Saturday, August 29, 2015

Tastes Like Chicken

When I was in junior high school, boys took shop and girls took home ec. For us, that meant metal or wood; for them it meant sewing or nutrition. But I liked to play around in our kitchen at home; more to the point, I liked to eat. And while my skills at the latter were pretty good, those at the former were rudimentary at best. So a bunch of my buddies in the same circumstances and I decided to approach a friendly teacher, and see if she would do a class for us. She thought the idea had merit, and proposed it to the powers that be. It was instituted the following semester, and shortly thereafter 11 hungry adolescent boys piled into the school's kitchen classroom. On the walls were the usual charts showing food pyramids and guides to healthy eating. But the teacher took one look at us and knew that that was a lost cause. "All you guys want to learn is to cook and then eat, right?" she asked rhetorically. We readily agreed. And that was the birth of "Home Economics 107: Man in the Kitchen."

Fast forward 40 plus years, and my attitude hasn't really changed. Oh, sure, I know about carbohydrates and starches, about fats and sugars. And especially as I get older, I know which ones I should eat more of and what ones I should avoid. But my basic attitude hasn't changed: pasta is pasta, steak is steak, and peanut butter cups are one of the major food groups.

But more and more reality tries to intrude. In the most recent case it was a perfect summer evening, and we were engaged in our favorite summer evening activity, eating outside. For some reason, food always tastes better to me in the open, when the sun has set and the air has cooled. Doesn't matter if it's a meatball parmesan hero or a five course meal. Something about having no  walls around us makes even an ordinary meal taste better.

As befitting a warm evening, all at the table had salads on the mind. A Greek style one here, a beet and goat cheese number there, a cold roasted veggie assortment for a third and fourth. Variations on a theme, to be sure, but all the same basic idea: lettuce on the bottom, some combination of stuff on top and sprinkling of dressing over all of it to spice it up.

Almost lyrical in tone, until the waitress showed up. Nothing wrong with her personally: she was a very pleasant young lady, a big smile on her face and trying hard to please. No, her misstep was one I encounter with increasing frequency.  Not "would you like to add any barbequed chicken to that?" or "how about some grilled shrimp on top?" Nope. One after another, she reduced our dishes to a chemistry equation: "Any protein with that?"


There's an old saying in politics that you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. In this case, we were ordering in music, she was writing it down in science. I get that a healthy meal involves a balance of different food groups. But especially when I'm out and about, do you really need to remind me? It's bad enough that more and more stuff has calorie counts posted next to it. Do I really need to define my order by the type of biomolecule I intend to consume? Soon it'll be, "May I have 3 spoonfuls of fat, a dollop of starch and some crunchy carbs on top, please?" Yummy, huh?

In "Romeo and Juliet" William Shakespeare famously wrote, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Well, sorry Bill, but when it comes to my stomach, I disagree. While I admit that "tofu" might not be a grabber in terms of nomenclature, beyond that I look forward to being told we're having salmon or steak, chicken or pork. Grill it, broil it, bake it or fry it, doesn't matter. All you need to tell me is what time to be at the table. But tell me we're having protein for dinner, and I can't work up the same appetite. Maybe it's better for my cholesterol, but my taste buds ain't so wowed.


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.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

International Audience

If you write or make music or paint or do almost any creative endeavor, you probably want people to partake of your efforts. Certainly, there are those for whom creation is a therapeutic activity done strictly for themselves; nothing wrong with that. However, most who have the "bug" want more than anything to show off their wares. If they make some money along the way, well, bonus points. And if they can make a living off of it, it's like winning the lottery. But stripped to its essence, the original driver is the need to say something in some way, and have people see/hear/watch/read.

That was a much more difficult proposition before this interweb thing that we now take for granted. Getting your stuff out there took lots of time and money with no assurance of success. On top of that, the vehicles for connecting with consumers were guarded by gate keepers who only selected what they deemed to be the best and the brightest. Be it an editor at a publishing house or an A&R man at a record company, getting to the public meant going through them and their sensibilities. If they didn't think you stuff was marketable, your stuff never got to market.

