Archive for September, 2009

The Adventures of Zoe, the Wonder Dog

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

By Carrie Jacobson

zoezest2Chapter 16

The story so far: Zoe and Kaja are making their way from the Pike County shelter to Middletown. Kaja, a big red dog, is helping Zoe, a mostly blind lhasa apso, find James Dunning, her owner.

On the way, they meet Samantha and Ashton Morrone, a brother and sister who live in Barryville with their parents, who run a hotel. The kids want to keep the dogs, but Pete Morrone, the children’s father, says no. He later relents, but it’s too late. The dogs have vanished.

They’ve made their way down the Delaware, and spent the night in a cave. But a heavy rain has made the river rise, and Zoe has been swept off the bank and onto a tiny island, where she’s discovered a cat clinging to a piece of driftwood.

Kaja stands on the bank of the Delaware and barks. The water is rushing by so fast, so strong, it’s roaring, roaring, and Kaja can hardly hear herself. She can see Zoe, wet and bedraggled, sniffing at the cat, and the cat sinking down into itself and baring its teeth as if it’s going to leap on Zoe and attack. Please, please, she begs, please don’t do anything to scare that little dog into the water.

Kaja decides to swim, then, and she wades into the river, but instantly, she’s pushed downstream. She makes it to the bank and tries again. Same result.

This time,  she gets her breath and shakes herself and walks up the bank, up the river, until she’s above the island. She walks in and in an instant, is carried downstream, past the island.

Once more, she makes it to the bank, and this time, walks even farther upstream. She wades into the water, launches herself, swims as hard as she can, and ends up, soaking and cold and exhausted, on the island with Zoe and the cat.

Zoe meets her, barking and wagging. Kaja sinks down on the sand, her muscles too tired to keep her upright, and Zoe licks the big dog’s face, licks her ears, rubs her little body against the big dog’s, while the cat, wet and cold and terrified, watches.

The cat’s name is Loosey, and until an hour ago, she lived in a house in Barryville. She was out in the yard, climbing on a piece of driftwood, when the branch broke free and was swept down the river. It snagged on this island and Loosey jumped off. No matter what, she thought, this had to be better than drifting down the Delaware.

Now, she’s not so sure. She’s trapped on a tiny island, in the middle of a raging river, with two strange, wet dogs. She’s had better days, she thinks.

Then, as though a door has closed, the rain stops. The sun comes out. Kaja and Zoe, still exhausted, fall asleep in the sun. Loosey dozes on her branch. And the river continues to rise.

Upstream, Samantha and Ashton Morrone see that the rain has stopped, and go out to their fort. Their dad is at work, and their mom is busy with some hotel guests, so they just call in to her that they’re going outside, and in a minute, they’re scrambling down the riverbank to the fort/raft they’ve made.

Samantha steps on it and it rocks under her feet. “Whoa!” she says, and takes another cautious step. The raft rocks again, the water lifting it, nudging it, pushing it. Samantha steps toward the far edge, and in a moment, just like that, the raft is loose, and drifting downstream.

“Sam!” Ashton calls from the bank, “Sam! Oh no!”

“Get help!” Sam wails. “Get Mom!”

In a moment, she is out of sight, hurtling down the river.

On the island, the water is rising, and rising quickly. Kaja is asleep on her side, and the water reaches her feet, and she’s up instantly. In a while, she knows, there will be no island. The water will cover it, and they will be swept away.

She’s nudging Zoe to the edge of the water when she hears a human screaming, above the rush of the river. She looks upriver, and she sees Samantha, and the raft, and without a thought, she leaps.

The brown water churns against her and buffets her, but somehow, she manages to get near enough to the raft that Samantha can see her. The girl tosses her a rope, and Kaja grabs it with her teeth. She turns around and tries to swim toward the bank, or toward the island, but now the river is pulling her downstream. She summons all her strength and heads toward the island, and just as she is about to pass it, just as she is about to miss it, her feet hit something solid, a boulder or a log or something, she doesn’t know what, and she grabs onto it and, with all her might, pulls the rope and the raft toward the shore.

