Mahjong Anyone?

On July 4th, friends invited us over to learn how to play Mahjong.

Mahjong!

The game my mother and her girlfriends played when I was growing up. I remember those ladies laughing and calling out tiles as I passed through the kitchen on my way to the refrigerator. I’d hear “two crack,” “three bam,” “five dot,” as they rapidly went around the table. They’d smoke cigarettes, sip refreshments and talk endlessly. Often their voices would rise in excitement, rolling into laughter. I never knew what they were talking about—and if I happened to linger too long—I was told to keep moving.

My turn

So, it was with great interest that I accepted the invitation to join a group of friends learning the game. After all, I thought rather arrogantly, how hard can it really be?

It was hard. Very hard.

And as I played, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, I couldn’t help but think of my mother. How did she ever carry on a conversation and play this game? How many rounds did she endure before she no longer needed to concentrate? And why is this game so much harder than poker? 

American version

It seems that there are two versions of Mahjong. The American—which I was learning—and the Chinese—which was being played by a group of men seated behind me. I’m guessing the American version is easier—but being new to it—it was like learning Hebrew (and that’s hard). The other guys kept saying it’s like playing gin rummy. I know gin rummy. I get the comparison. But this was beyond gin rummy. If you don’t believe me, check out the video explaining the basics. http://bit.ly/2uuMSqYContinue reading . . .    

The World’s Oldest Fly: Where Did It Come From?

Did you ever notice that you can’t seem to go to a deli without running into a fly circling your pastrami sandwich? It drives me nuts. Instead of enjoying my meal, I spend my time guarding my plate, swatting at the air, hoping the filthy creature doesn’t land in my coleslaw.

Other restaurants too

To be fair, it’s not just delicatessens. Many restaurants seem to have the same problem. If there’s an open patio—I completely understand. It’s just part of the dining experience. Nature will exist where man chooses to sit. You can quote me. But when you’re inside and flies are swarming, isn’t it the staff’s responsibility to eliminate the infestation? Is that really too much to ask?

Greek with a twist

A few months ago Jeff and I ate at a Greek restaurant in Palm Springs. White table clothes, soft music, and a price point that was amazing. And though the food was delicious, no one on Yelp had bothered to mention the infestation. Upon my first taste of eggplant, the flies appeared. Scarfing down the moussaka, I watched them line up on the window sill. Alfred Hitchcock could have directed the scene. The flies were soon everywhere. Did we leave? Hell no. The food was too good. Instead, we hunkered down, gobbling up our meal as we swatted away.

What are we willing to do?

And so I wonder, does anyone ever complain about restaurant flies? Is it rude to tell the management you’re leaving even after you’ve just ordered? Are we just willing to put up with the onslaught if the food exceeds expectations? And what do you do when they land on your food? Do you continue to eat?

Buck up, man

I know there are some people who think it’s no big deal. I live with one of them. So I guess I will continue to duck and dodge as I cover my food. But I still think the staff should be trained on how to use a fly swatter. Aim high, swing hard, and splat. Dessert anyone?

Breaking News: Man Discovers Pedicures

Toenails are God’s little joke on men.

Unlike women who luxuriate in pedicures, men are tough. We manage our own nail care. Bending and straining to clip them until something bad happens. An ingrown toenail. Foot fungus. Falling arches. And then we rush to the podiatrist. Because that’s where men go to manage issues with their feet. Toenails eventually get clipped—but by a professional with a degree.

Nails like Howard Hughes

For men who live mostly in colder climates, and therefore rarely expose their feet, there’s little hope. If you check out those toenails, and I have seen a few, they’re in horrible shape. Too long, too dark and too crusty. I won’t go on—but trust me—it’s disgusting.

I used to live in Michigan so I know all about hiding your feet. Wearing socks to bed isn’t always about staying warm. But living in Phoenix, a hot weather climate, toes are on display much of the year. In the summer, everyone wears flip-flops and sandals. We walk around barefoot. We go swimming.

You are the toes that cling to you.Continue reading . . .    

Where’s the Shift?

I’ve been driving Jeff’s new car. A Lincoln MKC. And much to my surprise, the whole thing is push button. The entire shift mechanism is gone. You have to literally point and touch your way to park, reverse and drive. Great for keeping your mind agile.

Change for changes sake

Every now and then, there’s an older person who plows through a crowd. That’s due to confusion between the gas pedal and the brake. And yet, with the graying of America, cars continue to change. Haven’t we learned anything? Fortunately, Ford has modified the once complicated My Ford Touch. They’ve gone back to the manual radio and temperature control system. Thank goodness. Traveling at 75 mph on the highway and trying to figure out how to make those changes was a death defying feat. Common sense has prevailed.Continue reading . . .    

Awkward Man Hugs

When did shaking hands as a greeting go out of fashion with men?

