Monday, February 28, 2005

Have A Nice Day

How does it strike you when someone tells you to “have a nice day?”

Usually, it’s a supermarket checkout clerk or fast food drive-thru attendant. She has taken your money and given you change with a simultaneous “thankyouhaveaniceday” in an expressionless monotone. Does this salutation cause you to go forth and do your best to oblige?

Call me a cynic, but it has been my experience that people who do not know you don’t really care if you have a nice day. You could have a perfectly miserable day – a desperately foul day – and it would not affect their lives. What would they say if you gave them a report the next day? “Remember when you told me to have a nice day? Well I tried, but everything went wrong. I dropped the groceries in the parking lot, had an at-fault accident, got fired from my job and received an audit notice from the IRS.”

I think they’d call 911.

Do the people that care about you say “have a nice day?” Not likely, but this doesn’t concern me, because I know they wish me well without having to engage in maudlin sentiment. If my business partner ever told me to have a nice day, I’d suspect he was hatching an embezzlement plan.

I think that when I leave for work in the morning and my wife tells me to have a nice day, she means it. I am pleased that she so cares for my happiness. But then, she might only wish it so that I am not an unbearable grouch when I return.

What is “nice,” anyway? My sixth grade teacher instructed me to “avoid bland adjectives.” Nice is bland. It is also ambiguous. Did you ever “nice going” or “nice job” when you broke the lawn mower or got a D+ in algebra? Yes, I know, that’s sarcasm.

Sort of like what the traffic cops say after he has handed you a speeding ticket.

“Have a nice day.”

You too officer. I mean it.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Fetal Anxiety

From The Onion comes a hilarious piece written from the womb.

Friday, February 25, 2005

"Pick It Up, It's Good"

I am now five days (and two snow storms) away from my trip to Tampa for golf and mischief with a couple dozen of my closest friends. Because the mere anticipation of playing golf triggers the release of endorphins to my brain, I am in a "getting psyched" mode, big time.

In a matter of days, I will be engaged in a three-day long "tournament," the terms of which will remain secret until our generous host and tournament director (and the holder of our cash money) decides who wins at the end. I know this man. I've seen him keep score before. He employs unusual math concepts. I haven't a chance.

So in honor of the upcoming festivities, I am reprinting a piece I wrote when the Ryder Cup was held at The Country Club in 1999. The piece was inconspicuously published in Panorama Magazine, the small pocket publication found in Boston hotel rooms during the event.

"Pick It Up"

I admit right off the bat that I’m not a big fan of rules. Oh, sure, I was brought up right and learned to follow the rules, probably more than most people. And, being a lawyer, I guess I still believe that rules are pretty important, since they keep our world from descending into anarchy (or at least slow it down).

Most of the time in our daily living, it’s pretty easy to follow the rules. And, on the occasions when we are forced by circumstances to actually think about them, the rules are pretty well spelled-out, and we have little trouble discerning the difference between what we should do and what we want to do (which we choose is a different matter).

But I have a big problem with the Rules of Golf: unlike any other tome of social regulation, by definition they denigrate 99% of us as non-golfers before we put a peg in the ground, just because we don’t know all the rules.

You read it right, non-golfer. I’ve been playing this infernal game for thirty-eight years, and the Rules tell me that I am not a golfer…

According to Rule 1-1: “The game of golf consists of playing a ball… into the hole…in accordance with the Rules.” We are not golfers until we have learned all of the nuances of the thirty-four rules that govern everything from the shape of a golf ball to the intention of a player when setting his feet in a sand trap.

Think for a minute. Do you play the “Game of Golf???”

Do you knock it away? Do you say, “that’s good,” or “pick it up” during the course of a round? Roll it over on the occasion of a particularly horrid lie, once in a while? According to the Rules, you’re no golfer.

Let’s lay it on the line: the Rules are no more sacred to the average golfer than the law against removing mattress tags. Is it absolutely essential to the preservation of the game that each one of us, before putting a ball on a peg, vows never to allow a gimmee?

What is the game of golf to us? Is it an exercise in personal discipline, a field test on the road to Rules mastery?

