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“If you are afraid of loneliness, don’t marry,: said Anton Chekhov. And he was right.

We expect total love, commitment, interest, loyalty, fidelity, and sexual attractiveness. And what do we get? A 50-percent divorce rate (90-percent in teenage marriages).

You've heard the saying: "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Well, that may be true, but I can tell you for a fact that there is such a thing as a free dinner.

My lovely wife, Charlotte, and I know about free dinners all too well, as we're both at the age where investment and retirement planning companies want our business so badly that they're willing to feed us — often quite nicely, thank you very much — in the hope that we'll hire them in some sort of financial management capacity.

Sounds like a cushy gig, getting free dinners just to listen to well-dressed and smooth-talking money managers for an hour, but (remember my nickname is "Cranky Frankie" after all) it's not all wine and roses. One event in particular stands out.

This dinner was to take place in a town a quite a way from home at 6 p.m. on a weeknight. I work full-time and my wife works part-time, so weeknights are busy as you can imagine. That night, we got it together enough that we were seated at the restaurant about five minutes before the dinner was to start.

I should tell you right up front that I'm a punctual guy. If you tell me the party is at five, I'm there at five. Being "fashionably late" has no appeal to me at all; in fact, it annoys me very much, but I must be in the minority since everyone seems to do it.

Considering that this event was being put on by a financial-management company, a company that would like nothing more than the very serious and important job of managing my family's retirement savings and investments (what little we have), you'd think they'd be punctual as well. So now we're sitting at an elegantly decorated table in a fancy restaurant.

I had just put my napkin on my lap when a nicely-dressed company rep gets up and says, "Since we're still waiting on a few folks, let's wait about 10 minutes before beginning." Huh?

Let me get this straight. You agree to buy my wife and I dinner at a fancy restaurant, just to have us sit there and listen to you try and convince us to let you manage our investments. We hustle and race, both of us working people, on a very busy weeknight to get to a restaurant in another town by 6 p.m. and then, just because a few others haven't yet arrived, we are supposed to sit and twiddle our thumbs for 10 minutes?

To me, it's all about first impressions; if you truly want to be my financial manager, you should have started the program on time. Then, when the stragglers show up, you can offer to stay later if they want to question you on anything they may have missed (and since the beginning of these things is all schmoozing anyway, they wouldn't have missed much).

I really, really think it sends a bad message to the many folks who went out of their way to do as we were told and show up on time to make us then sit there and wait, effectively penalizing us for being punctual.

Am I wrong about this? I really don't think so. I have always favored those who are on time, dependable, and honest, and I always will.

So the event starts with schmoozing and small talk while we eat; then, when the meal is done, the PowerPoint part of the presentation starts. This is where they pull out all the stops and try to prove to you that they can manage your money better than any other firm can or even you yourself can.

All kinds of charts and graphs are displayed in the hope of convincing you that this is complicated and important stuff and you better let them handle it. Over and over, they use examples to try to make their point, examining things like inflation, the consumer-price index, etc., in the hope of making things clearer.

This is fine, but here is how this particular presenter prefixed all of his examples: "Let's say you have a million dollars...."

Now here I am, sitting at an admittedly nice restaurant in Schenectady on a Tuesday night, with a group of people who look very much like my wife and I — ordinary working-class folks who may or may not be close to retirement at a free dinner put on by an investment company seeking our business.

As this guy keeps saying, over and over, "Let's say you have a million dollars," I'm sitting there thinking, “Jeez, I know I don't have a million dollars, and everyone here looks about like me and my wife, so they probably don't have a million dollars, either. In fact, if any of us did have a million dollars, we'd probably be on a beach or a cruise or getting our nails done or something!”

I started to feel very bad for myself and the others the more I sat there and he kept repeating it ad nauseum.

Here's the thing: He needed a nice and easy number as an example in the many calculations he was using to illustrate various retirement scenarios and projections. It's also true that, if you add up your house and your cars and your savings and the money hidden under the mattress, it's probably more than you think.

But when he kept saying "Let's say you have a million dollars," and I know I don't, it made me feel like some kind of a failure or loser. I mean, if he kept saying this over and over so cavalierly, maybe it's not uncommon for regular working folks in Schenectady to have a million dollars?

If that's true then I must be reading the wrong newspapers and watching and listening to the wrong news shows. All I hear about is the terrible economic recovery, the lack of good-quality jobs, the many taxes that are killing us, the struggle to pay for basics like food and rent, affordable heath care and prescription drugs, and trying to find a way to  send children to college without going broke.

Do all those people, our many hardworking friends and neighbors, "have a million dollars?" I don't think so.

