Looking for financial advice, life coaching or a new mantra? Good luck finding it elsewhere. Drinks Before Dinner is the one-stop shopper’s site for small talk. If you're a fiction reader, please visit my author website at www.bwknister.com

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Do you travel as much as you used to? If not, you’re like us. Aside from our snowbird movements between Michigan and Florida, we don’t do much of it these days. That may account for why, during DBD we find ourselves reminiscing more about trips taken when we were younger.

--I was just thinking about your work as an extra.
--What about it? I bet you think it’s dumb.
--No, I don’t, that’s not true. It’s important work, as you point out every time we watch a movie. “See right there? Those are extras.” But I was thinking, by now, they should be running out of ideas for reality shows. “Real Housewives of Bayonne, New Jersey” must be in the pipeline. “So You Think You Can Mud Wrestle.”
--“So You Think You Can Tuckpoint.”
--Exactly. Remember when we were in Palm Springs?
--It was too far to fly for just five days.
--I know, but do you remember the tour we took?
--Mostly, I remember the dumb tapestries we bought at a consignment store in Rancho Mirage. But yes, I remember. I remember because we were the youngest people on the tour. Except for the driver. We were in a minibus with a driver who thought of himself as being in show business. He drove us past all the closed-up houses, giving us juicy tidbits.
--Except almost all the stars were dead. A bygone era, but he talked about them in the present tense. Big stars don’t live there any more. Unless you stick with the Charleston, it’s no good for clubbing. The stars who lived there are either in Forest Lawn, or some nursing home for actors. God, what must it be like in the day room?
--It was sad. The houses and landscaping were still being maintained, but everything looked bleached. Faded.
--Well, it’s a desert.
--I know. Bob Hope’s house was up on a mountain, wasn’t it?
--Yes. He was still alive back then. I remember wondering if he was up there in his wheelchair, looking down through a gun scope. He must have had one, after all those trips to entertain the troops.
--It was so dry.
--Yes. That was the first time I ever saw vapor being used at an outside cafe.
--Little jets of cool steam, that’s right. To add some humidity.
--Back to your film career. I was thinking, back in Detroit, we could put the third row in the van. You could offer visits to all the sites where you’ve been an extra.
--I see. Another tour bus.
--Why not? The whole thrust of TV now is someone’s take on reality, correct? You’re personable, well-spoken. You could wear what they asked you to put on for this movie or that. Your gawker costume, your airport waiting lounge ensemble. I see it catching on. Never mind stars dancing, or twenty-somethings whining about the bugs on some island. Give people down-and-dirty reality.
--That’s already been taken. There’s “Dirty Jobs,” there’s “Hoarders.”
--Too exotic. I’m talking the hard-scrabble, inside scoop on life as a movie extra in Motown.
--I could tell them about Sigourney Weaver, how real she is in life. How nice she was to the girl extra who asked for her autograph during a scene.
--Exactly. Or about Ron Perlman, who isn’t one bit like the heavies he portrays. Promise you’ll take notes from now on.
--I don’t know.
--Just think about it. Frankly, I don’t see why this couldn’t be syndicated wherever impoverished states like Michigan give the film industry huge tax incentives. Tapes of your show could be training films. See what I mean?
--Yes, well, I’ll consider it for consignment.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Readers of DBD know that I am often irritable (and no doubt irritating), whereas Barbara is almost never guilty in this regard. With me, the quality is probably just one more effect of growing old, the grumpy-old-man syndrome. Perhaps that’s why I am put off by certain behaviors of others in my age “group.” A better person would be more generous and less tetchy, less inclined to project personal frustrations over aging in the form of criticism. That said, I would be very interested to learn your impressions of older people. Many blogs and websites trumpet our spunk and creativity, or express sympathy when scammers take us to the cleaners. What are your views and stories?

--Was it crowded?
--Very. After shopping I got in line for gas. I almost gave up. I ended up in a line with two SUVs ahead of me. Both the size of Nimitz-class carriers. It took a good ten minutes for them to fill up.
--Did you snack?
--You always ask that. You always interrogate me about snacking. I do not snack at Costco. I think it’s disgusting. It’s the sort of thing that makes people hate retirees.
--Do you think we’re hated?
--Clanking around on titanium joints, pumped full of Lipitor to live to a hundred. Blabbing away with the bank teller minutes after the transaction’s over. Of course we’re hated.
--I don’t feel hated.
--Well, that’s good. I’m glad. Besides, no one could hate you. Not even young people.
--I don’t think young people see me at all. I’m not important enough to be hated.
--Next Christmas, I’m getting you one of those self-esteem kits they sell for kids. After you use the kit, you too will be able to feel hated. No, the snacking--my God. It can’t be much different from a petting zoo at feeding time. All these retirees lowing and rocking in front of the snack stations. The men all wear sports paraphernalia and the women dress in sweatshirts with clever sayings. Assertions of pride about being geriatric. Crackers, seafood spread, pigs-in-a-blanket, fruit juice laced with glucosamine. Bunt cake. I’m telling you, the bunt cakes at Costco are only slightly smaller than a tire. People pushing big hand carts, not regular shopping carts. People buying pallets of frozen burritos. They sell a chicken pot pie that serves twelve. What am I supposed to do with something like that?
--You’re supposed to have people to dinner.
--To eat a chicken pot pie? You who won’t let me unseal the airlock until you steam-clean the whole house? I don’t see it happening.
--OK, but I bet you wanted a nibble here and there. You’re disciplined, true, but I bet you wanted a sample or two
--No, I didn’t. You know me, but you don’t. I know it’s small-minded, but it annoys me. That sense of entitlement. “I’m old, dammit. I’m retired, for Christ’s sake. If me and the missus want to plan our week around visits to Costco, so we can join the herds in front of the sample food counters to eat lunch for free, who the hell’s going to stop me? And don’t forget, I’m a veteran!”
--Keep it up, and you’re going to need a hit of Lipitor yourself.
--Sorry. No, all I need is a rob roy. It was the Nimitz-class SUVs at the gas pump. That’s when the fog of war set in.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Barbara's brand new laptop, the one that had worked perfectly in Michigan, would not work in Florida. We thought it had something to do with the Civil War, but were wrong.

