VACATIONS: RESTFUL OR RESTLESS

There are several schools of thought on how to spend one’s vaction. Some believe these intervals were meant for complete relaxation. They should be quiet times, they say, dedicated to rest, meditation and cultural pursuits.

There are other opinions including those held by the Drunken-sailors-on-shoreleavers and the Keep-moving-till- you-droppers. Vacations, after all should be periods of freedom when you can do what you please within the bounds of federal and local laws and the accepted rules of decency. If you prefer to vegetate and recharge your batteries, that’s certainly your right. But if you want to risk returning from your holiday with a worn out body and bank balance, that too is your is your option.

This freedom of choice argument would then seem to settle the question and make the subject noncontroversial, but that’s true only if you happen to be a hermit. Most vacations involve more than one person and the chance of mixing incompatible types is very high.

Take the Bumbles, for instance, a loving, devoted couple who agree on most everything for 50 weeks of the year, but diametrically opposed when it comes to planning and pacing a vacation.

“Where are we Henry?” Mrs. Bumble gasps, awakening in the speeding car. “This is Nevada, my Dear,” replies Mr. Bumble (a retired Navy vet) who is hunched over the wheel with his eyes fixed on the horizon.

“But we were going to tour San Francisco . You promised we would as we were breakfasting on EggMcMuffins in the hotel’s parking garage.” Mr. Bumble swerved around a tractor trailer and replied, “We did tour San Francisco, my love, but you dozed off again and missed Fisherman’s Wharf and Telegraph Hill at sunrise.”

Mrs. Bumble nibbled thoughtfully on the remains of her EggMcMuffin. “I don’t remember any of that. It was the same in Los Angeles, just a blur, and I so wanted to tour Beverly Hills.”

“As I’ve explained, my sleeping beauty, we made a quick pass through Beverly Hills and I have a nice video of the run to show you, including my debate with Dr. Phil about his right to privacy complaint. For Pete’s sake, I only pulled into his driveway for two minutes to take some pictures.”

“So this is Nevada, Henry? I hope we’re headed for Las Vegas.”

“Yes and I’m glad we agree on our destination. Are you planning on gambling?”

“No, I read about some very nice Buddhist monasteries there. I’m going to reserve a cell in one of them. You can pick me up on your way back to the airport in a few days.”

There are also cases where the roles are reversed and the wife is the frantic excursionist. If small children and a mother-in-law are involved, the vacation can resemble a two-week rehearsal for a Marx Brothers movie.

SNOOZING SENIORS

One of the reasons the days seem to fly by as we get older is that we spend a lot of time unconscious. Like babies with their numerous nap times, we are mercifully ushered through some trying lifetime episodes.

Fewer things are new and interesting to us old fogies. So much “new stuff” is really old hat and boring as we move past middle age toward the Pearly Gates with convenient dozing stations along the way.

The television industry should realize the number of older, couchbound viewers is increasing and the time has come for major programming changes. No matter how loud, raucous, terrifying or even nauseating they make their final scenes, they’re losing a good portion of their audience by 10 p.m. as aging eyelids begin to quiver across the nation.

So far this year, I’ve seen only the first halves of eleven TV specials. Like most of my surviving senior friends, I can’t master the current difficult manipulations required to record a TV show. My grandchildrens’ explantions of the many “simple” necessary button clickings might as well have been recited in Swahili.

It’s not all that bad. After enduring decades of less than scintillating piano school recitals, political speeches, business meetings and other boring episodes, Mother Nature finally provided me with an escape hatch. I remember the very day, several years ago, when I realized I had a key to that hatch.

“Did you enjoy the slides of the McGlumphy’s Pocono vacation, Dear?” my wife asked as we drove home from a house party. “They were….uh….interesting,” I replied. “I tried to show polite interest and Paul was considerate enough to show only a few .”

“There were 180 slides, my Darling, and if snoring is showing polite interest then Amy Vanderbilt is a lady wrestler.”

