Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Odd Human Behavior About Firsts and Lasts

003I rolled out my produce cart with a new box of plums. It was a really good collection – all the plums were ripe, but not too ripe. As produce manager, I was around all afternoon to watch customers buy these fresh pitted delicacies bag by bag.

By three o’clock, only one plum was left – just as good as the previous ones it shared the bin with, but nobody wanted to buy it.

At five o’clock, the plum was still there and reminded me of a certain human behavior I’d noticed, how nobody wants to buy the last of anything – ever – regardless of condition.

I roll a cart of items to the thrift store’s display floor to be placed on shelves for sale. Working in the thrift trade now, I’m introduced to another customer behavior. As the newly donated items come out, a customer follows closely behind the cart. She’s studying the articles carefully. As I slow, she picks one up. I can’t see what it is, but she smiles while examining it, as if handling a gold necklace.

“How much is this coaster?”

“The coaster? Two dollars.”

Another customer, who’s been eying the cart by way of a gap through the housewares, wanders over.

“How much is this scarf?”

“The price is marked on a tag, ma’am.” I stop the cart.

A third customer, having seen the cart crowd building, walks over. She lowers the glasses to the tip of her nose, then picks through the bottom rack of irresistible consumables.

“Does this pencil sharpener work?”

I might as well set up  a tent with a big sign saying “Cart Sale Today” because it appears I’m not going to get any more work done now. More customers surround the cart as if on a hunt and they’ve just smelled fresh meat enter the store. These thrill-seeking thrift seekers must think that because the items I’m rolling out are the hot new ones, they’re better than the last cart of hot ones I put out twenty minutes ago. What an annoying throng of people.

Next time, I’m going to take advantage of modern customer behavior and roll out one item on the cart. One, and that’s all. For sure nobody will want that.


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Reading as a Four Letter Word

Quote of the day:  It is better to understand little than to misunderstand a lot. –– A. France

CH 4  Reading

Well, here I am, at age one, and I already look bewildered. No wonder. There’s a book in my lap.

My left arm is twitching now. My eyes are glazed, and my hair’s curling. I don’t like all the grey lines I see stacked up on this page. What happened to the happy-go-lucky deer and the pretty forest I enjoyed on the previous page? And why do I get the sneaking suspicion there’s going to be a test soon on the information buried inside all these greys lines that Mom calls words?

This sums up what my reading experience has been like as a sluggish reader. Information goes in slowly and leaves quickly. No wonder I majored in art at college. Of course, I learned there was no such thing as college without reading, only the school of hard knocks if I didn’t buckle down and read my assignments. And when I say buckled down, I mean strapped to a chair to get through things like my 300 page Sociology 101 textbook.

Fortunately, after several decades, I’ve learned the greater purpose for words in my life: words need to go out of me, not in. Reading is too much information at once. What stress. Writing, on the other hand, feels right, a process in which I can work with words at my own pace. Writing – yes, writing.

My struggle with reading has been such a big part of my life that I devoted an entire chapter to it in my memoir, Maybe Boomer. If you buy the book (when it becomes published), I invite you to dig into that chapter, that is, if you enjoy reading. If you can’t wait for the book to be published (like me), read the opening to Chapter 6, “Reading” now. That chapter may remind you of your own struggles with reading. So, please, chime in with your own account.

It always helps to know you’re not the only one.

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No Wonder My SAT Scores Were So Low

008Recently, a newspaper article got my attention. David Coleman, president of the College Board, criticized his own test, the SAT, for tests that are mysterious and “filled with unproductive anxiety.”

Well, it’s about time. Talk about anxiety. What else is more anxiety-ridden than taking the SAT?

The SAT people are finally doing a fundamental rethinking of their test. I wish they’d done that before I took mine. Because of my SAT score, I was denied consideration into Harvard and Yale. So low, I was even on the bubble with my community college.

