WHO GOES THERE, FRIEND OR FIEND?

Once when I was a lot younger and a little more daring, I decided to go to a local Halloween party as Frankenstein’s monster. I worked up an imaginative combination of homemade makeup and props which turned out to be a little too frightening.

I scared the bejeebers out of the babysitter when I greeted her at the door and I shouldn’t have gone in to say goodnight to the kids before we left. My wife, dressed as the fairy queen, managed to calm them down.

Driving to the party I wondered what kind of a reaction I would get if a cop pulled me over for creeping over the speed limit. I could have told him I was racing to the emergency room which would have been convincing with my pale green complexion and fake bloody scars. But what if he insisted on calling ahead and leading the way with siren blaring and roof lights flashing? Who knows, I might have ended up in the morgue, despite my protests. I maintained a steady 25 miles per hour.

I thought my realistic monster getup would make me a contender in the party’s costume contest, but I didn’t even get horrible mention. A pretty young woman wearing a huge papier-mache pumpkin to hide her delicate condition took the prize. The judges said her costume was a “pregnant idea”. They didn’t even compliment me on the painful “bolts” (curtain rod ends) sticking out of my neck.

There were rude comments from “friends” at the party, like “Hello, Gene. How come you didn’t come in a costume?” and the tipsy wise guy who kept following me around the dance floor shouting “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Boris Karloff would have taken care of him with one swipe.

The final blow was at the diner where we went for coffee after the party, when Monica, our usual waitress, remarked. “Oh, I see you took my advice about plastic surgery. Congratulations, it’s quite an improvement.” She got the minimum tip.

THE FALL FOLIAGE FALLOUT

We often refer to autumn as “the fall”. That’s probably because tons of leaves suddenly decide to drop out of the trees in this season. This is one law of nature that should be repealed. It would be much more efficient if all those colorful leaves went into hibernation in November and hung on until next spring when they’d turn green again. We’ve got to figure a way to reduce the headaches and backaches of the fall foliage fallout.

Mankind has been working on the problem for centuries. A long time ago, probably during the Bronze Age, an overworked leaf remover, exhausted from dealing with one handful at a time, imagined an enlarged version of his hand with five times as many fingers and invented the rake. This ingenious tool significantly increased the leisure time of the working man which he could then devote to the arts, science and the waging of war against his neighbors.

Since then, other devices promising leaf relief have become available. The rotating lawn sweeper, the lawn vacuum and the mulching mower have been partially successful but a great deal of human muscle power is still required. Then of course there is the notorious leaf blower whose high- pitched screeching has ruined entire afternoons for porch dwellers and hammock snoozers.

What about folivores, the leaf eating insects and animals that might be able to take over the job completely? Their diet usually consists of live leaves but maybe recently deceased leaves could be made more appetizing with a sprinkling of sugar or a spray of honey mustard salad dressing.

The job would require a high-capacity folivore and one qualified contender would be the South American howling monkey. Ah, but there’s the rub. The howling monkey’s mating call can be heard three miles away, which makes it much louder than a leaf blower. But our monkey cousins are quite intelligent and trainable. Perhaps we could eliminate the primeval mating calls by teaching them to use cell phones.

BATHLESS AND GUILTLESS

I raised a few eyebrows when talking with friends recently when I said, “I haven’t taken a bath in over 50 years.” I quickly explained I’ve been a shower guy since my Air Force days when showers were the only means available to wash off the day’s grime and sweat. I can’t imagine what it would be like having no showers and only two or three bathtubs in a barracks with 60 G.I.’s lined up each night hoping there are no long-soakers ahead of them.

For non-barracks dwellers, however, the baths vs shower debate is yet another issue that divides Americans. The environmentally conscious on both sides cite published statistics. The Department of Energy advises the average shower uses 12 gallons of hot water while the average bath uses only 9. The DoC therefore recommends baths to conserve energy, but doesn’t say how much cold water is usually mixed in with the hot. For instance a Hollywood movie queen’s bubble bath scene would certainly require many gallons to provide a G-rated bubble level.