--He’s nice, I like him.
--And right on time, too. That in itself is a huge plus. I can’t count the number—
--Please don’t, Barry. I was here every one of those times. I lived it, too, remember?
--I know what it’s like down here. I accept it. I know about how all the traffic lights are timed by sadists, and about the hundreds of deranged, criminally insane people the state of Florida’s Department of Motor Vehicles issues drivers licenses to.
--Please don’t—
--I’m sorry, it’s like exorcism. If I say this speech, it helps me to live. It prepares me for the next time I make an appointment with a tradesman or a vendor who never shows up.
--I don’t think it helps you. I think it makes you more nuts.
--No, it helps. It reconfirms for me the deeply flawed nature of human interactions. It reestablishes for me that this is the norm, not an aberration. It refreshes my memory, it equips me—
--No, honey, it doesn’t. It makes you go on the way you are right now.
--OK, I’m almost done, then I’ll shut up. I know all about the short-circuited nature of things here in sunny Florida. Which is not all that different from the short-circuited nature of things in Michigan. Except in a heightened way, but with fewer homicides. At least on the Gulf Coast. But: I cannot come to terms with service people who can’t even do me the simple courtesy of calling me with a lie to explain why they’re three hours late, or why they won’t be able to come today, or come any day, ever. Is that too much to ask? A simple call on your cell phone as you’re driving around? A little lie? Just a courtesy, a simple, little thing, instead of stiffing the poor sap whose toilet or roof or pool you said you’d fix between one and four, but no, not today, not tomorrow, not, I’m sorry to say, ever.
--Better now?
--Good. He was nice, and he came on time. And fixed my laptop problem. Be grateful.
--I am. He stopped on his way to his shop, and didn’t charge us for another service call. I gave him a twenty anyway, to secure his good will for the next cyber failure.
--It surprised him, our problem. You said that when you described the “symptoms” over the phone, he told you he was stumped. He said he’d “never heard that one” before.
--Actually, I think that’s why he came so fast. It intrigued him. It’s just like Dr. House, he’s only engaged by weird illnesses. Why would a new laptop computer refuse to connect to the Internet, when it’s resting right next to both the cable modem and the wireless router? Why would this same laptop work perfectly thirty-five or forty feet away in the same house? Answer: Because it’s resting right next to the wireless router, etcetera.
--Being able to use it wherever I want is like being released. Paroled.
--Just like the thing with my Volkswagen. Or was that before we got married?
--Honey, you told me about it yesterday.
--Of course I did, exactly. I’m topping up mine. You?
--I’m fine. I’ll just sip my wine with happy thoughts of my new laptop.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Held hostage when a problem developed with Barbara's new laptop (not in a basement in Beirut, just in our house, waiting for the tech expert to show up), I remembered a story.

