Two out of three American households include at least one adopted dog or cat. There are plenty to go around, 77 million dogs and 58 million cats according to the latest survey. And that’s not to mention gerbils, ferrets, hamsters and various other mammals plus birds, fish and reptiles. I believe though, if we begin to rank our pets according to popularity, we’ll find we have reigning cats and dogs.

Why do we take in these unemployed, non-paying, high maintenance boarders? It could be an altruistic urge for some to help another needy earthling, but there are also benefits for the hosts. Stroking a pet can lower the blood pressure of the stroker as well as the strokee and taking a dog for his daily walks can burn fatty calories and tone up muscles, a completely beneficial result provided, of course, that yours is not an overactive dog and there are no squirrel pursuits involving sprints and fence-climbing.

Some henpecked husbands keep pets so they won’t be the lowest form of animal life in their home. That doesn’t work with cats who will never admit to being lower on the animal kingdom scale than a mere human.

Another possible motive for having a pet is the opportunity for communication that’s free of controversy and rebuttal, not the kind of humiliating debates that Ziggy of the comics always loses to members of his menagerie.

You can tell your worries to a dachsund or your multi-gendered beagle/bull/whatever and, if you happen to be scratching his or her belly at the time, you’ll get complete attention and sympathy, without a contradictory bark or growl as you recite your plans for rescuing the country from ruin or guaranteeing the World Series chances of the Mets or Yanks. It all sounds plausible and workable for Fido or Tabby. Just keep scratching.

I once had a large aquarium next to my desk. I fed the fish daily without fail and we got along fine. Eventually I realized whenever I typed my newspaper column, six or seven fish swam over to watch and seemed to be reading my copy. If I recited a line out loud, I imagined they were reacting and I began rating their approval based on their bubble output. Finally, I had to resettle the fish and get rid of the aquarium. I was on my way to becoming either unbalanced or the Seahorse Whisperer.


Which party now causes the most angst in this country? Is it the Democratic or Republican Party? What about the Communist Party? No, it’s the kid’s birthday party.

What used to be a simple funfest in a livingroom or backyard has become an expensive production requiring professional managers and the rental of bowling alleys, waterslide parks and , who knows, maybe even Yankee Stadium when the team is on the road.

Clowns, magicians, jugglers and balloon twisters are the typical jolly staff members. Liveguards and medics are on hand for the more athletic extravaganzas. The simplest 10-kid celebration with only a few tame games, cupcakes, temporary tattoos and a time limit can cost Dad a a week’s pay. And what about that time limit? Do the party boy and his guests get tossed out into the parking lot when the Chief Clown shouts “Time!” into his bejeweled bullhorn?

In the old days, Mom just baked a cake and provided enough candy and ice cream for the average young guest to get an upset stomach.

I remember one party in my youth when we played the old favorite “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”. One at a time we were given a paper tail with a thumbtack, blindfolded, spun around, and sent off to attach the tail to a donkey picture on the wall. The closest hit to the donkey’s rump brought on a prize, maybe a shiny kazoo or a kewpie doll. The losers got to laugh at the widespread array of donkey tails tacked to the walls and furniture. I remember four-year old Henry had to be rescued that day when he almost had a tail tacked to his rompers.

Later, Dad was the DJ, running the Victrola for the “Musical Chairs” game where eight kids marched to a Bing Crosby song around seven chairs. When Dad lifted the needle, they rushed to be seated leaving one marcher stranded or maybe sitting on someone’s lap. If it was a girl on a boy’s lap, it was even more fun.

When it got down to two marchers and one chair, it could get rough, especially with two boys. There was, after all, a neato kazoo at stake.

I was “it” for the “Blind Man’s Bluff” game. Blindfolded and spun around again, but without a tail or thumbtack, I had to roam the room, shout “Freeze!” to stop everyone in their tracks, grab an arm and, hopefully, I.D. the captive who would be the next Blind Bluffer if I was right.

