The radio in my car has been broken for quite a while. The tuner is busted and the tape in the cassette player is jammed with this one educational travel tape that I have been listening to over and over again since our trip to Egypt six years ago. I am getting a little bored with it, but I know all the major pharaohs of the past 3,000 years and I bet I know more about the Great Sphinx than most people.
I decided to treat myself to a new stereo. The prices seemed reasonable and I really wasn’t looking for many bells and whistles. If there were bells and whistles, I wouldn’t be able to figure out where to ring them or blow them, anyway.
I took the car into an auto shop and waited about an hour. “All done, Mr. Wolfsie,” said Steve. “Just read the directions and you’ll be all set.”
“Read the directions? For what? You turn on the radio, and bingo! You have music. You twist the knob to change the station. You take your CD and stick it in the slot. What else is there to know?”
“Well, you’ll need to pair your Bluetooth with your iTunes. And sync your Pandora with your iPhone. Then link your Voice Control to the speakers by installing a pin number, which you can use to access the Internet through your USB drive and the auxiliary option. You can also access Spotify…
This is not exactly what he said, but he did use all those words. I’m just not sure in what order he put them. The next day, I still hadn’t cracked the code, so I went back to the store. “Look, Steve, I am still very confused. For example, how do I get an AM station?
“Can’t help you there. No one has ever asked me that before. Did you figure out the hands-free voice control?”
“Not really. How do I do it?”
“That should be easy. Instead of dialing on your cell phone, which is very dangerous when you’re behind the wheel, simply talk to the microphone on your dash and you will be connected to your party.
I hadn’t been invited to a party in years, but when I got in the car, I did want to talk to my son at work, thinking maybe he could explain some of the complexities of the new stereo that still baffled me. I spoke clearly into the speaker, leaning in: “CALL BRETT,” I said.
“Call Brad,” the device tried to confirm.
“BRETT,” I yelled back.
“NO, CALL BRETT!”
I broke out in a sweat. I was so frustrated, I needed some music to calm my nerves. Now, according to Steve, all I had to do was say the artist’s name and his songs would play.
“PLAY BOB DYLAN,” I requested. Then I heard this:
“Looking up Bob Dylan on Wikipedia. Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter and artist. He has been an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than five decades…”
Geez, I didn’t want his bio. I wanted to hear him sing. Now, totally at my wits’ end, I screamed at my new electronics. “I CANNOT FIGURE THIS OUT. HOW DO I MAKE THIS THING WORK?”
Then, a familiar voice: “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.”
What a Gift
It’s the 2014 Gift Preview by Hammacher Schlemmer, a great opportunity to see the hottest gifts available this holiday season and a chance for me to highlight the dumbest items in the catalog. By the way, this isn’t even the Christmas Edition yet, so stand by for even more in December.
The Call Me Gloves: These gloves allow the wearer to wirelessly enjoy cell phone calls while assuming the universal “call me” gesture. Simply hold your thumb next to your ear and then talk into your pinky. This is even more effective than the basic bluetooth in your ear if you are trying to convince people you have totally lost your mind.
The Voice Clarifying TV Speaker: This is a wireless speaker for $199.00 that boosts the sounds of dialogue on your TV. Here’s another idea: how about the volume button on your remote?
The Total Body Support Pillow: This is a full-length pillow that “gives optimum support for upper and lower extremities…while cushioning your sleep position.” That would be a mattress, wouldn’t it?
The Authentic Baseball Glove Leather Chair: This is a giant handcrafted leather glove that you can sit in. Having guests over for the first time? What says welcome better than an unfamiliar hand (and a HUGE one, at that) clutching your butt while you are sipping a cocktail? We’ve all been to parties like that, haven’t we? For your weight-challenged friends, try the catcher’s mitt edition.
Kitchen Table Tennis: The children are underfoot this holiday season and you tell them to keep themselves busy so you can prepare the Thanksgiving meal. What a great time for them to get out this nifty portable ping pong set and install the net across the kitchen table or island. There are four racquets so Dad and Uncle Bud can make it doubles. Don’t we all want company in the kitchen when we’re cooking?
The Paparazzi Thwarting Visor: This is a one-way reflective visor that goes over the entire face to prevent the leering of even the most seasoned of paparazzi. So, if you are at the beach trying to avoid being recognized by your boss, you can wear it all day—as long as eating and breathing easily are not that important to you.
The Wearable Sleeping Bag: This is a sleeping bag that has arms, legs and feet so kids can move around while staying warm. Too expensive at $129.00? Go to the Target catalog. Look under flannel pajamas.
The Indoor Shuffleboard Table: On your last cruise, did you fail to convince your fellow travelers that you had no interest in doing anything strenuous or adventuresome? Now you can play the world’s least demanding sport at home and indoors. Plus, because it sits on a 24-inch-high platform, you don’t even have to bend over. The shuffleboard does require assembly. That kinda ruins everything, doesn’t it?
The Indoor Flameless Marshmallow Roaster: This is a great item to go along with the indoor shuffleboard game. In fact, with a careful perusal of the entire HS catalog, you could probably spend your entire life inside your home.
