Entry 796: Nowhere Fit to Sit

Recently I went on one of my quarterly excursions to Florida to drive my mother to the nail salon and Walmart. As I usually do, I flew JetBlue from Westchester Airport, the totally random airport code for which is HPN. Also as I usually do, I paid $60 extra for an “even more room” seat, not because there’s more room (there is, but barely, and certainly not $60 worth), but because I get to board before the squished masses take up all the carry-on space.

So I’m choosing my seat from the chart online, and I pick an aisle seat next to a vacant one in the hope that it will stay vacant, although it never does, because the flight from Westchester to Ft. Lauderdale is always packed.  In this case, I end up sitting next to an oversized gentleman with a distinctive yet unidentifiable odor, and it occurs to me that if airlines wanted to be really helpful, their seating charts would include information about the people who would be sitting next to you, even if the seat next to you hadn’t been selected yet.

The chart would look something like this:

 

13C, please, but I’m not gonna like it. I really hate flying.

See you soon.

*Nobody actually knows where the “HPN” came from.  Some think it’s derived from the city of White Plains^ (airport codes normally do not begin with W because those are reserved for radio signals). Others believe it represents the first letter of the three neighboring communities, Harrison, Purchase, and North Castle.
^Even though the airport is not in White Plains, and that still wouldn’t explain the “H.” Or the “N.”

 

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Entry 795: Blind as an App

I don’t know why I have such a low opinion of my fellow humans.

Recently, I learned about an app called Be My Eyes which allows vision-impaired people to connect in real time with vision unimpaired people to get help with small things like identifying denominations of paper currency. The app’s website goes out of its way to explain that blind folks can generally get around just fine, but there are times when they could use a little help, like, for instance, when they need to know the expiration date on a container of milk. That’s one of the examples the site uses, as if blind folks are in constant danger of supermarkets taking advantage of them. “Here comes that blind guy,” says the store manager. “Quick, get the stock boy to move the old milk to the front.”

So the way the app works is that the blind person in the dairy aisle would log in and the app would connect them to someone who had volunteered to help. The blind person would then use the camera on their phone to send video of the milk carton to the sighted volunteer who would then be able to tell them the expiration date. “It’s good until next week,” the volunteer would say. “And, by the way, are you sure you want whole milk? May I suggest the one percent? I mean, have you seen yourself in that dress? Oh, right. Sorry.”

Do you see what I mean? That’s where my mind went. I immediately thought that this app, which has the potential of improving the lives of so many people, will somehow turn ugly. Literally my first reaction was “Oh, boy, is this going to be abused!”

Just as the physicists who discovered atomic power assumed the worst of people and worried it would become a horrible weapon, I could see pranksters providing blind people with information as reliable as one might get from Fox News. I imagined vision-impaired folks in supermarkets being directed to the kale instead of the romaine lettuce, thus ruining their Caesar salads. Or worse: “Just keep going forward,” a volunteer might say. “You feel that slight drop with your cane? Just step down; it’s only a curb, it’s not an open manhole at all.”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that my reaction to this app says much more about me than it does about the state of humanity. After all, we haven’t heard about anyone abusing Be My Eyes, so maybe I’m the only one who thinks that way. Humanity is fine, you believe, but this blogger is an asshole.

Well, you are wrong, as usual. In fact, Be My Eyes has anticipated some less-than-humanitarian uses for its app, some of which I didn’t even think of:

“The following are situations,” says the website, “where Be My Eyes is NOT to be used:
•Displaying identification documents like a passport, driver’s license or other government-issued ID card
•Sharing credit card, bank/checking account, insurance or other financial information
•Sharing your social security number or other government identification number
•Sharing information about medicine or health-related conditions
•Bullying or practical jokes
•Sharing nude, unlawful, hateful or sexually suggestive content”

Interestingly, since the note above is addressed to blind people (after all, only they can decide when the app gets used), Be My Eyes seems to be implying that it may be the blind users who play practical jokes on the volunteers rather than the other way around. How would that even work? “Yes, hello, something seems to be wrong with my seeing-eye dog. Here he is, see, with his legs in the air? Do you think he’s okay? Ha, ha, just kidding. You can stop playing dead now, Wilmer.”