Little Henry wasn’t an available target. He’d had enough and was hiding under the sofa, poor kid. By the time he was ten, Henry was an expert Pin the Tail on the Donkey player and a virtuoso on the kazoo.


Almost all 7 billion of us earthlings dream from time to time. I think it’s actually all of us, but some are too shy to talk about their dreams or perhaps they feel unnecesssarily guilty about them.

Some dreams are so embarrassing we hesitate to discuss them even with our closest friends. And, after all, listening to the long narrative of a weird dream or nightmare can be crushingly boring anyway. However, if we’re attentive and think about the recited details, we might begin to understand the complex workings of the dream world. I’ve started doing that now and I’m getting a strange notion about what’s going on.

There might be a Dream Control Center someplace, a mysterious phantasy headquarters, producing these episodes and even assigning casts. That dream you had last night might not have been your own private show. It might have been an Interhead production of Dream Central.

About the casting. We’re not usually alone during these phantasies. Sometimes we have a co-star or two and often the scenes are full of extras. For instance, there’s the student crowd you have to push through when you’re running to your old high school home room, expecting you’ll fail the biology final if you can’t get to the text book for a quick review. Do some of those kids look just as worried as you? Could at least one of them be having the same dream and also be turning and tossing on his or her bed hundreds of miles away?

You could use Facebook to test this theory. If you dream some night you’re with a group of strangers helplessly lost in downtown Manhattan (One of my regular dream plots), mention that in a Facebook post and describe a few of your fellow wanderers and see who responds. Don’t get upset if it’s a psychiatrist.

On a more personal level, you might dream of a friend that you encountered carousing with a pretty girl on Dream Street in Greenwich Village while singing a vulgar song. You could mention this to him in a diplomatic way the next day and, if he doesn’t laugh it off, but gets very angry, you’ll have a definite clue and the bloody nose will be worth it.


A chemical company claims it has created the world’s worst tasting concoction. Their non-toxic mixture, they say, is guaranteed to discourage horses from chewing on their wooden stalls.

While their vile brew may be effective in keeping Dobbin from devouring his living room, that’s a very audacious boast about it having the most uninviting flavor on the planet.

First of all, how many stables have they rendered inedible and how many horses have they interviewed? Also, some scientific outfit must have, by now, invented a way to measure the degree of untastiness of food products and medicines. We all have our own personally nominated candidates for this shameful championship, the one we believe has achieved the highest Yuk Factor.

Mine would be Milk of Magnesia which I first gagged on at the age of five when there were no mint or cherry flavored versions. I got it neat, undiluted and without a chaser. I didn’t feel that unwell at the time, but my mother decided I needed medication. “This will make you feel better,” she said. “It’s Milk of Magnesia.”

I was a great fan of milk back then so I fell for it and opened wide as the big spoon approached. “Aaaagh!” If this is milk, I thought, it must have come from a very sick cow or maybe even a dead one, and who would name a cow Magnesia anyway? I noticed that the ugly blue bottle had a warning: “Keep out of reach of children” and I understood the logic. The first chance I got I tossed it into the trash can.

Mom used the get-it-over-quick dosing method. Today there are more scientific approaches. One website explains most of our taste buds are in the front and sides of our tongues, so foul-tasting medicines should be introduced toward the rear of the tongue, but forward of the gagging line. Holding the subject’s nose helps since 80 percent of our “taste” is actually smell. Also, clamping the nose encourages the victim to keep his mouth open if he wants to continue breathing.

“There’s no accounting for taste” is an accurate statement. There are people who are nauseated by a single sip of sour milk who, on the other hand, are entusiastic eaters of bleu cheese, sour pickles, sour cream and saurkraut. Then there’s the “If it tastes bad it must be good for us” school of thought also known as the “Broccoli Principle” I don’t agree. Any food that makes us queasy or unhappy cannot be beneficial.

