Saturday, July 25, 2015

On Beyond Atticus

In light of the revelation that Atticus Fitch was really a racist as portrayed in the recently published "Go Tell a Watchman," what other literary revisionist histories are waiting to be discovered? 

"A Dutiful Son." In this never published prequel that foreshadows the events in the "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott. Fitzgerald imagines a young boy named Jackard who gives a first person account of growing up at the turn of the century on the desolate Northern Plains. In the book, Jackard (whom his father calls Jay) takes over the family farm in North Dakota after his parents are killed in by a tornado. A note scribbled under the title says "Scott: Thanks for letting me take a look. Pretty bleak stuff. What if he grew up and became rich instead? Love, Mummy."  

"The Odyssey of Leopold Bloom." Just discovered in a basement in Dublin in a cardboard box along with a bottle of Old Bushmills, this seemingly early effort by Joyce chronicles the story of a sexual repressed Irish accountant. Spanning six decades, it begins with his coming of age encounters with girls in his village and school, on through his flirtations at university, then his 2 marriages and 3 affairs, ending with him reminiscing about the indignities of old age in a rest home. A piece of paper tucked inside the flyleaf bears the masthead "O'Malley & Sons, Purveyors of Fine Books," and says in a measured hand, "Good story, but seems to drag. Perhaps you might compress the time frame a bit? Not to a single day, but somewhat tighter? That said, love the Odysseus framework! Can't wait to see the next draft!"  

"I, The Flower." Found inside a copy of "Mein Kampf" at a sidewalk sale in Prague, and bearing the initials "FK" under the title, this handwritten short story tells of a shoe salesman who goes to sleep next to his wife and wakes up as a potted geranium on the windowsill of their bedroom. While despondent at his disappearance, she assumes the flower was left by him as a parting gift, and nurtures it in hopes it will bring his return. In the same hand but a different ink on the back page is scribbled, "Rubbish! Too cute! What if he turned into a dog? Cat? Maybe something darker?"  

"La Grande Princesse." A French fable about a pilot stranded in the desert who meets a princess who falls from a star. Discovered in an old trunk at the flea market at Les Puces in Paris, it works both as a children's book and as an allegorical tale about the world of adults. A note scrawled on the back says "Antonine: Peut-ĂȘtre un prince? Un petit un? Claude." (Translation: "Perhaps a prince? A small one?").  

"The Rhett Chronicles." A series of notebooks unearthed during the remodeling of the Southern Ladies Society Building in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, this sweeping portrait of the South set during the Civil War follows the exploits of Raymond "Rhett" Butler from Mobile, Alabama, the eldest son of a family of peanut farmers who joins the Confederate Army. The notebooks were tied together with a ribbon, and included a piece of lined notepaper which said in part, "As to this, feels long. Might work better if told from the point of view of one of the women. Melanie? Scarlett? Happy to read another draft. Worry about it tomorrow. Dance tonight! With love, Cousin Ashley."  

"The Wise Old Bear." A ragged hand-stitched children's book complete with illustrations found inside an old trunk at an antiques sale at Covent Garden, it's about a bear who goes into hibernation and sleeps through ten winters to emerge as the oldest and wisest animal in the forest. All the other animals come to ask his advice, which he dispenses as cryptic aphorisms in a gruff voice. Attached by a paper clip to the inside front cover is a note: "AA, thanks for giving me a look. Great stuff! But if you want the kiddies, maybe same stuff as an origin story? Fuzzy the Teddy or some other rubbish, eh? Give ‘em what they want! That's what you told me to do with my Flying Peter! See you at cricket practice. Barrie."


Marc Wollin of Bedford NY wonders "what if?" His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Keys to the Kingdom

I have to apologize to my mom.

Not that I mind. It's my bad, and I have long been one to stand up and take the heat when I am on the wrong side of right. But like most people, I try not to put myself in that position. I'd rather be a paragon of truth and virtue, or at the very least, less a complete ass who says he's right when he's wrong.

It started simply enough. I had a project in her neck of the woods that ended early, so I swung by her place to take her out to lunch. We went out for a sandwich, talked about odds and ends, then drove back to her place. As it was a rainy day, I suggested she get ready to open the door to her house so we didn't get too wet going inside. She reached into her pocketbook and took out her keys, then rifled through them, looking for the appropriate one. But I noticed she got to the end and stopped, then started again, only this time more deliberately.

