Saturday, May 26, 2012

My Favorite Things

Back when Oprah was at the height of her powers, she had a regular episode where she trotted out her "favorite things." A laundry list of her must-haves, it reached across the physical universe to gather under one heading the things she loved. It was a huge crowd pleaser, mostly because the rapturous audience was given each item on the list. Those ranged from the purely pedestrian ("Give it up for Beecher's, the world's best macaroni and cheese!"), to big ticket items that really did have the audience up and screaming ("And where better to watch your new Netflix subscription than on your new Sony Bravia 52-inch 3D television!!!").

Odds are that there is no one knocking on your door with a list of consumer goods that they swear will bring joy and happiness to your life. That's not to say there aren't occasions when it does happen: birthdays and holidays come to mind. However, for me at least, contentment these days is more and more about situations than big ticket items. To wit:

Turning off the lights in a room. Yes, it's good for the environment. Yes, it saves money. But there's something psychicly satisfying about making dark. And so when it's only me around at night, I generally turn off lights in rooms I'm leaving, or just don't turn them on at all as it starts to turn to night. I turn on one where I am, and no more. This means that when my wife comes home after a late meeting, I'm likely to be sitting in a single room with a reading light on and the rest of the house dark. It drives her crazy. I'm not saying that's part of the attraction, but then again...

The perfect pump. As immortalized by Jerry Seinfeld in an American Express commercial a few years back, self-serve gas has meant that we've all had to become well versed in the fine art of operating a pump. In the old days, when cash was king, the ability to flick it off just when it hit a round number was of some value. After all, miss it, and the attendant had to make 97 cents of change. Nowadays, most use credit cards, so there's really no point to trying to stop at a round number. Yet we still do it. Call it force of habit. Call it pride. Either way, when I can hit thirty bucks on the fly, it brings a smile to my face. Yes!

Drinking milk from the jug. C'mon, fess up; we all do it. When there's no one around, and you just lifted a cookie from the tray, who has time for a glass? You open the door, grab the carton and pour it straight down your throat. Same goes for OJ or iced tea. Of course it's unsanitary. Of course you'd yell at your kid if you caught them. But it's something that just feels so right. However, it's also something else I'll get in trouble for. And drinking milk from the jug when the only light is coming from the fridge? I may as well go turn down the bed in the guest room right now.

Finishing stuff. I'm not talking about emptying the box of pancake mix or finishing a bag of pretzels. I'm talking about all those half-used bottles in the fridge of mustard, or the seven almost-done jars of jam, or the tin of decaf coffee you opened for that one person at a dinner party and has been sitting in the corner of the cupboard for months. There are few things more satisfying than scraping out the last little bit and giving the empty the heave-ho. My special case is cereal. We have several different types, each open, each going stale. It's gotten so I take all the partials and combine them into one, enabling me to throw out several empties at once. It's also led to some interesting blends, like Smart Cheerio Granola Cinnamon Flakes. Kellogg's, take note.

I'm sure you have your own special moments; let me know what they are. A new pair of shoelaces? A hot shower after mowing the lawn? A cool pillow when you first get into bed? It calls to mind one of my favorite sayings: it's not surprising everyone has a price, it's just a shame how low it usually is.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to scrape out a jar of peanut butter. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Letter to Our Youngest On The Occasion of His Graduation

Dave, this weekend you will join the ranks of a group of people that has associated with them more promise, more hope and more dreams than almost any other, a group known as college graduates. Unfortunately those futures come in equal amounts realized and dashed. It all begs the obvious question: what is it that makes one successful in work or play or any subset thereof?

The fact of the matter is that when people graduate there is no shortage of advice to help them succeed. The reason is simple: as of tomorrow you are completely and totally your own man. Regardless of what promises you make or break, what commitments you chose to take on or ignore, what responsibilities you decide to shoulder or shun, as of tomorrow there is no one to whom you have to justify anything, save one: yourself.

Now, I don't mean that to sound as lonely as it might. Your mother and I will still be here, your brother is but a phone call away and your many friends will be happy to offer counsel and guidance. But the truth is that none of us can tell you the right path. However, there is reason to be optimistic, and that's because you are remarkably well equipped to take up the challenge. Your studies are just part of that. Your other activities, both at school and beyond, all contribute to that preparation. I know that a lot has been written about how tough it is for young people today; it is. And while it's easy for me to say, I'm not worried. That's because I know you. I know what you are capable of. And I know that when your chance comes, and it will, you will embrace it and will wonder why you ever had concerns.