My second-place nominee for the Yuk Factor Award is liver. Over the years I’ve given liver a dozen chances and was repulsed each time. A liver lover will say, “Oh, you probably didn’t have it prepared properly. It has to be gently sauteed.” But the results are always yukable. It continues to taste like an organ removed from a very sick cow named Magnesia.


When the lockdown ends many of us will have to plan on losing the pounds gained during our involuntary confinement. Working diligently we can eventually go from being hippy to being happy. It’s a matter of simple arithmetic. We have to burn more calories than we consume.

Don’t be discouraged. It’s not that difficult. You’re using about 20 calories just reading this. However, if you happen to be eating a 280-calorie Snickers bar, your positive calorie balance and your physical bottom line will both be enlarged.

By keeping close track you can make sure the burn is greater than the swallow. I once read about a local diet club that traveled to California to attend an all-you-can-eat dessert festival. Before returning to New Jersey they climbed 14,000-foot Mount Shasta and just about broke even calorie-wise, but they had to deal with frostbite, a terrifying near-miss avalanche, minor injuries and exhaustion. They said it was well worth it and planned to attend the festival the following year with a hired Sherpa guide.

Your program doesn’t have to be that drastic. On a smaller scale you can reduce the damage of an eating splurge with sensible exercise. For instance, if you’re ingesting a Double Whopper with cheese (994 calories) while running at 8 mph, you will burn those intake calories during a one-hour jog. Cardiologist approval is recommended and it’s best to run on a circular path or you’ll end up eight miles from home and be wiped out..

If you’re overweight the calorie burn rate is higher for the same run. An extra 20 pounds can give you a 20 percent benefit, but it would be counter productive to increase your blubber. A more flexible plan would be to carry the added weight in a backpack. Then, after the first mile or two when you decide the bowling ball was a bad idea, you can unload it. Small dog owners can be even more flexible. If Fido gets restless in the backpack, the leashed dog can join in the run until he gets tired and needs to be carried again. Be warned: The Fido method can result in interruptions with tree and hydrant encounters and speed bursts during squirrel sightings.

Exercise machines work for some. A friend bought one that was called the Brawny Bicep Buildup Bench. He burned 500 extra calories the very first day, 250 lugging it home from the store and another 250 returning it after his wife caught him taking a nap on the bench.

Then there are those who take exercise seriously enough to invest big money in fitness club memberships. But did you ever notice in the parking lots of these clubs, most members park as close as possible to the entrance to avoid a long walk? Well, maybe some of them are carrying bowling balls or small dogs.


When I was very young I sometimes thought about becoming an artist in case my major dream of cowboyhood didn’t work out. But after my frightening, violent exit off a bouncing pony and my failing finger painting grades in kindergarten, I began to think of more reachable goals like plumber’s helper and crossing guard.

Years later I experienced a life-changing moment at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. I went at the suggestion of my wife who has a more liberal and forgiving view of modern artists than me. My growing suspicion that day as I toured the galleries was that somehow my failing finger paintings had been found at the town dump and were being used in tutorials for modern artists. Or could Miss Grumble, my kindergarten teacher, have anticipated this weird trend and stashed away the worst efforts of her students, hoping some day to cash in?

While grimacing at the expensively framed blotches, drips and random lines besmirching the walls of a large display room, a realistic metallic sculpture caught my eye, but there was no title or artist’s name indicated. I said to a gallery attendant, “This is the very best hanging in the room. Why isn’t there a title and who is the gifted sculptor?”

“Sir,” he replied, “that isn’t part of the exhibit. That’s a fire extinguisher. There’s one in every gallery room to protect these priceless art works.”

Priceless? I did some research later. One of Mark Rothko’s two-color paintings sold for $87 million. Jackson Pollock and Picasso paintings went for well over $100 million each and someone paid $300 million for an “abstract landscape” by Willem de Kooning. I realized then there was room in the art world for me. I took a few online lessons and started painting.