That’s one of the disadvantages of benign narcolepsy. People take it personally. They don’t resent my weakenig eyesight or my stiffening joints. They’re actually sympathetic and helpful then, but if I slip off to dreamland while they’re droning on about their granddaughter’s finger painting progress, that’s different.

Still, we have to learn to live with each other, so I try not to hurt other people’s feelings. However, sometimes the results are absurd.

Once at a dinner party I was seated next to a podiatrist who regaled me through six courses with detailed accounts of his surgical prowess in dealing with multiple plantar verrucae (warts). I held out as long as I could, nodding and smiling with an occasional “Wow!” but finally Morpheus won out and I tipped over into my rhubarb cobbler.

Apparently the hostess was alarmed and dialed 911. The next thing I knew, an EMT was shaking my shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll be okay Sir,” he said. “I’ve made several calls like this with unconscious seniors. You should get a check up, but snoring and smiling are always good signs.”

ELUSIVE SUAVITY

As a young man I yearned to be suave. It was my goal and I was making some progress by watching David Niven, Rex Harrison and James Bond movies.

I came to realize suavity is not a physical characteristic or an accumulation of skills, but an instinctive attitude enabling one to always claim the limelight. Sadly, my suavity quest ended dismally years ago on my first trip to Italy.

I’d spent hours studying the history, customs and language of the country. I wanted to be the calm, urbane person in my tour group who moved smoothly through Italy as if it were my second home.

I came to realize suave pretenders don’t stand out. They stick out. I learned this early in the tour where I was too often the proverbial sore thumb. During those two awful weeks I left a trail up and down the Italian boot of raised eyebrows, noses and a few fists.

As a take charge person I assumed the responsibility of planning the day to day details of our small party’s itinerary. The ensuing debacle was as much the result of faulty communications as it was a complete suavity crash.

I had no idea my grasp of Italian was so faulty. It sounded good to me. Even the members of my tour group said my delivery had a ring of authenticity with the arm waving and all. But gestures are no substitute for intelligibility. After rechecking my English-Italian dictionary later I was able to piece together and explain the more embarrassing episodes.

There was the hotel dining room fiasco when I tried to ingratiate myself with the headwaiter to get special treatment for my group. My friends must have assumed, like me, that Guido and I were having a friendly chat, but I subsequently discovered from the dictionary that I was saying to him, “Good night, Madam. When is your name? Please see that my friends get good crazy.” And he was replying, “Sir, you are standing on my foot.” I suavely informed my group that I’d made arrangements for VIP treatment.

That was Sunday evening. No waiter came to our table until late Tuesday when we were scolded for bringing sandwiches into the dining room. I tried to explain we hadn’t been served for two days and we were quite hungry.

The dining room problem was a minor glitch compared to the railroad station episode where I tried to manage the details of our side trip. The station was a beehive when we arrived during the commuter rush hour. It was my job to book passage for my party of six on a fast train to Venice.

Before I knew it, I’d spent many thousands of lire and held six tickets that I couldn’t read. A kindly old Italian gentleman noticed my quandary and offered to help. “Your tickets are for a special non-stop train to Venice,” he said. “It is an excellent train that will arrive there this afternoon. “

“Bene!” I said. “Just what I wanted.”

“Not so bene,” he replied “That train left ten minutes ago.”

In the next half hour, the Italian railway system and I exchanged considerable amounts of tickets and lire. At one point I had tickets for an express train, but no guarantee of seats for the six-hour ride. During a critical communications breadown we were booked on a boat train to Sardinia.

Believing I’d finally solved the problem I hustled my group off to the express platform while I searched for a luggage porter. The porter and I arrived with the bags just on time. Not on time for me to board, unfortunately, but on time to wave goodbye to my friends who appeared bewildered to be leaving without their suitcases.

I was suavely confident that I could solve that problem. “Enjoy Venice,” I called to them. “Arrivederci!”.

The porter tugged at my sleeve. “No Venizia, Signore. Your friends are going to Vienna.”