For starters, they say they’re planning to end the long-standing penalty for guessing wrong.  No wonder I scored so poorly back then. How nice it would be to take my test today and not get docked points for using my blanket guessing strategy.

Next, they say they’re going to challenge students with better vocabulary words, ones more commonly used in college courses, like empirical and synthesis. Well, it’s about time. I use empirical and synthesis at least six times a day, even in colloquial conversation out on the street.

Lastly – and this is the kicker – they’re actually going to make the essay optional.  Are they kidding? That’s no fair. My essay destroyed me. They’re even considering not allowing use of a calculator on some of the math sections. That seems only fair to people like me who, at the time, couldn’t figure out how to use the calculator. Now we’re all on equal footing.

For a multitude of reasons, test-taking was hell for me. As I looked around the room during any test I’ve ever taken, I perceived everyone else as smart, and me as the guy who wasn’t up to snuff. In hindsight, many of those students may have felt the same way as I. Perhaps most. Were you one of them?

Taking tests has always been difficult for me. I wrote about my hair-pulling experiences (though hilarious now) in Chapter 8, “Education,” of my memoir, Maybe Boomer. Perhaps the ultimate test of tests was one I took recently, an aptitude test. Sample a passage from that humbling experience in Excerpts under Chapter 14, “Relativity.”

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Remember This? Army Men

001_ATT222 (1)Army men were the bomb – my most explosive nostalgia memory. I had all kinds – Civil War army men, Revolutionary War army men and WWII army men. For years, I enjoyed placing my toy miniature plastic soldiers in fresh war scenes concocted in the dirt battlefields of my backyard.

But, as I got older, there came a time when my revered toy troops needed to be reinvented, recycled. My middle school friend, Paul, showed me how – by burning them. Oh, the seductive, searing sound that drops of molten plastic make when they drip to the ground!

But playing with fire proved far too tempting for my comrade and I one afternoon. Dousing the heads of the army men in gas, then the grass below, the gas can accidentally caught on fire. The rest of the story is chronicled in my memoir, Maybe Boomer (although you can read more about kindling friendships in the introduction to Chapter Five, Friendship”).

Did anyone else out there nearly burn their house down by accident?


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What Easter Means to Me. I Think.


To me, Easter has always meant Ben Hur. Raised Lutheran, I’d heard a million versions of Christ’s life and death stories by age eight, but I didn’t relate to him. At all. Being a visual person, if I couldn’t see Jesus, he didn’t exist. Hollywood, working in such a visual medium, fixed all that for me with just one viewing of Ben Hur. I loved the movie.

Unfortunately, I was so blown away with the Hur character – far more than the Holy Messiah – that I got Christ mixed up with Ben Hur. Even to this day, when I think of the Chosen One, I think of Chuck Heston. And why not? Wasn’t the movie more about Hur? Wasn’t Hur a great man, too? And wasn’t Charlton Heston a hunk? After all, it was Hur who rode in the chariot race, not Christ. (Anyway, Christ would have been disqualified since it’d been rumored he could perform miracles and would might be tempted to rig the Chariot 500 in his favor.) To a young boy, chariot races ranked over feeding a crowd of people with just one loaf of bread any day.

Unfortunately, I’m a man now and still have trouble seeing Christ as anything but Heston. Every Easter weekend, I resurrect  the movie and watch all three hours of this film classic. The religious feeling comes all over my body just like it did many years ago, especially when I hear Hur say, “With my cold dead hands!”

But the tingling sensations are fleeting and completely wiped away the second I think of Charlton Heston at that NRA rally, holding a rifle high over his head, proclaiming his right to own guns will be taken away only “from my cold dead hands.” Just that quickly, all the uplifting, spiritual, goose pimple feelings turn cold.

Religion has been a double edge sword for me from the beginning. Read more about it in the introduction to Chapter 4, “Religion,” from my memoir, Maybe Boomer.

