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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

  • Wednesday, December 6, 2017 4:00 AM
    Over the past several years, I have saved my Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs. These frequent mailings are from a company that offers unique gift items, many of which you cannot purchase anywhere else. I have poked fun at their products in my columns, and now to celebrate their 2017 Christmas edition, here are a few of my favorites. Most of these items are still available. And I threw in a few new ones. Of course, the question is: Are they still for sale because they were so popular, or does the company just want to finally unload this stuff?
    World’s Largest Gummy Bear: Still in the catalog from four years ago when I first reported on it, this gummy bear is 1,000 times larger than your average fruit bear. (Say that in Yogi Bear’s voice and it’s a lot funnier.) HS advises that it tastes best when kept in the fridge and then sliced into cutlets, which is a term that should really be left for veal. The giant gummy bear is cherry-flavored and serves 12 kids. Or 106 adults.
    Fish-Catching RC Boat: The perfect gift for the absolute laziest person in your life. It’s a pint-sized boat that fishes for you. Yes, it trolls the lake, sets the hook when the fish strikes and then brings the fish back to shore. It’s $69.95, and for an extra six bucks you can get a sign to put on your front door: Home fishing.
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  • Friday, December 1, 2017 4:00 AM
    We were watching TV one evening last week when my wife asked, “Don’t you think it’s about time we moved?”
    “Sure,” I said. “I’ll stretch out on the floor with a pillow; you take the couch.”
    Apparently that is not what she meant. After 30 years in our house, Mary Ellen now thinks we should be living in a condo, a place where the owners don’t have to mow or water the lawn or shovel snow. My son will be disappointed if we move. He was making good money doing all that.
    My wife is certain we have many good years in front of us, but she doesn’t believe in having anything above us. Like rooms. Mary Ellen wants everything on one floor. I like going upstairs to go to bed. That’s my 12-step program from Exercisers Anonymous. If we buy a home all on one level, that’s the end of my 30-second evening workout. 
    So last weekend, despite my misgivings, we started looking for a new place to live. We have this great real estate agent who is the most effusive and energetic person I have ever met. He’s excited about everything. The first condo we looked at, Brad got very emotional about the baseboards that accented the tall walls and high ceilings, the inch-thick granite countertops, and the stamped concrete patio (whatever that is). He was quick to point out that there was an electrical outlet on the kitchen island where we could make frozen margaritas. And those slow-closing drawers and cabinets? He was ecstatic.
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  • Friday, November 24, 2017 4:00 AM
    Mary Ellen and I recently exchanged a few words over mayonnaise. Sometimes condiments can be seen as an insult to the chef. Like ketchup, for example. When I pour Heinz over my wife’s beef bourguignon, we always get into a stew.
    Mustard? Yes, we have argued about mustard, too. Over the years I have attempted to season some of my wife’s dishes with a healthy dose of this condiment. What would her Pork Milanese have been without mustard? Uneventful. What would her eggplant parmigiana be like without a spoonful of Dijon? I shudder to think. What about that sesame-encrusted salmon without a dollop of you-know-what? Yes, Mary Ellen and I have clashed over mustard.
    But a fight over mayonnaise? Who would have predicted this?
    It all started one morning last week when Mary Ellen was searching for the sugar in our kitchen cabinets and noticed that I had accidentally placed the opened mayonnaise jar in the cupboard rather than back in the fridge the night before. Such absentmindedness is a part of my nature. I have found my keys in the freezer and my cell phone in the dryer, but mayonnaise in the cupboard was apparently a capital offense.
    Without the slightest hesitation, Mary Ellen tossed the jar in the garbage, along with this denouement: “It’s no good. We have to throw it out.” I begged to differ. I just couldn’t accept the product’s ruin in just a few hours. I say if you can’t fight off bacteria overnight, you’re not worth the preservatives you’re made of.
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  • Wednesday, November 15, 2017 4:00 AM
    Lately I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time looking in the mirror, concerned that the years have taken a toll on me and that I have aged quite a bit. My wife says I'm crazy, and to be that obsessed with my own looks makes me appear very elfish. (I hope she meant selfish. My ears were the only part of my face that I thought hadn’t aged.)