The next evening, I was still stewing about all this when the phone rang. Believe it or not, it was Million Dollar Man asking for feedback about the meeting! Oh boy, was he in for an earful.

First I complained about having to sit there and wait 10 minutes for the stragglers to show up, even though most of us were there on time. Incredulously he had no idea that this would be a big deal to some of us.

Remember the expression "Time is money?" Here's a financial-services guy who apparently has no conception of that time-honored maxim.

Then I told him how uncomfortable it made me feel when he kept prefixing all his examples with "Let's say you have a million dollars." He told me he just wanted a round figure to make the calculations easy.

When I told him it made me feel like a failure in life to be sitting there, knowing I don't have a million dollars, he was genuinely taken aback. We actually discussed this for about 20 minutes.

I truly believe, if you were sitting there and didn't have a million dollars, you wouldn't feel good about yourself when he kept using this (to me) very high number in his many examples. I think I got my point across but I don't know for sure. He (surprise, surprise) hasn't invited me to any more free dinners, so I guess I'll never know if he's cleaned up his act.

Listen, I know some people have a lot of money. I really do. Even some ordinary-looking people may be loaded.

When I was a bank teller in Manhattan, I had a customer who looked like a homeless lady. She came in pushing a handcart filled with random shabby things, she wore ragged clothes, and she was all hunched over.

Guess what, this was back in the '70s, and, when she pulled her bankbook our of her bra, it had a half-a-million dollars in it, I kid you not. So I know some people, even though they may not look like it, might have a lot of money.

I just know that, when you get a bunch of working people together on a Tuesday night in Schenectady, and you keep saying, "Let's say you have a million dollars," not everyone is going to have that much and you take a big risk of alienating them by reminding them of it over and over. Really.

Look, I'm very grateful for the free dinner, but you have to ask yourself, why is it that investment companies and timeshare companies and buyers’ clubs and things like that have to buy you dinner and give you all kinds of freebies just to peddle their products?

If their offerings were so good, would they really need to do that? I don't see my furnace-repair guy or my car mechanic or my doctor buying me dinner, because they don't have to. Something to keep in mind for sure.

There may not be any such thing as a free lunch, but there are free dinners — if you can stand them.

Tuesday, Feb. 18, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh.

Right off the bat, this scribe must report that he was not there, but assistant scribes were assigned to gather names — one OF for the early birds and one OF for the late arrivers. When this happens and the appointed scribes do not accrue much information, this scribe is forced to go to his little red, or black, or blue book and look up old notes on conversations that were deemed too racy, too redundant, or, in this scribe’s opinion, not too interesting.

Sometimes, the problem is too many notes (all good) but they would fill half a page of the paper if this scribe used them all. That would make the OFs rather boring, so this scribe eliminates some of the varied conversations.

Occasionally, the OFs talk about upstate-downstate and how there is such a large difference in the two sections of the same state. In the all-knowing Times Union (ooh, my cheek hurts) there was an article of a movement afoot about having two New Yorks. Wow!  What a novel idea.

This has been mentioned on and off for many years, and quite often by the Old Men of the Mountain. The OFs, as a rule, when discussing this issue, use Route 84 as the cutoff point. The TU mentioned Westchester County as the cutoff point. The OFs feel there is more money in 10 houses in Westchester County than all of Montgomery County, and the OFs think this is also another electric railroad debacle.

The OFs wonder if those in Westchester County, and New York City, and Long Island even know what the rest of the state goes through in the money department. To the OFs, many feel that downstaters think $1,000 is like $10 to those of us above Route 84.

One OF said that many of them have no idea where milk, meat, eggs, and veggies come from. This OF thinks that they imagine it all comes from the grocery store and “they” (downstaters) have no idea how it gets to the store. This OF assumes that many believe the items just sprout on the shelves.

 Another OF thinks New York City is nothing but one big sponge that sucks up all the state resources to keep it going, and leaves nothing for those of us upstate.

Another OF took the opposite tack and opined that upstate cannot stand on its own. This OF feels that we need New York City in order to keep the state solvent.  For instance, this OF feels there is not enough tax money upstate to support our portion of the state’s transportation department, or the university system, or maintain the Adirondack Park, and support our portion of the State Police. To this OF, the idea of a separate upstate-downstate sounds good, but he doesn’t think it would ever work and he feels confident enough to say it can’t work.

No fancy funerals

The OFs have an undertone conversation that crops up often. This time, it was on the number of people that the OFs know who have passed on in the last few months. It seems the wave of life the OFs are on is beginning to crash upon the shore.

