The Kid at Stewart’s

I wanted a small coffee. I drink decaf, and at Stewart’s, they have three or four kinds in various carafes sitting on hotplates on the counter. You can pour whatever kind you want into whatever size cardboard cup you want, and add however much milk, cream, etc., you want from a small, adjacent refrigerator. I figured I’d be in and out in two minutes, if I was lucky.

I was not lucky.

The kid, about 16 years old, was new; I could tell by his quickness and efficient eagerness. He wasn’t about to lollygag or chat, like the other two employees — older women who were scooping ice-cream for other customers. He was that smart kid from science class who is full of algorithms. So when the tall, insulated carafe sputtered and wheezed within a moment of my pushing on its lever and I called to him, “Are you all out of decaf?” I knew he would jump right on it.

He did.

“I’ll make you a new pot,” he said, striding towards me. Almost in one swift move, he opened the lid of the empty carafe, spun around and swung it into position under the coffeemaker behind him, yanked a metal basket from its little “shelf” in that coffeemaker, and dumped the old paper filter with its wet grounds into the trashcan below by pounding the basket once, good and hard, on the edge of that can. Then he placed a new filter in the basket and finally, grabbed a sparkling new foil packet of decaf coffee grounds.

Here is where his troubles began.

You could see by the faces and the little animal noises he made (Carol Burnett, where are you?), as well as the color he was turning as he tried to open that packet, that he was in over his head. Holding it waist-high and bending a bit at the knees, he tried to rip open the crimping at the top; failing at that, he raised it to shoulder height and tried again. Then he decided to try to pull the packet apart by its seams, like you and I sometimes do with the plastic bags inside cereal boxes.

I knew what was going to happen. I didn’t think I knew; I knew. Remember the old sitcom “Alice,” where Flo is trying to open a box of straws and finally it “explodes” all over Mel’s diner? I didn’t want to miss this, so I kept watching.

Only the coffee packet wouldn’t open, even for the sake of comedy. The kid’s eyes darted from side to side; I’m sure he was looking for a pair of scissors. There were none. So he did exactly what you and I would have done; he turned his back hoping no one could see, and bit the damn thing.

He tugged on it while its edge was between his teeth; still no luck. He shoved it farther into his mouth and poked one edge over to the side so it would lie right between his top and bottom molars. Now he had it. It ripped apart with just a minimal amount of spit and foil falling into the filter, and when he pushed the “On” button I knew I’d lost my chance to yell, “Kiss my grits!”

Victorious and back in Efficiency mode, he walked toward me and pointed at my small cup with a half-inch of now-cold coffee in the bottom.

“Want to give me that?” he asked. Oh, nice, I thought: He’s going to dump out this old, nasty, bottom-of-the-barrel coffee so I can fill it up with fresh. As I handed the cup to him, he continued, “…so I can hold it right under the coffeemaker and then you don’t have to wait for the whole carafe to fill up?”

“Sure,” I said, though in truth I could have stayed there, watching Mr. Efficiency, all day.

Preserve Me

Here’s a poem i wrote for the visit of Elizabeth Gordon, a really great slam poet, to the Newburgh Free Library a few nights ago. i performed it miserably, but NOW i’ve got it down. Anyway, here it is:

Preserve Me

Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol too – and here’s more stuff on which to chew:

Cellulose fiber, cellulose gum, carageenan (yum yum yum),

Aspartame with citric acid (Mangia, please! Approval tacit!)

Glucose, fructose, sucrose, more; polydextrose (my tongue’s sore!)

Maltitol benzene? And what the hell’s “datem”? You hardly know just how to rate ’em.

Mono- and di-glycerides; can we ever stem the tides?

BHA and BHT; guar gum for you and me.

Calcium proprionate – I can’t believe what I just ate.

The boxes ladle out advice they want us all to follow,

But always add a grain of salt – and then don’t swallow.




Tim and i had a wonderful hike — one that i’d been dreaming of doing for years — this fall. On Oct.  17, we did the entire Breakneck Ridge Loop . Meteorologists among you, check your records: It was the most beautiful day in the world. Early-ish in the morning, i had a strong feeling that for me, this was Now or Never for the Breakneck Ridge Loop. i had been up as far as the POW/MIA flagpole at least twice: once with just Tim, i believe, or maybe with just Rachel and/or my friend Raja Abdul-Rahim from the Record, and once with all three of them, for sure. Each time, i was so exhausted and frightened by that part of the hike that looking up at the much-steeper section straight ahead at the flagpole was too much for me, and i chickened out.

