Archive » May 2017 » Columns

Tuesday May 16 The Old Men of the Mountain traveled to the Chuck Wagon on Route 20 in Princetown. This was an unusual event because the OMOTM were very curious as to what that “glow” was in the sky. Early in the morning it lit up the “back room” of the diner so the blinds had to be closed. This was not common so the OFs had to re-introduce themselves to the sun.

The first topic of most mornings is the weather; this morning it was the wind. The winds did blow and the OFs were asking each other if they had to chase anything down and bring it home. The OFs did not remember any of the forecasters saying it was going to blow like this so the OFs should batten down the hatches.

A common discussion as always is farming and this time it was combining then and now. This was brought about by the animals that were taken from the small farm in the Hilltowns. The OFs said unless they were missing something those horses looked fine to them, and so did the goats. A horse, when it sheds in the spring is normally a ratty looking animal, and a muddy barnyard is normal. A pig is in pig heaven when the pig is wallowing in mud. Maybe there is something more going on here that the OFs missed. The place could have been kept up a little better. The OFs only know what they read in the papers.

Crazy as a...

Loons!  The OFs began talking about loons, one saying that he was watching them dive underwater and had no idea where they would come up.  Another OF said that loons have trouble walking on land because of the position of their legs and feet. The OF said the legs of a loon are placed way in the back of the bird. This, the rest of the OFs did not know. The OF said they appear to raise themselves up a little and then push themselves along the ground, then collapse on the ground after going about a foot to a foot-and-a-half, then they start the whole process over.

The OFs said there are laws protecting loons and their nests. The wake of a boat can flood a loon’s nest and it is then destroyed. This OF continued, “The nest is built at the water’s edge and not only a boat can wreck a nest, but a strong storm can wash one away, or a drought can lower the level of the lake and loons can’t make it to the nest.”   It is tough to be a Loon.

One OF said he was on a lake in New Hampshire standing on a dock and loons were swimming in clear water only a few feet from the dock. The OF said he could see the loons under the water and he said they are fast swimmers and dart all over the place after small fish. The OF thought they could stay under for about two minutes and would come up nowhere near where they went down. This OF said it was a rare sight and many do not get a chance to see it.


Does hard work help you live longer, or does hard work bring on an early demise?  The OFs were wrestling with this dilemma to see why most of the OMOTM are OMOTM. The OFs could not come up with a real conclusion. Many of the OFs worked hard when they were younger. The definition of hard work the OFs were talking about was physically hard work, i.e., lifting bales, hauling rocks to a rocking boat, lifting milk cans, swinging pick axes, using shovels — that type of work — and doing it day in and day out. Then there is hard work like driving a bus, the actual physical work is not much, but the mental, nervous energy is hard work. So who is going to make it to 80 and still be mobile and alert? The OFs considered work as work is a crap shoot. No one really knows.

This conversation sent this scribe to the net to do some research. The OFs considered lifestyle. A bad lifestyle and hard work (the OFs think) makes viewing grass from the brown side come pretty early, and the same goes for the mental hard work with the bad lifestyle. The OFs were beginning to think it is lifestyle and not what type of work the OF did for a living.

What this scribe found out is that going by the numbers, the numbers show playing by the book is the way to go. That is if you are a gambling man. The averages work better for those trying to live a healthy lifestyle than those who don’t. It isn’t that hard to do it right, only it is expensive. To live healthy costs money and many underprivileged persons don’t have the means to get on that bandwagon.

One OF mentioned a relative who smoked, drank, and caroused, beyond the dirty old man age and still lived into his 80s, while another relative had a lifestyle basically clean as a whistle and passed away in his mid 60s. A second OF added, “When your number is up, it is up, no matter what.” In this OF’s opinion lifestyle had nothing to do with it. Another discussion that can go on and on.

The Old Men of the Mountain who made it to the Chuck Wagon Diner in Princetown and ate what they wanted because, doggone it, many of the OFs are in their 80s and they didn’t get here by making too many bad choices, were: Roger Chapman, Roger Shafer, Robie Osterman, Bill Lichliter, Chuck Aelesio, Ray Frank, John Rossmann, Harold Guest, (and it was Guest last week instead of Grippen), Wayne Gaul, Ted Feurer, Bob Benninger, Bob Fink, Art Frament, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Gerry Irwin, Mace Porter, Lou Schenck, Glenn Patterson, Otis Lawyer, Mark Traver, Mike Willsey Gerry Chartier, Ted Willsey, Bob Lassome, Jess Vadney, Elwood Vanderbilt, Harold Grippen, and me.


— Bust of Seneca, by an anonymous sculptor of the 17th Century now in the Museo del Prado

Seneca the Younger wrote that clemency was not a sign of weakness.

It’s always enlightening to see two great minds come to loggerheads over the values they embrace and in doing so shed light on what it means to be human.

