Saturday, December 27, 2014

12 rules for home buyers and sellers

As I have learned, having done it twice within 15 months, buying and selling real estate, and moving from one house to another, is stressful. There are, however, a dozen hard and fast rules you can count on to help take the uncertainty out of the process.

1.     The day you find your dream house and decide to make an offer, your realtor® will announce the market has heated up suddenly and that, if you really want the house, you’d better come in as close to the seller’s asking price as possible or, to be on the safe side, because there are sure to be multiple bids, over it.

2.     The day after your offer has been accepted and you sign the papers to place your current house on the market, the same realtor®, who assured you your home was so desirable it would sell instantly, will inform you the market has suddenly dried up (“This Ebola scare has people panicked”) and you need to list it for substantially less than he or she said you would get for it.

3.     The week you list your current house for less than you had been told it would fetch, three other houses on your block will go on the market, making potential buyers think there is something wrong with the neighborhood and scaring them away.

4.     The expert you hire to inspect the house you are buying will find two or three picayune issues the seller needs to take care of before the contract becomes official such as “loose closet doorknob” or “water spigot on north side of house shows signs of rust.” The seller’s out-of-pocket cost to bring the house up to snuff so you can proceed to closing will be approximately 1/546th of one-tenth of one percent of the purchase price.

5.     The week before you close on your new house (even though you haven’t even had as much as a nibble on your current one), you will learn that it is customary, according to the Board of Realtors in the jurisdiction in which you are buying, for the buyer to pay the cost of title insurance and you will have to cough up $5,000 you hadn’t expected to spend.

6.     The day you take possession of your new house, at least one major appliance that was working perfectly the previous day during the final walk-though – the A/C compressor, furnace, water heater, fridge, washer, dryer, oven or dishwasher  – will fail. After spending $500 to have a technician tell you it can’t be repaired, you will have to buy a new one.

7.     The week after closing on your new house, you will receive in the mail a notice from the county that your property taxes have gone up 25 percent and, if you live in a planned community, a notice of a special assessment.

8.  When, nine months later, having reduced the asking price of your current house three or four times, you finally receive an offer, the inspector the party buying your house hires will find things like “dangerous levels of cancer-causing radon gas present throughout house” or “sewer line has been compromised by tree roots.” (The beautiful tree in question, that you will learn needs to be removed in order to repair the sewer line, will be one of the primary reasons the buyer cited for buying your house in the first place.) You will have no choice but to agree to lower your price even more in order to proceed with the sale and to mitigate (a word you will hear over and over which basically means spend money) whatever’s wrong with the house. 

9.     After you have signed a contract to sell your current house and agreed to make the costly repairs the buyer’s inspector noted, but before the closing date, at least one major appliance – most likely one that is built-in and matches your kitchen cabinets -- will become inoperable. You will call in a technician who, after charging $500 for labor and parts in an attempt to fix it, will announce it can’t be repaired. You will have to purchase a new one for your buyer and hire a cabinetmaker to replicate the woodwork that covered it. After several days of attempting to match the stain, the cabinet maker will announce it is impossible, so the cabinets need to be sanded and restained -- reducing your take even more.

10.  The week before you officially close the sale of your current house, you will learn that it is customary, according to the Board of Realtors in that jurisdiction, for the seller to pay the cost of title insurance, reducing your take by another $5,000.

11.  There will be rain (and/or snow and/or hail and/or heat and/or cold) of Biblical proportions the day you move.

12.  The movers will gouge the walls and floors of the house you are selling as they move out, and you will have to write a check to the purchasers to pay for repairs. If you had improvements made to the new house before you moved in, such as new flooring or painting, the movers will gouge the floors and walls in that house as well.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The boy who said "Ba"

Until he was three, our son Stuart's vocabulary consisted of one word – “Ba,” short for “bottle.”

We spent thousands on speech therapists and specialists. All said there was nothing wrong and that, like Mr. Ed, he’d speak when he had something to say. But we worried ourselves sick nevertheless.

Shortly before Christmas, 1989, my wife, Judy, sat down and wrote the following story that turned out to be more than a worried mother's gift to her son who, I’m happy to report, grew up talking just fine. It's a gift for all children who are different and to the parents who love them. 

