Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday

If you're a Steely Dan aficionado, "Black Friday" conjures up visions of a stock market crash: "When Black Friday comes/I'll stand down by the door/And catch the grey men when they dive from the fourteenth floor." If your sensibility runs more towards rapper Lil' Kim, her version of "Black Friday" is focused on dissing fellow hip hopper Nicki Minajs: "It'll be a murder scene/I'm turning Pink Friday to Friday the 13th." But if you're a retailer the term conjures up the sweet day when the red ink runs out and your year turns to profits.

But what to buy? Every year virtually every publication runs an article under general heading of "the best stuff to give." Usually it's themed to their audience, with Esquire offering up "The 25 Most Stylish Gifts under $100" while Bloomberg BusinessWeek has "The Executive Gift Guide 2011." In this space however, we have a more focused mandate: to find the things that make you roll your eyes as to how anyone could buy such a thing, while at the same time thinking "wait a minute! This would be perfect for..." In that spirit we offer the following list, with the explicit disclaimer that I covet none of the following.

New York Yankees ProToast Toaster: For the fan who just has to be reminded of his or her team before they even have their morning sip of coffee, there's the ProToast Toaster. Drop in two slices of bread, and out they come with the team's logo toasted in the center. Not to worry: as an officially licensed product of Major League Baseball, there is one available for every club, including one for Mets fans, which randomly burns the entire piece of bread.

Plush Sushi: Because nothing says fresh uncooked fish more than a stuffed representation of it. Turn your bed from a Teddy Bear hospital into your very own smiling, cuddly bento box. Available in tuna, shrimp, and wasabi and ginger versions. Sorry, but the salmon roe version is sold out.

Bacon Everything: It's true that 2008 was actually designated "The Year of Bacon" by several major food publications. But just as it takes time for the hits of Fashion Week to make their way to your local Target store, so too has it taken time for the all things smoked pork to trickle down to, well, all things. This year you can buy bacon candy canes, a sparkling bacon Christmas tree ornament, bacon frosting and bacon flavored popcorn. And my personal favorite, a tee shirt with the symbols for barium, cobalt and nitrogen printed along with their atomic properties. Of course, taken together, they spell "BaCoN."

Lil' Vampire Pacifier: Forget having a merely cute baby. How about having one with eternal life and taste for human blood? Nicely timed to coincide with the release of the newest "Twilight" offering comes this orthodontically correct sucker, one that sports luscious red lips and a full set of teeth including sharp canines. Now your offspring will have a reason to stay up all night and cry, though it's not for a bottle.

Butterfly in a Jar: An heir apparent to those whose only pet was a rock, this is exactly what it sounds like: a glass mason jar with a butterfly in it. But it requires no food or even air. The butterfly is electronic and is activated by sound. Tap on the glass and it flitters around just like the real thing. Fun to have on your desk, or use it to drive your cat wild. Just put it out of their reach, or it'll likely get knocked down, break and your kitty will wind up with a battery in her belly.

Chocomize Custom Chocolate Bars: Know someone who has a sweet tooth, but also some other serious food jones that a regular Snickers bar won't pacify? Then head over to, and make a custom creation that will keep their blood sugar cooking. Start with your choice of chocolate, then add any of the more than 100 options, from beef jerky to gummy bears to curry powder. Or pick one of the favorite combinations, like The Zimmern, named for celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern: dark chocolate with mini pretzels, Pop Rocks, cayenne pepper and coffee beans.

Should none of those seem appropriate for your givees, there are plenty more: perhaps a radio controlled zombie, or a plush angry bird you can launch at people rather than pigs, or even a 1300 piece Lego model of a 1962 VW Bus. As for me, I said explicitly that I had no interest in any of the above. That being said, I confess I'm rethinking the chocolate.


Marc Wollin of Bedford needs nothing, yet will eat almost anything. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Next Right Thing

The opening act was done, and had left the stage. The waitress came around to refill coffee cups as the headliner and his accompanying guitar player made their way to the stage. Maybe 40, 50 people in the audience, twice as many empty seats as filled ones. The singer was a short, slightly-built kid with floppy hair and stubble, 22-years old as it turned out and looking barely that. He popped up on stage, bypassed the piano at the center and bent down to strap a rattle onto his left foot. The crowd, if you could call it that, giggled a little as he picked up a large gourd covered with shells and gave it a trial shake. He tentatively stomped on a wooden bar in front of the microphone, producing a deep thud like a bass drum. He glanced at the guitar player, who was holding a stick in his hand, ready to bang it straight down on the stage. They nodded at each other. And then came one of those moments that took my breath away.

It began with a steady beat and rattle, more a tribal thumping than a melody. In a piercing alto he began: "As the sun goes up over the sea/everyone was singing in a minor key/Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and priest/Gathered around for the jubilee./Two old ladies still waiting on a sign/growing bitter with age like a yellowtail wine./Shouting at the junkies in the court street light/Do The Next Right Thing or The Next Thing Right." Goosebumps went down my spine: Seth Glier was on stage.

