Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Christmas time is a time of stress. Forget about those chestnuts roasting in an open fire. There is even more roasting in store for harassed parents – the mothers in particular, but for everyone. But be of good cheer, it could still be worse.
Those who retain some memory of what Christmas really represents have a leg up here. We remember what it's supposed to be about. For all others, well let's just say we hope their holidays are happy while we ”keep them in our prayers.” There is the treasured bit about “it is better to give than to receive.” All retailers embrace this one, and to be fair, so do most of us. At least theoretically. Now along come the telemarketers. You know, those recorded voices that come along every time you are sitting down to eat dinner. They have successfully aligned themselves with the United States Postal Service to insure that worthy causes are ever on your mind. Are they ever.
Without question there are needy souls in this world. There are certainly causes that deserve our energies and dollars. If you have had cancer, or have a relative or friend inflicted by this curse of curses, how could you not support the drive to cure it? If you are a veteran how can you turn your back on the Wounded Warrior project? There are charities and programs that truly deserve our commitment. So, why would there be a problem with charitable giving?
The answer lies in loopholes and lack of a central clearing house for legitimate causes. We are inundated with pleas for charitable giving. The “No Call” listing that was meant to protect our private phone numbers specifically exclude charities. Add that to an array of similar-sounding charities. You may get a plea from “Fight Cancer/Your Town” then one from “Your Town Cancer Campaign”, followed by “South/Your Town Cancer Fund” and one or two others. Repeated Cancer telephone solicitations leave you with a bad taste about the worthwhile fight against this dread disease. It is counter-productive for the charity involved.
In our house, like countless others, we are sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate. We don't have an iron-clad game plan but ours does include some steps starting with caller ID and not taking any phone calls during meals. We NEVER give out credit card information or make any sort of commitment via telephone, insisting on receiving solicitations by mail (and we do not give out our address if they don't already have it.)
Charity really does begin at home, notably in trying to preserve our sanity.
Monday, December 7, 2015
You don't have to go to the theater district to see great acting. No sirree, it's right there on your television screen and it's free. Football is the new Palace for thespians.
Football games provide a rare combination of sports action and show biz entertainment. Bone crushing mayhem followed by self-centered celebratory prancing in the end zone. In between the danger and the dancing there are moments when very big bodies pile one upon another in a human pyramid. Most often this leaves participants happily out of breath, but I should mention too that real injury sometimes happens to the hapless one on the very bottom.
Like a lot of fans I've been there in-person to see a number of truly great heroes play the game. It's a fact that there is no substitute for being there. And through the magic of television any number of stars and near-stars bring their athleticism right into sports bars and our living rooms every week. Most of us have seen a lot of football but we surely wish we could have seen the real life legends like Jim Thorpe play in their heyday. That goes as well for Red (“The Galloping Ghost”) Grange whose exploits we view from time to time on old black and white footage straight from the collector's vault.
As far as penalties assessed during a football game, plaintive calls of “I didn't do it” usually fall on official ears that do not hear. There is something sad about a 230 pound player feigning innocence like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. While hundreds of thousands of us out here on the couches saw it all, and will see it again on the replay, it doesn't seem to register with our actor-on-the-field that all other eyes say you did do it. I have a mental picture of the late Dom DeLuise prancing along the sidelines singsonging “liar, liar, pants on fire.”
You need a program to tell the players apart. It's a genealogist's nightmare out there. We are used to seeing “Jr.” on a player's jersey. Then came “III”, which was okay. But now it's “IV” or “V.” As the Boston Red Sox great “Big Papi” reflected: “Who's Your Daddy?”
All ex-jocks share the dream of suiting up one more time to take the punt and score the winning touchdown. And to top it off Jim Nantz will be there doing the television commentary. Hopefully without Phil Simms (“You're right, Jim, “I agree with you, Jim” “I see it that way too, Jim”) as his sidekick in the booth on that glorious day.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
In addition to blue skies, sparkling ocean and miles of sugar sand beaches, Florida presents one and all with blocks and blocks of great restaurants. Our population down here includes large numbers of Jewish, Hispanic, Italians and Germans along with other groups. It's virtually impossible not to please your palate, no matter what your taste. Access to 24/7 fresh fish dining is simply outstanding.
