HOME ALONE (or maybe not!)

It always gets worse this time of year with the long dark nights when I spend too much time watching scary TV dramas. It was much better back when the house was crowded with family, pets and visitors. Now I’m too often a home-alone guy. The trouble is I’m not completely sure that I am home alone

There are too many mysterious noises in the dead of winter. (I hate that expression. It’s probably a Hitchcock movie title.) Right now I’m certain I can hear one or two people crawling around in the back bedroom. Well, maybe not people, but something is crawling around in the back bedroom.

Ever since I was a boy I’ve been able to hear and even see things no one else can. It probably has something to do with my being almost completely Irish. My few Neanderthal genes could also be involved.

I’m not bragging. I’d much rather not be able to hear and see things no one else can. As I reached manhood and eventually fatherhood, I was sometimes asked to explain strange phenomena to a nervous wife and frightened children.

“That’s just the normal settling noises of the house cooling down at night,” I’d say. But down deep I’d be wondering who or what was dragging chains across the attic floor.

Sometimes they’d beg me to go up and check “just to be sure”. I’d try to laugh it off, but they would insist. “Well, if it would make you sissies feel better,” I’d say as I nonchalantly climbed the attic steps. But during one attic investigation a trespassing squirrel leaped out at me from behind my moth-eaten jogging suit and I completely lost it. The family was not convinced my blood-curdling scream was just a joke.

The things I “see” are not as clearly defined as the things I hear. For instance, there’s no question about the crunching sounds I heard last night in the cellar. I didn’t go down there but I’m sure they were in the washer-dryer area where a dozen of my socks have mysteriously disappeared.

My spooky sightings are less easily explained, being extremely brief peripheral glimpses of swift, shadowy UFO’s (Unexplained Frightening Objects). For example, an hour ago I had a micro-second peek of “something” that raced along the living room wall and disappeared behind the couch. It was quite long and possibly purple. It might have a large head or perhaps it was wearing a derby.

I had a dog, until recently. I hoped he’d keep me company and investigate the creepy stuff, but old “Shakey” heard twice as much as I did and was always growling at dark corners. He ran away last week as we were watching “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Maybe that’s him howling on the back porch now, but that’s not Shakey behind the couch. He’s small and mostly white and never wears a derby.

As I write this the ominous sounds increase. I hear whispering in the dark dining room, marching footsteps on the back porch and a moaning behind the couch. It has never been so……..

SECURITY NOTICE: This blog was posted one minute past midnight. The required password was not included and efforts to reach the author have been fruitless. A phone call to his official number was answered with maniacal giggling.


The following letter was sent to me by a gentleman of advanced age who wishes to remain anonymous. He asked me to publish it in my blog hoping the addressee will eventually receive it. I hope at least one of you out there knows the exact address. A retired elf, perhaps.

Dear Santa: Please forgive me for not writing in 58 years. You might remember in my last letter I asked for a pony and you brought me a cowboy suit instead. I forgave you for that long ago.

This is to thank you for the very big favor you did for me last Christmas Eve. I hope I didn’t complicate your busiest night of the year. That evening I’d had a quiet get-together with a few friends at a local coffee house to celebrate the holiday or “holy day” as it was once called.

Apparently the coffee was too strong since it affected my ability to concentrate and also to stand up straight. Emerging from the inn, I couldn’t remember what my car looked like, or even if I owned one. In any case, my condition ruled out driving, so I walked off through the falling snow in what I hoped was the general direction of my home.

Trudging down a wooded path I bumped into someone, a small boy, I thought, until I noticed his beard. He was wearing odd looking colorful clothes. Everything ended in points. I said, “Hello” and he answered, “Brixnitzl!” which I assumed, by his expression, was a plea for help with the big sack he was dragging through the snow. So I grabbed one corner and we pulled it down the path into a little grove.

That’s when I met you, Santa. I was sure it was you from the very first “Ho!” The reindeer, the sled and the elves clinched it and I realized I was having a close encounter of the Christmas kind. You thanked me for helping Johann retrieve the toys that had fallen off your sled and you asked why I was out walking in a snowstorm.

When I explained my predicament, you winked and said, “We’ll be glad to give you a lift, won’t we boys?” All the elves shouted “Brixnitzl!” which I knew by then was a friendly affirmative. However, I noticed the two lead reindeer (Dancer and Prancer?) were eyeing my bulk and wincing.