But this time, we did it! Tim is such a trooper: At the flagpole, he pointed out that there were lots of dopey, college-looking kids and 20-somethings climbing all around us while chatting away, the females of whom were talking in that awful “Uptalk” way that i despise (“I’m like, ‘You’re more of a brother to me?”  And he’s like, ‘But I don’t wanna be your brother?” And I’m like, ‘Oh-my-God?” (To which her companion replies, “Right?”) Most importantly, he noted at two or three critical junctures that whatever i decided (bailing out onto any of the at least four or five “alternative routes” marked, “Easier Ascent,” or continuing to try to find foot- and hand-holds so i could haul my raggedy ass over the steep boulder i was trapped on) would be fine with him. That gave me courage to go on. And, we did it the hardest way possible! i was (and remain, obviously) soooo proud of myself. And of Tim, for being so supportive. Without him, i never would have made it.

Not that it was easy for him, either. We thought and thought about whether he should take the hiking poles i’d given him; this hike requires two hands and two feet for at least 50% of the distance, so we were thinking no, but then it’s also got a long downhill, much of which is very steep, when you finally reach the top, so we were thinking yes. Plus, he could always put them into my pack when he didn’t need them. They weigh nothing and fold up to about  two feet long. (Sadly, that’s a few inches more than can fit into either of the two little packs we brought, but you can bungee-cord them onto the back of a pack just fine.) He ended up bringing them and carrying them, uselessly, folded up, in one hand for almost all of the ascent. i forget why he refused to put them into or bungee-cord them onto my pack, but i think it’s spelled  S-T-U-B-B-O-R-N. i asked him many times to put them into my pack, but he just wouldn’t. A funny moment occurred when we were sitting down taking a breather and a guy passing us couldn’t resist saying to Tim with a grin, “How are those hiking poles working out for you?”

We saw many interesting folks along the way, and believe it or not, we were helpful to more than a few who had come without maps (how stupid is that?). Because we had done the Sugarloaf Mountain-Breakneck Ridge hike in September (more than twice as WayAboveFlagpole  long, but nowhere near as steep; almost no scrambling required) in the same general area, we were able to tell some people how far they were from a crucial left turn onto the red-blazed trail that takes you to the yellow-blazed Wilkinson Trail and ultimately, back down to Rt. 9D. So i was feeling pretty, pretty, pretty good as we trod downward, knees aching but hearts light. Let’s see if i can “upload” or “link to” or whatever the word is, some photos from that wonderful day.

NiceViewOf Bannermans Castle  LookingSouthFrom Flagpole

DSCN0777YES We're at the Top


You Know You’re Old When … Part 22

You know you’re old when the kid at the checkout counter doesn’t ask you for your ID after you’ve hoisted a case of hard cider onto the conveyor belt.  Today, I even said, “Don’t you want to see my driver’s license?” And he goes, “No; you’re good.”

I said, “Well, i know i’m good, but am i old enough to buy booze?” And, looking at my white hair, he just giggles and says, “Nah, that’s OK; you’re good.”

And then after i paid and put all the bags in my cart, he says, “Would you like help getting that out to your car?” I came this close to throttling him with my left hand. With my right hand, i was steering my cart.

All by myself.

(Jezuz, kid: Aren’t you supposed to ask everybody for their ID? Isn’t that in the Price Chopper Cashiers’ Handbook? Don’t you get fired  if you fail to ask, and doesn’t the store get its license to operate yanked? What if i was part of a sting operation? Jezuz.)


New Maus Fan

Never one to jump on a bandwagon until it has rolled by and disappeared over the horizon, i just this week read Art Spiegelman’s great masterwork, Maus and Maus II.

Published from 1986 (Maus) to 1991 (Maus II), these works won Spiegelman a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992. For those few of you who don’t know, Maus is a comic book about the Holocaust.

OK, i know that doesn’t sound good. But it’s wonderful. Here, Spiegelman is a cross between Hannah Arendt and R. Crumb, combining riveting, gut-churning horror and suspense with great cartoons (black and white), while telling the story of what happened to his Polish-born father during WW II.

The Jews are all drawn as mice, the Nazis as cats, the gentile Poles as pigs, the French as frogs. Mercifully, he intersperses his father’s you-are-there story with “present-day” updates showing how he went around tape-recording his very ill father in the latter’s old age, and we see how grumpy, cheap, and hard to get along with the old man was.

We also learn that shortly after her suicide in 1968, the father has destroyed his wife’s (Art Spiegelman’s mother, who also survived the Holocaust) wartime diaries —  an act that Art Spiegelman considered a kind of “murder” and for which he never forgave his father (i think).

Anyway, it is all you ever need to read or see about the Holocaust, and both volumes are also beautifully produced. Go read them, please!

Newburghers: Don’t Miss This!

Newburghers Should Not Miss This!

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley and SENATOR WILLIAM J. LARKIN, JR. invite YOU to


Talk to an attorney and learn your rights in these areas:

  • Housing
  • Public benefits & Social Security
  • Education & Special Education
  • Elder Law
  • Disability Rights
  • Veterans Issues
  • Foreclosure
  • Domestic Violence

2-5 pm, Wed., September 18, 2013

Fresh Start Café

280 Broadway

Newburgh, New York 

This Is About Love

On the gay marriage issue, let’s pray that the Methodists live up to their ideals.

