Pet-Purr-i

(# Bless the beasts and the children… #) I seem to have a mutual affinity for animals and children. Other people’s pets readily take to me, even those whose owners consider them to be basically unfriendly with most people. Babies and children like me, too, and I like them. Children and animals are not easily fooled. They can read people pretty well. They seem to realize what a kind, non-threatening person I am, and they trust me. At least animals are not color-prejudiced. When I was teaching public school, all my students liked me. I give you my methods of how to relate to children in my blog entitled Parenting 101.

When I was a kid living in South Bend, my family kept only pets that required minimum care. We had several goldfish for a time (any of which we called “Fish”), a little turtle another time (which we called “Turtle”), and a parakeet (which we called “Bird”). It seems that we didn’t bother much with pet names in those days. We also took care of a couple of cats at different times, which we adopted when they kept coming around to our yard. One was an orange-striped female named Carmel (as in “car’mel corn”). We don’t know how she died. We found her underneath the house one day, dead.

I like snakes and I had thought about getting myself a boa constrictor whenever I got my own apartment in NYC. I even went shopping for one at my local pet store, but I changed my mind. I didn’t want to pay that much for one (I think it was about $50, probably more, and I didn’t have much money in those days), and I didn’t want to have to deal with the mice that I had to feed it every few weeks. So I passed on that little venture. I would like a chimpanzee for a pet, if I had the facility. They seem to be playful and fun.

Dogs and I didn’t always have this respectful rapport with each other, however. As a kid, I was a bit afraid of strange dogs because they would chase me all the time. Well, I guess they couldn’t chase me if I were not running, but I wasn’t going to stand there and let them possibly bite me. I would be walking through an alley or somewhere and somebody’s old yard dog would growl and bark at me, and startled, I would start to run. And then they’d come after me (some were not chained up or anything). I always outran them, thankfully, and I’ve never been bitten, but the occasional ordeals certainly did not endear me to embrace canine familiarity. I didn’t overcome my cynophobia until I got to college in Bloomington and started meeting my friends’ pet pooches.

I love puppies, though. In fact, I like all baby animals. Aren’t they precious? My favorite dog breeds are probably Dalmatians (they are so pretty), golden retrievers and German shepherds, but I prefer small dogs to the larger ones. My family didn‘t have any dogs while I was growing up, although my stepfather kept one for a while after I had left home, and my sister, Debbie, has had a dog with each of her two marriages. I would never have a dog myself. My Manhattan apartment is so tiny, a dog wouldn’t have enough room to romp and play. There is hardly enough room here for myself. I wouldn’t subject a poor dog to such an environment. Geez, what am I saying? I live in a place that’s not fit for a dog to live in!

Then too, most dogs require too much care and attention, at least more than I am willing to give them. I suppose that some dogs are intelligent in some respects. You can teach them tricks and such, but I have never been able to understand why most dogs cannot be properly toilet-trained like cats are. All this putting down newspaper for puppies and taking them outdoors to do their “bidness” when they get older, would be such a bother to me. I mean, sometimes I stay in the house for days on end. Maybe I don’t want to go out. Why won’t dogs use the bathroom or a litter box like everybody else? I never had to teach any of my cats how to use the litter box. They seem to know instinctively, even the kittens. A dog can be trained to restrain from shitting and pissing in the house and to hold it until they go out for their walk, so why can’t they be taught to use the toilet in the bathroom?

I also do not like the sounds that dogs make. I can’t abide their incessant barking, at least those who do that, and they even make noise when they walk and breathe. Cats are quiet and clean. Dogs stink and carry fleas and ticks. Most dogs hate to be left alone for even a short period of time. Cats seem much better to be able to cope with temporary separation. Dogs are always up in your face wanting to play. I suppose I would appreciate their utter devotion and unbridled enthusiasm, but sometimes I just want to be left alone. Cats understand this, being that way themselves, you see. We do seem to have similar temperaments and the same sense of independence about us. So you see, rather than someone who likes dogs and cats equally as well, I am more of a cat person who will take a cat over a dog any day. I don’t mind other people’s dogs. I just wouldn’t have one myself to care for.

Ain’t that cute?

As long as I can remember, I have loved cats, the wild variety as well as the domestic kind. I would like to have a friendship with a big cat, like a tiger or lion or cheetah or leopard or jaguar. I met a guy once who owned an ocelot, which he paid a few hundred dollars for, and it lived with him in his small Greenwich Village apartment. I heard later that the poor animal died not too long after he got it, probably from being confined in such a small space. He was so beautiful! (So was the ocelot.)

I also met a serval years ago, who belonged to a male couple in Warwick, NY, where the Flirtations had a gig one night. A serval is an African wildcat, similar to a lynx, with long ears and a tawny, spotted coat. The difference here is, however, this cat is not as large as an ocelot, and these guys lived in a large, two-story rural house with plenty of romping room for the animal.

Although I was doing quite a bit of touring from 1975 to 1994, since I’ve been in New York, I have managed to house and care for a total of 15 cats. My very first NY cat and one of my favorites was a gray-with-black-stripes male shorthair whom I named Puki. I didn’t know what the name meant at the time; I thought I had made it up. But it sounds Hawaiian, perhaps, doesn’t it? I later learned, from a Filipino friend of mine, that it is the Tagalog word for “pussy.” How about that? I acquired Puki from a woman friend at 2-months-old, and he was only 2-years-old when I lost him. I would take Puki out for walks to Central Park, and he would walk right alongside me, without a leash! Puki was a Pisces and seemed fascinated by water. He used to hang out in the bathroom while I would be taking my bath (my first apartment did not have a shower) and even when I was running my water. He slept lying across my pillow above my head every night. He was so cute and sweet and adored me, apparently.

For 10 months, as a favor to a friend, I took in a couple of females named Pinky and Sapphire. Sapphire was returned eventually, and Pinky got out one day and ran away, while in another person’s care. While I still had these three, however, [Miss] Kitty came into my life. She just wandered into my apartment building one day, from who knows where, and seduced me into keeping her. I’m not even sure how old she was at the time, but not yet full-grown. She was the best cat ever, and she outlasted all the rest. She was my sweetheart, my baby. She was basically black with brown markings. She was always in perfect health. I had to take her to the vet only twice—for her initial shots and when I had her spayed after her second litter.

I was on the go a lot in those days—I even changed apartments twice during that time—but Kitty stayed by me through thick and thin. During the spring of 1977, I had the good fortune to go on tour with Harry Belafonte as one of his backup singers. That year we did pan-Canada, Bermuda and Monte-Carlo. During the three months I was away, I had sublet my apartment to a man who agreed to look after my cats during my absence. Fred turned out not to be very reliable, however. One day a mysterious fire occurred somewhere in the building, and Fred freaked out and fled the premises, leaving Puki and Kitty behind.

When I eventually came back to my abandoned apartment after the tour several weeks later, there was Kitty, sitting on my bed, waiting for me! I don’t know what kept her alive all that time. How and what did she eat? Puki had apparently run off somewhere (maybe to look for me or something to eat?), and he didn’t come back. But if Kitty left, too, at some point, she didn’t stay away, because there she was! That will always remain a mystery, I guess. (“Is a puzzlement!”)

The Animal Planet cable channel airs a series called “My Cat From Hell” that deals with problematic felines. A “cat behaviorist” named Jackson Galaxy visits cat owners’ homes and tries to fix the disharmony between them and their regarded evil, unruly cats. Around Christmastime in 1978, as a favor to a friend of mine, I took in the anathema of all cats. I think this cat certainly would have qualified for the show. Her given name was Princess, but I renamed her Amneris (another spiteful bitch princess). She was a campus cat (my friend taught European History at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey), so I guess she preferred to be outdoors.

That cat hated my and everybody else’s guts. Although I constantly tried my best to bond with her, she never did warm up to me or the other cats, in three-and-a-half years! She stayed hidden under things all the time and would not socialize with any of us. She would hiss and growl at anyone who would come near her. She wouldn’t even come out of hiding to use the litter box in the bathroom and started doing her business right where she was. I told the bitch, ‘If you shit on my floor one more time, you are out of here!‘ Of course, she did anyway. Since I was obviously keeping her against her will, I decided to give her her freedom. ‘Have a good rest of your life, Miss Thing. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!’

In the spring of 1980 I decided that it was time for Kitty to experience childbirth, so I adopted a month-old beige-with-tan-stripes male and named him Radamés (aka Roddy). For them it was love at first heat. Kitty’s first confinement bore her two solid black male kittens, whom I named Kwame and Otomo (Swahili names). They were virtually identical except for Kwame’s white whiskers. Kwame (or was it Otomo?–I don’t remember which) became my shadow very early on, when he used to follow me around the apartment, everywhere I went. I had to check where I stepped because he was always underfoot. I suppose I was flattered to have this kitten’s unbridled love for me.

In less than four months later Kitty again gave birth, this time to a litter of six! But I pulled a “Sophie’s Choice” number on her when I told her that she could keep only two, so she obediently let the other four die.

The two survivors, both male, became Roddy Junior, who looked just like his sire, and Itzhak, also solid black, but who was born with a deformed or “crippled” tail, hence the name. Get it? So then there were six (count ’em, six) fucking cats (all male except for Kitty) in my little one-room apartment! I had gotten rid of Amneris by this time. And did those critters work my nerves! I can understand what the parents of the Dilley Sextuplets must have gone through. All day long it was, ‘Stop that! Don’t! Get down from there! Hey, y’all! Quit!’ I thought, Wait a minute! Who’s paying the rent here? These damn cats have taken over this place!

A Clowder of Cats
A Clowder of Cats

One night, as I was lying in my loft bed reflecting on the day before falling off to sleep, I noticed that Kitty was not in the bed with me, as she always (or nearly always) slept with me. I didn’t remember seeing her all day, in fact. When did I see her last? I couldn’t recall. I called her, got up, turned on the lights and looked for her. She wasn’t in the apartment. Hmm, where could she be, and how did she get out? I penned a note explaining Kitty’s absence and asking for help in recovering her and posted it on the wall in the hallway in front of the stairs, so that the other tenants would see it (I am on the first floor), then went on back to bed.

Well, the very next morning, there was a knock on my door. It was my upstairs neighbor, Brenda. She said to me, “Why are you just now asking about your cat?” ‘Because I just missed her last night.’ “Just missed her?” she queried incredulously. “I have had this cat at my place for the last three weeks!” I stood there mouth agape, dumbfounded. ‘Get out of here, Brenda! How could that be? Three weeks?!’ “I’m not shitting you, Cliff. I found this cat wandering the halls three weeks ago and took her in. I didn’t know that she was yours.” I thought back to the night of our tenants’ meeting, when I was standing in my doorway talking to my neighbor down the hall. Kitty had a habit of running out into the hall whenever I opened my door, but she always, or usually, ran back in before I closed it. Apparently, this time I didn’t see her and had locked her out. I checked the calendar. That meeting was indeed exactly 21 days ago!

To this day, I don’t know how I could have gone three whole weeks without even missing my favorite pet! I guess it was because with all those other cats here, the food was getting eaten up, and I was scooping the litter daily. Kitty was very quiet even when she was here and kept a very low profile. But that’s still no excuse, not even to notice that she was gone all that time. Why didn’t I miss her in my bed all those nights? Don’t parents with multiple children do a head count every night before they go to bed? I must have been abducted by aliens those three weeks, and my memory was erased, or something. That has to be my greatest remorse as an otherwise responsible parent.

In November 1981 Roddy Sr. died of uremic poisoning caused by urethral blockage, enroute to the vet. His ailment was caused by too much dry food in his diet. The high ash content in those commercial dry cat foods is detrimental to a male cat’s urinary tract. I never knew this, however, since none of the Meow Mix TV commercials have ever imparted this important little fact to us pet-owner consumers. So in essence, I suppose that I unwittingly killed my cat. A month later I had to leave for another lengthy tour and I couldn’t get anyone to take my kittens for me, so I gave them all to the ASPCA for adoption (or whatever they do to them there). That left only Miss Kitty, and she had me all to herself again, when I returned.

In the summer of ’82, while I was doing Show Boat in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, two sweet, little 3-month-old male kittens (they probably were brothers) were entrusted to me to look after during my 3-week stay there. I named them Gaylord and Hamilton after the lead character from the show. (Gaylord Ravenal plays the Parson Hamilton Brown in the play done on the showboat.) I decided not to keep them, so I left them on the premises when I returned to NYC.

I acquired another male kitten in the summer of ’86, but Kitty didn’t like him for some reason. I expect that she had become rather possessive of me in her advanced age. So I gave Hermés (pronounced “air-MESS”) to my artist friend, Leonardo, as a housewarming gift, who, in turn, left him with his roommate when he moved to Florida the following year. I finally had to give up Kitty as well in 1990, when I got busy with the Flirtations, and entrusted her to my late boyfriend, Jim, who lived in East Orange, New Jersey. He subsequently gave her up when he moved to another town. I don’t know where Kitty ended up. I suspect that she was at least 15-years-old when I saw her last!

Portrait of me and Miss Kitty. Artist: Leonardo Scirica

Now that I was not traveling much anymore in 1995 and was staying close to home, I decided that I would like to have another cat to keep me company. So when I saw the notice on a bar’s bulletin board that a man in my neighborhood had a whole slew, or rather clowder, of cats that he was trying to get rid of, I agreed to take one of them off his hands. When I went to this guy’s apartment, there were 21 (!) cats of varying sizes and ages on the premises, so you can understand his urgency.

There was an attractive, 5-month-old male there who took an instant liking to me, and I almost took him, but I learned from my past experiences that male cats are more of a problem than females. There is that diet precaution in regard to dry food and their urinary tract, and they tend to spray when they reach a certain age. They have this thing about marking their territory, you see. But it wasn’t so much that, as I have since learned how to deal with them. The thing is that I wanted a little kitten so that I could watch it grow. Besides, I just love kittens!

So I settled upon a frisky, 10-week-old female who was black with white feet, underbelly and whiskers. I named her Kutjing, which is Indonesian for “cat,” but she also earned several nicknames. I started calling her “[W]Hornella,” because of both her seemingly insatiable horniness and whorishness. From the time that she was 11 months old until I had her spayed 13 months later, she had gone into regular heat periods practically every other week. She would be in estrus for several days at a time and then a week later, she’d be ready to go again! Before I had Kitty spayed, she didn’t go into heat nearly that often.