Santa, that was the most thrilling ride I ever had, flying over my home town in the hushed silence of a snowy Christmas Eve, broken only by an occasional “Ho, Ho, Ho!” and the huffing and puffing of the reindeer. I hope Prancer’s strain is healing.

I’m writing to thank you, but also because you’re only one of the two people certain to believe my story. Gene Newman promised to put this letter in his blog, hoping it will reach you through one of his many readers. (Well, he said he has many readers.)

I’m sure Gene believes my wonderful tale. He’s noted for his unbridled imagination. He believes equally and wholeheartedly in both you and the New York Mets.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Brixnitzl!

P.S.: About my 1964 letter. Please cancel that order.


About 2,000 years ago three royal visitors started something which has continued through the centuries. Some say it has gone too far.

Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar gave gifts to Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus who was sleeping in a manger. Saint Matthew tells us the visitors “offered” their gifts, but he doesn’t say they were accepted. Surely we can assume the young couple expressed gratitude and pleasure and sent the Wise Men away with warm feelings.

Some of us are so involved with giving at Christmas that we’re not very adept at being gracious receivers.

Next Christmas morning when you’re unwrapping a present from the love of your life, glance over at her or his face. Notice the look of anticipation, the nervous smile, the murmured “I hope you like it.”

While you’re fumbling with the ribbons and paper, think of what the giver went through: Making the decision; scrimping and saving; struggling through crowded stores and finding a place to hide this big box in a small apartment.

It’s your turn now. The gift is unwrapped. Maybe it’s something you never had the slightest wish to own. Let’s say, for an extreme example, it’s a moose head. You were hoping for an IPad. A Swiss Army knife or a N.Y. Mets jacket would have been fun, but instead there’s this scary moose head glaring up at you.

What do you do now? Your mouth is agape and your eyes are wide with astonishment. Quick ! Say something nice. She’s waiting ! You try shouting, “Holy cow, a moose head! Wait till the guys at the office hear about this!”

“I’m so glad you like it,” she says. “Remember how you studied the moose heads in the Maine lodge last summer? You said the moose is a noble animal. I got the idea then. It will be perfect for your den.”

You don’t remember what you said at the lodge. You do recall lounging around there and having a martini. You won’t have a den until Junior gets married and he’s in the sixth grade now. But still, think of what she went through to make you happy.

Her present is still unopened, but you’re sure it’s exactly the robe she’s been hinting at. You’d taken notes and memorized the ads she showed you. She will happily model it for you for a couple of hours on Christmas day, but then she’ll ask, “Does it come in any other colors?”

No matter. She will have a good time searching the shop for a suitable exchange. Maybe you can exchange the moose head for top grade fishing tackle.

Gift givers should avoid putting excessive strain on receivers. But there is still room for an imaginative approach. This year I’m giving each close friend a present that is both exotic and traditional. One that’s so closely related to Christmas, it will remind them of the joyous season throughout the year. I can hardly wait to see the looks on their faces when they open the gift boxes. “Holy smoke!” they’ll shout. “Imagine that! A two-pound jar of myrrh!”

I couldn’t afford gold and the shop was completely out of frankincense.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

The ad called for “People of good will and a Christmas spirit to join a caroling group, talent not important. I thought I’d fit right in.

But on the first rehearsal night when I was just warming up, they adjourned in mid-Tannenbaum and became evasive when I asked about the next meeting date. “Our plans are indefinite,” they said. “We might disband.”

“I don’t understand, ” I said. “Everyone was so enthusiastic and then we sing one carol and we might disband?” There was a lot of hemming and hawing about a city noise ordinance and then old Mrs. Higginbottom, our leader, asked me, “Would you classify yourself as a baritone, or a bass or, or …. what?”

“It varies, Mrs. Higginbottom. My voice teacher said I sometimes go from basso profundo to soprano on the same note.”

“You have a voice teacher? !”

“I did until her sudden early retirement, but what has that got to do with our disbanding?”

They all looked at Mrs. Higginbottom as she nervously twisted her tuning fork. “We find it difficult to work with your rather….er….unusual singing voice. Would you be interested in another part, like….like humming. We really could use a talented hummer.”

“Never could master that. Can’t whistle or play the kazoo either.”

I arrived ten minutes early at the next rehearsal, surprised to hear them in full swing. So I jumped right into the fa la la’s of “Deck the Halls” until I noticed I was singing a solo. I realized then the reason they’d stopped was that Mrs. Higginbottom had fainted and fallen into the piano. Another cancelled rehearsal and with Christmas just around the corner!

