Friday, November 23, 2018

The Grill of Your Dreams

We just had a new gas grill installed.  Here is the first page of the owner's manual that came with it.

Congratulations on your new Tropic Chef grill!

We know you can’t wait to start grilling delicious meals for your family and friends, but before you do, please take a moment to read these critical safety warnings. Failure to follow these warnings may invalidate the warranty.

  • Fill tank with propane only. DO NOT fill with gasoline, lighter fluid, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, turpentine, linseed oil, hydrogen, butane, methane, ethylese or vodka.

  • Grill is for OUTDOOR USE only.  Do not operate inside house, condo, apartment, trailer, barn, airplane, helicopter, office building, store, restaurant, hospital, church, synagogue, mosque, outhouse, car, bus, van or truck.

  • DO NOT ignite grill while connected to an oxygen tank.

  • NEVER allow children to play around, or atop, hot grill except for kids likely to grow up and vote Republican if you don't stop them now.

  • God knows I’d love to be writing the great American novel — that’s what I always intended to be doing at this point in my life — but no, I have to spend my day writing instructions for morons like you who have done all of these things and worse. For example …

  • When igniting burners, MAKE SURE grill lid is open and that no cats have crept through opening at the back and are sleeping inside.

  • DO NOT light farts if you smell propane leak. 

  • DO NOT operate grill during tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, blizzards, floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or other adverse conditions. If any of these conditions occur, please turn off fuel supply and seek shelter.

  • Any reference within this manual to wieners refers to sausages made by Oscar Mayer, Hormel, Ballpark, Nathans and other manufacturers, NOT dachshunds or genitalia you have cut off your cheating husband in a fit of drunken rage.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy your new grill!

Monday, November 12, 2018

These diamonds aren't forever

Darling, will you marry me?

The highest temperature in the nation yesterday, 89 degrees, was reported in Ft. Myers, two towns north of here. Sunday was a darn near perfect day. Low humidity. Blue skies. Fluffy clouds. A slight breeze. 

I would have enjoyed it more if it weren’t for this damn sinus infection that made its first appearance in 1987 when we lived in Connecticut, and flared up every year thereafter until we finally had the sense to get out of there once and for all in 2013. Until two weeks ago, it had only reappeared once, in 2016, and that was after a flight.  

But two weeks ago we flew home from Iceland — Keflavik to JFK, JFK to Atlanta, Atlanta to Ft. Myers. Two days later I woke up feeling like someone had broken into the house overnight and filled my head with wet concrete. I’ve been taking antibiotics ever since but this iteration of my 31-year-old infection is particularly tenacious. I’m almost sure it flared up because of the flying, not because of the cold we encountered in Iceland, where I wore a stocking cap everywhere. (My mother, who always warned her children to keep their heads covered whenever it was 60 or below, would have been proud.) 

Why did we go to to icy-cold Iceland in late October rather than in summer, when the daylight lasts nearly around the clock and the high averages a balmy 55? Because we wanted to see the Northern Lights. The odds of seeing the aurora borealis are better during Iceland’s winter, which basically lasts from September through May.  Alas, we didn’t see them. The first four days were rainy, with low clouds that would have prevented us from seeing them if they had they been dancing directly overhead. For the last three days the conditions were ideal — no clouds — but the lights, which are tempermental, were no-shows. We had a wonderful time anyway.

The highlight of our trip was Diamond Beach, the most bizarre and beautiful place I’ve ever seen.

Located on the southeast coast about 250 miles from Reykjavik, it’s a jet-black beach studded with thousands of chunks of ice, from as small as a couple of carats all the way up to the size of a Mac truck. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear they were diamonds.

The diamonds come from the Breiðamerkurjöjull glacier, about a half mile from the beach. As it retreats (e.g. melts) chunks of ice fall into a lagoon directly behind the beach. The chunks float around the lagoon awhile — a day, a week, a year — and eventually move through a river out into the Atlantic.

The sea, which is warmer than the lagoon — about 45 degrees— melts some of the ice, then washes the chunks up onto the beach. Some of the chunks are crystal clear, like diamonds. Others retain the weird blue color of the glacier that birthed them, a color I’ve only seen in nature one other place — in my four-year-old grandson Teddy’s ice blue eyes. For the first time, once I saw those glacier-blue chunks, I truly understood what “ice blue” means.

We went to the beach twice — once late in the afternoon as the sun was setting, and again the next morning. None of the diamonds we had seen 18 hours before were there on our second visit. They’d either melted or been carried back to sea at high tide. 

On our second visit we saw a young man kneeling in front of a young woman, presenting her with a real diamond. Diamond Beach is the perfect place to get engaged through I imagine any girl, after seeing the diamonds on the beach, would complain that hers isn’t big enough. 

Here are some photos for your viewing pleasure. If you enjoy them, by all means go see Diamond Beach for yourself. Iceland is easy to get to (five hours from New York), and there are several low cost airlines offering nonstops they have trouble filling up in winter. I’ve seen flights advertised for as little as $99 each way.

But don’t put it off. There’s a volcano under the glacier that’s overdue to erupt and once that happens, Diamond Beach may well be gone.

Real diamonds are forever but these gems aren't. 

