Saturday, January 29, 2011


Peter Parker has been much in the news of late. Well, to be fair, the stories are less about Peter, and more about his alter ego, Spiderman. Spidy is having issues vanquishing his demons, not just the Green Goblin, but those that seem to inhabit the Foxwoods theatre. It's hardly surprising: Superman, Mr. Fantastic, Storm... all have to come to terms with their powers. Used properly, they can be a force for good. But it can just as easily go the other way. After all, we all know what happened to Luke Skywalker's dad, Mr. Vader.

For me, this has taken on new relevance as I grapple a similar issue: I too have powers I can't control. No, I haven't been sent here from another planet (Superman), been on a spaceship that traveled through the Van Allen belt (The Human Torch), or drank a bottle of super-plastic fluid by mistake (Bouncing Boy). But through some weird quirk of physics, I seem to be able to control the weather.

Unlike Red Tornado's talent with the wind, or Sarah Rainmaker's skills with water vapor, I seem to have a more general ability to conjure up atmospheric disturbances. True, I have yet to figure any conscious way of summoning, controlling or harnessing this power. But there seems to be no doubt, given recent events, I must be the one responsible what's happening with the skies.

I first became aware of this "talent" nearly 20 years ago. We had moved to a new house and had 2 small children. It was springtime, and a job came up requiring my presence out of town. All well and good. I made sure my family was comfortably ensconced in our new abode, and caught a plane to Iowa. And that's when the first storm hit.

When I landed and called home, I learned that a major Nor'easter had roared up the coast and we... or more correctly, my wife and family... were without power. I could only sympathize via phone as the outage went from one day to two to three. Eventually the lights came back on, and all was restored, though not without some spoiled food and frayed nerves. I returned home to war stories, making sure to offer up suitable sympathy for a hardship I had missed.

Fast forward to later that same year, and another project took me to another locale. Wonder of wonders, another major storm rolled in, and power was once again interrupted. I returned home shortly thereafter, trying to be empathetic, but this time being met by dirty looks for not having been there to be of help.

A pattern started to emerge. If I got a call to go out of town, there was a better than even chance that something would happen with the weather. Might be rain, might be snow, might be wind, but it was as often as not bigger than usual. Schools were closed and roads were blocked. And it would miraculously be sorted out by the time I got home.

Those among you with a scientific bent would call up the old correlation vs. causality argument, and point out that just because two seemingly unrelated events happen in lockstep doesn't imply control. After all, "The Today Show" doesn't make the sun rise, though one always precedes the other. And that might indeed be the case here. But then again...

In fact, to try and prove my powers, I recently accepted a gig in Florida. No sooner did I make travel arrangements than the weather forecast was modified to include not one, but two major snow events in my absence. Now, if you are the doubting type, you can say it was mere coincidence. On the other hand, I should note that according to the Farmer's Almanac, "For early 2011, winter will be milder than normal across the north....with precipitation below normal." And then I was called to Miami, and... well, look out the window.

It's not just me who thinks so. Like the Vatican's Congregation for Cause of Saints, there is an independent body that has examined the evidence and concurs.  Our neighbors have weighed in, and their opinion is unanimous. Perhaps best stated in an email my wife received when I was in Florida, "TELL MARC,COME HOME NOW!!!! Cannot take another foot of snow!!!!"

So apologies to all. I'm working on it. The good news is that I have nothing on my calendar that takes me out of town till May. But according to Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project, 17 named storms are predicted for 2011. So be smart: you might want to check my schedule before you book your summer vacation.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is working on his super costume. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Today I Feel...

It's a Sunday morning in January. It's cold. I'm tired. With a long week of work behind me, and another one coming up, I feel...

OUT OF SHAPE: As I do most days, I get up and pull on my running stuff and head out. Yes, there are those who love running and look forward to it and feel better after it. I am not one of those. I do it because if I didn't do it I would get no exercise at all. And as many times as I do it, every day feels like the first time. There seems to be no building up endurance or strength. All that seems to happen is that when I get to the turn-around point, I can't believe how heavy my legs feel, how sore my knees are and how hard I'm breathing to make it up the last hill. I feel the burn, just not in a good way.

