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“They Say” that the French are small minded xenophobes who hate those who don’t speak French, that they are stingy and ungrateful and altogether despicable.

Scene I.  It is 1977 and my wife and I are in Paris on a vacation. We are in a Metro station trying to figure out the ticket vending machine and we are failing badly. Next to us is an elderly Frenchwoman, a grandmotherly type in a shapeless dress, who has no such problems. Hesitantly, I approach her, a French banknote in hand and, in my broken French, explain my problem. She responds in rapid fire French which of course I don’t understand. Shaking her head, she reaches into her copious handbag, pulls out some coins and feeds them into the vending machine. It spits out two tickets which she hands over to me. I am grateful and extend the banknote to her in payment. At least I try to. She waves me away, as if offended, and scurries away. I follow her trying to get her take the money but she is adamant. Mind you this is not a rich woman. From her appearance, she appears to be an old age pensioner. Yet, she helps out a stranger with her hard earned money. Forty years later, I am still humbled by her gesture.

“They say” that New Yorkers are the worst. That they are rude, obnoxious and heartless with no time for anyone but themselves.

Scene 2. A packed E train during the morning rush hour. People are packed in like sardines. Suddenly, a childish voice pipes up. “Mommy, I HAVE to go.” It is a five year old boy, his face scrunched up in discomfort. His mother shushes him, saying “One moment.” She pulls out a half full bottle of water, quickly gulps it down. She unzips his pants and holds the bottle while he does his business shielding him from the public gaze. Not that she needs to. The people next to them look away and give them privacy. The child finishes his business, the mother zips him up and caps the bottle. Another passenger hands her a tissue to wipe her hands and yet another gives her a plastic bag to put the bottle in. All this without a word being exchanged except for murmured “Thank you’s” and “You’re Welcome.”

What did I tell you about New Yorkers…

“They say” that the poor are lazy bums who prefer to walk the streets rather than do an honest day’s work. That most of them are alcoholics or drug addicts in search of their next fix, their next drink.

Scene 3. (The Final Scene). Circa 1982. Late evening. A woman in a NYC apartment receives a phone call. A male voice she does not recognize asks, “Is this JoAnne?” Hesitantly, she replies,“ Yes. Who is this?” The man continues, “Listen. You simply have to make up with Bill.  If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. He truly loves you.” Mystified, and a little angry, she demands” Who IS this? Are you one of Bill’s friends? Did he put you up to this because he didn’t have the guts to call himself?” The man doesn’t answer the question but continues to plead Bill’s case saying she will never find anyone else so well suited to her, who loves her so much. By now, Joanne has had it. She snaps, “If you don’t tell me who you are … right now… I am going to hang up.” At this, the man comes clean. He is a homeless man who had been rooting through a dumpster looking for food when  he came across a bundle of love letters that Bill had written to Joanne and which she had thrown away when they broke up. What is remarkable is what this man says next. He says “ I would have called sooner but I didn’t have the money for the phone call.” Imagine that. This homeless man who didn’t know where his next meal was coming from was willing to spend his last dime to help a stranger.

So this is what I think …

Generalizations are wrong. People are individuals first and last. Fifteen year old Anne Frank wrote in her diary,” I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.”

Can we believe any different?

( The first story happened to my wife and me as described. The second is a recent one from the N.Y. Times; so is the third, dimly remembered from almost forty years ago.)

 

 

 

 

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This past Sunday, I went to the St. Patrick’s Day party at the clubhouse in our Active Adult community and got to be an Irishman for a day. It was great fun and I had a wonderful time.