Glier may just be the next right thing, but in spite of his tender age he's hardly a newcomer. His first 5 song EP "Why" was released in 2004, and since then he's had 4 more, the most recent being this year's "The Next Right Thing." A native of Shelburne, MA, Glier attended Boston's Berklee College of Music for a year before dropping out: "I wanted to play for people not grades, "he says. With his best friend and accompanist Ryan Hommel, they spent the last year in a blue Prius driving this way and that on their way to 250 performances. "This year," he told me, "I think we'll only do 150." He laughed: "I have a girlfriend in DC now, and want to have a life."

To be sure, his music echoes his influences, people like Joni Mitchell, Martin Sexton and Randy Newman. But he brings his own sensibilities to it, infusing it with an emotional content that's hard to imagine in one so young until you hear some of his back story. "This year is my dad's 20th year of sobriety" he tells the audience at one point. And at another he talks about how, when he's home, one of his responsibilities is to wake up his brother. The audience titters a bit, but stops dead once he continues: "My brother is 26, autistic and non-verbal. I get him up, get him showered and get him breakfast. I learned to communicate with words better once I realized how to communicate to someone without them."

That aside, it all comes down to the music, and Glier's singing and songwriting knocks you over. His songs are soulful, emotional, and on stage he takes each by the throat and shakes it alive, to the point that he's literally falling off the piano stool. In "Walk Katie Home" he talks about being so smitten with a young lady that he would drive 4 hours to New York City where she lived just to walk with her. (It didn't last," he said after. "She's now in Germany dating a glockenspiel player. That's life, I guess"). In "No Place to Land" he feels sorry for those who gain success at the expense of losing their personal moorings: "I lost you, dismissed you, tonight I miss you/I've been flying with my life in such command/that I've got no place to land." And my favorite, "New World I See," as yet unrecorded, is smooth and heartfelt about another girl you just have to meet: "Kentucky, keep your whiskey/ Georgia, keep your peach/My Carolina is sweeter than sweet."

I love live music, and have seen a lot of performers. And while many others have seen 30 Springsteen concerts, or followed U2 to 10 different cities, my particular passion is singer/songwriters or groups which are unheralded or little known. I love passing on discoveries to others, music you might not have heard of, and truth be told, may never really break out. But I don't think that's the case here. So consider yourself tipped off: Seth Glier is making the rounds. Get into him now before others tell you what you're missing. It's The Next Right Thing.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves live music of any type. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Guns, Not Butter

Some of the most eye opening things you discover aren't the things you discover at all, but where those things lead. Take books: I'm an avid reader, and always on the lookout for something new and different. In that pursuit, I plumb the usual places: Amazon's new releases, the New York Times Book Review, recommendations from friends and co-workers. And more often than not I come across the usual suspects: new efforts from Erik Larsen (very good), Neal Stephenson (in the middle of, but good so far) and Jeffrey Eugenides (on my list). But then I came across one from Linday McCrum... and it took me further.

McCrum is a photographer who divides her time between New York and California. Her usual business is portrait and fine art photography. But for the last three years her personal project has been pictures of women and their weapons. From the 280 sessions she's had, she gathers her 80 of her favorites into a book that sold out at Amazon on its first day, "Chicks with Guns."

The captivating photos include subjects you'd expect, such as women in law enforcement and competitive shooters. But it also includes a picture of Alexandra of Houston Texas, with a gun in one hand and her naked three-year-old baby boy in the other. Then there's the caption for the photo of Jen from Minnesota and her handgun: "Any girl would understand when I explain it was something I saw and HAD TO HAVE. Some women experience that feeling with clothes, some with jewelry. For me it was with a large firearm."

There's lots more of interest about the book and its topic that gets you thinking. Writes McCrum, "Gun ownership is a really serious and complex issue, and it deserves serious consideration. It deserves far more than sound bites geared toward people's fear and hate. This project is not about politics or policy. I'm not interested in glorifying anyone, nor am I interested in vilifying anyone. I was just really curious."

Now, you could leave it there. There is plenty to discuss and debate about the underlying issue, as well as the photography itself. But that's when I took the next step. In perusing the reviews posted for the book, I came across one by Kathy Jackson. A positive outlook, it wasn't her comments but rather her credentials that caught my eye. She, too, is an author, but with a dog in this fight: her paperback is entitled, "The Cornered Cat: A Womans's Guide to Concealed Carry." Even more, Jackson is the managing editor of Concealed Carry Magazine.

