Sunday, July 28, 2013

Op Ed: We Weiners have feelings, too

Today's Op Ed is written by my dachshund, Bonnie, whose opinions are her own.

When John F. Kennedy visited Berlin in 1963, he stood in front of the wall dividing that beleaguered city and declared solidarity with its citizens by announcing, "Ich bin ein Berliner" – I am a Berliner. 

The crowd went wild.

What the press didn’t report is that the president of the United States had just told a million people, “I am a jelly doughnut.” (That’s what “Berliner” means in German. If he meant to say “a Berliner” as in “a citizen of Berlin,” he should have omitted the “ein.” But I digress.)

Well here’s my personal message for beleaguered New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner who, this past week, has been the butt of endless jokes because of his last name which just happens to be slang for the part of his anatomy he allegedly photographed and texted to several women.

My message is this: Anthony, I share your pain. I stand by you. Because Ich bin ein Weiner, too.

To be specific, I am a dachshund, a breed that has been called many hurtful names over the years.

We have been called "Stubborn."

We have been labeled as “Dumb” by so-called experts who rank us in the lower one-third of the 79 recognized breeds in terms of intelligence. (If I’m so dumb, how was I able to write this Op-Ed? Have you ever met a Labrador retriever or poodle half as articulate? Of course you haven't. Most are functionally illiterate.)

We have been called “Hot Dogs.”

We have been called “Sausages.” My own mother calls me a “Devious Sausage” whenever I trick my brother Billy Ray, who is also a dachshund and her favorite dog, out of his breakfast, as I do every morning. (Billy, I freely admit, would rank # 80 out of the 79 breeds if he were a breed unto himself. That’s probably why mom is so over-protective and takes his side in every dispute.)

But of all the many hurtful names we have been called, the one we dachshunds find most hateful is the name we share in common with Anthony – Weiner.

Please, please, please, I hope all you readers understand that we dachshunds cannot help the way we are shaped. Many centuries ago German farmers bred us to dig badgers out of the deep narrow burrows in which they hide. As a result, we have elongated bodies and short, stubby legs that inconsiderate people like to blurt out remind them of a product made by Oscar Mayer.

You cannot imagine how much it hurts to hear someone say, “Oh, look at that cute little Weiner."

If you are overweight, how would you feel if someone called you a “Lard-ass?” If you are underweight, how would you like to be referred to as a “Pretzel?”

See what I mean?

So, Anthony, on behalf of thousands of your fellow Weiners who have found ourselves the punchlines of cruel jokes that rob us of our dignity, I urge you to hold your head erect and, above all, not pull out.  

As Felix Frankfurter, my favorite Supreme Court justice, once wrote, “If one starts with the assumption that, in the absence of specific congressional authority, a fixed rule of law precludes contracting officers from providing in a government contract terms reasonably calculated to assure its performance even though there be no money loss through a particular default, there is no problem.” 

I don’t know what the hell he was saying but the fact that someone named Frankfurter made it to the Supreme Court is proof positive we Weiners can be anything we want to be … including mayor of New York.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Doing eBay, my way

I am a man obsessed.

My obsession? eBay. Specifically, selling posters on eBay.

For 30 years I’ve collected vintage posters. My specialty is airline posters -- mostly Air France -- and posters issued by Intourist, the Soviet Union’s travel bureau. Most are from the 1920s through 1950s. In addition to my core collection which I’d never sell, I have 300 other posters. Some are worth a lot. Some aren’t. I bought whatever caught my eye and now they're stashed all over the house, taking up storage space.

For years I've been promising my wife I'd sell most of them so two weeks ago, I took photos of five posters, re-activated the eBay account I hadn't used since the early 2000s, wrote descriptive copy and checked web sites of leading poster dealers to establish prices. Five minutes after I posted them on eBay, I had sold two posters for just over 25 percent of what I earned in a year at my first job out of college. That got my attention.

Now I’m obsessed. Almost every day I place three or four new posters on eBay… respond to questions from buyers … and make a run to FedEx to ship them.

The part of this job I am enjoying most is writing the descriptive copy. After a career of writing ads for corporate clients, I’m the client here. I can write whatever I please. And I do, writing to both inform and entertain any prospective bidders who might be out there.  

Thought you might enjoy seeing some of the posters I’ve put on eBay and my descriptions of each.