Samantha leaps into the water, toward the island. She holds the rope and searches with her feet for purchase on the riverbed. The water is so strong, it knocks her sideways, but then she finds something, a rock or something underfoot, and she wedges herself against it, and pulls on the rope and hauls herself onto the tiny island.

She lies there, panting and crying, and then she gets up and hugs the big red dog with all her might.

And then she sees that it’s not over, that if they don’t get off this island quickly, they’ll be swept away.

But this time, the raft will help. She pulls it around until it’s between the island and the shore. It’s a distance for a dog to swim, but not so far for a girl. She ties the raft to a log on the island, and then she takes another rope, ties that to the raft, and heads toward the shore. She’s knocked downstream a ways, but not that far. She makes it to the bank and then walks upriver until she can tie the rope to a tree. Then, holding onto the rope, and then the raft, she makes her way back to the island.

She picks up Zoe and, holding onto the ropes and the raft, carries her through the water to the bank. She goes back for Kaja, whom she leads and guides through the water. And then, she goes back for the cat. She doesn’t know where the cat has come from, or how the cat figures into all of this, but she’s not going to leave her there.

And then, as they sit in the sun on the bank of the Delaware, wet, exhausted, weak, they watch as the rising water covers the island, knocks the raft loose and carries it away, toward the sea.

Carrie can be reached at

A note for readers: The real Kaja, our big red German shepherd/chow, suffered a series of seizures and/or strokes this week. She appears to be on the mend, but if you can hold her in your thoughts, we’d both appreciate it.  Carrie

The real Kaja

The real Kaja

Here Lies a Healthy Corpse

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

By Beth Quinn

I know how I’m going to die. A woman driver on a cell phone is going to kill me.

I feel like a traitor to my own kind for saying that, and I may be asked to turn in my Feminist Union Card, but it is true.

I walk a couple miles every morning, largely on the theory that if I exercise, I will live forever provided no one runs me down. (I also do Zumba twice a week, but that is another story altogether because it seems that I’ve actually joined a cult in my quest for immortality. I am a follower of Damola, the Zumba teacher, and I can’t tell you how willing I am to mindlessly do everything he tells me.)

Anyway, back to my imminent demise at the hands of a woman driver on a cell phone. I can always tell at some distance whether a car coming at me is being driven by a man or a woman. The moment a man sees me, he begins a very ostentatious display of moving toward the center of the road, thereby giving me a wide berth and a clear message that he’s seen the little lady (me!) and I must not worry!

It is almost courtly, the way men elaborately avoid plowing into me.

Beyond that, men are less likely to be talking on a cell phone and distracted by whatever news his caller might be delivering into his ear at 8:30 a.m. By nature, men are more laconic than women, so there seems little reason to talk and drive at the same time.

In fact, most men barely sit in a recliner and talk at the same time. Whenever I call my aunt and uncle in Florida, my uncle often answers the phone because it’s right next to his Barcalounger. Then we have the following conversation:

“Hi, Uncle Charlie, how ya doin’?”

“Oh hi, Beth. Fine. Here, let me put your Aunt Fedela on the line.”

“OK, thanks! Good talking to you!”

But women. The cell phone has given women a whole slew of new places to have a conversation, not the least of which are the bathroom and the car.

When I’m out for a morning walk, women not only don’t give me a wide berth, they don’t appear to notice me at all. So immersed are they in their phone conversation that it is just as likely they will swerve toward me as to keep driving straight. Believe me when I tell you I’ve had to dive into the bushes at the side of the road more than once.

Here’s the thing that keeps me out of the clique of female drivers/talkers. I have no idea who I’d even call at 8:30 in the morning. And what is there to say? Chances are good these women are talking to someone they just saw back at the house – a husband or boyfriend or girlfriend or child or roommate – or someone they’ll soon see at work. What could possibly be new?

As far as I’m concerned, the only worthwhile news they might have to report is that they just ran me over and I’m lying deader than a doornail under their manifold.

This is too bad because, in many ways, women are far better than men at multi-tasking. And a good woman driver is truly a beautiful thing. Remember that woman who got arrested a few months ago for breastfeeding her baby while driving and talking on her cell? I think she probably knew exactly what she was doing, not that I’d like to see her heading my way while I’m out for a walk.

