Sunday, July 29, 2001

A Dot of Your Own

The word is that this has not been a great season for summer rentals. Whether it's the slowing economy or the slowing economy, folks seem to be somewhat reticent to part with a year's salary just to have that special Hamptons' summer cottage for a week. Of course, the el primo places that are just a stone's throw from Martha or Jerry still have strong demand, because after all, when push comes to shove, it's worth spending your kid's college education fund for the really important things in life.

That's because there's an old adage that in real estate that the most three most important things are location, location and location. Being in the right place is absolutely essential if you're going to make a splash. And since there's another old saying that land is valuable simply because they're not making any more of it, it's worth spending almost whatever it takes to establish a beachhead up front near the actual beach.

This is true in almost anything. Sure, it costs more to buy orchestra seats than ones in the second balcony, but at least from up front you can really see the show. Of course, sometimes the investment is in time versus money, such as when you want to secure a good parking place, a spot by the pool or the best seat for the parade. Being willing to arrive early and curl up with a sleeping bag can net you dividends, such as being able to see all five of the Backstreet Boys sweat up close and personal.

This used to be the case in the world of the Internet. Of course, there the real estate comes in the form of the so-called domain names... the "dot coms" with which we've all become so familiar. While the cost to register one of these little beauties is only about $20 a year, the good ones were grabbed quite a while ago. That's why, just like a place listed as "10rms bch vw," there is an active market in speculating on what addresses will prove to be the popular ones in the future. And that's why if you must have "," it'll set you back a cool $2.5 million to buy the rights, while you can snap up "" for a relatively paltry $149,000.

For those that don't have that kind of cash, the only good news is that unlike land, it's easy to create a new domain name. All it takes is a catchy phrase, from "" to "" It's so easy, in fact, that at last count, nearly 35 million distinct domains had been registered throughout the world. But since everyone wants to be where the action is, over 29 million of those registered were in 3 of the over 250 domains available: .com, .net or .org. And in those neighborhoods, like building lots near the ocean, the good stuff was taken a long time ago.

Enter the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, better know to bit heads as ICANN. They've announced that starting this fall, they are effectively hanging out the "for rent" sign on two new developments. While .info will be available for any use, .biz will be restricted to businesses. Assuming that those rollouts go smoothly, they've also announced 5 additional names that will be available in the not-too-distant future for specialized use: aero for air transport companies, .coop for cooperatives, .museums for museums, .name for individuals and .pro for accountants, lawyer and doctors. In each case, they've put into place procedures so that only the appropriate organizations or individuals will be able to obtain a specific address... no cyber squatting allowed

The idea is that this will make it easier for Mr. and Mrs. Web Surfer to find the information they need. Looking for airline schedules or fares? Then typing in might get you to the latest data, while typing might take you to plumbing supplies, and might be your local dentist. Just as in real life, last names will start to count, making it easier to differentiate between Jimmy Swaggart, Jimmy Carter and Jimmy the Greek.

If the controls work, and only a legitimate user of an address is allowed to own it, the cost should go down as the availability goes up. No longer will some modern version of an Oklahoma Sooner be able to get to a spot first and plant a flag marking his claim, regardless of who comes rushing along afterwards. So now Bill Gates can get for a pair of sawbucks, and not have to shell out a cool $1 million for the "com" variety that's currently offered on the auction block.

Followed to its logical conclusion, we're bound to see even more extensions, enabling neat little electronic neighborhoods to be created. Looking for music? Then go to How about some tips on putting? Check out It'll soon be just like Disneyland: you'll be able to go to Fantasyland or Tomorrowland and know exactly what to expect.

What this all means is that if you've always had your eye on a little place by the water, and you have neither the cash to buy it nor the time to develop it, you certainly could be out of luck. But if you've always coveted a little dot com of your own, where you and the missus can curl up between shopping sprees at Amazon or spins on Travelocity, your ship may have just come in.