What comes to mind first is William F. Buckley’s interview with the great American poet Allen Ginsberg on “Firing Line” in September 1968 — two great thinkers agonizing over what they see at the heart of the American soul. It was Buckley’s show but Ginsberg made it a free-for-all.

Another case comes to mind but it’s strange because the two “contestants” live two centuries apart. I’m thinking of the Roman writer Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 B.C. to A.D. 65), known as Seneca the Younger, and the Argentinian priest, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whom most folks better know as the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis.

Their issue has to do with moral standards as well but more specifically with what is required of a moral person toward those in need, toward the least among us. For Christians the answer’s already there: Matthew 25 says what it is and Mark 10 says how to do it.

Seneca, if your ancient history is fuzzy, was the Stoic philosopher who became the Emperor Nero’s tutor (amicus principis). He had been working with the youth for several years before Nero took charge of the Empire at age 16.

Seneca also wrote Nero’s speeches when the boss had to explain something to the Senate or praetorian guard. In 55, he wrote the much-heralded De Clementia, a treatise on the concept and practice of clemency.

It’s not by chance that clemency came to the fore because Nero had just hired a Roman woman, who was an expert in killing by poison, to toast his several-years-younger adoptive brother, Britannicus — during the family dinner!

By taking on clemency, Seneca wanted to let the Roman Senate and people know that the new emperor was not going to be a neutralizer in the way Caligula and Claudius were; the new man was going to be a man of clemency.

And showing clemency was not a sign of weakness, as Seneca pointed out, but of mensch-hood; it was also a wise political strategy. When someone harmed another, for example, the emperor could demonstrate his power by showing restraint to those in need.

But while Nero’s ventriloquist claims that clemency is good, he makes it quite clear that mercy (misericordia) is not and forgiveness (venia), worse. He said that the person who practices mercy is sick in the head, a pusillanimous soul. A show of mercy is two old ladies being suckered into letting a pleading prisoner go free.

What’s troubling is that Seneca, as a Stoic, also embraced the concept of simplicity. Living like a poor person, he said, was an essential ingredient to living a healthy life (vita beata). And the good person (sapiens) practices what he preaches (“concordet sermo cum vita”).

But in daily life Seneca was a money-grubber; he owned a ton of houses; his personal treasury topped 300,000,000 sesterces. He was a money-lender, a loan shark — though the data on this are slim — whose practices caused great pain and suffering among the Britons.  

The Roman writer Cassius Dio in Book 62 of his history says, “Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it.”

Dio says it was the reason the Britons revolted against Rome under the aegis of the famed Queen Boudica, an ancient Jeanne d’Arc.   

But we cannot fault Seneca for inconsistency; he was walking the walk, that is, he said mercy was for the dogs and so he treated people like dogs — or is that being too harsh?

The ideas of Nero’s tutor are relevant today because last year Pope Francis had declared 2016 the year of “Mercy” for Roman Catholics. He said every Catholic was called to think about the meaning of mercy in his daily life and then find situations to practice it.

At the beginning of the Jubilee year, as it was called, he wrote “Misericordiae Vultus,” a short note in which he laid out the integral relationship between mercy and Christian identity.  

He finished the year with “Misericordia et misera” essentially asking folks how they did thinking about things and whether they planned to make mercy an integral part of their lives.

No one who’s ever read anything about Pope Francis or seen him on TV needs to ask if this guy’s the real deal, whether his “sermo” is consistent with his “vita.” The guy is a font of mercy.

On Holy Thursday 2014, for example, he went to the “Don Gnocchi Center” in Rome and washed and kissed the feet of elderly and disabled women some of whose dogs were bent and swollen. Someone I taught years ago recently remarked that such acts are only symbolic, but look at the photos, watch the videos, this man is in love. When’s the last time you washed and kissed an old lady’s fat feet in a hospital like they were yours?

The Pope lives in a small apartment; he eats with a little community; he drives a little Fiat 500L, which people laughed at when they saw it tootling down Central Park West a couple of years ago.

I’d like to add that for his 80th birthday celebration Francis invited not bishops and cardinals but eight homeless people to his house for breakfast. Once again he was saying that living simply is a component of mercy, which requires that the daily basic needs of the poor and those without be given priority, not stealing health care from the poor to fund tax-cut-handouts to billionaires.

During Bill Maher’s television program “Real Time” two weeks ago, Ohio Governor John Kasich — who lost to Donald Trump in the last presidential campaign — addressed the topic of mercy in terms of health care in the United States.  

Maher asked him: Is healthcare a right or a commodity, is it clemency or is it mercy?

Feeling pressed, the governor gave in; he said it was a right. He said his ethical stance on human relationships does not allow him to embrace “the easiest thing,” that is, “[to] run over the weak and those who live in the shadows and those who don’t have much.” He added: “It is not right.”

All this is going on while the United States is engaged in a civil war, is at loggerheads over, its identity. What is America going to be? What “virtues” are in and which are out? Will we include mercy in our newly-constructed national identity?

