Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Well, I didn't expect to be sitting here writing a blog entry. In fact, Laurie and I were supposed to be in Cape Cod at a wedding (that of James, brother of our daughter-in-law Rebecca). But we woke up this morning to find it snowing and a check of the storm's track had it moving up the coast and across southern New England at about the same time we would be.

Well, in our younger days, we would have been game for spending however many hours the 250-mile trip would take, but these days we aren't quite so adventurous. So we phoned Chuck to advise him of our cancelled plans, sent our good wishes to the newlyweds, and stayed home.

It got me thinking about how we've spent past New Year's Eves...
Recent ones have been at dinner parties at Gudrun's. This year, however, she is away, so there is no dinner party.
We spent a number of years with Merrill and Marty, at whatever party Marty's band was playing.
Others were spent with Jodi and Alex, and I can recall at least one of those at which Alex's brother, a chiropractor, was giving folks adjustments.
A few were spent at Sam Lord's Castle in Barbados.
And there was a year that we accepted invitations to two different neighborhood parties. Like Archie on dates with Betty and Veronica at the same time, we took turns ducking out of one and trotting down the street to the other. And, if I recall correctly, Sammi was having a party of her own at our house, so we kept stopping by to check up on that as well. (I can't say which party we were at when the ball dropped, but I do know Laurie and I were both at the same place at the time.)

Wherever you are this evening, I wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Traditions

When Chuck and Sammi were small, we started one of our Christmas traditions, driving around town looking at the Christmas lights on all the houses. Some years, we did it on Christmas Eve, but switched it to another night if we had some plans.

Though Chuck lost interest in it after awhile, Sammi and I have continued to do it every year. With a couple of CDs of Christmas music -- Gloria Estefan and Karen Carpenter are the two favorites -- we head out and drive a varied route up and down and around Farmingdale. Over the years, we added keeping a list of how many of one type or another of decorations we see. The list changes each year, but we've tallied the number of wooden reindeer, icicle lights, blow-up Santas, light-up candy canes, sheep in mangers, and all sorts of things. And though we never actually give out a prize of any sort, we always pick a house that we think is the best-decorated of the year.


For as long as I can remember, I have watched the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol" on Christmas Eve. Way back when, it was a staple on Channel 5, usually starting at 11:00 p.m. There have been plenty of other versions over the years, but the Sim one has always been my favorite. (It was followed by the Gene Lockhardt version and I would often stay up watching that as well, so I guess that would have to be my second favorite version.)

When we got a VCR, I taped both so that I could start watching them a bit earlier in the evening (and also fast-forward through the commercials). And when NBC turned "It's a Wonderful Life" into a Christmas Eve tradition, I added that to my annual viewing list. I taped that as well, so that I could watch it after Sammi and I did our Christmas lights viewing (and, again, skip the commercials). A couple of years ago, the kids got me the movies on DVD, so I no longer have to worry about commercials at all.


When the kids were little and still believed in Santa, I would wait till they'd gone to sleep, then retrieved the presents from whichever closet Laurie and I had stored them away and put them under the tree. (One year, we spent Christmas in Barbados. As Laurie was getting Chuck and Sammi into the car to go to the airport, I got the presents and put them under the tree. When we got home ten days later, the kids were convinced that Santa had delivered the gifts in our absence.)

As in many homes, we put out a snack for Santa. The traditional cookies and milk were replaced with ice water and an orange when we decided that "Santa" needed to eat more healthily.

On Christmas morning, Chuck and Sammi were allowed to come down and empty their stockings whenever they awoke, but they could not wake up Laurie and me to open the gifts until 8:00. I don't think I've ever asked what the earliest time they crept downstairs was, but if they were anything like my brothers and me when we were kids, I'm sure it was before dawn on more than one occasion.


This year will be the first since Chuck's birth that we will not have either of our children in the house on Christmas morning. Chuck and Rebecca are spending the holiday with her parents in Washington, D.C., as they've done for the past few years, establishing a Christmas tradition of their own.

Sammi is out in California visiting her boyfriend, Bill, who is in the Air Force and does not have the time off to come to New York for the holidays. They have spent the day working their way through the Feast of the Seven Fishes and are then are heading to San Francisco tomorrow for the weekend.

But while I won't be piling presents under the tree or eating an orange tonight, I've already watched "It's a Wonderful Life" and am now joining Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas for their annual tale of his redemption.

So, as I head off to bed, let me close with the words of Clement Clarke Moore: "Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Snows of Yesteryear

One Saturday in early February of 1969, a group of us went to the beach.

No, we weren't trying to become members of the Polar Bear Club; our goal was to take a picture for the Elmont High School yearbook. For our opening photo essay, we wanted a shot of students looking (metaphorically) towards the future, the vast ocean stretching out before us. And, like many who had done it before and many who have done it since, we thought we were being totally original.

It was a beautiful sunny day. The temperature was in the low 40s, the air was crisply fresh, and the sky was that bright winter blue. And, while there was a breeze, it was warm enough for us to doff our coats and pose as if it were a summer afternoon.