So off I went to their web site. A magazine celebrating the carrying of firearms unobtrusively, it has articles that cover every aspect of the topic There's "Concealed Carry for the Petite Woman," with tips for dressing so your Ruger blends in with your wardrobe. There's "The Challenged Shooter," with a discussion on hiding your Glock in your wheelchair.  And there's Jackson's own article on "Five Great Carry Finds." It reviews some of the latest trends in holsters and purses, including the Flashbang women's holster which suspends from the center of your bra for easy drawing, though "it proved difficult if not impossible to draw from the neckline, so don't look to this product to solve the dresses problem for you."

There're practical discussions as well, like Mark Walters' column called "Living an Armed Lifestyle." As he writes, once you get over the idea that there are indeed bad people in the world, and you have to be armed to protect yourself, you have to make a number of choices. This begins with such weighty matters as deciding whether to indeed break the law and carry a concealed weapon where it's not permitted. But it also includes such mundane choices as taking a stand and not buying Sticky Fingers brand BBQ sauce in the grocery store because "the Sticky Fingers restaurant chain won't allow law-abiding citizens in their eateries." And there are self-image questions as well: "are you willing to buy larger pant sizes to accommodate an inside the waistband holster?"

Here in the east coast megalopolis, where guns are generally equated with crime alone, this is eye-opening stuff. But dismissing it all as the dangerous pursuit of a small right wing contingent would be a mistake. For as McCrum says about "Chicks with Guns," she learned two lessons when working on her book: "The first is that on the subject of guns, nobody is neutral. And the other is that when you get outside of the blue-state cities, everybody has a gun."


Marc Wollin of Bedford shot .22 rifles in Boy Scout camp, but that's the extent of his firearm experience. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Trick or Treat Storm

For those of you who live in our area, these sketches will seem familiar. For those of you who live to the south, these will sound like dispatches from Mars. Either way, following are random snapshots of some goings-on surrounding what most will come to call the Halloween storm of 2011.

Wintertime: In the space of 10 minutes, we went from fall to winter. I got up and went out running into a gray, damp Saturday morning, wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. The leaves were the usual autumn assortment of reds and golds, with more on the trees than on the ground. When I got back, I checked my email, and glanced at the paper before heading up to take a shower. By the time I had gotten the shampoo out of my eyes, the lawn was covered in white and you couldn’t see the next house on the street.

If a Tree Falls in a Forest: All night long, it sounded like we were in a war zone. There was an ongoing volley of “crack” and “pop” and “bang” and “thud.” But it wasn’t bodies, it was trees. With the leaves still up and the snow being of the heavy, wet variety, the weight and stress on the branches was extreme. They would bend as far as they could, then snap and plummet to the ground, often taking others with them. We heard some bounce off the roof, though thankfully none came through.

The Immediate Aftermath: By Sunday morning it was over, and a bright blue day belied that anything had happened. Still, no power (yes, we have a generator; again, you were right, honey), no cable, no phone, no internet. We spent an hour dragging huge branches off the driveway and walks, and trying to sweep snow off the buried shrubs which sprang back to life as though on springs. A walk down the street saw similar damage to others, with a few worse off: a smashed car, a huge tree resting on a roof. Worse physical damage than from Hurricane Irene, though not as much water.

The Lay of the Land: After 28 hours without power, we decided to go out to see about getting a hot meal (our generator provides lights, heat, water and several outlets, but doesn’t provide enough juice for the oven or cooktop. And there’s only so much you can do with a George Foreman grill). It was like driving on an obstacle course. Trees hung over roads. In many places, space was reduced to a single lane, as trees had fallen on one side and the plows just plowed around them. Most neighborhoods were without power. In the main street of each town, block after block was dark, followed suddenly by lights. In those areas, stores and restaurants were packed, as people looked to stock up on supplies, get food or just get distracted.

Free Ride: Had to go to work Monday, so left early. Word was that while trains had been suspended for a day, they were running normally for the commute, though sprinkled with delays. As I walked to the station, a train was pulling in. I ran and caught it to find it all but empty. As I found a seat, an announcement: "Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This is a special transit train being operated by a yard crew. We are not uniformed. We will be making limited stops. We will not be collecting tickets. If you need assistance, I may be identified by my big MTA winter coat, and my Boston Red Sox hat.”

And Lest You Forget: I had just come from a cold, wet, storm ravaged community that was reeling for the second time in as many months from weather related destruction. But that was there. In the city the roads were dry and the grass was green. I jumped on the subway to head downtown and glanced around to see the usual assortment of passengers. Well, not quite the usual. Sitting in the corner was a young woman chatting with a friend. The woman had a white porcelain face with red polka dots and big blue tears. Complimenting that were white gloves and leggings with the same polka dots, making her look like a doll. She wore a bright yellow wig and had matching yellow shoes. At the Spring Street station, she got up and walked off like nothing was unusual. And perhaps it wasn’t. It was New York City. It was Halloween. And life goes on.


Marc Wollin of Bedford was without power for 123 hours after the storm hit. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at