I found ways to relieve Kutjing’s sexual frustration temporarily, by probing her vagina with Q-Tips and other makeshift kitty dildoes, but it didn’t last her very long. She seemed never to get enough. All day long all I heard was “Fuck me, Papi!” (in “Caterwaulese,” of course). Another nickname was “Acrobata,” because of her athletic prowess. She loved to jump and climb on everything, including me!

I got into a discussion one time with some other pet owners about whether dogs and cats recognize their given names. I offered that if they do, then my cat must have thought that her name was “Git-down!” She certainly heard that more often than her other names. Her subsequent spaying, however, did render the “Whornella” epithet obsolete, and I replaced it with “Thumper” (like Bambi’s little bunny friend). She developed this new habit of loudly banging her feet and/or tail against the floor, the door, the bathtub or the refrigerator on frequent occasions.

Kutjing was rather willful and tended to do as she pleased, to hell with me! And she had an infuriating habit of knocking things onto the floor, anything that was not fastened down. Besides my souvenir glass vase, she broke a mirror, a clock and my blender, among other things, and made a shambles of my LP record collection by using the edges as her personal scratching post. She wouldn’t go near the one made specifically for that purpose, and for which I paid $15! She was actually very sweet and affectionate, just so damned hard-headed!

I look at it this way. I considered this cat, and all the others in my care, to be my adopted children, and if you have a problem child, you don’t just turn them in for a better model when they don’t do what’s expected of them. That’s not fair to the child or to the next people who get them. Being my responsibility, I just had to deal with it. In the case of Amneris, however, she seemed to be a hopeless cause. I did my best with her, to no avail, so she had to go.

On March 24, 2002, Palm Sunday, I went to church as usual, and when I returned home in the early afternoon, I found Kutjing dead. I don’t know the cause of death. I do know that only the day before, she had stopped eating and was lying around more than usual, not her normal, energetic self. On the surface she didn’t seem to be in any kind of pain, but I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know what. It all happened so suddenly, and being a weekend, I didn’t even have a chance to take her to a vet. I just put the poor little thing in a shopping bag and set her outside with the trash.

So then I was alone again for the next 14 years. By 2005 I had started traveling and cruising a lot with the New York Vagabonds, and it was not convenient at that time to keep a pet, as I don’t have a regular sitter and I don’t like to impose upon anyone. Now that the Vagabonds are on an indefinite, extended hiatus, I am in the position to care for another cat, although I was not actively looking for one. But when my musician (she is a cellist) neighbor, Clarissa, asked me to look after Midnight, a solid black (except for a white patch on her underbelly) female cat, for a few days while she was out-of-town, I agreed. Clarissa called on me a few more times, but the last time I took Midnight for her, she has since neglected to take her back. So after two years, I considered Midnight my cat.

It turned out that Midnight liked me more than she did her original owner. Clarissa is more high-strung and tended to yell at the cat all the time, which I don’t think she liked. I am the more laid-back, even-tempered type. I seldom raised my voice to her, and I managed to gain her trust. She loved sitting in my lap and being petted and caressed. She even nuzzled me and licked my head. She never did any of that with Clarissa. This cat was quite well-behaved. She was old and just slept most of the time. During our time together we formed a close and loving bond. She was affectionate and had a very cute and expressive face.

Midnight went to the “heavyside layer,” relieving me of her company on January 28, 2019. For more than a week prior, I noticed that something was wrong. She stopped eating and became so weak. She couldn’t even climb up on her favorite chair. She died peacefully in my arms. There you have an account of my children, or rather, foster children, or the closest I’ll probably ever get to having any.

I once had a friend who was about to move in with his new lover, who lived with a cat. My friend had never owned a cat and didn’t know anything about them. So he asked me one day, “How do I relate to a cat? What are they like?” I told him to regard a cat just like he would any other person. They are all individuals with their own personality and temperament. No two are exactly alike, just like humans. Just get to know the cat and treat him accordingly, I told him.

I don’t take too agreeably to the practice of the buying and selling of animals. The same objection goes for professional propagators—people whose job it is to breed dogs and other animals for the sole purpose of selling the offspring for lots of money. Animals belong to nature, and I don’t think it’s right for someone to capitalize on them by putting a price tag on them. It’s not right to sell children or other people for profit, so why should innocent animals be similarly exploited?

I heard a news report that at any one time there are 8 million dogs, alone, who don’t have homes. So I don’t understand why, when the animal shelters in this country are desperate to have people take the dogs and cats they have off their hands, prospective pet owners will go to a pet shop and pay for one instead.

I have never paid for any of the pets that I have cared for. Why would somebody pay sometimes hundreds of dollars for a certain breed of dog, when they probably could have gotten the exact same kind for free at their local ASPCA facility or animal shelter? Then they keep on breeding more and more instead of adopting the ones already here. And what about those people who pay thousands of dollars for tropical fish! For what? All they do is swim around and look pretty.

And then there’s the life uncertainty of living creatures. Do you want to pay a lot of money for an animal who may die within a couple of months, or less, of purchase? Just like that guy with the ocelot; that was a waste of good money. If you get a pet that you didn’t pay for and something happens to it, at least you haven’t lost any money.

I acquired all of my cats by direct adoption. But the time I tried to obtain one from a shelter, I was put through so many changes, I ended up not going through with it. It was as if I were trying to adopt a human child. What is my prior experience as a cat owner? What kind of parent will I be? Will I be at home most of the time to take care of the cat, and if I do have to go away, do I have a reliable, responsible person to watch her in my stead? Yes to all of that, not that it’s any of their business.

After filling out all those questionnaires and such, they told me that they would let me know what they decide. They never did get back to me. How dare they question my parenting credentials. At least I won’t be confining the cat in a cage! The fucking hypocrites! On second thought, maybe that’s why some people choose to go the pet shop route. If you are paying for a pet, they don’t ask you any questions. They just take the money and run. But here I am trying to do those other people a favor by taking an unwanted cat off their hands, and they give me a hard time about it!

The mystical divinity of unashamed felinity…life to the everlasting cat, feline, fearless, faithful and true.”–T.S. Eliot

Political Correctness

I find more hypocrisy in this current convention of “political correctness.” You can hardly say anything anymore to which someone does not take offense. When I was with The Flirtations, my colleague, Jon Arterton, used “ladies” onstage one night, and some sapphists got all bent out of shape. I wondered, Is that a bad word now, too? I know that some women don’t like to be called “girls,” but the word should not be made taboo either. Just recently a high school teen was called on the carpet by her principal for wearing a T-shirt with the word “FEMINIST” written across the front. This woman deemed the word to be objectionable or offensive in some way. If this stupid bitch does not know the meaning of a certain word, she should not impose her ignorance on her more enlightened students.

The first time that The Flirtations did the Vancouver Folk Music Festival in July 1991, we had the pleasure of meeting three straight, single, English women, who called their touring acappella group Sensible Footwear and described themselves as “comedic, feminist terrorists.” We had the good fortune to share the stage at the Festival during one of our mini-concerts, and from the moment we met, we became instant friends. Sensible Footwear’s real names are Alex Dallas, Alison Field and Wendy Vousden, but the Flirts often referred to them collectively as “The Girls.” It was shorter than saying all their names or even using the group name. So it was, ‘I got a card from The Girls today’ or ‘The Girls are coming to see us in Seattle.’ There was no disrespect intended, and they didn’t mind the allusion. Besides, they, in turn, called us “The Boys.”

So after the 3-day Music Festival, the Flirts did a one-nighter at a local nightclub in Vancouver, and we invited our new friends Sensible Footwear to do a set in our show. I did the introductions, telling the audience how we met and all, and just before I brought them out onstage, I said something like, ‘Now I’d like you to meet The Girls…’, introduced them one by one, and they came out and did their act. But during intermission, it got back to us that some disgruntled sapphists (probably) in the audience had taken great offense to my referring to our friends as “girls.” I don’t normally use that term, especially with people I don’t know, just for that reason, as not to offend—just like I always address women as “Ms.,” regardless of their marital status. I meant no disrespect by “girls,” and they know that. I said it that time only out of habit and not thinking about it.

Anyway, when it was time for the Flirts to go back on to finish the show, Alison did a turnabout and introduced us as “The Boys.” When I got out onstage, I took the microphone and said to Alison, ‘Who you callin’ “Boy”?!’ Of course, this broke up the whole audience and made light of the situation, also pointing out the inanity of those women’s protest. Alex and Alison eventually settled in Toronto, Ontario, got married and had children. I have lost track of Wendy, however, over the years.

It should be all right, too, for people to have their own personal vocabulary preferences. Nobody has the right to decide for others what words to use to convey the same thought, especially if the word has nothing to do with them personally and is not a hurtful slur or insult to the person. If I prefer to fart instead of “break wind” or “pass gas,” that’s my business. You can’t forbid me to use certain words. For instance, I happen to prefer the term “bitchfight” to describe women in physical combat. But some persons consider it not to be P.C., and use the term “catfight” instead. Excuse me? Why is their term more proper than mine? They are likening women to scrapping felines while I choose to honor the dog. What’s the objection? If they want to read more into bitch other than its literal meaning, then that’s their problem. Like the aforementioned school principal, I shouldn’t be held responsible for other people’s misinterpretations.

If you need more justification for my choice of terms, bitch is more appropriate anyway, as it refers to a female by definition, whereas cat is gender non-specific. Alley tomcats may fight with each other, but human male street gangs don’t indulge in “catfights.” That term is used only when women are involved. Besides, women refer to themselves and each other as bitches all the time. Why is it not all right when I do it? Tina Turner took Elton John’s “The Bitch Is Back” for her own musical statement. Any woman who would resort to public pugilism probably is a bitch. I don’t feel the need to be that respectful toward her. Incidentally, there is a proposed TV series about a group of female werewolves, appropriately titled, “Bitches,” and there were two recent sitcoms, one with the title, “GCB,“ which stands for “Good Christian Bitches,” and the other is “Don’t Trust That Bitch in Apt. 23.” So there!

I wish people would lighten up and stop being so damned touchy about everything! Of course, there are nicer, less offensive ways of saying things, but some people take it to the extreme, to the point of absurdity. For example, I think it’s better to call people with disabilities “physically-challenged,” because they are, and it has a more positive connotation to it than “handicapped.” If something is a challenge, it would suggest that one is at least making some kind of effort. When you’re handicapped, it could mean that you are unable to do certain things and you’re not even going to try.

Consider that the term “disabled” is rather meaningless whenever it is used. The truth of the matter is, nobody can do absolutely everything. So that would make us all disabled in some way, wouldn’t it? Beethoven became deaf at an early age but continued to compose great music up until he died. He couldn’t hear but was disabled only in that respect. On the other hand, there are people with excellent hearing who have no musical ability whatsoever. So then, they could be considered disabled as well. Similarly, look at all of Stevie Wonder’s musical talents. He just can’t see. Since I am unable to converse fluently with anyone in any language other than English, then I have certain lingual disabilities.

“Hearing-impaired” and “sight-impaired” are nice terms, I suppose, but deaf and blind are just as good. The people who are either of those don’t seem to mind either. However, to refer to short people as “vertically-challenged” or to bald people as “follicly-challenged,” I think is taking it a bit far. Drag queen actor Charles Busch now bills himself as a “gender illusionist,” disc jockeys/deejays are referred to as “sound designers,” secretaries have now become “administrative professionals,” butlers prefer to be called “household administrators,” and an orphanage is now a “juvenile refuge.” While driving cross-country, be sure to take notice of the “ground-mounted, confirmatory route markers,“ or “road signs,“ if you will. One TV contestant said that her occupation was a “pharmaceutical sales representative.” Isn’t that a drug dealer? And a “sexual surrogate” is really a prostitute. Then a professional matchmaker (like Dolly Levi, for one) is a kind of pimp. Many of these more polite terms are, of course, meant to be funny—like calling homeless people “urban explorers” or a person who is brain-dead, “electroencephalographically-challenged.”

The office workplace has become a hotbed of controversy especially. It’s gotten where you can hardly say anything to anybody without them taking offense or your being accused of sexual harassment. You can’t compliment anyone, you can’t flirt, even a smile or wink at a fellow worker might be misconstrued. You can’t tell any jokes or anecdotes, for they might contain something that will offend someone. While using your computer, you must be mindful of what you type. Someone might be walking by and notice an objectionable word on your monitor screen and complain to the boss. These new rules for office protocol have made for a very cold and humorless workplace, I would imagine. So another one of our most cherished rights, freedom of speech, is being gradually taken away from us by the same people who granted it to us in the first place—our dear Government.

Some whites apparently consider me to be the official spokesperson for the entire nation of People-of-Color. “What do ‘you people’ like to be called now? What is the current politically-correct term?” ‘Wipe your ass-king me for? Cow shit I know?’ I reply. I’m not the one who establishes the mores of political and social protocol for my entire race. It’s not my wont or responsibility. And not everybody is going to agree on the same term anyway. I have a name. Just refer to me by that.

But for the record, I don’t object to any of the more benign terms used to identify my people. Just as I have chosen to refer to female homosexuals as “sapphists” to distinguish them from the people who live on the island of Lesbos, I also have chosen to use “Afro-American” over “African-American,” because African does not always or necessarily mean Negro. There are various non-black nations in Africa, which are inhabited by Arabs, Jews, Dutch, English people and other Caucasian sects. A white person born and raised in Algeria, Egypt or South Africa, for example, and who later settles in the United States, could by rights be referred to as an African-American. Actor Basil Rathbone, one for instance, was born in Johannesburg to British parents but lived most of his life in Hollywood. As white as he was, I don’t expect that anyone ever thought of him as an African-American, although that is what he was. The same can be said of actor Charlize Theron. So my use of “Afro-” for black Americans then indicates a definite distinction.

But even that designation seems unnecessary. Citizens of America are simply that–Americans. Why do any persons other than whites need an identifying prefix–Asian-American, Hispanic-American, Indian-American? Whites who originated from Europe at some point are not referred to as Anglo-Americans or German-Americans or Scandinavian-Americans, etc. They are simply Americans. Why can’t we all be thus? Even the term Native American is redundant. Anyone who is from the country where they reside is a native. So I and the several generations of my family before me, having been born in this country, are Native Americans. The American Indians who are referred to with that term themselves, too, all came from someplace else originally, most likely across the Bering Strait from Asia. So I and many of us are just as “native American” as they are deemed to be. Moreover, all black people living here now are not even from Africa. There are many Caribbean islanders and other locales who have nothing to do with Africa.