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Baby Boomers, Exclusion and Ex Lax

Quote of the day: If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.–– Thoreau

Welcome to my blog. This is my inaugural post, and thanks for being a part of it. I want my blog to be a place where you and I share our thoughts and creative endeavors together.

Diner2 1200 BLOG res 48 bit color thumb003I took the photo of this billboard on a chilly winter night in Bethesda, Maryland, sometime back in the eighties. Whenever I look at that large piece of nostalgia now, with the smiley, happy family sitting in the front seat, I say how phony. Life wasn’t really like that back then, was it? It wasn’t for me. In fact, “There’s no way like the American Way” came across more like, “It’s our way or the highway, young man.”

The billboard scene was not too far off from my own family experience. (After all, if you look closely, you’ll see it’s not me sitting cozily between Mom and Dad in the front seat, but my sister, forever the middle child, with her own set of problems. I was probably stuck in the back scrunched between my two older brothers – twins – with their own matching set of problems.) From the very beginning of life, I felt excluded and different from everyone. It was like I wasn’t even in the car at all, left behind at High’s Dairy Store after we’d gotten our weekly allotment of milk, Wonder Bread and Ex Lax.

With all this angst, I had to write a memoir. It’s called Maybe Boomer, my story of what it’s like to not fit in, and not just with my family, but the entire baby boom generation at large for many reasons.

When I took the photo of the diner on that cold night thirty years ago, I was just beginning to let creativity click into my life. More and more “clicks” went off: from the camera shutter, my chalk pastels hitting the drawing paper, my guitar pick tapping upon strings, and most recently, the computer keys clicking away day and night. They’ve all been essential stepping stones to lead me down a path that is mine, truly mine. Art was my salvation. Read more about my thoughts on creativity in Excerpts, “Chapter 7,” from Maybe Boomer. You can also see some of my creations (works on paper, music, photography and film) in My Art.

I invite you to check my blog regularly where we can explore our stories together. What kept you from feeling a part of your generation?  Are you a baby boomer who didn’t fit in with what was going on around you? How did you come to peace with that, if at all?

And, if nothing else, does anyone else remember seeing those billboards?


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Vangelis Tapes and China Dolls Means It Must be a Garage Sale

iStock_000021481612Small Here’s my personal experience with garage sales: They have something cheap to sell; I buy it; it becomes part of my yard sale in five years, completing a kind of vicious cycle. But, like an addiction, I can’t stay away from a good garage sale.

Some, however, turn out to be not so good, like the one I attended this weekend, a multi-family garage sale crammed with items piled up in some woman’s living room.

I see lots of candles and candle holders, the apparent theme for this sale. Most have old, burned wax on them. A young female holds up an eight-stick candle holder.

“Bernie, look. Bernie – look. Only fifteen dollars.”

Ten feet away, looking blank, Bernie replies, “Fine. If you really think we need it.” I figure he already knows what I know about garage sales, women’s impulses, and crap you don’t need, and is light years ahead of her, but will still be stuck paying for all of them. When she asks permission to buy similar items down the row, I know their marriage is in trouble, perhaps a reclamation project all its own. Citing their marriage as a dumpster fire is a broad brush stroke conclusion, but I’m betting I’ll be right in only a few years.

To break the wax monotony, I’m relieved to spot a set of plastic margarita glasses. But they look like they’ve been run through a dishwasher hundreds of times, and the days of actually being able to see through them are hundreds of hangovers over. A woman approaches the twelve-piece set. Now she’s beaming over her new-found prize. What is it about those margarita glasses I missed?

The next table has a dizzying array of articles dumped on it. The highlight is a $245 tiara next to a Vangelis cassette tape, items that will never be placed side by side again in this universe during my lifetime.

Stacks of used clothing, all nicely folded and grouped, await me on the next table. I don’t want to pick up any article for fear of having to refold it as nicely as the seller did.  Going through used clothes always freaks me out. Who knows – these could be John Wayne Gacy’s shorts. Who wants to comb through someone else’s clothes anyway? And what are the chances they’ll have my pants size? Zero.