It's a different ballgame these days. Anyone anywhere can post anything to be partaken by, well, anyone anywhere. Is your way of expressing yourself making music? There's NoiseTrade , Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Handicrafts? Etsy for sure, but also LexisPlace, ArtFire and Home and Tribe. Into Photography? Flickr is a big one, but also Zenfolio and Photobucket. There are sites for poetry, fan fiction, painting, and yes, even column writing.

In that vein I do what I can to spread this particular word far and wide. Some of you read it in actual print, others in its email form, still others take a look at the online version. To be fair, I do get some remuneration when it's gets clicked, but to call those earnings modest is an understatement. When last I checked, my Google Adsense earnings, after weekly posts for about 6 years, had reached a grand total of $16.32. In other words, I ain't doing it for the money.  

But eyeballs are another matter. I love, love, love when people read my stuff, and even better, when they write back. With their millions of fans and followers, maybe Stephen King and George Will and Dave Barry tire of getting comments and readers. Not I. In fact, one of the reasons I continue in this space after 20 years is the feedback I get. To be sure, there are some who reach out and comment regularly, and they are like gold. But just as precious in a different way are those new souls who have stumbled into my orbit, and feel compelled to reach out and add their two cents. I collect those lucky pennies, which are worth far more than their numerical value.

So when I fired up my computer the other day and found a return note to me in Arabic, I was delighted. It certainly seemed legit: the header said "A comment on your article" with the exact title and format I use. In that story the clear water at Sharm El Sheikh was featured, and I have discovered that, just like audiences at a rock concert, readers often shout out when their home town is mentioned. And I have followers in a number of foreign lands, be it family, friends or associates. So the idea of a response from that region wasn't outside the realm of possibility.

Just one problem: I can't even pretend to read Arabic. So I copied the response and navigated my way to Google Translate. I pasted it in and waited to see the response from my newest reader. A few beats while the bits talked to the bytes and up it came: an ad for a water tank and pool cleaning firm in Riyadh, complete with their web site. Seems their automatic marketing system had seen some key words of interest, and offered them up to me as a potential customer.

Oh, well. Perhaps my Saudi Arabian readership is still stuck at zero. But on the bright side, should I ever visit, I can offer my host a recommendation for a pool cleaning company. It's not much, but it's what I got.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves when people read this space. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Vote for Tim

By his own admission, one of the candidates for president is building his campaign by harnessing grass roots momentum as opposed to counting on support from any major party. His policy positions are more broadly thematic rather than specific, focusing on world peace, fiscal restraint and smaller government. And he views his business background as one of his strongest qualifications, believing that his skills in that arena are exactly what are needed for the nation's chief executive. Unlike Donald Trump, however, his views on women are a good bit softer. As he and I stood talking and my wife walked up, he looked at me, then looked at her, and said with a smile, "Well, she makes you look good!"

Meet Tim Farkas, full time candidate for President of the United States.

Farkas was in the sub-prime mortgage business in his native Ohio, and has had some legal and business issues. But just like that other businessman in the race, he hardly sees that as a disqualifier. Quite the opposite: "I used to run a company with about 200 people, give or take, that all worked on commission. And when someone can get 200 people to work on a commission-only basis, then they understand how hard it is to get things done. So I think I have some good ideas and recommendations to get the right people around me and do the right things."