The boy who said “Ba”

There once was a boy who could only say “Ba,”
Much to the dismay of his mother and pa.
He said “Ba” for his supper and “Ba” for his blocks.
He said “Ba” for his spoon and his toothbrush and socks.
If he wanted his wagon or wanted his sled,
The single word “Ba” was he one word he said.

His parents were worried for they’d never heard
Of a vocabulary of only one word.
So they tried all solutions: They took him on trips.
They read him fine books, and they tickled his lips.
They fed him rich custards of ripe ba-na-na.
And he thought it all over, but still just said “Ba.”

They went to the doctor who shrugged as she said,
(After looking him over from toe up to head),
“Don’t worry, don’t scold him. He mustn’t be shushed.
He’ll speak when he’s ready, he cannot be rushed.
This isn’t an illness, no strange mania,
You just have a healthy young boy who says 'Ba.'"

But people would shake their heads, “My what a shame,
There’s the boy who says ‘Ba’ instead of his name.”
And mean kids would snicker, they’d giggle and ha
At the funny young boy who would only say “Ba.”
Which made the boy sad and he sometimes felt blue.
But a boy’s gotta do what a boy’s gotta do.
So all that he witnessed and all that he saw
He only expressed by the single word: "Ba."

And then one December, before Christmas Day,
The boy’s church put on a Nativity play.
Each child had a costume. Each child learned a part.
Each child had a message that came from the heart.
But the boy (yes, you guessed it) was cast as a sheep.
And because of his “problem” was told just to sleep.
“Until,” said the teacher, (who choked her guffaw),
“At the end of the play, Sheep, you have one line: 'Ba.'"

For days they all practiced each child’s special line.
And at last, they were perfect, with polish and shine.
But the boy who said “Ba” never practiced, it’s said.
(After all, why rehearse the one word in your head?)
And there, almost off-stage, beneath all the straw,
Crouched the sheep-costumed creature,
The boy who said “Ba.”

Well no one knows why, on Nativity Day,
But an air of disaster encircled the play.
The angel forgot what had once been foretold.
A wise man unwisely spilled out all his gold.
One shepherd got clumsy and tripped on his staff.
Another got nervous and started to laugh.
The doll in the manger fell out with a thud.
The cow stubbed his toe and it slowly drew blood.
Joseph’s eyes watered, he started to sneeze
Sending Mary’s veil flying, struck broad by the breeze.
The donkey got hiccups and started to hic,
And the innkeeper rushed from the stage, feeling sick,
Somehow catching his robe on the stable’s front door,
That made the whole structure crash down on the floor.
And there in the midst of this massive faux pas
Came a voice loud and clear – one sweet glorious “Ba.”

And slowly it swelled like a thunderous hurrah,
As the young boy stood stage-front and sang out his “Ba.”
And then, if by magic, the sweet “Ba”-ing grew.
It swelled from the rafters and shook every pew.
Each flickering flame on the candelabra
Felt the pulsating note of the little boy’s “Ba.”
And each person present remembers the chills
As the sound bounced through windows,
Across fields and hills.

It’s said they could hear it from Alaba-ma,
Way up to the snowbanks of Minneso-ta.
It jiggled the racecars in India-na.
And startled the lizards in Arizo-na.
It melted an iceberg up in Alas-ka.
And slivered the cornhusks out in Nebras-ka.
And down in the jungles of Argenti-na
To the uppermost province of north Cana-da,
(And even, it’s whispered, down in Austral-ia),
They could hear the faint echoes of one heartfelt “Ba.”

The young boy smiled broadly. Today was his day.
For the first time his “Ba” was the right thing to say.
And imagine the pleasure, just think of the awe,
For the one child who knew his lines:
He who said “Ba.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A pact with the devil

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I was feeling blessed – extremely blessed – until this afternoon when I called Comcast, the most hated company in America, to arrange for service at the new house to which we’re moving.

Now my head is about to explode.

Every time I write about Comcast, which provides (and I use that word loosely) cable, Internet and phone service to my home  – and I’ve done it often – readers ask why I don’t simply switch to another company.