Incidentally, I think that “Negro” is perfectly acceptable, since the word means black anyway, so what’s the difference? I don’t know why some of my folks still object so strongly to it. I remember the time (before the late ’60s) when to call each other black was quite insulting. Since we are all of varying skin tones and shades, when somebody called me black, I took it literally. I’d be quick to tell them that I am not black! I am brown-skinned. That Nigerian guy there is black. It took me and a lot of people I know quite a while finally to accept being called black without taking offense. And even now the term seems so inappropriate to me. For instance, do actor Halle Berry and former Secretary of State Colin Powell look black to you? I know some “white” people who are darker than they are. In fact, very few Caucasians, if any even, are actually white. Once I accepted these terms as figurative rather than literal, they don’t have the same negative connotation as they once had. So then, “colored” people is okay with me, since that’s what we all are. (You should check out my article on Color Issues.)

Darkie, nigra and pickaninny, too, are harmless enough, just archaic. Similarly, I find no offense with the German schwartzer or the Yiddish equivalent, shvartzer, which comes from their word for black. We have also been referred to non-viciously as brother, coon, dinge, soul, spade, spook, toe, and although I don’t encourage nigger for common usage, I don’t consider it absolutely taboo either. It’s a perfectly good word for certain situations. It all depends on how it’s used and by whom. Realize that the word itself comes from the Latin word for black: niger (with a hard g) has only a slightly different spelling and pronunciation, so how did the word become so derogatory and offensive in the first place? It wasn’t to the Romans. A black person encountered in Ancient Rome was referred to as a niger, without any malicious intent. (The whities, in turn, would be called “albus,” from which we get the word albino.) Similarly, when Southerners and others referred to us by that term, they weren’t usually doing it as a putdown. That’s just what we were called, just like in Rome. And then there are the African country and river Niger, which does have a different pronunciation than the Latin word. It must have been some blacks themselves who started taking offense when the word was used for them. But then, some don’t like “Negro” or “colored” or any word to identify our race, and every term used, it seems that someone objects to.

It was comic actor Chris Rock who made the observation that in this day and age, the only thing that a white person cannot do without recrimination is publicly use the word nigger. They virtually can get away with anything else—lying, cheating, stealing, murder, rape, every type of abuse—even after conviction, anything they do is eventually forgiven or justified. But now when a white person makes a racial epithet in public, and especially calls somebody “the N-word,” it’s no longer accepted and tolerated as it was in the past. It must be sobering for them to discover that there is this single word that they can’t use without reprimand and to be made to suffer the ensuing consequences of its utterance by them. They have discovered that they shouldn’t use the words niggard and niggardly either, as they sound too close to the other word. It’s advised that they use the synonyms stingy and miserly instead. So Ebenezer Scrooge, for example, is no longer a niggard.

You know, even in this instance of controversy, the whites still want to be in control. Since they are not allowed to use the N-word ever, they have forbidden anybody to use it, even black people. “If I can’t say it, then you shouldn’t be allowed to say it either.” It’s basically our word, and we can’t even use it? An episode of the new sitcom “Black-ish” did a brilliant satirical take on the subject. For a school talent show, the youngest son of the show’s star performs a rap number which included the N-word and which he had learned from hearing his father, played by Anthony Anderson, say it often. The faculty and administration are so horrified that they proceed to expel the boy from the school. Thus begins some thought-provoking discussions which exposes the hypocrisy connected with the word.

In addition to the previous statement about its being off-limits to everybody regardless, it’s noted that white Paula Dean used the word which resulted in thousands of dollars of publicity backlash, but in her favor however, and white director Quentin Tarantino used the word numerous times in his Django Unchained and received an Oscar for it! But a little 8-year-old black kid innocently utters the word without any malicious intent and he gets expelled from school! The boy wasn’t even referring to anyone in particular. He just needed a word to rhyme with “gold-digger.“ It was also brought up that we shouldn’t be called Negroes anymore, unless one is referring to the Negro College Fund or the American Negro Theater. And we are not “colored” anymore either, unless you have to mention the NAACP. So there is a “yeah, but…” in every case. Kudos to the writers of that episode. It is right on.

So this is the situation. Like all words that someone may find offensive, it’s all about intent. How the word is used is what makes it unacceptable. Although they could use a different expression, if a black friend of mine casually said to me, “Nigga, please!” it doesn’t have nearly the effect as a white, arresting police officer ordering me to “Get in that cell, Nigger!” It’s not even the same word. Pronunciation has a lot to do with it, too. So the rule of thumb is, use the word only in private or with individuals who you know will not take offense with its utterance because the intent is not dishonorable. No one can stop anyone from using the word, but if they choose to do so, they have to be willing to suffer the consequences of their action. Caveat loquitor–Utterer beware.

A while ago, the cohosts of “The View” reported on two incidents of bad behavior by Justin Bieber and Jonah Hill. One or both of these guys apparently had used the word faggot, and were told that it was the same as calling a black person the “N-word.” I hope I am not in the minority about this, but I do not regard the use of faggot to be in the same taboo vein as the utterance of the N-word. Being both black and gay myself, I think that I can make a fair assessment. I realize that there are those who object to faggot because of the word’s dubious history and the very negative connotations originally associated with it. But they should also realize that many words change their meanings and connotations over the years. Lynching, for example, was an acceptable practice for some once upon a time. So now that it is not so acceptable, should we never use the word again? Well then, director David Lynch and actor Jane Lynch had better change their surnames!

For myself, I happen to like the word faggot. Most words have multiple meanings and are defined by who uses them and in what particular context. Unless one is referring to a German bassoon or a bundle of sticks, both of which are inanimate objects, faggot can be only one other thing. It’s exclusively our word, and we should claim it as our own. It’s only derogatory if we ourselves consider it to be. If you render a certain word non-derogatory, then people won’t use it for that purpose.

Similarly, many sapphists don’t mind being called “dyke” or “bull-dagger” or “muff-diver.” There is even a sapphist rock ‘n’ roll band who call themselves The Dyketones and a motorcycle club called Dykes-on-Bikes. They all are just identifying words. It’s not so much the word itself anyway, but the shame attached to the accusation. It doesn’t matter what term is used if you don’t like who you are. When the terms don‘t even refer to you personally, why should their use bother you? But if you are what they say you are, then just own up to it. “That guy just called me a faggot.” But ya are, Blanche! Ya are a faggot!

“Don’t Listen to Him”!

I suppose that there always have been short-sighted people who lack any vision for progress and future innovations and will try to thwart and discourage somebody’s often revolutionary ideas. What follows is a chronological list of some of these historical “pooh-pooh naysayers,” as I like to call them.

“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.”–Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.

“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”–Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872.

“The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.”–Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873.

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”–Western Union internal memo, 1876.

“The Americans have the need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”–Sir William Preece, chief engineer, British Post Office, 1878.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”–Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.

“It’s good enough for our transatlantic friends…but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men.”–British Parliamentary Committee, referring to Edison’s light bulb in 1898.

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”–Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”–Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, 1914.

“Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.”–1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work.

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”–David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in 1922.

“Blacks are mentally inferior, by nature subservient, and cowards in the face of danger. They are, therefore, unfit for combat.”–U.S. Army War College Study, 1925. [Maybe we just are not all that gung-ho about killing people!]

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”–Harry Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.”–Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.

““Walt, I predict that this Snow White idea of yours is going to be the biggest disaster ever. Nobody will want to see it, and it will be the financial ruination of the Studio.”–His brother and studio manager, Roy Disney, 1934. [During production he and others referred to it as “Disney’s Folly.” The film grossed 8 million dollars in its first year, the equivalent of 100 million today.]

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.”–Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in Gone With The Wind, 1938.

“We should cut ‘Over the Rainbow’. It’s not at all important to the plot and besides, it slows the action down in the film.”–The producers and editors of The Wizard of Oz, 1939. [That may be true, but so what?]

“I sat cringing before MGM’s Technicolor production…which displays no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity…I say it‘s a stinkeroo.”–Film critic Russell Maloney in The New Yorker, reviewing The Wizard of Oz.

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”–Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.

“Television won’t last because people will tire staring at a plywood box.”–Movie mogul Darryl Zanuck, 1946.

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”
Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949.

““It’ll be gone by June.”–An editor of Show Biz magazine reporting on the future of the rock ‘n’ roll genre, 1955.

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.”–The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
–Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

“You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.”–Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the “unsolvable” problem by inventing Nautilus, 1967.

“But…what is it good for?”–Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.

“If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.”–Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3-M “Post-It” Notepads, 1968.

“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”–A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service, 1973. Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.

“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t gotten through college yet.'”–Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer, 1976.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
–Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.”–Response to Debbie Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’ Cookies, 1977.

“640K ought to be enough for anybody.”–Bill Gates, 1981 [So, why didn’t you stop there, Bill?]

Did you know that J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, H.P. and the Philosopher’s Stone, was rejected by 12 publishing firms before it was finally given the green light by Bloomsbury? I can only imagine some of the reasons for their disinterest. “Who wants to read about a boy wizard?” “Nobody reads fantasy fiction anymore.” “Rowling is a woman. I don‘t want to take the chance on a woman writer.” I’ll bet all those publishers really regret their decision now! That was 1995. When the seventh and last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in July 2007, it sold 11 million copies the first day in just the U.K. and U.S. alone.

Some pooh-pooh naysayers also once told Fred Astaire and Debbie Allen that they couldn’t dance, and they told Bette Davis and Lucille Ball that they couldn’t act. Sophia Loren was told that she could never be a movie star, because “your nose is too long, your mouth is too big, and you can’t act.” The director of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris told Julia Child that she had no aptitude whatsoever for cooking, one of Jack Lemmon’s deans at Harvard told him that he would never amount to anything in his life, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team for incompetence, and Steven Spielberg was rejected from attending USC Film School!

I have been subject to this kind of negativity in my life and career as well, people telling me what I shouldn‘t be doing or what they think I am not capable of. While an oboe major at Indiana University, for example, when it was determined that after just three years of playing the instrument, so I was not yet a virtuoso and never intended to be, one of the music professors there, a violist (so why was he even on my jury?), and who did not know me at all, actually told me that I would never make it as a serious musician and that I should get out of music altogether. How dare he! The oboe isn’t the only thing in music to do.

It‘s good that I and the rest of all these previously-mentioned talented and enterprising visionaries didn‘t listen to those “dream squelchers” and went on to pursue our various callings anyway. As a result, I have enjoyed a long and successful career as a professional musician (including playing solo oboe and in various ensembles), the end of 2018 marking 66 years in the business! So, fuck you, Dr. Winold, who is most likely dead by now anyway! I might have suggested to him at the time that teachers are supposed to encourage students, not discourage them. So why doesn’t he get out of teaching altogether, since he sucks at it?!

Consumerism

Due to the fact that for most of my life I have had to budget my money, I have learned by necessity not to spend frivolously and always to try to get the best deal when I purchase anything. Along with developing sales resistance as I have gotten older, I also know how to negotiate with peddlers and sales clerks and such. Never go into a transaction with the attitude that you are so desperate and just have to have this item right now today, because the salesperson will test you to see how badly you want it and how much they can get from you for it. I just decide how much I want to spend for something, and if I think it’s too much, I let them know and will attempt to walk away. If they want to get rid of the item badly enough, they will usually play the haggle game with me. Street peddlers are fun to deal with. I have gotten normally expensive items for next-to-nothing at times—used books, music scores and records for one or two dollars apiece, for example.

Some years ago at a Manhattan street fair one day, I encountered a peddler who had a brand-new Trivial Pursuit board game for sale. I wanted it so I asked him how much he wanted for it. He told me, “$20.” I happened to know that they cost more than that in the store, but I didn’t want to pay even that much for it. So I got out my wallet and said, ‘Oh, shoot, I have only seven dollars on me.’ The guy said, “Okay, I’ll take it.” So he went from $20 down to $7 in one fail swoop. He most likely had not paid that much for it himself. I thought, Well, that was easy! I should have tried to hold out for a lower price than that. When you impress upon these people that you don’t really need something or that they are charging too much, they’re going to try harder to get you to buy it. They figure that any amount of money is more than nothing at all, isn’t it?

We hear the word affordable used a lot these days by the media and even our Government. “Affordable healthcare, affordable housing…” But the word has no definite meaning. It’s vague and arbitrary. One’s affordability varies from person to person or between families if they operate on a combined income. We are not all in the same financial situation, and they talk to us as if we were. What you can afford depends entirely on how much money you have or earn. If everybody could all afford the same things, there wouldn’t be any impoverished or homeless or hungry people in the world. We’d all be riding high on the hog. In my particular case, there is no decent housing anywhere that I can afford. I can hardly maintain the apartment in which I currently reside. Now if they adjust “affordable” to accommodate everyone’s individual monthly income, then the term might have some validity to it. I would be able to afford the item because it would be priced according to my personal finances.

I watch a lot of television, so of course, I can’t avoid the endless commercials that we are bombarded with constantly. They are not all bad, however. Some are quite clever and amusing, but most of them are just annoying and stupid. Any claim that an advertiser makes has to be the absolute truth. They never lie, right? Don’t believe everything that they tell you. “Get ‘em while supplies last!” they’ll announce. When a product is selling well, you just order more for your customers. It’s supply and demand. You don’t stop manufacturing an item that the masses are clamoring for. Several times now, when the Disney Corporation has released one of their feature films on video (and DVD), after only a few weeks they will announce to the media that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (or whatever) will be for sale only until [some near date], then will be unavailable forever after.” Come on, I don’t believe that. It’s just another selling ploy. Why would they take their best-selling item off the market? There must be those, though, who believe such hype. “I’d better rush out right now and get my copy of Peter Pan! I won’t be able to buy it after this week.” Yeah, right.

One marketing maneuver is the Make-Them-Think-That-They-Are-Saving-Money-When-They-Really-Aren’t ploy. Merchants like to entice us into buying something that we don’t really need, just because we think it’s a bargain. You know, when you see those so-called markdown sales—that garment “usually costs $200 but it’s being marked down today for only $75,” and you think that if you buy it, you’ll be saving $125? What a deal! These people are not in business to do us special favors. Where is their profit in an offer like that? That “$200” garment probably cost the store only $25, if that much, so they just made $50 off of you while you think that you just saved $125! How do you know that something is being “marked down” when you don’t know what it cost originally? They can tell us anything. They tend to mark things up first to make us think that we’re getting some kind of discount. “This is a $50 value, but we’re selling it to you for only $14.95!” Wow, they sure are losing a lot of money in order to give little ol’ me such a good deal. Yeah, sure they are!

