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.

CAT CALLING

What’s-his-name sat outside in the hall chewing on the rug and washing his face as we discussed his future in the kitchen. Now and then he dozed off only to be awakened when our debate got noisy.

“We’re going to decide on a name before we leave this table!” I insisted. It’s no easy thing for a family to name a kitten. Besides, a sense of guilt was involved. What’s-his- names’s predecessor had suffered for weeks during an identity crisis until we grudgingly settled on “Bosco” to give him legal status. But we rarely addressed him as Bosco. It just didn’t fit.

Once, son Steven took him to the vet’s to get a wound patched and was taken by surprise when the vet asked, “What’s the cat’s name?”

“Richard,” said Steven without blinking an eye. “Well, Richard, we’ll have you as good as new in no time,” the vet promised

Richard Bosco took this quite calmly, seeming to understand the alias was necessary. But, sad to say, he eventually went missing, having left town or gone to his heavenly rest. Our sense of loss was deepened because he went into the Great Beyond (or possibly out of town) in the midst of this identity crisis.
Whoever keeps the records up there on exemplary cats may have included him in the miscellaneous column.

Back in the kitchen name number 27 was nominated. “I like ‘Duncan’, Janis said. “He was a Shakespeare character.” This brought on a flood of Shakespearean suggestions: Hamlet, MacDuff and Romeo, but ‘Duncan’ held on with a second place ‘Tigger’ because of what’s-his-name’s striped overcoat. Duncan won the tie-breaker and he was carried in, snoozing in Denise’s arms.

“What nice stripes!” my wife Barbara said. “Look how they form a perfect ‘M’ over his blue eyes. Why didn’t we give him a name that began with ‘M’? Suddenly, ‘Duncan’ was dumped and after the tenth ballot we woke up what’s-his-name and said, “Hello Max!” He rolled over on his back and went to sleep again.

“When he’s on his back like that, ‘M’ becomes ‘W’ Carolyn pointed out. “Let’s call him ‘Willy’.”

“Okay,”I said. “When he’s on his back, he’s ‘Willy’, but upright, he’s ‘Max”.

“You’ll be confusing Duncan,” Janis protested.

POINT KILLERS

Point killers are the accidental potholes in our speeches and writings that can alter or obliterate our intended meanings. In everyday speech they may merely apply the necessary pin to the balloon of a large ego.

“Speak clearly,” I once admonished a mumbling daughter. “If it’s important enough to say, then say it integgibly.” That was an embarrassing, but relatively harmless example of a point killer. Some are not that harmless.

A friend of mine, afraid his low-ranking position in a large corporation was stagnating, decided to take his destiny into his own hands. For a full half hour, he held the rapt attention of his president with a carefully planned presentation on the utter necessity of his immediate advancement.

“It is my firm conviction,” he concluded, as the tycoon nodded hypnotically, “that this corporation can only survive and thrive if led by men and women with my clear vision.” As he turned dramatically to leave, he stepped into a waste basket and hurtled through the glass door of the president’s office. He was kept on the books for another six months so he could use the company’s medical plan.

The accidental murder of a point can have more than a short term personal effect. It can change the destinies of important people and even nations. Down through the ages entire populations have been inspired by gifted speakers to accomplish the impossible for the good of mankind. But what would the world be like today if……..

“Four score and seven years ago our farforthers……”

or “Damn the tomatoes, full speed ahead!”

or “One small step for man. One giant leap (Whoops!) for mankind.”

So let us be more careful in those critical moments of our lives when precise clarity is vitally important. Strive for accruacy and avoid slaps of the tongue.

FROST ON THE ROAD

As we approach the wintry commuting season I have taken the brazen liberty of adapting the wonderfully picturesque poem of Robert Frost* to describe the perils of today’s motorists struggling to reach their work places during winter storms and, hours later,(perhaps another foot of snow later) struggling to return to their homes.

