Saturday, March 25, 2023

Understanding Your Parents

I just solved a mystery that'd confused me for decades.

In childhood we see but don't always understand our parents' behavior. Their motivations often elude us. That was the case when I observed my normally-thrifty mother spend money every year buying sets of uncirculated coins from the U.S. Mint. The "United States Proof Sets," encased in plastic, include that year's penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half-dollar and dollar. I discovered dozens of these in my father's belongings recently when cleaning out his stuff.

As a child I was a coin-collector myself so the concept of collecting coins wasn't foreign to me but my attraction to coins was their aesthetic value. For example, my favorite coin (from Germany) has fancy writing on the SIDE of the coin. How cool is that? Other coins also have intriguing designs.

My mother had no interest in coins' artwork so that wasn't her reason for collecting. Nor was investment value. The value of coins depends on two things: condition and scarcity. While the condition of coins in these sets is "mint" (never handled by humans) they are certainly not rare. Millions were minted and sold meaning they'd never acquire any real value.

No, the reason lay elsewhere. I pondered my mother's uncharacteristic behavior for decades. Only now, after sustained consideration and mature insight do I understand it.

To grasp what was going on, you have to put yourself in the head of an insecure immigrant. As young adults my parents desperately strove to assimilate, to become Americans. They wanted the idyllic life of an American family. My father took courses to lose his German accent; my parents finished the basement of our small house with a wooden bar and decorated it with alcoholic advertisements (e.g., Rheingold) to host drunken parties with their neighbors. Stuff like that.

Viewed in this context, my mother's coin-buying suddenly makes sense. She was not purchasing coins; she was buying into the idea of America. Her puchases were an expression of faith in a country she and my father embraced wholeheartedly. 

Patriotism is uncommon now but back then, especially in immigrant groups, it was pervasive. Standing apart from American culture was dangerous; fitting in was safer. Demonstrating allegiance to our country's symbols, including its currency, is a form of cultural worship my parents engaged in. 

Now, finally, I get it. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

My Career

I was admitted to the Bar on March 23, 1983 -- which makes today the 40th anniversary of that event. (I actually started working as a lawyer earlier in September 1982.)

I announced my "retirement" a year-and-a-half ago but, honestly, it hasn't occurred yet. Winding down my law practice is taking longer than one might expect: there are too many complicated, long-term commitments to conclude quickly. I've had success, however, and now confidently predict final, real retirement by this Summer. I want a big party to celebrate this history of work and have already picked out a band. 

How long do you want your career to last?

Wednesday, March 8, 2023


In last night's game Devils veteran Ondrej Palat caught a high stick in the mouth and was forced to leave the second period with knocked-out teeth and busted lips. But in the tradition of heroic hockey players Ondrej had his mouth sewn up in the locker-room and came back in the third period -- where he scored another key goal. This picture tells the story.

The Devils are TOUGH. 

Monday, March 6, 2023

"The U.S. and the Holocaust"

I've been terribly sick the past three weeks with RSV. The worst part of the illness is blurred vision. That's prevented me from reading and writing. Please forgive my absence from your blogs. I hope to return to commenting soon.

While sick I watched a new, 6-hour documentary from Ken Burns about the Holocaust ("The U.S. and the Holocaust," PBS, 2022). Its core message: Americans were fully informed of the tragedies committed in Europe during that period but chose, inexcusably, to turn a cold shoulder toward widespread suffering.

The documentary examines the dangers of appeasing evil and ignoring noxious beliefs (which persists today). You're also struck by the fragility of family as parents and children were cruelly separated from their loved ones. Finally the vast scale of the horrors of that time is hard to take in. Literally millions were murdered.

The 3-part series, while difficult to watch, changes your perspective on several important subjects, such as man's capacity for inhumane behavior.

(If you want to borrow the DVDs, just ask me.)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Raquel Welch

Raquel Welch just died.

You could not have been alive 50 years ago and been unaware of who she was. Western society elevated her to the pinnacle of womanhood -- a dubious and slippery perch.