It was the breastfeeding part that put everyone in tsk tsk mode, but I must confess I did the same thing myself back in the ’70s (without the cell phone, of course, which had not yet been invented). I nursed my second baby while driving a pick-up truck across the Rockies, hauling a 35-foot camper behind me. (That is a true fact, and it might suggest that I had an unusual early adulthood, which is also a true fact.)

But good multi-tasking women drivers are the exception, I’m sorry to say. And a good woman parker is even more of a rarity. I live on a narrow residential street, and I watched a woman (on a cell phone) “park” in front of my neighbor’s house last week.

I was thoroughly mesmerized. I’ve rarely seen anyone make so many bad decisions in such a short space of time.

First, she parked heading in the wrong direction. Parking is generally done in the same direction as driving. Not in her case. She swerved across the street to park toward oncoming traffic, which was a strange decision because it meant going out of her way to park in front of a fire hydrant.

She also chose to park (And I am using the word so very loosely here) pretty close to the center of the road – maybe just a couple feet left of center. Basically, she just stopped driving mid-stream, turned off her car and got out, almost as though she were abandoning it.

And apparently she failed to see the enormous flat-bed trailer parked opposite her chosen spot. The trailer had hauled some heavy equipment into our neighborhood for a blacktopping job earlier that morning. It was so wide and stuck so far into the street that the driver (a man, I am certain) had surrounded it with orange traffic cones to improve the chances that it would be noticed.

Not our gal. This entertaining woman had parked in the wrong direction, in front of a fire hydrant, in the middle of the street, only a few feet from an enormous construction vehicle. And then she wandered off, still talking on her cell phone, oblivious to the fact that she’d left the entire street blocked off.

I went for my morning walk, grateful that she wouldn’t be driving my way. At least not that day, anyway.

Beth can be reached at

Hooked on Korean Soap Operas

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

By Michael Kaufman

Sick of the mindless garbage permeating his TV screen, my friend Tom Karlson began watching Korean-language historical dramas on cable TV. This was around 20 years ago and they didn’t have English subtitles like they do now.

It didn’t bother Tom that he spoke no Korean. He found it a challenge to try to figure out the story as the characters, garbed in period costumes unfamiliar to most westerners, shouted, waved their arms, hugged, wept, and waded into fierce battles.  Truth be told, Tom really didn’t care if he couldn’t figure the story out. He said it was still more entertaining than watching some tired retread of an American sitcom. I could see his point but I still thought he was more than a little bit  nuts.

Tom will no doubt be amused to learn that I became addicted a few months ago to a Korean soap opera called “The Road Home,” which aired weeknights on WMBC (Cablevision channel 20) from 9:20 p.m. to 10 p.m. After the final episode  ran a few weeks ago it was replaced by one with the strange title, “Jolly Widows,” to which I have now also become addicted. 

When I first started watching “The Road Home” my wife and children made fun of me. But one by one they got hooked as well. This was good because if any of us missed the show there was usually at least one family member who could tell the others what happened. Did Songtae find out the baby is his? Is Dr. Yu still in a coma?  Did Hyonsu’s family accept Suin? Is Sumi still acting like a bitch? What’s going on with Jisu and Hiro? Juho and Shinae?

So far I’m on my own with “Jolly Widows.” The rest of the family, still shaken by the unexpected and abrupt ending of  their beloved “The Road Home” (which I alone was able to watch) have thus far boycotted the new show, which I can only presume is due to some misplaced loyalty on their part.  But I sense a crack in their armor: my wife Eva-Lynne has poked her head in a few times when I’m watching and seems at least mildly interested, especially when there is something that pertains to Korean culture.  I have never watched more than a couple of minutes of any American soap opera, but I doubt anyone in them ever oohed and ahhed over the mudfish stew they were having for dinner.