--I loved that car but, really, it caused me a lot of grief.
--Not as much as mine.
--No, I can’t compete with the grief you had with your Volkswagen. From what you told me, it never recovered after getting whacked by that Cadillac in a mall parking lot. A Volkswagen Rabbit and a Coupe de Ville. Not a fair matchup.
--Before the accident or after, it was a mess. A lemon.
--Mine wasn’t that bad, but it was in the shop a lot. I took it to Germans, of course. They loved to talk about the good old days, before Volkswagen cheapened zuh product. Back ven it vas beautiful, but now not zo good. I remember standing around listening to them talking German, wondering which camp they'd served in during zuh var. But that’s probably not fair. They were good enough guys. I think.
--Were they good repairmen?
--Dieter and Hans. Yes, I think they were good. But who knows? It didn’t seem to matter. Eventually, I started taking the car to a different shop, on the east side. I guess because I was going out there more often, when my mother got sick. That’s where something like what’s happening with your computer happened to me. I remember the car had to be towed. I went out one morning, and it wouldn’t start. Usually, that’s the alternator. I rode in the tow truck, and we took the car to the new shop. My mother met me and drove me to her house. I stayed there all day.
--Doing chores, I’m sure. Fixing things, making much needed repairs around your mother’s house.
--Don’t be mean. Probably, I was grading blue books. All day I waited, then they called. “You’re good to go,” they said. “All set.” Mother drove me back to the shop, and left. I went inside and wrote the check. I was effusively grateful and all the rest of it. Out I go to my restored VW. I get in, turn the ignition. Nothing. I try again. Nothing. I check to be sure they’ve given me the right set of keys. Yes, they’re my keys. I go back inside to the service desk. “I can’t start my car.” Can you see the weary look on the cashier’s face, Barbara?
--I believe I can, yes. Was it another German?
--No. I think they were Irish mechanics. But the cashier was a woman. When I say I can’t start my car, a world-weary, I’ve-seen-it-all kind of woman behind a desk is looking up at me. I remember she took a drag on her cigarette—everyone in the car business smoked back then. She put her smoke back in the ashtray, then picked up a phone. “Bert, the black VW.” I could hear her voice echoing out in the shop. I remember being extremely grateful she didn’t say, “Bert, the guy with the black VW doesn’t know how to start his car.”
--Oh, honey, this is bad, this is—
--Stay tuned, it gets worse. I can’t believe I never told you this before. I think of it as a pivotal moment in the later phases of my psychic development. Or decline.
--Really, I feel for you already.
--Yes, well, Bert comes out the back, wiping his hands, smiling. I remember how this contrasted with the world-weary woman’s look. Bert seemed happy. I’m sure having another customer too dumb to start his own car reconfirmed for him the truth of human existence. Think how often something similar must happen.
--Eventually, it would make you cynical.
--Eventually, it would make you decide to steal from such dumb customers. But anyway, Bert’s smiling, wiping his hands. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go see what gives.” Out we go. It was summer—I forgot to mention that, it’s important. The window on the driver’s side was rolled down. When we get to the car, Bert reaches in through the open window, turns the key. The engine starts right up. “Maybe it stuck for you the first time,” he says, or something like that. Still smiling, he walks away, leaving me next to the quiet purring of my restored VW.
--I’m sorry, that had to be—
--Hold on. I get in. I sit there in my sunny car, listening to the motor. Bert by now is back inside fixing some other booby’s car. I just couldn’t accept what had happened, so I turn off the ignition. After a few seconds, I try the key. Nothing. I try again. Nothing.
--Uh oh.
--No, it was a good moment. It really was. It revealed to me one of two things was in charge of me and my car. Either all my years of scoffing at paranormal phenomena were being proved wrong, the arrogant hubris of one more godless secular humanist—
--I thought you believed in God.
--Not the way you’re supposed to. Either I was wrong about ghosts and poltergeist and all the rest of it—or, something obscure but still within the laws of physics was at work. I mean, not at work. I’m very proud of what happens next.
--Good, honey, I’m glad. It doesn’t seem promising.
--I carefully reviewed all that had happened in the last two minutes. I ruled out the car being possessed. I dismissed the possibility that Bert and his fellow mechanics were inside at a small window peeing in their pants, watching me. I removed the key from the ignition and got out. Standing exactly as Bert had stood next to the open window to replicate Bert’s actions, I reached in, inserted the key, and started the engine. Know what it was?
--Not a clue.
--Sitting. Some little shit of a sensor located under the driver’s seat was shorting out every time I sat in the car. See? Another computer story. I went back inside. Bert was no longer smiling, he just wanted to get rid of me. I made him come back out, I made him open the door and sit in the car. I made him try the ignition. He failed. I motioned for him to get out. I put my hand out for the keys and he handed them to me. I reached in, and in the next second restored my manhood, my majority, my birthright. After he fixed the sensor, I drove away. Made whole. Resolved, hardened, tested.
--I think we should open a good wine. We should celebrate.
--One of the things I love most about you is your unfailing sense of occasion.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Are you tech-savvy? Well, good for you, and all your new-wave, new-age, newest new thing friends. We're plain hunter-gatherers, sitting around the campfire singing our ageless melodies full of folk wisdom, etc. In other words, animism takes over when computer "issues" develop. To better understand what this means, imagine Early Man out hunting, seeing something on the ground, and picking up a GPS gismo.

--I heard your little jingle this morning.
--Did it surprise you?
--Yes, I guess it did. Chelsea and I were back from our walk. I was sitting in the study, having coffee, reading the paper. She was already snoring quietly on her bed, then the peace was slightly disturbed by a casino noise.
--I woke up and hit the button, to see if anyone had sent me a message.
--So you like your new wireless freedom.
--It’s nice. Snug as a bug in my bed. But of course no one had written.
--Did you give the laptop the finger?
--I did. “Take that,” I said to all the indifferent, uncommunicative people ranging in age from nine on up who haven’t written lately.
--It’s true. You can be as mobile and wireless as you want. If the little people who live inside the CPU don’t write, so what?
--All you can do is give your laptop the finger and go back to sleep.
--Our techie is due back at nine-thirty.
--It’s so maddening, being dependent this way.
--I hate it, too. You know you’re just one keystroke away, except one command stands between you and what you want to do. But you don’t know what it is.
--Ninety-nine dollars just to walk through the door.
--Don’t talk about it, it makes me crazy.
--And then, check in hand, he walks out and drives off. I log on—and can’t get the thing to load anywhere but in the kitchen.
--But you quickly brought the Knister Way to bear on the problem. You went into a different room and carried on.
--Except, if I stick with the Knister Way, I have to move the printer into the kitchen.
--I’ll see what I can do. I’ll bring all my wonderful people skills into play. I’ll get him back here, I’ll make it a matter of professional pride. “Please, young man, my poor wife, look how desperate she is, there in the kitchen. How pitiful, hunched over like that at the butcher-block table, unable to rest her poor old elbows because it’s too high. Unable to print. Is there nothing you can do for her? Doesn’t she remind you of your mother?”
--Skip the part about the mother.
--Why? It’s meant to make him feel responsible. Like we’re family
--Trust me, it will just lead to a comparison that makes us look even dumber.
--Damn it, we’re not dumb. This is not because of ignorance or stupidity.
--Of course it is. Why else do you need to “bring to bear all my wonderful people skills”?
--Come on. That’s like saying you go to a surgeon because you’re too dumb to do your own angioplasty.
--Besides, it’s still the Knister Way.
--Well, there, you’ve got me.
--The Knister Way. Along with adapting in weird ways when things go wrong, it also calls for schmoozing friends and relatives who know something. If Mark were here, that’s who we’d be calling.
--Well, Jesus, of course, Barbara. What the hell are sons-in-law for?

