Monday, December 29, 2008

Tense Times Make for a Testy Traveler

I love to travel….Let me rephrase that. I love exploring new and different destinations, but I do not enjoy the time and hassle it takes to get there. This past holiday vacation was like a case study in bad travel luck. Though I was excited to spending the holidays with family in the warm sun of Florida, I was somewhat hesitant when all the weather stations began predicting a huge snowstorm/blizzard about to hit New Jersey on the very day I was leaving---December 19th—which, if you recall, is also the anniversary of my father’s death.

So when I woke up that morning, I was already a little bummed. Trying to stay optimistic, I thought the light sprinkle of snow that began falling mid-morning was all we might get. Then the snow began falling much harder, with no end in sight. Roads were covered within an hour or so, and traffic was starting to slow down to a snail’s crawl. By noon, my flight had already been rescheduled from 3:15 to 6:30, so I didn’t leave for the airport until around four. (Technically, I’m only about fifteen miles east of Newark, so it usually only takes about a half hour to get there.) Unfortunately, with the heavy falling snow and dangerous road conditions, traffic halted to a standstill on numerous occasions. There were also road closings, detours and overly cautious drivers that prevented me from getting to the carpark until 5:45. Naturally, I was in a panic that I might miss my flight.

The driver from the parking lot dropped me off at the airport at 6, only to discover long lines of people trying to reschedule their bookings, as there were a hundred or so flights that had already been cancelled throughout the day. Luckily, mine was not one of them, though the departure time had now changed from 6:30 to 7. Which would have been fine if the “express line” for checking baggage was actually moving. Instead, all the counters were packed with people trying to have something else taken care of, and the line literally did not move for fifteen or twenty minutes.

Finally, some bright soul decided it might be good to check in everyone who was taking the 7:00 flight to Tampa, and I was finally moving forward. Once my bags were checked, I went through the security checkpoint, which was practically empty due to all the cancelled flights. However, this also gave the rather bored employees ample opportunity to search the bags of the few passengers that did have flights. Which brings me to my biggest pet peeve about airline travel these days---the ridiculousness of what is allowed and what isn’t.

For instance, did you know that Snow Globes are no longer allowed to be carried onto a plane? I didn’t. Otherwise, I never would have considered bringing aboard a beautiful set of wine stoppers with tiny snow globes on the top. It was to be a Christmas present for a Wine Enthusiast I know, as each snow globe had a beautiful sculpture of a silver animal inside it. When I was told by the security personnel that I was not allowed to bring the wine stoppers, I assumed it was because they might look like a weapon---as the stopper portion was shaped like a point. But when I discovered it was because of the snow globes on top, I became irate.

The security guard (a woman) apologized for the “inconvenience,” and suggested maybe I’d want to check another bag and put the wine stoppers inside it. (Apparently snow globes are okay to pack in your suitcase, but not to carry on the plane. Lord only knows what might happen if one of them should crack open, scattering all the artificial snow and miniature dioramas throughout the flight deck. It was certainly cause for worry, don’t you think?)

When I told the security guard I didn’t have another bag (except my backpack), she informed me of several gift shops in the mall area where I could purchase one. (Not to mention the cost for checking an additional bag.) When I began protesting the silliness of the policy, she then suggested maybe I’d like to try the UPS service at one of the local hotels. Honestly. What was I supposed to do? Get out of line, grab a cab to the nearest Hyatt, and try to get a package out, when my plane was supposed to leave at any minute?

Without a feasible option, I had to give the present up, which presumably went to one of the security guard’s families, as I’m sure they take in quite a load of stuff over the holiday season. I noticed other people were also prevented from bringing various items on board, mostly due to the liquid level of their seemingly innocent gifts. And while I appreciate all the concern over our safety in these times of terrorism and unrest, I think that somebody needs to rethink what might be considered treacherous. Remember when you weren’t even given a plastic knife on a plane for fear you might stab someone with the serrated edge? Better yet, remember when you were actually given food on a plane?

My flight didn’t get out until after nine that night, but not before we sat on the runway for an hour as they de-iced the exterior and wings for travel. I didn’t get to my final destination until one in the morning. Not exactly a great way to start my vacation, but at least I was finally where I was supposed to be.

Given the current state of the economy, I think my leisure travel will be cut down in the next year to places I can actually drive to. At least if I am the one behind the wheel, I’ll feel like I have a say in where I’m going and how long it will take. And better still, I will allow snow globes to be carried into the car, regardless of how dangerous or amusing they might be to my fellow passengers.

But that’s just me. Did you have any hassle with travel over your holiday vacation?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cat Clips--Christmas Present

Please click on the photo above to watch the third episode in the special three-part Cat Clips Holiday mini-series called "Christmas Present." In this episode, the female cat finally gets to see her Christmas present.
HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE!!!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Memories Both Sweet and Sour

When I was younger, the Christmas season was my favorite time of year. Our household was in a constant state of activity as we prepared for the upcoming holidays. My mom always began our yearly ritual in mid November, when she painstakingly prepared the fruitcake batter for the numerous mini-cakes she would bake to give away to friends and neighbors. She made them early, so she could soak them in Brandy for a few weeks to “sweeten” the taste. And although I loved my mom’s fruitcake, I knew that many people I came in contact with had no stomach for the traditional Christmas fare, and would even turn their noses up at this sweet combination of candied fruit and nuts.

Then there was the decorating of the tree, which eventually fell into my hands when no one else had the time or patience to do it. And the making of the Christmas cookies, which filled the house with pleasing aromas of cinnamon, gingerbread and chocolate. The holiday season was also a time for parties and get-togethers with friends, and for a few short weeks, our social calendar tripled in size.

On Christmas morning, my father would always be up early, the smell of fresh percolating coffee wafting through the house. Then mom would get up and trudge down to the kitchen to make the “Bubble Ring,” a traditional sweet-roll type concoction filled with candied fruit and dripping in sweet, gooey caramel. It was made in a bundt pan by rolling mini balls of dough in butter and sugar, and placing them in the bottom of the pan, which was already covered in fruit and the caramel topping. When the “Bubble Ring” was cooked, and then flipped over on a plate, all the fruit and topping dripped down the sides of the golden browned “cake,” and we would all sit around the dining room table and gorge ourselves on the confection as we went around the table, opening our stocking presents one at a time.

But that was only after my Grandmother and Aunt had finished their morning rituals in the bathroom. For there was a sacred rule in my family that no children were allowed downstairs (where the presents were) until all the older members of the family were properly prepared for the morning’s events. And since my Grandmother and Aunt were traditionally slow when it came to completing this task, it meant I had to sit at the top of the stairs and wait patiently, my head swimming with images of what might be waiting for me under the tree.

My dad did not help matters much, as he would walk from room to room and let out little sighs and gasps at everything he found that was presumably from Santa. “Oh My!” he would exclaim as we heard him walk into the living room. “So many presents. They can’t all be for us.” This would be followed several minutes later by an equally loud and boisterous gasp as he entered the dining room to view the stockings. Pretty soon my mom was joining in, and they would keep the “pre-show” going until the rest of the family finally came down. The constant running dialogue, of course, got my adrenaline pumping so hard I would practically pull my Grandmother and Aunt from their temporary residence in the bathroom so that we could finally get the festivities started. And although I hated the waiting process, it was a necessary contribution to the magical atmosphere that Christmas created. As if anything was possible.

As I got older, the Christmas season seemed to fly by at a much more frantic pace. In fact, the entire Fall, from September to December 31st, was so filled with activities and parties, that Christmas became more of a blur. It was still my favorite time of year, but for much different reasons than when I was younger. Now I appreciated the opportunities it presented to reunite with friends and family I hadn’t seen all year, and the warm greetings I would receive from strangers in the street. For whatever reason, the holidays always seemed to bring out the best in people.

But the Christmas season is now also marred by a very sad occasion, as December 19th marks the anniversary of the day my father passed away. I had gone down to visit my mom and dad in Florida, and he had just come home from a long stay in the hospital, supposedly in better condition than he went in. Unfortunately, his condition worsened over the weekend, and by the following Tuesday he was gone. It put quite a different spin on the holiday that year, as we all struggled to process my father’s death, and still create some semblance of the holiday for the younger folks. To say it was a surreal experience is an understatement.

So though I still enjoy this time of year, it does not hold the same kind of magic it once did. The smells of baking cookies and fermenting fruitcake, the “oohs” and “ahhs” from my father on Christmas morning, and the manic excitement of opening presents---all just memories now. I am still surrounded by family and friends on the holidays, but now my role has changed. Now I’m the one who “oohs” and “ahhs,” helping to keep the magic and anticipation going for another generation of dreamers. And somewhere, I know my father is smiling down on me, happy that I am here to carry on his happy tradition.

