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.


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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?


THE TRICKY BOTTOM LINE

I once brought my eyeglasses prescription to a “Vision Center” after reading their ad about a $99.00 sale. “That sale price applies to a very limited selection of frames and doesn’t include bifocals or scratch-resistant coating . Didn’t you read the fine print?” the clerk asked.

If I could have read the fine print I wouldn’t need new glasses,” I said. “I thought those tiny black marks at the bottom were some sort of decoration.”

Fine print is a widely used deceptive merchandising tool that counts on the consumer’s reluctance to squint through paragraphs of tiny lettering to discover disclaimers, provisos and warnings. I heard the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s legal under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Or is that freewheeling speech?

One of the worst examples is the television ad for new cars which includes a dozen lines of fine print flashing on the screen for five seconds following the loud and large printed promises of the sale. Does the Supreme Court expect us to record that ad, freeze frame it and, using a magnifying glass, find out the numerous exceptions to the offer? This must be “do-it-yourself full disclosure.”

There is the story of the movie theater ad, probably apocryphal, that announced senior citizens, 65 years and older, would be admitted free to all matinees. The fine print qualification added, however, “When accompanied by their parents.” If their parents were available and still ambulatory, they would have had to pay full price. A neat ploy.

I recently had a tree company repair storm damage in my backyard. The crew did a great job at a reasonable price, but one line in their contract was a little strange and might have eluded speed readers. “We reserve the right to dishonor any contract at any time.” This was not in fine print and I noticed it immediately. Beneath that line I wrote in tiny letters, “Me too” and signed it.


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)