ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM

I was invited to a cocktail party many years ago during my freewheeling youth and, after looking around the room, I realized I knew no one there except the host and he was busy schmoozing with other guests and refilling glasses, including his own.

I ended up exchanging cliches and platitudes with a fellow in a green seersucker suit who, unfortunately, turned out to be an insurance salesman. He adroitly switched from small talk to actuarial matters and started out alphabetically with accident protection  and annuities .  By the time he got to major medical and mortality tables I was looking around for the nearest exit.  That’s when I noticed the attractive girl across the room who was staring at me fixedly and not paying much attention to the host who had just handed her a glass of wine.

I looked again when Seersucker Suit had finished surety bonds and was starting on travel coverage,  Miss Pretty Girl was still staring, but now she was actually walking toward me and smiling.  This could be the start of something big, I thought.

“Excuse me,” she said, reaching up and touching my shoulder.

“That’s quite all right,” I replied. “What can I do for you Miss?”  She smiled again. What a great  smile!

“I noticed your jacket collar is all twisted and it was driving me crazy.   Please let me straighten it out.  It’s just one of my quirks.”

As she worked with  my collar I was hoping this was just one of her opening gambits, but then she turned to Seersucker Suit and said,  “I think we should be going home now, Dear.”

It wasn’t a total loss. The next day I called and arranged a date – with Metropolitan Life.

 

BURNING AMBITION

We complain about growing old, but do we really want to stop growing old ?

A friend told me he’d just turned 80 and it made him feel old and feeble.  “Oh yes,” I agreed. “Eighty is terribly old, a really awful age. I’m so glad I’m not 80 anymore.”

Although I feel hale and hardy I might be getting close to the final bell.  I thought I heard the warning buzzer the other day, but it was probably just the wax building up in my ears again.  Anyway, I’m making some hereafter and here-under plans. For instance, I’m opting for cremation.  The old graveside prayer, based on Genesis, reminds us of our “ashes to ashes” fate.  But what to do with the ashes?  I wouldn’t want to be stuck on someone’s closet shelf next to the mothballs box until Gabriel finally blows his horn.

I wrote a feature once  about a fellow named Pete who’d left instructions for his ashes to be dropped from a plane into Giants Stadium, an imaginative idea, but the stadium back then had AstroTurf and he wouldn’t have been able to settle in and fertilize the gridiron grass. A lot of his remains were sure to be picked up by the cleats of visiting teams and eventually Pete would be scattered around all the NFL stadiums.   Maybe that’s what he had in mind.  He’s probably had a bugs-eye view of some great Superbowl games, the lucky stiff!

I have a more personal destination for my ashes.  I’ve lived beside beautiful Lake Parsippany for over half a century and I’d like most of my ashes sprinkled into its blue waters. Since the lake has a catch-and-release rule I won’t end up as part of a fisherman’s dinner.

Taking a cue from Pete, I’d like a very small part of my grainy remains, just a teaspoonful, eventually deposited in Citi Field. I have a feeling that the New York Mets are about due for a great season and I’d like to be there when it happens, if possible in the on-deck circle.

THE CALLEE STRIKES BACK

The very first annoying phone call was made on Friday, March 10, 1876 to Thomas Watson in Boston, Massachusetts.   Watson was Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant and was probably on his break and having TGIF thoughts when he received the world’s first telephone call.  It was from his boss down the hall.

If Watson thought fast he could have replied, “You have reached Thomas Watson. Your call is very important to me. Please leave a message at the signal and I will get back to you as soon as possible…..BEEP!” Then he could have finished his coffee and donut.

Actually, that wouldn’t have worked because Thomas Edison didn’t invent the recording machine until the following year. Faking a busy signal wouldn’t have been a good idea either since Bell knew that he and Watson had the only two telephones on the planet.

It’s remarkable to learn that Bell foresaw that his wonderful creation might not be completely beneficial to the civilized world and could become an instrument of intrusion. When he later went on to other scientific endeavors he refused to have a telephone installed in his study to avoid interruptions of his thought processes.