But that’s just me. How do you view the upcoming holidays? (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or New Years)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cat Clips--Christmas Bling

Please click on the photo above to watch the second part in a special three part "Cat Clips" holiday mini-series. (To view the first part, scroll down a little to view "Christmas Spirit.") In this episode, "Christmas Bling," the cats discuss Christmas decor and what they might get as a Christmas present.

Monday, December 15, 2008

We Can't Let This Bank Fail!

When I was ten years old, my father gave me a hardbound blank book for Christmas. He knew that I liked to read and write stories, and so he thought maybe I might someday write something in this one. To his surprise, I spent the rest of the day and the following two days filling those blank pages with a story of my own invention called “Hands of a Rhino.” It was about a boy who bumps into a deaf homeless man one day while walking through his neighborhood. The two strike up a friendship, and the boy eventually helps the homeless man integrate himself back into society again. As I was writing it, I imagined the whole thing as a sort of happy Hallmark Hall of Fame special.

When I presented the completed book (which included a forward, a chapter breakdown, illustrations, and an epilogue) to my Father three days later, he was shocked and amazed. And after he read the story, he got all choked up and praised me for my ideas and imagination. He was also amazed that a ten year old boy from rural Ohio would have any knowledge of homeless people at all. After all, we didn’t see the streets of our town lined with any, and we rarely ever heard of any vagrants in our area, so how I came up with such a heartfelt idea was beyond his comprehension. But somewhere deep down inside, I always knew there were people who were less fortunate than me, and that I should always try to help them whenever I could. Especially in this time of recession, it seems like there are a plethora of people in need, and not enough help to go around.

Which brings me to the real subject of today’s post: The Community Food Bank of New Jersey. For more than 25 years, the Community FoodBank of New Jersey (CFBNJ) has been a beacon of hope for the hungry families in the state. But with food donations down significantly and demand up 30 percent, their shelves are nearly bare and the FoodBank is struggling to meet the need. More than 500,000 people in New Jersey turn to emergency food pantries and soup kitchens dependent on supplies from the Community FoodBank. More than half of those assisted are children and the elderly. Those numbers are growing. It’s up to us to make sure there is enough food to distribute so that our hungry neighbors are not turned away.

They need your help now. Please make a Deposit of Hope by filling out the coupon below. You can also visit http://www.njfoodbank.org/ or call 908-355-FOOD to donate. The payoff will feed your soul…take that to the bank.

Legendary music icon Bruce Springsteen will be lending his voice to the fight against hunger in New Jersey by appearing in a major advertising campaign for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey – the largest food bank in the state. A supporter of the FoodBank for 23 years, this ad marks the first time Springsteen has publicly lent his image to the campaign, due to the urgency of the situation. The Grammy award-winning musician often donates proceeds from his concerts to the organization.
In this season of giving, let's all try to dig a little deeper into our pockets to help out this worthy cause. And don't just do it for Bruce. Do it for your heart.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cat Clips--Christmas Spirit

Please click on the photo above to watch a short video from the "Cat Clips" series called "Christmas Spirit." In this episode, the male cat tries to get the female cat into the spirit of Christmas. This is Part One of a special three-part holiday Cat Clips mini-series.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Mystifying World of the Magical Miniature

I have always had a fascination for miniature things. When I was a child, I met a woman named Ruth Ademite, who supposedly had the world’s largest collection of miniature books. One day when I was visiting, she gave me a miniature book of my own. But not to keep, mind you. She wanted me to write a special story just for her that she could add to her collection. Naturally, I was flattered by the request. But there was also a part of me that didn’t want to give the little book back. If I was going to write a story, I wanted to keep it for myself. This ignited a long “sermon” by my father on the true value of sharing, and how it was just as important for me to give away my stories, as it was to keep them. Eventually I filled the little book with a story and pictures, none of which I really remember now. And since Ms. Ademite passed away many years ago, I probably will never know. Could it have been a masterpiece? Doubtful. But it was my first sojourn into the giant world of miniature momentos.

When I was a little older, I became fascinated with the work of Robert Olszewski, who does astounding miniature people and scenes for Disney and other companies. It is the Disney variety that I really enjoy, as he incorporates so much detail and character into his pieces. And unlike the much larger WDCC pieces (Walt Disney Classic Collection), the Olszewski miniatures are perfect for people with a very limited space to display anything.

Recently, I came across another artist, William Wigan, whose work simply defies comprehension. His art is hand-carved with special tools and placed on the tiny head of a needle (as in the picture above of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) or on the tip of an eyelash. Don’t believe me? Then click on the link below and watch a fascinating video on how this guy creates these one of a kind works of art, and how he gets $18k to $30k a pop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYi458oI0-8

I would love one of these amazing items, but I’m afraid one of the cats would cough it up in a hairball. (And of course, the price doesn't help either.)

But that’s just me. What do you think of miniatures?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cat Clips--Our First DVD

The very first "Cat Clips" DVD is finally available, so all the episodes from #1-10 are no longer available online. The only way to see them again is on this great new DVD, complete with hilarious outakes that can only be viewed from the DVD. To find out more about the new DVD, watch the latest episode of "Cat Clips" by clicking on the picture above. In this episode, the cats learn of their newfound celebrity on the "tube."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bird Bits--Skate Birds

Please click on the photo above to watch a short two minute video from the "Bird Bits" series. In this episode, Two birds find miniature skateboards, and try to outdo each other with their stunts.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

How iTunes May Be Stealing Your Music and Your Money

Like many of you who may purchase songs from the iTunes store on a regular basis, I naturally assumed that all my purchases were mine to keep forever and ever. But then a few weeks ago, I began to notice a number of songs missing from my playlists. Not only that, but all the movies I had purchased through iTunes were no longer available when I clicked on their icons

At first, I thought maybe they’d somehow been deleted from the iTunes library, but were probably still somewhere on my hard drive in the iTunes folder. However, upon searching for a few of the missing songs, I couldn’t find them anywhere. And the movies were nowhere to be found either.

Naturally, I immediately went to the iTunes store to try and find a phone number for their customer service department. And guess what? There isn’t one. The only way you’re supposed to be able to contact iTunes is through their “convenient” e-mail form. Not satisfied that there wasn’t some other way to reach them, I did a thorough search of Google to find something that resembled a phone number for customer service. Eventually, I just called the regular Apple hotline and asked to be transferred to the iTunes store. After being bounced back and forth from one Apple employee to another, I was eventually told the ONLY way to get my issue resolved was by filling out their “convenient” e-mail form. Which is not only IN-convenient, but also guarantees that your problem is not going to be resolved any time over the next twenty-four hours.

What kind of customer service is that? And since I was already freaking out over the missing music, the fact that I had to retain this anger for another few days was not making me a happy customer.

Nevertheless, I waited patiently until one of the representatives (from India, I believe) eventually wrote me back with an even more disturbing question. Have I ever backed up my iTunes library? Of course, my answer was no, as I never thought I needed to do such a thing---once the music was on my hard drive, why would I need to back it up? And what difference would that make anyway, since my iTunes folder and the iTunes store were too different entities, were they not? It’s not like once something is no longer available at the iTunes store, it’s automatically going to be taken out of my iTunes library, is it?

In my case, the answer was yes. And though the customer service person offered to let me re-download all the songs I’d previously gotten from iTunes as a back-up, he also let me know that if a song was no longer available on iTunes, or for some reason, the original product had changed, it would no longer be available for me to download. In fact, the customer service person was very helpful in compiling a list of all the songs I would not be receiving again….over 300 of them. And yet, he offered no explanation as to why the music or movies were “taken” out of my Library in the first place.

I’m beginning to wonder if their new Genius software, that is supposed to help the iTunes store figure out what kind of music you like best, may actually be removing some of your music they don’t recognize during their search process. Either that, or whenever you update iTunes, something in the process is filtering out older content. I don’t’ know which, but I still do not have a satisfactory answer as to why over $300 of my purchase was taken away from me. If I found a way to steal over $300 worth of product from the iTunes store, I’m sure they wouldn’t be happy about it. And yet, all I’ve gotten so far is an apology for my misfortune, and a warning to back up my purchases in the future on a regular basis.