“Oh well,” I shouted suavely to my departing friends, “Auf wiedersehen!”

EVERYBODY DOES IT

It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m very busy lying here working on my to-do list. I’m almost finished digesting a salami and cheese midnight sandwich and I’m beginning to figure out the barking pattern of that sad dog on the next block. Then maybe I’ll come up with an idea for this blog.

Ms Thalia, my ancient Greek muse, often works nights and sometimes gives me what seems to be a real brainstorm while I’m tossing and/or turning. I jot it down in the dark in my note pad and try to read my scrawl at dawn.

Once, years ago, when I was a humor columnist, it took me hours to decipher Thalia’s “Shopping for clothing” suggestion. It was a very ripe idea, ruined by my faulty penmanship. I read it the next morning as “Stopping for nothing”. The result was a column completely lacking in structure and humor. My editor said it read like the ravings of a madman and suggested psychotherapy.

I’m fully awake now with no trace of the dull buzz that comes just before I drop off, so let’s get to today’s subject of “Sleep” inspired by my muse or perhaps by the salami and cheese sandwich.

Sleep is mankind’s universal pastime. (We can’t call it an activity.) We spend one-third of our lives in its realm. If we could do it all at once, we would sleep until about our twenty-second birthday and then proceed, wakeful and uninterrupted, for the next forty-four years or so.

However, we’re not built that way. It is essential that we slip into unconciousness at regular intervals to maintain a certain level of well-being and to avoid walking into things and falling off chairs at our workplaces.

Periodic sleep is required to soften the sharper edges of life and should be a welcome interlude in the hectic pace that society sets. But man, the only animal capable of prolonged worry, has invented insomnia so he can fret about many things including not being able to fall asleep.

Insomnia is not all bad for all people. Many are making a nice living off other people’s wakefulness, by selling them pills and advice. If it weren’t for insomniacs, late night entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel might otherwise be selling vacuum cleaners door to door.

However, our subject is not insomnia, but sleep which Ovid called, “The most gentle of divinities”. Shakespeare said it is “Nature’s soft nurse.” I agree with both. I’ve always had an affinity with divinities and an appreciation of soft nurses.

While insomnia is not all bad, sleep is not all good. Going to sleep is like pressing the fast forward button, making one-third of our day flash by in 40 or more blinks. But we need sleep like we need coffee breaks, seventh inning stretches, holidays, weekends and vacations. Most of us are designed for the 100-meter dash and not the marathon.

Sleep is therefore…..Wait a minute! Did I detect something there. Is sleep finally approaching? Did you hear a buzzzzzzzzzzz?

POCKETS vs ROCKETS

While agriculture gave civilization a big boost and the wheel gave it speed, the advancement that shaped mankind’s development even more dramatically was the invention of pockets which greatly outrank rockets and their potential for mass destruction.

This little acclaimed leap forward gave man the equivalent of a third arm. It is diffficult to imagine how some of history’s great moments would have come to pass without the benefits of pockets and how some, in pre-pocket times, ended tragically.

If Washington’s troops were pocketless, they would have had to carry their musket flints, pipes and tobacco in one hand while rowing across the Delaware with the other, making it a much longer crossing and jeopardizing the surprise element needed to defeat the Hessians at the historic Battle of Trenton.

It is inconceivable that Teddy Roosevelt would have had to call out, “Hold this stuff, Sergeant Smedley, I’m going to charge up San Juan Hill and I’ll need a free hand for my sword!”

The ladies, God bless them, have always shunned pockets and they are still fighting for their well deserved equal rights. Could there be a connection? They have been anti-pockets apparently because the resultant bulges would disrupt the current fashionable silhouette. Thus, they have burdened themselves with cumbersome purses, useful at times as weapons, but otherwise depriving them of the advantage of a one-two punch.