“Special magazine subscription for Guns and Ammo! 12 issues for just $29.97! Take advantage of this great offer and save $5.43 off the newsstand price!” I can do better than that. Why don’t I just decline your kind offer altogether and “save” myself $35.40? How about that? You’re not saving any money by buying something that you don’t need in the first place. I was “pre-approved” to receive the “American Express Optima True Grace” credit card, which boasts “extraordinary savings” over other cards. The premise is that the card gives you an extra 25 interest-free days before any finance charges are incurred, therefore “saving” me a considerable amount of money each month. But since I always pay my entire bill every month and maintain a zero balance, I never incur any finance charges anyway. So in my case, I’m not saving anything. I passed on that one, too.

This was an actual ad: “Our FREE HMV CD Wallet is worth over $25. You can buy it for just $4.99 at any HMV (His Master‘s Voice–it was a record store). On the other hand, why not get it for FREE? The HMV CD Wallet is ABSOLUTELY FREE with any purchase of $50.00 or more at HMV.” Hunh?! What am I, an idiot spendthrift? I could buy the thing for $5, but if I spend $50 or more at their store, they will give it to me for “free”? And this one. “As we are so anxious for your business, we’re going to give you a video absolutely FREE!” Then in the very next sentence, “For a nominal $10.00 handling fee, you’ll receive your FREE video!”

I just saw a new TV ad for Weight Watchers with Oprah Winfrey as their pitch person. The commercial ends with the claim, “Join Up for FREE”, then directly below that they put, “Purchase Required”. What?! Do people actually fall for such hype? When they announce that an item is “free” and then add “…with the purchase of…” it becomes a conflict of interest. It’s like “over and out” where the two options cancel each other out.

Whenever they include an additional item along with the thing that you have to pay for, instead of the misleading and inappropriate “free,” they could use the phrase “at no extra charge.” Or they will say, “Buy one, get one FREE“ instead of just saying, “Two for the price of one.” There is a brand of men’s deodorant stick for which they charge $1.50 for the 2.25 oz. size. At other times you can get a 3.25 oz. size for the same price but which boasts, “Bonus Size 30% More Free.” What’s free? You are just getting a larger size of the product for a designated price. Many grocery items come with more than one item in the package. A carton of eggs does not boast, “Buy 11, get one free!” A package of English muffins: “Buy 5 and get one free!” We are not getting anything for free. The price on the package refers to the entire contents.

One sales method to be aware of is the old Bait-and-Switch routine. That’s when they attempt to reel you in with some enticing offer, and then once they get you, the deal drastically changes to something else, but in their favor, of course. Some years ago I got suckered into joining a mail order book club. I’ll even tell you who it is so that you can watch out for them. It’s the Quality Paperback Book Club, or QPB. They sent me their promotional brochure, claiming that I could order four books from their catalogue for $1 apiece. This would give me membership into the club with no obligation to buy any more books. I thought that was a pretty good deal, so I selected four books and sent in the application. “Send no money now, we’ll bill you later.” You would think that I should know better, that if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

When I received my books, the enclosed bill said that I owed them $17.31! Now, how did $4 become $17 all of a sudden, I wondered? Well, the price of my “enrollment package” somehow doubled to $8.31 and there was a little matter of $9 for “postage and handling.” Look, I don’t mind their charging whatever they want for their books. It’s their right. I just don’t like the false advertising and the dishonesty displayed. Just be up front with people. Do they think that if they tell you how much you are really paying for the books, you won’t want to take advantage of the offer, so they choose to lie in order to rope you in?

The mail order record and video clubs operate in much the same way. These clubs also award “bonus points” which entitle its members to “FREE” books and records occasionally. “All you pay is postage and handling,” they say. Oh, really? Since this amount seems to be arbitrary, they can charge whatever they want. But whatever amount they designate, the item is no longer free, I’m sorry. In one of the ads for Vonage they declare, “Pay no more than $25.99,” then directly beneath it they add, “Plus local and state taxes and fees, shipping and handling and activation fee.” So that first statement is already a lie. Those extra taxes and fees will certainly bring the amount well over $26.

I received an offer to join a local health club/gym, giving me the first month “FREE.” I decided to go check it out, try it for a month at least and then cancel if it didn’t work out for me. Well, not only did I not get a free month, but they wanted me to sign up for a whole year. You see, the deal was this. Instead of charging the full amount of $900 for a year’s membership, you’re charged only $825, thus receiving one month for “free,” you see. What am I getting for free? If they charged me by the month and I didn’t have to pay them anything for the first month, then that’s one thing. The way they have it worked out, all I am getting is a discount, if that’s what it really is. How do I know what the real yearly fee is? They could tell me anything. I just divide the full amount by twelve to get the monthly rate. So then, I’m not getting anything for free, am I? Again, why do they have to lie? If they make these claims just in order to get us to bite, we are going to find out what the real deal is eventually, so why not just be up front about it, to save us all time?

I was watching an infomercial on TV one night that was hawking the revolutionary My Pillow. I was interested so I kept it on, waiting for them to tell me how much it cost. They spoke of the pillow’s praises and fabulousness for a half-hour, and when they finished, I still don’t know how much it is! “Call the number on your screen to order. This promo code will give you 25% off.” (Off of what?) “Ten-year guarantee!“ Are they hoping that I want this pillow so badly that money is no object, that I will pay whatever they ask for it? No, I won’t.

In fact, I have become wary of TV promotional ads anyway. They got me once, so now I am on to their scam, er, scheme. They make their products sound so enticing. It’s always some useful item, like a kitchen or household gadget or grooming aid or diet plan, something we all would like to own. Then they will add on extra items and features to sweeten the pot. “Risk-free guarantee. And if you call this number right now, we will double your order and waive the shipping and handling fees!“ Plus they make the price of the thing very reasonable. How can we turn it down? Initially, it was only one item for a certain price, but if we act now, we can get four of them for the same price. Why are they being so generous? It must not be costing them anything. And how do they know that I am calling “right now”? Those commercials run practically every day all day long for months at a time, so right now could be any time. They don’t care when you call, only that you do.

So you call the number to order, and the person on the phone starts to bombard you with other offers, like magazines, vacation packages, book clubs, all sorts of stuff. “No, I just want the lens repair kit advertised on the TV.“ They eventually take your order, which you pay for by credit card. And that is what they are really after–your credit card number! Once they get that, they’ve got you. When I got my next credit card statement, in addition to the charge for the item I ordered, there were more charges for other stuff that I did not order. You can call the company to complain, but they don’t care about that either. It’s a win-win situation for them. You tell them to take off the unsolicited charges, and they may agree to it, but they will take their own sweet time to do it, if ever. So in the meantime, your account gets all screwed up. I mean, they already have their money, because VISA has paid them. So now it’s the credit card company that you have to deal with. Whereas I normally always pay the full amount on my bill every month, when I disputed those unwarranted charges and refused to pay them, it caused me to incur finance charges and subsequent late fees that won‘t go away until you pay it. And now that they have your credit card number, those con artists can keep right on putting charges on your card if they want to. These scam companies also work the internet, so be careful when you order anything from there as well.

As far as added fees go, sales taxing is a bother to me, too. It’s not that I mind paying it, I just don’t need to know about it. I’ll see this big garish sign, “Special today—99 cents!” But a dollar is not enough. I have to give the cashier $1.08. So why not have the sign read, “Special today—$1.08! (tax inc.),” since that’s what it actually costs? Or make it actually 99 cents, tax included. Or better yet, just make it an even dollar. That’s blatant false advertising when they do that. I mean, if the sales tax were optional—“If you are feeling particularly magnanimous today and would like to give our illustrious Government a little extra amount for this item (based on a suggested 8&1/4% per dollar), your total comes to $216.50. However, if not, just give us $200 even. Thank you.” But since it’s not an option, then why even tell us about it?

In fact, I wish they would do that in all buying instances. I think that the practice of pricing things at less than the nearest dollar is silly, too. $499.99 is $500. Why don’t they just say that? Do they actually think that we think that the other price is cheaper? It’s additionally silly by the fact that when they do add on the sales tax (and in the case of mail order, postage and handling), it’s going to be more than $500 anyway. Don’t even mention to me the sales tax and service charges and handling fees and such—none of that shit. Just tell me how much money you want from me for this purchase, okay? You can then divvy up the proceeds any way you want. I don’t need to know from it.

In the matter of income tax deductions, I realize that we all have to pay our share in order to help run the country. But I would like to have some say-so about how my tax donations are spent. I don’t like having my hard-earned dollars going to support wars and exorbitant defense expenses, which I am totally against. Maybe a lot of taxpayers don’t mind giving their money to the Government so that they can kill people, but I, for one, don’t like doing that. I would rather it be spent for education, health, the arts and social services, for example. Just like the tax return forms ask us if we would like to donate a portion of our earnings to support a politician’s campaign, they could ask us to designate exactly for what we would like our money to be used, just as if we were giving to our favorite charity.

Speaking of which… I am reminded of the celebrities that go on TV game shows as contestants, but instead of winning money for themselves, they will donate their earnings to their favorite charity instead. “Oh, how kind of them to give all that money to a worthy cause.“ But it’s not their money, is it? It’s really the show’s producers, or whoever, who is making the charitable donation. The celeb merely acts as the middleguy for entertainment, ratings and publicity purposes. But they can still submit the money in their own name and receive a tax write-off for it. So they don’t lose anything, and it benefits others as well as themselves.

Let’s get back to media advertising ploys. Some products will introduce a version that is “new and improved.” If it’s already the best thing on the market, as they claim, how can they and why do they need to improve upon it? Pine-Sol came out with “Professional Strength” (whatever that means) Pine-Sol, which is supposed to be better than regular Pine-Sol. So given the choice, why buy the regular Pine-Sol when the “Professional Strength” one is supposed to be so much better? They are creating competition for themselves. They also claim that one bottle of Pine-Sol is equal to several bottles of other (unnamed) brands. The woman (the same one that is used in all of their ads) then says that that’s proof that Pine-Sol is the best. What proof? Again, just because you say so doesn’t make it so. They are paying you lots of money to say that!

One Pine-Sol alternative product is the “Never-Wash-With-Dirty-Water-Again” option. This one has something in it that draws the dirt from your mop to the bottom of the bucket, leaving the water therein clean. This woman shows us two buckets, made of some clear substance so that we can see inside. But the bucket with the purported dirty water in it, because it didn’t use this special Pine-Sol, is a light, chocolatey-brown color. Whenever I mop with a bucket, the water is always black or at least a dark gray. What would cause dirty mop water to be brown? They must think that homemakers have no minds of our own and will believe anything that we’re told. And why would they think that brown water looks less disgusting than black water? They could be mopping up shit for all we know!

“Are you tired of changing the bathroom tissue roll? Then get Charmin Triple Roll! It lasts three times longer than the regular roll!” Yeah, but…it still will run out eventually and will have to be changed, just maybe not as often. I mean, how much work is that? “I get so tired of changing the toilet paper roll! What can I do about it?“ The same goes for those Energizer batteries that “keep going and going.” Those commercials go on as if their product will never run out! Nothing is forever.

Then there are products that they want you to use a lot of so that you will need to buy more. Some drain cleaners, for one, instruct you to use the entire bottle to clear out a clogged drain. The stuff is expensive, too, and they expect us to buy a new bottle every time we get a clogged drain. If the stuff is supposed to be so good and powerful, why do we have to use the whole bottle for one little clog? One of them, Liquid Plumr, along with its regular product for bathroom clogs, now has one made specifically for kitchen clogs, or so they claim. So the one that you’ve already been using for the bathroom sink is not good enough for the clog in your kitchen sink. You have to buy, in addition, Liquid Plumr Kitchen for that purpose, you see. Do people really fall for that?

“We have sold over 20 million bottles of Lipozene. That proves that it works.” No, that only means that you suckered a lot of people into ordering your product, if that sales claim is the truth, that is. Their say-so is not proof of anything. You won’t know if the thing works until you’ve tried it yourself for the first time. That’s like when a new movie opens in the theaters. “Inception took in 15 million dollars during its first weekend. It must be really good!” No, that only means that a lot of moviegoers went to see it right away. It has nothing to do with how good the film is. Will the statistics be the same in the following weeks, when word has gotten around about it? It wasn’t, by the way.

Then there is the elderly couple, “Maureen” and “Raymond,” who used to do the Phillip’s laxative commercials. In all of them Maureen was always embarrassing her husband by revealing to strangers that he suffers from constipation. Each time she gives him Phillip’s to relieve his problem. After many years of this TV ad campaign, I began wondering, if Phillip’s is supposed to be so effective, why is Raymond still constipated all the time? If they had used different actors in subsequent ads, we could then assume that Raymond’s problem has been taken care of.

There is a commercial for Rid-X that boasts the power to kill household pests–roaches, ants, whatever–for good, and prevents against re-infestation. So this woman comes on and declares that Rid-X is so fabulous and effective and says that she has been using it for years. But if it’s so good and effective, as she says, why is she still having to use it all these years later? That’s like Tallulah Bankhead’s comment about the ineffectiveness of cocaine. She said, “Cocaine is not addicting, dahling. Why, I’ve been taking it for years!“

Do these ad people even listen to what they say in their sales pitches? Chicken Man Frank Perdue used to do his own TV commercials until he died, and now his son does them in his place. In one ad Frank Jr. boasts and shows us how well he treats his chickens, giving them free range and the best chicken feed available…just before he kills them! Similarly, the regular cartoon spokesman for Starkist Tuna is Charlie Tuna, who proverbially sells his own homies “up the river,” as it were. “Starkist wants tuna that tastes good! Take my wife…please!”

But the ones that I found to be so ludicrous were the commercials for Wrigley’s Extra chewing gum. A woman was on a Whale Watch, and her chewing gum reportedly lost its flavor, so while she was looking (literally) in her coat pocket for another piece of gum, she missed seeing the whale jump out of the water. The voiceover told us that if she had been chewing Wrigley’s Extra, she wouldn’t have had to look for another piece, as the flavor lasts extra long. How does he know that the woman wasn’t chewing Wrigley’s Extra and the flavor had finally run out right at that moment? But the part that gets me is, who “looks” in their garment pockets for anything? One needs only to feel around in one’s pockets to retrieve something. It’s too dark to see anything anyway, so why are you looking?!

Then there was another one (for the same product) with an astronomer waiting for the appearance of Halley’s Comet. But he, too, missed it because, as the thing was whizzing by, he was looking in his jacket pocket for a piece of gum! “Aw, gee, now I have to wait another 75 years!” he bemoans. I think that it served him right, for being so damned stupid. And, too, both of these idiots couldn’t have waited a moment longer to replace their gum? They had to have it at that exact second? Give me a break! And somebody is actually paying these ad people (and a lot of money, too, I’m sure) to come up with these ridiculous ideas!