Friday, March 19, 2010


Save the children, shut the door

--You eat too fast.
--I know.
--It’s not good for you.
--I know, and it’s unseemly.
--It’s like you have no confidence about where your next meal’s coming from.
--I’m sorry, it’s a habit. Something happens before lunch. When I was teaching, by mid-morning I was ravenous. But I disciplined myself. No snacks, I told myself. No trail mix, no power granola bar. When I finished my eleven o’clock I dog-trotted back to my office. I closed the door and ate…. Well, never mind.
--I know. I see it most days.
--It’s one of the negatives in retirement, isn’t it? Seeing how your spouse eats his lunch. Knowing now how all those years, he was away at noon, eating like that. I’m sorry.
--No, honey, it’s all right. You aren’t gross or anything. Not often.
--But you make sure to keep your hands out of range, don’t you?
--It’s just a little unsettling, that’s all.
--I always closed the door so students couldn’t see. I was aware of being out of control, chewing my sandwich, almost desperate. I never understood why this was so.
--Did you try relating it to your past?
--You mean was I weaned too soon, that sort of thing? I’m pretty sure I was a demand-feeding baby.
--I can certainly believe that.
--No, I don’t think of myself as an oral type, although the signs are all there. Talking for a living. Drinking, smoking. I suppose that could have something to do with it.
--So, you would close the door. You knew if they watched you eating it would strike your students the wrong way.
--I remember inhaling sandwiches, demolishing bags of potato chips, eating an apple the way a chipper chows down tree limbs. I remember thinking, “It would alarm them. If they saw me this way, they’d go to the registrar and drop the course.”
--Poor baby.
--I don’t think my cover was ever broken. After savaging my food, I’d open the door. For all the world, there was Professor Knister, the embodiment of equanimity and self-control, ready for business.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The Secretary of State’s office. On a clear day you can see the head of the line.

--How’d it go?
--Better than I thought it would. On the way there, I gave myself a pep talk. “Be calm, think positively. Remember the Tao. Think in terms of complementary opposites, not of good and bad.”
--And this worked? For you? At a Secretary of State’s office?
--I might have hidden reserves you know nothing about. Secret disciplines.
--Hidden reserves, maybe, honey, not patience. I expected you to look frazzled. No, I expected someone in uniform to come to the house.
--Actually, I was impressed with things there. It didn’t start well, though. Not at all.
--How so?
--Before getting in the service line, you first had to stand in a different line just to get a number.
--No, you aren’t good in lines. But none of it had to happen. You just lost the mail-in application form. You have to develop a system, honey. You lose things.
--Nothing is ever actually lost or destroyed, it’s physics. And I have a system. I have a triage system that utilizes the latest pile technology.
--Yes, and in your system, a throw pillow covering a pile of mail on a couch means you end up going to the Secretary of State’s office.
--Drink your wine. Really, this time I was the picture of patience. I was ready. So, I’m in line, behind a huge man dragging his leg, lurching forward. I looked around. It was like an epidemic. Like the quiet following the climax in a disaster movie. All these dazed, walking wounded. People with heavy foot-surgery boots, people using walkers and canes. Ancient fathers and mothers being led about by their middle-aged children. One guy must’ve said ‘What?’ a dozen times. Plus people who couldn’t speak the language. They bring someone with them, to interpret. Three Asian kids were there, none of them over eighteen. Two to interpret for the applicant. I wonder if these same two interpreters will ride with the new driver, to read him the street signs. It’s not right. I’m all for pluralism, I’m all for “bring us your tired, your poor,” etcetera. But you shouldn’t be issued a license to drive a car if you can’t read.
--I remember your telling me the Americans with Disabilities Act forbids just that sort of thing in universities. You said it’s illegal to reject dyslexic applicants just because they can’t read.
--Just because they can’t read or write.
--But go ahead, that’s for another day. You said you were impressed.
--I was. I’m in line, getting ready, talking to myself, calming myself as the line chugs along. Ahead, I see the employees behind the counter. Their feet were concealed, but I’m sure they all had foot-surgery shoes. Three of them in a row. Combined, they easily weighed eight hundred pounds on the hoof.
--It’s all the sitting.
--If you say so. But they were tending to business, so I was heartened. When it came my turn, my person told me I could do the whole registration thing at a machine. They use scanners now, just the way they’re used at airports to issue boarding passes. Put the old registration under the scanner, out pops the new one. It was slick.
--Here’s to the scanner.
--To Terri Lyn Land, Secretary of State. A forward-looking person in command of cutting-edge technology.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Nine years ago Barbara and I bought our place in Naples, but only in the last four years have we spent much time here. As snowbirds, and lifetime liberals, we now realize what sheltered lives we live when in Michigan. Before retiring, Barbara worked for a labor union, I taught college undergraduates.

We’ve come to see ourselves as strangers in a strange land. Although our Naples neighbors are cordial and respectful of our privacy, they are all of them chest-thumping conservatives. Whenever politics comes up, they take it for granted we share their views. New kids on the block and greatly outnumbered, we bite our tongues and keep our commie-liberal-socialist opinions to ourselves.

With no real religious motive, at some point we started attending Unitarian Universalist services. Unitarians have always been firmly located in the liberal camp, and at last we found ourselves in the company of like-minded people. My catch phrase is that the UU church of Naples should be thought of as a sleeper cell of subversive progressive thinking.

It felt good both in emotional and intellectual terms to hear people affirm the importance of reason, and to practice it without first channeling ideas through a litmus test of some kind. In fact, the only thing the church called on members to subscribe to was a commitment to reason, along with an attitude of tolerance toward everything except intolerance.

