Getting ready for this summer

The days are getting longer as spring approaches and now is the time to start to think about getting ready for the summer, time to think about the beach and maybe shedding a few.  The question is always how to go about it.

Some plan where I consume nothing but three or four canned “shakes” every day?  I don’t see that working, if I want a milkshake I’ll go to Baskin-Robbins.  Some plan where I wait for the mailman to deliver those delicious meals in a cardboard box like they advertise on TV? That would be like waiting by the door for the pizza guy to show up and then finding he brought broccoli delight casseroles.  I don’t see that working either.  Science, that’s the place to look. We can put a man on the moon…

So I found this diet plan, the Every Other Day Diet (EODD).  Basically, you eat like you normally would one day and then the next day you eat about 1/6th of the calories of the normal day.  It says you can lose 10 pounds a month which is great but I want to lose the weight in three months not by the summer of 2014.  So I started to think about the science behind this diet which I guess has something to do with turning your metabolism on and off in addition to the reduced calories on the “off” day.

In a month you turn “on and off” 30 times while eating 1/6th of the normal calories every “off” day and you lose what, 10 pounds a month?  That’s not good enough.  What if, and stay with me on this, you cut your calorie count on the “off” portion of the plan to zero and cycled hundreds of times? What do you think? Getting excited? Here’s what I’m looking at.  Let’s say you sleep 8 hours a night that leaves you 16 hours a day times 30 days in a month equals 480 hours.  If you ate every other hour and skipped eating completely for the “off” hour (no cheating other than maybe a light snack on the half hour) the weight should pour off of you.  480 cycles vs. 30 cycles and zero calories vs. 1/6th the calories?  Come on, it’s a no-brainer.  No claims are made on how much weight can be lost because everyone is different but how does 30, 40 or maybe 50 pounds a month sound?  With the Every Other Hour Diet (EOHD) you’ll be going out for new clothes once a day.  Imagine how excited you’ll be when you tell the kid at WalMart to set aside those 55W 28L jeans that are a bit snug this morning because you’ll be back this afternoon.  Leave work on Friday and by Monday morning your co-workers won’t recognize you.  How great would that be? Magic? No, science.

This is what America is all about, improvement.  I can’t claim credit for the original plan but like other pioneers I will claim credit for improving the original.  This will be right up there with other major American improvements like the automatic transmission, the color television, the power lawn mower and the whitewall tire.

People will line up to hear me talk about the plan because they either want to lose weight quickly themselves or because they will think, “why didn’t I think of that?” and will want to see the bright light who did think of it.

I’ll have to write a book and no doubt I’ll be busy at first setting up the website. Then there’s scheduling Oprah and 60 minutes but hey, that’s success.

“Oprah’s book of the month?”  “Tell her hi and sure, I’ll be glad to join her for a quick interview.”  This is what happens when genius meets and defeats a problem . This is going to be huge.

There is one thing about this plan that is causing me some concern though.  It’s the way the plan turns your metabolism on and off.  I’m thinking that there might be a difference between on and off and off and on.  If I start with the normal eating of the “on” hour and then stop for the “off” hour will the pounds come off but if I start with the “off” hour and then eat normally the next hour will the pounds pile on?

But, you know, thinking about it I don’t really see that as being a problem.  If the diet works, great.  If it doesn’t, oh well.  It’s not really about losing weight is it? It’s about thinking you’re going to lose weight and isn’t that what the diet business is all about?

Have to go, my “on” hour is coming up.


To Chicago

Into the waiting room, “Good evening.”  “Should be right on-time tonight.”

“I’m going to wait outside, hey, here it comes, is this it?”

The headlight grows brighter coming across the bridge

Growl, Growl, Growl, Growl, four locomotives.

And then the cars, all the same, hoppers, car, car, car, car, filled with coal,

car, car, car, car, long train, car, car, car, car, car, car, gone and you can barely hear it disappear.

A little while and the station door slams behind the agent. “Right on-time.”

There it is, the sound of the air horn at a crossing,

Is this our train?

Blue and white engines, it’s not going to stop, he’s moving too fast.

Express car, baggage car with a man standing in the open door. 