THERE AREN'T ENOUGH HOURS IN THE DAY: I would like nothing more than to sit and read the paper cover to cover. I would like nothing more than to strap on my snowshoes and take a walk in the woods. I would like nothing more than to finish the book I started. I would like nothing more than to pay all the bills on my desk, review our retirement portfolio and do some analysis of our other investments. I would like nothing more than to cruise the net looking at stupid stuff on Ebay. I would like nothing more than to lie on the couch and watch football. I would like nothing more than to take a nap. But something's gotta give. It's a coin flip what will actually get done.

LIKE AN IDIOT: Not a unique feeling, I'll grant you, but perhaps more so today than usual. The paper is filled with fascinating stories, about the possible emergence of a democratic government in the Arab country of Tunisia, the development of cyberwarfare against Iran and the independence struggles of southern Sudan. But to understand the importance of any of it in context, I first have to look up exactly where Tunisia is, how to make uranium by centrifuge and the tribal history of the Sudan. And to think I was focused on whether the Jets special teams were up the challenge. Was that really a good use of what limited brainpower I have?

OLD: My reading glasses broke, and I found myself practically incapacitated. As such I have to make a run to Target to buy a few more pairs, so I can place them anywhere in the house where I might have to decipher the print before me. On top of that, I'm finding that when I get in the car, the first thing I do is turn the heat up to high, and swivel the vent to hit my hands to warm them up so they work. Even with a nap in the afternoon, sitting still and focusing on a conversation after 10PM and not falling asleep is a major struggle. And as I go from my office in the basement up to the first floor, I'm suddenly understanding the simple genius of the guy who invented the banister.

BEHIND THE TIMES: In spite of the fact that I have a computer, a Kindle, an iPad and an Android Smartphone, I merely use all to work, check the weather and read the news. But today it's all about software, not hardware. According to what the experts are saying, the fastest growing cohort for social media is 65 and up. So the fact that I am not a dedicated user of Facebook, Twitter and the like means that I am being left out of the loop by my eighty year-old mother.

COLD: Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Maybe it's because I've had business trips to southern climes of late, and have seen the ocean. Maybe it's because the snow at the end of our driveway is over five feet high. And did I mention I'm getting older? In any case, I do believe in global warming... I just wish it would happen now. It's only January, and my feet are cold.

Individually, each is a challenge and I can wave it off. Taken together it's enough to make me feel like someone hit me with a stick. But there is good news on the horizon, and it's as simple as the clock. After all, tomorrow is just hours away.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is trying to keep up, but it's getting harder. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Words to Live By

When we were in Russia and offered tea, our hostess took her teapot and poured about two fingers worth of hot liquid into my cup, then turned away. I thanked her, blew on it to cool it down a bit, then brought it to my lips to take a sip. "Nyet, Nyet!" she said as she turned back with another pot. Turns out that the first pot contained the concentrated essence of the drink, and was not meant to be drunk alone. You took some of the base, then added plain hot water to fill up your cup. Attempting to do what I did was the equivalent of shooting uncut heroin, though the results would most likely be less catastrophic.

We're generally not used to working with things at the purest levels. It's probably safer that way, though the kick is not as intense. In fact most of what we deal with on a daily basis is cut or adulterated in some way, be it foodstuffs or politics. Indeed, one of the issues many have with the Tea Party is its view of "principle over party," where its core beliefs are more important than moderating them to work in the real world. If you're an ideologue, you applaud this. If you're a pragmatist, you disdain it. In either case, you think Michelle Bachman is crazy.

Still, it's an interesting exercise to reduce your core operating principle to single phrase. Politicians have been doing this for years in the form of campaign slogans. Obama's "Yes We Can" is perhaps the most recent example that gained a toehold. But it's not always the pithy utterance you see on the posters that takes on life. During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton advisor James Carville made "It's the Economy Stupid" the central talking point, while George H.W. Bush's "Read My Lips: No New Taxes" was his rallying cry, until those same lips had to talk out of the other side of his mouth.

You can never tell what will strike a chord and live in the public's mind, for beter or for worse. In Norway in 1983, Communist party candidate Liv Finstad tried to explain why her party wanted an increase in sheep farming. Her explanation, "Sauer er ålreite dyr" which translates as "Sheep are all right animals" became the phrase which helped to sink her candidacy. And in the 1990's in Romania, Minister of Transport Traian Basescu nailed it when he was asked why so many streets were blocked by snow: "Larna nu-i ca vara" he said, or "Winter's not like summer." Perhaps Mike Bloomberg should take note.