The pocket has always been a stimulus to the imaginations of young boys. No one, not parents, teachers or playmates can easily violate its sanctity without a search warrent or a suitable threat. Boys use the pocket as a testing lab to find the approximate melting point of Hershey bars, the durability of frogs and to discover it’s storage capacity for smooth stones, marbles, pea shooters and kazoos.

And no little boy would learn the pride and joy of possessing actual money quite as well without having a pocket in which to jingle his current coin collection.

Men, who are after all, just tall little boys, cherish the ownership of pockets. To them, it is unthinkable that they would ever be deprived of them. They are essential to a livable life. A man dressed in a suit and an overcoat is in charge of a minimum of 12 pockets. All are quite necessary and most are usually carrying maximum cargo.

The cavemaen were pocketless and they are gone. The armored knights lacked pockets in their steel trousers and have likewise disappeared. Think about it, if Julius Caesar had a hidden dagger for defense on that fateful Ides of March morning, the world might be quite a different place today. But, alas, the Roman togas had no pockets.

A TALL STORY

I spotted an old friend sitting in the diner behind a huge chocolate sundae yesterday. I hadn’t seen him in years, but I recognized him immediately. He still resembled Dom LeLuise, the late comedian, but there was something different about him, his expression or his posture…..something.

“Al, old man,” I said. “Where the heck have you been?” He looked embarrassed and mumbled something about working on a project. “Apparently, a long term project, Al. Something in your line? You’re a chemist, right?”

“Yes, but I’ve branched out. It’s a combination of chemistry, endocrinology and gymnastics. It’s quite a long story.”

“I’ve got plenty of time, Al. I’ll buy you another dessert and you can tell me your long story.” I slid into the booth across from him.

“Actually I’ve wanted to tell it to someone who might believe it. It started with a visit to my wisecracking doctor. I’d gone for advice about my obesity problem and he said I could either start dieting seriously or get tall enough where my weight would be appropriate for my height. He checked a chart and said, ‘That’d be about seven feet.’ And then he laughed raucously at his little joke. It was a very hurtful remark to make to a desperate patient. I got up and left , ignoring his shouted apology.

“I realized then I was on my own. I tried all the diet and exercise clubs, but I lacked the resolve and eventually dropped out of their boring meetings and painful calisthenic classes. Then one day I remembered my doctor’s insensitive joke and began to understand it was my last resort.”

“You mean about getting taller? Al, that’s not possible at your age.”

“I discovered it is possible. There are medications to fire up our pituitary glands and human growth hormones, banned in some professional sports because they provide unfair physical advantages. Stretching yoga exercises can actually lengthen our spines. I’m working on a pineal gland idea that may also be a source of added growth.”

Al was getting worked up and customers were beginning to look our way. I tried to add some humor to calm him down. “Don’t forget the medieval rack, Al. That can add a few inches to your length.”

“I haven’t forgotten it, at all,” he growled. “I’ve got a painless version on my drawing board now.” He was leaving in a huff. He started to get up….and up ….and up. He had to stoop to clear a chandelier and get through the diner’s door. I watched out the window as he drove away in an SUV. I knew that was him because his head was sticking out of the sun roof.


FIFTY AIN’T NIFTY

There’s a certain age that a man reaches which he considers sadly significant, a dividing line between youth and senior citizenship. Becoming a semicentennial can have an effect on a man’s ego. In ancient times a Roman nearing the age of 50 was said to be “Going to L”.

There isn’t a lot of sympathy out there for a man approaching this milestone. “Oh yes, fifty is an awful age,” an old codger will tell him. “I’m so glad I’m not 50 anymore.”

And a curious grandson isn’t helping by asking, “How old are you Grandpa?” You try to beg the question by replying, “I’m middle-aged.” and he gets excited. “Oh, Grandpa, we’re studying about that now. What was it like in the Middle Ages? I’ll ask my teacher if you can come and tell the class all about it.”

Your acquired appliances keep reminding you of your impending geezerhood. With the contacts, the bridgework, and the new knee , you realize you’re going bionic.