It’s not stopping.

Shiny coaches and then the sound of the brakes.

A long squeal and the second coach stops in front of us.

Quiet and then the sound of the door opening and the steps dropping down.

The conductor steps off and puts down his step box.  .

“Where we going, folks?”


“Up the steps and to your right, watch your step.”

The car is dark with only the blue ceiling lights.

There are two empty seats, I’ll get the window.

Bang, go the steps as they come up and then the thud of the door as it closes.

Silence and then the horn and then nothing and then we’re moving.

The soft horn then crossing lights flash by and again but faster this time.

Just dark fields outside the window.

I’m going to stay up all night, more crossings and cars, why are they out this late?

Crossings and street lights and bright buildings with people who work all night.

“Low-rain, next stop, Low-rain”, but softly so as not to disturb the sleeping passengers.

Some off, some on, bang, thud, horn and we start to move again.

I’m going to stay up all night, but then it’s light and where are we?

Farms and towns and farms and another town and another but bigger and then a rail yard and factories.

“20 minutes, we’ll arrive in about 20 minutes.”

Now we’re racing cars and commuter trains and crossing over every track to every place.

There’s Comiskey, looks strange and green.

We’re getting close.  More trains, gray, silver, red, green, where are they going?

The train starts to crawl coming in, entering the station, creeping and squealing.

“Chi – CAW- Go, this way out.”

We pull our suitcases off the rack and get in the line that winds down the aisle and around the corner to the end of the car.

“Can you manage that suitcase by yourself?”


“Watch your step.”



A lovely song

Every so often, every now and then a popular song will come along that will capture your heart and define your thoughts, feelings and memories, a song that becomes forever tied to a loved one or a family member.  What is that magic element of the song?  Who knows.  It’s just that certain, well whatever it is you know it when you hear it.

I heard that song yesterday and I can’t get it out of my head.  Perhaps you’re familiar with it.  I don’t remember the lyrics exactly but that melody, the melody goes thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.  Lovely.


I remember going to a night game a few years ago when the Yankees were in town to play the Indians.  The place was loaded with Yankees fans screaming and yelling in their pinstriped shirts and navy blue hats as the Yankees took a two run lead and it couldn’t have been more fun—“let’s go Yankees”.  And then in about the fifth inning when the Indians came back and took a three run and then a five run lead the hats of the father-son Yankees fans duo sitting in front of us disappeared and now they were Tribe fans.  I glanced around Progressive Field and most of “let’s go Yankees” had left.  Just like that the frontrunners had slipped out. There was nothing to them but the shirts and hats and their desperate need to glom onto a winner.

I think that the Urban Dictionary best defines frontrunners:

People who only support sports teams that recently won championships and then claim they liked that team all along. These people can be highly annoying, approaching them may result in increased levels of stress and aggression. Frontrunners may claim they have a relative or were born in the state where the winning team is from. Do not trust them at any cost.

Do not trust them at any cost and why?  Because it’s not about the team it’s all about the frontrunner’s sad attempt to cast themselves as winners.  Somehow, in their minds, putting on that Yankees hat turns a loser into a winner.

In the world of sports it’s annoying.  In the rest of the world it can affect the way in which we live and the governance of the nation. When we have elections where polls drive the campaign being able to capture the frontrunners is crucial since the addition of bodies builds momentum and attracts even more frontrunners.  Since winning means not losing, not being the loser, not being a loser, the campaign emphasis can shift from discussing and debating the issues to defining the opponent as a loser which then makes our candidate and the frontrunners, winners.  No sense in discussing the issues since, “my esteemed opponent isn’t cool, isn’t hip, isn’t a hipster, isn’t one of us–he’s a loser”.  Tell us the cool things that we want to hear so that jumping on the bandwagon let’s everyone know just how cool we are. Policies? Who cares, we’re winning, hurray for the candidate, hurray for us, hurray for me.  No commitment to the candidate is needed other than a commitment of, “I’m for you as long as you’re winning so I can be a winner too”.  I want to put on the cap.