Marc Wollin of Bedford still calls home. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Saturday, July 28, 2001

Shut Up and Drive

While this session of the New York Legislature has been notable for its lack of progress on tough issues such as tax reduction and education reform, it nevertheless made history with one of its edicts. Starting this fall, the state will be the first to ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving. No longer will you be able to keep one hand on the wheel and one pressed to your ear, as you thread your way up the Saw Mill Parkway while simultaneously ordering Chinese food, chatting with your golf buddies or checking in with your spouse.

The reasoning behind the law is that people talking on cell phones are distracted from the more essential task of piloting their vehicles on the straight and narrow, and hence more likely to have accidents. Now, even if you're not a research scientist from the National Transportation Safety Board, odds are you have anecdotal evidence that this is the case. We've all been cut off by drivers who are gabbing a mile a minute while not looking where they are going... and I dare say... we each might be guilty of similar offenses ourselves. In most cases, it results in a quick swerve and some expletives being bandied about. But it's a short jump from there to a five-car pileup tying up the Major Degan Expressway for the morning rush.

Speaking for myself, I know that catching up with my mom on the phone while I'd driving home from a late project can certainly draw my attention away from the road. But the question is this: am I more distracted by that then when I am unwrapping a burger from the drive-in window at McDonald's? Or when I'm trying to flip through the liner notes to see who is the keyboard player on the third cut of the last McCartney solo CD? I would venture the view that answer is no... and so along with the phone ban, we should embargo number 2 value meals and the Beatles.

More to the point, as radio commentator Dave Ross points out, the law was enacted not because people jabbering loudly on cell phones are inherently dangerous, but because they are inherently obnoxious. After all, everyone has been accosted by some moron who thinks the world is his or her telephone booth. Regardless of the setting... the train, the line at the grocery store, the table at the local deli... they engage in animated discussions with unseen listeners, assuming that the rest of us will either a) close our ears, b) enjoy the story of their boss' affairs c) don't mind hearing about their itchy rash, or d) all of the above. For these losers, the answer is always "d."

But the ban doesn't actually stop people from using cell phones in the car while driving; it just makes them do it hands free. So they're free to dial (where they have to use one hand on the wheel and look down away from the road), to take notes (where they have to use one hand on the wheel and look down away from the road) and to fiddle with the memory settings and controls on the phone (where they have to... ah, you get the idea). And of course, even with a speaker or an earpiece or a headset, they're still free to get so wrapped up in the conversation that the rest of us have to duck and run when they come into view.

If we're going to make any progress in this arena, we need more action and less talk. Take the situation I was in, coming out of New York City one day at rush hour. As the van I was riding in with 4 others headed up the West Side Highway, we ran into the usual mess near the Holland Tunnel. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, we're talking 4 lanes going north, four going south, along with traffic lights, people turning into and out of the flow, as well as those attempting to cut across the highway to get to the tunnel and New Jersey. Picture the cross currents in the surf during a hurricane, and you get a sense of the less-than-ordered chaos that prevails.

As we edged our way patiently northward through the mess, we finally came to the front of the line at the traffic light that signaled the final barrier. The next cycle would provide our release. But just as it turned green, a Mercedes decided to turn across traffic, obstructing all northbound lanes. The driver was animatedly talking away, but we could see no one else in the car. It was obvious that he was in the middle of a call, paying little or no attention to the situation around him.

We all started yelling at the Mercedes, taking particular aim at the driver's parentage. But two of the gentlemen in my vehicle were Bronx born and bred, and had a different way of dealing with things. Our van door slid open, and they made a beeline for the car in front of us. Without a moment's hesitation, they stepped in front of the Mercedes, and starting pounding on the hood, while offering the admonition to "GET OFF THE F***ING PHONE... AND DRIVE!!!"

Well, the guy in the car got the message. You could read his lips as he hurriedly said, "Ah... Phil... I'll have to call you back... OK?" He reached down and punched the disconnect button, then quickly pulled the Mercedes out of our way. My companions climbed back into the van, slammed the door, and we made it through the light, and continued our ride home... convulsed in laughter the entire way.