Hardly. The golf course is a refuge away from our spouses on which we can freely exhibit crass behavior, share politically incorrect jokes, speak of the opposite sex in socially inappropriate ways, and use foul language to excess. And that’s just the women among us! So, with so much of this really important business to conduct, what’s wrong with treating the game of golf the same way we treat the speed limit?

Imagine how much less fun the game would be if we complied strictly with Rule 1-3: “Players shall not agree to exclude the operation of any Rule or to waive any penalty incurred?”
This rule is fascist.

Imagine that you’re playing a one-day member-guest as the guest of your best customer. After seventeen holes of the best ball net format, your team stands at even par. After three teammates hit balls in the water off the tee, their hopes are piled high on your shoulders. You hit it onto the green, putting for birdie from thirty feet. You lag the putt up to eight inches. You approach the tap-in. (Now, everyone reading this is already saying to himself, “pick it up,” but we will not indulge such run-of-the-mill cheating). As you attempt to strike your ball, the wind gusts, moving the ball all of one-half inch, and you tap the moving ball. You miss, smack the ball into the greenside creek and storm off to the next tee.

Now, being civilized and compassionate people, your teammates will undoubtedly score a four (if not three) for you. After all, there’s no use in spoiling the cocktail hour. Good form, I say! Your President would be proud of you.

What purpose is served in penalizing you two strokes for not replacing the ball? Or in disqualifying the entire foursome, because either you all agreed to waive the operation of Rule 18, or you turned in an incorrect scorecard, not having finished the hole? Is this what you are on the golf course for? Of course not.

A round of golf is to most what the roller coaster ride is to the ten year old: a chance to feel the sun and wind on our faces, the thrill of the change in elevation and the danger of a wayward tilt; an opportunity to cast caution to the gods, to stretch back, arms aloft, and release the coil of energy in our bodies, feeling our exhilaration swiftly plunge to the depths as we watch yet another brand new Titleist plink into a green-fronting pond.

Let us not spoil the ride with all these silly rules which turn the experience into something akin to catechism class: Did you hole out on every green? Did you roll the ball out of a divot hole? Take a mulligan? Take a favorable drop outside of two club lengths? We must rap your knuckles!!!

I say, on behalf of all of us who like to follow reasonable rules most of the time, rewrite them! I have consulted with a number of high ranking members of the power elite (my drinking/golfing buddies), and we have begun the task of rewriting the rules to conform to the habits and practices of the majority of golfers. Here’s a look at a few of the rules that must be changed to restore our golfer status:

Rule 1-2 (Exerting Influence on Ball) prohibits a player from doing anything to influence the position or movement of the ball, even if it’s by accident. This rule is mean-spirited. In a civilized and forgiving society, nobody should be penalized for an honest mistake. You should not be penalized if you accidentally move your ball when trying, for instance, to pull twigs from under it in the woods.

You should also not be penalized if you do something that helps a playing companion. Today if your partner nukes a putt that is going to pass the hole and hit the prone flagstick, you may not move the flagstick, or you have violated Rule 1-2. This is very impolite. You should move the flagstick. After all, then it is more likely that he will assist you in your time of need.

Penalties under this rule should be reserved for the scoundrel who deliberately walks on your putting line or runs over your ball with his cart.

Rule 8 (Advice; Indicating Line of Play) prohibits a player from giving or getting advice to or from anyone except his/her partner. Now this is an insult to all gentlemen and ladies who wish during the course of a round to convey to their playing companions the depth of their superior ability and familiarity with the deep subtleties of the game. Alternatively, some people think that it is good sportsmanship to be of as much assistance as possible to one’s fellow competitors.
How often during a friendly round have you heard someone plaintively cry, “What am I doing wrong!?” after a topped, shanked or foozled shot? The current Rule requires that, in response to such a desperate query, we charge, “two shot penalty!” as if the poor dope has really done something wrong.

Anyone should be permitted to ask for as much advice as his companions are willing to impart. Only if the fellow players have made it unmistakably clear that they have no solution should a penalty be assessed, for it is plainly beyond the bounds of good form to continue pleading for aid in the face of abject resignation.

