Friday, June 29, 2012

Power Washing Wear & Tear

The power washer is a great invention.

An even better invention is the guy who uses it for you....

An even better invention than the guy who uses it for you is the guy who uses it for you and buys you lunch….

And an even better invention than the guy who uses it for you and buys you lunch is the guy who uses it for you, buys you lunch and doesn’t talk to you during lunch ….

One too many, huh?

I never learn.....

Anyway, other than the power washer, I don’t have any of those things.

So every year I have to drag it out of the garage myself and power wash our deck and various sundry items…but not my neighbors pugadoodle.

I would never do that….

That would be wrong….

When it comes to household chores I’m not the most efficient handy man.

I’m more of a two left feet man.

Not that I don’t know my way around a hammer and a screwdriver…I do…I just take the long way around.

I think it’s a focus thing…my mind is usually elsewhere, like on a sandy beach sipping Piña Coladas, which annoys me, because I would rather my mind was doing the work and I was sipping the Piña Coladas.

I usually can’t wait to get whatever I’m doing done…which means I do stupid things. Like the time I was doing a simple touch up painting job and spilled paint all over my pants...which led to me hastily tearing off my pants and throwing them directly into the washing machine…with  my phone still in the pocket.

Or when I put the bookshelf together with the shelves in backwards, which was actually an improvement over the time I forgot to put the shelves in at all. 

I thought that was a lot of space for a half a dozen books…..

Really, I’m a regular Mr. Magoo when it comes to these things.

Anyway, out came the power washer, which, luckily, is not the most powerful of its kind, otherwise I shudder to think what would become of most things not tied down…including the pugadoddle.

I actually have two decks that are in need of upkeep.  One is of the small redwood variety that the previous owner built alongside the garage. We probably don’t need it but it’s pleasant to look at through our kitchen window… and the local wildlife seem to enjoy it.

Not that I’ve actually seen them using it, but I’m constantly picking up their little wildlife beer cans and Frito wrappers.

So we try to keep it nice….

I start my power washing duties here, you know, just to warm up a bit, and aside from the spray bottle of deck cleaner springing a leak all over my clothes, everything went well.

I again panicked, tore off my brand new shorts and t-shirt, waved to my neighbor, then ran into the basement and immediately plunged them into the washer…but this time without my phone in the pocket.

No…this time in the pocket I only had my new electronic car keys…and my wallet.

Why these items were in my pocket I have no idea, but I’m thinking I was subconsciously planning on joining my mind on the sandy beach sipping Piña Coladas.

However, not to worry; a quick change into more suitable work attire soon found me on the larger upper deck, which we had built when we bought the house, and is our favorite place to be this time of year. 

We’re out there most every evening—when it’s not raining...or freezing—so it’s good to spruce it up every season, especially when the green image of Mussolini re-appears next to the big flower pot.

Our guests, for the most part, find images of former European despots disturbing, so we wash it away.

I like to give the patio furniture a little spritz before starting in on the deck itself. We bought this set when we first built the deck, of course, and they’re still in pretty good shape. I think because they winter in the garage, which to patio furniture is the equivalent of wintering in Florida…sort of.

Of course, while I’m sliding table and chairs around the deck in a game of musical power washing, I am also washing most of the neighborhood, whether they want to be washed or not.

At one point—which is the only point here, so it appears—the nozzle got stuck on my back pocket and began to chase me around the deck, threatening to propel me into space like Rocketman.

Luckily, the bamboo bush is soft and spongy so it pretty much cushioned my fall.

And I’m sure I can re-build that run of railing that ended up in the driveway…along with the glass table top, which, amazingly, is still intact. Although I don’t recommend resting anything heavier than a bowl of peanuts—unshelled—unsalted—on it.

And the fur on the pugadoodle has mostly filled back in…for the most part.

But at least that’s one more job out of the way for at least another season...or two…or three. 