A lot of people today talk about the importance of “difference” but they confuse it with the million-and-one varieties of cereal on the supermarket shelves; they refuse to take into account the real needs of others that differ from their own. Difference becomes a joke. Then they stigmatize the weak and needy, calling them cheats, deadbeats, freeloaders, druggies, the incorrigible scum of the earth. Why would anyone want to care for that crowd’s health!

Thus these days I hear more discouraging than encouraging words particularly from politicians who spit on mercy; they are assassins of hope.

I love the National Anthem of the West, “Home on the Range.” It says a good place is “where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.” I think the writer of that song was talking about mercy, taking into account the needs of all rather than loading them onto a slow train to nowhere.

On a rather chilly day for the month of May, the ninth, the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg.

Duanesburg is quite a hub basically in the middle of nowhere. This is where two main highways intersect — Route 20, which travels east and west, and Route 7, which also travels east and west. Both highways will bring the traveler to Route 81 — Route 7 at Binghamton, and Route 20 just below Syracuse. However, Binghamton is southwest of Albany and Syracuse is about due west of Albany.

The OFs are very familiar with both roads because the OFs were traveling in these directions way before Route 88 and Route 87 (the Thruway) were built. The OFs were driving their cars on Route 20, going up and down the hills to Syracuse, and navigating all the small towns along Route 7 to Binghamton. The construction of routes 87 and 88 eliminated most of the dreaded curves and hills.


This time of year, the bugs start to make their presence known. One that is not really a bug (but an OF tossed it into the mix of bugs) is the carpenter bee. There were two suggestion of how to get rid of these bees, which can do considerable damage with their ability to drill perfect half-inch holes in wooden trim and siding of the OFs’ houses, sheds, or garages.

The one that sounded like a sport (if the OF has the time) is to take a badminton racket and stand where these bees are hovering. When the bee shows up to find out what the OF is doing there, the OF can swat it with the racket.

“Works every time,” the OF who offered this suggestion said.

Made sense to the rest of us. The OFs will use anything that will get rid of them so we do not have to use sprays and poison.

The other non-poisonous way was to wait until evening when the bees are all in their holes, then take fine steel wool and duct tape and plug up the hole. Most will die but some of them might start another hole and chew their way out. According to the OF who uses this technique, this does not happen very often.

The OFs were a little upset about all these people that use pesticides and lawn chemicals so they can have lawns that look like carpets. These chemicals are decimating the bee population and other insects that pollinate the fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers. Some of the OFs feel that using these sprays also adds to the recipe of chemicals that pollute the air we breathe.

Duct tape guru

What did we do before duct tape? There was friction or electrical tape but that was nothing like duct tape. It is amazing to see a NASCAR car slam into a wall at 180 miles an hour, get mangled, and, when it is brought into the pits, the pit crew sticks the sheet metal back together with duct tape.

The car then goes back onto the track and races to the end, again at 180 miles an hour, and nothing flies off the damaged car. One OF said you couldn’t do that with friction tape.

Whatever happened to “The Red Green Show?” the OFs want to know. He was the duct tape guru.  

Small world

The OFs talked about how small the world really is, and they were wondering how two people who know each other sometimes meet in the strangest places. There are 7,500,000,001 (about) in the world and yet the OFs say they can be 3,000 miles from home, go into a restaurant, and there sits an uncle the OF hasn’t see in 15 years.

The former anecdote is hypothetical but the following is actual. One OF said that his sister was on a plane in Dallas, Texas and a man came and sat next to her and this man turned out to be her nephew whom she had not seen in about 20 years. She had lost all contact with him and found out that this nephew now lives in Pittsburgh.

Another OF said the same thing happened to him when they were in Hawaii. The OF said they were checking in at a hotel and the wife said, “Isn’t that Uncle Bill?”

The OF said, “It looks like him but he moved to Los Angeles and you know how we all have doubles wandering about that looks like someone we know.”

The wife said she was going to get closer and check; she did and it was Uncle Bill.  He was checking into the same hotel. It’s a small world after all, or maybe there is a parallel universe and every now and then we jump from universe to universe and don’t know it.

Parking-lot tryst

To some of the OFs, shopping is a drag, unless the OF is in a hardware store, so many of the OFs, when taking their wives to Kohl’s, take a nap in the car. This scribe would like to report that this is a rare happenstance; however, it is a common event.

The OFs started telling what goes on in the parking lots of some of these places while the ladies are shopping. According to the OFs, it is a lot more fun in the parking lot than in the store.

One OF said he was sitting in his car, drinking a soda, when a car pulled up in the line in front of him and stopped. There was only one person in the car but he did not get out. Shortly after that, another car pulled into a space about four cars down and a young lady got out and went to the car with the guy in it.

What went on, the OF recalled, cannot be printed in black and white in a family paper, but the couple were definitely not mad at each other. After a while (quite a while, the OF thought), the young lady got out of the guy’s car, went back to her car, and left. Neither one went into the store.

