Cracker Barrel

I wish there were more of these stores in the Northeast, but I guess we aren't "country" enough.  There are a few in western NJ, and I guess the adjective says it all.  Cracker Barrel stores, for you city slickers, are a combo of general store meets diner.  We were curious when we spotted on of their 100 foot tall highway billboard signs which have Lady Bird Johnson rolling in her grave in Santee, SC, where we camp for the night when traveling to and from Florida.  

This is what you need to know about Crackers:  Good, inexpensive wholesome food, and a general store with mostly nostalgic packaging, displayed totally without rhyme or reason, so you have to look at everything.  However, if you want a box of cracker jacks with 50's packaging, that's your place.

So on the way back to NJ, we get a call from our niece; miss Abbie, her daughter (who we really were stopping to see) had a 103 degree fever.  Since kids germs are like Bubonic Plague to us seniors, we begged off a visit.  After hanging up the phone, we decided to use the stop off time at another Cracker Barrel in North Carolina, which we just noticed on another 100 foot road sign, was just 10 miles ahead.

While in the general store section, I started taking a few pictures, sensing a blog post in there somewhere.  I got a tap on the shoulder from one of their corporate honchos visiting the store, maybe thinking I'm shopping the competition.  I explain I'm a writer, and I'm going to blog the store.  I told them about my book, "Ark", and we were off and running about college basketball, the #1 full time recreational job unrivaled by any other state in the country.  Then I made a huge foot in mouth mistake.

Referring to her "peepers", I said, "Where did you get those teal blue eyes, just like Carolina Blue?"

"Sir, ma eyes ah ska blue, which IS Carolina blue, and don't yu'all refer ta Carolina blue as teeeaal!  Yu'all get ya self in trouble down he ya."

I apologized, and stood corrected before she scratched MY eyes out, and promised not to make that mistake again.

Sure enough, I Googled teal, and it is a shitty green blue.  Sorry again, Miss Cracker Barrel Tarheel!


JP Morgan, the Duckdog

We're soon to end our stay in Florida, and it's a bit sad this time, because I just met a new "friend" over the past few days.  I feel like a kid at the end of  sleep away summer camp, wishing new friends would return with me to my hometown.  This new friend I won't be able to see again until I return to Florida (hopefully in October), because he doesn't have a cell phone, and he doesn't know how to write.

He's a duck, I think, but he sure acts like a dog.  Let me explain.

About a week ago while on my morning walk, I went past JP Morgan, so nicknamed because of the roseaeous growth on his nose and head, and his mate, not thinking anything of it.  Two days ago, they both approached me on the walking path like I had something they wanted.  When they realized I didn't have a slice of bread, they sauntered on their way.

Yesterday, I came bearing the heal of the loaf, which we never eat anyway.  Well, JP started panting, and wagging his tail feathers like a dog.  I closed my eyes, and he sounded like our Maltese, Snowball (see blog post one).  I wish I could describe the scene better, or wish you all could be there to see it.

After the slice was finished, JP and his mate (who expanded only the energy needed to pluck the bread) waddled off in search of another soft hearted walker.

The other observation I had about JP was, in this political climate, he must be a Socialist, looking for handouts the way he does.


Our son is a great kid, just recently married, and he and is wife, who we equally adore, are just putting their lives together.  I remember back to the days when my wife and I were starting out, things were a little tight, and we struggled.  It was nice to have the love and support from our sets of parents, and the only way we can pay that back is to offer support when needed to the next generation, which we had been doing.

Recently, we had a talk with our son, and tried to was...time to take off the life preserver, fly off the roof of the house, take off the training get the picture.

So, after a fashion, he and his bride came up with an austerity budget, and applied for credit in his own name.  He reported back to me that although he wasn't outright rejected initially when he applied, the bank would get back to him in a few days.

Low and behold, his credit was approved, and he was offered another line of credit from the company he works for.  He also told me he checked his credit score, and asked me to guess what it was.

"I guess in the mid 600's," I said.


I almost dropped the phone from laughing.  I haven't checked in a while, but I wonder if my score is that good.  I replied to him,

"Well son, I always payed your bills on time, you best do the same."


Happy Birthday, Boinie

I couldn't let this day pass without marking the 95th Birthday of my dear friend, and gold standard.

Of course, his name is Bernie, but years ago, our son, when little, came out with "Boinie".  Bernie, ever the amateur child psychologist, said to him,

"You know, you're the only person who says my name right!"