While this particular gentleman was adhering to the new letter of the law, he was breaking it in spirit. Thankfully, my companions showed him the error of his ways. Forget the legislation; that's the kind of call we all need to make.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has a headset for use in his car, but he still doesn't talk for long. It costs too much. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Saturday, July 21, 2001

Things You Didn't Know You Needed

In this consumer culture, there is little that you want that you can't buy. From summer homes to toilet bowl cleaners, from golf balls to remote control garage door openers, from sports socks to pre-moistened towelettes, it's out there just waiting for you. Even better, you can not only imagine it, you can find a company willing to deliver it to you overnight for $39.95 plus shipping and handling.

But just because it exists doesn't mean that you need it. Take, for instance, the bloat that has occurred in word processing programs, especially in light of the proliferation of email. On the rare occasions that most folks need to compose a printable document, it's liable to be a letter to your kid's second grade teacher, or a sign up sheet for the club tennis tournament. The firepower to do that can be contained in a program capable of fitting on a floppy disk. Yet, installing Microsoft Word... the program alone... requires 100 megabytes of more. That's more memory than my first three computers put together. And all of that so that I have the ability to generate a Table of Authorities, spell check a passage in Norwegian Nynorsk, or Parse numerical data into table format. Can you check your online thesaurus for synonyms for the word "overkill?"

There are lots of other cases where the technological envelope is being pushed for no good reason, other than that the design engineers wanted to strut their stuff. Just look at the functions available on your cell phone. Or the cooking options on your microwave. Or the buttons festooning your TV remote. In each case, a couple of controls would probably suffice: on, off, a number pad and a few "up-down" controls. But beyond that? I mean, let's be honest: do you really understand timed auto-defrost, let alone ever use it? I thought not.

The result is that you see ad campaign after ad campaign touting things you never knew you needed. Of course, the trick is to convince you that you do. With technology, that's usually a matter of creating a "wowy-zowy" phrase and tying it to an incomprehensible nom de guerre. Does Intel sell a "speedy central processing unit?" Sort of, but it prefers to come at it a different way. And so you see circulars touting a "lighting fast Pentium IV." The message is clear: when those emails start coming hot and heavy, you've go to have this kind of firepower in your foxhole.

This approach works with everyday mundane items as well. For instance, we all know we need tires for our cars. For most of us, they must be round and made of rubber, and have some kind of tread capable of holding the road. The only other relevant detail is the price. Past that, unless you're an automotive engineer, it's all wasted. But a glance at the newspaper can still generate all kinds of insecurities. Do I really need circumferential and lateral grooves? How about hundreds of tread notches and wider shoulder blocks? And can I live without Individual tread blocks stabilized with special tie bars? If I don't have them, will my kids still be able to get into the college of their choice?

Beyond that there are the items that are trying to convince you that they're breaking new ground. Take, for instance, that nagging problem you have in the morning or at the office watering hole when you go to make a pot of coffee. The first thing you have to do is grab a new filter out of the stack. Normally, these thin, absorbent pieces of paper stick together. What's a mother to do? Well, you could lick your finger, or blow on the edge of the stack, or take a handful out and put back the excess. Or you could run right down to your local grocery store and pick up the "Coffee Filter Separator." Styled like a pair of plastic ice tongs, these $1.69 beauties enable you to... well... pick up and separate coffee filters. How have you lived your life without them?

Or let's say your getting all dolled up for a big night out and want to put on your favorite bracelet, but your significant other is nowhere to be found. It means that you have to come to terms with the fact that while evolution has left us with opposable thumbs, it has not graced us with fingers long enough to reach our wrists. In a stunt akin to threading a needle with one hand, you try and try to make the catch work to no avail. Enter the "Bracelet Buddy," an $8.95 stalk of faux gold plastic with an alligator clip on the end. Using it, you can steady the clasp, buckle yourself in, and head off to the ball.

