parking spot close to the entrance and eventually drives to the extreme edge of the lot which is just over the horizon, parks, and then if possible, Ubers back to the entrance.

Entering the mall he is immediately caught up in a stampede as loudspeakers announce a 10-minute special sale in a sporting goods store on the second level. Trapped in a human tsunami he’s swept up the escalator and loses his hat twice before he can fight his way back down. The second time it’s gift-wrapped before he retrieves it.

He approaches a dazed and disheveled mall security guard to get directions to an appropriate store for his first purchase. “I’m looking for something in a pale blue negligee,” he tells the guard.

“You’d better have her paged, Mister. You’ll never find her in this mob no matter how weirdly she’s dressed.”

The Victoria’s Secret store is packed with confused male shoppers gaping at the maniquins and realizing that Victoria has very few secrets. The lines are too long and he decides on a gift certificate instead, eliminating the inevitable exchange problems and fights his way to the toy department where Santa’s ho-ho’s are beginning to lose conviction as a terrified tot tugs at his beard.

Eureka! Standing there before him is the very bicycle he came to buy. It’s the right size, brand, model and color and only twice as much as he intended to pay.
“I’ll take it,” he shouts, collaring a salesman. “Don’t bother to wrap it. I’ll ride it to my car.”

But alas, he cannot have the floor model. Instead he’s given a 50-pound box containing an “easy-to-assemble” bike which he carries and drags to the exit, accidentally knocking down an old gentleman on the way. Turning to help him up, he sweeps a perfume counter clean with the box.

Eventually he finds the exit door, hoping it’s the same one he came through when he arrived. Now for the car. It’s parked about a quarter mile to the left. Or was that to the right?


THE TRICKY BOTTOM LINE

I once brought my eyeglasses prescription to a “Vision Center” after reading their ad about a $99.00 sale. “That sale price applies to a very limited selection of frames and doesn’t include bifocals or scratch-resistant coating . Didn’t you read the fine print?” the clerk asked.

If I could have read the fine print I wouldn’t need new glasses,” I said. “I thought those tiny black marks at the bottom were some sort of decoration.”

Fine print is a widely used deceptive merchandising tool that counts on the consumer’s reluctance to squint through paragraphs of tiny lettering to discover disclaimers, provisos and warnings. I heard the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s legal under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Or is that freewheeling speech?

One of the worst examples is the television ad for new cars which includes a dozen lines of fine print flashing on the screen for five seconds following the loud and large printed promises of the sale. Does the Supreme Court expect us to record that ad, freeze frame it and, using a magnifying glass, find out the numerous exceptions to the offer? This must be “do-it-yourself full disclosure.”

There is the story of the movie theater ad, probably apocryphal, that announced senior citizens, 65 years and older, would be admitted free to all matinees. The fine print qualification added, however, “When accompanied by their parents.” If their parents were available and still ambulatory, they would have had to pay full price. A neat ploy.

I recently had a tree company repair storm damage in my backyard. The crew did a great job at a reasonable price, but one line in their contract was a little strange and might have eluded speed readers. “We reserve the right to dishonor any contract at any time.” This was not in fine print and I noticed it immediately. Beneath that line I wrote in tiny letters, “Me too” and signed it.


FAST FOOD’S SLIPPERY SLOPE

Most Americans are probably unaware of the sinister plot to undermine the American Way of Life. The Great Fast Food Conspiracy is already widespread with almost 200,000 of these quick and greasy eaterys operating in the country and inflicting nutritional damage.

Thousands of our young people are suffering from hypergallictuberosa, a serious condition more commonly known as ” overdosing on French fries”. Symptons include general lassitude, frequent burping, greasy fingers and ketchup-stained shirt fronts. Robbed of their dignity, some victims lose self-respect and turn to a life of crime or politics or both.

Also, menu items like triple-deck chiliburgers with free fries, are carbonizing the insides of our youth and thereby weakening our national defense posture. “An army marches on its stomach,” Napoleon said. He would agree our future army is limping noticeably.

The corporations which own these calory-dispensaries argue, with some success, that their meals contain a certain amount of actual nourishment. An independent research institute has come up with conflicting data.

For fast food customers who prefer to dine in their cars, the study shows the chances for actual nutrition varies inversely with the number of passengers. Also, the smaller the vehicle, the less likely chance of individual nutritional gain.

For instance, a family of seven dining in a Volkswagen Beetle was shown to gain little nourishment since almost half their food was absorbed by their clothing and the upholstery.