The answer is: I can’t. We live in a master planned community of 3,500 residences.  When it was laid out in the 1990s, the developers allowed the local cable company to wire it for cable service. That company at some point sold out to Comcast, which now has 3,500 captive customers it can and does treat like shit pond scum. My fellow residents and I complain bitterly but there’s nothing any of us can do about it. For aesthetic reasons, the community doesn’t allow satellite dishes so DISH or Direct TV aren't options. And while CenturyLink offers phone and internet service, it can only deliver snail-speed internet that can’t accommodate streaming media like Netflix or Amazon which many of my neighbors and I watch so we won’t have to pay a penny more to Comcast than we are now paying. In short, Comcast has 3,500 customers by the giblets.

Over the last four years I’ve probably had to call Comcast – I’m guessing – 100 times to complain about slow, intermittent or non-existent service. I’m guessing Comcast technicians have made at least 50 service calls. Despite it all, our service remains iffy. I’ve written letters to Comcast headquarters. I’ve joined Facebook groups like “I Hate Comcast.”  I’ve written blog posts out the ying-yang, one of which was read by a Comcast VP who offered to personally guarantee that my problem would be taken care of –  service was out and the local office said they couldn’t get to it for at least a month. Within a few days it was taken care of. Then it went down again.

Back to my head is about to explode.

Today I called to arrange to have my current service switched over to our new house, which is in the same development.  When I told the automated voice that answered that I wanted to arrange new service, a human picked up almost instantly (as opposed to when I call because of a problem, being placed on hold for a half hour or more and forced to listen to voices telling me how much Comcast values me).

Whenever I talk to a Comcast agent, I remind myself that I'm speaking with someone who isn't personally responsible for his or her company's service and/or my dissatisfaction but I have to admit that I didn't do that today.  I started the conversation by telling the agent that my relationship with Comcast has been the worst, most stressful customer experience of my life and that I wasn’t happy about having to move my service but I had no option other than disconnecting.

She replied that if I did that I’d be charged an early termination fee according to my contract.

“What contract?” I asked.

“The one you agreed to May 18th, ” she said.

"Was this a paper contract?  I have never, and will never, sign a contract with Comcast."

"When you called May 18th you were asked to accept terms of service and you agreed, which constitutes a contract."

"I'm a lawyer," (I lied.) "A verbal agreement over the phone isn't a contract.  I never agreed to anything, much less a contract with Comcast."

“Yes you did, it’s here in my records.”

“Prove it.”

“I'll connect you to my supervisor. She’ll pull up the conversation in which you agreed to a 12-month contract.”

“Fine, you do that.”

Five minutes later she came back on the line. “My supervisor says you refused to authorize the contract we offered so please accept my apologies.”

"So this means I can terminate with no penalty?"


"I wish I could but I can't. I need to move service to my new house, but I'm not about to sign any contract. So what are my options?"

She explained that, because I had no contract, I was entitled to be treated as a new customer and offered a package of 240 cable channels (I have 40 now), 100 gig Internet (I have 20 now) and unlimited long-distance calls for a special low bundle price of $69.99 a month for a year – more than $20 less than I’m now paying.

“That's good!" I said. "And I want to add HBO. How much more for that?”

She said HBO would add $10 but for another $10 more –  $89.99 –  she could offer a bundle including everything in the $69.99 package plus HBO, Starz and Comcast’s version of Netflix. But she cautioned that both packages – the $69.99 and $89.99 – would go up $20 after 12 months.

“I don’t want Starz or Comcast’s version of anything. What if I just buy the same cable package I now have, 100 gig Internet, telephone and add HBO?” I asked.

She said that would be roughly $84 a month.

“Then I want that,” I replied. 

She said that was doable but the phone and Internet would probably each go up $20 per month after 12 months if I chose that option

We continued back and forth for ten minutes or so as she kept suggesting bundle packages that were attractively priced but were sure to go up after a year and I kept asking about a la carte services that were cheaper but sure to go up even more after a year.