"What's the matter?" I asked. "Well," she started slowly, I don't see my house key." She started again, examining each one carefully before going on to the next. "It doesn't seem to be here," she said hesitatingly. To be fair, my mom is in her eighties. And she has been on statins for cholesterol a long time, which some studies have linked to memory loss. Still, she is in reasonably good health, lives alone in an adult community in her own townhouse, and still drives and makes her own meals. But not being able to remember a key you use every day would, at the very least, be a troubling sign.

She suddenly stopped and looked at me sheepishly. "I know where it is," she said. She had been having some balance issues recently, and as a precaution, my sister had arranged for a person nearby to come and walk her dog. To make life easier, she had taken her house key and given it to the woman. The lady had given it back that morning, but my mom hadn't put it back on her keychain. And since I had come and taken her out, as opposed to her locking up on her own, she hadn't noticed it on the counter as we walked out.

The good news was that she lived where she did. A number of years ago she moved to this community which had the very support she needed, be it routine maintenance, on-site health care, and indeed, security. She knocked on her neighbor's door, called the main office for some help, then got back into the car. As we waited, I chided her gently. "Hate to break it to you, mom," I said, "but you're no spring chicken." "I'm not!?" she said with mock indignation. I suggested that she should never take her key off her chain, and if she needed an extra, get one made. She agreed, and said she would put it on her to-do list. A few moments later a bored security guard ambled over and unlocked the place. I doubt it was the first time this type of call type had come in, nor would it be the last. And indeed, when we entered, there was her house key right where she said it would be. We laughed about it, I kissed her goodbye, and headed for home.

When I got there, my wife asked how my visit went. I told her fine, then proceeded to relate the story of the key. As I did, I reached into my pocket for my own keys to demonstrate my mother's actions. I flipped one, then another. But as I flipped the third, I halted in mid-sentence. "What's up?" my wife asked. "Why did you stop?" I stopped because the third key on my own keychain was the one to the front door of my mother's house. While we had sat outside waiting for the security guard, with me acting the parent to her child, turns out I had the answer to the question all along, but was too smug to remember it.  

Sorry, mom. I'd like to say it's because I take statins as well. More correctly, though, I'm afraid I ain't no spring chicken either.


Marc Wollin of Bedford takes Mom out to lunch whenever he can. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Top That, Roger

It's no secret that most athletes make far more money off the field/court/track than they do on the same. That's not to say that they aren't well paid when they excel at their day jobs. Boxers lead the pack in that category: Manny Pacquiao had $148 million in winnings over the last year, while Floyd Mayweather earned $285 million in the ring. By comparison, Rory McIIroy, the top ranked golfer in the world, barely cleared $16 million on the course. Stephen Curry, star of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, survives on just $11 million from his court work. And quarterback Tom Brady of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots scrapes by on an average of $9 million a year earned on the field. Makes you pity the bench warmers in Major League Baseball: they will make the bare minimum salary of $507,500 on the diamond. It's an amount so skimpy that they also get $100.50 in meal money for every day they are on the road.

No, the really big money is in the area of endorsements. That's when you get a smiling jock to stand there and tell you not that only this tennis racquet or that putter is better than any other, but also that this wireless carrier or that rolling suitcase beats them all. In the first case their expertise may play a part. But in the second? Not so much. Still, somebody somewhere thinks it's worth the trouble and investment. I mean, I think ex-quarterback turned announcer Troy Aikman would have at least some credibility promoting a company like Nike or Wilson. But does his stature, visibility and history do anything for Rent-A-Center, an outfit known to offer a short term lease on a 52" TV at usurious rates? I guess if it worked for Michael Jordan and Hanes underwear, all things are possible.

To be sure, some jocks and jockettes wind up with endorsement deals as much for their personality as for their success. Peyton Manning comes to mind as a guy who represents brands almost as much for his likeability as his championship ways. Sure, his deals with sporting goods companies Reebok and Nike lean on his athletic credentials. But while he likely drives, watches TV and eats pizza no better or worse than you or me, he gets millions to shill for Buick, Direct TV and Papa Johns. Somebody in the back room of all three of those cold hard businesses must have crunched the numbers and figured out it was worth it.

But in most cases, the ability to hum a Nationwide Insurance theme song while soaking in an ice bath after practice is not required. All the athlete has to do is lend their name and face, and, to borrow a phrase from singer songwriters Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp, "stand still, look pretty." What's more interesting is the pairings. Not surprisingly, those from sports with the most upscale reputations skew to brands with a similar demographic. So while basketball, football and baseball players sign on to promote Powerbars and Subway and Gatorade, golfers and tennis players are just as likely to promote Rolex and Barclays and Porsche.