And it stuck.

Today, he's all hunched over, in obvious arthritic pain, but Bernie just seems to be bowing to everyone, and I'm sure God takes it as a sign of respect.

I asked him what he wanted to do today, and he said,

"Play tennis."

Another funny Groucho like quip.  Tomorrow and tomorrow, what will be, will be.

Today, Bernie's here, still quipping, and keeping us laughing.



Do you have trouble sleeping?
It's a problem for some of us boomers on the crest of the first wave.  There are many factors which affect a good night's sleep, bur here's what works for me.  I try not to eat a large supper, or at least not past 7:30 or 8:00.  If I do that, I'm up most of the night, or at least a couple of times. No, or very little liquid intake after 7:00.  My bladder is not the elastic balloon it used to be.  I exercise every day (actually 5-6 days/week).  Make your body tired; give it a reason to want to sleep.  Finally, a calcium/magnesium supplement at dinner, and GABA  750 mg at bedtime.  It's essentially a brain/mood relaxant. 

Generally, this gives me a good night's sleep more often than not; I mean 6-7 hours, which is good for me, who has a newly minted Medicare card.

Having said all this, I'm convinced there's a gene factor involved.  Let me explain.

My mother struggles for a good night's sleep, my father sleeps like a log.

My wife's mother also struggled, while her a baby.  Her mother used to tell the story how she would find him on the bed, asleep, with his arm stretched just short of the light switch, and the light still on.  I used to ask him how he slept,

"With my eyes closed."

I would ask him again for his secret,

"I just say, George (his name), go to sleep."

There are no proved formulas, and some people on sleep medications at times wake up, do crazy things (like  go to the refrigerator, or drive a car, really!).

Find an alternative doctor, ask him about what works for me, then try it.


Moon Over Miami

I recently spoke to my two cousins, whose father was my mother's brother.  He had passed away a couple of years ago.  Their mother, my aunt, is very ill, unable to communicate, in such bad shape which questions God's mercy.  My two cousins have health issues of their own, which makes for a really rough time all around for the three of them.

The only consolation I could think to offer them was to think back, once in a while for a break, to younger, happier times, where there were a few funny stories hidden in memory.  Stories like these often get recounted at wakes and funerals anyway;  they can do some good now to ease the pain of impending loss.

I got off the phone, and immediately thought of my uncle ,aunt, and cousins at our house on the Jersey shore in the 50's. The house was on Barnegat Bay, due west of Island Beach State Park.  My father had a small inboard motor boat which was large enough for most of us who wanted to go over  to the beach on the bay side of the Park (a best kept secret).  It wasn't the Atlantic Ocean, but neither did we have to fight the traffic and mobs to get to it.  Instead, we'd commune with a few other locals who knew the "secret", and had a great time in very clean, clear water near the inlet.

At the end of the day, we'd start back in the boat, anxious to wash the salt water off in the outdoor shower my father rigged on the side of the house.  Only one problem; the hot water heater in the house was very small, and thus emptied quickly.  My aunt was a large woman, with a very pretty face, and ready joking smile, but her showering used a lot of hot water, so to speak.  My other male cousin (from another aunt) would say to me, as we approached the dock,

"That backside of hers is like the moon over Miami (he was from Florida).   Let's hit the shower first, before her!"

We were two skinny kids back then, and didn't need much water to rinse the salt off, but we purposely stayed under the shower until the water turned cold, then said to our aunt,

"It's all yours."

She would shriek at the ice water tumbling onto her head.

If you have failing relatives, I urge you to go back in time, and add a dose of medicine like this.  


The Banyon and the Palm

The two most popular trees in Florida are these, and on my walk today it struck me how different their "skins" or bark are.

Now why is that?

Does the palm oil give its tree a smoother complexion?

Does the Banyon worry too much, or react to the stress of the elements too severely?

The pictures below are neighboring trees, about 10 feet apart.  If they could communicate, what would they be saying to each other?

Palm:  "Hey Banyon, stop worrying about all the rain we get down here, your not going to drown.  Just drink what you can, and let the rest run off.  Don't inhale while your drinking, though."

Banyon:  That's easy for you to say, you don't have to drink that much, your like a camel!"

Palm:  "You're impossible!  And stop worrying about the lightning!  When your numbers up, it's up.

Banyon:  "That's what's wrong with this country.  There's too many people like you that don't care or worry enough about things."

