Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Taking Out the Trash

I read recently that the per capita amount of trash generated in this country has increased substantially over the past two decades. This is not surprising, especially when you consider that it is usually cheaper these days to buy a new refrigerator, computer, or vacuum cleaner than it is to have the old one repaired.

Hand in hand with the increase in trash, however, has been the increased emphasis on recycling. Paper, plastic, glass, metal, grass and yard clippings -- they all now have their place in our local recycling program. In many areas, people are required to separate the glass from the plastic from the metal; our local program allows us to put them all in the single can. (As Laurie has often pointed out, the stuff is all being dumped into a single truck, so demanding that we sort it would be pointless.) There does seem to be some secret rule regarding plastic, however, and it appears not all the sanitation men know it because sometimes they take the little plastic trays that tomato plants, etc. come in and other times they reject them.

Rejection comes in two ways. Sometimes, they take out the "offending" items and leave them next to the can, taking the rest. Other times, they just leave the can standing at the curb with no explanation, leaving us to wonder why. One time, they stuck a flyer about what was recyclable in the handle of the can. I read through it, but, as there was nothing new or different in the can than in previous weeks, I couldn't figure out what was being rejected. So I left it there... and the following week, they took everything.

Paper recycling is a particularly odd item. They insist that newspapers be separated from magazines, junk mail, etc. One would presume that this is because newspapers are printed on uncoated paper, unlike magazines, but there are magazines printed on newsprint and sections of the newspaper (the Sunday magazine and most of the ad flyers, for example) that are printed on coated stock.
Far more puzzling is the insistence that the newspapers be tied into bundles; putting them into a supermarket bag -- which is made out of recycled paper -- is not acceptable. Nor is using a heavy duty rubber band to bundle them acceptable, apparently. I tried that one time and they left the bundle sitting at the curb.
I have tired of the newspaper bundling rules, by the way. We get four newspapers each day and they pile up fairly quickly. Now I stop at the train station every week or so and dump our entire pile into the recycling bin there -- no bundling is required.

As far as grass clippings, leaves, etc, well, they have me completely baffled.
I made the apparent mistake of putting a can of clippings out on the regular trash day. They left it.
I put it out on recycling day. They left it.
I emptied the can into a plastic bag and put it out on trash day. They left it.
The bag is now sitting at the curb, waiting to see if it will be taken on the next recycling day.
If they leave it again, I'm not quite sure what I'll do. Maybe I'll just have to empty the bag on a windy day and wait for the clippings to blow away.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Who Do You See?

One of my favorite Bill Cosby lines: "You know you're getting old when you look in the bathroom mirror and say, 'Dad!?'"

I was out on a bicycle ride yesterday afternoon, something I do fairly often, especially now that the weather has gotten nicer. Along the way, I passed a group of kids, five or six of them, probably about 13 years old. As I passed, one of the boys yelled out, "Hi, Grandpa!"
I responded with my best Walter Brennan imitation, saying, "Hi, there, sonny!"

The interchange got me thinking. What the kids -- and everyone else I pass -- see is a balding older man on a bicycle. But is that how I see myself?

The first time I rode my bicycle to a specific destination was probably when I was in sixth grade. Certainly, I'd been riding it around our cul-de-sac neighborhood for years before that, but it was probably the spring of 1963 that I convinced my parents to let me ride to school instead of taking the bus. The trip was about a mile and, except for crossing Elmont Road, it was all back streets. (Even as I am writing this, I'm thinking that I had probably ridden to the library, a similar route to the school one, but much shorter, before this.)
It was also in sixth grade that I became friends with one of my classmates, Michael, who lived about as far from us as he could and still be in the same school. So it was not long after I started riding to school that I also started riding to his house. (Those of you reading this who are of my generation remember the days before parent-arranged play-dates; if you wanted to play with someone, you rang their doorbell and asked if they could come out and play.)
From that time on, through high school, my bicycle became my mode of transportation. (In addition to not arranging who we would play with and when, our parents rarely, if ever, drove us to someone else's house.) I was able to get around Elmont quite quickly, often making it from one friend's house to another's faster than people who were going by car.
Often I would just go out for a ride, my path determined by whether a traffic light was red or green when I got to it. Such rides often had me crossing paths with someone I knew, resulting in a conversation or visit that could not have been less planned.

So what am I saying with all this? Simply that when I am riding my bicycle these days, I do not picture myself as a 59-year old that others see. In my mind's eye, I'm still that ageless teenager... and always will be.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Tax Final

Way back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and I graduated college with my degree in Accounting, my father told me that the true final exam would be doing my grandfather's tax return.

First of all, you have to recognize that this was long before programs like TurboTax existed, long before anybody had a home computer, and when calculators that could do just the minimal math functions cost hundreds of dollars. As such, all the entries -- and all the back-up math -- were done by hand.

Grampa's return was a challenge right from the start. He kept all of his "tax papers" in a large shoebox -- bills, receipts, bank statements, etc. -- unsorted. As they arrived during the year, he put them in the box. I sorted through them, isolating what was necessary for the return and what wasn't. When I would question a bill or receipt, he would tell me about it and add that, "your father told me to save everything." And he did.

Grampa and his wife (my step-grandmother, who we called "Aunt Marion"), lived in an apartment in Manhattan, but they also had a house in upstate Schroon Lake, where they spent the summer. Both of them were in their mid-70s, collected Social Security, and had no other source of income.

Well, that's not exactly true. In Schroon Lake, Grampa ran a "snack bar" -- serving breakfast, lunch, and such -- in a small building on the property. He later owned a luncheonette in town and then ran the concession stand at the local beach, the last when he was about 80. That first year I did his taxes, he made no profit from the snack bar. My father later confirmed that Grampa was lucky if he broke even in any given year.

