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.


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.


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.


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.


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.









We were going out to dinner at a rather posh restaurant, Maison Le Snoot, and I knew I was going to have to endure a personal inspection before we left.  First, there would be the wifespeak question: “Is that what you’re wearing?” which, of course, is not a question at all.  It translates to: “You cannot go out in that outfit to an upscale restaurant. They must have dress requirements.”

I decided to check that out when I called for the  reservation.  “Do you have a dress code?” I asked the reservation lady who happened to be Ms Snoot, the proprietor.

“Yes, Sir, but it’s quite liberal.”

“Well, do you check the color of socks, for instance?  Are white socks permitted with a dark suit?  I’ve been told that’s quite gauche.”

“We only check socks during the dinner hours and white socks are permitted if you have a doctor’s certificate indicating a medical necessity.  Any other time, especially on Father’s Day,  socks coloring  and even being sockless is optional.”

My old tweed sports jacket with the yellow leatherette elbow patches would only be permitted  if I didn’t take off my approved overcoat. (They would seat me near an air conditioner vent.)  Sneakers are banned and patent leather shoes are preferred, but a good shine on leather Florsheims would be tolerated. Neckties are required, even under turtle neck sweaters, Ms. Snoot said.

Baseball caps are not permitted, Ms. Snoot said, unless the diner is an all-star major league player and then he’d have to wear his complete uniform without the cleated shoes, of course.  His cap brim must be in the forward position at all times.

“I’m sure you don’t allow smoking,” I said, “but I’ve been chewing gum since I gave up the coffin nails.  Is gum chewing allowed, Ms. Snoot?”

“Oh, certainly Sir. We have a gum chewing section. Just ask the Maitre de.”



It takes courage to compile a bucket list you honestly intend to accomplish. My cousin Dolores fulfilled her dream by skydiving on her 80th birthday.  I’ve jumped out of  planes  many times, but I’ve always waited until they landed, so I’m sure I was more nervous watching her video than she was while plummeting to earth with only a few yards of nylon preventing a free-fall landing at 300 miles per hour. (You can check the math for mph after falling 3,000 ft) . Dolores’ helmet would have been no help.. However, the odds for a safe tandem skydive are excellent, about 500,000 to one. Statiscally, you should be more frightened getting into your car than buckling on a chute.

There are bucket list choices that some would call foolhardy.  A friend told me he hoped to swim the Hudson River before he died. I heard later he planned to accomplish this and I called to congratulate and encourage him. His wife answered the phone. “He’s in the river now and I’m worried sick,” she said.

“It’s only about a mile across to Manhattan from Jersey and he’s a good swimmer,” I said. “He’ll be landing in the Big Apple in no time.”

“He’s not swimming across,” she said.  “He’s swimming lengthwise.”

The last I heard he’d reached Poughkeepsie and was going strong just 235 miles from the Hudson’s source in the Adirondacks.  Fortunately, he’s accompanied by another bucket lister who wants to row his boat to Glens Falls.”

I don’t have a bucket list even though I’m getting pretty close to the bucket. I’m hoping they’ll let me fulfill a post-bucket list, because I’d need supernatural help.  A certain company has afflicted me for years with neglect and overcharges.  I’ll call the outfit “McNasty Enterprises LLC” and won’t bore you with details of their misbehavior. If I get to heaven I’d like to be granted some get-even powers. There would be no physical harm involved, just a little mischief.

For instance if I can spiritually hack McNasty’s computers I would temporarily replace their accounts receivable files with Rachael Ray recipes and clips of Marx Brothers movies. I’d also want to levitate the billing department manager whenever he’s inventing fictitious fees or browbeating a customer.

I hope Saint Peter would grant my request. It might convert a few crafty characters and save them some Purgatory time.


I’ve had to contend with only two real antagonists in my lifetime.  They are a couple of squirrels that have raided my bird feeder daily.  I paid dearly for complicated “squirrel-proof” feeders trying to thwart the little ravenous beasts.  The designs were quite ingenious and they all worked, one for almost a week before Bonnie and Clyde, the aforementioned squirrels,  figured them out.

The wintry day that I hung the first of these expensive contraptions on a back yard oak limb I watched from my window as the thieving pair approached.  Clyde struck first, climbing the tree and leaping onto the feeder. He looked surprised to discover that his weight had brought down a protective shield that closed all the feeding holes.

He returned to the ground to explain the problem to Bonnie. They appeared sad as they ambled off to search for buried acorns and open garage cans.  They returned the next day.  Clyde climbed the tree again and gnawed at the stout hitching line until the $50 feeder plunged to the ground and split open.  Dinner was served.

Another imaginative design had a small feed compartment in the middle of a seesaw platform.  Any would-be diner heavier than two or three catbirds would tip the platform steeply sending him flying.  Bonnie and Clyde worked as a team, each climbing to an opposite side and taking turns at the feeder while a flock of hungry sparrows screeched expletives from a nearby tree.

And so it went until I installed a clear plastic feeder that attached to my man-cave window with suction cups.  I can now sit and watch cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches and an occasional redheaded woodpecker chow down.  Several weeks have passed and Bonnie and Clyde have not yet figured a way to climb up aluminum siding.

I saw them in the yard this morning, looking up forlornly at a squadron of feeding finches. It looked like Clyde’s mouth was watering.  Maybe I’ll go out and toss them a handful or two of Cheerios and peanuts from time to time until some neighborhood birder puts up a feeder that’s not Clyde-proof.  I can’t let them starve.  It looks like Bonnie may be expecting and is scrounging for two.


We tend to use age old expressions that are quite inaccurate and which we contradict in our next breath.  Yet none of us objects to hearing these phrases because we’re all dedicated users.  Why is that?  Well, it goes without saying.  See what I mean? That’s one of the phrases and if it were true, that would be the end of this post. No one hardly ever says, “It goes without saying” and then shuts up. No, we go on at great length to explain why it goes without saying.

What is the reason for these popular phony phrases?  You might reply “It’s perfectly obvious”  but of course it isn’t.   Or you might say “If you asked me” and then proceed, like I’m doing now, to pontificate long windedly without actually being asked.

“Not to mention” is another good example, Whoever says that is on the verge of mentioning something to support an opinion.  But how can you say “not to mention” without mentioning what you said you were not going to mention?

I often begin with “Needless to say”  before explaining in great detail my take on a particular subject.  At some point a listener will say, while looking at his watch, “I hate to interrupt” (a polite phony phrase), but didn’t you also say you were going to make a long story short?”

Most of our phony phrases are rather harmless, but be careful about ones like, “I’m not one to pry, but…..” and  “I don’t believe in spreading vicious rumors, but have you heard….?