Friday, January 27, 2012

Never Borrow Money Needlessly...but When You Need to Borrow

Today’s search keywords that escorted Internet surfers to my blog included “boring adult classroom,” “a really strange family,” “a water bug,” “johnny hot dog,” “pic slices of pizza,” “bowling alley signs,” “alf,” and “old burger king uniform.” If nothing else, this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that my blog is eclectic. If fact, the search keywords included one more entry: “listen to hfc never borrow money needlessly.” It was this particular grouping of words, which I realize has little meaning to the preponderance of folks on planet Earth, that struck me most of all.

In my past blogging, I have obviously mentioned the Household Finance Corporation (HFC) jingle, which frequently played on early-1970s New York Mets' radio broadcasts. I was so into the Mets as a boy that I earned the nickname “Mr. Met.” My loyalty to that baseball team from Queens stood out in a Bronx neighborhood awash in fans of that other New York club in that other league. But this essay is not about a cross-town sports team rivalry. It’s about HFC and a commercial that still resonates in my brain. I have, on occasion, found myself singing the catchy HFC jingle in the shower and in other places, too, forty years later.

I can’t exactly explain why, but the ad was a lovely marriage of words and music that would effortlessly segue into the broadcast booth. Radio listeners would then hear the din of the stadium crowd only for several seconds. To a little kid mesmerized by the game of baseball and, too, the voices of Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner who would soon chime him, it was a beautiful sound.

The HFC jingle was uniquely harmonious in a simpler age of lending for sure: “Never borrow money needlessly, but when you need to borrow, you get more than money from HFC—more than just money—Household Finance.” To think that somebody actually wrote these lyrics and somebody else, the musical score. But that was forty years ago. Who knows where these people are today? Still, if you have an individual singing your little jingle in the shower, or somebody googling “listen to hfc never borrow money needlessly" four decades later, I’d say you, as artists, have definitely left your marks and your lives have certainly not been in vain.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Death Be Not Proud...in the Twenty-first Century

Prior to the new millennium, I didn’t give that much thought to serious illness, medical matters, and the possibility of shuffling off this mortal coil in the blink of an eye. The only time I had called on a doctor in my adult life up to the age of forty, and somewhat beyond that, was for waxy build-up in an ear. A summer vacation's sea water compounded the problem, which I made considerably worse with my repeated attempts to clear out the thing. The ought years, however, altered my thinking patterns on the subject of life and death, and not just because of what happened to me but to so many others as well.

We should all have living wills. Perhaps I will make one someday. We should also make absolutely clear whether we wish to be waked at a funeral parlor at quite an expense, and have all too many people feel obliged to send costly flower arrangements that will find their way into the undertaker's trash in under twenty-four hours. I should, too, attend to this matter.

But right now, I’m more interested in the phone call or Internet announcement of my death. One of the most difficult things for family members and friends to do upon a death of a loved one is to notify others of the passing. Obviously, certain folks merit notification that a close relation, or good friend, is no longer among the living. This is not something the human species enjoys doing as a rule, and I was thinking of those who might someday have to pass along this final word vis-à-vis me.

So, here’s my proposal in this technological age of ours with iPhones, Flip Cams, and social media outlets like Facebook, to make everyone’s life a whole lot easier. Why don’t we all—in addition to preparing our living wills, etc.—record our “I’ve just died” or “I’m dead” YouTube and such videos right now, so that others in our lives can place them on social media sites, or use the audio portions to make robo-telephone calls to those who really and truly merit one. This would not only benefit the living compelled to both sorrowfully and awkwardly announce a dearly departed’s death, but also add a special touch, too—from you and from me. Now that it’s so possible, we should, in fact, be the ones who announce we are dead as a doornail—and not somebody else. I, for one, will be recording my “I am dead” proclamation and I hope you will join me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Goodbye, Mr. Fence

Some four decades ago, a family moved into the old neighborhood. They purchased a Tudor-style single-family house. It bordered on the extended communal backyard of three-family homes where I grew up and where I played wiffle ball, catch, and touch football.

The new family on the block was an odd one. The parents were older and so were their three sons. There were thus no tailor-made bonds between them and us. The patriarch of the family was actually kind of scary. I think he liked to drink a little more than he should have, and also suspect he was a bit off. It seemed the man’s abiding obsession was tending to the fence at the end of our shared backyards, so that no one could even look into—never mind enter—his. He was constantly patching it up. In those days in the Bronx’s Kingsbridge, patchwork fences were pretty commonplace. Aesthetic appeal took a back seat to utilitarianism almost every time. Still, it just couldn't be helped. Our various spaldeens, hockey pucks, and rubber hard balls from our lengthy concrete play land often pelted his revered fence and the fence owner did not like it—not one bit.