Stairs get steeper and your bowling ball feels like it’s gained weight. Speaking of that, you’re beginning to realize everything you eat now seems to turn into YOU and energetic exercises, like tying your shoes, aren’t helping to stem the growth of your girth.

If you concentrate, you’re now able to detect pain in some body part. There are morning back aches and post lunch acidity followed by various twinges and gripes in the evening. A galloping Charlie horse often interrupts your sleep.

When you complain about this to an unsympathetic whippersnapper, he’ll probably try to console you by explaining it’s nature’s way of making approaching death seem inviting.

In spite of all this you are not yet a senior citizen, but you’re not a freshman either and you still must continue to bring home the bacon which has now become harder to chew and gives you indigestion.

You still like to watch pretty women walk by, but now when they get closer, you have to switch lenses. And if you tell a little fib to try to impress your wife, it probably won’t work.

“A young lady in the supermarket tried to pick me up today, Dear.”

“Oh, did you fall down, Honey? You really should be more careful. You’re not a young man anymore.”

WORST AID

I was about three years old when I discovered people had blood inside them. It was quite a shock. I’d pierced my foot on a piece of glass at the beach and half expected something like sugar and spice or maybe snips and snails to come out, but instead this red stuff started dripping onto the sand. What a disgusting arrangement! I still feel the same way.

Eventually I was happy to learn most grownups could calmly deal with minor lacerations and punctures. I hoped I would have the same attitude and talent when I grew up, but it never happened. The sight of escaping blood, my own or anybody’s, still gives me feelings of uneasiness, apprehension and, okay, panic.

I can’t avoid thinking during these dramatic situations that the victim is losing a life-sustaining fluid with only a few quarts available. Something must be done immediately! In the meantime I’m fighting off a fainting spell and running in circles.

I was fortunate enough as I grew up to have normal people on hand during these critical moments, but then I advanced into fatherhood and sometimes found I was the only blood-stopper available when one was needed.

“Daddy gave me worst aid,” my little son reported to my wife when she returned from a shopping trip one day. He proudly displayed his tiny arm swathed in a great bulging mass of gauze and adhesive tape.

“Oh dear,” my wife gasped. “Maybe we should take him to the emergency room!”

“No,” I replied. “It’s not much of a cut. I got a little carried away and I never learned how to tear gauze, so I used the entire roll.”

“Does your arm hurt much, Stevie?” she asked.

“No, Mommy, but it’s very tired. The bandage is heavy. It’s only a little cut, Mommy. Do you want to look at it?”

“No, Dear. I don’t think we should disturb the bandage now.”

“We don’t have to, Mommy. The cut is on the other arm. I tried to tell Daddy, but he was so excited.”

Fortunately, my kids are self-sealing and over the years they became better medics than me, not even bothering to report every minor wound. They knew I had a tendency to overreact and my nosebleed treatment, while quite effective, had the unpleasant possible side effect of asphyxiation.

In spite of this constitutional weakness, I’ve been able to lead a fairly normal life as long as no one around me springs a life-threatening leak. Surprisingly I’ve also managed to be a blood donor and found it’s quite a painless, fulfilling method of doing something for mankind and also lose a little weight in the bargain. The blood test and the blood-letting takes only about a half hour and I’ve found it’s quite easy to keep my eyes shut for that short time.


.

COUPONS: CLICKING vs CLIPPING

I once had a wonderful fantasy where I’m at the supermarket, my pockets bulging with valid discount coupons on a triple-coupon-credit day. As I roll into the check-out line, my cart overloaded with groceries, meats, desserts, soaps, soups and sundries, I hand over an inch-high stack of carefully clipped valid coupons.

The cashier begins to pass my purchases past the electric eye as it tallies the total cost and then proceeds to tripley deduct the amounts on my coupons. Glancing at the screen, she says, “Sir, it looks like we owe you $35.43. Do you have change for a fifty?

I had that fantasy about 40 years ago, and it still has some relevance. However, I wish that all of us, buyers and sellers, would have matured more in the interval, but discount clipping continues to mangle our newspapers and magazines. As a former journalist I resent the practice.