But to get elected you have to court the voters, and Farkas goes about it the old fashioned way. When I met him he was standing on the corner of 42nd and Sixth Avenue in New York City, the same way he stands on streets in his hometown of Columbus. He had a hand-written sign propped up on a table, and a stack of business cards in his hand. He made a beeline for every person walking by, offering them a card and telling them "It's your country. If you have something you want to say, drop it in my mailbox." Then on to the next. Since I was just standing there waiting for my wife, we got to talking.
He began by pointing out the many challenges we face as a country, specifically focusing on the national debt. "I know guys who are really good at finance," he told me. Beyond that? "It's a big problem," he said. Yup, I didn't disagree. "Lots of people have good ideas, and we need to use them." Hard to argue with that as well. "We have the freedom to believe. The United States of America gives us the freedom to believe." I agreed it was indeed a great country, but we had issues. He nodded, and threw out what is sort of his campaign slogan: "We need to get our country back." Perhaps not as pithy as Ben Carson's "Heal. Inspire. Revive." but certainly not as clunky as Rand Paul's "Defeat The Washington Machine. Unleash The American Dream," even if that one does rhyme.

It was about at this point that my wife walked up. She saw me standing there talking to a guy with a scruffy beard in shorts and shoes with no socks, and probably assumed I had had bumped into an old friend. I introduced her to him with a line I don't get to use everyday: "This is Tim. He's running for President of the United States." She smiled at me and cocked her head, with a look that asked is he dangerous, crazy or just curious, and regardless, why in heaven's name was I standing there talking to him? Then he complimented her, and we all laughed. I shook hands with him, wished him luck and started to head to dinner. As we walked away, he handed me a card, and closed with his signature request and offer: "If you have something you want to put on my website, drop me a line."  

Including Farkas, there are 24 declared candidates for the highest office in the land. There are sitting governors and senators, ex's of both stripes, and successful professionals from outside of politics, all trying to distinguish themselves from the pack. In that light, I would bet that Tim is likely the only one you'll meet on standing on the street asking you to give him a call. In this hyper competitive race, maybe the others should take notice.


Marc Wollin of Bedford watched the Republican debate strictly for entertainment. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Flying Underwater

It's probably safe to say that most people who wind up in a wheelchair for whatever reason see it as a limitation. Then there's British artist Sue Austin. About 19 years ago, after an extended illness made it too difficult to get around, she finally got a chair. However, she saw it as exactly the opposite: "It was a tremendous new freedom. I'd seen my life slip away and become restricted. It was like having an enormous new toy. I could whiz around and feel the wind in my face again. Just being out on the street was exhilarating."

However, she also came to realize that people's perception of her also shifted, and that affected her view of herself. "When I asked people their associations with the wheelchair, they used words like ‘limitation,' ‘fear,' ‘pity' and ‘restriction.' And that changed who I was on a core level. As a result, I knew I needed to make my own stories about this experience, new narratives to reclaim my identity."

She began to both paint her wheelchairs, as well as use them to paint. By affixing bottles to a powerchair that dribbled liquid on the wheels as she moved, she marked her passage on the ground in a very literal sense. The tracings she created, both on paper and on grass and pavement, are filled with giant graceful arcs and loops. Some likened her works in public spaces to no better than graffiti. Her response was that it's not mindless scribble; it's a concept executed with thought and design, the very nature of art.

About the same time, as part of her physical therapy, she began to work in the water with scuba equipment. Floating a neutral bouncy environment, she was thrilled with the range of motion she could achieve versus on land. Yet she realized that the words people associated this this particular set of hardware were vastly different from that associated with her wheelchair, words like "adventure" and "excitement." What, she wondered, would happen if she could put the two together? And so the idea for an underwater wheelchair started to take shape.

Through her arts initiative called Freewheeeling, she put together a team to help her make it happen. They designed and fabricated the equipment needed, as well as lined up sponsors and a structure for the project. It all began to come to fruition in 2012,  when she was awarded a commission through the Unlimited project, part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, which helped disabled artists develop and produce their works. She named her project "Creating the Spectacle," and conceived a series of live and filmed performances that showcased her vision.

The live events included several performances in a pool with both an underwater audience (which was trained to dive just prior to the performance) and others watching on screens above the surface. Sue wheeled herself to the edge, and was literally tossed into the water, there to move gracefully in all directions. She also took her wheelchair to a less hospitable environment, the mouth of the Fleet Lagoon in the south of England. She was led to the water's edge by dancing children, crossed underwater, and was greeted by flags and music when she and her team emerged on the other side.

