Archive for October, 2013

Women Runners Who Paved the Way

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

As tens of thousands of runners take to the streets of New York Sunday in the New York City Marathon, about 40 percent of them will be women. That will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the sport of distance running over the past few decades. Women’s participation in marathon running has been taken for granted for so long now that a shameful piece of sports history in our country is all but forgotten. And–in the bizarre way we have been conditioned to look at history–Richard Nixon is better known for his contribution to equal rights for women in athletics than are Pat Tarnawsky (better known today as author Patricia Nell Warren), Kathy Switzer and Nina Kusick. But Nixon merely signed the Title IX law passed by Congress in 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding—including in their athletics programs. Tarnawsky, Switzer, Kusick and countless other courageous women athletes across the country are the true sheroes who made it happen and impelled Congress to act.

They began fighting for their rights at a time when the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), governing body for amateur sports in the United States, barred women from taking part in distance races. Dr. Nell Jackson, head of the AAU women’s track and field committee, defended the practice in a 1971 article published in Runner’s World magazine. Jackson said, in effect, that distance racing was physically dangerous to women, hurts the AAU program for women’s competition, and involves “only a few older women out for a lark.” Bear in mind that marathon running was still not a mass participation activity at the time. Just 127 runners took part in the first New York City Marathon in 1970, and only 55 actually finished. In 1971 there were only about 30 women distance runners nationwide. By then they were permitted to run in most marathons but their times were not recorded.

Among the 30 was Switzer, who ran the Boston Marathon in 1967 without permission and was accosted by a race official who tried to block her path and shouted  “get the hell out of my race.” Another was Kusick,  among the finishers of the first NYC Marathon in 1970. And it was Tarnawsky who wrote a scathing reply to Jackson in Runner’s World. Fear of injury to women, she said, is “the last gasp of Victorian over-caution.” She explained that women distance runners report they feel physically better after training for races and running in them. “Finally,” she observed, “we women long distance runners notice that nobody worries publicly about the effects of long distance efforts on the men. Nor is anybody using it as a pretext to curb the men’s activities. Yet imagine the temporary effect that a marathon in 90-degree heat must have on a guy’s ability to be a father.”

As for the snarky comment that women distance runners are “merely out for a lark,” Tarnawsky replied, “No, Dr. Jackson, we’re not out for a lark. We’re not even merely dead serious. We are out—each in her own way—to get back something that an over-repressive, over-protective society took away from us.

“Me, for instance. Oh how I resent the fact that a Dr. Jackson in my high school refused to allow girls’ track but kept us doing inane calisthenics….I loved long runs but I had to do them on playgrounds, where I could beat most any boy at a sprint or longer. Had an enlightened coach been around, he might have made a fair cross-country runner out of me.

“College was even worse,” she continued. “There were Dr. Jacksons who taught us fencing, modern dance, and even how to walk balancing a book on our heads. But no distance running, with all the superb mental and physical benefits than women can get from it.
“Our society does its best to keep women fretting on the minimal levels….Now that I am 34 and have finally stumbled back into what I wanted to do all along, I intend to make up for lost time. I am sure that each of the other women marathoners could tell you a similar story about her motive. It is a motive that makes us very stubborn. And you will find it a very hard motive to fight.”

This Sunday, thousands of women will run in the NYC Marathon thanks to those stubborn fighters for women’s rights.  They made history and they deserve to be honored.

Michael can be reached at






Where Were You?

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

I was between jobs, living in a furnished room in Queens. And I was desperate. I was 22, out of work, and waiting for a decision by The New York Post on my application for a job as a copy boy. They took their time at The Post.

So I phoned a man I’m calling Mr. Kaplan because I don’t remember his name. He had hired me several months before at a place called the Retailers Commercial Agency, a credit-investigating house. If you applied for certain credit cards or charge accounts, your application likely came through RCA, where a group of snarly discontents (like me and others spinning our wheels before starting careers) would check your references.

Are you really working for the XYZ Corp.? Have you really worked there for two years? Are you really pulling in $150 a week? It was a dreadful job.

