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newsday

My entry into the workforce was delivering newspapers – Newsday, a Long Island publication that came out 7 days a week. There were about 50 houses on my route and neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night left their residents with empty, newspaperless hands. The town was Commack, a suburban-residential area; each house resting on about an acre of a well-manicured lawn and tended gardens. We were close enough to one another to hear our neighbors partying, or arguing, and far enough to not see each other through our windows.

The papers were hauled in a canvas bag hanging from the high handlebars of my banana seat stingray bike. This was the early/mid seventies – I was about 14 when I started, and kept at it until I was nearly old enough to drive. I usually hated the job – most of all Sundays, when I was up before first light, sitting on my cold garage floor, slipping tall stacks of colored ads – “inserts” into every paper. The Sunday papers were so thick, it sometimes took two trips to complete my route. The weight of the bag made the bicycle hard to steer, but it was something you learned how to do. You made wider turns and steered from your shoulders.  There were no days off, except maybe bank/mail holidays. If you were sick, real sick, you found a substitute. Or one of your parents would drive you along the route.

So why do this? Pshhh… easy answer. Money. I soon earned enough to procure a glowing flame-orange Huffy 10 speed bike. I loved that machine and put a lot of miles on it. I also bought a magnificent 6-man tent that my friends and I would use to camp out in my yard, and in later years would lug up into the Catskill Mountains. It took two to carry it. Also, girls were entering the picture and if you wanted to go somewhere with one, you needed money.

It’s probably not much of a job option anymore. I don’t think there are a lot of paperboys pedaling around these days. Around here (Killingworth, CT), at least, newspapers are delivered by adults in cars. It’s a shame. Kids learned a lot of valuable life lessons from this often-first paid job. They learned responsibility. Completing the job rested solely upon them. There were no excuses. You did the job or got fired, just like in real life. They learned money management. You kept a ledger of customers, tracking their payments, subscription details, and vacations. If you wanted things, you had to save up for them. Not spending money on a whim, especially if you are a teenager, is a skill and a lesson in self control. Newsday would pay us a small stipend per customer, but the real money was in the tips (especially around Christmas!), leading to the next lesson; people skills. Not only did we have to go door to door to collect our money in person, if we wanted to make more money, we needed to solicit more customers. This, too, required knocking on doors, asking strangers if they’d like to “get the paper”. I eventually added enough new customers to earn the coveted title of “Master Carrier”. The honor came with a sweatshirt bearing that title. Seriously, though, I wore it proudly.

So much of what we are today come from things we did long ago. Some of those things are things we have to overcome. But some are things that we can look back upon in appreciation of the role they played in building our foundation. I’m proud to have once been a paperboy. Not only for the life lessons, but also for the right to say to the young’uns, “When I was your age, I was pedaling a little stingray bike through the heat and slush, delivering cumbrous sacks of papers for a bit of change.”

Some memories:

  • Bad weather was NEVER an excuse to stay home. Didn’t mind the snow. Didn’t mind the heat. Did not like the rain. HATED sleet. Slush was the absolute worst!
  • I had a mad crush on a customer’s daughter who was in one of my classes. She once answered the door in her little white nightgown. I literally froze in place. I don’t know for how long, but I remember just standing there, wordless. Adolescent memories like that never fade… (Her name was Robin)
  • And then there are the houses with huge, exploding dogs that you swore were seconds away from tearing through that thin screen that stood between you and getting your throat ripped out.
  • Once a month I had an extra long day, often out till dark, to collect the money. You knock on each door and shout, “Collect”. It was amazing how many adults were caught by surprise (it was always the same day of the month) and didn’t have the money. This would prompt a second, and sometimes third, trip. It was often the same people. I didn’t particularly like those people.
  • But I did like most of them. Most were actually kind of nice to me.
  • From the front stoop, different people’s houses smelled like different food cooking.
  • I wasn’t “John”. I was “paperboy”. If I knocked on the door and they asked who it was, I was “paperboy”. Very few knew my name.
  • A guy from Newsday would sometimes drive your route to check that you put the inserts in. He’d actually pull the newspaper out of the mailbox and rifle through it. This wasn’t too often (that I knew of), and on a couple occasions I’d still risk dumping the pile of inserts down the storm drain. There. I admit it. But paperboys hated inserts.
  • I never met my boss – never once saw him in person. I’d get home and a stack of papers would be waiting for me in front of the garage. On occasion, I’d talk to him on the phone if I was short a paper, but that was rare.
  • Loved Mondays and Tuesdays, when the paper was thin.
  • If there were 2 stacks in front of the door, my heart would sink. That meant inserts. Did I mention paperboys hated inserts?
  • Some people didn’t tip. Sometimes their paper would get a little wetter in the rain than their neighbors’. There. I admit that, too.
  • They all had your phone number. If you were running late, they’d want to know where you were (looking back, can’t blame ’em). If you missed a house for some reason, Mom would pass on the message when you got home and you’d have to head back out. Hopefully you still had an extra paper.
  • I was home sick and my substitute (my friend John), missed a whole lot of houses. Got lots of angry phone calls. Had to take the cost of one paper off of the bill for each one of them (more record-keeping). People really wanted their newspaper and there was little forgiveness for failing to deliver them! Again, looking back, can’t blame ’em.
  • I was supposed to hang out with a girl I liked after school, but I had to do my route first. She came with me and helped put the papers in the boxes! That’s what would be known as a good day at work.
  • Toward the end of my delivery career, one of my customers (who shall remain nameless), asked if I would mow his lawns on weekends. I later learned he was connected with a certain NY mob boss. He would offer me gifts that – and he really used these words – “fell off a truck”. (My mother made me return them – she had “a funny feeling”). I liked him – he always very good to me.
  • There was a Chinese woman who struggled to speak English. I had to concentrate very hard to understand her. When you concentrate very hard trying to understand someone, you feel like you get to know them a little better. Maybe it’s the increased eye contact, or the fact you are listening with extra intensity. I remember being happy for her each time she cleared another word hurdle. (“Wednesday” was a tough one for her)
  • I occasionally have a recurring dream in which I’m riding my bike along the end of my route, and can’t find my way out. Always the same area.  Beyond the end of my route lie the homes of people I did not know. It was no-man’s land, both in reality at the time, and in the dream. Wonder what that means…