St. Paddy’s is one of the most popular parties and the Grand Ballroom was packed with one hundred and fifty celebrants seated at tables of ten people each. Most of the attendees were ” temporary” Irishmen like myself but you couldn’t tell by looking at them. Everyone was wearing green: green hats, green vests,  green dresses etc. At the table next to us was a man with a green hat with tiny green lights that blinked on and off. At the same table was a woman, probably his wife, whose earrings also had similar green lights. Green klieg lights focused on the ceiling and walls turned everything green; the Auld Sod itself could not have been any greener. After an hour of socializing, liberally greased by wine and spirits ( It was a BYOB event), dinner was announced. As our table numbers were announced, we trooped into a nearby room and partook of the sumptuous buffet. The fare consisted of corned beef and cabbage, fried chicken, roast salmon, carrots, potatoes, pasta primavera, salad, bread and soda bread. Because there were servers and because there were four lines, service was a snap and we were tucking into our food scant minutes after we had been called to the buffet. The corned beef and cabbage was very good and my wife told me the salmon was excellent. The food was hearty and fulfilling; I did not feel the need to go back for seconds. Dinner finished, we sat back to listen to the live five – man orchestra as they played a series of Irish favorites. There was ” When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, “Abie’s Irish Rose”, ” It’s a Long Long way to Tipperary”, ” Danny Boy” , ” A Bicycle Built for Two” and others I didn’t know. There was also a whiskey drinking song of which I only caught the chorus” ….. Whisky in a Jar’. The music really livened up the party as people really got into it, singing along and keeping time. And, of course, they were dancing. What fun to see every one happy and having a good time. The piece de resistance of the evening was  a hefty blonde haired woman, who marched in playing the  bagpipes and performed several numbers that were enthusiastically received. Towards the end of her performance, partygoers were invited to march with her. As she played yet another favorite, a conga line formed up behind her and they all sashayed round the room in a miniature St. Patrick’s Day parade.  There is something plaintive yet appealing about the sound of bagpipes that makes listeners sentimental. And so it was with us as we watched and listened and sang along.  The final number , in which the band joined in and everyone stood, was America the Beautiful , a fitting end to a most enjoyable evening. BTW, before you ask” Aren’t bagpipes Scottish rather than Irish?, let me repeat what we were all told ” The Irish invented bagpipes, the Scottish perfected them”. So, there.

The Irish are my favorite ethnic group. I get along with everyone but with Irish better than the others. My feelings are no doubt highly colored that for 22 years my boss was an Irish American who took me under his wing and is one of the finest people I know. But it is more than that. I find the Irish highly sentimental, poetic, literate and emotional, less driven and more interested in the finer things of life. Yet, as each St. Patrick’s Day celebration proves, they know how to have a good time. I’ll sign up for the 2019 party as soon as the flyers are out and , next year, I’ll be wearing a green hat too. Perhaps one with blinking green lights.

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Last November, we were in Henderson, Nevada for a wedding. We stayed with a close family friend and one of the pleasures each morning was reading the newspaper, an actual printed newspaper. I get the digital version of the New York Times at home and it is great but, as I realized in Henderson, there is something to be said for the “real” thing, something you can hold in your hands and turn the pages. I love the digitized version of the Times but it has its drawbacks. One of them: you very soon fall into the habit of skimming , reading only the highlights or the headlines. Very rarely do I bother to turn to the sections and read the lesser stories.

When I started reading the Las Vegas Review Journal, I found myself reverting to my earlier habits. I skimmed it from the first page to the last and found myself reading not just the news but the columns and the restaurant reviews and doing the crossword puzzle. Almost immediately, however, I found myself puzzled. The Review Journal is a conservative paper with a conservative platform but I found the inner pages to be decidedly liberal, often taking positions contradicting those on the front pages. Then, I noticed that the inside of the newspaper was titled The Las Vegas Sun. I checked with my host and found that what I was reading was actually two newspapers in one. Back in 2005, the Review Journal and the Sun signed a joint operating agreement and the Sun became a section of ( and an insert in) the Review Journal. The two continued to have independent staffs and operated their own websites.  In doing so, they both saved a bundle in operating and distribution costs and have managed to stay afloat even in these days of declining newspaper readership.

What I find amazing is that the two newspapers have managed to preserve their independence despite being joined at the hip. They had been battering each other for over 50 years and have continued to do so, often attacking each others positions on the issues of the day. Even after the Review Journal was bought by the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the Sun has been able to maintain its independence thanks to the joint operating agreement. (It must be an ironclad one!) The Review Journal meanwhile has seen increasing interference from Adelson with several news-stories pertaining to the casino industry having been killed or changed on an almost daily basis.