But there is a fly in the shoo-fly pie of paradise: Barbara was raised Catholic. Although the Church’s intolerant attitude toward divorce led her to leave, a residual strain of Christian faith still runs deep in her. With me, it is more a rill or trickle, swelling at times, but soon slipping back to negligible proportions.

Even so, I have continued to attend services alone. I am grateful to the minister, Kathleen Damewood Korb, and to the members who have generously welcomed me without pressure to officially join. In what is fully consistent with UU emphasis on critical thinking, Barbara remains skeptical.

--How was it?
--Good. Very thought-provoking.
--What thoughts were provoked?
--Well, Katy talked about many things. She presented a funny list of UU attributes. She said UUs were Bo Bos. Bourgeois bohemians. They all went to college, drive environmentally correct cars, eat free-range chicken, drink Fair Trade coffee and listen to NPR. Then she talked about how difficult but necessary it is to get the UU message out. She said we are often too quiet and insular in our beliefs. Too pleased with ourselves, and given to condescension.
--Being too quiet about UU beliefs. I’m not so sure I know how much noise you can make about them.
--I think I sense some irony headed my way.
--Not at all. You know I’m sympathetic. I just find it tepid, that’s all.
--You mean the emphasis on reason and skepticism as opposed to faith.
--Well, yes, that is what I mean. I’m just wondering how you can spread the Good News when you think a belief in the existence of God is a matter of opinion.
--You know that’s not really stating the issue.
--No? How is that not stating the issue? Does anyone attending a UU service have to believe in God?
--Reasonable, compassionate people don’t necessarily believe,so no one is forced to—
--But if you do happen to believe in God, that’s OK, you’re welcome.
--What you believe as a Unitarian is your private business. Just as it’s your personal responsibility to live according to those beliefs.
--You mean the ones that are your business, that you and you alone are responsible for.
--In other words, belief in the existence of God is a matter of opinion.
--I sense this is not an area likely to bear conversational fruit. You aren’t wrong, but neither are you exactly right. I suspect most UU members believe in keeping an open mind.
--About the existence of God.
--Heads He is, tails He ain’t.
--Now now.
--OK. So what else happened?
--They always invite people to voice their joys or concerns.
--I suppose “concerns” would be things like death and losing your mind, that kind of thing.
--Terminal illness and surgeries do play big roles, so yes, that’s true.
--I’m sorry, but calling death or dementia a “concern” is too UU for words.
--Anyway, today the emphasis was on joys, not concerns. A young couple was there with their new baby. Of course UUs don’t baptize children, but they do have a naming ceremony. I think it was Walter.
--I see. I bet UUs also have a “ceremony” for voter registration.
--Very funny. And someone had died and left a bequest to the church. To be used for building a children’s garden. The man who told us about it was very witty. He said there were already plans to offer the garden as a venue for wedding ceremonies. He added it would also be a great place for couples to sign pre-nuptial agreements. For a fee.
--Yes, that’s good.
--I don’t see such a joke resonating with the Baptists down the street.
--No, not likely.
--Reason enough to attend, don’t you think?
--Maybe. But as with the existence of God, I would have to say the jury’s still out.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Naples, Florida is deservedly well known for its weather, beaches, restaurants, shopping and, because it's usually so good, its weather one more time. Except for this winter, when it was lousy. But Naples is also notable for being a solid bastion of conservative politics. Throw a stick, hit a conspiracy theorist, as we say.

This fact led us to compose the following letter to the editor of the Naples Daily News. It's one we may actually send, unless a real right-winger beats us to it. No, you don't believe it could happen, but that's only because you don't live here.

To the editor:

The pointy-headed liberals on MSNBC will be the first to deny it, but a new terrorist threat we can thank Barack Hussein Obama for (and his Party of Yes-to-Creeping Socialism) is slithering its way into paradise.

This time, it’s not people with bombs in their underwear or shoes, but eco-terrorists. Needless to say—except of course for liberals who are deaf to any warnings that might protect our country—I am talking about the sudden influx, in the last year, of massive numbers of Burmese pythons writhing their way up from the Everglades.

Most recently, this creature-based sleeper cell meant to frighten our people has attacked lawns, and the airport runway on Marco Island. Although he alluded to it in one of his recent chalk talks, it doesn’t take Fox News’ Glenn Beck to see what’s happened. It just takes an average patriot willing to connect the dots.

Those dots indicate the following: On President George W. Bush’s watch, no threat of Burmese python-based terrorism figured here in southwest Florida. But one year after Obama’s inauguration we see the chickens, in this case the serpents, coming home to roost. Or spawn, or whatever it is they’re doing in the Everglades,in order to breed fear in our malls, country clubs, yacht basins, supper clubs and tennis courts.

Does anyone doubt that creeping socialism is perfectly reflected in both the habits,diet, and manner of movement in this latest attack on our liberties? Enough said—and remember: keep that lanai door closed!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Neither Barbara nor I is a joiner. We don’t play golf or cards, or have much impulse to entertain. Living on a golf course, we consequently sometimes feel cut off. So, we are on the lookout for things to do. One Tuesday, Barbara had attended a lecture on wolves. She came home very enthusiastic, and that Friday we went with others to the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in the Golden Gate Estates section of East Naples.

