WESTERN BEEF

For 12 years, I have lived on the Upper West Side and enjoyed the beautiful architecture, family atmosphere, and wide sidewalks that display a healthy array of double strollers and dog shit. Though my address has changed several times, my supermarket choices always remained the same– Zabar’s, Trader Joe’s, Westside Market, and Fairway. The latter has always been my pick due to the wide selection, decent prices, and convenience in location. Yes, Fairway is a 24-hour earthquake that will raise your blood pressure and give you arrhythmia, but if you can evade the obstacle course of strollers, walkers, wheelchairs, and old, indecisive Jews sampling the grapes and seeking out the ultimate cantaloupe, you have a fighting chance of getting in and out in under ten minutes. The first rule of Fairway: Know your route. If you need apples, chicken, oatmeal, broccoli, tin foil, and water, you can move from left to right through the store without breaking stride–which is the second rule of Fairway. Without fail, you will encounter an argument–if you are on the express line, people will lambaste the person who broke the rule and stands their with a shopping cart instead of a basket. One time on line, I witnessed a 90 year old woman yell at an 85-year old woman for cutting her on line. The situation quickly escalated and the 90 year-old took a roll of Bounty Paper towels and slammed it over the head of the other women. Thankfully, nobody was injured.

A month ago, my wife and I moved to West 63rd Street, making the usual stroll to Fairway on 75th street a much larger chore. I explored the area and found “Gracefully,” a gourmet grocery store with a poor selection and sky-high prices. Knowing that this would not work for me, I ventured south and discovered “Western Beef,” a block down from our building. When I walked in, I quickly realized how different it was–Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray” rocked the airwaves and instead of old Jews, Blacks and Hispanics walked the aisles and filled their shopping carts. I loved it immediately. The prices could not be beat–49 cents for bananas, 2 dollar-a-pound chicken breasts, and Swiss-Miss Hot Chocolate - 2 for 3 dollars. In fact, nearly everything in the store was either 2-for or 3-for. The problem was that in almost every case, there was no discount! A gatorade would be two dollars but the sign would read “3 for 6″, and everybody would grab 3! Oatmeal was 4 for 12 dollars (or 1 for 3). The faux deal signs worked as drinks and snacks flew off the shelves in bulk.

When I was finished shopping, I noticed one long line at one of the cash registers. Though six registers theoretically could be in operation, only one was open until close to 40 people stood on line. At that point, another cashier yelled “6 is now open!” In pure anarchy, we bolted to the new register paying little attention to the previous order that existed. From daily trips over several weeks, I would learn that this was a normal day at “Western Beef” I also learned not to ask the cashier how he or she was doing, after one snapped at me and said, “How the fuck you think I’m doing? I’m here!”

This afternoon at Western Beef, I put my ground beef, crate of eggs, 2 onions, 4 sweet potatoes, 8 bananas, and box of white rice on the conveyor belt for the cashier to tally up. When she put the bananas on the scale, she realized that the scale was broken. I said, “Oh man, that’s not good.” She said “That scale’s been broke for over a week! I keep telling them to fix it but no, they don’t do nothing. You know what, just take it, it’s free. It ain’t my money and if they don’t care, I don’t care!” With that, she placed the onions, bananas, and sweet potatoes in a bag. I did not argue. She said, “That’ll be $18.05.” In shock, I thought to myself “Had I known all produce was free, I would have stocked up even more.” Still, I had come out a winner and will return to Western Beef tomorrow for yet another crazy adventure.