Finally, let's say you're lying in bed late at night and hear a strange noise downstairs. You ease out from under the covers and grab your trusty 9 iron in one hand and Mickey Mouse flashlight in the other. That way, should you actually encounter an intruder, you can either take a chip shot at his head, or show him how Mickey's smile lights up. But that's a tough choice. Better you should have the "Safety Bat." At just $59.95, this 30 inch long hardwood bat is identical to the one that the Babe used... except there is a flashlight located in the end. So now you can poke around with both hands, confident that if you swing for the bleachers, you'll see your cat before you club him.

Do you really need any of this? While some of it might be moderately useful, odds are you could live without it. After all, it was Sir Terrence Conran, the British designer, who noted that "Arguably, the only goods people need these days are food and nappies."


Marc Wollin of Bedford finds the only things he must have are his Swiss army knife and his aspirin. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Sunday, July 08, 2001

Ride the Wild Cheerio

I have to admit that I'm not much of an amusement park fan. I get vertigo on a Ferris wheel. I get a headache from being whipped and rocked on a roller coaster. And I admit that I'm even prone to bouts of motion sickness sitting on a carousel... all that up and down, and round and round. So I let the kids run off and stand in line to get mixed-up, tilt-a-whirled and bumper car-ed, while I find the food stands and a nice bench in the sun.

That being said, I recognize that there are thousands, even millions of people who can think of no better way to spend a few idle hours than hurtling down a set of steel tracks, screaming their lungs out. In fact, last year some 317 million of you spent over 9.6 billion dollars at the nation's approximately 450 parks. And that doesn't include the scores of other establishments located outside these shores, from Legoland in Sweden to Port Adventura in Spain, from Het Land van Ooit in The Netherlands to Parque du Gugu in Brazil.

So all of those of you who enjoy being dropped, shocked and jolted should note with glee the opening of the latest park here in the states. No, it didn't feature the planet's longest, tallest and fastest full-circuit roller coaster, the Steel Dragon 2000 that premiered at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan. Nor did showcase the Monsunen, a 40 rider suspended leg-dangling contraption that revolves through a circular arc and soaks its riders' feet with jets of water, as happens at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. What it did feature was a "magically delicious" ride down a rainbow colored slide into a giant pot of marshmallow shapes. Now, if that sounds suspiciously like a cereal commercial, it is... in the form of "Cereal Adventure," a new attraction at Mall of America in Minnesota.

Underwritten by cereal giant General Mills, whose headquarters is close by in Minneapolis, Cereal Adventure is a 16,000 square foot attraction "where your favorite cereals come to life." Ever better, according to Ami Miesner, president of General Mills Entertainment, is that it is a "playful, interactive learning experience where kids can immerse themselves in the exciting world of cereal." Now, I have to confess that as I sit and stare into my bowl of Rice Krispies in the morning, the word "exciting" has never some to mind.

But perhaps you're of a different mind, and see it as a relative bargain to pony up $5.95 for adults or $3.95 for kids to check out the different areas of the place. There's the "Cheerios Play Park," which includes a timeline of Cheerios' 60-year history, as well as the chance to slide down a giant spoon into a Cheerios-filled cereal bowl. Or the aforementioned "Lucky Charms Magical Forest" with its slide, plus a maze of giant shamrocks on a special floor that makes visitors feel like they're walking on marshmallows. And the "Trix Fruity Carnival" offers a festive atmosphere under a carnival tent, with games including fun house mirrors, skeet ball, and a zoetrope, which is a moving flip book seen through a special viewfinder.

Inside "Cocoa Puffs Chocolate Canyon" kids can sit and play a video game featuring Sonny the Cuckoo Bird on three different chocolate adventures. The "Wheaties Hall of Champions" includes lockers packed with vintage Wheaties boxes, sports artifacts, and information on past Wheaties champions, as well as the opportunity to pose for your own souvenir Wheaties box for just $19.95. And for the ultimate in cereal fun, a visit to the "Make Your Own Cereal" center allows visitors to create a unique cereal brand, including its name, box design and contents, then take home a box of the stuff for $6.95.