Of course I still have the flagstone walkways to touch up.

And the squirrels are looking a little worse for wear…..

It never ends.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Seasons According to LL Bean

We’re just a week removed from the solstice, and LL Bean tells me it’s already “Late Summer”.

Which in catalogue marketing code really means…fall.

Yep the F word…on the 27th of June, a week before the 4th of July.

People don’t like to hear it, and they shouldn’t hear it, especially in June, so they call it “Late Summer”.

I guess I should get started chopping up my kindling for the fireplace, if I actually chopped kindling for the fireplace, which I don’t.

But if I did I should get started.

Because LL Bean says I should.

Since it’s already “Late Summer”.

That went fast.

Some people haven’t even gotten sand between their toes yet.

But they can stock up on their versatile lightweight fleece, just right for those cool “Late Summer” nights at camp.

Just in case your unaware, or not a New Englander, or have never ordered from Bean’s, camp is what the folks from Maine call the place you getaway to in the woods and or mountains.

It’s not the place you sit around the campfire next to a bunch of people with braces singing “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt”…whose name, incidentally,  is not my name, too!

Even so...whenever we go out,
The people always shout
There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!
Which is annoying....

There’re also various long sleeve tees, cozy comfy sweatshirts and sweaters made of thick marled yarn, not to mention—yet still I will—flannel lined sleeping bags…again just the thing for those cool “Late Summer” days and evenings…at camp.

Cuz it’s always nippy at camp.

And if you don’t have a “camp” or go to a “camp”, or even enjoy The Three Stooges, you can still enjoy the warmth of a Comfort Corduroy Big Shirt. It’s a long time customer favor and it just might be the softest shirt you’ll ever wear….especially in “Late Summer”.

And don’t forget the breathable warmth of Fitness Fleece, which will keep you warm during walks, jogs, and everyday excursions—and they’re offered at a great price! Of course, Princess seaming gives them a flattering fit, unlike last year’s very un-Princess seaming, which apparently, I suppose, made you look like a monk at vespers.

Oh, and Scrunchneck is now available in a fun variegated stripe pattern.

Scrunchneck….ahhhh, brings back memories of Miss J, one of my favorite day camp counselors, which was the only camp I ever frequented.   After a few days in the sun the underside of Miss J’s neck developed into this interesting Rorschach pattern of white and red crisscrossing lines.  What you saw there I guess said a lot about what you thought of Miss J.

I often saw the face of God.

Who looked a lot like Lou Costello….

But I digress.

Don’t get me wrong—if you get me at all—I’m not trying to run down LL Bean here. I actually love Bean’s…at least as much as a man can love a mail order-catalogue retail business with free shipping and returns. I probably buy 90% of my wardrobe from Bean’s.  The other 10% I get out of the Goodwill bins at Costco.

They actually make great stuff—those Sri Lankan Down Easterners, really know how to make a sweater—although I have some issues with the colors lately.

Brown Heather?  Light Russet?  Grey Heather?  Coffee Bean…and of course “Camp” Green.

Sounds more like colors better suited for a camp of chronically depressed boot salesmen.

They do feature ‘Bottle Blue” however, which I’m particularly fond of since it actually is the color of the bottle that I imbibe from most evenings…in or out of camp.

The problem with buying clothes from Bean’s is that they’re actually made too well.

They never wear out.

And since they’ve featured the same unpretentious items and styles for the last 50 years or so, you eventually end up owning the entire catalogue.

You find yourself in 20 year old photos wearing the same olive sweater with the same “Friend of Bill” button pinned to the front that you’re wearing today.

But, like I said, they give me free shipping and free returns, plus I like the big tall Grizzly Bear they have in the flagship store in Freeport. The stuffed one, not the guy who works in the shoe department that I mistakenly insulted that time in the 80’s.

I just wish they would let us enjoy the season at hand before they start to peddle the season ahead.   