They didn’t exactly fire me. Rather they strongly suggested I look elsewhere for work because at RCA I was slow. Some of my work mates could check 8 or 12 applications per hour. I did two or three, mostly because I liked talking to strangers on the phone about anything except the application before me.

Mr. Kaplan picked up his phone. I said hello and went into a plea for my job back. I even told him I wouldn’t be there long, just long enough for something to come along on one of the city’s papers. I thought I was being honest; friends told me I was being stupid.

“How can you call at a time like this? Turn on your television. It’s the president, you idiot!” Mr. Kaplan yelled, and hung up. I turned on the radio and heard references to places and things that soon would become part of the language: “Love Field,” “School Book Depository,” “Grassy Knoll,” “Triple Underpass,” “Dealey Plaza.”

Soon there would be more news and more new references: “Oswald,” “Tippit,” “Ruby.”

Ultimately there was “succession.”

I had planned to take the subway to see my mother in Rego Park about borrowing some money and having lunch; I was flat broke. Now, with people in the street displaying various expressions of grief – women with one hand over their mouths, men with jaws set and hands in fists – I broke into a trot to Hillside Avenue to pick up the train.

She opened the door and stood there, not moving, one hand over her mouth, the other clutching a hanky. It might have been the only time I ever saw her cry. We sat in front of the television and took in the event that, in my lifetime, would be matched only by 9/11. A president, an assassin, and a cop in one; thousands in the other.

Over the last 50 years, he has been shown to be just a man, one possessing the faults and virtues of a million others. But in the early Sixties he was a fresh breeze. He had a quick wit, a shock of hair, an engaging smile. Of course, he nearly ended civilization over missiles in Cuba. He inherited Vietnam from Ike. Maybe he would have continued our role in that miserable war. Then again, maybe he would have ended it. He saved us from Nixon in 1960, and would have done the same against Goldwater in 1964, if only there had been a 1964 for him and for us.

My mother made egg sandwiches on pumpernickel and a fresh pot of coffee, her staples. The phone kept ringing: my father, my brother, her sisters, some friends, all making those essential calls at times of catastrophe.

I stayed for the weekend, for the oath, for the blood stained suit, for the murderer of the murderer, for the nighttime landing of the plane in Washington and the new president saying “I will do my best; that is all I can do.” I stayed and saw the little kid in the blue coat saluting his dad. I don’t remember if my mother cried. I know I did.

I stayed and began the countdown of anniversaries. Once it was a year later; soon it will be 50 years later.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 11/01/13

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
Autumn on the Ridge

Autumn on the Ridge

By Carrie Jacobson
Peter came home the other day laughing. He’d gone to the vegetable stand down the road and bought tomatoes and something else, some kind of sweet potato that he’d never seen before.
He asked the person selling the veggies what it was, and she said, “Hnnggh!”
“What is it?” Peter said. “Pardon?”
“Hnngghh!” she said.
And my dear husband, who pretty clearly was never going to understand what that woman was saying, just gave up and bought the hnngghh. He bought two of them, actually, brought them home and cooked them, and they were delicious.
So today, I talked to my friend Pat, who’s lived here all her life – so far.
She said that hnngghh are haymen, an Eastern Shore delicacy. And there’s apparently a very distinct way to treat, cook and enjoy the haymen. I took a video of Pat explaining. Click here to see it on YouTube.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 10/25/13

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
Autumn's Best of Cheer

Autumn’s Best of Cheer

By Carrie Jacobson

I know that autumn is inevitable, but every year, it excites me. And now that I paint, it excites me even more.

It’s more than the colors in the fields and in the trees. It’s the pleasure of kicking through fallen, drying leaves; the thrilling snap of a frosty morning on my cheeks and in my nose; the way the stars gleam sharp and brilliant in these clear and chilly nights.

But painting the fall is the best, and this scene is sort of the quintessential autumn painting for me. It’s a study for a larger painting I am doing as a commission. And for all of you in the mid-Hudson Valley, yes, it does look familiar. It’s on Route 17A, on the left as you’re heading into Florida.