Lufthansa Airlines original travel poster

Remember when flight attendants – they were called stewardesses back then – had to be pretty and have pleasant personalities in order to get hired? Yeah, those were the days. Most flight attendants these days treat you like a virus. This 1950s poster for Lufthansa German Airlines takes you back to a bygone era. It features a pretty, anorexically slim stewardess who, based on her happy smile, is undoubtedly pleasant as she waves a ticket aloft. Check out the Connie (Constellation) aircraft in the background, along with the happy passengers representing the airline’s destinations across Europe. the USA and South America. Artist: Von Fohnseca. Linen backed and in great condition, this original poster measures 24 7/8" x 39 ¼." 

Moscow Soviet Intourist original poster

Street cars. Red flags flapping in the breeze. Lenin’s tomb. A river teeming with commerce. Stalinist-era high rises. Issued in the 1930s by Intourist, the Soviet Union’s bureau that was charged with attracting tourists to a country that was known as anything but a vacation destination, this vibrant poster invites Germans to visit Moscow – an invitation the German army accepted a few years later (though they certainly didn’t find it to be as welcoming as this poster suggests). There is a repaired tear, approximately 8” long, that runs from the A in MOSCAU to the top right margin, and all four corners have been repaired where the poster was once pinned or taped to the wall. Consider this poster a valuable piece of history that, like Communism itself, has certain flaws. Size: 27 3/8” x 40”. 

Try our Cleaning of Your School Clothes poster

Created to be displayed in a dry cleaning shop, this colorful, fashionable poster from the late forties features a mom and her two impeccably dressed progeny – a daughter in a straw hat and a son wearing a … yarmulke? The bizarrely phrased headline sounds like it was written by someone whose first language wasn’t English but that adds even more character to this strange but endearing poster. Linen-backed. 21 ¼ x 27 ¾. 

Spring is Gay original Greyhound poster

This 1959 poster has so much going for it that we hardly know where to begin but we’ll give it a go. It’s springtime. A couple in a park is strolling past a spurting fountain. Jonquils are in bloom and the trees have just budded. There’s a birdie that is probably chirping a Judy Garland tune. A rainbow – yep, a rainbow – arches above the happy couple. Our favorite part of this poster (other than the headline) is that – get this  they’ve taken a Greyhound bus to get there. There are paper tears along the left margin at the lower edge that won’t show when it’s matted. Size: 26” x 38.” Bid early. Bid often.

American Airlines “Arizona” original travel poster 

Perhaps you had to be a kid growing up in the 1950s, as we were, to fully appreciate this extraordinary and rarely-found poster created for American Airlines by noted illustrator Fred Ludekens. Back then, every other TV show was about cowboys. Kids lived, dreamed and breathed the Wild West. Every boy wanted to grow up to be a cowboy but knew, deep down, he was destined for something more mundane -- perhaps a career as an investment banker or as a member of Congress. American Airlines, when it commissioned this poster, had to know that every kid who saw it in the window of a travel agency would beg, plead and cajole his parents to take him to Arizona where he could play cowboy. But we digress. This extremely vibrant (notice the hot pink sky against the yellow background) poster features a Lockheed Electra flying high above it all. It’s impossible for a camera to fully capture the vividness and vibrancy of the colors. Wouldn’t this look great hanging in the living room of your southwestern-style home, or in the bedroom of your own little cowpoke? The condition is absolutely perfect, and this original poster is linen-mounted to make sure it remains that way for generations to come. Size: 30” x 40.”

Fly BOAC to the Rhodesias

BOAC (British Overseas Air Corporation) debuted the world’s first passenger jet, the DeHavilland Comet, in 1951. It entered service between London and Britain’s African colonies, which included Northern and Southern Rhodesia (today’s Zambia and Zimbabwe). Unfortunately for BOAC, not to mention its passengers, the Comet had a tendency to break up during flight. After three such break-ups, BOAC grounded its fleet. The magnificent, vibrant poster features a springbok, blissfully unaware that a Comet is flying overhead. Don’t miss this opportunity to own a piece of aviation history. (Or, as the case may be, infamy). Linen backed, this original poster is in perfect condition. Size:19 3/4" x 29 3/4". 

