Short take

I used to work for a US Congressman, but I’ve been totally bored  with this year’s presidential election for at least a year.  If I recall correctly, 1956 was the last time either major party’s presidential nominating convention determined who the candidate would be.  So, why does anyone watch the nominating convention of either major party?

Summer Vacation III

I had business in Saratoga Springs on Thursday. I don’t know why, but an organization I belong to has a legislative forum in Saratoga Springs the Thursday before the Travers every year. The Travers is a horse race. The meeting is productive. Having it in Saratoga Springs two days before the biggest horse race of the year seems like an odd and expensive choice to me.

I’m kind of a local government policy wonk. I work in government. I have a degree in it. I’ve taught it. I used to report on it. I like to talk about it and I even read about it in my spare time. So, every year, we have this meeting where everyone talks about what the New York State Legislature has recently done and what it’s likely to do. I enjoy talking to the people at the meeting and I’m happy that my boss not only allows me to go, but pays for it as part of my job.

One of the people who attends this meeting every year is State Senator Elizabeth Little. I’ve met Sen. Little a few times. Neither of us really knows the other, but I’ve got to tell you she impresses me with her knowledge of local government, her passion for public service, and her candor. I feel good about the fact that she’s the chairman of the New York State Senate’s Local Government Committee.

Have I mentioned that I’m cheap? And I’m cheap with other people’s money, as well as with mine. So, when I go to Saratoga Springs a couple of days before the Travers, I don’t stay in Saratoga Springs even though my employer is paying for it. I stay in Albany about 25 miles south. If I stayed in Saratoga Springs, a comparable room to the one I stayed at in Albany would cost $270 more, and that’s just at the Holiday Inn, not the Gideon Putnam which is a very ritzy hotel. After spending the night in Albany, I get up and commute to the meeting.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to take my wife along with me, on the trip, but not to the meeting. The meeting would bore her to death. My wife and I pay her expenses and after the meeting, I take a day off and we go “Someplace Else” together. When we are on the way to and from “Someplace Else” and when we are there, we pay for both of our expenses. We wouldn’t even think of trying to charge my employer.

This year “Someplace Else” was Lake Placid the village. No, not the town in the awful monster movie, the home of two Winter Olympics. Lake Placid the village is a small, picturesque community whose business district is centered around a lake. No! Not Lake Placid the lake. Lake Placid the lake is kind of north of the lake that’s in the middle of Lake Placid the village. The Lake in the middle of the village is Mirror Lake. As far as I know, there’s no such thing as Mirror Lake the village and the two lakes are not connected, but they are near each other–not much more than across Mirror Lake Drive. Even though Mirror Lake is in the middle of Lake Placid the village, you might still think that Mirror Lake Drive goes around Mirror Lake and you’d be right. There isn’t a road that goes all the way around Lake Placid the lake.

Lake Placid, both the village and the lake, get around 15 feet of snow a year. That’s why it was a good place to hold two Winter Olympics. It’s also why I would much rather go there in the summer. I don’t like to be cold. I think I’ve mentioned that before. While we were there, we did the tourist thing. We stayed in a nice hotel, we ate some good meals, we shopped in local stores, we did some of the sights, including a one-hour boat tour of Lake Placid the lake. I never sign up for three-hour boat tours of anyplace. It’s a Gilligan’s Island thing.  

We also visited the ski-jump facility that’s left over from and has been improved since the 1980 Winter Olympics. Standing on top of the 120-meter ski jump causes me to wonder two things: How does one become a ski jumper; and why? It seems to me that one of the bravest people who ever lived was the first guy to go ski jumping for a second time. I say that because you just know the first time was an accident. From the top of the ski jump, you can see John Brown’s farm house and his grave, the one the Civil War song said his body was moldering in. The Abolitionist Brown had a farm near Lake Placid and after he was hanged for raiding that federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in what is now West Virginia, he was buried on the farm.