Maybe all that fun and games gives you the munchies. Well, fear not, because the Cereal Adventure Café features breakfast all day, including such hard-to-find favorites as BooBerry and Kaboom. In addition, visitors can snack on special treats like Indoor S'mores (made with Golden Grahams), Trix on a Stick, and Wheaties Breakfast of Champions Bars. And you thought that Disney figured out the perfect system, didn't you?

It's a little too early to know if this thing will catch on, and families will start to plan annual pilgrimages there as they do to Epcot Center. But it's a trend to be watched. One can only imagine the brainstorming that's going on all over corporate America. In boardrooms and glass towers throughout the country, the best and the brightest in brand extension strategy are looking at new ways to build on their franchises. And while I have no corroboration on any of these rumors, it's not hard to imagine that the wheels are in motion.

First up is "Wound World," brought to you by Johnson and Johnson. In the "Band Aid Bario," kids will be able to cut themselves on a variety of objects, and choose their favorite adhesive bandage to cover the wound. Meantime, in "Minor Injury Theatre," the audience will be able to vote on whether the stuntman performer falls, gets run over or crushed... and which type of anti-bacterial gel to use on the resulting boo-boo.

In "Kitchen Country" from Cuisinart, thrill seekers enter the park by walking under what looks like a giant faucet. Then they can choose to be dried off on the "Salad Spinner," enter the "Whirling Knives" ride, where they dodge giant peelers and paring knives, or simply bask in the sun with their choice of tanning oil and vinegars.

And finally, at "Hardware Heaven" from Black and Decker, the target audience isn't kids, but dads. All the attractions at this park are falling apart... but right next to each are a full range of snappy new power tools plugged and ready to go, along with an attractive female assistant in bib overalls and a nail belt.

Far fetched? Perhaps. But I'm sure that the folks at General Mills didn't commit milions of dollars to this lightly. And if the coffers in Minnesota start to fill up, it's only a matter of time before Mickey Mouse ears get a run for their money from a similar set of appendages based on the Energizer Bunny.


Marc Wollin of Bedford prefers rides where they have waitress service. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Saturday, July 07, 2001

The Leading Edge of Low Tech

When it comes to the business world, I consider myself somewhat plugged in. Wired or wireless, I have all of the modern tools necessary with which to do battle in the concrete jungle. And what, might you ask, is the item that I would consider more indispensable than any other? Is it my cell phone, my pager, my laptop or desktop? Perhaps my PDA, or my answering machine? Maybe my cable modem, or my CD burner or my laser printer? Actually, the nod goes to none of those. Without a doubt, the award for the most dependable, most critical, most essential tool that keeps me organized would have to go to my stapler.

My stapler. We're talking about a technology that really hasn't changed since the early 1900's when the current open channel design was introduced. In reality, it's simplicity itself. A short piece of flexible wire. A plate to bend the ends back into itself. An applicator that is easily directed wherever it is needed. Mine has been with me for years, never once failing during a critical late night session of organizing bills, holding its own during a bout of expense account rectifying, distinguishing itself with its quiet efficiency in the heat of tax season. And that kind of performance is not unusual. Sure, individual staples may misfire, occasional jams may appear in the loading channel. But in fact, there has never actually been a reported case of a basic stapler breaking down under normal use in the Western Hemisphere since February of 1932.

But my affection for this classic comes at a price. For I must also come to terms with the fact that, at least in this particular arena, I am woefully behind the technology curve. My device is still manual. It isn't sheathed in any sleek, space age material, nor sports a neon colored finish. It uses neither batteries nor AC power to automate and speed up the task at hand. And the only way I find out that I am out of staples is when I pick it up to use it and hear a hollow "clunk" upon application.