To bring her vision of unfettered movement to a larger audience, she journeyed to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt with a film crew to shoot extended footage. Compiled into a 360 degree installation whereby the viewer is immersed in the environment, it was also edited into a film called "Finding Freedom." In it, Sue, dressed in a light sleeveless summer dress with her hair flowing behind her, floats and spins and sails through the coral and fish seemingly effortlessly, with at least as much ease as a person in scuba gear, and arguably, with as much grace as a ballerina.

Indeed, pushing the boundaries even further, Sue is training now to take her wheelchair to the sky via a microlight plane. And she has begun a relationship with NASA, as both are focused on mobility issues in different environments. The more you see of Sue's work, you can't but help agree with one observer: "After watching her I realized that from now on when I saw someone in a wheelchair, I shouldn't think about what they were able or unable to do, but rather what they could do that I couldn't."


You can see a piece of "Finding Freedom hereMarc Wollin 's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Alive or Dead?

As you get older (yes, yes, that "you" is me, too), you become aware that you are crossing any number of inflection points. These are those curious moments in time when you realize that the balance has shifted between what was and what is. Indeed, that's the textbook definition: the point on a graph where the line goes from heading up to heading down, or vice versa. In personal terms it's when you realize you've been out of school longer than you were in, or when you've been married longer then you were single, or when your kids are older than when you had you had them. Speaking for myself, I passed all of those long ago. But without being morbid, I realize that I'm now hitting another milestone of sorts: I think I'm at the point where I'm worth more alive than, well, dead.

We're not talking emotional value here. Like all of you, I'd like to at least think that my presence is worth something to those around me, whether it be family and friends or those with whom I work. No, I'm talking about cold hard cash as determined by insurance, that calculus that says were a piano to drop on my head, or I step in front of a bus, or I go surfing and can't fight the shark off with my fists, that my family will be provided X dollars, assuming there is no piano/bus/shark exclusion in my policy.

That "X" usually starts out as something nice and round. It might be $100,000 or $1,000,000, or some multiple of those. From there it can change based on a variety of factors: the type of insurance, your age when you bought the policy, the premiums you pay, the dividends that the underlying cash might or might not generate, and any loans or advances you might have taken, just to name a few. Put it all together, and you get the size of the check in question when the final reckoning comes. Mind you, YOU don't get it, per se; you're dead. But you get the idea.  

In our case we are in the process of reviewing all we have put in place to see if what we have is right for our situation. We've had our existing policies for years, having bought them back when we started a family. Since we were young and in relatively good health back then, the premiums we locked in were commensurately lower. But like all things, much has changed in insurance, including the way payouts are calculated, various special features available and the like. And so we are looking to see if maybe a newer variant might be a better fit for our needs.  

Just one problem: somewhere along the way we got older. That means we don't look to be quite as good in the long term risk department. And so while we can get new polices, since we are starting from a very different place, the costs are correspondingly higher. Sure they have some riders that are attractive, and there are offsets available based on our existing papers. But it's not as simple as trading up to a new iPhone. The evidence is being presented, and the jury has yet to pronounce a verdict.

Regardless of all that, what strikes me is the how the overall balance has shifted. In the beginning, we had little money, and the insurance was there to protect the family. At that point I was indeed worth far more dead than alive. If I suddenly met my demise, my gang could have afforded a nice vacation a lot easier than if I were standing there trying to pay for it. But I was always confident that my wife indeed loved me, and so I never worried when I went to sleep. Right, Honey? Uh, Honey?

But now it's some decades later, and our big debts of college and mortgage are clear, while our savings have been positioned to grow. My value is to both help to continue to contribute to our nest egg, as well as intelligently manage what we have. That insurance? It's gone from need to have to nice to have. And me? At least from a purely financial standpoint, I actually might be a little more valuable sticking around than not.


Marc Wollin of Bedford always pays his premiums on time. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.