Conversely, it is just as rude to offer your expertise when it has not been sought. A golfer is free to lurch, slash and splay his way around the loop in his own inimitable way without having to hear such unsolicited and incomprehensible commands as “pronate your wrists more,” or “you’re coming off of it.” This point is particularly important on the putting green, where it is considered justifiable to assault a fellow golfer who has gratuitously complemented you with his unique (and dubious) ability to read your putts.

Rule 13 (Ball Played As It Lies, etc.) requires that the ball be played as it lies, and prohibits the player from altering the position, area of intended swing, or line of intended play. This means no preferred lies, and no moving, bending or breaking “anything growing” to get at or swing at the ball.

The problem with this rule is that the world is made up of two kinds of people: lucky and unlucky. One’s enjoyment of the game should not depend on whether his ball rolls into a divot hole or stops just short of it.

The game would be fairer (and safer) if the rule permitted any reasonable effort to improve the position or lie of the ball or the area of intended swing, short of damaging living flora. You should not be penalized if you wish to improve your lie (through the green, of course), so long as everyone else can do it. The way it is now, half the field is rolling it over anyway. Nowhere on the golf course can the conduct between the obedient and the scofflaw be more disparate than in the bushes and woods. Here, out of eyeshot from playing companions, the temptation to contort body parts and tree limbs to clear a path for the club head is more than most mortals can resist. Anything short of environmental degradation should be permitted, in order to encourage inventiveness, isometric exercise, and faster play.

Enabling everyone to roll it over puts all on equal footing, and makes the competition fairer.
A change in this rule would also improve safety and health. Preferred lies reduce the risk of a hand or wrist injury that may occur during an attempt to hit the ball from a difficult lie, or a head injury or puncture wound that may result from an anger-propelled club. And while we’re at it, we must take a long and careful look at the Rule which deems that a club broken in anger is not damaged “in the normal course of play,” and hence cannot be replaced. Clearly, this “normal” course of play differs greatly from that of many of my playing companions.

Rule 27 (Ball Lost or Out of Bounds; Provisional Ball) is the single biggest culprit behind the six hour round. Currently, we must first engage in the reviled search for the other guy’s ball, half-heartedly sauntering through knee-high hay or squishy bog, awaiting the owner’s consent to abandon search.

Seldom has he taken the precaution of hitting a provisional. Everyone knows that four out of five provisionals go right where the first one went or a mile in the other direction, and it’s unfair to put your friend to the pressure of it.

And no one should have to go back to the tee, because the group behind is already standing there, having assumed that “what the hell’s taking them so long” stance, one hand leaning on the club, the other on the hip.

To speed up the game, we must deal swiftly with the lost ball and provide an incentive for the woebegone golfer to abandon the ball after a very brief look. Any player willing to put a fork in it before it’s well done should be allowed to drop a ball in the middle of the fairway closest to where his ball was last seen and take an extra penalty stroke. So, for instance, if I drive out of bounds off the tee, I drop in the fairway parallel to the ball’s departure point, and lie 4.

Why? Because we’re looking at the handicap max for the hole, anyway!!! Why put the poor bastard through all the trouble if he’s just going to put down a 7? By permitting a drop in the middle, we are speeding up play, increasing enjoyment of the game and promoting truth in handicapping (now there’s a phantom concept!).

I have assembled a committee of amateurs to draft a set of new rules consistent with the foregoing philosophy. The committee has an average handicap of 15 and absolutely no experience in USGA sanctioned tournament play. We propose that the USGA commission us to draft The Rules of Golf For The Rest of Us, to apply to all amateur non-sanctioned play. To accomplish this task, we volunteer to occupy the outside deck overlooking the eighteenth at The Hyannisport Club, with an unlimited supply of trail mix and beverage. There, we will utilize the tools of common sense and mercy to compose a set of rules that all golfers can understand and follow without fear or guilt.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Boston Blues Scene

There's one thing about blues music. Not many people will say it is their favorite, but hardly anybody doesn't like it. In fact, I've never heard anyone say, "I don't like blues music."