We have descended into a world where accomplishments or good works or even effort are not necessary.  High self esteem is what is important: feel like a winner—be a winner.  This is where the participation mentality has taken us.  No knowledge, no understanding, no effort, no work, no commitment, just winning—get yourself a trophy.

The Yankees are in town in April.  Where’s my hat?

Thoughts in a blue can

Over Christmas in front of the fire after I decided that I like Planters Cocktail Peanuts more than Planters Redskin Peanuts I also decided that Planters Cocktail Peanuts aren’t as good as they once were.  At first I thought maybe it was just Christmas nostalgia as I was eating the peanuts and fondly remembering Christmases past and the cuts I received when the metal band slipped off the key while opening the blue can (being forced to finish the opening process by pulling the razor sharp metal band off the can with a pair of pliers made one aware of the risks that were willingly taken to enjoy those peanuts).  It may have been the cuts that brought back memories but the fact is the old version of Planters Cocktail Peanuts was oilier and saltier and that made them taste better (but then an enlightened someone, somewhere decided for us that there was too much fat and salt in our diet and that was that, the peanuts had to change).

There is no arguing that things change whether through improvements made possible by the work of individuals or through the enlightened actions of our betters or just because some people cannot seem to follow the rules. When things do change the new or new and improved becomes the standard, the known.  Before long we don’t remember that there was ever anything different: our memory as a society is erased.  What percentage of our population remembers a time before color television?  What percentage of our population remembers a time when money wasn’t dispensed from a machine? What percentage of our population remembers a time when there wasn’t such a fear of violence in the streets?  What percentage remembers a time when common courtesy was the norm and language and behavior were not as crude and vulgar as today?  Whatever the percentage is it will be smaller tomorrow as we grow into a society which expects to hear crude language and see vulgar and violent behavior as part of everyday living. In addition to forgetting how people should behave we are also growing into a society where we have learned to not criticize horrible behavior out of fear of seeing a label attached thereby making ourselves targets of the very verbal abuse and violence we abhor. Sometimes it seems that the trash, filth and bad behavior that are being hurled our way are being hurled our way simply to create a reaction which allows us to be labeled and then silenced.

And it’s not just the violence and the vulgarity that has downgraded society. We pay the cashier and receive no thank you with the change (as the cashier runs an accusatory counterfeit detecting  pen across the currency we, the customer, present to make sure we are not passing counterfeit bills). We see hard plastic seats on the city buses and know that is how it has to be because it is assumed that padded seats will be cutup in acts of vandalism. We see the drivers of those buses attacked and then hear calls that spending tax dollars on installing cages around the drivers is the only way to prevent the attacks. We learn that the graffiti which ruins the appearance of our cities is actually art and that criticizing that “art” will earn us a label.  We see these things and wonder what happened.  We wonder if anyone else is noting this same steady decline of society, does anyone remember the way it was, the way it should be.  We seem to be alone because the learning process is almost complete.  Those who do remember remember to keep their mouths shut and those who don’t remember know nothing different—they don’t remember when Planters Cocktail Peanuts tasted better.

The BBC television series, Downton Abbey, has become a huge hit. The period drama is set in the years around the First World War and tells the story of the changes in English society and how those changes affected all of the people associated with an aristocratic family living on an estate in the English countryside.  The characters are interesting, the stories are well written, the sets and the costumes are beautiful but there is something more.

While looking for a Christmas gift for my wife I came across the Downton Abbey soundtrack and listened to it on Spotify an internet music streaming service which allows you to listen to millions of songs with royalties paid to the artists from commercials which run after every fifth song.  The music is beautiful but the loveliness of the music was shattered after the fifth piece when a commercial for Trojan condoms or a snippet from the latest album of some rap star was played. Class versus no class.  The contrast, I believe, is part of the reason for the popularity of the series.  This is not to say that Victorian and post-Victorian society did not have problems and issues which needed to be addressed but there was an expectation of civility and standards that is sorely missing today. Those who remember civility would like to see a return to the decency depicted in the program and, I expect, those who do not remember may see something new that is attractive to them.  There is a realization that the stench of modern society shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be there.