That means I have stood by and watched from the sidelines at advancements like the Swingline Millennium Electric Stapler, with its low staple warning light and self-adjusting mechanism. That also includes noting with awe "The Grip," an upright manual stapler from the Hunt Corporation that "revolutionized" the industry when it was introduced in 1997. The folks at Hunt, which also makes the classic line of Boston staplers, had the genius to realize that 90% of the people who use staplers pick them up. So by changing the resting state from horizontal to vertical, they save you that extra step of turning it around. Over the forty years of your productive life, we're witnessing a design innovation that is capable of saving you as much as 3 minutes.

There are plenty of other examples where 21st century wizardry can make our lives more fulfilling in the office by updating what now have to be considered Stone Age implements. For instance, they are the MagneTacks from Levenger, a Florida-based firm that offers all kinds of space age updates to prosaic products. With these little puppies you can forget having to put endless holes with a pushpin in the sign up sheets for the office golf tournament. Instead, use the "shockingly strong" MagneTacks to post up to 10 sheets of 60-pound paper. There are even rumors that, used in combination, they are capable of securing small children to your refrigerator door.

Or how about the new 3M Pop-Up Tape Strip Dispenser, which dispenses precut pieces of scotch tape. This could the perfect gift those folks in Florida who obviously don't have the strength to punch a complete hole in their ballots, and so would be exhausted by the act of actually ripping off their own piece of tape.

Even better are the Ergorasers, also from Levenger. It took the company engineers two years to push eraser design to the limit to come up with these babies, which are shaped liked the head of a spoon. Only you can decide if having that kind of cutting edge technology in the palm of your hand is worth the $18.95 for three...and this for a product that by definition disappears after a few uses.

However, if you really want high tech, look not at your desk, but under your butt. For it is there that the perfect marriage of futuristic design, materials and controls all come together in the form of the Aeron chair from Herman Miller. Its Pellicle mesh seat and half a dozen knobs and levers do take some tweaking and getting used to, as does its $800 or so price tag. But the net result, at least to hear devotees tell it, is the best seat in the house since Captain Kirk commanded a starship, or Mel Brooks gave you his for "The Producers."

What does the future hold? Well, there's a buzz in the industry about a pencil sharpener that uses lasers to do the work and vaporize the shavings, as well as a pen that, accompanied by special paper, will be able to remember what you write and upload it to your computer or beam it to a friend. But other than some minor updating with colors and materials, there is no word on updates to the paperclip, the ruler and my trusty stapler. Sometimes, the best progress is to recognize that if it ain't broke, don't improve it.


Marc Wollin of Bedford prefers analog clocks to digital ones. With digital ones, there's no fudge factor to being late. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Sleep in Heavenly Peas

If you're the kind that likes to sing along with the radio, odds are that sooner or later you've bungled a lyric. Perhaps the singer was slurring her words. Perhaps the guitars were playing too loud. Perhaps a subtle rhyme eluded you. But when the chorus came up, and the Sandpipers were singing "Guantanamera" in 1968, you joined in with, "One ton tomato, I eat a one ton tomato..."

It's nothing to be embarrassed about. While it's probably been going on as long as there has been music, it wasn't until 1954 in an article in "The Atlantic" that writer Sylvia Wright coined a term to cover the offense. As a child she had heard the Scottish ballad "The Bonny Earl of Murray" and had believed that one stanza went like this:

"Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
They hae slay the Earl of Murray,
And Lady Mondegreen. "

Poor Lady Mondegreen, thought Sylvia. A tragic heroine dying with her liege. But it turned out that, some years later, she discovered that what they had actually done was "slay the Earl of Murray, and lay him on the green." Wright was so distraught by the sudden disappearance of her heroine that she memorialized her with the term "mondegreen"... and a new misdemeanor was born.

Depending on which researcher you check with, the most common example in popular music comes from either Creedence Clearwater Revival or Jimi Hendrix. The former had a hit with a song called "Bad Moon Rising," the chorus of which ("There's a bad moon on the rise") was heard by a large percentage of the listening public (this writer included) as, "There's a bathroom on the right." And whether or not you took as many drugs as Hendrix did, it was easy to hear the refrain from "Purple Haze," which really went "'scuse me while I kiss the sky," as "'scuse me while I kiss this guy." Hendrix is reported to have realized the confusion, and would occasionally give a smooch to a roadie after delivering the line, giving rise to further confusion.