I have no clue what I finally agreed to but I think I'll be paying roughly $91 a month for 12 months after which the price goes up to approximately $5,516.20 a month.

I asked her to send an email recapping what I agreed to buy and to acknowledge in the email that I do not have a contract with Comcast and can leave at any time without a termination fee if the service at my new house is as abysmal as it has been at my current house. She said she would send it right after the call to the email address she had on file for me,

“It's Dryden, not driven, and it’s g-mail, not Comcast,” I said.

“Oh, like your last name?”


“OK, I'm sending it now. Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for calling Comcast.”

That was two hours ago and I haven’t received the email.

Knowing she has to use Comcast, it's likely her Internet is down. 


Three hours after our conversation ended I still hadn't received the email. So I called Comcast again.

The agent I spoke with this time said she couldn't send me an email but would be happy to tell me the terms the original agent and I had agreed upon by looking "in the system." I said I wanted written confirmation. She said only the "Customer Care" department could handle that. (She apparently works in the "Customer Abuse" department).

She connected me to a gentleman in Customer Care who, after I provided him all the information he requested -- phone, last four digits of my Social Security, the address of my current service, the address of the new service, my account number, etc. -- said it was Comcast's policy not to send emails confirming customer orders and prices. I asked if I could find details of what I agreed to online by looking under "My Account" at He said no and -- get this -- that I wouldn't receive written confirmation of what I had ordered until after the service was installed. 

I asked why, if that was Comcast's policy, the agent I spoke with earlier had promised to email me with the information I had requested. He said she was wrong to do that and didn't even have the ability to send email from her work station, but that he would look up my order and read it back to me. He did and it matched what I had written down during my original conversation. But he was firm that it is Comcast's policy not to put in writing what the customer has ordered and how much the customer will pay until the service is installed.

I asked if he would buy a car that way -- order it over the phone and agree to a price but not see a quote in writing until after he had taken delivery of the car. He said I had thirty days after installation to cancel the service if I found it differed from my understanding. I said that wasn't the point; I didn't want to find out something had been installed that wasn't what I ordered or that didn't cost the price I was quoted.

Amazing that this company is allowed to stay in business, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Prisoner of Love

This post, from 2002, is reprinted here to celebrate the upcoming nuptials of Charles Manson and his bride-to-be, Afton Elaine Burton (above), whose father, I'm sure, can't wait to give her away. Best wishes to the happy couple. And may all your troubles be little ones!

It is said that men are from Mars and women are from Venus


We’re not even from the same solar system.

This was driven home the other night as I watched Barbara Walters on 20/20 as she interviewed Tammi Menendez, the beautiful blonde bride of Erik Menendez.

Erik, as you will recall, is a convicted murderer, the youngest of the two Menendez brothers who mounted one of the most creative defenses in history.

At ages 18 and 20,  Erik and his brother, Lyle, according to their defense attorneys, suddenly realized their wealthy parents were child rapists and threatened to go public with this information. The parents, naturally, announced plans to kill their sons to keep them quiet. Fearing for their lives, the brothers snuck up with a shotgun on their parents as they were eating strawberries and cream in the family room of their Beverly Hills mansion and fired repeatedly. They then went on a shopping spree to forget their grief, buying Rolex watches, Porsches and other goodies with their parents’ millions.

Their first trial ended with a hung jury.

The second time around they got life with no possibility of parole.

Erik’s new bride told Barbara her inspiring story.

She said she was an ordinary Minnesota housewife, married to a man who wasn’t around for her emotionally when she needed him. Fascinated by the Menendez brothers’ trial on Court TV, Tammi began corresponding with Erik in prison.

After the death of her husband (she never said what he died of but I would imagine he died of embarrassment, knowing his wife was writing Erik), she started dating a wealthy doctor, but couldn’t stop thinking about Erik, with whom she was falling head over heels in love.

So, she told the doctor to take a hike and, using the proceeds from her dead husband’s insurance, moved to Sacramento to be near her Prince Charming, where she bought a house with a pool and a Mercedes.

Three years ago she married Erik in the prison visiting room. In lieu of a wedding cake, they shared a vending machine Twinkie.