1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics original poster

There are many things we don’t understand. We don’t understand, for example, why bad things happen to good people. Why folks find Adam Sandler movies to be hilarious. Or why anyone would willingly eat Brussels sprouts. Nor do we understand this poster, created for the 1984 Sarajevo Games by pop artist Jim Rosenquist. We’ve done our research and poster dealers and art galleries around the world are offering it for what we consider to be a goodly amount of money. If you understand it, this poster can and should be yours but you have to promise you’ll explain it to us if you are the successful bidder. Size: 24 3/8” x 33 ½.” 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stache or no stache? The people have spoken. And the winner is ...

A week ago I asked readers to cast the most important vote of their lifetimes: Should I grow back the mustache I’ve worn since the Nixon administration that I had impulsively shaved off the day before? Or should my upper lip remain hair-free? 

Before (with ‘stache) and after (no ‘stache) photos were posted to guide your decisions.

One hundred and twenty eight votes were received by a combination of Facebook responses, comments left at the bottom of the blog, and email.

There was some Chicago-style ballot box stuffing. Approximately 20 “no stache” votes came from one friend who is adamant I remain clean-shaven. If she feels that strongly about it, I’ll let her votes count.

Son Stuart posted a plea on his Facebook wall: “My dad is trying to abolish his mustache forever. It’s vital that it never goes away. Please vote 'keep mustache' at the bottom of his blog." A number of “anonymous” votes were left on the blog and I assume those came from his friends. I’ll let those votes stand, too.

Though I had asked for a simple up or down vote – ‘stache or no ‘stache – few voters could resist adding comments.

My mother voted that I keep the 'stache, saying she has grown used to it.

A former co-worker pointed out that, “With it (the ‘stache) you have the look of authority and decisiveness. Without it you're just another wimp.” (Thanks so much for that confidence-inducer.)

My cousin Jim, who also voted ‘stache, pointed out that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter because I look old either way.

Some didn’t vote one way or the other, but said I should do whatever my wife wants. She wants a new Jaguar so I’ll disregard that.

One reader pointed out something I’ve been hearing for years – that with the ‘stache I look just like Wayne Carini, host of a TV show called Chasing Classic Cars. That’s him at the top of this post. He looks more like me than I do.

I’m sure you must be beside yourself with suspense so I won’t make you wait any longer. The winner, by a vote of 70 to 58 (and that’s counting the 20 or so “no stache” votes from one person) is … grow the ‘stache back.

The people have spoken. 

My hairless upper lip has called my mustache to concede and wish it well.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A once-in-a-lifetime week

What a week this has been!

Monday: I spent hours comparing makes and models online … much of the previous week negotiating on the phone and in person with various dealers … and now that it has arrived and is sitting there in our garage where the old one sat, I know I made the right decision.

Our new hot water heater is a 50-gallon Rheem. It’s grey. There is a 10-year warranty on the tank itself and the plumber threw in a one-year service contract. The plumber, who had (and, I would have to imagine, still has) red hair, set the thermostat to 125 degrees, which he says is the standard setting. He said our old one was set to 125 but was probably only heating the water to 110. He took the old tank away. I don’t know what he will do with it. It’s not like it’s repairable. It was rusted out at the bottom.

Tuesday: I went to Publix to buy watermelon balls in a plastic container. I like to eat them while watching TV at night. (The watermelon balls, not the plastic containers.) Publix was running a “Buy One, Get One Free” special on watermelon balls, which enabled me to pick up two containers for $3.24. That was the price of the most expensive container. The other container was $3.21, but the cashier explained customers are required to pay the higher price when produce items that don’t weigh the same amount are offered as BOGOs.

Wednesday: None of the three contestants, including the six-time champion who had amassed over $130,000 in winnings, got it right but I knew the Final Jeopardy question -- What is the Tour de France? Alex Trebeck pronounced it “Frawnz” like “prawns” but with a “z” at the end. He is Canadian, you know.

Thursday: At 9 a.m. sharp I took my seat next to the president of the Board of Directors of the community association that governs the Florida development where we live. Every neighborhood within the development has one representative on the board. Members are seated in alphabetical order, depending on the first letter of the neighborhood they live in. My neighborhood, Addison, comes first alphabetically so I got to sit by the big guy himself. It was my first and probably last board meeting. I’m not Addison’s regular rep; I was asked to fill in for a neighbor who is on vacation. The president reported the road-repaving project is on time and on budget. I proudly raised my hand to vote for the purchase of five new treadmills for the fitness center and four sailboats for the marina. I took advantage of the free sailing lessons the marina offers earlier this summer but dropped out before I could become certified because I fell off the boat and cut my foot on an oyster bed. Both motions passed unanimously. There being no other business, the meeting was adjourned at 9:14.