There are two distinct types of snow. There is the snow that delights us with white Christmases and which decorates our holiday greeting cards. This snow falls gently onto sleeping villages, forests and farmlands and turns our world into a hushed magical place.

The other kind of snow piles up on our highways during rush hours and is a completely different type of precipitation. Apparently Irving Berlin never experienced it. Currier and Ives would have found it unprintable and Robert Frost, had he been a modern winter commuter on Route 280 in northern New Jersey, might have written something like this:

Whose road this is I think I know…….. His office is in Trenton though……..He will not see me stuck out here……..watching his highway fill with snow.

My little Colt must think it queer……..moving sideways in third gear……..between the plow and salting truck……..the slickest evening of the year.

She squeals as I apply her brake……..to ask if there is some mistake……..The only other sound’s the moans…….. of spinning wheels and whirling flake.

The road is buried, hubcap deep……..That drift ahead, a frightening heap…….. And miles to go at this slow creep……..And miles to go before I sleep.

*Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. (Available online)

CAUTION AT THE AUCTION

I get discombobulated at auctions. With all the shouts and arm waving of dueling bidders and the “Going, going!” warnings of the auctioneers, my adrenalin gushes and I forget to stay quiet and motionless because, to paraphrase an old song, “Every little movement has a meaning all its own to an auctioneer.”

At my very first auction I was anxiously bidding on a chipped soup tureen determined to outdistance the other bidder when a kindly old lady pointed out that the “other bidder” was me.

Once at an outdoor auction I was swatting attacking yellow jackets not realizing I was in a bidding war with two other guys until I heard, “Sold to the wildly waving gentlemen for one hundred dollars!” The abstract painting is still hanging in the back of my closet. It might be upside down. I don’t know for sure.

I realized I had to quit cold turkey or sit through auctions with my hands in my pockets and wearing dark sunglasses. Even a significant blink at the wrong moment can cost you big bucks.

Then one fateful day my editor shouted, “Newman, I want you to cover a really interesting auction today.” I was in shock. My hands will be out of my pockets, busy taking notes!

It actually was a very interesting auction. Someone was parting with his World War II B-25 bomber, the same model Jimmy Doolittle and his small squadron flew to bomb the Japanese homeland in 1942 to avenge the Pearl Harbor attack. The MGM movie “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” was a dramatization of the raid.

Some of the bidders were Air Force vets and so was I. Some had fond memories of flying in B-25 bombers and, Lord help me, so did I. As a rookie in 1949 I’d hitched rides on the bomber to get home on leave quickly and cheaply .

I interviewed the handful of prospective bidders, trying to keep my reporter’s distance. One man said he had fond memories of flying in the twin-engine bomber including a low level flight over downtown Boston with one engine on fire. I’m sure this didn’t become a fond memory until a day or so after the safe landing.

Another man, a pilot, said he’d like to plant the bomber on his farm so he and his buddies could hang out in it, a really dramatic clubhouse. I thought I’d like to join that club if he was the low bidder.

A Morristown N.J. man, planning to open a hobby shop, envisioned the Billy Mitchell bomber as a great attraction, seemingly poised for takeoff in front of his future shop.

The auctioneer began. “This is an as-is sale.” ( That’s where you get the real bargains, I thought.) “There are no guarantees.” (Who needs a guarantee? What pitfalls are there to owning a neat B-25 bomber? Well maybe some fussy zoning board rules, but there must be some place a guy can store it for occasional visits, to sit at the controls making engine noises and pilot-to-tail gunner commands.) I was beginning to forget about my serious addiction.

When the $1,100 minimum price was announced, I wrecklessly took my hands out of my pockets to count on my fingers. I thought, if I cut lunches and gave up bowling for two or three years…….

“I’ll take it at $1,100” was shouted. My goodness, was that me? How will I ever explain to my wife I’ve bought a ten-ton bomber? She’s very understanding, but there’s a limit. Someone was shaking the hobby shop guy’s hand. He must have bought the bomber. What a relief!

