Monthly Archives: May 2014

Ingratitude in New Jersey

U.S. taxpayers have spent around $60 billion trying to undo the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. More than $2 billion – and probably a lot more than $2 billion – has gone to the state of New Jersey, mostly to its beach towns. (And if you’ve ever got a few hours to kill, try getting a more precise number.) That money was used to restore decimated beaches, rebuild destroyed businesses, and support the rebuilding of homes.

Yet as the summer season officially began with Memorial Day weekend, those ungrateful New Jersey pigs still have the audacity to charge visitors a fee to step onto their beaches.

They ought to be kissing those visitors’ feet, not pissing all over them.

Politicizing… Politics?

Last week, a child passed out in a Philadelphia public school classroom, was rushed to the hospital, and died a little while later.

It turns out that the school in which this took place doesn’t have a full-time school nurse.  Instead, it has a nurse one day a week, plus every other week it gets a nurse for one additional day.  There was no nurse in the school when the child passed out.

So when the head of the Philadelphia teachers’ union pointed out that a child died in a school with no nurse,  Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett castigated the labor leader for politicizing a child’s death.

Considering that the school didn’t have a nurse because of a state cut in funding for public education that was a political decision, could there possibly be a better, more appropriate time to discuss the consequences of that political decision?  Or does the governor think it’s inappropriate to talk about his political decisions when they have real-life consequences?

May News Quiz

  1. In Iran, six people were arrested after posting on the internet a video of themselves dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy.” Iranian authorities said the young people were arrested because: a) Iranian authorities feel that music about happiness undermines Muslim values; b) dancing reflects the decadence of western society that they are trying to keep out of Iran; c) the only dance currently legal in Iran is the Carlton Dance; or d) it took attention away from the new Iranian television series Dancing With the Shahs?
  2. In response to a state budget shortfall of $1 billion, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has announced that he will cut the state’s contribution to its employee pension fund by more than $750 million. Christie is doing this because: a) he’s the governor, and if he doesn’t want to live up to the obligations of the state, that’s the way it’s going to be; b) they’re only public employees and most of them are probably Democrats anyway, so who cares; c) he needs the money to fix the approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge; or d) you can’t campaign for president on a platform of fiscal responsibility if you can’t even balance a simple state budget?
  3. On a recent Middle East trip, Pope Francis stirred controversy when he made his first stop in the Palestinian territory and referred to it as a state. He did this because: a) he views Palestine as a state; b) he had a craving for baba ghanoush; c) he remembers the Crusades fondly and identifies with terrorists; or d) he was sending a message to Israelis because he believes Jews have never been appropriately grateful for the extraordinary lengths to which the church went during World War II to protect them from the Nazis?
  4. House Republicans are working on a bill to weaken the nutrition standards of the federally subsidized school lunch program. They want to weaken the program because: a) even if it’s a sure-fire plan for world peace, they’d oppose any idea that comes from Michelle Obama; b) they receive large campaign contributions from companies that sell unhealthy food to schools and no contributions from fourth-graders; c) if a high-sodium, high-fat diet is good enough for Congress it should be good enough for the kids; or d) since mostly low-income and minority children qualify for subsidized school lunches, all an unhealthy diet may do is kill off some children who are likely to grow up and vote for Democrats?
  5. Chase Bank is closing the accounts of clients who work in the porn industry. This is surprising because: a) porn stars make good money and banks are all about the money; b) no one realized banks care about how their customers get their money; c) banks always seem interested in obscene things – obscene profits, obscene business practices, and obscene abuse of their customers; or d) considering the abuses banks have been guilty of in recent years, the idea of banks deciding good and bad and right and wrong is pretty laughable?
  6. Actor Ben Affleck was banned from a Las Vegas casino for counting cards. Affleck was really banned because: a) he plays poker with skill, which casinos won’t tolerate; b) casino poker is rigged to favor the casino and card-counting makes it a fairer contest, which casinos consider unacceptable; c) they mistook him for Matt Damon, whom they dislike because he’s made movies about robbing casinos; or d) revenge for Gigli?
  7. Hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews protested at the Jerusalem site of Jesus’s last supper, complaining about: a) the possibility of Israel losing sovereignty over the site; b) oy! their feet are killing them from the long walk, why no buses; c) no place nearby to get Chinese take-out; or d) gentiles everywhere!?
  8. Investigators are examining the role lawyers played in General Motors’ decision not to disclose defects in ignition switches that are thought to be the cause of a dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries. They suspect GM lawyers did this because: a) they were told to; b) doing the immoral thing is always a lawyer’s first instinct; c) it’s their job to protect the company from potential lawsuits – even suits by legitimate claimants seeking compensation for damages caused by GM’s defective workmanship; or d) what did you expect – isn’t hiding problems and denying justice to people who’ve been harmed one of the central tenets in the practice of corporate law?
  9. The Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team released (fired) a minor league player after he started a fight with a teammate and bit off part of that teammate’s ear. The Dodgers released the biter because: a) he wasn’t very good to begin with and the player he assaulted is an important part of the team’s future; b) they didn’t want a player with that kind of temper problem; c) they recognize that players can get into fights now and then but draw the line at kicking and biting; or d) eareconcilable differences?
  10. A dead whale that washed ashore in Atlantic City bore markings of the Greek letters Tau, Epsilon, and Phi. Authorities suspect that: a) the whale was Greek; b) Greek fishermen marked the whale at sea; c) college students marked the whale after it washed ashore but before authorities spotted it; or d) the whale was pledging a fraternity but died during a hazing incident?