So, shall we dine in or go out for the next meal? It's not as easy as you might expect. Here's an example: I am an Eggs Benedict fanatic, but one can only have so many Bennies at breakfast without risking a trip to the coronary wing of the hospital. A lighter fare at home makes sense from time to time. So too for lunch and dinner. My wife makes certain meals that are also available in restaurants, but nowhere near as tasty. Not to mention the shot my credit card takes whenever we dine out.
Dinner is another challenge. At the end of a long day it is certainly easier to stay at home. A lot of dining out, or not, has to do with our (especially my) age group. Younger folk may well prefer the socializing of meeting/greeting other folks. My wife and I had plenty of that when we were younger; been there, done that. Also (although it's not yet Valentine's Day) there’s a lot to be said for enjoying the exclusive company of your spouse. When we do go out, we have long embraced The Early Bird sitting. That's not for saving a buck, for I don't recall that we ever ordered one of the special selections on the menu. Our reason for going early has to do with the simple fact that the restaurants are less crowded at that time. Besides, any saving on an EB course is always offset by the wine and beer that accompanies it.
Sunsets in Florida are magnificent. Sunrises too, although I've never knocked back a Heineken at dawn, enjoying cocktails overlooking the ocean as the sun goes down surely enhances dining. I can't do that back in Philadelphia.
However, in defense of The City of Brotherly Love, I should say that nowhere in Florida, or anywhere else for that matter, is it possible to enjoy a truly delicious legitimate cheesesteak like you can scarf down at Pat's, Jim's, Geno's or Nudy's. Then too there's Taylor Pork Roll and Habersett's Scrapple.
Pardon me for a moment. It's time to check out the refrigerator.
Monday, October 5, 2015
More accurately, the USA discovers the Pope. By any standard the Bishop of Rome man is unique, and uniquely gifted to touch the hearts of people. The operative word here may well be “touch”. For his hands-on embrace of one and all from infants to criminals was nothing short of awesome.
No doubt his talks with the high and mighty presented us, time and again, with a global view that was compassionate. How different that was from the vulgar food fight that passes for political campaigning here in our own time and place. Most of all however, it was in the everyday word and gesture that Pope Francis brought home the place of our personal responsibility to right the wrong that surrounds us. I have been blessed to know well the sites where the shoes of this fisherman trod from Vatican City to his six days here – New York, Washington, Philadelphia (including St. Charles Borromeo seminary, named after my “patron saint”.) They are impressive one and all. Yet it was on the highways and byways where the spirit of goodness shone most brightly. From Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Fairmont Park. Simple gestures, caring embraces. Indeed, to borrow from the late communications guru, Marshall McLuhan, who first pronounced “the medium is the message”, the Holy Father showed us all that “the messenger is the message”.
How long will this “Francis feeling” last? Who's to know? Each of us must choose to open our own hearts to the call. Or we can ignore it all together, and return to the same old pedestrian back-biting that symbolizes our pursuit of the bigger cars and larger houses that symbolize our American Dream of more and more dollars.
What about me? I will answer the Pope's request to “pray for me” and by doing so, lift up my own game by living a better life, trying to remove the many prejudices that weight on my tired old body and soul.
And what about you? Well, if you feel inclined to remember me in your own prayers, that would be very welcome.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
10 S N E 1, or as first spoken in a play on the Broadway stage by the late Humphrey Bogart, “Tennis Anyone?”
In the midst of this year's U S Open Tennis Championships my mind drifted to my love affair with this great game. My span from 1948 to 2015 is one long haul. I have certainly enjoyed the trip, every minute of it.