The OF was asked if he got the license plate numbers, and the OF said, “Darn it, no; I didn’t think of it.”

Apparently it is more fun in the parking lot. The OFs wonder if the people doing whatever in the parking lot knew most parking lots are now on camera.

The OMOTM who hauled out of bed and made it to the Duanesburg Diner in Duanesburg, and none were wiping the sleepy dirt from their eyes, were: Bill Lichliter, Roger Chapman, Miner Stevens, Roger Shafer, George Washburn, Robie Osterman, Chick Aelesio, Ray Frank, Marty Herzog, Ted Peterman, Ted Feurer, Harold Grippen, John Rossmann, Warren Willsey, Russ Pokorny, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Mike Willsey, Gerry Willsey, and me.



The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Ready to ride: When Cindy Wadach, left, pulls to the curb to pick up Colleen Hassett, she puts her flashing lights on so that Colleen knows it’s the right car. Colleen can’t distinguish colors.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Serious walker: While Colleen Hassett teaches Pilates at the Guilderland YMCA, her husband, Steve, goes for a four-mile walk outdoors. He does a 12 minute mile.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Role model: Facing a mirror, Colleen Hassett leads a Pilates class at the Guilderland YMCA.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Colleen Hassett leads a Pilates class at the Guilderland YMCA.

In the course of three days in June 2010, Colleen Hassett lost her eyesight. After two weeks in the hospital trying to figure out what happened — several diseases and conditions were tested for: multiple sclerosis, lupus, scleroderma, vitamin deficiency, etc., etc. — all tests proved negative.

Colleen was a nurse and knew better than most how to navigate the medical field. After she was sent home, she saw a neuro-ophthalmologist. She’s also seeing a retina specialist and a vision therapist.

On a recent visit to her doctor he said, “You are a miracle.”

Optic nerves do not heal. Hers has to a degree.

“Now,” says Colleen, “I have some vision. So the question is: Do you go further trying to figure out what happened?”

What does her life look like? What kind of help does she need?

Colleen can’t drive, hike, or see color; she’s reluctant to go on vacations in strange places. She graduated from a Northeast Association of the Blind program.  “I can cross streets and I can take a bus,” she says.

Colleen teaches yoga and Pilates at the Guilderland YMCA. When she lost her sight and for four months, she took time off. Then the Y urged her to come back. She could ask the class members for help if she needed something, they told her.

Friends; relatives; neighbors; and her husband, Steve, took her places. She contacted Community Caregivers and was approved for service, but she didn’t need us then with all her friends and family helping her. When her family left, Caregivers came back into the picture.

Her husband had a goal for her: Get out of the house every day. So Caregivers and friends and her husband take her to doctors’ appointments, the Guilderland Library where she reads and chooses new books, the YMCA where she teaches and works out, shopping centers, etc. Usually CC provides one-way transportation and her husband or friends do the return to home.

At home, Colleen has a room, a studio really, where she meditates, chants, does yoga, and prays. She cooks. When she reads, which she does a lot, she holds the book very close to her eyes.

With corrective lenses her vision is 20/60 and 20/400. As you can realize, Colleen is dependent on others. She’s used to giving help, not taking it. And she worries how people are responding to her.

“I’m essentially still the same,” she says. “Asking for help is horrible. Not being able to drive is a big deal, and it makes me feel older just because most people who don’t drive are older.” Colleen was 51 when she lost her sight.

Consummate volunteer

This story came about  as a result of a project the Community Caregivers staff took on for the gala fundraiser in November 2016. Certain care receivers and volunteers agreed to complete a questionnaire that would be used to highlight and inform gala attendees of the kind of work CC does. Colleen; her husband; and Cindy Wadach, her Caregivers volunteer, came to the event. Colleen and Cindy stood and read their stories to the audience.

Cindy started volunteering with Caregivers in 2006. Prior to that, as the director of Senior Services for the town of Guilderland, she made transportation referrals to CC. She said she was so impressed with the organization she decided to volunteer with us when she retired.

However, that year her brother died unexpectedly. “As a way of channeling my grief…and as a way to honor his memory” she said, she made time to volunteer while still working full-time — about two hours a week.

Then in 2013, Cindy did retire and called Mary Morrison, the Client/Volunteer coordinator at Caregivers, and said, “Give me more clients.” One was Colleen

Cindy has three regular clients, volunteers about 12 hours a month for CC, and averages 200 miles of driving. Cindy actually volunteers for five organizations, including Caregivers: the Guilderland Food Pantry, the Guilderland Public Library, the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce, and Home Delivered Meals out of Albany County.

In Colleen’s case “…an unexpected fringe benefit occurred,” said Cindy. They became good friends.

Both have a good sense of humor. Both love seeing live dance performances as well as “Dancing with the Stars.” They’re both vegetarians and have the same favorite pizza restaurant. They also have friends in common.