There is this “new” Colgate Total toothpaste whose big claim-to-fame is that it continues to fight cavities and germs between brushings. What?! Is that something new and revolutionary? No other dentifrice has this amazing effect? So what they are telling us is that up until now, all of our teeth-brushing has been all in vain and effective only for the moment, because apparently Colgate Total is the first one “that is so advanced that it keeps working between brushings!” Can they stop?!

But they later topped that commercial with an even more ridiculous one. A human couple are in the woods and encounter a cartoon beaver flashing a big, toothy grin. The woman asks, “Mr. Beaver, how do you get your teeth so white?” The beaver replies, “I use Colgate White Toothpaste!” Now, do they actually expect us all to run out and buy this product on the endorsement of a talking, cartoon animal?! If it works that well on a non-existent creature, then it must be good, right? Again, do they think that we will believe and buy anything? And why this current preoccupation with teeth-whitening anyway? People have always had teeth, so why now, all of a sudden, do they have to be the whitest and brightest than ever?

Advertisers are always trying to convince us that we are not perfect and that their product will make us better or at least as good as everybody else in the world. We must always have and be the cleanest, the whitest and the brightest. By the same token, another advertising tactic is trying to shame us into buying a certain product. There was a TV commercial for some detergent (who can keep them all straight?) that featured a group of young boys (there were about 5 of them) executing their karate moves for their parents. It was like a student demonstration. They all were wearing their little white karate uniforms, but the outfit of one of the boys was slightly dingy, not as white as the others’. The mother of the dingy boy was so embarrassed because she didn’t use Tide (or whatever) on her family’s clothes; now she has to suffer the public humiliation. The boy was doing his training very efficiently, so what if his shirt is not as perfectly white as his teammates’? Is having the whitest white one’s ultimate goal in life? They’re telling us that we can’t truly be a success in life if everything we have is not the whitest and brightest.

Some detergents claim to be able to get out milk and blood stains, but what about the more difficult ink stains, cum stains and shit stains, or is that what they mean by “protein” stains? Then some of them try to play upon our naïve gullibility by telling us that if we don’t use a particular product, we will miss out on some very important opportunities in life. We must always keep milk in the house, for instance, so that when those contest people from that radio quiz call, we won’t get caught with our mouth full of cake and not be able to answer the question! Plain water or any other beverage will not suffice, mind you. It has to be milk. Give me a break!

Other advertisers exaggerate the truth and make meaningless claims to sell a product. I saw a Campbell’s Soup TV commercial that boasts that only fresh mushrooms are used in their soups. Now, my question is, Fresh as opposed to what? Frozen? Dried? Synthetic? I would assume that all of their ingredients are fresh at one time, until they are processed, and since all their soups are canned, how can they be “fresh”? That process alone negates their fresh claim. While I’m on the subject of mushrooms, here is a question I have pondered for a while now. Who first discovered that certain mushrooms were edible? Was it a trial and error situation? I mean, after somebody tried one that turned out to be poisonous, who was willing to keep doing the taste test until they found one that was non-fatal?

I am not impressed by brand names on consumer products, per se, by the way. I don’t care who makes it or what they call it, I just buy the product. My only criteria are the ingredients, the quality and the price. I do prefer certain brands over others, but not because of their names. I just like that particular product. I happen to prefer Quaker’s Quick Grits over the store’s lesser brand, for instance. But I would buy the other one if it was as good as Quaker’s, and I will buy a generic brand over a name brand just because it’s cheaper, especially if the contents are basically the same. I mean, mayonnaise is mayonnaise to me. It doesn’t have to be Hellman’s. Aluminum foil is just that. Writing “Reynolds” on the box does not make it any better. I love the guy in the TV commercial who would say, “Will you please pass the jelly!” He is the only real person at the table. All those other pretentious snobs say, “Will you please pass the Polaner All Fruit.” Come on, who would say all of that? Tell it like it is. Just pass the damned jelly!

When I shop for greeting cards, I pick out the special card that I want. It doesn’t have to be a Hallmark card, necessarily. Talk about your needless commercials! The sole sponsor of TV’s “Hallmark Hall of Fame” is, of course, Hallmark Cards. Now why would they need to spend all that money to advertise such a thing? People who, like myself, buy greeting cards on a regular basis (or at least, I used to), select them for the occasion and the message conveyed therein. Who goes looking specifically for a Hallmark card, and who cares what brand of card it is? I suppose there are those, though, influenced by those ads and who are unable to think for themselves, who probably do seek out Hallmark cards specifically. I, however, am not that easily impressed.

In fact, and I hope I am not the only one, although I don’t really care if I am–I have thought about this and have come to the conclusion that all commercial advertising is completely wasted on me. Other than the aforementioned ads that I did succumb to years ago, anything that I buy nowadays is something that I need or want, not because I saw a commercial for it. There are a very few that even apply to me personally, and those, I either don’t need or I already have it.

There are a lot of food and chain restaurant commercials on TV, especially at night–Applebee’s, Arby’s, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, whatever–that shows fresh, crisp, enticing food, which always looks better on TV than it does in real life, by the way. Do they really expect me, or anybody, to drop what we are doing, namely, watching our favorite shows, get dressed, go out into what weather it happens to be at the time, and find one of these places at which to eat, and it’s not even mealtime? Even when I go grocery shopping, I don’t seek out the products that I see on TV. I get what is available at the particular store I’m in. Many of my regular staple items are things that I never see advertised anyway.

There is other needless advertising for certain products and companies. Once a product has been introduced and established into mainstream consumerism, people will either make use of it or they won’t. For instance, who does not know what Coca-Cola is? Now I don’t mind visual advertisements on billboards, magazines and the like, and there is enough “product placement” in movies to remind us, so we don’t need to see soda commercials on theater trailers and television as well. Everybody knows about McDonald’s fast-food restaurants. They are virtually everywhere. People frequent them because they want to, or they avoid them. I don’t think that advertising McDonald’s on TV is going to make anybody go there any more than they already do. TV advertising should be reserved for introducing new products on the market or special offers—you know, tell us something we don’t know about.

We all know the fast-food stores’ menus—they don’t change all that often. And even when they do, who cares? “Oh, look! Mickey D’s has a double cheeseburger now. Ooh, we must go there to check it out!” “But the only McDonald’s is way on the other side of town. There is a Wendy’s right here. They have double cheeseburgers.” “But I want to go to McDonald’s!” I believe that people make their eating choices by preference and availability, not by advertising. The millions (even billions) of dollars that McDonald’s and others spend yearly on advertising could be used for much worthier causes. Just recently McD’s employees were asking that their minimum wage be raised, and the company has resisted their request. Well, Mr. Kroc (or whoever) could use a portion of their advertising budget to raise all of their employees salaries, and it would not make a dent in their overall annual profits.

Another unimpressive selling ploy (at least, to me) is advertisers trying to convince us that their product is “the best that money can buy.” If the product does exactly what it is supposed to do, then its degree of performance is unimportant. Why does it have to be “the best,” and how do we know what the best is anyway? The best implies that a thing of better quality than this does not exist anywhere. How can such a thing ever be determined? Theoretically, there is always something somewhere better. So what difference does it make? If it does the job sufficiently, then that’s all I require. Some people equate “the best” to be the most expensive. The best lawyers are the ones who charge the highest fees, and the best doctors are the ones most in demand and with the respected reputations, for example. There is an unfounded belief that the more one pays for something, the better it has to be, so then the less expensive something is, the poorer the quality it will be. Neither of these is always the case. I have paid a lot of money for things that turned out to be lemons and I have gotten some really top-grade stuff for very cheap.

A case in point. I like drinking vessels, mugs especially, so my souvenir purchase from Harrods in London was a frosty mug which cost me $10. After just about a week I noticed cracks appearing in the plastic and very soon the thing began leaking and became unusable. I soon found the very same kind of mug at Jack’s, my favorite discount store here in NYC, for one dollar, so I bought it, partly as an experiment. This one lasted me for many years, intact and developed no cracks. So my cheapie dollar mug apparently was made of sturdy, good quality material, while that tourist con job, which cost me ten times as much, turned out to be a flimsy, inferior piece of crap.

Some merchants have the nerve to put a price tag on defective inferiority. I go into a store that has two portable CD players for sale. One is priced at $25 and the other is $75. The two machines are pretty much the same except for the difference in price. So naturally I buy the cheaper of the two. The time I get home, the thing is already acting funny. I’m told by friends, “Well, what do you expect? You paid only $25 for it.” But $25 is $25! My point is, if the damned thing don’t work, they shouldn’t be charging anything for it! “Dear Consumer, as this item is a worthless piece of shit, there will be no charge to you. Accept it at your own risk” Caveat emptor. In other words, if you want just to throw your money away, then buy this item that is no good. But if you want one of some quality, then you’ll have to put out a lot more.

Jack’s has clothing items in the store from time to time–T-shirts, caps and socks–selling for only a dollar apiece. Most of the time these items are of fair quality. But this one time I bought some socks (in a package of 3) that were so crappy that they started unraveling as I was putting them on for the first time! I wonder if some people take any pride at manufacturing when they can turn out such inferior products with no sense of guilt or shame. I suppose that there may be those who don’t like to wear anything more than once, so these socks would be suitable for those individuals. “Disposable socks! Wear them one time then throw them out! They won‘t last beyond that anyway!” Just be honest with people. If we choose to purchase them anyway, then it’s nobody’s fault but our own, as they tried to warn us about it. I soon after purchased a new contour sheet for my bed at another store which sells household goods. As I was applying it to my mattress the very first time, I noticed that the corner seam had already given way and was split! And that was $20 this time, which I don’t consider all that cheap. A friend of mine bought a wall clock for his apartment, and by the second day one of the hands had dropped off!

When the Tutankhamen exhibit was making its rounds in 1977, I saw it when it was in New Orleans. After we left the museum, Lloyd and I visited some of the souvenir shops in town where they were selling, for the tourists, replicas of the artifacts that were on display in the exhibit. We had just viewed the real articles—masterpieces of artistic achievement that those ancient Egyptians put their blood and sweat into to create and have held up intact for over 3000 years. So those tacky, inferior imitations that were mass-produced on an assembly line, that probably would not endure a minor drizzle, simply paled in comparison. The stuff looked so cheap and phony, I wouldn’t have any of it in my possession. Have they no shame?! There are some exploitative crooks in this country who hire so-called illegal aliens to work in sweatshop clothing factories for very little money. The scam is that they make regular, generic garments and then put fraudulent designer labels on them. So the merchandise is manufactured very cheaply and then sold for lots of money to distributors who may or may not be in on the racket.

I don’t have the same criterion for material items and visual art, however. I would not spend a lot of money to purchase any work of original art, for example. If I like a certain picture or painting, a copy or reproduction of it will do just fine. It doesn’t have to be real cotton, real leather, real fur or real precious gems either. What do I need with a diamond? What practical function does it serve? I don’t care about designer labels on articles of clothing. I buy shirts, pants, socks and shoes. Fit ’em, git ’em, thank you. I just buy what I like, I don’t give a hoot who designed them.

Once while on tour with the New York Vagabonds, I had forgotten and left my black costume shirt at home. While changing planes at the airport, I stopped in a clothing boutique to see if they had a similar one that I could purchase. The salesgirl there was glad to help. She showed me a nice shirt that was appropriate for what I needed. Then she showed me the price tag on the thing–$400! For a shirt?! I don’t think so! She said, “But it’s an Armani, sir.“ I told her, ‘I don’t care if it’s a Stradivarius, I’m not paying $400 for a shirt!‘ Why would anyone? I will go nekkid first. I don’t pay for names. It’s only a piece of fabric. Then there is the brassiere created by Victoria’s Secret, with all kinds of precious gems sewn onto it, which they assess at 2.5 million dollars! I would think that given the choice, any woman would go without a bra, if she had to pay that much for one.

The actual cost of any item is completely arbitrary anyway. A thing costs only what the merchant chooses to charge for it and what we choose to pay for it. That is evident in any auction or bidding situation. The items up for sale have no specific cost or real value. It costs whatever the bidder is willing to pay for it. New York City is a place where one can pay almost any amount for anything. I heard of a Manhattan eatery that charges $1000 for a pizza! And apparently there are fools who are buying them or they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. So what if it has things on it like caviar, truffles and gold shavings!? There is no food or clothing item that I would pay $1000 for. It’s sinful besides, for somebody to refuse to give that homeless person they just passed on the street one dollar, then go in there and pay $1000 for a pizza. Why don’t they give that money to charity and order a sandwich or something?

I live right next door to a chichi Japanese restaurant. I have not eaten there and I expect that I never will, but I did check out their menu one day, posted out in front. Everything is so grossly overpriced, and the most expensive entrée I found on the menu is their whole Peking Duck, served with caviar–$285! When I saw that, I gasped in horror. Who in their right mind, even though they can afford it, would spend that much money on a single food item that they don’t even need? Give me $300 and I’ll let you have this delicious roast chicken that I purchased at my neighborhood deli for only $5.00. You do like chicken, don’t you? Does it have to be Peking duck? Considering that someone would not eat out alone in a restaurant such as that, with the other meal items–appetizers, salad, beverages (wine and other liquor), dessert and tip–for only two people, their bill could come to well over $500…for one meal! I could eat very well for three months or longer for $500.

On Queen Latifah’s show one day an audience member won a designer handbag which she said retailed for $1300! (For “a handbag?!?!?”) I was sent a complimentary issue of the chichi Dujour magazine, which apparently caters to very expensive tastes, judging from the ads and features therein. Whoever sent it to me must not know who the hell I am, because I can’t afford anything in there! The magazine itself costs $7.00 an issue! There is an ad for some designer wristwatches, one of which costs $30,400! And that’s not counting the sales tax and probable luxury tax to be added on. That is utterly outrageous for a watch, something that is easily stolen or lost or damaged. I don’t know who this Hublot is, but I wonder how they can stay in business charging such ridiculous prices for their creations.

Out of curiosity I went online to see what this Hublot guy is about. The least expensive watch on his list is $300, already too much, in my opinion. But then I came across one that the asking price for is $134,000! Are you clutching your pearls as I did? Now I ask you, what selfish, inconsiderate person would pay that much money for a stupid watch? I don’t care if it has parts made of 18-carat gold and whatever else. My $10 generic brand watch that I got at K-Mart is sturdy, durable and keeps perfect time. If something happens to it, I just replace it with another one. I would hope that a person wearing an expensive watch like that doesn’t go around bragging about how much it costs. He would just be inviting potential thieves and muggers to relieve him of his property. So if he keeps that information to himself, is that enough to justify his having it at all?

