As I look back now at my grammar school class photos I can see the first signs of my inherent awkwardness. From kindergarten on I’m the only bandaged or bruised kid in the pictures. My foot is in a cast in our third grade picture and it appears I have accidently swung it into Agnes Hoffsteader. She is obviously crying while the rest of us are smiling broadly.

I had a crush on Agnes back then and tried to spend a lot of time with her. However, she transferred to a private school early on. I heard a rumor it was at the advice of her pediatrician and the Prudential Insurance Company.

“Will I ever grow out of this clumsy stage?” I asked my father one day. He looked at me strangely and replied, “Before I answer that question, Son…”

“Yes, Dad?

“You’re standing on my arthritic foot and it really hurts!”

Dad tried to be encouraging, saying my fears were exaggerated and I was probably not more awkard than the average young boy. I began to feel better but then he made me promise never to get a job at the Picatinny Arsenal when I grew up. “It wouldn’t be fair to the other employees or to the nearby Morris County residents.”

But Dad had made an important point. I began to plan my future assuming I would probably always be ungainly or at least not gainly enough to handle a precarious career that might have the threat of consequential damages.

My paper route was not a good choice. I doubt anyone has calculated the ballistic potential of a tightly rolled newspaper, but it must be considerable. I found out a large weekend edition can easily break a window at 25 feet. When striking the south end of a stooped north-facing garnener it can send him flying into the tulips.

Then there was the unfortunate incident when my bicycle struck a fallen branch which detoured me into Mrs. Duffy’s lawn party. (You might have read the sensationalized newspaper account.)

All of my subsequent jobs were chosen with safety in mind, but I always managed to defeat the statistics. I lost my soda jerk job when a sudden hot fudge spill caused me to leap back into a stack of sundae glassware. I suffered a similar fate at the Five and Dime with the runaway floor waxer.

I almost got a job on the Palisades Amusement Park’s roller coaster until the manager recognized me. He said he was sorry, but there were lives at stake. “Try the Games Arcade or one of the games of chance stands near the carousel. But stay away from the shooting gallery!” he shouted.

What really decided me on being a work at home writer was the night a mini tornado whipped down our street damaging a couple of front porches and I was called in for questioning.


If you feel, on occasion, you cannot in all honesty say something helpful and encouraging, then by all means say nothing or tell a merciful fib. Unless you work for the Department of Bridge and Tunnel Safety or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there is no need for you to point out every little flaw you detect in what you’ve been invited to look at. The owner or creator of the object in question is already aware of its tiniest flaws.

For instance if a woman of advanced age is so hungry for compliments she has to ask, “Do I look okay?” you should realize she’s really asking, “Besides some obvious imperfections, how do I look?” For heaven’s sake, be kind!

The world does not need more “Inspector Generals”. You know the type, the fellow you invited to your barbecue who spends the afternoon commenting on your crab grass and maligning your marigolds. He doesn’t think highly of your barbecue sauce either. If it wasn’t for your wife’s intervention you might have added something to his salad dressing that would have kept him very active for a couple of hours.

Some I.G.’s feel they must call attention to every defect they see or the world will miss an opportunity to get closer to perfect. “Well, you wanted an honest answer, didn’t you?” they ask after giving a devastating opinion. The fact is, most of us don’t want a completely honest answer.

I once spent a sweaty weekend building a toolshed and, in a weak moment, asked an I.G. what he thought of it. Instead of beginning with a complimentary remark or being noncommital, he had to point out, “There’s no doorway in your toolshed. How are you supposed to get in?”

Of course I was aware of the absent doorway. It was one of those bugs I had to work on. I wasn’t looking for his negative comment. I just needed a little encouragement after 16 hours of sawing, hammering, nailing and swearing. Instead I got his unfair criticism.

Unfair, because it wasn’t my fault. I’d missed “Doorways Week” in manual training when I had the Chicken Pox. On the other hand I got a B+ in both “Windows” and “Gutters”.