But that’s just me. Have any of you had a similar experience with iTunes?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cat Clips--Rug Rights

HAPPY THANKSGIVING EVERYONE! I hope everyone has a wonderful day, surrounded by family and/or friends. There is so much I am thankful for this year, including all the wonderful people I've met through my blog and YouTube videos. And to celebrate the day, I can think of no other video that seems more fitting than the one pictured above. So please click on the photo to watch a short video from the "Cat Clips" series called "Rug Rights." In this episode, the male cat tries to explain to the female cat why some people try to stop others from getting married. Have a great day!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Robot Resort--Mints and Mayhem

Please click on the photo above to watch a humorous two minute film from the "Robot Resort" series. In this episode, Sparky's obsession with bad breath leads to another encounter with Fritzy and Lily, as danger lurks in the nearby woods. Part Five of an ongoing series.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Tale of Two Biddies

In August of this year, I went to see the new Broadway musical “A Tale of Two Cities,” which was surely designed to be the latest successor to the internationally popular “Les Miserables.” In other words, another historical epic drawn from the pages of a classic European novel; in this case, Charles Dickens. But unfortunately, like last year’s failed attempt, “The Pirate Queen,” this one suffered from two much ambition and not enough heart. While on the surface, everything looked good and sounded good, there was something missing from the core that left audiences under whelmed by the efforts.

And although I could surely expound on this particular show with many a witticism and criticism, this blog posting is actually not a review of that particular show. But rather about an incident which occurred during the curtain call. As I am a huge fan of theater, and a former actor myself, I like to sit as close as I can to the front of the stage, usually the second or third row. But in the case of “A Tale of Two Cities,” I happened to get an aisle seat in the first row. This allowed me the unique opportunity of viewing the orchestra as well as the stage. Only in this case, the stage was so close to the front row that I found myself straining my neck at times just to be able to watch the action. And when they put the actors on scaffolding that was even higher, I had to recline my head to such a degree that I was practically lying down. But again, this posting is not about my personal discomfort, a topic which I’m sure you’d all be thrilled to suffer through.

No, this posting is about a woman and her companion who were sitting in the second row, across the aisle from me. I had noticed them earlier because of the peculiar expression on the older woman’s face. Or rather the lack of expression. For although she was elegantly dressed and perfectly coiffed, she almost looked catatonic. Her companion, a very stressed out looking woman dressed in unflattering clothing, was constantly fussing about her, making sure her feet were properly placed on the floor, or that she was sufficiently covered from head to toe with her fur coat. I wasn’t sure if the fussy woman was a nurse or her daughter, but she never seemed to stop fussing, even when the performance was going on.

Anyway, during the curtain call, all of a sudden I felt a tug on my arm. When I turned around, I saw that the fussy woman had somehow gotten a wheelchair down the aisle and was now attempting to put the elegant woman in it.

“Can you help me?” she asked in a panic. “Just hold her under the right arm and I’ll get the other side.”

Without a blink, I hopped into action; although I really wasn’t sure I had much of a choice in the matter. Being the tallest man in the fussy woman’s line of vision, I must have seemed like the perfect candidate to be her human fork-lift. As I bent down to pick up this complete stranger, grasping her arm just around the armpit, I caught a glimpse of the elegant woman’s eyes. She was looking at me with both confusion and wonder, as if I was an Angel coming to carry her away. So while it was extremely awkward to do this, I managed to get my arm under her right arm and lift her up enough to help the fussy woman get her in the chair. And it wasn’t like the elegant woman was helping at all---she was basically “dead weight” without any control over her limbs.

Once the woman was successfully in the chair, the fussy woman began pushing and poking at the woman until she was satisfied that she was secure in the seat. She never again turned around or even thanked me for my help. And though I’m not a person who needs that kind of pointless praise, I was a little shocked at how harsh and forceful she was with this older woman, who obviously had little or no motor skills. Leaving the theater that night, I wondered if the older woman even knew where she was or why she was there.

Now we fast forward to last week, when I once again went to the theater to see the new Broadway musical, “Shrek,” which is based on the popular movie series. And while I don’t intend to review this show since it’s still in previews, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Not just a word for word replay of the movie (like the highly annoying “Young Frankenstein”), this adaptation instills new humor and character into the already familiar story. And some of the musical numbers are so hilarious, I was laughing out loud. That isn’t to say the musical doesn’t have its weak moments, but as a whole, it was a very enjoyable evening in the theater. Especially if you just want to go and have a few laughs. (Christopher Sieber is especially hilarious as Lord Farquaad.)

But again, this posting is not about “Shrek,” but rather about what happened during the curtain call. For when I arrived at the theater and took my seat (once again on the aisle in the first row), I was shocked to see the two older woman sitting in the same exact seats behind me. The elegant woman was again “dressed to the nines” as if she was going to a swanky charity ball, and her much stressed out companion was dressed in a frumpy shirt and jeans. And while I found the coincidence to be quite weird, it didn’t even occur to me that the fussy woman would rely on my assistance once again. But true to form, once the curtain call came, the woman tapped on my arm to assist her.

Previous to this, she had a major altercation with one of the ushers during the climactic scene of the show. And all because of a set of stairs that came out from the orchestra pit for a brief moment, so that Shrek could walk down the aisle and walk up on stage. During the intermission, a woman had told me that a door would be opening right next to me and that a pair of stairs would be coming out. So I was not surprised when it happened. I was surprised, however, when the fussy woman suddenly jumped up from her seat, and hovered in the aisle trying to see if the elegant woman’s feet might possibly be crushed from the onslaught of the moving staircase. And though I could clearly see that the woman’s feet were nowhere near the stairs, the woman caused such a ruckus that an usher had to come down the aisle to quiet her down.

As I tried to ignore this, I noticed that Sutton Foster (who plays Fiona) was beginning to watch the altercation as well. And though she remained perfectly in character, I’m sure the distraction in the second row made it very difficult for her to pay attention to Shrek’s impassioned confession of love. Finally the fussy woman settled down, and the show continued without a hitch. Until the curtain call.

Once again, I went into my “good Samaritan” mode and helped the woman into the chair. Only this time, there was an added piece of business that needed to be accomplished.

“Grab the pillow and put it on the chair,” the fussy woman barked at me, as if I was her personal assistant.

So while I was trying to hold the elegant woman under her armpit with one arm, I reached underneath to grab the pillow, which I then threw on the chair as best I could.

“Push it further back,” the fussy woman then barked. “Further back, further back.”

And though I tried to comply with her demands, the elegant woman was already partially on the cushion. So I was afraid that pulling it too harshly would either make her fall forward or even worse, back onto my hand. (A sobering bit of elderly intimacy I could surely do without.)

Once the woman was finally in her chair, the fussy woman again turned her attention to poking and prodding her properly into place, like a pie crust that needed to conform to a certain shape.

As I left the theater, I wondered if I would ever have the “pleasure” of seeing these two old biddies again. Not that I mind helping people out, but it certainly would be nice if they didn’t treat you like crap after you did it.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had a strange experience while helping a stranger?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cat Clips--Mean Spirit

In this Three-quel to the two Cat Clips Halloween Trick and Treat videos, the male cat decides to teach the female cat a lesson. To view the video, please click on the photo above.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Crazy Quirks of Kooky Acquaintances

Do you have any friends with bizarre quirks that simply defy explanation? Or, if the quirks do have some kind of rationalization, they’re still a bit weird? And though I know I certainly possess many a quirk myself, I always find the mystery behind other people’s quirks to be infinitely more fascinating.

For instance, on my birthday last week, a group of my friends got together for dinner in NYC to help me celebrate. As I was the Birthday Boy, I had nothing to do with the arrangements, although I did find out some rather interesting information from the person who did. First of all, when he told one couple about the dinner, they were very excited to come. Until they heard it would be a birthday celebration. Then they immediately tried to back out of it. And when my friend asked why, the answer given was simply that “we don’t celebrate other people’s birthdays.” And when my friend assured him that it was just a friendly gathering and it wasn’t necessary to bring a card or a present, the person got very defensive and said that his partner would be very upset if they had to attend.

Needless to say, my friend didn’t pursue the matter any further, although it definitely intrigued both of us as to how such a stance against birthday celebrations came about. As the “partner” in question is of Eastern European origin, I wondered if perhaps they didn’t celebrate birthdays over there. Or maybe he’d had a particularly bad experience on someone’s birthday, and therefore was afraid to relive the experience again at someone else’s event. Or possibly it has something to do with not wanting to face mortality, and so the celebration of another year (no matter whose it is) only serves as a constant reminder of the passing of time.

Whatever the reason, two days later, the friend called back to tell me the couple was coming to the dinner after all. When I asked what changed their mind, my friend said that they would come, but would not observe any of the birthday rituals, nor would they be obliged at any time to wish me a Happy Birthday. In fact, they requested that, if at all possible, the subject of my birthday never came up in conversation.

You can imagine how shocked I was by this request, as well as by my friend’s admission that he agreed to the terms.

“They really wanted to come,” he protested. “And I didn’t think it would be a big deal. Everyone can just wish you a Happy Birthday in private.”