If somebody told me that they were considering purchasing that particular watch, I would tell him, ‘So, since you need a new watch and you apparently have all this money at your disposal, I’ll tell you what. You give me the $134,000–I won’t even charge you sales tax–and you can have my perfectly-good watch in return. Is it a deal?’

Alexandra von Furstenberg also wants to sell me a set of eight monogrammed, plastic (well, “acrylic”) coasters for $110! I got my set of thick cardboard coasters given as free souvenirs on a cruise ship. You may be saying, “You’re just an old cheapskate!” No, I am practical and frugal. Not ever having a lot a money, I don’t spend it unnecessarily. While you are trying to impress people with your extravagance and pomposity and putting yourself in tremendous debt in the process, I have these same items in my possession, but I am totally debt-free! So there!

I recently learned of some more extravagances for the filthy rich. If you think that that $100 pizza is a bit much, how would you like to have “Dinner in the Sky,” where diners are hoisted by crane 150 feet in the air for a 4-course meal? Prices vary but start at around $400 per person.

If you prefer to stay on the ground but want to throw away your money, you can go for chef Paco Roncero’s “gastronomic show” dining experience in Ibiza, Spain, at which you can enjoy a fabulous meal that includes music, dance, illusionists and a light show projected on the walls and table. This runs upwards of $1,000 per person, which does not include the cost of airfare to Ibiza or accommodations.

Still not satisfied? If you have $10,000 to spare, why not get the prix fixe dinner at the Wynn Encore Hotel in Las Vegas. What do you get for that much money? Certainly nothing that I couldn’t do without. You are served their special cocktails made with very expensive, rare cognac and champagne, fresh-squeezed orange juice and apricot puree, and served in a jewel-encrusted glass. (Whoop-dee-doo!) They also throw in some souvenirs for good measure–for the gentlemen, 18-karat gold cuff links and for the ladies, an 18-karat white gold necklace with a Tahitian black pearl.

The Houstonian Club in Houston, Texas is an exclusive gym/country club to which one has to apply for admission. When approved they then fork over a $25,000 initiation fee, then after that the cost is $350 a month. The facility has several tennis courts, several pools, a rock-climbing wall, and of course, every conceivable exercise program.

Hey, do you want to smell really good? Well, if you have $5,500 to spare, pick up a bottle of Clive Christian No. 1 for Men Pure Perfume, which offers a deliciously irresistible blend of lime, bergamot and Sicilian mandarin. The bottle itself has to be luxurious, too, made of Baccarat crystal, 18-karat gold detailing and a cut diamond.

Even if they can afford it, I think it’s downright sinful to spend their money on such unnecessary frivolities and whims, when it could be used for more important things. But the way it is, if you want to pay a lot of money for something, you can, and if you want the same thing for very cheap, you can find that, too. You just have to know where to shop.

At Jack’s I found a block of imported French brie for $1.29. At the Food Emporium grocery store down the street from me, they have the exact item–same brand, same size–but they want $9.50 for theirs! Now if one store can sell the thing for a little over a dollar, it must not cost them even that much, or they wouldn’t be making any kind of profit from it. So for the other store to be charging almost ten times as much, they are really getting over on people, that is, those who don‘t know any better. Some stores sell empty jewel cases for CDs for a couple of dollars or more apiece. I know a store in the Village where I get them ten for one dollar! And for me, it’s worth the trip down there to get them. I keep a supply of them for my many homemade CD projects.

I absolutely loved my aforementioned “dollar” store where I could get a wide variety of food items—meat, bread, butter, eggs, cheese, milk, cereal, pasta, condiments, canned goods, beverages, snacks, sweets—as well as kitchen and other household and office supplies, CDs, DVDs, batteries, greeting cards, vitamins, medications, toiletries, even articles of clothing for only 99 cents per item. And these all are top-quality brand name items, too. Can you imagine how much money I saved on my daily and weekly shopping? But starting a couple of years ago, the store managers just couldn’t resist giving in to the so-called “economic crisis” and decided to raise the prices on most store items that used to cost only a dollar apiece. Now some of the same things cost $1.29, $2.00, some as much as $5.00 and more. Although I do still shop there, I am not pleased about the price raise.

I think that this economic situation is just a convenient excuse and means to implement more corporate greed. They did it with gasoline in the past. There was such a shortage on petroleum, they told us, which caused the price of gas to skyrocket due to the fact that it was such a rare commodity. Yeah, right! Now when the price of anything goes up, they tell us it’s because of the economy. That doesn’t make any sense to me. If times are so hard now, as they want us to believe, how are they helping the situation by increasing the inflation? How is that helping my economy? If they wanted to give us poor suckers a break, they would lower the prices of everything rather than raising them, or at least keep them the same.

It’s the selfish blokes who live beyond their means and abuse their credit privileges who are partly responsible for the economic crisis. They charge things that they either are unable to or have no intention of paying for, as well as borrow large sums of money which they can’t pay back, and they get so deep in debt that many are forced to declare bankruptcy, which in turn leave the banks and other lending firms to foot the bill. The banks and companies are who encouraged and granted the loans in the first place, then expect the Government to bail them out or reimburse them, and of course, they don’t have the money either. So everybody gets screwed, including those of us who have chosen to live within our means and have managed always to stay out of debt.

Despite my optimism of life, I tend to be cynical about certain things. One of them is the suspicion that some modern appliances are manufactured with planned obsolescence. They just don’t make anything to last anymore. They want us to buy another one as soon as possible. Don’t you think that it’s a little strange that very soon after the warranty on your VCR or vacuum cleaner runs out, the thing goes on the blink or conks out or something? With my suspicious mind, I suspect that the technicians must implant some kind of microchip that’s on a timer, and which can be activated upon purchase, so that after a certain length of time, like 90 days or 12 months or however long the warranty is for, the gadget will malfunction. That would explain why they recommend those Extended Warranty insurance policies as if their need is a guaranteed certainty.

Instead of making things that are going to wear out in little or no time so that you can buy another one, I would think that they would make the effort towards higher quality and durability. Then if I have need to replace an item, I will prefer to go with the good brand instead of those inferior ones, especially if the prices are about the same. I own several different brands of underwear briefs. They all eventually wear out. They develop holes, and the elastic bands get stretched out or separate from the lower part. But I notice that my few pairs of Jockey brand briefs are still intact and not at all ragged. So the next time I am shopping for underwear, I will seek out Jockey instead of Stafford. They probably cost more, but if they tend to last much longer, then I shouldn’t care. I noticed, too, on the labels that the cheaply-made articles were made in the USA, whereas the Jockey ones were made in Central America, probably in slave-labor sweatshops somewhere. So if various concerns prefer us to buy American-made merchandise over foreign, then make those items better! Instill some national pride in your designers and factory workers, as they do in other countries.

In all fairness, though, there are some exceptions. One is a window fan that I bought at K-Mart in 1972, and it finally died just this summer (2017)! That was a good old fan! It ran almost continually during the hot summer days, it was quiet, and it never required any kind of repair or maintenance, except for cleaning. My RCA Victor TV set held up for more than 30 years, and my 11-year-old Commodore 64 computer I never had any problem with as long as I had it.

I have a cast-iron pot, in which I do much of my cooking, that I also have had for over 45 years now. I brought it with me from South Bend. It was left in the apartment, in which I stayed, by the previous tenant. I don’t know how long he had it or how old the thing really is. But this pot is so sturdy, easy to clean, and cooks fabulously. I wish that they would make everything as durable and long-lasting.

I have gotten away from purchasing superfluous store items, too. Instead of buying commercial garbage bags, for my discarded trash I just use the plastic bags in which I bring my groceries home. I used to buy “facial tissues,” napkins and paper towels, until it occurred to me that I didn’t need all of those extra paper products when the towels can do the jobs of the other two as well, if not better. For instance, Bounty has now come out with paper napkins, which are touted to be strong and absorbent, just like their paper towels. And they expect us to purchase both products. But what do we need with both, since the towels can be used as napkins, too? Do they think that we are too stupid or impractical to figure that out for ourselves? I live alone. I don’t need to impress anybody by serving napkins with my meals.

I still buy toilet paper, however, unless I can procure a roll from a hotel or a public restroom. I don’t buy shampoo either. I can wash my hair as well as my body with regular soap. And since I keep my hair cut very short most of the time, I don’t have enough to shampoo anyway. Sliced bread precludes the need for buns for burgers and hot dogs.

Some fast-food franchises (like Burger King) now employ get-it-yourself soft drinks dispensers in their restaurants. You pay for an empty cup, then you can get as many refills as you want. The impracticality of the situation is that they still offer three sizes of cups, at different prices, for the drinks, but since you are allowed limitless refills, one size cup will serve that purpose. It seems that some people have not figured out the stupidity of paying for the largest size cup when you can get the same thing with the cheaper, small cup. Duh!

There have been some consumer reports of late about food frauds. Certain restaurateurs were discovered serving pork to their customers who had ordered veal and charging them veal prices. Some of them even passed the buck to their distributors, saying that it was they who sold them the wrong meat and that they were unaware of the deception. Oh, sure, since pork and veal are identical in appearance and taste, who can tell the difference? We used to be told that ignorance is no excuse. I don’t buy that “playing the nut role,” either. Some manufacturers are using false advertising in promoting their consumer food products. That Juicy-Juice that comes in the little cardboard boxes, that you can’t see what is really inside? It’s all sugar and favored water, although the outside of the box claims that it is 100% juice. Other apple juice brands have been proven to be fraudulent as well.

I don’t like any of those so-called diet drinks and sodas or anything with aspartame in it. I don’t like the flavor of the stuff. If I have to have sugar, give me real sugar, thank you. I do have a suspicious nature, I admit it, but my paranoia is based on real feelings. Do you remember when it was announced that saccharin and other artificial sweeteners, like Sweet ‘n’ Low, had been proven to be carcinogenic, they came out with this aspartame stuff (tradename Nutrasweet) as a safer alternative? When it was first introduced, it did have a good taste, almost like real sugar. But then after a while, when people got used to it, I noticed that the taste of it changed. Now, to me, it tastes suspiciously like saccharin again! Could it be that maybe saccharin is a lot cheaper to manufacture than aspartame, so the Powers-That-Be have pulled a switcheroo on us? Maybe what you all are really ingesting is the same old harmful saccharin, but we’re being told that it’s Nutrasweet (Splenda is another brand with a similar taste), hoping that we won’t be able to tell the difference, and most people can’t, apparently. But I can. I like plain, unadulterated seltzer water. there are only a few brands that are that way. I have found that most of them add aspartame to it. Why do they do that?! I hate it.

Some of these people don’t realize, or care, that our organs are geared to process natural sugars, but when those artificial sweeteners are introduced into our bodies, the pancreas, for one, get confused. It doesn’t know how to process those foreign agents, and it’s what causes diabetes and other insulin-related ailments. We have been informed of this by the health officials, but some people just refuse to give up their Diet Coke and other “sugar-free“ food items. I don’t like imitation anything. Don’t give me salt, sugar or egg substitutes. If I can’t have these things in my diet, then I’ll just do without them. I don’t have to have eggs so badly that I would settle for that imitation stuff, if I were egg and dairy food intolerant, for example. Don’t give me instant mashed potatoes or Minute Rice either! I also don’t eat anything with “Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee” on the can. Fresh rice and pasta are so easy and quick to prepare, why settle for that mealy, tasteless crap that they try to pass off as delicious, nutritional food?

I have ordered cocktails in certain bars and nightclubs which must have had no alcohol in them. If I can’t taste it, then as far as I am concerned, it’s not in there. A Vermont company that supposedly sells “100% pure maple syrup” is actually passing off beet sugar instead. I am also on to the several companies and franchise places that push frozen “yogurt.” That stuff is not real yogurt. Who are they trying to kid? I know what yogurt tastes like. It’s not that any of these things are harmful, and we don’t have to eat them if we don’t want to, but what I object to is the deliberate dishonesty. Why do they have to lie?

Subway (the deli chain) was called on the carpet recently when it was discovered that their “foot-long” sandwich rolls were actually only 11 inches or less long. The ones who make them had to have known that, they just must have thought that nobody would notice or check. Well, somebody did, and they were outed by the media and shamed into restoring their rolls to the originally-advertised length. Or, they don’t have to change the roll length. Just stop lying to people that they’re 12 inches, when they know they are not.

I had lunch after my church service one Sunday with food prepared by people from Togo. There was some strange-looking, mystery meat being served, and when I asked the server what it was, she told me that it was chicken. As much chicken I have had in my life and in many forms, I know what chicken looks like. This thing had an unusual bone structure and meat content. As far as I know, it could have been wildebeest or hyena or something! If the woman did not know what it was, she should have just admitted that, instead of telling me that it was chicken. It was not to my liking, by the way, whatever it was.

At least McDonald’s and the other fast-food places call their drinks “shakes,” not “milkshakes.” NYC experienced a milk strike some years ago for a few days, and while in McD’s, I noticed that they still had shakes on the menu. I asked the young woman who waited on me, how could that be when there wasn’t any milk? She said, “Our shakes don’t contain any milk.” I couldn’t object, because they never said that they did. So knowing that, if I still choose to drink them, they have done nothing wrong. But if people have to lie and deceive in order to sell something, that’s when I get huffy.

Just like at the movie theater, if you don’t have any real butter for my popcorn, then don’t offer it to me and try to pass off some cheap imitation instead. Just say, “We don’t have any real butter, only this Golden-Flavored Oil.” Pray tell, what does “golden” taste like? For that matter, what does a ranch taste like, as in “Ranch Flavor” tortilla chips and dressing, or “Oriental Flavor” ramen noodles? And this. “Gee, Mom, our pillow cases smell so April Fresh!” “Well, kids, it’s because I use Downy.” What in the hell is “April Fresh,” and what does it smell like, please?

The journalistic news program “20/20” once did an exposé on consumer fraud, and I am quite dismayed by the blatant lack of moral integrity displayed by greedy and unscrupulous businesspersons. This goes even beyond the shoddy, defective merchandise that I criticized earlier. I am talking about products being sold, like prescription medications, cosmetics and toiletries, that contain harmful ingredients. The report told of facial creams being sold which contain carcinogenic beryllium, among other toxic additives, and toothpaste with antifreeze in it! People in need of certain medicines but don’t have the proper insurance to cover the cost look for ways to get what they need cheaply, so they end up being conned by fraudulent vendors with no moral conscience who sell them ineffective, sometimes even long-expired drugs. These enterprising, though apathetic, mountebanks don’t seem to care whom they hurt, or even kill, as long as they get paid something for their bogus wares.