I received no more practice notices and began to think our little chorale was finished when I saw a tiny newspaper notice. The Higginbottom Carolers would be strolling that very night!

I caught up with them on Halsey Avenue singing “Good King Wenceslas” to smiling families standing on their front porches. I joined right in and at first thought we had a bass drum accompaniment, but soon realized the percussion sounds were caused by doors slamming. I was surprised to see when I looked around that Mrs. Higginbottom and the others were leaving, actually running down the road.

I decided to strike out alone, found a nice quiet neighborhood and began an emotional rendition of one of my favorite carols, “Silent Night”. I was just into the second chorus when I was interrupted by the arrival of several police cars.

I never found out what all the commotion was about with people running from their houses, dogs howling and policemen flashing lights around. Some said they’d heard the pitiful screams of a wounded animal. Others speculated it might have been a landscaper on a late leaf-blowing job or running his shredder, or both.

“Officer, you shouldn’t have used your siren. You frightened away whatever it was,” a woman complained.

“Ma’am, we didn’t use our sirens.”

“But I distincly heard a siren,” she replied. “In fact, I remember thinking it was off key.”


The most dangerous party is not the Communist Party. It is the office Christmas party. The Communist Party merely wants to rule the world, but the office Christmas party creates chaos, organizational upheaval, dyspepsia and, frequently, unemployment.

Last year’s Yuletide bash at the Whimsey Widget Company contained two typically volatile ingredients. First, there was the pretension of a democratic camaraderie in a group accustomed to a stringent caste system. When the second ingredient, alcohol, was added, the results were staggering.

Festivities began with a merry speech by Vice President Cuthbert Mainchance. In his rare appearances at the office, Mr. Mainchance usually acknowledges underling employees with a regal nod. But tonight he is a jolly elf calling out mostly inaccurate first-name greetings.

As the revelers smile politely at Mr. Mainchance’s feeble attempts at drollery, they reflect on his energetic rise to the top: how he had the forsight to befriend President Whimsey and the courage to marry his aging daughter. To say there is a warm feeling in breast of each employee for Mr. Mainchance would be an understatement. It is much warmer than warm. It resembles heartburn.

Mr. Mainchance does not now speak of boring business details. This is, after all, a holiday party and besides, he knows very little about the business and is not entirely sure what the company makes, but he knows, to the penny, what he makes.

He praises key employees like Simon Hartless, the office manager who he says “treats his staff like his own family.” Everyone nods agreement. Mr. Hartless’ family ran away several years ago.

There is also a polite bow to old Mr. Coote of accounting who has been with Whimsey Widgets longer than anyone can remember, including Mr. Coote.

Newcomers are welcomed and, Mr. Mainchance said, must be embraced into the bosom of the organization. The most recent hiree is young Miss Zowie, a stenographer. Two boys from the shipping department attempt to carry out the vice president’s order and are restrained by the security staff.

After yet another of the V.P.’s “in conclusions”, the audience gradually wanders off to the buffet table where there is a divided opinion on the quality. Some say it’s not as good as last year’s. Others maintain it’s comprised mostly of last year’s leftovers.

But the drinks are fresh and, according to Miss Zowie, so are the shipping department boys. She has locked herself in the ladies room. After his third Manhattan, Mr. Coote, who hardly ever speaks to anyone, is loudly muttering about a planned Caribbean trip just before the next audit.

Miss Zowie has accidentally set off the burglar alarm while climbing out the ladies room window. A police squad has burst into the building and is slipping and sliding on outdated hors d’ouevres. Cuthbert Mainchance, resenting the intrusion, stares down the intruders and turns once more to the few remaining bleary-eyed employees. He begins: “And in conclusion…..”


This generation often expects too much accuracy from its Dad’s and Grandad’s yarns, especially from those of us with exaggerated memories of our youthful athletic episodes. Very often our tales are not perfectly true accounts of what happened, but what we storytellers believe should have happened.

Why not just let us ramble on with our edited versions of our “Golden Moments” like hitting the game-winning homer (If it hadn’t been thwarted by the umpire’s questionable shout of “Foul ball”!}

My “Winning touchdown account” is mostly accurate. I’m quite sure my left tackle’s block cleared the path to the goal line for our victorious ball carrier. All of that is true, but, admittedly, my account lacks complete details.

As the clock ticked off the tie game’s final seconds, I was hoping to stop one of the charging opponents between my galloping fullback and the goal line. But then I tripped on a loose shoelace and became a horizontal projectile. Three bulking enemy linemen stumbled and fell over me as the ball carrier zipped by and was later carried off the field as a conquering hero.

