Friday, May 31, 2013

What to watch this summer

Not to sound intellectual – I ain’t ­– but I prefer reading to watching TV. One reason I avoid TV is that I hate my cable company. Every time I watch I am reminded I’m paying good money for lousy service.

That said, over the last few months I’ve gotten into TV big-time. The reason? Netflix, the video service that, for a flat rate of $7.99 a month, streams programming directly to your TV.

I had heard of Netflix – who hasn’t? – ­­but was intimidated, assuming it required all sorts of technical know-how, something I don’t possess. A friend convinced me otherwise. All you need is a TV, wireless internet and an inexpensive device such as a Roku, a plastic box the size of a pack of cigarettes that attaches to your TV, for which I paid $59 at Target. It took a Luddite like me less than 10 minutes to get up and running.

What I like most about Netflix is that, with few exceptions, you can watch every episode ever made of your favorite TV shows or, better yet, the shows you always intended to watch – including series that originally ran on HBO, Showtime and other premium channels. And you can watch them back-to-back.

With summer upon us, there’s a dearth of original programming on network TV, most of which sucks anyway. So here are suggestions for shows those of you with Netflix will enjoy. Trust me on this.

Breaking Bad: Diagnosed with terminal cancer, a 50-year-old milquetoast who teaches high school chemistry starts manufacturing crystal meth in order to leave his wife, handicapped teenage son and soon-to-be-born baby financially secure. Though it's a questionable career choice, you can understand why he is doing it. What you can't understand until you see it unfurl for yourself is what happens when a good man turns bad. Bad is, simply put, the most riveting TV series ever. The writing is superb. So is the acting – Bryan Cranston as teacher/meth maker Walter White, Anna Gunn as his wife who is horrified when she eventually discovers what he’s up to and, especially, Aaron Paul as his sidekick, Jesse. There are also great performances by Dean Norris as Walter's DEA agent brother-in-law, Betsy Brandt as his kleptomaniac sister-in-law and Bob Odenkirk as a scumbag lawyer. We blew through 46 episodes – the first four years – last month. The series will conclude this fall on AMC, the cable network that brings you Mad Men. (You’ll find 64 episodes of that on Netflix, too. It’s good but can’t hold a candle to Bad.)

Keeping Up Appearances (45 episodes): A neighbor got us into this hilarious BBC series from the 1990s, starring Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket (she pronounces it “Boo-kay”), a matronly woman from a lower class background who has achieved middle class status and desperately wants everyone to believe she’s descended from the aristocracy. She’s thwarted by her low-life sisters Daisy and Rose and brother-in-law Onslow who have an uncanny way of popping up just as Hyacinth is trying to impress guests, often at one of her dreaded “candlelight suppers.” In most episodes she takes phones calls from her unseen son Sheridan, the joy of her life, who calls only for money, and/or sister Violet, who is married to a cross-dresser Hyacinth can’t bring herself to criticize because he is well-to-do. Hyacinth is so despicably pretentious you can’t help but feel sorry for her. And Routledge is the most gifted comedic actress since Lucille Ball. There are three or four honest-to-God laugh-out-loud moments in every episode.

The Tudors (38 episodes): The story of Henry VIII, from the moment he realizes he’s sick and tired of his queen, the dowdy Catherine of Aragon, until his death, by which time he has wed five more queens, executed two of them and broken with the Vatican, turning England into a torture chamber. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is Henry. Your first impression will be that he’s too young and too thin but he grows into the role. And here’s something to think about: If people were allowed to behead spouses they no longer wanted, there would be fewer divorces.

House of Cards (13 episodes): We are as hooked on this original Netflix series as much as we are on the Fresh Market Salted Caramel Crispy Cookies we eat while watching it. Kevin Spacey stars as a congressman who has been double-crossed by the president he helped get elected and sets out to extract revenge. It’s intelligent, well written and Spacey, who reveals his intentions as soliloquys directly to the audience, is spot-on. Also stars the gorgeous Robin Wright as his cold-as-ice bitch-of-a-wife. More episodes are in production.

These are only a few of the dozens (and dozens) of shows you can enjoy on Netflix. There are National Geographic specials out the ying-yang; documentaries galore; my wife’s favorite series, Sons of Anarchy (53 episodes); West Wing (156 episodes); Downton Abbey (year one); The Borgias (24 episodes); 83 episodes of Always Sunny in Philadelphia, etc. There are even 68 episodes of the anything-but-funny (and mercifully cancelled) Parks & Recreation, one of the many so-called “comedies” that helped contribute to NBC’s abysmal ratings, something that pleases me greatly since NBC is owned by Comcast, my cable company. There’s an assortment of current and classic movies, too. All for $7.95/month. You could watch 24/7 for a year and pay less than $100 for the privilege.