By 1886 over 150,000 Americans had telephones, but they couldn’t call Bell until after working hours when he was eating his dinner, a situation we’re all still stuck with.  How painfully prophetic the great inventor was!

Although I’m on the official Do-Not-Call List with over 200 million other Americans, the uninvited, unwelcome calls continue in spite of the risk of a $16,000 fine for one illegal ring up and higher penalties for repeaters.

Since Bell anticipated this negative offshoot of his invention he should have incorporated some kind of proactive element or at least the suggestion of one. It would be satisfying if we could press a button to send a mild, but unpleasant electric shock into the headset of a meddlesome telemarketer or perhaps demolish the circuitry of a robotic peddler.

TELEPHONES PAST AND PRESENT IMPERFECT

There are more cell phones than people in the USA.  You can look it up. The cell phone population passed the people population in 2011 and it’s still climbing.  Our 328 million souls now own about 360 million cell phones.  Don’t forget, most of us have two ears, so we probably have a way to go yet.

You can’t swing a shopping bag in a mall these days without interrupting three or four mobile conversations.  I’ve suggested having cell phone booths in malls and other public places where those annoying loud talkers can be sound-proofed. Booths would also help reduce the frequency of distracted walking-and-talking accidents. Just last week I saw two cell phoners collide in a hurtful head-on. They were still yakking into their chatterboxes when the EMT’s arrived.

There were no cell phones during the Great Depression in the 1930’s and many families couldn’t afford a landline phone. On rainy days we kids were housebound and out of contact with our neighborhood pals unless we put on our bathing suits and splashed through the gutter  puddles until a distant clap of thunder brought on a retreat call from home.

Most of us had radios but, trapped inside on a stormy day, we had to listen to Mom’s soap operas. After a few depressing episodes of “One Man’s Family” and “Ma Perkins” we would get quite unruly.

Then Frankie, our gang leader, had a brilliant idea. We could actually have phones to converse with nearby friends that wouldn’t involve Ma Bell and would be cost-free. “What kind of phones?” we asked.  “Megaphones!” Frankie replied.  We made them out of available cardboard and pretty soon the neighborhood was reverberating  with shouted out-of-window messaging.  As long as we shut down at sundown no one objected to the noise except for a few panicky dogs.

I could recreate my boyhood megaphone and take it to a mall to shout an impolite message to the first annoying  loud cell phoner I encounter.  I have unlimited minutes with my megaphone and also Medicare insurance, just in case.

TWEAKING THE FACTS

It’s too bad liars’ noses don’t grow longer, like Pinocchio’s, when they’re spinning tall tales and deceptive pitches. But then we wouldn’t want to have all those disfigured politicians and salesmen wandering around, bumping into things with their elongated snouts.

There are actual telltale signs that speakers are not presenting us with the unvarnished truth according to the American Psychologists Association. When I read about them I recognized a few I’ve displayed myself in tight spots where the absolute truth needed a few cosmetic touches to spare someone’s feelings or to protect my reputation.

A liar in motion will tend to cover his mouth with his hands, try to shrink his body and give vague answers. A truthful person, asked about some past event, will look up to his left toward his brain’s memories section. The prevaricator will look up to his right where imaginative stories are invented.

A heartfelt smile is long lasting and involves all the jaw and cheek muscles. The nose and forehead will wrinkle and the eyes compress.  The fake smile involves only the mouth and will flash on and off in an instant like the blinker on a warning sign. (Which it is.)

Liars welcome a change of subject as a chance to stop sweating and to resume eye contact, but the honest person will resent the digression and want to get back to  his unadulterated testimony.

Responses like “What do you mean?” and “How shall I put it?” can be delaying tactics while the liar is working out his imaginative reply.  The same applies if your question is repeated. “Did I eat the last of the Haagen Dazs?  Is that what you’re asking me?” He might put his hand to his mouth as if formulating his denial, but he’s really removing the faint traces of pistachio.

Let’s face it. We all lie from time to time, even to ourselves. Right now I’m trying to persuade myself to let the yard work go for a few more days. Nobody will notice the grass is beginning to hide the lawn ornaments and the tomato plants have disappeared behind the weeds.  Oh, oh!   My trousers are beginning to heat up. I’d better get out there before they reach the combustion point.