--The noble heads. The eyes.
--Yes, they got to me.
--All of them different.
--So true. And the director knew them all as individuals.
--I was impressed. The way she started to approach one, then said, “All right, you talked to me and I heard. Not today.”
--I hadn’t seen anything, but he signaled to her she shouldn’t approach, and she read the message.
--She’s been running the sanctuary ten years now. That means she’s very good at reading them.
--True, very important with wolves. Miss a signal, and you’re out of the sanctuary business. Or any other business.
--They’re much bigger than I thought. Much taller.
--That’s because we always think of Chelsea as our junior-grade wolf.
--She certainly looks like one. Sort of. They say all dogs are descended from wolves. Some of them don’t look that way at all, but Chelsea does.
--An eleven- or twelve-year-old miniature rescue wolf with one blind eye, the other with a cataract, and half a tail.
--And a dislike for almost all other dogs.
--Plus a deep distrust of all humans she hasn’t lived with for the last five years.
--The foxes were something, weren’t they? Especially the arctic fox. The way he just climbed up on people’s shoulders. So cute.
--That’s the problem, the cuteness factor. People are so dumb. “Oh, they’re so adorable, let’s get an arctic fox instead of a beagle.”
--Not a red fox, though. The one they had smelled worse than a skunk.
--Not any fox, if you have half a brain. It’s all wrong, exotic pets. Look at the Everglades now, chock-a-block with Burmese pythons. All those foxes, all the wolves and wolf dogs, even the panthers. Every one of them was raised in captivity.
--The stories about the conditions they were in when rescued. It makes you want to spit on the owners.
--It makes me want to visit Old Testament justice on them. An eye for an eye. Or, in this case, a chain of the kind used to pull trailers fastened around the owners’ necks, the other end to a tree. Then you bring in the local kiddies to throw rocks at them. That way, trying to escape, they tear all the skin off their necks. I would love to see that kind of straight-talk, no-spin justice brought to bear.
--You would not be good in a position of authority.
--Of course I would. I’d make posters of what was done to the family wolf, I’d post the photos on the Internet. Then enact the same treatment on the owner. I doubt most people would find this excessive.
--What about the man’s children?
--Send them to boot camp. With parenting like that, where else do you want them?
--You said on the way home you were pretty sure what kinds of people own wolves.
--OK, that was perhaps a little speculative. Except I believe it. “Own” is the key word. No one should want to own something that belongs in nature. But controlling a powerful, potentially dangerous animal, how cool is that? Five will get you ten ninety percent of the people who decide it would be cool to have a wolf or panther for a pet drive Harleys or pickup trucks. They think of themselves as rebels. Pirates. Outsiders defending their tough-guy, uniquely all-American second-amendment individuality. They do this by looking and acting like every other uniquely American, no-neck tough guy. Owning a wolf is almost de rigueur.
--I think the rob roy may be talking now.
--Probably. And you’re right. It’s best not to make me sheriff. I would end up the Bull Connor of exotic-pet-owner profiling and summary justice.

Monday, March 8, 2010


--I saw a “Baby On Board” sign today.
--What was notable about that?
--I don’t know. Nothing, really. I used to see them all the time, but not lately.
--Well, no, that’s true. I haven’t seen them, either.
--Maybe people are revisiting the baby-on-board mystique.
--Is that what it is?
--You tell me, you’re the mom. I assume way back when you had your own babies on board. Before I came on board.
--I most certainly did, but signs didn’t figure.
--Old signs could be a green thing. An effect of the recycling movement. It’s strange, don’t you think? This need to declare every allegiance? Every loyalty? I mean, who the hell doesn’t support Our Troops? It’s a challenge, isn’t it? “I demand you put a ribbon decal on your car, because if you don’t, that means you don’t support Our Troops.”
--I suppose it’s harmless.
--What that did was leverage people who hated George Bush and opposed his war to support them both.
--By creating social pressure to put a yellow ribbon on their cars.
--Cars, boats. Golf carts, shopping carts.
-- I thought of getting a pink ribbon, for breast cancer.
--Whatever you want, but please, no bumper sticker that says “I love my dog.”
--Why not? I do love my dog.
--I love my dog, I love my truck. All the messages say the same thing. “I’m not really confident about my identity, but I know I admire wolves.” Am I supposed to slow down, knowing the car ahead of me includes a baby?
--I don’t think that’s it.
--Cancel my plan to rear-end someone’s Buick?
--People are proud of their babies, that’s all. The way they’re proud of their student-of-the-month at Blodgett Middle School.
--These are the same people who want total strangers to know they dream in chocolate and brake for unicorns.
--Come on, honey, lighten up.
--It all has to do with the self-esteem movement.
--Here we go. How so?
--Reproduction is a serious claim to fame for most people.
--Ahh. I think I see where this is going. “I just want you to know I have a baby in the car with me, my own actual infant, not some rent-a-baby, so there!”
--Do you remember the certificates given out at the grandkids’school? You called it the No Child Left Behind at The Academy Awards Ceremony.
--He didn’t get a trophy, but I remember ______’s citation was printed in Old English lettering. It acknowledged him for being cheerful.
--It’s no longer acceptable to hand out prizes to only the best students.
--That’s because we’re all unique and special.
--There’s nothing wrong with it, is there? Cheerfulness matters.
--I didn’t say it didn’t.
--No, but you’re being sarcastic.
--I’m sorry. Forty-one percent of U.S. college grads test as “proficient” in the use of their native tongue. Do you know what you need to be able to do in order to test as proficient? You need to be able to understand a newspaper editorial, or read the labels on prescription drugs.
--These are college seniors, not high school grads?
--Forty-one percent.
--Not good.
--Don’t worry, it’s OK. Every one of them feels good about himself. Or herself.