When we were finished and getting ready to leave, one of my compatriots mentioned that he heard it was supposed to snow the next day. We all scoffed. Look at this weather; there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Now you have to keep in mind that this was in the days before Doppler radar, satellite imagery, TV stations devoted solely to the weather, and the panic-generating overkill coverage by the media that we have today. Even when it started to snow, the weather forecasters could only guess about how much we would get and how long it would last. The U.S. Weather Bureau had, in fact, predicted that it was going to turn to rain by afternoon.

Well, it started to snow. And snow. And snow. It never turned to rain. And when it finally ended, the snow was 18 to 20 inches deep. Partially due to budget concerns and, presumably, because they were expecting it to change to rain, New York City and surrounding county officials were not quick to get plows on the roads. When they finally were dispatched, there was no way they would get ahead of the storm.

The metropolitan area was paralyzed for three days. It was not until Wednesday that NYC schools, trains, and airports were back to operating normally. It took longer in the borough of Queens, which seemed like the forgotten stepchild of the city. It was a week before some of the streets were finally cleared.

Just across the city line in Elmont, the schools were closed all week. They would have been able to open on Friday, but that was Lincoln's Birthday, which was a holiday. And though our roads were cleared, you can't get out of Nassau County without going through Queens, so no one was getting very far.

Faced with this unexpected week-long vacation, what did we do? Well, I know I made some good money by shoveling the walks and driveways of some of my neighbors. And I walked a lot to visit my friends, the closest of whom lived about a mile away.

On the first two nights we went sledding on the Cross Island Parkway. (For those non-New Yorkers reading, the Cross Island is a major highway that runs north and south on the Queens-Nassau border.) Sometime during the storm, a plow had made a single-lane path on the northbound side, skirting around cars that had been stuck and abandoned all along the way. The snow that remained in that path was great for sledding, but the best part of all was the hill overlooking the merge of the Cross Island with the Southern State Parkway. We had a great time zipping down and across an area that normally would have been filled with four lanes of traffic!

Eventually, the snow melted and our senior year at Elmont continued towards graduation. But the Blizzard of '69 had one more effect on us. The schools had been closed for four days, but they had only allotted three snow days to the schedule. In order to fulfill the state-mandated number of school days, we all had to go to school one last Monday in late June... the day after we graduated.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Stories

As blizzards go, the one we experienced over the past weekend is supposed to have been a record-breaker. The record broken, however, is apparently for snowfall before the actual start of winter. Or snowfall on the last shopping weekend before Christmas. Or snowfall in years that you might think are prime numbers but aren't. We got somewhere in the neighborhood of a foot and a half of snow, but virtually all of came overnight and the plows seemed able to stay ahead of it as far as keeping the streets relatively clear.

As blizzards go, however, this one did wreak havoc with travel plans. Sammi was supposed to fly home on Saturday afternoon, but Delta, apparently succumbing to the doomsday scenarios being broadcast by the media, cancelled all four of its flights for the day, including two in the morning, well before a snowflake had fallen (and while it was only raining on the Richmond end). When Sammi was finally able to get through to a live person at the airline, she was rebooked for the same flight on Sunday. All well and good until Delta cancelled all the flights for a second day, despite the fact that the storm had blown out of here by mid-morning.

Since Sammi was scheduled on a flight from NY to California this morning, this created a rather large problem. There were no flights she could get on that would get her here in time. There was, however, AmTrak, and so I was able to book her a ticket on a train from Richmond to NYC yesterday. Of course, since nothing goes as planned when we're in blizzard mode, the train, which was due in at 4:45 p.m., finally arrived at 9:30. After another hour on the Long Island Railroad, Sammi was finally in the door at 11:30 last night. Her planned day and half home before departing for LA was reduced to about five hours, most of which were spent sleeping, as she and I were out the door at 4:45 this morning on the way to the airport.

This morning's flight, on American, seems to have departed as scheduled. Delta, on the other hand, has sent Sammi an email advising her that they have rebooked her on "the earliest convenient flight" from Richmond to NYC. It's at 6:30 tomorrow morning.


Bob and Deb Greenberger's flight from Florida yesterday evening, on the other hand, was not a problem. In fact, it arrived some twenty minutes ahead of schedule. As we had custody of both their car and their puppy, I was picking them up.

Despite a few icy patches on the roads, getting to LaGuardia Airport last night was fairly easy. Not many folks were out driving on a frigid Sunday night after a blizzard. Those who were, however, all seem to have been headed for LaGuardia. It took me as long to get from the entrance to the "arriving passengers" area to its exit (having extracted Bob and Deb from the crowds of waiting folks in the process) as it did to go the 25 miles to the airport!

First, two lanes of traffic were forced to merge into one because the other was filled with cars whose drivers were apparently just waiting. The single lane then spread to four in front of the terminal, three of which were filled with more "waiting cars" as drivers in the only moving lane tried to squeeze in among them. Add a traffic light that turned red every time a pedestrian appeared and it's little wonder why it took almost forty minutes to make a quarter-mile loop.