I.G.’s think they’re the only ones capable of noticing the obvious and will ask hurtful questions like, “Say, do you know you’re getting quite bald?” and “Have you noticed how badly the paint is peeling off your house?”

But enough is enough. I’ll end here. There’s something ironic about a blog that criticizes the critics. By the way, what do you think of this blog?


I’m not a neat eater and that’s putting it mildly. I’ve been afflicted with this condition since birth. The pediatrician had to double my Similac dosage to make up for the spillage. My family tried to improve my table manners over the years but the results were spotty.

Once, in the fourth grade, I traded my lunch for a Lone Ranger Decoder ring. When I got home that afternoon, my mother scolded me. “Just a minute, young man! What did you do with your lunch? Now don’t lie to me,” she said, examining my spotless shirt front. “There’s supposed to be ample evidence here of peanut butter and grape jelly!”

You might think this is a small cross to bear, even endearingly human. So what if my fork hand doesn’t know the exact location of my mouth and I therefore can’t avoid launching food fragments in various directions? Nevertheless it’s been an embarrassing handicap and was once a real threat to my dream of a successful business career.

I was assigned to meet with a very important client to finalize our three-month campaign to land a multi-million dollar contract. All that was needed was the CEO’s signature. Unfortunately she insisted on a lunch meeting.

I tried to get out of it by feigning a temporary illness. “Nonsense! ” Old Ms Finchley barked. “You look as healthy as an ox, half as heavy and you’re less than half my age. Besides, I don’t like eating alone. Now where can we get some good Spanish food? Just bring the contract and I’ll order us their best Jambalayas.”

“What the heck?,” I thought. “I’ll just be extra careful.” But jambalayas needed careful planning to prevent or at least mask the almost inevitable collateral damage. There wasn’t time to buy a Mexican poncho so I decided on a pink shirt and red tie even though they clashed with my magenta sports jacket.

Ms. Finchley didn’t seem to notice when I put my elbow in the butter dish and when I splashed my salad dressing it got less than halfway across the table, but during the gazpacho soup course my thumbs began to get the range.

I thought I noticed a slightly raised eyebrow and Ms. Finchley definitely flinched when our entrees arrived. By then her napkin was raised up to the level of her lowest chin.

Believe me, I was struggling mightily, but the jambalaya had a mind of its own. The centerpiece, a delicate spray of violets, was soon overwhelmed. The waiter removed the dripping vase at arms’ length. I got a look at his apron. It reminded me of the final scene of “Bonnie and Clyde”.

“I’m running late,” Ms. Finchley muttered, wiping the crystal of her wristwatch. I noticed a bright red stripe on her cashmere jacket as she jogged to the exit.

“I tried to reach Ms. Finchley,” my boss said later, “but her secretary said she’s spending the afternoon at a steam bath. How did the lunch meeting go?”

“It went swimmingly, Chief. Here’s the contract, signed on the dotted line.”

“It’s dotted all over the place!” he barked. ” I hope this holds up in court. It looks like she signed in tomato sauce! Okay, you can count on a steady job under certain conditions. Never eat at your desk, not even pretzels, and for Pete’s sake, take off that dumb Lone Ranger ring!”


Life was simpler for the caveman. When he wanted a new garment he would grab his spear and head for the forest. He knew, one way or another, he was going to end up inside a nice warm animal skin. It was dangerous, but it was simple.

Suit hunting is still not completely safe and it’s much more complicated. In some parts of today’s “forest” the stalking can get sticky, like at Herman and Harry’s Haberdashery:

“Herman, there’s a gentleman here who wants to use our phone to report an accident!” Harry called out as I entered the store.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “There’s no accident. I came in to buy a suit.”

Harry eyed me up and down. “You weren’t in an accident…..really?”

“No,” I replied, conceding round one. “I’ve been too busy to keep my wardrobe up to snuff. I guess this suit is a bit out of style now.”

“Not at all, Sir. Not at all. That’s a very unique garment. Would you mind telling me where you purchased it?”