Democracy Inaction

One of the nice things about living in suburbia is that about two weeks before every election, you receive in the mail a complete, official sample ballot that shows you what offices are up for election and who’s running for them.

It’s a handy tool because in suburbia, candidates don’t actually tell you where they stand on the issues or campaign for office.  Also, there are no newspapers that cover local government or politics.  With a sample ballot in hand, though, you have a week or two to try to find out if any of the candidates are any brighter than, say, a third-grader or have prison records or might, heaven forbid, have something to offer.

Of course, for many of them there’s no reason to take any positions on issues because why risk alienating someone when there’s nothing to be gained?

Nothing to be gained from telling the voters where you stand?

That’s right.

You see, in the sad little town of Marlton, New Jersey, where The Curmudgeon resides, the pathetic Democratic Party couldn’t even field an opponent to the incumbent Republican mayor.  Even in Philadelphia the pathetic Republicans usually manage to get some poor schmuck to put his name on the ballot, just so the party can say it’s making an effort, but not in Marlton.  No Democrats running for mayor this year.

But it doesn’t end there.

Two seats on the town council are up for election, too, and no Democrats are running for those seats, either.

If it wasn’t so sad it might be funny.

Something for Nothing

Every month or so The Curmudgeon receives in the mail a coupon for ten dollars off any purchase at the Kohl’s department store.  He lives practically around the corner from a Kohl’s and shops there occasionally, but really, he’s not much of a shopper and, as anyone who’s ever seen him can attest, not much of a dresser, either.

Not that snappy dressers are getting their snappy duds at Kohl’s.

And not that people who dress well have referred to themselves as “snappy dressers” since the days when spats were still in style.

Anyhow, when The Curmudgeon receives these coupons he gives a moment’s thought to whether there’s anything in particular he needs that he might be able to buy at Kohl’s and benefit from the ten dollars off, but the answer is almost always no and he tosses the coupon.  Last month, though, the coupon arrived just as he realized he could use some new underwear, so he took the coupon with him to Kohl’s, found some decent drawers already on sale, added his ten dollar coupon, and left the store feeling like he’d gotten a real bargain.