I took the title of the painting from a poem by Helen Hunt Jackson. You can click here to read the entire poem; the stanza I lifted the title from is right here:

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather,
And autumn’s best of cheer.




The New Yorker, Congress and Me

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

I’ve just received my renewal notice from The New Yorker and as usual I’m tempted to let my subscription lapse. I have no complaint with the magazine’s journalism or its arts reviews, but I find that some issues wind up in the discard pile almost immediately because I have no time to read all that’s in them. And there is plenty in them. Sometimes I don’t even look at the cartoons.

When the stack of read and un-read New Yorkers reaches an unusual thickness on my shelf, I drive them over to the volunteers’ magazine wagon at St. Anthony Hospital. And once again I think about giving up on The New Yorker.

But then, the next issue arrives and this time I do have time, and again I realize how much I enjoy this magazine. A good example is in this week’s issue; it’s a 26-question quiz about some of the utterances and actions of several members of Congress during the shutdown of the federal government.

I looked at this quiz and was reminded that while there surely are left-wing jackasses in this world, they’re vastly outmatched – in severity, volume and in some cases, sheer stupidity – by some remarkable idiots on the right.

These are the people who place party above nation and who will say anything so long as it serves to demean President Obama, and/or trash the Affordable Care Act, and/or defend the Tea Party’s successful shutdown of the government, and/or deny the damage they would inflict on the United States should they force a default on the nation’s debt repayment.

I thought I had been on top of these stories and all their wretched details, but The New Yorker called my bluff with its quiz which, when you read it and think about it, is actually more an essay than just an entertaining yes-no exam.

For example, what did you think about the future of America when Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla) declared – the following contains no typographical errors – “This country isn’t ran by just one individual; it’s ran by four branches.”

And how did you react when Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb) was asked if he planned to forego his House salary during the shutdown and said he planned no such thing, and added: “I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college.”

Or when Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind) said of his shutdown-happy colleagues, “We’re not going to be disrespected…. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” No typos in this one either.

Or when Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) predicted that today’s congressional aides will eventually get salaries of $500,000 if they become lobbyists. “Meanwhile,” he said, “I’m stuck here making $172,000 a year.”

And when the ever dependable Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn) said of the shutdown, “We’re very excited. It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it…. People will be very grateful.”

Remember when the House of Representatives was called “the people’s house?” It was a time when a member making the standard pay of $172,000 wouldn’t have dared complain about being “stuck” with such a salary. To hear Stockman come this/close to calling his pay a starvation wage is to hear a complaint splendid in its indecency.

But this class of Tea Party zealots thinks nothing of using their mouths and tongues as weapons to slap across the faces of a population of 300 million struggling Americans. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The End of Lonegan?

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

New Jersey seems to have a rule against electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate, most likely because the state GOP has convinced itself that Jersey is a sleeping conservative giant just waiting to be awakened by the kiss of a right wing, anti-choice, anti-Obama, anti-tax firebrand. And if he’s anti-evolution as well, so much the better.

But Jersey Republicans pay no mind to polls indicating that as the party veers to its right – and then to the right of the Tea Party – it loses popularity at every step. New Jerseyans loathe taxes as much as Grover Norquist, but lean at least slightly left in most other respects.

And from Bergen County along came Steve Lonegan, whose political resume highlights his three terms as mayor of Bogota, a place where nothing much happens.

Lonegan secured the senatorial nomination and smug liberals smiled. Goofy Steve Lonegan? The guy who’s against everything? Never happen.

Except it almost did happen, and while Lonegan said on election night this week that this was his last run for elective office, his showing was strong enough to cause observers to look twice and to cause Lonegan to think twice. An almost-win for Lonegan, the candidate who would do away with Social Security and Medicare if he could only persuade 300 million other Americans to join the fight. He got 44 percent of the vote in losing to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Who is Steve Lonegan? The Record’s political columnist described him as “colorful and ultra conservative,” which tends to libel all the other colorful ultra conservatives who live in New Jersey. Lonegan is not colorful. Lonegan is grim.