This time, the OFs mentioned the type of funeral they would like, but the cost of dying is like everything else — getting out of hand. Many OFs say, “Just stuff me in a pine box or the crate the fancy coffins come in — that is all I need.”

One OF said, “Me too, and have the funeral from my living room, with family and friends gathering afterwards right in the house.”

Another OG said, “For me, no organ music.  Those dirges sound like you are at a funeral.”

To which two OFs in unison said, “You OB, you are at a funeral, and it is yours.”

The OF that started this little part of the conversation said, “You know what I mean.  Play some good old country music, like Hank Williams Jr.’s song ‘There’s a Tear in my Beer,’ or the song by Garth Brooks, ‘Friends in Low Places’; that’s my kind of funeral music.”

Another OG said that he is not going to have a funeral; he is donating his body to science, and bypassing “Digger Odell” altogether.

“Come on,” one OG said. “Science is not going to want your saggy old body; it is all used up. What will they have to experiment with? You are nearly blind; you can’t hear with or without hearing aids; one shoulder, one hip, and two knees are nothing but metal. You might just a well sign yourself over to the scrap yard at the port.”

“Look who’s talking,” the OF answered. “When they place your lard butt in a coffin, they won’t be able to get enough pallbearers under it to pick it up.  A hearse will be out of the question for you; they will need a pickup truck and a crane.”           

This same topic has been covered before, and will be again, but the scenarios change sometimes from the same OFs. One OF mentioned awhile back that he was going to be cremated, and his ashes put on the manure spreader and spread on the fields of the farm.

Another OF told him that would be a good idea because at least, for once, he would be doing some good.

“Like we just talked about a couple of weeks back,” one OF interjected. “Once we are gone, we won’t have a clue as to what goes on. We will be gone. The family may join in the funeral one-upsmanship, just like weddings, no matter what we want.”

“I can just hear the kids saying, ‘I don’t care what the OF wanted, my dad isn’t going to be buried in a pine box,’ and the kids will go for a casket that costs as much as a car.”

“Not my kids,” one OF said, “I may have a preplanned funeral, and they will take that money, and then wrap me in a sheet, get a shovel, dig a hole and dump me in, and that will be it.”

“Smart kids,” came a remark from a corner of the table.

All the OFs who are still breathing came to the breakfast at Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh and they were: Henry Whipple, Andy Tinning, Roger Shafer, Chuck Aleseio, Mark Traver, Glenn Patterson, Robie Osterman, George Washburn, Jim Heiser, Otis  Lawyer, Steve Kelly, John Rossmann, Bill Krause, Jim Rissacher, Don Woods, Ted Willsey, Harold Guest, Jack Norray, Ken Hughes, Lou Schenck, Mace Porter, Garry Porter, Harold Grippen, Elwood Vanderbilt, Mike Willsey, and not me — but I am still breathing.

The 13th Annual Community Caregivers Italian Night dinner was held on Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Omni Senior Living Community on Carman Road in Guilderland.  Community Caregivers sponsored the event in conjunction with members of the Guilderland High School Key Club.

Community Caregivers is a human services not-for-profit based in Guilderland.  The organization serves communities in Albany County by matching local volunteers with nearby clients who have non-medical needs, such as transportation to appointments and help with shopping.

The theme of this year’s dinner was “We’re Wild About You,” with each table having a different exotic stuffed animal that was given to a lucky recipient at the end of the evening.  The cake was also decorated to reflect the theme.

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, students from Christine Monlea’s art classes at Pine Bush Elementary School made heart-themed decorated placemats for each setting.

The evening began with a welcome message from the executive director of Community Caregivers, Kathy Burbank, who talked about the type of services and programs offered by the organization.  More than 50 residents at the Omni were on hand to enjoy the dinner, all of which was donated by several local restaurants.

Fifteen students from the Key Club helped set up, decorate the room, and serve the food.  Several other adults from the Omni and the local community were also present to assist with the dinner.  The evening festivities concluded with the awarding of a number of drawn prizes, which were also generously donated by local stores that supported the event.

The volunteers who participated this year included Sean, Conor, Suzanne, and Kevin Quinn; Greg and Nellie Goutos; and Joan Doohan.

Key Club students included Liam Kelley, Jake Valensi, Ania Alberski, Andrew Eldeiry, Katie and Angela Yang, and Kevin Reilly.  Also, Jess Doubleday, Emily Loparo, Afsha Kasam, Danielle Macken, Zack McNally and Kristine Liotta from Key Club.

And a special thank-you to Omni resident Mary McGann, who acted as the site coordinator this year.

Community Caregivers is grateful to the area restaurants that generously supported the dinner, including The 99 Restaurant, TGI Fridays, the Italian-American Community Center, Panera Bread, Pellegrino Importing, Pizza Hut and Coccadott’s Cake Shop.