If this were a newspaper page instead of a blog, it might have been rendered unreadable by the removal of a coupon on the reverse side and the vitally important news of an incoming killer comet would have been rendered unreadable by the removal of a discount coupon for organic potato chips.

There are very good signs that digital coupons may save our newspapers from clipper-mangling. One shoppers’ website predicts digital coupon redemptions will top $90 billion in 2022. But clicking has not yet completely replaced clipping. This is especially true for us old fogies. Another site reports $476 billion in paper coupons were offered in 2019 and only $3.6 billion were redeemed. We seniors are not that quick on the clip anymore.

Unfortunately, with inflation on the rise, more and more shoppers will become clippers or clickers and coupons might begin to cover a wider range of products and services, beyond supermarkets, pizza stores and home improvements.

Just yesterday I spotted a 50 percent-off coupon for tattoos. It was printed on the forehead of a young fellow getting off a Harley Road King. I guess he’s got a lifetime deal.

THE (LAST) MINUTE MEN

‘Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the mall

frantic shoppers were stirring.

It resembled a brawl.

We members of the Yuletide Procrastination Society (YPS) hold our annual survival exercises on December 24 in malls across the nation where we push and jostle one another in good natured holiday camaraderie.

Merchants spend millions urging us to Christmas shop early. Brightly ornamented evergreens begin to spring up in the stores around Labor Day. But YPS members, the great tardy majority, continue to insist on those time-honored elements of excitement and panic which we feel are vital ingredients of a Christmas shopping adventure. We consider Black Friday to be a Little League contest and quite contrary to the holiday spirit.

To be a YPS member in good standing it is only necessary to delay the purchase of two or three critical presents until the last few hours or, for our championship medal, the last few minutes. Last year our Golden Sales Slip Award went to Josh Smedley of Staten Island whose overcoat was torn in half by Macy’s automatic doors as they closed late Christmas eve.

Successful last minute shopping is our goal. Therefore attendence at jolly Christmas eve office parties is frowned upon. These tend to deaden the instincts of the shopper and sometimes the entire Christmas bonus check must be used to finance a bail bond.

The typical male YPS shopper arrives at the mall in the evening of December 24. He wastes a half hour seeking a parking spot close to the entrance and eventually drives to the extreme edge of the lot which is just over the horizon, parks, and then if possible, Ubers back to the entrance.

Entering the mall he is immediately caught up in a stampede as loudspeakers announce a 10-minute special sale in a sporting goods store on the second level. Trapped in a human tsunami he’s swept up the escalator and loses his hat twice before he can fight his way back down. The second time it’s gift-wrapped before he retrieves it.

He approaches a dazed and disheveled mall security guard to get directions to an appropriate store for his first purchase. “I’m looking for something in a pale blue negligee,” he tells the guard.

“You’d better have her paged, Mister. You’ll never find her in this mob no matter how weirdly she’s dressed.”

The Victoria’s Secret store is packed with confused male shoppers gaping at the maniquins and realizing that Victoria has very few secrets. The lines are too long and he decides on a gift certificate instead, eliminating the inevitable exchange problems and fights his way to the toy department where Santa’s ho-ho’s are beginning to lose conviction as a terrified tot tugs at his beard.

Eureka! Standing there before him is the very bicycle he came to buy. It’s the right size, brand, model and color and only twice as much as he intended to pay.
“I’ll take it,” he shouts, collaring a salesman. “Don’t bother to wrap it. I’ll ride it to my car.”

But alas, he cannot have the floor model. Instead he’s given a 50-pound box containing an “easy-to-assemble” bike which he carries and drags to the exit, accidentally knocking down an old gentleman on the way. Turning to help him up, he sweeps a perfume counter clean with the box.

Eventually he finds the exit door, hoping it’s the same one he came through when he arrived. Now for the car. It’s parked about a quarter mile to the left. Or was that to the right?