But it's not just politics. New York Sportscaster Warner Wolf will always be know as the "Let's Go To the Videotape!" guy, while radio broadcaster Paul Harvey had as his calling card, "The Rest of the Story." Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse has two in "Let's Kick It Up a Notch" and the more succinct, "Bam!" And The New York Times had a front page story that individual athletes are getting into the act, with New York Jets cornerback Darryl Revis applying to trademark the phrase "Revis Island," a reference to his own little piece of turf downfield where receivers get stranded without the ball.

Which leaves the rest of us. Just because you're not a broadcaster or a politician or a celebrity doesn't mean you can't have a catchphrase. You didn't think you needed your own web domain a Twitter handle or blog... and you don't. But that's today. Things in this world move fast, and before you know it you'll wonder why you didn't stake out some turf sooner. After all, your email is likely to be something un-fun like "mark621" because all the good names had been taken by the time you thought you should get on the bandwagon.

So think of the phrase that reduces you to a pithy utterance, and register it now. And before you know it, your family, friends and associates will be clamoring for tee-shirts, coffee mugs and bumper stickers to show their agreement with your philosophy. As for me, I'm taking orders. Just let me know what size shirt to send you with the slogan on it, "Smile Like It Doesn't Hurt."


Marc Wollin of Bedford finds himself repeating the same things over and over. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at 

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Countdown to Savings

My father used to put it best: he would go broke if my mom saved him any more money. If there was a deal, she was on it. Be it cents or dollars, it was worth buying if you could take something off the purchase price. Never mind that you didn't need the coat/canned pumpkin/Tupperware; it could sit in the closet until it got cold/Thanksgiving/we ordered too much Chinese food. Sooner or later (so the logic went) you would need it, so why pay bust out retail when you could get it now for less?

Me, I have a much less forward looking outlook. When something breaks, I replace it. And at that exact moment in space/time, if I can find it for less, then so be it. If not, unless it's something I desperately need...a new computer, batteries for my son's hearing aids, strawberry Twizzlers... I'll make a mental note and keep my eyes open, seeking to find it at a reduced tariff within a reasonable time. At all costs (no pun intended), the goal is to avoid committing that most grievous of sins: paying full price.

Occasionally the stars do align, and I find that my need corresponds with a price reduction on that exact item. I'm on dinner duty, and ribs are featured as the Manager's Special. We're out of paper in the office, and that's the product-of-the-week at Staples. Or the grease stain from that errant piece of pepperoni pizza will not come out of my khaki pants, and Kohl's happens to have them on sale... though, to be fair, Kohl's always has pants on sale. (A Zen Koan: if all is always on sale, is the sale not a sale?)

So imagine my delight when our youngest son mentioned that he needed new winter boots, that the type he wanted was available at Dick's Sporting Goods, that we went by said store enroute for a visit to family AND that morning an email informed me that I could obtain a 50% off voucher at same. I don't know if I believe in Karma, but if ever there was a sign that the New Year would be a good one, this was it.

But it's never that easy. Seems I was ensnared in the latest craze, group savings, demonstrated perhaps best of all by the Groupon culture. For those of you as ignorant as I, the concept is that if you band together with other like minded bargain hunters, you can get a merchant to offer deep discounts. The catch is that enough people have to sign up to achieve critical mass. Once the target has been hit, all those who sign up are charged and get the deal. The idea is to use the power of numbers, coupled with a guarantee to buy, to get some serious savings.

The particular variant I was lassoed by, called "Overwhelming Offers," required me first to click a box. Easy enough. However, all that did was get me in the door, and give me a small discount at a different store. I was then presented with a counter. When enough other like-minded souls clicked, in this case 50,000, the deal would become active. But there was a catch: only the first 100 to click at that point would get the deal. I watched it climb in fits and starts, multitasking a bit onto other things as opposed to watching the pot boil.

An hour or later I clicked back as it neared the goal. Suddenly the screen flashed. I was presented with a new counter, this one a clock counting down to when the deal would be active. I hovered over my mouse ready to spring, when I noted a line labeled "advantage." Seems frequent users of the site are inched forward a few seconds, giving them a leg up on the masses. And sure enough, before my button ever turned green, 100 other hardcore savers clicked in, and I was left out in the cold.