Not wanting to seem petty, I quickly decided that it really didn’t matter, as long as I was having dinner with good friends. (Even good friends with a birthday quirk.)

So when the big evening finally came, I tried not to have any kind of expectations for the event. I even arrived early so I could greet my other friends before the “Anti-Birthday Couple” got there. And though the other friends had all been debriefed about the whole birthday business, it was inevitable that the topic would slip out every now and then throughout the course of the evening. It almost became sort of a game to see who could get the closest to mentioning the word birthday without actually saying it. And since the “Anti-Birthday” couple was not aware that everyone knew about their particular “quirk,” a lot of the childish teasing went right over their heads.
Crazy Quirks of Acquaintances

However, the whole evening made me very uncomfortable, as if I needed to apologize for even having a birthday at all. And I was so afraid that someone was going to say something inappropriate that I didn’t even have an appetite to eat. What if the “Anti-Birthday Couple” suddenly freaked out and went into a rampage, venting their anti-birthday sentiment by throwing plates and cutlery at everyone in sight? I would be forever blamed as the “birthday that broke the camel’s back.”

Truth to tell, as I got older, birthdays become less and less important to me. Sure, it’s nice to celebrate the day you were born, but right now, every day seems like a celebration to me. With so much turmoil going on in the world, I am just happy when I get to spend a day doing the things I like to do. (Many of which are probably just as quirky as an anti-birthday stance.) So I won’t judge my “anti-birthday” friends, because I know that the most important thing is our friendship, warts and all. But someday I sure would like to know what happened to cause such negativity about such a commonplace celebration. For now, the explanation still remains a mystery.

But that’s just me. Do you have any friends who have weird quirks you don’t understand?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Robot Resort--Tiki Totem Cafe

Please click on the photo above to watch the fourth installment of the ongoing "Robot Resort" series. In this episode, Sparky and Grey discover something strange at the resort's premiere restaurant.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Birthday Wish!

Today is my birthday. And as such, I think I’m entitled to at least one wish. (And no, it's not to have some Marilyn want-to-be jump out of a cake and sing "Happy Birthday" to me, although it certainly makes an enticing picture, no?) My wish is not about cakes or parties or even presents. My wish is much more theoretical. And not just for myself either, but rather for everyone in the world. (A little ambitious, I realize.). But here it is: I wish that the momentous occasion that happened on Tuesday night would begin to defeat all the bigotry, prejudice, hate, discrimination, and inequality that’s hampered our country for so long. Instead of pointing fingers, or imposing our “liberal” or “conservative” beliefs on other people, I wish that we could all learn to embrace our differences (not just TOLERATE them) and evolve as both a country and a race. That is my wish. And though it still may take many more years of invoking the same wish on every birthday going forward, I’m confident that a more harmonious existence can be achieved within my lifetime. Let’s just hope I don’t have to wait until I’m a hundred and eighty to actually see it.

But that’s just me. What do you plan to wish for on your next birthday?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bird Bits--Scavenger Hunt

Please click on the photo above to watch a special live action edition of "Bird Bits," featuring a seagull testing out his new GPS system.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Horror and Hassle of Halloween

For those of you who think my life is always filled with drama, you might want to skip reading this posting, because it involves yet another ridiculous situation I found myself in. And it’s not like I’m trying to throw myself constant curveballs, but somehow that’s what I inevitably end up doing.

It all started very innocently. I was going into the city with some friends last Friday evening for another friend’s Halloween party. To prepare myself for what would no doubt be a long evening in the city, I decided to take a nap for a few hours. Only the nap turned into a much longer sojourn, and when I finally woke up, I found myself with only a half hour to get ready before I was being picked up. And with shaving, showering and eating dinner to accomplish, I really had to budget my time efficiently.

First, I ran to the kitchen to see what leftovers I could heat up in a hurry. Luckily, I’d made spaghetti at some point during the week, along with a container of home-made meat sauce (made from turkey rather than beef). So I just combined the two ingredients in a bowl, threw it in the microwave, and turned the power to high for three minutes. Then I ran upstairs to take my shower while the spaghetti was heating up. Within twenty minutes, I was dressed and ready to go and running back down to the kitchen to eat my spaghetti. I quickly inhaled the micro-meal and downed it with a can of Diet Coke, just as the doorbell rang. My friends had arrived to pick me up.

As we piled into their car, I noticed that my stomach felt very gassy, probably from eating too fast. Not only that, but I was beginning to burp on a rather frequent basis, a condition I always try to keep to myself if at all possible. Unfortunately, both the spaghetti sauce and the spaghetti itself had been highly laced with garlic (an attribute I had all but forgotten), and though I was trying to suppress the noise of the burps, the actual smell was something that couldn’t be hidden. It wasn’t very long before I noticed people rolling down their windows and turning on the AC to get some fresh air circulating in the car.

“Did someone have garlic for dinner?” One of my friends finally asked.

“Yes, it was me,” I admitted. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. Is it that bad?”

At which point, everyone in the car began describing the horrendous odor that my burps were creating. Horrified, I began stuffing my mouth with mints and gum to try and squelch the issue. And as soon as we got to the party, I began drinking in the hopes of masking the garlic odor with a more socially acceptable smell—beer breath. (On the scale of bad breaths, beer is probably one of the least offensive…unless of course it’s day old beer breath, in which case it probably ranks up there with Doritos and peanuts.) After each beer, I would pull one of my friends aside and have them smell my breath, a task none of them was particularly interested in performing. And though they each assured me they could no longer smell the garlic, I still caught a whiff of it every time I burped, which for some reason I continued to do throughout the evening.

Nevertheless, I managed to have a good time at the party, making sure I turned my head to the right any time I actually spoke directly to a person. In this way, if I had any remnants of bad odor on my breath, they would be directed elsewhere. Still, I was quite happy when my friends were tired and wanted to head back to New Jersey. I was also quite full of beer, which made my last minute stop at the bathroom before we left a definite necessity. And since I’m not really a big drinker, the amount of alcohol I had consumed that evening was starting to take its toll on my head, which began to ache in a most uncomfortable way. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an open drug store or bodega in the area in which I could acquire a remedy, so we all piled back into the car and headed for the Holland Tunnel.

Our designated driver was thankfully not in the same shape as me (having only one drink earlier in the evening), and was perfectly capable of maneuvering us through the hectic Manhattan traffic, which was surprisingly dense at three o’clock in the morning. Not only dense, but not moving. And since it was Halloween, the city seemed to be filled with so many road blocks, street closings, and other unusual obstacles that it was like navigating a video game just to get around. In fact, trying to get to a road that actually led to the Holland Tunnel was such a challenge that we eventually decided to head uptown to the Lincoln.

Thinking quickly, I remembered a little-known entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel which you can access from the south rather than the entrance near Port Authority which most people use. Only once we got there, we quickly realized it was not as little-known as I’d thought. (First wrong assumption) There was a huge line of cars waiting to enter, and since we were already on the path to joining them, we decided to stay where we were rather than trying to get back to the Holland or even up to the George Washington Bridge. And once you are on the actual road leading into the tunnel, there’s no way to get off it anyway, so we were hoping this was the better of two evils. (Second wrong assumption)

But no sooner had we joined the line into the tunnel, and gotten past the point of no return, than traffic literally came to a screeching stop. And I’m not talking a slow moving line of cars, or even a stop-start smattering of movements where you trudge along like an elephant; I’m talking completely halted movement of any kind. For half an hour. Then, just when we thought we were permanently glued to the spot, there was a short burst of movement which lasted maybe five or six feet, and then we were stopped once again. For another half hour.

Warning: the next portion of this story gets a little…graphic. Not pornographic, but graphic in the sense that I talk about a very embarrassing issue of a personal nature. And though I don’t think any of it is particularly offensive, I certainly don’t want to turn off any of my readers by instituting a TMI policy. (Too Much Information) Remember, you were warned.

By this time my head was pounding and, forgive me for divulging this, I had to pee so badly that I began getting cramps. But since there was nowhere on the secluded road into the tunnel that I could use as my urinal, I had to ask my friends in the car if there was anything I could borrow for a makeshift bedpan. And even though the prospect of trying to empty the contents of my bladder into a bottle while sitting in a parked car on the road to the Lincoln Tunnel was not going to be easy, it was the only option that made sense in our particular circumstances.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything in the car that would help me, so I began looking outside the car—to the dirty shoulder of the road which was filled with garbage and other discarded items. The only thing I saw that looked even remotely like a portable latrine was a used water bottle someone had thrown out. So after jumping out of the car to procure the bottle, I sat back in the front seat, covering myself with my jacket to hide my forthcoming activity. After all, when you’re sitting in non-moving traffic, there’s nothing else to do but look around you—including all the cars parked next to you, behind you or in front of you. And since an SUV happened to be parked next to us, their line of vision allowed them to see right down into our front seat. So even with the jacket covering me up, I’m sure whatever I was doing underneath it must have appeared a little strange.