En route home, I detoured by the new Danish bakery that has opened in a strip mall outside the front gate. The bakery sells Danish but that’s not why it’s called a Danish bakery. The reason it’s called a Danish bakery is that the owners are from Denmark. Actually, they are from Wisconsin but they are descended from Danish immigrants. I bought two doughnuts that were still warm and ate one in the parking lot. I ate the one I had bought for my wife on the drive home. I did not tell her I had eaten her doughnut and she was none the wiser because I hadn’t told her I was going to buy her one in the first place.

Friday: I logged onto eBay and was thrilled to learn I had received positive feedback from a guy in Germany who bought two vintage travel posters from me. I have more than 300 and am selling some of them because I’m running out of storage space. He raved (and I quote), “Excellent seller *** Great communications *** Would buy again!”

With such an active week behind me, I am looking forward to a relaxing weekend.

Hope you are, too.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mustache or no mustache? You vote. You decide.

Or no stache?
At a business lunch last year I overhead a client seated two chairs over refer to me as a “Q-Tip."

“What did you call me?" I asked, ready to pounce.

“A Q-Tip. You know – a tall thin old guy with white hair,” she replied, looking embarrassed. She probably assumed anyone my age wouldn’t have been able to hear her.

I suppose I could have thanked her for saying I'm thin. But I didn't.

When I look in the mirror, I don't see white hair. I see brown hair. That's the hair color I listed on my driver's license application. The clerk crossed that out and changed it to "white." Fine. If the state of Florida insists the hair on the top of my head is white I'll go along with that.

But it had never occurred to me until Friday night that my mustache is even whiter and, in combination with the cotton top, may be making me look older than my 52 years. (Okay, my 55 years. Would you believe my 58 years?  I know what you're thinking. I can hardly believe it myself.)

I've had that 'stache since college. It's my trademark. Every 10 years or so I shave it off but my wife and kids always make fun of the way I look without it – they claim the real estate between my upper lip and nose is weird and, truth be told, it sort of is – so I immediately grow it back.

Back to Friday night. We were at a restaurant with friends. One of them asked a stranger to take a picture of our group. (When you’re our age, it's important to ask strangers to take photos so the next day you’ll be able to remember where you were and who you were with.) Looking at that photo was an aha moment. I was shocked to see how white my mustache is and that I have become a dead ringer for my grandfather.

And so Saturday, for the first time this millennium, I shaved it off. Before I did, I asked my wife to take a pic of me with the 'stache. And when I finished, she took one of me without it. (See above.)

She says she can't decide whether I look better with or without the 'stache. I can't either. Perhaps I look younger without it but "younger" doesn't necessarily translate to "better" when you've got a weird upper lip. So I'm going to leave it up to you, my faithful readers. You can use the “Comments" function immediately below to register your vote, send an email to or leave a message on my Facebook wall. Simply write "Stache" or "No Stache." I will abide by your collective decision. You have one week to vote. Majority rules apply.

Thank Q.

Wastin' time

I'm getting older. (Am I a deep thinker or what?) Realizing my time on earth is finite, I want back the many hours I have wasted:

 Downloading new versions of iTunes. Apple is becoming as obnoxious and undependable as Microsoft. The latest version, which took a half hour to download yesterday then froze my MacBook, is ridiculously complicated compared to the first 40 or 50 versions.

Watching Lost on ABC. By the end of season one, it was clear the writers didn’t know where they were going with the storyline. That became clearer in year two when they introduced lots of new characters without resolving the issues of the original ones. I watched season three, but sat out seasons four, five and six because I felt taken advantage of. I resumed watching in season seven, the final year, because ABC promised everything would be cleverly and creatively resolved and all questions would be answered. The ending was a cop-out and proved the writers had begun the series with no plot or resolution in mind. Now I’m feeling the same way about Mad Men, whose writers have introduced lots of new characters to divert attention from the fact they don’t know what to do with the original characters. The most recent season sucked -- especially the finale. 