    Now when I shave, I tilt my head down to look at my receding hairline. For a long time, people asked me if I was losing my hair, but I knew exactly where it was. It wasn’t lost; it was in the sink drain. About 25 years ago, I had a hair transplant, which is sort of like what happens when someone dies. "He's gone to a better place," friends will say. That's the same with my hair. I don't have more hair, but what I had, the doctor put in a better place. 
    While examining my new signs of aging, I noticed a chin I had not been aware of before. Even though I’ve lost weight, those extra chins are very stubborn. I was pretty happy with the two I already had. 
    This reminded me of a story I wrote many years ago about an item I saw advertised, called “The Miracle Neck Slimmer.” Was it a scam? The manufacturer guarantees a 68 percent reduction in neck wrinkles. I have achieved similar results by simply slinging my head back and looking straight up at the ceiling. Unfortunately, the results are only temporary, and I have slammed into several doors while practicing the technique, but it does work. Well, I think it works. It’s hard to look in the mirror in that position.
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  • Wednesday, November 8, 2017 4:00 AM
    Mary Ellen was kind enough to pass along a comment she had heard about me at her book club. “Kathy says your newspaper column makes her laugh.”
    “Gee, thanks for sharing that, Mary Ellen.”
    “Yes, and, Cara, the organizer of the group, told me she thinks you’re quite amusing on TV.”
    “Wow, I sure appreciate the compliments.”
    “But Dick, I have to ask you this: How come you’re not so funny at home?”
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  • Saturday, November 4, 2017 4:00 AM
    Following my knee operation, my doctor informed me that I’d developed borderline anemia. I don’t even know how that’s possible. Since the new administration took over, I’m afraid to cross any borders.
    My physician suggested I focus on a healthy, high-protein diet, heavy on foods like kale, spinach, hearty cuts of beef, and a bowl of Raisin Bran every day. Fortunately these are already some of my food faves—including the spinach—which I even liked when I was a kid. I remember being skeptical of the television marketing for that vegetable, though. They tried to convince me that eating spinach would help me attract the opposite sex. I was not in the market for anyone who looked like Olive Oyl.
    Most vegetables represented a special challenge during my childhood. The grown-ups needed a way to make me consume them, and I needed a fun way to play with them . . . and to avoid having to eat them.
    Carrots: In my house, we always ate carrots raw. I have no memory of my mother ever cooking them, except that a few always crept into her beef stew. Just for color, she’d say. My grandmother always stressed they were good for our eyes and her proof was that we never saw dead rabbits on the road. Possum corpses, on the other hand, were strewn everywhere. “Possums hate carrots,” my grandmother informed me. I know now what a bunch of hooey that was, but darn, that was a pretty good piece of propaganda, don’tcha think? I still like carrots and have never been hit by a car. Thanks, Grandma.
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  • Wednesday, October 25, 2017 4:00 AM
    Now that Mary Ellen has retired and I’m significantly cutting back on work, we often end up being home together around noon. In many homes, this is called lunchtime, but Mary Ellen and I have never shared a real lunchtime. For all of our marriage, we weren’t ever both home during the workweek, and on weekends I usually went to Costco and snarfed up free food samples. In 37 years of our cohabbing, I have never asked Mary Ellen, “What are we having for lunch?” Dinner is another question, although the truth is that I am not fussy. I usually say, “It doesn’t matter. Whatever.” Mary Ellen once threatened me. “I’m going to leave you for a man who cares what we are having for supper.”
    For the past few weeks, I have been home recovering from surgery and Mary Ellen was concerned I was losing weight, so she suggested that we start having a noon meal together. The blood drained out of my head. I started to perspire. A twitch developed in my right eye. I had to be careful or she was going to know that I was not happy with the suggestion.
    How do you tell someone after 37 years that you really don’t want to have lunch together? You see, when you are a man and you are used to eating alone, you develop a few habits that will be hard to break. And my wife, who shares a significant DNA strain with Miss Manners, would never understand. Maybe you will.
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  • Friday, October 20, 2017 4:00 AM
    Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m still at a loss to understand why people camped out in line for days for the opening of the new IKEA store in Fishers, Indiana. I just can’t seem to put the whole thing together, and maybe that’s the problem. I can’t seem to put anything together. That’s why I stopped watching Coen Brothers movies.