Besides showers and baths there are other ways to get washed up. Some are ancient and not entirely pleasant. I had my one and only sauna experience years ago when an editor sent me to cover the grand opening of a sauna center. I found myself trapped in a wooden box making small talk with a couple of other men while we watched the mercury creep up to 190 degrees. I wanted to take notes, but my plastic pen had melted.

If we had been in ancient Finland where saunas were invented, we’d have been sitting in an earthen pit with a pile of wet, steaming rocks. Just before we collapsed we’d have climbed out and rolled in a snowbank to cool off. The sauna center was in midtown and we guys were naked so we didn’t go snowbank rolling.

There are other types of baths – hot springs, steam and dry heat. Some of those bathers end the procedures by beating themselves with small branches or reeds to promote circulation. The more rugged might use Brillo.

I think I’ll always be a shower guy. A shower is refreshing, it’s quick and it’s simple. However, I do miss my rubber ducky.

CASTING CALL

Imagine this. You’re strolling through the Manhattan theater district sightseeing and hoping to spot a celebrity when suddenly a stage door flies open and a man with a desperate look in his eyes rushes out, grabs your arm and shouts, “Are you an actor?” What would you reply?

This actually happened to my son Steven. He told me he said to the desperate man, “No, sorry, I’m not an actor.” I was appalled when he told me this. Steven hires actors and directs them in TV commercials. That should have been close enough.

“You could have ended up with a leading lady in your arms,” I scolded. “Or maybe been one of the Twelve Angry Men, and don’t forget, you’re a true Jersey Boy.” Steven explained he was just out for a quick lunch on a busy day and it wouldn’t have been fair if he didn’t hurry back to work.

Whenever I’m in Manhattan now, I make it a point to stroll through the theater district, but so far, after nine or ten strolls, not one desperate director who’s one actor short of a complete cast, has run out and grabbed my arm.

If that ever happens I’m going to reply, “Why yes, I am an actor. I once starred in an off-off Broadway play” and hope he’s so desperate he won’t press for details and I’d be on the Broadway stage for one memorable afternoon and hopefully retire without serious injury.

My acting career began about 80 years ago when I had the title role in “The Big Bad Wolf” staged by our 4th grade troupe. My dying scene in Act 3 was quite moving according to one critic who happened to be my mother.

Perhaps I wasn’t that much of a hit because the following year in our musical about health foods I was cast as spinach. I had no lines and was barely visible beneath the green crepe paper.

I’ll probably never be put in the path of a desperate Broadway director. What might happen is I’ll walk through the theater district and into Restaurant Row where a panicky maitre’d will run out and shout, “Are you a dishwasher?” Actually I’ve had quite a lot of professional experience as a dishwasher. I wonder what the pay scale is now.

MOVING MOVIES

Some Hollywood films can cause difficulties for the impressionable. We all like movies that are inspirational, exciting, funny or even sad as long as they end happily, but for normal people the effects don’t last much beyond the exit lobby. Unfortunately, a lot of us are not completely normal.

I noticed a long time ago while leaving a John Wayne movie I tilted to the right a little as I walked out and I spoke haltingly for a day or two and in a deeper voice.

“Good Will Hunting” reminded me I was once a math-challenged engineer. It got me to bone up on long division and fractions, but before I got to improve my algebra I went to see “The Karate Kid” and went off on another tack and seriously bruised my right hand trying to chop through a one-inch board. It would have been worse if I hadn’t started with balsa wood.

I had to laugh at the panic created by the movie “Jaws”. I thought it was a silly overreaction. I’m not that impressionable. I didn’t cut back on my frequent trips to the Jersey Shore and just took the simple precaution of avoiding the beach and staying on the boardwalk. There have been no verified shark attacks on boardwalks. I checked on that.

Disease movies were once the rage. Most people treated them as interesting science fiction about whole populations in danger of fatal infection. It was different with me. A few minutes into the film I would begin to experience the symptoms the actors were displaying. It didn’t matter if it was a made-up disease created by a screenwriter. There was the Dustin Hoffman movie “Outbreak” about a fictitious airborne virus with a 100 percent fatality rate. As I sat nervously chewing my Milk Duds I could feel my temperature rising and my inner organs beginning to liquefy . I was losing patience as “Doctor” Dustin was losing patients. (“Cure them for crying out loud. I”m feeling lousy!”) I went home, took an aspirin and two Tums and was completely saved . I never watch that movie on TV, afraid I might have a relapse.