Add to that, the fact that three other people were sitting in the car with me, each of whom was trying their best to distract themselves from what I was doing. Though, without a working radio in the car, it made it quite difficult to drown out any kind of noise I might be making. Trouble was, I wasn’t making any noise. Because I was so tense, and worried that I might miss the tiny opening in the water bottle, I found that I was suffering from what most men refer to as “pee shyness.” This was also probably acerbated by the presence of a group of giggling girls in the SUV next to use, each of whom was dressed as some kind of cat. So while I tried to appear casual in what I was doing, I’m sure the jacket over my body might have led them to other conclusions, which only made the performance of my task even more difficult.

Once we started moving again, I got a little relief. Or at least I tried. But that’s when I realized that manipulating my member so it would fit into the water bottle was going to be impossible. And since I couldn’t really aim into the bottle, my only successful attempt at releasing any of my pent up fluid resulted in a sudden burst of warm liquid onto my hands, my jacket, my pants, the car seat—everywhere but into the bottle for which it was intended. (See, I told you it was going to get sort of graphic.)

By this time, my head was pounding worse than ever, and my midsection felt like a balloon about to burst. And because the traffic had stopped once again, we were now begin visited by a drunk guy from the car next to us, who got out to tell us all about his exciting evening in the Village. Naturally, this made it even more difficult to accomplish my mission, as he was standing right outside the driver’s window and I was in the front passenger seat. And the irritation from not moving for almost two hours was not exactly helping either.

Anyway, within a few minutes the traffic finally began to move again, although it still took another twenty or thirty minutes to get through the tunnel. And then because the police had inconveniently blocked off the ramp outside the tunnel, we had to find our way through Hoboken in order to get back on the highway to get home. Once we were finally moving, the pounding in my head subsided somewhat, and one of my friends in the backseat miraculously found a travel mug hidden under the seat which I was finally able to use to release some of my “tension.”

I finally arrived home at six am, three hours after we began the journey back to New Jersey. I slept on and off through Saturday and finally got back to normal on Sunday, but that was one Halloween adventure I could definitely have done without.

But that’s just me. What did you do for Halloween?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Cat Clips--Halloween Treat

As promised, here is the sequel to "Cat Clips--Halloween Trick." In this episode, the female cat plots her revenge for being scared by the male cat. But is she successful? To find out, please click on the photo above.

Oh yeah, and have a Happy Halloween. Let me know what you plan to dress up as...if you dare!!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cat Clips--Halloween Trick

This is the first of a special two-part Halloween Cat Clips mini-series. In this episode "Halloween Trick," the male cat discovers a box of Halloween decorations and decides to play a trick on the female cat. The sequel "Halloween Treat" will be posted on Friday, October 31st. To view the video, please click on the photo above.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Muddy Mess of Myspace, The Fallacy of Facebook

I am not a huge fan of social networking sites. Or maybe I’m just too old for them. But it seems like when you first join one, everybody wants to be your friend, including people you’ve never even heard of before. You are bombarded with e-mails and requests to be included on their growing list of global contacts. Then once you get acclimated with the system, and finally learn how to navigate yourself through the various features and applications, you suddenly realize that none of the people who begged you to be their friend has bothered to communicate with you since. In fact, once you added them to your list, you never heard from them again.

And just to be clear, when I refer to social networking sites, I am not including any of the sites that connect you with other bloggers, like Entrecard, Blogcatalog or MyBlogLog. To me, these serve a different purpose, and though they lead to great networking and social opportunities, their main purpose is to connect you with other bloggers of a similar interest. To share your thoughts, ideas, etc. And not necessarily to become the most popular person on the planet. (IMHO)

The first networking site I joined was MySpace. Not because I really cared about having a space of my own, but more because I wanted to use the networking capabilities to help promote my book. So I set up a meager looking page, with links to my other websites and a couple of pictures. Nothing fancy, but enough to make it appear like I put in an effort. Then I began joining all the various social groups I thought sounded interesting, and began posting items on the bulletin boards. And lo and behold, I began getting requests to be my friend. And from people all over the world.

But after a few months of this, I didn’t really feel like MySpace was doing much. Sure, I had a bunch of “friends,” but it wasn’t like I could call them out on a Friday night and ask them to go out for drinks. I also didn’t feel comfortable contacting other people in the network and asking them to be my friend. What if they said no? That would be humiliating. I mean, it’s bad enough when someone tells you to your face they don’t want to be your friend, but when someone you don’t even know doesn’t even want to add you to their roster of thousands, than it might make you feel even more insignificant than you did before. I’ve never been aggressive when it comes to socializing. And even though this was the easiest form of friendship you could have (no strings, no obligations), I still felt uncomfortable reaching out to anyone. Luckily, there were others who didn’t have this qualm, and I was soon swept away with numerous messages and requests to be friends.

But while browsing through other people’s MySpace pages, I couldn’t get over what a mess they were, and how confusing it was to find any kind of information. There were postings and videos and photos and comments and advertisements and so much crap stuffed into every corner of the area that I felt like I was looking at someone’s vomit. There was no sense of graphic design, although there were certainly plenty of graphic elements. So much so that sometimes I couldn’t even load someone’s Myspace page…it just took too long. So after a while, I lost interest in MySpace. Because to me it began to look like Filene’s Basement---everything thrown haphazardly on tables and racks, forcing you to pick through the junk in order to find that one piece of gold. To me, it was just not worth the effort.

Then, at the insistence of some friends, I joined Facebook. Originally, I’d thought this site was only for teenagers and twentysomethings. But apparently it had expanded its reach, and now the entire world was on Facebook. And once again, I began getting requests from people to become their Facebook friend. Only this time, it was from people I actually knew. Which was definitely different, although the results still appeared to be the same. Once I’d accepted them as my friend, I rarely heard from them again. And because I’m constantly busy with my blog, or my videos, or my actual job, I don’t really have time to throw myself whole-heartedly into another creative venture. Especially one that allows you to kidnap people, send fake presents, join bogus groups, and all kinds of other cyber activity that could easily take up all your time, energy and focus.

One of my friends is so obsessed with Facebook that he gets upset whenever he doesn’t get any kind of response to the postings he puts up on his wall. Or if he writes something on someone else’s wall and they don’t respond, he immediately questions whether they’re really his friend or not. “Why do they want to be my friend if they never want to talk to me?” He asked me one day. “I mean, what’s the point?” Especially when anything you write on your wall can be viewed by everyone on your friends list…and then their friends and family can see what you’re up to as well…in fact, the potential for people you never knew to learn a lot about you has increased tenfold because of the way Facebook is set up. And to see the amount of content people dump on their pages is incredible. Photos and stories and secrets and so much information about who they are, what they like, where they go and how they feel, it makes me wonder where it all will lead.

I mean, what if social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace were really part of some top secret plan by the U.S. Government to form a kind of elaborate Big Brother network?. That way, if they ever need to find a photo of you, or learn who your friends are or what kind of lifestyle you lead, they only need to look at your social networking pages and read your profile. And what’s more, they didn’t even have to do any of the hard investigative work, because you’ve already done their job for them—just by keeping your Myspace up to date, you have provided them with all the background info on you they need. You think I’m being paranoid? Probably.

But that’s just me. What’s your feeling about social networking sites?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cat Clips: Party Politics

Please click on the photo above to watch a short two minute video from the "Cat Clips" series entitled "Party Politics." In this episode, the two cats discover a box of party decorations, which leads to a rather unusual debate.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Fun and Frivolity While Foraging for Furniture

This afternoon I had a rather bizarre experience at my local Raymour and Flanigan store. I'd decided to stop there while I was out running errands, because I still needed some kind of cool end table for the living room. And since I had some extra time, I thought it might be fun to casually walk through the furniture store to get some ideas for other aspects of my house as well. But once I stepped into the store, I got the immediate feeling that my time there would be anything but casual.

For once through the door, I was practically bombarded from all sides with requests for my attention. Like a swarm of bees converging on a target, it seemed like every salesperson in the store suddenly emerged from their sofa cocoons in order to help me. I smiled and politely declined their offers, hoping that everyone would just leave me alone while I browsed through the showroom of items.

No such luck. For no sooner had I begun walking around the showroom than I noticed one of the salespeople trailing behind me at a short distance. Not only that, but I noticed another salesperson on the other side of the floor begin to also move slowly in my direction. Crap! That meant they were both going to follow me through the store, hoping that when I needed help with something, one of them would definitely be close enough to answer my questions. And though part of me certainly appreciated their enthusiastic form of customer service (unlike the salespeople at say, Home Depot, who are not at all helpful…if you can even find one), I didn’t want to be monitored like a lab rat.