Since I’m talking about the Olympics, let me correct myself. I said recently I thought Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps’ diet was kind of heavy on fried food and cheese. Then I heard a sports nutritionist on National Public Radio. The woman said if Phelps tried to get that many calories from a low-fat diet, he would not have time to do anything else but eat. So the fried food and cheese make perfect sense.

As someone who likes to be warm, I’m sorry to tell you that in what New Yorkers call The North Country a few trees have already started displaying their fall colors. Nevertheless, I like Lake Placid, both the village and the lake. The place is pretty and has some interesting stuff in and around it. I’m going back next month.

This year, I’ve traveled more than I usually do, but Friday in Lake Placid the village, I had a revelation about travel and what would make traveling more palatable to me. I was walking around Lake Placid the village Friday morning, looking for a place to eat when it hit me. In my perfect world, Ben and Jerry’s will be open for breakfast!

Food Olympics? Nah!

If I start eating four to five times as much food as I normally would, will I develop muscles like those of standout Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps? I think he deserves all the attention being paid to his remarkable athletic achievements, but there’s too much focus on Mr. Phelps’ diet. He’s probably overdoing the fried food and cheese, but I’m quite ready to accept the amount of food he eats.

First, he exercises more in a week than many people do in a lifetime. Case in point, going to the pool several times a week, it took me about four months to swim 50 miles. I don’t do that anymore, because over a period of years, I wore out both shoulders swimming laps for exercise. Phelps swims 50 miles in one week, and I understand he does it every week.

Second, he’s not that far removed from his teenage years. As a Boy Scout leader and as a former teenage boy and young man myself, I can tell you from first-hand experience that food seldom spoils the appetite of young, growing or physically active men.

There’s no doubt that Michael Phelps is physically gifted and naturally talented, but let’s not overlook his hard work. His routine makes hard seem too tame a word to use. Very few people work anywhere near that hard at anything. If you or I did and we started out being at least good at it, we might not become the best in the world at what we we’re working on, we might not become the best in world history, but we’d probably become very successful.

Even more random

I used to be part of “The Media.” I’ve mentioned that before. When I was, I enjoyed my job. But when I see what “The Media” (with a big assist from her husband) is doing to Elizabeth Edwards, it makes me reluctant to admit I ever was a reporter. He deserves it: she doesn’t! We used to hear the phrase “common decency” occasionally, but decency isn’t common, is it?

Here’s an example of technology run amok. Pronunciation errors by radio and TV network news anchors bother me as much as spelling errors in newspapers, books and magazines do. These professional speakers ought to (and probably do) know better. I’d like to tell you about one I heard this week, but can’t. I’m writing this using Microsoft Works, and Works knows what I want to write is wrong, so when I type it, the program substitutes the correct word and I can’t figure out how to disable autocorrect. This episode does, however, raise an interesting philosophical question: if what I want to write isn’t a word, how can I misspell it?

Why am I sitting in my living room watching the parade of nations at the Olympics on TV, especially since it’s boring and it happened this morning? At least it was morning here when it happened there.

I have postulated that getting older means having to explain stuff to adults. Today, I saw a young man trying to avoid his 15 minutes of fame and realized he probably didn’t know who Andy Warhol was. The young man is a Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is on the annual cruise that some students from Annapolis take on relatively small sailboats. I believe they are sloops. A very attractive young woman wanted to interview him for a cable TV show produced by a local college. He was reluctant to participate. More often than not, it’s very good idea for an unattached young man to do what an attractive, and unattached young woman asks him to do. I met my wife when one of her friends was wandering around saying, “Who has room in their car?” I allowed that I did. She said, “Good! You can take us home.” My wife was the other element of “us.” Almost every day since then, I’ve been glad that I offered someone a ride.