The movie that had the most effect on me was “Field of Dreams”. I swallowed it whole, especially the mysterious message, “If you build it, they will come.” I didn’t have room for a baseball field in my backyard so I built a bocce court just to see what would happen. Sure enough, in a few days, eight old Italian men showed up and began to play bocce ball from dawn to dusk. I didn’t know if they were phantoms of legendary bocce ball players from the past or not. (What do I know about legendary bocce ball players? ) Eventually my neighbors complained about the loud arguments in Italian and I had to call the police. The phantoms (or whoever) were cited for disturbing the peace and I took down the court. There were several empty Chianti bottles out there. Do phantoms drink wine?


SOME PUNCH LINES

The art of pugilism was much more popular in the old days. Now with judo, karate, kung fu and taekwando, it’s lost its punch. Prize fighting is okay, but it’s full of rules and regulations and the referee gets in the way too much. If you want to see a real fist fight these days you have to go to a hockey game.

Hollywood still gives us the phony movie brawls which are quite misleading when it comes to showing the consequences of a slug fest. We kids cheered for Hopalong Cassidy as he duked it out with a half dozen bad hombres in the Last Chance Saloon. We’d shout encouragement and warnings and throw phantom punches during the melee where chairs, bottles and spittoons were weapons of choice. In the background were the shrieking dance hall girls and the piano player who continued his set while ducking an occasional airborne beer glass.

There might have been a couple of knockouts in the choreographed fights but, miraculously, no wounds, fractures or lost teeth. All combatants exited briskly through the debris rubbing their chins and brushing off the barroom sawdust. Hopalong never even lost his ten gallon hat.

There are websites now that give pointers on what to do if you’re faced with the possibility of a real fist fight, but there is so much information on how to survive, I hope if I’m ever confronted by an aggressor he’ll give me a few minutes for review.

I like Rule One best. We’re advised to try to avoid the fight altogether by talking our way out of it or dashing to the nearest exit. If that doesn’t work and we’re being overwhelmed by an oversized attacker, we’re told it’s okay to fight dirty or call in a few friends for help. I can manage the dirty fighting, but making a cellphone call while I’m being slugged sounds too difficult.

I’ve never been inspired to have a colorful pugilistic career. I’m afraid the colors would be black and blue with a dash of red.

THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD

The starting date for most diets is “tomorrow”. For the more stringent programs that require a severely diminished calorie intake and vigorous exercise, the typical starting date is “one of these days”.

In spite of this procrastination, we Americans pour $72 billion each year into the cash registers of weight-loss enterprises because 7 out of 10 of us are overweight or obese. We are keeping a lot of weight-loss employees well fed.

Have you become one of us, the portly 70 percent? You might be if the print- out on your digital scale reads “One at a time please” or if people see you taking up most of the elevator space and say, “Never mind. We’ll catch the next one.” Do ferryboat captains insist that you sit amidships?

State-by-state statistics are revealing. Mississippi is the heaviest state with 67 percent of its adults overweight or obese. Colorado ranks the leanest with 55 percent in that category and New Jersey is in between those two with 60 percent and is slimmer than 41 other states. Colorado’s ranking should have a foot note. I would think that high up in the Rockies, gravity has less pull. That’s why I always weigh myself in the attic.

This corpulence epidemic is global. Weight-loss businesses around the world are counting on a $279 billion take early in the next decade, something like a 65 percent improvement in their bottom lines based on a continued enlargement of our bottom lines.

Has every branch of the scientific community studied this trend? Could the increasing weight of the earth’s inhabitants eventually alter it’s tilt and its orbit and thereby its climate? Perhaps we don’t have to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Maybe we can solve the problem of global warming by outlawing supreme pizzas and multi-tiered hamburgers and granting tax cuts to the salad industry.