Oh wait…the “Late Late Summer Pre-Christmas” catalogue just arrived with Santa decorating a pine tree with Golden Retriever puppies, dressed up like cute little elves, on the cover.

I wonder what colors the Cotton Cashmere T-necks come in this year?

And it’s never too early to order your decorative yet edible, Ginger Bread House or Festive Balsa Centerpiece, just right for any table….

Monday, June 25, 2012

There’s Always Ice Cream

I live just up the street from the local park and ball fields, and every day as I sit here at my desk I catch a glimpse of my past in the form of young ball playing aspirants walking home with their dads and sometimes mom’s.

I don’t mean the dads are sometimes moms…you know what I mean….but again…

Gotta be careful.

Anyway, I’ll focus more on the dads and sons here, since that was my experience when I was an 8 year old baseball novice. 

Nowadays they start even 3, 4, 5 or 6. You can’t start playing baseball too early, you know. Can’t start instilling the value of self-esteem based on how well coordinated you are and your ability to concentrate on anything other than a Sponge Bob cartoon, too soon.

I mean who needs a well-adjusted kid?

What struck me about today's vignette was the sight of a particular young man, dressed in full uniform, maybe 9 or 10, walking about 6 or 7 steps ahead of his dad, who was barking instructions at him in regard to that day’s on field performance.

The kid, head down, trudged forward carrying the tell-tale weight of failure on his back.

Was it a team failure or a personal one, I wondered.  Judging from the dad’s remarks it seemed kind of personal. 

“I told you about keeping your front shoulder in and your back elbow up…”

“You’re still guessing instead of reacting….”

And from what I could see the kid wasn’t reacting, at all, at least to his dad. In fact it occurred to me that his dad’s voice was the last thing he wanted to hear.  Because if I were this little boy of 9 or 10, what I wanted to hear was, “Good game…let’s go get some ice cream.”

But I guess things are different now. 

When I was 8 we pretty much just showed up at the field in a pair of dirty jeans and whatever shirt we woke up in, along with either some hand me down dried out piece of leather, or a glove so new it still mooed and was impossible to bend let alone close. 

There we stood, gathered in a circle to hear some inspirational words from the coach, all the while wondering why his nose was so red. Then, appropriately inspired, we ran out to the field, screaming like banshees, who had a pretty good team themselves, and stood wherever we could find an open spot to stand.

One lucky kid was selected to pick up a bat and hit, which is what we all really wanted to do, while the coach soft tossed baseballs at him.

Mostly, the kid would swing valiantly at the pitch, usually miss and sometimes screw himself into the ground.

Meanwhile, the rest of us stood out at our self-appointed positions, made faces at our friends, scanned the sky for airplanes and picked our own red noses.

Occasionally the bat would find its way to the ball and, if you were paying attention, you would find yourself running towards said ball…along with about 20 other kids…some of whom weren’t even on the field at the time it was hit.

And in this way we learned to play the American pastime.

Eventually, as time went on and actual games were played, the herd thinned out as those who lacked the attention span, the desire or simply the love of the game went off to pursue other interests.

Our 6 inning contests rarely made it to completion as darkness would ultimately take hold, sometimes as early as the third inning after a good 2 hours of trying to hit the ball and get somebody out.

But there were plenty of walks and strikeouts and even a few caught balls…every now and then.

The best part was, after the game, completed or not, won or lost, there was always a cooler of soda and sometimes a trip for ice cream.

Eventually, our bodies caught up with our aspirations and our dreams advanced with our eye/hand coordination. 

We played catch with our dads, just cuz we liked it, and pitched in the World Series of our imagination as we bounced a super ball off the front steps. We watched games on TV, played in backyards, playgrounds and even in the street. 

Some had a natural instinct and ability for the game and naturally found their positions, while others, myself included, had no natural position, let alone ability, other than an instinct to get dirty from head to toe.