It seems that everywhere you go—guys are now hugging. Restaurants, gyms, sporting events, car shows—wherever men gather—they’re engaging in these awkward man hugs. Not quite touching—and yet—touching a little too much. No longer content in a fist bump, they’re now deep into each other’s shoulder space, bent forward as they stand two-feet apart.

Ubiquitous hugging

If you watch sports, it’s everywhere. Touchdown! Give me a hug. Three pointer. Body slam. Home-run. Grab a dude and lift him in the air. For decades men have been eager to touch as long as they’ve scored on the field. Celebrations only really start when men are leaping, grabbing and hugging. So when did it all morph from special events to everyday behavior? No one really knows. But man hugging is definitely here to stay.

Gay Hugs

Now gay men—they know how to hug. They pull you tightly into their personal space. Sometimes, you don’t know whether they’re being friendly or just feeling you up. It can actually be both. But when you get a hug from a gay man, it’s warm and welcoming. It feels completely like what it is. An embrace of supportive “great to see you” man admiration.

Shut up and give me a hug 

Today, we hug anyone we causally meet at a party. Friends of friends. Relatives you don’t even like. And if touching strangers is not your thing—well—something’s clearly wrong with you.

Years ago I had a friend who greeted everyone with an arm held stiffly out to signal that you were supposed to stand back. He refused to hug. And that never changed. Over the years, friends came and went through his revolving door. He never seemed to really connect. In hindsight, it’s not surprising. The signs were always there. Beginning with his unwillingness to embrace.Continue reading . . .    

Not Another Supermarket

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I seem to always be in the supermarket. I must have better things to do with my time than wander through Safeway, Fry’s and Trader Joe’s. And yet, now, I even go to Whole Foods to take out lunch.

Has grocery shopping become my new hobby? Seriously. How else can I explain pushing a cart up and down the aisles every other day and thinking it’s fun?

Feed me

I’ve decided that as you age, eating must be an obsession. As if time is running out, I seem to be eager to try everything.

Lord knows there’s enough food in our house to last for weeks. If we really needed to unload the cupboards, we could easily manage, though we’d be light on dairy and produce. Hmm. Perhaps that’s what’s going on.

Is anyone hungry? 

Maybe it just reminds me of my childhood. In my family, food was love.

Feeling blue? Have some chocolate pudding. Sick. We have a great chicken soup. Tired? Coffee cake is on its way.

There was once a time when I went outside on a nice day and rode a bike. Now, I wander the supermarket aisles. Not exactly exercise, but it is walking.

Bigger is better

Of course, I’m writing this sitting outside of Costco waiting for the doors to open. It seems my desire to be entertained has morphed into the big box stores. Making a second meal on bits of cheese, guacamole dip, and hot appetizers that they cook up for eager shoppers. I might buy the paper towels, but let’s get real. I’m here for the freebies.

Worried

I try not to let it bother me—but I am getting concerned. I wonder how many other people are feeling trapped by their fascination to horde food. Perhaps it’s all just a big nothing. Or maybe, I’m onto something. Either way, I find myself totally enraptured. Cut it, slice it, serve it. Call me yours.

 

But Darling, I love Turner Classic Movies

I admit it. I’m addicted to old movies. Really old movies.

I love silent films. I’m fascinated by those stars who never made the transition to sound. John Gilbert. Theda Bara. The list goes on. And though I regularly support the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I don’t always go. But I always want to.

I also love the early talkies. There’s something magical about the films of the 1930s and 1940s. The artistry is amazing. The camera work, the story lines, and the actors. But like everything in life, even movies made during the Golden Age of Hollywood can be stinkers. Bad directors, bad scripts, and bad casting. Just bad movies.

And then there’s the unusual enunciation of one key word.

Affected?

Some of the dialogue can be a bit much. Dated perhaps—or just overly dramatic. For instance, the word darling pops up an awful lot in love scenes. It’s kind of standard. My grandmother used to call me darling. But, there was never any romantic intent. At least, I don’t think so.

I have one friend who uses darling.  It’s a cue that a nasty zinger is about to be hurled your way. If you wear a bathing suit in his presence you might hear, “But darling, I thought you worked out.” Ouch. He’s truly a laugh riot, but you need to have a sense of humor. Fortunately, I do.
Continue reading . . .    

Smile

On a flight to Mexico, sitting in an aisle seat, a stranger once put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Cheer up, buddy. Things will get better.” Walking the dog in the morning, I’ve been told by neighbors that I’m rather stand-offish. And friends recently gave me a tee-shirt with the imprint: Grumpy Old Man.

Okay. I’ve come to accept it. I must appear naturally unhappy. Even though that couldn’t be further from the truth. Inside, I’m practically exuberant. Okay—maybe that’s a stretch. How about, calm.

Unfortunate resting face?

This must explain my childhood photos. Barely a smile anywhere. Because smiling doesn’t come naturally to me. I know. That’s just impossible. Then think Victorian England. Turn of the century America. The Amish. Any cover of Time Magazine. No smiles.

