Mary Ellen and I have been happy together for so long that we sometimes forget how much we annoy each other, so on the trip back home from our recent vacation, it was time catch up on our bad habits.
For example, I told Mary Ellen that she is a relentless pointer. She points at everything. “See that pretty house,” she’ll say, and then she points at it; or, look at that sunset (she points, like I don’t know where the sun is); “Your turn signal is on,” and then she directs her finger at the blinker. Really, is that necessary?
“Dick, I thought you liked it on a vacation when I pointed things out.”
”I do like it when you point things out, I just don’t want you to point at them.”
Then I told her that it drove me nuts that everything we saw, she called “pretty.” Pretty sunsets, pretty mountains, pretty houses, pretty lakes, pretty much everything. Then she gave me a look that pretty much ended that conversation. Except now it was her turn…
“Okay, I never really told you this, Dick, but it drives me crazy when we go somewhere to eat, as soon as we sit down, you pretend you have to go to the restroom. What you are really doing is walking around the restaurant inspecting other people’s food. Other than the Board of Health, who does something so weird?”
“Okay, I admit it. When I see it on another person’s plate, I get a better idea whether I should order it. I don’t think that is so odd.”
“That’s not the odd part. It’s asking for a taste that’s a little peculiar. And, here’s another thing you do. You are so impatient that after we order you keep looking around to be sure that no one who came in after us is served first.”
“Wait a second. I remember a few years we were somewhere and even you were complaining that we were supposed to be next.”
“Okay, Dick, you do realize the difference between the emergency room and Applebee’s, right?”
“Anything else, Dear?”
“Yes. When you order, you make a dozen substitutions. The other day we went to a pub and you ordered their signature baked ham sandwich. But instead of ham you wanted corned beef, and instead of mustard you wanted thousand island dressing. Then you substituted sauerkraut for the cole slaw. Why didn’t you just order a Reuben?”
“I don’t like Reubens.”
“And, finally, as soon as we are served, the first thing you do is ask if you can taste my dinner.”
“Now wait a second, that isn’t so unusual.”
“It is when we’ve ordered the same thing.”
As we made our way back home through Michigan, Mary Ellen and I placed a little wager on who could go the longest without lapsing into one of our annoying habits. When we exited the highway toward a quaint little town, Mary Ellen abruptly sat on her hands and said, “Oh Dick look at that pr…pr…cute little café on your right. Let’s eat there.”
Mary Ellen thought the lunch was fabulous, but I couldn’t say. You see, I really wanted to win that bet, so I stayed in the car.
My wife is still planning our summer vacation, which we will take in the late fall. We took our spring vacation this summer. We got behind in 1984 and still haven’t caught up. I don’t have much input into the planning of these trips, but Mary Ellen did assign me an article to read in ShopSmart magazine:
YOUR FEEL-GOOD VACATION
According to this piece, there is actually very little chance you will feel good. These are some things they want you to worry about.
TRAVELER’S DIARRHEA: In this section we learn that seven out of ten travelers experience this, which is why requests for aisle seats trump window seats on most overseas flights. An infectious disease specialist says, “Many people have been de-railed by this problem.” I am sure even more have been de-planed and de-boated. But I suppose it does happen on trains, as well. The good doctor suggests you take a drug called bismuth subsalicylate with you on the trip. But in a real emergency, I’d suggest just saying Pepto Bismol to the druggist. You really haven’t got a lot of time to mess with the pronunciation. The doctor directs you to not drink tap water or eat local fruits and vegetables that may be contaminated, but apparently he didn’t read the warning in the next paragraph.
CONSTIPATION: This is a different doctor (I know, I know, medicine is getting really specialized) who says that four out of ten people suffer from this disorder on trips. Wait a second, seven out of ten have the first problem and four of ten have the other problem. That means one person has both problems. Or does that mean he kinda doesn’t have any problem? All I know is that the four out of ten people don’t need an aisle seat. By the way, this physician suggests eating a lot of fruit and vegetables. Seriously, do these doctors ever talk to each other?
BLOD CLOTS: Here’s another cheery section. It begins by telling readers who travel by plane to stand up as often as possible and stretch, so “it’s most important that you get an aisle seat.” Sadly, most of those seats are being taken by you-know-who. If you do end up with the middle seat, you better hope the guy in the aisle seat isn’t sitting there very often, which come to think of it, he won’t be.
MOTION SICKNESS: Once again, an aisle seat is recommended, but hurry—those seats are going fast. However, if you are travelling by car, you should take the window option.