As a parent, we can only hope the world will be gentle with you; that is unlikely to be the case. And yet I am supremely confident that the odds are in your favor. That's because you already have the tools, the empathy, the skills you need in your head and in your heart to make your own call about anything that comes your way. If that is the standard to be met for success, I can say without equivocation that you stand head and shoulders above it.

I'll leave you with one thought, perhaps best told through an anecdote from a friend. When he was a good bit younger, my buddy was a follower of a well-known band. He had all their albums, saw them a few times in big stadiums with audiences numbering in the thousands. Fast forward to a few years ago. My pal walked into a small bar, and there, sitting on a tiny stage in the corner, was the lead guitarist from the band.  He played with gusto, and crowd applauded appreciatively. After it was over my friend went up to him. I was a huge fan, you were the best, he said. But he wondered: why are you playing in this hole-in-the-wall? The guitarist smiled. I never started playing to be a star, he said. I just brought everything I had whenever I got the chance. And these people here deserve my best just as much as an arena full of people. If I bring it all, and they appreciate it, then I'm a happy man regardless of the size of the audience.

So there it is: bring it all. Whatever you do, make sure that when it's over you don't walk away saying "I could have done better, I could have tried harder." If you can honestly say that you've done your best, the audience will appreciate it. And whether that audience is numbered in the thousands or you can count it on one hand, or even if that audience is just you, you can walk away proud of what you've done.

This is the fourth edition of this train of thought I've written: one each for you and your brother when you graduated high school, and one for him on his college graduation. And as I closed that note to him, I do the same for you. As you take this next giant step, we watch with joy, with sadness, with excitement and with wonder. We are thrilled for you and proud of you. Yes, it is trite, but it is true: parents should give their children roots and wings. Remember the first, make sure to use the second. And most importantly, know that wherever you fly, we love you.


Dave Wollin graduates this weekend from Colby College. You can send him greetings at His dad's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Tale of Two Fans

Two guys with different points of view. Both have the same goal, success and prosperity for those they care about. They believe you make your own luck through hard work and perseverance, and try your best to succeed. They have different approaches, but believe in the end that you are judged by your performance. But we're not talking about Obama and Romney; we're talking about Howie and Jim.

Howie was born and raised on Long Island. When he was a kid he would visit his grandmother in Queens. From her window you could see the rockets at the Hall of Science in Flushing, and even the skyline of New York City before the neighborhood got too built up. Jim, on the other hand, lives in Sheepshead Bay. He grew up there, and still lives within six blocks of where he was born. Save the four years when he went away to school or when he is on out of town on a job, most nights the pillow where he rests his head is in Brooklyn.

On the surface, we have two New York guys, through and through. But there's a fundamental difference: Howie is a Mets fan, and Jim is a Yankees fan. And that's where our story begins.

They first met in 1988. Howie remembers because, "it was the year the Mets lost to the Dodgers in the playoffs, and it still hurts." (A Met fan remembers things like that.) They worked in the same area, had some of the same clients, and talked about the game constantly. As Jim says, "It's always Howie with baseball." But unlike some tormentors, Jim never lorded his team over Howie. "He's an honest Yankee fan," says Howie. "There were guys that I had to unplug my phone over. Jim said when they did right, but he said when they did wrong."

Fast forward this running discussion 24 years. Jim is home cleaning out a drawer with some memorabilia in it. He finds some old tickets and photos. Then on the bottom, as he moves a pile of stuff, he spies something that is practically sacrilege among his Bomber totems: a Mets 1967 yearbook. ("Seaver's rookie year," Howie told me). Jim couldn't remember where it came from; maybe he went to a game with some buddies and picked it up. But he does know someone who would appreciate it. And so he brings it to work one day and gives it to Howie.

Howie is touched that Jim thought of him. As they examine the book (Howie: "It was like looking at the latest Playboy... Ed Kranepool, Gil Hodges"), they noted a scribble on the front. Howie calls Jim's attention to it, but he has no idea how it got there: "Have fun, from Uncle Ted," it reads. Jim shrugs his shoulders; he doesn't have an Uncle Ted. Howie looks closely; it looks familiar. A lightbulb pops up and he does a quick search. Could the signature be that of the great Ted Wiliams?