Also, thank you to the following local businesses that donated door prizes: Candy Kraft, The Book House, Carman Wine & Liquor, Robinson’s Hardware, Mike’s Diner, Bountiful Bread, The Pottery Place, The Altamont Enterprise, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, and Ryan’s Farmers Market.  Also contributing were Walmart, Hannaford, and Price Chopper.

Community Caregivers would like to especially acknowledge the efforts of Sean and Conor Quinn, brothers who attend Guilderland High School and who are also members of Key Club.  Over the past several years they have dedicated countless hours serving as the event coordinators, and are credited with soliciting area restaurants for the donated food, as well as the local businesses that provided door prizes.

They also led the efforts in having the Key Club be a part of the event.  Together with their parents, Kevin and Suzanne Quinn, they work hard behind the scenes to ensure that this yearly event runs smoothly.

Editor’s note: Greg Goutos is a volunteer with Community Caregivers.

The Old Men of the Mountain met at the Home Front Café in Altamont on Jan. 28, and the OFs are becoming a little bit tired of this cold. Thank goodness we are almost through January and, when The Enterprise hits the newsstands, it will be February. The OGs are just about ready to start complaining.

The OFs had a discussion Tuesday morning on something they are quite familiar with since some (not all) of the OFs were around when there were dinosaurs. Some of the OFs were on a personal basis with these creatures; many of the OFs were here to show God how to make dirt.

Quite a few of the OFs were farmers and had firsthand knowledge of how to make good dirt because to feed those dinosaurs was going to take some fast-growing plants, and plants like this need good dirt.

This scribe made a note on the dinosaurs and is scratching his head to try and remember how the OFs started talking about these ancient animals, amphibians, and birds in the first place. Of course, the more well known beasts of these periods came up. T-Rex came up, so did the Pterodactyl, and, of course, the long-neck Barosaurus.

The OFs wondered how many bales of hay it would take to feed one of those long-neck monsters if these creatures were around today and if it would take a whole cow to feed a T-Rex. One OG thought that, if a Pterodactyl flew over and pooped on your shoulder, like a seagull, it would probably knock you to the ground.

It is hard for the OFs to conceive how Adam was able to name all the animals, and did he speak Latin? Were there even cows, as we know them, in the Triassic or Jurassic periods?

Who called the first cow a cow, and a dog a dog, and why aren’t dogs still called wolves, and then there is the whole cat enigma, and did Adam’s descendants speak Latin.

It seems the OFs should know these facts because, of course, they were there. The OFs are getting in rather deep here.

If you are a caregiver, keep the ice melt and shovel inside your loved one’s home.  Along with shoveling the walkways, it’s always a good idea to have plenty of ice-melt on hand. If possible, try to make sure someone is putting enough ice-melt on the walkway in order to prevent any build-up.

Encourage your loved one to wear appropriate shoes.  Having a special pair of boots or shoes with non-slip tracking can help decrease the likelihood of falls while out on snow and ice.

Make a plan with neighbors and relatives ahead of time: For light ice or snow, you may be able to handle spreading the ice melt, but work out a shoveling arrangement for larger storms; ask a relative, a neighbor, or a teen in the neighborhood.

Tips for outdoors

Other considerations:

— If you must walk on snow, it should be "crunchy";

— Walk slowly and pay attention;

— Try to avoid particularly hazardous areas;

— Avoid reaching or twisting when walking and standing;

— Keep one hand free for balance unless using a walker;

— Use a waist belt pack or backpack instead of carrying a purse;

— Avoid carrying heavy items;

— Use a portable grocery cart; and

— Install automatic or timed lighting outside.

Advice for indoors

Falls can occur inside of the home as well, but there are a few extra things to consider when it comes to keeping loved ones safe:

— Non-slip socks or slippers:  Walking on cold floors can be uncomfortable. If you wear slippers or socks;

— Cleaning up wet spots: Tracking snow into the house can sometimes be a problem. To prevent this, try to make sure boots and any wet clothing can dry above a winter doormat; and

— Keeping clutter to a minimum: Clutter can build up in the winter months with all of the extra clothes and blankets. Prevent this by making sure everything is in its proper place.

Remember, falls are one of the most common problems our elderly loved ones have but they are also one of the most preventable.

Editor’s note; Kathy Burbank is the executive director of Community Caregivers.

Saint Valentine was a roman priest who was beheaded in 170 A.D. on or around Feb. 14. His crime had been performing marnux ceremonies for young men who were supposed to remain single in order to make better soldiers!

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