Palm:  "There you go again.  If you're going to slide into another one of your political rants, I'm just going to talk to the Ibises and Egrets, and leave you to stew in your own sap."

Banyon:  "Alright, alright.  I just can't help it, it's the kind of timber I'm made of.  Also, I guess I'm a little jealous.  Look at you.  Who would guess the both of us are on Medicare?"

Palm:  "You've got to learn to relax.  An old tree can learn new tricks.  Just go with the flow, let the wind dance with you.  It keeps me limber.  Don't you like to dance with the wind?"

Banyon:  "I can't dance.  I get back spasms.  It's part of the Banyon culture.  That's why so many of us fall over during a hurricane."

Palm:  "Banyon, I'm not giving up on you.  It's not just my palm oil keeping me younger looking, it's my outlook on things.  I'm going to keep talking until you start to share my philosophy.  Hey, it's not that we have someplace else to go."

Are you a Palm, or a Banyon?  


The Ugly Duck

This is not a swan story; its about a duck breed that grows up, and stays ugly.  

On the walking path each morning, I encounter a few Moscovy ducks, whose beak and head area make JP Morgan's nose look hansom.  The bright red, whatever it is seems to be taking over its head, like the thing in "Alien," is what I call ugly.

Anyway, everything and everybody needs "love", and I witnessed a pair of these ducks this morning attempting to have a go of it, or, at least, he was.  I observed them, in particular, the male, try all his moves.  

First, he approached her with his tail feathers "twittering" in a circular motion.

She just stared.

He danced around in front of her, making circles, while keeping the tail twitter going.

She just stared.

He added another ball to his juggling act, flapping his wings, spinning around in a circle, tail twittering...

She just stared.

Finally, he kept doing this circus act:  unable to just beat around the...(I was, but I'm not going to say it), he attempted to nuzzle her not as ugly as his, nose.  

She stared, quacked, and walked away.

He continued saying "Yes", but she just said "No."


Publix Chicken

I may have already mentioned Publix roasted chicken, our gold standard in preparation of that bird to take out.  It's our ritual when we arrive in Florida, to have as our first meal down here, one of their chickens.  It's a rite of passage; our trip's over, we sit down with a bottle of wine, and release a sigh in unison... Ahhhh!

This new phone has me taking pictures of everything that tickles my funny bone as I pass by, enough so that my son places me in the age after the dinosaurs, but not yet modern, since I still need his help with its features.

After we did our  food restocking when we first arrived, I decided to pay homage to the roasted chicken display.  I just had to snap the picture, and move on, right?

Not really.  Just as I'm ready to snap, an elder lady steps in front of the roasters, and begins "deliberating."

A very attentive deli counter worker asks to help her.  First the lady asks him to weigh two boxes again, because, although one is marked lighter in weight, it "looks" heavier.

You guessed it, same weight on both, again.  Then she wanted the heavier one weighed without the box.  He  explained all the roasters were weighed in the box, and the scales were adjusted for the weight of the box.  Could he put the chicken in a different box, and reweigh it?

At this point the worker saw me watching all of this, and rolled his eyes, but complied with her wish nonetheless.  As he was doing so, the lady just walked away!  The worker and I just looked at each other, both rolling our eyes again.  I said to him,

"I'll take the one she didn't want.  We both laughed, I snapped my picture before any other crazies appeared, and went to checkout.


I stopped at the nearby Publix food mart in Delray Beach, FL, to pick up a few items.  As I got to the banana stand, I started to stare at the bunches, because something didn't seem quite right.  I watched a few other customers approach the stand, make their selections,  rip off 2 to 3 bananas from the bunch, and go their merry way.

Then it hit me and I burst out laughing.  These bananas in Florida were very ripe already, while the bananas we're used to getting in New Jersey at Wegman's are very much on the green side.  I decided it must have something to do with the higher average age of the residents in Florida, and I remembered the answer some politician gave when asked to speculate about the future.  He said with a chuckle,

"I'm 84 years old, and I don't buy green bananas!"


Henry the Handyman

Our condo in Delray Beach, FL. has been nice to us, in every way, including minimal maintenance and repairs, for the last six years we've owned it.  

Until now.  Well, nothing is forever.

We had renters in for the first time this past season (Jan-Mar).  We'd used a management company to oversee our interests,  take complaints from the renters, and solve problems in our absence without us having to.  That's the theory, anyway.  We also had a maintenance contract to cover most repairs with their insurance.  Again, that was the theory.