Cindy says she’s always had the volunteer spirit. “The most important thing in life is helping people,” she says. “I’m fortunate and in good health. I want to share what I have.” There’s a social component, too, she says. “I can’t stress that enough.”

I asked Cindy why she thinks it’s hard for people to ask for help. “In a word – Pride,” she said. “People don’t want to admit they need help. They would say, ‘Others need help more than I do.’” Cindy’s advice is “Reach out. There’s strength in admitting you need help.” She believes, if the situation were reversed, help would be given.

Since Cindy has been transporting Colleen, some role reversals have occurred. They went to see a common friend who was in hospice, she recalled. “That was a time when Colleen helped me. She was emotionally stronger. A few month back,” Cindy added, “I wasn’t feeling well. Colleen and her husband came and took me to Urgent Care.”

As an almost full-time volunteer, Cindy admits it feels good to know you’re needed. “Volunteering makes you feel so good,” she says. “I’m surprised more people don’t do it.”

Colleen’s experience with Caregivers isn’t typical, nor is it unheard of though. Mary Morrison said there are eight to 10 clients who have received services over a period of years. The same volunteer could take you to the Y, for dialysis treatment, or visit with you, for instance.

Marriage bond

The final part of this story is about Colleen’s husband, Steve, who is also a caregiver.

When his wife called him to say her vision just got blurry, Steve told her to call the ophthalmologist. The next time Colleen called him, it was to say her vision was really bad; things were gray but she could still see light. The third time she called, and since the doctor didn’t have room for her, they went to the emergency room.

As Steve reflects on this event, he remembers trying to be calm and trying to imagine what his wife was seeing. He said, “As a caregiver, you can only stand there and watch. You feel helpless.” Steve watched as the hospital staff checked for everything under the sun to figure out what happened to Colleen’s sight.

Once all the tests were over and no critical issues were evident and he knew she wouldn’t die, he started to reorient her. He saw her other senses were noticeably enhanced. When they walked in the hall, for example, she could feel where the doorways were because of the difference in the air temperature.

During this time, Colleen’s father died. Steve didn’t tell her. The hospital was still performing tests to determine what caused her loss of sight.

When Colleen went home, she was shaky. The first day, she passed out; two days later, the same thing happened. Apparently, this was due to the meds and anxiety.

During this time, Steve says, “I was scared.”  Once the meds got adjusted and Colleen was more stable, people started reaching out to her. “You have no idea the number of people who volunteered to help,” he said.

One such person was a neighbor who was connected to the New York State Commission for the Blind. His job, Steve said, was to assist people with impairments. “His observation was that Colleen was already doing 95 percent better than most people he visited.”

Also during this time, Steve said he felt afraid. “You worry about your partner. What happens if she’s gone? You wouldn’t really think this way at our age.” Steve was 52 at the time.

He took two-and-a-half months off from work. When he did go back, it was to a different job and then only half time. He kept that arrangement for a minimum of 10 months.

On the home front, Steve’s goal was to get Colleen out of the house every day. When he went back to work full-time, he knew enough to not overextend himself. But travel was tough. Fortunately, his new job with Union College allowed him to shift fields so he didn’t have to be away.

From Steve’s perspective being a caregiver takes patience. His mother had Progressive Supernuclear Palsy, known as PSP, so he had experience helping her.

Steve, who is a member of the New York National Guard, said, “In sports and at work and in the military, I am proactive,” he said. “I am not a patient guy. I don’t wait for the ball to come to me.” He confessed,  “The hard part is not doing something because of her.”

As Steve considers this journey, he shared his philosophy: “Compromise — it’s not just about me, it’s about us.”

They talk over decisions, although he said they always did that before.  And he tries to anticipate issues. He tries to protect Colleen physically and psychologically.  In the back of his mind, though, his fear is, “What would happen if something happens to me?”

Throughout all of this, people are in the wings. “People step up,” he said. “My faith in humanity hasn’t always been there.”


Since the initial interview with Colleen and Steve, I’ve learned more. Colleen’s sight has improved from the original event, but she still can’t see expressions on faces or the colors red, orange, and pink. She has to be close up to see.

At one pizza place she frequents, they have ingredients you can choose listed in the front of the window case. She can actually see her choice. She rejoices at this thoughtfulness.

Colleen volunteers at the Food Co-op every Friday for about four hours. “They’re wonderful,” she says. “They’re kind. They provide a challenge.” She meets customers and helps them. A neighbor  volunteers at the co-op at the same time and takes Colleen with her.

Colleen emphasizes she really doesn’t want to rely solely on her husband. “That’s why Community Caregivers and my friends are so important.”

Steve and Colleen are frequently at Starbucks. Steve says it’s a relaxing space for him and a place where they can socialize. “It’s like the show, ‘Cheers’.”

Community Caregivers may be able to help you if you need assurance visits, transportation, respite, shopping, assurance calls, paperwork, chores, meals, light housekeeping. Services are provided by volunteers, there is no fee for services, and we help all ages. Volunteers decide what services they will provide and when they’re available to help. The office team connects the clients and volunteers. To learn more go to the website: or call (518) 456-2898 to find out more about our services and to volunteer.