Physical exams following this month-long fast food study indicated measurable signs of debility and weight loss among the small car participants. The Volkswagen gained six pounds during the same period.

One of the study’s main conclusions was that the term “fast food” is widely misunderstood. According to the institute’s report, “Fast food,” should not be meant to denote meals which are cooked and served quickly. Rather, it means that those relying on this source of sustenance are actually fasting.”

ANTIQUE DAD vs MODERN MATH

As a young boy I thought Albert Einstein was the world’s greatest mathematician and my Dad was a close second. Years later I somehow managed at first to also maintain a fairly high math rating with my kids. I had no trouble counting the red and blue balloons and clowns in their kindergarten workbooks and, with a little effort, I could later figure out how many cows Farmer Brown had to milk to get 100 gallons.

Then one fateful day years ago I saw my son Steven scratching his head over his high school text book while doing homework and I offered to help, secretly hoping balloons, clowns or cows would be involved.

“Well Dad,” he said, “do you know anything about the binary system?”

“I’m sure it will come back to me, ” I said. “I was pretty good in biology.”

No father should have to experience the look of disbelief, exasperation and pity that I got from my son at that moment.

“Dad,” he said, struggling to remain calm, “the binary system is the base-two system of numbers that’s used in computers.” I didn’t have a computer back then. I was using an adding machine at work and saving for a calculator which, miraculously, could add, divide and multiply.

Steven tried hard over the next couple of weeks to teach me computer technology, but no one, not even my own son, will convince me that 5 is equal to 101. This I cannot fathom (which is equal to 6 feet or 2 yards or a whole bunch of millimeters).

Hoping to get more understandable explanations of the current math I checked with friends, fathers of my own age, but most said they were as befuddled as me. “What in the world is Boolean* algebra ?” Andy asked me. “I had enough trouble learning American algebra in high school and now these poor kids have to deal with the way they’re teaching it in a country called Boolea. Where the heck is Boolea anyway?”

I was having difficulty with math and didn’t want to admit I wasn’t that good in geography either, the way they kept changing the names of countries. I took a wild guess and said, “Boolea is in central Africa, Andy. I think they just had a revolution. I forget the details, but it might have been about algebra. You know how upset people can get about algebra.”

*I learned later, a troublemaking mathematician named George Boole invented this new algebra as if the old one wasn’t tough enough and they named it after him so we’d know who to blame.

PARENTAL DRIVERS ED

Teaching your children to drive can be a rewarding experience bringing you closer to them and possibly closer to God. Once we came so close to God my whole life flashed in front of me as well as a really big, loudly honking tanker truck.

Above all, the instructor parent must remain calm. His commands might have to indicate urgency, but never panic. “All right, Steven, we’re approaching a red light. Slow down now and prepare to stop………STOP!……STOP!!!

“Good, now look up and down before you pull out. No, not up at the sky and down at the pavement. Look left and right. I should have been more specific. Wait till I get another corncob pipe from the glove compartment. I’m always biting off the stems lately.”

Timing is important. The brighter students are soon conditioned to respond to commands as fast as possible. The instructor must make allowances for this, “That was my fault, Janis. When I said ‘turn right here‘ I meant when we reached the intersection. Back out slowly so the hedges don’t scratch the car’s paint and don’t let that man’s childish behavior upset you. I told him I’ll come back later and settle up for the hedges, the zinnias and the bird bath.”

“This is a 40 miles per hour speed zone, Carolyn, but if you feel more comfortable driving at 20, by all means do so and just ignore that line of honking cars behind us, especially that rude fellow waving his fist. Do you think you might give it the gun say, and hit 25 or 30?”

Little used country roads are best for teaching U-turns, backing up and parking procedures. In my day, backing into a parking space was no real problem, but we can no longer reverse until we hear the thud of two sturdy bumpers meeting. Today, that thud can cost you several hundred dollars.

To teach parallel parking, I place an object ( an orange cone) to represent the left back bumper of the car the student intends to park in back of. About 25 feet further down, another object (me) is the left front fender of the car the student plans to be parked in front of.

“Denise, when you see me in your left side rear window as you’re backing in, turn the wheel to the left. But if I happen to be leaping toward the curb then, stop immediately.”

Finally, I suggest you begin your lessons as soon as your student gets the permit. This will allow time for any necessary repeated training. Otherwise you’ll be forced to give a “crash course” and that unfortunate title could be self-defeating and hopefully, not predictable.