In all fairness, the maintenance company did repair the washing machine when the renters were here, no charge.  Also while we were en route by car, our condo sitter, who looks in on the place once a week, said the thermostat died, and the A/C wasn't filtering out the humidity.  It was fixed the next day by the maintenance company the next day.  No charge.   Hey, two for two, I'm feeling lucky!

Our luck ran out when we got down here.

The management co, who inspected the condo, said everything was okay after the renters left, and gave them their security deposit back, didn't do a very good job.  Everything LOOKED okay, but, for example, the kitchen faucet wobbled like the broken neck of a chicken.

So, my next call was to the maintenance co; they were two for two so far, right?

The service man comes, looks at the faucet, and says,

That'll be around $180. to fix; plumbing isn't covered.  Look at the fine print on the back of your contract.  You do have a contract?"

"Yes, it's back in New Jersey."  I thanked him while declining the repair offer.  At least since I had a contract with them, there was no service charge.

I'd given up on plumbing a long time ago.  Everything about the trade, even the word, bothers me; you'll see why in a minute.  So I called the condo sitter for a reference, and he supplied me with Henry.

"He's French,"  he said to me.  So when a tall, dark Haitian showed up with a grin from ear to ear, I thought to my self, that's half right.  However, Henry seemed to have the perfect temperament for plumbing, so in addition to the sink faucet, I made a list of things which needed to be corrected which the kitchen re modeler, after he left his wife and kid for his girlfriend and then went bankrupt, didn't do.

So,  Henry was fixing the faucet, the drain on the disposal unit which had a small leak, hookup the ice maker for the fridge, replace an electric box, and re caulked the kitchen back splash, for the next TEN hours!  Henry smiled at each of the sidetracks that come with any plumbing job, and just kept attacking each of them with a laugh.  I was the one getting frustrated, and I wasn't even doing the work!  If I had been doing the job, I might have ended up trashing the condo.  In the end, Henry said,

Meester John, eat touk a leetle longer,eind I had to buy more parts, so IE tink $300. iensteed of $200. would be fair, NO?"

I didn't quibble, wrote the check, and Henry was on his way.  I put him in my phone book for the next time.

Henry reminded me of an immigrant experience which is common, although not always, occurring in the country.  He was happy to be here.  He wasn't trying to make a fortune, just a fair living.  NOTHING bothered him.  Don't worry, be happy.  Thanks for reminding me, Henry!


The Expert

Not long ago, I gave a talk at a local library.  The first attendees to arrive were this thirtyish Chinese couple, and they sheepishly looked around the room, not sure they were in the right place.  I welcomed them, and they sat in the front row, and the husband immediately started  barraging me with questions; about the book, writing in general, etc.  During the talk, I noticed he was translating certain words to his wife; presumably, her command of English not as good as his.

I've started giving raffle tickets at these events; the prize, of course, a signed copy of "Ark"!

After the talk was over, the drawing was held, and the Chinese man won.  I gladly signed the book, addressed to he and his wife.  Out of curiosity, I asked him,

"What made you come tonight?"

His answer was a refreshing cross cultural one.

"We are trying to improve our English, and what better way than to come hear an expert, a WRITER?"

I was floored and flattered, but the economy of his answer began to make sense.  I pointed out to him that "Ark" was an easy read, and ideal for an English as a Second Language student.

The librarian agreed, and would recommend my book to the ESL librarian for her students.

I began thinking about the ESL market!


Eggs, Easy Over

Our stop over at the Clark's Inn, Santee, South Carolina includes breakfast the next morning, before we complete our trip to Florida.  I like to get some protein and a solid breakfast since we'll just knosh on the way, usually with not too good for us "snacks."  I usually order eggs, easy over, and am reminded each time I do, why.  We have to go back in time 42 years.

My wife and I had just returned from our honeymoon, and I was going to impress her by cooking breakfast. She wanted her eggs "easy over", which I had never done.  It looked easy enough.  At the resort in Jamaica, the cook made it look easy; all in the wrist, I thought.

I made coffee, poured the orange juice, put place mats on the table, with napkins.  The bacon was almost done, nice and crispy.  I warmed the pan for the eggs, cracked the shells, and started cooking the first side.  The moment of truth was approaching.  Just as my new bride was opening the flatware drawer for the place settings I had forgotten, I started the "flip".  Somehow, her eggs hung up on the side of the pan; instead of doing a half gainer into the pan, the two yokes did cannon balls into the flatware drawer.