The last time I checked, we appeared to be in the middle of the yet another food-diet-nutrition-health craze. This one seems to be centered on the concept of everyone eating or consuming only items deemed to be organic.

This craze comes on the heels of the gluten-free craze (a new study shows it increases heart attack risk), the kale craze (a new study shows kale is icky), the low-fat craze, the no-fat craze, the sugar-free craze, the low-salt craze, the low-calorie craze (you inhale water vapor in lieu of food), the no trans-fats craze, the no-sugary-drinks craze, and that pesky eat-your-darn-vegetables craze.

Whew, I just lost my appetite.

On one level, I get the organic thing. If we eat only products that have been raised naturally, then we avoid ingesting large amount of insecticides, hormones, and other nasty chemicals. OK, good idea.

The problem is that what constitutes organic seems to be in question. For instance, can a food based on GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds but raised without pesticides be organic? Can a cow raised without growth hormones but still loaded with antibiotics be organic? Can lawn and leaf bags made from only recycled wood pulp be organic? And should we care about organic lawn and leaf bags?

I think what bothers me the most about the organic craze is that it looks more and more like just another scam. For instance, oranges are considered one of the best fruits to eat as their tough skin keeps the nasty chemicals they’re sprayed with from getting inside. So why should I pay 50- to 75-percent more for organic oranges that look like they just survived a Mongol invasion?

If you look at organic foods, they invariably cost a lot more than conventional products that look suspiciously similar except that, in the case of organic fruits and veggies, they invariably look awful (like radioactive-fallout awful). And the more outlandish the product, the higher the price.

I was recently in a store that caters to the healthy-eating crowd and it offered organic everything. And the more I wandered around, the goofier it got.

I saw canned organic cat food that cost (not kidding) almost 10 times what the food we feed our cats costs. I saw organic cleaning products that cost more per ounce than unleaded gas. I saw a bag of ice that was said to have been made strictly from spring water. Yup, organic ice.

Next we’ll be planting things in organic dirt. Oh wait, we do.

The organic toothpaste and toothbrushes (with lovely wooden handles) cost enough to cover a dental visit. The organic makeup and shampoo was beautifully packaged and came with a handy home-equity loan form to make paying for them easier.

The organic cheeses were so pricey I figured it would be cheaper to just buy a cow or goat and make my own (but pay no attention to the people who were sickened by unpasteurized cheese a few months ago). And yes, the organic meats were just amazing. The packages were so small and the prices so high that I noticed a bargain bin next to them full of gold ingots that were cheaper.

Now, I know the healthy eaters out there are already gearing up to yell at me and send me packets of kale. Save your energy and kale. Just take a deep breath, drink a cup of organic green tea and listen.

I totally respect your desire to eat healthily in a world dominated by agri-businesses that supplies us with less-than-healthy foods in order to maximize their profits. I get it. Really.

But, in your single-minded rush to avoid these tainted foods, you’re falling for a lie that sounds good. Just because a label says something, doesn’t mean it’s true. And, even if the label might be true, it doesn’t mean the benefits are provable.

The best example of this type of deceptive marketing is the vitamin-supplements industry. Not too long ago, a certain TV “doctor” was all sorts of nuts over Raspberry Ketones. This is a substance derived from raspberries that supposedly has vast health benefits. Except that there’s little to no scientific proof that any of it is true.

The same can be said for megadoses of vitamin C, doses of cinnamon, fish oil, and every other supplement that costs more per gram than platinum but can’t be proven to work. That’s pretty much where we’re at with organic foods.

Marketers and sales types are slapping the word “organic” on any and every product they can find, bumping prices by huge margins, and people are falling for it. “But the government regulates what they can call organic,” you say.

Well, there might be some guidelines, but who is enforcing them these days? The folks looking to gut the EPA? The same guys who want to drill for oil in national parks? Those guys? Yeah, I’m sure they’re very concerned about whether or not your organic baby food actually contains several parts per million of industrial-grade crud. Chances are better they helped manufacture the crud.

So, to put a fine point on it, don’t always believe what the package says. Don’t trust that the government is there to safeguard your health. It isn’t.

If you really want organic kale, plant a garden and make sure to avoid chemicals. If you want organic eggs, raise a chicken or go to someone you trust that does. But most of all, do that rarest of things and use some common sense. You’d be amazed at the results.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he attempts to eat in a healthy manner between trips to the Chinese buffet. Hey, no man lives on kale alone; he needs the occasional egg roll, says Seinberg.


— John R. Williams

Roger Chapman restoring a large Farmall 560 is captured in this painting by John R. Williams.

— John R. Williams

Portrait of the artist on an Allis Chalmers. John R. Williams recalls, “We had a Farmall ‘H’ on the farm and a cub. Our next-door neighbor had Allis Chalmers. When I would go and help him, that is what we used...Another OMOTM, Carl Slater, had his Farmall wide-front M if front of his old barns and I did a painting of that one, too. Jim Gage’s on his M is another painting.”