Don't have Netflix? Get thee (OK, I've been watching too much English TV) to your nearest store, pick up a Roku and some salted caramel cookies (including extra boxes to stash in your freezer so you won't have to leave the house) and you'll be set for the summer.


Sunday, May 19, 2013


Didn't win the jackpot in Wednesday’s $360 million Powerball drawing. Nobody did.  But ... I did win last night’s jackpot of $590 million.

According to officials who oversee the 44-state Powerball lottery, the winning ticket was sold here in Florida. The numbers were 10, 13, 14,  22  52 and the Powerball number was 11

Those were the numbers on the ticket I bought yesterday.

Thanks to those of you who prayed for me to win, and for your ongoing support and friendship. Though I'll be fabulously wealthy, I promise I'll remain the same unassuming guy you've come to know and love.

A chartered jet is waiting at the airport to whisk me to Tallahassee to claim my prize. 

Soon as I can remember where I stashed that ticket, I’ll be on my way.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How I'll spend my $350 million Powerball jackpot

Do not – repeat, do not – rush out to buy tickets for tomorrow night’s Powerball jackpot drawing.

Of course it’s tempting. The jackpot is $350 million after all. But it’d be a waste of your time and hard-earned money because that jackpot is mine. How can it not be? I deserve it. I’ve waited patiently for years. It’s my turn.

I met with my tax accountant this morning. He advises that I take the money as a lump-sum payout – around $150 million after taxes. That’s not quite as much as I was hoping for but you know what they say: “Nothing in life is certain but Tom Dryden winning the May 15, 2013 Powerball jackpot and taxes.”

Here’s how I’m planning to spend it:

Beach house: I already live in Paradise – southwest Florida – so I’ll stick around but am going to do a George and Weezy and move on up. Actually, in this case I’ll be moving on down – about 10 miles south to an 8,299 square foot house on Gordon Drive in Naples that has 125 feet of Gulf of Mexico frontage. I went to an open house last month and told the listing agent he could expect to hear from me late this week with an offer, which certainly caught his attention. The asking price is $19.9 million but I’m sure that when I explain I’m paying cash, the owner will let me have it for $19 million even. I’m told I will be eligible to join the Port Royal Club once I take possession. I’m unclear if I’ll have to pay extra for that. Hope not.

NetJet:  I won’t want to leave my beach house all that often so it’d be silly to throw away $20 million to buy a new Cessna Citation jet. Instead I’ll simply purchase 400 hours of flight time from NetJets for $4.4 million and, when I want to go somewhere, pay another $10,000 an hour for pilots, landing fees, fuel, etc. I suppose I could fly commercial but I like to take the dachshunds wherever I go and they hate to be crammed into those carry-on cages.

New wardrobe:  My wife says she’s sick of seeing me wear the same clothes every day and that I need a new wardrobe. I think she’s being overly critical. After all, I put on a different t-shirt every day provided she remembers to throw the three I already own in the wash. The yellow one says “Ft. Myers Beach,” the green one says “Naples” and the blue one says “Bonita Springs.” Granted, they have some stains on them and the Naples one is frayed. So, to make her happy, I’ll go back to the same flea market where I bought those in 2009. They were on sale –3 for $10.  The economy is better now. The price has probably increased so I’ll budget $12. I don’t need new shorts or sandals. The ones I have are perfectly fine. Nobody at the Port Royal Club will notice.

Family members:  My mother, mother-in-law, brother, sister, two sisters-in-law, brother-in-law and eight nieces and nephews will be happy for me – they know how long I’ve waited – but wouldn’t be human if they weren’t a wee bit jealous, so I’ll give each of them $2 million. That’s $30 million. I should probably give my great nieces and great nephew something too, but don’t want to encourage any more breeding in this family.  

My sons get nothing because I don’t want them to become snot nose rich kids but, between us, Christmas at our house is gonna be great. They’ll inherit what I didn’t spend when I die anyway, by which point they will have hopefully won their own jackpots.

Grand-dog sitter: My youngest son leaves his Shetland pony-size dog, Topanga, alone in his tiny apartment all day while he works. I don’t want to worry about her any more so I’ll happily pay for a full time dog-sitter to take Tope to the park and, every month or so, to the airport to put her on her grandpa’s NetJet for a visit.

Hired help:  I’m not going to be able to manage that house on my own. I’ll need a full-time maid and groundskeeper. Watch the Naples Daily News classifieds for the “Help Wanted” ads I’ve already booked for Thursday’s edition. Feel free to apply. Must like dogs. Tom Dryden is an equal opportunity employer.

