NEVER LOOK FOR HELP TO KEEP A SECRET

It isn’t fair to burden a friend with a juicy secret about one of your personal problems and then warn him “not to tell a soul”. That’s like giving a lollipop to a little kid and saying, “Now don’t lick this.”

If a potentially embarrassing situation begins to wear you down and you feel you just have to talk it over with someone, resist the urge. It’s better to discuss these delicate subjects with your dog who will listen sympathetically while you get it off your chest and get some relief.

This doesn’t work as well with cats or goldfish and never, ever discuss your private affairs with your parrot.

Some people have a way of rationalizing their clumsy handling of a friend’s secret. “When I told you about my problem you swore it was ‘in the vault’ and now I find it’s common knowledge all over town. Did you tell anybody?”

“Well yes I did, but very discreetly, and I told him, quite emphatically, that your problem was a deep, dark secret and not to mention it to anyone.”

It goes something like this. Your name comes up in a conversation between your confidant and another blabbermouth and your confidant says, “Oh, poor man, he’s got a serious problem. I could tell you a lot, but my lips are sealed. However, I can give you a small hint without breaking my oath.

The “small hint” becomes, after cross-examination, a four-paragraph detailed description of your problem which the secondary blabbermouth edits, adding his own colorful assumptions before forwarding, and the doctored version of your problem goes viral.

“Letting the cat out of the bag is a lot easier than getting him back in,” said humorist Will Rogers. Ben Franklin, in the same vein, said “Three can keep a secret if two are dead.” I’m not sure even that works. One potential tattletale is still at large and the dead ones might have left memoirs.

If someone tries to unload their scandalous secret on you, tell him you’re flattered, but you must decline because you often talk in your sleep and your wife might take notes. If they don’t accept this excuse, you can offer to arrange a private consultation for them with your dog.

CATastrophes

I have never owned a cat. However, over the years several cats have owned me. I’ve always been able to reach working arrangements with our pet dogs. They’ve been less demanding, more forgiving and , unlike cats, less prone to having attitudes.

There are about 76 pet million cats in America now so a lot of people would probably say I’m misjudging cats, but if our 90 million pet dogs are allowed to participate in the survey, I think I’d have a solid majority on my side.

A kitten that’s brought into the house will be treated like a princess. (“Oh what a sweet little kitty! Listen to her purr. It’s my turn now. Let me pet her.”) But before you know it, the beast grows up and one day she calls a family meeting. “Listen you guys,” she snarls. “This is the way it’s going to be from now on if you don’t want your sofa and drapes shredded, your carpets corrupted and your dog traumatized.” So you end up with a foul-smelling litter box and a closet full of Friskies, and catnip treats and toys.

Cats don’t bark and that’s one of their few saving qualities. A friend of mine had a cat who, when his screeching was being ignored, would claw the family dog and make him bark. It was like having an agent.

Thank goodness we don’t have to walk cats. That would involve high-speed squirrel chases, fence-jumping and tree-climbing, something like qualifying for the Olympics twice a day.

But tree-climbing? Why are fire fighters called to rescue cats in trees? Certainly it’s the cat owners rather than the cats who make the rescue calls (as far as we know). Cats are not in much danger perched a mere 50 feet up in a sycamore. There are records of cats falling 26 stories (about 260 feet) without suffering serious injury. That’s attributed to their large body surface compared to their lightness which reduces the terminal velocity of their landing, resulting in a 90 percent survival rate for long distance falls.

So if you get angry with your cat don’t toss him out the window. He’ll most likely come back to get revenge. If you really want to get even, do what I did. I named my last cat Fido.

WHO GOES THERE, FRIEND OR FIEND?

Once when I was a lot younger and a little more daring, I decided to go to a local Halloween party as Frankenstein’s monster. I worked up an imaginative combination of homemade makeup and props which turned out to be a little too frightening.

I scared the bejeebers out of the babysitter when I greeted her at the door and I shouldn’t have gone in to say goodnight to the kids before we left. My wife, dressed as the fairy queen, managed to calm them down.

Driving to the party I wondered what kind of a reaction I would get if a cop pulled me over for creeping over the speed limit. I could have told him I was racing to the emergency room which would have been convincing with my pale green complexion and fake bloody scars. But what if he insisted on calling ahead and leading the way with siren blaring and roof lights flashing? Who knows, I might have ended up in the morgue, despite my protests. I maintained a steady 25 miles per hour.