Still, even within that that distribution, there are idiosyncrasies tied to the specific jock. Take Roger Federer and Rafael Nadel. Both unbelievable competitors, both demonstrated champions, both big earners on the court and off. But when Roger needs a lift, he hops into his Mercedes while Rafa darts into his Kia. Likewise, when it's time to quaff a post-match libation, Roger swigs Moet & Chandon, while Rafa has Bicardi. And if he has a hankering for something sweet, Roger might nibble a Lindt chocolate truffle, while Rafa would pop something from Quely, whose tag line is "possibly the best cookie in the world."

But Rafa just one-upped Roger. True, while Federer has Rolex, Nadal as a nearly $700,000 custom made Richard Mille 19-gram complex tourbillon watch designed to withstand 5000G's and Rafa's 3000 RPM two-handed backhand. But even bigger is that the Spaniard is now the face of Aceitunas de Espana-Olives. You can see his smiling face and bowls of the fruit appearing all over, reflecting "the intersection of Rafael's values and the products in terms of leadership, quality, effort, health and above all, their Spanish origin." Can you even name a Swiss fruit? Sorry Roger: that's game, set, match.


Marc Wollin of Bedford would happily endorse Reese's Peanut Butter Cups if asked. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

As American As

When you think about innovation, you have to recognize not just the person who conceived of something, but the one who was able to deliver on it. Plenty of people dreamed of flying like a bird, but it was the Wright brothers who made it a reality. Lots of folks thought about a flat computer, but Steve Jobs pushed his company to make the iPad. And who didn't grow up wanting to be famous, but couldn't figure out any good reason why they should be well know? If took the Kardashians to bring the vision to life.

But to only admire those who delivered on an idea is to discount a whole other class of innovator. These people didn't so much see something original, but took what's out there and put objects together in a new way where one plus one equals seven. Sometimes even seven and a half. You find this in almost every area of endeavor, from the most complex to the most mundane. At one end of the spectrum are examples like aircraft carriers and the inflatable tennis court covers. But let's not discount the forward thinker who though to glue the eraser to the top of the pencil. Or the visionary who said if I could just marry my alarm clock to my coffee maker, maybe I could wake up to a hot cup of Joe. And who was the mastermind who saw cars and drive-thru windows and said, eureka, I've got it: cupholders. Geniuses, every one of them.

Perhaps no area is as ripe for this kind of additive inventing as food. Every day highly trained chefs as well as regular people are creating new out of old. It's a list too numerous to, well, list. From Buffalo chicken to pesto pizza, from Waldorf salad to BLT's, from eggplant parmesan to chicken noodle soup, somebody somewhere said "what if I took this, and added this?" Just look at the ways that peanut butter can be mated with jelly, chocolate, even bananas. Thank you Elvis.

And so while the combination was perhaps inevitable in hindsight, it took the Carl's Jr. chain to literally put it all together. McDonald's may have perfected the hamburger, Nathan's the hot dog and Lay's the potato chip, but that's so, so, isolating. Yes, others may have dreamed of the possibilities of combining those staples. But did they have the vision to create it, roll out a full scale marketing blitz and give it top billing on their menu boards? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a sandwich that puts it all out there, one that showcases all that is great about the U S of A: The Most American Thickburger.

It starts with a good old hamburger. Of course, lettuce and tomato are added as table stakes, along with pickles, mustard and ketchup. Cheese is next: American, of course. But then they do what you did in elementary school, thinking you were brilliant: they added potato chips. And they top it all off with (wait for it, wait for it) a split hot dog. If that doesn't say backyard barbeque on a bun, I don't know what does (it also says 1250 calories and 2610 mg of sodium, but let's not spoil the party).

And they didn't stop there. If mean, if you're talking combo fantasy fast foods, why not extend that magical thinking to desert? And so the guys in the lab worked overtime, and came up with the Ding Dong ice cream sandwich. You take a Hostess Ding Dong (if you somehow skipped childhood, that's a small round hockey puck-sized chocolate cake filled with cream and covered in more chocolate), split it in two, and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream between the halves. I know, I know: you are simultaneously aghast at how bad that has to be for you, while also drooling uncontrollably.

Especially on this Fourth of July, when we celebrate those who thought of a place that was both the land of the free AND the home of the brave, isn't this what our forefathers fought for? How can you not celebrate a burger/hot dog/potato chip combination AND a Ding Dong ice cream sandwich? Do you think the Chinese would ever come up with something like that? Not a chance! Not that you needed proof, but is this a great country or what?


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