Sunday, May 20, 2018

There's a PODCAST Out There For You

Podcasts are a wonderful thing.

My daughter Alissa introduced them to me a couple of years ago and I've been listening faithfully ever since. My commute from St. Pete to North Tampa takes anywhere from 45 minutes to three weeks depending on traffic. So I've definitely got the time to listen. I have discovered some real gems in the podcast universe that you can subscribe to as well. It's all free too!

The first one I was introduced to was a series called "Serial". The focus was on a homicide investigation into the death of an 18 year old girl named Hae Min Lee, who was found in a shallow grave, and the subsequent trial and conviction of her ex boyfriend, Adnan Sued. The interviews were fascinating because they were not edited to fit a 60 Minutes kind of format. They were raw and real. The interviewer was not slick and clever ... she was hesitant and thoughtful and refreshingly genuine. There was a subsequent season about an army deserter that's worth a listen as well.


"How I Built This" is one of my favorites. It's a PBS series that has been adapted to podcast format and should be on every entrepreneur's top ten list. Interviews with everyone from Sarah Blakely and her Spanx to  Michael Dell and Dell Computers give you insight into what makes these guys tick, how they got started and where they are today.  The most recent focused on two brothers who were from Ireland and sold their first company before they were 20. John and Patrick Collison then founded Stripe, a software company that uses a few lines of code to power the payment systems of companies like Target and Lyft. They talk about their early years (which was less than 10 years ago) when they were 16 and won science awards, moved to the US to attend Harvard and MIT and now are worth an estimated $9 Billion ... and they are not even 30. 

"The Daily" is a product of the New York Times and airs 20 minutes a day five days a week. It is really what news should sound like. In depth coverage of the biggest stories from experts that you'll want to hear from. Not into petty name calling or partisan debates ... just right to the core of the store, researched and presented expertly by Michael Barbaro.

"Revisionist History" is from the mind of Malcolm Gladwell. Each episode re-examines something from the past ... an event, a song, an idea ... and asks whether we got it right. His latest was called "Divide and Conquer" and it was a study of the Constitution of the US and the use of semi colons. It was an incredible look into punctuation that caused some of our basic laws to be reinterpreted just by the way they were divided (accurately or not) by semicolons. I know that sounds dumb ... but it truly is not.

"Serial Killers" is another favorite. This one is just what it says ... and if you love the gory details of some of the great murderers of the 20th century, this one's for you.

There are so many more out there. Just click on the podcast app and explore. I promise you'll find something you'll love. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Orlando, Back to the Beach and Sammy's First Adventure


We took a break in the middle of the week to head to Orlando to Universal with Dennie and Tom.

Stayed at the Portofino and sailed to the park in the morning. Drank butter beer, saw Blues Brothers, had Margaritas at Jimmy Buffet's, ate at  Emeril's, shot aliens at MIB 


But the most mind bending, complicated, challenges of all came AFTER we left. We stopped at Pinera to eat breakfast and skipped the line to try out the ipad menu. It took four of us about a half hour and we STILL couldn't figure it out. We left and tried three other places until we settled at First Watch.

Look at these people crowding my beach!

Beautiful day and I spent most of it on the porch back at my computer working on the Sammy novel. 

It was so nice to get another week to do this because I'm now at 25,000 words (about halfway done).

By the way thanks for your suggestions on where Sammy could go on his adventure. I'm going to use some of them. 



Here's another chapter (Sammy's first Stop) :

      “Can I see your Driver’s License, Mr. Finklestein?” asked Raul, the front desk manager of the Roosevelt Hotel.

Sammy didn’t think of this when he was collecting bogus credit cards and making his plans for escape. Crap. I have no identification. “Son … I haven’t driven in 10 years. My son makes sure of that. Gave up my license years ago.”

“Any ID?” Raul asked.

“Only my credit card I’m afraid.”

“I see.” Raul handed him back his card. “I am sorry sir … really can’t …”

“Not a problem my friend. I understand.” Sammy hoisted his backpack and headed into the Sazerac Bar. He shuffled into one of the low tables in the corner, folded his trusty old walker with the worn out tennis balls and collapsed into the leather chair. He reached down and opened his backpack and pulled out the powder blue urn, placing it gently right next to his oversized bar menu. “Esther … looks like we are not gonna see the inside of one of those Roosevelt Hotel rooms. So let’s just have a drink at the Sazerac for now and I’ll get us another place to stay.”