“It was so long ago I can’t remember. I think it came through the mail, though.”

“Ah, I recognize the label,” Harry said, looking inside my jacket. ” “A big name in the industry.”

“Is it really?”

“Yes, but not the menswear industry. I didn’t know they made men’s suits. They’re famous for their hang gliders. I can see now there’s a certain flair to the trousers. Have you noticed a sensation of buoyancy on windy days?”

Harry had me where he wanted me then. Leaving the store was out of the question. I couldn’t walk on a downtown street in this outrageous clothing, especially if it’s windy out there.

Following this demoralization phase, Harry and Herman always get their prospect to to try something on, “just to check the size.”….. “How does this feel, Sir? It looks like a good fit .”

“Fits okay, I guess, Harry, but I don’t like the style and it’s much too loud.”

“Loud, Sir? We don’t deal in loud clothing. Stylishly visible, perhaps, aesthetically conspicuous, to be sure, but not loud.”

“Please speak up, Harry. I can’t hear you. This orange-striped lavender jacket must be over 150 decibels.”

Following round two of this sparring event, the customer is asked to choose a suit from the rack and is led into a small curtained booth. Struggling out of my suit and into theirs was a difficult, strenuous operation. There was also the fear that somewhere in midsuit I would tumble through the curtain into the showroom in my skivvies.

After ten sweaty minutes I emerged disheveled but decently clad. Decently, but not stylishly. The trouser cuffs were turned up halfway to my knees and only my fingertips were visible below the jacket sleeves.

“Almost perfect!” Harry gushed. “Just a few minor alterations.” Herman agreed and they got me onto a platform in front of a bank of mirrors. A small crowd began to gather and a young man took my picture with his cellphone. I hoped I wouldn’t turn up on Facebook.

“Waist 36,” Harry called to Herman and the crowd murmured. “Hold it, Herman!” Harry said. “Sir, unless you plan to hold your breath while wearing this suit, please exhale and relax. That’s better. Waist 40!” he shouted and the crowed giggled.

When this embarrassing event ended, Harry and Herman talked me into one of their “three-piece, double breasted ‘specials’ and then began to suggest suit materials starting with outrageously expensive vicuna and working their way down their list depending on how loud I gasped when they mentioned the final price. I was hoping we didn’t get down to burlap or cheesecloth.

Finally I opted for a fabric I could afford if I gave up lunches and maybe reach my pretended 36-inch waist. I still remember the day I proudly unwrapped my purchase and showed it to my wife. “Behold my worsted suit” I said.

“It certainly is, ” she replied.


Nick and I stood at the crest of the hill, our poles planted in the packed snow, our new ski outfits glistening in the sun. Two girls schussed by and Nick raised a ski pole to wave jauntily. This upset his delicate balance and he fell heavily, taking me with him.

“Nick,” I said, trying to disengage my left ski from his right pants leg, “if we’re going to to impress girls on the slopes, we’ll have to learn to ski.”

“You’re right,” he said. “They might go for ski bums, but not bum skiers.” So we crawled over to the ski school and enrolled. That was many years ago, but the fear, pain and humiliation of that day are still fresh in my mind.

They rang a big bell to assemble our ski class. If you’re ever at a ski resort and you hear the clang of a big bell, run for cover. An assembling ski class can be a dangerous thing. Some accident insurance policies contain waivers for wars, earthquakes and assembling ski classes.

Things settled down after ten minutes of shouting, crashing and tumbling. Two middle-aged men had to be dragged back to the lodge to be separated. Nick and I stood calmly at the edge of this chaos, hoping no one noticed we were lashed to a snow fence.

Soon, Elfrieda, our instructor, rocketed up. She was a tall, attractive blond. Perhaps her tallness was an illusion since I mostly viewed her from the ground. Nick fell for her right away and, since I was leaning on him, I also fell.