Step Up to the Drive Thru Window, Sir

This morning my wife and I headed home from my brother-in-law’s house in Connecticut and stopped at a Starbucks drive-thru to grab two coffees. Once we paid, received our beverages, and pulled away, my wife took her first sip of what was supposed to be an iced latte and said “Gross, there’s no milk in this!  I can’t drink this.”  I felt so bad for her and suggested that we go back and complain.  She said, “Forget it” and ten minutes later, when we pulled up to a gas station, I noticed another Starbucks just down the road.  As the car filled up with gas, I walked her iced black coffee over to the other Starbucks and saw a line at least twenty deep waiting for their over-priced cups of caffeine. With the patience of an infant and the maturity of a newborn, I refuse to wait on any line with more than three people ahead of me—but my wife needed coffee.  I glanced through the side glass window of the store and noticed that there was only one car on line at the drive-thru window and instantly bolted out the door and took my place on line behind a gray Honda Civic.  A white Nissan Maxima pulled up behind me and the driver looked at me like I was a madman .  I raised my iced coffee to him and then turned around to face the rear of the car in front of me.  Finally, the Honda Civic pulled away and I walked up to the female cashier in the window with my wife’s iced coffee and she stared and said nothing.  I explained to her that another Starbucks had given us the wrong drink and that I would like it replaced with the right one.  She said, “This is the drive-thru, sir.”  I said, “Yes, I know.  The line was too long in the store and I figured, what the hell?”  She glared at me for a few seconds and then turned to a co-worker and said, “Let me get a tall iced latte.”  A minute later, she handed me the correct drink and I walked back to the gas station.  My wife sipped it and said “Yummm, thank you” and we drove away. 

 

We Should Sue 

A polysaccharide found in barley that is used to make Guinness beer is known to boost milk production in women that breastfeed.  For this reason, four cans of Guinness inhabited our refrigerator but went untouched since my wife hates beer and she has had no problem feeding our hungry boy thus far.  When an esteemed, beer-loving friend arrived at our apartment yesterday to cuddle with our two week-old son, we immediately offered her a can of Guinness which she gladly accepted. After about twenty minutes, her beer was three quarters empty and began making a rattling noise as she sipped it. Perplexed, she looked down into the can and saw a large piece of plastic at the bottom.  She said "Oh my God, there is a giant piece of plastic in my beer.  I could have drank it and died."  Immediately, my wife and I suggested that she sue Guinness and that we split the two hundred million or so dollars in half since it was our beer in our refrigerator that nearly killed her.  We became drunk with excitement and discussed the many ways that we would spend the money.  College tuition for our son would be paid for, we'd buy that dream house in Kauai that we always wanted, and then give the rest to charity.  Okay, maybe not the last part.  But first we needed a lawyer -- do we call Cellino and Barnes or Jacoby and Meyers?  Do we call Guinness or let our lawyer contact them regarding the pending lawsuit?  We couldn't believe our luck!  As least a hundred times in the past year,  I had pondered walking right in front of a speeding cab taking a sharp right turn or deliberately slipping on a sheet of ice in front of a bank.  That was my road to retirement!  Now I  wouldn't have to!  Before our lawsuit began, our friend suggested that we Google "Plastic thing in Guinness Cans" and sure enough thousands of search results popped up.  The plastic ball was actually known as a "widget" and was found in all Guinness cans to compress nitrogen so that the head of the beer was thick and foamy once opened.  We were shattered.  Our amazing future had disappeared before our very eyes and we felt like complete losers.  

 

 

 

Pull Out and Pray

When you are lifting weights, it is imperative to push yourself to the point of failure --  to that juncture where you cannot muster another repetition and then find the mental strength to knock out five more! Of course, training to failure raises the chance of injury so it is important to gauge the severity of the discomfort and decipher between good pain versus bad pain.  For instance,  if you are doing heavy deadlifts and you feel a twinge in your lower back, put down the weight immediately.  Approach that instant the way a college freshmen thinks about the Pull Out Method -- when you are about to go past the point of no return, get out quick and cut your losses.  

Me, Me, Me, and Me

People don't pick up after their dog, put their weights back at the gym, say "thank you" after you hold a door, and get off the phone when they pay a cashier.  They don't let you off the subway before they get on, move from doorway to let you in, and wait until they are up their stairs before texting their friend.  They do cheat on their taxes and spouses, brag about their vacations and portfolios, and play one-up-Sally when you share a smidgen of good news.  More than ever, we live in a "Me, me me" society and it gets more nauseating by the self-indulgent second  So, what's the solution?   i don't know.  Never go outside again?  All I know is that I needed a good vent. 