Caesar, the bartender, was taking this all in from his station listening intently. He came up to the table. “What can I get for you sir?” 

“Old Fashioned for me, thx.” Sammy winked.

“And for …” Caesar nodded to the urn. “The lady?”

“Why she will do the Sazerac of course.”

“Of course.”

Caesar had done this job a long time. He knew better than to ask a lot of questions … especially to an old man talking to an urn and ordering it a drink. He smiled to himself. He figured it out right away. Wife passed away, lonely widower can’t part with her and brings her to their favorite place for one last drink.

Close … but no cigar.

Caesar stepped behind the elegant bar to mix the cocktails. The Sazerac is one of the oldest and best known bars in New Orleans. Named for the first ever mixed drink, the Sazerac was visited by the famous and infamous. Governor Huey Long (The Kingfish) would visit regularly as well as countless celebrities who played the hotel’s Blue Room like Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra.

In about four hours … it would be packed with patrons but for now it was just Caesar and Sammy … and Esther.  

Caesar stepped up to the table and served Sammy first. “Sir.” Then he reached over and placed the Sazerac in front of the urn. “Madam.” 

“Thank you.” Sammy looked at his name tag. “Caesar.”

“My pleasure.” Caesar continued. The curiosity got the best of him. “If I might be so bold … can I ask what was her name?”

“Her?”

“Yes.”

“Esther.”

“Your … wife?”

“She was.”

“I’m sure she was a lovely person.”

Sammy took a long sip of his Old Fashioned. “Actually, she was a real bitch.”

Caesar was silent.

“It’s okay Caesar. The great thing about being 86 years old is that it frees you up to say all the things that you couldn’t when you were 40. Plus … she’s dead you know? I can actually get a few words in.”  Sammy smiled that semi toothless smile where his dentures were missing. “You married?”

“Yes I am.”

Sammy motioned him closer. “I’m sure she’s a lovely woman.”

Caesar looked around as if she might be behind him. “Actually … she’s kind of a bitch.”

They both laughed loudly.

“Caesar … let me buy you a drink. This one’s on Ira Finklestein.”




Saturday, April 7, 2018

I Need Your Help

I've been bad.

I haven't written a blog entry in ages and I want to apologize to my fan. (No that's not a typo. I'm probably down to one "fan") So here's an update ... I have been spending any free time I can get at our beach condo writing my Sammy novel. 

Getting pretty far into it.

I sent my first 50 pages to my buddy Dave Scheiber who is the best writer I know and who I hope to be when I grow up (which as you all know will never happen ... the writing part and the growing up). Dave's gonna give me some notes and I know him well enough that he will certainly tell me the truth ... that it is brilliant.

But until then I'm pushing ahead.

So ... the novel plot centers around Sammy (who is based on my dad) who lives in a nursing home, is depressed and plans an escape. He takes with him two urns ... one with Esther's remains (based on my mom) and one empty for his own. His plan ... go back to his hometown and visit his favorite places that Esther hated and make her go to them with him.

Now I've copied a chapter below so you can get the gist. YOU can help me write it because I've got lots of ideas about where to take Sammy ... but I bet you do too.

Comment some of yours back to me. 

Okay ... enjoy (I hope)

 SAMMY ... the novel 


Chapter 11


Sammy’s face crinkled around the edges as he smiled and looked out the back window of Uber driver Ahmed Kumar’s car. The night air felt good. It was fresh and a little cool and gave Sammy a feeling of renewal. This would be his last and greatest adventure. In truth, Sammy didn’t feel he ever really had a great adventure. Maybe a few pretty good ones? Not really. Not even close. So this was going to be his last chance for the adventure that he never had.

He had been planning it for well over a year.

Sammy knew that he needed money. At Star of David, there was no money that changed hands for anything, In fact, residents were not allowed to even carry money. Older residents were forgetful and were prone to misplacing valuables, there would be no temptations for light fingered staff members and it just made sense to limit liability. So, he needed a plan to find a different source.

The answer came from his old friend Bertha.

“So Sammy … did I tell you about my sister Sarah’s daughter?” Bertha told him one night at dinner (when she still ate with him).

“Sister?”