Returning to my reporter’s role, I asked, “Where will your hobby shop be? I was thinking of hobbies I might adopt as an excuse for B-25 visits. “I don’t know yet,” he said. “I have to find a town that will allow the plane on commercial property near a major highway.”

That was 46 years ago. I never heard tell of the bomber again. It was probably downed by township ordinance flak.

THE INFLUENCE OF AFFLUENCE

Money talks and we all listen. There is a certain attractive aura around a wealthy person that engenders respect, admiration and, if he plays his cards right, groveling.

Money is one of the main ingredients of power and power must be catered to. There is also the mistaken belief that a very rich person might give away a few handfuls of cash occasionally or at least remember favorite grovelers in his last will and testament.

It’s possible for us underdogs to get temporary VIP treatment by persuading others to believe our financial status is higher than it actually is. However, rule number one is: Do not try to impress the wrong people. It’s okay to convince the bank’s loan officer that you’re a person of substance and a good risk for that few thousand you need for “odds and ends during a short period of low liquidity”. He doesn’t have to know the “odds and ends” are food and clothing and repair parts for your old Chevy.

But don’t hint at hidden opulence when being interviewed by the IRS or while the mechanic is adding up the repair bill for your old Chevy. A cry of poverty would be more in order. “You’re taking my children’s food off the table!” I once told a greedy transmission fixer. His exhorbitant bill was unchanged, but he gave me three Nathan’s coupons. “Hungry kids love hot dogs,” he said. What a great guy!.

A few brief remarks during a conversation with high level execs at a company conference can have the appropriate effect. The phrase “Land is money!” uttered loudly and with conviction, can be effective, even when unrelated to the topic under discussion. And if you later casually remark, “I’ve got to get the rolls back to the shop,” it wouldn’t be your fault if they assume your expensive British sedan needs work when you’re merely returning stale bakery goods.

Once at a social gathering I casually mentioned I was a particular favorite of my very sick agriculturist uncle. That was onlypartially true. He had, in fact, been dead for six months and you can’t get sicker than that. We were very good friends, both die hard Mets fans, so that was true. He’d been a less than failing farmer and when I said I was willed the receiver of his stock. That was also true. His stock consisted of two goats, a milk cow and several chickens.

Remember, being rich 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is the burden of the actual rich. We pretenders can slip back into comfortable indigence when it’s no longer necessary to influence a stuffy maitre d’ or to energize a sluggish clerk.

Sometimes you might have to work in the opposite direction to convince someome you’re more indigent than him. Returning from a posh Manhattan cocktail party, on foot, since I couldn’t afford a cab, I was approached by a large man who kept one hand in his coat pocket and asked for a handout in a threatening way.

This was no place for a rich man. I hunched over, with one hand reaching for a nonexistant weapon, looked furtively around and grunted, “Beat it Mac. I’m woikin dis side o’the street!”

SATURDAY LOCKDOWN

I found this handwritten message on a crumpled piece of scrap paper blowing around my neighborhood Saturday morning. I think I could name the author, but that’s not important and it wouldn’t be kind.

It begins: My family has locked me in my bedroom for the weekend again. I’ll have to smuggle this message out somehow. They do this every year about this time. They say it’s for my own good , and their’s.

It’s not so bad. I have the TV and some good books and when they bring my lunch I get the daily newspaper, but without the classifieds. That’s the whole point of my incarceration. I’m an incurable garage sales addict.

The obsession usually reaches its critical stage in the fall. Something in the crisp autumn air triggers a strong urge to cruise around in search of intriguing junque. It’s no coincedence that this is also the hunting season. Garage saling is my response to my elemental instincts by providing some of the thrills of the hunt that are not possible in the big shopping malls.

There is no stalking excitement in the malls. With the No-Questions-Asked return policies, there is small danger of the quarry being the victor. Thirty other guys can brag about getting the same big price break I did at the Sears chainsaw sale. Then where is the individual thrill of the kill?