I thought my realistic monster getup would make me a contender in the party’s costume contest, but I didn’t even get horrible mention. A pretty young woman wearing a huge papier-mache pumpkin to hide her delicate condition took the prize. The judges said her costume was a “pregnant idea”. They didn’t even compliment me on the painful “bolts” (curtain rod ends) sticking out of my neck.

There were rude comments from “friends” at the party, like “Hello, Gene. How come you didn’t come in a costume?” and the tipsy wise guy who kept following me around the dance floor shouting “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Boris Karloff would have taken care of him with one swipe.

The final blow was at the diner where we went for coffee after the party, when Monica, our usual waitress, remarked. “Oh, I see you took my advice about plastic surgery. Congratulations, it’s quite an improvement.” She got the minimum tip.

THE FALL FOLIAGE FALLOUT

We often refer to autumn as “the fall”. That’s probably because tons of leaves suddenly decide to drop out of the trees in this season. This is one law of nature that should be repealed. It would be much more efficient if all those colorful leaves went into hibernation in November and hung on until next spring when they’d turn green again. We’ve got to figure a way to reduce the headaches and backaches of the fall foliage fallout.

Mankind has been working on the problem for centuries. A long time ago, probably during the Bronze Age, an overworked leaf remover, exhausted from dealing with one handful at a time, imagined an enlarged version of his hand with five times as many fingers and invented the rake. This ingenious tool significantly increased the leisure time of the working man which he could then devote to the arts, science and the waging of war against his neighbors.

Since then, other devices promising leaf relief have become available. The rotating lawn sweeper, the lawn vacuum and the mulching mower have been partially successful but a great deal of human muscle power is still required. Then of course there is the notorious leaf blower whose high- pitched screeching has ruined entire afternoons for porch dwellers and hammock snoozers.

What about folivores, the leaf eating insects and animals that might be able to take over the job completely? Their diet usually consists of live leaves but maybe recently deceased leaves could be made more appetizing with a sprinkling of sugar or a spray of honey mustard salad dressing.

The job would require a high-capacity folivore and one qualified contender would be the South American howling monkey. Ah, but there’s the rub. The howling monkey’s mating call can be heard three miles away, which makes it much louder than a leaf blower. But our monkey cousins are quite intelligent and trainable. Perhaps we could eliminate the primeval mating calls by teaching them to use cell phones.

BATHLESS AND GUILTLESS

I raised a few eyebrows when talking with friends recently when I said, “I haven’t taken a bath in over 50 years.” I quickly explained I’ve been a shower guy since my Air Force days when showers were the only means available to wash off the day’s grime and sweat. I can’t imagine what it would be like having no showers and only two or three bathtubs in a barracks with 60 G.I.’s lined up each night hoping there are no long-soakers ahead of them.

For non-barracks dwellers, however, the baths vs shower debate is yet another issue that divides Americans. The environmentally conscious on both sides cite published statistics. The Department of Energy advises the average shower uses 12 gallons of hot water while the average bath uses only 9. The DoC therefore recommends baths to conserve energy, but doesn’t say how much cold water is usually mixed in with the hot. For instance a Hollywood movie queen’s bubble bath scene would certainly require many gallons to provide a G-rated bubble level.

Besides showers and baths there are other ways to get washed up. Some are ancient and not entirely pleasant. I had my one and only sauna experience years ago when an editor sent me to cover the grand opening of a sauna center. I found myself trapped in a wooden box making small talk with a couple of other men while we watched the mercury creep up to 190 degrees. I wanted to take notes, but my plastic pen had melted.

If we had been in ancient Finland where saunas were invented, we’d have been sitting in an earthen pit with a pile of wet, steaming rocks. Just before we collapsed we’d have climbed out and rolled in a snowbank to cool off. The sauna center was in midtown and we guys were naked so we didn’t go snowbank rolling.

There are other types of baths – hot springs, steam and dry heat. Some of those bathers end the procedures by beating themselves with small branches or reeds to promote circulation. The more rugged might use Brillo.

I think I’ll always be a shower guy. A shower is refreshing, it’s quick and it’s simple. However, I do miss my rubber ducky.

