Saturday, January 30, 2016


There were a number of factors that could have been in play. I was in a major southern city, where manners and "yes ma'am" are still part of the territory. It was before official opening time at the mall, so the only people around were workers getting the place ready for the day and early morning walkers, most of whom tend to be older. And it was a cold and rainy morning, so I was wearing a heavy jacket and carrying a dripping umbrella. Yes, I looked bedraggled.  

While I don't usually go shopping in malls either at home or on the road, I had wandered over from my hotel in the quest to fill an hour before I had to leave for the airport. Arriving 20 minutes before the stores themselves opened, I headed to the food court to get a cup of coffee and sit for a few minutes to check messages before taking a stroll. Wanting something more substantial that what was offered at the ubiquitous Starbucks, I headed to a popular chain that had a morning menu.

In spite of the saturation marketing that seems to be everywhere, I confess to not being up to speed on all the combinations and permutations of franchise breakfast food. There are combinations, package deals and cutely named offerings that require a spreadsheet to fully understand. I mean, what's a King Croissan'wich, and how does it differ from a Sausage McGriddle? And so I stood there studying the menu for a few moments, trying to figure out what to order.

The young lady at the counter gave me a minute, then asked me what I wanted. I started with what I knew: "Bacon egg and cheese, please." She asked me how I wanted it on: on a muffin, a biscuit or a roll. I thought for a moment, and went with the muffin. Anything else she said. "Coffee, please" I said. Done and done.  

As I watched her enter my order, I caught the display on the terminal out of the corner of my eye. She was fast, so fast that I almost missed the fact that two letters popped up on the screen in front of the word "coffee" before the total cost appeared. They didn't register, but I know I saw them. She stepped away to put my sandwich in a bag and pour me a cup of joe. She threw in some creamers and napkins, pointed to where the sugar was located, and took the emerging receipt from the slot and handed it to me. As I walked away, I looked at it. In front of the coffee were the letters "SR."

For the first time in my life, I had been seniored.

For the record, I am still on the low side of 60. True, what hair I do have has more than its share of gray, and my face shows a few traces of, shall we say, my years of experience. So in spite of what I like to think of as my youthful countenance, I could easily understand how the woman behind the counter looked up half an hour before anything was open to see an older man standing in front of her. He was staring at the menu wearing a wet leather coat, carrying a dripping umbrella, pondering what the "kids" are eating today. I, too, would have made the assumption that his social security check was likely in the mail.

I put my food down on an empty table (in fact, at the hour they were all empty) then circled back to the counter. No customers were there, and the young lady was in back putting something away. I waited until she came back, then approached her. I smiled: "I'm not mad, and I don't really care, but can you tell me what that means?" I said, pointing to the "SR" on the receipt. She looked at it, then me: "That's senior coffee," she said. "Well," I asked, "just how hold do you think I am?" She looked at me, and hesitated a bit, not sure what she should say. "I don't really know," she started, "but, well, it's cheaper that way." I laughed, thanked her, then headed back to my table. I guess it's begun. And while it's not like I want to belong to the club, if it saved me 50 cents, well, I guess I'm OK with that.


Marc Wollin of Bedford still thinks he's under 30. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Over It

Like many of you, I recall seeing the first installment of "Star Wars" back in 1977. Like many of you, I remember being blown away and walking out of the theater with my mouth hanging open. And like many of you, through the following years and subsequent episodes, I gladly forked over my seven, then eight, then nine, then ten dollars to see what new adventures (and pre-adventures) Leia and Chewie and Yoda had. Yes, some films were better than others and some characters were annoying. But the Force was with us always, and who would have guessed that Darth Vader was really Luke's father?

So I was thrilled to hear after a hiatus of ten years that there would be a new movie coming our way. And not a spin-off or franchise extension, but the seventh film in the series, the first part of the final set of three trilogies as originally conceived by George Lucas. More Millennium Falcon! More X-Wing fighters! More rolling credits and stormtroopers and light sabers! I could hardly wait for a "beep beep boop" from some Droid or a snappy comeback from Han. Excited, I was.