Friday, March 5, 2010


--Are you ready?
--As ready as I’ll ever be. Got my wine, got my seatbelt on.
--I won’t read the whole thing, just the salient points.
--That would be best.
--This is from someone named Don Richmond. He takes another letter writer to task for failing to appreciate the “only moral economic system.”
--Do you think these people ever meet up on the street? What would happen?
--You see quite a few men using putters as canes. That could be trouble. But we have to stay on message. Do you know what “the only moral economic system” is, Barbara?
--Well, Barry, let me think. Yes, I believe I do. That would be capitalism, right?
--Yes, and no. You have your plain, old garden-variety capitalism, but that’s not what Don’s talking about. He’s talking about the red-meat version touted by Ayn Rand.
--I have to say I’ve never read any of her books.
--Don’t feel bad. Don has read them for us. In his letter, he offers proof that Rand’s system of capitalism is especially moral.
--That’s good. If her capitalism isn’t moral, I don’t want anything to do with it. I want it out of my house.
--Not only is it moral, it’s hugely important. In fact, Don tells us that Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is, quote, “second in influence only to the Bible.”
--Wow. That’s the proof?
--It’s right here in The Naples Daily News, it must be proof. Which can be confusing, because Rand was a lifelong atheist.
--Yes. I, too, am now confused. The writings of Ayn Rand, an atheist, are second only in moral importance to the Bible. How exactly does Don get from A to B? I mean from B to R?
--I think you have to assume his criteria for establishing moral importance are based on sales figures. After all, we’re talking red-meat capitalism.
--People are still buying the Bible, aren’t they?
--They are, but some of them must also be buying multiple copies of Atlas Shrugged. You know, as moral gifts. Stocking stuffers. Although given the size of the book, you would want to use Support Hose.
--I’m shocked. If this Don person and his friends caused the Bible to slip to second place, none of them is welcome in my home.
--Yes, it’s troubling. What would actually make more sense is for Don to match up Ayn Rand with L. Ron Hubbard.
--I haven’t read him, either.
--Well, it’s too late to start. All his books are huge, like Atlas Shrugged. Only people with a family history of extreme longevity should start a Hubbard book. All you need to know is, his novels led to the pseudo-science of Dianetics. Which then morphed into the pseudo-religion of Scientology.
--Isn’t that Tom Cruise’s thing? Scientology?
--I believe it is. Also John Travolta’s thing.
--So it’s a cult. Think about it. John Travolta flies his own 727 or something. A movie star cult member is at the controls.
--On auto pilot, so he can read the works of L. Ron Hubbard. Oh, good, here’s another morality story. It’s an article about Muslim fundamentalists. Did you see it?
--Honey, I didn’t read the paper today. That’s why you’re filling me in.
--Sorry, forgot. It says hardliner Saudi clerics are insisting that, quote, “no Saudi women should appear on TV. Nor should any images of women appear in Saudi newspapers and magazines.”
--That’s just nuts. How are they going to sell anything? Don’t Saudis do laundry? Don’t the men want their women to wash their hair? I want to see the sales figures for shampoo in Saudi Arabia. I want to know how much shampoo they sell, with Saudi men doing the selling.
--I'm sure it's state-run, without ads. Except for worry beads, and solid gold bathroom fixtures.
--Or border collies. Advertising always makes use of dogs, especially smart ones like border collies.
--You’re right, that’s true. You can’t move much product without dogs.
--Didn’t somebody throw shoes at Bush?
--That was in Baghdad. The Saudis and the Bushes are joined at the hip.
--Maybe they have Johnston & Murphy or Nike ads. Men in long robes throwing wingtips.
--This issue of the paper would be complete if Hayes Wicker were making another appearance. In hockey terms, that would give us a moral hat trick.
--The name is vaguely familiar.
--Wicker is a Baptist minister. He has a huge flock here. The church is so big it makes me think of the assembly building at Cape Canaveral. Don’t you remember? I think it was last year he wrote a letter. He said the threat of gay marriage represented a disaster greater than either the Holocaust, or slavery.
--Yes, now I do. I remember being disappointed a moral lightning bolt didn’t take him out.
--Fundamentalists everywhere you turn. Political, religious. God help us.
--Amen to that.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Only through use of the oxymoron is it possible to capture the impression made by reading certain sections of the Naples (Florida) Daily News. Horrified hilarity? Dithering directness? Random rationality?

The Daily News is essentially a solid, worthy product of the E.W.Scripps Company, but as with all media, tabloid influences figure. These are predictably evident on the Police Report page, made up mostly of DUIs. By naming names, the brief descriptions are intended to shame those whose approach to Happy Hour runs deep into dinner time, and beyond. Sometimes, the drivers hurt others, and sometimes they are found fast asleep in cars parked at odd angles on the median.

The Police Report page also offers up nasty stories of domestic abuse, with both male and female victims, as well as stories about “grow houses.” These include architectural descriptions of mini-mansions whose interiors, devoid of furniture, have been given over to cannabis agri-business. And of course there are also stark true-crime horror stories involving shotguns and chain saws, gasoline, tongs, duct tape, impalement, etc. These stories you read between the fingers of the hand held over your eyes.

But oxymora are most often needed to capture the essence of the letters to the editor. Naples is a community with lots of retirees, people with ample time to write if not to proofread. Unlike us, many Neapolitans are wealthy, and—again, unlike us—they are almost all Republicans.

Barbara and I sometimes speculate on what causes such people to be so angry. They are well off, have great health care and beautiful golf courses, not to mention ideal weather, along with some of the best deals on wine to be found in the country. Modern medicine aside, we will all die soon enough, so why all the ranting?