If you’ve ever been in a Raymour and Flanigin store, you’ll know the entire space is divided into small display rooms, giving you a first-hand feel of how your future furniture will look in a real house. This also means there are hundreds of doorways, walls and passages to get lost in while you’re looking through all the merchandise. Like a maze of "theme" rooms, it is entirely possible to get yourself lost while trying to find the right dresser or chair.

And this is exactly what I was hoping to do. I figured if I ducked into enough rooms, I could lose my ‘tagalongs’ by outmaneuvering them through the maze. So I began picking up my pace a little hoping to shake at least one of them off my tail. But as soon as I picked up speed, so did they. It wasn't until I was finally out of both of their lines of vision that I was able to make my escape. And that's when I literally began running through the next series of rooms, hoping to cover so much distance in a single bound that I would be on the other side of the store before they even knew I was gone. At one point, I found myself in a long corridor of curio cabinets, which led me into a beautiful country dining room, obviously set up for the next Thanksgiving, and then past several outdoor settings complete with picnic tables and lounge chairs. As I giggled to myself at how silly I must have looked dashing through the store, I ran right into one of the salesmen. Somehow he'd managed to outmaneuver me.

“You seem like you’re in a hurry,” he said, with a slight grin. “Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?

“No, nothing particular,” I said. “Just something general.”

Thanking him again for his offer of help, I turned and walked off, trying to act like what I’d just said made any sense at all. Still, the salesman continued to follow me, perhaps now wondering if I was even worth the effort. And because I’d just been caught, I had the strangest sensation to try the whole thing again. Rather than just leaving the store, I suddenly wanted to beat this overconfident salesperson at his own game. Like a child, I felt the need for redemption, and possibly, revenge. But where could I hide that he wouldn’t be able to find me?

At the next opportunity, I ducked out of his sight into a room with a giant armoire. Moving as quickly as I could, I opened the door of the armoire and slipped inside, which was not an easy task since I had to step up in order to get into it. Then, closing the door behind me, I tried to keep as quiet as I could so I could hear when he passed by. But there was no sound at all. I pressed my ear to the armoire door, but I couldn’t hear anything. After about a minute of this, I began to feel rather foolish. After all, what if someone should come upon this room and want to investigate the armoire? It wouldn’t exactly be a selling point if I should happen to suddenly jump out at them.

So I pushed the door to open it, and was horrified to discover that I’d actually locked myself inside. I began knocking on the inside of the door and saying “Hello, is anyone there? Hello?” No response. Could the store really be so big that nobody could hear me? And what if I got locked in here overnight, possibly suffocating to death in a glorified hutch? That’s when embarrassment turned to panic. No longer did I care about my pride or embarrassment of being discovered; now all I cared about was getting out of the damned armoire.

I began pounding on the door and yelling “Help! I’m stuck! Help please!” Within moments, I heard the russling of feet and the click of the armoire door. As the door opened, I was once again facing the same salesperson.

“I’m so embarrassed,” I said, not really sure how I was going to explain this.

“No need,” the salesman replied, with a slight wink. “It happens all the time.”

“Really?” I replied, imagining why other customers might hide in this giant armoire. They couldn't all have been avoiding the salespeople, could they?

“Well, mostly with children. They’re trying to see if the whole Narnia story is real. You know, the lion, the witch and the wardrobe?”

“Oh, right,” I said, nodding. “Well, thanks for coming to my rescue. But I think I need something much bigger.”

And with that, I made a quick beeline for the front door and practically ran to my car. Not only was I embarrassed, but I will probably never go back to a Raymour and Flanigin store again.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had an embarrassing experience in a furniture store?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Robot Resort: Doebot Debate

Please click on the photo above to watch the third episode in the ongoing series, "Robot Resort." In this episode, Kahnee (the resident Showbot at the Resort) talks to two new arrivals, Lily and Fritzy, about their stay so far. Thanks for watching!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Botched Business of Baking the Blues Away

On one particularly rainy day in recent weeks, I decided I wanted to make a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. The sweet gooey treat seemed to be the perfect antidote for the crummy weather we’d been experiencing. And though it may seem like a very simple task to accomplish, it somehow ended up taking over my entire day. Not because the cookies were particularly difficult to make, but the angst and drama I went through on my route to actually making them is what monopolized most of my time.

It all began when I took a drive to the local grocery store to pick up the ingredients for the cookies. After all, I don’t just have bags of chocolate chips lying around. (Mostly, because they’d never last very long.) So off to the grocery store I went to pick up the chips, along with some other essentials I happened to need in order to survive the week, and ended up filling my shopping cart to the brim. (Warning: Never go the grocery store on an empty stomach…you will end up buying much more than you need, and sometimes things that you’d never even heard of.)

Anyway, when I got up to the self checkout area, there was already a long line of people waiting to go through. Partly because some moron at the checkout didn’t know how to properly use his ATM card, and needed a cashier to come over and instruct him. Once he was finally through, the next person couldn’t seem to find her cash and we all had to wait while she scrambled in her purse to find it. Still, I was not getting upset. After all, I would be making chocolate chip cookies. That cures almost any ailment. Especially the Rainy Day Blues.

So when it came to my turn, I was quite speedy and efficient in my scanning process. Some might even refer to me as an expert on proper scanning technique, that’s how good I am at it. I could see how relieved the people in line behind me were to finally have someone competent ahead of them. I smiled with self satisfaction as I whipped out my wallet to complete the transaction. And that’s where the trouble really began. For nowhere in my wallet, or on my person, was my ATM card. Nor were there any credit cards to be found. In fact, the only thing I seemed to have in my wallet at the time were several folded up receipts, some one-way tickets for NJ Metro, and a dozen or more Frequent Shopper cards at local grocery stores. But nothing that even remotely resembled money.

After five minutes of searching every pocket three or four times, I humbly apologized to the line of people behind me, and began packing all the groceries back into the cart I’d just emptied them from. Someone yelled for the Manager to come over and help the customer who forget his money, and pretty soon everyone in the checkout lines was staring at me. HUMLIATING.

Nevertheless, I was determined to make those darn chocolate chip cookies, so I drove back home and began tearing my house apart looking for the darn ATM card. I found all my credit cards, but I didn’t want to use a credit card. (After all, credit is not a thing to be taken lightly these days.) After several hours of searching, I decided I must have lost the ATM card the last time I used it. In fact, I was almost sure I never took it out of the ATM machine at the bank. So either it was still there, or maybe they could issue me a new one. So back in the car, and to the bank I drove, hoping to finally be able to start the cookie process within the hour.

Once at the bank, the cashier at the counter looked at me strangely when I told him my dilemma. It was almost as if he didn’t believe I was telling the truth. But to prove who I was, I reached and my wallet and pulled out my driver’s license, which unwittingly dislodged one of the folded up receipts. And there, hidden behind the receipt was my ATM card. It had been in my wallet the entire time, but I hadn’t seen it because I hadn’t bothered to move the folded up receipt. (It would have been too much trouble to pull it out and then stuff it back in, so I sort of took it at face value. Who knew something was hidden within it?)

Completely humiliated again, I backed out of the bank, and drove over to a different grocery store to get my items. Once I’d completed my second round of shopping that day, I was finally back home and well at work on my cookies. It was so relaxing to measure out the flour and sugar, and then mix in the butter. Everything was finally falling into place….Until it came time to add the chocolate chips. Because of course, the one ingredient I completely forgot to purchase on my second shopping trip was the one ingredient that made these cookies so special. I nearly started to cry. But instead, I jumped into the car again, and drove like a maniac to the store to get the chips, cursing at myself the entire way.

Later in the evening, I was finally able to relax enough to enjoy my freshly baked cookies with a nice tall glass of milk. And yes, it was pure heaven. But the Hell I had to go through to get there was something I wouldn’t want to repeat any time soon.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had a similar incident like this?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bird Bits--Mental Mantis

When The Amazing Mantis, a famous psychic, visits the neighborhood, the birds hit him with some surprising political questions. This is a special episode of "Bird Bits" featuring both live action and simple animation. To watch the short video, please click on the photo above.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Frequent Fragility of Friendship

Friendship is a funny thing. When you’re young and still in school, you might have a wide variety of friends from all the various activities and organizations you’re a part of (school, sports, Cub Scouts, church, etc.). At the time, you might even believe that these same friends will stay with you throughout the rest of your life, sharing your joys and pains, and basically being around whenever you want to see them. And why not? You have so much in common that nothing could ever separate you.

