Saturday, April 26, 2014

"We Don't Make This Stuff Up"

Never having been a cop, I can't say for certain what the job is like. I'm pretty certain, however, that it's not exactly what you see on TV. That's not to say that they don't have to deal with psychopaths ("Criminal Minds"), murderous cults ("The Following") and partnerships with incredibly intelligent master criminals ("Hannibal" and "The Blacklist"). But just because they appear on the tube so frequently doesn't make them the norm. After all, I'm pretty sure my neighbors aren't keeping someone locked in a basement cell for 20 years. I mean, I'm pretty sure.  

No, if you want a more realistic view of the challenges confronting your neighborhood cops, a better place to look is probably the local police blotter. In many towns, including ones where this column is published in print, you can find a recitation of the things that commanded their attention listed in the local paper or online. Usually scrubbed of any individual identifying information, it presents a "just the facts, ma'am" picture of the transgressions in which your fellow citizens have been engaged, or more correctly, those transgressions in which they were engaged and got caught.

In the big city, the list can run to hundreds of items: drugs, burglary, prostitution, and battery major and minor, all along with the occasional fatal altercation, intentional or not. As an example, Chicago's "Clearmap" system is available online, and enables you to slice and dice the information by street, ward, park or beat. It even puts icons on a map showing the location of each incident (larceny appears as a black two-eyed Catwoman mask, while simple assault is a set of brass knuckles).

If you live in a smaller jurisdiction, the volume of incidents detailed is likely fewer. That's not to say that crime doesn't happen in your town. It's just that with a smaller population the total number of events is generally less as well. Factor in population density, socio-economic factors and a more likely homogeneous population, and the types of incidences are also probably less severe to boot. That doesn't mean you don't see the occasional burglary ("car window smashed, pocketbook taken, no arrests made"), fight ("aggravated harassment, dispute between doctor and patient") or fraud ("call from person claiming need for payment of back taxes, hung up when questioned"). But even when they do happen they don't usually rise to the standard for inclusion in "Law and Order."

That being said, what we in the hinterlands lack in shear brutality we make up for in complete over-reaction. That's because if you live in a suburban neighborhood, long before it was the norm, you were indoctrinated with a "if you see something say something" mentality. At its core, that's not a bad thing: better to see the possible problems and let the local flatfoots sort it out before it becomes something truly sinister. But a little common sense might go a long way.

For example, in our neck of the woods the blotter confirms that cops get called out to deal with a lot of stuff that they likely never covered at the academy. There's this incident that caused great alarm: "Police summoned to a playground because of report that one child was being teased by other children. Determined no crime had been committed." Good call, that one. Or this: "Report of a sick raccoon. Raccoon was not sick." Perhaps it was just mad. Or this one: "Report of an injured deer on lawn. Upon examination, deer was in process of delivering a baby. Deer left alone." No report if it was a boy or girl.

But it could be worse. In Bozeman, Montana, the local varietal has proven such good fodder that they have been collected into a bestseller. Entitled "We Don't Make This Stuff Up," the $10 paperback includes such posts as "Group of women flagged down an officer at 1:55 a.m. because newlywed in the group had to cross ‘flirt with a cop' off of her bucket list. She was warned." Then there's "Complaint of dog in truck. Dog found healthy, happy and did not want assistance." And hard to argue with "Man called to report his Subaru was stolen. Called right back saying it was not stolen, but rather rolling down 14th Avenue." In that light, I guess it's pretty boring here after all.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes living in the "sticks." His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

It Ain't A Party

If you go to a party, you expect certain things. You expect there to be drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. You expect music, usually of the recorded variety, but occasionally a live performer. You expect other people, some you might know, others you're meeting for the first time. And best of all (at least for me) you expect something to eat.

Maybe it's because you don't have to do anything other than pick it up and put it in your mouth, party food always tastes good. Unless it's your party and you get bogged down in the preparation (and even then you can ask others to bring stuff), it's as much a reason to go as the people or the occasion. Strike that; it is THE reason to attend. Doesn't matter if it's a bowl of nuts or a piece of sushi, a mini cupcake or a piece of chicken on a toothpick. All that is required is the ability to juggle a napkin, a small plate and a half filled glass, while simultaneously stuffing something in your mouth. It's a true walk-and-chew mini-quiche at the same time moment.

As to the food itself, it almost doesn't matter. At one I went to recently there was everything from apple turnovers to pizza to some kind of individual-serving-in-a-plastic-cup of a broccoli salad in a vinaigrette, surprisingly tasty in spite of its presentation. Another more high-end gathering included a full raw bar, artisanal breads and dips, and sliced-to-order fillet of beef. Still another included these little chicken things, as well as some kind of round, breaded, fried... well, actually, I'm not sure what was inside, but it was mighty tasty. The bottom line is that I didn't starve at any of them.