The mall can offer nothing to compare with the triumphant feeling I got on that memorable day when I discovered a Shirley Temple doll hugging a Charlie McCarthy dummy behind a pristine Candy Lands game box in a cluttered garage. “What do you want for this old stuff?” I asked the man, barely surpressing my YAHOO! shout. “My wife’s making me clean up the garage,” he said. “Ten bucks should cover a good push broom.”

My family doesn’t understand how much this means to me. “If we let you out this Saturday, you’ll buy another stuffed moosehead,” they say. Of course I’d buy another moosehead if I could find one. Our living room is crying for another moosehead. Visitors must notice right away, with mooseheads on only three living room walls, it’s so unsymmetrical!

I’ve just returned from a family parole hearing. I nearly swung it with my unlawful imprisonment argument until someone asked, “What about that boat?” I must admit, she had me there, but it proves gargage saling requires the interrogational skills of a seasoned district attorney. “Does this boat leak?” I’d asked the Saturday salesman and he replied, “I can honestly say right now. It doesn’t leak.” (Or maybe he said, “I can honestly say, right now it doesn’t leak.) Two weeks later, swimming home from a fishing trip, I realized I should have asked, “Does this boat leak when it’s in the water?”

Garage sales prices are so reasonable you don’t have to have a present need for a particular item. My basement and attic are filled with potentially useful stuff like that. If I ever buy a Model T Ford, for instance, I’ve already got the seat covers. You may think that’s fooolish, but if I’d bought that rope ladder a couple of weeks ago, I’d be a free man now.

THE DEFENSE RESTS, MY DEAR

Good communications are vital to a happy marriage, but it’s also important for each partner to know when to keep her or his big mouth shut. Discriminating wives and husbands can sense which subjects call for lively, opininated conversations and which require a diplomatic “no comment” or outright lies.

“What did you think of that bathing beauty on the beach today?” the little woman will ask nonchalantly at dinner. (an ear-splitting alarm bell has been activated, but the poor sap doesn’t hear it.)

“Bathing beauty?” says the unsuspecting husband.

“The one all the men were ogling. Don’t say you didn’t notice her.”

“Gee, I really don’t recall. I was making a sand castle with the kids.”

“That young blonde in the blue bikini on the yellow blanket about ten feet to our left.”

“Oh, yeah. I remember her.”

“So, what did you think of her?”

“I guess you’d say she was kind of pretty.”

“You men are all alike! You should be ashamed of yourself!”

That husband requires no pity. He ignored the alarm bell and it’s his own fault he has to sleep on the couch tonight. “She was about half as pretty as you Sweetheart,” would have been the couch-eliminating answer.

In some cases the effect of a few careless words can be long lasting. It was around 1937 when my mother asked my father who was his favorite female movie star. He thought for a while and then replied, “I guess that would be Sylvia Sydney.” Fifty years later he was still denying that he would have married Sylvia Sydney if he had his life to live over again.

Movie stars are a prime source of trouble in this regard. They have been, after all, hand picked and groomed to attract admirers. Most people understand ths and are smart enough, and adult enough, to ignore a few sighs aimed at the silver screen by their mates. However, there are limits and superstars should realize that, for every fan they captivate, they are alienating at least one other. (Robert Redford, if you are reading this, you are not welcome in my home!)

Polite discretion is needed in other areas as well. There are some questions from mates that are too hot to handle unless you are a criminal lawyer, a politician or a used car salesman. “How old do you think I look? from a middle aged husband is one example. Any wife who attempts an accurate answer is either married to Dorian Gray or has a mean streak.

“Do I still look pretty?”…….”Is my hair thinning?……”Do you like your birthday present?”……..”Why don’these slacks fit anymore?”……”Is this better than your mother’s recipe?…..These are not questions. These are opportunities. Do your best to use them to make life a little more pleasant for someone you love.