The truth is, if you had to name my best position I guess you would have to call me a designated walker/base runner who was an expert at pop up sliding, having practiced the art for hours on my living room carpet.

As the competition increased and we advanced through the leagues, the best of the best stood out above the rest and even more of us dropped out.

But there was no sense of failure or loss in any of that.  We went as far as our abilities took us and most importantly, we had fun along the way.

We all worked at getting better and we all wanted to win. 

Sure, we suffered our losses and licked our wounds…but we turned the page quickly…and soon found the world was full of other games, most of which came with as many defeats as there were wins.

And once we understood that...we never lost again.

And besides...there’s always ice cream.

Lots and lots of ice cream.


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Friday, June 22, 2012

I’m a Baker’s Cousin

About a year ago I discovered that my cousin Jim opened a bakery, right smack in the middle of trendy lower Manhattan.

This was a surprise to me since, up until that point, I wasn’t sure my cousin had even opened a can of tuna...and now he was opening entire bakeries.

So it really goes to show, every time you think you know a person, you find out you don’t…and then they go and open a bakery.

And not just a bakery, but a very successful bakery that caters to everyone from students to movie stars…construction workers to internet wizards and everyone and everything in between.

But not Hobbits.  The Hobbits refuse to wear shoes so they’re not allowed in the store. So that’s another plus.

Some notable celebrities, known for their unadulterated views, have even gone on national late night talks shows and talked about how they fill their bathtubs with their butter cream icing, or something like that…I’m not sure.

The name of this place is called Empire Cake and can be found on 8th Avenue, between 15th and 16th street.  I was there this past weekend, and even at 11 PM there was a steady stream of people coming in and out to snatch up a box or two or three of their version of Snowballs and Twinkies, and other assorted goodies, which is exactly what that hour on a Saturday night in NYC calls for. 

People passing by would actually stop and take pictures of the cakes and cupcakes featured in the windows, as if they were documenting a gallery of fine jewels on display at Tiffany’s.

Only this is better because you can’t get a cake made into a life sized replica of Mitt Romney, if you’re so inclined, at Tiffany’s.

So people can fool you, especially me…and usually do.

This particular cousin was born about a year and a decade after I arrived, along with his older brother, who was more like my twin bro than my cuz, growing up.

Since Jim was the first human being that either of us had experienced from baby to baker, you can imagine the delight we took in experimenting in how to make his young life somewhat…difficult.

Nothing major, just little things like throwing a wayward foot out in front of him as he was happily mastering the art of walking. Something, he claims, to this day, led to his extreme bowlegged stride.


Years later we became close in a way that cousins become brothers, and brothers become friends, by doing odd jobs together for his mom’s, my aunt's, market research business.

Aside from assignments such as peering into people’s cars to see if they were wearing seatbelts, or spying on bank tellers and grocers, we spent most every Saturday night through the 90s in various Manhattan movie theatres handing out and compiling surveys to determine for the Hollywood crowd if their paying customers would “definitely recommend” a film to their friends.

Unfortunately, but happily, we spent most of our evening pay frequenting nearby bars in-between screenings, drinking beer and consuming hot wings and burgers by the bushel. But mostly we talked and we talked and we talked…about life and about living…and in this way we came to appreciate and know each other beyond the bonds and bounds of family.

However, time keeps rolling and as in all things real, people move on to chase other endeavors and dreams and vanish for a while into their own worlds.

But not forever. 

Sooner or later we all resurface, come up for air, reconnect and return to that last second in time you hung out together; a moment deferred much longer than you would have ever thought possible.

Then you open your mouth to bridge the gap and the first words you say are:

“Will I get a ticket out there?”

And the response is:

”Why are you asking me?  You have to read the signs!”

And magically, just like that, 7 lost years are found.

And if that includes a bakery in the process, all the better because I’m telling you those Snowballs and Twinkies are to die for.  Well, maybe not to die for, because really, what is…but certainly to risk a serious bruising. Still, it’s close….

