BENDING THE RULES

Our laws can be confusing. It sometimes takes a squadron of different judges, juries and lawyers several years to decide beyond a reasonable doubt if someone broke a particular law. Even when a suspect is caught red-handed he might just admit to a “mistake of judgment”. Then there are those who are adept at bending the laws and forming loopholes.

Most of us are occasionally guilty of trying to get around an inconvenient rule or regulation. A friend told me his doctor ordered him to walk two miles a day to get back in shape. “Two miles! It was very difficult,” he told me. “I was exhausted at the end of those forced marches, but then, luckily, I found a shortcut. I could tell the doctor I was still doing three laps in the local mall, but I didn’t mention I was cutting through the food court every time.

I admit to bending a rule back in high school when the dress code mandated neckties for boys. We weren’t used to neckties and felt like we were being strangled. My voice actually went to a higher pitch, approaching falsetto. We boys had a meeting and decided on a solution. We word neckties at half staff beneath turtleneck sweaters.

Before that I was one of the many kids avoiding the 25-cent admission fee to our beloved Palisades Amusement Park. That was during the Depression and a quarter was a lot of money. A kid could spend an enjoyable afternoon in the Park’s Fun House for a dime. I’ve heard since that the Park’s owner realized the fee was a hardship for kids so he left a small opening in the back fence. All we had to do was scale twenty feet of rocky cliff high above the Hudson River to reach the breach. We considered it part of the adventure of a Park visit.

Around that time I was talked into trying to scheme my way into the local movie house. Kids’ admission was ten cents, but I had only a nickel so I asked my older brother to lend me the difference. “That won’t be necessary,” he said. “Just tell the manager if he’ll let you in at half price, you’ll watch the movie with one eye closed.”

I was young enough and dumb enough to believe that might work, but the manager just laughed out loud and said, “Okay, kid, but if I see you opening that other eye during the movie I’ll have you arrested.” I left for home. I would have enjoyed seeing Laurel and Hardy even with only one eye, but I didn’t want to risk going to jail. The next week I showed up wearing an eye patch, but that didn’t work either.

ATHLETIC TV WATCHING

Before the invention of TV remotes and cable there was no such thing as a couch potato sports fan. Watching a New York Giants football game, a guy could get more exercise than some of the special teams players and there was an actual risk of injury if the watcher’s field of play was not properly cleared of obstructions.

Back then the only way to mute an annoying commercial was to trot across the living room and turn the knob. Another round trip trot was necessary when play action resumed. If you were simultaneously watching a New York Jets game and a post season baseball playoff contest you might do a mile and a half of broken field running while changing channels.

Without a roof antenna things were even more complicated and aerobic as you made frequent trips to adjust the rabbit ears atop the set to get the clearest picture. Some days there was no combination of ears extension and location and cuss words that worked and you had to become part of the apparatus by grasping each ear and facing the general direction of the transmitter on top of the Empire State Building 25 miles to the east.

There was also the possibility of electronic failure. TV sets weren’t as durable as they are today. While watching an important Giants-Redskins game one Sunday afternoon, I was appalled to see Y.A. Tittle overthrow a pass into the Redskins’ end zone and I shouted a few abusive remarks. It was probably a coincidence, but Tittle turned and gave me such a withering look that it blew out my vertical oscillator tube.

Fortunately I had a spare, but I had to lift and rotate my heavy RCA console, unscrew the back and replace the dead tube in time to see Tittle throw a TD pass. I’d used my last spare tube so I kept my mouth shut until the game ended.

Even before the cable companies decided what we could watch, there were sometimes unmerciful TV blackouts. Once when a Giants game at Yankee Stadium with the Philadelphia Eagles was not a sell-out, the TV broadcast of the game was blacked out in the Metro area. However, I knew if there was a favorable combination of sun spots, wind chill and humidity, I could pick up a low grade picture from Philadelphia. I phoned my brother-in-law Don, a die-hard Giants fan, and invited him over to watch the game. He immediately drove from Fort Lee and rushed into my living room.

“Where’s the picture?” he demanded, looking at my screen which seemed to be showing a scene from a blinding snowstorm. “You have to concentrate,” I said. “Those moving dark gray shadows are the Giants. The lighter ones are the Eagles. Here, take the rabbit ears for a while. My arms are getting tired. You’ll do better standing on that footstool and holding the ears above your head. I’ll take over in the second half.”

Listening to Marty Glickman’s colorful radio account of the game we followed the action quite well and after a few beers the picture seemed to improve.

THE TRANSPARENT ADVANTAGES OF GLASS

Glass was invented by an anonymous volcano many centuries before we had calendars so there’s no specific date. Anyway, some molten rock flowed down the side of that mountain, was cooled when it entered a nearby ocean, and a crude type of glass called obsidian was formed. That process was never patented so you can make your own crude glass now if you live near an active volcano with an ocean view. But please be careful. Use potholders.