And what about that last bullet point above? Are they thinking blind people will use the app to have volunteers describe porn to them? Or that some vision-impaired skinhead might call to make sure he’s got his swastika turned the right way?

Be My Eyes has also anticipated my second reaction to learning about the app, which was that I wouldn’t want to be beeped every time some blind person’s milk tasted a little off. “If you’re in the middle of something,” says the video on the website, “don’t worry. Someone else will step in.” The footage accompanying this shows someone driving and tapping their dashboard-mounted phone. I sure hope that’s the volunteer.

If I did sign up to help, I’d be concerned about the types of tasks I might be asked to do. For instance, here’s a “story” from the website:

“Faye is from Saudi Arabia and studies biomedical engineering...Faye has assisted Be My Eyes users with many different tasks. She has, for example, helped a user count his money and assisted another user in picking out a shirt to wear…”

Okay, it’s one thing if a blind person calls for help reading an expiration date or counting his Euros. But I don’t think they should be asking for opinions. What if Faye has lousy taste? What does a biomedical engineer know about fashion, anyway? And I pity the person asking me for wardrobe assistance. Remember–they wouldn’t be able to see what I was wearing. If they could, they’d pick something at random from their closet and call it a day.

And here’s something I bet no one has considered: what if a blind person uses the app while in a voting booth (“Can you tell me which lever is…”) and the volunteer is a Trump supporter? Or a Russian? Maybe that’s what happened in 2016: it wasn’t that Hillary lost Michigan, it was that she lost the sightless vote.

See you soon.

P.S. In case you want to volunteer to help vision-impaired people get through their days, you should know that there are currently almost twice as many volunteers on Be My Eyes as there are users. They need more blind people!

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Entry 794: Celebrity News You Missed

I’m back from my week off, and I’m here to get you up to date on some celebrities not named Kardashian.

Let’s start with someone who is missing one of the most important prerequisites for  celebritosity: being famous.

In America, at least, you’ve probably never heard of the young man pictured at right. But he’s very popular in his native Spain. In fact, he’s Miss Spain!

Yes, this handsome lad grew up to be Angela Ponce (pictured below left), who will be the first trans woman to compete in the Miss Universe contest, thus simultaneously striking a blow for the LGBTQ community and against women.

Trans women have only been able to compete for the coveted and irrelevant title of Miss Universe since 2012 when the owner of the Miss Universe pageant decreed that it was okay. That owner, of course, was one Donald J. Trump who, unlike the boy in the photo above, ultimately turned into something he was never meant to be.

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Next we visit with actress/singer Hailee Steinfeld, who has added to her impressive résumé by becoming a spokesperson for Post-it Notes®.

Steinfeld says that she is partnering with Post-It Notes to “encourage students to dream big and write their goals down as they get ready for back-to-school. I’m a huge believer in writing everything down including my goals.”

If you ask me, Steinfeld’s message is better suited for a partnership with a company like Mead, which makes legal pads. I mean, how big can you dream on a 3″ x 3″ piece of paper?

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Moving on to the world of politics, Texas Senator Ted Cruz was asked by a female constituent if he would be willing to take a DNA test. I know what you’re thinking, but the woman was not accusing Cruz of fathering her child. The proposed DNA test was to prove he was human.

That’s how far American politics has sunk. After all, Barack Obama was only asked to prove he was born in this country, not that he was born on this planet. On the other hand, how about it, Ted?

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Returning now to celebrities you’ve never heard of, Christopher O’Neill is moving with his wife and three young children to Florida. This is news only because O’Neill’s wife and three children all have the word “princess” or “prince” before their names.