Finally, the submarine sports car. This is the first car that navigates underwater then surfaces and cruises across land. The cost is two million dollars. Looking to save a few grand? Opt for the convertible model. For some odd reason, it’s slightly lower in price.
At my age, I was aware of what was happening. Maybe it was due to too many fatty foods; there was clearly a blockage. Mary Ellen said not to ignore the symptoms and call a professional.
“Hello, Rex Plumbing. Can I help you?”
“Hi, Pam, it’s Dick Wolfsie. Our disposal isn’t working. All I hear is a whirring sound and I can’t stop it.”
“We don’t stop things at Rex Plumbing,” she told me. “We un-stop things.”
Everyone’s a comedian.
About an hour later, Rex knocked—on time, as always. I called out that the door was open. I was already in the kitchen. “Where are you, Dick?” Rex screamed.
“Here, Rex,” I said.
That brought back memories of my childhood, but I have no recollection of my German Shepherd charging a hundred bucks an hour. Rex walked over to the sink, accompanied by an apprentice, apparently there to learn the trade. That’s when I noticed it…
“You don’t have any tools, Rex. Where are your tools? All you have is a plunger.”
“That’s all I need.”
“Don’t say that. No monkey wrenches? No hammers? No hydraulic pumps? If all you brought is a plunger to fix this, why do I need you? I have a plunger.”
“I don’t know, Dick. You have such a lovely set of matching steak knives on the counter, why call a surgeon?”
As Mark Twain once noted, there is nothing more annoying than a good example.
Rex approached the sink, flicked the disposal switch and confirmed my diagnosis. Then, he deftly maneuvered his plunger into the sink’s drain, pressed his thumb into the rubber cup to create a vacuum and in one swift but decisive maneuver fixed the problem. “We’re done here,” said Rex as he handed me the bill. I turned to his apprentice and asked if he had learned from his experience at my house. He said he had no regrets about not going to medical school.
The next day things were humming along in my kitchen, but now I had computer problems. I was trying to save some files so they could not be erased. Ironic, but now I wanted a backup. I called Kevin with Nerds On Call. He also arrived in a timely fashion, but once again, no tools.
“I don’t know why this bothers me, Kevin, but you and the plumber are both a hundred bucks an hour. Somehow I’d feel better if I saw some gizmos, implements, devices, gadgets. Give me something.”
Kevin sat down at the computer to do his magic. I had several computer issues, and Kevin worked diligently, addressing every one. Sixty minutes later he was done. I paid him exactly the same amount I had paid Rex. As Kevin was leaving I told him he had done an excellent job, but that there was something he could learn from my plumber. “And what would that be?” he asked, just a bit miffed.
“How to make a hundred bucks in 60 seconds.”
That’s when he reminded me about the time he came over to the house to fix the printer and simply put the plug back in the socket.
Over the past ten years, when people have inquired about my dog Toby, they’ve always made reference to my last beagle, Barney, who accompanied me on more than 2,600 TV shows between 1992 and 2004 on WISH-TV. “There will never be another Barney,” folks often say. Their comment was not intended to diminish the importance of my present canine companion, but to celebrate the memory of one of Indianapolis’ most famous TV personalities.
They are wrong. Toby is exactly like Barney, and could have easily assumed the role of media star in the shake of a beagle’s tail. But there is more to this story that deserves to be told. Toby never made it on the small screen. As I explained in my 2009 book, Mornings with Barney, television changed after 9/11. The prevailing thinking in local broadcasting was that people wanted hard news—no fluff and less chit-chat. To me, that was counter-intuitive. If you ever needed a goofy guy on TV with a dog who stole food off the table, walked out on a high-dive board, chewed up a lady’s handbag or dug up a rose bush, was there a better time?
So, yes, the two beagles share identical behavior and appearance. In fact, when people ask how old Toby is, I should say 28. That’s the way it seems. In a way, I’ve had the same beagle beside me almost three decades. Barney died in 2004. Rambunctious to the end, he spent his last day at the State Fair with adoring fans. He died that night at home. He was 14. It was time.
I’m not sure Toby knows what time it is. More than a year ago, I rushed him to the animal hospital when he displayed the most troubling of symptoms for a beagle: he wasn’t eating. The veterinarian was compassionate but direct, informing me that Toby had cancer on his kidney, then asking if I still wanted to take the aging 13-year-old dog home or make final arrangements there at the clinic. I wanted to spend a final day or so with him, so I put him in the car and off we went. Three days later, he was up and about, and knocking over trashcans. I was screaming at him to behave. This was a good sign.
But this past August, new signs of cancer had become evident, this time in his mouth and on his lymph nodes. At 14, he is way too old for invasive surgery, so I was told “it wouldn’t be long.” That was 50 walks and 100 car rides ago. He has lost his hearing, so maybe he didn’t fully understand the diagnosis.
What I face now is the hardest decision a pet owner must make. His tail is still wagging, he is eating like always, and he even wants to go for a walk every day. His energy is somewhat diminished, but that would be true of a 14-year-old hound in perfect health. Heck, that’s true of me at 67.
Because his neck and jaw are swollen by sizeable and disfiguring tumors, people I love and respect are telling me that I shouldn’t put off the inevitable.