Alas, it was not to be. But as it turns out, we swung by the store and the boots were on sale anyway, with no other discounts permitted. So phooey on the coupon crowd. You? You can Groupon and Woot and DealCatcher to your heart's content. As for me, I'll just wander in the retail wilderness as usual, noting that occasionally dollars do grow, or more precisely, fall off trees.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to buy, as long as he doesn't have to shop. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Best 10 Best

No, that's not a misprint. It's just that for a column that will be published on the last day of the year, I feel a certain responsibility. It's not to round up the top news stories, or showcase the best music, or even highlight the films that I think you shouldn't have missed over this past year. Rather, herewith for 2010 is my own best 10 best lists. Hardly the most mainstream, they give you a taste for all that other stuff you might have missed.

The Top Ten Dead Celebrity Homes For Sale. As of November, all were still available. And while there's no guarantee that should you buy it, Groucho Marx's ghost would be in residence telling jokes, or Frank Sinatra's spirit will be "Do-Be-Do-Be-Doing" in the attic, one of these may be the ultimate trophy home. Number one on the list is just down the road: George C. Scott's estate has 5 bedrooms, 7.5 baths, comes in at over 14,000 square feet and is priced to move at $36.5 million.

The Top Ten Party Schools. Work hard, party harder is the motto at these institutions of higher learning. While most also have top ranked academic programs in specific areas, a survey by the Princeton Review of 122,000 students also said that if you think your kid is spending his or her tuition holed up in the library working on the F. Scott Fitzgerald paper at one of these schools, you just might be fooling yourself. Penn State, Ole Miss and the Mountaineers of West Virginia all made the cut. Tops on the list? That would be the University of Georgia, which, according to Coed Magazine, has "the hottest sorority girls on the planet."

The Top 10 Places To Run A Marathon. New York? Boston? London? Anybody can do that. If you really want to wow the flat arches crowd, you need to pick a more exotic destination. There's the Easter Island Marathon in Chile, which is restricted to just 150 runners. At the Reggae Marathon in Jamaica, the locals line the route with their sound systems, pumping out Bob Marley to help you keep pace. And at the Big Five Marathon on South Africa, armed rangers patrol the route, ensuring you aren't forced to outrun a leopard. But if you really want a challenge, sign up for the Great Wall Marathon in Tanjin, China, where you also have to climb 5164 steps along the route.

The Top Ten Google Searches. Just what did we care about this past year? Probably no better canary in a coal mine than what we collectively tapped into Google. The searches that gained the most traction? Lady Gaga was up 60%, Netflix was up 80% and Justin Bieber was up a whopping 850%. But if there's a toy we all want, it has to be an iPad. Google lists it as "breakout," which it defines as a search term that "has experienced a change in growth greater than 5000%."

The Top Ten Apologies. So many stupid moves, so little time to say "I'm sorry." There's Helen Thomas to Jews. There's Mark McGwire to his fans. And there's Kanye West to Taylor Swift and President Bush, sort of. But the top apology has to be to Tiger Woods to everyone, for cheating on his wife, and for teaching her how to use a nine-iron on his back window.

The Top Ten Overreported Stories. Why didn't they just go away? Or more to the point, why won't the media just let them go away? To be sure, stories like the BP spill had legs, and deserved continual updates. But did we really need to have a TV special on LeBron James' career moves, breathless interviews with locals who might have seen Chelsea Clinton enroute to her wedding, or anything to do with bedbugs? But the winner... or loser, depending on whether it's them or us... has to be all things Palin, whether they be dancing or Tweeting.

The Top Ten Buzzwords. It's good that our language is a dynamic thing. This year we all learned about the intricacies of deep sea drilling (Top Kill, Junk Shot), more about Iceland's geography (the Eyjafjallajokull volcano) and far more about fiscal policy than we ever picked up in Econ 101 (Quantitative Easing). But if there was one word that was on everyone's lips, regardless of where they were from, it was this: Vuvuzela.

So as we cross into January, what will be top next year's lists? Not restaurant or club or fashion trend. Rather, check back here 12 months hence at this same time, and let's see if we can round up the 10 Best Political Feuds for 2011. I think we're in for a bumper crop.


Marc Wollin of Bedford will have more to say in 2011. Adn you'll find it here every week, and in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.