Copying the short link below will take you to today’s NY Times story about how the Methodists are about to prosecute a pastor for officiating at his son’s wedding to a man … which, thank G-d, is legal in New York, where the ceremony was performed. The problem is, the denomination has a rule that forbids its pastors from performing same-sex weddings. Copying the longer link takes you to the response from a some devout Methodists who are trying to fix that rule.

I’m with them.

Doesn’t Galatians say there is neither “Greek nor Jew,” and neither “male nor female,” but that all are one in the eyes of Jesus? Isn’t the Methodist slogan “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors”? Didn’t G-d say “It is not good for man to be alone”? Why, then, prosecute a pastor for joining his own son in holy matrimony to a man who sweetly swore to support him in sickness and health ’til death parts them?

In this case, human ethics and understanding have evolved faster than the Methodist Book of Discipline. It’s a civil-rights case, yes, but more importantly, it’s about love.

Come on, Methodists: This is a good time to remember who you are, and who G-d wants you to be. Drop the charges against Tom Ogletree.

How We Drove from Columbus to Newburgh in 10 Hours Without Getting Divorced

i drove the first 4 hrs 15 mins, getting us about 300 miles. Then it was about 5:30 and we stopped for dinner. Tim and i argued over whether it should be purchased in the form of those horrible “snacks” they sell at the Sheetz gas station we’d stopped at for gas, so we could eat in the car while we drove, or whether it should be eaten at a sit-down-and-be-served place; i insisted on the latter, and he sweetly gave in on that. So we went across the street from Sheetz to a “Dutch  Pantry” he’d spotted there in Dubois, Pa., where some cheerleader-lookin’ gals from Penn State were doin’ the servin,’ under the direction of the “real” waitresses, as part of a fundraiser to send their “Blue and White Club” to New York City for a weekend of “networking” with other Penn State alumni and cheerleader-types from around the U.S. There was a big “Blue-and-White tips” jar on each table. We ate big, comfort-food dinners and then i started craving one of their famous desserts, because it seemed that at the Dutch Pantry … well, that’s what you do, that’s all. They had a separate menu for desserts, and photos of various desserts were plastered all over the walls. i hesitate to tell you this, but the one i ordered could easily have served a family of four. In a clear glass dish about the size of a cake plate, there lay a HUGE, gigantic “Apple Fritter Sundae”. It consisted of three extra-extra-large scoops of delicious vanilla ice-cream that were drowning in hot butterscotch sauce. Coming to their rescue from one side of this sweet, sticky ocean, half-buried itself in the sauce, was an apple fritter, which is essentially a cross between a cinnamon doughnut and a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee roll. I mean by that that it was all apple-cinnamon-y, fried crisp on the outside, with no hole in the middle and about the size of a tennis ball. The whole affair was topped with a generous amount of whipped cream and a cherry. i knew, having asked, that it would consists of “3 scoops of ice-cream,” but i thought maybe they’d be apple-flavored ice-cream, and maybe that’s why they called it that, and of course i knew it would have whipped cream and a cherry (“sundae”), but i truly had no idea how genuinely obscene this object would be.

We ate it. We ate the whole fucking thing.
But, back up a moment. While we were waiting to be served dinner, in waddled the very fattest family either of us had ever seen. No adult males; just one HUGE mama, maybe late 30s to early 40s; one almost-as-huge female friend or relative about her same age; and SIX kids ranging from a moderately built, male albino teenaged dullard with a few teeth missing, to a true Honey Boo-Boo of about 7, who was just then being cranky. All the other four girls were very, very large also. The youngest one actually seemed to be salvageable, and i considered kidnapping her; she had a sweet, chubby face and was very blonde and blue-eyed. The fatter of the two ladies hung over her chair by about 50% on either side and she had on jeans with a 30-inch-long zipper, and a sweatshirt  that missed the top of her waistband in the back by about a foot. i was facing their table; Tim was facing away, so he missed a large part of the show. At one point the heaviest lady got up to go to the bathroom and was gone a long, long time, probably mostly spent getting her zipper back up.
The entire family seemed to be good friends with the staff and management of the Dutch Pantry. They all studied their menus intently and finally called a server over and asked about a promotion they were running: In the middle of each table and taped to the door  and the cash register were fliers showing a photo of a large salad bowl filled with some kind of a “sundae.” i don’t want to describe it here; i’d rather you imagined it. I just want to say that in height, it extended far above the top of the bowl. Anyway, the gist of the promotion was, if anyone at your table could eat that whole sundae in one hour or less, his dinner and the sundae both would be free. When Tim and i left, the family seemed to be having probably the most serious discussion of their lives, trying to decide who would give it a go.
From that point on, Tim drove.
It was rainy or misty almost all the way and very, very foggy in sections going over the Pennsylvania mountains. But we made it back home at precisely 11 p.m.; a 10-hour drive including our debauched dinner. We were weary; we were broke; but at least we were not in Pennsylvania any more.