The saga of renovating my home continues. The refrigerator has been shimmed into place, making me glad I hired a contractor instead of doing the job myself. The dishwasher and microwave oven are in place. If I can get my friend to lend me two hands (just lending me A hand won’t cut it), I’ll put the stove back tomorrow. If you are remodeling your kitchen and want the project to proceed quickly, I have one word of advice for you, Formica. Actually any laminate countertop will do. It ought to be possible to create custom-made laminate counters for virtually any size kitchen in one day. Fabricating counter tops of granite, synthetic stone, concrete or certain other durable materials will take longer than the fabricator told you it would. And the fabricator will probably tell you it takes seven to ten business days. We are now ready for counter tops and could have been ready a few days ago. The counter tops will be installed a week from Wednesday. At least that’s the current plan.

That’s also the day I have to go to Saratoga Springs NY on business, but I don’t have to leave until the counters are installed. It’s tough to have to go to Saratoga Springs at the height of the racing season, but I’ll soldier through somehow. I’ll take my wife with me, and when my business is concluded we’ll enjoy ourselves for a couple of days exploring upstate New York. I don’t care for winter in that region, but the other three seasons are very nice.

Remodeling Saga

Fortunately, the world didn’t end last Monday when my doctor, one of the world’s least punctual people, was early for an appointment for the first time in the 14 years I’ve been his patient.    So, my remodeling saga continues.

I believe every house in the suburb where I live has a refrigerator in it. While I’m old enough to remember a few die-hards having ice boxes, I also believe it’s now true that far less than one per cent of all houses in the United States don’t contain at least one refrigerator. Right now we have two, plus a stand-alone freezer, but we’ll be getting rid of one of the refrigerators very soon.We have two because we got a new one today.

People who deliver refrigerators for a living work hard for their money. Refrigerators are big and heavy and even though almost every house has at least one, lots of houses, including mine, aren’t designed so a new refrigerator can easily be carried into the house even by strong men with specialized equipment like a hand truck with rollers that allow you to drag it up and down stairs.

When the refrigerator was delivered this morning, the men who did so measured two exterior and two interior doorways. They measured the space where the refrigerator is supposed to go and they measured the refrigerator too. Then they took the refrigerator apart. It’s one of those French-door refrigerators, so they removed two doors and the drawer front for the freezer portion. They also removed the back door to my house. They used the stair-climbing hand truck too, but they still had to lift the refrigerator and the dolly to squeeze it through the back door. I tipped the two guys who did all that work. They told me people with money don’t tip well. So, I guess it’s official (but not surprising to me) that I don’t have money.

After all that trouble, the new refrigerator barely doesn’t fit where it’s supposed to go. I think it’s because before I started to renovate, nothing in my 100-year-old house was level, square or plumb. The new cabinets are plumb, but the floor isn’t level so the refrigerator wants to stand at an angle great enough to make the space where it goes a little too narrow. I hope the refrigerator’s leveling adjustment covers a big enough range that we can make the fridge fit without requiring any of the already installed cabinets to be moved.  

I have more things delivered these days than I used to. My Uncle Eddie being dead for many years is the reason I had the refrigerator delivered. When we moved in my childhood from our apartment on the Brooklyn-Queens border into the family’s suburban homestead in Syosset, NY, my Uncle Eddie, who worked moving furniture, did the job. Eddie and my dad were close. He insisted. Resistance would have been futile. My clearest memory of that moving day is that my Uncle Eddie carried our refrigerator from the moving van into the house, on his back and by himself, using one of those canvas straps movers use. Standard refrigerators were much smaller then than they are today, which may be why new ones are hard to get into older homes, but cubic foot for cubic foot refrigerators were much heavier then than they are today. I am thinking that refrigerator weighed very close to twice what my Uncle Eddie did and he was a big, and obviously strong man.

Uncle Eddie died long before his time and when I was quite young. That trick with the refrigerator is one of only two strong memories I have of him. I’m happy I got my new refrigerator today and it was nice to be reminded of Uncle Eddie too.