CASTING CALL

Imagine this. You’re strolling through the Manhattan theater district sightseeing and hoping to spot a celebrity when suddenly a stage door flies open and a man with a desperate look in his eyes rushes out, grabs your arm and shouts, “Are you an actor?” What would you reply?

This actually happened to my son Steven. He told me he said to the desperate man, “No, sorry, I’m not an actor.” I was appalled when he told me this. Steven hires actors and directs them in TV commercials. That should have been close enough.

“You could have ended up with a leading lady in your arms,” I scolded. “Or maybe been one of the Twelve Angry Men, and don’t forget, you’re a true Jersey Boy.” Steven explained he was just out for a quick lunch on a busy day and it wouldn’t have been fair if he didn’t hurry back to work.

Whenever I’m in Manhattan now, I make it a point to stroll through the theater district, but so far, after nine or ten strolls, not one desperate director who’s one actor short of a complete cast, has run out and grabbed my arm.

If that ever happens I’m going to reply, “Why yes, I am an actor. I once starred in an off-off Broadway play” and hope he’s so desperate he won’t press for details and I’d be on the Broadway stage for one memorable afternoon and hopefully retire without serious injury.

My acting career began about 80 years ago when I had the title role in “The Big Bad Wolf” staged by our 4th grade troupe. My dying scene in Act 3 was quite moving according to one critic who happened to be my mother.

Perhaps I wasn’t that much of a hit because the following year in our musical about health foods I was cast as spinach. I had no lines and was barely visible beneath the green crepe paper.

I’ll probably never be put in the path of a desperate Broadway director. What might happen is I’ll walk through the theater district and into Restaurant Row where a panicky maitre’d will run out and shout, “Are you a dishwasher?” Actually I’ve had quite a lot of professional experience as a dishwasher. I wonder what the pay scale is now.

MOVING MOVIES

Some Hollywood films can cause difficulties for the impressionable. We all like movies that are inspirational, exciting, funny or even sad as long as they end happily, but for normal people the effects don’t last much beyond the exit lobby. Unfortunately, a lot of us are not completely normal.

I noticed a long time ago while leaving a John Wayne movie I tilted to the right a little as I walked out and I spoke haltingly for a day or two and in a deeper voice.

“Good Will Hunting” reminded me I was once a math-challenged engineer. It got me to bone up on long division and fractions, but before I got to improve my algebra I went to see “The Karate Kid” and went off on another tack and seriously bruised my right hand trying to chop through a one-inch board. It would have been worse if I hadn’t started with balsa wood.

I had to laugh at the panic created by the movie “Jaws”. I thought it was a silly overreaction. I’m not that impressionable. I didn’t cut back on my frequent trips to the Jersey Shore and just took the simple precaution of avoiding the beach and staying on the boardwalk. There have been no verified shark attacks on boardwalks. I checked on that.

Disease movies were once the rage. Most people treated them as interesting science fiction about whole populations in danger of fatal infection. It was different with me. A few minutes into the film I would begin to experience the symptoms the actors were displaying. It didn’t matter if it was a made-up disease created by a screenwriter. There was the Dustin Hoffman movie “Outbreak” about a fictitious airborne virus with a 100 percent fatality rate. As I sat nervously chewing my Milk Duds I could feel my temperature rising and my inner organs beginning to liquefy . I was losing patience as “Doctor” Dustin was losing patients. (“Cure them for crying out loud. I”m feeling lousy!”) I went home, took an aspirin and two Tums and was completely saved . I never watch that movie on TV, afraid I might have a relapse.

The movie that had the most effect on me was “Field of Dreams”. I swallowed it whole, especially the mysterious message, “If you build it, they will come.” I didn’t have room for a baseball field in my backyard so I built a bocce court just to see what would happen. Sure enough, in a few days, eight old Italian men showed up and began to play bocce ball from dawn to dusk. I didn’t know if they were phantoms of legendary bocce ball players from the past or not. (What do I know about legendary bocce ball players? ) Eventually my neighbors complained about the loud arguments in Italian and I had to call the police. The phantoms (or whoever) were cited for disturbing the peace and I took down the court. There were several empty Chianti bottles out there. Do phantoms drink wine?