“My sister, Sarah. I told you about her Sammy. Lived in Brooklyn, married the butcher and had three selfish kids who tried to bleed her dry. They were the most selfish girls … I swear my poor sister had her hands full. Oy … what a mess even at the funeral …”

“Bertha … Bertha … stay on track”

Bertha put her fork down and straightened her dress. She whispered to Sammy (not the best strategy). “So … when Sarah died last year, her daughter Isabel decided to steal her identity.”

“Steal her what?”

“IDENTITY … her IDENTITY.” Bertha said very loudly. About a third of the diners turned to look at her. The rest were as deaf as Sammy.

“She’s dead for God’s sake. What identity?”

“That’s the point. She died so no one noticed that her identity popped up again on credit cards … on credit cards … can you believe it? Isabel got credit cards in Sarah’s name.”

“That’s crazy. How could she just get credit cards like that?”

“She just applied and used all her mother’s information. And … she just charged and charged and charged and never paid them off. They kept trying to contact her but guess what?”

“She didn’t answer… because she’s dead.”

“Right. The only way they found out was when she forgot and signed her own name to one of the charges and left her real phone number with a clerk.”

Brilliant, thought Sammy.

Six months later, when three of the residents of Star of David passed away, he sent off three brand new applications and got three approvals and three credit cards in just weeks … Ira Finkelstein, Arthur Smolensky and Sandy Weiner. They were real people … just not breathing any more. He’d probably just use one but he might live longer and need more cover, he thought.

The rest was easy. Airline reservations, hotel rooms and some new clothes were all done in the last month to reduce the investigation time if there was any suspicion.


“Which airline, Mr. Finkelstein?” Ahmed asked from the front seat. At first Sammy thought Ahmed was talking to someone else on his cell phone, forgetting his new identity.“Mr. Finkelstein?”

Sammy jumped in, “Oh … yeah … (reading his ticket) that would be Delta.”

“You got it.” Ahmed smiled. “Big escape?”

Sammy was flustered. “Escape? What makes you say that?”

“That crazy ComicCon is in town this week. Traffic and parking are a nightmare.”

Okay you gotta calm down, thought Sammy. “What the hell is a Comie whatever?”

“Comic Con. It’s just a big conference for people who dress up like comic book superheroes and come together in one big place. My girlfriend is really into it. Can’t say I mind. Man does she look hot in that Wonder Woman costume. You know?”

Ahmed looked in the rear view mirror and saw that Sammy was not listening. Sammy was tired. His adventure hadn’t even begun and he was already feeling like he needed a nap ... or at least an aspirin for the pain in his shoulder and hip.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Birthday weekend for Papa

Birthday weekend at Universal with the kids!

Unfortunately they advertised it in 11 different sizes. Even little Wyatt wore Happy Birthday Old Man.

Nikki and Steven and Cole and Grace came in a day early so we spent the day with them at Animal Kingdom on Friday. The place is very cool. One note of interest: Dede took Grace to see the hippo asleep on the bottom of the big tank, Every so often he would raise his head above the water and then sink back down.

Dede felt certain that the hippo was one of those robotic creatures Disney uses in their parks. She insisted the hippo was fake even though we all told her that this was REAL animal kingdom ... not FAKE animal kingdom. 

She finally approached one of the staff in the gorilla exhibit and asked the question. "Is the hippo in the tank real?"
"Interesting question. Although some of the creatures are not real in Disney parks, the hippo is real."
"OH ..."
"But I have a question for you. Do you know what kind of fish those were that swim around the hippo? They are scavengers who ....."    Oh no ... Dede found a new friend.

That became the running joke of the trip: Real or not real?

When we got back to the hotel to wait for everyone, we rented an outdoor man cave. It was a cabana that had everything: TV set, phone, drinks ... you name it.

It even had its own beach by the pool right out front.

Had dinner at a really cool place in the hotel that had a great atmosphere and served some killer drinks like a tequila old fashioned. 

After a couple of those ... I really forgot what we ate ... some kind of seafood dish  ... oh yeah ... paella. Good stuff!

The next day we started out early and headed to Universal. Well we tried to start out early but with three kids, and a whole lot of bags and carts ... it takes a little while. 

But we made it to Harry Potter World. Have to admit I was impressed. Never read the books or saw the movies but liked the butter beer and rides. It stretched between Islands of Adventure and Universal. 