For while I may have to force myself out of my comfort zone so as not stand in one place and instead, circulate to chat and meet people, I have no similar reticence with the victuals. I start at one end of the room, and plot a circuitous course to the other. Along the way I take a bite or two of everything and anything. And if the food is being passed, I use what little trigonometry I remember to calculate the intersection point between myself and the moving wait staff, the better to snag the stuff hot out of oven. Hockey great Wayne Gretsky famously said he didn't skate to where the puck was, but to where it would be. I do the same, just with mini-eggrolls.

That being said, while you might fault me for not being discriminating in my consumption, I do have favorites. I love cheeses, and would happily spend the entire party trying one after the other from those big mirrored platters accented with grapes and dried apricots. A good iced seafood spread is hard to tear yourself away from, whether it includes sushi, shrimp, clams or oysters. And if there's an assortment of desserts, rest assured that I will try every one, even if it means I take just one bite of Key Lime pie, then put it discretely on a waiter's passing tray, only to repeat the same with a serving of the apple spice cake.  

But there is one thing that turns my knees to utter jelly when it makes an appearance. Yes, I enjoy spinach balls, have learned to like pâté and can appreciate a sprinkling of caviar as a garnish.  But if I see them put out a plate of pigs-in-blankets, well, you better clear a path.

I know that individually it's not much. Just a little hot dog, an object of dubious pedigree at best. A piece of dough, puff pastry if you're lucky, but the biscuit variety in a pinch. And spicy mustard, sometimes designer with seeds in it, though Gulden's brown is actually best. But together? Together it's heaven. It's peanut butter and jelly, it's french fries and ketchup, it's popcorn and butter. It's something that just, well, works.

Let me be clear: if you're inviting me over for any reason I'm happy to come. I'll happily eat your savory cheese truffles with chives. And I'll be sure to try those crispy zucchini blossoms. And no doubt those prosciutto, mozzarella and basil roll-ups you got from that little deli sound delicious. But you ain't got pigs in blankets? Well, I'm not so sure you can really call it a party.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves to eat. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Chews Your Weapon

Let me say this right up front: I am not into guns. That's not to say that am ignorant of the historical underpinnings of their use and possession. I also get that there are legitimate sporting uses and security needs. However, I don't see why some common sense regulation and registration wouldn't be a good idea. And no, I am not worried about a slippery slope towards that day when the government will break down the doors looking for my Glock. Now, that set of views may be reasonable to some, unreasonable to others. After all, I live in the Northeast, which to many is gun-control bubble, and that in a very, very, very large swath of the country there are those with views diametrically opposed to mine. And I'm OK with that as well. We are all allowed to plead our case and go from there.  

That's why I find it so hard to say that I've found an issue where I am firmly in the same corner as the NRA.

Yes, the National Rifle Association. To those of us in the liberal, elitist, left-leaning urban cores hugging the edges of the country, it's an organization which seems to take the most extreme positions possible, ones that defies logic in any group's approach to advocacy. An organization that, if the surveys are to be believed, takes views that are even at odds with a majority of its own members. An organization that has become the poster child for much of what is wrong as to the way the positions on any topic are debated and discussed in that non-functioning body that is Congress, and indeed, any state legislative body. But on this one particular piece of business, it almost crushes me to say I stand shoulder to shoulder with, perish the thought, Wayne La Pierre.

That's not to say that I support the specific law in question that is working its way through the Florida legislature. Mind you, we're not talking about the "Warning Shot" law, a statue that effectively expands the controversial "Stand Your Ground" legislation. The second law makes it legal to fire back if you're being threatened, and has been cited as justification in numerous tragic situations from the Trayvon Martin case to the movie theatre shooting by an ex-cop. This new law says you can fire a warning shot with the same legal justification. From my standpoint, both are bad ideas. But it's Florida, and what else needs to be said.

No, the law I'm talking about is the so called "Pop Tart Law." Drafted in response to a Maryland situation where a student was suspended for gnawing his toaster pastry into the shape of a firearm, the Florida bill aims to protect a student's right to do just that. Or in the actual wording of the bill, students will be protected from suspension for "brandishing a partially consumed pastry or other food item," along with other similar offences. That includes toy firearms made of Lego, drawing a picture of a gun, or using a pencil or pen or even your thumb and forefinger to simulate the same. (For some reason, perhaps because of the general heat and humidity associated with the locale, the law makes no mention of Super Soakers.)