BACK PAIN: “When people lift bags into the top compartment, many swing them in a way that can cause harm,”says an orthopedic surgeon. That is so true. On our trip to Ireland a few years ago, I decked a man and half his family with a poorly timed toss of my duffle bag into the overhead. Dr. Rao goes on to advise that you should always hold your bags close to your body. Good advice, especially in the New York and Amsterdam airports.
Next to this article is a lovely full color photo of suggested travel drugs and what they will look like when you pack them neatly into one smart-looking designer carry-on bag. There’s Miralax, Ricola, Dramamine, Lomotil, Pepto Bismol, and Benadryl, to name a few. It’s a visual representation of everything that can potentially ruin your trip. The magazine admonishes against purchasing these products overseas because in some countries the over-the-counter meds are counterfeit. But you probably will have to buy them there, anyway. Once the TSA agent sees that stash at the airport, you’ll be lucky to still have your two-ounce bottle of shampoo.
It began with a simple phone call to my friend Auri, a computer geek I asked to help me with my very successful website, which right now is attracting up to three visitors a month. To have a strong online presence, you have to spend several hours a day using social media, like Facebooking, tweeting, and updating your blog. This means cutting yourself off from the outside world. But that’s the price you pay for being social.
Auri and I decided to meet for coffee. I got out my trusty mini legal pad and wrote down the time and date. Then I put a sticky note on my bathroom mirror. At my age, I know I will see it there several times the night before, reminding me of any early morning obligations. This system seldom fails, although one day I accidentally grabbed a list from the previous day and started repeating everything on it. I’m glad I have an honest barber.
Auri and I set the time for the following Tuesday, 9:00 a.m., at Starbucks. Auri entered our engagement on his Google calendar, which I soon discovered automatically synched to my AOL calendar, telling me the time and location of the appointment. I don’t like it when other people tell me where to go—but that was happening way before computers.
A minute after our call, a “meeting alert” magically appeared on my computer screen. The message suggested I pick a color for this entry to make it stand out and distinguish it from other appointments on my calendar, except I didn’t have any. I had no idea what color a morning at Starbucks should be. Brown seemed appropriate for morning java, but I wanted something more festive. Mary Ellen suggested taupe or mauve; I told her I wanted the color to reflect the importance of our get-together, not match our bedspread. I went with red.
The following morning, I got an “Invitation Update” in my email as well as on my cell phone. It was a request by Auri to change the time of our Tuesday breakfast from 9:00 to 8:30. I agreed to the new time, telling him in a comment box that I was changing the color of our meeting from red to green. Although I’m sure this didn’t matter to Auri, the Department of Homeland Security was probably relieved.
Included with the update was a link to MapQuest, informing me how long it would take to get to Starbucks from my house, which was either 3 minutes away, 4 minutes away, 7 minutes away or 8 minutes away, depending on which Starbucks in my neighborhood I was going to.
On Tuesday morning, I got another cell phone alert (an annoying ding) that my breakfast meeting was in half an hour. Then at 8:15, I was dinged again, warning that I only had 15 minutes to make it on time. I rushed out the door, afraid that if I were late, news of my tardiness would go viral.
I reached Starbucks at 8:25. Auri had not arrived yet. I bought a coffee and waited. And waited. I called his cell phone at 9:00 a.m. He answered right away. “Auri, where are you? I’m at Starbucks on 82nd,” I said.
“Oh my gosh, was that today?”
CALL FOR AN UPDATE
According to a national research firm, the majority of people over 65 do not own a cell phone. This is in contrast to the millennials who admit that the first thing they do in the morning and the last thing they do each night is check their mobile phone. It must be nice to have a strong bladder.
To increase sales, cell phone companies are targeting the older demographic. Here’s a sales call that might take place between an account rep (AR) and somebody’s grandmother (SG):
AR: Hello, Mrs. Smith, my name is Joe. I’m calling to see if we can interest you in a new mobile phone. How has your present phone been working out for you?
SG: For 75 years, I’ve dialed and someone answered. If it rang, I answered it. Can you improve on that?
AR: We’d like to introduce you to something different. It’s called a smart phone.
SG: Are you there? You keep cutting out. What’s so smart about your phone?
AR: You can carry it with you, wherever you go.
SG: It must have a very long cord. What if I go shopping?
AR: That’s the beauty of it—you don’t need a cord.
SG: No cord? You could lose a phone that way.
AR: If you misplace it at home, you can call your cell phone with your other phone and you will hear it ring.
SG: Wait a second, you want me to buy your phone, but still keep my phone so I can use it to find your phone? This is not a great marketing plan. Where does the power come from to run the phone?
AR: The phone has a battery and you have to plug it into the wall to recharge it.
SG: Wait, I thought you didn’t need a cord. Hello, are you there? I keep losing you.