No matter how or where a pizza is made, according to a certain TV commercial, when one is delivered somewhere, it apparently takes on a distinctive flavor. “It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno!” they exclaim. Gee, it sure does taste like somebody delivered it! Huh? Raisins, which, I hope you know, are actually dried grapes, don’t seem to have the same negative reputation that prunes do for some people. Prunes are considered by some to be merely a laxative food that old people eat to aid their regularity. So to appeal to the younger consumer, let’s market them as “dried plums,” why don’t we? Ah, that’s much better! We don’t have to tell folks that it’s the same thing. It seems that all types of dried fruit is all the rage these days. They do it with apricots, cranberries (craisins), kiwis, pineapples and tomatoes.

Something that I can’t find any logic in is why healthy, natural and nutritional food items are so much more expensive than junk food. We are charged less for food products that have added sugar, salt, chemicals and preservatives, which I would think would cost more money to produce because of the extra ingredients, than for something that is absolutely natural and unprocessed. That doesn’t make any sense to me. It appears that the food manufacturers are telling us that it doesn’t require a whole lot of money to jeopardize your personal health and safety. But if you are really concerned about what you put in your body and want what’s best for you, then you’re going to have to pay dearly for it. Good nutrition ain’t cheap, it seems.

Some years ago some friends and I were having dinner at a popular Szechuan Chinese restaurant here in the City. As I was perusing the quite extensive menu, on the last page I came across the “Special Healthy Choices Menu,” which listed the same dishes from the previous pages, but these were prepared with the best ingredients, pure and fresh cooking oils and no added MSG. I’m sitting there thinking, Why the two menus? If they are capable of preparing top quality, unprocessed food, why would anybody choose the substandard fare instead? I mean, given the choice, who willingly chooses shit over ambrosia? I thought that was very strange.

But airlines do the same thing, or at least used to. On meal-included flights all passengers could have kosher food upon request, but most would settle for the common, I assume, not-as-well-prepared meals instead. Some restaurants give diners the choice of soup or salad with their entrée. I usually have a problem with that. Now I can see having the choice of onion rings instead of fries or coffee or tea as a beverage, but soup and salad are not the same thing at all. That’s normally two separate courses. I oftentimes want soup and salad with my meal. Of course, we can have both, but we will be charged for the extra item.

Nowadays, most packaged, store-bought food items come with a “Nutrition Facts” chart, which includes dietary information and a calorie count for the product. As I am on a diet where I want to watch my daily calorie intake, I pay attention to these charts now more than ever. But the calorie count is done as an arbitrary “servings” breakdown that I find to be impractical and misleading. I think that they have it backwards. Junk food items, for instance, I purchase for my own exclusive partaking and will most likely be eaten in one sitting. So what is the point of telling me that this bag of potato chips has 150 calories per serving, but a serving size is considered to be one ounce and there are 3.5 servings to the bag? So if I eat the whole bag, as I am wont to do, I have to figure out the caloric content by multiplying 150 x 3.5. Their idea of a serving is always so tiny, like we’re all anorexic little babies, or something. This is another prime example of the white man’s supreme control over the world, their deciding for all the rest of us what a normal serving should be.

I buy spaghetti in 16-ounce packages. The chart puts one serving at 2 ounces, which they say yields 8 servings for the whole package. At the most I get only three servings a package. I always make pasta as my main meal, not as some minor side dish for something else. The box says that this 15-ounce Entenmann’s Raspberry Danish Twist is 8 servings. I divided it into the most meager of slices and it still came out to only six. They divide a little 6-ounce can of tuna into 2.5 servings! This tuna is for me, not my kitten! When I prepare a can of soup it makes just one bowl full, which is one serving, not the designated 2.5 that it says on the label. It’s not enough to share with anyone or not finish as a leftover for later.

A pint of ice cream (or yogurt or sorbet), too, is one serving. I intend to eat it all right away. The label on the thing says that it is four servings. Who told them that I was sharing this pint with three other people or at four different times? Just put on there that this container of ice cream contains 720 calories, not “180 calories per serving.” If I should not eat the whole thing myself, then at least I will know that my own calorie intake was less than 720. They do the same thing in recipes. “…yields 4 servings.” That would depend, wouldn’t it? They don’t know who is going to eat it. With me and my one eating companion, it might yield only two servings. Everyone has their own appetites and eating habits. A serving, therefore, is an indefinite amount. It depends on the amount of the item served. Again, just give us the total statistics for the whole thing and let the consumer determine what a “serving” is, then I can divide it any way I want.

All gay people are consumers, and always have been. In terms of demographics, gays are the ones with powerful handfuls of disposable income. In fact, the total buying power of American GLBT(Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered) consumers at present has been determined at $690 billion. Somebody posted this satirical protest sign on Facebook. “Gays and Taxes! Why not hate both at the same time? Write your Republican Congressman and tell him to ban gays from paying taxes. That gay money goes to your schools, roads and military, and turns them gay! Then they try to say that paying taxes grants them equal rights. It’s time to tell Obama that this is a Christian nation and it’s time to pay for it with Christian cash only!” I guess one cannot be both Christian and gay, then? Why don’t we take them up on that? What an idea! Let’s make all gay people, male and female, exempt from paying any taxes whatsoever. I’ll bet all the closet cases would come out then! Even some who aren’t gay would admit to it just to get the exemption. Yes, they do want and need our money all right, but they still want to deny us certain rights.

Why aren’t there more homosexually-oriented ads proliferating the airwaves? It’s because of straight America’s wish to keep us invisible. They don’t want to be reminded constantly that these degenerates actually live among them, shop at their stores and eat at their restaurants. The cowardly advertising executives try to use the excuse that gay ads will hurt product sales. That’s nonsense! I think it would help it. They tried to use that same excuse years ago with regard to blacks. “If we put colored people on television in prominent roles, people will stop watching it,” not acknowledging the fact that it is the People-of-Color who are doing much of the TV-watching! We gays don’t boycott products that are touted by heterosexuals. By the same token, do they actually think that all coffee drinkers will stop buying Taster’s Choice if the ex-husband of the woman and the father of her son in that romantic sequential ad campaign turns out to be gay? So what if Mr. Whipple is gay? People still have to buy toilet paper. Not enough people to matter are going to stop using the telephone just because they show an ad of a woman calling her female lover via Verizon.

At least some enterprising ad executives have taken a bold step to capitalize on the new gay consumer sensibility. Witness the TV ad some years ago for Ikea which depicted an apparently-gay male couple shopping for home furnishings at an Ikea store. It seems that the commercial outraged some people, although I can’t imagine why. Homosexuals buy furniture, too. Versace and Diesel, as well, have since adopted a sapphist look in their ads. Do you remember Penny Marshall and Rosie O’Donnell for K-Mart? If that wasn’t two dykes out shopping together, I don’t know what was! Of course, that was before Rosie came out publicly, but I already had my suspicions.

More recently, Ellen Degeneres was chosen spokesperson for J.C. Penney, prompting some women homophobes to protest publicly. They’re not going to shop there anymore, they aver. Do they really think that Penney’s business is going to suffer at all by their lack of patronage? Most people don’t even care. Besides, Ellen is so well-loved by many, it may even help the business. There is a new TV commercial for Campbell’s Soup which depicts two men feeding their little boy. We assume that they are domestic partners and parents when one of the guys says to the child, in a Darth Vader-like voice, “I am your father.” Then the other guy says, “I, too, am your father.” Ah, so the kid has two fathers! I was so pleased to see that. These new advertising campaigns are quite overdue, in my opinion.

More than the pointless junk mail that I receive on a regular basis, I really hate those unsolicited phone calls when they try to sell me something that I don’t want or sign me up for some kind of plan or club or something. I get them so often that I am on to their game by now. They will start out with a cheery greeting. “Hello, Mr. Townsend! How are you today? (What do you care how I am? You don’t know me. Anyway, I was asleep. I don‘t know how I am yet.) I have some great news for you today!” Oh-oh, here we go. “You have won a prize!” ‘Oh, really?’ “Get a pencil and paper, and I’ll tell you what you’ve won!” ‘Uh, let’s just cut to the chase. What are you selling?’ Then they get all flustered because I interrupted their spiel, but then will often persist anyway.

They do that on the internet as well. They start out by trying to get you interested in whatever they are pushing, make the product or service sound so enticing that you don’t care how much it costs, you just got to have it. For me, however, the bottom line is the cost. I don’t have the means to be throwing away money on frivolous notions that I don’t even need or want. Tell me how much it is, and if I consider the price reasonable, then you can give me your spiel. It saves everybody a lot of time. I don’t need to listen to their long, drawn out testimonials before they tell me that the thing costs hundreds of dollars to purchase. You should save your breath and tell me that first off. When I answer the phone, just say, “Good morning, sir. Are you interested in purchasing timeshare property in Florida?” ’No, I am not. Thank you. Goodbye.’ Next! Short and sweet. See how much time we saved?

I get calls from companies who try to get me to take advantage of their services, but I respectfully tell them that I am not interested at this time. They seem to accept my declination, and we would hang up the phone. So two days later I get a call from the same company with the same sell as before. After the third time, I’m a little annoyed, so I tell them, ‘Look, do me a favor. Wherever it is that you have my name and number, make a note beside them that I have repeatedly expressed my disinterest in your kind offer, and write on there, “Do not call this person ever again. Or better yet, just cross my name off the list, why don’t you? Thank you.’ Now, why do I even have to tell them that? When somebody turns me down more than once, I stop asking them! Sometimes they’ll try to sell me magazine subscriptions or something else that I don’t need. I might tell them that I am not working right now and I have to watch my pennies, not that it’s their business. They’ll say, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” ‘Of course, you didn’t. You didn’t ask.’ Don’t presume that I am gainfully employed and with disposable income just because my name appears on some mailing list somewhere and I have a good credit rating.

Everybody on a certain list are not all in the same situation. Before they offer to help me manage my chronic pain due to my diabetes, for example, first ask me if I even have diabetes! “Oh, you don’t?” ’Well, whoever told you that I do?’ Just like they presume that, like most normal Americans, I drive a car, own a house (in midtown Manhattan?!) and am married, with children, or at least straight. I get almost daily calls from people wanting to help me lower my mortgage rates, start my own home-based business, get a burglar alarm system installed in my “house“ and front yard (!), to further my education by going back to school, cruise vacation and timeshare offers, credit cards for gas and AutoAdvantage clubs, and they even ask for Mrs. Townsend sometimes when they call. I always think, If this person doesn’t know who the hell I am or anything about me, why are they calling me? They even blatantly lie. “Hello. You posted online that you would like help in managing your arthritis and lower back pain.” ‘I never did that.’ Even if I had any of those problems, I would take care of it myself. I have my own doctors. Do they think that I lie around here in pain and discomfort, just waiting and hoping that they will call to offer me much-needed help?

They must presume that I am white, too. I received in the mail one day a brochure for a singles’ dating service, which consisted of pages and pages of eligible white women! Just pick out whom I like, pay the agency their fee, and they will set up a meeting with me and the foxy babes of my choice. Now I realize that I must be on a lot of corporate mailing lists, judging from all the unsolicited junk mail that I receive every week (it’s every day for e-mail), but I find this particular mailing to be annoying and insulting by its sheer presumption. Okay, they take me to be male by my name, and they may have me on a list of eligible bachelors, but how does that follow that I and every man on their list all must be in the market for women, and only white ones at that? If you want our business, it would behoove you to expand your options. Why don’t they offer men with their service, too? I may be bisexual or into interracial dating. Shouldn’t we have a varied choice? There are hints of chauvinistic sexism, racism and homophobia, plus I consider it sexual harassment, their trying to foist their women on me against my wishes. I never requested such a service.

A while ago somebody gave me a subscription to, of all things, Field and Stream, that I never asked for. It couldn’t have been any friend of mine, because they would have known better. It must have been someone from a magazine promoter. This is primarily a hunting and fishing magazine, neither of which I have any interest in, another instance of someone making an unwarranted assumption about me just because I am a man. So now that they are also under the false impression that I am an avid hunter, you see, I get an invitation by mail to join the North American Hunting Club! With my paid membership, I can even win free shotguns! Wow! I eventually had to write the publishers an irate letter to get them to stop sending me their magazine and told them in specific terms why I didn’t want it.

I once received a call to answer a survey. As a member of the National Rifle Association (I am?), what is my stand on the anti-gun laws that the Government is trying to implement? I must write my Congressmen to protect my rights to bear arms. I asked this person on the phone, ’Why are you calling me? You apparently have no idea who I am, or you would know that I am totally against guns.’ Now I certainly don’t mind the International Male catalog, that I have received a few times, or the Advocate Men magazine or the brochure for gay porno films! My point is, I wish that these companies would find out who people are before bothering us with irrelevant and inappropriate solicitations.

One of my earlier goals in life was someday to own a house. I would set ten-year intervals for myself. ‘I will have a house by the time I turn 40.’ Then it was 50, and by the time I was nearing 60, I had given up the notion. I still would like to have one, of course, but I have never had the financial means and at this late date I don’t expect I ever will. Condominiums and cooperatives seem to be popular options for people in the market for buying a home. But what I don’t understand or agree with is all the money that you still have to pay after your purchase. I thought that the purpose of buying a house is so that you can own it free and clear and not have to pay rent anymore. So then why, after “buying” the co-op apartment or condo that you live in, for hundreds of thousands of dollars sometimes, do you still have to pay at least $1000 each month to somebody for “maintenance”? I could consider the many thousands of dollars that I have given my landlords the last 50 years to be maintenance as well. They must use some of it to maintain the building. You can call it whatever you want, but you’re still paying rent, aren’t you?

How is this for senseless absurdity, in my opinion? The penthouse apartment in one of Donald Trump’s residence buildings here in Manhattan sold (when reported) for $22,000,000! But wait! If you pay cash for it, then your maintenance will be only $22,000 a month. I’m sorry, but if I give you 22 million dollars cash for anything, that’s all you’re getting! What maintenance? Whatever else needs to be done, do it with that 22 million I just gave you! I don’t understand. If this property is now supposedly mine, to whom am I paying this monthly fee? They should be paying me something. I suppose that paying the building manager’s salary is the tenants’ responsibility, but we shouldn’t have to pay general salaries for the people we have on retainer. If I need some kind of repair or something done to my apartment, I can hire a serviceperson and pay them directly for their work. Whatever it is they have to do, it shouldn’t cost the amount that I am paying out every month.