    I like to reminisce about one of my experiences with an online purchase that was not an IKEA product. Those were the good old days, when you could wait in your house for UPS to arrive…instead of sleeping in a tent on the cold concrete and missing the latest episode of Will and Grace.
    This story was about my one night stand. No, I didn’t have a one night stand. I bought one. (I’m making this worse, aren’t I?) Let me try this: I purchased online a wood night stand that required assembly. Every piece in the kit was assigned a letter. All the grooves were numbered and there was an actual picture of all six kinds of screws and four types of nails. Seemed easy enough.
    But unlike IKEA that uses primarily pictures in their instruction manuals, this pamphlet was in three languages: English, Spanish and French. That was an immediate distraction for me, because the phrase “Avec precaution, retourner l’element sur ses chants avant,” sounds a lot sexier than “Carefully turn your unit over and onto its front edges.” The second problem was that I’m not good with tools. The directions said I needed a Phillips screwdriver. That would be equal parts vodka, orange juice and Milk of Magnesia, right?
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  • Monday, October 16, 2017 4:00 AM
    When I wrote last week’s column about my recent knee replacement surgery, many people responded with expressions of sympathy. Not for me, but for my wife, who has had to pester me every day to do my exercises, which can be very painful. The pestering, I mean.
    To help pass the time while I was moaning and groaning, Mary Ellen decided to tackle a job she had been putting off: going through kitchen drawers to see what we have accumulated in them over the years…and what should be thrown out.
    “What is this?” Mary Ellen asked me as she dangled a doodad in front of my face. It was small, white, plastic, hexagonal in shape, and had several grooves. “It looks like it goes to something,” she said.
    “I have no idea what it is,” I responded.
    “Let’s put it somewhere in case we ever need it. It looks important,” Mary Ellen suggested.
    “So you want to keep it because you don’t know what it is for?” And if we did know what it was for, we’d also keep it? That would mean we are going to keep everything. Why bother doing this at all?”
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  • Friday, October 6, 2017 4:00 AM
    (As it might have been written by my wife, Mary Ellen)
    Dick has been home this past week on the living room couch, recuperating from knee replacement surgery. I am his designated coach, responsible for taking care of him and ensuring that he does all the required exercises and maintains a healthy diet. I plan to do my job conscientiously. After all, that’s what wives are for.
    So, because I am a good wife, I’m prepared to respond to anything Dick might need. Uh, could you excuse me for a second? He’s calling me. “Yes, of course, Sweetheart, I’ll get you a glass of water. That’s what I’m here for. There you go.”
    So, as I was about to say, my husband is a very good patient and I’m sure that—“What’s that, Dear? Yes, I got the water from the tap. Oh, you wanted bottled water? Of course, that would be my pleasure. Funny, you usually say bottled water is a big waste of money. Let me just run to the store. I want to be sure you are happy.”
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  • Friday, September 29, 2017 4:00 AM
    I’m a liar. A no good, rotten liar. My awareness of this started a few weeks back when I wrote a column about my recent family vacation. We went to Banff in the Canadian Rockies. (That part was true.) Then I related how, before our return flight, I sent my digital camera through the security scanner. (Totally factual.) And how it was stolen when I left it behind in the tray. (Correct, again.)
    I wanted to write about this incident and had the best intentions of simply telling a story about how careless I am with my things. Basically, what a loser I am. But when I got back from the trip I ran into my friend George, who lives down the block.
    “How was your vacation, Dick?” he asked.
    “Oh, it was fantastic! Except my camera was stolen.”
    “What a shame. And with all your photos, huh?”
    “It’s okay—the thief e-mailed me the pictures.”
    I don’t know where that crazy idea came from. It just slid out of my mouth. It wasn’t just an exaggeration, it was a boldfaced fabrication. (Although, I thought it was a pretty good ad-lib.) With that, George got hysterical. He couldn’t stop laughing. And I’m so addicted to hearing the sound of people laughing at stuff I say and do, I left it at that.
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  • Friday, September 15, 2017 4:00 AM
    When Eugene Warrington died at the age of 95 last week, hundreds of people laid flowers at his site. Not the site of his grave, but of his grill. Walter’s Hot Dog Stand in Mamaroneck, New York, just 20 minutes from where I grew up in Westchester County, was founded by Eugene’s father, Walter. It was—and remains, according to many—the home of the greatest hot dog money can buy.