We should thank God for giving us that volcanic hint. Who would have thought of making something transparent out of rocks? And if the Egyptians and Romans hadn’t improved the recipe later, the world would be a different place today. For instance, if we didn’t have glass windows our electric light bills would be sky high and what would the light bulbs be made out of ? And if there weren’t any drinking glasses we might have to sip our beer directly from the keg. I tried that once in my youth. It’s quite strenuous and messy.

Glass has become part of our vocabulary. Webster lists crown glass, cut glass, Depression glass, lead glass, looking glass, safety glass and glass ceilings. There was much more but I had to stop. I was getting glassy-eyed. There are also old sayings about glass like “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw tantrums.” Maybe I got that wrong.

After our creative ancestors perfected glass they started to work on mirrors. Can you imagine a world without mirrors? Stone Age people got glimpses of themselves looking into rivers on calm days. They must have wondered who that was looking up at them from the depths. Eventually they got the idea and maybe brought shells full of water into their caves that they looked into while shaving or putting on lipstick. Much later others made hand-held mirrors out of polished metal. Modern glass mirrors were invented 200 years ago in Germany.

Today we take the miracle of mirrors for granted and we shouldn’t. They give us live pictures of outselves without requiring wires, batteries, monthly fees or passwords. Take a moment and think about the wonders of glass and mirrors. Please reflect on it.

A MINORITY EVERYONE WANTS TO JOIN

We senior citizens are members of a minority that is not protected by the nitpicking rules of political correctness. Brash young comedians do not tread lightly when they’re telling jokes about the foibles of the superannuated. And that’s the way it should be for oldness sake!

Actually, we’re a very big minority with about 50 million members in the USA. That’s almost one out of seven Americans who are older than 65 and the census experts predict by 2035 we’ll outnumber children under 18 for the first time in our history.

Maybe by 2035 the joke about the 80-year old movie-goer won’t work. He’d seen the ad about seniors being admitted to the theater free of charge on Wednesdays, but the cashier explained that, according to the fine print of the ad, he had to be accompanied by his parents. That might be possible by then, but of course his parents would have to pay the full price unless their parents were also on hand.

We oldtimers don’t complain to our Congressmen that we’re being mocked. We don’t mind it if we’re told our brain cells are getting down to a manageable quantity and we’re subject to less peer pressure every day because our peers are passing away by the thousands.

And there’s some truth in the claim that seniors read the Bible more than any other group because we’re cramming for the finals. I enjoy these knee-slapper jokes up to a point. My knees are getting very tender and they can’t take a lot of slapping.

Most of us are still young at heart with all the instincts and urges of youth, simmered down of course, but still there. There’s the report of the old fellow sitting on his front porch watching a pretty young thing run buy in a nifty jogging outfit and suddenly his pacemaker goes wild and opens his garage door.

Talking about urges, there’s the doddering playboy sitting at the cocktail bar who winks at a pretty young blond sitting nearby. “Tell me, Honey,” he says, “do I come here often?”

There must be hundreds of jokes about our forgetfulness. Our memory banks are so crammed after decades of collecting, it takes a while sometimes to come up with even everyday words . Lunching at the senior center recently I sat near enough to hear a husband using endearing terms while talking to his wife. She was “Sweetheart”, “Darling” , “Dearest” and “Honey” throughout the meal.

I met the old guy later and asked, “I happened to overhear your lunch conversation with all the loving terms. Are you two on your honeymoon? “

“No, we’ve been married over 50 years,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I haven’t been able to remember her name today.”

T

COUSIN ROCCO TO THE RESCUE

A sleazy contractor is pressing you for full payment for his inferior work. He’s showing you the document you signed and reading the six lines of very fine print that you didn’t pay much attention to before, especially since he’d said, “Oh, that’s just routine legalese.” Now he says, trying to make his sneer look like a sincere smile, that you’re legally bound by those lines to cough up the cash.

It looks hopeless, but then you remember you have an influential cousin who might be of some help. He’s imaginary, but he can still be very influential. “Okay, you’ve got me,” you say. “I’ll pay up by the end of the week. I have to borrow the money from my Cousin Rocco and he’s out of town right now on some kind of contract . ” At this point you’ll notice an arched eyebrow and a jittery look. “He’s out on a contract?” he’ll say.

“I’ve got your office address and Rocco might want to call you at home. But he knows how to get anybody’s number. He’s very resourceful.” The sneer is gone now. It’s not possible to sneer when your jaw has dropped open.

You give him a look of concern. “Don’t worry, you’re going to get what’s coming to you. Rocco is pretty well fixed. He’s a sought after police consultant, you know, like Sherlock Holmes and Monk. They’re always calling him down to the station to help out on a case. “Questions, questions, questions!’ Rocco complains. He’s at the top of his profession and he’s revered. The police have more than once given him the title of ‘a person of interest’.

“Rocco is a perfectionist, though and he’ll want to look over your work before he parts with the money. That’s just his routine. It’s not like Angie’s List, it’s Rocco’s list, ha ha! So rest assured, Rocco is a big softee, he’s a good fellow and he’s very fair, a straight shooter.