Jökulsárlón Sveitarfélagið Hornafjörður. The first word is the name
of the lagoon into which the icebergs fall from the glacier
(shown above). The last is the name of the nearest town.  I have
no clue what the middle one means. But these three words, together, according
to my iPhone, denote the location where this shot was taken.

The beach is covered with black volcanic sand. 
And, of course, diamonds.

Lots and lots of diamonds. Thousands of them.

This photo will give you an idea of how huge
some of these icebergs are.

Looking west. That's a small part of the glacier in the upper right.
(Damn, writing this post was fun. I should have been a travel writer.
Is it too late to launch a new career at my age?

 I wonder if I could get free trips from, say, the Iceland Tourist Bureau? 

My bride with her diamond
 Chunks of glacier ice the size of Ford F-150s
The only other place I've seen that shade of blue in
nature -- in Teddy's ice blue eyes. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Turning back time

For the first seven years of our married life, until we had our first son, we went to the movies almost every weekend. We would look in the newspaper, see what was playing, then choose the one that appealed to us most because there were almost always multiple movies we wanted to see.

We rarely go to the movies these days. It's not that we don’t want to. It’s because 99.9 percent of movies are written for people at least 40 years younger than us. Hollywood doesn’t give a damn about people our age. We are not the future. The last movie we saw in a theater was Dunkirk.

Yesterday my wife said she’d like to see A Star is Born, the third remake of the film about a famous guy who discovers an unknown with talent, gives her opportunities to shine, and marries her. As her star ascends, his declines, sending him into despair. Just before the movie ends, he self-destructs, leaving her in the final scene to proclaim her undying love.

I agreed to go but only because we had gift cards we needed to use before they expired. 

I never saw the original version. I had to go to Wikipedia to find out when it was made (1937) and who starred in it (Frederick March and Janet Gaynor).

I saw the first remake (1954, James Mason, Judy Garland) as a kid, on NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies.

The second remake, with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, was released in December, 1976. We were newlyweds, living in Chicago. We saw it on a Sunday afternoon. When we came out of the theater it was snowing hard. 

We lived in a tiny apartment on the eighth floor of a 30 story-high rise overlooking Lake Michigan, a building featured in the opening credits of the Bob Newhart Show. It was, supposedly, where Bob and his wife Emily (Suzanne Pleshette) lived. Whereas Bob and Emily had entertaining neighbors, including Howard, the pilot,  the actual building was filled with elderly Hungarians who had fled the 1956 revolution, cooked cabbage that stunk up the hallways, and were obsessed with cleanliness. The white-haired lady across the hall, Angelina, scrubbed her front door every day.  She once knocked on our door to point out that the marble saddle under it had a streak of dirt that needed to be scrubbed away that very minute. 

We had moved to Chicago a few months earlier. I had a job as a writer for a Chicago-based marketing agency and my wife was a development writer for a university on the south side. Our apartment was furnished with hand-me-downs. Most movies we saw were matinees -- they were cheaper. That was the only year of our married life we had just one dog, Sybil, a dachshund/corgi mix whose ears were as big as her face. For the next 42, we had two, sometimes three, dogs.

The latest remake of A Star Is Born features Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. It wasn’t, as I assumed it would be, terrible, but it wasn’t great either. Lady Gaga can certainly sing. She’s very appealing and likable but, as we reclined in our leather chairs in the darkened theater, I wasn’t thinking about the plot. I knew what was coming. My mind kept wandering back to what our lives were like the last time we saw “Star” when, as 25-year-olds, we had no idea where we going much less how we’d get there, and asking myself, “If I could turn back time to the last time we saw this movie, would I?” 

Chicago was God-awful cold so the next year I finagled a transfer to the agency’s New York office. After a couple of months I quit that job, and landed a job at a big ad agency.  A year later I moved up to a bigger agency.

In 1983, we had our first son and moved to a condo in the ‘burbs. Three years later son number two came along and we bought our first house. In 1989, I started my own agency. Sometimes business was great. Sometimes it wasn’t.

But it all, eventually, worked out. Our youngest went off to college in 2004, we retired in 2010, moved to Florida full time in 2013 and became grandparents in 2014. Right now, for the first time since 1976, we are back to one dog, Rupert, a long-haired dachshund. Surprisingly, we are comfortable having just one though I can’t speak for him. He seems sad, no matter how much attention he gets, and believe me, he gets plenty.

This morning, having had the benefit of an extra hour of sleep because America reverted to standard time overnight, I woke up knowing the answer to my question. 

If given the opportunity to turn back the clock to 1976, knowing what I know now, I would do it. In a heartbeat.

But if I had to turn it back without the benefit of the lessons I’ve learned along the way I wouldn’t, because I might well make some poor choices I didn't make the first go-round.  

I have made lots of choices. Some were dumb. Some were smart. Some were risky and, in retrospect, foolhardy. Others weren’t really choices at all, just lucky breaks.  But I am the sum total of the choices I have made. We all are. 

When you are young, if you are fortunate and not everyone is, you have lots and lots of choices to make. Some big. Some small. 

One thing I am realizing with each passing day is that the older I get, the fewer of them I have. 

I wish I had more choices to look forward to making, but I’m going to have to be content with the ones I still have and to be grateful for the ones I have been given and made.  

Especially the bad ones, because those are the ones that taught me the most.