Unlike “The Road Home,” in which all of the main characters’ families  were well to do, the primary characters in “Jolly Widows” are from different social strata and class backgrounds. This makes for some interesting interactions. It took me a few episodes to get all the subplots but I have a pretty good handle on the whole thing now.  I have a feeling Eva-Lynne might soon be making a chart to help her sort out the “Jolly Widows” characters like she did for “The Road Home.” Because the names of some characters seem confusingly similar to people unfamiliar with Korean culture, she often resorts to designations like “pretty woman” to describe someone on her chart. In “Jolly Widows,” for example, there is a woman named Yun-jeong Ha, whose daughter is named Jeong-ah Lee. One guy is named Jin-woo Han and another, unrelated, is named Jun-woo Lee.  Jun-woo Lee looks more like a North American Caucasian person than he looks Korean, so Eva-Lynne might call him “American man.”

I was going to try to describe the plot for you but I just can’t do it justice. I located a description on line from something called AsianMedia Wiki that is likely to be even more deficient but it will have to do for now. (I’m tired and I have to file this piece soon.) Here goes:

“Two women became widows on the same day, same hour. Yun-jeong Ha becomes the matriarch of the family of her husband. Yun-jeong supports them because she feels guilty about her husband’s disappearance. Dong-ja Oh, Yun-jeong’s sister-in-law, has been living with Yun-jeong’s help as well.

“After the terrifying day of losing their husbands, the two women have been living as each other’s good companions. However, now they become implacable enemies because of their children!” (Aside: Damn! This hasn’t happened yet in the show…grrrrrrrr.)  “What would happen if their daughters rival each other in love? What would happen if Yun-jeong’s husband, who everyone thought was dead, appears before them as the future father-in-law of Dong-ja’s son?” (Another aside: AAAARGH! Why did I have to find this description?) “Could Yun-jeong and Dong-ja’s relation go back to the good old days?”

Trust me. It is better than this. Try watching it some time and let me know what you think. You too Tom.

Michael can be reached at

Justice Delayed and Delay-ed

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

 By Bob Gaydos

 Herewith, the tales of two creeps and slowly creeping justice:
 Creep Number One: Swiss lawyers for Roman Polanski have asked that he be freed from jail while he fights extradition to the United States on a 30-year-old conviction for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

 Really? I know lawyers gotta do what lawyers gotta do, but really guys, do you think the Swiss judge won’t know that the famed film director is behind bars precisely because he skipped out on bail 31 years ago rather than face punishment for his despicable act? He’s a fugitive from justice. Why should the courts trust him now? Because he’s made some good movies and millions of dollars? Polanski defined himself as a flight risk when he didn’t show up in court in Los Angeles to face the music and he’s been true to form by bouncing around Europe ever since to avoid deportation.
 The real surprise in this story is that Polanski was even arrested after living it up in Europe, mostly in public, for so long. So, first off, way to go, Switzerland. Not so neutral after all.
 Polanski was arrested Saturday when he showed up to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival. That’s so cool. He even had a tux on for the occasion. There was speculation the Swiss only arrested Polanski as a way to foster better diplomatic and economic relations with the United States, especially since the Swiss also recently tightened their laws on bank accounts used to hide ill-gotten gains. But Swiss authorities said the request to detain Polanski had come some time ago from U.S. officials and the film festival made things convenient.
 That’s different from, say, similar requests made to France, one of his two official countries of residence in Europe (Poland is the other). French official have refused to extradite Polanski to the United States. And he has been careful, living rather openly but moving about in 10 different countries to avoid extradition. For one thing, he stayed out of Britain, which would have had no qualm about sending him back across the pond.

 Some Swiss are upset because they fear Polanski’s detention — which could last a few months while appeals are heard — means their country will no longer be seen as a safe haven for international fugitives. What a shame. Others fear it will place their famously neutral tiny nation at the mercy of large powers, like the United States. Well, Switzerland finally joined the United Nations a while back, so maybe it’s time to join the rest of the real world.

 France may be another story. Polanski’s entertainment and media industry friends there have rallied to his support, questioning why he should be brought back to answer for his actions three decades later. One supporter, a philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, said on radio that the Swiss should focus on more serious criminal matters. Polanski, he said, “perhaps had committed a youthful error.”