While waiting in line to pay for his BVDs, The Curmudgeon noticed a display of Godiva chocolate bars at the checkout stand – you know, those little gold foil-covered sweets that are grossly overpriced and can often be found at checkout counters – such as directly across the street from this particular Kohl’s store, at a Barnes & Noble.  It was after dinner and The Curmudgeon craved something sweet and chocolate – not that he really needs a reason, he pretty much always craves something sweet and chocolate – but there was no way he was going to overpay for a chocolate bar, and especially not for Godiva, which he’s always thought was more than a bit overrated.

Last week, the monthly ten dollar coupon arrived and, as usual, The Curmudgeon took a moment to consider whether there was any good use to which he might put it.  Finding none, he was about to crumple it up and toss it into the trash, er, the recycle bin, when the proverbial light bulb went on.

Why not go into Kohl’s and blow the whole thing on chocolate bars?

So the next week, when the period for using Kohl’s coupons began, The Curmudgeon drove to the store, went directly to the cashier, and asked how much the Godiva chocolate bars cost.  She didn’t know but scanned one:  $3.25 a bar.

So The Curmudgeon picked up three, put his ten-dollar coupon on the counter, and walked out of the store to the appreciative smile of the cashier, who told him as he departed that she liked the way he thinks.

Something for nothing.  Who woulda thunk it?

Tom Hanks Brings the Funny

One of the problems with actors who win fame and acclaim doing comedy and go on to do more serious work is that they often come to think that doing something funny is beneath them.  As much as The Curmudgeon has come to admire Steve Martin, and that’s a lot, you won’t catch Martin doing the arrow-through-his-head thing anymore just to get an easy laugh.  And “happy feet”?  Long gone.

But Tom Hanks is not one of those actors.

Hanks is never too serious to take a few minutes to bring the funny.  The Curmudgeon has already featured Hanks’s great, Ron Howard-directed spoof of Toddlers and Tiaras, and now, here’s some slam poetry about an unlamented television sitcom.

Happy Memorial Day.  Enjoy.




The Boss Goes All Bee Gees On Us

“When in Rome…” the old saying goes.

And so, apparently, thought Bruce Springsteen when his latest tour brought him to the land down under.

While in Australia, Bruuuuuuuce decided to sing a few songs made famous by native Australians.

The first to come to The Curmudgeon’s attention was the Boss’s version of “Royals,” the brilliant hit by the Australian teenager that, when The Curmudgeon first heard it, so instantly impressed him that he got up from the dinner table – something he rarely does – to go to his iPod to see whose song it was.  You can hear Bruce’s version of “Royals” here.

And just this week The Curmudgeon read that while on that same tour, Springsteen bizarrely chose to perform a song by native Australians even older than he is:  the Bee Gees’ “Stayin ‘ Alive.”  You can hear his rendition here.

When Bruce Springsteen sings “Royals,” it’s a curiosity.  When he performs a Bee Gees disco song, you realize that these are very strange times in which we live.

brucebee gees

So Simple Yet So Elegant

The Curmudgeon’s general rule is that if you think you have a fever and you have no trouble shaking down an old-fashioned mercury thermometer to well below 98.6 degrees and putting it into your mouth (and if that’s not where you’re putting it, well, we’ll keep that between us), you probably don’t have a fever.

If, on the other hand, it seems like no matter how hard you shake and no matter how many times you shake it still doesn’t go down far enough, you’re probably pretty sick.

Likewise, when you go to the doctor and she prescribes some medicine for whatever ails you and either transmits your prescription electronically or gives you a piece of paper to drop off at the drug store, you’re always too distracted from feeling sick to remember to tell the pharmacy not to give you those infernal child-proof caps – or, as The Curmudgeon thinks of them, adult-proof caps.

How many times have you found yourself cursing that oversight at three in the morning while trying to open the Phenergan so you can stop coughing and get a little sleep?

Now, modern engineering has come up with a solution to the problem – a solution so simple, so elegant, that either it’s amazing that it hasn’t been around forever or The Curmudgeon has been getting his prescriptions filled at all the wrong places.