There is always a lot of chatter about “enjoying playing”. Rightfully so. Dollars are one thing, but busting your chops for something that you really do not enjoy could make you certifiable. When a man or woman gets involved with tennis it becomes a habit for a lifetime, one that is very hard to break. Today's game is played at a level light years away from that of 1948. Equipment innovations have been breath-taking and the physical demands on players is well beyond anything dreamed of in yesteryear. Back then many a racketeer took to the courts with what can best be described as “discomfort”. This code word for excruciating headaches, a body's general revolt against running around smacking balls under a blistering sun were direct results of the “social” whirl that encompassed tennis. Cocktails the night before with partying till dawn were sure to be followed by more of the same after the last ball was struck. This country club mentality dominated the tennis world in the first half of the last century. But then time marched on.
I started out as a college tennis team manager, graduated to playing status and then embarked on a decades long career as a tennis official. The era I most enjoyed was when the U.S. Nationals were held at Forest Hills, NY, where the West Side Tennis Club hosted play on wonderful grass courts. The whole environment was conducive to good manners on the part of players, press and spectators. Plenty of fine memories (and a few bruises when calling the center service line because I couldn't move fast enough to dodge the blistering serve of Pancho Gonzales.) Walking the grounds between matches you could see, and talk to, the greats of the game – Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcomb, John McEnroe, dozens more.
My pal Brooks Keffer and I used to take the train from Philadelphia in the morning to officiate at the matches, eat and drink our weight in sumptuous buffet and a waterfall bar then return at the end of the day to the City of Brotherly Love. Tennis umpires were paid $8 a day. If we had that kind of dough back then we would have gladly paid the tournament many times over for those memorable hours in the sun.
The 2015 U.S. Tennis Open will long be remembered for many things, most especially for the upset of Serena William, perhaps the greatest of all sports champions. But memorable as well for unprecedented player injuries and a record-breaking number of smashed rackets.
Trust me, Serena will be back. Not so the rackets.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Do you remember when you finished high school and had to look for a summer job? It was a challenging chapter in a young life.
Fast forward - the 2015 marketplace for newly graduated men and women is like reading a mystery novel. How will it all end?
My own view is today's job search is tougher than yesterday's was for a number of reasons, starting with the applicant him/herself. Our youngsters these days are accustomed to having it pretty good, certainly compared with those who experienced periods of economic depression or recession. These decades of economic well-being coupled with changes in society that favor a more “laid back” approach to life make for a powerful incentive to bank the fire in one's belly. Parents, let alone grandparents, simply don't recognize the present when thinking back to their own time when striving for success was part of one's DNA. Only when actually applying for a job does real-world shock set in. Sometimes it can be brutal.
High school years were arguably the best times of our lives. You were still under the parental roof where room and board came with few if any burdens, including access to the family car if there was one. Those who enjoyed such a life were fortunate indeed. There were plenty of youngsters who did not have such good fortune but they were largely out of sight to the fortunate ones.
What's going on with job search these days? The waiting line for almost any job is a long one. In the pack of applicants are those who already have experience or have college degrees, plus there is the new wrinkle of older folks reentering the work force having both of the above.
Do your homework on the company for which you are interviewing. First impressions are vital – firm handshake, eye contact, relate how you made a difference in your academic and part-time jobs. Above all, convey a desire to be part of a winning team.
Good luck, graduates. Welcome to the real world.
Friday, July 3, 2015
Interrupting when someone else is speaking is bad manners, bad form, rude, whatever. We don't like it when somebody does it to us. They don't like it when we do it to them. Unhappily, many of us don't even realize we are doing it. My pal David says I have been interrupting since we were in high school a thousand years ago. It is a very hard habit to break.
Why do people interrupt others? The reasons vary but certainly include thinking we have a more important point to make than the speaker. Sometimes we are trying to be helpful by agreeing and then launching into an example of our own to reinforce the speaker's thought. Once in a while we view our own interruptions as public service to lessen the perceived (or real) pain being inflicted on those already listening. In any case when we interrupt we are thought of as someone who would rather speak than listen.