 For the record, Mr. Philosopher, Polanski was 45 years old when he plied the 13-year-old would-be model with alcohol and drugs and then had sex with her. He actually got lucky when the prosecutor accepted a plea bargain to a misdemeanor sex offense rather than rape and sodomy charges, but after spending 42 days in an L.A. jail awaiting sentencing, the maker of gritty films apparently wanted no more of real life. He split because he thought the judge was going to reject the plea bargain and make him serve real time.

 The female in question reached a settlement with Polanski and has said she doesn’t want anymore to do with the case. Fair enough, and not surprising. But another Frenchman, film director and producer Luc Besson offered a different take. “This is a man who I love a lot and know a little bit,” Besson said in a radio interview. “Our daughters are good friends. But there is one justice, and that should be the same for everyone. I will let justice happen. … I don’t have any opinion on this, but I have a daughter, 13 years old. And if she was violated, nothing would be the same, even 30 years later.”

 Creep Number Two: Tom Delay, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives, driven from office and under indictment on money laundering charges back home in Texas, is wiggling his hips and smiling grotesquely on “Dancing With the Stars.” Washed up actors and athletes aren’t bad enough, ABC has to recruit potential felons?

 Delay, who was affectionately known as “the Hammer” when he was browbeating fellow Republicans to support every lame-brained idea to come out of the George W. Bush White House, has done the cha-cha and the tango on the popular TV show and managed to scrape through two weeks without being eliminated. He finished tied for last qualifier this week.

 It’s not difficult to figure out why the man from Sugar Land, Tex., (an admitted Obama “birther,“ by the way) would want to be on the show. He wants to soften his image for the upcoming trial, even if in attempting to do so he comes off even creepier than people suspected. There’s something about Republicans from Texas and being oblivious. But why does ABC need him? The man is accused of breaching the public trust by using his office to transform large sums of corporate campaign donations intended for the Republican Party into funds targeted for specific GOP candidates in Texas. That‘s illegal and it’s hardly Fred Astaire material. Surely, there were other B, C, or D list celebrities willing to risk humiliation.

 What Delay has been most successful at since resigning his post in June of 2006 is in delaying his reckoning with justice, although two of his former aides were snared in a major lobbying/influence buying scandal. Delay was indicted in 2005. Neither he nor the prosecutor seems interested in a speedy trial and so it appears viewers of “Dancing with the Stars” will deliver a verdict on Delay before jurors in Texas get an opportunity to do so. May that justice at least be swift.

Bob can be reached at

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 9/29/09

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

By Carrie Jacobson

On Golden Field. Oil on stretched canvas, 20x20. Contact for price and delivery information.

On Golden Field. Oil on stretched canvas, 16x20. Contact for price and delivery information.

As summer winds into fall, the fields are coming alive with autumn’s bright and burnished colors. Here, mule ears bloom an astonishingly brilliant yellow in a low, swampy marsh.

Photo of the Week – Sept. 28, 2009

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Photography by Rich Gigli

DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT - Dawn's early light brings fourth a mystical silhouette of the World War I memorial statue, sculptured by the renowned Paterson artist, Gaetano Feferici, (1880-1964). The bronze statue is mounted on a granite block at Westside Park, Paterson N.J.

DAWN'S EARLY LIGHT - Dawn's early light brings fourth a mystical silhouette of the World War I memorial statue, sculptured by the renowned Paterson artist, Gaetano Feferici, (1880-1964). The bronze statue is mounted on a granite block at Westside Park, Paterson N.J.

Shawn’s Painting of the Week – 9/29/09

Sunday, September 27th, 2009
Corn Husker, Pastel by Shawn Dell Joyce

Corn Husker, Pastel by Shawn Dell Joyce

Weatherize for Winter

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

by Shawn Dell Joyce

The chill of fall is upon us and creeping into our homes. But before you turn up the thermostat, consider winterizing your home to use the heat more efficiently.

“Efficiency is our largest untapped natural resource,” according to efficiency guru Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. It’s much cheaper to buy efficiency than energy.