Working capital:  The way I figure it, I’ll need to set aside $50 million in tax-free munis (the Eaton Vance Muni Income Fund pays around 5 percent) to generate money to pay for food, electricity, property taxes ($158,000 a year on my beach house – yikes!), insurance, dog-sitters, the maid, gardener, NetJet fees, yadda, yadda. I’m going to try not to dip into that capital because I want to someday leave all of it, in addition to the other $46 million I intend to contribute as soon as I go to Tallahassee to pick up my check, to the newly-established …

Dryden Foundation for Homeless Dachshunds: My wife and I have talked it over and agree we want to help homeless dachshunds with my – I suppose I should say “our”—winnings. Our Foundation will buy a ranch somewhere and hire a group of veterinarians and dog-lovers to staff the place. Every dachshund or dachshund mix that winds up in a pound anywhere in North America and isn’t adopted will be brought to the ranch to live out his or her days in grand style. Remind me to make sure the ranch isn’t located within 20 miles of neighbors because, if it is, they’ll complain about the noise just like every neighbor we’ve ever had and we’ve never had more than two wiener dogs at a time much less 10,000 of them.

Now that you see all the wonderful things I’m planning to do with that money I know you agree: I deserve to win. And I’m going to. Not that I’ve given that much thought to it.

Oh, by the way, every Facebook member who has read this far and gives this lengthy post a “Like” gets $50,000. 

Or, if you have already won your own jackpot and prefer to pass up the cash, I will see to it that a room at the Dachshund Ranch is named after you.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Cheapest Fare In The Air®


AirScam Airways Keeps Fares Low for Customers

Naples, Fla., May 11, 2013  -- As part of its ongoing commitment to keeping fares as low as possible for its valued customers while maximizing returns for its shareholders, AirScam Airways (NYSE: ASS) today announced surcharges for five selected services.

“Customers have been paying for these services, whether they take advantage of them or not," said Topanga R. Dryden, Vice President of Revenue Enhancement. "These surcharges will be collected only from those who deem the services absolutely necessary and are willing to pay for them. This will enable AirScam to continue providing The Cheapest Fare In The Air® for our passengers, who have demonstrated their approval of our cost-cutting policies by voting AirScam as one of America’s top 100 airlines for two years in a row.”

The surcharges, which go into effect immediately, are as follows:

Motion sickness bags: Bags will no longer be placed in seat back pockets, but can be purchased, as needed, for $5. Passengers who use a call light to summon a flight attendant to request a bag will be assessed an additional $2.50. A disposal fee of $20 per bag will also be collected at the time of purchase.

Infant oxygen. FAA regulations currently require airlines to provide one complimentary oxygen mask for each fare-paying passenger. Customers traveling with infants under the age of two on their laps will have the option, in the unlikely event oxygen masks are required, of paying $100 to rent a mask for the child. They can do so by swiping a Visa® or Discover® card through the same credit card slot used to purchase life vests, a surcharge that went into effect earlier this year.

Reservations: Reservations booked at will be assessed a $25 convenience surcharge. Passengers who book by calling 231-AIR-SCAM will pay an additional $50 (plus the cost of the call). There is no surcharge for reservations booked in person at the AirScam Service Center which is located at 1437 AirScam Way, Paducah, KY, and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day that has an “s” in it.

Hand sanitization: Passengers who want to wash their hands after using a rest room (currently $5 per visit) can do so by swiping a Visa® or Discover® card through the credit card slot adjacent to the toilet tissue dispenser (currently $1 per sheet). This will activate a five-second flow of water from the faucet located above the sink. 

Disembarkation:  Customers who wish to use a jet bridge to exit an AirScam aircraft upon arrival at its destination will be assessed a $5 surcharge payable in cash. Those who wish to disembark by any other method may do so at no additional fee.

“Cost-conscious travelers who enjoy AirScam’s Cheapest Fare In The Air® service will be pleased we are continuing to enable them to fly from point A to point B for as little as possible,” Dryden said.  

Details about these and other surcharges can be found for a $5 click fee (payable via Visa® or Discover®) at

Friday, May 10, 2013

I hope you (won't) dance

I'm a lousy dancer. I have no rhythm. Most white men don’t. 

Years ago my wife, a good dancer, signed us up for ballroom lessons. After a couple of weeks the instructor took us aside and asked us –  OK, he asked me – to drop out. He said he was having to spend so much time correcting my technique that I was holding the class back. My wife was embarrassed and disgusted. I pointed out that I had done the best I could.