On May 2,  the Old Men of the Mountain met at the Your Way Café in Schoharie.

You can’t miss the Your Way Café. It is on the left-hand side of “Main Street” going into the village past the Old Stone Fort and Fox Creek end of the village, and it is painted bright yellow.

This is to answer all the questions the OFs get like, “Where did you guys have breakfast today?” when bumping into friends later on Tuesday or the next day. Almost all the inquirers then say, “Where is that?” and the OFs have to explain with the addition of, “You should try it; it is really good.”  The OFs don’t go to bad restaurants.

As one of the OFs was leaving the restaurant with a couple of other OFs, a patron going into the restaurant singled out an OF he knew but he did not know the other two OFs, and they didn’t know him. His greeting was “Hey, [name], when did they throw you out of jail? How the h---are ya?” The other OFs said they had to remember that one.

Most all the OFs wear jeans. One or two continue to wear the bib-type overall (this is not in the least unusual) because jeans are the pants of choice for both men and women these days. The OFs mentioned how, when they were young (and that was just a little time ago), a good pair of jeans cost five to nine bucks.

“Today,” one OF said, “they are selling artificially mud-colored jeans for $425.”

All the OFs said they have three or four pairs of clean dirty jeans anyone can have for $20. They are all broken in and won’t turn your legs blue the first time you wear them, and the zippers work.

“Holy cow,” one OF said, “I can buy a brand-new lawnmower for $425 and look how much work goes into making one of those.” How much effort does it take to sew in four pockets, six or eight belt loops, a zipper, and one button with a button hole?

Makes no sense to me; next thing you know they will be adding “real barn smell that will not wash out.”  Can you picture the ads for these?”

Tending lawns

The OFs mentioned how many times they have mowed their lawns so far. As of May 2, the tales were from two times to one OF who mentioned he has had to mow his lawn four times already.

Another OF listened as all the OFs were discussing the time spent on their lawns and he just kept turning his head to each OF as they spoke. Finally, this OF said he has mowed part of his lawn once and had to do that because some of the lawn had a few high spots in it. This OF said his lawn was 12-percent grass, 30-percent weeds, 18-percent rocks, 20-percent roots, and 20-percent moss and dirt. The OF said he mows about three acres of this concoction, and from a distance, “Hey, it looks pretty good.”

One OF said he wouldn’t mow his lawn at all. He is a closet naturalist and whatever grows, grows. However, the wife has other ideas, so he mows the lawn and keeps it looking good; he also has no plantings close to the house.

This OF said tall grass and shrubs are where the bugs hang out that get into your house. If you have cluster flies, mow your lawn and they will be gone, and ants and other bugs live on the shrubs and peonies and they get in the house by themselves or your cat and dog brings them in.

One OF said that he has a back room that is seldom used at his place and the occasional mouse has gotten in there so he keeps setting traps. At one time, there was a mouse in the trap and, when he removed the dead rodent from the trap, a deer tick ran out from under the mouse and down the trap. The OF said he had gloves on and was able to kill the tick, but the OF said that animals not only bring in routine pests but they can bring in some nasty ones also.

Tractor talk

The OFs somehow started talking about supply and demand. The OFs know of this little formula for living very well by many having been working for themselves — mostly as farmers.

The OFs think that a lot of what we purchase, especially if it is something everyone uses, or needs, industry builds in a planned obsolescence so whatever it is will break down or run out in a predetermined time frame. This means the dumb thing won’t work and the OF has to go get a new one, and that generates a perpetual demand. The OFs think the one exception to that rule happened by accident.

That is the Farmall tractor! Those things ran forever, and many that were made in the forties are still running and working today. That tractor was so simple and dependable the farmer could fix it with baling wire, friction tape, and a large pair of channel locks. (There was no duct tape then.)

When the 1940s began, International Harvester’s Farmall was the most popular tractor brand in the United States. But during the decade its market share was challenged.  Just before the war, IH had to respond to the introduction of the inexpensive Allis-Chalmers Model "B." IH had already been experimenting with small-tractor designs.

So, as the decade began, it quickly introduced the second generation of Farmalls — the famous “Letter Series” tractors. (Thanks Google). What happened is the Farmall (as it once was) is no longer made.

Those Old Men of the Mountain that made it to the Your Way Café, and, yes, they know the way; it is in Schoharie as they say, and not too hard to find, unless of course you are blind.  The color is yellow bright, so the OFs can find it at night, and the OFs that found it on Tuesday were: Robie Osterman, Bill Lichliter, Ray Frank, Harold Guest, Roger Shafer, Roger Chapman, George Washburn, Chuck Aelesio, John Rossmann, Miner Stevens, Dave Williams, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Otis Lawyer, Mace Porter, Jack Norray, Lou Schenck, Sonny Mercer, Don Wood, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Ted Willsey, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Duncan Bellinger, Elwood Vanderbilt, Ray Kennedy, Harold Grippen, and me.