Would love to hear some stories from some of you ex-paperboys!

 

 

 

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As a kid, I HATED green peppers! Every once in a horrifying while, my mother would make us STUFFED GREEN PEPPERS – a meal celebrating that reviled vegetable. She was kind enough to let my brothers and me skip the offending container if we finished what was inside it – ground beef/rice/tomato sauce, which was actually pretty good. The empty pepper would be pushed as far to the edge of the plate as we could get it. Bleh!

Tastes change. I eat raw fish now. Love asparagus.  Onions rule! And I kind of like green peppers*. Of late, I’ve been experiencing a craving for those stuffed peppers, partially fueled by this year’s great crop of them in our garden. I called Mom, got the recipe, and made some up. Not bad! Betsy liked it, too, but…. didn’t eat the pepper. Who am I to blame her?

*Still won’t eat liver.

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Subtitle: John Himmelman’s further descent into curmudgeonry.

I’ve seen my last movie in a movie theater. Unfortunately, it was Ironman 2, a big letdown after the first Ironman. Oh well. The movie itself had nothing to do with this decision. I still love watching movies, but for now on it will be in the comfort of my home.

So, you know what did it? Having to pay $9 to sit through a long string of TV commercials prior to the movie. These are commercials you cannot mute. You can’t get up and go to the fridge or switch to another channel. You’re held hostage as commercial after commercial blares out of the theater’s Dolby speakers. This practice began years ago with “The Jimmy Fund”. This caused a bit of controversy, but it was difficult to complain about helping sick kids without coming off as a misanthrope. Then they started sneaking in other commercials – usually one or two – irritating, but survivable. Having gotten away with that, they began adding more and more. Betsy and I walked out of Destinta Theater in Middletown, CT as the 5th commercial came on. We got our $18 refunded. At the Marquee Cinemas in Westbrook, we were assaulted by 8 commercials! And this was well after the movie was scheduled to begin. I’m not talking about coming attractions, mind you. I actually enjoy those. We’re talking about TV ads on the big screen.

A couple of people have suggested showing up later in order to bypass said assault. But then you run the risk of getting lousy seats.

And it’s just WRONG!

We pay a hefty price to see this entertainment! Add to this what we overpay at the snack bar. We should not be subjected to ads once the movie is slated to begin!

I know that some of you are rolling your eyes. You really don’t mind commercials. Well I hate them. In fact, my first blog entry was on how TV ads manage to annoy the bejeezus out of me.

When our son Jeff moved out, we turned his room into the entertainment room. It has a big screen TV, DVD player and surround sound. There’s a wide range of affordable refreshments downstairs and adult beverages. And a comfy lazyboy chair. When we want to watch a movie, we dim the lights and settle in. Amazingly, no one screams at us from the screen, trying to sell us stuff we don’t want.

I know I’m not alone in abandoning the theater experience. It’s probably part of the reason the theater owners are sullying what they offer by subjecting their paying customers to ad barrages. If I’m not there to see them, they can’t bother me.

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No milk for my morning coffee? AND we’re out of the emergency creamer?

I’ll drink it, but I won’t like it!

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Mak’n Chili

chiliCooking chili is a ritual. It is all about the process, which for me, a highly goal driven man, is a welcome change of pace. Here’s how it goes:

    1) Empty the sink and clear the counters (Must have a clean, wide playing field)

    2) Set all the ingredients out on the counters. Admire them. They will soon join to create a force of deliciosity.

    3) Place laptop on counter – safely away from the action. Cue up a “The Honeymooners” DVD.

    4) Break out the tall fancy beer glass for the imminent black & tans (Guinness and Harp or Sam Adams Cherry Wheat).

    5) Get crackin’!