And then you might go off to college and meet a whole new group of friends. And while you still keep in contact with your friends from high school, the new groups of friends tend to monopolize most of your time. They also introduce you to new concepts, ideas and possibly even foods that you never considered before. They open your eyes to life outside your hometown, and for that reason, they might even seem “cooler” than your older friends. Possibly even more educated.

Then you leave college and move into the real world, where you now take on a new group of comrades known as “work buddies.” Work buddies help get you through the day when your job gets you down, or they take you out for drinks on your birthday, or exchange “Secret Santa” presents with you during the holidays. They’re now more of a constant in your life than your real friends, because you tend to see them every day from nine to five. (Or whatever hours you happen to work.) Whereas, your real friends are only available every other weekend, or you can only see them a few times a year, or you only keep in contact with them via e-mail.

And gradually, some of the groups and collections of friends that you’ve carefully accumulated over your lifetime begin to drop off. At first, you don’t even notice because you’re so busy, and so wrapped up in your current situation. But in the back of your mind, you know your friends will always be there when you need them. Or when you just want to talk. Because you have that kind of bond, after all. A bond that can never be erased or eroded through the passage of time.

Then one day, you might look around and wonder how you ever lost touch with someone who was once as close to you as your brother or sister. A person with whom you shared a thousand secrets, or a million laughs, or an infinite amount of tears. Someone who knew you as well as you knew them. So how could such a relationship ever let time or distance or even anger sever the tie that was meant to be forever? Or was it?

Are we meant to have friends for our entire life? Or do people naturally come in and out of our lives because we need to learn and grow from the experience of knowing them? They aren’t meant to be permanent fixtures, just little accents along the way. And while we enjoy them for a time, we don’t necessarily need them for our entire journey. So instead we allow them to have little “Special Guest Appearances” throughout our life. If nothing else, it certainly adds variety to our sometimes routine storyline. And the introduction of a new character in our lives every now and then is just what we need to move forward, or take a new direction, or view things from a different perspective.

There are so many people I’ve met throughout my life that I wish were still in it right now. I wish I could just pick up a phone and say hello and have a conversation, or a laugh, or catch up on what we’ve been doing. But the passage of time does strange things to friendships. People can grow in different directions, or find new interests, or even adopt different values and ideals. Even their own life experience, apart from yours, can cause them to put up barriers or walls that can no longer be penetrated by an old friend. And though the reasons for such a blockage might have nothing to do with you, it still causes“weirdness” when talking to each other.

But the worst thing to happen with a friendship is when it suddenly ends and you never know why. You’ve obviously done something to hurt or offend the other person, and yet no matter how many times you replay your conversations in your head, you can’t think of one reason why someone would be mad at you. Let alone, drop you from their lives. And unfortunately, most times the reason remains a mystery. Unless you happen to know someone who knows someone who heard something at a party about why they don’t like you any more. And usually it’s because of some minor, minor infraction on your part that somehow got blown out of proportion. Either that or you were really a jerk…though you may not have realized it at the time. (Or maybe you did. In which case, you really ARE a jerk.)

And so we move on through our lives, picking up and discarding friends with a randomness that baffles me. I still retain communication with one of my best friends from high school. He is married with children, and lives maybe ten miles from where we grew up. And to me, he is one of the most genuine, reliable and trustworthy people I know. The kind of friend you have for life. And yes, there is such a thing.

But that’s just me. What do you think about your experience with friendships?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cat Clips--Trading Spaces

Please click on the photo above to watch a short video from the "Cat Clips" series entitled "Trading Spaces." In this episode, a female cat tries several different tactics to get the male cat to move from the rug she wants to occupy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Surreal Incident with Out of Control U-Haul

Earlier this summer, I was coming home from a camping trip, when I witnessed a rather bizarre accident. I was driving on the highway, when I noticed a U-Haul truck ahead of me moving to the right shoulder of the road. Only when he reached the shoulder, he didn’t stop or slow down…he just kept on going, right over the shoulder and into the grassy ditch beyond. To my horror, I watched as the U-Haul hit a rock or something and then went flying into the air, spinning several times in the process. The side of the truck ripped open, spraying the surrounding area with boxes and furniture. And out of one of the boxes popped a giant Raggedy Ann doll, which at first glance looked like a child.

All the cars on the highway began to slow down and I was afraid I’d just witnessed a possible death. But as I moved closer to the U-Haul, I noticed that it wasn’t the kind you drive, but rather the kind you hitch to the back of some other vehicle. Thank God! At least that meant no one was inside. Further down the road, I could see a large mobile home had pulled over, and there was a man walking back toward the mess. Apparently the U-Haul had come unhitched somehow, and had thankfully veered to the side of the road rather than into oncoming traffic.

What a strange thing to witness. Helplessly watching as someone’s truck full of possessions are spewed out on the side of the road, as if they were setting up for an all-day yard sale. I was still shaking from the incident several hours later, because it was the first time I’d witnessed something that surreal since 9/11. It was like something out of a movie. Like a giant twister had picked up this truck and spun it around in the air not fifty feet away from me.

I was just glad no one got hurt, though I felt sorry for the family that would now have to literally pick up the pieces of their lives from the side of the road. In some ways, that’s how I feel about our country these days. Like we’re a U-Haul out of control. We keep spinning and spinning, and pieces are falling out all over the place, but it doesn’t seem like there’s an end in sight. When will the U-Haul known as America finally come to rest at the side of the road, so we can begin picking up the pieces and starting anew?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mouth Organ Karaoke--HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

To help celebrate the birthday of my best friend Geoff, I have decided to release the final video in the Mouth Organ Karaoke series, entitled "Happy Birthday!" (Appropriate, no?) To watch the 50 second video, please click on the photo above. And if you know someone who is also celebrating a birthday, feel free to share it with them as well.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sty Wars: Revenge of the Cyst

Did you ever get a sty in your eye? It’s not a fun experience, as it feels like you have a piece of glass permanently rubbing against your eyelid. This actually happened to me this past week, and I had a very hard time dealing with it. Not so much because of the pain, but because I sometimes suffer from spurts of vanity that make it impossible for me to be seen in public with any kind of facial flaw. The neurosis dates back to my days of acne, when going out in public meant feeling embarrassed about my many blemishes. And I’m not talking about the kind of blemishes you see on those Clearasil commercials, where the really pretty girl gets one big zit right before the Senior Prom. I’m talking about a face filled with so many dots, people might confuse me for a painting by George Saurat. (Thank God for Accutane, which permanently cleared up the situation when I was in my early twenties.)

Nevertheless, the scars from many years of emotional turmoil still rear their ugly head every now and then. (Literally, in this case.) And so, when I began noticing a little white zit-like creature forming on my lower lid, I immediately went to WebMD for assistance. In fact, I Googled everything I could about sties and how to treat them, only to find there’s no real cure. You just have to wait them out. Hot compresses are highly recommended; though popping or lancing them are not.

As luck would have it, the sty appeared two days before I was going to the theater to see “Equus” starring Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. And though I’d hot compressed the thing to death, it only seemed to make the sty grow in size until it was practically taking over my entire face. (“Is that a sty in your eye, or are you just happy to see me?”) I am exaggerating, of course, but that’s what it felt like.

On the day of the show, the sty appeared to have grown several other whiteheads on top of it, like an out-of-control litter of bunnies. And since I was going out to dinner before the show with a bunch of friends, I was sort of concerned about how people’s appetites would be after they got a peak at my mushroom sty. Would they be concerned that the sty would suddenly pop and pepper their soups with a pound of puss? Or would they all take pot shots at it for the rest of the evening until they’d worn out every joke and pun that could possibly be related to a sty? And since both options sounded like recipes for disaster, I came up with an alternative plan that would hopefully curb my public humiliaton--I would wear sunglasses the entire evening. (Oh yes, vanity has no limitations.)

Wearing sunglasses during the daytime is one thing. Even if you go inside a building to shop for a while, people don’t really care if you’re still wearing your sunglasses. They probably assume at any minute you’re going back outside so you just didn’t bother to take them off. This might even be acceptable in a restaurant during the day, because you might be trying to avoid eye contact with people, or you have a paparazzi complex. But once the sun goes down, people naturally expect you to take your sunglasses off. After all, without the sun, they just look like dark glasses. Only mine happen to be really dark glasses---the kind you can’t see into.

When I met my friends at a neighborhood bar before we went to the restaurant, I explained to them about the sty and that I was actually wearing the sunglasses for their sake—so they wouldn’t have to eat while looking at such an unsightly cluster of grossness. As my friends are used to such “antics” from me, none of them really cared. Although I did have some difficulty when I tried to find the bathroom in the darkened bar. I managed to find the Owner’s office, the broom closet and the women’s room before I finally was able to decipher the strange hieroglyphics on the men’s room door enough to realize it was supposed to be a cut-out of a male body. Stupid me. .