Tammi now spends her days visiting Erik and, when they’re apart, reading his love letters and chatting with him on the phone about their favorite TV shows which she watches in her swell house and he watches in the Big House. She says she is deliriously happy and that he is her soul mate (not to mention her inmate). Why, he even reads stories to her six-year-old on visiting days!

I ask you, would a man ever do what she did? Specifically, if it had been the Menendez sisters – Erica and Lila – do you think there’s a man on earth who would have married one of them?

No way.

Men know that a woman incarcerated for life can’t make dinner or do laundry, nor can she perform her most important wifely duty – getting out of the car at gas stations and asking attendants for directions when her husband is hopelessly lost.*

A man wouldn’t put up with an imprisoned woman for one minute, much less marry one. But women marry male inmates all the time.

Ladies, I may be betraying my Martian species but here’s a tip. You want a man who will always be there for you? A man who will do whatever you want? Try this:

You: Darling, wanna go to the movies tonight?

Your husband: No thanks, I’m tired from getting up at five and working all day. Can’t we stay home?

You: Fine. Erik Menendez is taken but I’m going to start writing his brother, Lyle. You’ll die of humiliation. With your insurance money I’m going to take the kids and move to California where I’ll buy a Mercedes, so I can drive back and forth to the prison to visit him. Then I’m going on 20/20 and telling Barbara Walters you weren’t there for me when I needed you. What’s more, I’m going to give an interview to the local paper; it’ll appear on the front page along with a picture of Lyle and me eating a Ding-Dong.

Trust me when I say he’ll be your prisoner for life.

* This was written in 2002 before cars and cell phones came equipped with GPS. Women no longer have to ask directions for their husbands. Come to think of it, a lot about this post is out of date. Barbara Walters has retired. Lyle Menendez has now been married twice (most recently to his lawyer). And you'll be happy to know that Erik and Tammi Menendez are still married. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why you shouldn't argue about politics on Facebook

I found my wife facedown on the breakfast table, her shoulders heaving. Her laptop was on the table next to her.

"What's wrong?" I asked, fearing she had just learned some dreadful news.

"Read this," she said, raising her head and pointing to a Facebook posting from a political message board she follows. At that point I was relieved to realize she was convulsed with laughter.

This is an actual post, cloned directly from Facebook. Only the participant names are changed. In case you're unfamiliar with Florida politics, you need to know that we just finished a nasty gubernatorial election between former governor Charlie Crist and the current incumbent, Rick Scott, who was re-elected in a close race during which Crist ran TV ads calling Scott a criminal.


  • Debra Evans Lange   I am glad you said you respect our President even though you don't agree. There are so many right wingers who show no respect and have been downright disgusting in how they talk about him and how they portrait (sic) him. If for nothing else, they should respect the office he holds. That the Majority of Americans elected him TWICE...not once but TWICE!
    13 hrs · Like · 3

  • Susan Fortis  Well I'm in Florida where a criminal was elected governor TWICE and the attorney general is a flaming hypocrite!!!
    13 hrs · Like · 2

  • Mark Abrams  Crist is just an ass kisser!! lol.
    13 hrs · Like · 13 hrs ·

  •  Marjorie Lowe Maness  Oh my, this is crazy. Obama may be president but JESUS is the King of Kings & holds the universe in His hands. My faith & trust is in Him. Sad how so many put a man in office above Jesus. And yes, I know I don't have to read this stuff & all that.
    12 hrs · Like

  •  Tom Marshall I think Mark said CRIST, not CHRIST
  •    13 hrs · Like ·     76

Sunday, November 2, 2014

12 Boomer songs that make no sense to Millennials

1. Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (Dionne Warwick, 1968)

No, but why not program it into your GPS? Or ask Siri?

2. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number (Steely Dan, 1974)

Put it in your cell phone. Better yet, call me right now and I'll be on your contact list. 

3. Kodachrome  (Paul Simon, 1973)

Let me get this straight: You put a roll of something called "film" in a device called a "camera" that was totally separate from your cell phone ... took pictures ... had to take them to a drugstore  ... and wait several days ... then you got back something called "slides?"