During the campaign against Booker, Lonegan described Newark, the state’s biggest city, as “a big black hole” into which millions of dollars of state tax revenues have been poured.

It was an unfortunate description. Booker is a black man. African-Americans comprise 53 percent of Newark’s population. I can’t believe that someone in the Lonegan campaign didn’t whisper in his ear that you don’t refer to such a city as a black hole, no matter what you think of it and no matter how clever you think you are.

Lonegan has a fast lip. I imagine he thinks of this as a strength, but often he reveals himself to be a stammering dolt. In debate with Booker, Lonegan said, “You may not be able to swim in [the Passaic] river, but it’s probably, I think, because of all the bodies floating around of shooting victims in your city.” No one swims in the Passaic except demented fish; bodies are not routinely dumped in it. That makes Lonegan either ignorant or a jerk.

Lonegan opposes the very existence of Social Security and Medicare, opposes the minimum wage, opposes abortion in any circumstance, and of course he believes that Obamacare is the work of the devil. Or of Karl Marx. Or was it Mitt Romney?

Lonegan may have been at his cruelest when talking about the victims of Hurricane Sandy as reported by Mother Jones Magazine: “That is tragic for them to see their home being destroyed, but remember that every day around this country, somewhere, somebody is suffering a tragedy of equal or worse impact and we don’t run and hand them a check.”

And he might have been his most inane when, in 2006, he attacked McDonald’s for putting up a billboard in Bogota with a picture of a glass of iced coffee and with the words “Un frente helado se aproxima” – a cold wave is coming.

He said the billboard suggested that Bogota – it was named for the Bogart family, early European settlers – was home to hordes of illegal immigrants. Lonegan couldn’t be bothered with the fact that 39 percent of Bogota’s population was counted as Hispanic in the 2000 census and that if you’re illegal and hiding out, you don’t submit to the census enumerator.

His outrage was restricted to the McDonald’s sign. In classic Lonegonian logic, he had nothing to say about the signs in Italian identifying La Famiglia Ristorante or the sign in Korean outside the First Evangelical Church with its mostly Korean congregation.

You can laugh at Lonegan. You can dismiss him as loopy. But while you’re breathing that sigh of relief over his loss to Cory Booker, don’t forget that number – 44 percent of the vote. Lonegan will be back.

Time Is Now for NFL Awareness Month

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

If you have been watching any National Football League games this month you have no doubt noticed the players wearing pink shoes or sporting pink ribbon symbols on their jerseys. You’ve seen fans standing and cheering in honor of women introduced on the field as survivors of breast cancer. As the TV announcers put it, the NFL is a “proud supporter” of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hope one day there will also be an NFL Awareness Month and people will cheer for the widows and caretakers of men who suffered paralysis, brain damage, blown out knees, or other crippling injuries—or who simply died too young as a result of playing professional football (the average life span of an NFL player is well below the national average).

Johnny Unitas, one of the all-time great quarterbacks, died of a heart attack in 2002 at age 69. When I saw him last at a public appearance he could barely walk. Sandra Unitas remembers how her husband late in life could barely sign autographs with his once-powerful right hand. She told a reporter for the Baltimore Sun that she used to find rubber bands strapped to pens he had jerry-rigged so he could scrawl his name. His renowned “Golden Arm” was no longer of much use due to a tendon injury suffered during a 1968 preseason game. Sandra testified at a House subcommittee hearing in 2007 that investigated the league’s a disability system after complaints from numerous retired players that it was too difficult even for those with debilitating football injuries to qualify for benefits. Even her legendary husband’s disability claim was denied. “He would have been there,” she said of the hearing. “This is something deep to his heart. He was very disappointed in the league’s action—or lack of action.”