I was also carried off the field, semi-conscious and with a lot of footprints on the back of my jersey. The old “Gridirony” poem tells the story: “The lowly, hardworking tackle….rarely gets the glory that the fullback’ll.”

My embellished accounts can’t easily be challenged now because most of my old teammates are either living in Florida nursing homes or playing in the Pearly
Gates League.


Browsing through an old diary this week, I was reminded of the extremely troublesome learning experience I endured with my fellow office workers in the 1980’s. We did not all survive.

One black day, a Ms. Grindstone from company headquarters arrived to train us on the shiny new personal computers and other strange contraptions which Mr. Trubble, our office manager, had installed on our desks.

Ms. Grindstone was a rather tall, gangling, middle-aged woman with bleached hair. I could tell it was bleached because her mustache was slightly darker.

“Personal computers are amazingly simple,” she began and then launched into a rapid-fire lecture peppered with obscurities like Fortran, microchips, data banks, ROM, RAM and megabytes. We listened with mouths agape.

After two mind-boggling hours, Ms. Grindstone conceded, “You were probably unable to absorb every bit of the material, but it’s all there in your instruction books.” Then she left. Joe Duffy in the shipping department claimed it was on a broomstick off the loading dock.

I could tell Ms. Grindstone had followed the instruction book faithfully because her presentation and the book were equally incomprehensible. We were not comforted by the claim in the opening chapter that our computers were “user friendly”.

I soon started entering a routine engineering project report I’d always been able to type in two hours including a coffee break. Two days later I had an almost intelligible document on the screen. But how would I get it printed?

With the help of fellow workers I was able to decipher the instruction book’s 22-step process. I made the final button push at around 3 p.m. and was happy to see my words appearing on the emerging pages. It was almost 5 p.m. when we managed to stop the printer. By then I was standing ankle-deep in copies.

The very next day, old Mr. Hubschman in Personnel, lost touch with reality and threw his stapler into the computer screen, shouting, “It was you or me CRT!” He continued to shout that as they led him out to the ambulance.

A few days later Mrs. Whitney in Billing also slipped into the loony mode after leaving a floppy disk too close to her telephone. Her six-day project was erased. They found her with her arms around the disk drive, weeping uncontrollably. The diagnosis was acute cyberphobia.

The situation became critical. Absenteeism soared and morale plummeted. The usual flood of reports and forecasts had been reduced to a mostly garbled trickle. One statement on budgets consisted mostly of asterisks and question marks. A 650-word analysis of planned projects was completely unintelligible because the computer insisted on having it all printed on one line.

Management called an emergency meeting. A vice president began by suggesting we get Ms. Grindstone back. This was met with a loud, raucous and rather profane response. “We can’t go back to the old ways,” he pleaded. “We’ll be left in the dust!”

It was Ms. Brock, head of the steno section, who saved the day with a suggestion that made sense to every oldtimer and most of the newtimers in the audience. It was immediately adopted by an overwhelming vote.

The following week, the company hired about 50 part-timers who happened to be the teen-aged children and grandchildren of employees. These “consultants” left their lawn mowing and baby-sitting jobs to sit beside their parents and grandparents to teach them the facts of computer life. And we worked happily ever aft9@. Well, almost.


I’m sure Medicare covers brain surgery, but I don’t want to submit to it until I’m convinced there is a proven surgical procedure to correct what I call “Trapdooritus” (TDI).

I’ve suffered with this affliction for many years. According to Google’s med sources, it might be based in the cerebellum section of my brain where a faulty trapdoor-like gray matter section springs open to immediately leak out important information that I am receiving. The only evidence I have of this is the loud “KLONK” sound I hear when I’m supposed to be memorizing someone’s recitation of important information.

I once greeted a new neighbor when I met him on our street and said, “Welcome to the neighborhood. My name’s Gene.” He smiled, we shook hands, and he said, “Glad to meet you, Gene. My name’s (KLONK).”

(I can forget a name or any other important item in an instant, or even in half an instant. ) “I didn’t quite catch your name,” I said.

He smiled and repeated his name. “(KLONK)”. It must have been an unusual name, because he spelled it. ” (KLONK-KLONK-KLONK-KLONK)”.

I got up early the next morning, peeked in his curbside mailbox and quickly wrote down his name inside my jacket where I could retrieve it quickly. That afternoon there was an unfortunate incident when I introduced him to another neighbor as “Londonfog”.