4. The Letter  (The Box Tops, 1967)

One of many songs – others include Please Mr. Postman, Take a Letter, Maria and Sealed With A Kiss – about an extinct form of communication, sort of like hieroglyphics.

5. Return to Sender  (Elvis Presley, 1962)

Another song about letters, today it would be entitled, Delivery To The Following Recipient Failed Permanently.

6. Knock Three Times  (Tony Orlando & Dawn, 1970)

Better yet, sext me to show me exactly how much you want me.

7. Gotta Get a Message to You (Bee Gees, 1968)

Why didn't he just text?  It's not like he could call her back if she didn't pick up. BTW, my parents always told me there were three Bee Gees. How come there are five here?

8. 409  (Beach Boys, 1962)

Why would anyone record a song about a brand of cleaning spray?

9. (Gonna Put it In The) Want Ads (Honey Cone, 1970)

You mean “Craigslist,” right?

10. Young Girl (Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, 1968)

This bastard made millions singing, "you've led me to believe, you're old enough, to give me love and now it hurts to know the truth?" What about the poor girl he molested? I hope he's listed in the National Online Registry of Sex Offenders so his neighbors know to watch out for their kids.

11. Please Mr. Please (Don’t Play B-17) (Olivia Newton-John, 1975)

You mean people in restaurants and bars had to listen to music other people picked out? Eww.

12. Back in the USSR: (Beatles, 1968)

Good thing they recorded it back then because even the Beatles couldn't have had a hit with a song called Back in Russia Estonia Latvia Lithuania Belarus Kazakhstan Georgia Ukraine Azerbaijan Armenia Turkmenistan Moldova Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Democracy at your convenience

Can someone explain to me why our votes need to be counted by computers rather than people?

What’s wrong with a paper ballot on which citizens place an “X” next to the names of the candidates for whom they wish to vote?

Is that too old-fashioned? Are today’s poll judges too lazy to count paper ballots? Or too dumb? Is it because Americans no longer understand basic arithmetic? Is it because computerized vote-counting machines ostensibly deliver results quicker so busypeopledonthavetowaitsolong to find out the results? Is it necessary or, more important, prudent, to rely on machines to do something as important as count votes?

And what’s with allowing people to vote early rather than have to wait until Election Day?  Thirty-three states now allow citizens to vote early. Here in Florida the polls have been open in most counties since October 20th for the upcoming election and they’re open ten hours a day (eight on weekends) at taxpayer expense. Proponents claim early voting gives voters the opportunity to cast ballots at their convenience in case they have something more important to do on the actual day set aside for the election. That’s a flawed argument from the get-go. Democracy isn’t about convenience. If they could, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have perished defending our right to vote freely would say it was inconvenient for them to die so you could go to the beach if Election Day turned out to be warm and sunny.

What’s more – no surprise here – the trends from all this early voting are already being made public, which will impact the results. In Florida, today reported that 45 Republicans have voted for every 38 Democrats – a sure sign for Democrats to turn on more advertising, staff up the phone banks and wire more money to local banks to pay people to vote. In North Carolina, according to the Washington Post, more Democrats have voted than Republicans, indicating the GOP needs to turn on the money spigot. Is revealing the percentage of voters from each party who have voted in advance of the election in the other 17 states fair? Is it intelligent? Is it the right thing to do? 

And what do you think about not having to present identification to cast your vote? If I lived in certain states, I could simply show up at the poll, give the judge the name of someone I knew wasn’t going to vote (or, better yet, someone I paid so I could vote in his or her place) and vote for whomever I chose. Americans need IDs to drive their cars, borrow library books, see doctors and for dozens of other routine transactions. But do we need one to exercise our most precious right? The president and attorney general – officials sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States -- think not and millions of Americans, including many who are reading this right now, agree with them. If you’re one of them, WTF is wrong with you? Have you no common sense?

Want another example of convenience voting? In Oregon and Colorado the polls are closed. Permanently. It was simply too much trouble to find judges, set up voting machines, install exterior signage, yadda yadda. Residents of both states now vote by mail.  What proof, if any, do voters in those states have that their votes will arrive much less be counted?