The cap is reversible.  Put it on wide side on the bottom and it’s a child-proof (and adult-proof) cap.  Put it on wide side on the top and it’s the plain screw-on cap of your youth, back in the days when no one paid any attention to whether the kids got into the medicine.

Of Nobel Prizes and Answering Machines

The recent passing of Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez called to mind The Curmudgeon’s first telephone answering machine.

That seems like a natural association, no?

The Curmudgeon, as he has noted in this space, has never been an early adopter of technology. While some people are on an intrepid, never-ending quest for the latest and greatest in gizmos, his approach has always been to adopt only when he sees the utility of it for his own life and never solely for adoption’s sake; to him, an “app” is still something like shrimp cocktail or jalapeno poppers. He was fairly early in owning a personal computer, the first kid on his block to own a laser printer, second quartile in having internet access and an email account, and about average in jumping into PDAs and e-readers. On the other hand, he came fairly late to cell phones, even later to mp3 players, and still has no interest in a tablet or smartphone. As for his television, well, do they still even sell nineteen-inchers like the one in his living room?

When it comes to telephone answering machines, The Curmudgeon went many years after such machines were more or less ubiquitous before getting one of his own. Why? A combination of his lack of interest in being so accessible – the same reason that, even today, only about a half-dozen people in the entire world have his cell phone number – and the reality that there really were very few people at that time who wanted and genuinely needed to contact him.

A curmudgeonliness dividend, one might call it.

But late in 1990 he got a new job at a very high-tone consulting firm of the type where most of the all-male consulting staff wore tasseled loafers. The Curmudgeon, of course, has long been an orthopedic shoes kind of guy, but because staff writers are kept hidden in the back room away from clients, sort of like a crazy uncle, the folks there didn’t seem to mind and hired him anyway despite his wing-tips.

Less than a month after he started the job, The Curmudgeon was enjoying his usual after-dinner drink one evening – pineapple juice – when he received a phone call telling him that his presence was required at a special off-site staff meeting the following morning at seven o’clock. Appalled by the early hour yet obedient, he appeared on time, if a bit bleary-eyed, at a conference room at Philadelphia’s Warwick Hotel, where most of the invited staff had assembled.

He says “most” because one person was missing, and the rest of the staff sat around and waited for nearly ninety minutes until the missing one arrived. He had spent the evening at his girlfriend’s house and had never received the call. While a few people had what they called “car phones” in 1990, nobody had a cell phone.

From this experience – including ninety minutes of small talk with people he did not know at the time and would never come to like even a little – The Curmudgeon emerged with the sense that he’d better get himself a telephone answering machine because he did NOT want to be the guy whose absence caused his colleagues to sit around and stew for nearly two hours because of him.

(Another lesson learned at this meeting: that “ladies” eat donuts with a knife and fork – the lady in question being the 5’8”, 110-pound consort of the company’s owner, whom The Curmudgeon was later advised had excused herself immediately after consuming said glazed donut to use her forefinger in a manner that discharged the donut, thereby ensuring that it did not risk elevating her to 111 pounds.)

So the following weekend The Curmudgeon purchased and set up a telephone answering machine – the kind that recorded messages on a mini-cassette tape – and placed on it a very simple message: “At the signal, please leave your message.”

While this was only twenty-four years ago, the internet was not yet our playground, our telephones were still tethered to receivers with those long, winding coil cords (The Curmudgeon still has one), and many people viewed the novelty of leaving a personal, recorded message that others would hear as an opportunity for creative self-expression. If you’ll recall those days, people played music, they made rhymes, they left all manner of clever messages on their answering machines, and so it was that the few people who did call The Curmudgeon and received his plain and simple message were disappointed by its plainness and simplicity – and not at all reticent about expressing that disappointment to him in no uncertain terms.

They demanded that he try again.