Examples abound from every genre and performer. There are some who heard Bob Dylan sing the classic "The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind" as "Dead ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind." Others heard Paul Simon sing "Mama don't take my clothes and throw 'em away," or "Mama don't take my chromosomes away," both of which do sound a bit like the correct "Mama don't take my Kodachrome away." Steve Winwood did sing "Bring me a higher love;" he didn't sing "Bring me an iron lung." And who could forget the famous Crystal Gayle tune, "Doughnuts Make Your Brown Eyes Blue."

There are hundreds more where they came from. But mondegreens don't occur just in music. Popular sayings are fertile ground, especially when overheard and repeated by kids. One person reports that her daughter thought that we lived in a "doggy dog world" populated by pushy people with a "no holes barred" attitude. Another relates that her kids think that rich people sit around and "drink themselves to Bolivia," while another thought that they were moving breakable items "out of arm's sway." A friend reports that as a child, his father always told them when they were going through a puddle that they were "shooting the rapids;" he heard it as "shooting the rabbits." And then there's the little girl whose mother told her when it was time to go under water you should "close your eyes and hold your breasts."

Even that most sacred talisman of our democracy, The Pledge of Allegiance, is not immune. In fact, it turns out to be rather fertile ground, especially since it's generally kids who add to this particular body of work. In fact, when you string some of the more popular misstatings together, you get a positively schizophrenic interpretation, to whit: "I pledge a lesion to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic for widget stands, one naked, under guard individual, with liver tea and just this for all."

But it is indeed the musical world that offers the most entertaining examples. There's the famous Maria Muldaur song "Midnight After You're Wasted," (actually, "Midnight at the Oasis)" as well as that well know Jose Feliciano rendition of "Feliz Navidad," better known as "Police naughty dog." And remember the Fifth Dimension hit "Who is the daddy of the angel Aquarius?" (really, "The dawning of the Age of Aquarius"), not to mention Herman's Hermits singing "There's a can of fish all over the world tonight." (that would be "kind of hush"). And then there's the tender sentiment contained in the Elton John song that goes "Hold me closer, Tony Danza.'" While the actual lyric was "hold me closer, tiny dancer," the former is really more Elton-esque.

The list is endless. My favorites? Well, there's the Joe Cocker request to "Give me a chicken for an air-o-plane,'' as opposed to a ticket. Or the Merilee Rush song "Angel of the Morning" which asked you to "Just call me angel of the morning, angel; just brush my teeth before you leave me." The actual line was "just brush my cheek,'' but that's so pedestrian.

But for sheer fun you have to go back to the Monkees and their hit "Daydream Believer" with its rallying cry, "Cheer up, sleepy Jean.'' Not a bad sentiment, but as we go into summer, dig out your old 45's and sing along with the chorus as some have heard it: "Cheer obscene bikinis!" Now, that's more like it.


Marc Wollin of Bedford always wondered why Steve Miller was singing about the "the sleek hippopotamus of love." He still doesn't know. His other confusions appear regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

Monday, July 02, 2001

The Last Place on Earth

If, like me, you like to travel, you're likely to be envious of those who journey to far away places you haven't visited. And yet, with availability of planes, trains and automobiles, fewer and fewer places are truly out of reach, given time and money. But there are still a couple. And so it was with great interest that I listened and gaped open mouthed as I heard the stories of Juan del Azar, Helen Doyle and Mike Pura of their journey south... so far south, in fact, that the next step would be to start heading north. Selected to be a part of Mission Antarctica's latest trek, they signed on partly for the experience and for the adventure, but also because they fell under the spell of Robert Swan.