I cleaned up the mess, and no piece of flatware was spared.

My wife then changed her order to sunny side, and has kept it that way when I'm cooking breakfast.  When we're out, its easy over, which always reminds me of my errant flip.


Vacations for Blue and Red States

The distance between our New Jersey and Florida homes is about 1200 miles, which translates into a lot of time to think, philosophize, and occasionally come up with solutions to world or national problems.  I don't mind the drive, and get plenty of time to think while Genna is sleeping or reading in her own little world.  Which is fine; her words nibble on my ears enough, and I appreciate this quietude to reassess whats affecting my life.

The drive is a testament to the diversity of the urban, suburban, and rural areas of this country, North into South.  Although there are no border check points traveling this distance, let's face it, the trip is really going from one country to another with the current state of affairs.

Let me be clear, I'm not picking sides here.  I'd just like to see an end to the maps which paint the states either red or blue.  I'd even settle for purple, which I don't own a stitch of clothing that shade, as long as it covers the whole map.

Somewhere around the Mason Dixon line, I started airing an idea to put an end to the Civil War.  I found it odd when I heard a commentator referring to Afghanistan as this country's longest war, Really?  One hundred and sixty plus years is enough, so here goes.

I'm proposing the advent of the Blue and Red State Vacation Act, here's how it would work.

Congress, after finally realizing how despised both factions are by the entire electorate, in a rare moment of bipartisanship, bordering on the amorous , agrees to repeal all subsidies to the oil industry. The congressmen feel deeply they need to regain the trust of the people, while also fearing all of their homesteads would be plundered and burned.

The lawmakers agree to divert these billions of funds into a special Vacation Exchange, designed to foster patriotic harmony among all citizens.  A special Commission would be established, using Census Data to match up similar socio-economic families from Red and Blue states.  Each of these families would agree to host each other within 2 years.  The family who hosted first would be established by a coin toss, the winner deciding who hosts first.  The hosting family, after a match has been made would prepare a cost estimate for approval to the Exchange, who would release the funds after the vacation.

There would have to be rules, of course.  The gathering would be limited to verbal exchange, with discussions centering around what has peeved their respective families for the last 160 years. No firearms or weapons would be permitted by either party during the stay. If the discussions escalate into physical violence, severe mandatory penalties would be imposed, ranging from simple assault (1 year) to murder (life without parole).

The Vacation Exchange would remain in effect for at least a generation, giving ample time for differences to be worked out, and for Father Time to convince the remaining "diehards".


Mike's Mercedes

I'm back.  I know I said 90 posts in 90 days, and I've missed a couple of days.  We were traveling to Florida by car, I don't have a laptop, and my fingers are too fat for the keyboard on my new phone.  My techie wizard son is going to find a keyboard for fat fingers.  However the trip yielded new material ( they usually do), and here it is.

It turns out our good Bergen County friends, Mike and Libby, were also traveling by car to Lake Worth, FL, a couple of towns away from us in Delray Beach.

For the full effect of what happens in this story, I must digress.

A few years ago, our Rutgers Football season tickets seats were moved to a new section.  As we arrived to sit for the first game, we noticed the seatmates next to ours were the same couple who sit behind us for Rutgers Basketball games!

As I was writing "Ark" while attending the first game last season, Calvin, my new friend and impetus for the book, had seats right in front of ours!  Of all the 60,000 seats in the Stadium, how's that for coincidence or fate?

So, back to the story, Mike and Libby left Bergen at 6am, and stopped to have lunch with their daughter in Virginia.  We left Marlboro at 8:30am, and got stuck in horrendous traffic in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.  We were supposed to meet Mike and Libby for dinner in Santee, SC, but arrived too late due to the traffic.

The next day, we called them from the car to note their progress.  They were only 5 minutes ahead of us.  We both agreed to meet when we got down to FL. within a couple of days.

One of our traditions is to stop at the Florida welcome center to get a shot of orange juice.  I pulled into the center, looking for a parking space, which are hard to come by since everyone has the same idea.  My wife always spots the first space I miss, and gets annoyed every time.  

Well, I did find a space next to a late model Mercedes SUV with Jersey plates.

My wife and I looked at each other, then across the lot towards the OJ greeting room, and there were Mike and Libby waving to us!

What are the chances of that?!

Small world.