Two years ago we traveled to Argentina where – she should have known better – she insisted we take tango lessons. Same thing happened. (For the record, “No! No! No!” in Spanish is screamed the same way it is in English.)

Though I can't dance ballroom style, I have always been able to flap my arms and shuffle my feet whenever we're attending a function where the band or DJ is playing classic rock.

But I'm not going to do that any more either.

Our friends Tim and Jeane recently invited us to join them for the Tree-mendous Tuesday buffet at their country club here in Florida. Tim and Jeane are my age (61). Most members of their club are even older. A band was performing songs from the fifties and sixties. The dance floor was packed. My wife, I could tell from the way she was bouncing around in her seat, wanted to dance, so I stood up and took her hand to lead her out to the floor.

“Are you guys coming?” I asked Tim.

“God no," he said, indicating the dance floor filled with people flailing about to Mony Mony. “Old people fast-dancing. It's the ugliest thing I ever saw."

In that moment of clarity I realized ... he's right. 

There's nothing wrong with old folks slow-dancing to songs like Unchained Melody or When A Man Loves a Woman. It's sweet to see a couple with decades of shared history holding each other close, and to wonder if that's a song they danced to at their prom or wedding.

But old people convulsing to Heat Wave, Expressway to Your Heart or other frenetic oldies-but-goodies look ridiculous. Especially when it's obvious they’re not enjoying themselves and are just doing it to prove they still have some fire in their bellies. 

My idea of hell is being sentenced to watch for eternity what I was forced to witness at a restaurant the other night: a dance floor filled with senior citizens mechanically and joylessly doing the swing to Teenager in Love.

Each time we have a quarrel,
It almost breaks my heart.
Cause I'm so afraid,
That we will have to part.

Each night I ask the stars up above.
Why must I be a teenager in love?

Why, indeed? I got up and moved to the other side of the table so I wouldn't have to watch.

There are lots of ways those of us who remember watching American Bandstand on a black and white TV can shake our collective booty. We can bike, jog, hike, take walks, pump iron, do yoga, and go skiing – both cross-country and downhill. We can ice-skate, roller blade, swim laps, hunt, snorkel, surf, kayak, windsurf and play tennis, golf, volleyball, badminton, croquet or bocce. We can sky-dive, para-sail or climb mountains. Those with rhythm, grace and/or style can take up ballroom dancing and glide around like the folks on Dancing with the Stars.

But fast-dancing?

That's one thing you ain't gonna see this golden oldie doing ever again.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Flipper is impaled on my palm tree

Friend or foe?

Whatever it is, it's alive!

A friend and I exchange emails yukking it up whenever we run across news reports about people who claim to see visions. For instance, the face of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich or an image of the Virgin Mary formed out of mold on a shower curtain.

Now I'm seeing visions, too.

Every Spring, the palm tree in my back yard sprouts giant pea-pod like growths that, when they burst open, reveal a bunch of white seeds. (See below.)

White seeds that have burst
out of a palm pod.

I have no clue what those white seedy things are. I could look it up online but don't really give a shit. All I know is that if the pod isn’t cut off the tree trunk before it bursts, the seeds drop into the pool and clog the filtration equipment. So whenever I see one has sprouted, I try to cut it off before it pops open.

Today I spotted a new pod. I got my clippers and was preparing to snip away when I noticed it’s not a pod at all, but either:

A) a dolphin that took a flying
 leap out of the bay about a mile
 west of here and somehow 
wound up impaled on my palm. 

B) the reincarnation of Audrey II, 
the plant from The Little Shop 
of Horrors, which ate everything and
everyone in sight.

If it's a dolphin, it's against the law to kill it. Besides, I loved Flipper and wouldn't want to hurt it.

If, on the other hand, it's Audrey II, it'll probably eat the dachshunds first, then my wife, then me. Maybe it will eat me first. 

I don't know what I'm messing with.

Advice anyone?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

You, too, can get your book published

I recently ran across an article entitled “5 Things to Do to Get Your Book Published.” It contained – as you might expect – five steps for aspiring authors. Here they are, in order:

1. Come up with an idea for your book. “Having an original or inspired idea is always useful…”

2. Decide who you are writing for. Are you writing a book for children? If so, write in language they can understand. If your book is for adults, consider using bigger words.

3. Finish your manuscript. “Create a schedule and write regularly” until your manuscript is complete.

4. Consider hiring an agent. An agent can help sell your manuscript, a key step to becoming a published author.

5. Keep your options open. Approach not only large but medium and small publishing houses to see if they will pay you for the privilege of publishing your book. If none of the large, medium or small publishers you approach express interest, maybe you can pay one of them to print it for you.