At that time Raquel said something deeply true, not just for her but for many women who learn conventional "beauty" isn't an attribute but a tool: "To have it said that you’re a sex symbol, the most beautiful girl in the world, is initially terrific. You think, isn’t that neat? Then you pass a mirror and you say, ‘Uh-oh, that face ain’t gonna launch a thousand ships, and that bod’s not so hot either.’ Nobody can be the most beautiful girl in the world. It’s just fairy-tale time. Now, after some psychotherapy, I’ve come to grips with the monster and said OK, there’s the public thing, the label. It means money and the chance to do other things. It’s going to be tough, but using it you can open up the other side and let people find out you’re a serious artist." (source)

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Valentine's Day

I hit the Valentine's Day jackpot last night. Took Robin to dinner and a live concert of Beatles songs by a talented band at My Father's Place

Robin sang, danced and laughed all night -- the happiest I've seen her in years. Beatles music magically makes people happy: there was enthusiasm from teenagers to 80-year olds.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Legal Marijuana

New York State recently made marijuana legal for recreational use and the first store just opened in NYC. To its credit the State is prioritizing social justice in licensing sellers. The first store is a laudable non-profit (Housing Works) which started in 1990 to help people with AIDS find housing. Currently it provides housing, healthcare, and vocational training to thousands of New Yorkers. I went into the city for an art event today so I added a detour to Housing Works and -- legally -- bought cannabis.

I understand those who oppose marijuana but (1) it's legal here, (2) I'm an adult, and (3) you're gonna have to respect my self-determination. As a former pot-user I know the scare tactics of the drug war (from 1960s onward) were untrue: I'm not going to become a heroin addict after puffing a joint.

Candidly I haven't smoked grass in 40 years. I consumed it in college and law school, then dropped the activity when I got a job. For me lighting up after such a long time is more nostalgia than anything else.

The reason I smoked during the seven years I spent in higher education was to reduce stress from academic striving. Those were tough years and pot helped me relax after long days of study. I didn't get that relief from alcohol and currently drink only for flavor or to improve socializing. 

Marijuana has changed over the past half-century. Grown with better care than the skunk-weed we often got, it's cultivated by horticulturalists who know what they're doing. Legal weed is guaranteed pure and safe, avoiding contamination that sometimes taints illegal pot. Plus, a new market is opening -- products designed to appeal to connoisseurs. Terms like terpenes and cannobinoids are used to distinguish among different weed strains. Each type is labeled with its percentage of THC (the thing that makes you high) so telling strong product from weak is now easy. This isn't your grandpa's ganja.

Buying pot in New York means standing in line, proving you're over 21, selecting from a menu and paying. Like you do for everything else. Simple and efficient. The menu has dozens of brands of pot in flower form, rolled joints, vape oil and edibles. 

Have you ever smoked pot? Will legalization make you consider it again?

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Kim Petras

Kim Petras is a 30-year old singer from Germany. She's transgender and transitioned when she was 16. Her career is blossoming and she's hitting a number of firsts. Last year she was the first transgender performer to appear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. This year she won a Grammy for Best Duo/Group and is the first transgender musician to do that. She also performed at the Grammys with Sam Smith ("Unholy").

Have you heard of her? Her music?

Monday, February 6, 2023

Winter Scenes

Photography teaches us how to see -- which we do with our brain, not our eyes.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

5-Bar Tour

In the dead of winter motorcyclists get bored. To combat this we go on a 5-bar tour. One of us knows dive bars intimately throughout New York City and leads us on a fun excursion. It changes every year.

This year the tour included sights like the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, the Dakota Hotel where John Lennon was living when killed, and the firehouse used in the Ghostbuster movies.

Have you ever been to New York City?

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Challenger Explosion

Yesterday marked an anniversary of the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger flight. It's been almost forty years.

Few saw the event live: TV networks didn't broadcast the launch and cable TV wasn't popular yet. Media showed tape of the tragedy endlessly but only after it happened.

While the physical cause of the explosion was technical (failure of O-ring seals) its real cause was human error. NASA administrators felt pressured to move forward with a scheduled launch despite warnings from engineers that weather conditions were unsafe. (Cold temperature made the seals fail.) There was no escape mechanism for the shuttle -- despite being available --because NASA officials decided it was too expensive. 

A Presidential Commission investigated the incident and concluded NASA officials were to blame. The Commission recommended changing the decision-making process at the agency to improve safety in future flights. Essentially bureaucrats are now forced to pay more attention to engineers.

Post-crash investigation showed, sadly, that most of the seven astronauts survived the air explosion but died three minutes later when the crew module hit the ocean at 200 mph. There was nothing they could do during that time and their bodies were torn apart by impact.

Do you remember this sad event?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Cheddar Cheese

Want a good tip?

Cheddar cheese is popular because it appeals to Western palates. Like many foods, cheddar ranges from awful to fabulous depending on two factors. One is how the cheese is made. Cheddar can be produced industrially and taste bland. The cheese tastes better when aged but even then there's a limit. A long time ago I bought cheddar from a specialized cheese-maker in the Midwest that had been aged 20 years. Twenty! I assumed it'd be the pinnacle of food but was disappointed: it was simply ordinary. If you take normal cheese and let it sit, you'll get something better than what you started with but not necessarily terrific.