Not surprisingly, the NRA sees real merit in this point of view. While I don't see why there needs to be legislation to this effect, I would have to agree with the concept. After all, I believe in the overall intelligence of the teachers and administrators in a given school district, and will leave it to them to exercise their ability to differentiate between a real threat to the school population, and a bunch of third graders playing with their food. After all, if a kid nibbles his or her slice of organic bread into the shape of sea turtle and then bites off the head, I wouldn't want to see them sent to the principal's office for violating the Endangered Species Act.

Now, I know this sounds suspiciously like common ground and common sense, two things not allowed in politics these days. But there you have it. To be clear, I'm not going out to buy a Second Amendment tee-shirt. But if we can agree that breakfast foods are generally not dangerous as firearms, just think where that could lead. A boy can only hope.


Marc Wollin of Bedford used to like Pop Tarts, but it's been a while. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Time to Pee

Too many smart phone apps are solutions looking for a problem. Do I really need a music player than sorts my tunes by album cover? Or a map program that offer me directions with a French accent? Or a contact manager that groups my contacts into meaningless circles (sorry Google Plus!).  All nice to have if you just want something different. But let's be honest, none of these are really advancing the state of the art.

Where are the applications that deal with the really important stuff? Like which toll lane will go the fastest. Like whether my rain coat will be warm enough today or if I'd better off wearing a sweater underneath. Like do I need to stick around at the movies till after the credits end for some outtakes, or can I run to the rest room and beat the crowd. Actually, now you can cross that last one off the list. Because now there's RunPee.

That's right, an app that tells you when to go to the bathroom. More specifically, an app that tells you the best time to go to the bathroom when you're at the movies and not miss anything important. So you no longer have to worry about getting that giant Diet Sprite and enjoying it without reserve. Because if you've got RunPee on and cooking, you will be good to go. Literally.

Select any of the movies in the RunPee database, and you'll get multiple possible options as to when you can break away. Each film has been reviewed to include those spots where you can sneak out and not miss the good stuff. For each break, it provides not only the running time where it will occur, but the cue words that should get you up and moving. It also gives you the length of each, and a short synopsis of the part you'll miss. It even includes a build-in timer that vibrates just before the "peetime," so you'll know to get ready to, well, go.

But it's not just about identifying the boring parts. As the developer explains, "Actually, it's super hard to find peetimes in good, well-edited movies. So sometimes the peetimes are simply spots in the movie that can be easily summed up, so you won't be lost when you get back. For example, in ‘Harry Potter 6,' we have a peetime where you miss Harry getting his Advanced Potions book. It's important to the plot, but honestly easy to miss: he gets the book and realizes someone smart – but unknown – owned it previously. Easy to sum up and now you know what is going on."

It takes a fine tuned sense of judgment to be able to balance the needs of one's bladder against the need for not missing the water-cooler scenes everyone will be talking about. The app acknowledges that challenge: "We know that no one wants to miss the funniest lines or best action or dramatic plot points, so we are careful to avoid those scenes. But sometimes we might make a peetime during an action scene, as long as it's not the best action of the movie." They even give you the tools to make value judgments based on your own particular sensibilities: "We also try to find peetimes over a variety of different types of scenes. That way if you don't care about long chase scenes, we'll have a peetime for you."

As an example, here're the notes for "Non Stop," the hit film with Liam Neeson. "I would recommend using the 1st Peetime. It's plenty long and has a short synopsis. The 2nd Peetime is good, but the synopsis is a bit long. And the 3rd Peetime is short, and the tension is really high, so I'd only suggest using this Peetime in an emergency." And if you go with suggested first option? "38 minutes into movie = 4 minute Peetime. When to go: Bill says to Nancy, ‘In 13 minutes someone else will die. I need you to help me.'" (In deference to those of you who haven't seen the film, I will leave out the synopsis of what happens in those 4 minutes. But trust me: you can miss it.)

Simply brilliant. Right up there with penicillin, post-it notes and Tang. Better living through chemistry, for sure. Now, can we talk about those toll lanes?


Marc Wollin of Bedford always goes to the rest room just before the movie starts. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The new GLANCING ASKANCE collection is here!!!

That's right!  A new collection of Glancing Askance favorites is now available online. So now you don't have to wait for Saturday morning to bring a smile to your face.  More than 30 columns are collected in this second edition of reader favorites.  
Be the first on your block/train/plane to have it on your e-whatever!

Amazon  (For the Kindle)

Noisetrade (For others)

And don't forget the first edition! 

Thanks for reading!