Tight end John Mackey, one of Unitas’ favorite pass receivers was also 69 when he died in 2011. In 10 seasons with the Colts and Chargers, Mackey caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards. In 1992 he joined Unitas as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the second tight end to be inducted. A few years ago he appeared on “60 Minutes” with his wife Sylvia. She did most of the talking because her husband had become so demented she had to prompt him to remember that he’d played for the Colts. Last year, researchers at Boston University reported that Mackey had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a chronic degenerative brain disease. Despite rules changes enacted in recent years to improve safety, trauma remains an integral part of all NFL games. Viewers love those bone-crunching hits and tackles so the rules committee deems all but the most egregious to be “legal.”

Sylvia Mackey filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL just last week. It contains language similar to the almost 300 others filed against the league since 2011. “During his career in the NFL, Decedent experienced repeated traumatic head impacts. However, Decedent was never warned of the dangers of repetitive head impacts.” In August the NFL and attorneys representing over 4,600 former players announced a proposed $765 million settlement to long-running litigation over long-term brain damage caused by concussions. The announcement did not stop the stream of lawsuits.

I would like NFL Awareness Month to keep alive the memory of Daryl Stingley, who died in 2007 at age 55. He had been a receiver for the New England Patriots until he was brutally blindsided by Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders in an exhibition game in August 1978 and spent the rest of his life paralyzed in a wheelchair. Tatum, who proudly bore the nickname “The Assassin,” never apologized. After all, the helmet-to-helmet hit was “legal” back then. “No flag was thrown, no fine was assessed. It was the kind of hit that fans craved, and networks showed on the highlights,” recalled sportswriter Mike Lopresti. “Only Stingley wasn’t moving.”

Tatum did say he felt bad about what happened but maintained he had not done anything illegal for which to apologize. After all, the league, the media, and fans had acclaimed him for being a hard tackler. He died in 2010 at age 61 after spending his last years with parts of both legs taken by diabetes. When Stingley heard the news in 2003 that Tatum lost part of his leg, he told The Boston Globe: “Maybe the natural reaction is to think he got what was coming to him….but God teaches us to love.”

This post was brought to you by Zest of Orange, proud supporter of NFL Awareness Month.

Michael can be reached at




Not Good Enough

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

Two places you don’t want to be: where the buffalo roam and might get riled up, and in a congressional corridor as members of the House and Senate elbow one another out of the way in a rush to call the press back home in the district with major announcements.

That a compromise on the government shutdown had been reached? No.

That House Speaker John Boehner had scheduled a vote to end the shutdown? Are you kidding? Allowing such a vote would irritate Tea Partiers, and probably cost Boehner his speakership in the short run and his very seat in Congress in the long run. Can’t have that. Calling such a vote would take courage, principle and virtue.

The prevailing urgency of our representatives is to demonstrate that they’re ordinary folks and are suffering like the rest of us during this wretched shutdown. In doing so, of course, they avoid the question of how this shutdown came about.

They are not like you and me and 300 million other Americans. They are not about to be told by a supervisor to stay home, stay furloughed. They are not wondering where the money will come from to heat the house, to buy school supplies for the kids, to make a mortgage payment.

When they talk about the sacrifice being made by the public, they never mention that their sacrifice is a little less severe than ours. That’s because they receive individual salaries of $174,000 while the average household income for the rest of the nation is about $51,000.

Still, our esteemed representatives are engaging in a spirited game of Let’s Pretend.

Let’s pretend we have even an inkling of what our constituents are going through, and the way we’ll do it is to write a press release stating that we’re giving up our salaries – they come to $3,400 a week – as long as those 800,000 government workers remain off the job.

Sounds high-minded, noble, and sincere, doesn’t it? Well, thanks to The Washington Post, we have more information about more than 200 representatives who are patting themselves on the back.

We understand your suffering, Congress says. Actually, what Congress understands concerning the people they represent could fill a thimble.

Here’s what The Post has reported.

–Some members of Congress are foregoing their pay for as long as the shutdown continues; no strings attached. Such strange bedfellows include Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Ami Bera (D-Calif), and Senators Tim Kaine (D-Va) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo).