I was so taken by the brilliance of the advice that I read the article twice. I have always wondered why none of my books have been published. It had never occurred to me that I have been overlooking steps 1 and 3.

Upon further reflection, I realized these five steps just begin to “scratch the surface” of the many things we aspiring authors must do. So I have spent the last two weeks interviewing successful authors to develop five more tips to share with my readers in case you, too, have been wondering how to get your book published.

6. Use words and/or pictures to make your book “come to life.”  Each and every author I interviewed is emphatic about this: Readers prefer books with something other than blank pages.

7. Give your book a title. “Title” is publishing-speak for “name.” A “catchy” one will do wonders to attract attention to your book. If you have trouble coming up with one, consider variations of titles other best-selling authors have used with success. For instance, Gone with the Breeze, A Tale of Two Suburbs, To Kill An Oriole, The House of the Seven Bathrooms or The Catcher in the Sourdough.

8. Play the “name game.” Not Shirley Shirley Bo Berly Banana Fanna Fo Ferley, Fee Fie Mo Merley. I’m talking about something much more important: When you send your manuscript to an agent or publisher, be sure to put your name and contact information on it and/or on the cover letter you enclose with it. This will enable anyone interested in publishing your manuscript to reach you.  

9. Save your manuscript on paper or on a digital file so you can share it with potential publishers. Unless you are a former president, first lady, Kardashian or other celebrity, it is unlikely a publisher will agree to print your book much less send you a large cash advance if it isn't possible to review the content in advance.

10. Breathe, eat, sleep and eliminate waste during the time you are writing your book.  This will enable you to complete the other nine critical steps.

Follow these steps and it's a "sure thing" you will have a successful career as a best-selling author, just as I will someday. 

Soon as I come up with an idea.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Interview “dos” and “don’ts” for new college grads

USA Today reports that some newly-minted college graduates are demonstrating what potential employers describe as “bizarre” behavior during job interviews. Human resource professionals say that one in five now exhibit what they refer to as “quirks.”

One recruiter complained about an applicant who brought a caged cat she played with throughout the interview. Another expressed annoyance about candidates who take calls and send text messages. One even bitched about an applicant who brought his father along to the interview, then took further offense when dad called to negotiate his son’s salary. (I think it showed gumption on the kid’s part to recognize that his dad had more experience in that department and can’t understand why the recruiter failed to appreciate it.)

Apparently, it’s getting tougher and tougher for kids to land their first post-college jobs, even in this robust economy that, according to The Huffington Post, is growing by leaps and bounds.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of interview tips new grads can follow to ensure they make a good first impression.  

Earbuds: It’s fine to wear them in the waiting room – you don’t want to have to talk to some stupid receptionist if you arrive early – but be sure to remove them and stash them in your pocket before you go in to meet with the interviewer.

If the interviewer asks if you would like something to drink: It's OK to request a bottle of water or, if you were up all night, can of Red Bull. It's not OK to request a tall half-skinny half two-percent extra hot split quad shot – two shots regular, two shots decaf – latte with whip unless you know for sure there's a Starbucks in the lobby and you noticed the interviewer's assistant didn't seem to be all that busy.

Drug tests: If the subject comes up, it’s not considered good form to ask, “Do I really have to take one?” If the interviewer says all applicants must pass such a test, don’t request that it be scheduled for a month after your start date.

Tattoos: Ink on your arms, neck and/or face shows you’re a conformist like everyone else and that’s exactly what big companies want so by all means display yours with pride and consider getting more.

Do not bring: Your parent(s) or cat. It’s fine to bring your gf, bf, bff, dog, snake, ferret or hamster as long as s/he is well behaved.

Do bring: Your resume. And make sure it's on paper (a material made from wood. Ask your parents).

Dress for success: Be sure to wear a top and bottom of some sort. If you wear a hoodie or stocking cap, remove it for the interview. Females and male-to-female trans-gendered applicants have the option, if they wish, of wearing a dress.

Demonstrate interest in the company: It’s important to give the illusion you are curious about the company, its mission and policies. One way to do that is to, at the end of the interview when you are asked if you have any questions, actually ask some. If you can’t think of any, here are some sample ones you might want to consider.

Does your cafeteria serve Coke or Pepsi products?
Where is the holiday party held and how many friends can I invite?
How long until I get a company-paid car?
Does your insurance cover my cat?
If I have to travel, do I get first class or do I have to endure business class?
What, exactly, do you people do?

Follow these tips and you’ll have a job quicker than you can say, “Dude, I’m stuck in an interview. Call back in a few.”