AR: Sorry…the battery for the phone has to be charged or the device won’t work.
SG: I have a flashlight like that. Your phone should be smarter than my flashlight. What else can it do?
AR: You can just pick up the phone and say something like: “Siri, call my grandson.”
SG: Well, my grandson has one of your phones. Haven’t heard from him in a week.
AR: Don’t you see? You don’t have to dial. Just say the number or person you want to call.
SG: Had one of those phones out in the country when I was a kid. ‘Elsie,’ I’d say, ‘get me 555-5555.’ In a flash, my best friend was on the other end. Joe, I’m still not hearing you very well.
AR: Look, here’s the big advantage. Anywhere you are, your friends can call you.
SG: How do they know where I am? That sounds creepy.
AR: Here’s another advantage. In the car, the smart phone can give directions.
SG: You don’t have a wife to do this? I have a lovely single granddaughter…
AR: Madam, would you be willing to try the new phone?
SG: Well, let me think about it. What brand is your phone?
AR: We call it an iPhone.
SG: What does the ‘i’ stand for?
AR: Uh, I’m not sure. No one has ever asked me that before. I feel like an idiot.
SG: Well, I guess ‘i’ has to stand for something. Hello, are you still there?
Something curious is happening to me. I hope it’s not anything to be too concerned about. I’m not napping as much as I used to. For most of my life, if I was on the couch watching a TV show, I’d nod off within five minutes. But a couple of weeks back, I made it through the entire Super Bowl wide awake. Not even Peyton Manning can say that.
This past month I did not take a single nap. Even the dog wondered what happened to our siesta. He kept following me around the house as if to say, “Hey, I’m 80 in dog years. It’s almost 2 p.m. Let’s stretch out and do this.”
Napping has never been a problem. When I was a high school teacher, I actually fell asleep in class while proctoring a statewide exam. The kids were very polite. “I hope we didn’t disturb you yesterday, Mr. Wolfsie,” said one of my students. “We tried to cheat as quietly as we could.”
Up until recently, I could take a quick snooze while having dinner with friends, at red lights, while waiting for my wife to put on makeup, as the dog was relieving himself, at fast food drive-up windows, in check-out lines. Anywhere.
As a result of grabbing the occasional 40 winks, I have missed a few events that in retrospect I probably should have stayed awake for. Here are the top three:
1. My sixty-fifth birthday party (I wish they had screamed “surprise!” louder)
3. The end of my interview with Governor Evan Bayh
Mary Ellen never quite understood the value of a nap. Personally, I think women are afraid they’re going to miss something. Like a sale, or a beautiful sunset, or the plot of a movie. Men don’t care about stuff like this. On the rare occasion that Mary Ellen has fallen asleep during the day, she would awaken with an apology and an explanation of her behavior. “I don’t know what happened. I must be coming down with something!” I always had a different attitude when awakening from a short slumber: “Man, that was a great. I’m getting better and better at this all the time.”
My inability to nap recently came up during my last annual physical, but there was some confusion in the conversation. “How are you sleeping?” asked Dr. Coss, a pretty standard inquiry by a primary care provider.
“It’s been rough,” I told him. “Sometimes I’m awake for 8-10 hours in a row.”
“TEN HOURS?” he gasped. “We need to do some testing. How long has this been going on?”
“Do you just toss and turn in bed?”
“Well, I’m not in bed. That’s the problem. I’m out driving the car, watching the news, cooking. Sometimes I’m in the garage operating heavy machinery.”
“This is very troubling, Dick. So you don’t sleep all night?
“No, I sleep great at night. It’s all day that I can’t sleep”
Dr. Coss was very helpful once I straightened out the misunderstanding. He said that I had to accept that men experience changes in their bodily rhythms as they mature. “I want you to go home this afternoon and really think about that,” he said. I told him I’d have to sleep on it. Which meant, of course, it would have to wait until that night.
The problem is that there are now three more hours each day where I need to find something to keep me busy. I think I have found the perfect online service to do just that. It must really work, or they couldn’t call it Napster.
For the longest time, I had a label on my cell phone displaying the devices mobile number so if I lost it, the person who found it could call me. I realized how incredibly dumb this was when I left it at Ace Hardware one day and when I finally went back and found it, I had 24 messages from people who wanted me to know that it was “right here” in Lawn and Garden by the Azaleas.
The other day, I went out to do a few errands and realized that I had forgotten my phone, but when I returned home, I couldn’t find it. I called it, of course, but that required dialing the number from my landline and then racing from room to room to hear the ring. I’m most proud of my sprint (no pun intended, there) from my third floor office to the basement in less than 4.6 seconds. But I heard nothing. Where was my cell phone?