    When I was a kid, it didn’t take much money: two dogs for a quarter and a watery orangeade for another dime. The line began forming about 10 a.m. in front of the food stand, inexplicably a Chinese pagoda (it’s worth a Google search). While waiting, customers could read postcards affixed to the outside of the building from locals traveling abroad who missed their Walter’s fix. 
    The coveted fare was a dog, a bun, and some mustard. So what was the magic? Maybe it was Eugene’s cooks (always his immediate family) who meticulously lined up the franks on the grill in order to keep an accurate account of the orders. Each hot dog was butterflied with a small knife so two sides of the meat could simmer on the well-oiled sizzling surface.
    The buns were carefully laid out on another grill, which was lightly drizzled with butter. While the hot dog was cooking to perfection, customers selected their toppings. You had two choices: mustard or extra mustard. I suppose “no mustard” was an option, but an abstainer would be scorned the same way a St. Elmo’s customer would be for ordering the shrimp cocktail without the sauce.
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  • Friday, September 8, 2017 4:00 AM
    “It really hurts,” I said to my wife as my knee buckled under me.
    “Good,” said Mary Ellen.
    That’s not the kind of support you expect from your spouse. It’s bad enough I have virtually no support from my knee, which is why I’m getting a new one next week. Unlike a heart or kidney, you do not get someone else’s knee: it pretty much comes in a box like a pair of shoes from Amazon Prime. You just have to pray it’s going to fit. And there’s a lousy return policy.
    Now let me explain my wife’s apparent lack of sympathy. Every time I’ve had a couple of pain-free days, I’ve started to question whether I really need this operation. This drives Mary Ellen nuts. When we go on vacation, my wife wants to hike all morning and go to museums in the afternoon, and I usually hurt too much to tag along. To end this agony, I’ll need a new knee. To avoid going shopping, I’ll need a new excuse. 
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  • Friday, September 1, 2017 4:00 AM
    I dedicated my performance at Indy Fringe last week to the late Jerry Lewis. Born Jerry Levtich, he traced his ancestry back to Eastern Europe, the origins of classic Jewish literature and the humor that came as a response to the repression Jews experienced for millennia. I never met Jerry Lewis, but my closest friend for almost 60 years, Burt Dubrow (now an independent TV producer in LA), worked with Jerry on several of his Muscular Dystrophy telethons. Burt and Jerry knew each other for three decades. I talked to Burt about his hero and mine.
    How would Jerry like to be remembered?
    He’d want to be remembered as someone who made a difference. I don’t think he felt appreciated for what he did for MD. He raised billions of dollars for kids with neuromuscular diseases.
    Did other comics recognize his value?
    My favorite quote was from Jim Carey, who said in so many words after he heard about Jerry’s death, that there would be no Jim Carey without Jerry Lewis. 
    Jerry studied all the great comics and spent time with the genius Stan Laurel; he revered him. It tells you a lot about a person when you look at who they idolize. There was a parallel, too: Stan Laurel did all the work on the movies while Oliver Hardy went and played golf. Dean spent time on the links, while Jerry labored on the films—every aspect of them.
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  • Friday, August 25, 2017 4:00 AM
    Whenever I pick up the newspaper, I find medical news contrary to previously reported findings.
    It’s just a matter of time, for example, before someone discovers that deep-fried Oreos are an excellent source of anti-oxidants and a possible preventative for heart disease. I pray for that news to come, but why couldn’t the New England Journal of Medicine have released the research before the State Fair began?
    Now there is some perplexing medical news for me to digest. I read that the sleeping pill I take may not be effective in getting me a better night’s rest, but may, in fact, only have an amnesia effect. In other words, I may be up all night pounding the pillows, tossing and turning, but when I awaken the next morning, I don’t remember having trouble staying asleep. Just what I need: something else to keep me up all night.
    The more I thought about this, the crazier it made me. I then read that patients who take the prescription may sleepwalk, as well, which means I could be wandering throughout the house getting in all sorts of trouble, then in the morning not remembering anything.
    I experienced this in college on occasion. You know, up all night cramming for a test, then not recalling a thing the next morning. (And I was drug free then.)
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