For readers though, this unique two in one newspaper is a boon. The Sun would definitely not been able to survive on its own and even the Review Journal would have been under financial pressure. The other advantage is that readers get to know both sides of the issue, an important benefit for all but those at the far ends of the political spectrum. Readers like myself who are closer to the middle can pick and choose what they want to read and thus obtain a more balanced viewpoint on the issues. I just wish that it were possible for those who rely on TV for news. Fox News is so far apart from almost everyone else that viewers who watch it  are in a world of their own.

To get back to the Las Vegas newspapers: In addition to the contrasting viewpoints, it was great to see a daily bridge column, an advice column by Ann Landers and two different crossword puzzles. The one in the Review Journal was more difficult than the Sun but both were doable for one with my limited skills. Too bad I can’t have those with the Times but I do have two New York Times books of Sunday puzzles which will keep me occupied until the end of the year.

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Sometimes, I read a news article that makes me wonder if we are all living in a madhouse and the inmates are running the show.

Two weeks ago, there was one such article about a group of graffiti artists being awarded $6.7 million when the building on which they had created their works was demolished by its owner. Let me back up a little…

In the mid-nineties, building owner Gerard Wolkoff allowed a non-profit group called Phun Phactory to paint over the outside walls of his Long Island City warehouse. The move appears to have been purely altruistic, its purpose being to keep graffiti artists out of trouble for defacing private property. For a while, Wolkoff even allowed these artists to live and work cheaply in the building. In the following decades, as graffiti artists used the walls for their work, the building became a mecca for tourists and others who wanted to view the graffiti. About 10 years ago, Wolkoff decided to tear down the building to make way for high rise luxury towers and the case wound up in court; the artists did not want their works destroyed with the demolition of the building. They claimed that the works were protected under the VisualArtists Rights Act. In 2013, while the case was still in court, Wolkoff had the walls whitewashed overnight; the buildings were demolished 10 months later and construction of the high rise towers begun.

In November 2017, a jury found in favor of the artists and two weeks ago, the judge awarded them the maximum damages possible: $ 6.7 million. I won’t go into the details of his argument in doing so but I’m appalled by the decision. I don’t care for property developers , in general, but I feel Wolkoff was hard done by. For twenty years he allowed these ” artists” the use of his buildings as a canvas ; yet, they then turned around and sued him when he wanted to demolish them. The buildings were his property and he had a perfect right to do so. That fact should have taken precedence over everything else including the artistic value of the graffiti ” art”.

How could anyone put a value on this graffiti? How was the figure of $6.7 million  arrived at in assessing damages? The artists whose work it was would never have realized a red cent for their works since they could never sell them. Why then should they have been awarded so much? If , indeed, the judge was bound by the letter of the law that declared the graffiti was a protected work of art, he could have found for the plaintiffs and awarded them the token sum of $1.

In my opinion, graffiti is a visual crime. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of 5Pointz and, when considered in its totality, those walls were an eyesore. Graffiti , by its very nature, is temporary , always under threat of being painted over either by the building owner or by other graffiti artists. What happened to 5Pointz was bound to happen one day, and did.

One other consequence of this trial and decision: In the future, no other building owner will allow the walls of his property to be sprayed over in the name of art. Good.

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I was reading an interesting excerpt from Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD about how our sleep patterns are the key to a much longer life. According to him, we are not sleeping the way our distant ancestors  did, the way Nature intended us to.

Walker states that in olden times, in hunter-gatherer societies, people enjoyed a biphasic sleep pattern, seven or eight hours in bed at night resulting in about seven hours of sleep , along with a 30-60 minute nap in the afternoon. Furthermore, the nightly slumbers usually began 2-3 hours after dusk, around 9pm and lasted until dawn. No doubt, this was because those early cultures did not have the benefit of electric light and even firelight represented a drain on scarce resources.

Nowadays, in the post industrial age, we have been forced into a mono-phasic sleep pattern in which we sleep  for less than seven hours a night. Typically, this begins late at night though we still wake up quite early. And ,of course, modern office hours don’t permit the taking of an afternoon nap.