I know, I know. As an American, you only care about British royalty. But these new Florida residents are Princess Madeleine, Princess Leonore, Prince Nicolas and Princess Adrienne. Of Sweden.

And if you think having its royalty move to Florida isn’t exactly good for promoting Swedish tourism, it’s actually even worse. Because they’re moving from London.

In a press release, the family, which could only look more Swedish if they were all holding herrings, said, “The time and opportunity for the United States is good for the family when the children are still in pre-school age.”

Absolutely. You want to get to Florida in time to enroll the kids in the top-notch Florida educational system, which ranks 32nd in the U.S. which, itself, isn’t ranked all that highly among Western nations. Also, a young age is a good time to get the tattoos that seem to be required for non-Jewish, non-senior Florida citizens.

Seriously, guys, why Florida? And what the hell is wrong with Sweden?*

**********************************************

The answer is, “Only people who don’t have a life care about it.” The question is: “What is Alex Trebek’s beard?”

*************************************************
Finally, we have Jessica Love Hewitt, who felt the need to issue an apology this past spring for her appearance at the Fox upfronts, which is when the network announces its fall TV lineup.

She took to Instagram Story to say, “So we go to the upfronts yesterday and nobody tells me the day is going to be like 12 hours long and the humidity is going to be almost 100 percent in New York so I just have to apologize. Wearing a black suit, not a good idea, that’s A. B, not wearing enough hairspray and teasing in my hair, also a bad idea. I just have to apologize for how, like, wrecked I look in all the pictures that came out.”

Okay, two things about this:

  1. How big a celebrity do you have to be before you can hire someone to tell you what the weather is?
  2. I would totally fail at being a celebrity if you have to apologize for the way you look in public.

See you soon.

*I actually wrote this post last week. Since then, Sweden had its general election, in which a far right, neo-Nazi party got 17% of the votes. So maybe that answers the “What’s wrong with Sweden?” question. But it still doesn’t explain moving to Florida.
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Entry 793: Women’s Work

I’ve done Labor Day posts before, but this year, with the #metoo and Time’s Up movements going on, I thought I’d do much more work than I usually do for this blog and put together a photo history of women in the workplace in the 20th century. It should demonstrate that, while we still have a long way to go toward equality, we have come a long way since 1900.



 

I hope you enjoyed this Labor Day post dedicated to women. I will be taking the next week off so, please ladies, don’t come after me.

See you soon.

*If you don’t get this, click here.

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Entry 792: Phony Funnies

I would like to take a moment to stop a new type of entertainment in its tracks. And, no, I’m not talking about harmonica playing on commuter trains.

First some background: We live in the suburbs. The area has dozens of venues at which we can see live music. They are smaller theaters that do not attract the biggest or trendiest performers, but, on the other hand, we get to see the musicians without the need of a Jumbotron in a place with acoustics that actually allow for the enjoyment of music rather than basketball games.

And while these venues may not get the major stars, you can still go there to hear the major stars’ music . . . as performed by tribute bands: ersatz Eagles, pseudo Stones, Deep Purple pretenders, Pink Floyd fakes, bogus Billy Joels, counterfeit Creedence Clearwater Revivals, artificial ABBAs, doubtful Doors, quasi Queens ( the only one we’ve ever actually seen, and about which I’ve written previously), and even make believe Miami Sound Machines.

These acts, which are of widely varying quality, roam the suburbs of American cities like the troubadours of old . . . if the troubadours of old had names like The Troubadorables. There are a ton of Led Zeppelin simulations, including one cleverly named Led Blimpie and an all-female one called Lez Zeppelin. And there are so many Beatles tribute bands that they’re running out of punny monikers: PreFab 4, Fab Faux, the Rubber Soldiers, Beatlejuice, Yellow Dubmarine and Beatlemaniax, to list just a few. Oh, and don’t forget Fab Forward, which only performs the solo hits of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

I don’t have a problem with any of those (except maybe a Simon and Garfunkel tribute act called The Sounds of Simon). After all, most of the performers they’re imitating are:

  • Still touring, but with only one or two original members, so that they have essentially become a tribute band to themselves.
  • Still touring, but unable to sing, so that the tribute bands actually sound better.
  • Still touring but only playing arenas where decent seats go for $500.
  • No longer touring.
  • Dead.