What I find upsetting is that nobody – our elected officials or the voters who put them in office – apparently cares enough to question the joke we have allowed voting to become.

It’s madness. Complete and utter madness.

But, of course, it’s awfully convenient and that, after all, is what’s important.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Love means never having to say ...

My wife and I disagree about politics, vegetables, and TV programming. She likes cop shows. I favor WWII movies.

So lately we’ve been compromising and watching old movies on Netflix – Carrie, Five Easy Pieces, The Graduate and, last night, Love Story. We saw Carrie together in 1976. The others came out years before we met.

A 1970 blockbuster starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, Love Story is the tale of an impossibly good-looking couple from disparate backgrounds. She is a baker’s daughter from Cranston, he’s a Boston Brahmin.

I agreed to watch it because I assumed my wife, who is every bit as cynical as I am – more even – would find it as hilarious as I did 44 years ago and we’d yuk it up. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the plot.

Harvard student O’Neal meets MacGraw at a library, where she’s working to put herself through Radcliffe. She insults him repeatedly, which turns him on big-time. He invites her to watch him play hockey. Afterwards they throw snowballs at each other and make snow angels – there's lots of snow in this movie – and they fall head-over-heels as she continues to insult him at every opportunity, flaring her nostrils whenever she perceives she’s landed a particularly nasty jab. He allows her to do this because he has low self-esteem – he feels terrible because he was born rich; there are buildings at Harvard bearing the family name that have caused him considerable angst.

One wintry day he drives her in his vintage MG convertible with the top down to meet his stuffy parents. He then asks her to marry him, knowing it will send his parents to the moon, and they recite ridiculous vows at their wedding.

She gives up a scholarship to study in Paris in order to put him through law school because his father has wisely cut off the money spigot. (What father wouldn’t refuse to support a son as arrogant and ungrateful as O’Neal?)  The couple gets in an argument (over his parents, naturally – they’re otherwise perfectly suited), she runs out into the cold, he searches all over for her and returns to find her shivering on the front porch where, when he apologizes, she utters the immortal words, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

After three years of poverty he graduates, lands a cushy job in New York and, because this is 1970 when women still had babies in their twenties or thirties, they immediately start trying to conceive a kid they refer to as “Bozo” but have no luck.

He is called into her doctor’s office and assumes the doc is going to tell him one of them has a plumbing issue. But the doc has even worse news: MacGraw is dying. O’Neal doesn’t bother to ask what disease she has – it should be obvious to anyone with half a brain that she caught some bug from being cold all the time – but they agree not to tell her.

A few days later O’Neal buys tickets to Paris, figuring she’s been pissed all these years that she didn’t get to go, but when he presents them she tells him she knows she’s toast.

Wanting to provide quality medical treatment – Obamacare, the brainchild of another Harvard Law grad, is more than 40 years in the future – O’Neal flies to Boston and tells his father he needs $5,000, no questions asked. The old man writes him a check.

O’Neal goes back to New York and forces his terminally ill wife to sit outside in freezing weather, watching him ice-skate. She finally announces she needs to go to the hospital. He drags her through waist-deep snow across Central Park (one would think someone as highly educated as O'Neal would have had enough common sense to use a sidewalk since they are always cleared off almost instantly in New York), hails a cab and off they go to Mt. Sinai.

MacGraw, in her final moments on earth, looks ravishing as opposed to ravished by her illness; she is wearing full make up and has just had her hair done. Perhaps more important, for the first time since she met O’Neal, she is warm. Her nostrils flaring one last time, she tells him to screw Paris and exits stage left.

On his way out of the hospital O’Neal meets his father who says he learned the truth about why he borrowed the money and is sorry. O’Neal tells him, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” trudges off in the snow and sits on a bench.

The movie was exactly as I remembered it – silly, pretentious and unbelievable – and I started making wise-ass remarks from the get-go.

To my surprise, my wife, who, despite her inexplicable penchant for Brussels sprouts, is otherwise intelligent, disagreed. She said she found it romantic and beautiful and finally told me to shut my mouth and let her enjoy it.

Perhaps I should have told her I was sorry.

But ...