So, do yourself a favor, and make it a regular part of your diet. I did, and look what it's done for me (I heard that!).

Because blues is not something that venues consider profitable, it is difficult to find if you want it. So here are some links that you can use to find you way around the Boston blues scene ---(sorry, I haven't figured out how to embed links within blog text yet and Blogger's website help isn't crackin, so you'll have to cut and paste)....

Boston Blues Society website has (among many other things) a list of open mics and events. Think about joining BBS -- it's tax deductible, and you get a cool newsletter in the mail. One of their writers, Steve Mroz, is a regular on harp at the Purple Eggplant (see below).

The guys at have done a great job of identifying all of the genre's Boston-based artists -- of which there are an impressive number. Click the headline above for their website.

Some of the open mic events are truly special. Because they are fairly local and dependent on the "regulars," there is usually a good base of attendance. Sometimes there can be an off-night, and sometimes the crowds are big and very enthusiastic.

I got my open mic start at The Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where Little Joe Cook and his band host on Sundays and Wednesdays. I haven't been in quite a while, but the Cantab is an institution, and you can't go wrong on atmosphere alone.

Because I live on the South Shore, my regular haunt is The Purple Eggplant in Abington (, where Satch Romano and his New Blue Review ( host a kick-ass open mic on Thursdays. This has come to mean so much to my peace of mind that my wife practically makes me go. The regular talent is a very impressive mix of musicians, many of whom play with area bands. Satch even calls in some big shots when he can, such as Elmore James Jr. from Chicago, Danny Kline (Stone Crazy), or Mark Hylander (Stone Crazy). The Eggplant owners are lovely people, and they've been very supportive of local musicians. Their weekend music billing is impressive also (James Montgomery this weekend!).

Satch also does a great job at setting it up at The Next Page in Weymouth. Check out Satch'es link for all Purple Eggplant and Next Page bookings.

I will give rewards to any reader who reports that s/he attended any event as a result of this post.

Self-Discovery Through Multiple Choice Questions

Closing in on fifty, I think that I have come to know myself pretty well by now. Most, but not all, of my self-assessments were empirically vaidated recently, however, when I succumbed -- purely out of curiosity -- to a couple of "personality tests." Taken in the course of my initiative to explore possible career options, one test (the "D.I.S.C. Assessment") proposed to assist me in recognizing both my own personality type and that of any prospective interviewer -- the idea being that when I am able to identify the personality type of my interviewer, I am able to modify my own behavior to take advantage of the situation. The other test, the "Thomas-Jung Personaility Profile," seeks to determine, by examination of a lengthy handwriting sample, the quality of an job applicant's character independently of his resume.

All of this sounds a little Orwellian to some, but personally, I think it's fun. Just think of how much easier it is to communicate with a job interviewer when both you and s/he have nothing to be coy about:

Hiring Party: "Soooooo, tell me about yourself!"

Applicant: "Well, D.I.S.C. scores me 93% on the I scale, and a -15% on the P scale, and Thomas-Jung scores me 33% Field Marshall, 33% Mastermind and 33% Strategist!"

"I see, well this position does require someone who is extroverted and people-oriented, charming, confident and enthusiastic, but I am concerned about your propensity to be late for meetings."

"Oh, well that aspect of the assessment was way off. I am habitually early for meetings and in fact am very annoyed by others that are late."

"Ah I see, a statistical anomaly in the methodology. Well of course, when you're the boss, there are great demands on you. You can't always be on time! How do you get along with dominant D's?"

"Well I can see from your posture and the way you sit at your desk that you are a dominant D, and I have always admired and respected people who make calculated, organized and well thought-out decisions."

"Now young man, while I appreciate your need to influence people, you know that I am only interested in results and winning."

"Of course -- you're sitting upright and using fast-paced speech and direct, clear words. I'd sure appreciate your showing me social recognition by offering me this job!"

"Well hiring is one of the tasks I am oriented toward, and since you are dissatisfied by rejection and haven't over-used data in this interview, I think I can assure you that I have made a winning decision. Let me stand up, lean forward and give you a strong handshake!"