In support of his argument, that this enforced monophasic pattern is harmful to health, Walker points to a study of people who had to switch from a biphasic to a monophasic sleep pattern. Previously, they had office hours that incorporated an afternoon siesta but  were then forced to fall in line with the rest of the world and work regular 9 to 5 shifts. This study showed that over 6 years, these people suffered a 37% increased risk of death due to heart disease. Another statistic: People on the Greek island of Ikaria were four times as likely  to reach the age of ninety as Americans did.

When I began to read this excerpt, I did so with an open mind, but the more I read the more my doubts began to mount. Firstly, even if a biphasic sleep pattern is ” natural”, most of us never enjoyed it once we started our working lives. So how could we feel deprived of something we never had? Just as some factory workers, medical staff and others  get used to working the night shift, is it not likely that a monophasic pattern is becomes the new standard for us? In any case, what choice do we have? There is no way we will be able to shift back to a biphasic pattern. Even nations that enjoyed a siesta are switching to a 9 to 5 schedule.

As for those people in Ikaria who have a four times greater chance of living to the age of ninety, can this be attributed solely to their biphasic sleep pattern? These people are mostly farmers or shepherds; they work hard, live in an unpolluted environment,  eat a healthy Mediterranean diet and have a less stressful lifestyle. Is it not likely that these factors all contribute to their longevity?

I think so.

I also think that , as long as one gets a minimum of seven hours of sleep daily, it doesn’t matter if it occurs all at once or in two or more installments. When the mind and body need rest, the person craves sleep. As long as that need is satisfied, you are fine. I find that, with  most of my friends who are retired, an afternoon nap is an imperative, partly because they tire more easily and partly because they no longer get seven hours uninterrupted sleep at night. One of my friends who is in his eighties wrote me to say that the day’s activities are now accomplished ” between naps”.

So… never mind about terms like monophasic or biphasic.  Just listen to your body and all will be well.

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I didn’t watch Roger Federer win the Australian Open yesterday; the match occurred in the middle of the night,  East coast time, and by that time I was fast asleep. Apparently, there was a delayed telecast, but I heard about it too late and missed that too. No matter. I hope to watch the full match on YouTube. I have already watched the highlights and the Fed seems as awesome as ever. Marin Cilic tried hard and uncorked some gorgeous shots of his own but Roger merely shifted to a higher gear and pulled away in the fifth set.

By this time, everything that can be said about Roger’s matchless style has already been said and I am not going to repeat it here. Rather I want to talk focus the pleasure he gives us tennis fans every time he steps on court. It is not just the beauty of his game but the way he conducts himself: the sportsmanship, the modesty, the lowkey demeanor that makes us all his acolytes. What a treat to see an all-time great like Rod Laver in the stands applauding and later taking a selfie with the Fed. How wonderful to hear what other greats like John Newcombe, Mats Wilander, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Lindsay Davenport had to say about the Fed. And to see the overwhelming support that Roger enjoys from the fans in the stands no matter where he plays. Pity Marin Cilic and all the other opponents that Roger faces: every game must seem like an ” away” game.

I think it was ESPN which came up with an amazing statistic: The 2018 Australian Open marks the 200th Grand Slam of the Open era which began in 1968 and, by winning his 20th Grand Slam, Roger has won fully 10% of all Grand Slam finals played. As amazing as this is, it doesn’t go far enough. Why include the Grand Slam tournaments that Federer never competed in ? If you consider that he has competed in 70 Grand Slam tournaments over the course of his career, his winning percentage  is 28.6% ( 20/70). If you consider that he has entered 30 Grand Slam finals, that percentage works out to a phenomenal 42.8% ( 30/70). The percentage of semi-final appearances is close to 50% !

No one else is in the same league.

Generally, when a player or a team is so dominant, fans tend to root for their opponents , the underdogs. So it is that football fans ( outside of New England) are overwhelmingly rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles to pull off an upset in next week’s Super Bowl even as they know it is highly unlikely. Not so with Federer. Now that he has won his 20th, we Federer fans have begun to dare to dream of # 21 at Wimbledon in May. Part of this is because of the Federer- Nadal rivalry and  the worry  that Nadal may yet catch up with the Fed in terms of Grand Slam wins.( Admittedly, this is a very faint possibility with Federer four ahead of Rafa. However, one can never be sure. Nadal is five years younger and, with the injuries to Murray and Djokovic, there is no one other than the Fed in Nadal’s way if he is able to overcome his injuries). A bigger reason is the sheer pleasure of watching Federer play. He is now 36 and, sooner or later, age will catch up with him. This is at the back of our minds every time we see him on court; we want to see him play as long as we can.