Kodak

Smiles are a Kodak invention. Not real life. We can’t always be having fun, running around with a ridiculous grin on our face. I doubt I’m the only one who has suffered through a family photo when the photographer has yelled, “Hey, you. The one on the end. How about a smile?”

My facial muscles just don’t work that way. Try as I might, I can’t achieve a smile on demand. I’ve tried practicing. It’s impossible.Continue reading . . .    

Aussie Survivor

Ever hike an Australian preserve in search of wild animals? Me neither. At least, not until the other day.

It was a side trip recommended by friends. I went along with it mostly because Jeff had always wanted to go on an African Safari. So, this was a kind of concession. Instead of days out in the wilderness living off the land, it would be just a couple of hours in a preserve riding around in a Mercedes van with a group of strangers and a very nice tour guide.

It turned out to be a day-long excursion that lasted from eleven in the morning until ten-thirty at night. A stretch of time that included two meals and what generally passes for my bedtime. Of course, my greatest concerns were: What would we eat and where would we find a restroom?

NYC Childhood

Growing up in New York City, I’m not much for wild animals. Oh—we had our native species of cockroach. Two-inch, brown water bugs with cellophane-like wings. And then, there was that occasional mouse. It generated a lot of excitement when it showed up. But I don’t remember anyone running for a camera.

Pigeons lined the terraces which we rarely used. And just like an episode from Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom, some even attempted to nest before brooms were pulled out to sweep them away. The adults called the pigeons—rats with wings—and years later on a trip to Venice, I thought a lot about that reference as they swooped overhead in St. Mark’s Square.

No Pets Please

Dogs and cats were barred from our building. And now that I think of it, I didn’t have one friend back then who even owned a pet. Not a bird, turtle or hamster. Not even a fish. So as I marched through the forest, damp leaves, broken sticks and loose rocks underfoot, I barely looked up from the trail, hoping that I wouldn’t be the first to slip and disappear into the deep canyon below. All the while our guide kept talking. “There are twenty variety of snakes here. Poisonous spiders that are perfectly camouflaged to match the bark. Kangaroos that have been known to seriously injure dogs.”

And I was searching for all of that?

Uh Oh 

And then, up ahead, resting in a tree—a Koala bear. Gray and fuzzy with Mickey Mouse ears and enormous eyes. He stared down at us as we stared back up and marveled at him. I forgot about the dangers, the dampness, and all that dung underfoot. I was part of nature, enjoying the moment, and grateful to be on the trip.Continue reading . . .    

Let’s Eat

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about eating. Well, I’m on a cruise ship circling Australia—and frankly—eating is the major activity. And despite what you might have heard about Americans being overweight, I assure you, we’re not alone. There are plenty of people from Australia and the UK who easily match us in girth. Perhaps that’s because a cruise self-selects those who are obsessively interested in dining as they float along to the next destination.

Group think

Food seems to be on everyone’s mind. What you ate, what you’re eating, what you’re going to eat. And instead of being pleasurable, it becomes a little sickening. Especially when you wolf down two hot dogs and fries with a pizza chaser (guilty). Can the second ice cream sundae be too far behind? Are those chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies? I didn’t know Jell-O and cheesecake worked so well together.

I’ve tried my best not to give into the mass hysteria that the next meal might be our last. And yet, even as I sit here, content to spill my guts about the incredible excesses everywhere, I’m pondering the sugar donuts I saw at the buffet. I should have eaten one when I had the chance. Will there be any left if I go back?

Am I showing?

Each morning I awake and stare at my gut in the mirror. As I stroke my belly, I wonder if it’s getting bigger. I’m reminded of that guy Morgan Spurlock who did the Super Size Me documentary. You remember him. He ate McDonald’s every day for a month to determine the impact on his overall health. As I recall, he got pretty sick. Even vomited. The thought has crossed my mind. Instead, I keep popping antacid after antacid.

I wish I had more self-control. But I don’t. Day three and food is everywhere. Except at the gym. And yes, I’ve actually been there. But any plan to stay slim is 80% diet—20% exercise. That’s what I’ve heard. So really, there’s little point going to the gym while on-board. Unless you plan to lie flat on your back, mouth closed, to ease digestion.

No more

I’ve told Jeff that this is the last time we go on a cruise. Next vacation will be an active one. He agreed with me as we sat in the dining room admiring the sweet rolls placed table side by the waiter. And as I bit into a fresh croissant with a chocolate center, I realized that this moment won’t last forever. Soon, I’ll be back at my house where carbs are banned. Where the evenings are spent foraging through cupboards that hold nothing more than spices and dried beans. My stomach will once again be flat. My persistent indigestion gone.

I guess sometimes in life we just need to let go. Practicing self-control on a cruise ship is a fool’s journey. Better to fully immerse oneself and get it out of your system. And so, once again I prepare for breakfast. Did you know that pancakes taste best when covered yea high in stewed prunes?