"Thank you sir! This is fun and exciting! I very much look forward to pleasing you and others."

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Squeaky Clean Governor Goes Murky

I really really like Mitt Romney. Or liked. I'm not sure which tense to use.

Mitt Romney came to office with a reputation of being "squeaky-clean." A non-politician of the first order. Says what he means, means what he says. Unimpeachable character. That's why I worked for him on the floor of the state Republican Convention when he was challenged by John Lakian for the U. S. Senate nomination in 1994.

I am in favor of any political candidate who is willing to give honest answers to every question and let the chips fall where they may. I believe this is the only salvation of our system of representative government (not Democracy, that's a much bigger concept -- I mean simply the process of choosing leaders). Unfortunately, this belief doesn't permit me to be in favor of too many candidates.

I was so supportive of Mitt Romney The Person that I didn't really care too much if his positions on the bellweather social issues were 100% consistent with mine. Abortion, gay rights, same sex marriage? I don't care that he plays it down the middle of a treacherous fairway. So long as he has the moral courage to stake a position and stick with it, I'll respect his integrity --- and Integrity is the one character quality that we should exalt in our system of representative government.

But now I'm not so sure anymore. I fear that, after a few years in office, Mitt is becoming tainted by the inevitable tide of political expediency. Clearly stated positions of prior days are being nuanced (a new verb, a la John Kerry, meaning "obfuscated") for delivery to a new and entirely different audience. He says "count on it" when asked if he is running for re-election, but his insiders who know quietly whisper otherwise. He makes numerous public statements against the merger of Gillette and Proctor & Gamble, using words that seem utterly preternatural coming from the mouth of an effusive capitalist. I like effusive capitalists -- but his comments made me dizzy.

Well, personally, I don't believe Mitt Romney will run for re-election. Nor do I believe he'll become a heavyweight contender in the Republican contest for President. But his handlers will be trying very hard to keep him viable for both, for as long as possible, because, after all --- that's the expedient thing to do.

And despite this, I will support his candidacy, because I have come to the lamentable conclusion that, politics being what it has become, even the squeakiest of the clean cannot help but get some dirt under their fingernails.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

More on Kids and Group Sex

In what has now become referred to as the "Milton Sex Case," the discussion has moved to whether or not the parents and the girl will "recommend that prosecutors press charges" against the five boys who received "benefits" from a 15 year old sophmore girl. Today's Boston Globe contains a follow-up story that has the following report:

"On campus, parents of some Milton Academy students said there is anger toward the girl, blaming her for the expulsion of the five boys."

Presumably, I'm thinking these are the parents of the boys, or of the boy's team mates or pals.

Let's review this: Girl and five boys do their thing. In the ensuing weeks, "word gets around" about what girl and boys did. Think for a minute. How did "word get around." Do you think the girl was spreading the story of her exploits? Or were the boys being boys --- or more accurately, the big-shot varsity hockey player boys -- snickering to their team mates about their ineffable good fortune? Cut me down for my supreme confidence, but I think the latter.

So then, this sounds crude, but thinking about the kids and parents who "blame the girl," I think crudeness is in order: If the poor expelled boys had kept their mouths shut, they'd still be going to their elite prep school, no one would be blaming anyone, and the Fabulous Five could go on with their priviledged lives smugly knowing that they have something in common with the 42d President of the United States.

And one fifteen year old girl would not be at home today, wondering how she moves on from here.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Smart Kids Having Group Sex

"A Milton Academy official said yesterday the school's decision to expel five male students for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old sophmore girl was 'excruciating' but necessary to send a strong message to students, as students and parents expressed mixed reactions to the discipline.

Three sophmores and two juniors, all members of the boys hockey team, were expelled from the picturesque private campus Friday, after a three-day school investigation found they requested and received oral sex from a classmate in a school locker room last month...

Two uninvolved students...said the sex acts were reportedly performed by the girl as a birthday present for one of the boys...

Yesterday, the mother of one ousted student said the school acted rashly.....