P.S. One final story about Roger Federer that I simply have to share with you. Roger Federer’s first coach , Peter Carter ,was an Australian who died in a car crash in South Africa way back in 2002. Roger has never forgotten the man whom he credits with having molded him into a tennis player and whom he calls the ” most influential coach” he has ever had. He has kept in touch with Peter Carter’s parents, Bob and Diana, and every year he has hosted them at the Australian Open, paying for their airfare, hotel, limo service etc. This year too they were in the players box cheering Roger on to his 20th Grand Slam.

It is such actions that make Roger Federer the most beloved athlete in the world and it is why everyone roots for him.

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Portmanteau Words

Portmanteau words are those in which two meanings are packed into one word. They are formed by blending or combining two words into one. Lewis Carroll, best known for the classic” Alice in Wonderland”, was the first to come up with such words in his poem Jabberwocky. Two of the his words are brillig ( brilliant+ evening) and slithy (slimy + lithe).These two never became popular but there are many others that are in widespread use today. I was amazed to find how many portmanteau words there are. I divide them into three classes.

I. Those in common usage that we don’t think of as portmanteau words. Two examples are flare ( flame + glare= a sudden burst of bright light) and chortle ( chuckle + snort = to laugh in a breathy gleeful way). Those two I like, but I hate meld (melt+ weld= to blend or combine) probably because it is overused.

II. Those which are commonly used and are obvious portmanteau words. Some examples are smog, brunch, sitcom, infomercial, Chunnel, Cineplex, modem and fanzine. Turducken (Turkey+ duck + chicken =  a chicken stuffed into a duck  stuffed into a turkey) is the only  three-in-one portmanteau word that I know. These are all familiar and easy to decipher but there are others that are of more recent vintage which may not be so obvious. A prime example is affluenza ( affluence + influenza) which means “a lack of guilt or motivation experienced by people who have made or inherited a lot of money”. Apparently, the word dates back to 1954 but became known to the public at large as a result of the notorious drunk driving trial of Ethan Couch. Couch was a 16 year old who drove a pick up truck into a crowd of people that was helping a stranded motorist. Four people were killed and one of the passengers in Couch’s pickup was permanently paralyzed. Couch’s blood alcohol limit was tested at 0.24 ( three times the limit). At his juvenile trial in 2016, a defense expert used the term affluenza while arguing that Couch’s wealthy parents had coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility ! He was found guilty and sentenced to only 120 days in jail and 10 years probation. Before he began his sentence, Couch’s mother spirited him off to Mexico but they were found and extradited back to the U.S. He was subsequently sentenced to two years in jail.

III. Those that are not only obscure but are impossible to break down into their component words. For example, what do you think listicle means. I would have guessed an article that is part of a list. Wrong! It actually means ” a piece of writing or other content presented wholly or partly in the form of a list”. Go figure! What about manspreading? It is defined as ” the practice whereby a man traveling on public transport sits with his legs wide apart so as to encroach on an adjoining seat or seats”. I must admit I found that word hilarious, even though it wasn’t as funny as when I encountered its practitioners in real life.

However, the word that really gets my goat is glamping which is a combination of the words glamour + camping. It means vacationing in a rustic setting while enjoying luxurious amenities such as sleeping on soft bedding in a safari tent or teepee, having ample hot water, toilets with heated seats and restaurant quality food “cooked” under the supervision of a chef. ” Cooking”, in this case, means turning your steak when chef at your elbow tells you exactly when to do so. The word angers me because it is the antithesis of camping which implies roughing it out in the great outdoors. Glamping merely gives the illusion of ruggedness while babying customers who pay handsomely for the experience. If I were to coin a word to describe my feelings about such people it would be contempsise ( contempt + despise). The word does not exist ( I just made it up) but all the other portmanteau words in this post can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Hard to believe but true!

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