Elfrieda began by teaching us eight survivors how to remain vertical. Soon we were upright and schussing around for several minutes at a time. “Now for the snowplow!” Elfrieda announced. “Good!” Nick shouted, “Let’s get the hill scraped right down to the grass before somebody gets hurt!”

But the snowplow, Elfrieda explained, is a speed control maneuver and, before we knew it, we were traversing down the hill with the help of Elfrieda’s warning shouts and gravity.

We were congratulating fellow survivors at the bottom and exchanging accounts of violent falls, collisions and other fun ski talk when Elfrieda told us how we were going to return to the top. Back then the rope tow was quite common, especially for beginners. The wrong way to use the tow, Elfrieda expained, is to grab the moving rope too tightly and too quickly. “You’ll be yanked right out of your boots, ” she warned.

Nick was leading on the tow line followed by Elfrieda who was calling out instructions when a girl skier glided by and Nick loosened his grip to wave jauntily with his pole. This caused him to slide back down the rope and he took out Elfrieda and the rest of us like a string of beads.

Eventually, at the top, we resembled the battered survivors of an unsuccessful polar expedition. Elfrieda gave a pretty speech about how much we’d progressed, pausing frequently to help fallen students up and to prop them against the snow fence where we stood with frozen smiles, torn parkas and bent ski poles.

Nick, the optimist, wanted to stay and challenge steeper slopes. “No, Nick,” I said. “There are a lot of moguls on the expert hill.”

“Moguls, really?” Nick said. “I was hoping for girls. I don’t want to be skiing with a bunch of rich old guys.”


It took me a long time to get used to kissing. It didn’t seem natural or healthful. In my earliest days, it was scary with big people hovering over my crib, baring their teeth and talking gibberish while lifting me towards their mouths. I was afraid I was about to be eaten alive.

Later, as a toddler, I was a little more tolerant and gained a few insights about the barbaric ritual. Females of all ages, it seems, are very eager to kiss babies, whereas men prefer to throw them up in the air and catch them. I enjoyed the male approach except for the few occasions when I threw up on an uncle.

As I grew older I realized kissing is a firmly established custom and is unavoidable. Refusals were taken as personal insults resulting in pleading and pouting. I usually gave in but sometimes I found a good hacking cough was an effective defensive maneuver. Also, I discovered if I took it like a little man without biting a lip, there were rewards of lollipops and cookies.

My attitude changed dramatically when I entered kindergarten. I still disliked the gushing advances of female relatives, but there was a pretty classmate named Barbie for whom I was willing to make an exception. She had blond curls and a knockout smile that was going to be even better when her new front teeth grew in.

But Barbie didn’t share my ardor or even suspect it. Following the advice of my buddies, I tried to reveal the depth of my affection by frequently punching her on the arm, but to no effect. A more direct approach was needed.

Just before the dismissal bell one afternoon, I slipped into the semi-dark cloakroom and hid behind Mrs. Abercrombie’s faux fur coat. When Barbie approached in the shadows I jumped out and kissed her on the mouth like I’d seen Clark Gable plant one on Vivien Leigh, except our noses met dead center and it hurt a little. I realized a romantic declaration was called for, so I blurted out, “Hullo, I think I like you.”

Unfortunately Barbie had left earlier and, in the dim light, I had kissed surly Wanda Gurndelstaff who weighed more than any two kindergarten girls. She slapped my face and reported my “assault” to Mrs. Abercrombie. I was sentenced to clap our dozen blackboard erasers for two weeks as punishment. I’m sure Clark Gable was never sentenced to clap blackboard erasers.


Webster defines a name as “a word or phrase by which a person is known, called or spoken to or of.” Based on that, each of us could have a dozen names on any given day.

It’s rather heartwarming that every one of us, on our first day as a living, breathing person, went by the same name, “IT”.

“So what is IT, a boy or a girl?”…..”What are you going to call IT?” Of course “IT” is a handy temporary title, but everyone should have the good manners to drop “IT” as soon as the extended family’s heated debates are over and the birth certificate name is finalized. But there will be exceptions.