It became apparent on the very first day that I was a fast learner of this genre’s techniques. In just one hour I was turning out dripping paintings very similar (and perhaps superior) to Jackson Pollock’s. Around that time my wife came down and spread a tarp on the floor of my “studio” opposite our furnace and across from the sump pump.

By noon I’d created two exact Rothko copies. One was just solid dark red. The other, a slightly complicated work, was half mushy orange and half mushy yellow. I had to keep in mind which color was at the top. Of course, if I made a mistake, I could rotate the canvas.

After lunch I began my version of a de Kooning painting, based on the salient features of several of his works. It was more difficult and took me almost an hour. I entitled it “Interior View of an Explosion at a Furniture Factory”. Shattered armoire remnants and splintered settee sections were the main ingredients.

My Picasso copies weren’t that difficult. Working on the portraits I just had to remember to paint both eyes on either the left or the right side of the nose depending on the emotional or intellectual message I was trying to convey.

I hope the Stone Age artists, creators of those wonderful, understandable 20,000-year old cave paintings, don’t see what’s going on today.

view of an on


Instead of watching TV reruns and reading boring novels during this Pandemic Lockdown, I wish I could spend a few delightful hours again interacting with Miss Molly, my late, lamented Shih-Tzu dog.

I like to think we were good friends. At least Molly tolerated me. We didn’t actually converse, but there was a communication of sorts and occasionally a miscommunication.

Sometimes Molly would sit staring at me for five unblinking minutes with no tail wagging and no responses to my questions. Dog specialists say staring is a dog’s attempt to make an emotional connection with its owner. Perhaps, but I noticed the stare was even more piercing when I was holding a baloney sandwich.

During one of these prolonged staring sessions, with no cold cuts involved, I’d say, “You have to go out, right, Molly?” I’d hold up her leash and she’d walk to the door. I assumed then I’d broken the canine code. She needed to go for a walk. But thinking back now, perhaps not. Maybe when Molly saw the leash, she thought, “Oh rats, I have to take the old guy out again.”

This is likely closer to the truth because Molly was always in charge of our walks, deciding when and where we made our turns and stops, which trees and hydrants to sniff for DNA samples, when to detour around large dogs and stop to touch noses with the smaller ones. Molly made all the navigational decisions as we cruised around the neighborhood.

As First Mate, I always told Captain Molly I would not tolerate a dry run. But she could be stubborn and pull rank. Molly was able to exhibit her mind over bladder ability and we often returned to port with a full ballast. And we eventually had to have our living room rug professionally cleaned.

But what do dogs, including Molly, think? Canine head shrinkers say dogs experience almost all of our human emotions – joy, fear, anger, disgust, excitement, contentment, distress and love, but not guilt, pride or shame. Lucky dogs. They just do their thing and they never look back.

Molly helped me interpret tail-wagging messages which are not necessarily friendly greetings. That furry antenna sends signals and warnings to other dogs who know the difference between “Howdy!” ( a slight short wag at medium height) and “Back off Buster!” (vertical, high speed wag.)

High pitched barking, according to Molly, is usually friendly, and low pitched is the opposite. A low, slow, continous bark, she demonstrated , is a danger signal. I distinctly heard that warning bark when a town council candidate rang our doorbell. His promised reforms sounded very encouraging, but I decided to yield to Molly’s message. I assume other town dogs sent out similar warnings, because that candidate and his running mates were soundly defeated, Who knows? Doggy treats might have won the election for them.

Molly barked infrequently, maybe once a month when we accidentally locked her out on the back porch. Mostly she grunted as Shih-Tzus are known to do. Sometimes it seems she was muttering actual words. When I scratched her belly I thought I heard, “Oh that’s good!” But I remember her mostly and lovingly as loyal and considerate, always close at hand and sometimes under foot. It’s her companionship I miss most. For instance, she made sure that I never ate alone. What a great dog!