Listening to John Grisham describe coffee. We always get a Grisham audio book for the long drive between Florida and Connecticut. His books could be contained on five or six CDs rather than 11 or 12 if Grisham’s characters didn’t spend so much of their time interacting with coffee. They think about it. They crave it. They miss it. They would give their left arms for coffee this very minute. They stop in the middle of chase scenes to order it. Some take sugar. Some take cream. Some take it black. Sometimes they order espresso. Or cappuccino. They get it at Starbucks. At diners. In fancy restaurants. From room service. On airplanes. If I had back the many hours I’ve spent listening to Grisham’s endless coffee descriptions I could have listened to Rosetta Stone CDs and learned to speak Swahili. Grisham should choose a Mormon to be the hero of his next book but it would be a novella, not a novel.

Trying to start my keyless car: My car doesn't have a key. It has an electronic fob you're supposed to have in your pocket when you push a button on the dashboard that supposedly sends a signal to the engine to start the car. Problem is, much of the time it doesn't work. I spent 15 minutes in a supermarket parking lot the other day pushing the damned button repeatedly as the ice cream I had just purchased melted. Finally the car decided it had punished me enough and started. I want a car with a metal key I can turn in the ignition slot but I don't think they make them any more.

Waiting on the phone with Comcast because, once again, the pay per view function of my cable TV service isn’t working. A recorded voice announces how important my business is … that she is looking for my account … and that she is examining my account. The voice then says the call center is experiencing extremely heavy volume and I will have to call back. If I die of a stress-induced heart attack or stroke, it will be as I’m waiting on the phone to speak to a human at Comcast and I authorize my faithful readers to sue the company for loss of my companionship.

Writing this post.  I see the readership stats and few of you read blogs posted on summer weekends. But hey, it's my blog and if you want waste your time reading it, that’s your business.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Traveling with Fido this summer? Ask the dog travel expert!

Somewhere in the Carolinas:
 Bonnie and Billy Ray snoring on my wife's lap. 

My wife and I make at least two round trips between Florida and Connecticut every year. While it would be cheaper and faster to fly, we drive in order to bring our elderly dachshunds, Bonnie and Billy Ray, with us.

Knowing I am an expert when it comes to traveling with dogs, dozens of readers have written to ask my advice on traveling with their own pooches during this summer vacation season.

Here are my answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

Q: “Do I need to buy any particular type of vehicle to travel with my dogs?”

A: We bought an SUV specifically for our dogs’ comfort. Like so many neurotic small breeds, they tend to become anxious whenever they are separated from us, so we figured we would fold down the rear seat and place their bed immediately behind the front seat. However, if your dogs are like ours they will insist on sitting on the lap of the person in the front passenger seat so you might as well buy a sporty two-seater. A Mercedes SLS AMG is a good choice. If you put the top down, tie their leashes to the gear shifter so they won’t blow away and ruin your vacation.

Q: “What if my dogs are too big to sit on the passenger’s lap?”

Then you will need a vehicle with both a front seat (for the dogs) and back seat (for the second passenger).

Q: “We refuse to leave our dogs in a hot car while we go into a sit-down restaurant so we wind up eating all our road meals at McDonald’s or Arby’s. It’s tiresome. It’s unhealthy. Do you have any alternative suggestions?”

A: Burger King. For limited time this summer, original chicken sandwiches are just $1.04 each.

Q: “This is a theoretical question. What if, while you were eating your $1.04 chicken sandwiches on the patio of a Burger King, you felt sorry for your dogs, who had refused to eat all day but were acting hungry? And what if you ordered two plain hamburgers for them, remembering that Burger King burgers are flame-broiled, not fried, so you assumed the burgers couldn’t harm the dogs’ sensitive digestive systems? And what if, while you were staying at a hotel that night, one of the dogs suffered a diarrhea attack causing an odor so awful it made the other dog vomit?”

A: I have two suggestions. 1.) Travel with an Oreck steamer to remove any carpet stains. If an odor persists after steaming, try rubbing the juice from a jar of peach salsa (available at roadside stands throughout the Carolinas and Georgia) onto the steamed area and that will disguise any untoward aroma long enough for you to get into the next state. 2). If you know from experience such an unfortunate accident might occur, you can always check into the hotel under an assumed name and pay cash so your credit card won’t be hit with cleaning charges. This is a theoretical answer, of course.

Q: “Can you recommend any hotels that welcome dogs?” 

A: No, but if you will email me, I’ll tell you the name of one you should avoid.