But having plunked down my now twelve dollars to journey to a galaxy long ago and far, far away, I have to say this: I am so over it.

Is there anything worse than looking forward to something, getting it and then deciding it wasn't worth waiting for? Doesn't matter if it's that hot fudge sundae from that place down the street from your grandma, or the boxed set of that old sitcom you pleaded with your mom to let you stay up late to watch, or the next chapter in a lovingly remembered story. Nostalgia aside, the problem is that when you get the chance to re-experience the original, you view it through contemporary eyes, and so are not quite as wowed the second time around. And the longer the layoff, the more the letdown.

And so it was for me with "The Force Awakens." Yes, it is no doubt a new film, with new characters, a new story and new stuff. JJ Abrams did a masterful job as a film maker, creating an alternative universe that feels like it just has to exist. The new young actors were quite good, the old standbys reprised beloved characters and there were some cool new gadgets. There were even a few good one-liners, and a continuation to the story arc that Lucas planted the seeds to long ago. Yet, in spite of all that, it didn't grab me. It checked all the boxes, for sure. But that's what it felt like it was doing: checking the boxes.

I think it's not that the movie wasn't worth waiting for, but rather that my expectations were way out of whack. I had internalized the feeling I got from that first light saber battle nearly 40 years ago, and was expecting to get it again. But to say that there's been a fair amount of water under the bridge since then is an understatement of galactic proportions. We've all seen more, done more, experienced more in those intervening decades. And so to make an impression on me, post "Avatar," post "Mission: Impossible," post "Jurassic Park" would take something more than just a bigger Death Star. And – spoiler alert – I could have told you it had a one-meter square vulnerability that only a perfect shot could hit. Duh.

And call me jaded, but Han Solo is not an isolated case. Consider Adele. Marvelous talent, great voice. Million selling album of great torch ballads? Amazing. Same thing four years later? Well, not really interested anymore. Or how about James Bond? Super spy? Check. Cool gadgets? Evil genius adversary? Check. Holding my interest? Sorry, no check.

Jon Stewart once said it best: in one sense, we are all puppies. Look! Shiny new thing! Woof! The difference is that even if our memories are not quite like elephants in terms of details, our hearts are. We remember that feeling of first love, even if we can't quite recall the person involved. And it's hard to match the original. And so Princess - I mean General Leia - I wish you only the best. But feel free to save the next galaxy without me.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes new things, shiny or not. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Purple is the Black of Thrones"

If you're like millions of others, you tuned in last week for the premier of the final season of "Downton Abbey." Or maybe you're waiting anxiously for April and the next installment of "Game of Thrones." Perhaps your idea of the wilds is Brooklyn, and so you're lying in wait for the upcoming season of "Girls." Or maybe you're more the aural type, were captivated by the podcast "Serial," and are now deep into season 2, even though you know the outcome. Non-spoiler alert: at the end, Bowe Bergdahl gets released in a prisoner swap, and nobody's happy.

What all these programs have in common is their ongoing-ness. It's somewhat counterintuitive: in a world where 140-character Twitter texts and six-second Vine videos are deemed the most effective way to communicate everything from the overthrow of governments to a critique of Obamacare, the shows that are garnering the biggest viewership and critical acclaim are ones that require not just an hour or two commitment, but months and months of disciplined viewing. Sure, you can wait till they are released on Amazon or Netflix, but then we're talking about a 10 or 20-hour binge fest to take it all in. They say the biggest obligation most people make is to buy a house or get married. I disagree: I think it's to sign on as a "Homeland" viewer.

That's because if you take the plunge you're not just watching or listening to a show. Rather you're absorbing the narrative arcs of their lives into yours. We're talking about story lines and character development that takes weeks, months, even seasons to happen, that consume the viewer and require them to diligently follow the plot. In the time that it takes some of these things to play out, you can graduate college, meet someone, have a kid, get divorced and start again. That results in it all getting smooshed together, your timeline and theirs: "When did we first meet? I think it was about the same time as Alicia won the State Attorneys' race, but before Lemmond Bishop was arrested, right honey?"