(If you're not into baseball, think of it this way: Bill Clinton opens a drawer one day and finds a Mars Colonization plan. It's not his speed, but he knows someone who would appreciate it. So he gives it to Newt Gingrich, who loves it and notes that it is signed by Werner Von Braun. Something like that. Other than the fact that Howie and Jim bear no resemblance to Clinton and Gingrich, it's the same thing. Anyways, back to our story.)

Howie has some contacts in the baseball world, so he takes a photo and sends it around. Alas, early indications aren't good. While the signature looks a little like that of the Splendid Splinter, it's not really a match, and there is no record of Williams ever having signed things "Uncle Ted." Still, it's the gesture of giving the book to Howie that counts. And if Jim and Howie can make peace and be nice to each other, even with their diametrically opposed world views, can't we all just get along?

As of this writing, the signature remains a mystery. Maybe it will suddenly dawn on Jim where he got it, and who Uncle Ted was. As for Howie, he remains touched by Jim's kindness. And he still thinks there's a chance it is from Williams. He's working on it. After all, when all is said and done, Howie is a Mets fan. And for him and his kind, hope springs eternal.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is not a fan of any team. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Member of the Club

I am VERY excited, for I have been asked to join the .1%. Well, to be accurate, I haven't actually been asked to join, but asked if I wanted to be considered. We're not talking income here: after all, that 1% you don't really get asked to join, but rather punch your own ticket. Anyway, chances of me making that particular cut are somewhere between slim and none. Besides, that's just the 1%; how exclusive is that? No, I have been singled out by a higher authority than the IRS, namely the TSA. They have flagged me as a minimal security risk, and have asked if I want to be considered to be part of TSA Pre.

According to the official release by Deputy Administrator Gale Rossides, TSA Pre is an initiative by the Transportation Safety Administration not to have "less security, but more focused security." Through it, frequent flyers are identified by their status as, well, frequent flyers. Then on the assumption that they haven't blown anything up yet (I guess), they will be asked if they'd like to be considered to be part of the program. As of this date about 640,000 passengers have opted in. When you figure that this year the total number of airline passengers is expected to be about 730 million, those trusted souls constitute the aforementioned .1%, and rounded up at that. A very exclusive club indeed.

And just what does becoming a card carrying member of the traveling elite get you? Well, while I don't want to give away the secret handshake (actually I haven't learned that yet), there are a few significant benefits. If you don't travel, these won't seem like much. But if you are a road warrior and spend any amount of time in an airport, you will recognize these for the huge bennies that they are.

For starters you get to go a special line. Now, anyone knows a special line is good. Whether it's EZ-Pass at the bridge or the less-than-10-items line at the supermarket, it's where we all want to be. Of course, the best part of being in your own line is that you get to look with a mixture of distain and pity at those in the regular line. "Don't you wish," your gaze says, "that you were special like me?" (Be honest: you do think that, don't you?)

But we know it's not about the line itself. As the TSA puts it so eloquently, those who make the cut "may experience benefits such as no longer removing the following items at the security checkpoint: shoes, 3-1-1 compliant bag from carry-on, laptop from bag, light outerwear/jacket, belt." That's right. You get to sashay up to the checkpoint, and walk right through it. No disrobing or unpacking in front of the masses. Not even the pilots get to do that.

And perhaps best of all, you don't have to do anything except show up. All of this is coded into your boarding pass, using the special number you are assigned to use when you buy your ticket. So in theory (again, I'm not in yet, just dreaming of what nirvana awaits), when you show up at the airport and the first TSA agent checks your driver's license against your boarding card and determines that you are indeed you, off you go. No more huddled masses yearning to breathe free, no more lining up like sheep, just a quick scan through the metal detector, and you're next in line at Starbucks before you can say Caramel Mochachino.

The TSA does note that being in the program is not a guarantee of always being waved through security procedures. Indeed, random and unpredictable screening will still be a part of the overall security and safety effort. So even if you are in TSA Pre, the computer could randomly decide that today is not your day to be trusted, and so into the stockade you go with the rest of the unwashed. Hopefully, that isn't the day you were counting on it, and wore your thigh-high lace-up boots to the airport.

But while I generally subscribe to Woody Allen's edict that he wouldn't belong to any club which would have him as a member, I would welcome the chance to enter this traveling elite. Should I make the cut, I might even wear my favorite socks on my next trip. You see, they have stitched-up holes in them, and so are inappropriate in instances where I know there will be a public viewing. But with TSA Pre? A man can dream, can't he?


Marc Wollin of Bedford always seems to pick the line at security that goes the slowest. His column appears 
regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at