A train connects the two ... you have to see it. 

Wyatt wore his hat on Saturday and became an instant hit with the 80 year olds.

Not to be outdone with headgear ... Alissa did her best Unibomber impression.

Beer was the drink of choice all day. (especially because there were lots of adults to watch the kids and Moms and Dads deserve a break now and then).

Nate and Josh competed to be hailed as the new king of Guitar Hero. (Must be the only time that Alice Cooper gets airplay any more).

Minions were a BIG hit.

These THINGS were a big hit too.

Surprise bonus: It was Mardi Gras in the park ... food, music, floats, beads ... very cool!!!

Papa is a very happy man. 

So lucky to have this much love in one great weekend. Thanks Dede ... Thanks Lawvers ... Thanks Cohens and Thanks Mombergs!!!! Love you guys.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Hey!"

Went to Italia Mia the other night.

Tony, the owner was holding  court in the kitchen. He was talking to one of the customers who stood on the other side of the counter.

We were in a booth on the other side of the restaurant but could CLEARLY hear every word. Just a guess but I think they were both talking about the old days ... in Jersey. Reminded me of the old Abbott and Costello routine, "Who's On First?" except that they never got off first base.

" Hey Tony ... remember Aldo?"
" Yeah."
" Yeah. Aldo  ... remember?"
" Yeah I know Aldo."
" He worked in the restaurant right?"
" Who?"
" Aldo."
" Oh yeah. Aldo."
" At the pizza place right?"
" Aldo?"
" Yeah."
" Yeah at the pizza place."
" Hey ... did you know Gianni?"
" Yeah. I know Gianni."
" I thought you might know Gianni."
" Gianni."
" He had a brother right?"
" Who?"
" Gianni."
" Gianni?"
" Yeah ... I think it was Mario."
" Mario?"
" Gianni's brother. Mario."
" No."
" No?"
" No. Don't know no Mario"
" What do you mean? He was Gianni's brother."
" I don't know no Mario."
" He was Gianni's brother."
" You mean skinny Mario?"
" No Mario wasn't skinny. He was fat."
" That's him ... Skinny Mario."
" No ... fat Mario."
" Yeah. We all called him Skinny Mario."
" Why did you call him Skinny?
" I don't know."
" He was Gianni's brother?"
" Maybe. I don't know."

At this point in the conversation, Deb and I were cracking up. Tony saw me laughing. He looked over at me and said. "Hey Joe (always calls me Joe or just HEY) You know this-a guy?"
" Which one ... Aldo, Gianni or Skinny Mario?"
"No ... this-a guy."
"No."
"He drive-a me crazy this-a guy. Always bustin my chops, this-s guy"

We all have a laugh together and after a few minutes, Tony's friend says ..."Hey ... you remember Little Paulie?"

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas Vacation Part 6

On our last night in New York, with the temperature dropping to 11 degrees, we shuffled into the Brooks Atkinson Theater to see Waitress.

Very cool show. Jason Mraz was in it and was a surprisingly good actor. The music was good and the cast was very talented.

But truly, the guy who stole the show was an actor named Christopher Fitzgerald. He played the boyfriend of one of the waitresses and was so funny that he had everyone in the theater laughing so hard,

Well ... time for bed (and heat) and then off to the airport and home for the rest of the holidays. Happy New Year to all!  (eventually).

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas Vacation Part 5

It is COLD!

I'm inside now trying to feel my face ... man. It's 20 degrees and wind chill is zero. LOOOONNNG way from Florida.

Yesterday was pretty cold too.

We took the subway to our Matinee play: Come From Away. It's the play about all the 9/11 airline passengers who had to land in Newfoundland.

It was a musical.

I wondered before we got there ... how do you make a musical out of Newfoundland residents and airline passengers in a stressful situation?


My answer came soon after we sat down in the theater as the band took their places.

It was FANTASTIC.

The cast was real. They looked and acted like townsfolk and like displaced passengers. The dialogue and the music was spot on.

Made you move to Newfoundland.

GREAT SEATS too.

After the show ... we went to dinner. (all we have done is eat!). This time it was Gotham Bar and Grill.

We had a corner table and another excellent dinner. Another winner.

This time ... they had a message for Debbie.  (Just because they can't spell anniversary ...  nobody's perfect)