On the sprawling campus of neat brick buildings and well-tended athletic fields, where former President Bill Clinton delivered the commencement address two years ago as a favor to a friend whose son was graduating...many students declined to comment, saying teachers had told them not to talk to reporters....

On campus yesterday, one college-minded junior had sympathy for the students who were expelled. 'It's a really bad thing to have on your college application,' she said. 'Expelled from Milton Academy.'"

A birthday present? Mixed reactions? Acted rashly?

This is a private secondary school that is among the most prestigious in the United States. It is excruciatingly selective in its student admissions. Its graduates go on to attend the best universities in the world and some even become President of the United States. Only the "best of the best," and all of that. But it is plain to see from this stark and sordid instance that smartness (as opposed to intelligence, which is a difficult word to ascribe to any teenager), and maybe even breeding or priviledge, do not automatically impart judgment. It is also, perhaps, a striking example of how badly we've failed to teach children the importance of respect for self and others.

I am the father of a 16 year old girl that is boarding at a rival private school and has a boyfriend who is a senior. I certainly admit to fretting whether or not her mother and I have sufficiently done our job as it relates to her relationship with the opposite sex. But I cannot conceive of any parent questioning the Academy's decison.

Then again, it's all about getting into college, isn't it?

Friday, February 18, 2005

Motor Scooters and Brooms

My neighbor's teen son owns a motorized scooter, and boy does it leave an impression. A cross between a scooter and gas-powered rocket, it propels its rider at a clip much faster than I can run (as I learned one morning), with a 3-horse motor that sounds like a go-cart on steroids. Its high-pitched scream can penetrate a two-mile swath of dense tree canopy while it transports its helmet less, wind-in-the-hair free spirit on his Saturday morning wake-up whiz to nowhere.

Awakened at dawn one summer holiday, I followed his journey in my mind one, two, three, four times around the neighborhood. In between curses, I imagined him in his basement lair minutes before, kick-starting his cerebral neurons with a few puffs of something before pulling on his WHATEVER shirt and cargo pants to do practically nothing. I actually did this to feel better.

On his fifth pass, I decided that he needed discouragement. As he BWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA'ed toward the end of his lap, I bolted out of bed, threw on some shorts and went to greet him as he passed. I paused at my pantry for a checkered flag but had to settle for a broom instead.

Well you'd think that poor fella had never seen a broom before, the way he leapt from his vehicle. Or, coincidentally, perhaps he had faced such a threat before from someone who chose the broom for a more specific and different purpose. In any event, it took me a few minutes of calm lecturing about common courtesy before the blood returned to his face, and he steadfastly promised to confine his joyriding to the middle of the day.

Confident that I had achieved my purpose without using the broom, I softened up and assured him I wasn't a mean spirited man, and by the way, although it was quite loud, it was still sort of a cool thing.

He offered to let me take it for a spin, but I am quite certain that all of my neighbors own brooms.

The Bicyclists

I live in a bucolic setting on a winding country road that is identified on every map that falls into the hands of the most rabid of recreational sports enthusiasts: The Bicyclist.

I am happy to share any roadway (generously, as some are personal injury lawyers) with one, don't get me wrong. They have every right to peacefully enjoy my street as I do. Peacefully.

Unfortunately, bicyclists seldom ride alone. They ride in groups. This makes sharing the road with them somewhat more difficult and dangerous, but worse, as these pods of spinners travel through my slumbering neighborhood, they engage in conversation. Loud conversation. Legs pumping away, blood coursing through their muscles, ears ringing with the exhilaration of their aerobic rush, they cannot help but converse in a fashion not entirely unlike talking to a date at a rock concert.

When I fretted at a neighborhood barbecue, one of my neighbors dismissed me: "They come and go in a flash, what are you complaining about?" (easy for her, she lives a quarter mile back from the road).

I am complaining about exactly that. If I am to be awakened against my will at 5:00 am on a Saturday morning, I deserve the opportunity to scream the expletive of my choice at the offender. Ask my next-door neighbor. He tried power washing his house at 8:00 am on the morning of a National holiday. With the sheer racket of his gas-powered compressor, I was able to walk right up and screamed in his ear. Very fulfilling experience.