Chef of the Future

Chef of the Future

The Honeymooners is a vital component to the process. It still makes me laugh out loud, even though I can recite every line before it is spoken. There’s something comforting about it. I think it adds to the quality of the comfort food I’m making. A happy cook cooks well, no?

The black and tans are also vital, for much the same rationale. The reason for this particular selection is that one of the ingredients of the chili is Guinness Stout. One for the chili… a couple for the cook… And, not surprisingly, as they go down, the laughs at Ralph and Norton go up.

Black & Tan - this one made with Cherry Wheat Ale

Black & Tan - this one made with Cherry Wheat Ale

I probably make a chili about four or five times a year. In February, I enter the Killingworth Lions Chili Cookoff. I won last year with the recipe below (it was the first year I experimented with adding the potatoes). *This year’s contest is on February 4 – the chili’s bubbling away as I type this.

Chili Recipe:

1 1/2 – 2 pounds of ground beef (or turkey)
1 1/2 onion – diced
2 small potatoes (gnocchi works, too – try it!) – cubed
Heaping teaspoon of minced garlic
1 can of black beans
1 can of pinto beans
1 large can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce (sometimes another smaller can is added)
2 cans of tomato paste
1 (4.5 oz) can or chopped green chilies (sometimes 2 cans)
2 tablespoons of chili powder (give or take)
A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of ground cumin (sometimes more, sometimes less)
1 to 2 teaspoons of ground red pepper
1 teaspoon of hot paprika
1 teaspoon of hot sauce
Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Salt to taste

1 – Lightly sauté the diced potatoes in a teaspoon of chili powder, half an onion, and a little vegetable oil. This sears in the flavor and keeps them from getting mushy from cooking too long.

2 – Cook the meat until it is no longer pink. If you are using turkey, cook it in beef broth (half can – other half goes in the the main mix) and Worcestershire sauce. If I happen to have steak sauce on hand, I’ll add a few dollops. Jack Daniel’s steak sauce is best.

3 – Combine ingredients in a crock pot and cook on low. I tend to go easy on the hot spices in the beginning, adding them in small amounts as the concoction cooks. It’s always easier to add than subtract. Stir when you think about it – but with a wooden spoon (oh, I don’t know – it’s kind of a Mexican Zen thing).

I generally cook it slowly for 2-3 days until it’s pretty thick. I think the cooling process overnight, followed by the next day’s reheating intensifies the flavor. There are some foods that taste better as leftovers – chili’s in that category.

*Postscript (2/4/09) – It won!

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computer-chairs
Betsy’s at work from early morning to late afternoon teaching high school art. I’m home, plugging away at my bookstuff.

She comes home, we say hi – catch up on this and that. She kisses me goodbye and goes out to the gym to work out/run errands.

An hour or two later, I go off to my Combat Hapkido class.

I get home around 8:15PM. She’s done working out, fed, and winding down, sitting in her Lazygirl in the living room, sipping a glass of Merlot, and tapping away at her laptop.

I change my clothes, mix a martini, and sling back in the Lazyboy positioned beside her. The TV is on. It’s just another presence in the room. It doesn’t matter all that much what’s on, but it kind of matters – especially on Thursdays when her “Earl” is on and my “Office”. But I think the key is that whatever’s on can’t be irritating to either one of us (not always an easy find).

I pull my laptop onto my lap.

So, there were are. Husband and wife, laptops on laps – side by side as our night winds down.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t know. We’re together – less than two feet apart. We share interesting things we come across on our computers – and beyond (you know, real life), as they come to mind. Sometimes, we’ll hold up the laptop so the other can see what we were just laughing at. Sometimes, although we’re side by side, we’ll forward it in an email – “Did you get it yet? Check again!”

Is this much different from the husbands and wives of yore who sat side by side watching the flickering flames in the fireplace, sharing stories as they came to mind? Or enjoying the shared silence? I mean, instead of staring into a fire, we’re staring at little computer monitors. Oh, and our fireplace is burning, too, but it’s propane generated. It looks kind of nice, but it’s not the same as a real fireplace.

Fast forward to the 50’s through 90’s – the pre-wifi days, when couples and families would sit and watch what the television had to offer. People seem to have the need to stare at something when they’re doing nothing. Books are good, but that’s not really a social thing. I read after she goes to bed. She reads in the summer – sometimes all day. But it does appear that we need some kind of focal point. Lately, it’s been of a digital nature.

Hey, we interact. We share. We commiserate. We opine. We laugh.

I don’t know if it’s better, the way things are now. I don’t even know if it’s all that different. One thing the digital age has brought us is a new kind of guilt; that of wasting too much time on our computers. Betsy and I have been together for about 30 years – since before most people had video tapes. I think we talk more now than then, despite all the wonderful new distractions technology offers.

Betsy and I do have a rule. When one of us speaks, the other stops what they’re typing/reading/playing to make eye contact and listen. I think that’s a good rule.

This isn’t the scenario every night, of course. We go places. We rent movies. We make stuff and do stuff, but during the workweek, there are just nights when you don’t want to do anything. There are so many ways to do nothing, and this just seems to be the way we’re doing nothing now.

I kinda like it.

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