People at least say that they want to raise their children in a safe, strong, civil and polite society. The fact that the family structure in America is not as strong as it once was does not mean that people don’t recognize what a strong family can mean for their children and their children’s futures.  The fact that the foul language, vulgarity and violence on TV and in the movies is as prolific as it is doesn’t mean that people have given up on wanting a better and more decent society for their families. The problem is that the memory that there was something better is disappearing and it will be hard to create a desire for something which is foreign to the experience of so many.

This is where the laziness and the financial focus of Hollywood comes in.  Take a look at the movies and television programs which are being produced and what you see is a constant rehash of the same story lines or remakes of old TV shows or movies.  Sequels, remakes and prequels seem to be all that are released because Hollywood wants as much of a guarantee of success as possible on its investments and they seem to think that their best chance of getting that guarantee is copying what has worked in the past.  Now look at the show Downton Abbey and its popularity over the last few years. It takes place in the generally unknown and untapped entertainment time period around World War One. Following Hollywood and TV’s pattern of copying success we should expect to see new movies and TV series developed around other turn of the 20th century and World War One era storylines.  Maybe those stories will reintroduce the nation to the type of behavior which made families strong and the country great. Maybe the characters will show how people should behave and what they can accomplish when they are free to live their lives in a civil society without fear. Maybe Hollywood and TV’s chasing of the dollar by copying storylines from a more decent and civil time period will have an unexpected consequence.  Maybe we will learn to remember or discover for the first time that it can be better.

I wonder who will play Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt and the Wright brothers?  I wonder if there is a chance Planters will bring back the original Cocktail Peanuts?


I remember sitting in seventh grade looking around the room and finding myself staring at the Encyclopedia Britannica which sat on a shelf next to the cloakroom (coatroom).  I think the set was the gift of someone’s grandparents and a big show was made about it but we were not allowed to use the books because I guess it was kind of cheating.  As Sister Mary Joseph droned on about decimals and fractions I decided that it would be easier to just read the entire encyclopedia and maybe a dictionary (Merriam-Webster was the only dictionary that Sister recognized) because if it wasn’t covered there it probably didn’t really matter.  I could know everything.  What was I doing sitting in class listening to Sister who, when I caught a glimpse of her, was now on her way over to crack me on the head with a wooden Westcott ruler (I can remember that the Westcott logo had an arrow through the “W”)?

Wait, I know what you’re thinking—“hey, there are new developments all the time”.  Right, and that is exactly why the Encyclopedia Britannica had a yearly update volume.  I would have a whole year to acquire that new knowledge.  However long it would take me to read the entire set it would certainly be less time than sitting through the balance of seventh grade and the rest of my school career plus there would be no Westcott.  Why hadn’t this been thought of before?

I wanted to put my plan into action and see the looks on the faces of my parents, Sister Mary Joseph and Father Ahern (who passed out the report cards and glares) when all of a sudden they realized that they had someone special, a true scholar, in their school.  It would be quite a feather in their caps.  With the encyclopedia officially off limits I went to the public library and read one or two paragraphs in Britannica about the letter “A” when three of my friends came in and interrupted my plan.  That was that.

I don’t know why after all of these years I thought about my encyclopedia plan, maybe I bumped my head and I saw that “W” flash by.  I still have lots of really great ideas but this being the first of that long string I always seem to come back to the pure beauty of that simple plan.

Encyclopedia Britannica has now gone digital so the plan is pretty much dead plus in addition to the on-going developments of the past year that would have to be learned we have so much new knowledge, so many new categories.  Now, there are categories that nobody dreamed of when I was in seventh grade.  In addition to reading about the Magna Carta and snow owls and St. Isaac Jogues (ask your friends who went to Catholic school) and the tributaries of the Mississippi now there are on-line answers to questions about how to:

Find the perfect man’s shirt,

Bake gluten-free cookies,

Tone your thighs at home,

French kiss and

Open a wine bottle without a corkscrew.

There is so much to learn but I think my plan would have put me well on the way.  If Thomas Edison had been interrupted while he worked on his light bulb would we still be sitting in the dark?  If my friends had not interrupted me would I still be sitting in the dark? Who knows.  It’s just funny how things work out.