So far, no clear word from Toby.
Two weeks prior to leaving for a cruise vacation, I had to buy a dress shirt for one of the formal evenings on the ship. I don’t like to wear a white shirt, preferring one with a bit of color, but Mary Ellen was adamant that I go traditional. I also made an additional purchase for the more casual nights.
The first evening on board, I began dressing about an hour prior to dinner, knowing that I needed extra time to extricate the new shirt from its cellophane wrap and remove the dozen tiny pins which, by the way, I had no idea how to discard that was considered environmentally friendly. The garment clearly met the criterion my wife had established for appropriate attire, so I put it on.
“You have a stain on your shirt,” said Mary Ellen.
“That’s impossible. I haven’t even worn it yet.”
“They must really know their customers at Macy’s.”
“What do you mean?”
“They pre-stained it for you.”
Yes, right next to the third button were brown blotches, nothing I was familiar with despite my extensive experience with the tell-tale signs that are left by every group in the current food pyramid. “Well, I guess I can’t wear that to dinner,” I said, hoping to now be able to put on my alternative choice.
“Well, I don’t know why not. It’s gonna look like that anyway, right after you finish your appetizer.”
I reached into the drawer and dug out the blue button-down, happy now that an unplanned turn of events had worked in my favor. Twelve pins later I was ready to head for a delicious dinner.
“You can’t wear that shirt, either,” said Mary Ellen.
“It has a smudge under the second button.”
Sure enough, once again I had purchased a brand new piece of apparel that had somehow anticipated its unavoidable destiny and had saved me the embarrassment of being first to ruin it. “Wait a second, Mary Ellen, my tie will cover the problem.”
“Super idea. Too bad that every tie you packed also has a stain on it.”
“Okay, I’ll be sure to button my sport coat. That will cover the mark on the tie.”
Mary Ellen walked over to the closet and pulled out the one dinner jacket I had brought on the trip. She looked at it carefully and shook her head. “Not going to work. Did you bring a rain coat?”
As we walked to the dining room, Mary Ellen suggested it was more embarrassing for me to arrive at a formal meal with a soiled garment than to acquire the stain during the normal course of my being a slob. When I sat down, I ordered the shrimp cocktail and effortlessly completed my assignment, now revealing signs of a more recent mishap.
After we returned home from our vacation, I washed the shirts and successfully removed the original soiled areas, but what still remained was clear evidence of some fine Italian wine, a scrumptious Chicken Parmigiana dish and a to-die-for Bouillabaisse.Mary Ellen took more than 1,000 photos on our trip, which she claims will serve as the ideal way to remember our cruise. I believe my method to permanently preserve memories was, let’s just say, spot on.
The magazine Stay Alive is not a veiled attempt to rejuvenate the career of the ’60s music group The Bee Gees. No, it is a periodical intended for people who are pretty darn sure that at some point in the near future they are going to have to hunker down with their immediate family, probably underground, for somewhere between 5 days and 25 years, hoping to avoid just about everything that can happen to you in a Tom Cruise movie.
The magazine’s current edition is full of cheery articles, as evidenced by cover headlines like: Surviving the World’s Worst Typhoon; Choose a Survival Firearm; Arrange Back-up Ammunition; Post-Disaster Tools; and my favorite: The Day the Cell Phones Died, which makes me think that the Apocalypse is NOW.
My favorite feature (a poorly disguised advertisement, really) is titled: DON’T BUY SURVIVAL FOOD…UNTIL YOU READ THIS. That is the author’s ellipsis and I have no idea why it is there. I only mention that because I didn’t want you to think I had left something important out.
In the article, the writer advocates a particular brand of survival food, going so far as to say that it is “as good as or better than any survival food I’ve eaten.” This is the kind of testimony that is hard to discount, not unlike the words of Charles Manson who once grudgingly admitted that San Quentin had the best Salisbury steak of any prison he’d ever been to. You can’t buy PR like that. “The product literally flies off the shelves,” says the unidentified author. You can expect that line to show up on a lot of English teachers’ lesson plans on exactly how not to use the word “literally.”
In one paragraph, the author notes that “many people with good intentions are making critical food mistakes when stockpiling food.” I see this a lot when I am at Golden Corral for dinner. Do people ever learn?
The writer’s biggest concern appears to be that some of the MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) available in stores may only have a shelf life of five years, which is less than the lifespan of a jar of honey, but about 4 years, 11 months, and 3 weeks, six days and 22 hours longer than a tub of potato salad at a picnic. We also learn that buying this product will allow you to avoid the monotony of having the same boring meals every night for 25 years, a problem I am having now living above ground.
If you order a survival kit, which includes these meals, you get 5,550 heirloom survival seeds. Who counted these out? Whoever it was is not going to have any problem occupying himself underground for two decades.
Also thrown in with the deal are four hardcover books. They don’t tell you what the books are about, but with so much time to kill, I’m not sure anyone will care—as long as they are not library books. Oh, by the way, you also get a really cool 11-in-1 survival knife. After all, when you are about to go underground for the rest of your life, you deserve a lovely parting gift.
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?”