Now let me get back to the opening of this post, when I said that I wanted to stop a new type of entertainment in its tracks. I wasn’t talking about tribute bands.

I was talking about tribute comedians.

We get mailers and emails from most of the venues near us, and the latest one we received from The Ridgefield Playhouse contained, among its coming attractions, a description of just such an act. And not just any tribute comedian; somehow even more disturbingly, he’s a Robin Williams tribute comedian.

His name is Roger Kabler, and he bills himself as a master impressionist. The write-up says:

“This show goes to great lengths to respect Robin’s memory and celebrate his legacy. Hilarious and emotionally powerful at the same time. For everyone around the globe confused about Robin’s unexpected departure, this tribute offers a form of closure, and a chance to laugh with Robin one last time.”

Okay, well first, why is anyone confused about “Robin’s unexpected departure?” It’s not like he disappeared in the middle of a show and was never seen again. He had Parkinsons and he hung himself. Any questions?

Second, isn’t Kabler limiting his career as a Robin reproduction by offering closure? It means that, even if he’s brilliant, I’ll never want to see him again. After all, once I “laugh with Robin one last time,” I won’t want to laugh with Robin one more last time.

And third, what if Roger Kabler’s presentation of a mock Mork and other Williams’ characters becomes wildly popular, and then Kabler himself has an “unexpected departure?” Will someone come along to imitate Roger Kabler imitating Robin Williams?

Honestly, I’m not sure why I find a Robin Williams tribute act so much more troubling than, say, a sham The Band band.* I mean, sure Williams is dead, but so is Levon Helm of the real The Band. Both had debilitating diseases in the end, although Robin decided not to wait it out. Is it the relative recency that bothers me? (Helm died in 2012, Williams in 2014, although it doesn’t seem that long ago.)

I found a video of Kabler, and he does do a pretty good imitation of Williams’ voice and mannerisms. But it just seems so . . . creepy.

Maybe the difference is that, unlike with a tribute band, you can’t sing along.

See you soon.

P.S. I suspect Kabler has anticipated people having a kind of queasy reaction to his act, because he tries to alleviate it by saying that “a portion of the proceeds from this show will be donated to suicide prevention organizations.” Sorry, Roger, that doesn’t do it for me.

*There actually is an act called The The Band Band.

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Entry 791: Highlight Reel

If everyone had a lifetime sports highlight reel, you could probably play mine during the commercial break of someone else’s.

There would be five plays on it:

1. About 1962, Queens, NY. I’m eight years old, playing center field on my Little League team because of my outstanding range and, not incidentally, because not many eight-year-olds can hit the ball to the outfield. My job consists mostly of picking up ground balls that have gone through the shortstop’s legs and come to a stop somewhere in my vicinity. Then, one day, someone actually hits a fly ball in my direction. I go back on it . . . then I come in on it . . . then I stumble a little while returning to my original location . . . and then the ball lands in my glove. My teammates applaud in amazement.

2. About 1968, Goddard Junior High School playground, Queens, NY. The Howard Beach Whoever-Was-Around-That-Day-All-Star basketball team is playing full court against a team from just over the Brooklyn border. We had been down 22 in the second half, but are in the midst of a huge comeback, and now trail by only a point in the final seconds. Well, not really the final seconds, because there is no one to time the game, which is a good thing, because we have been playing for about four hours. The score is 99-98 and the first team to 100 wins.