And so it was that he turned to Gabriel Garcia Marquez…

You see? You were starting to wonder what in the world any of this had to do with the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, weren’t you?

And so The Curmudgeon turned to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose One Hundred Years of Solitude he had just finished reading (for the first time), and decided that if people wanted entertainment from his telephone answering machine, he would give them more than mere entertainment: he would give them enlightenment, a genuine literary experience, with a reading from one of his favorite passages from that novel.

As a result, The Curmudgeon’s second telephone answering machine message said the following:

The gypsy wrapped him in the frightful climate of his look before he turned into a puddle of pestilential and smoking pitch over which the echo of his reply still floated: “Melquíades is dead.” Upset by the news, José Arcadio Buendía stood motionless, trying to rise above his affliction, until the group dispersed, called away by other artifices, and the puddle of the taciturn Armenian evaporated completely. Other gypsies confirmed later on that Melquíades had in fact succumbed to the fever on the beach at Singapore and that his body had been thrown into the deepest part of the Java Sea. The children had no interest in the news. They insisted that their father take them to see the overwhelming novelty of the sages of Memphis that was being advertised at the entrance of a tent that, according to what was said, had belonged to King Solomon. They insisted so much that José Arcadio Buendía paid the thirty reales and led them into the center of the tent, where there was a giant with a hairy torso and a shaved head, with a copper ring in his nose and a heavy iron chain on his ankle, watching over a pirate chest. When it was opened by the giant, the chest gave off a glacial exhalation. Inside there was only an enormous, transparent block with infinite internal needles in which the light of the sunset was broken up into colored stars. Disconcerted, knowing that the children were waiting for an immediate explanation, José Arcadio Buendía ventured a murmur: “It’s the largest diamond in the world.”

“No,” the gypsy countered. “It is ice.”

At the signal, please leave your message.

Now The Curmudgeon thought – and still believes – that this paragraph has great literary merit and that the novelty of people seeing ice for the first time in their lives was utterly charming. Those who had to listen to the entire paragraph before they reached “At the signal, please leave your message” turned out not to be amused at all and insisted – no, actually, they demanded – that The Curmudgeon try, try again.

telephoneSo he did. This time his message was a review, Siskel and Ebert style, of his first two answering machine messages. The Curmudgeon doesn’t recall the details but does remember that it was pretty damn funny, and others apparently thought so, too, because when he’d come home from work every night, he’d find anywhere from five to fifteen beeps on his answering machine, signaling that many people had called, but no actual messages. It turns out that The Curmudgeon’s mother had played the message for her co-workers, and those co-workers told their friends, who in turn told their friends, and all sorts of people were calling The Curmudgeon’s number at times of the day when they figured he wouldn’t be home just to hear the answering machine message. He didn’t know any of these people, caller ID hadn’t yet been invented, and even if it had he wouldn’t have known any of them, so of course they left no messages.

This, too, proved intolerable, so after a few months with a Todd Rundgren-inspired recording of “Hello, it’s me, you know that I’d be with you if I could, but I can’t, so please leave a message at the signal,” The Curmudgeon settled into the answering machine/voice mail message he continues to use today: “Hi, this is Joe, I’m sorry I missed your call. Please leave a message at the signal and I’ll get back to you.”

Rest in peace, Melquíades. Rest in peace, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And rest in peace, first answering machine and the simpler world of which you were a part.



Miss Manners

Anyone unfamiliar with Miss Manners might assume, from the very name of her column, that it is a stuffy feature about things you don’t care about written by someone who thinks she’s better than you.

And boy would you ever be wrong wrong wrong.

Miss Manners knows her salad forks from her dinner forks, but she also has a sly sense of humor that keeps The Curmudgeon always coming back for more.

Consider this recent question and response:

DEAR MISS MANNERS: If I am a guest speaker at a luncheon, is it unprofessional of me to eat any of the food?

GENTLE READER: While you are speaking, yes.