The ten-year-old me assigned our mysterious neighbor the moniker: “Mr. Fence.” The family was so detached and secretive that most of us on the block didn’t even know their surname. So, some of the locals came to believe the family’s last name was actually “Fence.” I recall overhearing an elderly neighbor of mine saying that she saw “Mr. Fence” at Sunday Mass, and the little me felt sort of proud at having infused this almost-sinister local character with, if you will, character.

Mrs. Fence, on the other hand, mostly stayed indoors. Eventually, she made a friend with another standoffish neighbor, who gleefully reported to one and all how Mrs. Fence believed what an unfriendly neighborhood, with very unfriendly people, we lived in. At some point in time, my brother and I were peddling on our front stoop smooth-looking rocks that we had amassed —I think along the Jersey Shore where we vacationed—and painted, adding slogans to a few of them like “New York, the Big Apple.”

When Mr. Fence plucked down a quarter for a “New York, the Big Apple” rock, I never again saw him in quite the same negative light. I was certain he didn’t really want a not especially special stone with the words “New York, the Big Apple” scrawled on it with magic markers. The man went out in style. I will thus remember my customer, Mr. Fence, and not the guy who had the trunk of his car searched by the police for a gun—that some Exxon gas station attendant down the block had reported seeing during a routine inspection. Goodbye, Mr. Fence…and thank you for the business.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Revenge of the Formerly Young Person...

Some time ago in the Internet’s infancy, and before the advent of social media, I was walking along the streets of the old neighborhood with an old friend from the old neighborhood. And when a generic, run-of-the-mill middle-aged man walked past the two of us, I thought nothing of it, but my friend paused and reflected on what he had just beheld. He turned to me and said, “I think that was a formerly young person” who just passed by.

He didn’t know exactly who it was, or even the person’s surname, but somehow he was certain it was someone from the neighborhood who was, once upon a time, a young person—a kid just like we were. And really, this is largely the way it was before the World Wide Web and things like Facebook. Formerly young persons were rare sightings—chance encounters, usually, with fellow formerly young persons. And it was the way we thought it would always be.

Conversation of the past went like this: “Do you remember that kid Billy Schmidt, who we went to school with? I wonder whatever happened to him? He was a bit off.” And, for the most part, Billy Schmidt from the old neighborhood and the old grammar school—well—his life and times beyond that brief window of youth would remain in perpetuity, with countless others, a blank entry in a “Whatever Became of?" This sort of anonymity had its place, too. It maintained a certain illusion of all that was that could not in the least be sullied by what is. It, in many ways, froze time and even turned back the clock in the best possible way.

Fast forward to the present and ever advancing technologically has undeniably let the cat out of the bag. We have little choice now but to acknowledge that the Revenge of the Formerly Young Person is at hand. As formerly young person myself, I must therefore welcome what this new technology has wrought, and accept the good, the bad, and the ugly of knowing what so many formerly young persons—just like me—have been up to over the last thirty or more years. And while this surfeit of information on people from my past is occasionally depressing, sometimes uplifting, but more often than not interesting, the formerly young person nonetheless lives. He is now eternal. She is now eternal. And this is worth celebrating…isn't it?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Rudy and Me

It’s been about a year and a half now since I at long last jettisoned everything and anything remotely attached to what, once upon a time, was called a “phone company.” I took possession of a new “phone” number—via the local cable—and bid adieu to over-priced bills for Verizon local service and ridiculously high long-distance tabs from AT&T. For a couple of years at the tail-end of my Jurassic Park days, I actually followed John Stamos’s lead and dialed 10-10-987 to save me a few cents on long-distance calls.

I have, not only saved a lot of money now, but gotten to know a man named Rudolph. I won’t reveal his last name, but this poor fellow has probably gotten as many calls as I have since I took receipt of my new number. What I definitely know about Rudolph is that he owes a fair share of money to a fair share of entities. I empathize with him on this count. I truly feel for Rudolph, who, I surmise, was the former owner of my number or one very close to it.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve picked up the phone and informed collection agents hunting down Rudolph that I was not, in fact, Rudolph. Further, I told them I didn't know Rudolph in any way, shape, or form, and therefore couldn't supply them with any leads as to where to find him. They told me in return that, by law, they must remove my number from their call lists in perpetuity, and wouldn’t be bothering me ever again.

I got the feeling, however, that these collection agents working for companies with names like American Credit, Credit Central, and Credit House International didn’t quite believe I wasn’t Rudolph or, at the very least, Rudolph's next of kin. Some of them no doubt thought old Rudy was sitting across the room from me on my futon as I lied to them, or perhaps in the adjoining kitchen making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But, really, I don’t personally know this Rudolph guy. We have become intertwined in some numerological twist of fate. Perhaps it's God's plan...anything's possible.