And if you're not along for the entire ride, you might as well be on a different planet from those that are. Aside from your own inability to follow the plot, you and your significant other who is watching will be but ships passing in the night. And it's not just an inability to make pillow talk about Claire Underwood's motives. You are also likely to incur some ill will along the way. Don't believe me? Just try walking into the room when they are 35 minutes into Season 4 Episode 7 of the Netflix Original Series "Purple is the Black of Thrones" or whatever. Sit down and watch for a bit, then say, "Hey! Why is that guy in the ripped tights and bearskin wearing a flaming funnel on his head?" Or "Didn't the girl in bed with the lead signer have short blond hair as opposed to long purple bangs?" Or "Isn't that guy playing the narc with the twitch the same one from the toothpaste commercial?" Count yourself lucky if all you get is a dirty look as opposed to the remote thrown at your head.

Me? I'm still a "Law and Order" guy. Not the show per se, though I liked that too. I'm talking about the prime time slot as contained universe. Call it one stop shopping: the story started at the beginning and ended at the end. You didn't have to worry that if you had to work late the following week or a friend invited you out to dinner that you were missing important plot points at 8:17PM from which you might never recover. And if they swapped out Darrens or detectives in a subsequent season, so what? It didn't really make a difference to the bottom line.

Perhaps that explains why I don't watch much TV, though it would seem that I am in the minority. After all, it's a trend that shows no signs of abating, with longform series attracting directors, stars and platforms. Whether it's Jude Law in "The Young Pope" or Cameron Crowe directing "Roadies," the hoped-for-hits just keep on coming. Now, if they could just figure out a way to bring the same level of interest, detail and attention to the debates on guns or immigration, we might actually have something.


Marc Wollin of Bedford has never binge-watched anything. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Too Much Information?

If you ever walked down the hall of a hospital, you've encountered it first-hand.  It's called alarm fatigue, and it's that condition where nurses and doctors hear bizzzz or buzzzz so often that they tune it out.  That's because studies show that in units that have telemetry monitoring the average number of alarms per patient per day is 946. You read that right: nearly a thousand times per day the gear attached to a single individual sounds an alert that things are not "normal." But there's a big difference between not normal and something that requires action. In fact, experts estimate that between 86% and 99% of the time that those alarms sound no clinical intervention is actually needed.  The trick, of course, is figuring out which ones of those are important, and taking steps in those cases. Still, if you multiply those sorta-false positives by the number of patients on a given ward, you can see why those at the nurses' station all but shut their ears.

I thought of that as I was driving the other day. It wasn't any grand cross country trip, just a jaunt to the store to pick up a new garbage can for under the sink.  Still, I was wired the way we all are these days.  I had some music playing, my phone with a map program was attached to the windshield and my latest toy, a smartwatch, was on my wrist. I'm sure a pilot of a 777 has more data coming at her than I did, but maybe not by much.

All were connected together in a spider web of information, not to mention their own autonomous functions. The centerpiece of this hub, of course, is the phone, whose most pressing task at that moment was to show me routing information. The watch was doing its watch-thing with the time, but was also linked to the phone, displaying emails and texts that came in, as well as the weather.  Not to be left out, the car was playing DJ, its small flat screen displaying the album cover of the music currently playing, along with the artist and track title. It too had a brain of its own, an onboard computer which showed me gas consumption information, as well as time and temperature. And of course it was also connected to the phone, turning the car into a telephone booth on wheels.

Like a patient in a bed I was jacked into 3 devices.  But just as a pulse-oxy meter shows multiple parameters, my tech was also filling multiple rolls. So depending on how you count it, I had at least 8 different live data streams coming at me: directions, phone, text, email, weather, music, temperature and time.  Oh, yeah, and I was driving at 40 miles an hour down a road with stores, traffic lights, and other cars.  Almost forgot that little bit of stimuli.

We've all become fairly adept at juggling multiple inputs like this, some more than others.  That's not to say it's a good idea.  After all, some estimates are that fully 25% of all accidents are caused by distracted driving, whether it's texting, talking on a hands-free phone, selecting the latest hit on your media player or just rooting in the glovebox for a box of mints.  