Later, at the theater, I heard whispers as I took my place in the second row of the mezzanine. I’m sure people were wondering if I was some reclusive movie star trying to hide his persona, or just another wacko New Yorker who imagines himself much more important than he actually is. As I was neither, I tried to concentrate on the program, while everyone around me was apparently trying to solve the mystery of the man in dark glasses. At one point, a little girl came up and asked for my autograph, no doubt thinking I must be someone famous. I pretended I was foreign and didn’t understand her, until she finally went back to her disappointed parents, who might have been hoping the autograph would settle their bet as to who I was.

Once the lights went down, though, I took the sunglasses off. And I’m glad I did, because at one point Daniel Radcliffe looks up into the audience for quite some time, right at the point where I was sitting. I could only imagine what he might think if he saw someone with sunglasses sitting in the second row. Perhaps that I was Severus Snape coming to sabotage his performance, or one of the Weasley boys about to perform a prank.

The next day the whiteness and puffiness of the sty calmed down, or perhaps retreated out of embarrassment, and is now just a small scab waiting to heal. I just hope I never get stymied like that again.

But that’s just me. Have you ever had an embarrassing experience with a sty?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Robot Resort--Orientation

Please click on the photo above to watch a short video from the "Robot Resort" series. In this episode, two robots vacationing at the Robot Resort learn about all the activities they can participate in. Part Two of an ongoing series.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Pain, the Pain, of Shirley MacLaine

Did anyone else watch the recent Lifetime Red Carpet presentation of “Coco Chanel,” starring Shirley MacLaine? If you didn’t, the only thing that you missed was a very passionate performance by the beautiful Leading Lady. And when I say “Leading Lady,” I am NOT in fact referring to Ms. MacLaine. But rather to the charming newcomer Barbora Bobulova, who plays the role of young Coco Chanel, on whom most of the three hour biopic thankfully concentrates. She is feisty and passionate and fiercely driven, and most importantly, sports a rather heavy French accent, an attribute Miss MacLaine apparently forgot to maintain once the character matured to her age level.

In fact, there is such a stark contrast between Miss MacLaine’s interpretation of Coco Chanel, and Miss Bobulova’s portrayal, that you might assume the famous designer went through some kind of schitzophrenic metamorphosis once she reached middle age. Although it’s never really clear what age Miss MacLaine is supposed to be playing during this lengthy biopic (60? 70? 109?), she certainly boasts all the attributes of somebody with Irritable Bowel Disorder. She scowls, she snorts, and generally appears so cantankerous throughout most of her short appearances in the film, that you can’t wait until the next flashback sequence just to get her off the screen. It doesn’t even appear that Miss MacLaine bothered to do any research on the infamous Ms. Chanel before she agreed to tackle such an iconic figure. She simply approached the role like she appears to approach most of her roles these days--with pepper and gusto and a lot of hot air. But once you peel back the superficial layer, you realize she’s still playing the same character she’s been playing for the past twenty years. The aging misunderstood firecracker with a heart of….cold.

Not that I’ve always had such an aversion to Miss MacLaine’s onscreen antics. There once was a time in my life when I thought she was funny and zany and a real free spirit. But that was back when she was doing movies like “Sweet Charity” and “Around the World in 80 Days.” Or even during “The Turning Point” or “Terms of Endearment.” Those were great performances. Except then she seemed to settle into the “Terms of Endearment” role for the rest of her career, until she’s finally become sort of a punch line to her own joke. Now she only appears in movies in small doses, as the wise and smart aleck older woman who dispenses politically incorrect advice or sassy repartee. Someone who can not only “stir the pot,” but also looks like she might have been smoking some as well.

After all, this is the woman who gave us “Out on a Limb,” a book which not only changed my life for a brief period of time, but also caused me to become obsessed with the idea of astral projection. My mom had read the book and passed it along to me, and though I was skeptical at first, there was a lot of what she said that made sense. (Granted, I was still in my late teens and naively optimistic when it came to the ways of the world.) But once I read the part about Shirley lying in a hot tub and then suddenly being pulled out of her body and sent into orbit, I wanted to sign up for classes on how to do it.

Unfortunately, my college did not offer such a course at the time, so I decided to practice on my own. I can still remember lying in my college dorm room at night and imagining myself flying out of my body and into the unknown stratosphere above me. I would even chant the word “levitate, levitate” in my head, which as you may have gathered, is not really the same thing as astral projection. Nevertheless, the only thing I ever managed to do was get my feet to rise about two feet in the air, an involuntary act that might have been caused more from a charley horse, rather than actual mind control. So though I still read the next few books Miss MacLaine wrote, I began to get more and more lost as to what the point of all this drivel was. Eventually I came to the conclusion that Miss MacLaine must have had access to some pretty powerful drugs to get her to go flying in the air like that. Either that, or a really good broomstick.

But that’s just me. What are your thoughts on Shirley MacLaine?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bird Bits--Sand and Sushi


Please click on the photo above to watch a short video from the "Bird Bits" series called "Sand and Sushi." In this episode, Robin and Belinda Bluebird share a pleasant morning exploring a sand castle and going to a local Sushi cafe.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Extracting Irrelevant Expertise from Expert Advice

Did you ever have a friend or co-worker who professed expertise on a topic they were clearly not proficient at themselves? For instance, I once had a friend who would constantly give me advice on how to “work out.” He would often come over to my apartment to hang out, and talk to me while I lifted weights, and then make little critiques about what I was doing wrong. And this so-called “expert advice” was coming from someone who never worked out, did any kind of aerobic activity or ever lifted a weight. In fact, the only reason he even had a membership to the local gym was so he could go sit in their steam room and exfoliate.

But that didn’t stop him from pointing out all the various things I apparently was doing incorrectly. Or instructing me on the best methods for curling or bench pressing, or any number of other body building techniques, all of which he obviously never practiced himself. And whenever I questioned him about this, he simply said that he didn’t enjoy working out any more, though he used to do it all the time. Of course this was way back in college when he and his fraternity brothers would go to the gym every day to get ready for the weekend’s big “Mixer” with a neighboring sorority. And though it’s been maybe twenty years since his love affair with physical fitness, he still felt it necessary to regurgitate all that acquired knowledge on me all these many years later. (Yeah!)

Then there was the co-worker that always wore one of those buttons that reads: “Want to Lose Weight? Ask Me How.” The button was a not-so-subtle advertisement for her other business venture—a diet weight loss program that she sold on the side to earn extra income. And though I’m never averse to losing a few pounds, I certainly would not take my advice from a woman whose physical appearance reminded one of a giant Gummy Bear. Round, cute and cuddly, with the jiggle of Jell-o.

But before anyone takes offense, I am not trying to make a joke about losing weight. Or even of people who are overweight. I know that losing weight is not an easy task to accomplish, even under a doctor’s care. And some people have medical conditions that prevent them from losing as much as they’d like to. So I know it’s a touchy subject matter. My point is, if you had to choose a sideline business to make some extra money, why not choose something you might actually look credible selling? I mean, I wouldn’t buy a hair restoration product from someone who’s bald, because he’s not a living example of the product he’s pedaling. (And no, I am NOT currently looking for a hair restoration product. That was just an example.) Anyway, the same is true with weight loss products. If you don’t represent the “miracle” product you’re pushing, perhaps you should be investigating another option.

Another example of an obnoxious expert is a certain female family member who was a stern advocate of strict discipline when it came to child rearing. And even though she was unmarried and had no children of her own, that never stopped her from giving her married sister with children all kinds of advice on what she was doing wrong when it came to parenting. “You have to break their will,” she would tell her sister any time one of the children got sassy or threw a tantrum. “If you don’t do it now, they’ll be totally out of control when they’re older.” And like they say, Karma is a bitch. And now that she’s married with two boys of her own, she does everything she can to avoid dealing with them at all. And as for “breaking their will”…well, let’s just say, that these boys might be considered perfect examples of being “totally out of control” when they’re older.

And finally, the biggest offenders of this type of hypocrisy (and here’s where we take a little turn toward a more serious tone) are those extreme religious organizations whose hateful and discriminatory actions belie the teachings of their supposedly loving and forgiving God. To me, anyone who calls themselves a Christian should try to act like one. And not just when they’re doing some kind of charitable work, but also when they’re dealing with their fellow human beings. And for fear of instigating some kind of exhausting religious debate, that’s all I’ll say on the matter.

But that’s just me. Do you have any “experts” in your life that drive you crazy with their lack of expertise?