“What is it?” the mailman asked one day peering into my carriage. “It’s a baby, you idiot!” my mother replied and hit him with her purse. Before my second birthday when my features fell into more or less normal proportions, my mother wore out three purses.

Our next fits-all label is “Baby”. Even after we’re given official titles to go with our surnames, there is a tendency to continue the “Baby” reference. If you were the family’s last born, you may never shake it completely. When they’re interviewing your mother after your appointment to the Supreme Court or winning the World’s Heavyweight Boxing title, she will insist on adding that you, the gray-haired judge or the hulking prizefighter, are the “baby of the family”.

Every day of our lives we are addressed by categorical titles because humans insist on creating names for everything and everyone. For years we respond to “Hey kid” or “Little girl”. Later we graduate to “Sir” or “Madam”. If you want to test a very old universal name, the next time you’re in a crowded library count how many people look up when you say, “Pssst!”

Nicknames are popular with boys anxious to trade in their conventional or possibly strange given names for something more jaunty like “Butch”, “Duke” or “Swifty”. It’s a gamble though. Every Donald I knew in grammar school became “Ducky” thanks to Walt Disney.

There are some nicknames that are definitely unjaunty and unwelcome. Between the ages of 10 and 20 I fought my way through a half dozen of them. I won’t reveal them now. I’m getting pretty old and I’m not as fast on my feet anymore.


Archaeologists investigating ancient caves in Altamira, Spain and Lascaux, France and digs along the Yellow River as well as various Beverly Hills and Manhattan sites, have declared the cocktail party has been a revered tribal ceremony since Paleolithic times and is still thriving.

Recent digs have turned up fossilized hors d’oeuvres, tiny stirrers made from reindeer shinbones, sabertooth tiger incisors and puzzling cave drawings of staggering hunters. Medical researchers at Paleolithic burial mounds have recorded findings that indicate a sharp rise in heartburn and hangover incidence during the Cro-Magnon era.

Some sociologists maintain the cocktail party has its roots in the human psyche as an intrinsic activity of the species and Mankind can no more eliminate it than it can abandon other reflexive habits like golf, bingo and tax evasion.

The very first cocktail party was probably accidental. Someone discovered a neglected bowl of apple juice at the back of the cave and took a tentative sip of the fermented brew. “It don’t taste like the regular stuff,” he probably announced, “but it’s not all that bad. I think I’ll have another.”

By the time of the Roman Empire, cocktail parties had gotten out of hand. Happy hours were lasting longer and longer and the party-goers were crankier and crankier the mornings after. It all ended with that enormous hangover we call “The Dark Ages”.

The succeeding barbarians weren’t much better behaved. Visigoth cocktail parties, for instance, would begin jovially, but eventually the revelers would get violent and start striking one another with whatever weapons were handy.

Nowadays, the violence has been largely eliminated, but some of the terminology has survived. “Club” for instance is a noun (not a verb) that we associate with cocktail venues and the bubbly mixers. The parties, themselves, are referred to as “bashes” and “drinking bouts” The rarer term of “brawl” might indicate actual Visigothic violence.

In an attempt to add elements of grace and beauty, an additional calming term has been invented: “The Cocktail Waitress”. We feel confident it will work provided Visigoths are not invited.


Whenever you feel you cannot, in all honesty, say something complimentary, then by all means, tell a polite lie. Unless you’re a safety inspector for the Bridge and Tunnel Authority or the Nuclear Energy Commission, there is no need for you to point out every tiny defect you happen to spot.

“I think I have the world’s best dog!” (“I agree, he’s one of a kind and should be in the movies!”)……”What do you think of my new wallpaper? (“It’s quite beautiful. I saw something very similar during my White House tour.”)

You’ve just made some people happy. Your compliments will be memorized and repeated often. Isn’t that what we were sent down here for? These merciful fibs will certainly not appear on your heavenly rap sheet.