First I called Kroger and talked to the manager at the service desk. “Where might you have left it, Sir?”
“I started out really health conscious so it could be between the asparagus and the broccoli, but then I got the munchies so I could have left it in the potato chip aisle. It’s not in the meat department. I’m trying to cut down on beef and pork because…
“Sir, this is Brad, the Kroger manager, not Dr. Oz. I’ll call you on your home phone if I find it.”
Then I remembered that I had stopped to pick up some prescription dog food. “Yes, good morning, I was at your clinic earlier and wondered if you found a Nokia there?”
“I know there is a Shih Tzu in the back that really needs a home. I don’t think we have any Nokias, but this is my first day working here.”
When I purchased my phone, I signed up for an extra feature, a way to track the location of your cell phone using a kind of GPS system. I logged into the website.
A map popped up and suddenly this little green dot started floating around a five-mile area where I had indicated I had spent the previous few hours. The dot continued to circle, searching for my lost phone. It passed over a street whose name I recognized, then moved to another location that also sounded familiar. Suddenly, it landed on the street where I live. Oh my, it was like that horror movie with Jodi Foster. IT’S IN MY HOUSE, IT’S IN MY HOUSE.
My eyes widened. The adrenalin was pumping. How did it get back in my home? Where was it hiding? Calling it was of no use because I had turned off the ringer the night before. I looked everywhere that I had ever lost my cell phone in the past: the bottom of the dog food container, the freezer, my briefcase, my wife’s pink nightgown. Please don’t ask me to explain that, it’s not what you think.
I called the 800 customer service number and was told that the phone, even if it was turned off, could play a tune that would help me locate it. “Do you have a favorite song, Sir?” I told him that I did. Suddenly, “Dancing on the Ceiling” was coming from the hall bathroom.
I’m still confused how my cell phone ended up in my medicine cabinet. Not to mention Lionel Richie.
BIG GOOD JOHN
Big John Gillis was as tall as a grizzly bear, but gentle as a teddy bear. The forty-year veteran of Indiana radio, who recently passed away, was an iconic figure. His loyal listeners looked up to him. “I guess being 6’ 4” was a big help,” he once told me.
So ingrained in Indianapolis was the persona of Big John that until his passing, people still thought he spent his mornings in a helicopter reporting for harried commuters making their way to work. Truth is, John hadn’t been in a WIBC chopper for almost 20 years. In a bow to the economy, he had transitioned to a fixed-wing plane and then a mobile unit for his reports. He ended his traffic career broadcasting from a studio where even the sound of barking dogs on the street outside did not convince his fans he was really earthbound.
John loved the sound of his own voice. I offer this as high praise, because you always felt that each word that tumbled effortlessly off his tongue was not only meticulously chosen, but was savored for still another nanosecond before he went on to the next. “His 60-second traffic reports,” said long-time associate Jeff Pigeon at John’s funeral, “lasted about eight minutes.”
Years ago in an interview at his home, after he left WIBC, John told me: “I have 20 seconds to do what I have to do, read a sponsor’s name, and then if I can figure out a way to twist a word or inject my personality into it, that’s it…I’m a disembodied voice, and every 10 minutes I stop what I am doing and talk to my imaginary friends.”
A disembodied voice? Perhaps. But it still embodied everything that was good about radio in those years. He wasn’t just a person you recognized on the street, he was a person you felt you knew personally. Everyone liked him, of course, but far more importantly, you knew instantly that he liked you, as well.
John loved radio. It was his best friend. He wanted to introduce you to his best friend. But “why radio?” I asked him during our visit in 2007. “Because everywhere you travel, it’s there; it takes you places immediately…it exercises your imagination.” If there was any sadness, any remorse in John, it was that media had changed. “We went to high tech and lost the high touch,” he told me. “Radio should be about content, character and personality.”
John should have thrown in loyalty, an ingredient he added to a recipe that brought him a taste of success, and also fulfilled him. There was no doubt, Big John had many opportunities to leave the market and pursue a more lucrative career elsewhere. That was not in John’s flight plan. His job was on the air and in the air, but his feet were on the ground. He loved Indianapolis; he was wedded to WIBC. Why break up a happy marriage?
“If I have 20 minutes to live and I spend the next 19 with you, having this conversation, I would die happy,” John said to me. “If in that 20 minutes, we come up with an idea and we have 20 years to make it happen, then God has blessed me far beyond my wildest dreams.”
John did not have those 20 years. But if you still hear his halting, yet mesmerizing, voice in your head, look to the heavens. No, he’s not in the helicopter, but he’s up there. Trust me.