So consider my case.  An email came in, so my left wrist started to vibrate. The outside road temperature dropped below freezing, so an alarm sounded from my dash. A call and a text came in, so my phone started to ring and buzz.  And this was just at the point where I had to go through an intersection that had 5 roads leading to it and about a dozen possible green light/red light/arrow combinations, complicated by a fire truck trying to get to an emergency. Not alarm fatigue, but alarm overload.  

I'd like to say I pulled over and turned everything off and left it that way.  I did not, but at least I pulled over. The email was nothing, the call was telemarketing and I zipped my jacket up a little tighter.  We always say "at least it's not brain surgery." But at least in the operating room everybody is focused on one thing.  Here, I was the one thing, and had to focus on all the others.  It gives TMI a whole new meaning.


Marc Wollin of Bedford doesn't text and drive. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

A Linguistic Hat Trick

It's known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It's that situation wherein after we learn some bit of new information we start noticing it everywhere else. The name traces its roots back to 1994 when a reader of the St. Paul Pioneer Press wrote in a letter to the editors that after reading about that radical political group in Western Germany, he started seeing the name everywhere. It's when you suddenly notice a particular type of car on the road, or hear a particular figure of speech. In my case it was a word I had never heard before, and has since cropped up more than I would have thought possible.

That word is "nurdle."

Let's face it: it's not one you hear that often. Strike that: it's one you almost never hear. But it's one that Frank somehow managed to incorporate into a sentence during some pre "let's-get-down-to-business" group small talk one recent morning. I don't even remember the context, merely that the word came tumbling out. And with Frank being a highly-skilled, intensely-experienced, uber-technical professional who has taught me any number of things and solved a basket load of thorny problems when we have worked together, I listen when he speaks.

The word snagged in my ear like a hangnail on a blanket. "Nurdle? What's a nurdle?" I asked. Frank corrected me: "Actually, it's ‘nurdle device.' It's the wave-shaped strip of toothpaste that sits atop a toothbrush that you see in commercials." I shook my head at him: "You're making this up, right?" He assured me he was not. Upon quick reflection, and having some sense based on past experience of the depth of his encyclopedia knowledge of many things, obscure and otherwise, I quickly backed down. Nurdle device it was.

Now, unless I were to go to work for Colgate, one might think that that would be the first and last time the word would cross my path. (We're not counting when Claudia, who was also present for that exchange with Frank, kept it alive by asking me the following week if the nurdle device had been accounted for in our planning.) But that evening I settled down with my current read, "City on Fire" by Garth Risk Hallberg. A sweeping nearly 1000-page novel set in New York City of the 1970's, it interweaves numerous story lines and characters. All well and good, until I stumbled upon this passage around page 624 about a young woman named Regan who had anorexia: "And then came the ten seconds in which Regan hated herself more than ever. Time to tear two squares of toilet paper and wipe down the bowl's rim and the bottom of the sink. To brush teeth with a nerdle of Gleem."

I actually knew what that was! I reached out to Frank with thanks, though noting the alternate spelling from what he had related. And while he assured me the author had the correct usage, he thought that perhaps the differentiated spelling had something to do with the fact that Gleam is a P&G product, while the term itself originated with GlaxoSmithKline's Aquafresh alternative (I TOLD you Frank knew these things!)

You would think it would be over that point, that two nurdles was all a lifetime could handle. But then Congress came into the picture. Yes, Congress. In a year when they couldn't agree on much of anything, one of the few laws that made it through both the House and Senate was the "Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015." This legislation bans the use of small plastic beads in beauty and health products which pass through wastewater treatment plants. They wind up in waterways and attract harmful chemicals which get ingested by fish and are passed along in the food chain. And why is this important in our discussion?

Because the pre-production plastic pellets which are used in their manufacture are called – wait for it, wait for it – nurdles.

But I want the hat trick. Turns out that the term is also used in the sport of cricket. In that context, it means "to score runs by gently nudging the ball into vacant areas of the field," as in "South Africa was able to nurdle the ball too easily in mid-innings." And I see that Australia has a series of test matches in January against India.

I, for one, will be watching and listening closely.


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