Swan is a Brit who was the first man to walk unsupported to both Poles. Stemming from a childhood fascination with the great polar explorers, he and 2 mates trekked 883 miles through the cold in 1986 to reach the bottom of the world. Struck by the spectacular grandeur of the place, he was also disturbed by the refuse left there by those who had tried to develop it, particularly at the Russian base at Bellingshausen. It seems that the extreme cold and lack of humidity impedes any decaying process, resulting in the perfect preservation of scrap metal and garbage. He became determined to help clean it up and preserve it for future generations, seeing as it was one of the last places on the planet not claimed by anyone else.

To accomplish this, Swan founded Mission Antarctica. This organization seeks support and donations to clean up the refuse, as well as create awareness of this magnificent and critical natural resource, one that contains 70% of the world's fresh water supply. As part of that campaign, he solicits corporate sponsorship, which includes sending ordinary employees and citizens into one of the harshest environments on earth to see it all for themselves, and then come back to spread the gospel. And that's where Juan, Helen and Mike came in.

Sponsored by their employer, they met up with 6 other non-coms in Ushuaia, Argentina, to crew a 67-foot yacht under the tutelage of 3 professional sailors. Their 2-week odyssey began by heading through the Drake Passage, the roughest water on the planet. Roughly akin to learning how to climb by summitting Everest, or learning how to drive by steering a Formula One racer at Le Mans, they endured the 650 mile, 4-day transit in pounding seas, freezing temperatures, constant wind and incessant churning. Sick to a man, they finally emerged to towering icebergs and some of the most dramatic scenery in the world at King George Island and the Russian base.

A collection of prefab trailers and piles of rusting metal, Juan describes it best as "a real dump." Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, polar exploration and development has taken a very back seat, resulting in under funding and low morale. But the small crew stationed there for months at a time shoulders on, cutting old pipes and structures into manageable pieces, and creating an ever growing heap of orange steel that Swan hopes to begin removing next year on a future mission.

After meeting and touring the Russian base, the crew pushed on. A day of sailing brought them to Deception Island, a cratered active volcano. The "coast" of Deception is all lava, with hot springs and puddles sprinkled in the interior. Watch on the boat consisted of monitoring not just the wind and the tides, but the water temperature as well, looking for the telltale rising temperatures that might signal a new eruption.

Then another rush through 33 degree seas to Enterprise Island, close in to the Antarctic mainland. Mooring near a sunken, rusting whaling ship, they were struck by just how remote they were: the crew of that vessel didn't swim home or get picked up by the Coast Guard. They were truly in the middle of nowhere.

The crew split into two shifts for the 20-minute trip to the ice pack itself. While only Helen's group actually got to stand on solid ground (Mike and Juan's expedition got turned back by a blizzard), they all experienced gliding past breaching whales and paddling seals, any of which could upset their small inflatable Zodiac and send them plunging into the ice-strewn waters. They all use the same adjectives to describe it: cold, scared, humbled.

The next day the blizzard blew out and they journeyed to Paradise Bay and Port Lockeroy. Under crystal blue skies and in utter silence, they skirted mammoth ice shelves and towering mountains. The nearly 1500 images they and their fellow travelers brought back reveal monumental vistas, so clear and crisp they take your breath away. And once you realize that the photos probably don't do the scenes justice, you can only imagine what it's like to be there in person.

A visit to a penguin rookery, a glide along the coast, another harrowing passage back through the Drake, a stop at the landmark Cape of Good Hope, and they were back on terra firma. The organization's web site ( contains many more details and pictures, all of which add up to an amazing journey, as far removed from a Disney cruise as possible, and with sights and observations that cause you to shake your head in amazement.

In spite of the obvious description, Mike refuses to describe the trip as a "once-in-a-lifetime" sojourn. That's because once brought under the spell, it's hard to imagine never seeing it again. Sure, it's not your typical lie on the beach, walk through an art museum, see a show type of vacation. But once you see and hear what the end of the earth looks like and the awesome beauty of utter virgin territory, you start to truly believe that less is more, and that silence is golden.


Marc Wollin of Bedford would like to put more "been there" pins in his personal map. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.