The Amazing Benjamin Franklin

I just finished reading "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" and found it both insightful and inspiring.  A true polymath, Franklin  was a great statesman, scientist, author, printer, and inventor.  Among his many inventions were the lightning rod, glass harmonica, Franklin Stove, and bifocals.  It's amazing how many things he invented!  But is it really that amazing?  Back then, nothing was invented yet -- you had free range!  "It's kind of dark in here." Ding! "My milk keeps spoiling."  Ding!  I'm sick of eating with my hands." Ding!  If we were alive back then, I am confident that each one of us would have invented something wonderful.  

 Know Thy But

“Andrew’s a nice guy but he chews with his mouth open.”  “Arthur will give you a great haircut but he talks too much.”  “The subway is efficient but it smells like urine.  “Bali is gorgeous but the flight is too long.”  "Golden retrievers are great dogs but they shed like hell."   Every person, place and inanimate object has numerous favorable qualities and then several “buts” that annihilate any attempt at supremacy and transcendence.  If you think that you don’t have any “buts” or are unaware of them, just ask your friends.    Chances are that if you are married or in a relationship, your partner has made you aware of your “buts” several times daily.  To “know your but” is the only way to improve and become a better person. 

A successful businessman that I know recently attended a sales conference and the keynote speaker addressed this necessary and essential need to recognize your weak points.  In a corporate setting, a boss should ask his or her employees their biggest complaints, just as the boss reviews his fellow subordinates. Rather than take offense to the honest assessments, take them to heart, analyze them, and then decide whether a change is in order.  Of course, certain qualities are beyond alteration such as a nasally voice, short stature, or poor taste in music. But constant tardiness, conceit, a bad temper, and poor hygiene can all be worked on and improved.   We should strive to better ourselves and shrink our "but" down to the bare minimum.  

 

One Dumb Groom

This morning at the gym, a fellow member told me that he was working out with a trainer specifically to look better than his fiancee on their wedding day.  He explained, “She’s working with a trainer to look her best, so I hired one to look even better.  We have a competition going!”  One word came to mind—idiot.  There is a reason why “Say Yes to the Dress” exists and “Say Yes to the Suit” does not.   There’s a reason why the bride comes out last and everyone rises for her and not for him.  There is a reason why the guy gets down on one knee to propose with a ring and not the other way around.  On the wedding day, the groom takes a back seat to the bride and should feel lucky to be in the car at all.  

He said, “I have a month to get a six-pack” and I’m thinking “Why?” Nobody cares what your abs look like and nobody is going to see them.  You are wearing black, the most flattering color ever.  Your bride, on other hand, is wearing a carefully fitted white dress that displays her body’s shape to the maximum.  This guy needs to do himself a favor and end the competition now.  She wins by a landslide.  Go ahead and work out, eat right, and get in great shape if you want—just don’t try to upstage her.  It will be the stupidest decision you ever make.  

 

The Holiday Weekend Wedding

Everyone loves Labor Day and Memorial Day because of the long weekend that the holidays provide.  That is unless of course, you have a wedding to attend.  Holiday weekend weddings should be illegal due to the severe inconvenience and disappointment that they cause 90 percent of the guests to experience.  First off, the "save the date" postcards are sent out eight months in advance, far earlier than the typical six month window, and thereby affords each guest two extra months to live in trepidation.  The deluded couple figures that since everyone has that time off, why not give them the option of going home Monday instead of Sunday night?  This is faulty logic because three day weekends are designed for one of two things— a quick getaway or three days of sleep.   The Sunday wedding on a holiday weekend is the ultimate selfish act because it’s smack in the middle and ruins any and all plans. You spend the whole day Saturday filled with contempt and a good portion of Monday recovering from the five-hour drunken affair.  Do your friends and family a favor and pick an ordinary weekend to book your wedding when plane and hotel fares are not astronomical and the guests do not feel like they have been taken hostage.  

 

 Aging is a question of what doesn't hurt. After you turn 30, you wake-up each morning and assess the damage.  Does my knee hurt? No?  Great, I can walk.  Does my back hurt?  No?  Cool, I can stand up straight.   Does my shoulder hurt?  No? Wonderful, I can open a door.  Nevertheless, I love getting older and waking up achy, passing out early, plucking the grays, watching my friends become parents, and some other ones go bald. 