And did I mention the Black & White cookies, cupcakes, specialty cakes, scones, cinnamon buns and everything else you would expect to find in a trendy lower east side bakery that my cousin Jim opened with his pal and baker partner Eric, who may or may not have actually opened a can of tuna at one time or another. But Eric’s a lawyer so there were probably loop holes and we can’t really be certain. 

Check them out if you find yourself wandering 8th Avenue between 15th and 16th looking for something fun to ruin your dinner.  Plus they’ll probably make you laugh.

And if you mention The Freelance Retort, they might serve you anyway….

I'm a Baker's Cousin.
The Baker & Me

You think you know a person....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Solstice is Canceled

I’m afraid we’ve had to cancel Summer Solstice this year.

Not the actual Solstice; that’s still going to happen…tonight at 7:09 PM EDT...although why it would want to is beyond me.

No…I mean our annual Summer Solstice party is canceled.

We’ve had it ever since we built the deck on the back of our house, shortly after we moved in some 10 years ago.

But not this year.

Not that I wanted to cancel it…I didn’t.

But, like everything else, it’s just turned into such a big hoo ha that the whole point of the celebration has been lost and people are just out to make a buck.

Do you know what the Druids are asking for this year?

I won’t even say… but it’s certainly not very Druid like if you ask me.

Even the second tier Druids, the one that don’t clean up after themselves, are looking to cash in.

I know….

So that left me scrambling for replacements.

At first I thought...why not ask the Zombies across the street if they’d like to do it?

I mean they have a lot in common with the Druids.  Throw a hooded cloak on them and who would know, except for the smell.

And I could probably cover that up pretty easily with the bratwurst and sauerkraut.

But they weren’t interested.  They're having their own little shindig with all of their decrepit ghoul friends.

I guess it’s just as well.  They’re not the liveliest bunch. I went to one of their summer BBQs once and it was pretty dead…or I guess un-dead is the better word.

Plus Zombies don’t handle the heat very well. Anything over 75 degrees really accelerates their rate of decomp.  And there’s not enough bratwurst and sauerkraut in the world to hide that, especially with a large group of them.

Of course the Witches next door are working their own events. Hannah, the smaller of the two witches, at least as witches go, told me they were brooming to four separate gigs all over town.

So scratch that.

By the way…never say “scratch that” to a witch.

Don’t ask…just trust me.

The Vampires down the street, for obvious reasons, don’t want anything to do with a sun worshiping event.

They tend to burn the second they walk into the light.

Plus they can’t keep their fangs to themselves once they start imbibing.

I was even desperate enough to consider the Werewolves.

Yeah, I know…my snobby neighbors would be howling themselves if I had anything to do with the Werewolves. 

But come on…how long is this going to go on…just because of one little over-salivation incident on a Halloween, years ago?

Sure, Werewolves, like everyone, make mistakes.  But most of the time they’re sane, normal human beings, just like the rest of us…except once a month.

How’s that different from being married?

I already canceled the Morris Dancers, which kills me because this year I was able to get the good ones with the cool hats.

Plus I lost my deposit.

So it’s just as well; I guess things run their course and you move on.

My neighbor had already told me he wasn’t going to let me use his upstairs bedroom for the southeast corner of the mystical labyrinth, this year, anyway.

Such a buzz kill.  Where would I put the goats?

And to be honest, most of my friends are getting a bit long in the tooth—vampires aside—for the naked fire dancing.

Hard to watch, even with the dim lighting.

Plus most of them are only interested in munching on Fritos and dip while they sit and gab with each other about the most inconsequential of things, especially on a solstice.

Last year, I don’t think a single one of them took more than a quick glance at the human sacrifice.

So Summer Solstice is canceled.

But I hope not for you….

Yeah…I know….

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beach Fundamentals

I took my first all day trip of the season out to the local beach the other day.