The late Ed Roach was a masterful storyteller who often held court around the better bars in Avalon, New Jersey. His 1000 watt smile plus familiarity with the names and faces of the crowd gave him unbeatable weapons to deal with interrupters. “Let me finish this joke first, Tony, then I'll turn the mic over to you so I can have good manners and listen.”
A conference speaker memorably dealt with an interruption by asking: “Sir, excuse me, how did the Middle of my sentence run into the Beginning of yours?”
I don't usually watch morning television, but I learned a lot recently from the cast of NBC's Today show. That otherwise likable group simply could not control themselves when on camera together. For a good bit of time every one was speaking at the same time, talking over each other and robbing viewers of a clear message.
On that day theirs was a showcase on how not to do it.
Friday, June 5, 2015
A thousand years ago there was a song titled “Little Things Mean a Lot”. The gold standard for that tune was recorded by a girl from Philadelphia by the name of Kitty Kallen, a former big band alumna. The lyrics Ms. Kallen sang in that song have eternal legs. They remind us that little things DO mean a lot. Examples like “please and “thank you” cost us a heartbeat in time but yield appreciation many times over.
Society used to place great emphasis on good manners. Our parents taught these lessons at home. In most cases they also served as models for same. Today we are less as a society for not keeping that good manners bar right where it used to be. Overall we've slipped down a slippery slope to everyday vulgarity.
“Treat others as you would like to be treated” is easy enough to handle. Most times that is. There will always be those who make a lot of money which leads them to believe they are superior beings. Not true of course for being a bore as well as a boor is almost always the end result. A lot of people - particularly our young ones - think materialism is the end game when it's not.
Out to breakfast last Sunday, I was impressed by the courtesy a visitor from New Orleans extended to the servers working in that restaurant. It was a nice example of what we are talking about here. We are not living in Jolly Old Britain where class consciousness is so inbred it was at least a partial cause for our break from the Mother Country. Consistent graciousness is also good practice for the mandatory moment when each of us will show up for The Final Review.
Now that she is “retired”, my wife volunteers for causes that assist the less fortunate. Some of the “combat stories” inflicting on volunteers at one charity re-sale shop defy belief. I put on my old reporter's hat to check things out. Amazingly, some very well-to-do customers exhibit outright haughtiness, slam down their credit cards, rarely say “thank you” and in general treat the volunteer staff as if they were serfs. And the women working in this charity are volunteers! One can only imagine the misery of retail employees who must work for a living in a miserable setting. They don't have the luxury of walking out singing the words of David Allan Coe's memorable 1977 song “You Can Take this Job and Shove it.”
I find myself humming that tune on behalf of these volunteers.
Monday, April 13, 2015
Floridians feel that “Spring Break” runs from Christmas Eve until the 4th of July each year. It certainly seems so. The break inflicts endless streams of palefaces rushing to our beaches to toast themselves. Not a good move since down here the sun spares none.
On the other hand, how can we blame the snowbirds for trying to gain quick relief from what has been one godforsaken winter up north of the Mason-Dixon Line? One of my correspondents told me it was snowing in Waverly, Pennsylvania, just as his family gathered around the dinner table for the traditional holiday meal. Brrrrr, not the way Flopsie, Mopsie and the other bunnies envisioned things at Easter time. It's near impossible to think about such up and down weather when you're here in the Land of Eternal Sunshine.
Before we left Philadelphia's Main Line and moved south, my wife and many another flower-lover looked forward to the coming of Spring when color returns to barren or brown/gray lands. Yes, snow covered cottages make for memorable Christmas cards but weeks and weeks of snow can break hearts as well as shoveling backs. Boston deserves all the sympathy it can get. Now that we are retired here in Florida we are surrounded by glorious color all year. It makes for a happy visual time in the Lives of Reilly. We are very thankful for that. And not so incidentally, we no longer sit by the television set gloating at the misfortune of frozen family and friends in the Northland. Life brings along opportunities to count blessings.