On Tuesday, April 25, the Old Men of the Mountain met at Mrs. K’s restaurant in Middleburgh.

Mrs. K’s is just down the street, towards the creek, from Middleburgh Central School. When the little darlings are going to school, particularly in the morning, traffic is held up so the buses can leave and enter the school discharge area.

In the street are two traffic wardens holding up traffic in either direction so this can be done. The lines of traffic that are held up both ways make the OFs wonder if there are any cars left in the county. Tuesday morning when some of the OFs left the restaurant, the cars on the street went from the school, to the bridge (and over it) that crosses the Schoharie creek in Middleburgh.

To continue with the early morning of the 25th, the weather was great, but about two days prior to the 25th the OFs talked about scraping ice and frost off their windshields. No wonder so many people have the sniffles, the OFs say; their old bodies don’t handle this 70 degrees one day, and 30 degrees the next, then back to 70, then down to 40 the next day very well.

One OF said that, with this weather, spring has sprung (and that is what it is doing, acting like a spring and bouncing all over the place) and he was digging large holes for transplanting shrubs. One of the shrubs the OF mentioned was the Beauty Bush.

The other OFs around our end of the table could not picture what would be called a Beauty Bush and they had no idea what it was. The OF said that, for some reason, when he was digging the hole to have a good earth ball on the plant, he found the ground (where that shrub was planted) was very dry.

When he lifted the shrub out of the ground, all the earth fell off the earth ball that was supposed to cling to the plant and the OF was left with just a collection of roots. The OF planted it anyway and hopes it will take hold.

There is such a thing as a Beauty Bush and a characteristic of the bush is its perfume-like fragrance when in flower. According to Google, the Latin name (in parenthesis) for the shrub is Kolkwitzia Amabillis. The OFs may have seen this bush but had no idea what it was called; again, it was those at this one section of the table.

Spicey question

Does pepper help in the aging process? Many of the OFs douse everything in pepper — well, almost everything. To see some of the OFs’ plates at breakfast, it makes other OFs wonder if their colons are made of cast iron. No matter what they order from the kitchen, the first thing these OFs do is make it black with pepper.

We have yet to see these OFs order oatmeal but, if they did, they would probably cover it black with pepper. With all the pepper in the air used by many pepper shakers being shaken, no one sneezes.

There is one OF who uses so much pepper that the other OFs around him either grab it first so they can also have some, or hide it so he can’t get to it before their meals come out. If this OF can’t find the pepper shaker, he goes and snitches one from another table.

Difficulties of death

The OFs are close to the end of having to get up in the morning so a discussion was had on how to provide for the kids when the time comes for the morning of all mornings. The discussion was not on stuff, but on all the legal hassle, paperwork, burial arrangements, and all the entanglements that can ensue.

The conversation wound up nowhere because even though some of the OFs have been through it and think they know what to do and how to set it up there always seems to be problems, and all of it costs money with nothing to show for it.

There must be some way, the OFs think, that, upon their passing through the pearly gates, their kids are not bogged down in legal entanglements and they realize their parents really did their best to try to avoid problems and thought they did all the right things.

That is one thing the OMOTM does not have in the group — an attorney that is crowding the end of light to give us advice on what he has done, and what the OMOTM should do.

No woe

There was also another discussion that was somewhat like the aforementioned, and this, again, is events that are life-changing and how that can turn a jovial person into an old crank. But as a member of the OFs there is much support to prevent this from happening because so many are in the same boat.

Operations that can go wrong, and operations that are just are operations. One OF mentioned he went from working out in the gym, to doing four- to five-mile walks, to doing nothing in one day. The OF said, “Thank goodness they have stuff other than rat poison to thin the blood now.”

Some of the OFs knew exactly what he was talking about. So sitting across from people who truly understand the OFs’ predicament is a big help. Much better than sitting home and going “woe is me.”

Going to the OFs and doing your “woe is me” here, you still won’t get any sympathy because you will be out-woed.  (Does anyone think that should be “woe am I”?)

Those OFs who made it to Mrs. K’s Restaurant in Middleburgh and who beat the morning small-town rush hour were: Miner Stevens, Roger Shafer, Glenn Patterson, Mark Traver, Robie Osterman, John Rossmann, Roger Chapman, Otis Lawyer, David Williams, Bill Lichliter, Harold Guest, George Washburn, Jim Heiser, Chuck Aelesio, Ray Frank, Don Wood, Mace Porter, Lou Schenck, Jack Norray, Herb Bahrmann, Bob Fink, Bob Benninger, Wayne Gaul, Ted Feurer, Ted Willsey, Jim Rissacher, Elwood Vanderbilt, Rich Vanderbilt, Jess Vadney, Mike Willsey, Warren Willsey, Harold Grippen, and me.