But the darting and elusive bicyclist is gone before I have completely awakened. If I could return to my slumber, things wouldn't be so bad. But when your semi-comatose mind registers only the words " sister-in-law's bathing suit..." it races with curiosity. Did his wife catch him wearing his sister-in-law's bathing suit? Was he making fun of his fellow rider's striped attire? Has his wife had some recent success in weight loss? By the time I have exhausted all possibilities, it is 7:15 and anyone in my way is to be pitied.

Between the bicyclists and my neighbor, I think I'll just have to power wash the bottom of my driveway every Saturday morning.

Supermarket Insanity

I know it's a tired old saw that men don't know how to food shop, but these days the new super markets have stacked the deck against us.

I like to pick out a nice iceberg head, not too big, not too tight, and be in and out in a minute. Wash it and break it up with my hands, toss it about in a wooden bowl, ready for my magic herbs. One thing about iceberg lettuce, it's always the same, and it has very little taste. My dad used to tell me it's only purpose was as a dressing delivery vehicle. Being eight years old at the time, I struggled with the metaphor.

But this new trend in Super Stores has turned the idea of a quick trip for lettuce into a quaint memory. Now you can go into the Super Store food mart and spend forty-five minutes examining every imaginable type and mixture of salad greens - all prettily packaged in cellophane and neatly presented in the vast and intimidating produce section.

Yesterday, all I wanted was iceberg and a bag of spinach. Mix them up, nice dark-light contrast, nothing too strong to spoil my precious dressing. Before I find that, I've got to examine the European Salad Blend, the Caesar Salad Kit, the American Salad Blend, Italian Blend, Spring Mix, Jumbo Romaine Hearts (ordinary and organic), Baby Spinach, Green Leaf Lettuce (they're not all green?), Red Leaf Lettuce (oh!), Endive (is it all Belgian?) Romaine, and -- oh! There it is! Come to papa, you big round head of plain old iceberg.

But where are the bags of spinach, I had to ask one of the pimple-faced teenagers with a name tag and hair net. "Over there," I think he mumbled with a toss of his unkempt head, nodding toward the actual vegetable section.

And so I looked, passing by the Anise Heads, Swiss Chard (three kinds, all "gem quality," the package trumpeted), mustard greens, collard greens, dandilion greens (does anybody buy this stuff???), Chinese cabbage, bok choy and lemon grass (saving so many of us those regular trips to Chinatown, for sure).

It's all too complicated, I tell you. I checked to see if it was just the produce. Nope. Cheeses - twelve different brands and kinds of feta (it can't be that popular). Dozens of cheddars (is there really no difference between the yellow and the orange?). How about the Andrulis - Baltic-style farmer's cheese (I don't even want to know); or Kaseri - from goat and sheep milk.

And in the deli, do you know how many different kinds of turkey breast they had? TWENTY-SIX! Canadian maple. Mesquite smoked. Cracked black pepper. Hickory honey. Hardwood. Honey roasted. Each in five different brands.

How am I to know which is the right choice, fa gawdsake.

But it will all be perfectly fine with me, as long as there are as many check-out clerks as there are turkey breasts.

Detail Cops

This business of police officers doing traffic details at construction sites is driving me crazy. At first blush, you might think it's not a bad idea. There are a lot of tools on a construction site, and tools are expensive. Having a cop there to deter theft can keep construction costs down.

There is also the lunch wagon. All that food right out on the street and only one guy to watch three sides of his truck. Fast food thieves cause havoc to all law abiding lunch crowds.

Oh, okay. I understand that real police officers are necessary for "traffic control." I've seen it first hand. If you see a line of stopped traffic near a road project, you can be sure there's a cop controlling it. I was stuck in a conga line the other day. When it finally started moving and passed the work site, there was the cop, in his bright orange vest. He was directing traffic while he was talking on his cell phone. And he must have been Italian, because he was waving his arms and hands a lot. This can be confusing to commuting drivers who are on cell phones themselves.