There is truth in the memorable lyrics of Frank Loesser's great song, “Spring May Come a Little Late This Year.” It will eventually come however, along with Summer and its bouquet of graduations, marriages and brand new chapters in the lives of our young people.
To one and all up North – happiness, good health, and a hope you will remember to make the best of the gifts God has given you. See you in September.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
A lady of my acquaintance was bemoaning television commercials the other day. Whatever happened, she asked, “to the happy, clean fun ones we used to see?” Well, sez I, “they're still on the air but harder to find in the mix of horrific computer-designed violence and over the top volume that assaults the eyeballs, ears and normal minds.” While I didn't put it quite that way, let's just say I shared her disappointment.
Just about everyone agrees that the Super Bowl commercials were, once again, the best show on the tube (they should be with their airtime price tags.) Still it's hard to wait a full year before that broadcast treat rolls around again. Budweiser stole the 2015 show with the little lost puppy being rescued by their Clydesdales, but there were other great ones too. Some even better than the Katy Perry half-time extravaganza.
Advertising keeps in step with the times; essentially going down the drain along with long-honored social graces like table manners, saying “thank you” and other happy memories from earlier days. I'm not big on government interference in our lives, but next to what goes on with motion pictures in theaters, television programming is, thanks to a certain federal oversight of the public's airwaves, a paragon of virtue. The movie theaters “coming attractions” alone are enough to damn all values of decency. The USA exporting this violence and trash all around the world has renewed the tag of “Ugly Americans”. It's just plain sad. America is far better than this.
Tailoring television ads to the demographics of the viewer population is an art form of sorts. Here in Florida (“Heaven's Waiting Room”) we are inundated with commercials for retirement homes, surgery for back problems, stairway power chairs and erectile dysfunction. The latter with its constant warning to “call your doctor if you experience an erection lasting four hours.” The standard answer among the over-80 group is: “I will call my doctor, but only after I've announced it to all my golfing buddies at the club.”
Medications are so widely promoted on the TV tube, it's silly to spend all that time in the doctor's waiting room. The answer for whatever ails you is most likely just a click away on the remote.
Monday, February 2, 2015
My son is in broadcasting. Like many another working soul he commutes daily from leafy suburbia to an office in a major city. He is also among those hardy souls who drive daily, a group I especially admire. In my day we commuted by train where each of us had our very own seat location, much like an Episcopal church on the tracks. And we let the choo choo do the driving.
Radio and television run in the veins of our family. These media are very competitive, exceeded in my son's case only by the stress involved in highway driving to work and departing from there back to home again. As Charles the Younger navigates his long long trail a winding, highway danger lurks five-fold with inattentive drivers on cell phones. There for a while it all appeared to be a conspiracy against him. But it's not. More than one driver has rolled down the car window to bellow: “Get off the phone!” It's a plot against all of us and the key word is “oblivious.”
Recently I had rare opportunity to observe a lot of this insanity firsthand when I was a front seat passenger in a car well-driven by a friend. Instead of focusing on bumpers and turn signals ahead (when drivers choose to use them) I had the luxury of observing what was going on all around our vehicle. It was an enlightening experience. Whether automobiling or walking, virtually everyone in sight was on a cell phone. There is no safety on the sidewalks either; not paying close attention to the “walk” signals is dangerous for sure. High noon when folks are going to or returning from restaurants is a particularly hazardous time. Still driving in a ton of steel is much more risky. We all know that and we also know that using a cell phone (let alone texting) while behind the wheel is risk-extreme. Why do so many do it? Because we are in our own little bubbles, in a word “oblivious” to the world around us.
The zenith of cell phone mania is found in and around supermarkets. We are pretty much used to endless chatter inside the market (“I’m in the vegetable aisle right now heading over to the pastry counter”) but the real challenge comes when conversations continue on the way back to the car. Pushing a cart while continuing a cell phone conversation is double jeopardy. Doing so while also balancing an $11 Starbucks is a medical trifecta.
Turn your cell phone off. Call later when you are at your desk or back home. Nothing is worth losing you.