As a young boy I enjoyed reading the exciting seagoing tales of Jack London, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad. All three had been to sea as youngsters and I could tell they knew what they were writing about. I felt the sea was calling me too, but alas, I’d been stricken with sea sickness on two very short voyages. Actually, both took place on the same day.

I’d sailed on the 42nd Street ferry from Edgewater, across the Hudson River to Manhattan one morning and returned reluctantly in late afternoon, fully aware I would be nauseous again before we reached the Jersey ferry slip even though the Hudson was only a bit choppy that day. I found out back then what the old sea shanty “Heave ho, my lads, heave ho” really meant.

It was a painful thing, abandoning my dream, but I soon found a compromise, an opportunity to work with a small fleet of passenger craft on very calm waters. I heard about an opening at Palisades Amusement Park’s motorboats ride. I ran all the way from home to apply. I got the job, bought a yachting cap and began thinking about a semi-permanent anchor tattoo.

It was an exciting summer workplace for a boy, much better than packing groceries in a supermarket or mowing neighbors’ lawns. Our motorboats chugged around a serpentine channel course at about two knots. Besides boarding passengers, including pretty young girls, our crew occasionally revived dead inboard engines and acted as pilots, helping confused little kids to stay on course and reach home port.

These rescue missions involved athletic leaps across 15-foot channels, landing first on the bow of a passing boat in mid-crossing. This took practice. I plunged into the shallow channel more than once to the raucous delight of passengers and mates.

We boat sailors had occasional brief shore leaves when we’d run down the midway and beg rides on the Cyclone rollercoaster or see the big-name bands and daredevil acts at the free shows. We also had trade-offs with the refreshment stand girls – free boat rides for frozen custards, hot dogs and French fries. Life was good!

Now and then we’d have a taste of a Jack London type adventure. One busy Sunday, four young bucks sauntered up the gangplank entrance, full of beans and probably a little beer. We could spot trouble. They jumped into four boats and we knew they weren’t going to cruise around like gentlemen.

Eventually we spotted them on a far channel, deliberately ramming each other until their flotilla blocked other boats. I made the necessary cross-channel leaps and asked them to behave. They replied profanely, so I dipped my boat hook into the water and tried to cool them off with a small sprinkle. It had the opposite effect. They debarked angrily and I was tackled.

My crewmates rushed over and a real donnybrook took place, but nothing like a John Wayne movie brawl with flying fists and knockouts. It was more like an out of control tag team wrestling match with head locks, half-nelsons and shoving. Swearing was optional.

When the cops arrived four combatants were still grappling in waist deep water. It was quite exciting and the passengers in the blocked boats seemed to be enjoying the spectacle.

But Joe Rinaldi, the park manager, was quite upset. “Everyone will testify against these hooligans in court tomorrow,” he shouted. I quietly suggested that I shouldn’t appear. “Why not?” he demanded.

“Joe, they’ll probably lie and say I started the fight.” He agreed that I should recuse myself. I’m not sure if that’s what Jack, Herman or Joseph would have done, but I remembered what happend to Billy Budd.


After years of disappointing results trying many deblubbering programs, I decided to use the most modern tool available, the talking scale. The popular model I bought can be programmed to provide a working relationship between both parties by having the weighee install his personal preferences.

First, I chose an authoritative American male voice for the instrument and was amazed to hear one that closely resembled that of Master Sergeant McGlumphy, my top kick in the Air Force. I needed firm guidance and, believe me, you couldn’t get firmer than Sgt McGlumphy.

Okay, I wasn’t looking for sympathy, I was looking for results. I certainly didn’t want a sultry voiced female guide telling me, “It’s okay Pudgy, don’t cry. You can do better next time.” whenever I added a few pounds.

Failures and excuses were unaccceptable with McGlumphy. I was given due notice at my first weigh-in. “I’ve downloaded your age and physical measurments, Newman,” he barked. “Two hundred and twenty pounds are unacceptable unless you are able to somehow gain six inches in height.”