Now law enforcement organizations have been advocating a ban on driving with cell phones. I have a couple of theories as to why. One is that the cops on cell phones are talking to their driving spouses. The other is that drivers on cell phones are too dangerous when being directed by cops on cell phones, and the right to talk on cell phones is covered under a collective bargaining agreement.

That's not entirely fair though. Sometimes the cops aren't directing traffic while on their phones. Usually, they're just sitting in their private vehicles, on their phones or just reading a tabloid. Time-and-a-half for reading in a cozy vehicle - sometimes, late-model foreign cars that are way out of my price range.
It is for reasons like this that law enforcement organizations suggest that traffic detailing is "too dangerous to leave to civilians."

They may be right. When I see a cop directing traffic while he's talking on a cell phone, I'm afraid of losing control of my vehicle.

My Landscaping Adventure

All of my neighbors have landscaping contractors.

For a few years I did my own yard work, purely for the exercise and sense of personal accomplishment. But last Spring I decided to move up. This decision was prompted by the breakdown of my lawnmower and the concerted refusal of all landscaping companies to do my spring clean-up without a "season long commitment." I considered filing a complaint with the Justice Department's Anti-trust Division, but calculated that paying a class action lawyer would be more expensive than getting my lawn mowed.

So, after many days of leaving repeated messages on telephone messages machines, I found a landscape company willing to do my "spring clean-up" and season-long maintenance.

As I soon despairingly discovered, the spring clean-up amounted to two guys raking and blowing everything into my woods for $450.

Then in mid-April, two guys in their 20's (my new "landscape contractors") showed up to mow my lawn. The problem was that, being April in New England, the grass hadn't begun to grow yet. I told them to go away and come back when they weren't wasting gas.

The next day the owner called. He explained that his clients (not customers, clients) must accept a weekly mowing schedule throughout the growing season, which runs from April 15th to October 15th, so he can "afford to keep a full staff busy" throughout the year. If I could not agree to this, he would have to "decline to service me." He assured me that, just as with the spring clean-up conspiracy, all of his competitors do the same.


Well, I said, how about he spread the cost of the next three weeks (at $55 each) over the growing season on top of the quoted price, because I was not confident that I could stand the sight and sound of his landscape associates riding around on my property for no useful reason.

That would be "a book keeping issue," he said.

So I asked him to charge me for the visits, but not to show up for three weeks.

He could do that, he said.

Soon enough the grass grew and my two expensive consultants arrived. One guy on a Big Riding Machine went so fast that he tore up turf at every sharp turn, and the weed whacker guy did his trimming like he was a contestant in Amazing Race. I tried once to get his attention so I could explain that I did not want the carefully cultivated moss adorning my rock outcroppings to be destroyed. These, I patiently hollered to my ear-muffed friend, were not "WEEDS TO BE WHACKED!!!!"

I think I hurt his feelings. Or maybe he just didn't hear me. Anyway, he seemed to frown, adjusted his headphones, gave me a "thumbs up" and moved on.

The job was done in fifteen minutes. One-half man-hour, fifty-five dollars.

I did some math. and decided to get a new self-propelling, mulching mower of my own. Each weekend, I dutifully mowed my lawn in a nice neat geometric pattern, while listening to the Red Sox game on these new headphones I got for the occasion ($43.75 from Sharper Image). And my houseguests told me the moss looked great.

In the fall, I found that the conspiracy against fall clean-up was for real. So, for $22 a day, I rented this mondo 2 cycle engine blower with shoulder straps that blows the leaves just as far into the woods as my expensive landscaper's model. It was kind of loud, so I had to go with the professional grade industrial ear mufflers with AM/FM bands ($122.99 from Dominic's Supply) so I could make out the Patriots football games. Also, it blew most of the rock moss into the next town.

That's okay, because I think the rocks look better without the moss. And all my new tools fit beautifully into the new utility shed that I got on special for $1399. Sure, it took me a weekend to assemble, so I missed a mowing. I'm saving so much money, I'm going to buy a snow blower.

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