The second factor, of critical importance, is the quality of cheddar's prime ingredient, milk. The taste and quality of milk varies depending a host of influences. Until recently I've been buying Cabot cheddar cheese because its milk, produced in upstate New York, is very good, much better than competitors in the supermarket. But Cabot isn't the best cheddar in the world. I recently discovered what is the best and that brand now resides in my frig on a regular basis.

The special cheese is made by Snowdonia Cheese Company and is called "Rock Star." You can buy it locally at Sayville Cheese, a delightful little shoppe that rotates its wares. Rock Star isn't expensive (a 5 oz. package costs only $12). If you want to try before buying they will offer you a taste -- or you can ask me and I'll give you some.

Rock Star cheddar is made in Wales; Snowdonia is a region in the northern part of that country. Wales is an agricultural nation with long history of dairy production. Milk used in the cheddar reflects the country's cows, soil, air and overall environment. There are fancy words for this (e.g., terroir) but all you need know is it's very good.

Rock Star has a stronger, sharper taste than most cheddars but I find it delicious. Flavor explodes in your mouth. If you want to dilute it simply use the cheese in cooking. It's great mixed with cooked veggies like spinach or corn.

Ask me and I'll give you some.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

New Jersey Devils

I know most of you aren't hockey fans but everyone loves a Cinderella story. 

The New Jersey Devils have been a neglected stepchild for over a decade. Condemned to cleaning the house, ignored and unloved by all around them. When you mention their name to hockey fans you hear scoffs and derision. But...

But! The team has been quietly building a powerhouse ensemble of unknown young players whose speed and talent are extraordinary. And this is their breakout year. 

The Devils announced themselves in November by winning more games that month than any other team in hockey history. Since then they've proven that wasn't a fluke. Repeatedly, including last night, they combat top-notch opponents, score decisive goals at critical moments and protect their net. 

Despite the obscurity and ignominy the team has long labored in, they will become heralded stars in a few weeks when they qualify for the playoffs and win important games. If you get on the bandwagon now you'll be able to celebrate with me then.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

My Father

My father worked as a cop in a small, affluent village for 30 years (Lloyd Harbor, NY). After his death last month I wrote the Village's Mayor to inform her of it and included some personal history with photographs and documents. 

The Mayor just wrote back and said they're setting up a display at Village Hall with the material. Dad would be proud.

Thursday, January 5, 2023


When you get older, you realize experiences are more important than objects. Experiences are something unique that happened to you once and will never recur. Objects are mere trinkets, usually fungible and subject to decay -- unlike memories of key experiences which stay with us for life.

I'm not as smart as I appear but I'm capable of growth. When truth stares me in the face, I look at it and learn from it. Here's an example.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit I selected my new motorcycle for its looks. The Janus Halcyon's rare, distinctive retro-style attracts public attention like a strong magnet. That aspect of the bike is certainly attractive to me. But I'm learning, separate from that, that the experience actually riding the bike is also immensely pleasurable -- and vastly different from what my other motorcycles offer. 

The Halcyon model uses design from the 1920s, back before motorcycles became aerodynamically engineered machines capable of high speed. They were more similar to bicycles than automobiles with simple addition of a motor. Traveling at 30-60 mph was their goal. The geometry of motorcycles a century ago wasn't as advanced as it is today with machines taking sophisticated cues from racing sportbikes.

This translates to a dramatically different, instantly noticeable experience when riding. The bike handles different, feels different and runs different. Everything about it differs from what I'm used to. In fact, I'd say these bikes really should be operated only by riders with advanced skills; beginners will quickly get into trouble on them. When I ride the Janus, it requires me to deploy my highest riding skills, like intuitive control of the throttle and clutch, unconscious use of the rear brake, and careful balance in turns. Without these skills you'll certainly end up in a ditch on the side of the road. Unlike modern motorcycles, the bike's design and primitive technology doesn't do a lot of the handling work for you. No ABS, no traction control, etc.

At the same time, riding the Janus feels like time-traveling to an ancient era when motorcyclists sat upright, felt the wind hit them directly in the chest, wrestled with natural forces and developed pioneering riding-skills to stay alive. On the bike I feel like a rural postal-carrier scooting long distances in the Midwest a century ago, only occasionally seeing another vehicle on the road. Without today's cocoon of protection from the environment, I get off the bike with bug-splatter on my face-shield and jacket and unexpected physical exhaustion in my upper-body. 

Yesterday's riding-experience is totally unlike today's and the contrast is delightful to taste. I find riding the Janus more interesting and fun than riding my modern bikes -- and its palpable hardships enhance that feeling. Sometimes "better" is not preferable. I've traveled to the past and enjoy being there.