At this point Mr. Sleazy will be nervously trying to open the front door to escape. “There’s no rush on the payment,” he’ll say. “I’ll be around in a few days to inspect and correct any imperfections I find and I’ll probably throw in a few upgrades here and there.”

In my case it wouldn’t be a complete fabrication. I actually do have an Italian cousin. Her name is Dolores.

A CHRISTMAS DREAM

I’m home alone tonight as I write this. I’d dozed off after watching yet another Christmas fantasy movie which probably brought on my weird dream. My pepperoni pizza supper might have had something to do with it also.

I dreamt I heard the doorbell ring, but it sounded different, more like a jingle. I opened the door but didn’t see anyone out there in the snowfall. Then a high-pitched voice from below said, “Genie Newman?”

Looking down I saw a short white-bearded fellow in a green suit, furry tassled hat and pointy red shoes. “Genie Newman?” He repeated the question.

Gene Newman,” I said. “Nobody’s called me ‘Genie’ since my last schoolyard fist fight about that in the third grade.”

“Did you write this letter?” he asked and handed me a wrinkled sheet of yellowed notebook paper filled with writing and ink blots. The handwriting looked familiar and then I noticed the P.S.. “Santa, I live on the top floor of the red house on 9th Street. You kant misit.”

“Hey, this is my letter! Where’d you get it?” I asked. “I wrote that back in….back in….let me see.”

“1937”, the little man said. “That year a bundle of letters got tossed behind a workshop cabinet and wasn’t discovered till a month ago when we were renovating. Sorry about that.”

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said. “Thanks for returning it. It’ll be fun to read to my grandkids. Did you notice the nice handwriting? I got the Palmer Penmanship medal that year.”

“And you probaqbly also got a C minus in spelling,” the little guy quipped. “But I’m here because you asked for a lot of things. Your Mom and Dad must have read the letter and bought you what they could afford, but not everything.” I couldn’t recall everything that was on my list, but I did remember Christmas that year was typically joyful. I’d had no complaints.

I started to explain that, but he waved me off. “We had a meeting about the lost letters and decided to do what we could to make up for the foul-up. So now I’ve taken care of you and have dozens of other calls to make tonight, so please initial this letter and I’ll be on my way. Merry Christmas!”

“Wait a minute,” I called as he climbed onto a sled that had pulled up at the bottom of my front stoop. “What do you mean you’ve taken care of me?”

“Your pony is tied up in the back yard,” he said and disappeared like the down on a thistle.

I think it was a dream I hope it was a dream. That was an hour ago and I still haven’t looked in the back yard, but I’ll have to investigate. I can’t leave a pony out on a night like this. I guess he could sleep in the guest room.

LAKE PARSIPPANY. A BEAUTIFUL BARGAIN

My dream has always been to live beside a big beautiful lake. I missed my chance by not being around in 13,000 B.C. when global warming caused the towering Wisconsin Glacier to melt and retreat northward from Morris County leaving an enormous puddle stretching from Parsippany to Paterson. Geologists call this now large underground body of water “Lake Passaic”. The Lenni Lenape Indians weren’t going to arrive for thousands of years so I would have had my pick of lakeside lots back then. Just my luck.

I got a second chance in 1933 when the New York Daily Mirror, a tabloid newspaper, created a smaller lake called Parsippany by digging out and flooding 160 acres of pasture land and offering lakeside lots at $98.50. Of course there was a catch. You had to buy two 20 x 100-foot lots and a one-year subscription to the Daily Mirror which then sold for about two cents an issue. I was only three years old then so where was I going to get that kind of money? And I’d have had to pedal 35 miles from Fairview on my tricycle. Just my luck.

I finally moved to Lake Parsippany about 30 years later and eventually, as a reporter, interviewed two of the original real estate agents. By then, Dean Gallo Sr. and Alex Epstein owned separate agencies. I also spoke with George West, a 1933 lot buyer and former Lake Parsippany Property Owners Association (LPPOA) official.

The lots weren’t selling like hotcakes Eckstein said at the 1966 interview. With the Great Depression still going strong in 1936, the price dropped to $69.50 and by 1940, with 3,000 of the 7,916 (20-foot wide) lots still available, the price was reduced to $49.25. Eckstein said he bought a parcel in 1966 for $4,500 which he’d sold in 1933 or $245.50. Gallo remembered that lot owners could buy a shell of a new house in 1933 for $750 or a finished one for about $2,000 “with plumbing and all”.

The Daily Mirror’s promise of “the good things in life” was a bit of an exaggeration according to West who recalled there was no electricity and no telephones until 1937. And if you didn’t dig a well, he said, you had to lug water from the LPPOA’s clubhouse on Halsey Road. Everyone joined the Association back then, he said, because it was the only provider of garbage collection.

Conditions are a great deal better now. The LPPOA is one of the state’s best family recreational bargains. So don’t count on Lake Passaic coming back. We’ve got global warming again, but there are no nearby melting glaciers. It’s not going to happen.