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Are you an honest-to-God New Englander?

A Facebook friend from Connecticut posted a quiz she found online, “How New England Are You?"

It asks questions about clambakes, the Big E (the Northeast’s version of a state fair), maple syrup, etc., but doesn’t ask the real questions that differentiate New Englanders from folks in other parts of America.

As someone who spent half my life in New England, I’ve devised my own quiz (below). Take it, then see the bottom of this post for scoring information to find out if you're an honest-to-God New Englander. 

1. There’s a moving van next door. How long do you wait to introduce yourself to your new neighbor?

a. 10 years
b. 25 years
c. 50 years
d. Maybe someone’s moving out, not in. How would I know?

(For women only)
How much do you spend annually on make up?

a. $.1.50
b. $.1.00
c. $ 0.50
d. What is this “make up” stuff you are referring to?

(For men only)
What is your most important summer wardrobe item?

a. Lime green corduroy trousers with embroidered whales
b. Rhubarb colored Bermudas with embroidered nautical flags
c. Turtleneck sweater to stay warm while watching Fourth of July fireworks
d. The penny loafers I wear without socks

3. What percentage of your income do you pay in taxes (a combination of Federal, state, sales and local property)?

a. 70%
b. 80%
c. 90%
d. 95%

4. The Middle West begins:

a. In the Berkshires
b. Somewhere in New Jersey
c. Just west of the Middle East
d. Every year when The Wizard of Oz is rebroadcast

5. Which of these service providers do you consider to be most essential to your well being?

a. Primary care physician
b. Dentist
c. Surgeon
d. Snowplow man because, without him, I couldn’t get out of my driveway half the year to visit the other three

6. The cashier at my local supermarket has never once:

a. Smiled
b. Said “thank you”
c. Acknowledged my presence in any way
d. All the above and that’s fine by me

7. My favorite sport is:

a. Lacrosse
b. Skiing
c. Sailing
d. Jogging at dusk along narrow winding roads with stone walls on either side that drivers have to swerve into to avoid hitting me

8. The last Republican I voted for was:

a. Scott Brown
b. Lowell Weicker
c. Henry Cabot Lodge
d. Abraham Lincoln

9. How many rounds of antibiotics did it take to eradicate your Lyme Disease symptoms?

a. One
b. Two
c. Three
d. Can’t recall – Lyme Disease has affected my memory

10. The longest my home has been without electricity due to a hurricane or out-of-season blizzard is:

a. one day
b. one week
c. two weeks
d. one month

Give yourself a “10” for each “D” answer, and a “5” for any other answer.

You are a true New Englander if your score totals 75 or more.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Forrest Gump was right

Forrest Gump said his momma told him that, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." 

He could have been talking about the Internet. 

Today I discovered online the above photo, scanned from the 1929 yearbook of Central Wesleyan College in Warrenton, Mo., which closed its doors during the Great Depression. It’s a picture of my father, Gilbert Leach Dryden. Dad was born in 1907 which would make him 21 or 22, a college senior. He died in 1966 when I was 14. It is one of, perhaps, ten photographs of my father in existence. Nobody in my family had ever seen it.

How’d I find it? I was talking on the phone with my 101-year-old mother about an obscure relative. I asked her when he died and where he was buried. Mom said she wasn’t sure. So I went to a website I’ve visited a few times,, where you can enter the name of the person you’re looking for and, if you’re lucky, find a picture of his or her tombstone and, sometimes if you’re extra lucky, a copy of the person’s obituary from the local newspaper and, on rare occasions, even a photo.

I didn’t find the relative but one thing led to another and I started looking for other family graves. I’ve visited my father's grave at Mr. Pleasant Cemetery in High Hill, Mo. many times over the years on but on today's visit I was startled to find him peering back at me.

According to a caption under the photo, it was provided to by a genealogy buff who researches descendants of people with the surname of Coleman, the name of my dad’s Irish grandmother. I can’t imagine how this ( I assume he is a) distant relative found the photo but I’m grateful he did. 

If you haven’t checked out findagrave, com, do. You may not find exactly what you’re looking for. On the other hand, you might find something even better.