Most homes have tiny cracks and gaps around windows and outlets that leak cold air. If you were to put all these little holes and cracks together, you would have about a 3-foot gaping hole in your wall. It would be like leaving a window open year-round. Use a caulk gun and a roll of duct tape to patch any holes you find in the walls, windows, baseboards and ductwork.

“A typical homeowner may invest $1,000 on his home’s building envelope, but he can save up to $300 on energy bills each year,” states one of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s home energy briefs.

If you haven’t already, change all your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, which use two-thirds less energy and last 10 times longer. Brighten a room with lighter-colored carpet, wall coverings and window treatments. Using daylight is the most energy-efficient way to light a room, so capitalize on it. Light-emitting diode, or LED, lighting is more cost-effective than even CFLs, as the bulbs last longer. Put certain lights on timers and sensors so that they shut themselves off when they no longer are needed.

“Lighting a whole room so you can see what you’re doing is similar to refrigerating a whole house to preserve perishable food,” Lovins notes.

Insulation should be installed by professionals to achieve the maximum benefits, but it can be done by a knowledgeable homeowner. The cost of insulating will be returned to you as savings on your home energy bills. It is especially important to insulate attic floors and basement ceilings. If you have crawl spaces, basement doors and attic stairs, you can insulate these yourself using rigid foam panels.

“The insulation doesn’t typically stop all of the air infiltration,” George Del Valle, an insulation contractor, recently said on DIY Network.
“So you want to do everything you can to stop that air from coming in.”

If you were to take an infrared photo of your home, you would see heat leaking out your windows and around your doors. Tight weatherstripping around doors eliminates much of that heat loss. Try this test: Put a piece of paper on the threshold of your door, and close it. If you can pull this paper out from under your door without tearing it, you are losing money and energy. Weatherstrip that door.

Also, replacing single-pane windows with efficient double-pane windows is ideal, but if that isn’t in your budget right now, consider sealing the windows with sheet plastic. You can tape the plastic to the molding around the window, creating a dead-air space that insulates against heat transfer. Doing this one thing will make your home feel much warmer and save you considerably more money than the cost of the plastic.

If you have forced-air heating and cooling systems, then you have ducts throughout your house. “In a typical house … about 20 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks and poorly sealed connections,” according to Energy Star.

Leaky ductwork means that the house feels uncomfortable regardless of the thermostat setting and that your utility bills are always high. Exposed ducts in attics, basements, crawl spaces and garages can be repaired easily by sealing the leaks with duct sealant (duct mastic) or sometimes with just duct tape. Also, insulating ducts that run through un-insulated spaces (such as attics, garages and crawl spaces) can save you big bucks.

Energy Star estimates that knowledgeable homeowners or skilled contractors can save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs — or up to 10 percent on their total annual energy bills — just by sealing and insulating. If your total energy bills are $250 per month, that would equal $25 per month in savings, or $300 per year. While this advice can’t replace a home energy audit, it can help you save money and energy in the coming winter.