Reacting instinctively, I dropped and gave him 20. Well, I attempted 20 pushups, but managed only four and a half. As I lay panting on the bathroom floor, he shouted, “Report back in one week!”

I should have switched over to Miss Sultry right then, but I thought I needed a firmer hand. What I got was more like a fist. The following week McGlumphy announced, “Two hundred eighteen pounds” and I waited for an encouraging compliment, but instead I heard. “Newman, stand at attention. I can tell you’re leaning on the sink! That’s better. Two hundred twenty three pounds. Not good. Drop and give me 20 and this time I mean 20!”

And so it went. The tattle tale scale sensors could detect all my acrobatic attempts to get lower numbers and reported everything to McGlumphy who started to get sarcastic. “One at a time, please” he’d shout when I stepped on the scale.

Two can play at this game I thought and switched the pounds setting to kilograms, decreasing my numbers by more than half, but he saw through this right away. So then I changed the language from English to Croatian. I’m completely unfluent in Croation, but McGlumphy’s angry tone came through. I went to Google for translations, but most of his histrionics were denied me as “too profane”. I did learn that “predebela” means “too fat” in Croatia. But then one day I heard him growl “Haagen-Daz mint chocolate chip”. How did McGlumphy know about that? Has my new smart freezer been talking to my new smart scale?


While perusing history websites recently, I became convinced that certain New York Metro Area residents, past and present, may have a legal claim to almost 15,000 acres of extremely valuable real estate.

There have always been doubts about the authenticity of the 1626 purchase of Manhattan by Peter Minuit from the Lenni Lenape Indians for “$24 worth of trinkets” the traditionally quoted sale price. Minuit was the Director General of New Netherlands which included the present “Big Apple” and parts of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware.

There are no legal documents to record the “purchase”, no deed or title papers, only a mention of it in a 1626 letter by a merchant to his Dutch West Indies employers. He reported a sale price of “60 guilders worth of trade goods” which would come to about $1,200 in 2021.

It’s quite likely neither party was completely aware of all the actual transaction details. The Lenapes did not believe tracts of land and bodies of water were saleable commodities and may have accepted the trinkets as a good will gesture of the Dutch for their agreeing to share the island. Language differences would also cloud the details. Lenape remarks would be limited mostly to “okay” and “thank you” which translate to “yuh” and “wanishi”. They called the property “manahatta” or “hilly island”.

The main fault of the “sale” is that the sellers didn’t own or even live in Manhattan. They were the Canarsees, a Lenape tribe that lived in present day Brooklyn. It’s as if your house-sitting brother-in-law sold your place while you were out of town. The Kapsee Lenape people lived at the lower tip of Manhattan, Peter Minuit’s neighborhood, and were not mentioned as participants.

So what kind of settlement would be appropriate for the present day Lenapes to rectify the the unfairness of this multi-flawed sale? Complete invalidation would involve tremendous complications and is out of the question. But reasonable reparations are possible.

Most of the Lenape tribe (AKA Delawares) now live in Oklahoma where they were exiled by our government with other tribes in the 19th century. Some descendants still live in the Garden State. These peaceable Indians, called “The Grandfathers” by neighboring warlike tribes, were the rightful owners of Manhattan by reason of centuries of occcupancy and were deprived of their land by conniving cousins who insinuated themselves at the closing, as questionable as that closing was.

It’s not too late, even four centuries later, to make some amends. In the interest of fair play, the Lenapes should be awarded title to at least some patch of land on the island. Central Park would be appropriate for these outdoor people and a casino license would enrich the tribe enough to buy tons of trinkets.

I believe it’s necessary that I explain I do not have one drop of Lenape blood in my veins and would not benefit from the reparations. My DNA report shows I’m almost 100 percent Irish with just a dash of Neanderthal.