It was a great day, except for the guy trying to dunk me in butter on the way out….

Think about it….

It’ll come to you….


First beach days have a bit of a learning curve thing attached to them.

You wouldn’t think it was a big deal, but it’s been about 8 months, so things have to be re-learned.

Like remembering to put on your bathing suit.

Locate your beach permit.

Pack your iPod.

Find your lunch cooler.

Pack your lunch cooler.

Find your lunch.

Dig out the Coppertone # 4 that you’ve been nursing for the last 20 years.

Not to mention towels, chairs, umbrellas, hats…

And finally, figuring out that your bathing suit is the one that doesn’t have a top.

But that’s an easy one cuz the guy in the parking booth usually can’t hide his smirk.

Once the car—the brand new car— is neatly settled in the furthest space in the furthest corner of the lot, safe from wayward beach chairs and coolers, I saunter up to the gate, present my beach card to the same semi-polite, off from college girl, working her way through yet another summer—still reading the same book about thoughtful vampires—who wraps another one of those ridiculous neon wrist bands around my wrist…again, for yet another season.

I step onto the sand, breathe in the salt air and make my way up the beach past the life guard shack, past familiar faces, already tanned, until finally I settle onto my own personal patch of water front property, staked and claimed more than a few decades ago.

The first thing I do is to remove the ridiculous wristband so as not to mar my impending perfect tan. I’m a beach anarchist that way…what can I say.

Don’t tread on my tan line is my motto.

Again, being the first beaching day of the season, it takes me a while to re-work my routine, one that I’ve repeated countless times.

Yet, every year is a new year, and who knows, maybe this year I’ll use the blue towel instead of the green to cover my chair…or dare I say it…maybe even switch to the monkey towel.

So you can see why this is a process.

In the end I stick with what’s worked in the past.  Why fix what’s not broke, I say.

I may be a beach anarchist, but I’m not crazy.

Sitting back now, I scan the shore line and notice that the row of break rocks that separate the two beaches seems a bit off this year. While it may not seem like a big thing to you, it’s a little unsettling in a place that’s been essentially frozen in time for most of my life.

Oh wait…I see what it is…they added a “Please” to the “Keep off the Rocks” sign.

I guess I can live with that….or at least try to avoid looking in that direction.

Another, less disturbing, change, I notice, is that the woman with the furry toes, who wanders up and down the beach all day, is singing a different Village People song this year.

She’s switched from the comfortable strains of “YMCA” to the more controversial “In the Navy”.

Who am I kidding; this is even worse than the added “Please”.

So I pop in my earplugs and put my own brand of music on shuffle and settle back to begin another summer of sun soaking.

But again, something’s off.  I apparently screwed something up when I was syncing my iPod and erased everything but my podcasts of “Garrison Keillor Sings Songs of Lutheran Inspiration”…all 50 volumes.

Not that I have anything against Garrison Keillor or songs of Lutheran Inspiration, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.  I usually start my summer off with “Don Rickles Does Dinosaurs.”

Yeah…I know.

So there’s only one thing left to do…take my traditional first dip in the Sound, which, while still a bit on the chilly side, at least for my taste, I know will be exactly the same as I left it last year.

But wait…something’s off here as well. The horseshoe crab that usually habitats the spot just to the left of the floating seaweed is missing.

The horseshoe crab that usually habitats the spot just to the left of the floating seaweed is never missing….

Oh but wait…I see what’s wrong.

The horseshoe crab that usually habitats the spot just to the left of the floating seaweed isn’t missing at all.

I just walked into the water a bit to the right of the starfish that sits in the puddle, next to the one armed crab, during low tide.  I just had to slide over about five feet and there he was.


Like I said, first day at the beach is a bit of a learning curve no matter how many times you go through them.

Luckily it’s a long summer and things seem to always find their way back to normal.

It’s how summers are meant to be.

Don’t worry…be happy.

Searching for my lost shaker of salt….


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