Once I had all the papers sorted, I started filling out the various forms. There were lots of them and the only one I did not have to fill in involved the sale of farm equipment. (Had I mentioned this, I'm sure Grampa would have bought and sold a tractor the following year, just so we could fill out the form.) We spent most of the afternoon at the dining room table, getting the return done. Every now and then, my father would look in and chuckle.

Once the Federal return was completed, I had to do the New York State one, with yet another collection of forms. And when all was said and done, Grampa owed no taxes. This was not really a surprise, since he had virtually no income. I told him so, figuring he would be happy, but, instead, he said, "What about my refund?"
"Grampa, you didn't pay any taxes. There isn't any refund."
"Your father always gets me a fifty dollar refund."
I looked at the previous year's return, but there was no indication of a refund. "Did you get one last year?"
"Your father gets me one every year," Grampa insisted.

So I went to my father with the return. As he was flipping through it, I asked how he managed to get Grampa money back. "Oh, I just give him fifty bucks and tell him it's his senior citizen refund!"
"Well, I don't have $50 to give him!"
At which point my father handed me the money and said, "Give this to him." He then laughed and said, "And, by the way, you passed the test."

Friday, April 9, 2010

All Summer in a Week

Those who thought that global warming was over following the "blizzaster" storms that we experienced earlier this year might be rethinking it now that we've had almost a week of summer to start April, including a record 85 degrees here on Long Island on Wednesday. (For those who might be wondering: No, we haven't opened the pool yet. Laurie thought about it, but the guys who do it haven't even started their work season yet.)

Some years ago, when the CTY summer program at Chestertown included a Meteorology class, we had one morning where the temperatures were in the 50s. This was quite startling, as those of us who had been through Maryland summers were quite used to heat and humidity. (One of my colleagues described our transit from air-conditioned dorm to air-conditioned classroom to air-conditioned dining hall as moving "from igloo to igloo through hell.")
As we were walking to the dining hall for lunch, I asked "Meteorologist Mike" how it could be so chilly if we were having a global warming. Mike's explanation was quite simple; he said that the climate change was going to result in abrupt and extreme weather changes...such as having a day of 50-degree weather in July.

Certainly the snowstorms that socked the Mid-Atlantic states earlier this year and the torrential rains that flooded the Northeast a couple of weeks ago qualify as extreme weather. There was snow on the ground in forty-nine of the fifty states -- Hawaii being the lone hold-out -- at one point this winter. Students who had never even seen the white stuff in their lives experienced the first "snow days" in states where the snow removal plan is "It will melt." (When Sammi tried to buy a snow shovel at a K-Mart near her, she was told that they don't sell snow shovels in Virginia.)

Now that the weather has returned to normal, it remains to be seen if our early week of summer is a fluke or if we'll experience more extremes. Last year we had three months of April and, if that pattern repeats, we might not see any more hot weather till the end of June. Whatever the case, it's not like we can do anything about it.

Unless, of course, you believe that the Chinese have mastered weather control and they are doing this just to screw with us.

Monday, April 5, 2010

They Said It Wouldn't Last

Thirty-six years ago, Laurie and I were married in the Nassau County Courthouse by Judge Bea Burstein. The ceremony was attended by our parents and siblings, my grandparents, and a couple of friends. As it was a Friday morning, most of our friends were working and a 9:00 a.m. wedding was not easy to attend.

The reception was at a restaurant called The Viennese Coach that evening. It had been arranged only a few days earlier by Laurie's parents, so no printed invitations went out. In fact, since this was back when very few people had answering machines, only those people who were actually home to answer the phone when Laurie's mother called actually got invited. More than a couple of our friends were upset that they hadn't been invited.

Less than a dozen pictures of our wedding day exist, all of them taken by Laurie's father. Our friend Stephan Kravitz, who has photographically documented virtually every event before and since, acquiesced to the request of his then-girlfriend to not bring his camera.

We honeymooned in Mexico -- Acapulco and Mexico City, to be precise. Because we had to fit it into Laurie's teaching schedule, we were there during Easter Week. As a result, virtually everything was closed the entire time we were there. Added to that, I had a case of "Montezuma's revenge" and spent much of the Mexico City portion of the trip in "el bano."

We decided to come home a day early. Yes, back then it was easy and free to change your reservations. We had left both of our cars -- and our keys -- at my parents' house. We did not call to say we'd be home a day early -- long distance charges were outrageously high -- but we expected that someone would be there.

Imagine our surprise when we landed at Kennedy Airport and got no answer when we called. So we called Stephan, who came and picked us up and drove us to my parents' house. Indeed, my father, my mother, and both my brothers had all gone out somewhere. (And, since this was also long before the cellphone era, there was no way to get in touch with any of them.) The only one in the house was Skippy, but none of us had ever trained the dog to open the door.

Still, Laurie and I needed to get home to our Westbury apartment, the keys to which were with our car keys inside my parents' house. So, what did we do? We broke in! Well, to be precise, I broke in, then opened the door to let Stephan and Laurie in. All the time I was prowling around the house with a flashlight, with Skippy barking, not one of the neighbors looked out to see what might be going on.

I located our keys, took Skippy for a walk, and left a note explaining that we'd been and gone.

As it turned out, my father -- a captain in the NYC Fire Department -- was working. My mother, not expecting us back for another day, had gone to visit and stay the night with my Aunt Alice in New Jersey. And both my brothers were out on dates.

I don't recall who got home first, but my brother Jimmy says that the next morning he mentioned to my father that we were home. My father hadn't seen the note. "Didn't you notice that their cars were gone?" Jimmy asked him.
"I thought maybe you or Richie took them."
"We have our own cars. What would we be doing with four cars?"

Anyway, thirty-six years later, we are still together. And we've at least learned to take our keys with us.