The Power of Serendipity

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

 By Bob Gaydos

 My copy of Time magazine (yes, I’m one of those dinosaurs) arrived the other day, but I still haven’t read it. May never read it. In fact, my first impulse on glancing at the cover was to gag. My second was to cancel my subscription, bargain rate or not.
 There, staring at me — sticking his tongue out at me! — was one of the most hateful men in America (I do not use such terms lightly) and a man, who, along with CNN’s Lou Dobbs, represents the capitulation of television news to loud-mouthed, bigoted ideologues. There, I’ve said it and I don’t regret it. I just don’t feel any better for getting it off my chest.
 What galled me about Time’s cover is that, tongue or no, it lent mainstream credibility to someone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s one thing for Fox News to let Beck spew his hatred and loony conspiracy theories every day. It’s par for the course for that sad excuse of a news division. But Time magazine, no matter how much it has lost in circulation, is still Time magazine. Since Beck clearly posed for the cover photo, Time, on some level, is playing footsy with him. The editors may say they are just covering the news. I say they are going for more sales by tapping the lunatic fringe, which, by the way, has not shown much of an appreciation for objective reporting of the news. One would think Time’s editors would have known that.
 Now,  I have no idea what Time said about Beck, if it interviewed him, what others said or what the cover story was about other than that it was about the angry name-calling and demagoguery that passes for political debate these days. As I said, I can’t bring myself to open the magazine. Neither can my son, Zack.
 Zack’s reason is different than mine. A proudly (if somewhat provocatively) proclaimed non-reader, Zack, 15, has always been our reader of Reader’s Digest jokes on car trips. He began thumbing through Time last year to kill the time while reading in the back seat. (Yes, I planted it there.) To his surprise, he discovered a feature he really liked: Pop Chart. For some reason, Time has dropped it, which baffles Zack. If you never saw it, it was a fairly clever, tongue-in-cheek look at the week‘s less-serious news items, ranking them from shocking to shockingly predictable. (Example from Feb. 23 in the “predictable” category: “Sarah {Palin says she named her daughter Bristol after ESPN’s Connecticut HQ. Good thing the network canceled that move to Sheboygan.”). Like that.
 The thing is, Zack would also wander off into other areas of the magazine, including actual news stories, and read them. And he began picking up Newsweek (I told you I‘m a dinosaur) in the back seat as well and I dare say he is one of the few 10th graders in Pine Bush High School who not only knows who Fareed Zakaria is, but what his area of expertise is.
 Serendipity. You start out browsing for a few  laughs and wind up with some insights into Iran’s nuclear capabilities. (In fairness to Zack, he’s been devouring Sports Illustrated for years, but somehow doesn’t consider that to be reading even though it contains some first-rate writing.)
 I have come to have a profound respect and appreciation for serendipity. I consider it the means by which That Which Controls All Things presents us with rejuvenating situations we would never anticipate. It’s way more than coincidence.
 For example, last Saturday, I dragged Zack and his brother, Max, 17, out of the house to take a ride because it was one of those too-beautiful-to-waste days. We drove to Newburgh because I hadn’t been there in a while. Zack read Reader’s Digest jokes from the back seat where Time magazine lay untouched. We stopped near the end of Broadway at the Karpeles Museum, one of the county‘s under-appreciated gems. I must note that the boys were surprisingly accommodating in humoring me this far, but their eyes were beginning to glaze over when they checked out the current exhibit on ancient ships. Coins, manuscript pages and other artifacts tell the history of sea travel from as far back as 1560 B.C. Kind of interesting, but truth be told, I wasn’t so pumped about it either.
 Enter serendipity, AKA Don Presutti. The retired former city mayor is now the person who explains the exhibits at the museum to school groups and other visitors. After we checked out the Egyptian Book of the Dead, he pointed us to a side room that contained original manuscripts from Twain, Hemingway, Tolkien, a letter from Jack London to his publisher and a script page from the original “King Kong.” This is routine stuff at the Karpeles. Presutti, relishing his chance to offer a lesson even to a small school group, returned with Jefferson Davis’ French/English dictionary from his days at West Point, a brief history of Presutti’s involvement with Pete Seeger and the formation of the Sloop Clearwater and a copy, with annotations, of Tyrone Power’s script for  “West Point.” The trip was looking less boring.
 After a quick physics lesson on how the huge vault of he former bank works – still very well —  we talked a little about Presutti’s city. He lauded the coming SUNY Orange Campus and Mt. St. Mary’s and the growth along the river, but said that with progress must also come a commitment to the city’s less fortunate. And he lamented the fact that the current City Council seems to be more interested in arguing than governing. Which brought me back to Time and Beck and the whole angry tenor of today’s politics. This lifetime conservative Republican said he understood my feelings. But he said, whatever your politics, you should never be afraid to agree with someone if you think he’s right. And if you disagree, you shouldn’t be afraid to say so either, but in a calm manner and with respect.
 Wow! An honest to goodness, living, breathing compassionate conservative right here in Newburgh. Remember this, boys. They are a vanishing breed.
 (I still haven’t read Time, but if anyone wants to tell me if I should, thanks to Don Presutti, I’m still open to suggestion.)
 Bob can be reached at

Leave Smokers Alone, For Cryin’ Out Loud

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

By Beth Quinn

I recall with some nostalgia the days when I could shop at the Grand Union while smoking; when I could sit at my desk and smoke, even as my asthmatic co-worker retreated to the ladies room to take a few hits off her nebulizer; when I could light up on an airplane, the fresh-air crowd be damned.