Every obnoxious 23-year-old has that moment in which they realize that they are older than the athletes on television. Immediately, they go into a panic and root against every player their minor. These days, I turn on the TV and see the gifted spawn of players that I grew up watching such as Stephen Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Patrick Ewing Jr. Their fathers can usually be spotted sitting courtside with a big grin on their face that says, “Been there, done that, it’s Junior’s turn."   Sometimes the children are better than their parents, but most often, they’re not.  If you're jealous of those younger than you, you are forgetting how ignorant you were at that age. With a little luck, I hope to see and root for the grandchildren of players that I grew up watching. 

 

 

Hot Shower and Pajamas

“I wake up dreaming about going back to sleep,” said a friend of mine.  “There’s nothing better than a shower followed by pajamas,” said another.  To many of us, going to sleep at night is the highlight of the day. Of course, some may take exception to this and voice the hackneyed phrase, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  Great, you enjoy that posthumous nap.  I’ll sleep when I’m alive, thank you very much.  You know, just in case.  

After monitoring my stress level for the past few years, I can declare the following conditional statement  — The earlier I am in pajamas, the happier I am.  I find nothing worse than getting home late at night and having to jump in the shower and then go right to bed.  On the other hand, being in pajamas by 6 PM is pure bliss.  If you find yourself stressed out and feel like you never have a chance to wind down, you need more pajama time.  Cancel happy hour, dinner plans, and that Off-Broadway play that you don't really want to see, and go home, take a shower, and get in your pajamas.   As I type this, I am  sprawled on the couch in my blue Superman pajama pants and gray t-shirt and have never been more relaxed. The secret is out--happiness is found in pajamas.

 

  

A very smart, successful friend of mine gave me one of his many tips to maintaining a loving, happy relationship with your spouse or partner—as soon as they arrive home and walk in the door, greet them with the same excitement and unhinged exuberance that a dog greets their owner.  It doesn’t matter whether you had the day from hell at work or they just got off a plane that was stuck on the tarmac for five hours—be that schnauzer that’s been waiting with bated breath for their master to return home.  In other words, think “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,  I can’t believe it’s really you! Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, this is the best day ever!  Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, maybe I’ll get a treat!”  Obviously, you don’t need to jump on them or hump their leg, but display that same enthusiasm in an adult, human version.  No matter how angry and frustrated they were when they walked in the door, they won’t be able to fight off that smile.  Only after, should you discuss dinner and what to watch on TV.

 

 

 

A Warped Reality 

When the audience became the actors, television fell flat on it’s ass.  Twenty years ago, to get on TV you had to study Shakespeare, take voice lessons, learn movement, get an agent, go to an audition followed by a callback, and sometimes even a screen test.  Now you just have to get drunk, flip over a table, and call your best friend a slut.  Like George Carlin said, “Everyone loves a train wreck” and the high ratings of these shows confirm that.  On average, “The Bachelor” is viewed by 6.5 million people each week. The appeal of reality television has long baffled me but I have developed a theory—women like to watch other women cry.  They watch “The Bachelor” to see single women get rejected and cry.  They watch “The Housewives” to watch women with botched plastic surgery cry and they watch “America’s Next Top Model” to watch young, attractive women cry.  But no baseball—there is no crying in baseball.  Obviously, the heavy tears and running mascara are not the only reason women watch these shows.  “The Bachelor” presents a fantasy world where first dates involve private jets and cruising down Hollywood Boulevard with Ice Cube in the back seat.  Roses are handed out in a castle over a candlelit dinner in which the bachelor looks deep into his damsel’s eyes and whispers poignant, poetic remarks such as “You’re fun to have fun with.”  Of course, this melts her heart and she kisses him profusely until the director yells “cut!” and they go break for commercial.  

If you question whether reality television has had a positive impact on society, ask yourself this: Is Donald Trump an ideal choice for president?  Is Kim Kardashian a healthy role model for women? And are “The Bachelor,” “The Bachelorette,” “Dating Naked,” and “Married at First Sight” a recipe for long-term marital success?  I would to love continue the questions but my favorite episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” is about to air.