Taking verbal directions is almost impossible for TDI victims. I’ve driven several GPS robots to the brink of cyber crashes and may have altered the paths of their orbiting satellites. My best bet is getting directions the old-fashioned way, but it’s still a big gamble.

One morning I pulled up to the curb in Manhattan and leaned out to ask a policeman directions to an uptown office building. He began to politely and precisely recite the “simple” route.

“You’re really almost there,” he said. Just drive down (KLONK) street and get on the (KLONK) Drive. Follow that north to the (KLONK) Avenue exit and take that (KLONK) and a half miles east until you come to a big (KLONK). Turn (KLONK) there onto (KLONK) Plaza and you’ll soon see the building on your (KLONK). You can’t miss it.”

I thanked him and hoped I was headed in the right direction when I drove off. Late that afternoon I was rescued by forest rangers in deep woods just north of Yonkers.

A Brief History of Ice Cream

Ice cream has been on the world’s menu in one form or another for almost 2,500 years. It would have been enjoyed even earlier if one important ingredient was easier to come by.

That would be ice. Ancient Romans had to send swift runners up into the Apennines to fetch snow and ice for the dessert that crowned their feasts.

In the second century A.D., Persians were freezing water overnight in the desert and running the ice back into their downtown ice cream parlors at dawn.

One would think the Eskimos, with their year-round ready supply of ice, would have led the way, but then there were less added ingredients available that far north. A walrus-flavored sundae doesn’t sound inviting.

Marco Polo is credited with bringing the ice cream recipe to Italy on his return from the Orient around 1300 A.D., perhaps from the kitchens of the Kublai Khan. Marco had scooped all the European chefs, but he didn’t have a copyright, so the frozen delicacy was soon on nearly every menu in the continent.

By around 1600 A.D. someone, perhaps an ice cream chef, found that adding salt to the surrounding ice, speeded up the process of freezing the ingredients and it became easier to create ice cream faster than it was being consumed. Well, almost.

Around then, some chefs were turning out a more sumptuous tutti-frutti than the others. That was probably the case in the court of King Charles I of England. Legend has it that Charles tried to surpress the “Royal Snow” recipe to limit its availability to his court and the peerage.

Charles I was beheaded in 1649, but that was more likely due to his lost battles with Oliver Cromwell than his efforts to deprive his subjects of the wonderful frozen dessert.

His son, Charles II, is mentioned in the Ice Cream Annals as an enthusiastic lover of the creamy dish. It graced the menu of his 1671 Feast of Saint George Dinner at Windsor Castle.

Government records indicate President George Washington spent $200 on ice cream in the summer of 1790. The purchasing power of that $200 would be more than $6,000 today. Of course Washington was dishing out most of those scoops to the many guests at his Presidential dinners.

I estimate I spent about $150 on ice cream during all four seasons of 1959. The present day purchasing power of that sum would be about $1,500 now. It was worth every penny.


Sleep is mankind’s most important pastime. (You can’t call it an activity unless you’re a very restless sleeper or a somnambulist) We spend about one third of our lives in sleep. If we could do it all from our personal Day One, an average human would sleep until his or her 22nd birthday and then continue busily, without closing an eye, for the next 44 years.

Of course, we’re not built that way. It’s essential that we conk out at regular short intervals to maintain an acceptable level of well-being and to keep from walking into things and nodding into our dinners.

Sleep shoud be a welcome retreat from the hectic pace that our society sets. But man, the only animal capable of pessimism, has invented insomnia so he can have more time to worry about something or other.

Insomnia is not all that bad. Many of us would never do any real deep thinking or experience beautiful sunrises if it were not for insomnia. And there are those making a nice living off other people’s wakefulness.

Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon might never have achieved popularity and could have ended up selling vacuum cleaners door to door if it weren’t for the sleepless millions in their TV audiences who wanted to be entertained while awaiting unconsciousness.

Human nature is such that we need nap times, coffee breaks, lunch hours, seventh-inning stretches, intermissions, weekends and vacations. Most of us are not equipped for the 26.2 mile marathon. We’re more suited for 50 or 100-yard dashes followed by recovery periods and perhaps, cocktails.

Ovid called sleep, “The most gentle of divinities”. Shakespeare personified it as “Nature’s soft nurse”. I agree with both of them. I’ve always stood in awe of divinities and have never been known to have uttered a harsh word against soft nurses.