In the case of a house, you have yearly taxes and mortgages to pay. I can’t feel like something is really mine if I’m still constantly paying for it after I supposedly have bought it. I mean, a house is a big enough expense as it is. After you buy it, you have to furnish it, fix it up and pay monthly utilities. Who needs the added expense of constant maintenance fees and property taxes? At least I receive a special exemption from regular rent increases. Halleluyer!

Curious Collectibles

When I heard about a man who made a hobby of collecting feces specimens (from men of various nationalities, no less, which he kept in labeled jars!), I decided that there must not be a single object in the world that somebody somewhere does not collect. If they will collect shit, they’ll collect anything! You know what I’m saying?

I expect that every type of animal, object, gadget and doodad figures into somebody’s collection. What follows is a random sampling of some of your more unusual collectibles. For ongoing collections and being that it’s been some years since I first reported these findings, you should expect the amount of cited items to be many more now than what is mentioned here.

There is a restaurant in Austin, Texas, whose ceiling is covered with hubcaps. I heard of a man who has decorated his entire house with matchsticks, over a million of them, and another man who makes all his home furnishings out of animal bones! There is a U.S. postal worker who has tattooed his body with 1,800 Disney cartoon characters! There is a woman who has over 4,000 Pez dispensers. One contestant on “Jeopardy!” boasted of possessing every issue of TV Guide ever published. Think about that. The mother of one contestant has a collection of every variety of Campbell’s Soup ever produced, each still unopened and in the can, while another contestant’s family is a collector of hundreds of bedpans and urinals!

One well-traveled woman keeps sand samples, in individual labeled containers, from every place she’s been to that has a beach. Still another well-traveled game show contestant admitted that he owns over 300 barf bags from all the different airlines that he has flown on. An eleven-year-old (when I first wrote this), Kyle Krichmann has been collecting different kinds of vacuum cleaners since he was 4 and had about 125 (at the time), and a 10-year-old girl who keeps various species specimens of live tarantulas as pets!

Now although a cat is not an unusual pet to have, the number of said animals would be considered obsessive. A woman guest on “Dr. Phil” was revealed to be in possession of 200 cats which she housed in her home and on her property. But she has been topped by a contestant on the newly-revived “To Tell the Truth,” who boasted of owning 1000 cats!

In an attempt to make his country safe, he explains, a Cambodian man seeks out still-active land mines, digs them up, diffuses them then adds them to his home collection of over 5,000. One Virginian man, “a collector of the McDonald’s eating experience,” claims to have eaten in 10,893 McDonald’s restaurants in North America alone. It would be more by now, if he is alive and still doing it. I wonder how his health is?

Comic juggler Andy Martello collects recordings of the ‘60s song “Louie, Louie,” and apparently, there are a whole lot of them. He already has 150 (at least) and counting. Jay Leno is a collector of cars, trucks and motorcycles. He owns some 180 motor vehicles which he keeps housed in hangars at the Burbank Airport and are tended by three full-time mechanics. Actor Corbin Bernsen has a collection of over 6500 snow globes. I have heard of certain museums that display people’s personal collections—toilet seat covers and burnt food (!), to name only two.

The ancient Egyptian King Menephta, after defeating the Libyans in 1300 B.C., returned to Karnak with a collection of 13,240 penises taken from his adversaries, as a token of his conquest! What he did with them then and whether he displayed them in some way, I have no idea. Are you convinced now as well about my omni-collection claim?

I maintain a few relatively-normal collections myself and, I can admit, some maybe not so normal. My largest accumulation of like items is my record collection. I have been buying and acquiring records since the late ’50s, and now with the advent of compact discs (commercial as well as homemade), I have well over 5000 LPs, 45s, CDs and cassette tapes. I have not done an inventory count in a while now, however. My taste in music is as eclectic and varied as everything else in my life. I won’t give you an itemized breakdown of my various music acquisitions at this time, but suffice it to say that I own virtually every type of musical genre, even modern rap and hip-hop, which I basically loathe. I will tell you that one of my regular record projects is Christmas albums, and the one song that I have the most recordings of is “Silent Night,” with no less than 141 renditions! I am on a mission to acquire everything recorded by Burt Bacharach, the Beatles, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, and John Williams (the composer).

In addition to my discography hobby, I also collect individual songs. First with the advent of cassettes then compact discs and now mp3s, I have a fun hobby of compiling thematic music sets for my listening pleasure and for others. Since I have such a vast record library from which to cull, the eclecticism of the song subjects is part of the appeal for me. A random sampling: I have song compilations about America (there are hundreds), parenthood (that is, mother songs and father songs), children, boys and girls and babies, lullabies, New York City songs, which includes NYC streets songs, especially “Broadway,” songs that have a day of the week in the title, songs that have a month in the title and those that mention a season in the title, songs about dogs, songs about Joe/Joseph, Sue/Susan, Santa Claus, of things associated with Halloween, songs that mention the Devil, songs that deal with firearms, food and eating, house and home. I have a large “Songs ‘of Love'” set, which has the phrase “of Love” somewhere in the title. There are hundreds of candidates of those as well.

One ambitious project is Songs of the Zodiac, which is made up of songs about rams, bulls, twins, crabs, lions, virgins, scales (or balances), scorpions, archers, goats, water[bearers] and fish. And yes, there are songs for each and every sign. If I don’t have a certain song that I want for one of my theme sets, I search for it, be it YouTube, the library or some other source. I have many books and printed music, too, with an emphasis on reference books and especially dictionaries. My favorite authors are Dan Brown, Stephen King and Armistead Maupin.

Now for the rather unusual, if my previous admissions don’t qualify. I pick up every business/calling card that I come across. I have over 3,000 at last count. They are all alphabetically arranged on display in an album. I am also an avid list maker. I compile filmographies and discographies of various actors and recording artists, for example. I have separate lists of every movie, play, TV show and video that have the words “black,” “green” or “kid” in the title. I have lists of movies that feature parade scenes, dentists, train wrecks, “bitch fights,” Frankenstein and Godzilla, movies in which someone dances the tango, a list of Agatha Christie and Stephen King film adaptations, drinks that begin with the letter “C”, “Bowl” stadiums, wacky song and book titles, celebrities who were born in New Jersey and actors who have portrayed Tarzan and Ebenezer Scrooge. I keep a list of “punonyms,“ which are parodied names of celebrities. Examples: Warren Beauty, Truewoman Capote, Jes’ Enormous, Linda Hrunt, Disgrace Jones, Ursula Undress, Sofia Vulgara.

Some of my other lexical collections consists of palindromes, anagrams and thousands of trivia questions, from when I used to host a weekly online trivia game. I still collect bits of trivia on the slim chance that I might some day get a job writing questions for “Jeopardy!” or “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Being a truly zealous logophile (a lover of words), I also collect hippopotomonstrosesquipedalians, very long words of 20 letters or more (speaking of which, for example).

Since I have traveled so extensively, I would never be able to keep track of where I have been in the world if I didn’t write it all down. Therefore, I have a written account of every place that I have ever been, an alphabetical list of cities arranged by state, province, island and country, as well as a list of every institution of higher learning I have visited. I have a record of every plane flight I have ever taken, all 526 of them!

I also collect Virgo birthdays. I keep a written, alphabetical list (per date) of everyone I encounter who was born between August 22 to September 23, and incidentally, I have more entries for my own birthday, September 5, than any other date. If you are a Virgo and you give me your name, the day you were born (the year is optional), I will add you to my list.

Since my college years I have retained some souvenir of virtually all of my performances: programs, flyers, press clippings, reviews, fan mail, etc., and these are arranged chronologically in 23 scrapbooks. Twelve of these books are reserved for The Flirtations. For the five-and-a-half years I was with them, I appointed myself the group’s archivist, saving virtually everything on which our name appears. I started one with the New York Vagabonds as well. In addition to many pictures of myself (well, I didn’t take them!), my family, friends and acquaintances, I maintain two volumes of celebrity pics, alone and in groups. I save the Playbills and programs for every stage show that I attend. To date, I have seen 248 stage productions during the time I have lived in NYC.

One of my hobbies while traveling around the country and abroad is taking lots of pictures. As a result, I have a massive collection of snapshots and picture postcards, which are assembled in 12 more multi-paged photo albums. And since I’ve gone digital, I also have an increasing collection of photos stored on my computer. All pictures are arranged thematically, grouped with similar images.

Some sample subjects include architecture, with special emphasis on state capitols (I have 37 so far) and other buildings with domes, buildings with clocks, churches, arches, famous landmarks, skyscrapers and towers, including water towers (more on that in a moment), monuments, windmills, lighthouses, places I’ve played and places I’ve stayed; sculpture (a particular favorite art form of mine), life form art, including statues of Liberty, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, composers, religious icons, animals, people on horseback and winged figures; modern art, including red sculpture, works by Henry Moore, bells and totems; nature scenes: mountains, unusual or strange rock formations, fountains, waterfalls, dams and bridges.

I snap amusing signs and pictures of anything that has my name on it: stores and businesses, buildings, vehicles, street signs, whatever. I actually have my own intersection in the Bronx, where Clifford Place crosses Townsend Avenue. 5 being my favorite number, I have pictures of things on which the number 5 appears, including a framed reproduction on my wall of Charles Demuth’s The Figure Five in Gold, which I love.

My very own intersection!
My very own intersection!
Artist: Charles Demuth
Artist: Charles Demuth

When I used to do my cross-country concert tours with various vocal groups, I got into the weird, photographic diversion of “chasing” water towers. What I mean is, I started a photo collection of interesting, colorful and/or unusual water towers that I encountered on the road. So when I spied one, I had to get close enough to it to get a good picture, as most of them have the name of the town painted on them for identification. Since I didn’t have a car on tour, this sometimes required me to walk clear across town from where I was lodging. Some towns have more than one. In fact, I think I reached my saturation point in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, which has no less than eight water towers spread out all over town. When I had finished that little misadventure, which took most of the day and exhausted me physically, I came to realize the folly of such an activity. Why am I doing this?! I asked myself. Still, I have a total of over 100 water towers in my photo collection! Hmm, I suppose this would qualify as an unusual collectible item? You think?

Lost in Translation

[These are English language signs from around the world.]

The sign in a Norwegian lounge reads:
LADIES ARE REQUESTED NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN IN THE BAR.

Tacked on the door of a Moscow hotel room:
IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST VISIT TO THE U.S.S.R., YOU ARE WELCOME TO IT.

An airline ticket office in Copenhagen reminds you:
WE TAKE YOUR BAGS AND SEND THEM IN ALL DIRECTIONS.

In a certain African hotel you may choose between:
A ROOM WITH A VIEW ON THE SEA OR THE BACKSIDE OF THE COUNTRY.

A sign on a clothing store in Brussels read:
COME INSIDE AND HAVE A FIT.

A hotel notice in Madrid informs:
IF YOU WISH DISINFECTION ENACTED IN YOUR PRESENCE, PLEASE CRY OUT FOR THE CHAMBERMAID.

This notice was posted on a Rumanian hotel elevator:
THE LIFT IS BEING FIXED FOR THE NEXT DAYS. DURING THAT TIME WE REGRET THAT YOU WILL BE UNBEARABLE.

In the window of a Swedish furrier the message reads:
FUR COATS MADE FOR LADIES FROM THEIR OWN SKIN.

The room service in a Lisbon hotel tells you:
IF YOU WISH FOR BREAKFAST, LIFT THE TELEPHONE AND ASK FOR ROOM SERVICE. THIS WILL BE ENOUGH FOR YOU TO BRING YOUR FOOD UP.

This sign was posted in a Scottish harbor:
FOR SALE BOAT SINGLE OWNER GREEN IN COLOUR.

A sign at Budapest’s zoo requests:
PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. IF YOU HAVE ANY SUITABLE FOOD, GIVE IT TO THE GUARD ON DUTY.

A Polish hotel informs prospective visitors in a flyer:
AS FOR THE TROUT SERVED YOU AT THE HOTEL MONOPOL, YOU WILL BE SINGING ITS PRAISE TO YOUR GRANDCHILDREN AS YOU LIE ON YOUR DEATHBED.

A Seville tailor makes clear how he will handle commissions:
ORDER NOW YOUR SUMMER SUIT, BECAUSE IS BIG RUSH; WE WILL EXECUTE CUSTOMERS IN STRICT ROTATION

A dentist’s doorway in Istanbul proclaims:
AMERICAN DENTIST, 2TH FLOOR. TEETH EXTRACTED BY LATEST METHODISTS.

The concierge in a Sorrento hotel lets guests know he’s on the job:
CONTACT THE CONCIERGE IMMEDIATELY FOR INFORMATIONS. PLEASE DON’T WAIT LAST MINUTES, THEN IT WILL BE TOO LATE TO ARRANGE ANY INCONVENIENCES.

Some German hospitals now display the sign:
NO CHILDREN ALLOWED IN THE MATERNITY WARDS.

A Roman medical doctor proclaims himself a :
SPECIALIST IN WOMEN AND OTHER DISEASES.

The sign at the concierge’s desk in an Athens hotel reads:
IF YOU CONSIDER OUR HELP IMPOLITE, YOU SHOULD SEE THE MANAGER.

A sign in a Kowloon hotel warns:
IS FORBIDDEN TO STEAL HOTEL TOWELS. PLEASE IF YOU ARE NOT PERSON TO DO SUCH IS PLEASE NOT TO READ NOTICE.

Visitors in Czechoslovakia are invited by the tourist agency to:
TAKE ONE OF OUR HORSE-DRIVEN CITY TOURS. WE GUARANTEE NO MISCARRIAGES.

A Rome laundry suggests:
LADIES, LEAVE YOUR CLOTHES HERE AND SPEND THE AFTERNOON HAVING A GOOD TIME.

A sign posted in Germany’s Black Forest reads:
IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN ON OUR BLACK FOREST CAMPING SITE THAT PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT SEX, FOR INSTANCE, MEN AND WOMEN, LIVE TOGETHER IN ONE TENT UNLESS THEY ARE MARRIED WITH EACH OTHER FOR THAT PURPOSE.

A London eatery advertised for help this way:
WANTED: MAN TO WASH DISHES AND TWO WAITRESSES.

A notice in a Vienna hotel urges:
IN CASE OF FIRE, DO YOUR UTMOST TO ALARM THE HALL PORTER.