MY TWO MONKEYS

I bought my first carton of cigarettes at an Air Force PX for one dollar almost 70 years ago. That’s 200 coffin nails at a half cent a piece. I guess that’s the type of pricing lure that pushers use on beginners.  If cigs went for $8 a pack then I would have settled for chewing gum. Before I shook the habit many years later I was inhaling 14 packs of carcinogens a week at 35 cents a pop.  I thought smoking was getting too expensive (Hah!) and my doctor had said I should quit and also get more exercise.  So I quit cold turkey and my exercise of choice was climbing the walls for about a month until the monkey hopped off my back.

Now I’m battling my ice cream dependence.  Back around 1935 you could get a double dip ice cream cone for five cents.  Nickels weren’t too difficult to come by for a cagy kid, but there was another problem – which two flavors to order and which one should go on top?  Soda jerks would wince when I walked up to their counters, especially at Howard Johnson’s which boasted 28 flavors. I was just learning to read and often asked the dippers to recite the available flavors.  One impatient guy insisted I take the mystery flavor of the day.  I think he just made that up.

Ice cream isn’t bad for one’s health if eaten moderately.  Ah, but there’s the rubber (which rhymes with blubber).  My bathroom scale tells me I’ve been overdosing and I’m worried about some ominous signs.  It was probably my imagination, but when I cut myself shaving this morning that blob on my face looked a lot like cherry vanilla.

I’ve tried to cut back. I even joined a self help group, “The Happy Losers”, but it didn’t work out. We should never have held our meetings at Friendlys.

I’ve had my ice cream quota for today and should be strong enough to hold out, but my stash is calling to me from the freezer. As I watch the Mets on TV. I can hear an alluring pistachio and strawberry duet that’s drowning out the 30,000 noisy fans at Citi Field.

Maybe I’ll try that 12-step program I’ve heard about. Come to think of it, 12 steps will just about get me to the freezer.

THE REAL DIRT

My backyard lawn usually goes north for the summer. (Well, it goes someplace.)  I’ve tried everything to encourage it to stick around – fertilizers, weed killers, aeration and  reseeding,  but I’ve never achieved lasting improvement.  Seeking expert advice I sent soil samples to a renowned  university’s agricultural laboratory that provides analysis for residents. Since my backyard is on a slope, I sent samples from the upper and lower areas. A couple of weeks later I received a disturbing letter from the lab’s supervisor.

“Based on the analyses results reported by my staff, I am quite convinced you are attempting to perpetuate a frivolous prank on this distinguished institution. This is our busiest time of year and your clumsy attempt at humor is not appreciated. However, if you will identify the actual sources of your two specimens you will be doing the department a favor by ending the endless bickering that is causing quite a bit of backlog here.

“Apparently you have traveled extensively. The ‘upper’ specimen that you sent is definitely from a very arid region outside of the United States. One group of analysts believes the soil is from the Gobi Desert while other staffers insist it is from the Sahara.

“There is almost unanimous agreement on the ‘lower’ specimen as having come from the Okefenokee Swamp.  This has been disputed by a young intern who suggests a Devil’s Island origin, but we are not giving that serious consideration.

“Your ‘upper’ sample is causing the most controversy and wasted time here as well as a morale problem and loss of team spirit.  The Gobi group almost came to blows with the Saharas when the latter analysts claimed the detection of camel droppings in your sample. As evidence for their claim, the Gobis cite their discovery of remnants of a document containing Chinese script,  The Saharas contend it is merely a fragment of a local  Asian restaurant’s menu.

“If you will respond immediately by phone, fax or Email, with the exact original locations of the two specimens we will not press charges for your fraudulent action. ”

I phoned immediately and swore my samples were both from my Parsippany, New Jersey backyard.  I invited a lab man to come here on a windy day and find he can stand in the mud of the lower section and get hit in the face with dust from the upper section. The Super expressed abiding doubt and hung up on me.

I’m about to order 200 square yards of Astroturf as soon as I decide between end zone stripes and foul lines.