The pick-up and drop-off areas are usually policed by security personnel who blow their whistles and wave you on if you are stopped for more than thirty seconds. (On one occasion a few years ago, I was confronted with one who kept yelling and angrily waving at me to move even as a crowd of pedestrians were walking in front of my car.) Last night, however, they were all missing in action -- lost in a giant snowdrift, perhaps -- and so, chaos ensued.


CRI's office is in a group of buildings that form a U-shape around a central parking area. Said parking area accumulated quite a bit of snow, which the plowers pushed into a couple of sizable mountains in the middle. Actually, I should say that's where they pushed most of the snow. The rest got pushed up against the buildings... including the office doors and garage doors and loading docks. Employees of the various businesses here got quite a surprise when they drove in this morning and discovered their workplaces were virtually inaccessible. (We at CRI were a bit more fortunate; our truck driver, his son and a friend came by yesterday and dug a path to our doorway.)

Today, due to numerous complaints to the landlord, there was a payloader dispatched to move all the snow from in front of the buildings. Of course, since the parking lot is now filled with cars, he hasn't got as many options for where to put it as he would have had yesterday when we were all at home.

Those two mountains of snow in the middle of the lot... I think they're going to be with us till spring rolls around.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sammi

At 8:20 in the morning twenty-five years ago, my daughter Sammi finally entered the world. I say "finally" because we had been expecting her arrival for almost three weeks.

We had what we thought was a pretty good preparedness plan for her birth. My mother was coming to stay with us to take care of Chuck while Laurie was in the hospital; she lived about 30 miles away and I would pick her up when the time was near.

On the 4th of December, I was lying on the living room couch reading at about 11:30 p.m. when Laurie came downstairs and said, "I think it's time." I threw on some clothes, called my mom to say I was on the way, and raced off to get her.
We got back to the house at about 1:00 in the morning. I was expecting to find Laurie sitting on the couch with her coat on, ready to go. Instead, there was no sign of her. My first thought was that we had cut things too closely and she had gotten an ambulance or one of the neighbors to take her to the hospital. But then, where was Chuckie?
I went upstairs and found him sound asleep in his bed.
And in our bedroom, there was Laurie, also sound asleep. I woke her and asked, "What's going on?"
"It was a false alarm," she replied.
I went down and told my mother what was going on. "Well, I hope you're not planning to drive me home," she replied. I wasn't and she stayed for the duration.

Two nights later, we had invited Karen Smith, an old college friend, over for dinner. When I got home from work, Laurie advised me that she had called Karen to reschedule. "I'm having a baby," she told Karen.
We ate and then we headed off to the hospital. Though Laurie's water had broken, Sammi still seemed in no great rush to be born. After a few hours in the hospital, Laurie decided that I should go home and get some sleep.
I remember getting home in time to watch "Hill Street Blues," and then just after I turned out the light to go to sleep, the phone rang. It was a nurse in the hospital. She said my wife wanted me to come back because she was lonely. (This was not actually the case; there were some signs of possible fetal distress and Laurie wanted me there. But she also did not want me to be upset while I was driving, so she had the nurse say she was lonely.)
I spent the night dozing in a plastic chair in the labor room because Sammi still was not in any hurry to arrive. At about 6:30, the doctor decided Sammi needed a little coaxing and gave Laurie a shot. He assured me that I had time to go down and get a cup of coffee.
When I got back to the room, I found Laurie telling the nurse, "Go get the doctor. The baby is coming right now!"
The doctor came in and said, "It can't be happening this fast," then took a look and said, "Oh, I guess it can!"

And at 8:20 a.m. on December 7, 1984, Samantha Jill Rozakis finally made her debut!

Happy birthday, Sammi... and many. many more!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright...

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am really tired of hearing about Tiger Woods, his accident, his indiscretions, and the rest of the "scandal" that has been the hot topic on TV, the newspapers and magazines, and online for the past week. Given Tiger's status as a sports celebrity, the story has been fodder for news programs, the various sports talk shows, and the "entertainment news" shows, making it virtually impossible to have the TV on for an hour without someone mentioning his name.

Is it news? No, it's just gossip...on a grand scale.

Imagine that someone you work with is having an extra-marital affair and that secret is discovered by another co-worker. How long before the story spreads through the company, the topic whispered about in the copy room and the coffee-maker? The only relevance it holds, however, is if it affects how your co-worker does his or her job. If it doesn't, then it's nobody's business.

In the case of an elected official (like the one who claimed he was off hiking in the Andes or whatever), the question is, again, does the situation affect how the job is performed. If the answer is "yes," then we have a right to be concerned, though only to the extent that it affects the responsibilities to the public. If the answer if "no," then, again, it is nobody else's business.

But in the case of a sports figure like Tiger, whose "job" is to win golf tournaments, why should any of us really care if, as a result of his "transgressions," he can't concentrate and never wins another one? He's just another in a long line of celebrities who has managed to screw up his life.