Not good enough. At a time when federal employees have been forced off the job, the nation needs a specific guarantee that representatives giving up their paychecks now will not go to the treasury to claim that pay once the shutdown is over.

–Another group in the House and Senate are accepting their paychecks but informing anyone who’ll listen that they intend to give the money to charity. These include such people as Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) who is giving her shutdown pay to “a New Hampshire charity,” whatever that is, and Senator Tom Carper (D-Del) who’s giving his salary to “a Delaware charity” whatever that is.

Not good enough. If some members of Congress are going to pretend to understand what the nation is going through, they must be prepared to identify the charity they’re giving to so that we – the people – can know for certain that a “New Hampshire charity” or a “Delaware charity” doesn’t translate to a reelection committee.

–Other senators and representatives sending their pay to charity are specific. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) says she’s sending her pay to the Consortium of Catholic Academies and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is donating his pay to the Mormon Church. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is giving his paycheck to the March of Dimes, and Rep. James Langevin (D-RI) is supporting the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the Rhode Island Good Neighbor Energy Fund.

Not good enough. Such pledges must be accompanied by promises that the representatives and senators will not list such donations as charitable contributions on Schedule A of their income tax returns.

–Finally, since this shutdown has much to do with the Tea Party’s demand that the Affordable Care Act be repealed, the really sincere members of this fringe ought to consider giving up their health insurance for themselves and their families. They ought to sample what life is like for people who can’t afford to insure the health of their children.

That might be good enough.

Driven to Distraction by Stinkbugs

Friday, October 4th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

This week I planned to write about a recent letter to the editor published  in  Orange County’s lone daily newspaper. A woman who said she is a public health worker wrote to complain about being pressured to have a flu shot. She said she doesn’t want one because it contains beta-Propiolactone and, according to a certain anti-vaccine organization, “beta-Propiolactone is a very irritating liquid that is also used in anti-rabies vaccines.”

“Now,” she continued, “the state wants to make it mandatory for all state health employees to get the flu shot, or wear a mask at all times. This is absurd, since the flu shot does not guarantee that all inoculated employees will not get the flu, be a flu carrier, or transmit some other disease. I consider this a dictatorship.” But no one ever said the flu vaccine will protect everyone against becoming infected or transmitting the disease. It has, however, been shown in scientifically validated studies to protect a large percentage of the population. In people at highest risk (e.g, babies, infants, and the elderly) flu shots have saved countless lives. A public health worker who refuses to get the flu shot and considers it a dictatorship when encouraged to do so (even when offered the option of wearing a mask) is a public health menace.

Her final paragraph gives further testimony to her ignorance: “As for myself, I consume yogurt almost every day, or use a supplement known as acidophilus and lysine or both. I also take a multi-vitamin not more than 100 percent of the RDA to prevent overdosing. This is not a guarantee that I will not get the flu, but neither is a flu shot.” Consuming yogurt, vitamins and supplements may arguably be good for her overall health but they have nothing to do with a person’s susceptibility to the influenza virus, which is spread by airborne droplets.

So I was going to explain that in more detail and also lambaste the newspaper for publishing the letter in the first place because the misinformation it contains is intended to discourage readers from getting inoculated against influenza. The newspaper is not obliged to publish every letter it receives. I know this firsthand because when I wrote a letter in opposition to proposed cuts to Social Security a while back they didn’t publish it.

But just as I began going through some educational materials I have on file about influenza prevention I noticed from the corner of my eye a stinkbug on my office window. Maybe that shouldn’t have stopped me from carrying on with my work but there is something in my nature that does not allow it. The moment I see a bug in my house I act on it immediately. Back in the day, when I lived in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I became so adept at killing cockroaches that I fancied myself a matador of sorts. I was the great “El Judío.” I used several techniques, foremost of which was a barefoot stomp. When I executed a clean kill with a single stomp I heard shouts of “Olé!” in my head. When I botched the kill I heard jeers and whistles. In time I developed a kind of respect for roaches that gamely eluded me and forced me to work harder for the kill. But unlike a real matador, who has the option of sparing the life of a “good” bull, I never spared a good cockroach.