True, like salmon battling their way upstream to spawn, a few thoughtfully reasoned or upbeat letters slip through the torrent of anger to make it into print. But by and large, those writing to the editor are venting frustration:

At Democrats in general, and the President in particular (pure, concentrated NazicommieMuslim evil), at intersections where photos are taken of people not stopping for red lights (Big Brother Is Watching You), at dog and cat owners (spreading filth and disease), at people who water their lawns too often or not often enough (risking mold, or causing unsightly brown patches that reflect poorly on the neighborhood), at the color puce (a disgusting choice for use in public lavatories), at the annual infestation of snowbirds who make it hard to secure dinner reservations (seasonal vermin), at snowbirds again, for causing traffic congestion (making me late for my hair appointment), at Global Warming (corrupt science used by liberals for the sole purpose of hurting business), at the woman who spoke rudely to my husband last Tuesday when he was talking in line at the post office on his cell phone to his mother about his sick father who is on dialysis (we know our rights)—and so much more.

From time to time, DBD will do what it can to shed light on this black hole. We will do it because we know our rights, we're tired of being pushed around, we know our rights and we... we... should not have to settle for over-cooked end pieces of prime rib, just because some really awful person left a golf cart in the last parking space on karaoke night!

Monday, March 1, 2010


NOTE: Barbara's unfailing response to bad movies or TV shows figured in this DBD exchange. She was still working as an extra in films being made in Detroit.

--Hi. You’re late.
--I told you I would be.
--Now, this one’s called Vanishing or something.
--Vanishing on Seventh Street.It’s a thriller-slash-horror movie.
--How did it go?
--Lots of dithering. They didn’t seem as well organized as the people making Crave.They had this huge tent set up next to a multiplex theater. The theater was one of the sets. We were just milling around, not knowing anything.
--You said they were filming in the mall.
--But first in the multiplex.
--I can see you typecast for a role in a movie theatre.
--OK, now—
--One take is all they’d need. All they have to do is give you about five minutes. It’s the perfect role for you as an extra.
--They’d call it a sleeping role.
--See? It could be big for you. Huge. The phone would be ringing off the hook. "We need you for a sleeping role at a barbecue. Then we need you to sleep with your mouth open in a church. It’s a wedding scene, we can’t do it without you. Please, Barb, you won’t be sorry, we won’t forget this.”
--I’ll tell them I’ll agree to do it, but only if the director calls. I’m not sleeping in a movie, just because some flunky asks me to.
--Of course, you have standards, this is serious. Scorsese, De Palma. I think De Palma does this film. You sleep through a mob wedding, where the whole wedding party is hosed by assassins. But you never wake up. It will be powerful, I can tell you that.
--And the baby carriage scene in the train station, from The Untouchables. That’s a De Palma film. It should be in there.
--It will be. Directors quote from their own work all the time.
--I see…. I see the baby carriage, but this time it’s being pushed by the mom in front of the church where the mob wedding is taking place.
--Not rolling down the steps?
--No no. This time, the mom is just passing with the carriage when the assassins pull up.
--One of the assassins looks in at the baby and smiles. He gives the mom a twenty and asks if she’ll wait in front of the church for just a couple minutes.
--She’s poor, she needs the money for formula.
--For formula, and disposable diapers. So she says yes, and the assassin pats the baby’s blanket. This is a very effective moment, a killer smiling down at a newborn.
--I like it. And you’re already asleep inside the church, surrounded by wedding guests.
--I am. There’s already been a couple shots of me. My head is back, mouth open.
--This could be huge for you, Barb.
--Head back and sleeping when they come in and brandish their weapons. But the lead killer, the one who gave the mom a twenty, he sees me sleeping. And before anyone can say anything or scream, this killer points to me sleeping. He puts a gloved finger to his lips so everyone knows to keep silent.
--Then he walks up the aisle. The wedding couple have their backs to him.
--Of course. Did they write their own vows?
--Certainly not, this isn’t some New Age wedding. This is Italian mafia.
--My mistake.
--And I was wrong the first time. The assassin doesn’t hose everyone in the wedding party. And the priest has real thick Coke bottle glasses. De Palma’s done an establishing shot with him, too. Showing him having trouble reading the marriage ceremony or something, because of the glasses.
--Which is why he can’t see the assassin coming up the aisle.
--He can’t, he’s blind to everything farther away than three feet. He’s the brother or something, of either the bride or groom.
--Is the bride killed, too?
--Not in this film. She lives to take over the business. She’s tough. A survivor like Michael Corleone.
--Aah. So the killer shoots the groom.
--Shoots the groom, hit-man style behind the ear. Using a silencer, with everyone silent including the mother of the groom. De Palma has her faint so she won’t break the silence and wake me in my sleeping role.
--Perfect. Brilliant.
--And when the assassins leave and hurry down the cathedral stairs, the woman with the baby carriage is still there.
--She hasn’t heard a thing.
--There was nothing to hear. As the assassin hurries down, he gets out another twenty, and a piece of paper. There’s a phone number written on the paper. When he reaches the woman, he gives her the second twenty and the paper, and asks her to call the number.
--To establish suspense for later scenes, wonderful. What’s he tell her to say?
--How would I know? I’m still asleep inside the church.
--Got it, the camera’s back on you. With your mouth still open.
--No, it isn’t. Now, my mouth is closed. I’m still asleep, but my head is bowed and I’m frowning. Something has troubled my unconscious mind. This gives more weight to the scene, don’t you think?
--I don’t know what to say. This could be bigger for you than your role as a gawker. You could become the go-to person for any scene involving a sleeper. It’s a whole new genre, don’t you see? The sleeping presence, the human conscience that remains unconscious in moments of disaster.
--No, honey, you have a gift. It’s spooky.
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