A wayward pass leads to a loose ball, which I get to and slam off the knee of an opponent. It goes out of bounds. I inbound to Gary, who bounces it to Marty, who inexplicitly tosses it back to me. I’m open at the top of the key because the other team is much more concerned about Jeff, who is really good. I shoot . . . and miss! But Jeff gets the rebound and scores on a lay-up. We win. What a comeback!

3. About 1978, Long Island. I’ve driven from Queens to play on my cousin Jack’s softball team. I’m a pretty good pitcher and I can hit the ball directionally to get singles pretty much whenever I want. There are two outs and the bases are loaded, but we’re down three runs in the last inning. I’m up, and Vinnie, who can’t hit a lick, is on deck. I know our only chance is if I uncharacteristically hit the ball a long way. So I take a mighty swing and . . . there it goes–over the left fielder’s head.

This would be a good time to mention two things:

  • The field had no outfield fences so the ball could keep rolling forever.
  • I have never been a fast runner even when I was in my twenties and looked like I might be.

So there I am, chugging toward third base as the left fielder chases down the ball. The three base runners have scored and we’ve tied the game and if I can turn this into a home run, we’ve won and I’m a hero. But there’s my cousin Jack, coaching third base, holding up his hands. He knows what I’m thinking, because he, too, is aware that Vinnie is on deck. “You’ll never make it!” he shouts, meaning either that I will be thrown out at the plate or that I will die if I try to run even one more foot. (To this day, 40 years later, I can still hear Jack shouting “You’ll never make it”–those exact words.) So I stop at third. Vinnie grounds out weakly. We lose in extra innings.

Afterwards, I ask my first wife if she’d seen my hit, and she admitted that she had been in the parking lot talking to Jack’s wife. Certainly not the reason why she became my first wife, but it didn’t help.

4. About 1979, Central Park, NY. I have just separated from my first wife and moved to a Manhattan apartment on the Upper West Side. I’m walking through Central Park on a Sunday morning and discover a pick-up touch football game looking for players. I volunteer, and am positioned at cornerback because the strangers on my team do not know about my lack of speed. I line up against the other team’s pass receiver and realize . . . it is Geraldo Rivera. Yes, mustache and all! Neither one of us was involved in a play, but, hey, I covered Geraldo Rivera!

5. About 1982, Central Park, NY. I am the coach of the Foote Cone & Belding co-ed softball team in the advertising agency league. I am also the third baseman. A member of the hated Young & Rubicam team hits a little nubber down the line. I bare-hand it and throw a strike to first base, getting her by a step. It was an inconsequential play in the scheme of things, but, I thought, very professional. One of the Y&R players even said, “Nice play.”

I bring up my highlight reel now because I’ve been watching the Little League World Series on ESPN. I may be one of the few people in the viewing audience who does not know any of the players (especially when it’s, like, Montana vs. Idaho). But I enjoy watching a baseball game when the players actually run out pop flies, unlike the millionaires in the Major Leagues. It’s also fun when a hitter gets called out on strikes on a horrible call, and you know they’ve been told not to argue and just run back to the dugout, but you can just about see their little undeveloped brains wondering what else can be done with an aluminum bat and an umpire.

Anyway, it occurred to me during a replay review (really? In Little League?), that by the time these kids are 20 or so, they’ll have actual highlight reels. I don’t mean just because they are playing a Little League game on national TV, but because their entire lives have been digitally recorded, possibly beginning from the moment they were born.

I mean, my daughter Casey, who’s entire athletic career consisted of wandering onto a soccer field for about five minutes and then saying “I don’t like this,” still has all her big hits of life on compact VHS, transferred to DVD. And that was before parents became permanently attached to smart phones with video capabilities.

I can’t watch my life like my daughter can, like the Little Leaguers can, like my new granddaughter will be able to. I have to just remember the highlights.

Of course, that means I can also embellish them as much as I want.

See you soon.

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Entry 790: My Best Friend, Rob Schneider

I hope you won’t think that I’m a name-dropper, but Rob Schneider is a good friend of mine.