I am similarly skilled at killing flies and delight in snatching them barehand in midair. (Fly swatters are for amateurs.) I feel proud when eyewitnesses, including my children, express admiration, although I had a hard time with the flies in Atlanta when I visited my son Kenny and his family there. “These flies aren’t like New York flies,” he said after I’d swiped at a few and came up empty handed. “They’re a lot quicker and smarter.”

A couple of year ago I found the fruit flies in our kitchen even more challenging than those speedy, intelligent Atlanta flies. The tiny little buggers seemed to have a sixth sense, anticipating my every move and flitting away just when I thought I had them. It took me awhile to figure out their behavior patterns—time that no doubt should have been spent working—but I was driven and refused to let some little speck of a fruit fly get the better of me. In the end I showed them who was boss, although I seem to remember causing some property damage when I smacked a cabinet too hard. Or maybe it was the wall. I’ll have to ask Eva-Lynne. She’ll remember. The fruit flies drove me crazy but my obsession with them drove her nuts too.

We had stinkbugs last year but they proved to be no challenge other than being repulsive to look at, especially when perched on furniture or a plate full of food. But they had no survival skills to speak of. Once in a while you would see one take to the air but for the most part they just stayed where they were and let you catch them. No skill or artistry was involved. You had plenty of time to grab a piece of paper towel or toilet paper and return to the site and—to borrow a phrase from Henry Miller—squish squish. They were gray and I never noticed an odor upon their demise.

This year we have a stinkbug of a different color. They are darker in hue and somewhat aromatic. They fly more often than they did last year and when they do it makes a loud buzzing sound. The first time I heard it I thought there was some work going on outside, maybe someone using a buzz saw. Then I saw that all the noise was from one damnable stinkbug flying around the ceiling fan.

Let me tell you something: These guys are a lot more elusive than their gray cousins were last year. Oh, they’ll stay still for you if they’re within reach, but they also like to set up shop in high places, such as our two skylight windows, where many have been congregating lately. Getting at them proved no easy feat.

I tried using a stepladder but got dizzy before I got to the top step and by then I knew I wouldn’t have been able to reach them anyway. Then I remembered a technique I’ve often used for moths with considerable success. I grabbed one of Eva-Lynne’s Country Living magazines and heaved it up at them. But I didn’t get it high enough and when it crashed to the floor the binding loosened and a couple of pages fell out. I stuffed the pages back in and put the battered magazine in the middle of the pile. I tried again with a different issue of Country Living. This time I heaved it just high enough to disturb several stinkbugs, inducing them all to fly at the same time. The ensuing loud buzzing was terrifying and another magazine had taken a beating for naught.

Then I tried using an extendable feather duster I found in a closet. When fully extended it was long enough to reach the skylights. Hoo Ha! I aimed the business end of the duster at one of the remaining stinkbugs, but it simply shrugged it off and moved slowly toward a corner for cover. The feathers (actually synthetic fibers) were too soft to inflict damage. I tried again, pushing harder, to no avail. Then I tried whacking the flying ones, swinging the duster like a baseball bat. But they simply buzzed away on contact and I’d swear they were taunting me by flying near my head and weaving in and out of striking range.

And then, almost serendipitously, I discovered the technique. I lifted the duster and held it directly in the flight path of a stinkbug. The bug flew into it full speed….and was trapped. I opened the front door, shook out the duster and voila! Mr. Stinkbug landed on his back and I finished him off with a foot stomp. I tried it with the other fliers with the same result. And then I tried pushing the duster into the skylight next to an immobile stinkbug, jiggling it gently around and over the bug. It worked. And one by one they allowed me to take them outside to meet their maker. As Lawrence Welk used to say of Geritol “Take it from me folks, it really works.” Try it yourself. And if you prefer, you can release the bug into the wild as I do nowadays when I trap daddy long legs spiders in our house. Not stinkbugs though.

But in any case don’t forget to get your flu shot this year.

Michael can be reached at





What’s It All About, Faust?