As regulations and public opinion turned against me, I railed against my employer for shoving me outside to stand in the cold on the loading dock, breathing in the stench of garbage even as I sucked in the stench of burning tobacco.

I bitterly complained about pharmaceutical companies that developed half-assed, don’t-work quit-smoking products and then charged as much for them as I paid for cigarettes. I wasn’t going to get sucked into THAT scam, I vowed.

I decried a government that taxed my habit to fill its coffers on the back of my addiction.  I don’t for a moment believe the state of New York or the feds had my best interests at heart when they began to systematically make it both more expensive and less convenient for me to smoke. No one who stands to profit by a person’s bad habits sincerely wants that person to quit.

Still, the cumulative effect of it all was to … make me quit smoking. And I confess that I’m most grateful for that. After 40 years of smoking, I quit 3 years, 11 months ago – on Oct. 24, 2005 at 11 p.m.

It now seems preposterous that I smoked. What a crazy habit. It seems bizarre that it was tolerated indoors and that it is even now tolerated near building entrances where people have to make their way through the unhealthy haze to get inside.

Yes, yes, fine. Smoking is bad. The healthy people got to me. I’m done. I walk two miles a day, and I go to Zumba twice a week where I do a lot of vigorous aerobic dancing. Great, fine, wonderful. I am woman, hear me breathe. I will never smoke again.


The City of New York is about to go too far. The health commissioner, Thomas Farley, announced a couple of weeks ago that he’s considering a ban on smoking in city parks and on beaches.

Don’t do it, Tommy. This isn’t about people’s health anymore. This is now punitive. It is too much in loco parentis. Smokers aren’t your kids, and it’s not your job to make them stop jumping on the bed even though they might fall down and break their necks.

It’s a big sky out there. A smoker in the park isn’t going to give the guy on the next bench a heart attack. Really.

As for the beach, I must confess that one of my greatest pleasures in life was to walk across the warm sand carrying my beach chair, a towel, a cold drink and a book. I’d settle myself close to the breaking waves, my face to the sun. I’d open my book and then … I’d light a cigarette.

Even as I write these words, I breathe deeply and pretend it is cigarette smoke I’m inhaling. It is the only scene in my imagination where smoking still seems like a wonderful idea.

They say that, when you quit smoking, you must quit in all the trigger situations – when your feet first hit the floor in the morning, after a meal, with a drink, while driving, in the shower. (Yes, I confess it. I smoked in the shower.) Perhaps I still enjoy the smell of other people’s cigarettes on a beach because I quit in October and never fully became a non-smoker in the summer sun.

I know a woman who quit smoking while living in Manhattan. She’d sold her car because who needs a car in the city, really? So she never quit smoking as a driver. About 20 years later – 20 years as a non-smoker! – she bought a home in Jeffersonville, then bought a car so she could get there on weekends.

The first thing she did when she got behind the wheel? She asked her son for a cigarette. She didn’t smoke it. In fact, she was shocked to find herself holding it in her hand. But she realized she was still a smoking driver.

That’s how I feel on the beach, but I suppose my personal pleasure in the smell of cigarettes at the ocean is beside the point. It really is a big sky. A smoker a few blankets down is not going to cause anyone to have an asthma attack or develop lung cancer or grow a second head.

Tommy, leave the smokers alone in the open air. If you feel you really must be a do-gooder and meddle in people’s lives, I have two other suggestions.

That tax on soda that Obama suggested? Go for it. Obesity kills far more people than cigarettes and, frankly, I think every fat kid has a criminal for a parent. The same parent who’s screaming about a smoker harming his kid in the park is the one who’s filling that kid’s gut with soda pop and potato chips.

And if you really want to ban something at the beach, how about boom boxes? I’d wager that, for most of us, noise pollution has ruined far more peaceful days at the beach than a bit of smoke rising on the breeze.

Beth can be reached at