On the wall above me is a poster print of Dalmations blending into the spotty snowy landscape behind them. This relaxes me. Out of curiosity, I ask how much it costs. The host says it’s not for sale since it’s on her living room wall.

The last table is covered in items bought over the internet: wallets, China dolls, propane tanks, beaded belts, car grill covers, leather caps – anything the seller thinks will eventually sell, if not this weekend, but by the last weekend he’s alive to sell.

I’ve had enough. I have to leave. I’m getting depressed being around so much junk.

On the way out, I spot a sofa by the door. Yet another piece of junk, I keep walking. By the time I get to my car, I stop. Didn’t I see a sign on the sofa that said “25 cents?” They’re kidding, right?

I walk back to see it’s true. But no wonder. It’s old, and I can only imagine how the big stain on the cushions got there. I start to leave when I notice the back of the sofa looks brand new. In mint condition. Hmm-m-m. The entire couch for 25 cents. Where else am I going to find an entire couch for 25 cents?

The owner walks up and says, “But you gotta haul it away today.”

I don’t care. I want it. What a deal. How can I not get it? Then again, it is pretty junky. Oh, come on, it’s not that bad. Yes, it is. No, it isn’t. Yes, it is, and probably not worth more than three dollars.

A guy behind me says, “You thinking of it?”

“Maybe,” I say.

“A dollar,” he says to the sofa owner.

I turn around to see the guy is Bernie. “Two dollars,” I reply.

“Three,” Bernie says.

Nobody can resist a garage sale.


Filed under Blog, The Daily Thought

Remember This? Travel – Corvair Style


What a hunk of nostalgia these cars were.

When the sleek Chevy Corvair first hit the 60s’ roadways, I thought it was cool. It was a far better car than some of the other wrecks around at the time, such as the Studebaker Lark and Rambler American. Like the spiffy new Mustang and Corvette introduced recently, would I like Corvairs as much?

The only Corvair I saw around our Silver Spring, Maryland, neighborhood was driven by the mother of a girl from my sixth grade class I had a big crush on. This little excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer (Chapter 10, “Girls”), explains it:

Then Mary came along in sixth grade. She was one of the first to present breasts in our class, although they were always difficult to corroborate with falsies so prevalent at this age. I really liked her, but she was one of those girls who did everything with her mother. What good was showing off a nice bust after school if your mother was always there? Maybe Mary didn’t like her breasts. Did I want a girl like that? The only thing she ever flaunted was the new, chocolate milk-colored Chevy Corvair her mother chauffeured her around in.

Of course, after I was eventually dumped by Mary, I knew I hated all Corvairs everywhere.

But I got the last laugh only five years later when Corvairs filled landfills across the country. Were Corvairs really that bad a car to travel in?



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ME AT WALL BW Wall04bbbw_largeMy Book / Our Story

Welcome. My blog invites everyone to contribute their stories about growing up a baby boomer. The 50s, 60s and 70’s – they were great times to be raised. Of course, some experiences weren’t so great but provide a million laughs now.

My story is a coming of age tale about a boy humbly crushed by the expectation to succeed in our fast-paced, modern generation – all chronicled in my memoir, Maybe Boomer. Many of my blogs address issues from the book, but now I want to hear your stories.

Cherished baby boom icons from the past also interest me, from TV commercials, toys to rituals that have long since disappeared.  They are highlighted in my regular Remember This?” blog. I also like to write about contemporary issues, particularly as they shed light on experiences that span decades. You can read them in my third blog, “The Daily Post.”

Avatar image: Roxane Hopper

The diner image above is a photograph I took in Bethesda, Maryland, in the 1980s – The American Diner with nostalgic billboard illuminated just behind. To view the full image, click “Diner.” 


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