Yes, that Rob Schneider. The guy who sat next to the copy machine on Saturday Night Live in one of the show’s unfunniest and most annoying recurring bits..

  • Schneider to employee at copier: “Bill. Bill-ay! The Billster. Bill man. Billy Bill Bill. Makin’ copies.”
  • Employee: “My name is Randy.”

Of course, you may know Rob from his very high brow Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo movies, although I wasn’t aware there was any other kind of gigolo. He has also made quite the career out of playing second fiddle to his other pal, Adam Sandler, who he has never introduced me to. I guess he likes to keep his groups of friends separate.

Anyway, as I said, Rob and I are chums, and I can tell you that he is just as much of a jerk as you’d expect him to be based on the characters he has played.

Ha ha, just kidding, Rob. Schneider’s not an asshole at all. Well, he might be, but I wouldn’t know.

I’ve never met the guy.

But he is my friend . . . on Facebook. Here is proof: there he is (with Sandler, no less) right next to my daughter and granddaughter who narrowly beat Rob out for a position of prominence on my list of friends.

This might be a good time to mention that I have absolutely no idea how Facebook works. I mean, I kind of know how the business works, how they sell advertising along with your highly confidential personal data that you have provided in order to be able to let folks know that the historical figure you most resemble is Attila the Hun. But I don’t really know the primary functions of making friends, and getting your posts to stay on top of people’s timelines, or what the hell a timeline even is, or why if you go on Facebook half a minute after the last time you were on Facebook, the timeline is completely different.

I’ll be on Facebook, and I’ll see something of minor interest but go on to something else and then decide I want to see what that other thing was about after all, so I go back and even though it was at the top of the timeline a second ago, I can’t even find it now. I’m sure my daughter (who should be so proud that she and her little girl are shown before the famous Rob Schneider on my Facebook page) would be able to find it again, as probably would any six-year-old. However I can’t.

But I digress.

So here’s how Rob and I became close friends.

A few months ago, I friended someone I knew in high school. Once I did that, Facebook showed me a whole bunch of new “People You May Know,” some of whom I did sort of vaguely know. Of course I did; after all, the person from high school that I had friended had friended other people from the same high school. So I friended those people, too. Which begat more “People You May Know.” And eventually, Facebook suggested that I might know Rob Schneider, who evidently was friends with one of the high school people whose name I sort of recognized.

Well, okay, I thought. Maybe Rob would enjoy my clever and often hilarious blog posts. So I clicked on “Add Friend.” And later that day, the Robster accepted! The Robinator was now my pal. Ol’ Robby Bob Bobby was my buddy bud buddy!

“Gee,” I thought. “He must be pretty desperate.”

Still, I was excited. Rob was the first SNL person I’ve ever been impersonally disassociated with!

But then a weird thing happened. My “People You May Know” bar started getting populated with very good-looking women, all of whom had one thing in common with each other, and with me: a mutual friend. Rob Schneider.

There were lots of them. At least a dozen.*

I do not know who these women are, or how they know my good friend, Rob. Are they collectively the Rob Schneider Fan Club? Are they groupies? Mistresses? Does his wife know about them?

One thing I do know is that if you walk up to most people these days and read them a list of all the people Facebook says they’re friends with, they wouldn’t be able to identify half of them. In other words, while “the people they may know” may be people they know, the people they do know may not be people they know.

Maybe it’s time we start choosing our friends more carefully, especially if you’re a famous person. You might end up with somebody like me as a friend.

See you soon.

P.S. Speaking of things I don’t know about Facebook, for some reason, it has stopped allowing bloggers to automatically share posts. So if you want to be sure never to miss any of my comical musings (I’m talking to you, Rob), be sure to click the “Sign Me Up” button at the top right of this page.

*Note to my wife: no, I did not click the “Add a Friend” button on any of Schneider’s female friends.

 

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