If a woman is so neglected she has to ask, “How do I look?”, we should realize she knows exactly how she looks, including the location and extent of every faint wrinkle, every trace of a blemish. What she is really asking is, “In spite of all that, do I still look pretty?” Your reply has got to include the word “beautiful”.

The world does not need more amateur inspector generals. You know the type: The guest at your barbecue who spends the afternoon commenting on your crabgrass and maligning your marigolds. After his last insulting remark about your menu, you lather his hot dog bun with “Fernando’s Fuego”, a rather challenging condiment which he attempts to malign but unfortunately, he has temporarily lost the power of speech.

These dedicated fault finders are afraid if they don’t call attention to every flaw and freckle, every smudge and smear, the world will miss another chance to become perfect. “Well, you wanted an honest answer, didn’t you?” they will ask after making one of their devastating remarks.

But most people don’t want a completely honest answer. Like the 1940’s favorite Johnny Mercer sang back then, “You gotta AC-cent the positive, ElIM-inate the negative….”

I once spent a month building a garden shed and in a weak moment, asked a dedicated critic what he thought of it. Instead of saying something complimentary or at least non committal, he felt obliged to say, “There’s no doorway. How the heck are you supposed to get in and out?”

Of course I knew there was no doorway. It was the main bug I had to eliminate. I certainly didn’t need his negative response after my many hours of sawing, hammering, swearing and bandaging. Fact is, I didn’t know how to make a doorway back then. I’d missed “Doorways 101” in manual training class when I had Chicken Pox, but I got a B-plus for my birdhouses and doghouses which don’t need doorways.

I realize now, there’s something ironic about a blog that criticizes critical people, so I’ll stop here. By the way, what do you think of this blog?


As northern winter sets in, many a hard-working man will return from his labors at dusk, exhausted, hungry and looking forward to something good on the table. In too many cases that will be the man’s hysterical wife and possibly a young daughter up there as well. He’ll know what that means: There’s a mouse in the house!

When that happens to you, mister, forget about your supper. You had a tough day and you were hoping to be the pampered bread winner, but you have other roles to play now. First, there is the reassuring father figure, soothing and coaxing the terrified pair down from their perch, promising if an enraged mouse should suddenly leap out from his hiding place, you will throw your body between them and his gaping jaws.

Next, you’re the investigator questioning the panic-stricken witnesses. “Where were you standing when the mouse attacked?”…….”After he grabbed the broom from your hand, in which direction did he run?” None of this helps. They’ve retreated to inside the hall closet now and all their replies are muffled.

Finally you’re the famous safari hunter following the spoor. Ignore the mashed potatoes and scattered broken dishes on the kitchen floor. These are the results of panicky random shots and misfires. But there is a definite pattern of cutlery, pots and half-cooked pork chops near the radiator. Your prey is definitely holed up there, possibly wounded and dangerous.

This is the moment of truth! If this beast eludes you now, you will have to set a dozen traps and eat all your meals at McDonald’s for a month. Steeling your nerves, you grasp your trusty weapon, a finely balanced 11-EE slipper and move in. “Yah!” you shout feeling the primeval instinct of the hunt and the primeval shock of pain as your knee collides with the radiator.

The prey is now the predator and he is charging as you take aim. “WHAM!…WHAM!…WHAM! Three rapid shots from your high-powered Montgomery Ward slipper and it’s over.

Back at base camp outside the hall closet you struggle to appear modest. “You can come out now. I’ve taken care of him.” The door opens slightly. “Are you perfectly sure? ” They emerge cautiously.

“Absolutely!” you reply holding up your trophy.” But that was a very big mistake. They reenter the closet swiftly, tangling with the overcoats and umbrellas.

“You’ve killed him! they shout . “You weren’t supposed to kill him!”

“What were my choices? The animal shelter doesn’t take mice and he was native born so I couldn’t have him deported.”

“The poor little thing. His mommy will be so sad,” your daughter cries.

“If his mommy shows up tomorrow, dear, jump up on the table and scream your condolences.”