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

faustBy Bob Gaydos

I was privileged recently to enjoy a local opera company’s production of “Faust,” by Charles Gounod. Based on Goethe’s legendary German tale, this is no easy opera to tackle and the Hudson Opera Theatre in Middletown, N.Y., more than did it justice.

I also came away from the production with a renewed awareness of what a cad Faust was. Or was he a rake? A rapscallion perhaps? Good words all, and yet each with a slightly different take on what kind of scoundrel the opera’s title character was. They are also words that, unfortunately, have pretty much disappeared from use in American conversation.

What would Faust be called today, in everyday American English? I wondered. Hmm, a disillusioned old man, a scholar no less, who makes a deal with the Devil to provide Faust with youth and the unquestioning love, adoration and physical pleasures of young women. In return, Faust agrees to give his soul to the Devil forever, in Hell. Faust even identifies the object of his desires — a young, teenaged virgin, Marguerite, who is impressed with his seeming sophistication and his attention to her — and the Devil helps him woo and win her with a dazzling array of jewels. In the process of his “conquest,” Faust gives the girl a sleeping potion (provided by the Devil) to give to her mother so that she will not disturb their night of, let’s call it love-making. The potion kills the mother, leaving Marguerite guilt-racked and further vulnerable to the attentions of Faust, who promptly abandons her.

Long story short: Marguerite gets pregnant, is ostracized by a society that doesn’t look kindly on young, unmarried mothers and is brutally condemned by her brother, a soldier returned from the wars. In utter depression, with nowhere seemingly to turn, she kills her baby, is arrested, thrown in prison and condemned to death. At this point, Faust, the lout, returns with an offer to help her escape (again, courtesy of the Devil).

Clearly, the man is an a–hole.

At least, that’s what he’d be called today, I concluded. That’s it. One overused obscenity providing not the slightest clue as to the true nature of the man’s churlish behavior. It seems to me that when words lose their precision they eventually lose their meaning. Communication gets fuzzy. And so, Congress is a bunch of a___s. The president is an a____. The guy who cut me off in traffic is an a____. My boss is an a______. My brother-in-law is a flaming a______. Rush Limbaugh is an a______. (Well, sometimes it works.)

In the spirit of the late Bill Safire, I have compiled a list of words that could be used — once upon a time were used — to describe men of questionable, if not dubious, character. You may have noticed a few sprinkled throughout this piece. In the process, I have become impressed with the diversity of choices the English language once offered to describe insensitive blaggards like Faust.

There’s a good one. Blaggard, or blackguard. It’s derived from

Old English usage, meaning a “black-hearted” person. Like Faust. It can mean a villain, a rogue (another rarely used good word), an evil person or someone with dubious morals. Faust personified.

Let’s go back to “cad.” It is defined in one dictionary as “an ill-bred man, especially one who behaves in a dishonorable or irresponsible way toward women.” Perfect.

For the record, my list thus far includes: scoundrel; wastrel; ne’er-do-well; rogue; cad; lout; laggard; reprobate; scalawag; rapscallion; rascal; bounder; oaf; blackguard; boor; and dolt

The French, of course, always have a word for anything. In this case, considering it’s a French opera, the perfect word for Faust is roue. A roue is defined as a dissolute person. That is, someone devoid of most moral value, especially one who places values on sensual pleasures. Think Michael Caine in “Alfie” and Warren Beatty in “Shampoo.” Matthew Mcconaughey in most anything today. The word roue comes from rouer, meaning to break on the wheel, the feeling being that such a person deserves to be punished in this manner.

A roue is the French version of a favorite of mine, a rake, which leads to the exquisite lothario and libertine and, eventually, to perhaps the one commonly used modern word that accurately fits the young-teenager-loving Faust: lech.

I’m open to further suggestions for my list. Indeed, if we weren’t such a nation of language lay-abouts and if we weren’t in such apparent denial about the variety of villains in society today, we could revive some of these perfectly usable and descriptive words. And we could give the A-word a much-needed rest.